Social philosophy not on a folding bike. Postlude

Sitting in the Airport lounge (I use the word loosely), with time on my hands, I feel an urgent need to add a brief postscript to my commentary on knowledge and power.

It seems to me that, in addition to “the people” there are three distinct groups which are viewed with varying degrees of suspicion: the “experts”; the liberal elite; and the rich and powerful. I’ll take them in turn.
The experts, I’ve already dealt with to some extent.
The liberal elite, to which I clearly belong, are often confused (mistakenly) by “the people” with both the experts and the rich and powerful.
The rich and powerful are small in number and cloaked in secrecy and anonymity. Owen Jones, an unashamedly left-wing commentator describes in his book “The Establishment” how we are all being shafted (his word) by this group WITHOUT OUR KNOWLEDGE. That the systems (and even the rule of law) are geared by them for their advantage. Whether this is true or not, the inequality in the UK is outrageous and increasing. It is no surprise that “the people” are starting to rail against the system, assisted by newly found knowledge and power.
The question is whether they distinguish correctly between the three groups I’ve described. The experts, and the liberal elite are easy targets. The rich and powerful are still protected by mystery.

How society develops into the future, it seems to me, will depend significantly on the interrelationships between these groups, and how they evolve in this new world of instantly available knowledge and communication.

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Social philosophy and puzzles not on a folding bike. Final day

In the “only hotel in town, breakfast is served in a cafe full of mainly elderly gentlemen, talking six to the dozen. ALL talking ……. to EVERYONE. A right babble. You don’t get this in Costa.

Today involves a pretty big “cox and box”. To get to Murcia to catch my flight I must be on the 8.22 train. The next one is not until …… 17.42! Just possibly an option, but cutting it very fine indeed
After the early breakfast I stroll down to the station. Another fine day, but a decided chill in the air. A nearby sign registers 14 degrees C. Everything’s relative.

Nothing to report on the train; and no exciting photos. Just the view out of the window.

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Arriving in Murcia I stroll into the city. The streets are lined with trees in fantastic blue bloom.
Reaching the historic centre, I enter the immense cathedral

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With time on my hands I take my time strolling around. In addition to the main altar and chancels I count 25 side chapels. One of them catches my eye. The intricate stonework must have represented a lifetime’s labour of love for one medieval stone mason

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And this is such a tiny part of the whole. What devotion!

Wandering into the adjacent Tourist Office I discover that the airport is not the one on the outskirts of Murcia which I had identified on my map, but another one 20 miles away. It’s just as well I didn’t choose the later train. Back to the bus station! 3€ for a 20 mile bus journey. I can’t get over how cheap public transport is.

I realise that there’s been little in the way of social philosophy so far- so, here goes.

I’m sure you’re aware how the relationship between knowledge and power has been shifting – and shifting rapidly. Until recently, knowledge and power have been largely coupled …. in the hands of “experts”. Now, with the advent of the internet, knowledge, and therefore with it,  power, is in the hands of the people. The problem is, of course, that “knowledge” doesn’t equate to “wisdom”. I hasten to add that we should make no assumption, however that the “experts” are always wise.

We are all now experts at self-diagnosis: on a recent (and fortunately rare) visit to my local surgery, I couldn’t help noticing that the doctor consulted the same website I had already visited. Two other contrasting examples of populist expertise are Brexit and ….. the recent 3-day “Flat Earth Convention” in Birmingham. Yes, there was one!

Starting with the former, there is a distinct feeling that “the people” have snubbed the nose of the “experts”; that they have done their own research and voted viscerally on gut feelings concerning sovereignty and control – of our laws and our borders. They don’t believe (or don’t care?) what the experts may say about economic and cultural consequences. Perhaps with prescience, Michael Gove said “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts”.

The 3 day flat earth convention (and I must admit I’m reporting this second hand) was a scrupulously scientific affair, with the focus on scientific method and process rather than “knowledge” handed down by the experts. Various theories were examined with a surprisingly scientific approach. A panel of flat-earthers debated with a panel of PhD physics students. An interesting quote from one of the flat-earthers: “now we’ve got the internet and mass communications, were not reliant on what the mainstream are telling us in newspapers; we can decide for ourselves”. For the record, I am NOT a flat-earther ….. and STRONGLY oppose Brexit.

However, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle, and can never be put back in. The full implications of this for society have yet to unfold.

Yesterday’s puzzle
I’m sure that many of you got the answer 3
Well …….. YOUR WRONG!
You’re not alone, however: this question was famously set to 300,000 American students, all but 3 of whom got it wrong; including the examiners!
What they failed to take into account was that the radius of the circle which the smaller circle transcribes is not 3r ….. but 4r. It must include its own radius. The correct answer to the puzzle is therefore …. 4. Simple when you know why.

An easy one for the finale
There are three boxes, one containing apples only; one containing oranges only; and the third containing both. All are labelled, but unfortunately ALL incorrectly. You may solve the problem by checking one item of fruit from one box only.
Which box should you choose?

Answer next year

Well, it’s been a journey and a half. My Spanish has come on ….. a bit; I’ve missed the downhill sweeps on the bike (and, I confess, the uphill slogs!); but my feet have taken me to places my bike could not possibly go. Fantastic places. And the coxing and boxing has not been without its attractions. All in all, it’s been a great week

Thank you for following.

Hasta luego

Social philosophy and puzzles, not on a folding bike. Day 4

Definitely the apogee of the trip!
But more of that later.

Last night I once again struggled to find a restaurant. A strange thing that the entire population of the town, from tetchy toddlers to groaning grannies, appears to be on the streets ….. but no restaurants. To be fair they are all seated at the outside tables of the myriad bars and cafes, drinking coffee or beer and snacking on assorted nibbles. But a restaurant to get a proper meal? No. I have to make do with a pizza and beer. Stop complaining!

The hotel is outrageously over the top – a mini Alhambra. At breakfast I take a photo out of the window.

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Fortuitously I am on the right side off town to start my journey south towards Bocairent. The road ascends in sweeping tree lined curves until I reach Pou Clar, a series of deep pools situated in a most beautiful ravine.

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At this point, I find what I’m looking for – the old mule path that makes its way through the mountains and down to Bocairent. It’s a beauty.

After about a mile I stop at a font to refill my bottle. You might think that all water tastes the same; wrong! This tastes as though it’s flowing straight from heaven – cool, clear and wonderfully refreshing.

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At this moment, a nightingale starts singing. Now you might feel I’m making this up for the sake of idealized perfection; I promise I’m not. Any sceptics are welcome to listen to the recording I take on my phone. With your permission I will add an extra to yesterday’s list of “ways to waste time wisely”

11. If you are presented with the opportunity, ALWAYS stop to listen to a nightingale singing by a mountain spring.

After soaking this up for a good 15 minutes, I continue on this gorgeous path, rising into the mountains.

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Another “not to be missed” opportunity – I find myself in a natural amphitheatre of rock. I’ve just got to try it. I fill my lungs and let out a great whoop of joy. Yes! It echoes all around me for several seconds. Uninhibited I repeat this several times. Fortunately for my reputation, the mountainside is, other than for me, deserted.

Ways to waste time wisely:

12. If presented with the opportunity ALWAYS let out a whoop of joy to create an echo in the mountains.

I promise that’s the last item on my “wasting time wisely”  list.

The path continues zig-zagging up towards the col, and then down to Bocairent. An absolute gem!

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After making my way through its maze of streets I treat myself to a championes tapas and a beer.

The apogee has been reached. From here on it’s a bit of an anticlimax – pleasant but tame. I must reach Villena, still 25 miles away, today, so that I can continue to Murcia tomorrow. I discover a disused railway which I follow for several miles. On reaching Banyeres I commence the inevitable “coxing and boxing”. Two lifts separated by a short walk bring me to Vilenna where I book into the only hotel in town.

Puzzle of the day
A circle of radius r sits on the circumference of a larger circle of radius 3r. It rolls around the larger circle once, arriving back at its starting point.
How many times will the smaller circle revolve in total?

