Fakenham Grammar School, Norfolk, mid-1950s: looking down a microscope to witness an amoeba dividing. Odd how these memories come back to haunt, and intrigue.
It’s one of those Victorian words, when intelligent folk were getting into the new science of “biology” — itself a definition which was only then coming into use.
“Fissiparous” (reproducing by splitting) is a very useful and adaptable term. John Morley was rendering it as a metaphor by 1886:
… a false opinion, like an erroneous motive, can hardly have even a provisional usefulness. For how can you attack an erroneous way of thinking except in detail, that is to say through the sides of this or that single wrong opinion? Each of these wrong opinions is an illustration and type, as it is a standing support and abettor, of some kind of wrong reasoning, though they are not all on the same scale nor all of them equally instructive. It is precisely by this method of gradual displacement of error step by step, that the few stages of progress which the race has yet traversed, have been actually achieved. Even if the place of the erroneous idea is not immediately taken by the corresponding true one, or by the idea which is at least one or two degrees nearer to the true one, still the removal of error in this purely negative way amounts to a positive gain. Why? For the excellent reason that it is the removal of a bad element which otherwise tends to propagate itself, or even if it fails to do that, tends at the best to make the surrounding mass of error more inveterate. All error is what physiologists term fissiparous, and in exterminating one false opinion you may be hindering the growth of an uncounted brood of false opinions.
Morley was a classical liberal, and Liberal, and that final sentence (even if you wisely skipped the build-up) is an eternal political truth worth cherishing.
A phrase from The Times, 21 November 1891, appears as one of the OED‘s citations for “fissiparous”:
Scotch Home Rule and, perhaps, half-a-dozen other fissiparous developments of ‘national life’.
As then, now still with us.
Out of the peaty fog
Sticking to the problem of “devolution” (which I’ll be redefining in a moment), I was much taken by the latest entry on the sage Andrew Tickell’s blog. One might not expect excitement from a constitutional lawyer, but that prejudice fails when your piece is entitled Jockophobia and kicks off with:
The Scottish people may have a right to self determination, but as a matter of international law, we have no right to secede from the United Kingdom.
Cat: meet pigeons.
Much of the Lallands Peat Worrier‘s short essay is then directed at the way in which Scottish devolution has been “weaponised” by our local English Tories:
Although the Nats are the explicit target of these Tory diatribes, their real objective is to pre-emptively de-legitimise the idea of a minority Labour government taking office with Nationalist votes, even if such a government would command stronger support in the Commons than a Tory minority. The real victims in all of these antics are not the SNP—but the pigeon-hearted Labour Party, who predictably enough, seem content to go along with their own annihilation at the hands of Fleet Street and Conservative Central Office.
Tickell, as a straight-speaking ScotNat is fully entitled to that dig at Labour. My own take is that, could we overcome a long legacy of mutual antipathy, we’d be having to force Rizla papers between the “rival” social policies of Nicola Sturgeon and proper-thinking democratic socialists both sides of the Border. When we have overcome the present short-term difficulties (i.e about Sunday 10th May, 2015), such a meeting of minds is inevitable. In exterminating one false opinion (on a fallacious division of the left-of-centre over a non-issue and the canker of “nationalism”) we might avoid an unnecessary uncounted brood of false opinions.
Only a historian, in some remote future, will determine whether more good or ill fell out of #Indyref. And, we can be sure, that opinionated historian will be promptly shot down by other historians and their contrary notions.
As things currently stand, what hasn’t emerged so far is any serious consideration of “devolution”. What we have are loud, insistent and narrow nationalisms. These “nationalisms” are voiced by self-serving politicians, and summed into crude monetary terms. Just today, Plaid Cymru launch a manifesto:
Plaid Cymru wants the devolved Welsh government funded to the same level per head of population as the Scottish government – which it says amounts to £1.2bn extra a year.
Earlier this week, to the great delight of the Daily Mail, under the headline “Salmond holds Ed to ransom“:
One of the SNP’s many demands is to delay plans to tackle Britain’s deficit by spending an extra £180 billion over five years on the country’s credit card. Treasury chiefs have warned that it would drive up debt.
Filthy lucre to be dispensed at the behest and whim of national politicians to their grateful, obedient and bought clients.