Anchors Away  

Thursday, 22 February 2007

If I were asked to identify the one single characterisitic that defines modern society, I would say 'selfishness'. There's no doubt in my mind that selfishness plays a huge role in many of the problems which are all too evident in the world we live in today. Placing your own interests above those of others, or above society in general, causes resentment, stress and anxiety in those around you.

Preoccupation with one's self is the textbook definition of selfishness. But another might be as the opposite of selflessness. Selflessness is a trait which used to be admired in others, and one that in a less cynical age, people would aspire to cultivate in themselves. Our slavish addiction to the idea of the self can make this appear quite a difficult idea. But it's not really so alien; It's the same quality that drives a parent to protect a child, a fireman to risk his life saving others. In a more mundane way, it is also found in the countless small acts of everyday courteousness and consideration for others which is essential in any civilised society. The fact that such niceties seem to be in terminal decline are an indication of increasingly self-centred attitudes. But does "looking after number one" make us more happy as individuals? I don't think so.

In the Buddhist teachings, all human suffering arises from attachment. As all things in life are demonstrably impermanent, emotional attachment to anything that we can touch in this life will inevitably bring a sense of loss and heartache as those things pass away from us. Worse still, a mind which is "fixed" or "stuck" on a particular idea ceases to percieve the world in an open and honest way, and becomes deluded and rigid. A mind that is fixed and unyielding cannot grow, cannot fully experience all that life has to offer. And, as in all things in nature, that which doesn't grow inevitably dies.

To be attached to one's self - to be selfish - is to fix the mind into a closed and rigid state in which life becomes filled with frustration, regret and remorse. Removing such a restriction frees us from concern by removing our emotional attachments to transient things. The removal of worry allows happiness to arise as a natural consequence. Naturally,letting go of the emotional anchor that keeps us shackled and unabled to ride life's turbulent waves is easier said than done. But,true happiness can only come when we learn to let go.

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Bang to rights  

Monday, 19 February 2007

I came across something startling in the papers yesterday. Apparently, by 2009 we'll all have to report to special processing centres to have our fingerprints scanned for inclusion on biometric identity cards being proposed by the Home Office. I am a bit worried by this. Not for the fact that I am concerned that the powers-that-be will uncover any wrong doing on my part. It's because it's one more step down the road to a UK where the population is micro-managed, tracked, plotted and analysed. Like any police state, in such a situation there is -by definition -a presumption of non-specific culpability... you must be guilty of something - we just don't know what yet! Doesn't this go against the most fundemental principle of English Law and of democracy? And while we hear so much hand-wringing about protecting the rights of wrongdoers, what about the rights of decent ordinary people to go about their lives without having Blair's thought police looking over their shoulders?

We are already one of the most monitored populations on the planet. Why do we need yet more scrutiny? The answer is down to the idealogical trap that Blair's government has led us into. Bleeding heart liberals (with a small L), mired in their own politically-correct idealogy, cannot find the courage to confront and deal with the real miscreants in society because that might infringe their "human rights". So, society in general has to share the blame collectively. This means we are all presumed to be guilty and must be monitored and controlled on that basis. I don't want to live in this kind of world: It's about time politicians found the courage to grasp difficult social issues and deal with them decisively. The very future of democracy - our democracy - is at stake if they don't.

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From tiny acorns...  

Sunday, 18 February 2007

There is a zebra crossing near my house. Every day I use this crossing, and every day I am nearly run over by drivers who can't be bothered to stop. Most recently, by a taxi driver - in full view of a following police car, which - predictably - did nothing. Possibly it's a sign of fast-approaching old git-dom, but this seemingly minor example of casual indifference is really starting to bother me. It's a prime example of the lack of respect people seem to have for each other - and for society - that the average motorist now feels so completely comfortable about flouting the rules. Likewise, the rules on mobile phone use while driving or teenager's apparent belief that the seat opposite them on the train exists solely for their convenience as a footrest.

You can't legislate against ignorant behaviour, but you can have rules to limit it. Examples of this kind of low-level anti-social behaviour are allowed to flourish because everybody knows that they can act in this way with impunity. Nobody in authority will say anything, let alone do anything. But does it really matter? I think it does: Routine minor infractions of the rules, if left unchallenged, soon become the norm of acceptable behaviour. Unquestionably, this has to have a corrosive effect on the credibility of every law and of every attempt of civilised people to evolve civilised societies. From tiny acorns, mighty oaks will grow. What kind of gnarled and twisted tree will grow from such a poison seed.

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Bottom of the class  

Friday, 16 February 2007

The UN this week delivered a damning verdict on Blair's Britain by putting the UK at the bottom of the list of the best places to bring up children in the industrialised world. As someone who has always been rather proud of their country, this is rather hard to bear. But as someone who has seen first hand what a bloody shambles this country has become under Blair, I also find it impossible to contest the validity of these findings.

To see this country through the eyes of my Japanese wife and stepdaughter is to become acutely aware of just how far we've slipped; not just on our own eyes, but in the eyes of the world. All the things that we used to be proud of - the NHS, our education, our justice system - have all been eroded beyond recognition by a combination of laziness, hand-wringing political correctness and downright useless management. Not to mention the lies, cover-ups and routine blunderings of an administration focused solely on protecting its own interests.

But the thing that really makes me sad is that nobody seems to care anymore. Of all the things we've lost in this country, the Bulldog spirit - our most treasured national characteristic - is perhaps the most tragic of all

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A grain of sand  

I guess there are as many reasons why people start blogging as their are blogs. In my case, what really spurred my interest was a piece of writing I came across, lurking in the half-forgotten dark recesses of my hard drive. In amongst the mess of everyday living, I occasionally have some quite profund insights, and this was one of those times. Having been moved again by these rediscovered thoughts, I wondered whether others might enjoy them too. Hence my desire to share them.

The inspiration for this paragraph was a tiny novelty "Zen rock garden": Actually no more than half a match box filled with sand. Yet, small as it was, it sparked off some interesting ideas.

Life is impermanence. No matter how carefully the sand is raked, it will change, dissolve and disappear. This is also true of the backdrop against which our lives are performed. People, places, material possessions, good times, bad times: Everything changes. But this, of course is the nature of sand. Without its fluidity and ability to mould itself into new shapes, sand would not be sand. Without its fluidity and its ability to adapt, life would not be life. The sand can accept new shapes only because of its fluidity – the thing which gives it impermanence also breaths life into it. If sand were fixed, like rock, it could not adapt or harmonise with its surroundings. It would become increasingly inappropriate as the scenery changed. Life too can be much like this. If we are too inflexible, we cannot flow and adapt: We cannot mutate to continue to harmonise with the changing environment of our lives. But some might say that even though a rock may be inflexible and not able to harmonise with its surroundings effectively, at least it is permanent. Not so. All sand was once supposedly permanent, immovable rock. Time will simply not allow permanence, so even although some things may seem so from our limited perspective, they are not and can never be.

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