The Ring of Gyges and the cat’s backside


The Ring of Gyges is a magic ring discussed by the philosopher Plato in his Republic. It granted the wearer the gift of invisibility, and was used by plato to explore what would happen if an intelligent,  moral and upstanding man were to be given this gift.  After all, he’d be able to go anywhere, do anything, with the absolute minimum risk of being caught. Would such a man be able to stay morally and ethically upstanding, or would his morality stretch as far as “I can’t get caught, therefore it’s party time!”

In other words – would such a ‘gift’ corrupt even the most upright citizen.

Sounds familiar? Well, HG Wells’ ‘The Invisible Man’ certainly features this idea, and it’s been suggested that the ‘One Ring’ in The Lord of the Rings is a more forceful version of the Ring of Gyges – one that actually corrupts the wearer rather than allows the wearer to corrupt themselves.

I started writing this post – OK, I wrote the title – about 3 years ago, back in 2012, just before I fell away from blogging. Back then I was pondering whether the relative anonymity of the Internet was acting like a Ring of Gyges that was available to anyone online who chose to operate behind an anonymous account or an alias. At the time I was still recovering from spending a few years as Admin of an online forum with a few folks wearing such rings and acting like idiots.

What’s surprised me in the meantime – and what triggered me to finally write this post – was that it’s now possible to see people being total arses under their own names, often with a photo visible! Online anonymity in some places has fallen by the wayside, and I have to say that I expected people to behave more like they would in ‘face to face’ discussions.  It’s a sobering experience to look through the posts in discussion threads on Facebook – where real names are at least in principle required – and see just how belligerent, aggressive, and abusive some people are, even under their own names.

I have to say that I’ve been surprised. I’ve always used my own name when publishing online; part of this is that ‘once a writer, always a writer’, and I just love seeing my name out there, but there’s also an element of removing the temptation to behave badly!

So…is the Ring of Gyges an outmoded concept? Are people just more shameless? Do folks just not care when they’re being badly behaved and everyone can ‘name and shame’ them for it?

Or, is it what might be called the ‘cat’s backside’ syndrome? Just after we adopted our cat Jarvis he was quite nervous for a few days, and would try and hide in various places around the house.  Unfortunately, his approach to hiding was to hide his head so he couldn’t see me, whilst leaving his backside out in the open.  Not a cunning plan….

Maybe all these folks just think that because they can’t see us, we can’t see them?  And if so, just how dumb are they?

Back in to the fold

From the mid-1980s until 1995 I was a card carrying member of the Labour Party.

Not NEW Labour – old Labour – the Red Flag singing, Socialist leaning, nationalising party that I grew up with as a child in the 1960s and a teenager in the 1970s.  Warts and all.

I joined Labour in about 1986, after the Miner’s Strike and after I;d come to live in Sheffield. I did stints as Ward Chair, Constituency Vice Chair, District Labour Party delegate as well as learning the valuable skills associated with leafletting and typing Gestetner stencils to produce the Ward Newsletter.  this was in the pre-email, pre-social media days when agendas were delivered by volunteers through the letter box… I was proud to belong to one of the more Left wing Wards in Sheffield – which considering how left-wing Sheffield was in those days was quite an achievement.

I left when Tony Blair took over the Party and never expected to return, but have done so since the election of Jeremy Corbyn to be leader of the Party again. Actually, I signed up as a supporter so I could vote for him, so felt honour bound to join properly when he won.  I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t ‘blackballed’ as several colleagues from Occupy and other grass-roots groups were – I clearly haven’t been a bad enough boy in recent years…

I saw Billy Bragg on TV today commenting that he too had recently re-joined the Party after a similar long absence.

It’s nice to be back in the fold…I wonder if the protocols in meetings have changed much? Do people still call each other comrade? Or is that something I’ll have to try and initiate?

