Thursday 25 January 2018

The Most Influential Individual of the 20th Century

Behold the man- seems more of a boy, to me

If you had to nominate the individual, who you think, was the most influential person of the 20th century, who would you choose? When I mean influential I mean the person that substantially influenced world events at the time and whose historical legacy lingers, nay insinuates, today. That is a terrible burden for one individual to carry. And you could argue that our modern world has been shaped by many people and forces too numerous to count. But that said, is there one single individual who has had a disproportionate effect? And I don't mean someone who actively participated in many of the cardinal or principle events of the 20th century, I mean someone who set the scene, someone who started a sequence of cataclysmic reactions which eventually meandered to the world we inhabit today.

I suspect many people would select Hitler, or perhaps Stalin, or even Churchill and while it is true that these men played a major role in the world scene since the 1930s, I would argue that their influence has been derivative. I would state that events prior to this period were responsible for how these men reacted to unfolding events during their tenure.

I would also contend that events, and most importantly a single/singular event, by one man in June of 1914 had a seminal effect on subsequent world history. If you are following my line of reasoning you are already contemplating the Great War. While it is true that in 1914, prior to one fateful June day, there existed political tensions between the Great Powers, there seemed no reason why the world should descend into Armageddon. In fact, if anything tensions had eased and there seemed no imminent prospect of a general war. You might want to read my post concerning the military alliances and the balance of power during the early years of the 20th century. Alliances meant to make the war between the Great Powers unthinkable, but as we know this principle failed to produce peace once the cascade of treaty obligations kicked in.

Let me introduce my nomination, Gavrilo Princep, a 19-year-old, idealistic, nationalistic Bosnian student with dreams of South Slav unification and independence from Austrian shackles. On June 28, 1914, the Archduke of Austria-Hungary, the heir apparent to the ramshackle Empire visited the Bosnian city of Sarajevo to observe military manoeuvres; it was an unwise move. The Empire had annexed Bosnia in 1908 and the date chosen for the visit was inauspicious as the 28th June coincided with the anniversary of a major defeat of the Southern Slavs by the Turks in 1389. More than one assassin lurked on the streets of Sarajevo that day. Earlier a bomb had been thrown at the Archduke's motorcade, but Ferdinand and his wife were uninjured, although others in the stately procession were seriously wounded. By a strange stroke of fate, later in the day, Ferdinand’s car took a wrong turn as it left Sarajevo town hall and by happenstance, Princip was standing nearby as the car reversed to regain the route. He came out of the shadows and fired two shots mortally wounding the Archduke and his wife. 

The deaths resulted in Austria-Hungary declaring war on the neighbouring state of Serbia which was suspected of state sponsored involvement in the assassination, however, official Serbian involvement was never proven. As is often the case with major historical events, the spark caught light due to an action which, in hindsight, should never have had the calamitous consequences of a world war. If cool heads amongst the respective leaders of nations had prevailed and if a modicum of competent diplomacy had ensued, the matter, although grave, should not have set Europe afire. In particular, the Austria-Hungarians bear much of the blame as they presented the Serbs with a humiliating ultimatum which the Serbs accepted almost in its entirety. However, the ultimatum was just an Austria-Hungarian pretext for war. The Austria-Hungarians counted on German support and a vague assurance of support from the intelligent, but politically inept and volatile German Kaiser made them bold beyond their means. The Germans, and especially the Kaiser receive opprobrium for not reining in their weaker ally. Europe seemed to slip into war without conscious effort or restraint and the declaration of war by the Austria-Hungarians triggered a cascade of alliances culminating in a war between the Great Powers one month after the Archduke's death.

Poor Princip died in prison in 1918 of malnutrition and tuberculosis. His ambition for a united Slav state free of domination came about with the formation of Yugoslavia during the political maelstrom following the end of the Great War. Surely this idealistic young man could never have foreseen and perhaps never condone his baleful influence on world history.

I am arguing that the Great War set our world on its modern course and provided an heirloom with which we struggle/juggle with today. The First War set the scene for the second great conflict, the influence of which cannot be denied in our modern context. Some would say that the intervening years between the wars were a mere armistice; a period of war without arms.

