An ill wind ..

Only a short note today as we continue to be battered by the storms. Storm Dennis has not shown himself any milder than Storm Ciara who blew through last week. Though Dennis’s winds might be a little weaker he has brought a great deal more flooding in his wake. Although his wind speeds might be slightly less, his effect, on top of a week of heavy rain and sodden ground and pre-existing damage following Ciara, is proving to be fairly widespread.

When I go outside, when there is a lull in the noise of the wind or the rain, all I can hear is the whine of chainsaws. I don’t have to walk more than a few hundred yards to see the telltale sawdust of where someone has cut and tidied a fallen tree to keep the roads open.The fallen trees have brought many fences down, hence sheep, liberated from their fields, are often our company as we walk around the circuit.

I thought possibly Storm Dennis had put paid to the old adage “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good“, surely, I thought, there is no-one who has benefited from this. This must indeed be an ill wind. But then I remembered the ducks. The wind damage had caused a break in the banks of the stream above the duck house. This coupled with the high volume of water had lead to the formation of a pool across the path into the duck yard. This appeared to the ducks like a purpose built en suite, they didn’t even have to walk down to the river to perform their ablutions. Though my wet feet made me curse the damage they, on the other hand, were perfectly happy with the new arrangement, “it’s an ill wind etc etc ..

The Incredible Journey

The grandchildren visited this week. They came down from Scotland for a weeks mini-break during the school’s half-term. Their visits are the high point of our social calendar and something to which we really look forward. One ‘side-effect’ from these visits is that they make me feel my age. If you want to feel old then spend four days with a 7 and 9 year old. Halfway through you will remember what it was like when you had kids of your own and shortly afterwards you will wonder how you ever managed. Looking after kids is a young person’s game.

There used to be a huge beech tree here.

Their visit coincided with the visit of Storm Ciara to Wales. We had days of gale force winds and torrential rain followed by the light relief of a day of snow when we built a snowman. This gave us the opportunity to go for walks to see the results of the power of the wind, to see the uprooted and torn trees and the destroyed outbuildings. When we were able to go outside we were able to occupy the children by getting them to help us re-roof the turkey house and repair the fences around the hen runs. They really enjoyed this as they got to use real tools like a hammer and a staple gun. This was a better way to entertain the children; free, educational, and useful providing them with skills for the future and without all the noise and cost of the activity parks and play centres we often used.

We were, for long periods, unable to go outside but, sticking with a theme, we kept our spirits up by teaching new skills. The kids are aware that in Taid’s house, ‘taid’ is Welsh for grandfather, the fire and cooker don’t come on by flicking a switch. Here you need to set a fire and light it and there are different approaches for the open fire and the Rayburn.The kids really enjoyed setting a fire; making tinder out of newspapers, collecting and arranging kindling, getting logs ready and finally striking a match to start it all off. I also hope that now they know the true meaning of the word ‘tinder’ and this might inoculate them against the future definitions from their smartphones. However, there was a feeling that their grandparents were not only ‘old’ but almost ‘historical’ like something you might see on a visit to a heritage centre!

In the evenings the education was much more two-way. They taught me games I still don’t fully understand, on the Nintendo Switch and with Pokemon cards, and for the first few nights they chose the films we would watch. Two of these were surprisingly enjoyable. “Early Man” and “Abominable” were good fun tales on the themes of friendship and loss and well worth watching. The less said about “Teen Titans Go”, “Steven Universe” or “The Thundermans” the better. However, it was when I chose a film that I felt extremely old and began to see some of the differences in the culture my grandchildren inhabit and mine.

Less tears than Old Yeller

I chose “The Incredible Journey” having recollections that I enjoyed this film when I was their age. As we started watching, for the first quarter of an hour, it was clear this this was not holding their attention. There were no effects, no action, and not even any talking animals and I noticed that the kids were giving as much time to the screens on their laps as to the television itself. They thought they were much wiser than I was at their age, they knew that the animals would not die “they never do in films”. I forbore from telling them the fate of Bambi’s mother or that of “Old Yeller” . As the film progressed they decided that it must be all CGI as animals “can’t act”. They refused to consider that they may be real animals handled by wranglers. I guess that the rabbit, that Luath chased, might have hoped that the kids were right and he had had a CGI stand-in stunt rabbit. However, once they started to believe that these were actual dogs and a cat they started to be more interested in their actions.It seems you have to think something is real before you will truly care for it.

