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Just by a strange coincidence at the same time I was mostly through that tedious but famous read Frankenstein – the news broke that Newcastle and Durham’s collective University project has worked out how to manufacture sperm… As I mused on the wild silliness of that old feminist idea that men [as in the male half of the species] are not really needed and this can only add to that strange and destructive argument…

Of course one thing is that as they’ve worked out how to make a sperm from a skin cell – How long before they can make an egg? And then who will be needed? Alright – so that’s science fiction at the moment but last week making a sperm was as well. I’ll stick my neck out and say How Long Before Pregnancy Is A Luxury For The Rich Or Something The Poor Cannot Avoid?

In the late eightees I remember there was some interest in a ‘wet incubator’ that was having some success and how much more interest in developping a wet incubator will there be when sperm and egg can be manufactured, vetted and then wed… why not let them develop slightly longer in the lab… and if possible would the rich spend money on not being pregnant, would folk investigate a full term ‘artificial womb’ or incubator as it would relieve the poor from having to work hard and carry their child?

Frankenstein in his pride wanted to make a creature better than he – We in our pride are content to manufacture ourselves… and make ourselves redundant?

Will we abandon sex completely for the sake of  descandants? Will we automatically turn to contraceptives so that we need never worry about what could occur outside the Lab? Could this be the road to Barbarella where only the eccentric or the rich [possible only the rich eccentric] carry their babes?

Barbarella is a vision of a future without sex – could we turn towards sex as nothing more than fun and then for prudes to allow us to worry about diseases and dirt to say that we should refrain?

I don’t think the future is sexless or genderless, even though that might become possible by design… but I do wonder how wise we’d become in a world where hardship is having to go to the shops… How could we relate to another’s pain when all pain is striven to be discarded?

Now I’m sure there are some who have problems with the old ‘plumbing’ and that given that I’m not against an incubator that could help – I’m against what the widespread use of such could mean… Ordered children? Frozen embryoes to be thawed out at a given notice? Just come along at the appropiate appointment and take your child away and here’s some drugs to get you to lactate [if you so desire]… Male or female there could be a drug for either… [Men can lactate given real hardships… for more ask or be bewildered.]

Don’t want a screaming infant? Well, we could use a new and not quite tested method for allowing them to develop a bit more… yes, nutritional supplements and programmes for languages…

Why don’t you just say how old you want them and perhaps take one off the shelf?

If this were to pass over the years [at least two decades I think but I could be wrong…] would we notice any diference in how we related to each other, would we just say that we had come into some Golden Age? and what would we lose?

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I was at the Hay on Wye Festival and saw Rowan Williams’ conversation with AN Wilson [as opposed to AN Other…] and was strangely affected by the conversation (reported Here in a very curtailed manner but what do expect from an hour?) and Rowan’s answers to questions…

Now, I feel, I must point out that Rowan is not one of my heroes – true I did admire the way he was not outright derided, rail-roaded, cut or spliced by either Dawkin’s conversation with him in his last outing – or by his editing department… but I do think Rowan Williams is a great mind and a spiritual giant in his own way – which doesn’t seem to be mine…

Later after the conversation I saw AN Wilson and almost approached him to ask ‘Why did you give him such an easy ride?’ but turned aside when I came to the realisation that grilling the Archbish wasn’t on the agenda… some of the questioners were obvioulsy trying to merely curry favour and point out their own goodness whilst others were of a more cunning ilk… This is to be expected with the head of a denomination but I was disappointed, pointedly, over one question and Rowan’s answer…

A humanist [self-confessed] asked Williams about whether he would want to join the humanist cause as some in his denomination did not have the same views over various issues – this is of course a cunning question and Rowan asnwered it in like manner. He basically turned the invitation around and asked whether or not he could count on the questioner, and their ilk, to be an ally…

Not that he was prepared to defend folk under his leadership.

It is this casual casting off that I found troubling. Either you agreed with his views or you were under a critical appraisal by the great leader. As the Archbishop I, from the outside of the anglican fold I have to admit, assume that he should defend those within his fold – alright, both sides have thrown brickbats at each other so there is no easy line to hold them all together but from the front of a meeting he was prepared to just cut adrift a raft of his clergy. Shouldn’t he be standing up for them despite their disagreements?

As a leader of a faction such a stance would be the norm. As the leader of the whole Anglican shebang I found it less than wholesome.