Answer tomorrow

Distance walked              13.7 miles
Average speed                       2.6 mph    (mountainous terrain)
Elevation gain                          1884 ft

Social Philosophy and puzzles not on a folding bike. Day 3

The weather in Xativa is once again, hot and sunny. I must explore. My hotel is at the foot of the mediaeval town; exploration involves going up …… and up! But well worth it. Although I don’t make it to the castle, built first here by the Romans, the view down over the city is splendid

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Equally striking is the view up to the mediaeval castle which now stands on this site.

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Xativa is certainly a place well worth a visit.

Back to my strategy for the day: a bus to Montaverner followed by, what I believe will be, a gentle walk to Onteniente where I hope to find a hotel. I stroll down to the bus station. No bus till 15.00! Oh well, on to plan B.

Walking back up through the mediaeval town I intuitively zig-zag (with the help of my compass) until I reach the road to Montaverner – quiet, steeply uphill …… and magnificent. Thank goodness there was no bus. After a mile or two, I move on to plan C; after all I have to get there today. Yes – hitch-hiking. Once again it’s a young lone woman who stops. Is it them ….. or me? Don’t answer that question! Although not going all the way to Montaverner she sets me well on my way.

It’s starting to get very hot, but fortunately the road at this point is gently downhill until I reach the village.

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Using Google maps on my phone, I manage to navigate my way through a maze of narrow streets until I find the route to Onteniente. It’s perfect – gently rising and lined with flowers and olive trees. And virtually no traffic.

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As the day gets hotter, the road gets steeper. I adjust my pace by maintaining the same “cadence” (a term will known to cyclists) – that is, maintaining the rhythm, but shortening the step. This always works for me. The purpose, after all is not to GET anywhere, but to ENJOY the walk. If you want to stop, then stop. I decide to stop! Sitting under an olive tree I enjoy a leisurely lunch from my goodie bag.
I think back to words I saw recently on the memorial plaque on a seaside bench
“Time is precious. Waste it wisely”
I assemble ten ways that I think you can waste time wisely. Here goes:
1. If somebody needs to talk, listen
2. Pause, to consider the other side of an argument.
3. Occasionally, stray out of your echo chamber.
4. Be prepared, sometimes to follow your heart, not your head
5. Learn to enjoy anticipation – not always rushing to a conclusion
6. The wonders of creation are fantastic. Pause, to soak them up.
7. Learn to be a human BEING; not always a human DOING
8. If you believe, talk to God
9. If you don’t believe ….. talk to God. You might be surprised to get an answer!
10. On a hot sunny day sit under an olive tree and ponder the mysteries of life, the universe and everything.

I’m sure you can come up with your own list.
But on with the “journey”
Having “wasted my time wisely” I now consider my options. It’s now VERY hot, and I’m still 6 miles or so from Onteniente. I hear the sound of an approaching car. YES! it stops. A lift from, I think, a local farmer leaves me only a short walk into the town. And I was right – it is VERY hot.

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In old fashioned units, that’s 88 degrees Fahrenheit!

Monday’s puzzle
I’m sure you got this one
Wally drives the first 10 miles at 60 mph. This takes him 10 minutes
The second 10 miles he drives at 40 mph. This takes him 15 minutes
So he takes 25 minutes (about 0.417 h) to drive 20 miles – an average speed of, not 50 mph, but …. about 48 mph.
However, he can’t be such a Wally – he was well within the average speed limit.
We all know that in a group of 23 people there’s a more than 50% chance that two will share the same birthday. But have you ever bothered to reason why?
The secret lies in pairs. In a room of 23 people how many handshakes will it take for everyone to say hello to everybody else?
The answer is 253. That is n(n-1)/2
The probability that any one of these 253 pairs will NOT share a birthday is 364/365. That is 0.997
Therefore the probability that there will be NO shared birthdays (in statistical terms it’s an “and, and, and …..” ) is 0.997 TO THE POWER OF 253. This equals 0.46
Therefore, the probability that there will be at least one shared birthday is 1 – 0.46.
0.54 This is MORE than 50%!

