Tag Archives: politics

Blaming tech entrepreneurs for political failings is a form of prejudicial demonisation that helps no-one

A colleague recently shared this essay by Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel. It’s main point is that Elon Musk is morally corrupt for pursuing a dream of putting humanity on Mars instead of helping solve social issues like poverty and inequality.

Russell and Vinsel suggest that anyone with wealth is morally obligated to engage in selfless humanitarianism. They also suggest that outlandish endeavours, like space travel, should be abandoned while poverty and other socio-political problems persist.

Such a stance is divisive – blaming wealthy tech entrepreneurs for societal ills to make ‘the rest of us’ look on them (Musk, specifically) unfavourably. It’s also naive – expecting that humanity can somehow solve all it’s problems before making progress.

“What happens when the rich and powerful isolate themselves from everyday concerns?” the authors ask rhetorically, immediately putting forward the entirely baseless assumption that any wealthy person not overtly dedicating themselves to social justice is deliberately shunning humanity.

They go so far as to launch insults at Musk as if he’s some sort of comic book villain who just personally condemned the earth to oblivion, holds the only route of escape and is auctioning it off to the highest bidders.

It’s enough to make one wonder what led Musk to develop such contempt for the billions of humans who could never escape Earth.

The authors continue, saying “Musk’s concept of humanity excludes most living and breathing humans” and state that his estimate of 1 million people required for a self-sustaining civilisation is “0.014035087719298244 per cent” of the population in a deliberate invocation of the “1% vs the world” mantra. That the estimate is a practical estimate of what size a Mars colony would need to be to survive is completely ignored over the imperative to demonise Musk personally.

All of this serves to make the reader despise Musk, and any other tech entrepreneur, so that arguments put forward can be done with very little validity and still be accepted as truth. Let’s look at those arguments.

At the root is a belief that people like Musk should focus on problems such as climate change, poverty, infrastructure or other ‘more earthly’ concerns before a trip to Mars. While they declare Musk to be a “utopian” and “repulsed by the world we all share”, Russell and Vinsel themselves are painting a vision where there are no problems. To match up to their standards, Musk (and anyone with a decent bit of cash) would have to build a utopia where the world is free from economic or social strife before it would be morally acceptable to pursue technological advancements. Their utopia is even more immature a concept when they deride Musk’s goals as “adolescent space fantasies.”

In a fantastic display of cognitive dissonance the authors acknowledge the benefits of grandiose technological advancements;

Up to 80 per cent of the technologies created for NASA programs might have ended up in the domestic economy.

Yet then they argue “We don’t need trickle-down science” and make the completely unevidenced (read: made up) claim that “A public research agenda aimed squarely at solving real problems… would easily produce useful technologies that exceed the 80 per cent mark.”

Not once is the role of government and politicians discussed. Big issues like poverty are put forward as the priorities and the apparent solution amounts to ‘rich people should fix this’. Nowhere do they ask, after referencing the world’s huge wealth divide, why it exists and what governments are doing about it. Instead, they attack the financial beneficiaries of decades of failed government policy. Want to end the wealth divide and put more money into health and infrastructure? Then point the finger at the state. Demand a living wage, a fair tax regime, universal healthcare, public ownership of public services and a ban on poverty profiteering like the subprime mortgages that caused the 2008 economic collapse.

What if Musk did abandon SpaceX and spend his wealth on societal issues? Fantastic! I’m sure lots of good would come of it. What happens when the money runs out? What happens to all the people that were being helped? Do they slip back into poverty, isolation, precarity? Those problems the authors are so keen to see banished aren’t going to be solved by a short term injection of cash by a philanthropist. Real solutions need to come from systemic change instigated and legislated into being for the long term by a courageous state.

Playing this blame game does nothing except demonise and divide, to set the haves against the have-nots, when all of humanity is equally morally responsible for holding governments – those with the actual power to affect change – to account for their actions. To turn Russell and Vinsel’s argument back at them, why aren’t they using the power they have, as publishers with an audience, to encourage all people – regardless of their economic status – to join together and demand better of their governments. Why aren’t they using their megaphone to encourage people to join equality movements or protest budget cuts? What is morally right about writing insulting tirades against fellow human beings?

The internet killed religion, politics, and neighbours

No, not the TV show. Got the theme tune in your head though, didn’t it? You’re welcome.

I’m talking about neighbours – those people that live next door, ‘across the way’ and nearby. This is probably perception, and I’ve yet to bother searching for any actual research (if there is any), but there does seem to be less ‘neighbourliness’ going around. Maybe that just makes me sound like an old codger, but when I think about my parents being friendly with half the street when I was going up it doesn’t marry with the relationships I’ve seen since I moved out.

Of course, maybe I’m just an unsociable ass hat.

