Tag Archives: opinion

What does he think he’s up to?

The Supreme Court seems to matter not a jot to Boris Johnson. Even as I write, he’s probably plotting how to wriggle out of whatever they may conclude.

To me, he has conspired to prorogue Parliament just so that he can call an election, which he probably thinks he will win. On the surface of it all, he may be right. He might just win – even with an outright majority.

Personally, I can no longer decide which side I’m on: in or out. Part of me wants to remain in the European Union, because we’re stronger in it by being part of a large market, and because we may be able to influence how it [the EU] should be reformed. And reformed it should be. The other part of me wants to be out of it all together, so that they [the other Europeans] can get on with it, whatever it may be.

Either way, I am utterly fed up with people talking about Brexit when they don’t even know what kind of Britain they want – or what they’re being offered. Those who want another referendum based on questions about a future Britain – and there are many – have my sympathy. Especially when they say they will abide by the result. I don’t feel strongly about any party, let alone one that says what it would do if it were in power.

What does bother me is that Johnson and his cronies don’t seem to understand anything about what’s happening in the country, outside the Westminster village.

I live in East Devon, which is – by turns – prosperous and down-at-heel. Goodness knows where the local farming and agricultural communities think their money will come from, once they’re no longer able to enjoy EU grants. That’s to say nothing of the retail sector, which is facing its own problems.

But, of course, Boris knows best! We shall leave the EU at the end of October, come what may. Or to use his own words, “do or die”.

I’d rather die than listen to any more of his blustering rhetoric.

What the people of this country want is to get on with it, or so he says. Get on with what, I ask? We live in a broken society and nothing, but nothing, he has ‘promised’ will fix things as they currently are.

He is, it seems, beyond predicting.

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Do we know too much today?

It was Alexander Pope who said “A little learning is a dangerous thing”, which has since been misquoted as “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”.

While I’m not one to quibble over the exactitude of an 18th century phrase, I do wonder what Pope, pictured below, would have made of today’s information avalanche.

In 1709, in An Essay on Criticism, Pope contended that a small amount of knowledge can lead people into thinking they’re more expert than they really are.Alexander Pope

Back in his day, he believed that knowing just a little about a subject could “intoxicate the brain”, whereas a greater depth of knowledge “largely sobers us again”.

Nowadays, with news, facts and opinion flooding the airwaves and swamping cyberspace, it’s become all too easy for most of us to harvest small amounts of information and fool ourselves into believing we have a vast silo of knowledge that lets us think we know everything we need to know about anything.

Thus, armed with a few small pellets of understanding, we let loose a fusillade of ill-informed verbiage that – more often than not – makes us look like someone drunk, not on knowledge, but on self-regard.

Nowhere is this more self-evident than in the unmediated, cacophonous worlds of Twitter and Facebook, neither of which I patronise but both of which I cannot avoid.

Abe Lincoln Looking Off to the RightClearly, Pope had a good point; one that was echoed, in part, by Abraham Lincoln, left, or – some contend – Mark Twain, one or another of whom said: “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”

Whoever said what, all three men held fast to a shared idea: that knowledge is a precious commodity, and that it ill behoves us to treat it lightly.

Babbling like Bedlam

I’ve been drawn to this line of thinking by the sheer volume of nonsense I read in the press and see on my screen.

As a keen cyclist and ardent follower of the world’s road racing news, I was astonished by some of the bigoted, prejudiced – even hate-filled – opinion voiced in the weeks and months following Lance Armstrong’s appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show.

True, I added my own tuppence worth.

But I like to think that – just as I did when I sounded off following Lady Thatcher’s death – I did so after some consideration of what I know, and some thought on how best to present my points of view.

Again, as a supporter of Chelsea Football Club, I follow their progress via the press and the web and – once more – I’m sometimes aghast at what I read.

Jealousy, derision and fatuous empty-headedness once again hold sway.'Scene in Bedlam', 1735

The pictures painted in these and so many other cases are of a world that resembles Bedlam; a place teeming with desperate souls all vying to be heard; crazed people who – because they are making so much noise – will never get the eye of those whose attention they seek or the ear of others they’re trying to impress.

