Saturday, May 20, 2017

Running with Arthritis 2

In 2003 i was diagnosed with  rheumatoid arthritis. It was a shock! I had always been fit and healthy and had recently left the army, where I had been a physical training instructor. I was devistated with the diagnosis.  I stopped running (doctor's orders) and for the next ten years suffered a lot of joint pain. I was old before my time.
In many ways this was as much a psychological battle as a physical one. I had to learn to deal with it. Having been a fit and active young man, this was a challenge.
It was not until 2013 that things changed. Firstly I changed my diet, cutting out or to be honest reducing gluten. Gluten has an inflammatory effect and so this eased the pain. This initial step gave me the motivation to try exercising again.  Like a typical squaddie I went at it hell bent and launched myself into running. It hurt,  not surprising after ten years of little exercise.  However,  with determination I finished my first 10km race.
Why am I writing this? Well, four years later I have recently run my first marathon. It hurt. It was a trial. But I did it. On a day to day basis my arthritis is less of a problem than 4 years ago. For many years I took very strong drugs to deal with my condition.  Today I take none!
I'm not saying it's easy,  every run is a challenge.  But it's better than a life on drugs and reduced mobility.  Running is proven to increase lifespan. You don't have to run a marathon, but if you want to do something for yourself, then go for a run. Trust me. I know from experience 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Why Secular societies need Religion

Why Secular societies need Religion

In one way or another all Western countries are secular, with differing degrees of enforcement of this division between religion and the State.  This means that the laws put in place are all positive laws based on reason and formulated by people for the benifits of the people who live in a  given country. Positive laws are not only preferable but essential if we are to legislate on the complexities of modern life; we can't very well go back to the Old Testament if we wish to revamp the Highway Code. Yet, as any decison is inevitably value based we should may be assess the appropriateness of the values we base such laws on.

At present we live in a time with few all - pervasive belief systems. One that has however become onipotent in the field of modern ethics is Natural Law. This has become, as a theory, so powerful that it is now operating in the state of an unquestionable truth. However, as I have argued previously, natural law in fact encourages an egocentric attitude to the world as it enshrines our rights to look after ourselves.  Even if this were not an issue let us may be question the 'natural' nature of these laws. Few people would question the bond of a mother and her newly born child. Most would indeed see it as natural. Yet applying natural law we could argue that this is far from natural as the dependency of the child on their mother in fact imprisons both of them and therefore limits the 'freedom' of both. This is of course an absurdity as there is nothing more natural than birth and family thus a different motivation must be working, one that is stronger than the so called natural rights.

It could be therefore that there is nothing natural about Natural Rights. Although the concept has been around in various forms for over two thousand years it is to the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries that we must look to understand the modern version of Natural Rights. In this time we see the slow and painful transition from monarchy to democracy. It took different paths in different countries but this process gave us the freedoms we have today. Alas as part of this we threw of the precepts of religion in favour of positivism and secularism.  This in many ways was natural as the Church stood for tradition and monarchy. However, in escaping these shackles we undermined our belief system.

With no higher authority we are our own judges relying on the Natural Laws we in fact created. These laws in turn tell us to do no more than look after ourselves. Human Rights law, based on Natural Law, has tried to deal with this problem but only really creates an equality thus falling far short of true justice. Treating people equally can have very unjust results as they may theoretical have equal chances that don't take into account the very real material and structural differences. For true justice we must look for something more, a higher goal to aim for.

Whatever great religion you look at they all have a concept of perfection,  of goodness. You can call it God or just truth, it doesn't really matter. But simply put it puts an ideal above our basic desires.  Sure we fail most of the time to achieve this ideal but we can nevertheless strive for it knowing that the alternative would most certainly be worse.

Returning to positive laws then, we must indeed base them on something. Some concept must underpin our deliberations when we legislate. A Religious State would be truly unjust as it would limit the interpretations of this concept if a higher truth and invariably become dogmatic and judgemental, yet a Secular System underpinned with a highly religious culture would indeed encourage the searching for truth in any descion. This needs to be at all levels however as otherwise it would become hollow: well meaning laws sabotaged or corrupted by the citizenry. Such a system requires therefore a reengagement with religion. All religions, it really doesn't matter which as there inner truths are the same.