Recently I’ve been deeply interested in the blog of Ryan Bell, a former pastor turned atheist who is writing about his journey. In a post this week he talked about the prevelance of switching between faiths. What got my cogs clunking was this part of one of the quotes he’d picked out (my emphasis);

Americans with no formative religious experience often have very different expectations and attitudes about religion that are drawn not from personal experience in church, but from the views of friends, family, and also popular culture.

So that’s that.

Then there was this tweet from James Smith;

Now, let me just get this out first of all (sorry James): I hate the phrase “consumer-nationalism” – it sounds awful. I can imagine a Daily Mail journalist picking something like that up and turning it into some sort of “Google to start political party” bullshit.

However, that along with Ryan’s blog post got me thinking about how as a society we probably used to get a lot of our guidance, our moral compass, beliefs, perceptions and expectations from our neighbours, family and fellow religious worshippers (where relevant) – a relatively small pool of minds.

We’re much more likely now to become friends (even lovers) with people we meet via the internet. We’re much more likely to adjust our world view based on things we read on the internet. We’re much more likely to educate ourselves using the internet and form our own opinions than rely on the anecdote and perceptions of a small group of people we happen to be near to.

Locality and religion are both communities that hang together partly because of our in-built need to socialise. Many relationships in those communities may exist – or may have existed – purely because of that need, not necessarily because of mutual world views. But the internet presents an opportunity that, less than three decades ago, wasn’t really available – an enormous array of communities much more aligned to individual preference.

If I have racists neighbours, I don’t have to think about moving because I despise their views, I can simply not associate with them and find a more suitable community to spend my time with. I’m not limited by where I live, or which church happens to be close by.

I think this makes sense when polls about religious observance are taken into account. Many of them now show that people refer to themselves as ‘cultural Christians’ or ‘cultural Muslims’ and so on, as opposed to practising theists. A huge proportion of Christians no longer believe that Jesus was the son of God and yet they still go to Church. Probably for the social interaction.

What am I getting at?

What Ryan’s post also mentioned was that more people are growing up unaffiliated to any religion. These people are growing up with the internet as ubiqutous as the TV was to my generation, as the radio was to the previous generation and the phone to the generation before that. From an early age they are learning that they can discover more knowledge on the internet than they can ever get from the people around them, and they can use it. They can join clubs, societies, organisations, charities, parties that match what appeals to them, not the environment they were brought up in.

That individual cultural liberty I think means that we’re also going to see a shift in the way people interact with politics.

Rather than right vs left, the political landscape is going to become more and more fragmented and more focused on individual issues. This individualisation of political affiliation will break down political parties and funnel that enthusiasm into much more granularly focused campaigns.

We’re kind of seeing this already with the likes of 38 Degrees and Change.org which allow people to get behind “bite-sized” causes that they believe in outside of the standard party political framework.

As I type I even wonder whether that means efforts like the OpenPolitics Manifesto, to which I enthusiastically contribute, are serving a system doomed to failure as an unattractive “one size fits all”  monolith that only presents a “best of a bad bunch” choice.

If I’m right, who knows how politics will adapt. I certainly haven’t a clue. Have you?


P.s. If you’re concerned/angry/fed up with politics, help Democracy Club do something.

Updates to WriteToThem WordPress Widget

I’ve given my WriteToThem WordPress plugin a well overdue refresh this evening.

You can download the latest version from the WordPress.org plugin repository now.

Here’s what’s changed;

  • Re-write: For those technically minded it now uses the WP_Widget class as it should do, which makes it much tidier.
  • Translations: I’ve also added support for translations so, if you want to make a Welsh or any other language version you can!
  • Filters: There are some filters in there (search the code for apply_filters to see them) for you to tweak the output if you’re looking for some advanced customisation.
  • GitHub: The code is also on GitHub so if you want to contribute, please do!

If you have any issues with the plugin, please post in the forums over at WordPress.org where I can better help you.

My comments on the POWER 2010 Pledge

I’ve just signed up the POWER 2010 Pledge, having voted on the specific issues I feel are important to me. It is not a requirement that you agree with all of the 5 priorities voted for as the most important by the majority of those who have participated, but just that you agree with the majority.

I do agree with the majority but I wanted to share the comments I added when I signed up to the Pledge.

I support the POWER Pledge because it represents a true grassroots desire from the people of Britain to change politics in this country. It gives Government the opportunity to welcome the desire of the people to be actively engaged in British politics at a time when voter apathy is such a huge concern.

I don’t agree that an elected second chamber will necessarily make a difference to the effectiveness of Parliament but welcome negotiation in Parliament on a possible solution, resulting in a referendum.

I am also unconvinced also that restricting votes on ‘English’ laws to ‘English MPs’ is a right course of action. Rather, the country as a whole should be guided by correct principles as part of a written constitution that ensures at a local level that the majority rules.

See the POWER 2010 Pledge for yourself.

