Five Questions Meme

With thanks to liv for posting the meme and for setting me the questions below.

For those not familiar, the way it works is that anyone who would like questions can ask for them; they then get set five questions – potentially about anything at all – that the original poster thinks they would find interesting to answer and others would find interesting to read.

So without further ado, the questions I was set:

1. Would you rather be notable for moral qualities or talents and achievements?

Very interesting question!

I certainly wouldn’t want to be notable for being evil, but if I take the question to mean that I would be average / ‘normal’ in one of those areas – as most of us are – and notable in the other, I’m fairly sure I’d choose talents and achievements. I don’t really have a strong reason for this beyond pure emotional preference; in fact, morally it’s probably the wrong answer, but the question was about what I’d ‘rather’.

I suppose if we’re going to extend it to immoral / untalented, by order of preference would be given by the grid below, where 1 is my first preference and 9 my least. So in short, I’d rather be known for talents/achievements than being moral, but I’d rather be known for being inept than being evil.

  Notable talents and achievements Average Notably inept
Notably moral 1 3 5
Average 2 4 6
Notably evil 7 8 9

2. What artistic development from the last ten years are you most excited about (in the broadest sense of ‘artistic’)?

I struggled with this for a bit, because although I enjoy some music and art, I don’t think of myself as artistic or the sort of person that keeps up with developments in the arts. On thinking about it though, the first thing that came to mind is the way that classical music from computer games has started to be recognised as genuinely high quality.

It’s been recognised for a while that some of the most talented classical composers have been working in the film industry. Composers such as John Williams and Hans Zimmer regularly come high up lists of ‘favourite classical music’ and it’s not just that they’re popular: the work they’ve been creating is incredibly accomplished, too. Arguably the ‘film score’ is the modern answer to the symphony as the highest feat of classical composing: both are lengthy pieces, with demands to have both very different types of music during the duration but also to be linked together by common themes.

This shouldn’t be surprising: artists and musicians have always been dependent on patrons and, just as many religious works were produced in the Renaissance, we should expect that films, with their budgets in the hundreds of millions of pounds and global audiences, should attract some of our best composers. And with computer games a growing industry, it makes sense that we’re seeing the same trend there.

As someone who occasionally enjoys playing games (when I have time) and also enjoys classical music the obvious benefits are being able to enjoy high quality soundtracks. Crusader Kings II, Skyrim, Civilization VI and Age of Wonders III all have what I’d described as ‘film quality’ sound tracks. But what’s even more exciting is the way it’s creating space for games and composers to do some really interesting things, funded by a mass market budget that dwarfs anything likely to be available from public funded granted. This seems to be particularly happening in games with historical themes, though that may just reflect the sort of games I play.

Crusader Kings II, for example, has been commissioning Mediaeval-style music in all sorts of genres (Byzantine, Russian, religious). Some is included and some is sold as downloadable content, directly created revenue. In the game, what’s played depends on your character: for example, “Each of these songs is twice as likely to play than other songs if you are zealous, 1.25 times as likely to play if your piety is more than 25 and can’t play if you’re cynical or a heretic.”

Civilization VI has done something even more ambitious. The Civilization series is no stranger to musical innovation: Baba Yetu, the haunting opening track to Civilization IV, was the first piece of computer game music to win a Grammy, back in 2011. In Civilization VI, however, as well as another inspired opening track – Sogno di Volare, again by Christopher Tin – they’ve done something truly innovative.

For each of the approximately 20 civilizations in the game they’ve created a unique score that evolves through the ages. Each takes as it’s central theme a traditional piece of music from that country – Scarborough Fair for England, Mo Li Hua(1) for China, Kalinka for Russia, Banat Iskandaria for Arabia, Song of Seikilos for Greece – and then created variations on it to create 10 – 15 minutes of music. This stands alongside anything I’ve seen in the traditional music scene as a cultural, historical and musical tour de force and demonstrate that computer game music isn’t just producing things that sound good, it’s driving genuine innovation, You can even buy sheet music for it!


3. Which current political figure do you most admire?

I’m going to go for Michael Gove. As I write this, I’m not entirely happy with his current position on the major political issue of the day, but he’s shown enough integrity in the past that I’m willing to allow that his position reflects a genuinely held and thought through position.

