Group Leader: Colin Hawkins
Meets: 3rd Monday from 11.00 at Prospect Inn on the Quay
We try to choose subjects of some substance, challenge our existing views and prejudices and have fun too.
March: The Price of Life
April: The Best Things In Life Are Free
May: Why Do We Think The Way We Do
Penny chose ‘Hoarding’ as her subject today.
To most people hoarding is something disreputable and to be avoided if possible. Penny pointed out however that it could mean many things, for example a mental disorder related to anxiety, simply clutter, purposeful collecting, a simple desire to have good records, or even an emotional attachment to items.
Not unexpectedly members attitude varied but all admitted that less was preferable to more. One was downsizing and forced to declutter radically, one had taken steps to tidy their affairs and effects so to make life easier for their successors.
In general though true hoarding i.e. never throwing anything away, apart from being nightmarish, has to be regarded as a mental disorder related to obsessive compulsive disorder which should be treatable in the right hands.
‘Uniforms’ was the subject today. Elizabeth, thorough as usual, had prepared ‘history through the ages’, starting from Roman times when skirts and sandals were de rigour. It appears that subsequent generations outdid each other in becoming more varied, even ultimately outlandish ,all pictured for us in full colour. The introduction of firearms lethal at a distance caused an about-face for armies and muted colours then became the norm. This did not stop other branches of officialdom adopting quasi military dress, the police, fire brigades and the Salvation Army to name but three. It did not stop there so school children today frequently are required to wear uniforms (although there is probably another dimension to this to be explored another time).
Elizabeth and most agreed that uniforms were In general a positive aspect of society inasmuch that rather than represent status, although that could sometimes be the case, it represented a rather fundamental aspect of human society namely the need to belong to a group or tribe with something specifically in common.
Good fun as usual.
August Our longest serving member Maggi took on ‘Modern Art’, a difficult subject that none of us had been brave enough to tackle.
Maggi took as a reference point The Renaissance, pointing out that, disregarding mans earliest efforts, art up to that time had been largely illustrative of classical and religious themes. In the following centuries art diversified in many directions which she illustrated by reference to diverse efforts following the enlightenment, impressionism of course, Modigliani, Bacon, Picasso, Klimt, an endless list. In this she was ably assisted by our widely traveled members who had a surprisingly broad knowledge of the subject, in particular our new member Errol having been art school trained himself.
The more radical form of abstract art diverged opinion, some thought it could be greatly moving, many were unconvinced, representational art being as far as they could to call art at all. Altogether a very enjoyable meeting.
July WHAT IS THE POINT OF PEACEFUL PROTEST?
Carley had a bash at this By highlighting some notable protests of the past such as the Suffragette Movement, The Toxteth riots, the Brixton riots and not to mention the Iraq war.
On the face of it little seems to have been achieved unless and until damage and mayhem occurs in which case the government of the day can and sometimes does step in and even in some cases rescind poorly thought out legislation, a case in point is the Poll Tax as it is generally known. Another example is the Yellow Vest movement in France which has led to some concessions, but history tells us that’s the French way. Fortunately we and our neighbours live in a democracy where we can evict governments should they not do our bidding, albeit at settled intervals. Perhaps here is the nub of the matter, the ‘song and dance’ generated by protesters does raise awareness in the public at large, matters of seemingly little consequence to the public at large are easily forgotten, others such as the recent Extinction Rebellion have been widely recognised as of great significance and cannot but influence our future legislators.
We directed our discussion to Britain but it has to be recognised that the situation in non democratic countries is not in any way the same. Protests in repressive countries are frequently met with violent suppression, The Tianemen Square massacre is just one of others too numerous to mention. Happily there are notable exceptions where public disquiet prevails, India and hopefully Sudan spring to mind.
Good fun had by all today as usual.
'Interpreting the Past in the eyes of the Present is a Fallacy’
This was Elizabeth’s chance to challenge the prevalent trend to reinterpret history by judging by today’s standards.
It seems that there are many historical, indeed academic precedents on this very subject, it being not just the current phenomenon that we might have supposed.
There was a vigorous discussion among members who unsurprisingly took the conservative view namely that todays values are not and can never be those that prevailed in previous times. It may be that some historical events which are viewed with distaste by many today could be re-evaluated in the light of this, warfare, slavery, capital punishment are some which spring to mind. A case for a future discussion perhaps.
