Exploratory CW essay pieces look at the broader trends in contemporary society, politics and culture.
A selection of the Battle of Ideas’ Battles in Print is also available here.
This past summer I had to make the decision whether or not to bring a copy of Mein Kampf (one my Jewish great uncle brought home from war as ‘loot’ in 1945) onto my flight to Germany for research purposes. I couldn’t do it. Here’s why…
We are now facing the prospect of a world without need, a world in which suffering can become a thing of the past and some stronger semblance of equality can be easily realised. We can help forge a world in which the current paradigm of capitalism, based on individualism and conspicuous consumption, can fall by the wayside.
The invocation of divine status leads Bloom to claim that Shakespeare’s intellect is greater than that any other writer, including ‘the principal philosophers, the religious sages, and the psychologists from Montaigne through Nietzsche to Freud’ (p.2). I offer the suggestion that Bloom may be over-stating his case here. Worse, in the process of assigning Shakespeare divinity, Bloom decouples him from his rightful place in the history of literature and art.
If the exclusion of authors disliked by the Chinese government was a necessary condition for the British Council’s programme to go ahead, so be it. Whether it in fact was necessary is a separate discussion to have; what matters is that some established writers visited from China to exchange ideas about new literary genres, globalisation and e-publishing, and to search for commercial opportunities.
We can argue with the current shape of technology and propose how it might be better. But there is seldom much engagement in this direction. More common is dour warnings about our impotence in the face of new technology; that it is the agent and we the passive recipient.
Towers are monuments to our uncertainties. When Johnson talks with hopeful vagueness of the ‘mythic’ nature of towers, the word he is really after is ‘magic.’ The Orbit was designed to make the Olympic Park a ‘must see’ destination; the Orbit, that is to say, is a coercion; all towers are. Towers attempt to convince us that they, and by extension we, stand at the centre of things.
The radical Left in Greece has always considered the European Union as the watchdog of European capital and a barrier to developing a different model of development and progress for the Greek people. Nevertheless, when the moment came, for the first time in 30 years, to challenge this burden, they seemed to consider the situation unbearable, and were afraid to step forward and lead.
The characters and settings of the Man Cave films are grotesque caricatures, and the dudebro is, in reality, a tendency rather than an actual person. But the driving force behind the stories — the retreat from public life, the elevation of the domestic, and the use of a stunted emotional development for the forging of brotherhood — are all genuine features of contemporary society.
In fact, central to bohemianism was a kind of ambivalence – were these real artists, or were they simply avoiding the traditional expectations of their stations by legitimising their own pleasure-seeking? This question of the status and quality of art was a genuine one and remains with us today, albeit tangled in quite contemporary concerns.
The big story we have accepted has a very strange aspect. In one way it completes a triptych of betrayals of the people: the greedy bankers destroying the economy; the MPs’ expenses scandal; and now the press, in cahoots with politicians, big business and the police misleading the courts and carelessly pursuing a morally reprehensible course of invasion of privacy and bribery. We are all supposed to be joining in the circle of condemnation and moral outrage, waving our pitchforks at a newly discovered monster in our midst.
Advocates of the smoking ban don’t trust ordinary people to resolve any conflict between smokers and non-smokers, or not to chain smoke in front of their babies. In the same way, Simon Davies seems to think that readers need exaggeration and sensationalism in order to be convinced that the smoking ban is wrong.
Instead of technology, neurology and nature, the following, brief episodes – flashes from the history of news – are intended to show that journalism has been socially determined; and so too is our capacity to change its centre of gravity. Revealing the real elements of compulsion can only make the case for concerted change more compelling.
Ethical concerns can just as easily be motivated by an evasion of responsibility, as they can by a desire to capture the displacement of people from history-making. The absence of people in documentary photography can be an accurate picture of the position of the people in contemporary society, but this absence can also amount to an attempt to evade the question Where are the people?
Today, Voltaire’s Enlightenment optimism has deteriorated into a deep pessimism about humanity and its place in the world. In Britain, art is no longer seen by the elite as a way of dragging the lower orders up by their bootlaces, but as a sort of Valium to stop us getting any worse.
Multiculturalism is far from dead. No apartheid exists in Britain. David Cameron touched on a few minority Islamist groups that hold segregationist attitudes, but many more Muslims live integrated lives. Nor does multiculturalism necessarily mean opposing to ‘British’ political values.