‘The Stoics spoke of a world-city, Cosmopolis…It is not obvious why the burden of proof should be put on anyone who proposes that people can have duties to other people outside their own nation state than on someone who does not. The charge of fantasy, sentimentality or humbug, which the use of words like realism always suggests, is not in itself an argument for this restriction. It is just an all-purpose psychological weapon available against unwelcome demands of every kind. The unit that we call the nation state is, one would suppose, just a convenient division, in itself neither bad nor good.  It is as they say, a social construction, not only in the sense in which all our ideas are so, but in the much stronger sense in which our political and social arrangements are so and the sun and stars are not.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

A sense of duty is good; disciplined giving

of oneself, rousing assistance when maybe

you just can’t be arsed; cattle-prod applied

to lazy bum – reminder; and counterpower

to selfishness. But like all principles can be

misused, abused, exploited, perverted; can -

should, be lost as right, if the proper reciprocal

arrangments of human society are not upheld –

a parent who does not care for their child does

not earn, deserve the duty of that child - whatever

the age of either; respect must be earned by action,

heart, example - beyond the basic themes of being

alive; a genetic map, switching, adapting, creating.

Our matrix can calculate correct emotions without

experiences actually happening to us, or ours - so

skilled the feeling genes, so beautiful; they can take

this outer imagined pain of someone else unknown -

introduce its seed into our Genome’s webbed heart,

where compassion and empathy always flower -

such good earth which time has bred, cultivated;

still knowing our fellow creatures, other humans,

as brothers, cousins - all fully interactive, familial,

interconnected, no matter what geography, or time -

whatever space, distance, colour, language, location.

What genes have put together - no man may put asunder;

love is the root, cultured by survival and aesthetic sense -

duty an active power; good civilising glue of every nation.


Genetic antagonism towards other humans

is more than outweighed by the similarities

underlying identity; like those non-identical

twins are still brothers, sisters of one womb.

Will switching and unswitching, not passive,

puppeted; no slavery to genes, but creativity,

interconnection - not simplistic but complex

relations; innate notions of brotherhood born

four billennia ago - abused and nurtured both.

Choice is a natural feeling, but power, motive

are plastic, so rooted to the loving, organic, co-

operative Genome - responsible to all creatures. 

‘Nazi Germany, like Stalinist Russia, fell within our own moral universe. Hard though it might be to do so, we thought we ought to try and help the victims of both…whether we liked it or not, we were living in what the Stoics called Cosmopolis and the people to whom these things were happening were our fellow citizens in it. There was no way of isolating our country morally from them, no barrier that could make these things cease to be our business. Nor has anything that has happened since then prove that view to have been mistaken. Indeed, since then, the interdependence of distant nations has been steadily increasing. It surely seems quite evident now that abuses in Nigeria or Tibet are our business as it did then that those in Russia or Germany were so.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

Yeah, let’s poke our noses in…

Yeah, let’s poke our noses in…

Let’s be do-gooders! Right on -

cool; global responsibilty, man.

Go on, call us derogatory names -

hurl any insult you like; make out

we’re naïve, deluded, so idealistic,

‘cos we just don’t give a shit!

We can even call the Genome

as defence; genetic imperative

to help our fellow kind, hereditary

family - wherever they might be -

whoever; rich, sick, impecunious.

And anyway, what kind of citizen slags

his fellows for trying to help strangers?

Why try to make his conscience risible,

embarrassing; something to be covered

over with cynicism, as smarter, harder -

more durable as good motive for living.

What kind of citizen abdicates responsibility

for human beings, born of the Genome’s holy

power - sacred in presentation of the physical

being, existence’s child anywhere, everywhere;

vulnerable, tender under light - so liquid, gentle,

by comparison to all that might befall - or harm.

if you can’t be altruistic, can’t see why you should,

then just imagine… if a few wee things go wrong -

job, health, money, love, house, such small society,

then that needy person could be me, alone, in need;

what mercy and grace - assistance should be mine -

if I gave none when it was required by others, now.

Chinese Rice, 1990

For a month in wild China, I ate rice, boiled, and not much else –

because chicken and snake look almost the same - I’d seen birds

and cats twisting in cages, market snakes were screaming colours

of first leaves, dried fish shoals hanging stiff as floor cloths - just

as smelly. Rice, plain, simple - because bowls steamed, gelatinous

somethings - transparent tubes, peeled fairy skins? Alien tentacles?

Clear, blind, deep-sea creatures? shifted in the waters - rodents ran

over the floor of one river restaurant; everyone kept smiling, eating

as if they hadn’t seen fat Mr Ratty bolting for the door - bill unpaid.

