Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Impartiality or Bias in Politics

Imagine last night a couple of public announcements were made. First, the Church of Flying Angels issued a statement about babies being made by angels and placed in women at the instruction of the Creator, and that it would be unforgiveable for any public or private agency to counter the rise of teenage pregnancies. Next came a broadcast by the No-Nonsense Party, promising that if elected, they would make the country strong and great again once they have stopped people living here if their surnames have fewer than two or more than three syllables.

Now teachers, commentators, politicians are being asked what they make of such views. Should they all stay silent because any critical remark they make would be condemned as biased?

But is it biased if having looked at the reasoning and evidence related to these announcements, they conclude that they are ill-conceived and ought to be rejected? In fact, any honest and impartial observer would set out why no credence should be attached to these ideas. By contrast, to say nothing when discussions about them are going all around would not be a sign of neutrality, but an abdication of responsibility to point out grave errors when these are dressed up as sincere religious/political declarations.

The key to impartiality is the readiness to apply the same standards of critical assessment to any given case as one would to all other cases. So long as one’s judgement flows from that assessment, without it being altered by any undue influence (e.g., bribes, discharge of personal favours, loyalty to one side of those involved in a dispute, intimidation, vindictiveness), then whether others agree with it or not, it cannot be accused of being biased.

Moving away from the Church of Flying Angels and the No-Nonsense Party, there is, alas, no shortage of absurd and false claims being solemnly put forward in our everyday life either. And when we find ourselves in a school, a discussion group, or some other forum, we should not hesitate to call out what is untenable and advise others not to be taken in by them.

If we criticise the proposal of one particular political party because we have pledged our loyalty to another party to attack whatever is put forward by their rival, then we may well be biased. But if our support for any party at any time is itself shaped by our critical evaluation of the policies of different parties, then we are as impartial as we can be.

This will not stop, of course, those with fanciful notions or devious lies branding as ‘biased’ anyone who dares to object to what they say. If you are not one of their dedicated supporters, you are by their definition ‘biased’. That won’t alter the fact that their protest is hollow. After all, would we accept that all referees are biased whenever they penalise a player for committing a foul, because in their judgement, that player has committed a foul? It’s quite irrelevant for the team penalised to moan about referees not supporting their team. Referees may for all kinds of reason support or not support any particular team, but so long as their decisions are based solely on the rights and wrongs of the case before them, they do a fine, impartial job.

So let us ignore the ‘shut them up by calling them “biased” brigade’, and speak out honestly and impartially about the political proposals we hear. As friends, analysts, or teachers, we would not be true to ourselves and others if we pretended there was nothing to say.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Importance of Being English

It could be said that the first rule of being English is not to talk about being English. While other people may want to analyse their cultural characteristics, or broadcast their national identity; we prefer to be quietly confident about who we are.

But can we afford to be quiet anymore when the notion of Englishness is at risk of being hijacked by the unscrupulous to serve their dubious agenda? If we let them define ‘English’ in ethnic, religious, even jingoistic terms, such misrepresentation could take hold by default.

Instead of allowing this to continue, we should more readily assert and celebrate the Englishness that truly binds us. We must not hesitate to speak of it with pride, or dismiss attempts to taint it with prejudice.

For a start, what kind of people do we English regard as embodying the best that is within us? Looking back on our history, we admire those who curbed arbitrary rule, extended the democratic franchise, and gave us all better military and social security. While our past was not free from the shameful activities of slave traders, we side with reformists who condemned slavery and tirelessly put an end to it. Reflecting on the scars from religious hatred and conflicts, we esteem those who led the progress towards respect across diverse faiths and beliefs. And we accord the highest honour to those who defied and fought against such repugnant threats as Nazism and all its fascist allies and variants.

The heroes of England, past and present, are the ones who enhance our wellbeing – physically, intellectually, culturally. Think of the many outstanding English scientists and inventors; thoughtful critics and dedicated campaigners; the great writers, artists, and composers; outstanding stars in sports and entertainment; and above all, think of our abundance of everyday heroes, like our soldiers, teachers, police officers, firefighters, doctors, and nurses, and many others who dedicate their lives to serve our common good.

And do our heroes come from a single town, city or region? Do they all subscribe to one particular religion or none? Do they speak with one uniform accent, and have exactly the same taste in what they eat and drink, what they read and watch? Do they know all the classic allusions or every contemporary cultural reference? Are they without exception descended from one ethnic group, or arrived from a single place like Denmark or French Normandy? The answer is a resounding ‘no’ on every count, and any accurate portrayal of Englishness must reflect the rich diversity that permeates every dimension of who we are.

Of course it does not follow that ‘English’ can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. We have a shared history that underpins our sense of belonging. We have a vibrant language that, despite its propensity to evolve, serves as an anchor for our mutual understanding. We possess a distinctive blend of humour, pragmatism, and delight in inventiveness. And we have no time for bullies and oppressors.

Our flag of St George commemorates the legend of a Greek-Roman hero slaying, not some defenceless scapegoat, but a mighty dragon that was posing a threat to innocent people. That indeed is a fitting symbol of the English spirit.

If you would like to join in the discussions promoted by the English Labour Network, go to: https://www.facebook.com/englishlabournetwork