Binder’s roundup – 9th March 2015

ShopHere’s a round up of some interesting articles you might have missed in the last fortnight or so. Topics covered include the meaning of life, blindness, sentencing policy in the USA, the upcoming UK general election, the ‘Nordic’ welfare model, moving the UK Parliament to Hull and more. As usual, I don’t necessarily agree with all the opinions expressed, but nonetheless found the articles worthwhile reads.

Whatever it takes by Jonathan Parnell – Desiring God

Would you like 5 million votes and 4 seats or 1 million votes and 56 seats? By Charles Morris & Harry Lambert – May2015

Felony murder: why a teenager who didn’t kill anyone faces 55 years in jail by Ed Pilkington – The Guardian

Delhi rapist says victim shouldn’t have fought back by Leslee Udwin – BBC News Magazine

Tim Farron profile: The Lib Dems’ leader in waiting by George Eaton – New Statesman

Seven things to consider if your spouse is not supportive of your ministry by Thom Rainer – thomrainer.com

Labour’s higher education funding plans by Jack Britton et al – IFS

Do blind people really experience complete darkness? By Damon Rose – BBC News Ouch

Meet the man who could own Aviva France by Dan McCrum – Financial Times Alphaville

The Nordic model is no longer a holy grail by Philippe Pochet – Social Europe

Maybe we don’t need to move Parliament to Hull. But we do need to overhaul its alienating traditions, by Helen Lewis – New Statesman

To be human – freedom of expression and why it’s so important

Eich and Sterling

Freedom of expression has seemingly risen up the worldwide news agenda recently, with Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich being forced to resign due to his stance on gay marriage (expressed through his donation to a US anti-gay marriage campaign)and a life ban being given to at LA clippers owner Donald Sterling over recent racist comments he made. As such, I will argue that this issue isn’t just something for fancy intellectuals to ponder in a trendy Bloomsbury coffee shop, but is absolutely fundamental  to the exercising of our humanity. That assertion might seem rather Hollywood and hyperbolic but I stand by it, and in what follows I will explain why.

Defining freedom of expression and why expression is so important

Before I do so however, it’s important I set out what exactly one means when discussing ‘freedom of expression.’ In my view, a good definition would go something like this: ‘The right and ability to exercise conscience in terms of speech, behaviour, movement, action or any other associated act without sanction from any organisation, group or individual.’ Having set out a working definition, let’s consider why upholding this freedom is so important.

Let us consider the following question: ‘What is the prime factor in determining the way we speak, behave, move or act?’ Whilst undoubtedly elements such as genetics and environment play a role, it is my view that greater than both of these is belief. That is, my beliefs about who I am, who others are, the role I have in this World and so on play a crucial role in driving my behaviour in all areas. More importantly, an individual, group or organisation might feel that particular beliefs have the potential not only to change their own lives, but the lives of others with which particular beliefs are shared.

To give a working example, somebody who believes in the existence of God can, will, act or speak in accordance with that belief, and will (depending on what they feel are consequences of this belief for others) want to share this belief with others, the same being true for those who hold that there is no God. Thus, whatever the belief, the point here is that our beliefs are fundamental in defining ourselves as human beings and can have life altering consequences for both ourselves and others. Hence, our beliefs aren’t somehow detached from us as some would suggest, rather they are crucial in defining who we are as human beings.

Influencing the expression of others

Therefore, if freedom of expression defines our humanity, any attempt to limit this by sanction or otherwise deserves to be taken extremely seriously. Does this mean that freedom of expression should be allowed to be manifestly expressed without any sanctions whatsoever? Not necessarily. It is clearly the case that human beings do not operate in vacuums independent from one another. It is quite possible for someone in exercising their own right to express themselves might in doing so hinder the ability of someone else to do the same. For example, if I were to express my belief that someone was annoying by punching them in the head, I would through injuring them be limiting for a certain period of time their ability to exercise freedom of expression. Herein lies a conundrum, should the risk of limiting others freedom of expression by the expression of another’s own result in sanctions being imposed?

I believe there is a line to be drawn. Sanctions on expression through murder and physical harm on the account of belief are justified for a number of reasons. Of relevance to this article, if you kill someone, you permanently prevent them from expressing themselves! The argument is similar regarding physical harm, albeit you might not (at least physically) prevent expression forever. In addition, it’s worth noting that in comparison to offence (discussed in detail below), physical violence is far more ‘concrete’ in terms of what does and what doesn’t constitute harmful physical violence, is less time sensitive (what physically harmed someone 10 years ago will harm someone today), and in my view is far more likely to have a negative impact on limiting another person’s ability to express themselves. I should also add that the same applies regarding incitement to murder or physical harm.

