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.
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 TheWolf of Wall Street.
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.
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.
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.
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…