Sycamore Gap

This last Summer we stayed at Haltwhistle and travelled along the military road to walk along Hadrian’s Wall. The weather was beautiful. Sun shone. Wall was spectacular. No sign of Hadrian.

Without knowing about the Sycamore Gap we saw the picturesque tree and stopped the car to take a photo.

Unfortunately we had just overshot the best spot and could not reverse on the main road, so the shot is not perfectly aligned; but it is still beautiful.

Now some idiot has cut the tree down. Says it all.

What the hell is wrong with us all??

23 thoughts on “Sycamore Gap

    1. Yes, absolutely. And I hope that Opher will withdraw the last word of his article. Individuals who have never promoted or supported a bad action are not responsible for that action. It is those that promoted, supported or did the cutting down of that tree that are responsible for its effects.

      1. No. I think society has a collective responsibility. We set the tone. It’s improving but has a long way to go. At school I promoted an ethos that was caring that reduced bullying and eliminated violence. On a wider scale the society we live in produces the ethos. Respect for nature comes out of that.

      2. Opher, you talk of “society” and “collective responsibility,” but I don’t see things that way. And when you say “we’re a hateful species,” I understand what you mean (fit to be hated, rather than merely harbouring hatred), but I disagree.

        There is, of course, a hateful species on this planet, which has diverged from us humans. I call them “politicals,” because they use politics for their own purposes; usually, either for their own gain or to hurt those they don’t like. They include most politicians, most bureaucrats, all warmongers, a lot of big-company bosses, and many of their hangers-on. Boris Johnson, the Hamas murderers, Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin are all politicals. And right now, they’re all going mad – along with whoever cut down that tree.

        The ethos of politicals has diverged radically from the ethos of us human beings. Michael Murray is right. If you’re one of us, don’t blame “us.” Blame, instead, those that have diverged from us on to the paths of madness.

      3. Neil, I think you and I basically disagree on this. I see people as having two sides, very Jeckyll and Hyde. We are capable of great love, creativity, compassion and ‘spirituality’ but we are also capable of great violence, hatred, callousness, thoughtlessness and cruelty. I think we all have that potential.
        Our nature and life experiences channel those two sides.
        The communities we live foster good or bad.
        I used to believe in people, still do – largely – but have come to see the darker side expressed much too often.
        I see the ‘Lord Of The Flies’ reality. It comes out in so many different situations – wars, environmental damage, abuse, racism and cruelty.
        Without some overriding control too many are driven by greed. Humans are intrigued by violence and gratuitously love watching it or dishing it out. Humans love power and control.
        I don’t just blame politicians. Indeed, I think they are caught in the middle. They are bought off by big business, by wealthy elites, religious groups and the like. On a lower scale we have the gang culture, mafia and criminals. There are a lot of nasty people about on all levels and they are by no means all politicians.
        Societies create a zeitgeist. That creates the tone. We can alter it. There is a collective responsibility.
        I think you are much too optimistic about people. Many are unintelligent, uninformed, uncaring or can’t be bothered. The nasty types are generally more motivated. It only takes a minority to abuse, control and destroy. It just takes the majority not doing anything about it.
        That’s how Trump, Johnson and the other populist/fascists sneak into power.

      4. Opher, I suppose we are all born with some potential to be good or bad. And according to our life experiences, we may move more towards one pole or the other. But each of us, as an individual, is naturally more one than the other. You seem to be saying that an individual’s character is determined entirely by nurture, whereas I think it is influenced by nurture, but more determined by the individual’s nature.

        You are right that there are a lot of nasties around, and they are not just politicians. A lot of them are either in government itself, or in pressure groups of one kind or another that seek to influence government. The big problem with the current political system is that it attracts these nasties to positions of power, both direct and indirect. (Democracy doesn’t help, because the unthinking will vote for what they see as the lesser of two evils, rather than saying, as I do, “a plague on all their houses, we need to change the system.”)

