Promoting ‘British Values’ – what does this mean?

We hear a lot from our politicians about promoting ‘British Values’. We hear it with respect to initiatives in schools and colleges and also with regard to promoting integration in immigrant communities.

However whenever any of these politicians are asked what they mean by this term they seem to fumble in the worst possible way. They generally say something along the lines of: “Us British are deeply tolerant and fair-minded, we believe in equality, diversity and respect for others”. Which usually leads to a confused and muddled exchange which revolves around the paradoxical idea that if we value tolerance then how do we deal with intolerance in others. Particularly with regard to traditional religious belief systems that are often deeply intolerant to those not following the chosen theocratic doctrine. i.e: Should we tolerate intolerance?

One of the reasons for this impasse is that there is a fundamental confusion between virtue and value. Tolerance is a virtue when it is used to promote that which we value. The question begged is always: What do we want to tolerate?, and if we say we wish to tolerate diversity then the question remains: diversity of what?

To tolerate something, in practice, is largely the same as ‘to allow it to flourish’. Whenever you hear a sentence with the word tolerate in it, try replacing it with ‘allow it to flourish’. For example compare the tone of:

“We have to tolerate traditional oppressive gender roles in immigrant communities”


“We have to allow traditional oppressive gender roles to flourish in immigrant communities”

While I can imagine hearing the former go unchallenged under the banner of multi-culturalism it is difficult to let the latter stand in quite the same way. It seems to jar with something deeper. I think this helps make it clearer that there are definitely beliefs, behaviours, attitudes and customs evident in our society that we ‘don’t want to flourish’.

‘Tolerance’ seems then, too flimsy a concept to build on. We can also note that tolerance always breaks down under stress. To ‘tolerate’ one another is to live separately alongside each other in a “You leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone” kind of way. It does not require mutual understanding or genuine care and compassion. After all the lion ‘tolerates’ the antelope and they live alongside one another in perfect harmony until the lion is stressed by hunger! When individuals and communities are faced with economic or existential stress then the first thing that invariably happens is they turn on the ‘other’ who they have hitherto ‘tolerated’.

To build a cohesive and resilient society it is urgently required to articulate what exactly are the universal values that we want to encourage to flourish in our society.

I would like to suggest that the confusing term ‘British’ (or similarly problematic ‘Western’) Values is dropped and replaced by the concept of ‘Modern Values’. It is the promotion of the values that we associate with the best of Modernity that, at the present point in world history, we really wish to promote and encourage to develop throughout our society.

So what do I mean by the values of modernity? and how can they be framed to be truly cross-cultural, non-Eurocentric, and inclusive. We want to build a society where we can find a deeper unity in our superficial diversity and articulate a set of values that represent our best aspiration, a society that includes: modern Christians, modern Muslims, modern Buddhists, modern Asians, modern Europeans, modern Africans, modern men and modern women. A rainbow of diversity all expressing their own unique version of ‘the good life’ underpinned by a common vision.

We desperately need to articulate such a set of values  and it is in the historical project of Modernity that, stripped of its euro-centric biases, that I think we can find what we are looking for.

The next Blog will explore this idea of Modernity as fundamentally about the historical emergence of a set of values that needs to be re-articulated and re-asserted as the very foundation of the modern world.


Jeremy Corbyn – comment from Danny Finkelstein in the Times

Another excellent article by Danny Finkelstein that echo’s some of the themes on the rise of Jeremy Corbyn posted on this blog:


Daniel Finkelstein

Daniel Finkelstein

The Labour leader’s sympathies lie with those he sees as suffering under the capitalist oppression of the US and Britain

Before Jeremy Corbyn’s ideas can be criticised, they must first be properly understood. And a good place to start is with the moment, at the beginning of 1975, when the police fished Betty Van Patter’s body out of San Francisco Bay. Her corpse had been in the water for two weeks. Her head had been caved in with a blunt implement.

David Horowitz knew how this had happened. He knew who did it and it made him sick to his stomach. And it isn’t going too far to say that this realisation — this sinking feeling that he knew Betty’s murderers and couldn’t escape the knowledge — changed Horowitz’s world view entirely.

In his extraordinary memoir, Radical Son, Horowitz tells the story of his upbringing as the son of two members of the United States Communist Party in the era of Stalin. He was the classic “red diaper baby” and had, at the age of 17, the classic red-diaper-baby reaction to Khrushchev’s secret speech of 1956. The revelation of Stalin’s crimes made Horowitz determined to save the left from the errors of his parents.

