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.
“Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.” – George Orwell
There is a two-part brilliant series from the BBC World Service, presented by journalist John Sweeney, currently available in the archive, about the so-called “useful idiots”, otherwise intelligent people who become apologists for abhorrent regimes, which they think they understand, but do not. Read More…
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our relationship to the past. History was one of the subjects I studied at University, so the past has always been of great interest to me. I also know that the past is not one and the same for everyone. History can be broken down into so many different areas and people from different countries, regions, economic, religious and political backgrounds etc. will each have unique stories to tell about the same period of history. There is no overarching grand narrative. History is more complex than that.
Which is why I am concerned by the political tendency nowadays to oversimplify the past and take a very negative view of it as racist, sexist and oppressive. Just to name a few examples: there is the recent Rhodes Must Fall movement which tried to topple statues of the British colonialist Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town and Oxford University. (They were successful at UCT, but not at Oxford.) The British writer Afua Hirsch wrote a very controversial article last year in The Guardian calling for the removal of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. The reason: Nelson did not voice opposition to slavery whilst he was alive. There have also been attacks on 90s sitcoms such as Friends because some of the characters made un-PC jokes. A pre-Raphaelite painting by John William Waterhouse was taken down in February from a gallery in Manchester because it “sexualised” women. Read More…
This video shows the acclaimed Indian musician Ravi Shankar teaching George Harrison how to play the sitar in the 1960s when the Beatles famously visited India.
Thank goodness the cultural appropriation police weren’t around then. Otherwise, The Beatles might never have entered into one of their most creative and magnificent musical periods.
In as much as it is animated by a desire for bona fide neutral coverage, recent debates about broadcast media impartiality are welcome. But one theme which, it seems, no one has started to talk about is how impartial broadcasters are vis-à-vis gender matters, though the subject is a vital one. It can often seem as though inadequate thought has been put into what impartiality in this domain means.
Despite differences between them, a large number of mainstream feminists agree that women in the West live under patriarchy, which means that women’s subjugation is “structural”, and that they, women, constitute a discrete oppressed class. Read More…
A while ago I wrote a piece on “dissident academics” who are challenging groupthink and PC on campus.
Since then, Jonathan Haidt, a brilliant writer and social psychologist, has formed an organisation called Heterodox Academy which brings together academics who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo.
Here he is talking about the initiative. If it catches on and becomes more mainstream that will bode extremely well for the future of intellectual diversity.
Like so many of us I have been trying for the past few days to gather my thoughts and reflections about the events in Manchester. As a political writer, the Jihadist onslaught against Western civil society over the past few years, drains the creative energy from me, replaced by anger and sorrow. I run out of new things to say about a phenomenon which is now increasingly commonplace, normalised even by some estimations. I run out of adjectives to describe the attacks and the terrorists responsible: horrifying, brutal, sadistic, evil. The English language has its limits.
That being said, something does seem to have shifted in this case. I feel a little queasy even suggesting that, as if our society didn’t get the memo a decade ago, or after one of the numerous attacks since. In just over a month, it will be twelve years to the day since the 7/7 attacks in London. Since then, the only respites we have enjoyed from the cancer of Jihadism have been granted by our security services, whose work in general has been highly praiseworthy, stopping attacks before they happen.
But still we fail. Our leaders fail us in their empty platitudes. We fail to assert the virtue of our civilisation and our corollary duty to prevail. We fail to have honest conversations about the root of the problem. We fail in our creeping normalisation of terror. Read More…
“I think it’s terribly important to insist on individual values.”
Acclaimed author and free thinker Aldous Huxley on the importance of thinking for yourself and not succumbing to groupthink.
On the Imagine Athena podcast I had the great pleasure of speaking to the Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, one of my go-to writers and thinkers.
We discussed how simplistic moral narratives are used in political discourse to conceal harder, more complex truths about the world.
Did Britain really attain the victory it set out to in WW2? Is Britain’s relationship with the US a lot more adversarial than the two countries like to admit? And can Trump really make America great again?
The two books he mentions in the podcast are The Deluge by Adam Tooze and The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan
The Imagine Athena Podcast is also available on iTunes.
Professor Jordan B. Peterson on why sunlight and air is the best disinfectant for hateful speech:
“You want to drive the people who hate underground?
We know what happens, psychologically, when you do that. It’s a very bad idea. Anything you drive underground thrives. It thrives.
It partly thrives because it isn’t even allowed to express itself. And then it festers and turns into hatred that far exceeds the original. The idea that you make society safe by not letting horrible people say terrible things is not a good proposition.”