Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Couple of Days Oop North

A little trip to Durham included a couple of walks and bit of thinking.

The coastline around Seaham, once occupied by coal mines, spoil tips and ironworks, has had a serious makeover in recent years.  From a seriously polluted mess a haven for nature has emerged.  Almost all trace of the old industries has been removed, though some of the beach is still covered by a thick layer of ash and other waste, so rich in sulphur in places that the ground is yellow and there's a distinct smell.  Given a few more years and the sea will have washed this way too, but for now the area is utterly devoid of plants, save for what I presume is a coating of prokaryotic life.

Well done people for the clear-up.  Whatever possessed you people to make such a mess in the first place?

On a walk of a couple of miles along the cliff-edge in late May 2013 we found a fair few wild-flowers.  Those actually flowering were:

Birds-foot Trefoil Ground Ivy
Black Medic Herb Robert
Bluebell Hawkbit
Buttercup Hawthorn
Cow Parsley Mouse Ear
Cowslip Ramsons
Cranesbill Red Campion
Crosswort Red Clover
Daisy Ribwort Plantain
Dandelion Speedwell
Dogs Mercury Trift or Sea Pink
Early Purple Orchid Violet
Gorse Wild Strawberry
Greater Stichwort

And the next day we added a few more to the list form Gibside, a National Trust property:

Lady's Mantle
Yellow Pimpernel
Wavy Bittercress
Wood Sorrel
Wood Speedwell
Cuckoo Flower/Lady's Smock
Lords and Ladies

A couple of days later on a walk round Nidderdale, we added a few more to the list:

Bog Stitchwort
Lady's Bedstraw
Lesser Celandine
Marsh Marigold
Water Cress

A curious thing struck me about the Durham landscape.  It's a beautiful area of countryside, but is, here and there, interrupted by estates of pretty dreadful houses, apparently just placed any old where.  Of course these are the mining villages.  Wherever a coal mine was located, the miners's homes were, sensibly, built within walking distance.  Almost all traces of the mines and associated industry has been wiped from the land, leaving the estates as anachronistic blots on the landscape.

But here's the thing.  Travel a little south, out of the coalfield, and one finds just the pre-industrial revolution landscape of farmland gently developed over the centuries;  farmhouses, farm cottages, the occasional country seat and more modern housing that largely blends in scale, proportion and architecture with the older vernacular.  Frankly, it's a whole lot nicer looking.  And there's a direct relation to house prices.  The former coalfields shout out poverty, deprivation and ugliness while away from the once industrialised areas, the appearance at least, is of affluence and gentility.

Obvious, you say.  But hang on.  Think about it.  The coalfield area was 'blessed' by enormous riches, the ground endowed with fossil fuel that delivered vast wealth that powered an empire.  The surrounding farmland was the poor land, only offering a living from the farmer's toil.

So why the reversal of fortune?  Where is the wealth that came from the coalfield gone?  It seems to have been more than stolen from the land, but left the land impoverished in a way that the surrounding areas were not.


Monday, May 20, 2013

On the Fallacy of Hypocrisy

Sometimes, some people accuse other people of hypocrisy.

They might well do well to read the wise words of the late Dr. David Fleming:

David Fleming in Lean Logic wrote:
Hypocrisy, The Fallacy of. Hypocrisy scourge. Don’t worry about whether the person is right. Just assert that he doesn’t live up to the standards he argues for and accuse him of being a hypocrite.
The fallacy that, if what I do falls below the standards of what I say, my argument can be dismissed without more ado. The fallacy arises from the obvious discomforts of a contrast between good words and bad deeds, like those of Measure for Measure’s Angelo, upright in public, outrageous in private.
And yet, if an argument is a good one, dissonant deeds do nothing to contradict it. In fact, the hypocrite may have something to be said for him. For instance, he may not be making any claims at all about how he lives, but only about his values in the context of the argument. There is no reason why he should not argue for standards better than he manages to achieve in his own life; in fact, it would be worrying if his ideals were not better than the way he lives. He is not dazzled by his high personal standards; he does not make an icon of himself as the model of high moral standing. He is not defended by his sincerity from the possibility of self-criticism. His ideals are not limited to what he can achieve himself. What matters is whether his argument is right or not. With accusations of hypocrisy in the air, difficult questions about real problems short-circuit into ad hominem quarrel.
Hypocrisy is a bad thing with good qualities. Sincerity is a good thing with bad qualities; it shines a light on the simple certainties of your feelings on the matter, rather than on the awkward realities of the case. Some of the most intensely savage people this planet has ever produced were noted for their sincerity and their incorruptible and austere lives. There was Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794), largely responsible for the reign of terror during the French revolution, but, in his own life, he was the “Sea-Green Incorruptible”. And there was Conrad of Marburg (d. 1233), thin with fasting, who, in imitation of Jesus, rode on a donkey from place to place on his mission to discover and burn heretics and witches. For ground-breaking catastrophes, we have to turn to the incorruptible. We are safer with those who are not preoccupied with admiration of their own moral standing, confident that they can think no wrong.
If required to choose between sincerity and hypocrisy (writes the theologian David Martin),
“Give me a friendly hypocrite any day”.