Thus was formed the new left of the 1960s. At the heart of its radical ideology was opposition to the idea of US “imperialism” and Cold War politics. Horowitz became a leading figure, as a West Coast college activist, thinker and writer. After a detour to London (where he moved in next door to Ralph Miliband who lent him Marxist books and became his mentor) Horowitz became the editor of the New Left’s leading publication, Ramparts magazine.

It was during his tenure that he became involved with the militant Black Panther movement. He was aware that there was a strong undertone of gangster violence mixed in with its political black power agenda but he overlooked it. They were the spokesmen of the oppressed after all. So he took on the role of informal adviser to the Panther leader Huey Newton, helped to establish a Panther school and when the Panthers needed a bookkeeper he lent them the bookkeeper of Ramparts magazine. Betty Van Patter.

In the days after Betty’s death, Horowitz finally understood what he had done. That he had made the same error as his parents. That throughout his life, thinking the new left was on the side of the oppressed, it had in fact been on the side of mass murderers, criminals and dictators. Stalin. Mao. Castro. Che Guevara. Ho Chi Minh. Pol Pot. The Black Panthers. He could sometimes dimly see their crimes, but he saw them as the responsibility of the system they were fighting.

He didn’t realise who Huey Newton was because, although it was in front of his eyes, he didn’t really want to know. And so it was that he lent himself to Panthers who were, in many cases, insanely violent and deeply evil. And this naivety paved the way to the death of Betty. The Panthers were dangerous for an ordinary bookkeeper to know, especially if she queried their criminal receipts or simply challenged them.

This story is worth telling because it explains so clearly the nature of Mr Corbyn’s politics and what is wrong with them.

There is something a little odd about all the quotes we have read, isn’t there? The ones in which Mr Corbyn describes Hezbollah and Hamas as “friends”, and the death of bin Laden as an “attempted assassination” that was “a tragedy”, and the crimes of Isis as equivalent to the actions of American troops fighting Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah.

The oddity lies in the fact that Mr Corbyn says he does not approve of the actions of bin Laden or Isis, that he only called Hezbollah “friends” as a peace gesture, and that even though he invited Sinn Fein/IRA to parliament he doesn’t support IRA bombing.

This leads his supporters to suggest that the quotes are smears. But they aren’t. He wasn’t caught saying these things in private. He said them deliberately and the record is quite clear.

The solution to this apparent puzzle — that Mr Corbyn talks sympathetically about people whose actions he says he is against — lies in the Horowitz story. Mr Corbyn is a new-left anti-imperialist of the same sort as the 1960s activists.

He regards the violence of organisations such as Hezbollah and the IRA as a bad thing. He is able to say therefore that he disapproves of it. That he does not condone it. What he never says, however, is that the violence is clearly their fault.

The reason he does not say this is that he does not think it. The new- left anti-imperialist idea is that the origins of all violent movements is the adventurism of Britain and the United States, oppressing less well-off people in order to defend the interests of global capitalism. The murders of al-Qaeda or the IRA are the actions of liberation movements, who, whatever one may think of them, are just fighting back.

The most interesting part of Mr Corbyn’s quote about bin Laden’s death was, actually, not so much that he called that event a tragedy. It is that he used the exact same word about 9/11. “The World Trade Center was a tragedy.” Not an outrage, not a heinous act. A tragedy. This was not a word employed by accident.

He used it because he thinks that al-Qaeda are not properly to be regarded as the sole authors of their aggression. And that the IRA are not fully responsible for their bombing. Ditto Hamas.

Just as with Horowitz’s new left, this position has two problems. The first is that this characterisation of British and American foreign policy is grotesque. It is not necessary to believe either country is morally blameless in order to agree that both have been the front line of the defence of liberty against oppression for a hundred years.

There are many severe criticisms that can be made of policy that was sometimes deeply cynical and mistaken. But taken together, over the history of the Second World War, the Cold War and beyond, I have no doubt whose side America and Britain has been on.

The second is, just as with Horowitz and the Black Panthers, the Corbyn position results in sympathetic dalliance with literally anyone who can be seen as being a liberation movement. The rocket firers of Hezbollah, the car bombers of the IRA, the suicide bombers of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Hugo Chávez. Homophobes, beheaders, antisemites.

All these become “friends” to share platforms with. People whose violence you disapprove of but also overlook — just as Horowitz did with Huey Newton — as the tragic consequence of their struggle against oppression and the result of our aggression. All they are waiting for is your hand in peace.

