Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

You are not just yourself

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

Sometimes people feel powerless, like their individual action does not matter. That is not true, it matters tremendously and it is enormously powerful, I am going to explain one of the reasons why.

When you make a decision it is not just you making that decision, it is also people like you making the same decision for similar reasons. No one exists in isolation or acts alone, every individual is part of many overlapping, interconnected, and interdependent groups, most of which they are not even aware of. When you make a decision you make it based on how you think and what you know (consciously or not). Other people like you will be in similar situations and make the same decision, you make it together.

This means that every action you take does matter because it is not just you, it is people like you doing the same thing. Your individual action might be tiny, but your collective action might be huge. If the only thing stopping you is that you do not think it will make a difference because it is just you, then do it, if you do it then other people will too, if you do not then they will not. You have the responsibility to make the decision and to do the thing, but in doing it, you will not be alone.

There are lots of reasons to vote and this is only one of them, but you should.

There is a dark side to the fact that you are not just yourself, you are a community, and that is that if others control the inputs to your community and target them carefully for every group, then you are not yourself, you are theirs.

Think carefully, think twice, install an ad-blocker and make your decision.


Now that sounds horribly patronising, which it is, and so this academic is going to get off his ivory tower with his simplistic notions and go and do some work.

The pursuit of peace

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

The primary purpose of the EU is peace in Europe (particularly between EU members). War is expensive and so the secondary purpose of economic prosperity is well served by the primary purpose.

The pursuit of peace makes he EU act in strange and seemingly inefficient ways: Parliament gets on a train and travels to a different country. Development teams are split in half with hundreds of miles between them. Research funding is contingent on moving to a different country or collaborations between institutions in multiple countries. All of which seems rather inefficient due to the overheads of travel and communication, at least when considering only the immediate purpose of each activity.

However, considering the pursuit of peace it makes perfect sense and is much more ‘efficient’. By mixing people up and having them experience different countries, barriers are broken down. It is much harder to dehumanise and demonise people you know well and are your friends. The EU tries to tie people from all its nations so tightly together with bonds of love and friendship (and commerce and mutual dependence) that they might never again go to war.

We could learn something from that within our own nation for addressing the deep divisions between our different regions and social groups.

We must also consider how we will actively and systematically pursue peace in Europe and the wider world from outside the EU.

Remaining feelings

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

A substantial factor in my feelings of despair at Brexit is guilt. I could have done more, and, given the result, should have done more. I voted, but more was required.

Anger with those who lied and misled, with those who failed to do enough. That leads however to being angry with myself.

Those who have made this mess have a duty to fix it, but that does not just mean Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. It also means each one of us. While those who behaved badly during the campaign should be held to account, the only people we individually need to hold to account are ourselves. For me at least that is painful.

You might say that no individual insignificant person like me could make a difference. However, in a democracy I am an instance of a group of people. There are other people like me and so we are both individually and collectively responsible for our actions. If I decide individually to act in one way then it is likely that, independently, other people like me will decide to act in the same way.

Hence, even though I voted to remain, I still have to bear some personal culpability for the overall leave vote.

Do you support the current occupation of the University Combination Room?

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

The Peterhouse JCR is currently holding a vote on the current occupation of the University Combination Room by students of the University.

In the process of deciding how to vote on that issue I should consider the demands that the occupiers are making and so that follows.

1. That the University completely oppose the increase in fees, fight against it and fight against all cuts to education, and use its influence to oppose the spending review’s threat to education, welfare, health, and other public services.

I think that the issue here is that it is not sufficient to simply oppose increases in fees it is necessary to coherently explain an alternative solution. Now the University does have influence but it is not an overt one – it is a behind the scenes one and so while I expect that the University is working behind the scenes to do what is best for the University and for Universities in general it probably won’t tell us when and how because diplomacy of that sort doesn’t work like that. With the latter points on welfare, health and other public services – the University is not a political entity. Its purpose is education and research not political change. Members of the University should indeed be encouraged to campaign for things which they believe in and to make their voices heard in government but that does not mean that the University itself can express one particular view and support it.