A question of offence?

Clearly however, someone can still be offended, hurt, angered and experience a whole host of negative emotions due to someone else’s non-physically violent expression of their beliefs. Yet whilst offence can be unfortunate, I do not believe those labelled with causing offence should face sanctions. There are three reasons why I hold to this, and they are outlined below.

Firstly, if we really do believe that the UK and rest of the world should be a nation of tolerance and diversity, as our politicians are all too keen to publicly say it should be, then there should surely be room for different cultures, and different people groups to reside and play a healthy role in UK civic life. Few I’m confident, would object to this vision. Yet if we really do desire a diverse and tolerant world, then there should surely be room for differing opinions and views that reflect the diversity of cultures present in the UK (and much of the world). At the moment, it seems all too often that constructions of what is acceptable and what is not are dictated by an empowered metropolitan elite. Further, instead of shouting ‘bigot’ at those we find offensive, why not engage in constructive dialogue with such people, challenging their views in a robust yet respectful way? I believe using this tactic both engages the ‘offender’ and increases the potential for understanding and progress. This dialogue centred approach is in my mind is what true tolerance looks like, and has been seen to work in combating racist views, just ask Margaret Hodge. Thus, if we ditch this ability to truly tolerate one another, even in spite of disagreement and the potential for offence, we lose this true tolerance which many seemingly so desire.

Secondly, what if causing offence turns out on a longer term basis to have a positive impact on individuals, groups and wider society? I can think of many examples of where this has been the case, from minorities in decades past standing up against the racism practised by the societies around them, to the many people undergoing radical and positive world view changes due to being exposed to views considered by many in society as unpopular. The point here is that what is considered ‘unacceptable’ in one point in time, might not be considered as such later on (this is not to say that some of the things we find offensive today are not.) This brings into question who decides what is and what isn’t offensive. Whilst difficulty in answering this question shouldn’t mean that the notion of offence should be thrown out altogether,  the sheer fluidity of what is and what isn’t offensive, to whom it is offensive and the time sensitive nature of offence should prevent us from sanctioning against expression on such grounds.

Thirdly, and returning to what was said at the beginning of the article, denying freedom of expression on the grounds of offence is not just an restriction on expression as a concept in itself, but also on the ability of those deemed to have offensive views to exercise a vital component of their humanity. That is, preventing people from expressing what they believe to be vital not only to their own existence but also others is a very great offence indeed.

Concluding remarks

So in summing up, whilst we must be aware of the fact that in exercising freedom of expression we can limit another’s ability to do the same, it is imperative that we promote a system in which everyone in society, including religious, ethnic, sexual and socio-economic minorities can freely express themselves without sanction. Whilst doing so might cause offence to others, this risk is not grounds for limiting such expression. Thus, we must find ways in which offence can be turned into something positive, whether it be through debate, social participation or the means to respond through legitimate channels. One is not naïve however, and whilst it is unfortunate that offence could have profound negative impact some people’s agency to express themselves, this is by no means a reason to impose from on high an framework of what is and what isn’t acceptable and apply sanctions. Thus, we in the UK are in comparison to other nations are blessed in terms of the freedoms we have; there is a valid argument to be made that the direction of travel is moving the wrong way. Therefore, we must be vigilant in upholding and protecting this most principal right.

My top articles from January 2014 – Part 3

man thinkingHere’s the third and final part of my top articles from January 2014.  Themes covered include, young people and the church, freedom of speech and expression, economics of the family, jobs and tax. Thanks for reading!

  1. How is God working in the World? Understanding Miracles and Providence by Justin Holcomb – The Gospel Coalition
  2. On the importance of the right to offend by Kenan Malik – Pandaemonium
  3. ‘Nuisance and annoyance’ injunctions abandoned after Lords defeat by Alan Travis – The Guardian
  4. Where is Unemployment the highest (infographic)? By International Labour Organisation – International Labour Organisation
  5. Petition to deselect LibDem candidate Maajid Nawaz for tweeting Jesus and Mo cartoon by Archbishop Cranmer – Archbishop Cranmer Blog
  6. The heavy price adults have to pay for independence by Donald Hirsch – Donald Hirsch blog
  7. Economists: Your parents are more important than ever by Derek Thompson – The Atlantic
  8. 3 common traits of youth who don’t leave the church by Jon Nielson – Church Leaders
  9. 50p tax – strolling across the summit of the laffer curve? By Paul Johnson and David Phillips – IFS
  10. Opinion poll exclusive: Labour lead cut to one point after Tories gain on living standards by Andrew Grice – The Independent

My top articles from January 2014 – Part 1

woman drinking wineBelow is a list of some articles i’ve  particularly enjoyed within the last month or so.  Themes covered this month include Christian persecution, ethics relating to prison sentencing, rising rail fares, the philosophy of science, welfare, obesity and censorship.  I don’t necessarily agree with all the opinions expressed in these articles, but I think they’re worth reading nonetheless. Parts 2 and 3 will be published very soon! Thanks for reading.

