Sunday, November 29, 2020

David Fleming 10 Years On

On the 29th of November 2010, my best friend, David Fleming, died.

Today, ten years on, we mark the day. We celebrate his life with a day of discussions, talks, and a showing of the film, The Sequel, which is based on David Fleming's life and his ideas.

Details here at Dark Optimism

The event starts at noon GMT on YouTube. Please join in.

David Fleming's great work, Lean Logic, which speaks directly to our times and the future we face, is now available in its entirety at Lean Logic Online.

In these troubled times Fleming's words are more important than ever. Of course he didn't predict what would happen in 2020 but he did foresee the inevitability of deep change over the coming decades and, in Lean Logic, his deep insights into social history provide us with the tools to help us survive the future.

David died in Amsterdam, his funeral held just a couple of days later. Jean and I went there, travelling on the ferry from Hull, but it was a the day of a big snowfall and airports were closed so. (We've not had such a snowfall since.) Friends and relations who tried to fly, found they couldn't. Only Lawrence Woodward made it from England to join the people David had been staying with and a couple of other Dutch friends. A small but beautiful funeral.

We returned with the memory stick that held the last version of David's life-work, Lean Logic, which, through the unstinting work of Shaun Chamberlin and many others, is now available to billions of people around the planet.

Ten years ago David's enormous an illustrious circle of friends wanted to come together to celebrate his life. A memorial service was held in Hampstead parish church, the building filled, standing room only.

I've dug out the eulogy that I gave to that congregation of lovely people:

A Service of Celebration of the Life of David Fleming.

How was it we became friends?  He looked so out of place, grey suit, tie, cuff-links, short hair, certainly the odd one out at that first Ecology Party conference at Birmingham.

He must have had something worth saying, to take the trouble to say it to the motley bunch that made up his audience.  Yes, here was someone who looked ordinary saying the extraordinary.  I can’t remember just what he said but it made an impression, made good use of words, made sense.  I needed to hear more form this extraordinary man.

But later, when we sat together, he seemed more interested in listening to me, telling me that something I had said was brilliant.  “No, no, that’s all wrong”, I thought.  “You’re the one with brilliant things to say, I’m just chipping in with the odd scrap to keep the conversation going.”  And that’s about how it’s been for over thirty years; David explaining to me a whole philosophy, a complete toolkit for our existence, while I just throw in the odd throwaway line to keep the conversation going.  And then he tells me what a brilliant thing I’ve just said and how he’ll have to re-write the whole of that chapter or some such ridiculous hyperbolic exaggeration.

I’m quite certain he treated everybody like that.  It just came naturally to him to treat others with the most enormous respect and politeness, making them feel important.  Of course, he didn’t let any of that get in the way of promoting his own ideas and dismissing any opposition with arguments of cutting logic and certitude.  Pantone 361 was the colour that had to be used for Ecology Party literature.  David fixed the exact shade of the Green Movement.  Changing the name to Green Party came much later.

What makes a friendship?  We certainly had a lot not in common. Age, appearance, dress sense, his need for blankets, my preference for a duvet, I hate porridge; he made a ritual of porridge, interrupted while he fetched the newspapers, porridge pan wrapped in a tea towel.  He bought the Times and Telegraph but bought me the Guardian, because he was my friend.  Our lives had moved 200 miles apart, a Hampstead flat, a Lincolnshire smallholding.  David read, and wrote, and listened, and talked.  I learnt to milk a cow.  His visits proved his love of gardening.  I gardened; he sat in the garden, reading and writing. In the evenings, we could listen and talk.

I don’t know what makes a friendship but once made it transcends the differences.  He may sometimes have voted Conservative.  Fine, it showed me that even Tories could be good people.  They can be one’s best friend.  Perhaps that gives hope for all relationships.  Differences need not divide if one works on the commonality.

We quietly put differences aside and concentrated on the common themes; a common appreciation of what is valuable in our culture, what is worth cherishing, worth defending; a common appreciation of the threats that must be defended against.  We enjoyed the strategic planning for that defence.  A Common Purpose.

It would start in The Wheatsheaf, a pub half way between the station and our house.  A pint of Tipsy Toad, a pint of tap water and a packet of peanuts and David would be set up for an hour’s discourse on his current theme, with me throwing in the odd line to keep the conversation going.

And, doubtless in common with many in this church today, I would gently chide him about when the book would be published, After Affluence, The Lean Economy, Lean Logic, it gradually morphed and edged towards being secured in reality.  “Good news, the snagging list is down to 98.”  Ah well, back up to 103 by the time the second pint of Tipsey Toad was drained.