Other than this Rowan Williams has indeed used his position to, umm, effect…

He has been able to give Dawkins a target that, despite his best attempts, he failed to hit. Rowan also put out a report about the drastic state of our children is in. These are not small things and no doubt they are not the only ones…

However he did sanction the great apologist for totalitarianism the job of writing the A Good Childhood report – Lord Layard. And gave the rather double-speak equivalent regarding selfishness – ‘extreme individualism’…

Being able to use his position and take a stand but feel unable to come to the crunch and use the exact words he means and then ask for help from outsiders rather than defend others who differ in their views despite being his clergy I have to ask –

What use Rowan Williams as Archbishop of the Church of England?

In this day and age of ever increasing legislation into our private spaces I’m going to start this post with an imaginary situation…

I’m writing in my study. I’m on my own and so I smoke my pipe, happily as it happens. Of course I have to stop smoking as soon as anybody else comes into the room despite two windows being open – enough to allow the smoke to leave rather than just build up into a cloud but small enough to give the smoke time to weave into strange patterns I find almost mesmerizing and a little inspiring. No, it’s just tobacco swirling from the pipe bowl. If I don’t stop smoking then I may be charged as the laptop can be used as a spy in my study…

Alright, so we are not there but lets go over where we are…

Our mobile phones can be used as microphones for those with the ‘right’ software and clearance… and the government is looking at how to make our internet lives more, well, ordered… and if my study was down as a place of work then I would have to cease smoking if anybody came in…

As I’m writing this I wonder about the new legislation that is being proposed regarding smoking in cars. Some want it banned, after all these years of endangering our lives, because they want to stop everything that might distract the driver but the new drive is for the sake of our children

New research has indicated that the cost to the NHS from smokers is much higher than previously thought, here the story goes that the cost is £5.2 billion for 2005. The researchers go on about how bad the figures of £1.something billion are but fail to say how they then count for the £2.7 billion figure for last year, found here

There are all sorts of problems with this stuff. First we have to decide what is private and what is not and secondly we might actually want to see the full picture when it comes to a. health and b. other contributing factors… I cannot say that I know everything but I am trying to do part of the work for those lazy thinkers with their righteous motives…

Do we want to move into a society where the question of bad and good parenting as a moral one has been left behind and we have legal parenting and illegal parenting. It seems an awkward question that we should never have to face but in Endinburgh as reported here and explored by me in a post it seems that de facto the socail services won their case that it was illegal for an elderly couple to look after their grandchildren. Do we want to move into a society where a child could be taken from it’s parent/s if they smoke in it’s presence?

Parenting has always been subjected to some legalities – it was wrong and illegal to kill your little dearlings and there are other guidelines that empower socail services [if they are up to using them] which give them reason to remove the child and they are moving into more dubious areas. Alright it might not be the best thing for a parent to smoke in front of their little one/s but could they not on the whole still be good parents? Why is smoking in your own vehicle now becoming subject to this ‘moral’ imperative in a legal fashion and after our cars what about our homes?

Years ago I wrote a post about Scotland and the effects or, rather, lack of effects that the smoking ban will have on the health of the Scotish – no doubt those who read that sentence will have some problems with it but after years of having a smoking ban obesity is doing it’s job now… I said then that the most important factor in someone’s health is, statistically speaking, their diet and asked the rather nasty question of whether the Scotish Government would ban the chippy. Well, not yet but obesity has been tracked to help cancer along rather than your health whereas a good diet can help your body fight off or reduce the risks of cancer – including the ones you might get from smoking…

The last thing I’m going to throw in is that there is research out there to show the trouble with walking in suburban areas and town centres. Given vehicle emissions we breathe in carcinogens, amongst other things, which would – the story goes – be like having soot in our lungs. This raises issues in the sense of How can we reckon the cost of smoking tobacco and factor in the effects of where we live? It might prove an interesting research project…

To folk who think that spoiling your ballot paper is a wasted throw in the democratic world – I’ve found that Lord Tebbit [the tory bulldog with little room for any sympathy for the working men and women who famously gave the ‘on your bike’ quote…] has indeed done the same as me.

After being warned if he voted for anybody else other than the conservative party he would be thrown out – he has declared that he spoilt his ballot paper… You can find his reasoning here but you’ll have to scroll down a bit.

Now, as he was a faithful Thatcherite, I’m no fan of Tebbit and from my vantage point in The North whilst Thatcher ran the whole place down he seemed to be personally unmoved by the plight of the unemployed and as someone intrinsically wrapped up within and a supporter of the government of the few [How many MPs? How many people do they represent?] I have little time for him but even he can see the point in doing what you think appropriate in the polling booth – whatever that might be…

No doubt he was just fustrated at not being able to vote for UKIP and rather than feeling he could lie he maintained as much of his position as he could to be able to say what he did. Torturous logic to be sure but therein lies his willingness to be able to be honest and open about what he did and being prepared to take the consequences. Whatever I think about Tebbit, I do acknowledge the stand he took.

