Monday is usually my catch-up day; I have the day off from work, and I can respond to all those emails and comments that got left over the weekend, when I work all the hours Cthulhu sends. Today, I will be working a long shift at work instead of having a day off... However, one thing I do want to do is pick up on a meme. Irfan Ahmed, whom I mentioned the other day
, via Mr Quist
, asks what political achievements we had all made by the age of 17.
When I was 17, the one thing I was sure of political party-wise was that I was not a Tory. This was because the headmaster of our school was, and so many of the ideas that he tried to put forward as correct were manifestly unjust and unfair. However, I didn't yet have the debating skills to fully skewer the odious man on his insistence that the poll tax was a good idea, and that gay people deserved to be second class citizens.
My fabulous RE teacher, Mr Rushton, was doing his bit to change that. As part of RE a-level, we did 6 modules: we voted for which of the many on offer we got to do at the start of the course. We therefore ended up doing three modules on relatively obscure but interesting-sounding bit of religions (Fifth Century Christology was my favourite) and Ethical Theory, Practical Ethics 1 and Practical Ethics 2. These modules were my introduction to Kant's Categorical Imperative, Occam's Razor, and other philosophers and philosophical paradigms. The one thing that I would say, with hindsight, Mr Rushton did wrong was that he dismissed John Stuart Mill as a disciple of Bentham.
* womanfully resists the tangent of going on about how wonderful Mill is again *
The other teachers who were helping me in forming moral and political ideas were the History master, Mr Petford, who ran the debating society; and the English master and head Librarian, Dr Liddle. At 17 I was elected chair of the debating society on the back of beating the Labour party into fourth place representing the Monster Raving Loonies in the 1992 mock general election. My reasons for choosing that party were simple: I was, at that stage, an adherent to the misguided and childish notion that all politicians were as bad as each other, and the best thing one could do was take the piss.
And this is the key, really. At 17 I was full of misguided and childish notions. I had yet to go to university, and have On Liberty set as a set text by the wonderful Stuart Toddington. I had yet to be introduced to media spin, and the workings of local government by Dr Mike Feintuck. And I had yet to develop the research methods which doing a law degree instilled in me. My ideas were all secondhand.
Although my dad (and the late great Ron Jones, my chemistry master) had given me a good grounding in scientific method, I had yet to fully apply that to moral and philosophical ideas. I had been an active member of Greenpeace, IFAW and Friends of the Earth, but I had done this unquestioningly. I still took too many things on faith, and didn't examine them for dogma or whether they had evidential backing, and whether or not such evidence was reliable.
I was immature, and so were my political ideas. I was horribly wrong on many things, and woefully idealistic on others. And yet I was convinced that I knew The Truth, and that when I was old enough I would Show Them, and that I was going to Change the World. I was 17.
Of course, now that I am fifteen years older, I am still convinced that when I get chance I will Show Them, and that I am going to Change the World, but I am absolutely certain that I don't know The Truth and that there is no truth to know. I suspect that in fifteen years or so I will look back on this entry, as I look back on the way I thought when I was 17, and think of it as hopelessly naive, yet somehow endearing. But I'm glad I wasn't a member of any political party at 17. I would have done them a lot of damage, I think, particularly if I was writing leaflets and canvassing, with my childish and ill-informed ideas.
One thing that I could
do at 17 that pitifully few 17 year olds seem to be able to do these days is spell, and construct a coherent sentence. Mentioning no names.