I admire him because he appears to be a genuinely deep thinker who shares many of my core values who genuinely achieves things and get things done. At Defra he’s taken forward some hugely positive policies at Defra, from the plastic bag charge to the ivory ban and he was similarly good at Justice, though only for a short time. It’s on education and Brexit though that he’s truly won my admiration.

At Education, he was the first minister for decades to effectively take a stand at the declining standards (in the form of both dumbing down of contents and constant grade inflation) that had taken hold since at least the early ‘80s. Dumbing down, often in the name of not hurting anyone’s feelings by causing them to potentially fail, hurts everyone, of course, but particularly those who aren’t fortunate enough to come from already educated or wealthy backgrounds.

It’s one of the things that makes me angriest in politics – and one of the single-biggest reasons I’d find it hard to ever vote for a left wing party – the way this smug, self-satisfied ideology cuts the ladder of opportunity away from the disadvantaged all the while preserving the educated’s entrenched advantages. A particularly egregious example was the way the educational establishment decided not to bother teaching grammar (and at one point spelling!) thus ensuring that elite jobs, which do require good grammar, were preserved for those who came from households which already had it (or who could afford private school), but it’s an attitude that’s pervasive throughout the English educational establishment.

I don’t say the Govian reforms have beaten it, but they’ve taken major steps to beat it back and restore proper rigour, and therefore genuine opportunity, in our state system. He understood that it was a systemic issue and therefore could only be tackled by an all-out, multi-front push against the system, which he notably christened ‘the blob’. And yes, he sometimes spoke tactlessly, and did a few things I would have done slightly differently, but he was up against a system which outright opposed him and wouldn’t have always allowed nuance.

These alone would have been enough for him to earn the accolade of one of the politicians whose done the most good for our nations, but then he went further with Brexit.

Of all the major players, his views most closely align to my own, with a clear sighted view of the importance of national and parliamentary sovereignty, coupled with an open, inclusive vision of the world. It’s fair to call him the intellectual linchpin of the Leave campaign and, given that his persuasion appears to have been the principal factor that persuaded Boris to join, also secured the campaign its most effective popular advocate. There were many who contributed, but he’s certainly one of those for whom it’s plausible to say ‘without him, Leave wouldn’t have one’.

In education he fought hard to deliver as a cabinet minister, but he was still fundamentally inside the system. However, he gave up a lot when he joined the Leave campaign, including a cabinet position and a close friendship that had gone back years, putting principles first for a cause that no-one thought would win. Taking all things together, he doesn’t have many equals.


4. Is there any thinker / writer you enjoy disagreeing with, or who expresses opinions you reject but in a way that is worth taking seriously?

An obvious answer to this is the person who set me these questions! Her blog often advocates fairly radical views from the cultural left, but does so in a way that is thought-filled and avoiding of hate. Even though I still almost invariably disagree, they often help me to see a different perspective and understand how reasonable people could support such positions.

In terms of better known writers, Chesterton is an obvious example, but on second thoughts is perhaps a bit disingenuous: I certainly disagree with him on religion, which pervades much of his work, but I do agree with a lot of his arguments and insights on cultural, social or moral matters.

I think this probably translates to a lot of thinkers/writers: although I do actively seek out views I disagree with, they’re often not from someone who I disagree with on everything. For example, I read Tim Harford when he puts the case for Remain because I agree with him on other things; Douglas Hofstadter is strongly on the cultural left on everything from gender issues to nuclear disarmament, but has written compellingly on consciousness, mathematics and translation. I think there is some justification for this – if I know I agree with someone in some area it’s more likely I’ll be able to appreciate their arguments elsewhere and to consider them worth properly thinking about – but it is also perhaps narrowing, so on reflection I could do more to seek out people who I disagree with more roadly.

One other writer I did think of was Kim Stanley Robinson, whose science fiction I enjoy tremendously, despite largely disagreeing with the (fairly prominent) underlying political messages. Ironically, I found his ‘we shouldn’t colonise other star systems’ message in Aurora got under my skin far more than any of the much more practically relevant left-wing economics

5. What do you do purely because it’s enjoyable?


I mean, I also read because it broadens my mind, exposes me to new ideas and teaches me things that I find interesting. But there are plenty of books I read that don’t do a huge amount of those things (especially if I’ve read them multiple times before) and I would absolutely still read a lot even if it didn’t have any beneficial side effects. It’s still my go to hobby for pure immediate enjoyment.


I’m happy to provide questions if anyone would like some.