By halfway through the kids had been captured by the story. Having seen the bird and rabbit eaten they now knew that sometimes animals don’t make it through. They had started to worry about the trio of animals fate, and they started to think perhaps they wouldn’t get home. By the end they were on tenterhooks and when the last of the trio, Bodger, came over the hill in the final scene there were gasps of relief and joy.

Chatting afterwards about the film it was clear that the themes of friendship, loyalty and perseverance had been taken on board. It was touch and go at the start and if I hadn’t insisted I don’t think they would have persevered with the film. A good story, wonderful photography and landscapes and good acting seem no longer enough for a film to succeed with an audience of children. Like our food, our books, our music and so much of our culture we now need high intensity, easily digestible pap. This does not bode well for our future.

Next time they arrive, and it is my turn to choose, it will be “Old Yeller” we will watch. The simple tale of the love of a boy and his dog will be perfect. I hope that I’ll be able to avoid crying at the end. I’ll be rather depressed, disappointed and worried if, however, the kids don’t cry.

Weather back to normal

Early Birds

I feel rather like the early bird who has caught the worm. Last month I had noticed that out chickens were behaving strangely. Or rather more strangely than usual. In early January, and still in deep winter in anybody’s book, they had started laying heavily. They were supplying eggs much faster than we could use them and clearly though that the spring had arrived. They had started to create clutches and shown signs of going broody. This was an easy mistake for them to make as we had very mild temperatures and nothing really wintry at all.

This posed a dilemma. I had to decide in January whether I should put some of these eggs into the incubator for hatching. However, although I knew the hens thought spring had sprung I did not know if the cockerels had been infused with the vernal spirit and had sprung into action. If not, if the cockerels had correctly thought “This is still winter”, then I might be trying to hatch a clutch of unfertilised eggs. Not anticipating any miracle I decided to put a batch on and see what happened.

I needn’t have worried. The chickens determine the mating it seems. Cockerels don’t give a fig what time of year it is and they’ll happily mate all year round as the progeny above confirm. This is another unsettling sign that our seasons and are changing. It is not without consequence as I now have chickens born while the ground outside is better suited to building snowmen than scratching for food. I’ll need to rear these chicks indoors under a lamp for a considerable period before I can let them out. Let us hope they prosper despite the inopportune timing of their entry to the smallholding

 

More appropriate seasonal activity

'The Great Pretender' by Susanah Cahalan

Anyone who has an interest in mental illness, how it is diagnosed and treated, and especially an interest in society’s attitude to psychiatric practice will enjoy this book. It concerns the study published in Science in 1973 called “On being sane in insane places” by David Rosenhan, then professor of Psychology and Law at Stanford University. In summary this study purported to report on the fates of eight pseudo-patients who presented to psychiatric hospital. They reported hearing auditory hallucinations of a word such as “Thud” or a phrase such as “its hollow inside“. After this report, they behaved entirely normally without feigning any symptoms or exhibiting any unusual behaviour. The study reported that they were all admitted and diagnosed as mentally unwell (usually as having schizophrenia) and during weeks of admission given treatment for these conditions. The study suggested that psychiatrists could not distinguish between the sane and the insane, between health and mental illness.

This study shook psychiatry and mental health services to their core. At the time, following the work of the likes of Thomas Szasz (‘The Myth of Mental Illness’) and Erving Goffman (‘Asylums’), this seemed to give support and credence to the anti-psychiatry movement and provoked widespread, comprehensive and much needed change into the provision of in-patient psychiatric services. It was probably one of the prime drivers for the development of the DSM-III system of diagnosis which, at the time, helped address some of the major failings of psychiatric diagnosis.

I recall when I was a lecturer in psychological medicine referring to this study when lecturing to medical undergraduates, or psychiatric postgraduates, to try and inculcate a sense of shame that the profession was able to perform so poorly and fail our patients so badly.As a simple study with a blindingly obvious outcome it was very valuable.

However, it seems I may have been wrong. Without giving too much away this book looks into the study and checks the veracity of the reports. The author had a personal experience of psychiatric mis-diagnosis when she fell ill with autoimmune encephalitis and presented with psychotic symptoms. This kindled, in her, an interest in diagnostic accuracy and the interface between mental and physical illness and prompted her to look at this landmark study. Early in her research she noted significant defects in the study which she then started to explore. As the author follows clues, leading to the uncovering major flaws in the study, this book reads as easily as detective fiction. Although I suppose I should really class it as a true crime drama.

