Optimism in the UK

Well, what a wonderfully optimistic end to the week in the UK, as most of the nation basks in their strong vote to Leave the EU. I’m very pleased to say that my own region strongly led the charge to vote Leave, and the optimistic lead editorial of the local Express and Star newspaper (one of the largest regional dailies in the UK) sums up the region’s mood rather well. The Daily Mail newspaper’s lead editorial also spoke ably for all those who cast our historic national vote, the biggest popular vote in the nation’s history. The vote was clear and momentous, and courageous. It can’t have been easy for many people to step outside traditional loyalties and to think things through, then to put aside fear and short-term problems and instead to vote for the generations who are coming. They have each cast a vote for the generation of 2030 and beyond — the toddlers and small children of our amazingly fecund ‘new baby boom’, who will now come of age in a thriving and outward-looking UK.

Yet, in the few days of rudderless interregnum this Friday and Saturday, various malign forces have predictably taken the opportunity to throw a monumental tantrum.

The political left is running through its usual playbook. They quickly assembled a mob of photogenic young people for the media, to howl and spit outside the home of Boris Johnson. They denied democracy and have started an online petition for a wholly new referendum, packing it with millions of dubious robo-votes. Their pet Labour politicians claim they will mis-use Parliament to block the democratic will of the British people. They’ve called the Leave voters ‘racists’, ‘dupes’ who had been lied to, or claimed they were just ‘angry white men’ making a protest vote. Their journalists have continued on stunned auto-pilot, churning out more articles repeating the failed themes of the Project Fear campaign. Next up will probably be the left staging a central London rally/demo, at which histrionic speeches will declare London a ‘Racist Free Zone’ and claim that the rest of the UK is no longer a ‘safe space’ for immigrants. What rubbish. We’re one of the most welcoming nations on earth. But none of this bluster will make any difference, just as it made no difference when they ran through the same dog-eared political playbook after the UK’s General Election result. In a month it will be forgotten.

The Scottish and Irish nationalists have had a fit, predictably. Most of their bluster seems just hasty words — aimed at keeping their own voters in line, venting ragged emotions, and making trouble and fruitless work for the UK government. They must know that the destiny of both Eire and Scotland are now as proud and mostly self-governing parts of a vigorous outward-looking UK, not as cringing penniless beggars shackled to a corrupt and anti-democratic EU superstate.

More subtly dangerous is that the EU is pressing for an immediate start to negotiations over the summer. Our unelected EU overlords must know that this is not yet needed. The EU’s internal timetables are such that it would suit them very well for the UK to invoke Article 50 in May 2017, then spend two years negotiating for a final departure date of early June 2019. That would also fit in well with the UK’s 2020 General Election. So their call seems an obvious attempt to hustle exhausted politicians into a summer of exhausting and fruitless ‘pre-negotiation debates’. These would allow the UK’s negotiating team no summer holiday recovery time, and less time to carefully assemble new teams and to coax the needed extra negotiators out of retirement or private-sector jobs. So the EU’s call clearly looks like a political ruse, aimed at weakening the UK’s position both at home and in the EU.

But the markets have so far responded well. The pound is down only about ten cents, which will spur our exports and tourism wonderfully. House prices have only dipped by about 5%, offering first-time buyers an opportunity to enter the market before prices start to rise again in September/October. The blue-chip stock markets are actually up 2%, as projects and jobs delayed by the EU vote come off the shelf and promise an August-January mini business-boom for the UK.

As the more crazed fears fade away, and firm leadership and a clear timetable for departure is set in place, the time for bluster and panic will soon be over. It’s time to chill out on Sunday, folks, watch a movie (I suggest Elizabeth: The Golden Age). Then buckle up and face the bright new future on Monday morning.


“The Symphonic Ideal” (Oct 1916)

On the day when the UK so gloriously votes to leave the EU, it seems somewhat apt to re-publish H.P. Lovecraft (of all people), on the joys of hope and looking on the bright side, and the perils of a sour and biting cynicism. The co-incidence of the vote and my having the article in digital form is just that, yet there does seem something here which speaks to the sour precautionary grindings currently being heard from many British media commentators.

We live in the midst of a new and outspoken cynicism; the result of declining orthodoxy on the part of the religious, and of aimless iconoclasm on the part of the philosophical. The happiness once acknowledged in our minor joys and moments of respite from the burden of life, is now laughed at and despised as a mere narcotic to the intelligence; and we are bidden to dismiss as unreal those simple and honest delights which alone make human existence endurable. If aught but the severe satisfaction of perfect intellectual, artistic, aesthetic, and moral beauty chance to please us, we are straightway damned as superficial, and censured for our childish triviality of taste. [Lovecraft has a connoisseur of flavoured ice-creams and cats, among many other small pleasures suited to his extreme poverty]

