Darkening the Enlightenment. Pankaj Mishra’s ‘The Age of Anger’

Pankaj Mishra’s excellent ‘state of the nations’ work actually contains nothing particularly new and is so much the better for it. The book publishers’ thirst for tasty new nuggets, hand-wringing confessions or outlandish new theories has the effect of distorting intellectual study as it is bent against the black hole of publisher’s profits. Freed from the hysteria of having to produce something shocking, Mishra is able to draw together the strands of 250 years of philosophical investigation to illuminate our current plight in a coherent, modulated and highly stimulating manner. Continue reading “Darkening the Enlightenment. Pankaj Mishra’s ‘The Age of Anger’”

Against Empathy: The case for Rational Compassion by Paul Bloom

July 20th 2017

Reading other customer reviews on Paul Bloom’s ‘Against Empathy’ broadly I have to agree with the consensus that his central point is both obvious and can be summed up in just a few lines. Indeed, as with books such as Robert I Simon’s ‘Bad Men Do What Good Men Think’, just reading the title could save you the cost of the book. But this is unfair. One of the measures of a good book for me is how much I find myself discussing it with my long-suffering wife over breakfast. By this standard Bloom’s book is a belter. Whilst the central point may be obvious, what others have described as his ‘ramblings’ for me were page after page of stimulating ideas. Granted not always  on message (after all, the message is pretty concise) and, for a UK audience at least, his frequent unguarded ‘attacks’ on academic colleagues making for slightly uncomfortable reading. Nevertheless, there’s a wealth of ideas here and its precisely Bloom’s slightly dogmatic style that gets the debate going. Accepting that this is Bloom’s very personal view is important, getting over this allows you to enjoy a well thought out and well-argued case. If you take nothing else away, it cannot be denied that empathy is no basis for morality. Continue reading “Against Empathy: The case for Rational Compassion by Paul Bloom”

the oxygen of publicity

On the London Bridge Terrorist Attack

6 Jun 2017

Back in the 90s the then PM of Britain Margaret Thatcher coined the phrase ‘the oxygen of publicity’ to describe what she sought to deny the IRA. Then, as now, it was considered both ill-advised and counter-productive. Not only was the law swiftly circumvented by the use of silhouettes and voice disguising techniques, but the mystique appended to anything banned only served to promote the very thing she wished to suppress.

The debate continues but, being of an age to remember the IRA bombs in London, I am bound to compare then and now. Why do the three recent attacks somehow feel different? To some degree, with the IRA, one at least knew who your enemy was and what there objectives were. There was also a curious stab at somehow being honourable by giving warnings – for all the good a 30 minute warning does when a hidden, ticking bomb is involved. However, this is not where the difference lies. What has changed is the wall to wall, 24/7 news coverage from which three really bad things accrue.

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What does Brave mean to you?

Comment on Amnesty discussion Forum
June 2017

Brave is of course both subjective and relative. Subjective in as much as we perceive it internally. Someone who, for instance, fears spiders perceives themselves brave even to be in a room with one. However, whilst we accept that that they are brave to confront their inner demons, we non-spider fearing folk know, objectively, they have confronted nothing. The chances of being killed by a spider is vanishingly small.
Step onto the streets of Mosul and begin a speech in defence of gay rights is, relative to the imminent danger to your life and liberty, brave indeed.
What is brave in liberal Britain (where I live), is not about going to work every day in defiance of terrorrism; vile though these acts may be, we are as likely to be killed by them as by a spider. Brave is to overcome our irrational fears and not to allow the draconian laws, the oppressive surveillance and excessive security that erode our cherished liberties.

Troll-la-la! Who’s strangling the Internet?

July 2015

It’s been a tough week the defenders of liberty on planet internet. The announcement that The Verge and The Daily Dot have suspended commenting, gives pause to those of us who dreamt that Tim Berners-Lee’s TCP/IP brain-wave would lead to some kind of Elysian universe where we were finally freed from the bondage of censorship, patrician medalling and nanny-knows-best interference.

And then the Impact Team smashed open the infidelity site Ashley Madison. Whilst there may have been some brief hilarity as those fingered (ahem) by the de facto internet plod rushed to defend themselves, there was an uneasy feeling amongst net-liberty watchers that we were seeing here, and in the ending of comments on The Verge and The Daily Dot, the signs of a disturbing trend. The ultimate ice bucket challenge, if you will, on the heads of those who might have thought that they had found the answer to JJ Rousseau’s chains.

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

30 Jan. 2017

As Donald Trump’s presidency rolls on there will be much vitriol, much emotion and much jumping to ill-informed conclusions. JD Vance is in no way an apologist for Trump – far from it – but reading this book will help you understand where the Trump came from and you’d have to be a lump of rock not to feel some sympathy.

The disenfranchised, disillusioned white American working class that Vance describes are the source of heat that swept Trump to victory. As Vance says, they need a voice but, as he also says that the answer is not in the kind of tub-thumping rhetoric coming out of the current administration. In his words (or actually the quoted words of a rust-belt politician) they need a ‘thumb on the scales’ – that’s a thumb Donald, not a 5lb masonry hammer. And whilst on the matter of the ‘thumb’, a large part of the excellence of this book is its honesty; Vance is at pains to point out that the solution for those suffering from the American Dream turned nightmare lies within themselves. Hand-outs, grants, social programmes and ‘thumbs on the scales’ are all very well, but these alone won’t re-galvanise the ferociously proud and deeply loyal folk of the Appalachians. Just like Vance did, they need to find the drive from somewhere to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and start believing in themselves again – and that surely aint going to be nurtured on a diet of introspective, racist claptrap Donal Trump style.

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