Anna, being uniquely qualified, presented ‘Is Parenthood A Right Or A Privilege’
One hears much in the media these days giving voice to the idea that everyone whatever their fertility or different social circumstances should have a right to have children. It is perhaps proper to examine this idea rationally to see if it has any merit.
Anna produced a number of quotations from erudite people who had delved into this issue, almost all concluding that what might be seen as desirable could not be described as right by virtue of the fact that parenthood is and never could be available to all.
It was noted that not all women actually wanted children and and choose to remain childless perhaps in order to pursue a career for example. Nevertheless the desire to have and raise children is a biological imperative for most women and it is understandable that being unfulfilled can be a great disappointment. The alternative, i.e. to adopt is a logical alternative and we were told can it be just as fulfilling although not all are equally successful. Other alternatives exist, in vitro or in vivo fertilisation can be a solution, also anonymous donation of sperm must be an issue for many. Such technical solutions are of course expensive and will be available to those who can pay, for those dependent on the NHS in this country it then becomes a question of available recourses, which funds to be allocated to which condition in an environment where some things simply cannot be afforded.
No-one seemed to think that men had much to say on the subject, a little unfairly we of the opposite sex thought. On the subject of men, little was said of homosexual relationships where it is claimed that parenthood is also desired, nor for that matter cohabiting women. Perhaps there was a lack of enthusiasm to pursue this line of enquiry.
In conclusion members were universal in appreciating the joy of parenthood, it is perhaps this fact that not all can achieve it which
makes it such a privilege.
March: Colin presented-‘Is Free Speech Endangered?’
Free speech has long been regarded as essential to our democracy. One has only to cite Speakers Corner in Hyde Park as an illustration. Anything goes (or should it be went!), the most radical views expressed having usually been self defeating in our even tempered society.
This attitude has come under threat from legislation intended to encourage social cohesion but perhaps with some unintended consequences. Such legislation covers racial hatred and sexual discrimination among others but notably a proposal to include criticism of religious belief was not among them. Clearly our legislators are cautious about going to far along this illiberal road. Some other Western countries have fewer qualms, in Germany for example denying the holocaust is against the law and punishable; my German friend hit the nail on the head by saying “In Britain everything is legal unless it is illegal whilst in Germany nothing is legal unless it is actually legal”.
So today what we saw as an inviolable right has been eroded. Indeed some vociferous groups would like to go much further. Such groups preach intolerance of all kinds. The appearance of social media has given voice to all. People disagree about it’s benefits but let parliament beware of these siren voices.
On a personal level it has always been the case that social mores have inhibited us from saying exactly what we think because we normally do not wish to offend ( although the right to offend should be paramount). Again, social media has enabled us to say offensive thing sometimes anonymously which they would not do face to face. Whilst some would say the fact that social media has given voice to the voiceless is the supreme example of free speech,others are much less sure.
January: Mike took on “Are We All Doomed?”
Arguing, and supported by substantial research, that we're gonn’a be all right.
Some of the issues we associate with future crises e.g. war, plague, even famine have diminished over time, others such as overpopulation, economic collapse and environmental disaster remain real concerns. He believed, on the basis of UN projections that World population will stabilise at around 10 billion in due course. Climate change he argued had not been addressed by governments, further, that electorates will be unlikely to vote for the drastic measures required, a question not so far resolved. Most importantly he believed that present trends in politics e.g. nationalism, huge discrepancies in wealth and technological advance like AI which is likely to replace large numbers of jobs, could together lead to a breakdown in social order and chaos. Despite all this he remains an optimist insofar as mankind has shown itself to be able to overcome all obstacles in the past and that our inventiveness will enable our species to continue to exist indefinitely.
Members also had much to say. Some thought that raw materials especially oil would run out others disagreed. Many believed that agricultural land was finite and infinite productivity increase unlikely. A strong argument was made that if the poorest in the World were to achieve the same standard of living as we enjoy in the West then we would need several planets to sustain us. Not addressed earlier is a fundamental issue, namely that Homo Sapiens spread from Africa around 70,000 years ago although it is probable that humanoids recognisable as human existed up to100,000 years before that. Nevertheless this represent a minute fraction of the time that animals have existed on our planet, during that interval different species have come and gone, some were lucky enough to have hung on for longer but all ultimately disappeared, we see this clearly in the fossil record. Is it not presumptuous to assume that we are the exception to the rule.