        And once they have power, they are able to elevate their nasty comrades at the expense of the people they ought to be serving. That is how the Johnsons, Blairs, Trumps, Bidens and their ilk get where they do, not to mention the Hitlers and Pol Pots. The result is that, as I’ve said before, “government, the very institution that ought to defend us against criminals and wrongdoers, gets taken over by those same criminals and wrongdoers.”

      5. We’re back into the eternal debate of nature and nurture. I very much take the biological reasoning that behaviour is largely learnt. Very little is genetic – particularly with regards to ‘higher’ forms of behaviour. My experience in education supports that. By providing a caring, nurturing environment we create caring, thoughtful, compassionate children.
        My views are that the human mind is extremely fragile – much more than we are currently aware of. Trauma’s such as divorce, death and abuse leave great damage. Most people suffer trauma. But what is learnt can be unlearnt. We can be helped to heal.
        I do accept that there are some neurological predispositions – psychopathy, sociopathy, autism, bipolar, ADHD, etc which require some more intense, probably chemical treatment.
        I do not believe people are born good or bad.
        You do tend to put the blame on politicians. I do agree that power attracts psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists. Not only politics but business and all roles of management. I’ve encountered many Headteachers who fit those characteristics – bankers, CEOs, heads of any organisation. Then we have the lower class bullies, gangs and conmen. All walks of life.
        We do, of course, always end up voting for the lesser of two evils. But there is a big difference between those two. Differences that impact greatly on peoples’ lives. That lunatic Trump, and those fools Johnson, Truss, Cameron, Sunak, May and the rest of the Tory Party have radically altered society for the worse. They have destroyed public services, brought in far greater inequality by giving to the wealthy and taking from the poor, and made corruption an accepted practice and taken morality to an all-time low. We cannot get perfection but by voting we can attain improvement.

      6. Yes, psychopathy and sociopathy (not that there’s much difference between them, in my view) are indeed neurological predispositions. Those with these predispositions are attracted to politics, and seek to climb the greasy pole to the top. Those with a bad nature gravitate to the kind of nurture that brings them power without accountability. That explains Johnson, May, Sunak and the rest. But it’s also a problem with politicians of all the other mainstream parties as well. Like Blair.

        Under a system that enables the worst scum to manoeuvre themselves into positions of power, we should hardly be surprised if life isn’t what it ought to be. The solution is, change the system to one that doesn’t allow these scum into positions of power. You are right when you say that they have “taken morality to an all time low.” I think we need to use morality (or, said more neutrally, ethics) as a big part of our tool-kit to build the new system.

      7. The problem is not just politics. These psychopaths are at the top of businesses, corporations, banks, institutions, schools, hospitals, – anywhere where is a hierarchy, money and power.
        You restrict yourself to politicians. The politicians are puppets in the hands of much nastier people. The multinationals have the clout. Big business, the masons, the establishment is made up of business interests that buy, bribe, threaten and corrupt politicians.
        While there is a tendency for these damaged individuals, the selfish, callous and greedy, to infest all political parties there is still a huge difference regarding their impact on people! Tories were formed by the establishment and represent the establishment. Labour were formed by the workers from the trade unions. Both have morphed but, in general, the Tories rob the poor and cut public services to the bone and Labour look after the poor and disadvantaged and protect public services. As someone who ran a school I can tell you that the impact is major!!
        For Tories the plebs exist to be exploited. They see no reason to waste money on them other than what they have to in order to get re-elected.
        There is no alternative system possible.
        The only way is to make the present system work by introducing far greater scrutiny and accountability. Big business needs curbing.

      8. These psychopaths are at the top of businesses, corporations, banks, institutions, schools, hospitals, – anywhere where is a hierarchy, money and power.

        Bingo! Opher, you and I agree on so much.

        But, unfortunately, not on the Labour party. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown destroyed my career with IR35. I can never forgive that. Or anyone that votes Labour. Or Tory. Or Slob Dim. Or Green. If you vote for any political party that has had power or influence, you are approving what they have done. You are declaring yourself to be an an enemy of those they victimized. Like me.

