Saturday, November 5, 2011

This Caught Mum's Bedey Eye

I've just spent a week with my ageing mum in Stornoway. The quality of care for the elderly is impressive, and it is clear that the community has a deeply ingrained respect for those of pension  age. However I wouldn't say that it goes as far as veneration. Whatever this flyer about help with heating bills for vulnerable groups might suggest.

Remember, Remember

Remember, remember
The fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot
What is going on here?

When the nation comes together for its great Winter festival of light in the night, are we really still remembering that our state lives under the Damoclean threat of Roman Catholic insurrection? Or celebrating the horrid just deserts meted out to a freedom fighter black villain? 400 years ago?

Or are we coming together in good fellowship to share hearty food and mulled wine and to gaze upwards in simple shared delight at the balletic confections of fire and motion?

Just asking.

Seeing Wrong

I had an interesting conversation with +Xabier Ostale, who was arguing from painful personal experience that all religions are both wrong and evil. Furthermore, that if we do not actively fight them, then we are complicit in their mass crimes against humanity.

My position is markedly different. I see the issue as the ghetto. As soon as we allow ourselves to think of a group as "them" rather than "us", we are at risk. I recommend writing a sentence or two on a particularly gruesome outrage in the first person plural. And then reflecting on how this feels. Why are we shooting rockets at our fellow inhabitants of Israel? How can we tolerate generations of our fellow Israelis living in the squalor of Gaza and the West Bank? How could we bomb a funeral of fellow Irishmen in Omagh? What drove us to blow up a plane-load of innocent civilians over Lockerbie? How could we allow tens of thousands to live and die in misery in the Concentration camps of South Africa in the Boer War? Or millions in the camps of Germany, Poland and the Ukraine later in that woeful, warful century? Or hack our neighbours to death in Rwanda?

Did you try it? How did it feel? Bit of an unreal twinge?

Of course, historically organised religion has often been a major force for setting up ghettos. But this extends to any system of morality and government. (Though some people extend "religion" to include a belief in Democracy, Communism or Capitalism.)

On the other hand, individuals need a strong ethical framework to see when the system is turning toward evil and to resist this. And this framework is transmitted by the very systems which present such a threat. So if you live in Europe or America, even if you are not a practicing Christian, you live in the context of the values transmitted by the Christian Church, and these values equip you to resist its excesses.

Philip Pullman believes that the evils of organised religion outweigh the value of its payload. Rowan Williams, perhaps unsurprisingly, feels otherwise.

Now, here's the mashup.

+Robert Scoble points out that the front line of the tech war for 2011 and the foreseeable future is the battle to capture users' identities so that the internet marketing operations (Google, Salesforce and Facebook - he calls them advertising, but it will be broader than that - this will be about identifying what the market wants as well as facilitating the sale of product) can tailor what each individual sees to what they are most interested in- in the broadest sense. He calls this the Game of all Games .

So we are all to be lovingly and securely wrapped in an opaque yet invisible bubble woven from our own needs, fears and desires. Let's take care that our new internet overlords are well aware of our need to understand people whose bubbles are very different.