Fighting on

February 24, 2017


Just finished watching Avengers: Age of Ultron (again). Caring for my sick daughter does have its compensations (though I shudder at the backlog piling up at work!) 

The powerful image in the end credits, of the main characters portrayed as classical heroes, in marble, made me reflect on Joss Whedon’s take on heroism. I think it is best captured in the closing words of Angel – with which the 12 seasons of the Buffy/Angel television saga came to an end:

SPIKE: In terms of a plan?

ANGEL: We fight.

SPIKE: Bit more specific.

ANGEL:

(steps forward)

Well, personally, I kind of want to slay the dragon. 

(the demon horde attacks)

Let’s go to work.

(swings his sword)

(Fade to black.)

Or beloved heroes do not die on screen, but we are left in doubt as to what will happen next. 

In the Whedon universe, heroes are not the guys who always win, but the ones who are always ready to put up a fight. This idea is not a Whedon invention, of course, but Whedon does come up with powerful ways to put it forward in the realm of pop culture.

As our world is increasingly crunched between the souless wills of haters and philistines it is good to remind ourselves that heroism is about fighting on, even when it feels like we’ll be crushed. 

Ultimately, heroism (or whatever lesser version of it we, mere mortals, may manage to muster) is not about winning, but just a better way of life. As in the opening lines of that other great piece of pop culture, the feature film Lorenzo’s Oil:

“Life has meaning only in the struggle. Triumph or defeat is in the hands of the Gods. So let us celebrate the struggle.” 


How we feel

February 2, 2017

A lot has happened in UK politics and society since my post on the eve of the Brexit referendum result. I suppose many Britons may be wondering how millions of EU citizens who made the UK their home are feeling right now (a subject the media have barely grazed). This is my small attempt at conveying it in a way that, I hope, most Britons will be able to understand.

​Imagine being an Englishman who has lived in Edinburgh for the past 20 years. Your kids grew up there so they feel Scottish and speak with Scottish accents. You are a fully-integrated member of your community, though of course you still feel English. But that’s all right because you also feel British and Scotland is part of Great Britain – so you have every right to be where you are and lead the life that you do.  

Now imagine that the the Scottish government decide to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence. So far, so plausible. But let me ask you to imagine one more thing – perhaps not so plausible. Imagine the Scottish government decide that, this time round, the English men and women who, like you, live in Scotland, will not be allowed to vote. Moreover, to your shock and horror, the UK government accept that. 

Now suppose that the whole referendum campaign revolves around whether Scotland should allow so many English people to settle there. There are two sides of the debate: some who say that the influx of English people into Scotland is intolerable (completely ignoring the scots who go the other way); the others, far from defending your positive contributions, grant that having too many English people around is a bad thing, but argue that it is a price worth paying in exchange for free trade with the rest of the UK and other benefits of being in a Union with England.

Pretty bad, eh? But that’s nothing. Suppose now that the pro-independence camp win. Moreover, when asked whether English people like you, who are long-term members of Scottish society and have Scottish children, will be allowed to remain they answer that they cannot rule one way or the other, because they intend to use you as “bargaining chips”. 

Have you managed to imagine such implausible sequence of events? Then you now know exactly how millions of citizens of other European countries who chose to make the UK our home feel.

I still do not regret the choices I made. But the fear that I will is there, breathing over my shoulder, every day.


Getting Cohen

November 26, 2016

​Just after hearing the sad news of Leonard Cohen’s death I realised I could still recite most of First We Take Manhattan. This is a song I was quite obsessed with as a teenager, when it had just come out. Also I’m Your Man. Luckily I had parents who had bought the album – it was certainly not marketed to my age group. I was fascinated by this dark, brooding, powerful character who could be manly and intellectual and threatening and tender; who perceived the injustices in the world and the tension between love and action. Who knew the New World Order emerging from the fall of the Berlin Wall was rotten inside and that, one day, we would have to fight. I did not understand then the reasons for my fascination. Cohen had lived more than me and knew how to express it. I’ve lived a bit now and at long last know what he meant.


EU Politics: Facts and Prejudice

June 8, 2016

With the coming EU referendum here, in the UK, I am having to dig out of the Net lots of information for the benefit of Facebook friends and fellow Facebook group members so I’ve decided to start putting some of it up here for more general consumption.

PREJUDICE:

The EU is where old failed politicians go to die.

FACTS:

The vast majority of EU politicians are Members of the European Parlient (MEP’s – similar to MP’s). The MEP’s elect the President of the Commission (similarly to how MP’s elect the Prime Minister) who then appoints his/her commissioners.

MEP’s are not particularly old. In actual fact, a 66-year age gap separates the youngest from the oldest MEP in the European Parliament that came out of the 2014 elections. The youngest MEP is 26 years old. The average age of MEP’s in the current European Parliament is about 50 – the same as in Westminster.