Princip appeared on the world stage, for but a moment changed it, and then disappeared from history stage left. But he had changed the world and we live with the cultural, geopolitical and technical consequences to this day. And this why, Gavrilo Princip demands to be the most influential individual of the 20th century. I’m reluctant to consider Princip, the ‘Father of the Modern World’, but he certainly deserves to be called his naive, much younger brother.

Listen and weep

Thursday 18 January 2018

Last Thursday

While you are reading this post you may not have realised, or noticed, that the universe only burst into existence, last Thursday at 900am (god always works to office hours). Also at this time you sprang into being, fully formed and complete with a lifetime of memories that did not occur. When the  Earth appeared, in a thrice last Thursday, it was imbued with all the patina of 4.5 billion years of existence complete with fossils cunningly fashioned. Although your navel is superfluous, its presence is a testament to god's mischievous nature. You may surmise that you are reading the mewling screed of a raving madman. But I assure you I'm quite sane, medication permitting, and I have a certificate signed by my psychiatrist, with the hackneyed name of Professor Mugumbo to prove it. That being the case, I have to ask you in all honesty- can you disprove that everything, in this vast universe of ours, didn't just pop into existence last Thursday?

I am being disingenuous as I'm fully aware that you can't refute the proposition. Just like solipsism, the concept of 'Last Thursdayism' is both unverifiable and unfalsifiable by the scientific method. On fundamental principle, it is impossible to subject the concept to empirical scientific rigour as the 'data' is considered to have been arbitrarily created to mimic the reality of great age at every level of observable detail. And indeed, there is nothing in the concept of 'altered reality' which is incompatible with the laws of logic.
You may form the opinion that this sort of reasoning is the exclusive preserve of ivory tower professional philosophers who are paid to contemplate such bollocks. And to be frank I'm sympathetic to those who espouse such a view. However, the idea of 'Last Thursdayism' is put forward to make a serious point against fundamentalist beliefs. There are groups of fundamentalist Christians, although admittedly not all Christians, who fervently believe the Earth to be 6,000 years old in spite of the myriad of contrary evidence; good solid evidence from multiple sources in happy accord with a universe of billions of years old. The fundamentalist counters by saying that their god has planted the evidence to give the impression of an aged Earth in order to test the faith of the believer. We would have to concede that god has a sense of humour, after all.

If the fundies can argue for a world of only 6,000 years old, what is stopping someone arguing that the universe, and all it entails/entrails, was created last Thursday, or five minutes ago for that matter?  You may consider that the concept of 'Last Thursdayism' quite silly. If you hold this view, then by extension, a 6,000 year-old Earth seems ridiculous in spite of its impeccable logical credentials.

For me, the greatest flaw in the 'Young Earth' theory can be revealed by a simple intellectual tool, called Occam's razor. I introduced the concept of Occam's razor in a previous post- you can check it out, here. Occam's razor states that where several explanations are available, the simplest is generally the best. The law is also known as the law of parsimony and contends that you should never posit more than is necessary to arrive at an explanation for a given phenomenon. In modern parlance, we would say: "keep it simple". If we apply this cardinal rule to our problem, the most likely explanation is that the universe is billions of years old and what we see is the development of natural processes obeying natural laws over eons. The alternative, the ‘Young Earth’ theory is immeasurably more complex to contemplate. There is no gradual developmental process but the sudden materialisation of everything current plus everything that went into the making. It also leads to the belief in deities. How could the infinity complex facade be constructed in an instance without the intercession of a very powerful sentient entity? Thus we observe another layer of hyper-complexity contrary to Occam's sharp-edged tool.

Thus, gentle reader sleep sound in your bed tonight, knowing that you are not a carcass filled with lies but a fully fledged human with a history and a past lasting well beyond last Thursday, probably.

Thursday 11 January 2018

Bouncy Bouncy

A2Z in repose

Breaking news from the humble/ tumble town of Tipton as it lies sweltering under an unseasonably hot meandering sun. For it can be revealed that the town’s married celeb couple, A2Z and Bouncy-Bouncy Big Fat, Arse (ARSE) have squeezed out twins.

