What is this blog?

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The purpose of this blog is to allow me to record my journey, the formation of the No New Wars organisation (whatever form that may take), the Eleven Eleven Twenty-Eighteen campaign and the supporting resources and networks of people and organisations.

This idea crystallised for me in 2012 when I decided it was not enough to be angry about wars being started in my name (that is, by my government) that I could not prevent.  Instead I would do something.  Not march with a banner, or send a letter to my MP, or write to the embassy of the enemy state, but instead stop the war in the first place.

I realised that I could not stop foreign countries starting wars.  But I can do something to influence my own government.  I could start a movement that makes it clear to our politicians that we do not want war, and that we will make them pay if they start one.

In a democracy we have only one tool available: our vote.  If enough of us pledge to remove our vote from any politician promoting an unjust, illegal or unnecessary war and to instead give that vote to an opponent, then we can make the politicians and major political parties too frightened to want to start a war.

It does not even need many of us to sign up to this.  In many constituencies it would only take about half of the MP’s majority to take the pledge to make the MP realise their next election might be their last.  And if people who do not vote – which is most of us – sign this pledge saying we will turn up and make a protest vote, it will make the political parties sit up and think about the consequences of the actions of a few war mongers.

I haven’t done the sums in detail, but if this campaign had been in place by 2003 when the 2nd Gulf War started, and if just 1% of the electorate had signed this pledge, then 170,00 non-voters voting against Labour plus 1% of Labour voters voting for either of the other major parties, would have resulted in Labour losing the 2005 General Election.

Between 750,000 (Police figures) and 2,000,000 (organisers’ figures) people marched in London alone to protest against the 2nd Gulf War.  Just 400,000 registered voters making a pledge would have more effect.

We actually can stop wars from starting by targeting the real cause: politicians who want to start a war.  By telling them we as voters will end their political career and wreck their party’s future prospects of power at the same time.

Would you consider war prevention a big enough cause to change your vote, or to make you go out and vote?

Chilcot, briefly

At the most sympathetic interpretation, the second Gulf War was initiated on poor quality intelligence, incomplete intelligence, contrary to evidence-based failure to find WMDs, an overly-keen desire to initiate war, a premature decision to initiate war, a lack of collaborative decision making and not listening to objections and alternatives.

So, it should not have been initiated.

Tony Blair is a war-monger.

I don’t think we learned anything we did not know already.

There’s also no discussion going on about alternatives – which is what I have been feeling and saying for years.  Stop looking for reasons to go to war – which is what happened here – but instead look for evidence-based, properly-researched, alternatives.

First Level 3 module chosen

After my experience this past academic year, there is no way I am doing more than 60 credits at once at Level 3, that is, full-time study while working.  The year saved is not worth the stress, the loss of value-for-money from skipping material, the lost opportunity from not having time to read around the subject nor the impact on the grade.  And at Open University Level 3, it’s all about the grade since that is most of the final grade weighting.

I was going to do A333 Key questions in philosophy but my experience of A222 Exploring philosophy has put me off.  It was not what I thought it would be.

I had also planned to do DD301 Crime and justice as it includes ‘trans-national policing, international criminal courts and universal human rights‘ but those are only a minor part of the syllabus.  Also, it is intended for those going into ‘crime prevention and conflict resolution‘ (amongst other things) and my desired career is in conflict prevention.  Similar, but not the same thing.  I’ll need to have another think.

I downloaded the list of all the 107 Level 3 modules available to me and went through each module in turn, deciding afresh if I wanted or needed to do it.  A day’s work turned that into a shortlist of 12.

So many things to consider:

  • When does the module first run?  (DD317 Advanced Social Psychology should have started this October but will be October 2017 and DD311 Crime, harm and the state in October 2019 which is one year too late for me to do it.)
  • When does the module cease to be available?
  • 30 credits or 60 credits?
  • Does it have an exam?
  • Is there team work?  (No thank you.  I’ve carried others before, and discovered you don’t get any thanks for doing so.  A shame, as that has put me off S382 Astrophysics which I really fancied.)
  • Will it help my career?
  • I only have 120 credits left (or 150 if I’m devious and willing to add another year by doing 30, then 60 then 60).
  • Which 60 credits I want locked into the 300 credits that make up the open (non-honours) component.  (What a weird rule.)
  • Whether I want a name degree (that was a realistic option until A222 put me off philosophy).
  • Will I enjoy it?  (I can’t excel at something I do not enjoy.)
  • Ought I to do it for my career?  (Peace Studies.)
  • Will I learn something useful?

