Open Thinkering


Month: May 2022

5 reasons I won’t be celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

I can’t believe I have to write this in 2022, but I will not be celebrating the country I was born in having the same monarch for 70 years. This is for the following reasons, amongst others:

  1. I am a believer in democracy. You may say that the monarch provides only a ceremonial function, rather than wielding any power. But in that case why bother? We have an unwritten constitution in the UK precisely because of the vestiges of the past, of which monarchy is part. To be a true citizen we need a codified set of legal documents rather than the hodge-podge of legal outcomes, treaties, and Acts of Parliament we have at the moment.
  2. Monarchy is unaccountable. Appointing a head of state using hereditary principles is elitist, undemocratic, and unfair. The very existence of an unelected head of state means that the Prime Minister is invested with ‘royal prerogative’ powers such as going to war or signing treaties without going through the usual democratic processes in Parliament.
  3. The royal family are celebrities at taxpayers’ expense. The Queen is by far the biggest landowner in the UK, but holds offshore accounts to avoid paying even voluntary taxes. And of course, security is picked up by UK taxpayers, so the cost is much higher than the pitifully small number which is sometimes used to indicate ‘good value’.
  4. Our national anthem is unrepresentative. It should not be about one person (or family). Many people, including me, find it embarrassing to have a national anthem that asks a deity to prolong the life of a monarch. It’s anachronistic and unreasonable in the 21st century. I should not, nor should new citizens, have to swear an oath of allegiance to an unelected head of state.
  5. Having a state religion is reactionary. The monarch is head of state and also head of the Church of England. This means we are not a secular state, and bolsters extremists and nationalists who peddle ‘replacement theory’. We should be multicultural from top-to-bottom, as befits a modern country.

Monarchy is no longer what a great majority of people want. There is a significant medium-term trend downwards in popularity of the royal family, as shown by the graph below taken from here.

So I encourage you, as we come towards the end of the reign of one monarch, to support the idea of finding a way to avoid replacing them with another.

Weeknote 21/2022

Jetboil stove, New Philosopher magazine and Firepot food pouch on grass.

I was supposed to send out the latest edition of my monthly Thought Shrapnel newsletter this morning. The reason I didn’t was because I’ve barely written anything there over the past month. I thought about sending an “I didn’t write anything this month” email, but it seemed pointless. The weird thing is that I didn’t particularly make a decision not to write anything there, it just sort of happened. It’s weird how you can just lose energy for something for a period of time. It’ll come back.

Perhaps some of the energy and time which I usually dedicate to Thought Shrapnel has been spent watching the final weeks of the football season, as well as gaming. As I’ve mentioned in previous weeknotes, I’ve been trying to improve our home internet connection as well, and have made some progress this week. My experiments with a 5G router showed that, actually, 4G speeds can be pretty quick compared to the relatively slow speeds I get through my VDSL line. So I’ve bought a 4G router (actually two, the better one is arriving today) and I’m… just using that in my home office.

This week, I’ve written two posts here — one on how Sociocracy (consent-based decision making) works in our co-op, and one which puts some (philosophical) context around my decision to disable my LinkedIn account. As I was mentioning to Laura earlier this week, I used to try and make decisions in a way that other people might want to follow. These days, a year after checking out of therapy, I don’t really care what others choose to do. I’m documenting what I and the people who I choose to associate with do, and others can do likewise if they want.

Work-wise this week I enjoyed our WAO co-op day on Thursday. This is actually a half-day each month where we get to the things that aren’t covered in our weekly meetings. As we’ve just had our financial year end, there was some discussion about spreadsheets and money. Thankfully, the eyes of John and Bryan (who is currently dormant but happily came along anyway) don’t glaze over when it comes to this stuff. Between VAT, tax, which money goes in which year, and other dark arts I’m pleased that we have talents in different areas!

As we tend to be socially progressive but financially conservative, we had a small surplus over and above that which we’d accounted for. Perhaps inspired by the most recent series of Taskmaster, which I’ve been watching with my wife, Hannah, I therefore set my fellow co-op members a challenge. By June 13th, Laura, John, Anne (our intern-turned-collaborator) and I, have a limited budget to:

  1. Buy a domain name with ‘wao’ at the start (e.g.
  2. Spend five hours putting something there
  3. What we create needs to be weird and/or useful

Note that it’s a ‘challenge’ and not a competition. We all win by doing this, and I suspect that something will come out of this process which we end up retaining. For my part, I ended up burning through all of my hours on Friday morning and early afternoon. I’m looking forward to showing what I’ve done!

Given our podcast guests last week and this week asked to postpone to subsequent weeks, Laura and I decided to record one with just us two talking about hosting our own infrastructure (or not) based on Free and Open Source Software (FLOSS). This can sometimes be a difficult topic to discuss, mainly because the world we operate within assumes that because our co-op is called ‘We Are Open’ we exclusively use FLOSS tools. This isn’t the case, in fact, although we do use some. There are many types and shades of openness and sometimes being overly-fastidious about open technologies can prevent open practices. The episode should be available soon.