There is clear evidence that the ‘facts’ as reported are not the fact as they occurred. It is clear that some pseudo-patients actively feigned mental illness and threatened self-harm to capture the psychiatrists’ attention. The reports were also selectively reported so that positive or helpful experiences of psychiatric care were deliberately omitted from the published report. There is some, equivocal, evidence that Rosenhan was actively fraudulent in creating stories out of thin air to support his theories.

It is sad when our heroes turn out to have feet of clay. We feel duped when we discover the facts that were presented to us, and which we acted on, were misleading. However, many of the changes that followed this study were needed and one could argue that a “good lie” was more effective than many dry studies in forcing a change in the psychiatric services. I still hope that when people read the study they will think “how can we avoid problems like that ?“. However, a ‘good lie’ may prompt change but it is not a useful compass for what direction that change should take. We will all be glad to see that some of the bad practices are gone but this study did not help us see the positive aspects of “asylum” nor how we can preserve these. It lead us to throw the baby out with the bath water.

It is true that there are many less in-patient beds for patients with mental illness and that hospitals no longer degrade patients as they did. However, we now have many more psychiatric patients in prisons, nursing homes and general medical wards. Often the care here is poorer than that of the old institutions and I fear that the many mentally ill patients trapped in prisons are experiencing degrading and unpleasant treatment the equal of that in a seventies mental health hospital. In some senses we have just changed the nurse into a prison warder and the locked ward into a prison cell – the place and person may have changed but the crime hasn’t.

To improve the treatment of the mentally ill we need not only to understand mental illness better but also to understand better our own attitudes towards it. Although I will miss using this study in a ‘fire and brimstone’ talk about diagnostic accuracy I would (were I still teaching) have to be very cautious referring to it now. When we think we understand, but don’t, we are at the greatest risk of making mistakes. As this book reveals, even with good intentions, a prejudiced and dishonest look at the facts helps no-one in the long run.

Purple Prose?

Our present political life is seriously damaged. Many people are now looking for the centre having found that the main parties have migrated away from them to the edges. Life on the edge has damaged our mainstream parties. The Labour Party has become increasingly censorious and illiberal seeing a need for the state to increasingly intervene in the lives of us all. Further, following the principle of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” it has developed nasty antisemitic traits in response to the problems in the middle east. The Tories on the right, on the other hand, have seen its perfectly correct support for freedom of speech and individual liberty used as a cover by racists and bigots (people less concerned with the right of free expression than pleased with the opportunity to say hateful and spiteful things under the cover of free speech). Neither of the main parties now are without problems and I am sure that many, like myself, find themselves politically homeless.

You can find the centre by going left from the right-hand side or by heading right from the left-hand side. However, the centre is distinct from both of its containing edges. I am not sure if these movements from the two sides will ever find the middle but it was in the hope that they may that I read the flowing two books over the last month or so. From the Left there is “Blue Labour: Forging a new politics” and on the right we have “Red Tory : How the left and right have broken Britain and how we can fix it“. I read these in that order, Blue then Red, although this is the reverse order in which they were published. There was five years between the books; Red Tory was published 2010 and Blue Labour in 2015 but despite this they tackle largely the same themes.

The similarity of the books is the most striking aspect; large aspects of either book could be transposed into the other with little upset whatsoever. Both are aware that the traditional working class has been abandoned by the main parties and we have a major problem of an large portion of our population in the post-industrial areas feeling alienated and ignored. They both also recognise the increasing disengagement of this group, who feel and behave as disenfranchised, and the danger that this poses to our society through the mechanism of populist parties from both extremes.

Both books see the need to review our approach to nationalism. Both feel patriotism and nationalism can act a valuable bulwark against the problems of globalisation. Both books promote the nation state and internationalism as the antidote to the excesses of global capitalism. On the left by limiting the powers of the state and corporations, and on the right by limiting the excesses of the market when corrupted by monopolies, cartels and state intervention. Both agree – ‘smaller is better’.

The fate of the family is prominent in both books and both are alarmed by the damage that has been done to it. Blue Labour views the family as a basic building block of society which is particularly important to the poor and working as it provides the best support and safety They bemoan the weakening of the family in pursuit of greater economic productivity and also express concerns that the traditions of mutual support and communalism which grew in the working class movements are declining (Trade unions, mutual societies, building societies, friendly societiesare all examples of working class organisations). The Red Tory also worries that these aspects of our society are changing, and fears that welfarism is replacing mutualism with the consequent risks of dependency and loss of autonomy.

