Friday, June 04, 2010

When I was at St Andrews university, there was a group of obnoxious right wing students who founded the Adam Smith Institute - a noxious organisation that has been doing a great deal of damage ever since.
Consequently I have always reviled the name of Adam Smith; but lately I have discovered that he had views on the importance of "sympathy", or fellow feeling, in the structure of human society that are very akin to mine.
And then last sunday i met a fascinating woman called Deirdre McCloskey, an economist who reveres Smith and who has written books in his defence.
And in defence of what she calls bourgeois values.
Which I wanted to read.
So I went to Edinburgh University library on leaving the office. My institute has given me a staff card which gives me access; I remember obtaining a lifetime "General Council" card soon after I left St Andrews; and how the long long quiet stacks always gave me huge pleasure.
And the lovely desks by the windows that overlook the Meadows.
It was a pleasure to be back and look for and find Deirdre's book.
The woman at the Issues desk was remarkably pleasant and helpful and on an impulse I asked her if I could replace my life time ticket (the one I presently have is temporary)
Soon after they diagnosed Susie's brain tumour, my daughters forbade me to cycle.
They thought in my distraction and grief I would be a danger to myself and told me I had to go everywhere by bus.
They were probably right, because soon afterwards I lost two purses in quick succession.
And my library pass in the process.
After much searching we tracked down my library record, under my old name "Robert John" and the librarian was cheerful and pleasant and helpful and completely referred to me using the right gender and it turns out I can get a replacement whenever i want.
Very humane, very rational, very liberal.
Hume would certainly have approved.
Then I cycled home in the beautiful evening, and children were swimming in the ponds by the parliament, and a huge group of Japanese tourists smiled at me most delightfully as I entered the courtyard and got home.
And soon afterwards found myself watching a documentary - Unreported World, Channel four - on child labour in the Bolivian silver mines.
In Potosi.
The so-called "cerro rico" which drew the conquistadors there and which must have caused more poverty and suffering and financed more warfare than almost any other place on earth.
Where children as young as 13 work in the danger and the darkness because they cannot afford to go to school.
An old woman weeping because her grandson has to go down the mine and she cannot prevent or protect him.
The same grandson watching his uncle fighting for breath as he slowly dies of silicosis after working in the mine.
This is how the young boy will die.
Assuming he is not killed by a rockfall first.
And the price of silver is going up, and the yield from the land is going down, so many many people are abandoning the land to come to work in the mines.
Market forces.
Not civilised. Not liberal. Not humane.

None of which prevents me from looking forward to the book...
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