The sincere mode of behaviour seeks to replace the “mere convention” of ritual with a genuine and thoughtful state of internal conviction. Rather than becoming what we do through ritual, we do what we have become through self-examination.


The need to establish society and morality on the basis of sincerity, though, runs into a deep problem. How can we express true sincerity except by filtering it through the social conventions of language? How are we to know if people’s professions of sincerity are genuine or just acts of hypocrisy, representations of their true self or just what they would say “as if” they were sincere? Worse still, even our own private thoughts can work only through language, and thus can never fully reveal our innermost sincerity (or lack of it). We can accumulate great quantities of discourse, but never dispel the suspicion—even within our own minds—that it is all just artifice. This is why the Puritans produced such an enormous quantity of written self-examination, like Cotton Mather’s famous autobiographical writings. It is just as evident in our teenage children’s endless concern with establishing the truth of feelings-their own and those of their peers. The Calvinist’s “Am I really saved?” and the teenager’s “Am I really in love?” are at heart similar kinds of questions. […] It is not enough to love each other sincerely if people fail to act as if they love each other; and acting as if they love each other includes ritualized forms of expressing concern, verbally and in concrete deeds of helpfulness.

Ritual and its Consequences: an Essay on the Limits of Sincerity – Adam Seligman, Robert Weller, Michael Puett, Bennett Simon

I’ll be honest: I’m imagining The Calvinist’s “Am I really saved?” as being some kind of 90s rave track.

Simon Critchley, describing G.W.F. Hegel’s theory of religion:

Hegel will say that the divine is not the object of religious consciousness, but substance made real in the world as action and community. The divine for Hegel is not “Oh, is there a God? And, oh, how many attributes does he have? And is he up there, or is he in my head?” This is nothing to do with religion; this is some sort of windy speculation. The divine is community, for Hegel. Community in its action, in its life: that’s what’s Hegel’s after. If Hegel is a Christian thinker, as I think he is […] what Christianity means is the life of the community.

Mark Renton, the smack-head protagonist of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting:

Tom Curzon, the counsellor fae the drugs agency, a guy wi a social work rather than a medical background […] feels that ma concept ay success and failure only operates on an individual rather than an individual and societal level. […] So, according tae Tom, it’s nae good tellin us that ah’ve done well in ma exams, or got a good job, or got off wi a nice burd; that kind ay acclaim means nowt tae us. Of course, ah enjoy these things at the time, or for themselves, but their value cannae be sustained because there’s nae recognition ay the society which values them. What Tom’s trying tae say, ah suppose, is that ah dinnae gie a fuck.

The gossip factor

Here’s a quote from Sherard Cowper-Coles’ memoir Ever the diplomat: confessions of a Foreign Office mandarin on the immediate aftermath of the case of Michael Bettany (a digruntled MI5 counter-intelligence officer who in 1983 made a ham-fisted attempt to get himself recruited by the KGB by delivering confidential documents to the letter box of the chief of the KGB’s London station):

The Prime Minister decided something had to be done about MI5, and a new, external, director general was appointed, in the shape of Sir Antony Duff, a senior Foreign Office official with a distinguished earlier career in the Royal Navy. […] I asked Duff what he thought had been the main problem with MI5. ‘The gossip factor,’ he replied at once. He explained that MI5 officers had been so security-conscious that they had never gossiped to or about each other, thus failed to detect the loneliness and unhappiness that had led Bettaney to go off the rails […] In Duff’s view, successful organisations needed an element of gossip, as a means of what would now be called team-building and as a safety valve.

Reflecting on the year as it draws to a close: that’s a thing, isn’t it? Much has happened during the past year, much of which I have no intention of discussing right now. However, I’ve remembered that I set myself some goals for the year, and so now would be a good time for reviewing them.

The goals were: to meet Puffles the Dragon Fairy; to use the word “propinquity” more often; and to do some public speaking.
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Saturday afternoon of last weekend, I went to Anglia Ruskin on East Road for Cambridge Conversation Café, the inaugural event of Be The Change Cambridge. This is my write-up of the event. Or rather, it’s more a write-up of my experience of the event. If you want something more objective you might want to try Michelle Brook’s account.
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Specific, measurable

If you’ve ever worked for a company with an officious HR department, you will probably have been told of the importance of setting yourself SMART objectives.

SMART, in this context, is an acronym. It would have to be, really, wouldn’t it? I mean, if you found yourself in an organization where this sort of thing is taken with extreme seriousness then the genuinely smart thing would probably be to get out of there. As an acronym SMART can stand (if you go by Wikipedia and some simple arithmetic) for over three thousand combinations of words. However, we only need to concern ourselves with the most commonly given first two words: “specific” and “measurable”.

Before going any further I should probably admit that personally I’ve never got on well with things of this sort: objective setting and so forth. They may sometimes be helpful, perhaps as catalysts for useful conversations, and even when they’re not I can accept them as harmless nonsense. My hunch, however, is that they are most useful for very ambitious people, whereas I’m more motivated by curiosity than thoughts of promotion. This is hardly an unusual attitude in the software industry, so it generally hasn’t caused me any trouble. This is why I feel free to do things like discussing the Dunning-Kruger effect when asked to rate my own abilities or, as I will be doing here, telling the story of BP and the balanced scorecard.
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To Thamesmead

Another weekend, another London walk.

Last weekend Mr. H. and I walked from New Cross Gate to Thamesmead, and then walked a bit more. There had been the possibility of being joined by Dave the American, although in the event his presence took the form of a series of text messages.

I’m probably going to have quite a lot less to say here than in my previous trip report, since there are fewer associations for me south of the river than north.

A trip to Thamesmead had been on the cards for a while. At one point I had thought a good journey would be from Peckham to Thamesmead which, in TV terms, is from Only Fools and Horses to Misfits. That seemed like a bit of a stretch, though, which is why we started off in New Cross Gate instead.
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