Margaret took on “What Should Be Done About The Homeless”.
She reviewed the facilities available from Exeter City Council and the many charities concerned with those on the street in the city. She thought that most of those living on our city’s streets were drug users, alcoholics or had mental issues and that they were on the whole provided for, insofar as was possible, including a bed for the night albeit a charitable one.
It was pointed out that the word homeless encompassed a wide variety of other people with an equally wide variety of other issues among which are illiteracy, unemployment, family breakdown, persistent criminality, health and importantly those who are in work but cannot afford to pay today’s high rents. Assistance for such people needed to be tailored to their individual needs. It was noted that councils were under a legal obligation to house families, Exeter’s Council For Social Services (COFAB) which together with the charities did their best to cope with the rest. The fall in government grants to local authorities it was claimed has led to councils being unable to provide the required facilities. The question of would the public pay higher taxes to fund better provision remained unanswered.
Frankly it appeared that there are so many factors which are components of homelessness apart from the above such as ex army personnel being unused to self sufficiency, education and not least immigration from non -European countries consistency running at 27000 pa adding to the more poorly educated workforce in our post industrial society. To make matters worse hard data is hard to come by and some of the available data suspect. Altogether we chose a horribly difficult subject this time.
November- Do The BBC’s Standards Need Raising?
It was Elizabeth’s turn today. She wanted to tell us that the BBC has a strong right wing bias and produced considerable evidence to support this. The trouble with this
proposition was that it could be shown that it has always been the case that political bias has been directed at the BBC whichever government happens to be in power.
We were generally of the opinion that the BBC did much that was good especially when compared with broadcasters in other countries. The institution did come into serious criticism however, news coverage in particular was deemed inadequately resourced and parochial when compared with say Sky, Channel 4 and Algezira. The channel tried to do too much in stretching resources too far in the direction of popularism in an attempt to attract younger audiences who were well catered for elsewhere. Indeed, we felt that being a publicly funded organisation it had no business in chasing ratings which of course are meat and drink to commercial broadcasters with advertisers to satisfy. In the light of which, it was believed unnecessary to pay high salaries to BBC staff who should be regarded in the same way as civil servants and paid proportionately.
The BBC should remember the Reith doctrine that their role should be to Inform, Educate and Entertain in that order.
'Money, How Much Is Too Much'
Many seem to think that the disparity in earnings in Britain today has become disproportionate to say the least. We wondered if this perception was sufficiently widespread to require addressing.
Surprisingly, members were unwilling to define in cash terms how much is too much but they felt strongly that at a certain level one could have all the material goods that one could possibly need, any more was in practice useless. Colin proposed that what drives the very rich to acquire more was actually the same thing that drives everyone else namely the human drive to succeed and to demonstrate that success to his peers. Even so everyone felt that the status quo could not be maintained. Members found it very difficult to propose a solution particularly because the entrenched position of our political parties depended on the vested interest of their supporters. Mike alone proposed a solution namely that the government in power could enact a ruling to the effect that the senior managers and chief executives in all organisation, private or public may receive no more than a defined figure in excess of the lowest paid in their organisations. Clearly there would be an uproar but one wonders if organisations would be no worse off as a result. If the highest earners left for foreign shores some would say good riddance.
Meeting 20th August 2018
Carley presented her much delayed subject of 'The Snowflake Generation’.
Whilst there is deep suspicion among the elder generation that the young today have greater expectations without at the same time taking on responsibilities of previous generations, we avoided the trap of blaming them for all ills which generations throughout time have tended to do.
There is no doubt though that the internet and particularly social media have influenced the lives of the savvy young in ways that the rest of us find incomprehensible. It is nevertheless a matter of concern that this has led to an unhealthy introspection and frequently dissatisfaction by constantly comparing oneself with ones peers and indeed the unattainable perfection of so called celebrities. A second area of concern is that the rejection of printed and broadcast information in favour of on-line information leads to a lopsided view of the World in which one's own interests and prejudices are reinforced.
We felt that of particular concern was the sense of entitlement which has become prevalent in the young and which previous generation felt had to be earned rather than a right. Arising from this has become an attitude which says that ‘I’ have the right to decide what is right and proper and to deny others the right to say or promote alternative perhaps unpopular views. Such an attitude is anathema to the concept of free speech which many of us hold so dear.
NB Please contact Colin before attending.