If more of us thought we could vote according to our consciences rather than believeing we have to vote for the least disagreeable candidate would not our system have to adjust or would the political parties actually try to represent us more fully – thereby openning up for a good debate over political issues and perhaps the odd referendum?

Let me unpack what I mean here. Happiness is standing in for Utilitarianism [as you can see ‘Happiness’ is comparatively user friendly] – Bentham the great grandaddy of this school defined it as the greatest total sum of happiness which has been rather cheaply reduced to the phrase ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’ [see Note 2 on Chapter 8: The Greatest Happiness: Is that the goal? in the slim volume Happiness: Lessons from a new science] on the other hand ‘a good life’ is standing in for an even older way of looking at the world – the ancient greeks and romans used to ask themselves just what made a good life…

Socrates championed being true to yourself and your values. If you think that’s an argument for Happiness he took the poisoned cup prescribed for him as not to do so would have broken his own values – hardly something that made him, his followers or even his detractors happy. Socrates thought that a good life was about living to standards – ethics and the one work we see this sort of thing [Plato’s Republic] at work – those who cannot live a good life need to be controlled…

Orwell, in one of his essays, attacked the supposed utopia of Swift’s Houyhnhnms as totalitarian of a very dark shade – that those peacefull beasts had to impose constrictions on their very thoughts and speech. Given that utilitarianism had not risen above communism and was still [I believe] a defence of liberty when he wrote his essay he would not have criticized it per se. Now we are leaving utilitarianism behind as a defence for liberty – let folk seek their own happiness as long as it does not harm others to a more pro-active ‘happy’ agenda… where we can discover what would make us happy and then legislate towards that end…

I prefer the idea that we should construct what is a good life built on principles – sometimes the decisions we make which make us grieviously unhappy are the ones we ‘know’ are right. How does that sit with the ‘happy’ agenda? How could you so formulate a world where there are no unhappy choices or to ask another question- how meaningless would that world be?

Just recently on the run up to the Euro and the local elections we’ve had clergy telling us to go out and vote… but what if we don’t like the political reality enough to more than hesitate over the voting slip – and what if we know that before we even get up in the morning… Now I’m sure that Lord Layard [that guru of New Labour] would want us to be happy to vote as much as the clergy.

But to take this as the nutshell to crack the the arguments about with…

I doubt the clergy would expect you to change your internal reality for the sake of the electoral process whereas Layard’s view is much more to do with our internal motivators – in short he would want us to have an internal reality that gave us a kick for expressing our views on the ballot paper…

Now I doubt either of these schools of thought would appreciate my deliberate spoiling of the ballot papers I was given yesterday [Yes – I did vote ‘Liberty!’ even though I had to write that myself… you’ll be gald to know, Dear Reader.] the questions I’m trying to get to are who would be the most displeased with my disposition? why? and what does that mean about how we should live?

In the end various members of clergy would have different views on how I behaved… so I’ll try to stick to the mentality that declared I should get out and Vote! and I’m sure they’d be dissapointed but understanding that I decided my own path despite the diferent values meant a diferent course of action to the one proposed. Perhaps Layard would be happy to know I was happy enough to vote against the entire status quo of the political situation. Perhaps not as it says that positively voting is meaningless in a world that should be seen as meaningful – boxes are to be ticked or crossed.

Layard does argue for electoral change in a world of diminishing turn out – so let’s stop being gentle and take the ideas he promulgates full on. My protest vote would be wrong. I was not happy, for whatever reason, to vote for anybody. In Layard’s world we should either change the choice until I am happy to vote or we should change me until I am happy to vote. Perhaps a mixture of both. What freedom then?

We return to the Houyhnhnms – do we want a society where we cannot express things which disturb the minds of others around us? In this sense I prefer the idea that we should be able to decide what pursuits make us happy but that we should seek to live a good life… We may not be happy but we can be right – not only in our own minds but that we can be acknowledged as having the right to decide what we think that is.

Call me hopelessly romantic [and I’ll reply with a very hard nosed reply made from a mixture of anthropology and game theory to defend my view] but I think if we were developped as individuals with a sense of our own responsibility we would not seek to harm those around us.  As opposed to the current state of affairs where we are taught there have to be losers and they are to be trampled by the system until they reach a certain low point in which case the government will look after them – so we don’t need to worry our little heads about them…

I am currently training to become a professional… No really but this post isn’t about that. You see at the moment the profession is not regulated. It has bodies that can be appealed to if the practitioner in question is one of their members – of course not everybody is a member and that’s why they got suckered so badly…

At the beginning of the course we were informed how great regulation would be for us – the biggest professional body was going to fight for the right regulations and protect it’s current members’ practice… of course this was not because they could see a way of swelling their ranks and gaining even more authority within the profession and to be able to crush all other competitors out of existance… sorry – that should read: gaining more members who joined because they saw how affectively that particular professional body stood up for them and their profession… and thus migrate from the other professional bodies to show their gratitude.

