Category Archives: Politics

Waiting On The Word

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Waiting On The Word
By Lorraine Cavanagh
Foreword by Martyn Percy
Darton, Longman & Todd – £12.99

[…] for many people, to fall is to fail. Cities fall; so do people. It is to be reduced: to come to nothing. And yet, we also fall in love. To fall is also to let go. It is also to go with the flow; to cascade, like a river or waterfall.

          Martyn Percy

If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

          Rainer Maria Rilke (Foreword)

Both of the above quotes might be construed as an insinuation as to where we, as a society, have gone horribly wrong in so many (avoidable) ways. As mere words written on a page, there’s no denying that they need to be read and embraced for all their worth.

BUT, all too often, those doing the reading will undoubtedly already be well aware of the culpability of entangling ”ourselves in knots of our own making.” It is the vast array of brain-dead sycophants (such as most of those in Theresa May’s Cabinet or those who ever so transiently kneel at the alter of Donald Trump) who really/undoubtedly need to read and be made aware of the above.

Even if just for a smidgen of a fleeting moment.

Alas, it really is the powers that be, whom truly need to embrace an assortment of (the most prophetic and clear-sighted) writings throughout Waiting On The Word.

Indeed those who can afford, as well as both make and allow for change to happen – as Lorraine Cavanagh makes fundamentally clear in chapter five’s ‘Becoming an effective communicator:The preacher as Connector,’ wherein she writes: ”They represent the chronic loneliness which is a direct result of our indifference to the circumstances of other people, the protective self-interest so characteristic of our times, and of our busy and affluent western society. If we read […] of the refugee crisis which is being played out on the beaches of northern France and on the barbed borders of an increasing number of other European countries, it becomes a grim prophetic warning about the future of Europe itself. Turning a blind eye to suffering, by refusing to work together as nations, will ultimately cause our own fragmentation. Without compassion, and a shared duty of care ‘the centre cannot hold’ (the centre cannot hold: Y.B. Yeats, The Second Coming).”

The 143 pages of Waiting On The Word are a more than telling indictment of our most terrible of times.

Aligned with a calling to be open and sincere and to avoid the fickleness of fame, fortune and the most inane of popularity (or should that read celebrity?), it is a book that really does need to be read by anyone and everyone currently in or considering a career in politics (let alone the pulpit).

After all: ”Knowing we are loved is not a matter of knowing that we are popular. Popularity is fickle. It can vanish overnight. But healthy self-confidence is a gift […].

David Marx

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Debating Europe In National Parliaments

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Debating Europe In National Parliaments –
Public Justification and Political Polarization
By Frank Wendler
Palgrave Macmillan – £92.00

What with the ghastly likes of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and of course Jacob Rees Mogg – not to mention the entire Tory government – Britain’s future with(in) the rest of Europe hangs precariously in the balance of (knowingly) machine gunning itself in the foot.
Totally and utterly.
Thus resulting in a broken body that no longer works.
Thus resulting in having become one of the world’s prime laughing stocks – due to orchestrated self-infliction might one add – beyond repair.

Wasn’t Broken Britain enough?
Did/Does ever more irreparable damage need to be done?

Clearly it does, which is why Debating Europe In National Parliaments – Public Justification and Political Polarization and such other books of a similar political design, also hang somewhat precariously in the balance.

Simply because, among other things, no two days are ever the same in Great (great?) Britain.

Moreover, what is without any shadow of a right-wing induced doubt, is the degree to which Britain is no longer taken remotely seriously amid the world’s the corridors of power. Especially when said corridors are in Paris, Berlin and Moscow; which to be fair, this book’s eight chapters simply bypass.
As if an open cesspit of a wound!

There again, as Frank Wendler states in the Introduction: ”The main task of this book is to uncover how public political contention evolves in parliamentary debates, and what forms of political polarization between parliamentary parties can be observed in a comparison of four European legislatures. Against this background, the purpose of this book is to link two debates that currently play a central role for research about European integration: first, the investigation of the effects of EU decision-making on the politics of its Member States, as commonly addressed through the term ”Europeanization” […] and second, research dealing with the perception that the process of European integration is going through a transformative change through the increased public visibility, political salience, and contestation of its policies and decisions, as expressed through the term ”politicization” […]. Through this connection, the book positions itself both in the study of European integration and in the comparative study of parliaments and party systems.”

The aforementioned wheeler-dealer, cum lying toad numero uno, Nigel Farage, would no doubt have (an open) field day deflecting such adult dogma as: ”European integration[…] in the comparative study of parliaments and party systems.”

So well done Frank Wendler for having compiled this rather weighty dissertation on such a wide and varied (complicated) subject matter; upon which Professor Vivien A.Schmidt of Boston University has since written:”Wendler’s groundbreaking study documents the increasing salience of the European Union in national parliamentary debates over the past decade. Using an innovative mix of quantitative and qualitative discourse analysis of four highly differentiated legislatures(the UK, France, Germany and Austria), the book connects different EU-related discursive frames to very different patterns of party polarization, to show how and why this matters for the bottom-up democratization of the EU.”