I didn’t want to be so British about food - wasn’t usually round the world -

oh, the shame of arriving in Beijing, having travelled that fantastic country,

all water frozen, first time I’d seen a solid ice-fountain, as if a wicked spell

was cast upon the water - no grit, salt on mapless pavements. Anyway, hell,

I admit SCOFFING plain Western Chicken ‘n Chips - in a freezing Western

chain hotel, with no rice whatsoever; yum and hallelujah! I would even have

happily exchanged my fab gold medallion awarded for eating Peking duck in

Peking - after the Chinese opera, so weird to my Western ear it clanged about

my head all night, for days afterwards, with costumes printed behind my eyes.

But I learned how you can fill your belly with rice, if nothing else is there -

as many in the world must do; how hunger overcomes the white monotony,

but still you are thinner and thinner - O Joy in the West, 95% of our women

bonkers about food; malnutrition and suffering elsewhere. My rice diet and

minus 12 made everything sing, skins of the world furl back a bit - barriers

thinned. In Guilin we found the rounded hills of Chinese art were real - chill

floating down the Li-ang River entered my bones until they ached like frozen

metal - at 300 yards, I could see the creased face of a fisherman straight from

a painting; antique boat, pointy hat, side-fastening blue tunic, sending his oily cormorants underwater - gullets sealed with string. Even colder at the Summer

Palace, ha, ha - minus 14, paralysed to the knee; a misty smattering of splatting

tourists falling over and over on iced marble, strange collapsing ballet; my teeth

freezing at minus 15 - solid scalpel-wind on the Great Wall, wearing five socks -

platform shoes which it turned out offered best insulation (and best view), cheese

slice wind through the pathetic wool curtains of my coat; not baulking at our hairy

black hats, gloves bought at the gate - made, we suspected, from some unspecified

animal, when we only, absolutely, wear fake. And how much did it appeal to walk

into a place called the Forbidden City - some kind of metaphor there, but among all the wonders, extremities of temperature - wearing layers of pyjamas - anything, everything from the suitcase until arms stuck out like large unwieldy penguins; most of all I remember the hilarity caused to a laughing Chinese family on the boat, by me not being able to pick up peanuts with my chopsticks - tears running down their cheeks! I had to keep trying because they thought it the funniest thing they’d ever seen; I was happy to play the fool, feeling like every natural comedian that has ever been - Eric Morecambe. Their faces helped to mask the ones I’d seen in crackling Tiananmen Square that misty Lowry morning; nervous, staring guards prickling freezing air - so soon after the students had stood here - that student with the flag waving down a tank. As if I might - white, young, with three earrings, start a revolution. I wanted to stand in his spot - honour him - feel some white, sparkling mark there, but we were corralled; ropes, barriers, prickly designated area, enforced position. And I saw on the people the Chinese face of fear, genus of the print exhibited around the world – remembering - when I had protested in the land I love, my middle class shock at a policeman angrily tearing up my mild poster just wanting something sensible like food for the poor instead of bombs, or some kind of global justice. Weren’t our policemen just for protection; if lost, for emergencies, controlling mobs, catching criminals, watching fictionalised on TV?

But I knew as I plaintively gathered up the scraps, or hurled satisfying Thatcher abuse in a dour, beautiful Edinburgh street - to The Anti-Scot passing, that wolf in woman’s clothing - ‘Get back to England, y’auld bitch!’,  the worst I could expect was an arrest – release; shiny-eyed with right, wine, later with the others, feeling good, noble, principled, an upstanding Scottish citizen, not terrified. Now everytime I eat boiled rice with dumbed down foreign food, I remind myself how we do not know here how to make these faces - of Tiananmen Square, but must never be complacent, for the print is under the skin of any nation - can be drawn, painted in an instant. Or sketched by slow dereliction of duties - to freedom, expression, debate; and we cannot forget it, wherever the faces are in the world.

The Genome is a good chain

The Genome is a good chain –

binding us organically, properly

to the world, all her vast people;

Earth’s disappearing creatures -

atom by atom extinction takes us

too; we have the mark of leopard,

polar bear and lion - the orchid

and whale are written in us too;

burning tree arms beseech us -

hand of a poor child stretched out

for food, help, comfort, medicine,

is to the one mother of the world.

The children of the world are our responsibility

The children of the world are our responsibility -

all are related, almost to the point of being twins;

if close genetic similarity to a mouse be reason enough

to think again about brutal human attitudes to animals -

our genetic similarity to rose, fish, lion, blade of grass,

is enough to make us wonder, look anew at the world -

then how much more does it take to make us see

that every starving child around the globe is ours;

each silent cry of that hungry child is in our ears -

that blindness we could cure for 50p is our shame.

And do we not already understand this somewhere

in ancient places - where genetics quietly inform -

biological knowledge, intuitive, supernaturally

scripted, incredibly communicated to the heart;

why we give so generously for what we see on TV,

and our own first family - children, give up money

for toys, for those balloon-bellied babies crying

so far away; knowing them brothers and sisters.

Note from the author
exploring the project

    The Human Genome Project
    – Public versus private
    Gene Patenting
    Blood Poems
        Genomic Co-operation
    Holy-Moley-More God!

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