Both books see the increasing inequality in our society as a major threat to our future. We are splitting into a society of “haves” and “owes”; the rich are becoming much richer and the poor are increasingly in debt. So even though we have more possessions it is hard to see that we are that much richer. As Red Tory reminded us of Belloc’s view :-

“For to own something on credit I not to own it at all, and since no security of tenure is available by rent, those who seek some primary foundation or asset in the world have little choice but to buy into a form of ownership that converts its possessor into a debtor”

Red Tory pp49

The housing bubble that first burst in 2008 has left most of us in debt and working to serve this. All members of the family now have to work in the market, there is no room or members to stay at home and care for others, and despite this increased work we are not wealthier. The cheap goods that capitalism generates a little but increasing debt wipes this out and adds to the growing inequality. This has worsened since the mid-70’s and the boom years of Thatcher and Blair :-

Little wonder then that the golden age for waged workers in the OECD was not in this recent allegedly great age of prosperity, but between 1945 and 1973, when they gained the greatest percentage share of GDP for their labour and enjoyed greater real purchasing power

Red Tory, pp 49

It is interesting to note that both books have strong religious influences. Blue Labour has a number of essays by prominent Christian thinkers and an introduction by Rowan Williams the prior Archbishop of Canterbury. Red Tory is written by an author who is an Anglican theologian as well as political theorist. There are shades of “distributionism“, in both books, as they try to find a path to more widely distribute assets between us all and steer a way between socialism and capitalism. There are perhaps modern echoes of the “Three Acres and a cow” proposed by G.K. Chesterton.

Both books are worth reading and I hope will have influence on their respective groups. I found the “Red Tory” more readable than “Blue Labour” as it was written by a single author and was consequently more consistent and coherent. But the ideas in both, on the need to curb increasing inequality, to promote society and constrain the state, and to use nations and locality to limit the influence of global capital, are well addressed in both books.

Serendipitous Arboreal Knowledge

You never know when good luck will find you. This week it appeared when I was standing aimlessly in the charity shop while my wife was looking at curtains. There seemed to be an enormous amount of inspection required to check these window hanging and my spirits were beginning to flag. I thought I had checked all the possible wares on display that might interest me. But I was wrong. Hiding in amongst all the paperbacks, concealed between the Lee Childs and the Judy Picoult’s, was a little gem : “Trees: Shown to Children” by C.E. Smith.

This little book, probably published around 1910 as far as I can determine, was one of the “Shown to children series”; a series of short educational works for children. Other works concerned ‘Beasts’, ‘The Seashore’ and ‘The Farm’. It is a simple book; each chapter is the description of a tree and these are accompanied by 32 colour pictures (by Janet Harvey Kelman) of the tree, its leaves, flowers and nuts.

The descriptions are wonderfully vivid and really make it very easy to identify tree types. The descriptions are followed by detailed information about the tree’s life cycle, its place in the local ecology and the uses of its produce and timber. Consider a little of description of the aspen below :-

But you will always know an Aspen tree by its leaves. These are never still unless when a storm is brooding and the air is perfectly calm; at all other times they shake and quiver incessantly, and you can hear the gentle rustle they make as each leaf rubs against its neighbour. In the Scottish Highlands the country people tell you that the Aspen trembles because at the Crucifixion the cross of Christ was made of Aspen, and the tree must always shudder at the cruel purpose it served.

In addition to evocative portrayals of the trees there are also passages which promote an interest and sympathy with nature. Any child (even one in his 60’s like me) will find pleasure from reading this.

And do you remember what secrets the trees told us as we lay under their shady branches on the hot midsummer days, while the leaves danced and flickered against the blue, blue sky? Can you tell what was the charm that held us like a dream in the falling dusk as we watched their heavy masses grow dark and gloomy against the silvery twilight sky ?

He had learned that the mystery of tree life is one with the mystery that underlies our own; that we share ths mystery with the sea, and the sun, and the stars,and that by this mystery of life the whole world is “bound with gold chains” of love “about the feet of God”

I hope I am wrong but I fear that books like this, heavy with information and lacking in action and adventure, will be found to be less interesting to young readers today. I have, instead, to hope that google and the internet will kindle their interest in the natural world and start them on their journey outside to look at the beauty of the world around them.

In any event, the child in me really enjoyed being shown these trees and this has certainly been the best 50p I have spent in a long time. I will certainly keep my eyes peeled for the other books in the series. And, as a further stroke of good fortune, my wife didn’t buy the curtains in the long run)

Something for (next to) nothing.