Until Betty Van Patter turns up dead in the water. With her head caved in with a blunt implement.

Artificial Intelligence week on the BBC – some thoughts!


As it is AI week on the BBC I thought I would write something about my own thoughts on this matter, and introduce some ideas on consciousness from the mystical traditions.

Whenever this topic is discussed there seems to be a deep conceptual confusion between two conceptions of AI:

  1. The idea of machines that are programmed to carry out simple, repetitive tasks that replace humans in domestic and industrial jobs. Recently these machines can ‘learn’ to optimise these tasks by ‘intelligently’ reconfiguring their strategies based on a kind of electronic memory.
  2. The idea that the existence of the above somehow implies that we are getting closer to human like, conscious or sentient machines.

The existence, possibilities and potential challenges and dangers of 1 are admitted and conceptually unproblematic, the concept of 2 is rather foolish and betrays a ridiculously naïve idea of what ‘consciousness’ is.

So, what is it to be conscious or sentient?

Consider the statements:
  • I am a human
  • I am a man
  • I am a doctor
  • I am happy
  • I am sad
  • I am reading this Blog
  • I am a green eyed monster from the planet zog.
What do all these statements have in common? Obviously they all start with the words ‘I am’. It is this basic sense of ‘amness’ or ‘beingness’ that is the mark of consciousness.

It is the subject in the subject/object duality, it is the experiencer in every experience, it is the observer in every observation. Every sentence any sentient being anywhere in the universe utters, explicitly or implicitly, starts with the words ‘I am’. Every experience has to ‘belong’ to someone. ie: There is no such thing as an experience without an experiencer. It is that primal feeling that you have right now of being ‘in here’ in contrast to the world ‘out there’.

To say the words ‘I am’ is to be conscious and it indicates that ‘I am and I know that  I am’.
Every entity (from amoeba to primates) subjectively ‘are’ but only conscious entities (on planet earth probably only humans)  know that they are.
 Now that primal sense of ‘I amness’ is the same for all of us. It is the universal consciousness that we all share. This universal consciousness identifies itself as this or that. I am Jack, I am Jill etc. and hence we get personal consciousness. We can think of the universal consciousness as the gold and the personal consciousness as the jewellery. The same gold can be made into any item of jewellery much as the primal sense of being can identify itself as any person.

All the great mystical traditions maintain that it is our deep confusion about what we, as subjects, identify ourselves as that leads to all the suffering in the world, and freeing the universal consciousness from all its mistaken identities and attachments is the route to liberation. They recommend deep and profound investigation into this sense of a separate ‘I’. Indeed the most profound spiritual questions have always been things like:

  • who am I?
  • where am I?
  • when am I?
  • How do I know I am?
  • Am I having these feeling or thoughts or am I simply witnessing them?
  • What’s it like to BE me?

(Not sure many machines would pass the Turing Test with questions like these!).

To quote the great sage Nisargadatta:

Go deep into the sense ‘I am’ and you will find. The sense of being, of ‘I am’ is the first to emerge. Ask yourself whence it comes, or just watch it quietly. When the mind stays in the ‘I am, without moving, you enter a state which cannot be verbalised but which can be experienced. All you need is to try and try again. After all the sense of ‘I am’ is always with you, only you have attached all kinds of things to it – body, feelings, thoughts, ideas, possessions and so on. All these self-identifications are misleading. Because of them you take yourself to be what you are not. (Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That)
Now from what I can gather cognitive science has absolutely no idea at all what consciousness is or how it comes about – Period. All the verbiage on the matter basically boils down to variations on the idea that at some level of the complexity of living systems it just sort of kinda somehow pops up as some sort of epi-phenomenon or by product!  (this is the so-called ‘hard problem’ of consciousness in western philosophy).

 It seems to me that as cognitive science has absolutely no non-reductive conceptual framework to understand consciousness, as consciousness, it is the height of hubris to imagine that it is possible to ‘make’ it artificially and it just seems an article of faith in the field that it will just pop up at some point as machines get more and more complex. As if one day a computer will just up and say ‘hey, I am a computer who are you?’

