I have just finished reading Paul Mason’s book, Postcapitalism: A Guide to our Future. Scary stuff; and not because this is a rant by an extreme left wing political economist/journalist – because it isn’t. This is a serious attempt to analyse where the world is heading, what it means, and what can be done to prevent disaster.
Where is the world heading?
– Neo-liberalism is dead
– Climate change is a world-changer, and a new energy economy is required
– The ageing of the world population, coupled to migration, is also a world-changer
– Public debt is unsustainable and 60% of states are heading for bankruptcy by 2050
Paul’s view is that the global elite is in denial, and have no solutions to these problems. The market will not solve the problems.
So far, little to disagree with. What are the solutions? Paul offers some sense of the required direction of travel, rather than a step by step set of instructions. Centralised, strategic and fast action is required, with states acting together; revolutionary reformism leading (after a possibly lengthy transition) to Postcapitalism. This requires willpower, confidence and design. The key principles are:
– creation of a zero carbon economy
– production of machines, products and services with zero marginal costs; reduction of necessary labour time to as close to zero as possible (automated economy; less work, more non-waged activity)
– ecological sustainability
-human attitudes to work and societal structures need to change
-maximisation of power of information; allowing networks to attack societal (and other) problems and arrive at solutions collaboratively
-society to become overtly ethical
Very revolutionary, but not in a ‘up against the wall’ sort of way. The transition to a Postcapitalist world doesn’t abolish the state; it requires states and politicians to step up to the plate, and confront the structural problems facing the world, and to take the painful measures required. The transition cannot be left to market forces, although these can be co-opted to nudge the system into the desirable pathways to change.
Clearly, I’ve left a lot out. Recently, Paul Mason seems to have become a figure of fun as far as the rest of the media is concerned. I think that’s a misunderstanding. This book is definitely worth reading.
When I recently reviewed last year’s posts, I was rather shocked to find that I hadn’t written one post on education. In a year. Not one. Then, in early January, there was a small controversy about the use of knowledge organisers in primary schools. This got me thinking. Generally, I think we want too much out of primary schools. I think that some of the ‘desired’ outcomes are problematic (e.g. KS2 SATs results), and that these generate rafts of methodologies, which leads to a negative feedback loop. Eventually, what is achieved isn’t what was really wanted – too much of the cul-de-sac, in fact – but is what we get.
What do we want out of primary schools? We want kids to be ‘secondary ready’, equipped to make the transition to secondary school (don’t get me started on the move to re-introduce selective education at 11 on a wider scale than at present)……of course we do; we want them to be able to read and write, and be numerate – but, much of the stuff they are supposed to be able to do now when they move up into secondary school, I learnt well into my secondary education. I think we need to re-think what ‘secondary ready’ should really mean, and to re-think what we get kids to do in primary.
(Don’t think that I have low expectations; I don’t, see this)
Since June 2016 (here), I’ve been resting from the task of attempting to understand Quantum Theory. I needed additional reading material, and Christmas afforded the opportunity to obtain it. Amongst the trawl are: Quantum Mechanics – A Complete Introduction (Alexandre Zagoskin), and The Quantum Story – A History in 40 Moments (Jim Baggott). Also, there are a number of books to add colour: Fashion, Faith and Fantasy – in the New Physics of the Universe (Roger Penrose), Schroedinger’s Kittens (John Gribbin), The Strangest Man (Graham Farmelo), Inside the Centre – the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Ray Monk), and Surely you’re Joking Mr. Feynman! The last of these I’ve finished reading, and I’m half way through the Kittens. And then, last week, an email arrived from Amazon – one of those ‘Because you bought this, we thought you’d might want to buy this’ emails. Normally, these are deleted without engagement, but this one caught my eye. It was advertising the book in the picture. The Ladybird book of Quantum Mechanics (by Jim Al-Khalili), just published – only £5.99 (special offer).
Too much of a temptation. It’s arrived and I’ve read it. Honestly, a Ladybird book of quantum mechanics – how can a scientist not buy it?
It took a while, but I have now read Susskind’s Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum. 346 pages of mathematics. But not mathematics you’d recognise (unless you’re a physicist, I suppose). According to Susskind, we don’t have the sensory apparatus to sense quantum mechanical effects (in the way we obviously do have the senses for the classical mechanical world which is all around us), so abstract mathematics takes the place of the senses needed. I get this. The maths presented in the book is a journey to understanding, and the mathematical language that developed for Quantum Mechanics was forged to be fit for purpose; abbreviations and short-hand formulations were constantly being invented to simplify the appearance of the maths, and to make it easier to manipulate. And always, experimental observations impose the constraints on the maths needed to describe the reality. Out of this framework the understanding emerges. But very slowly, for me at any rate.
I feel that I have a better understanding of how the Uncertainty Principle comes about, but I can’t put my finger on it. Generally, my grasp of Quantum Mechanics is improving, and I think this is to do with my developing understanding of what function the maths is serving. But I need to read some more. So, next, Lectures on Quantum Mechanics by Paul Dirac.
Being anonymous means that I can’t write about what has actually happened in my life this year. This isn’t a great loss, to be honest. But, still. I can write about my social media year, though (not a great gain, actually).
Twitter is my main social media medium; although I’ve used it less this year. It’s still the breadth of views, and speed of news that I most value. I’m now following 800 accounts, and try to maintain a variety of points of view on my Time Line. For me, Twitter is really about continuing education; and 2016 has been quite an education. There are various aspects of using Twitter that are interesting; but I won’t write about them here.
My blog has seen different action this year compared to the two previous years. More poems and less about education (in fact, nothing at all about education – which surprised me when I checked back). Six posts cataloging my attempt to understand special and general relativity (Gravity), and three posts on the start of my journey to get to grips with Quantum Theory. I was very pleased with the Gravity posts as they reflected a genuine advance in my understanding of General Relativity; a subject that had always previously laid outside of my grasp. I’m no expert now, but understand the role of mathematics in this – to provide a language to express the issues, rather than provide an exact solution – a framework for thinking. The search for understanding of Quantum Theory goes on (and I have several new books on this which I plan to read this year); I’m not sure what level of understanding is possible, to be honest; this is tricky stuff. Needless to say, the number of views on the blog dropped by half this year.
Two new media for me this year. Firstly, Niume – a blogging platform, where blogposts must include graphical content. I posted all the Gravity and Quantum Theory posts on it. Second platform, Pinterest. My daughter introduced me to this (OK, I already knew it existed) this year. I started collecting Art pins (I also collect Science and other things) and have now amassed 3300 of them. This has been surprisingly mind expanding…..and introduced me to artists such as Pam Carter, Johnson Tang and Elizabeth Price.