      9. As I said Opher, Blair and Brown destroyed my career. They made a “law” that made it so difficult for me to work in the way that I and my customers wanted to, that my market gradually disappeared. Imagine how you would have felt if they had banned you from teaching.

      10. I can understand that you would feel rightly peeved. So what was this law and how did it affect you? Was it intentionally brought in? Was it just clumsy? Why did they bring in this law and how did it impact?

      11. OK, this is how it happened, according to my understanding. Though some pieces of the puzzle might be a little apocryphal, I think the basic structure is sound.

        Remember the “Y2K bug?” In about 1997 and 1998, Y2K work was being done by huge numbers of companies all over the world. This caused a huge bump in demand for software people, particularly in older-technology systems. People were coming out of retirement to do this work, and many of them were making six figures a year.

        At the time, the software development industry was dominated by two huge companies, both with well over 100,000 employees. They were EDS (Ross Perot’s company, now defunct) and what is now CAP Gemini. They found that they were losing an awful lot of potential business to independents. So they sent bosses from their local subsidiaries to governments all over the world, lobbying to see how they and the governments could stop “the little people” who, from their point of view, were reducing their profits.

        Governments, being the criminal gangs they are, are always willing to hear ideas on how they can take in more and more in taxes. So, during 1999, governments across the world brought in measures designed to make business more difficult for independent software consultants. The ways they did it were different in different places, but they all had similar intent.

        In the UK, Blair at first tried simply to declare one-man companies to be “illegal.” That foundered, (I think it was because someone pointed out that the “crown,” the institution that is designed to provide continuity of the monarchy from one incumbent to another, is actually a one-man company!) So they resorted to a much more complicated scheme (IR35), which caused difficulties both for the consultants and their potential clients, and whose only beneficiaries were bureaucrats and tax lawyers.

        This meant that big companies like Eurostar, who had been the mainstays of the market for people like me, became far more reluctant to take on independents, even on short contracts. It meant that I could now only work as an independent with friends who knew me well enough to trust me completely, and were willing to help me work around the problem.

        That worked OK for me for a while (up to about 2013). But successive governments kept on tightening the rules. The risks of being prosecuted increased steadily. And as my friends’ business became less profitable due to economic conditions, they could afford to use less and less of my time. So gradually I had less and less work to do, and once COVID arrived, the situation became so uncertain that I couldn’t do any at all. I had to live off what was left in the company and, eventually, off savings.

        The Tories, who by this time hated independent people almost as much as Labour have always done, thought that IR35 was such a good wheeze for them, that in 2017 they significantly tightened it. This is what eventually led to their, cynical and deliberate, destruction of the careers of another group of independents, the lorry drivers. Kwasi Kwarteng tried to reverse that particular tightening during his brief spell as chancellor, and gave some hope that the IR35 as a whole might eventually be repealed; but as soon as Hunt got hold of the reigns, he re-tightened the screws.

        That’s how “my” MP treats me! And that’s how successive political gangs over more than two decades have treated people like me.

      12. I’m still not clear how this IR 35 impacted so greatly. Wasn’t it just making self-employed uncontracted workers liable for the same taxation as if they were employees? Didn’t it just mean that you were liable for paying the same taxes as other people who were employed?

      13. No, it went a lot further than that. It introduced complicated rules, and complete uncertainty, so that a customer never knew whether their contractor could without warning be “deemed” to be one of their employees; and both they and the contractor would be stung for more taxes. Ultimately, that was how it killed independent people’s careers.

        But the story goes a long way back. When I first started out on this road (1993), there were two ways to go independent. One as sole trader, the other using a limited company. At that time, the sole trader route was not favoured, because if you changed from employee to sole trader within a tax year, you in essence got double-taxed for the rest of that tax year. That was why everyone, including me, went the limited company route. It was a perfectly normal thing to do back then, and it was even tacitly approved of, because it helped to make the economy as a whole more flexible.

