One Sunday morning at Newcastle Quaker Meeting, when an older Friend said to me how much she had enjoyed my contribution to the worship that morning. She added that she always enjoyed my ministry. I swelled with pride momentarily, thinking myself wise, until she explained that she was hard of hearing. Apparently, when I spoke it was always sufficiently clear and loud for her to hear it properly, unlike some other people’s vocal offerings. I was chastened.
Perhaps it is equally foolish to offer writings and broadcasts on a personal website, even verging on arrogant. Yet, in 2017, lots of broadcaster and writers and increasingly academics have such personal platforms. I feel justified in joining them. After all, in the internet age, if you see someone or hear someone or read someone, the next step is to google them and learn more. And even if one does not offer information oneself, there is plenty already out there on the web, much of which is wrong.
If there is to be a website, it had better be as interesting as possible. I have nothing to sell, and have no need of a shop window. All I have is some ideas, a few of which are original and interesting. I would like people who search for me, to find things to read, stories to savour, histories to discover, which are informative, challenging and entertaining. I have found the websites of colleagues, particularly Jonathan Glover, to be an inspiration.
By sharing these writings, and despite the possible pretentiousness of the adoption of Thomas Paine’s motto, I am not making a claim to be correct, or wise, or amusing. I do hope that there is something here that is right, sensible and occasionally witty. Sometimes, I am trying to speak truth to power. But readers will make up their own minds and have their own views.
I have for thirty years been thinking about disability, and ethics, and culture, and politics, on a full-time basis. I have lived and loved as a disabled person. I have read widely, both in terms of empirical evidence, but also philosophical argumentation. I have argued with men and women who are infinitely cleverer than I am, and I have been forced to reconsider and restate my position on many occasions. So, I hope this practice has ensured that more of what is re-published here is useful than is misguided.
Many academics, particularly scientists, are very cautious about speaking about ideas that lie outside their own research. A colleague was outraged that I should be broadcasting regularly on Radio 4 about matters in which I was not expert. No matter that I pointed out that on some questions, I did have research experience. On others, there were certainly many people much better qualified to speak. I could only justify myself by saying that, in the end, that someone had to do it. I was a public intellectual, like the other novelists, journalists, philosophers, scientists who filled the slot, albeit less distinguished than most.
When I speak about matters beyond my academic qualifications, I hope audiences will take me as a species of journalist, a well-informed layman who had interesting opinions, which are at least worth considering for ten minutes on a Sunday morning. I do not claim to be an expert on politics, or art, or religion. I rely on the wisdom of my editors and producers to eliminate anything that was unoriginal or pointless or misleading. On this website, the reader can use their mouse to navigate to what is of value to them, what speaks to their condition, to use George Fox’s wonderful phrase, and to depart at any point. Feedback and correction is always welcome.