So, it’s about a year later and the government still wants to legislate the profession but it’s decided that it’s taken enough advice and can now carry on with it’s policies without any more help… and the professional body now argues against the proposed legislation – which is now bad and draconian… I’m afraid my tutor seemed to be a mouthpiece for that body and as Orwell said about faithful communists  – as the body the tutor owed their allegiance to changed it’s mind, so did the tutor…

And the moral of the story?

Well, governments and groups are drawn to power [to exercise it only for the Greater Good, you understand] and then jealously guard it from others. The government was never going to wave a magic wand for one particular professional body when there are at least three other bodies large enough for me to think of off the top of my head… Never…

What happened was similar to what happened to the hospitality industry – pubs/hotels/etc. they got into talks thinking they could influence government and then when the government said it would proceed [re the smoking ban] irrespective of their actions or advice the hospitality industry kind of threw it’s hands in the air… and so it is repeated…

If you think you can change the system by using the system first and foremost think about how much leverage you have in comparison because most folk when they are at the top of a union or professional body think ‘We’ve got x amount of members to represent therefore they cannot ignore us…’ The trouble with is that the government thinks that they represent those folk in the first place and that they represent everybody else as well. [Even if they don’t like it.]

And so the government sticks to its ideas – whatever they might be and carries on regardless, but thanks for coming round for the chat – it’s been interesting hearing your point of view…

A genuine and real threat of complete non-compliance from the outset could have done a better job of representing the profession and before you say that can’t be true – well, it couldn’t have made things worse… Government has always relied on compliance – non-compliance means having to exert effort – deploying police and lawyers, even court rooms and judges… whereas we’ve been conditioned – individually and as a society – to comply from the first day we set foot in school or nursery and so want to.

Therefore the government has the whip hand in any dealings except with rebels willing to be problematic but that’s not enticing – it is the vision of hard living and protest and possibility of jail and fines… being invited into tea at Downing Street, well now, that’s comfort and appreciation – but only for as long as the government’s whim lasts.

and it’s more problematic than a walk in a dark, bear infested forest…

I was listenning to Hearts and Minds, on Radio4, the second episode about Isaiah Berlin is the one I think has more going for it…. and was struck by one of the quotes of Isaiah about dictators and happinness that reminded me of one of the prominent thinkers of New Labour.

Lord Richard Layard,that economist come cheap hack, in his book ‘Happinness: Lessons from a new science‘ says that we can find out what will make us happy and thus the government should then ‘provide’ that – either by limiting behaviour in certain respects or by forcing us to have these things…

Berlin states in the second episode that Hitler, amongst other dictators, knew what would make folk happy and that once the regime was in place then the governed would appreciate the new regime…

Setting aside the seat belt regulations which declare we must have fasten our seat belts front and back in the privacy of our own vehicles for safety reasons this government has banned hunting and smoking in public whilst gearing up for alcohol amongst a host of  restrictions in other areas of our lives… We have had a shift towards a totalitarian view – ID cards and the like. And here I’ll add the proviso that at the moment the current government has decided that it can’t get enough support for the ID card not that they  would not want it…

A symptom of this is that we have, quite recently, the Archbishop Rowan Williams swat away at selfishness with the phrase ‘excessive individualism’ here and in other articles, despite the fact that not only is the phrase down right misleading and erroneous [somebody excessively individualistic would also be excessively responsible, if that’s possible] it also attacks the basis of defending individuals’ rights…

In a time when CCTV cameras are sprouting up everywhere and ever more details of our lives are being catalogued and liberties curtailed – is it right that someone dropping litter should have a photo of them in the local paper with the words [in effect] saying ‘Wanted‘? Becuase that’s what happens in a town in the north of the UK where the CCTV operators not only watch but can tell people to ‘behave‘… as documented in the first episode of Who’s Watching You?

Perhaps it’s time to shake the political tree and try to get the political class to rethink the value of Liberty…

Because, in the end, even if Layard can find out what would make us, generally, happy other studies show that once you repress folks’ ability to be responsible – that, Dear Reader, that makes us all unhappy… and we are on the path here in the UK with the biggest prison population of any comparable society by a large margin…

So, I ask you to join my cry and Vote ‘Liberty! in the coming elections and try to give a shock to all those jockeys who think they know best…