I really fancy S350 Evaluating contemporary science as it would be interesting, challenging and probably very useful to me.  One is expected to research, produce and present a scientific paper as practice for being a real scientist!  I could do something on sensor reliability in unmanned ground vehicles (or autonomous fighting machines, multi-function utility vehicle, warbots, kill-bots, autonomous drones, call ’em what you will) or the environmental impact of war in an oil-producing region.

But, it is 30 credits and I have talked myself out of the other 30 credit modules.  I’ll re-consider it this time next year.

I think I have settled on which one to do next, A327 Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity, mostly because it will look relevant on a Master’s Degree application and because it ought to be relatively easy for me.  I’ve been informally studying war and how & why it happens for decades, so those parts ought not to be too alien.  However, although the title sounds relevant, I’m not terribly interested in war in history as a subject of study because that has changed nothing.  My interest is evidence-based peace process research.  But, I shall use it as a corridor of doorways to other paths to study.

Risk: what will be new to me is that it is a history module and I’ve never done one of those.  I wonder what new skills and methods I will need for that.

I’ve bought and downloaded the A327 exam paper for 2015 and it asks for “Write a commentary on the following primary source extract…” but I do not know what a ‘commentary’ looks like.  It also says “Answer the following thematic question” but what is a thematic question and what is special about how one answers one?

I have asked those queries on the Arts & Humanities forum and I hope somebody understands.  I should probably ask it on the Open Degree forum – the polymathic folk there might understand my concern better.

Meanwhile I can do advance reading by getting the set book and by going through the OpenLearn material that has been produced based on this very module.

First Level 3 module chosen

After this year’s experience, there is no way I am doing more than 60 credits at once at Level 3.  The year saved is not worth the stress (for real: sleeping disrupted, home life disrupted, poor skin, social life ceased completely, et al), the loss of value-for-money from skipping material, the lost opportunity from not having time to read around the subject nor the impact on the grade.  And at Level 3, it’s all about the grade.

I was going to do A333 Key questions in philosophy but my experience of A222 Exploring philosophy was so bad (I can’t be confident I’ve even passed the exam) that it has put me off.  This may be unfair on the module as the experience I had visiting another group’s day school at the end of the year was very different from my experience up to that point: this was a large group of engaged students who knew the subject well, discussing how to tackle questions with tutors who were focussed and challenging and who provided excellent hand-outs.  If I could move to Edinburgh, I would probably do A333.  But I can’t.  So I won’t.

I had also planned to do DD301 Crime and justice as it includes ‘trans-national policing, international criminal courts and universal human rights‘ but those are only a minor part.  It is intended for those going into ‘crime prevention and conflict resolution‘ and my desired career is in conflict prevention.  Similar, but not the same thing.  I’ll need to have another think.

I downloaded the .HTML file of all the 107 Level 3 modules on the Module Finder available to me and turned it into a table and went through each module in turn, deciding afresh if I wanted or needed to do it.  A day’s work turned that into a shortlist of 12.

So many things to consider:

  • When does the module first run?  (DD317 Advanced Social Psychology should have started this October but will be October 2017 and DD311 Crime, harm and the state in October 2019 which is one year too late for me to do it.)
  • When does the module cease to be available?
  • 30 credits or 60 credits?
  • Does it have an exam?  (My recent bad experience has made that a deterrent.)
  • Is there team work?  (No thank you.  I’ve carried others before, and discovered you don’t get any thanks for doing so.  A shame, as that has put me off S382 Astrophysics which I really fancied.)
  • Will it help my career?
  • I only have 120 credits left (or 150 if I’m devious and willing to add another year by doing 30, then 60 then 60).
  • Which 60 credits I want locked into the 300 credits that make up the open (non-honours) component.  (What a weird rule.)
  • Whether I want a name degree (that was a realistic option until A222 put me off philosophy).
  • Will I enjoy it?  (I can’t excel at something I do not enjoy.)
  • Ought I to do it for my career?  (Peace studies.)
  • Will I learn something useful?

I really fancy S350 Evaluating contemporary science as it would be interesting, challenging and probably very useful to me.  One is expected to research, produce and present a scientific paper as practice for being a real scientist!  I could do something on sensor reliability in unmanned ground vehicles (or autonomous fighting machines, multi-function utility vehicle, warbots, kill-bots, autonomous drones, call ’em what you will) or the environmental impact of war in an oil-producing region.

But, it is 30 credits and I have talked myself out of the other 30 credit modules.  I’ll re-consider it this time next year.

I think I have settled on which one to do next, A327 Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity, mostly because it will look relevant on a Master’s Degree application and because it ought to be relatively easy for me.  I’ve been informally studying war and how & why it happens for decades, so those parts ought not to be too alien.  However, although the title sounds relevant, I’m not interested in war in history as a subject of study because that has changed nothing.  My interest is evidence-based peace process research.  But, I shall use it as a corridor of doors into other paths to study.

