24 June 2011

Justice? Think about it!

Open a newspaper or visit a paper's website and over the course of about a month, it is quite likely that there will have been a trial in which someone was convicted of murder. Cue plenty of photos of crying parents and stern-faced lawyers telling everyone that 'although it took a while to find the murderer, justice has been done'.

But has it? Usually a convicted murderer will receive a life sentence in prison (that is if there's enough room) and won't be heard of again until many years later when the press will inevitably dig up the whole story again to remind everyone just how horrible the murderer was. But how exactly is this justice?

This of course opens up the can of worms that is defining justice, but I think it's really quite simple. 'Justice' is a completely made up term used to justify anything unpleasant happening to a person who is believed to be responsible for a crime.

Of course, people should be punished if they do something wrong. That's how we learn - we are animals, after all. Why do we use electric collars for dogs? Why electric fences for livestock? If they do something wrong, they experience an unpleasant sensation and are unlikely to do it again. The same system works for us.

Obviously you shouldn't electrocute people, but dealing with another person's death that you were directly responsible for and spending many years in prison is normally a perfectly adequate punishment for most offenders to never consider committing the same crime again. So there's no problem with the punishment, then. It's not what we should have to do, but that's just the way it is. It's how the brain works.

The problem is that the word 'justice' implies that the retaliation is 'justified' or morally 'right', usually if it's backed by the law. Which in turn suggests that the policy of 'an arm for an arm' is the right way to go - how would creating something else unpleasant - no matter who it affects - improve the situation?

There is nothing morally 'right' about punishing somebody for a mistake they have made - all it means is that two unpleasant events have taken place in the world, rather than one. Yes, people should be punished - it prevents the convicted from repeating their crime, but that's all it does. In an ideal world people would learn  from their mistakes immediately and would not need to be punished. But something bad happening to someone bad is only 'good' because we have this made up sense of justice. It's still two bad things in the world, rather than just one.

What ever happened to forgiveness? That's surely the most 'moral' thing you can do if a crime has been committed against you.

It's perfectly understandable for people to be angry when a crime is committed against them, and to want revenge, but do not blur the line between necessary punishment and personal vendetta by claiming that the punishment was morally 'right'. According to who? Sometimes punishment is needed to show someone the error of their ways, but there is only so much satisfaction that you can get from watching someone else suffer.

And even then it's only satisfaction rather than joy that the punishment is bringing you. So it's not even equivalent to being repaid by the convict with joy at their suffering. Everyone should get off their moral high horse - there is no such thing as justice.

13 June 2011

Intellectuals - unite!

Nothing about popular culture these days encourages anyone to be smart. In fact, quite the opposite - turn on the TV. What do you see? I'm quite confident that what you are now looking at is an overweight teenage girl who looks as though she was raised by savages in post-Stalinist Russia. The chances are she is either attempting to sing to a panel of overpaid, self-important egoists or she is trying her hand at answering some fairly basic questions in order to win money.

Inevitably, she fails at the first hurdle. Her voice is no better than that of a donkey and her general knowledge roughly equivalent to that of a mountain goat. 

You would expect, then, that she would be laughed off the stage for thinking that Shakespeare wrote Eastenders, and that her woeful ignorance would be displayed to the rest of the civilised world so we know how fortunate we are. Except you don't expect, that, do you?

Not only are these people pitied by the audiences, but they seem to be more popular than TV personalities or indeed anyone who appears on TV who might actually know who Chaucer was. We are forever being told that television and popular culture reflects contemporary society. If this is the case, what a terrible world we live in.

The vast majority of the population must be thicker than Fernando Alonso's neck and ruder than a pig's fart at a wedding. But this is not the worst part: popular culture and the people it reflects actively revel in their ignorance. They oppose and ridicule anything that could be linked to the word 'intellectual'.

If you have a modicum of common sense or general knowledge; know how to pronounce the letter 'h'; were born into a family that does not live in a ghetto or spend most of its time in prison or simply wear a suit and a tie, the chances are in the last 10 years that if you have visited a town centre or somewhere similar, you will have felt completely unwelcome or out of place.

