Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Wed 20 June: Flying to Belfast

Rubicon moment

I suppose I reached the rubicon moment yesterday when I boarded the Flybe connecting flight from Paris to Belfast at Exeter International Airport. Not entirely sure that the level of security was necessary: boots off, shirt off, everything from my pockets out, laptop separate. But I was allowed to keep my handkerchief! I tried explaining that I am the Peace Day Pilgrim but to no avail. It would appear that terrorists are clever these days and they could pretend that they are peace walkers. Anyway, on I boarded, carrying my walking poles, which I had removed from my main bag, which incidentally turn into a lethal pair of swords when you remove the rubber tip covers! Oh well, I didn’t seem to need them in this capacity.

I sat next to a young man called John Wordsworth. Our hour long conversation, which ranged from quantum mechanics to philosophy to questions about the real meaning of “progress”, marked the first stranger I am to meet on this journey of mine. John has just finished his GCSEs at Trinity and lives in Newton Abbot. Strangely enough I think I have met his mother, Karen, at some stage. She works in the renewable energy field. Eitherway, she has certainly brought up a very remarkable young man.

John is one the few people who, when asked, went directly to the categorical response when asked about the use of torture to prevent a terrorist attack. The thought experiment goes like this. A terrorist has planted a bomb in a city of a million people. He is captured after the planting of the bomb and questioned. He refuses to inform his captors where the bomb is. Is it morally right to torture him to find out the location of the bomb?

A large proportion of people who respond to this, do so in a utilitarian fashion, in other words, of course it is ok to sacrifice his life to save one million. Especially, considering he is guilty of planting the bomb in the first place. The idea of the greatest happiness principle behind the greatest good for the greatest number of people often produces gut reactions like that.  It is the kind of reasoning that states use to commit acts of war.

However, what happens when the interrogator finds out that the bomber has a wife and two children? What happens when they pick his family up and bring them into the questioning/torture room? What about torturing or killing the family in front of the bomber to force him to reveal the location of the bomb? It is only four lives compared to one million. Suddenly, something changes in the situation. The level of guilt of his wife and children is certainly different. Whatever the potential measurements involved, there just seems to be something inherently and morally wrong with the torture and killing of his wife and children. And yet states kill women and children in much vaster numbers, all the name of a larger cause.
I was impressed by how quickly John went for the categorical response, which is that no torture should be conducted, on the man or his family. Most people get there, albeit often via the diversion of utilitarianism. What was also very interesting was what John had to tell me about computers made with light as the methodology for creating the instructions. He explained it very well and I’m not sure my untrained mind managed to grasp all of it but essentially instead of having either a “0”, or a “1” or a “both”, light can produce a spectrum of instructional code. It also means that these new computers, if they can get them work properly on the home computer scale, use very little energy. A remarkable new frontier and I wish John all the best with his aspirations to get involved. I couldn’t have met a more amiable young man to be the first stranger on the journey. And as an aside, that was his 25th flight to Belfast to visit his girlfriend who he has been seeing for over two years. May I remind you he has just finished his GCSEs.  Hats off me thinks.
Banking left, with a view of the “Gold Coast”, we descended into Belfast City Airport, where Patrick Davidson kindly picked me up. A massive thank you must go to Nicky and Patrick, who have been my introduction to Northern Ireland and the warm, friendly voices of welcome. I met them both when they worked at Tavistock College.

When another teacher at the college, Julia Tosdevin, made the link, Nicky got right on the case. She has since come up with two confirmed places to stay along with some other ideas and a list as long as my arm of people and places to visit. Together with Patrick, they have explained the history of Belfast and given me an insiders’ take on the troubles. We have had maps out on the kitchen table so I can now orientate myself much better and I even changed my route to make sure I can spend a weekend with them next week.
All in all, they have made my first night as perfect as can be expected was very pleased to meet their delightful children, Tim (16) and Emily (13) who seem to be settling in to their new school very well. Tim kindly showed me to my room and gave me a quick tour of the house, the “bungalow…with stairs!” as he called it. Dinner was a hearty chicken curry in the last rays of sunshine provided by a gorgeous evening.
Whilst Nicky was dropping Emily and Tim at their respective evening activities, Patrick and I discussed his work with one of the local Baptist Churches called. I have to admit that I am fairly ignorant when it comes to the various denominations of Christianity and of course the disparities between them and Catholocism. I gleaned from Patrick two fundamental differences between the church he works for and that of Rome. Firstly, Catholicism relies on a balance between scripture and tradition whereas Patrick’s church focusses on the scripture. Secondly, there is no figure head to the Baptist faith and although there is an association of Irish Baptist churches, it is a much more decentralized system of worship.
Interestingly, they are teched up at Patrick’s church. They even live stream the Sunday evening service. Multiple cameras and individual microphones for all the performers. I have been invited to attend a service when I walk back into Belfast next week which I very much look forward to. Personally, I am not a religious person but I respect and am thoroughly interested in us humans and I look forward to discovering something new.
After dinner we went for a walk along the lough (not pronounced “loch” as I have been told sternly by Nicky!). It was good to get my legs moving and learn about the city.
Anyway, more anon. Peacex

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