2. That the University use its influence to fight for free education for all.

There are principles here which I agree with but I think this statement too general in that it includes things I would disagree with. For example if students have parents who clearly can and will pay for their children’s university education then they probably should as this means more money available for those who can’t. (I am in the category of people who’s parents could and indeed do pay). Also if this ‘education’ doesn’t involve actually spending >40 hours a week working on said education (during term) then it is rather pointless and should probably not be paid for in full by the government as it it probably counts as an extended holiday. [1]

3. That the University acknowledge and take steps to combat the systemic inequality of access to this elitist institution and the danger of its intensification posed by the scrapping of EMA, a rise in tuition fees and removal of programs such as Aim Higher.

Here I worry as to the definition of elitist being used. Certainly Cambridge only accepts students with the best academic ability and so discriminates on the basis of academic merit and that is what it should do. However I fear that the definition being used here relates to discrimination on the basis of background. Cambridge does not do that. Cambridge is not elitist under that definition. It once was but it is no longer – we have moved on and so I don’t think that Cambridge could now acknowledge that it is an ‘elitist institution’ because that would be a lie. Yes Cambridge is greatly concerned to ensure that no financial hardship prevents or hinders students from studying at Cambridge but anyone at Cambridge knows that it is exemplary in doing so and provides bursaries and financial support better than that available anywhere else. I am confident that the University will maintain these bursaries and other financial support at whatever level is necessary. Hence I think this point is rather pointless in that it asks the University to admit a line and to do what it is already doing.

4. That the University declare it will never privatise.

This is a rather odd point. Yes I can see that there would be large issues which would need to be addressed before the University could privatise (in particular relating to access and funding) but it would be foolish to for the University to state that at no point in the life of the University will it privatise. In the hundreds of years of history which may yet lie in the future of this University circumstances may change such that privatising is the right thing to do. For a large proportion of its past the University was private and outside (at least to an extent) of the influence of government there are many things that the University has gained through being funded by the government but we can’t be sure that all future governments will not try and do something which would be detrimental to the University to the extent that the University was forced to privatise to avoid it.

5. That the University commit to ensure the autonomy of education from corporate interests.

What this means is not well defined. Yes education should not be commercialised – it is of intrinsic value to society quite apart from its standard economic impacts. However not all influence from all companies is necessarily bad just as not all influence from governments is necessarily good. Both can be both good and bad at different times and on different areas and it would be naive to exclude companies from all influence for all time. Yes they should never be allowed to run the University or its courses but they may at times be able to provide things of value and so can’t be ignored completely.

6. That the University recognise UCU (University & College Union). We urge post-graduates, academics and all university staff to unionise.

This seems rather irrelevant to the issue at hand. Yes unions have value and can serve a useful purpose however since the University is (or at least should be) run by the academics in a perfect world there would be no need for them to unionise as they are their own managers. My main concern with this point is that it is offtopic and to an extent partisan – unfortunately not all students like unions and hence making one of the points involve unions is not going to increase support. As far as I know the UCU has been fairly sensible and if I were at some point to be eligible for membership I would probably join. However some unions have done eminently stupid things at various points including the recent past which has unfortunately tarred all unions.

7. That the University ensure that no students who take part in any form of peaceful protest will face disciplinary action.

Here I agree save for that stipulation that I define peaceful to also include not causing damage to property as well as people. Should people commit criminal offences[0] while protesting then they will of course remain liable for the consequences of their actions.

8. That the University urge Gonville and Caius College to open their library, and allow Caius Students full access. (mission accomplished)

Of course I agree with this – I think the Caius rather silly to have closed it in the first place yes the conservative offices were rather badly damaged but Cambridge students are not in that kind a of a rage with Caius or the Caius library and suitable access controls could have been placed on it to prevent anything bad from occurring.

So in conclusion while agree with some of the demands raised and with the right of students to peaceful protest and consider that it is a good thing that they are doing this protest (and would indeed stand in front of tanks that they retain this right) I disagree with a sufficient number of their demands sufficiently strongly that I can’t support this protest. If they were occupying the local Conservative or Lib Dem headquarters then I would come visit, bring cake and ask what their proposals are for an alternative mechanism for funding University properly. (Clearly what we are being given is suboptimal but it is not sufficient to criticise it is also necessary to present an alternative).

[0]: Here I would also specify further that the laws under which these offences are committed are also good laws we have had quite a few rather bad ones in recent years. In the eyes of the law this is of course irrelevant but to my eyes it matters a lot.
[1]: If it doesn’t take three years of working really really hard then it is not a degree and should not be treated as such – instead it should be compressed into a shorter period of time such that that time is spent working really really hard and then it should be called a Diploma and offered by polytechnics – but I digress.