This is a post I've been meaning to write for quite a while now. I've been aware for some time that there seem to be two distinct groups of people in the world of politics and economics, who see the world in fundamentally different ways and don't really understand each other. It's as if one group are landlings, only secure when they have hard land under their feet and terrified of drowning in deep water, and the other group are sea creatures, happy floating in an unstructured, boundary-less medium but parched and shrivelled on dry land.
Today, I commented on an article in the Guardian. I agreed with some of what the writer was saying, but was concerned about his factual errors and inaccurate statistics. This is not uncommon whenever I am reading articles by people of left-wing persuasion. Forgive me: I do not mean to make a political point, and I do not intend this as criticism. But it seems to me that hard facts and figures don't sit well with many people whose political views are left of centre, and some who are more right-wing, too. So many times facts and figures are few and far between, and those that are used are poorly researched, maths is wrong, logical analysis is not followed through and anything complex is glossed over. These are my sea creatures. Whether their politics are left or right, their priorities are understanding human emotion, caring for people and for the planet, and "fairness". And to the extent that facts and figures interfere with these concerns, they may feel justified in ignoring them or adapting them to fit. Structure and accuracy is less important to them than emotion and belief: they do not need to anchor themselves to the rock of information, but can float freely in a sea of philosophical and social constructs. And they are very uncomfortable with the dry, structured world of the landlings. To them, the landling obsession with facts & figures indicates that they don't care about people.
Anyway, I corrected the facts and supplied accurate statistics. I looked up and read the article by Eoin Clarke that the writer had referenced for one of his comments; I obtained figures from the OBR's Economic Forecast for the forecasted 50p tax take; I researched the recessions of 1980-81 and 1973-5. And I wrote my findings in a comment which I admit was fairly critical of the writer. This is what landlings do, you see, when faced with something that looks decidedly watery. They anchor themselves to the information rocks so they don't get washed away by the tide of emotion and belief, and they develop thick shells to protect themselves from the sun and from the fierceness of the waves. Have you ever tried to prise a limpet off a rock? I have. It really isn't easy. So, many landlings hold rigid views, which may be seen as right-wing or extreme: they like mathematical models and they may prefer to see economics as a natural rather than behavioural science. They see people as essentially rational - well, as they are themselves. And they are very uncomfortable with the inconsistency, illogicality and emotional behaviour of the sea creatures. "Where are the facts? Where is the logic?" they cry.
Now this is the surprising bit, at least to sea creatures. The landling obsession with facts & figures doesn't mean they don't care about people. Generally, they do - just as much as the sea creatures. But their way of dealing with the world is through information and structure. And because of that, the conclusions they come to about the best way of dealing with problems in the world is likely to be entirely different from the conclusions that sea creatures reach. Both groups are after the same thing - the best outcome for people. But one group wants a watery, free-floating world, because that is where they are most comfortable, and the other group wants a world of hard dry land, because that is where they feel at home.
Needless to say, I was challenged. And what I was challenged on was my landling act. I suppose I should have expected it - this was the Guardian, after all, by far the most "watery" of the quality newspapers. The comment was typically sea-creature: he accused me of only being interested in statistics and caring nothing for human emotion, the care of the people of this planet or fairness. And he invented what he thought I believed, and even what he thought I had said. I suspect he decided, because of my criticism of an article that he liked, that I must be a Tory and therefore attributed to me the beliefs that he thinks Tories hold. This is not the first time that someone of sea-creature persuasion has attributed to me, on the basis of no evidence, beliefs that I do not hold. In fact the last time this happened I wrote an entire blog debunking what had been said about me. And I have no doubt that I will be so challenged again. Because I like water, you see. Yes, when I write about banking and finance - and economics - I research my facts and figures and I do a very good landling act: these are dry subjects, after all. But I am drawn to the sea of emotions and beliefs, even though I may seem a stranger there.
Those of us who, like me, try to bridge the divide between these two groups can end up belonging nowhere. We cannot tolerate the drought and the two-dimensional nature of dry land, but when we are in water we need to feel solid ground under our feet. Many moons ago, I studied coastal ecology for my A-level Biology, and the strangeness of the intertidal zone and the creatures that inhabit it struck a chord with me. These creatures need to be bathed by the tide twice a day, or they shrivel and die, but they cling firmly to the rocks so that they are not washed out to sea. Perhaps that's why Holy Island (Lindisfarne), which I visit at Easter every year, appeals to me so much: this strange place is an island at high tide, but at low tide you can walk across on dry land. For someone who needs both sea and land, this seems an ideal place.
So I defended myself......as a creature of the intertidal zone. At least I think I did. I justified my use of statistics, but I talked about people's lives. Perhaps my original comment was a tide-out comment, and my second comment was a "tide-on-the-turn" comment? And now I am writing this blog, which is definitely written from a "tide-in" place!
Tomorrow I go back to my day job, teaching singing to young people. And in that job, I need to bring together the scientific basis of singing technique, acoustics and musical theory, with human understanding and communication of the emotions contained in the songs that my students will sing. Music is a highly-structured discipline, but without emotion it is cold. So too with economics. A system of economics that has no place within it for human emotion and belief, and that cares nothing for the lives of people, is dead. But complete lack of structure and discipline, eschewing all mathematical models and rigorous analysis, is equally dangerous: the sea is an unpredictable and chaotic place, and without the information anchor we are at the mercy of freak tides and waves. For no-one lives entirely on dry land or in the water. Humans are partly, but not wholly rational: facts and figures tell part of, but not all, the story. Sea creatures and landlings need each other, for each has only half the world.