We were fortunate in that we lost our broadband and telephone service a couple of days ago. In the high winds a branch was blown off an ash tree and as it fell to earth it brought the fibre optic cable with it. This was fortunate as this was the only real damage we sustained in the gales. It could have been much worse; property could have been damaged, fences could have been breached or livestock harmed. All that did happen was that we lost some communication and our access to the Internet. It ha also be useful and instructive to discover how reliant we have become on the web and how much time I wasted with it.

The first thing I noticed the number of times I could not immediately Google the answer to multiple pointless questions. Was Ed Shearan in Game of Thrones? Is Baghdad bigger than Tehran? When did GK Chesterton die? I am in the habit of checking these as they arise. It is so quick and easy, a trivial task, that I never remember the answers I get and thus never become truly wiser. There were more important questions (Can goats eat Christmas trees?) but we were able to look these up in a reference book where there is a handy reference list(*) which will still be there should the electricity follow the Internet in deserting us. This was a minor annoyance and easily circumvented by more traditional sources of information.

The second thing that was missing was also information. I realised that I was receiving a great deal of my news through this medium. I world start each day reading the news in my bed on my mobile phone and often end the day in the same way. A newspaper, the radio and television not only sorted this problem but also gave me better quality news. It gave me a wider range of information and opinion that had not been filtered down to appeal to my biases and prejudices. This points to a news years resolution – I will wean myself away from reliance on the internet, and especially social media, for receiving my news.

The other things I realised was how much of a toy the internet is for me. I was not using my phone or computer as a tool but as a toy to amuse me. It was something to fritter time away. Rarely was my use actively constructive, usually is was simply as a diversion. I realised how hooked I was on this as it reminded me of when I stopped smoking. For months after my last cigarette I would find myself reaching into my pockets for cigarettes and a lighter. Now I was performing the same motions, patting my pockets, to check my phone rather than my next nicotine fix.

The most fortunate part of losing this distraction was the amount of time it liberated. Not just time spent in pointless activity, but it removed the diversionary attractions which often sideline plans.

I had a large amount of goat dung and bedding to deal with, which is never a fun task and one that can nearly always be postponed or sidelined. With the new free time I felt best to make some use of it. I gathered up some residual side cuts of timber, left over from the last time we were making planks, and decided to make some raised beds. The lining was made of old plastic feed bags and the preservative was two old tins found in the garage (Hence the two different colours). After a couple of days work and no special expenditure I had a couple of fuctioning vegetable beds. These may not look much now but wait until the summer when they start to be productive.

Two tone beds

I think I can say, quite definitely, that I was fortunate to lose the broadband connection. I now have beds, have used some rubbish and have formed a new year’s resolution. It is true that I am not up to date with what is happening with Kim Kardashian’s buttocks but I think I will survive this loss.


(*) They can, in moderation, indeed it can be a useful vitamin supplement.

Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq

I have not found a book so initially distasteful as this since I read Bret Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho“. I had to persevere at the beginning as much of the content was so unpleasant that it created a visceral emotional response. However, I am glad I persevered as, after a time, the satire of capitalism and consumerism was well worth reading. There are similarities between American Psycho and this book but Houellebecq’s satire is much more wide ranging and scathing. Rather than having an aspect of our society in its sights this book takes aim at the entirety of Western Culture.

This is a book about the end of our culture; a look at the end of a millennium that ‘had previously been known as Judeo-Christian’ and one that appears to be ‘one millennium too many, in the way that boxers have one fight too many’. This is a book about a culture which has lost its sense of love and purpose and has been left only with its desires and the consequential emptiness that this brings.

The narrator, of this story, has little that makes life worth living and only survives, after a fashion, by taking antidepressants to try and keep his brain biochemistry in the range where life is tolerable. He has lost love, both personal erotic love and also agape: the positives of life are absent. Similarly the negatives of life are no longer felt. He knows (intellectually) many things are wrong but he cannot feel appropriate anger or disgust. This is truly a nihilistic story. This is the story of a man, and a culture, who have huge gaping holes at the centre of their being which no amount of sex, pornography, eating or violence can fill. They are left with suicide as the rational options.

Despite these themes the book is well written and at times beautifully lyrical. It is also often very, very funny. A black desperate humour runs through this tale. This may be a problem to some readers as the author’s misanthropy and disgust with our cultural changes is very well described and it can be difficult to see, in back and white, just how debased some aspects of our lives have become. Many will find this story too excessive and gruesome, however, if you can stomach it, then it is a worthwhile read. Indeed, by the end, of this torrent of sadness and depravity the narrator, and reader, discover that only love and self-sacrifice really matter.