Other than that, I’ve been involved with some client work for Participate and Greenpeace, as well as having a chat with a couple of people who might want to work with us. I’ll hopefully be able to talk more about our involvement with one project next week; the other is more of a slow-burn. There’s yet another that a fellow CoTech member has mentioned they might like our help with, but we don’t know too much about that yet. Combined with our existing work, our upcoming work with Aaron and LocalGov Drupal, and maybe the return of some work with Julie’s Bicycle, we may have a busy lead-in to the summer.

This coming week is half-term for our kids. There’s also two days of public holiday to celebrate (or plot to get rid of) our current monarch. My daughter came home with a commemorative mug, given to every student in her school, and paid for by the local council. The charity shops will be full of them next week, I should imagine. I’m not employed so don’t get paid time off for these shenanigans, but it’s school holidays so I’ll choose to take them off anyway. Here’s not the place to rant further, but to have a royal family in 2022 is tantamount to publicly-funding celebrity influencers. I really can’t stand it.

Team Belshaw revolves around the football season and the academic year. The former is just finishing and the latter hasn’t got long left to run. We’d better get our summer holiday plans sorted out…

Photo of dinner on Friday night, which I spent out on a field somewhere with my Jetboil, a Firepot meal, and the latest issue of New Philosopher. I ended up walking for a few hours and then not camping. It turns out I just needed some time to think (and it was really windy!)

The more powerful the class, the more it claims not to exist

There are many views that one can have of the world. Some of these are entirely original; some are niche. Some form the default, unquestioned operating system that forms the bedrock of our collective understanding.

One way of thinking about views we hold individually and collectively is what W.V. Quine described as as a ‘web of beliefs’ That is to say, we hold some beliefs as more central to who we are and how we understand the world. That your spouse loves you, for example, would for most people be a more central belief than believing that Tirana is the capital of Albania. We have some beliefs that we hold lightly, and some that we would do battle over.

One’s repertoire of beliefs changes in nearly every waking moment. The merest chirp of a bird or chug of a passing motor, when recognized as such, adds a belief to our fluctuating store. These are trivial beliefs, quickly acquired and as quickly dropped, crowded out, forgotten. Other beliefs endure: the belief that Hannibal crossed the Alps, the belief that Neptune is a planet. Some of one’s beliefs are at length surrendered not through just being crowded out and forgotten, but through being found to conflict with other beliefs, new ones perhaps, whose credentials seem superior.

(W.V. Quine)

Some beliefs are handed down to us by parents or guardians. Some are in the air and form part of the milieu of a society at particular times in their history. There are some things that everyone does, and therefore we believe that it is the right thing for us to do as well. Sometimes we do not challenge these beliefs because to do so would set us up for conflict.

Choosing to eat differently to other people, for example by not eating meat, is an example of this. Refusing to recognise the monarchy as a legitimate institution is another example. Preferring to use Free Software tools rather than corporate apps, yet another.

But there are some practices that are seen as uncontroversial, encoded as ‘common sense’, as harmless, and are unthinkingly replicated without question. The problem is that, if we scratch the surface, some of these practices do not perhaps support the beliefs we think they do.

As long as a belief whose causes are undetected is not challenged by other persons, and engenders no conflict that would prompt us to wonder about it ourselves, we are apt to go on holding it without thought of evidence. This practice is often reasonable, time being limited. But it remains important to keep in mind that cause is commonly quite another thing than evidence. One obvious test of evidence is this: would it still be taken to support the belief if we stripped away all motives for wanting the belief to be true?

(W.V. Quine)

Let’s say that you’re told that being on LinkedIn is an important thing to do for your career. There appears to be evidence to suggest that this is the case. It’s certainly a ‘professional network’ compared to other social networks around. People are talking about work-related things. It seems ‘Serious’ (with a capital ‘S’).

However, I don’t think having a LinkedIn account does what people think it does. I don’t get particularly useful information from there, the ‘opportunities’ I’ve had could just have easily have come via email, and the endless stream of people LARPing their bullshit jobs for ersatz, meaningless awards is cringe-inducing. So yes, in an extreme case of burying the lede, I have deactivated my LinkedIn account.

What I find particularly insidious is the version of capitalism LinkedIn presents. It’s the face of a seemingly-benign way of structuring the world which venerates (to appropriate Feuerbach) the sign rather than the thing signified, the copy over the original, representation over reality, and appearance over essence. What matters is the performance rather than the work. Just like other algorithm-fuelled networks, this self-replicating pattern then spawns what Guy Debord called ‘the spectacle’, capturing everyone’s attention only for its own purposes.

So, while there’s a lot more I could say on this topic, having titled this post using a quotation from Debord, I’ll end with another from him:

The spectacle erases the dividing line between self and world, in that the self- under siege by the presence/absence of the world, is eventually overwhelmed; it likewise erases the dividing line between true and false, repressing all directly lived truth beneath the real presence of the falsehood maintained by the organization of appearances. The individual, though condemned to the passive acceptance of an alien everyday reality, is thus driven into a form of madness in which, by resorting to magical devices, he entertains the illusion that he is reacting to this fate.

(Guy Debord)