Risk: what will be new to me is that it is a history module and I’ve never done one of those.  I wonder what new skills and methods I will need for that.

I’ve bought and downloaded the A327 exam paper for 2015 and it asks for “Write a commentary on the following primary source extract…” but I do not know what a ‘commentary’ looks like.  It also says “Answer the following thematic question” but what is a thematic question and what is special about how one answers one?

I have asked those queries on the Arts & Humanities forum and I hope somebody understands.  I should probably ask it on the Open Degree forum – the polymathic folk there might understand my concern better.

Meanwhile I can do advance reading by getting the set book and by going through the OpenLearn material that has been produced based on this very module.

What is the point of academic philosophy?

I have been struggling with my philosophy module all year, mostly because I cannot see how it applies to real life.  It has contained dualism (the mind is not a physical thing), arguments for ‘the self’ that do not consider sociology or psychology and, to my utter incredulity, intelligent design (FFS!).

On talking to a different tutor last weekend, it was explained that modern teaching of philosophy in the UK does not teach one philosophical thinking, it teaches one philosophical methods and tools.  Hence we have had to study 16th and 17th century texts that are clearly utterly irrelevant today.  They are contrived arguments produced by withholding modern thinking and results of scientific research to produce ways of writing essays.  Sadly, in so doing, they are also teaching some of their students to believe utter bollocks.

My mind-set is that of a practitioner, not an academic, and I do not enjoy studying a pointless subject for the sake of studying it.  If it cannot be applied to real life then it is a waste of time, energy and neurones.

So I have been wondering why it is taught this way.

A common accusation aimed at the priesthood of just about any significant religion, anywhere, at any time, has been of being very conservative, advising the little people to support the status quo, pay their taxes, respect their betters and be glad their suffering will be compensated in the next life.  Meanwhile, the little people are assured the rich and powerful will suffer for their comforts.

But why aren’t philosophers challenging the status quo?  “Isn’t that what they are for?” I thought.  What I am seeing is more like the behaviour of this stereotypical compliant priesthood, telling the little people how to behave.  Then as I was typing up my notes on political philosophy and the arguments for political obligation, a little light came on.  There are shed-loads of reasons provided for why we should adhere to the law and fulfil our political obligations and scant few for why we should not.  Why is this?  It seems this goes back to Socrates who was sentenced to death 2,500 years ago for subverting the state.  He had the chance to not be executed but instead we get a long treatise from him on why he should allow himself to be executed by the state, in a particularly ghastly way, for a variety of reasons.  He is trotted out time and time again – a lesson to young wannabe world-changers: “This will be your fate if you do not comply!

How many academic philosophers since then have stood up to the state?

I think the purpose of philosophy as it is taught might just be to maintain the status quo of the paymasters who pay for the establishments in which the teaching is done.  It is just one huge “busy work” subject, of negative worth to society.  There to prevent students rioting on the streets, chucking petrol bombs at the Police, in protest at the behaviour of the government of the day.

As far as I have seen in this module, philosophy is not about teaching you to think and change the world, it is how to stick your head up some dead bloke’s arse and comment on whether he should have kept that second packet of crisps to himself or shared them out.

As it is taught, philosophy is a pointless dead subject that just serves to maintain the status quo and convert otherwise activist students into confused compliant citizens.

Our tutor said, at the start of the year, he has students who drop the subject early because “This is not what I wanted, it’s just telling me what to think“.  They were right to do so.  I have learned nothing of any practical use.  What a waste.

How might post-traumatic stress disorder change warfare?

This is a brief note from thinking about Open University DD210 Living Psychology module, book 2, chapter 13, page 149…172 ‘3. The impact of extreme circumstances‘, ‘4. Recovery, resilience and post-traumatic growth‘ and ‘5. Perils, pitfalls and positive effects of psychological interventions‘.

Post-traumatic stress disorder.  People can be damaged by what they are ordered to do; might this change how warfare is conducted?

Millennia ago and centuries, marching off to another country or city allowed preparation time, bonding and training time on the way there.  On the way back there was lots of time for reflection with those who had been through the same experience, done in an environment of routine, with physical activity and done outdoors.  Might that have prevented PTSD for most people?  Is PTSD a phenomenon that arrived with the ability to leave the front line and go home fairly quickly?

Might the consequences of PTSD on military personnel make government change the way warfare is conducted so that it is prevented?  If so, what will that look like?

Is PTSD just an infantry complaint?  Do snipers get it worse than combat area engineers?  Do bomber crews get PTSD?  What about drone pilots who work 9-5 and go home every evening?  Who suffers most: conscripts, volunteers or militia?  Do revolutionaries / guerillas / freedom fighters get it?  Do victors get it?  Is it worse for those who suffer defeat?  How bad is it for child soldiers?