…the laughter of our children

As an regular readers of my Blog know, I’m an irregular and typically infrequent poster.  But, I concluded that I really need to pull my finger out again and on entry to my Blog was greeted by a reminder of an unfinished post from earlier this year, about the late and frequently unlamented Margaret Thatcher.  It seems appropriate to finish it, with the benefit of hindsight.  So…here’s the start:

Margaret Thatcher died today.  I came of age in July 1979, just after she became Prime Minister, and spent my 20s dealing with the onslaught of her policies.  I was born in a small town in Nottinghamshire called Warsop; from my bedroom window as a child I could see the winding gear of 5 collieries.  By 1990 I think maybe one was still operational.  My family were striking Notts miners.  To anyone unaware of the relevance of this, most of the Nottinghamshire coalfields were strike-breakers.  My family showed loyalty to the Union and stayed out on strike.  They experienced police harassment, abuse, discrimination.  Those of us who supported them found ourselves on the wrong end of things like phone taps.  If 2 or 3 men were travelling from Yorkshire in to Nottinghamshire by car, there was a very good chance you would be waved down by the Police and questioned as to why you were  travelling.  It happened to me more than once; the Police were basically flagging anyone down who they suspected of being pickets.  It was a strange time; 1984 looked like being a documentary rather than a dystopia.  I was self employed in ‘new technology’, so didn’t feel a lot of the deep impact of the financial policies, but the social change was massive and permanent.  The big storm of 1987 seemed to reflect that changes wrought; whatever we did, things would take years to change back or would never be the same again…

And no she’s gone. ‘Ding, dong, the witch is dead’.  All the folks who said they’d call a party when she went are doing so.  So, why don’t I feel terribly like partying?

I’m what an older generation would have called a God-fearing man.  As a Christian, I try to take on board the part of my doctrine that says that it is not by job to judge; ‘before you point out the speck in someone else’s eye, deal with the clod of earth in your own’ or words to that effect. She did some evil things, and I reflect on that and have actively fought against her policies, but I don’t feel comfortable about celebrating the death of anyone.

Now, that’s where I stopped writing.  So, the following is written with a little distance between the death and my words…

Her death has changed nothing; she stopped being a political force in the early 1990s, and her legacy was first seen in Blair’s New Labour – a magnificent subversion of true Labour values by ‘red’ Thatcherites – and we see it continuing today in an even stronger form under Cameron.  We’ve seen policies introduced in the 20 years since Thatcher left power that would have seemed unthinkable back then.  The popular left’s response of partying and celebrating the death of an old woman who was probably so senile that she knew little of what was happening anymore leaves a nasty taste.

Because, ultimately, the responsibility for what Thatcher did lies with the people of the UK. Whilst it’s true that she never had a majority of the popular vote (the figures for the Tories in 79, 83 and 87 were 40%, 42% and 42%) more people activeley supported her than didn’t.  Her vote INCREASED even after she’d shown the true harshness of the policies. Many people either voted for her or couldn’t care enough to vote against her; “the fault lies not with the stars, but with ourselves”. We created the monster of ‘Thatcherism’.

‘Thatcherism’ always reminded me of the way in which some Communists used to call Nazism ‘Hitlerism’.  They knew the power of the cult of personality, having experienced it with Stalin; they also knew that once you attach a name to a set of policies, it gives them the appearance of being the ideological child of an individual, who can be reviled and hated in life and death – Thatcher became the Goldstein in our real life version of 1984 for most of the left, whereas the true enemy of the people was the apathetic or Tory voting British Voter who basically put her populist policies in to power.

And for that reason, ‘Thatcherism’, like the poor, will always be with us.  We’ll call it something else, but ultimately the form of Reactionary Populist governance that she pioneered where safety nets were removed and an emphasis was put on private enterprise and achievement over public good is still with us. Celebrating her death did nothing to remove it; in fact it simply allowed ‘closure’ for some people of a still raw and bleeding wound.

The true victory over this sort of political movement is rarely won by the death of one of it’s proponents.  The idea lives on – and that’s what needs to be dealt with, and we still don’t do it.  Today, the force of Populsim that she and her party developed is more prominent than ever, because it has continued to reflect the simple fact that many people are selfish and see no further than their own personal well-being.  And that is going to be a hard nut to crack.