 To illustrate the mind-bending nature of true enquiry into consciousness I will leave you to ponder this:

In response to the bewildered question from a visitor  “Then what am I?” Nisargadatta responded:

It is enough to know what you are not. You need not know what you are. For as long as knowledge means description in terms of what is already known, perceptual, or conceptual, there can be no such thing as self-knowledge, for what you are cannot be described, except as total negation. All you can say is: ‘I am not this, I am not that’. You cannot meaningfully say ‘this is what I am’. It just makes no sense. What you can point out as ‘this’ or ‘that’ cannot be yourself. Surely you cannot be something else. You are nothing perceivable, or imaginable. Yet without you there cannot be neither perception or imagination. You observe the heart feeling, the mind thinking, the body acting; the very act of perceiving shows that you cannot be what you perceive. Can there be perception, experience without you? An experience must ‘belong’. Somebody must come and declare it as his own. Without an experiencer the experience is not real. It is the experiencer that imparts reality to experience. (Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That)

If a machine could make sense of that then I would be impressed!!

Corbyn’s success – not great news for Integral Politics


(note: some of the terminology in this post will not make much sense if you are not familiar with some integral theory. See blog post series socio-cultural evolution  to get a bit of a flavour!)

Today Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour party. For me this represents a sad lurch to the Left for the Labour party which is the antithesis of the attempt to progress to a more integral politics (see Blog post: Beyond Left and Right).

Both the ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ movement from the Tories and New Labours ‘Third Way’ are (or were) flawed stumblings from both sides of the political divide towards a more integral view. The rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the use of the term ‘Blairism’ as the ultimate insult brutally ends Labours journey in this direction that’s for sure!

The modern Left wing is a curious thing. It comes primarily from a highly evolved postmodern worldview that rightly discloses,

not a rational uniformitarianism that tends to ignore or marginalise anything not of its ilk, but a beautiful tapestry of multiple contexts, richly different cultural textures, pluralistic perceptions, and individual differences. It becomes sensitive to all these different voices. Wilber, TOE

Listening to Corbyn speak, one can recognize the deep compassion for the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed and the disenfranchised. He supports movements that champion equality, fairness, and tolerance for many different groups: ethnic minorities, women, the disabled, benefits claimants and refugees.

So far so good. The tragedy of the modern hard Left is that it’s analysis of the causes of these problems is ludicrously one-sided in nature, and hence its suggested solutions are simplistic and naïve.

As outlined in this blog, the Left in the UK is fixated on a fundamentally ‘anti-authority’ collective identity that sees the Conservative party as the source of all evil, a tiny elite of the privileged and the wealthy,  defending historic, inherited, aristocratic domination over the  poor hard-working commoner. While there may be a partial truth to this side of the story, to see every issue purely in these terms is simply ridiculous.

(At the very least this narrative makes the millions who voted Conservative at the last election (who are obviously not members of that tiny elite), not thoughtful voters who considered the options and decided that the Tories offered the least worst hope of a bright future, but a bunch of manipulated idiots who might as well have been turkeys voting for Christmas!)

Anti-authority, anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-Western, anti-hierarchical, anti-institutional and deeply subjectivistic. It’s all about me and my emotions, and hence most Left wing movements become a supermagnet for the narcissistic Me generation. ‘nobody tells me what to do’ and ‘leave us alone’ could be the mantras of the young Corbynistas. It is this mix of highly evolved worldcentric compassion and adolescent narcissism that is the curious thing that is the modern Left. Unfortunately in the desire to form alliances with any movement that is equally ‘anti’ the perceived oppressor, people like Corbyn become the unwitting ‘useful idiots’ of all sorts of repugnant organisations. Including the Salafist Islamo-fascists who represent a particularly toxic strain of pre-traditional religious barbarism (see BBC Panorama ‘Labours Earthquake’ for hints at these issues). Also note the shape of two classic Left wing movements; ‘Stop the war coalition’ and ‘ United against Fascism’.  Look at the banners on their rallies. They seem to consist of coalitions of special interest groups united only in their visceral anti-establishment point of view. And very rarely articulate what they are ‘for’. They specialise in shutting down complex debate that seeks compromise and balance between conflicting interests. This is a profoundly bad thing in my view.

Why am I so hard on the Left and not equally harsh on the Right? Many on the Left have achieved the worldcentric compassionate embrace of the postmodern worldview. We can note that the centre of gravity of the Right wing is traditional/modern, caricatured nastily as the ‘little englander’ traditional Conservative voter. The table below illustrates the evolutionary unfolding of these worldviews. Importantly, it is from the postmodern stance, and this stance only, that the integral worldview can evolve (the integral worldview is simply the post-postmodern worldview in the table below, a view that recognizes the holarchical evolutionary unfolding of these worldviews). Therefore untangling the confusions and pathologies  of the postmodern/Left wing worldview that hinders the evolution of the integral worldview is one of the most pressing intellectual tasks facing the world today. Unfortunately the success of Jeremy Corbyn does not particularly help matters much here in the UK…………..or does it?