How bad is it for civilians in a war zone?  Refugees?  Survivors?  Orphans?  (And does anyone in governments care about civilians in war zones? It does not seem so.)

What research is being done in PTSD?  By whom?  Why?  Is it for peaceful purposes to demonstrate how warfare is bad, or to make warfare and killing less stressful for the troops so that it can continue?

Philosophy at third year of study – yea or nay?

Been too busy to post, lately.  Life, eh?

Anyway, do I do philosophy at level 3 in my custom Peace Studies degree?

I had intended to do module A333 Key Questions in Philosophy with the Open University specifically for topic 2 of 5: “War – Can there be justice in war?

That part is described thus:

“Is there a clear moral distinction between killing combatants and killing non-combatants? Are there circumstances – situations of supreme emergency – in which it is justifiable to suspend the accepted conventions of war? Should all soldiers be treated in the same way, regardless of whether their cause is just? This book will guide you through some of the core ideas of Just War Theory and recent criticisms of this approach.”

I could just study those questions for myself and produce my own conclusions on here.

Just keep going

This year has included a death, moving home, a new job which itself is requiring training and my wife getting some awful medical news which will effect the rest of her life.  But I am still going, doing 120 credits of study at level 2.  It requires selfishness to do a degree as a married adult, and it requires an understanding partner who will let you be selfish… for years.

TMA05 of A222 Exploring Philosophy has been a toughie.  Running two weeks late, the content meant little to me, and I could not relate to the material.  In trying to write the essay, I could not grasp how the arguments, counter-arguments and counter-counter-arguments worked.  I could not see how to construct the essay.

In frustration I just defined the terms, gave the context for the essay question, mentioned the philosophers and their theories and then proceeded to rant about the material, the subject and generally vented my spleen.    Three days I spent on that, mostly tearing my hair out, writing what I thought of the material.

It confirmed what I had thought while reading the material – I should have saved myself some time and skipped this TMA.  Just not done it.

Then, having run out of time, I submitted it anyway.  

I got more than 40% !    My rant about the material got marked (and I even got advice on how I should have presented it so that it would have been a valid philosophy essay!)

As a consequence, the average across the first five TMAs went down by 1%.  Had I submitted nothing, a very poor mark for the final TMA, TMA06, would have meant failing the module.  I now cannot fail the TMA part of the module.

Moral: no matter how frustrated, always submit something.

Is western philosophy inherently violent?

I’m studying philosophy (“should war criminals should be punished for crimes committed half a century or more ago?”  “what we ought or ought not to do”  “what brings about the greatest possible amount of happiness in the world?”  ought we fight for our country if it is under threat?” “political obligations: can I just opt out? When did I opt in?“) as part of my custom Peace Studies degree.  But sometimes the best material comes not from text books but from unexpected sources.

A favourite web cartoon strip is Dead Philosophers in Heaven.  In the comments below the strip about Machiavelli: immoral sociopath or satirist?, is this:

Machiavelli’s The Prince just describes the fact that there is no state or nation in history that hasn’t been founded on massive violence.  Arguably creating the biggest, fattest, ugliest paradox of western political philosophy.  He also lets us know that any state at least partially dependant on consent, if it’s going to last, is going to have to learn how to deceive its citizenry.

Ouch!

Lancaster University Post-Graduate Open Day

Went to Lancaster University today to attend one of their many post-graduate open days.  It has seemed to me other universities only have the one day per year, or bundle post-graduates in the the undergraduates, but Lancaster University have made more of an effort.

I attended by bus from Lancaster town centre.  Although it is just outside the city centre, it is easy to get to by bus if you live in Lancaster.  There is an underpass road with the bus stops down there.  This means the buses drop you off right in the centre of the university campus, but there is no traffic on the campus.  It is very cleverly done.  You just go down a staircase and voilà! there’s a road and bus stops down there.

It was better run and better organised the the others I have been to.  It started at 1 pm and, being a Thursday, the weekly market stalls were up.  The centre of the university is like a tiny town centre with a WH Smiths, Greggs, cash machines, Costa and a bunch of other shops.  It feels like a new town’s town centre, especially with these farmer’s market type market stalls which are there every week during term times.

Personally escorted round the library taking in the very collections I personally needed.

Big chat with a departmental manager about the options.

Discovered that if only 1 person chooses a module, it gets run, unlike elsewhere.

I can do a custom degree (within reason).

One can attend all the department’s lectures; this means if one changes one’s mind about which 5 modules to do, it is less of a problem.  Just start out by doing all the ones you want and not doing the 5,000 word essays in the ones you want to drop.