Say not the struggle naught availeth

I started this post a couple of years ago and never published it, but this has been a favourite poem of mine for many years, and the idea of a hyperlinked version must date back to before 2009, as that is when Sun Microsystems was acquired by Oracle.
 
The poem can be seen as being about several times when we seem to be in the losing side of some battle. When I originally started the post it represented, for me, the struggle between the general idea that knowledge should be shared, in particular Free (Libre or Open Source) Software,  as against the concept that knowledge should be a commodity to be owned by the powerful and used as a tool to maintain and increase their power.
 
 
 
 

 

Contexts

The poem has been used as a message of hope in inspiration in several contexts, generally from the side who appear at the time to be the underdog.

Software and Internet Freedom

The context I originally thought of. Quite a lot has happened over the past decade or more. Linux, a computer operating system written by a Finnish student, Linus Torvalds, and offered freely to the world, now runs not only the computer I am writing this on, but those used by Google, Amazon, Facebook  – almost every big Internet facing website which is not owned by Microsoft. Android phones, set top boxes and cheap (£5) computers capable of running as a web server, such as the Raspberry Pi also run Linux.

On the down side, the way we communicate has largely moved from standards based, open email and openly published web pages to a small set of proprietary systems, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

Churchill and the Second World War

Winston Churchill famously quoted the poem in a speech of February 1941, when the outlook for Britain – and democracy in Europe looked bleak.

 

The war was won, even though at the time of the speech the outcome was very much in doubt.

In the same way that the self isolation needed to tackle Coronavirus, is making this a difficult time for many of us, Churchill struggled with what he called his Black Dog – his term for depression – but he overcame it to give inspiring leadership when it was most needed.

Chartism – the original context

The poem was probably written in 1849, in the wake of the dramatic revolutions of 1848, and the defeat of the Chartist Movement. Although some think it relates to the collapse of the 1848 Italian rising, I think the Chartist cause resonated more strongly with Clough, and in either case today’s situation brings hope. Britain, and much of the rest of the world now has universal suffrage, while Italy is an independent country.

 

Coronavirus

Although the death toll continues to climb, health services all over the world are under immense pressure, and an economic depression looks likely, there are signs of hope.

Scientific American has made all its Coronavirus coverage available for free, and for anyone who really wants to know more about the disease a group at Harvard Medical School have made a Corvid-19 Curriculum available. Reading that reveals the importance of the international free sharing of information about the disease, particularly from Chinese doctors who first encountered it.

It is spurring fundamental medical research, and boosting systems of testing, such as the nanopore RNA sequencing, being done by Oxford Nanopore, whose preferred analysis programme runs on Linux, and whose software is available for community review and enhancement.

I hope it is boosting open Epidemiological models, such as STEM, although I have resisted the temptation to dive deeper into this area I hope a diverse range of models are being openly developed, and tested against the real data to work out which best matches reality. (I intend to write a bit more about that when I get round to writing about Diversity and Regulation in Science)

We are recognising those, from NHS staff and carers to refuse collectors, who really are ‘essential workers’ needed to keep our society working, and I hope, post Coronavirus we will remember the part they played, and that it will not be like Kipling’s Tommy

Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul? “
But it’s ” Thin red line of ‘eroes ” when the drums begin to roll

http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_tommy.htm

The crisis has unlocked creativity all over the world, and people are coming together in creative ways, almost too many to mention here.

The sharp reduction in international air travel has been good for the environment, and I hope unnecessary travel for meetings will continue be be replaced by Video Conferencing,

Bringing me back to the origins of this article, I hope the world will end up using some kind of solution which will be based on standards and openness, such as Jitsi, rather than a closed system which aims to lock people in.

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