   There recently appeared before the public a rather unsophisticated volume entitled “Pollyanna”, which preached a sweetly artificial doctrine of converting ills into blessings by the contemplation of possible calamities still more direful. After a period of enthusiastic laudation from the “jeune fille” [young girl] type of admirer, poor “Pollyanna” became the target of every penny-a-line hack reviewer and little-wit in Grub-Street [in the mainstream press]. They loftily demonstrated that the easing of melancholy by force of imagination is a vastly unscientific thing. Impossible, they vowed! Or, even if possible, it ought not to be; since ’tis a frightfully callow sort of mental regimen, quite unworthy of the mature mind! They all swore ’tis an affront to the eternal verities to be able to stop thinking of the world’s evil and to gather a little joy from that idyllic goodness and virtue of which the world undoubtedly possesses, or seems to possess, a little. The New York Tribune, in fact, deemed the inoffensive “Pollyanna” sufficiently culpable to merit a sneering editorial. [“On Being Gladder Than You Are”, New York Tribune, Sun. 3rd Sept 1916, p.2. On the occasion of a New York City stage adaptation of the book.]

   So runs the worldly-wise current of twentieth-century life! Your modern philosopher had rather be mature and miserable, than childlike and contented; and he deems you a monstrous imbecile if you can be happy at a time when he thinks you have not sufficient cause to be happy. Heaviness of spirit, he doth asseverate, is a sacred obligation of every thoughtful and responsible citizen. If you lack woes of your own, then go mourn at the wretched state of mankind in general!

   The Conservative [Lovecraft’s amateur critical journal] confesses to no little amusement at the wailing of these worshippers of morbid maturity. He even ventures to exhibit a leaning toward the side of immaturity; for is not maturity but the full-blown precursor of decay? It is dangerous to dabble in realities, and if more of us were able to retain the happy illusions of our infancy, those illusions would be so much nearer truth. Can any of our apostles of sophistication define what they mean by real happiness? Is it not more likely that all happiness is unreal; a golden fabric woven by fairies from the moonbeams of yesterday, and visible, like the Milky Way, only when more garish and conspicuous things are banished from the sight? A moment of retrospection, a snatch of song, a cadence of rhythm, a glance at the blue empyrean [the sky], the playing of the sun with the leaves of green trees, a chance act of benevolence — all these things sometimes bring what we uncultured barbarians are pleased to call happiness. Must we be utterly condemned if such happiness be found to have no cause save in physiological reactions or psychological stimuli? It is certainly grateful surcease from the pain of living, and what more could we desire? Is not fragrance fragrance, whether it come from the woodland violet or the stately cedar? If these simple pleasures be only drugs to help us forget reality, then let us accept the oblivion they offer. Nature designed them to soothe the roughnesses of our existence, and we should accept the gift with gratitude, rather than reject it with scorn. On the pleasures of the fancy rests all the mighty framework of art, poesy, and song. Stark, mature reality leads to the suicide’s vault. [Lovecraft would restate this sentiment a decade later, in the opening of his famous “The Call of Cthulhu” and also in the opening of “The Silver Key”]

   […] We are all much too serious, and too little disposed to promote the comfort of society. One refreshing zephyr of naturalness, whether in the primer-like and humour-lacking form of a “Pollyanna” or in the subtler shape of a Symphony, is to our weary spirits worth an hundred laboured essays on the art of correct thinking or the science of being wisely miserable. Wherefore, though Reason may goad us on in our sterner search for Truth, let us not contemn [Lovecraft’s deliberate use of the archaic form of ‘condemn’] the happiness which blooms by the roadside, nor cast aside unthinkingly the protecting cheerfulness of the Symphonic Ideal.

   —— H. P. Lovecraft.

Google Science Journal app

Google has launched Science Journal on the Google Play store, a phone app that turns your phone and its sensors into a citizen-science research platform. You can also buy simple lab kits from Exploratorium to enhance your phone’s scintillating science supremacy. Doubtless there are other cit-sci apps, but it’s good to see Google offering a free platform. One wonders if the app’s title presages a future publishing journal, in which a Google A.I. aggregates and digests the mass data and reports (from all the apps) and turns them into short academic articles?


Matt Ridley’s “Deep Optimism” talk – now free as video

Matt Ridley’s “Deep Optimism” is a 2011 talk for the Long Now’s Seminars About Long-term Thinking. It’s now officially free as video, because today The Long Now opened up their videos to non-members. As a consequence the Long Now site seems to be experiencing traffic-surge problems with their video feeds, so you may have to wait a day or two for the current surge to die down before viewing. In the meantime, I now feel able to link to the pirated YouTube version of Ridley’s “Deep Optimism” talk. Alternatively, the audio-only .MP3 file of “Deep Optimism” is here.

Other especially optimistic Seminars About Long-term Thinking talks, also now free as video, are:

* Jesse Ausubel: Nature is rebounding (the Earth is recovering and greening)

* Steven Pinker: The decline of violence (the world is becoming a safer place to live in)

* Peter Diamandis: Long-term X-Prizes (new methods are motivating the brightest people to do stuff that matters).

Personally I think I prefer the audio-only versions of the talks. There are no non-verbal distractions and, in one’s imagination, the speakers look so much more handsome and better dressed than they do in real life. But for classroom use the videos may be useful for some — when the traffic surge to the Long Now site dies down.