Relatively speaking

                                  Richard Lutz ambles through the wreckage of another week


I got to thinking…. and that’s dangerous. And not to sound too pointy-headed, it has to do with Leibniz and Newton (as above), two scientists who were at each other’s intellectual throats in the late 17th century. I’ve been reading about their difference of opinion about relativity, motion and space. 

Now, I have a tenuous grip on their arguments – they’re pretty abstract and I was never the scientist. But it got me thinking about an old  school friend. And it’s all got to do with human relativity.

It goes something like this: I sat down recently at a dinner with F after all those years. Five decades worth. He remembered our school days one way  and I remembered them  in another. I remember he was faintly techie, at ease with his high marks and a dab hand in the sciences (he became a doctor). He remembered me as adept with the written word (I became a reporter). Each of us had pigeonholed the other fifty years ago.

When we re-united as late middle-agers, we were both surprised how different we had appeared, relatively, to each other but how much we had unwittingly shared at school. We both thought of ourselves, individually, as outsiders while looking into a roistering pack of boys.

Then we realised that most of our classmates probably felt the same. In essence, despite what each thought of the other, we were both figuratively standing side-by-side peering into a nest of guys with no real centre. We were all onlookers, all of us, no matter how isolated or popular we were or thought we were. Or weren’t.

It was all relative. We lived relativist boyhood lives. Lives in fevered teenaged motion, relative to each other’s fevered motion. Friendship, I guess, has its own physics just as psychology has its own mental architecture and chemistry has its own science of categories and filing systems.

This leads, strangely and a bit clumsily, to the relativist world of travel and looking at the world around us.

Below are two pictures: one dramatic and the other more mannered. Both taken by Bill R.

The first is a stark and brutal Corsica with its mountains and crevices. The second is bucolic middle England – the Cotswolds, to be specific.



Is the first one scary? Or attractive? Is the second a vision of paradise in green England, or downright boring with no sense of the unknown? 

Both have an allure. And those attractions are relative too: relative to what one sees as pleasure and beauty. Or danger and risk. And both lead to an idea of leisure and pleasure. Is it rambling over a green field to a nice hamlet with a pub and poking your nose into a quiet country church? Or traversing a 5000 foot high ridge in mist, risking life and limb as the weather descends?

I move on to politics and end on another relativistic note. Britain this week is drowning (again) into a spate of navel gazing as it wrestles with immigration. Is this island, with its natural watery borders, a society where we welcome the downtrodden, the frightened, the wrecks of war? Or are we a tightly-bound nation with limited resources and a burgeoning wave of incomers who are perceived as ready to  take something from us? Are immigrants a boon or a bust?

It’s a question of how we see ourselves and how we see outsiders on this little island cast in a silver sea and riddled with doubt of where are heading and who we will, relatively, become.


6 thoughts on “Relatively speaking

  1. How do we see ourselves? Navel gazing is becoming the new orthodoxy. Not everyone is riven by doubt Richard. We have much to celebrate.
    We honour our international treaty obligations in respect of people who arrive here seeking asylum from the horrors you identify. Those treaty obligations stipulate,perfectly reasonably that such a refugee must seek asylum in the first safe state they arrive in. After that when settled and safe they may seek permission to move here just as any other potential immigrant must. To do otherwise suggests a different motive for travelling here. We do not welcome people who seek to queue jump others applying through the proper channels. nor does any other nation on the planet.
    It astonishes me how slow people are to look for positives about our nation. We should be proud. We welcome 250,000 people, sufficient net immigrants to populate the city of Wolverhampton every year. We support over 40,000 asylum seekers at any given time. We pay so that every claimant has representation, translator etc. and consider every claim on its merits. The taxpayer shoulders this burden gladly and gives £15,000,000,000.00 of taxes away in foreign aid annually. Nothing to be ashamed of.

  2. Just been to the supermarket where I bought some biscuits called Choco Leibniz….is this how it all ends for Enlightenment philosophers?

  3. We need to accept that there is a real world behind the perceptions of onlookers and we need to make more of an effort to discover what its like.

  4. I think we’re all aware at times at how differently we may be perceived by different folks in
    different contexts

  5. In many areas of our lives, for example economics, we are dominated by abstract thought conjured up by academics, journalists and broadcasters. They construct narratives mould our perceptions.

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