Slavery, Nukes and Climate Change

slavery, nukes and climate change - stoic thoughts on the weeks newsWe need to use reason to pursue arete (excellence). Stoicism suggests it is this that makes us human and separates us from animals. Further, humans have a degree of control over their thoughts, and in turn their actions. Both of these qualities, reason and thinking, should be part of the political decision making process.

This isn’t always the case.

Politicians use emotions, irrationality, and popular opinion over facts. Is this the best way to make reliable and capable choices that affect us all? Each week I take a Stoic look at a few news items which have caught my eye. I then try to approach them from indifferent and impassive perspective.

This week I muse over:

  • Britain’s slave trade,
  • Corbyn’s lack of enthusiasm for nuclear weapons, and
  • the impact of climate change on financial markets.

SlaverySlavery: Jails won’t make amends

I’m not quite sure if Jamaica needs only one new prison. I’m guessing they need more than that. This is especially true if it is going to hold people of Jamaican origin that the UK doesn’t what in its own prisons. So the question is why the outrage when British PM David Cameron offered £25m to help build it?

I can think of a few reasons.

It reminds Jamaicans that their country has so many criminals that they need a new prison. This is before they consider more acceptable infrastructure projects, for example building new hospitals. Next, Jamaica needs a handout as it has so much debt relative to the size of its economy. Worse still, the handout comes from its former colonial power. And finally, Britain kept the Jamaicans in chains for hundreds of years, committing acts so evil that they are hardly believable. Of course, this is why Cameron’s suggestion to “move on” was so ironic when asked to apologise for slavery and consider reparations (see below):

I don’t think that historical apologies do much. You can’t change an event that happened a second ago less still hundreds of years ago. Britain should put slavery behind us and focus on the “immediate” now. Instead of reparations, why not align our aid budget in proportion with our past? Set up education and learning schemes in Jamaica. Or fund medical programmes. And develop an educational awareness too; why?

  • So this awful mistake can never happen again,
  • for get future generations to comprehend that it was slaves that made Britain the Workshop of the World, and,
  • to support the sensible reallocation of Government aid.

No Nuclear WeaponsTrident: Corbyn won’t press the button

A single word from Jeremy Corbyn sunk the Labour Party into a nuclear battle. At the recent Labour conference, a debate on renewing Trident, Britain’s nuclear deterrent, didn’t happen. Corbyn wants nuclear disarmament. Then asked on Radio 4 if he would press the button to annihilate cities in a nuclear holocaust (or words to that effect), he answered, no.

As a possible leader of a nuclear power Corbyn views Trident correctly, never forgetting its devastating power. For the rest of us, it’s just another way to die, one that we have no control over. As C.S. Lewis said:

… do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors – anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

So, for me Corbyn has taken a sensible view: how could anyone agree to slaughter millions of people? And his response undermines the point of a nuclear deterrent in the first place. It’s not as though it’s a revelation, he’s a member of CND. I would also question how relevant Trident is against Russia, terrorists and rogue states (see below)?

Trident is more about political posturing and grandstanding. Lets work out how best to spend £25bn instead of renewing it. Perhaps on the NHS, better public transport or renewable energy: saving lives or the planet?

Climate ChangeClimate Change: The Tragedy of the Horizon

London’s insurers recently lambasted Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, for suggesting that global warming would impact financial markets. Perhaps people thought that given time free enterprise would tackle climate change head-on? Or maybe people felt that the Bank of England should keep out of subjects typically tackled by the Green Party?

Whatever the reason, Carney is right to call this short-term view the Tragedy of the Horizon (see below).

Definition: the inability of business and leaders to address changes which will happen more than a few years ahead. Climate change presents an existential threat to the status quo. It appears to be too large, too worrying and too distant to start preparing for. Perhaps the City would do well to read Seneca? Seneca stresses that you must prepare for change, so when it arrives it presents no shock:

… always to stand as it were on guard, and to mark the attacks and charges of Fortune long before she delivers them; she is only terrible to those whom she catches unawares; he who is always looking out for her assault, easily sustains it: for so also an invasion of the enemy overthrows those by whom it is unexpected, but those who have prepared themselves for the coming war before it broke out, stand in their ranks fully equipped and repel with ease the first, which is always the most furious onset. (Letter to Helvia, 5).

Carney is right to highlight this problem. He is also correct to suggest we need to prepare too. And for me his suggestion to encourage companies to publicise their vulnerability to climate change doesn’t go far enough.

Do you agree or disagree with my conclusions? Am I mad? Have I got it totally wrong? Leave a comment below.

Image credits:
Photo credit: nogoodreason / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: xomiele / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: Twm™ / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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