Frank Field – what have you done?



(Ken Wilber has coined the term ‘Boomeritis’ to characterise this pathological aspect of postmodernism, so named as a reference to the baby boomer generation who seem particularly fixated on this mind-set. Also, using terms from Spiral Dynamics, it is referred to as the ‘mean green meme’. I will be exploring these concepts more as this Blog progresses.)



Integral analysis of ISIS


After introducing the concept of the development of worldviews in the last post (Socio-Cultural Evolution 2) I would like to illustrate how this evolutionary approach can contribute to untangling some real world issues.

The rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq is one of the most pressing issues facing the world today. People are struggling to understand this toxic organisation; How it relates to mainstream Islam and how it can be understood from the perspective of historical Western foreign policy in the region are both complex and highly disputed areas of debate. The link below is to an article by a Muslim journalist and commentator who is deeply familiar with Ken Wilber’s work and the Integral approach in general. It is an excellent example of how these ideas can bring some added clarity to the analysis.

Integral Analysis of ISIS by Amir Ahmed Nasr


Socio-Cultural Evolution 2 – worldviews

The table below was introduced in the first blog in this series socio-cultural evolution 1. It suggests that there are clearly identifiable stages of development of deep cultural value systems.


courtesy of ICE
Explaining the rich complexity of these conceptions is beyond our scope here. I will make a few points that hopefully start to clarify some of the key ideas:
  1. These worldviews appear in individuals as ‘mind-sets’ that underpin behaviour. When they coalesce in societies as dominant modes of thinking and being they can be identified as forming the basis of that communities organizing principles and norms of law and behaviour (ie: the centre of gravity of the ‘culture’ of that society).
  2. Each worldview provides a framework for meaning, an idea of what ‘the good life’ is and a distinct identity for the individual or community that identifies with that structure.
  3. These worldviews unfold developmentally in both individual lives and the bigger sweep of socio-cultural development. Each structure transcends and includes the previous one. A good way of visualising this for an individual is that our compound individuality consists of a number of ‘sub-selves’ much like a nest of Russian dolls. It is the interaction of this ‘committee’ of selves, each with their own worldview that makes up the richness of our character.russian-dolls
  4. This means we have to be very careful and sensitive when correlating individual stages of life such as infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood with cultural phases of development such as pre-traditional, traditional, modern etc. Although it can be demonstrated that these structures share similar cognitive foundations, they are obviously very different in many ways. (I have lost count of the number of times I have lost people on this when I crassly refer to entire communities as ‘adolescent’!!)
  5. A person or community is never ‘at’ a level. All the levels up to and including the highest stage realised is available as a crucial component in ones compound individuality and the key enduring competencies of any structure can be activated by suitable life conditions. Often the more stressful and threatening the situation, the more the foundational ‘survival’ structures are activated.
  6. It is meaningful however to identify the highest structure that has stably emerged in a society or individual. This will be the structure that is active when we are ‘at our best’ or, conversely, if we fail to act from our most inclusive and wise self we feel we have ‘let ourselves down’.


I would like to quote Wilber, to reinforce the inclusiveness of these models:
An Integral Synthesis, to be truly integral, must find a way that all of the major worldviews are basically true (even though partial). It is not that the higher levels are giving more accurate views, and that the lower levels are giving falsity, superstition or primitive nonsense. There must be a sense in which even ‘childish’ magic and Santa Claus myths are true. For those worldviews are simply the way the world looks at that level, or from that wave, and all the waves are crucial ingredients of the Kosmos….
….It will do no good to say “Well we have evolved beyond that stage, and so we now know that Santa Claus is not real,” because if that is true – and all stages are shown to be primitive and false in light of further evolution – then we will have to admit that our own views, right now, are also false. It is not that there is one level of reality, and those other views are all primitive and incorrect versions of that one level. Each of these views is a correct view of a lower yet fundamentally important level of reality, not an incorrect view of the one real level. The notion of development allows us to recognize nested truths, not primitive superstitions.    Wilber, A Theory of Everything

I like this passage as it really emphasises the inclusive aim of the integral project. The next post in this series will try and flesh out some of the contours and characteristics of the major worldviews.

