Provincial Letters

Far from the mad crowds of the city, Blaise Pascal passed comment on the strange behaviour of this urban contemporaries in his Provincial Letters. The connection between them and this blog is somewhat tenuous.

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Location: Grimsby, N E Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

My star sign in Superstition. And I didn't believe in reincarnation last time, either. The only thing I can't tolerate is intolerance. I am a fanatical ant-fanaticist. I am bigotted only where bigots are concerned. I am a fundamentalist atheist. I'm proud to be a product of evolution; I know it in my genes.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Posted @ 00:27Well...

It's been months since I posted anything here. This hasn't been for want of anything to say nor a want of incident; more an excess of irritations from the world around me that would have turned into rants rather than reasoned writing and incident that is either too personal or too boring to put in context. If I've been missed, here I am again (and damn the sensibilities, I'll probably have a rant anyway).


The whole debate about "terrorist suspects" and their detention has got me rather confused, particularly the term "terrorist suspect" itself. Now, to my simple mind, a "murder suspect" is someone who is suspected of having committed murder, a "robbery suspect" is someone who is suspected of having committed robbery and a "fraud suspect" is someone who is suspected of having committed fraud. It seems, however, that "terrorist suspects" are mostly people who might commit acts of terrorism. Successful suicide bombers are hardly suspects; failed bombers caught with explosives and other means of committing terrorist acts hardly require months of evidence gathering to establish that they are doing something illegal. So we're left with the hangers on (and the supporters and the planners) and the potential terrorists. It's this last group which appear to be the subject of the demands for long periods of detention whilst evidence is gathered.

Why should terrorism be unique in this respect: why shouldn't the same logic be applied to murder, robbery, fraud, speeding and littering? Why shouldn't the police be able to detain someone for as long as it takes to prove that they intended to commit these crimes or were capable of committing these crimes. Since it is extraordinarily difficult to prove intent, we are left with capability or action. Anyone who owns a car is capable of committing a speeding offence; anyone eating an ice-lolly in the street is capable of littering; anyone who has access to a knife is capable of committing murder.

There is an argument that terrorism is somehow different since it involves a belief that the acts will bring about political change, somewhere, somehow. And there are those who will find my argument trivial and pointless (and who will, no doubt, accuse me of supporting terrorism). But, anyway, that's not my main problem with all these anti-terrorism initiatives…

Now, class, what's the point of terrorism? Well done, Jane, exactly: to inspire terror in a population by the threat of indiscriminate violence. And the point of inspiring terror? Yes, John, too true: to cause that population to accept and support changes to their society which make it more controlled, conditioned and conservative; make it more intolerant of difference and diversity. And, of course, that its designed to produce eventual dissatisfaction with the society so that the terrorists' political world-view becomes justified and the society eventually becomes the monster that the terrorists have always said it was. This, of course, neglects the fact that there are terrorists without political ambition who merely enjoy the destabilising effects of their actions.

Well done, class.

Now, ask yourself, how much of the recent response to terrorism falls into the category of more draconian law-making which could, in itself, destabilise society? That's your homework.


During the 1980s, I accompanied a group of teenagers on an outward bound course on the Yorkshire Moors. One of the exercises involved using their map-reading skills to find their way from one location to another using only a compass and some simple directions. Since I and another tutor were to go with them, we were given a much more detailed description of the route in the interests of safety. We also carried a first-aid kit and some other essentials since the students were told to select what they wanted to take with them and they were bound to forget something important.

The trek proceeded without serious incident except for one lad getting stuck in some mud from which I had to pull him.

It was following this that another student said: "Anyway, we don't have to worry, do we. If anything goes wrong you can sort it out. You've got a radio or something haven't you and can call in a rescue team." This was the mid-1980s, remember: mobile phones were not ubiquitous. The student did not believe that I really did not have a radio and that any extreme emergency would have meant one of the tutors making a rapid hike to the destination and a car-trip to a phone box in order to summon help.

By now you're wondering what all this has to do with floods.

If you are not aware, the UK has suffered some extremely heavy rainfall over the past couple of months and it has dominated the news (and we might come back to that another day).

What has struck me about people's response to the floods is that their attitude is exactly like that student's: they expect magic from the emergency services; they expect planning for every eventuality and that there will always be sufficient resources to cope with any emergency, no matter how large. In particular, I remember one Oxfordshire resident complaining that the emergency services hadn't been able to get through to her. Her locality was cut-off both by the floods and by abandoned vehicles on the roads. Of course, the emergency services have an infinite number of helicopters…


there's lots of other stuff. But we'll leave it for another time, shall we?