  1. Evangelizing prosperity gospel adherents by Allen Duty – 9 Marks Blog
  2. The closing of the Scientific Mind by David Gelernter – Commentary Magazine
  3. The Coalition will stay the course, but they won’t be getting the band back together after 2015 by Steve Richards – The Independent
  4. The “Help to Work” pilots: success, failure or somewhere in between? By Jonathan Portes – NIESR Blog
  5. Labour: We must ‘do God’ to fight anti-Christian persecution by Edward Malnick – The Daily Telegraph
  6. When it comes to drinking habits we are in collective denial by Melissa Kite – The Guardian
  7. Even life prisoners should have hope and a chance to change by Dirk Van Zyl Smit- The Guardian
  8. Believe it or not, rising rail fares are actually good news by Jon Shaw – The Conversation
  9. Confessions of an obese Christian by Thom Rainer – Thom Rainer blog
  10. Can Data be evil? By Chuck Klosterman – New York Times
  11. The censuring of Evander Holyfield shows how intolerant modern Britain is becoming by Brendan O’Neill – The Telegraph

What I think the Government should be doing in 2014

Big BenSo here we are, another day, another year. As Government swings back into action after its brief Christmas hiatus I thought I’d put together a mini-manifesto of what I feel the Government should prioritise in the next 12 months. What do you think? Feel free to comment below!

FREEDOM OF SPEECH

The Government should continue to increase rights relating to freedom of speech. Following the success of the Reform Section 5 campaign, one hopes the related ‘feel free to annoy me’ Reform Clause 1 campaign, which aims to prevent ‘Ipnas’ coming into force, will also be a force for championing free speech. The present signs are encouraging, with the House of Lords defeating the Government regarding an amendment to remove the words ‘annoying’ and ‘nuisance’ from the legislation. In brief, Ipnas (Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance) have the potential to subject an individual or group to court orders if they are deemed to be causing a ‘nuisance or annoyance.’ It is therefore crucial that the Government make the changes necessary to ensure that groups or individuals can be free to express themselves without fear of being castigated for getting up someone’s nose!

LIFE

The Government should do more to protect the unborn. In 2012, according to the Department for Health, over 185,000 abortions took place whilst the Director for Public prosecutions Kier Starmer said that as the law currently stands, Gender selective abortion (that is, abortion based solely on the gender of the child) is not prohibited. What is more, a 2004 study indicated that in the UK 95% of babies diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome are aborted. One therefore calls on the Government to be bold in 2014 in protecting this most vulnerable group of society.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Given that rent is the biggest cost many families face on a month to month basis, it would be well worth the Coalition embarking on a significant affordable house-building project, or promising to do so in the near future. Doing so would increase supply of property and therefore drive down the cost of renting and home ownership in general.  Alternatively, if the Government doesn’t fancy a big social housing building programme, it might want to consider reforming planning laws to make it easier for property builders to develop and build on available land.

RENT CONTROLS

More radically, the Government should consider (i.e. investigate, commission a report etc.) introducing rent controls. This might make sense given the rate at which rent has increased in recent years.

RELATIONSHIP BREAKDOWN

Do more to recognise the cost (financial, emotional, relational, social etc.) of relationship breakdown, currently estimated as costing the taxpayer £50 billion per year. 2013 saw the creation of the Relationships Alliance, whilst this year there is a Government review due to come out on the issue, which should make for interesting reading.

UNPAID  CARE

The Government should better recognise the contribution of unpaid care, whether it be for adults, disabled loved ones, or children at home. Whilst the transferable allowance for married couples is a start, I feel there needs to be other support given to those who undertake unpaid care. This could be in the form of better practical support for those caring for those who are disabled, elderly or vulnerable (many social care visits which are supposed to assist unpaid carers only last 15 minutes for example!) and greater efforts to tackle loneliness amongst unpaid carers.

MARRIAGE TAX BREAKS

The Government should ensure that the marriage tax break finally announced by George Osborne in the Autumn Statement is in people’s pockets before May 2015 and is more generous than it currently stands. At present, couples stand to gain around £200 per year. This however doesn’t include considerations relating to the Universal Credit, which will reduce benefit from this policy for Universal Credit recipients. After all, in 2013 it did plenty for single parent and dual earner couple households ( see for example it’s plans to increase childcare provision for single and dual earner parents.)