I would also like to highly recommend the system of worldview analysis that is Spiral Dynamics. It is a very elegant system that uses colour codings to identify at least 8 distinct ‘Value Meme’s’. It is one of the most useful models in that the terminology facilitates very precise analysis and diagnosis of the complex multi-dimensional meshing of these systems and how they play out in the real world.

Some links to follow:
SDi home website:         Spiral
An excellent book review:  Spiral Dynamics book review Esalen
Ken Wilber’s summary of the model:  Ken Wilber on SD




The UK nursing shortage and immigration

High on the news this morning is the announcement from the nursing profession that it needs to be allowed to recruit non- EU nursing staff to fill vacancies in the NHS. Currently there is a limit on this due to the desire to reduce immigration after very high numbers of net migration have been recorded over the last decade.

An interview with a representative of the NHS by Sarah Montague on the Today programme failed to delve into what seem to be some of the key questions and issues, such as:

  1. It became clear that if the NHS cannot recruit from outside the EU they will have to use ‘expensive agency staff’.
  2. This implies that there are perhaps many under-utilised trained nurses in the UK.
  3. If so this begs the question: Why are so many of our nurses choosing to work flexibly through agencies, who then seem to be able to hold the NHS to ransom with ridiculously high and unsustainable wage demands.
  4. Is it really ethical or sustainable to be poaching expensively trained nurses from  developing countries who are willing to work under cheaper and more traditional terms and conditions here in the UK.
  5. How then can we reform the profession to utilise the talents and skills of all the well trained nurses who are already in the UK.


To suggest a very brief sketch of this in terms of worldview development.

With reference to the figure below one partial perspective of this, obviously complex issue, is that it is an example of traditional infrastructure being dissolved by  confused post-modern worldview aspirations. Rather than trying to rebuild these traditional roles and systems within our own society we, rather sordidly, try to bail ourselves out by enticing people from traditional cultures with traditional worldviews to do the hard graft that maintains our first world comfort.


courtesy of ICE

The Migrant Crisis, comment from Dominic Lawson

After a week of emotional incontinence and frenzied virtue signalling on this issue, this piece by Dominic Lawson should be required reading on the Migrant Crisis. Lawson along with precious few others such as Matthew Paris and Max Hastings  have actually tried to swim against the onslaught of the one-sided analysis being peddled by most of the UK print and broadcast media. I have copied the article in full as it is too important to be hidden behind the Times pay wall.


The more we ‘feel’ for the refugees, the worse their plight will be

Dominic Lawson Published: 6 September 2015

WHEN Winston Churchill spoke about the crimes of the Nazis, did he begin by saying how much he personally had been affected by the horror? When William Gladstone produced his thunderous pamphlet denouncing the Turkish massacre of Bulgarian Christians and calling the British government to action in 1876, was there a single sentence in his many thousands of words that referred to his own emotions on the matter? No, not even a word.

Both these men understood it wasn’t about them. If only our current political and spiritual leaders had the same understanding. Following the publication of pictures of a Turkish police officer carrying the corpse of a Syrian Kurdish boy drowned in his family’s failed attempt to reach Greece, few can resist telling us how it has affected them, personally.

The leader of the Scottish National party, Nicola Sturgeon, wanted us to know it had reduced her “to tears”. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi both declared: “My heart is broken.” Really? Or do they just mean they are jolly sad? And, anyway, who cares? I don’t mean about the death of that boy, but about whether various important people are upset by the sight of a drowned toddler. Some things should not need saying.

That was David Cameron’s first, sensible reaction. But after the broadcasters spent 24 hours showing and reshowing that poignant scene — mixed with tendentious reports that this was somehow “our fault” — the prime minister cracked. He felt forced to declare how upset he had been “as a father”.

The risk now is that a self-centred re–action will make a dreadful situation worse. Thus Alex Salmond, the former Scottish first minister, argued that Britain should join in an enlarged European quota system of receiving asylum seekers from Syria “so’s we can hold our heads up”. You see? It’s all about how we feel about ourselves, not about what is in the interests of the country that is actually in most need of help: Syria itself.

It is true that the normally level-headed German leader, Angela Merkel, has been in the forefront of encouraging Syrian refugees to settle in the EU. To be fair, she has declared that her own country will take 800,000 — but went on to demand others take “their share”. But what is a fair share? Germany has a declining population and considerable unused housing capacity. The UK is in the opposite situation — last year net migration into this country was a record 330,000.