Of course this system should be, ironically enough, backed up by strong secular laws and anti-descrimination legislation in order to ensure a truly healthy debate where no one feels victimised. This revolution would indeed require the rewriting of laws and constitutions so as to ensure that the concept of a greater truth becomes instrumental at every level and we do away with the promotion of the ego.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Failure of Liberalism

It is with a stern and heavy heart that I announce the abject failure of Liberalism. This statement is not through flippancy but comes from looking at the world around us. In amongst the news stories about the “Panama Papers” and the “Global Economic Crisis” the question of 'what went wrong' seems to keep coming back to us. In the 21st Century, with laws, regulations and systems in place, the world is still a very unequal place where the rich seems to play with the lives and prosperity of millions. Is it just human nature? Are we destined to carry on making these mistakes and living in such an unequal world. Perhaps we made a wrong turn some where. Perhaps we chose to emphasise the wrong characteristics from the myriad of possibilities. 

There are many things in this world that we take for granted: unwritten rules of behaviour or basic principles of right or wrong. However, most things have at one point in our history actually been debated and decided upon. Over time these ideas then enter the social fabric and make up our subconscious system for dealing
with the world. 

For proof of this we need look no further than the fact that the written constitution has become the  undisputed cornerstone of state creation. No sooner has a desire for independence or 'regime change' been aired then a call is made for, and subsequent work is carried out on, a written constitution. In fact few countries, with the United Kingdom being a notable exception, do without having a codified constitution. Yet, the prevalence of the written constitution today does not necessarily mean that they exist in order to proclaim and embody a higher truth. Whilst Plato extrapolated the details of his 'Republic' in order to deal with often practical concerns, he never the less was attempting to discover a route to justice as Benjamin Jowett explained in his introduction to his translation: 
(...) for justice is the order of the State, and the State is the visible embodiment of justice under the conditions of human society. The one is the soul and the other is the body, and the Greek ideal of the State, as of the individual, is a fair mind in a fair body. In Hegelian phraseology the state is the reality of which justice is the idea. (Jowett. 2014)
It is a matter of somewhat questionable certainty whether we could say the same today. Where the state is the embodiment of the constitution it therefore holds that the constitution should be striving to describe the ideal: the higher truth; justice. Alas, we often relegate this concept to the realm of the judiciary, happy that the right to a fair trial and freedom of speech absolves us of seeking justice in all its forms. On the fringes of the debate we hear mention of social justice and placate ourselves with some forms of charitable work or donation. We have however missed the point somewhat.

Whilst our states and their formative constitutions are clear and practical legal documents for all to admire, few, I would hesitate, are devised with a clear understanding of what truth is in itself; but rather they copy and pass on an idea of certain natural rights. They therefore strive to achieve a fair balanced society without actually knowing what one is. Inevitably they are reactionary, that is attempting to correct the errors of prior systems. This being the case they often overcompensate in some way or rely on generally accepted concepts of justice in order to appease all.

Europe as a whole has in fact arrived at a point in history where the only truly acceptable form of constitution, and therefore state, is one that provides for a representative democracy. This has become such an accepted part of European politics that it has been enshrined in the European Union treaties as well as in the Washington Treaty. The second feature that has become unquestionable is the existence of a capitalist economy. European states are engineered in such a way as to be conducive to this arrangement and in fact create the impression that there is no other viable form. This is further strengthened by the four pillars of the EU, placing emphasis on flow of capital amongst other things.

However, whilst some prominent economists have over the centuries explored the benefits and drawbacks of a capitalist economy their ideas do not seem to have been fundamental to contemporary constitutions; moreover, that little thought has been done on what the best basis of any give constitution should be seems evident from the essential preamble to the constitutions; where little emphasis is placed on defining and justifying the economic system preferred and in fact these seem to paraphrase each other.

