Simplicity, minimalism, KISS…


A long time ago I read a poem, ‘Alexandria’, by Lawrence Durrell which contained the lines: “As for me I move/Through many negatives to what I am.” That has stayed in my mind ever since and recently it’s occurred to e that it describes an attitude that has grown in me over the years: a taste for minimalism. Looking back, I seem to see my life as a long succession of relinquishments.

I certainly see it in the way my use of computers has evolved. But there are other examples too.

For instance

One is music. Given the choice, I’d rather listen to chamber music or soloists than to an orchestra. And I have a taste for minimalism in music too; for example, I like Steve Reich’s Drumming.

I prefers small gatherings to large parties.

Then there’s my teaching of acupuncture. I’m an advocate of what is often called Western Medical Acupuncture (WMA), which is based on the modern understanding of how the body works (and fails to work) instead of the ancient Chinese ideas. I’ve been involved in acupuncture for over 40 years and in that time I’ve progressively tried to simplify it. We we don’t need the traditional apparatus of “points” and “meridians”.

Of course, this should not be taken too far. WMA relies on the modern understanding of the nervous system, and that is a boundlessly complicated subject, but it’s a necessary kind of complication whereas the Chinese stuff is unnecessary. As Einstein may or may not have said, “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler”.

What about religion? I was brought up as a Catholic and that’s a pretty complicated faith. Later I got involved with Hinduism, which is even more complicated. But really I’m more sympathetic nowadays to Buddhism, although even here there are differences; Theravada Buddhism is relatively simple compared to Mahayana. Naturally, I prefer Theravada; however I’m not a Buddhist.

In fact I’ve now left all of this behind. My life seems to have been be a process of progressive simplification. Another poem which I read many years ago – I think it was in a BBC magazine of the time called The Listener – was on this theme of abandoning more and more things. The concluding lines, quoting from memory, were these: “all of it a practice run/For doing without myself”.

I could go multiplying examples of this inbuilt search for minimalism almost indefinitely,The problem isn’t finding enough examples, it’s finding too many. Which would, of course, be exactly what I want to avoid.

Brexit second thoughts – sort of

I’ve been thinking about the upcoming  elections for the European Parliament. This really a vote about Brexit.

I didn’t want the Brexit referendum in 2016and I voted to remain.  I regarded the outcome we got as as disastrous if predictable,  both because it seemed to reflect a narrow isolationist view of our place in the world and because it was mostly older voters who took this position whereas it’s the younger ones who will have to live with the consequences. I also thought the leaving process would be very difficult although not as difficult as it is turning out to be.

A lot of those who voted to remain now want a second referendum but I doubt the wisdom of this. I haven’t changed my mind about Brexit itself but I don’t think a new referendum would be decisive and it might well make matters worse if there were a narrow margin in favour of remain. It would be widely seen by leavers as a betrayal of our democracy.

All this makes the decision on how to vote in the forthcoming European Parliament election very difficult. Yesterday I heard my namesake Alistair Campbell (Tony Blair’s former political aide) say that he didn’t know how to vote. I’m in the same situation. I hope I’ll have worked it out by next week.

Note added 23 May 2019

Well, I finally decided to vote for Brexit. What helped me to make up my mind was a remark on Newsnight last night by Lord Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi. He spoke of the need to sustain democracy, using the analogy of a parent whose children have taken what one thinks is a wrong decision  which one nevertnheless should nevertheless support. A bit patronising,perhaps, but it’s what I’ve been feeling myself. Our demonracy is shaky just now and I don’t think it will stand the shock of the 2016 vote being ignored.


Useful resource: Wikipedia’s Style Page

I’ve just been looking at  Wikpedia’s Style Page. Some of this is specific to Wikipedia but quite a lot has application to writing more generally.  See, for example, “weasel words”,  “expressions of doubt”,  “clichés and idioms”.  I think the late F.L. Lucas, whose Style has been my main guide for many years, would have approved.

Mona Siddiqui’s Thought for the Day on Trump’s visit

I’ve said in my previous blog that I generally like Mona Siddiqui’s contributions to ‘Thought for the Day’ and find them among  the best in this often rather irritating genre. However, I had reservations about what she said today in talking about President Trump’s forthcoming visit.

She though that Jeremy C9rbyn and the Speaker were wrong to refuse the invitation to a dinner given in Trump’s honour.  We might disagree with his views but he would be a guest and the demands of hospitality require that we welcome him courteously.

Certainly hospitality is an admirable tradition in Islam – I’ve benefited from it myself in the past – but Trump is not just any guest and his visit raises complicated questions. We are extending the invitation for our own (commercial) reasons and he is accepting it for his – presumably not unconnected with his forthcoming attempt to be re-elected. This isn’t something I’d wish to increase the chances of happening.

I don’t know what reasons Jeremy Corbyn and the Speaker have for refusing to meet him, but if they are motivated by a reluctance to demonstrate even tacit support for his political ambition I can see their point. I like the attitude of the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, who initially said he wouldn’t meet Trump but then changed his mind and said he would, in order to tell him why he disagreed with him.

As to what members of the public can do, I’d vote, not for demonstrating in the street but for simply  ignoring the visit as far as possible, or alternatively lining the route of his ceremonial progress up the Mall and maintaining complete silence.

Mind you, none of this would have arisen without Mrs May’s ill-advised invitation to Trump made soon after she became PM; just another of her many mistakes, but that’s a different story.


‘Line of Duty’ spelling mistake?

In ‘Line of Duty’ on BBC1 the mysterious gang boss ‘H’ communicates his orders by text messages on a laptop. In Episode 3 one of these messages contained a spelling error, “definately”. Was this an oversight by the script writers or was it meant to be a clue to the identity of ‘H’ – a corrupt police officer who is lso semi-literate?

Our murderous ancestors?

As David Reich explains in his recent book, genetic studies provide  evidence for the westward spread into central Europe of the Yamnaya
people from the stepes of Central Asia about five thousand years ago. This event is credited with the introduction of Indo-European languages. But exactly how the Yamnaya spread is uncertain. New Scientist has an interesting article on this by Colin Barras, with a rather sensationalist reference to the Yamnaya as ‘the most murderous people’.

Drawing largely on work by the archaeologist Kristian Kristiansen, Barras suggests that the arrival of the Yamnaya was a violent affair. The existing populations were already shrinking by this time, possibly as a result of epidemics of plague. The Yamnaya were probably physically stronger than the indigenous people and were more warlike. There is also a suggestion that they were mostly male.

This scenario reminds me of a poem by Robert Graves, who was influenced by the theory that an earlier matriarchal society had been replaced by a patriarchal one.

Swordsman of the narrow lips
Narrow hips and murderous mind
Fenced with chariots and ships,
By your joculators hailed
The mailed wonder of mankind,
Far to westward you have sailed.

As Barras remarks, these ideas are quite new and are based on evidence from only a few sites. But at present it seems likely that “the steppes migrants were largely male and violent”. This idea is supported bu a finding that mitochondrial DNA, which is maternally inherited, changedrelatively little at this time, while the paternally-inhrited Y-chomosome   changed a great deal.