The famed couple are renowned for their clog dancing renditions whilst juggling a brace of burning whippets- no mean feat, I can tell you. The highly talented pair have caused consternation and public furore after they decided to call ‘the fruits of their loins’ sensible names, to wit, Robert Cartier and Enid Cartier. Pundits and the public alike are notably and justifiably outraged. Leading impresario and chanteuse, Telescope Mugumbo, had this to say at a recent press conference: “Tis a bleeding liberty, innit. Why couldn’t they call their kids stupid names like Babylon Twinkle Juice the 3rd, or Fibble-Basket, Ptang, Ptang, Olay, Biscuit Barrel Cartier, like any other bleeding celeb? Makes my piss boil it surely does. Now every plebeian punter in a shell suit and sporting a mullet will be calling their snotty brats normal names. We can’t be having it and make no mistake"

A random citizen leaving the local hostelry, 'The Felching Ferret’ at closing time had this to say: “Ya fuckin bastid. I’ll bite ya nose orwf. Guv’ner, can ya spare 20 quid for a packet of fags and a brace of ‘Special Brew’? You are me bestest mate and I love ya, hic.”  

The town of Tipton, which spawned the golden couple, is languishing in a state of shock and rampant/stagnant despair. A well-known psychologist from the Tipton Institute of Difficult Thinking and Stuff, Dr Nipple Nose (wot, no Mugumbo?)  related/berated thusly: “I think from a deep psychological perspective we are seeing celebs digging deep into their pit of self-worth and re-examining, nay redefining, their role and paradigm in a post-modern society. The common folk will always ape and follow those deemed their superior thus fulfilling their atavistic need to feel inclusive and part of the tribe to which they are affiliated……”. The good doctor droned on in this manner for 50 minutes; the above represents the edited lowlights.  

A spokesman for the celebrity magazine, ‘Panty Hair’ gushed predictably. “Isn’t A2Z and Bouncy-Bouncy Big Fat, Arse just perfect and wonderful? I love every atom of their being as do the readership. However, I’m a little bemused and nonplussed that they seem fit to name their offspring with rather conventional monikers at the risk of losing their celeb royalty status”.

The rapper, Arnold Postlethwaite, expressed further concern: “I’m at a total loss to comprehend this grave phenomenon. I can only surmise that A2Z and Bouncy-Bouncy Big Fat, Arse, are suffering a temporary malady and fever of the brain. I pronounce a nostrum for what ails them: Take three parts laudanum; a ladle of bismuth and a tincture of aqua fortis. It is with great expectation that this concoction if imbibed daily, will offer restorative vigour and respite from this cardinal infraction and sin."

Already, the twins have their own perfume line and 40% shares in the Tipton fat rendering factory. I see a great future for these siblings, despite their sensible names. Indeed, their first album, the critically acclaimed: ‘Slap dat bitch, upside da head’ is due out next Tuesday. Wibble bollocks.

Bouncy Bouncy

Tuesday 9 January 2018

Random Tuesday Whimsy

Here are just a few random images off the netty to keep me amused on this dreary Tuesday morn

Gary always gets a rise with this one. You are a very naughty boy, Gary

Us men are wretched creatures and due to the biological imperative, sex is never too far from our mind. My wife reckons that my mind can only hold three concepts at any one time: Katy Perry; jelly wrestling and Katy Perry jelly wrestling

I'm a dog man myself

Bloody fidget spinners! This kid obviously slipped in the school playground

Clearly the acolyte has not quite reached enlightenment and eschewed the pleasures of the flesh. Nirvana will have to wait  

Some folk have questionable hygiene practices

 No comment

And finally and predictably: Arse, big fat, ARSE

Sunday 7 January 2018

Bentham's Corpse

Bentham, in repose

In this essay, I’m going to delve deep and without anaesthetic into the vagaries of ethics. Tis a dark place full of furies. I don’t usually enter into this territory as I find it completely unsatisfying from an intellectual point of view. The questions are often simple but the conclusions please no one, mainly because there are no concrete answers to be found. Of course, you could argue that this the case for most philosophical speculation and I would agree to some extent. However, there are philosophical questions to which sensible conclusions can be made, albeit not embraced by all. The main difference, say, between debates concerning what constitutes knowledge and what constitutes ethics, is that there is something intellectually tangible to be gained by reflecting on what constitutes knowledge, but ethics is like trying to keep a grasp on a very slippery eel whilst your hands have been ‘lubed up’ with an expensive dermatological cream.   

