Friday, 23 March 2018

Over The Top

Economists for Brexit suggest unilaterally eliminating import tariffs will reduce prices in the UK - for items such as blue passports - yet Brexiteers are up in arms about this and demand they're made in the UK. You can't have unrestricted tariff elimination and protectionism to ensure UK employment at the same time. The irony!

Classical economics teaches us that free exchange works to produce the best results for all, whether the exchange takes place within one nation or across national boundaries. But this concept works only when the exchange is an equal one that occurs within a common framework of laws, customs, rules, and regulations. A bit like the EU...

Something struck me yesterday - what is Stephen Hawking known for? Name any other great scientist and the man in the street can reel off their greatest accomplishment; Einstein = relativity and E=mc2; Darwin = evolution; Copernicus = heliocentrism; Newton = calculus and Newtonian mechanics; Niels Bohr = the Bohr model of the atom; Heisenberg = the uncertainty principle, etc.

However, when it comes to Stephen Hawking the only thing most people can come up with is A Brief History of Time, which was no more than a layman's guide to the evolution of the universe. Yes, a few may mention Hawking radiation and quantum thermodynamics, where he made impressive gains, but in general he's lauded as one of our greatest scientific minds on the back of being a scientist in a wheelchair who wrote a bestseller, and little more. A cult developed around him because of his disability and his determination to overcome it, which was no mean feat, but even among physicists he's not ranked that highly, being lucky to make it into the top 100, let alone top 10 of all time. Yet we eulogise him and his ashes have been placed in the hallowed precincts of Westminster Abbey. Hawking himself, in a 1993 interview, denounced as media hype around the suggestion that he was one of the greatest scientists of all time.

Is this a sign of our times?

It's the same with commemorations - plaques being set up to things that wouldn't have warranted a plaque say 50 years ago. Sadiq Khan wants a memorial for those who died in the 2017 terrorist incidents and said; "Londoners will never forget the tragedy." One thing I can guarantee is that they will - it's human nature and history is the evidence that supports this.

Are we as a society going over the top in eulogising the mediocre and the unexceptional (and no, I'm not calling Hawking mediocre) simply because we've had an unprecedented period of peace and no great national tragedies in which we've all shared for such a long time? Is it part of modern celebrity culture?

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