Tag Archives: Voltaire

It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.


It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.


Is it wise to believe too much that you see posted to Facebook? Can you rely on what people say they believe in?

Voltaire has had quite a good week this last week thanks to the madness that we’ve seen in Paris. Several people have posted his saying

“I may disagree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”

Now that’s good, that’s commendable. I entirely approve. But still I wonder. How sincere is this sudden conversion to the principle of “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend?”

I thought I’d try an experiment, but at that point I remembered another quote from Voltaire. “I am very fond of truth, but not at all of martyrdom.”

So I’m not trying the experiment, I’m going to ask you, dear reader, to conduct a thought experiment.

Try saying the following things, obviously some of them will be more difficult for some people than for others, but hopefully you’ll be able to sincerely work your way down the list and come out at the end able to cope with them all.

“I quite understand that you might find Tory philosophy offensive and why you would not wish to entertain people who believe in it in your own home.”

“I quite understand that you might find homosexuality offensive and why you would not wish to entertain such people in your own home.”

“When looking back at the miners’ strike one has to accept that the members of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers took a decision which I disagree with but I defend their right to make that decision.”

“Whilst personally I feel that Margaret Thatcher may have been wrong in some of the things she did, this is no reason to demonise her and those who still respect her actions.”

“Whilst I personally have not suffered economically from immigration, I realise that there are those who have and their opinions are just as valid as mine.”

“Ched Evans has served the sentence imposed upon him by a court of law, and thus should be free to take up his profession again.”

And so our American cousins don’t feel left out

“Whilst disagreeing with much in the Democratic/Republican agenda (delete as appropriate) I have no doubt that those in favour of it are decent people, sincere in their beliefs, and whilst they may be wrong, they have the best interests of our country at heart.”

Well can you say them? Are you willing to defend to the death the right of others to say them?

Funnily enough Voltaire said a lot of things




As a reviewer said, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”

A touch of class

What is a ‘touch of class?’ Indeed why do we want to know? It was Voltaire who said; “By appreciation, we make excellence in others our own property.”
It seems that whatever this touch of class is, we all want it.

It’s very much a case of it being something you recognise when you see it. For example walking back from the hospital, on the busy pavement that runs round the back of little Tesco, I met a young lady walking in the other direction. She was bonny enough, but she’d managed to raise her game. I’m male; don’t ask me exactly what she was wearing, a skirt of some sort, a three-quarter length coat, and a scarf/cravat to finish the ensemble. But whatever the individual items that went to make up the whole, it worked, a month or so after the event a chap who passed her in the street still remembers that there was a young lady with a touch of class.

Trying to pin down this whole touch of class thing, it’s more than something to do with fashion. It seems to be something that we recognise in other aspects of life.
I was watching a three ordinary young men sitting around in a hospital ward. I put them in to try and create a base line. You cannot be excellent without a baseline to be ‘more excellent than’. Anyway stuck on a ward, they hadn’t got a lot to do. They were a mixed bag, a collection of manual labourers, long term unemployed, skilled craftsmen, self employed entrepreneurs, ex-prisoners. The fact that they managed all these careers yet there was only three of them shows that they are actually a pretty ordinary cross-section.
What were they talking about? Women? Football? Actually it started with one who was wary of the painkillers he was getting. Yes he was grateful for the care but he didn’t trust drugs and tried to limit his exposure. This led on to science, Voyager 1 got an honourable mention (I’m not sure any of them were old enough to remember the launch) and then that led them on to religion. As one guy (with a fabulous set of tattoos) said, “I don’t know who God is or what he’s called, but he exists, someone had to make all this.” His argument seemed pretty reasonable to the rest of them and then the conversation moved on to trying to organise a life home for the two guys who were being discharged to save them the cost of a taxi. There aren’t any ‘ordinary people’; we create ‘ordinary people’ as a cliché to help us cope with the stunning diversity that exists around us.
Across in a side ward is a chap who has lost it. Physically he’s getting stronger but in his conscious moments he knows, absolutely, that he’s trapped in a bed in a strange place and all he wants is rescuing and helping to get home. He’s in a room of his own so he doesn’t drive the ward mad, but they can hardly shut the door on him so the rest of the ward still get to hear him. Everyone who passes the door gets asked to help him. For hours at a time he’ll call for his wife. One of our perfectly ordinary men spent a lot of time just sitting with him, talking to him. Just being company, a bridge to reality.
Is that a touch of class, something above the ordinary?
The Apostle Paul talks of the striving for excellence, Peter mentions it as well. Some translations use excellence, some goodness. The old King James uses ‘Virtue’ but back then they knew what Virtue meant. The word both Peter and Paul used was Arête or ἀρετή , which I found translated as “Sometimes translated as “virtue”, the word actually means something closer to “being the best you can be”, or “reaching your highest human potential”.
Is that ‘a touch of class?’
Perhaps to finish with another Greek, Pericles, and his funeral oration;

“Take these men for your example. Like them, remember that prosperity can
only be for the free; that freedom is the sure possession of those who have
the courage to defend it.”

Have we the arête, the virtue, the excellence, the ‘touch of class’ necessary to defend what we have and build on it to leave something better?


A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.

As a reviewer commented, “

This is a delightful collection of gentle rants and witty reminiscences about life in a quiet corner of South Cumbria. Lots of sheep, cattle and collie dogs, but also wisdom, poetic insight, and humour. It was James Herriot who told us that ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet’ but Jim Webster beautifully demonstrates that it usually happened to the farmer too, but far less money changed hands.

I, for one, am hoping that this short collection of blogs finds a wide and generous audience – not least because I’m sure there’s more where this came from. And at 99p you can’t go wrong!”