WriteToThem.com WordPress plugin

As if the TheyWorkForYou.com plugin wasn’t enough I’ve also created a plugin for WriteToThem.com as well!

The plugin adds a new widget which your blog readers can use to get in touch with their politicians from councillors to MEPs. There’s a demo video and instructions on how to set up over on the Talk About Local blog.

You can download the plugin now and subscribe for future updates.

My (disappointing) correspondence with Michael Cashman MEP over Mandelson’s 3 strikes policy

With today’s announcement of the Digital Economy Bill containing the dreaded three strikes policy I thought I’d share my disappointing correspondence with Michael Cashman MEP.

I first wrote to him with;

Dear Michael Cashman,

I’m biased as my career is based entirely on the web, but Mandelson’s plans to implement disconnection without trial for those accused of copyright infringement over the internet is seriously disturbing.

The internet is so crucial to communication in the 21st century that to disconnect people without a ruthless exploration of the facts is unthinkable to me.

At a time when the Government is targeting broadband roll-out for the whole country with it’s Digital Britain agenda this surely can only be a backwards step for the digital economy of the UK.

I’d like to ask that you support, in whatever way you can, the Open Rights Group and La Quadrature who are calling on the EU to save our right to a free trial under amendment 138 (“No restriction may be imposed on the fundamental rights and freedoms of end-users, without a prior ruling by the judicial authorities.”)

Malcolm Harbour and Rapporteur Catherine Trautmann are leading the negotiations on behalf of the EU Parliament. If they win, the UK government will be stopped from their current plan to disconnect people after a number of accusations of copyright infringement unless they “appeal” to an “ombudsman”.

Yours sincerely,

Philip John

His first, one sentence, reply was about as re-assuring as a poke in the eye (you can see the scanned version of this letter, too);

Dear Mr John,

Thank you for your recent email.

I support the right to ‘free trial’ and their suspension if found guilty. But I do not support the Open Rights Group position on copyright.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Cashman

Obviously not happy with that, I gave it another go;

Dear Michael Cashman,

Thank you for replying to my letter regarding Lord Mandelson’s plans for disconnection without trial for those accused of copyright infringement over the internet.

I was disappointed with your short response and lack of support for the Open Rights Group who are trying to protect the basic right of the British public to a fair trial.

Regardless of whether you support ORG, do you recognise that all people throughout Europe have a fundamental right to a free trial? Do you
recognise that Lord Mandelson’s plans would waive this right? Will you work to stop Lord Mandelson’s plans from being put in place, therefore
protecting all those you represent from being unfairly prosecuted by the authorities without a fair hearing?

I trust a more thorough response will be forthcoming.

Yours sincerely,

Philip John

I wasn’t hopeful, and rightly so;

Dear Mr John,

Further to your recent email. I fully support Lord Mandelson who I am sure will not deny the principle of a citizen’s right to a fair trial.

I have nothing further to add to the principles outlined in my original reply: the right to a fair trial.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Cashman

So pretty much “no, now leave me alone.” I can see his point, I mean who am I but a lowly citizen trying to ensure that my government doesn’t diminish the basic freedoms we should expect? And you know, why should he do anything about it anyway? It’s not like he’s an elected representative of the people or anything…. Oh, hang on.

Does nationalism matter?


Image courtesy of geishaboy500

I was walking past Lichfield police station today, watching their grubby Union Jack flapping around in the wind and I wondered why the Lichfield District Council building just down the road didn’t also have a Union Jack proudly waving around.

In fact, why don’t all Government buildings have a Union Jack?

I’m kind of a nationalist – in the sense that I like to feel like I’m part of something, like I belong – but not in the defensive ‘screw everyone else, let’s be completely independent’ sense.

One of my favourite phrases is “no involvement, no commitment” because I think applies to so many things. I’m of the mind that a greater sense of nationality (similar to what the U.S. seems to have) would help society to function more cohesively. Maybe flying the flag is one part of that.

What do you think? Does nationalism matter? Should Government buildings fly the flag? Do you fly the flag?


Make Parliamentary Scrutiny More Accessible

The Free Our Bills campaign from mySociety is today encouraging supporters to ask their MPs to sign Early Day Motion (EDM) 2141.

The campaign aims to get Parliament to publish bills in a much better way which will allow software developers to come up with new and innovative ways to present bills to the public and build tools around them.

It’s another project from mySociety, a non-profit organisation, organised by volunteers who aim to “build websites that give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives” and to “teach the public and voluntary sectors … how to use the internet most efficiently to improve lives.”

They are the creators of many popular democracy web sites including WriteToThem, TheyWorkForYou and the No. 10 Downing Street Petitions web site.

The EDM asks the House of Commons to acknowledge the need for this change and the need to work with mySociety to get it done.

If you would like to see more parlimentary scrutiny then please write to your MP and ask them to sign the EDM.