Inscribed on the pediment of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi was the famous injunction 'Know thyself'. Socrates was deeply affected by it. In fact, it is no exaggeration to claim that the emergence of Western philosophy as we know it, is underpinned by the philosopher's most famous adage: 'An unexamined life is not worth living'. It's worth noting that Socrates was not simply proposing an exploration of your personality – important as self-knowledge was to him – but a methodological, philosophical examination of human nature.
Still, from the lofty heights of ancient Greek philosophy to the pandemic restrictions 2,500 years later, the ancient Greek's famous adage is – if not voluntarily – imposed on many of us. With fewer distractions, confined to the barracks as it were, we can become uncomfortably self-aware.
My lockdown epiphany is an acknowledgement of a lack of self-discipline: starting projects, but rarely finishing them. Needing routine, a pressing deadline, and constant vigilance over boredom and lazy distraction, finally I've done something about my lifelong procrastination.
Strathclyde University has some excellent online, short courses. With some trepidation, I signed up for its novel-writing course, not because there is a 'book in me' or that I write well (I don't), but because I have a story to tell, for better or worse. Having already researched the story thoroughly, including travel to Portugal where the story is set, thumbs have twiddled for over a year, unable to begin. Not any more. Strathclyde's course is a fantastic interactive experiment with the all-important weekly writing tasks overseen by an excellent tutor.
So, instead of spending hours of a morning scrolling online media platforms and playing childish computer games, I'm up first thing reading and writing to the weekly briefs. When finished, I might even pluck up the courage to progress to the brilliant Open University.
'Know thyself' said the Oracle. A Pythian princess, allegedly high on natural substances, she knew a thing or two about life. But her state of mind is another story, for another day…
Glasgow's devastated music scene
It is hard to overstate the impact of the pandemic on artists and musicians.
Last week, we celebrated my husband's birthday. Usually, birthdays involve a full house of family and friends but this year, given the central belt restrictions, it was just the two of us and our youngest daughter who is a musician. We had a lovely evening, yet I couldn't help but recall with much sadness, that on a normal Friday night our daughter would either have been playing herself, or attending a friend's gig.
Live music has collapsed with devastating results for Glasgow's up and coming generation of talented musicians, popular and classical. In the beginning, in March, lockdown was a novelty of sorts, but now, hope is all but lost. When hope is quashed in these formative years, the impact on fledgling careers and mental health can be disastrous.
A crisis is looming for our musicians. In Glasgow, most musicians are now earning precisely nothing. On BBC Scotland, one musician, Julen Santamaria, band leader of Awkward Family Portraits, spoke out about his plight. Financial pressure means he has had to return home to live with his dad (who happens to be a friend of ours). Julen is a hard-working musician who gigs five times a week normally. He didn't earn much, but he could keep his own roof over his head. As a talented musician and songwriter, he persisted despite low earnings, as highly creative people often do. Now, he has no earnings to speak of, apart from the meagre takings from busking in Glasgow's city centre.
Virus restrictions have closed venues, rehearsal studios and now playing together with his fellow musicians at home is banned. Financial assistance is unavailable, unless you can return home, busk for all the hours God sends, or borrow money from family. A talented musician from a poor background has no chance. Dreams and lives are being shredded by this virus.
The persistent inequality of social class
Adding insult to injury, if young and working class, the odds are stacked against you by our education system, even in progressive Scotland. It came to light, with the analysis of the excellent Barry Black (researcher at Glasgow University), that the Scottish Government's approved algorithm, which replaced exams this year due to the pandemic, resulted in huge built-in bias against state schools located in Scotland's poorest areas, particularly in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The table below is blatant evidence, which we knew already but is now confirmed by Black, that the system awards higher grades in relation to their class background and school. Unearned privilege is sickening, the impact on disadvantaged pupils' life chances even more so.
Percentage of Highers downgraded by school (Glasgow sample):
|Glasgow Academy: 11%
||Springburn Academy: 42%
|St Aloysius' College: 16%
||All Saints: 46%
|Kelvinside Academy: 15%
|Hutchesons' Grammar: 10%
||St Roch's: 31%
||St Mungo's Academy: 30%
||John Paul Academy: 36%
It was ever thus. Harriet Harman, when she was Equalities Minister in 2010, said in January that year that 'equality must, of course, mean the absence of discrimination on grounds of race, gender, faith, sexual orientation, disability and age. But we also know that overarching and interwoven with these strands is the persistent inequality of social class'. Harman's Labour Government of the time intended that social class be included as a protected characteristic, but unfortunately the Tories took power.
If Labour hadn't lost the 2010 General Election, a responsibility to tackle social inequality would have been imposed on our country. If the Scottish Government had followed her lead, the downgrading of pupils from poor areas in Scotland this year would have been unlawful. Instead, this gross inequality inherent in our education system – penalising young people from poor areas for the sake of systemic stability – is just morally shameful.