The ideals of ‘Utilitarianism’ were first articulated, in any depth anyways, by the 18th-century savant, Jeremy Bentham and further enhanced by John Mills in the 19th century. As a digression, Bentham's corpse has been preserved and resides in a glass case, on show, at University College London. To be fair his head is made of wax and the skeleton has been stuffed with hay and then covered with his best Sunday attire. What a macabre gift to mankind.

Bentham's basic tenet is easy to state: In society, we should strive for the maximum good.

I'll leave the Great Man himself to outline the cardinal principle: 'Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do… By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words to promote or to oppose that happiness. I say of every action whatsoever, and therefore not only of every action of a private individual, but of every measure of government. Arse, big fat, arse'.

Very clear, isn't it?

This philosophy does not absolve us from evil. Evil is allowed and some will suffer if the maximum benefit is accrued to the most. Let us illustrate this philosophy with a thought experiment, outlined below.

Consider a man dying of kidney failure, for convenience sake, we shall refer to him as Mr Mugumbo. Unfortunately, a suitable donor cannot be found and the poor fellow will die in the next few days.  A tenured philosopher has a fantastic idea and states it thusly: “Let us initiate a lottery amongst our populace.  But instead of giving the ‘winner’ squiddoodles of free cash (no such thing), let us condemn the elected/selected to death and harvest their ripe organs in such a way that we save five people, including the wretched, Mr Mugumbo”. All the philosophers around the table agree as one. We have to accept, according to this scenario, that philosophers hold absolute political power- may Woden preserve us.

Tis true, according to the principles, outlined above, that this represents the optimal outcome. The sacrifice of one life for the many accrues the greater good. The High Priest, Caiaphas expressed the same when condemning Jesus to death: “It is better this man dies so the nation shall live”. This is expediency at its rawest. It looks like Bentham’s thesis had already been anticipated nearly two thousand years before; there is truly nothing new under the sun. Of the healthy fifty million adults (for sake of argument) one is be picked at complete random each week. Does this system appear fair?.

An important assumption in this line of reasoning is that each individual has equal, value, merit and worth. I would state that this is not the case and to accept this premise is to invite a form of communism; an anathema to right thinking folk, almost anywhere, North Korea included.

After stating our cardinal principle, what mischief/havoc can we make? This reflection raises a few interesting questions (no shit, Flaxen). 

1. What if the person chosen for harvest happened to be a renowned neurosurgeon who saves many from brain maladies throughout the year and the lucky organ recipients happen to be estate agents. If our surgeon saves ten folk a year would it be ethical to kill him to save five?

2. A billionaire philanthropist is chosen. This gentleman gives largesse in huge quantities to immunise millions against a deadly disease.

3. The man responsible for choosing the donor also came up with the idea of selective harvesting for the 'greater good'. By chance, he chooses his daughter. Would we castigate him he decides to choose another?

There are other scenarios we can posit, but I think we have enough information to base our critique.

Firstly, is it true that everyone has the same intrinsic worth? I would say nay. Even if it twas the case how can it be defined? The head of the lottery is not prepared to carry out the principles he helped to define, all but vaguely- but can we blame him? This illustrates the impracticality of utilitarianism. If it could work, or work at all, it could only exist within a society without emotion where everyone is endowed with an implacable will. As we are not so disposed, or unflinching robots, we must reject the philosophy on these grounds alone. Utilitarianism hits a brick wall when sentiment is involved. Also, for an ethical system, I find it morally repugnant. Sacrificing individuals as mere organ repositories is inherently indefensible in a society considering itself above the barbarian.

Finally, I would like to touch on our notion of justice. The adherent of utilitarianism would be happy to kill an innocent man if the greater good of the many was satisfied. How could a civilised justice system prevail under such circumstances?

The whole 'philosophy' reeks of implausibility and is impossible to apply in a just and empathetic society. It could only be fulfilled in a madman's dream (?or nightmare). As you can guess I am no sympathetic commentator on utilitarianism and consider the philosophy, at best, rank sophistry and at its most crass, simply silly.

Bentham's head