But last time, last August, there really was a change in the air.  A scent of the autumn of life, harvest gathered in, job done.  Of course, we all so wish he had lived another 30 years and every year would have been wonderful, but we are where we are.  His funeral in Amsterdam at the Zorgflied Cemetery, a natural oasis in a bustling city, was a beautiful occasion, sad but beautiful, a plain coffin, his cap and glasses, notebook and pencils placed on it, the avenue of trees bending in the snow as he passed from our lives.

Our ferry slipped out of Europort and past the oil refineries.  They have come and will soon be gone, but David has left us with his philosophy, his toolkit for the future and we are grateful for the gift.  We must read it, learn it, understand it, talk about it, use and apply it to keep this beautiful world, precious, as David wanted it to be.  We are the lucky ones, fortunate to have known David.  Now we just have to do our part and ensure that his ideas live on.

Monday, November 02, 2020

Coronavirus 44 Lockdown2

Six weeks ago SAGE advised the UK Government to apply a 'circuit breaker' lockdown to get R back below 1 and slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2. The idea was widely supported by the scientific community. The Government ignored the advice.

Independent SAGE has produced a number of reports and statements over the recent months concerning opening of education. Sir David King gave his personal opinion that schools should not reopen until prevalence had reduced to one new case per million population per day. My blog about education is here

Recent data indicate that the 'second wave' is associated with transmission in education settings and many people are calling for schools to close, but both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Oppostion appear determined to ignore the advice.

Since the Government's abandonment of even the pretence of 'following the science' over recent weeks, it has become evident that a substantial number Conservative Party MPs and other influential people have brought pressure to bear on the Government to delay stronger measures to stop the pandemic.

The recent comments from Nadine Dorries about crystal balls and Iain Duncan-Smith, who accused the Prime Minister of "giving in to the scientific advisers", are egregious examples. We thought pre-enlightenment medievalism was a feature of certain Iranian clerics but it turns out to be rampant in British governance.

The news media, particularly BBC News, frequently give platforms to people who deny the consensus scientific position, very much akin to their handling of stories about climate change until recently, where truth must always be countered by a fringe view, just for balance.

We are today at a critical moment. We have already missed the opportunity taken by China, New Zealand, Taiwan, Vietnam and other predominantly East Asian countries to suppress and eliminate the virus before high numbers of casualties resulted. We are now ignoring the lesson from Melborne and Victoria, where the Australians have now successfully suppressed the disease.

Our proposed Lockdown 2 is a very partial affair, with schools and colleges remaining open and most people still going to work. The presentation of a trade-off between 'the economy' and death and disease would be laughable if it were not so tragically false.

Under the current arrangements the idea that all will be well again on the 2nd of December and that Christmas will be 'saved', is for the birds. We are facing the prospect of tens of thousands of more deaths and an order of magnitude greater number of people suffering disease, often for extended periods of time. Long covid will be a painful learning curve.

Responsibility for these deaths and disease lies squarely with the Prime Minister and his ministers who share collective Cabinet responsibility. But there is a wider spread of culpability. All those who have political influence, backbenchers, journalists and pundits, who have voiced their opinion against stronger measures are culpable. As are all the citizens who have opposed and even broken the rules, and also those who, while acting within the law have nevertheless behaved in a way that unnecessarily increases the risk of infection. Where governance fails, the people must themselve act for the common good.

In my blog of about ten weeks ago I set out ten simple points. I still think they are valid, and now more urgent, so here they are again:

1. It's good to avoid being judgemental of others' behaviour. Their circumstances will be unknown.

2. The virus will disappear if nobody meets anybody else.

3. #2 is not going to happen but it's a useful fact to build any decision making upon.

4. Some of us are in a position to avoid meeting many other people. Such behaviour is part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

5. If the R is kept below 1 then the virus will disappear. The arithmetic dictates that.

6. It is wrong to think that the disease will be with us forever and cannot be eliminated. That becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy if it leads people to behave in a way that allows R to exceed 1.

7. Suppression and elimination should have been the preferred policy from January and, had it been vigorously pursued, we wouldn't be in the current mess, yet it remains the best policy option available. Best as in the one that ends with the fewest deaths and injuries. 

8. Any behaviour that risks increasing R, that is any behaviour which facilitates the virus jumping from one person to another, risks prolonging the pandemic, increasing the deaths and injuries, damaging the economy and increasing misery.

9. Keeping away from other people as much as one is able is one's civic duty.

10. But don't be judgemental about others, for you know not their circumstances.

A crystal ball is not a useful tool for pandemic policy making but John William Waterhouse gave us a fine paining.