Modern constitutions have followed on from enlightenment thinking by expounding the natural nature of certain features. The Polish Constitution of 19972 for example talks in its preamble of universal values deriving either from God or another source as believed by each individual. These values are "truth, justice, good and beauty". However, the preamble states them rather in passing as opposed to making direct reference to them:
Having regard for the existence and future of our Homeland,Which recovered, in 1989, the possibility of a sovereign and democratic determination of its fate,We, the Polish Nation - all citizens of the Republic, Both those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good and beauty,As well as those not sharing such faith but respecting those universal values as arising from other sources,Equal in rights and obligations towards the common good - Poland (…) 
It is not of course the case that concepts of a definitive truth have never been directly dealt with in other constitutions. It follows that concepts proclaimed in the American Declaration of Independence were still held by the writers of the US Constitution, the most famous of which were:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

However, we see that the framers believed that certain rights were self-evident. This, is from a philosophical point of view somewhat of an empty statement. That said, if we take that they are indeed self-evident then we must question what actual rights have been put forward. Life, Liberty and Happiness are enshrined in the US Constitution yet are we to believe that these represent justice? Is having the liberty to live in poverty just? The writers of the constitution were in fact heavily influenced by John Locke and his ideas of 'Natural Law'. The phrase 'self evident' thus concerns the natural 'god given' nature of such rights.

Moreover, there is still ongoing debate as to the relationship in Locke's theories between natural rights and natural law. It is possible that Locke's natural laws were merely conjectures of his stance on natural rights. Natural rights in turn are a somewhat basic appraisal of our animal instincts and do not elevate us beyond the animal level. Thus it could be argued that basing a constitution, and thus society, upon such natural law encourages inequality and hinders our development. Even within Classical Liberalism (of which Locke was a founding father) there were opposing camps: Jeremy Bentham (prominent Utilitarianist) for instance was adamantly opposed to the idea of natural rights claiming that they encouraged and in fact led to anarchy.    
                                                                                                                            John Locke

Returning to Poland, in comparison Poland's constitution removed itself even further from the philosophical premise that such rights exist. By focusing on the holder of such beliefs and their equality before the law the Polish Constitution sterilised the effectiveness of said rights. This is perhaps in part due to the unspoken belief in the validity of such rights and methods as eluded to above. The Declaration of the rights of Man and of the Citizen (French: D├ęclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen), has unsurprisingly had a great influence on much of political thought since its publication in 1789. It's quite broad assertions, based on natural law theory, have affected both state and institutional constitutions and charters. It is in fact still quoted in the preamble to the current French Constitution of 19585:
The French people solemnly proclaim their attachment to the Rights of Man and the principles of national sovereignty as defined by the Declaration of 1789, confirmed and complemented by the Preamble to the Constitution of 1946.
By virtue of these principles and that of the self-determination of peoples, the Republic offers to the overseas territories that express the will to adhere to them new institutions founded on the common ideal of liberty, equality and fraternity and conceived with a view to their democratic development.
However, France's interpretation of such rights is somewhat controversial. Take for instance the first article ensuring equality: 
France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs.
The equality has been taken to mean no right to express yourself if it infringes on another’s sensibilities and thus all religions signs are banned in public. Here it would be easy to question whether justice has truly been found in the Platonic sense.

In broader terms, the very universal and inalienable nature of such rights poses though a problem as to what extent these rights have become mere window dressing. Stated, but rarely implemented. For that matter, is natural law theory still a viable concept? Natural Law theory inevitably promotes the individual as the basis of organisation. In an interconnected and multicultural world perhaps emphasis should indeed be placed upon other things.

Furthermore, returning to the opening paragraph, has natural law theory and liberalism actually led us astray? It promotes individualism and the idea that property and yourself are the key features of life. Its no wonder that, with these as the underlining values of our society, we are in such a mess today, four hundred years after John Locke put pen to paper. It is time to move on; to start to think again. If we are ever to develop as a society we must rethink our most basic concepts.