Hundreds of years ago, you could expect the same. Imagine how Shakespeare felt, writing his great plays while thousands of slack-jawed, dribbling peasants threatened to burn him if he so much as questioned any of the 'knowledge' religion provided. 

Of course, during the Enlightenment, it was different. There was such a sense of freedom after at least a thousand years of oppression directed squarely at the acquisition of knowledge. Nobody was ashamed to be an academic - they were looked up to; they were making progress for society.

Plainly, as we are currently in the kind of social climate that favours the ignorant and the paranoid, a new Enlightenment period must be started. With all of the problems in the world we have (renewable energy, dealing with climate change, Justin Bieber - to name but a few) surely this would be more useful now than ever before?

While we await the courage to attempt this, don't be ashamed to be an academic, or an intellectual, or whatever you want to call yourself. Philosophise. Criticise. Ponder things. Do anything other than going to the cinema and watching dull, unchallenging, naive crap like Twilight

Your brain may be crying out for mercy after 10 years or so of popular culture in which Vicky Pollard lookalikes contest to see who knows the least, but hold on: the world will need our brains soon.

5 June 2011

Bahrain is Killing F1

By now you will have heard that the Bahrain Grand Prix of 2011 has been reinstated to the calendar, due to take place on the 30th October. There are clear moral reasons why this Grand Prix cannot be allowed to take place, but aside from the fact that these seem to have been ignored, its reinstatement confirms exactly where F1's loyality lies - money.

For many years Bahrain held a race that was entirely devoid of enjoyable racing. It was hideously apparent that the main, or perhaps only reason F1 had been drawn there was money. Bernie Ecclestone himself admitted that F1 - as a global sport - would expand globally where there was interest. The interest in this case was money. There are other tracks on the F1 calendar where attendance is pitiful and the race tracks are boring. There is also a lack of racing culture and a lack of proper promotion by CVC, so nobody hears about these events, and if they were not aware of them to begin with, why would they attend?

So Bahrain as a track never contributed much to the F1 season - this may explain why so many people felt glad when the race was called off at the start of the year, even with the long winter of waiting for the new season to begin. From a fan's point of view, and I imagine many others agree, the race itself is simply not entertaining enough. There is also a complete lack of atmosphere - contrast it with Interlagos or Silverstone, you will be in for a shock. So, then, the dull Grand Prix has for years now been filling a spot in the calendar which could have been replaced by another new, exciting track.

What really stands out about Bahrain, though, is that civil liberties and basic human rights appear to have been totally abused. The Bahraini authorities have attempted to cover up the atrocities that its security forces have committed, but the world has outgrown this backwardly governed country, and the figures speak for themselves. 36 people have been confirmed dead, 66 are still missing, approximately 1000 have been wounded and at least 4 people have been returned from police custody having lost their lives. There have been beatings at checkpoints and medical care has been denied to the public.

Now I ask you this, would it be the correct decision to honour this country with the huge publicity and large amount of funding from tourism that F1 brings? No, of course it wouldn't. So join together with other members of the F1 community and make the FIA understand how so many of us feel.

Mark Webber has come forward and publicly said that he doubts the race will happen, while also mentioning the abuse of basic human rights that has taken place in Bahrain. He is a popular driver, and I am convinced he will not be alone in publicly refusing to race there, if he decides to protest. There were several teams that said that they would refuse to race in Bahrain even before the decision was made to cancel it last time around, so it would be unsurprising if they registered their disgust before October too.

The whole Bahrain issue has brought a great deal of attention to F1, and to Bahrain. Why is Bahrain killing F1? Not only is it associated with it, but the country is unashamedly endorsed by the FIA. They have ignored issues that are far more important than sport. One is a pastime, the other an entire country with its future dependent upon this year. This will undoubtedly reflect badly upon the sport, and I hope it does if the FIA go ahead with their decision. As an F1 fan or just a reader of this blog, you can contribute to the protest against the FIA's decision too.

There are a number of petitions and twititions that you can easily find if you search for anything about the Bahrain Grand Prix, and the FIA will listen to these because F1 is a sport: it depends upon its fans. If there is enough of a protest, they must listen, so I urge to you lend your support to these campaigns. F1 must not remain in Bahrain - don't let the sport die.