Reflections on the week past

On Monday evening, at the Town Council’s planning committee, we discussed the announcement from Dorset Council that they intend to standardise all car parking charges across the county. For Bridport this will mean that charges will be extended from 6pm to 8pm each evening, and will apply all day Sunday. This announcement was met with the very predictable outcry from residents and shop-keepers. It also posed a problem for me in as much that my personal response was sure to be at odds with the popular mood. In all honesty I really do not believe that people will stop shopping because of these changes. It will take much more than that to stop people shopping on a Sunday or driving into Town for an early evening meal.

At a briefing for Dorset councillors later in the week, in defending himself against the mood of the majority of councillors, the portfolio holder responsible implied that these changes are part of a wider strategy to reduce car use and increase the use of public transport, walking and cycling. If only this were true. The Climate Emergency motion that I submitted to Dorset Council last July called for just this. Unfortunately this motion was referred to a newly formed Executive Advisory Panel for consideration, and whilst the Strategy and Action Plan that has been produced as a result of the work of this Panel does contain actions linked to transport, none of these actions come close to forming a comprehensive strategy to reduce car use. Had such a strategy been produced I would have hoped that car parking charges would have been part of it, and if that was the case any changes would have been much easier to sell to residents and traders.

Wednesday evening saw the monthly meeting of the Bridport Philosophy in Pubs group. Unfortunately, like so many other groups, we only met virtually. Whilst a Zoom discussion misses the atmosphere created by an actual pub meeting by quite some measure, it’s better than nothing and keeps the group ticking over until some degree of social normality returns. The more I think about it the more I become convinced of the value and need for community philosophy; the coming together of disparate members of the community to discuss difficult issues in sense of friendly inquiry. Hopefully such meetings help members develop their skills of critical thinking, their ability to ask good questions rather than simply stating what they consider to be the right answer. These are much needed skills that would benefit most of our public debates. If only the authors of reactionary comments on Bridport Banter could realise that in most cased there is no simple explanation of any issue, and no straightforward solution.

Anyway, rather tongue in cheek, and to mark the fact that we were only six days away the US presidential elections, Wednesday’s meeting discussed the question: If you, and you alone, could secretly press a button causing Donald Trump to drop dead from a heart attack, would you press the button, and should you? This question, posed by one of the group members, was well considered. The heart attack would avoid the potential consequences of an assignation (particularly from gun owning passionate Trump supporters) whilst the secrecy focuses on the tension between being a good person and being seen to be a good person. How would you respond if given this opportunity?

Anyway, how are you feeling at the moment? Yesterday I was introduced to an emotion that was first described by the ancient Greeks, was referred to throughout monastic and other literature of the middle ages, and despite being hardly mentioned today seems to perfectly capture what most of us are feeling at the moment – acedia. Jonathon L Zecher (The Conversation, 27.08.20) describes this emotion as “a strange combination of listlessness, undirected anxiety, and inability to concentrate.” Sound familiar? Apparently this emotion was closely linked to the spatial and social restrictions associated with a solitary monastic life. Not with being a member of a monastic community, note, but with a solitary lifestyle. Depending on what level of restriction your part of the country is under and how closely you follow ‘the rules’, life under Covid is imposing both spatial and social restrictions on us – restrictions which I fear will have a negative impact on our mental health.

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