The European Commission has drawn up its own quota system, dividing up the recent influx of 160,000 into the EU. So, for example, it insists that Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria take almost 9% of that number between them. But the migrants don’t want to settle there — and if they are given EU passports, there’s no way they can be made to stay in those countries rather than move on to western Europe.

And what happens to the quota system after all those people have been “allocated”? How does the EU deal with the next wave? It will assuredly be a much bigger one. For as Cameron tried vainly to point out, before being damned as “uncaring”, if we take in many thousands of those who have risked their lives to get to the shores of the EU, it would be the biggest possible incentive for others to pay the people-smugglers for the sort of lethal dinghy rides that saw the end of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi. (It also saw the death of his five-year-old brother Galip, and their mother, but there were no poignant photographs of their corpses, so few emote about them, just as they don’t about the 71 Syrians suffocated in a van meant for animal carcasses while being smuggled into Austria.)

As Justine Greening, the international development secretary, explained to the BBC on Friday, we need to understand the scale of all this: she pointed out that more than 10m people have been displaced by the Syrian civil war. Her predecessor, Andrew Mitchell, had been instrumental in supporting the Zaatari refugee camp three years ago — the most significant visible manifestation of Britain’s near-£1bn of aid for victims of the conflict and a model of what should be done on a much wider scale.

Zaatari has markets, sanitation and multiple field hospitals. It is no sort of place for permanent residency; but the Syrian war will not go on for ever and when it ends that country will need all its inhabitants, especially the most skilled and energetic, to rebuild and restore it. That is much more realistic than reconstructing Syria in Europe.

This has been best explained by Sir Paul Collier, the author of Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century. As this eminent development economist wrote: “Europe . . . [should be] fostering a Syria-in-exile economy located in Jordan and other neighbouring countries . . . Providing a skilled minority of Syrians with dream lives in Europe is not the answer . . . It would gut Syria of the very people it would most need. It is an intellectually lazy feel-good policy for the bien-pensant.”

Collier went on to point out that the approach pioneered by the Germans “is not just foolish, it is deeply immoral. Europe has a duty to fish refugees out of the sea because it is morally responsible for tempting them into the sea. So whatever else Europe does, it must stop this policy of temptation. Paying a crook thousands of dollars for a place on a boat should not entitle a Syrian refugee to a more privileged entry to Europe. It is profoundly unfair to the other suffering refugees.”

This, essentially, is the British government’s opinion, which is why Greening has proposed instead that we take those from the Zaatari camp who are least able to look after themselves. That will most likely mean orphaned children, an echo of the Kindertransport, under which thousands of central European Jewish children came to this country at the end of the 1930s. They were orphaned subsequently, of course: the Kindertransport preceded the Holocaust.

Perhaps the most nauseating aspect of the television coverage over the past few days was reporters implying that Hungary’s attempts to register refugees in holding camps were reminiscent of the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews. The Hungarian government was simply meeting its obligations under the Dublin convention, which demands that those seeking asylum in the EU are assessed and registered in their country of arrival.

Nor should this debacle be seen simply as “a European issue”, despite what you might have read or heard. The immensely rich and sparsely populated Gulf states are deeply involved in funding combatants in Syria — yet they have resolutely closed their doors to Syrian refugees. And the bereaved father of Galip and Aylan Kurdi, depressed by his family’s prospects after months in Turkey (where they had fled from Syria), was attempting to get to Canada to join his sister, a Canadian national.

It is true Britain bears considerable responsibility for the situation in Libya, because we helped to remove the Gadaffi regime. But if we are also to be held responsible for Syria because parliament voted against bombing the regime of Bashar al-Assad, then we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

The death of Aylan and Galip Kurdi really isn’t our fault. It is not all about us.

Is young peoples engagement in politics always a good thing?

It seems to be a modern mantra that the political engagement of young people (say 16-24) is universally a good thing. When young people are drawn to support a political movement or special issue it is hailed as a great success for being ‘inspiring’ and ‘engaging’.

Contrast this however with the counter-trend of recognizing young peoples vulnerability to being seduced by radical and extremist ideologies of all types. The suggestion is that they are in some way more naive, vulnerable, immature and manipulable than older, more ‘worldly wise’ members of the public.

These two attitudes appear contradictory and I would like to explore this a little.

Let us take a look at a few psychological ideas about adolescence and early adulthood. This period of life is often characterised by a struggle to develop a sense of identity (Erikson’s Identity Crisis for example). It is a phase of life where the main developmental task  involves reconfiguring relationships with parents, often by rebelling against the perceived oppressive authority of the parent-child relationship.