I will celebrate the death of Thatcher’s Government’s ideas when they finally die, not before.  And my celebration will be of the positive change that will come when we finally get back to the idea that we need a social contract, we need to help those less fortunate in society and those blessed by society should help those who’re afflicted.  My celebration will be best summed up by the words of Bobby Sands:

“Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.”

Single Sex Marriage….

Well, you know what they say about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread….here I go.  Normally I don’t post too much on social issues, but this grew out of a Facebook post I made on a friend’s wall, and it seemed to be sensible just to put it here as well.

On the practical side, this is a badly thought out piece of legislation (next up will need to be changes in the law on divorce, (the current definitions of adultery and non-consummation as grounds are meaningless, for example, with regard to gay couples). I’m also concerned that the area protecting vicars / priests against possibly being sued for not wishing to conduct a same sex marriage is not watertight. And until the ‘civil partnership’ arrangement is made available to straight couples, we don’t have true equality – just a change in the law. As an aside, equality does not necessarily mean identity. I believe in fairness, but believe that being fair in society doesn’t mean everything has to be the
same for everybody. That ends up in a form of totalitarianism.

On a personal side, and from my Godbothering perspective, I’m one of these folks who believe that the ‘New Covenant’ between Christ and mankind superseded quite a bit of the ‘lifestyle’ sections of the Old testament, particularly Leviticus, so I have less hangups than some of my bretheren about homosexuality. I’ve pondered this issue for a long time, using the three pillars of the Church of England; scripture, faith and reason. And PLEASE don’t conflate this argument with women Bishops, as many have done. Different issues. I’m a big supporter on all levels of Women Bishops, less so of the way that the SSM issue has been handled….

My faith, based on a loving God and the redemption offered by faith in His son, is not affected on a personal level by this.

Scripturally, ‘the jury’s out’ and will be forever and a day. As is often pointed out we shouldn’t necessarily be using a text written in the Bronze Age (OT) and Roman times (NT) to determine the in depth rules of society today; we’re not a theocracy, after all. However, for those of us who do have faith the books are there and we take on board what’s in there as central to our beliefs. Unfortunately, as someone said the other day, ‘Jesus didn’t say anything about same sex marriage; then again, he didn’t comment on space travel either….’

My reasoning powers try and make some sense of this. As I’ve said, it’s a half arsed piece of legislation that will need some tuning before it’s put in place. Years ago there was a significant difference in society’s attitude to Church and Civil weddings – to the degree that many people didn’t regard people married in Civil Ceremonies as married. The issues here are going to be similar. Whatever is said in the eyes of the law, it may be decades before many people in society regard SSM Cermonies as ‘proper’ marriages.

The ‘straw man’ arguments about divorce rates, celebrity marriages, etc. are not an issue. Saying that a social and cultural institution is invalid to force a change to it that does nothing to address those problems is not an argument in favour of change. The religious argument here in the UK is purely because of the interconnected nature of Church and State; if the Anglican Church wasn’t the established religion, I doubt that there would have been a lot of the outcry. As it is, I personally feel that there are likely to be wider repercussions from this apparently civil legal change that will impact on the position of the Church in ecumenical terms with other Christian faith groups.

Bottom line is that I’m in favour of fairness and equality, but not in favour of the way that this whole thing has been done. It’s poorly formulated law, put in to being at a time when there are massive social problems on the horizon that really need to engage our body politic rather than this. The question of ensuring that those churches who do not wish to conduct SSM don’t have to is wide open; someone, somewhere, will push the case, I’m sure. It will have an impact on the relationship between the Anglican Church and State (I’m in favour of reducing ties, btw) and with the position of the Anglican Church with its relationships with other Churches, purely due to it being the Established Religion.
On a religious / scriptural level I can’t yet determine a view point, but on a social and cultural level – bad move at this time, in this way.