A new puzzle tomorrow

Distance travelled            21 miles (but some of this in a car!)
Average speed                   3.1 mph (and this was WALKING)
Eelevation gain                  3,083 ft (the same whether in a car or walking

Social Philosophy and puzzles, not on a folding bike. Day 2

What a day!

“My heart leaps up when I behold
The mountains looming high
So was it when my life began
So is now I am a man”

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Strange ….. these words sounds familiar! Well, better start at the beginning.
The hotel in Cullera is reminiscent of Fawlty Towers; missing only one thing …… humour. All is forgiven however, when I receive the bill, €25 – including breakfast! I must confess that I wonder whether the elderly proprietor has dyslexia. Better escape quickly.
Overnight I have elaborated on my strategy: decide the start and finish points for “the journey”; cox and box at either end as required. A bus to the station and a train bring me quickly and cheaply (€2.5 total!) to Tavernes de la Valldigna, a perfect launch for the walk to Xativa. A day in the mountains approaches.
El tiempo hace calor y sol. Leaving the village behind, I make my way towards Simat along a quiet road lined with orange trees

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Surely they won’t miss one? A battle with my conscience is quickly lost – out comes my Swiss Army knife (the sole reason for booking my rucksack into the EasyJet hold), a roadside rest, and down it goes. Delicious!

I pause to consider the moral angle to this. Technically a crime – and me a magistrate (though now only supplementary). But who is the victim? If the victim of a theft – yes, that’s that it is – is a multi-millionaire land owner, does that make it less of a crime than if it were an orange from a pensioner’s lunch box? Looking closer to home, who are the victims of shoplifting and rail fare evasion? Tescos? Technically, yes. Thameslink? Technically yes. We, the tax payers? Yes, because of resulting higher prices. Society? Perhaps – but Margaret Thatcher famously said “there’s no such thing as society” (I tried to put the dreaded tone of voice into that quote!).

What about this as a suggestion for the real victim? The perpetrator!
There’s an element of devil’s advocate in this proposition, but I genuinely believe, indeed know, from my time on the bench, that criminals are inevitability damaged by their actions. Sometimes, in ways they might themselves recognise: loss of reputation; loss of family and friends; loss of liberty. But also in more subtle ways: the damage to their (and I use the word in an entirely non-religious sense) soul.

It brings to mind a harrowing case in one of my sittings. A young woman, maybe in her early thirties, pleading guilty to a case of shoplifting. 130 previous convictions! Half for shoplifting and the other half for drugs. She looked a physical wreck, and was clearly trapped in a cycle from which she couldn’t escape. We searched for ways to help her; but it’s not easy within the confines of the “Sentencing Guidelines”. One thing though, that I’m now very careful not to do is rush to judgement.

Enough of this, back to the walk. I’m delighted to discover that the road which will form the substance of the entire day is both beautiful and quiet, with perhaps one car passing every five or six minutes

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A steady climb leads me to the summit at 277m where I take time to enjoy a snack. I look back at the distance I’ve walked – from the sea. Impressive!

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A long gentle descent follows down to Barxeta, where I start to think about coxing and boxing. I’ve now walked 17 miles over a mountain pass. No buses; certainly no trains. What’s to be done? Only one thing for it – I straighten my hair, put on my best smile and start thumbing each infrequent car. After about 20 pass without a glance, one pulls up. The driver is a young women who speaks no English. With my nascent Spanish I discover that, yes she is going to Xativa. This does wonders for my faith in humanity.

A fantastic day!

Distance walked         17.4 miles
Average speed                 3.2 mph
Elevation gain                   1,302 ft

A Vision for “Remain” (cont)

  1. Openness

What is our view about change? Do we regard it as an exciting opportunity, or an unfortunate necessity? Do we embrace it or shrink from it? Do we think that the future is a blank sheet under our collective and individual control which we can mould to the greater good, or do we believe that “things were always better in my day”?

How do we treat visitors (temporary or permanent)?

Do we welcome them, treat them with respect and assume the best? Or do we regard them as a threat – they’re after our jobs; here for the benefits; on the scrounge?

How do we describe our identity? Am I a “Londoner”, a Sussex man, English, British, European ….. or Sapiens? How would I rank these, if asked to?

