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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 24 January 2021
24 January 2021 @ 13:47

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'


The EU: More here on the slow roll-out of the jab. The target of 70%of all adults to get it by 'the summer' is  beginning to look impossible. BUT . .  The chart could change in the coming months, depending on new vaccine developments and better policy coordination. The question remains, however, whether that's enough.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain

There is the occasional resignation in Spain of someone implicated in malfeasance. For example: The military chief quits after skipping the vaccine line. More on this here

This is an (ex?)royal place in San Sebastian:

It's said - by a Spanish commentator - to be in the classic English style. I wonder about this, even though the architect was, indeed, English. It seems a bit of a mish-mash to me, though I am reminded of the club house of the Wallasey Golf Club, as you approach it from the 18th fairway. 

The re-wilding of Spain's 'ghost villages.' 

Marìa's New Year Same Old: Day 23.

The Way of the World

The degeneration of public debate . . . See the article below.

An apposite comment:

Finally . . .

A surprising item on the shelves of a Mercadona supermarket:-


Piers Morgan’s idiotic rants reduce subtle arguments to soundbites. The row over the retired judge Lord Sumption calling some lives ‘less valuable’ shows how debate is being demeaned:   Matthew Syed: The Sunday Times

Deborah James is a fabulous person. Diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in 2016, she has become an inspirational campaigner, writing a bestselling book and columns. We have become close friends (our daughters used to attend the same school), have a mutual interest in psychology and share a podcast producer.

Deborah was thrust into the spotlight last week after a BBC debate with the retired judge Lord Sumption. Sumption set out his now familiar disagreements with government policy over lockdown. He also made the point that in a world of scarce resources, it is sometimes necessary to ascribe relative value to human life. In essence, he argued that if you face the awful decision of saving the life of a 90-year-old or that of a nine-year-old, you should save the latter.

A few minutes later, Sumption made an intervention while Deborah was making an eloquent contribution of her own, and stated that her life was “less valuable” than others. It was a clumsy, indeed crass, contribution from the former judge, but it would have taken an inattentive viewer to have failed to understand what he meant. For those two words made sense only in the light of the broader discussion and his fundamental point that, while all human life is precious, we nevertheless sometimes face dilemmas in which not all lives can be saved.

But I do not wish to get into a discussion of Sumption’s views here (as it happens, I largely agree that it is sometimes necessary to weigh human life, but I disagree that it is in the public interest to lift restrictions on social distancing). Instead, I want to focus on what happened next. An hour or so later, a clip of his intervention, stripped of all context, was posted on Twitter. Instant headlines followed. As the “scandal” went viral, the story metastasised from one about how to make complex moral judgments to one about an evil judge seeking to euthanise people. About 99% of the coverage, in other words, focused on about 1% of what he actually said.

Then it got worse. The following morning, Sumption was invited onto Good Morning Britain to discuss a poll on the pandemic. In the event, he was hijacked by Piers Morgan, who constantly pressed him about his appearance on the BBC. ITV even played the clip of his intervention, again stripped of context. Four times, Sumption attempted to explain that the intervention was, indeed, clumsy, but should be seen as part of a broader contribution in which he acknowledged that all life has intrinsic value. Four times, he was interrupted by Morgan, the exchange ending when Sumption threatened to curtail the interview.

Why did Morgan act this way? Because he also had an eye on how a clip from his own show might play on Twitter. Sure enough, a little later, a segment of their exchange was pumped onto the internet. By this stage, we were left not with a parody of Sumption’s position, but a parody of a parody. It was as if a two-word intervention had come to stand for the world-view of a human being. In years to come, I suspect that few will remember anything of the incident beyond a vague sense that Sumption is sinister, perhaps wicked.

I have gone into this episode in detail not because I hold any brief for Sumption, but because of how it symbolises a wider catastrophe unfolding in our public life. In a wise essay in 1953, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin contrasted two types of thinker: the hedgehog and the fox. The hedgehog has one big idea. It reduces everything to this one idea. Everything else is filtered out. The fox, conversely, has lots of ideas. It likes to see the broader context, how concepts fit together, and is anxious to bring more information to light.

Berlin’s point — although he made it subtly — is that it is psychologically easier to be a hedgehog, but to understand a complex world, it pays to be a fox. Neither meaning nor truth is contained in bare facts, assertions, data points, viral clips and simplistic headlines: rather, truth is contained within a context — how one thing relates to many other things, and how parts fits into more complex wholes.

The tragedy is that the world is being dragged — almost without our noticing — towards ever more extreme hedgehoggery. Twitter users argue on the basis of 280-character caricatures of one another’s positions. Television interviewers seek not to elicit information, but to provoke viral controversies. Readers respond to the headlines of articles rather than the words beneath them. Empathy has been sacrificed in the rush to misconstrue and misrepresent. Nuance has been destroyed in a bonfire of contrived outrage.

Morgan is, perhaps, the archetype of the world into which we have arrived, a parasite on the contours of democracy. He is a cunning operator who spotted the opportunities of Twitter early, learning to surf the waves that to outsiders seem arbitrary, but to him have become like second nature. He takes artificially emphatic stances, conveys false certainty, caricatures positions, strips away ambiguity, seeks scapegoats for complex problems and cajoles guests into simplistic answers that mislead the public — and then seeks to humiliate them when they think better of returning to the studio.

He becomes a temporary hero to the deluded souls for whom he becomes a cheerleader — at present, it is those who support restrictions over Covid — but they don’t see how he is systematically demeaning public debate upon which we all ultimately rely, or how he will soon be off to adopt another position, riding soap boxes like waves. He doesn’t seem to care about what soap box he is on, provided it is topical and divisive.

But let’s not reduce this to Morgan, for platoons of people have been sucked into the vortex of this cesspool — individuals whose rationality has been corrupted by the deep infrastructure of this perilous age. It perhaps goes without saying that Twitter is a huge culprit, a digital cancer whose catastrophic influence on our consciousness has yet to be fully grasped. Its algorithms are like acid, silently eating away at the fabric of how we converse, engage and grow in collective wisdom. Its influence has seeped into every medium; by proxy, into every life.

Yet I refuse to lose my optimism, the belief that with courage we can transcend this malaise. Two and a half millennia ago, Socrates argued that rationality and shared understanding would ultimately defeat their opposites. It may take a sea change in attitudes to ensure that his words remain prophetic. But we can do it. In fact, we must.

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