Covid-19: The Good, The Bad And The Horrifying

It’s a strange paradox that the one thing that everybody is talking about is often the hardest to write about. What can one lone voice realistically add to a clamouring global cacophony? So it is with the totemic name of Covid-19. We can pontificate about how this pandemic has shattered our comforting illusions of security and continuity, shown the triviality of our petty daily ruminations and our childish heartfelt grievances, or highlighted the tenuousness of our attachment to the small luxuries that seemed to make life worth living, but such musings themselves (including this very sentence) can only sound trite, prosaic or redundant at this profoundly bizarre juncture. Whatever can be said then, may necessarily be uttered with that stark caveat in mind.

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South Africa: It’s Never Just About Rugby

I have never described myself as a “sporty” person. I was a small skinny kid growing up and preferred reading, playing chess, and the general world of geekdom enjoyed by the non-jock. Not having grown up with it, I never saw the appeal of football (particularly the fanaticism of club allegiance which I found a little baffling), and struggled to adapt to the ubiquity of it in English culture when I moved countries. But rugby is an exception. With its division between front and backline, there was a place for those with a smaller frame. At school I was a passable winger with a decent sprint (until a disagreement with a shaky concrete pillar broke my legs and put an end to any grander ambitions in the sport). I was lucky enough to be in South Africa for our epoch-making 1995 World Cup debut (a year before I left the country) and, though I was only 11 at the time, remember vividly the transcendent power of that moment – that it was about more than a sport, it was about a fractured country riven by hatred taking its first steps on a path of healing and unity. 

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It’s Not Up For Debate. Mugabe Was A Monster

The long-overdue expiry of Robert Mugabe was a bittersweet event for me, arriving as it did at least 30 years too late, following a depressing week in the South African news cycle and immediately preceding the death of our beloved Springbok legend, Chester Williams. After all the damage already wrought by him and with Zimbabwe now under the control of the man who carried out massacres in his name, his death was cold comfort.

The fallout following the event, however, did make an impression. The death of this brutal dictator, has in the last week culminated in the absolute apotheosis of years of creepy equivocation and dishonest moral ambiguity by the media and political class. It is a testament to Mugabe’s successful harnessing of racial grievance politics, post-colonial guilt and the refusal to condemn liberation leaders (at all costs) that he is receiving sycophantic tributes and pontificating puff pieces around his “complex” legacy.

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Identitarian Ideologies Are A Magnet For Bullies And Cowards

Along with almost the entirety of the English speaking world that possess an internet connection and anything above a tenuous grip on sanity, I sat with silent slack-jawed astonishment at the recent viral footage of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) convention. Then I immediately watched it again and laughed harder than I have since the Lamborghini scene in The Wolf of Wall Street.

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The Most Poetic Hero In All Of Science Fiction

With the passing of the great Rutger Hauer, so finally departs the residual soul of Roy Batty, possibly the most poetic hero in all of science fiction. 

I have sunk countless hours into repeat viewings of Blade Runner, and almost as many simply replaying the iconic ‘Tears in Rain’ speech on YouTube. This scene alone has a poignancy unmatched, possibly in all of cinema and along with the close-to-perfect Alien, represents the high point in Ridley Scott’s now sadly waning directorial career.

What adds further mystery to this scene is that the terminology being used is never fully explained, it merely conjures abstract and distant science fiction imagery. Add to this Hauer’s own embellishment (the phrase “tears in rain” was his own) and we are left with an impeccably beautiful and at once inscrutable poetic collaboration between director and actor. 

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Don’t Look For Meaning In Politics

It’s a natural tendency to look for ways in which one’s own time is unique in history. It can take a number of forms whether it is the idea that progress and human flourishing is accelerating at a faster rate than ever and that collective wellbeing is at the base of steep gradient, or that it’s all going to the dogs – humans have reached peak misery and we’d all be better off hastening our inevitable self-destruction. Of course, these are two extremes on the continuum, both of which we should be cautious of endorsing reflexively, but the former is probably truer than the latter, in my estimation, even though the latter is arguably more popularly endorsed in societies in which the former is truer.

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Charity In Africa Can Be Condescending But David Lammy Was Wrong To Drag Identity Politics Into It

As someone who grew up on this continent, I have always been a critic of the way aid and charity is conducted in Africa. My criticisms swing from moderate to vehement depending on the merits of the individual case (generally veering towards vehemence if Bono happens to be involved but I digress). But there are two issues at stake for me, separate but often related. One is that international aid, on the more macroscopic level, can be ineffective and even, arguably, harmful. On this question Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid provides an invaluable empirical analysis (her jarring support for China’s role in Africa notwithstanding). Another, at a more individual level, is that Western charitable efforts in the vein of comic relief and Live Aid can come across rather syrupy and condescending. However, this second point, is often a result of the Western (and particularly British) propensity for self-effacement and says nothing of their effectiveness, or whether the people they ostensibly benefit appreciate them or not. 

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Can The “Intellectual Dark Web” Survive Becoming A Thing?

I have been wondering out loud a great deal recently about the effect of the mass proliferation of new terminology that seem to arise from the back and forth of the culture wars. Some of it seems more organic, the naming of an emergent phenomenon or interest group, some less so, like the attempt to create a desired phenomenon by naming it into existence. Very often, these terms are pejorative; one of the more effective strategies in recent years in the necessary pushback against retrograde identity politics (primarily but not exclusively from the left) has been to identify and name their tactics and patterns of delusional behaviour. Of course, the identitarian left fired the opening vernacular salvo with their attempt to being terms like “micro-aggression”, “whiteness”, “cultural appropriation” and “trigger warning” among others into common parlance, thus attempting to make the non-existent or absurd more tangible. They have certainly entered the public square but I am hoping in a context that will remain of a moment – historical terms associated with a stalled and misguided social movement. Read More…

The Old Censors Used To Be Religious Bigots Now They Flourish On Campus

Way back in 2012 I wrote a piece to mark the annual Banned Book Week. As the occasion fell on us again 6 years later, I perused it again and it was a sobering reminder of how the discourse around censorship and free speech has changed.

I wrote it at a time just prior to the intellectual suicide of campus culture and the mass-cloistering of the young that currently threatens our culture. Back then I was far more concerned about the demands made by religion, particularly but not exclusively Islam, for our right to freely express ourselves and indulge in the expression of others to be creepily curated in the name of a complete misunderstanding of “sensitivity” and “respect”. I could not have predicted at the time, that what I thought was a death rattle of the old order, a last gasp of establishment orthodoxy, would become a rallying call for youth movements purporting to be “anti-establishment”. Read More…

The Goodwill Ambassador of the Intellectual Dark Web

A quick Google search for “Intellectual Dark Web”, the term for a loose affiliation of dissident academics and public figures coined by mathematician Eric Weinstein and brought into the mainstream by Bari Weiss in a New York Times article reliably yields a torrent of angry leftist hit-pieces behind which seems to lurk some combination of rage, disdain and panic. Evidently, the guardians of hermetic orthodoxies don’t like it when the resistance against them begins to sound far too reasonable to simply label it as tacit Nazism. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from trying.

Given that the group to which the IDW refers is anything but homogenous (its heterogeneity being largely the basis of both its appeal and legitimacy), it is inevitable that some targets will be easier than others. I have noticed that many of the shrillest attempts to discredit it tend to focus on the comedian, interviewer and host of the Rubin Report, Dave Rubin. Read More…