I am proud to be British (not specifically English) …… but also proud to be European. Of my four grandparents, one hails from Ireland and one from Switzerland. I am thankful that these two were welcomed into the late 19th/early 20th century “English” community. I hope that we and our children will have an equally welcoming attitude into the future.

Above all, of course, I consider myself a member of the human family Sapiens; I’m pleased to consider all fellow members my brothers and sisters.

Brexit? No thanks

 

  1. Co-operation

Let’s acknowledge from the start that competition is generally a good thing. However, surely this is even more true in the context of an overall co-operative framework.

Some questions:

  • When seeking access to increasingly limited resources (whether in trade, natural resources, services or whatever), is not working together in partnership better than aggressively fighting for “our little bit”.
  • Are we really still wedded to the notion of Might is Right? Do we care about those with whom we compete? Or about the weak, who will inevitably lose out?
  • Many would acknowledge that working together in science, medicine and technological research is self-evidently a good thing; why not in education, trade, industry, defence and security?
  • Our lives are increasingly dominated by networking (social and professional); why do we shy away from the national equivalent?
  • We increasingly live in a world in which all the important issues are global; if the issues are global, should we not move towards co-ordinated, global responses?
  • In any event, does it make sense to fragment back to a national (or indeed, sub-national) mindset?

Has the concept of the nation state, fundamentally a 19th century construct, had its day?

To be continued

A Vision for “Remain”

In writing this political blog I am breaking a long-standing promise; to blog only once a year on my annual folding-bike adventure. Why am I departing from this? Because it’s something about which I feel very strongly. I’m sure that I am not alone in finding the possibility of  “Brexit” to be intensely depressing.

Am I the only visceral “remainer” to find the interminable pro-EU arguments lacklustre, negative and lacking vision? I don’t believe the campaign should focus on nitty-gritty: the economy; migration; borders; centralisation or de-centralisation; whether we will be a few pounds better or worse off etc. “Experts” will argue these factors with equal conviction, on both sides, till the cows come home. What we need is a vision for the future.

In the absence of this from the great and good, I will try to present my own in ten stages.

A vision for the future

 I believe we should be building a family/society/country (choose whichever collective noun you wish) which moves forward into the 21st Century on the basis of:

  • Trust
  • Openness
  • Co-operation
  • A quest for equality
  • Mutual support, including through difficult times
  • Pursuit of happiness
  • A belief in the need to protect the weak
  • A willingness to sacrifice some aspects of control for the “greater good”
  • A belief in, and commitment to, international law
  • A commitment to protecting the environment

Over the next ten days I will endeavour to elaborate on each of these ten factors in turn.

  1. Trust

A traveller came upon a wise old farmer hoeing in his field beside the road. Eager to rest his feet, the wanderer hailed the countryman, who seemed happy enough to straighten his back and talk for a moment. “What sort of people live in the next town?” asked the stranger. “What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer, answering the question with another question. “They were a bad lot. Troublemakers all, and lazy too; the most selfish people in the world, and not a one of them to be trusted. I’m happy to be leaving the scoundrels.” “Is that so?” replied the old farmer. “Well, I’m afraid that you’ll find the same sort in the next town. Disappointed, the traveller trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work.

Some time later another stranger, coming from the same direction, hailed the farmer, and they stopped to talk. “What sort of people live in the next town?” he asked. “What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer once again. “They were the best people in the world; hard working, honest, and friendly. I’m sorry to be leaving them.”

“Fear not,” said the farmer. “You’ll find the same sort in the next town.”

One of the saddest aspects of the modern world is the lack of trust: stranger danger; distrust of “foreigners”; always assuming the worst, every situation a “Health and Safety” risk; suspicion and danger around every corner.

In reality, isn’t the truth is that most people are good; most people can be trusted; most people are just like you and me; risk is there to be managed, not eliminated? Surely it is better to lead our lives in this belief, than to shrink into isolation through distrust of our neighbour, or constant fear of lurking danger. We may occasionally be let down – ok, live with this, manage the risk and move on.

The relevance of this for the Brexit argument is, I think self-evident.

To be continued