        The limited company has several advantages. A big one is that you can defer pay from one year to another, so that if you have a very good year followed by a very bad year, you don’t pay full whack in the good year and then get nothing back in the bad one. In essence, unless the rates of income and corporation taxes are radically different from each other (and they haven’t been for some decades), you pay taxes on what you are paid, not on what the company is paid.

        The job is basically a “gig economy” one – you’re on your own, and you have to do everything for yourself. There are no “employee benefits” – not even holidays! – unless and until you have earned enough to pay for them. Imagine if teachers were only paid for the days and hours they spent actually teaching in the classroom…

        Even working for a software house, you would not normally expect to be “on charge” to a customer for more than about two-thirds of a given year. As an independent, that’s even worse. After my first two contracts (5 and 6 months respectively), it took me 10 months to get the next one. In other “gig economy” jobs, such as acting, there were explicit schemes that enabled people to defer earnings in a good year to later, not so good years. But not for consultants. We had to “do it yourself” all the way.

        One side-effect was that, over the years, you ended up paying somewhat less national insurance than you would have done as an employee earning a similar amount. I think that is more than fair, because as long as the company remains solvent, you don’t need any unemployment insurance, which accounts for a big tranche of national insurance costs. This was the perceived “loophole,” closing which they used as an excuse to bring in IR35.

        But what they did had far worse and more far-reaching effects than paying a little bit more in national insurance. In the longer term, the uncertainty IR35 created, in effect, suffocated the whole industry. Quite typical of Labour, in my view – like all socialists, they have always hated individual and independent people. That is why I, to this day, regard Labour as my implacable enemies. (Of course, the Tories have gone the same way since; with the same result).

      14. I don’t know what happened here. I just wrote a long reply and it all seems to have disappeared.
        I think working for yourself is incredibly difficult. Managing all the tax, VAT, pensions and bureacracy. Then you’ve got all the late payments, outgoings and defaulters. My son helped set up a company with a friend. The cash flow completely sunk them. It was all too much.
        But then working for someone else is no bed of roses. One of my sons is a teacher. Actual teaching only takes about a third of the time. There’s all the meetings, marking, preparation and planning. The bureacracy is horrendous. He was working well into the evening and at weekends. He and many others have had to drop down to four days in order to keep sane.
        Governments regularly mess up education. I don’t think they understand the impact of the laws they bring in.
        I’m a socialist. I do not hate independent people. I just want a fairer society with greedy elites not creaming millions off the top.

      15. Governments regularly mess up education.

        Too true, Opher. But I don’t think you’re nearly cynical enough. Governments regularly mess up everything they can get their hands on. It’s the way they “work.” They mess up the economy, they steal more and more of people’s earnings, they mess up the way people relate to each other, they pollute the mental atmosphere with their lies and propaganda. They mess up everyone’s lives, except their own and those of their cronies. That’s why working, whether for yourself or for someone else, is so hard today.

        In my view, they don’t do these things because they don’t understand the impact of what they do to other people. They do them because that’s the way they are, and they don’t care a damn about human beings. In their eyes, we are expendable “resources” or even “cannon fodder.”

        More good discussions like this one, and I’ll make an anarchist out of you yet! 🙂

      16. No you won’t. Anarchy is a dangerous state of affairs. I know a number of anarchists. Anarchy allows those with the power to impose their will. It creates the Wild West. Even though I agree with a lot you say; they certainly mess up, they are greedy and mendacious, power-mad and narcissistic; even though they look down on us with disdain and give as little as they can get away with, the end result is better than with any alternative. A totalitarian regime, a failed state, warlords, multinationals and total exploitation is the norm around the world. Our democracy is flawed but it’s still probably the best place to live in the world.

      17. You can’t tar every politician with the same brush. Many are and have been altruistic and idealistic. Many are honest. It’s the psychopaths, sociopaths, avaricious and selfish who are the problem. People like Johnson, Rees-Mogg and Trump. Many others are misguided.

      18. Opher, there’s a big difference between anarchism (no rulers) and anarchy (no rules).

        Let’s continue our excellent discussion on your recent thread on Enough.

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