The word ‘marriage’ is a culturally loaded word, and the nature of the institution harks back to a time when it was effectively a means of ensuring property rights, inheritance rights, child care and social cohesion. These issues are less significant today in the West. This whole business seems to have been fought over the use of a word.

I have no intention of getting in to a debate / argument about this as I think that no words I say will change other minds, and other folks won’t change my mind as I’ve done a lot of soul-searching and study in recent months. I appreciate that some folks may regard me as a bigoted homophobe, and if so, well, just un-friend me in the most appropriate manner and I won’t be upset.

So…congratulations to all who’ve fought hard for this change, and to anyone whose life will be enriched by it. But on a personal level, I think it ill-advised and potentially massively divisive, and my conscience prevents me from embracing it.

As Martin Luther said “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. ” I think that sort of sums me up on this issue.



Seven of Nine and the Illuminati

This blog post started life this summer, after the Olympics.  It was a time of great celebration in Britain; after all, according to some people we’d dodged at least three bullets over the Olympic period – a nuclear terror attack, the invasion of Earth by inter-dimensional aliens through a portal opened by the Olympic Opening Ceremony or an uprising of the forces of the Illuminati.  My original comments can be read in ‘Whoops, No Apocalypse’.

And in December we’re still here….although the Mayans are around the corner…

A day or two ago I again watched the episode of the TV series ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ that triggered this piece in the first place – The Voyager Conspiracy.  In this episode, ex-Borg drone Seven Of Nine attempts to download the whole of Voyager’s computer database in to her head, and in the process of doing so gives herself paranoid delusions in which she attempts to put together a narrative from various events that have taken place on the starship, resulting in her almost causing a mutiny as the Captain and her second in command are told different paranoid delusions in which other crew members are conspirators.

The facts of what happened to the ship were correct; the interpretation placed on them by Seven was totally delusional, caused by her mind’s attempt to see connections and causality where non existed.  As her theories were questioned by other crew members, she would change them to add new facts, never lying but working things around to support her own point of view, ultimately ending up with the crew not knowing who to trust and going around carrying sidearms!

And I’m afraid that that’s what we’re seeing from a lot of people these days.  The Internet has bought a lot of information to a lot of people, and I’m afraid that many folks don’t seem equipped with the critical faculties needed to differentiate between a scientific fact and a stick of rhubarb.  And if you dare to suggest that there might be a more simple explanation than the conspiracy theorists are offering, you’re described as a sheep, already brainwashed in to believing what ‘they’ (whether they are lizards, zeta reticulans, organised crime, CIA mind controllers, etc.) wish us to believe.  Only the people pushing the right line of conspiracy are truly awake and aware; the rest of us are either unwitting dupes, fellow travelers or part of the enemy.

This isn’t to say that conspiracies don’t happen; they do.  But we all need to get a grip on facts as well.  Sometimes a gunman is just an evil or insane, rather than being someone who has been conditioned like Jason Bourne to be a killer.  And whilst the mind-manipulation techniques of programmes like MK-ULTRA no doubt exist, they’re not used on every bat-shit crazy lunatic.

Cock-up is usually more likely than conspiracy.  I have no doubt that on 23rd December when we’ve dodged the Mayan Apocalypse bullet  the conspiracy theorists will be coming up with any number of reasons why they’re still right.  We can expect calendar issues, successful interventions by aliens or enlightened ones, or even that it DID happen but we didn’t notice it.  Me? I have no idea what’s supposed to happen but my money is on nothing at all….

But these conspiracies, propagating around the world and in popular film and TV shows, cause some people a lot of fear and uncertainty. At a time when the world is full of real problems – crashing economies, poverty, hunger and war – perhaps these very capable minds might think how they can apply their intellects to solving a few real-world issues, rather than playing games in which they see themselves as something special – enlightened ones better than the rest of us because ‘they know’.

Whatever it is that they think they know, I’m convinced it’s simply the  production of an under-employed, over-fed and over-stimulated mind.



Being the homepage and blog of Joe…

Get Adobe Flash player