I would suggest that the idea of ‘freedom from an oppressive authority’ becomes the leit-motif of the issues and political ideologies that seem to fire up young people. The teenage mantras of ‘leave me alone’ and ‘its not fair’ that get played out in family dynamics becomes mirrored in the political engagement of ‘stick it to the man’.

I think this could help explain the tendency for young people to be drawn to left wing causes and ideologies. As explained in the post Beyond Left and Right 1 the left wing tends to attribute causality for all problems as due to external factors and frames the individual as a victim of these circumstances.

Political ideas that offer a simple narrative of oppressors vs oppressed and offer a strong identity of belonging are particularly potent. Movements that identify the same oppressor as ‘the great Satan’ can form all sorts of alliances. For example both the hard left and Islamists identify corporate America as the source of all evil (note the bizarre sight of the Students Union sharing platforms and rhetoric with Islamo-fascists!).

Hence I feel we should be suspicious when a political movement hails as a success its ability to draw in young people and suspect a rather simplistic narrative is being peddled.

This natural and normal phase of being anti-authoritarian can be channelled into a very healthy activism to stand up for the weak, oppressed and victimized. The natural maturation to seeing the complexity, difficulty and compromised nature of many issues can be seen as a ‘selling out’ to whatever causes one has been attached to.

I feel that a problem with all forms of authority can become a deep-seated character habit for many people who have been through this early activist phase. It often becomes apparent when they themselves take on an adult role, like that of parent, that involves the exercising of a healthy position of natural and appropriate authority. Some of the tangles of modern parenting revolve around a deep confusion on the role of authority in facilitating healthy child development.

One last point. The category of young people is often spoken of in the same terms as other disenfranchised groups such as women, ethnic minorities, homo-sexuals and the disabled. There is a crucial difference however. No-one is a young person all their life, we are all young people for a while, it is a transient identity and any restriction on their access to full adult involvement in society is purely temporary (unlike all the other categories listed above).

You can probably guess I do not think extending voting rights to 16 year olds is a particularly wise idea!


Socio-Cultural Evolution 1- surface/deep culture

I want to launch into the controversial topic of socio-cultural evolution. This is the idea that there can be identified certain cross-cultural stages of development that appear to be universal.

Firstly we need to make an important distinction. We can distinguish between two aspects of any culture:

exterior/surface culture

Surface culture includes all the superficial expressions of a culture. Whether we wear a sari or a suit, wear a bowler hat or a headscarf, eat curry or fish and chips, pray in a church or a mosque, listen to reggae or bangra, drive on the left or the right, celebrate Eid or Christmas. These are the things that make life vibrant, interesting and colourful. They are what most people mean when talking of the joys of multi-culturalism, diversity and tolerance. They are the aspects of culture where there is no better or worse or higher and lower. There is simply personal preference, historical familiarity and sentimental attachment. Although we need to be sensitive to peoples preferences and fear of the unfamiliar there is no question of legitimately ranking these aspects of culture in terms of ‘more evolved’ or ‘less evolved’.

interior/deep culture

Deep culture refers to the hidden value systems and world-views that lie behind the surface expressions. Whether we believe in gender equality or misogyny, whether we believe in individual freedom or subservience to a theocratic dogma. Is truth handed down from the king, an omnipotent deity or do we need to use reason to struggle towards understanding the universe? Is our primary allegiance to elders and the clan, our nation state or all of humanity? How do we understand concepts like honour, freedom, guilt and duty?

These are the aspects of cultures that can legitimately be studied and examined for patterns and stages. We can attempt to outline how these stages could be related in a holonic way, with each stage transcending and including the last. Perhaps to see how modern, progressive and inclusive worldviews are a result of building on successive stages of previous development. This will enable us to honour and respect the contributions of all worldviews whilst negating the negative effects of their partiality.

We may then have a framework for trying to discuss and untangle some of the enormous cultural dynamics that the globalised world is facing today.

An organisation at the forefront of developing these ideas is the Institute for Cultural Evolution.

This excellent paper on their site explores the philosophy underpinning this approach:

Premises and Principles of an Evolutionary Worldview

The next post on this topic will introduce some of the cultural worldviews that have been identified in these types of models. As a taster here is an excellent diagram from the ICE that illustrates the sort of information that can be organized using this approach. I will be using this diagram extensively!

1_X5JZveA4ZcOkFQvCDYbK-A[1]courtesy of Institute for Cultural Evolution