Knowledge is power

I’m tempted to say, at this juncture: “Can’t we all shut up?” But that would be fruitless.

The fact is, we all need knowledge to both sustain and enrich our lives. We need it to communicate with others. And, most importantly, we need it to underpin the veracity of what we say.

When we speak from a position of little knowledge we are, indeed, the empty vessels that make most noise.

When we – as we like to say – “know what we’re talking about”, we’re more likely to be believed.

As it is, living as we are through snow storms of whirling facts and howling opinion, and mind-numbing blizzards of information, we too often like to think we know what we’re talking about when, in truth, we only know as much of anything that has managed to stick to our memory banks. And that’s frequently precious little.

Clearly, the answer to my original question – “Do we know too much today?” – is both “yes” and “no”.

Yes, we know – or think we know – who should play for our national soccer team. Yes, we know the colour of Gwyneth Paltrow’s most recent party frock, the length of Kim Kardashian’s hair and who her siblings are dating this week. And yes, we’re led to believe we know what Justin Bieber was up to last night. We also know gazillions of other trivial facts and titbits of information relating to people whose lives never really touch on our own.

But we don’t know enough about the things that really matter.

We don’t, for example, know who’s really in charge of the country – of any country, come to that – who truly controls the world’s security systems, or who’s behind the forces that constantly try to disrupt the even tenor of the world as we know it, or would like it to be known.

Let’s think on’t

Perhaps the real answer to the question is: “Not enough about the right things.”

And – recognising that – perhaps we ought to think more carefully before taking to our keyboards or tablets with the aim of adding yet more to the ceaseless clamour that currently risks deafening itself, and – as a result – causes us to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to most of it.

Let us all think more carefully before opening our minds to the scrutiny of others. Let us try to avoid looking foolish.

That way, we may all get to know a little more that’s truly valuable.

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What have you got to say for yourself?

“Everything and nothing”, I replied, slightly pompously, when people asked me what I was going to blog about.

“But you can’t cover everything!”

“No. Of course not. But if I could, and if everything was possible and nothing was ruled out, I’d be left with everything. And, by the time I’d written about everything, there’d be nothing left to write about, so I’d have covered both options.”

“So where are you going to start, smarty-pants?”

Good question!

At other times, hoping to bring a little levity to my ‘What have you got to say?’ answers, I’d quip: “Anything and everything.”

“But you’d have to choose,’ came the reply.

“Of course I would. But I could choose anything or everything, or anything and everything.”

“What? You haven’t got the time!”

And that’s true.

Let’s face it. I’m not one of those people, so driven by the need to write, they turn the compilation of a shopping list into a literary exercise, or make each single item look like a work of art produced by a calligrapher.

Such people could write about anything, and would probably try to cover everything. Including their groceries. Which – if you check – you’ll see I’ve done.

“So what’s your blog going to be, then? Pulpit or confessional?”

Now that was a question I had to answer.

Was I going to preach? Was I going to mount the metaphorical steps and stand before my virtual audience, holding forth as if I were robed in the vestments of moral authority? Was I going to rail against the forces of evil and corruption?

Or was I going to get on my knees, bare my soul to the world, and offer up an unadorned litany of my sins and misdemeanours?

Years ago – so many years ago they’re beyond counting – I wrote a little piece of doggerel that goes like this:

I used to be a loudmouthed braggart

full of wind and piss,

blowing off in public on every that and this.

But since I learned that nothing’s true,

it’s all no more than cant,

I’ve simmered down a lot these days

and don’t just rave and rant.

For making all that noise won’t do,

it only fills the air.

It does no more than plastic glue

would do to wash your hair.

And now I ask myself: has anything changed?

Well, some things. I’ve got less hair and we all know much more.

Indeed, the volume of information now available to everyone makes it possible for anyone to have an opinion on something or another. Anything and everything, in fact. Which is – almost – where we came in.

I’d better get started!

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