Building A Society that Listens

This post is a response to Graeme Archer’s eloquent and well received post “Does Labour Understand why it Lost?”, and I encourage all to read his work.

This post is also an invitation to attend an online event on Saturday 21st December at 11h00 Central Time (US) which will be a discussion about the role of experts in civic deliberations, to which everyone is welcome.  Learn more about it and register here.

A quote from Lao Tzu goes like this: Those who know, don’t talk. Those who talk, don’t know.

The protagonist in Graeme’s blog, Keith, was initially a silent type, at least politically. “He’d never dream of mentioning his feelings about the Labour Party in public”.

I suppose the wisdom of such silence comes from understanding that communicating with those who will not listen is pointless— even if it makes you sad or angry to stay silent.

However, alongside such wisdom is the knowledge that actions speak louder than words. Actions, such as voting Conservative in this election, had the inevitability of an asteroid striking the planet. Such actions are more satisfying, ultimately, than winning a pointless argument on twitter.

So keep silent. Bide your time and punch where it hurts. Where it is effective. At the right moment.

The message I hear from Graeme’s eloquent and insightful post is that there are many silent people like Keith, who hate Labour and their message, which they understand perfectly, and that they are sick of lectures from the elite. Of an elite that continually fails to understand them. The misdirected Academy.

And I think I understand why commenters rallied to support Graeme’s post; to hear that others feel as you do—that understand how you have been suffering in the wisdom of silence—is a relief, and creates a sense of vindication and common unity. To feel that the country is united in solidarity with your point of view, and that your silent suffering is at an end. At last, we have been listened to.

Graeme’s post is an insightful read, and I have no doubt that I would do well to heed its message. However, unlike many who commented on it, I don’t feel the same sense of relief when I read it. I am, after all,   a misdirected member of the academy.

My job is to determine the nature of reality. It’s what I, and the other members of the misdirected academy, are paid to do. We are collectively paid millions to do this because if we can understand reality that brings even greater wealth.

So many millions of hours of thoughts and training have gone into creating experiments to measure the truth about reality and guess what? Across my peers in the misled academy we have learned some things that are true. Beyond doubt. That’s why you have a phone or a computer on which you are reading this.

Sadly, our political system is deliberately designed to prevent meaningful contact between disparate perspectives. Between the Keith’s and the misled scientists who seek the nature of reality there is a dark chasm.  I fear that, as well as the millions invested to measure reality, millions have been spent to deliberately misinform the public and to create huge amounts of fake-news in the media, to protect billions that have been invested from wayward electoral decisions.

So my challenge to the Keiths and the Graemes is to determine fact from fiction for themselves. To live out the consequences of their choices. Now that Labour is no longer the issue, the challenge is to see right wing reality for yourselves through the media fog and billionaire lies.

Fortunately, a new tool has emerged in democracy besides voting. It is a new way of dealing with disparate perspectives and it is based on precisely the premise that Graeme espouses: that his protagonist Keith is more than competent to make decisions.

If Keith is competent to judge the competence of those who represent him, then he is competent to make other kinds of decisions as well.  That is why well managed civic deliberations among randomly chosen citizens are an excellent way of determining fact from fiction. From weeding out the fake news and the propaganda and helping citizens to make good judgments.

Such civic assemblies side-step fake news and create convergence between disparate world views. Something that we badly need and they require input from Keith and his friends—as well as experts who possess subject specific knowledge, but have no knowledge of Keith or his point of view.
We are not in a Hollywood disaster movie. The scientists, like me, won’t come up with a magic bullet to dodge climate change and it is very real and far greater threat to you all than Labour ever was.

Defeating climate change requires us to not blindly support those we have elected but to question them every step of the way. To question those who would dare deny reality to further their own facile & pointless pursuit of wealth.

Enjoy your current sense of relief and vindication. When you choose to talk about reality, those of us whose job it is to understand reality will be here, as we always have been, to discuss reality and what needs to be done.

To that end, I ask all the Keith’s to please engage with the citizens assembly that will soon occur on climate change and I ask everyone to hold the government to account on its findings. Why be afraid of the truth?  It is no longer a left-wing plot.

Remember that the assembly, commissioned by parliament, will be filled with people like Keith. Members of the Great British public who are more than capable of making wise choices for themselves. Please don’t sit on your laurels waiting for the next election. We need all the Keiths in the UK to engage with that process now and make sure that the government they have elected is behaving in the public’s interests and not their own.

Know that the asteroid hurtling towards Earth did not care which herd the dinosaurs belonged to.

If anyone would like to learn more about the process of public deliberation on Saturday 21st December at 11h00 Central Time (US) there will be an online discussion about the role of experts in deliberation to which anyone is welcome to join.  Learn more about it and register here.

Dr Chris Forman, FRSA

Co-ordinator of Deliberation Gateway – A thematic network of the RSA-US.



Small Is Mighty

As the pressure on land and natural resources increases due to the increasing demands of a growing population then technology of all kinds will be forced to occupy the interstices of modern urban dwellings. Just as a jar full of rocks can accommodate additional sand and the jar full of sand can accommodate additional water so the performance of vital functions will begin to occur in very small places all around us. Such is the nature of synthetic biology. Powered by sunlight the urban system will become our residence, our factory and our farm. As Feynman said: “there’s plenty of room at the bottom”.

Nikolai Tesla, William the Conqueror and JP Morgan

Nikolai Tesla was a genius. No doubt about it.  He invented the idea of the internet way back in the 1890’s right after he invented radio. In Belgrade there is a museum dedicated to him. At one point this giant among intellectuals and practitioners of science suggested using high intensity electromagnetic fields to transmit power over long distances.  His idea was to create powerful electric fields that people could use to drive electronic devices wherever they were. This is exactly the same idea as the wireless charging devices you see on the market at the moment, but MUCH BIGGER! And not so different from the idea of solar energy. Here is a picture of such a coil powering a series of fluorescent tubes that are not connected to the device other than a flux linkage from the coils.

Tesla Coil

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Inspiring Landscapes

My research group in Cambridge looks for needles in haystacks every day and here I illustrate, jargon free, some of the concepts that we use to help us.

A mountain’s summit is an unremarkable pinnacle that is utterly indistinguishable from the local apex of the countless trillions of dust grains, stones and craggy outcrops that form the rest of the mountain. Despite the banality of the highest point itself, humans frequently yearn to visit.  Why do we do that? For many, the journey itself is far more rewarding than the actual moment of standing atop the mountain’s maximum maxima.

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Can greed eliminate greed?

Rich people hang out with other rich people. But the same applies to every sub-group of humanity; birds of a feather flock together!  Could a global society exist where flocking into naturally emergent sub-groups could be exploited to optimise resource distribution? How much wealth does each sub-group need? What universal protocols could eliminate bias in resource distribution between such groups? Could all the groups be as rich as each other, according to their self-defined notion of wealth?  Can we find a system in which each group is self-sufficient with no one group obliged to work for the others to maintain the status quo?

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Rubik’s cube is analogous to economics

If a red square on Rubik’s cube represented iron, the yellow squares sulphur, and so on, then the organisation of stickers on Rubik’s cube would represent a particular arrangement of material. Since economics is the study of resource re-arrangement, it would seem that both puzzles, i.e. planetary economics and Rubik’s Cube, have something in common. Consequently, can solving the simpler cubic puzzle teach us about solving the planetary one?

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