Chipping away at the family.

Chipping away at the family.

Families come in all shapes and sizes” , a common saying and one which is largely true. However, as I watch adverts in the run up to Christmas (such as the one for frozen chips below) I realize that there is a problem; we are so keen to promote one thing that we lose sight of something else. Our recognition of what constitutes a family is being eroded and chipped away.

These adverts obviously celebrate the diversity which exists in our culture and we are happy to see such differences welcomed and minority groups presented in a positive light. However, the idea that “differences” are what make a family is clearly wrong. Family, if it means anything, means similarity and relationship. Families, as we are all aware, are not something we choose but a non-optional group into which we are born. We choose our friends, our colleagues, our partners but not our family.

Left and right political thought has been chipping away at the idea of the family for some time. The family is an awkward social unit for both sides of the debate.

On the right, the desire to maximise economic growth sees the family as an inefficient unit – much better to have two adults working than only one and the other staying in the family to rear and nurture children. Even better, if this childrearing and nurturing itself can become an industry and profit gleaned from the labour of others by providing childcare and rearing services. The right matches the approach of economic freedom (we are all free to make money as best we are able) with individual freedom (our relationships are only valuable in as far as they make us happy). Ideas that duty and responsibility could be superior to profit or happiness are an anathema to those of a neo-liberal or libertarian inclination. The right undermines the family by promoting greater material wealth and promising greater individual choice.

On the left, the family is seen as a reactionary unit and a bulwark against the influence of the state. Families protect and support themselves, a task increasingly seen as a job for the welfare state. Even worse families educate and instruct their children; in the state’s eyes this tends to be seen as indoctrination, and that is better done by them. The left’s understandable desire to tackle such problems as gender inequality or religious intolerance lead it to see the family as largely in negative terms; something from which we need to escape!

These views ignore that facts that for most of us the family has been our greatest support and protection. During our evolution the family group has allowed us to avoid the limitations of our weak and limited bodies and provide a structure which keeps our infants and children safe and provided for at their most vulnerable time. Families also unshackled us from our genes; by being able to teach our children and pass on the wisdom that adults had gathered we were no limited to a knowledge set that was hard-wired in at birth.

This doesn’t mean that we have to look at families askance if they don’t have the traditional make-up of mum, dad and kids; but it does suggest that we should promote the basic idea of the family. That is, of a group comprising parents and children bound together in a permanent, mutually loving bond. This unit is formed by the decision to have and rear children and to take care of each other. It is not formed simply by desires; you may love who you will, but simply loving someone does not make them family – family is a much deeper commitment. Fortunately our nature helps us here, we have literally evolved so that we have innate love for our children and family we don’t have to work that hard at it – usually.

Permanence is key here, the contract is such that it takes major steps (and usually death) to leave the unit. To all intents and purposes, once you are a member of a family, that is it, for good. No matter how much you may wish it you can never stop being a son or a brother or a mother. These roles are non-optional. Even though we may stop being husband or wife we do not stop being mum or dad. It is because marriage is the traditional first step in family formation that it is an interpersonal contract very different to all the others we may make. Now that we have decoupled sex and reproduction we need to give more thought to this area. There is still a need for a special contract, essentially permanent, which we need when we intend to create a family but do not require when we simply seek mutual pleasure and happiness with another person.

With our current progression we may manage to replace the family with material abundance and a benevolent welfare state. We may hope in doing so we also find greater happiness as we have greater individual freedom and more choice. However, it is not how much choice we have that matters most but whether we are able to make good choices. For ourselves, for our race and for our planet it is probable that our best choice would be to eschew the desire for more and better, and aim to find our pleasure in small groups, adequacy and fairness, mutual respect and toleration or, put more simply, in family life.

In times of crisis, our instincts are to try and return to our families. In essence this is what families are. They are the place we feel safe, where we are tolerated whatever our differences, and where we can be forgiven whatever has befallen us. They are the place we will be cared for regardless of our wealth or ability. They are our refuge when the whole world seems to be rising up against us. A family is not simply eating chips together, nor is it a place where we eat together with a familiar group, that is a usually termed a canteen. We may manage to replace the family, but if we do, we should prepare to spend our emotional lives in works or community canteens eating chips. We may be adequately fed but this may be much less satisfying than we hoped for.