More importantly, tje perception that once you are an MEP it is a stable job which will last for life is very mistaken. Only about half of the MEP’s got re-elected, with the other half going on to do other things with their lives. As a point of comparison, two thirds of Westminster MP’s were relected at the 2015 election.  So being a Westminster MP is a much more secure job than being a European MEP.

Data from:

http://m.europarl.europa.eu/EPMobile/en/news/product.htm?reference=20140708STO51844

THE ‘AGE’ OF THE NEW PARLIAMENT

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Commons_of_the_United_Kingdom

http://www.parliament.uk/about/faqs/house-of-commons-faqs/members-faq-page2/


European History Lesson Number 1: The British Save the Day

June 2, 2016

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Curiosity

May 29, 2016

note290516_01.jpgWe are curious because curiosity gave our ancestors an evolutionary advantage: curious people knew where there were dangers, where to find food, where to find shelter. A curious person held a branch on fire rather than running away from it – not because she or he guessed it could come useful for cooking, for heating, or as a weapon or a source of energy –  but because they were intensely curious about it. It’s our most useful instinct.

Curiosity-led scientific research is the collective embodiment of human curiosity. It is helping us to survive and develop as a species. The moment we stop doing it will be the beginning of the end for our species.

We must fight to enshrine social support for curiosity-driven research. That’s research we do because we want to know, not because we want to achieve something. That’s the type of research that will save our civilisation from global warming, from hurtling meteorites, from dangerous microbes – from everything that, without our curiosity, we would never even have known about.


Why I have not asked to be a UK subject (yet?)

April 12, 2016
Screenshot from 2016-04-13 00:06:20I feel disenfranchised. As a citizen of a different EU country living in another, I am not allowed to vote in Parliamentary elections where I live (the UK), while exercising that right in my country of origin (Spain) has become increasingly difficult. When I recently vented my frustration at my friend Philip Howell, himself a Briton living in Germany, he asked the obvious question: Why don’t you apply for British citizenship? It was a good question. I certainly love the UK and I have made deep commitments to it – so why not? Answering it made me articulate some thoughts that had been lurking under the surface. Here is what I told my friend:
  1. The oath of allegiance. As a naturalised citizen, I would have to take it. Those who are born British only have to in particular cases – principally if they join the armed forces. Whether I believe in it or not is beside the point (after all, even Galileo admitted the Sun revolves around the Earth when it came to the rub). In fact, my deep love for this country probably means I would be quite ready to do a lot for it. The point is that a different standard of patriotism is required from naturalised citizens. I am not comfortable with that – in some senses it would make me feel more like a second-class citizen than I do now.
  2. I would lose some of my rights as a Spanish citizen. Although the UK and Spain have, relatively recently, signed a double-nationality agreement, when you become a citizen of a second country you have to give up some of your rights as a citizen of the first. In particular, you lose the right to seek consular assistance in your original country when you are in the new one. So I would gain some rights (particularly the right to vote in UK parliamentary elections) but lose others.
  3. Deep down, I do not believe in nations. I think the rights and responsibilities of citizens should be defined by our common humanity and our actual individual circumstances, not by some abstract legal constructs of nationhood and citizenship which often do not reflect the much more complex, multi-faceted reality of people’s lives. Somehow applying to become a national of a particular country seems like an endorsement of the very idea of nationhood – which has given us so many evils and does so much to distort every debate about how best to live together.

In summary, my current legal status as a citizen of Spain who is a permanently-resident, tax-paying resident of the UK I think reflects the complexity of who I am much better than the apparent simplification that would be afforded by becoming a UK citizen. That said, the potentially massive loss of rights I would incur if the UK left the EU would seriously reduce my options. Were I to decide to stay in the UK after such an event, I might decide that becoming a UK citizen is the better option. By doing this I would become, on paper, a much simpler entity – a British subject living on British soil. I think the primary motor of the whole Leave campaign is a yearning for simplicity in a world that has become too hard to understand for many people. But you cannot wish away complexity by writing on a piece of paper. My belief is that Brexit would not bring about that simplicity – it would lead to chaos and injustice for everyone.

The simplicity so many people yearn for can only be achieved via a cultural shift. We must move beyond trying to explain the present world using the categorisations that worked well in the past, but which are no longer relevant. Our ideal should be “Imagine”, not “God save the Queen”. I think giving citizens of an EU country living in a different one the vote might be a step in the right direction.

PS: When I expressed the above views to my friend Philip and asked him about his own situation he told me that he took up German citizenship four years ago. As a result, he did not feel disenfranchised as I do. All that was required from him was a more pragmatic attitude towards the symbolism associated with naturalisation than I manage to exhibit. I couldn’t help thinking that his attitude and mine fitted in with long-held national stereotypes: British pragmatism vs the type of Quixotic attitude only a Spaniard could manage to sustain for so long. Another layer of complexity or one of the dangerous simplifications I deplore?