WORK INCENTIVES

It would be worth the Coalition doing tackling the prohibitively high marginal effective tax rates facing UK one-earner and single parent families at the moment. At present under tax credits, many low to middle income families face rates of 73%, meaning for every extra £1 earned, they only see 23p come into the household.  What is more, under Universal Credit, many of these families will face rates of 76%! Two policy responses to this problem are reducing the rate of withdrawal of benefits as one increases their income, particularly from low to middle incomes ,or moving support for family responsibility from the benefits system to the tax system. For more information on the latter, see CARE’s recently published review of Independent Taxation.

PARENTS IN PRISON

On a slightly different tip, the Government should pledge to do more for families with a loved one in prison. Maintaining family links when someone is in prison can be key in reducing the likelihood of reoffending once that person is released. Thus, the Government should consider ways in which (when possible and appropriate) prisoners can be kept in prisons where they are relatively close to their family.

NEETs

Finally, given that there are over a million NEETs (which is actually below average for Europe) (Not in Education, Employment or Training) it would be well worth the Government creating a ‘youth guarantee’ scheme which gives NEETS (and perhaps Graduates and young people looking for employment) further education or vocational training. This would not only help young people themselves, but also potentially whom children are living with.

Articles of the week – 23/08/2013

Recording TechnologyIt’s Friday again, and that means its time for another top 10 articles of the week. This week, we’ve witnessed the detention of David Miranda, partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald (who broke the Edward Snowden NSA leak story), at Heathrow Airport, a harrowing chemical attack seemingly committed by the Syrian Government on its own citizens, and the situation remain very troubling in Egypt. As usual, I don’t necessarily agree with all the opinions expressed in the articles. I hope you enjoy reading them nonetheless!

  1. Outrageous forgiveness by Alison Mitchell – The Good Book blog
  2. How do people forgive a crime like murder? By Naveena Kottoor – BBC News Magazine
  3. Abounding in the Work of the Lord Everything We Do as Christians or Specific Gospel Work? (1 Cor 15:58): By Peter Orr – The Gospel Coalition
  4. Working class voters and the ‘progressive’ left: A widening chasm by James Blodworth – The New Statesman
  5. The lost middle ground of reason by Richard Sandbrook – JOMEC @ Cardiff University
  6. David Miranda, schedule 7 and the dangers that all reporters now face by Alan Rusbridger – The Guardian
  7. The reaction to David Miranda’s detention is completely ridiculous by Douglas Murray – The Spectator
  8. The Horrific plight of Hungary’s Roma by Andrew Connelly – The Atlantic
  9. Amanda Lindhout tells of her captivity, torture in Somalia – CBC News Calgary (warning, some readers may find descriptions disturbing)
  10. Why HS2 won’t cost £80bn by James Waterson – City AM

BONUS: Are more than half a million youngsters too lazy to get a job? By Emily Craig – Full Fact

Image courtesy of freerangestock.com

Top 10 articles of the week – 16/08/2013

pyramidAfter a brief holiday break, this week sees the return of my top 10 articles. In the past 7 days we’ve seen tensions escalate hugely in Egypt with the death toll running into the many hundreds, and on the domestic front the Government have announced rail prices are to announce by 4.1% and many of the UK’s teenage population get their A-level results. Here are my top 10 articles plus a couple of sneaky bonuses! The usual disclaimers apply, Enjoy reading!

  1. 10 things I’ve learned after 26 years of marriage – by Ed Stetzer – Christianity Today (The Exchange blog)
  2. Updated: Experts reflect on Egypt’s turmoil by various – Al Jazeera
  3. Number of stay at home mums falls to record low by Louisa Peacock – The Daily Telegraph
  4. Both inequality and poverty cause health and social problems – they are forces that need to be tackled together by Karen Rowlinson – LSE Politics and Policy blog
  5. Job insecurity leaves marriage the preserve of middle-class couples – study by Sam Marsden – The Daily Telegraph
  6. From criminal to trainee cook: ‘I owe Gordon Ramsey a lot’ by Erwin James – The Guardian
  7. Voters punish politicians for misinformation that portrays them in a favourable light, but not for inaccurate information that attacks their opponents by Michael D. Cobb – LSE Europp blog
  8. Africa: Mugabe undaunted by Andrew England – The Financial Times
  9. Bias at the Beeb: addressing some questions by Oliver Latham – CPS Blog
  10. Free to choose? The impact of healthcare reform by Martin Gaynor et al – LSE Politics and Policy blog

BONUS 1: Yet another year of inflation busting rail fare rises will add to the cost of living costs by Maria Eagle MP – Labour List

BONUS 2: 10 ideas for change: The sharing economy by Clare Goff – NewStart

Image courtesy of freerangestock.com