Excluding two lists of Figures and Tables, an Annex (Plenary Debates of National Parliaments Coded for the Present Study) and Index, these 238 pages make for dry, albeit – given the subject matter – very informative reading.

David Marx

Race Policy and Racial Americans

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Race Policy and Racial Americans
Edited by Kathleen Odell Korgen
Policy Press – £18.39

[…] some argue that multiracial identity has the potential to undo race in the United States as long as it attends to social justice and does not present itself as a racially superior category, while other scholars contend that multiracial identity is supportive of White supremacy and is a throwback to earlier, simplistic, and racist conceptualizations of the American mulatto.

                                                                                    Rainier Spencer

I’m almost inclined to embark on this review with just one word: discuss.

The above is the nigh perfect examination question in relation to that of the book’s title, Race Policy and Racial Americans, wherein it could be said that each of these twelve, exceedingly well-researched and seemingly provocative essays, act as differing answers.

Admittedly, some may home in more than others, simply due to having been written from a different perspective by an assortment of very fine scholars. But all twelve are undoubtedly designed to make one think, perhaps ponder and no doubt deliberate.

For instance, the very opening of the very first essay (‘Multiracial Americans throughout the history of the US) by Tyrone Nagai contends: ”While there are many places that could be used as starting points for a history of multiracial people in the US, perhaps none is better than acknowledging the fact that the presence of multiracial people in what we now call North America pre-dates the formation of the US by at least three centuries.”

If the current US administration – if such it can be referred to – were to actually deign and accept as much as the blatant truth, then the shocking violence that took place in Charlottsville,Virginia last year, might never have happened.

Likewise, such ultimately simplistic, yet subjective thought also traverses the second paragraph of the eleventh chapter (‘Multiraciality and the racial order: the good, the bad, and the ugly’) written by Hephzibah V. Strmic-Pawl and David L. Brunsma: ”Race is a human construction, one whose meanings are debated and defined by society. Thus, the meanings of multiraciality, as a racial category, also vary. Multiraciality is a complex and problematic notion because it both challenges and reifies the socially constructed, but experientially real, notion of race. On the one hand, it directly confronts the power of ascribed monoracial classifications, but, conversely, it still works within the language and ideologies of the racial classification system. We believe mutliraciality is an important social and cultural barometer to watch.”

Indeed, it absolutely is.
Although it cannot be stressed more vigorously enough, the degree to which so many (white) Americans are utterly unaware of said cultural barometer.

Might this be because multiraciality itself, ”is a complex and problematic notion” that challenges the very social construct it endeavours to solve, if not redeem?

In Trump’s America, this altogether exploratory book ought to be made compulsory reading for everyone working within the sphere of White House. That most are actually incapable of reading, is of course, a different tragedy altogether.

There again, as G. Reginald Daniel of the University of California has since written, Race Policy and Racial Americans is ”a timely and masterful addition to the literature on multiraciality. It counters any argument that growing numbers of mutliracials in the United States are a sign that we are in a post-racial society. The authors argue persuasively that multiracials indicate, rather, the need to adjust current race policies.”

Here. Hear.

David Marx

A Different Kind Of Animal

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A Different Kind Of Animal –
How Culture Transformed Our Species
By Robert Boyd
Princeton University Press – £22. 95

”Robert Boyd marshals an astonishing range of scholarship, colourful vignettes, and anecdotes to argue that humans make use of insights and adaptations that we do not understand. We learn very often not by figuring out how things work but imitating others who have locally useful ”know-how.” Boyd describes the conditions under which selection favours ”a psychology that causes most people to adopt beliefs just because others hold those beliefs” (Introduction).

How exceedingly, woefully true.

”People do indeed adopt beliefs just because others hold those beliefs.”
There are countless examples scattered throughout the history of unfortunate folly; surely the most volatile of late being the fact that so much of (ignorant and myopic) North America has opted to have a cold, callous, cowardly, businessman as its leader – just because others were somehow indoctrinated to believe his vile, yet overtly simplistic, gung-ho rhetoric.

Talking of which, this book’s Introduction further goes on to clarify: ”Not all of the consequences are positive: maladaptive ideas and false beliefs can also spread via blind imitation.” To be sure, hasn’t ”blind imitation” nigh always been at the helm of the western world’s (cultural) downfall?

A Different Kind Of Animal – How Culture Transformed Our Species does much to explain why this is unsurprisingly so.

If nothing else, it’s seven chapters are more than demonstrative in deciphering that while society – to varying degrees – can be smart, ”we are not nearly smart enough to have solved the vast array of problems that confronted our species as it spread across the globe.”

All the more reason that we as a society, ought to tread a whole lot more carefully when it comes to choosing those we feel have our best interests at heart. Two very current, prime reasons being: America’s Donald Trump (for whatever reason), doesn’t believe in climate change, while the UK’s Theresa May (for whatever reason) doesn’t believe in a fair society.

And more than anything else, said two examples go a long, long way, in substantiating that we are indeed: ”not nearly smart enough.”

These 196 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Notes, References and Index) are a fine reflection of human adaptation as seen through some sort of prism of acute vulnerability. As the author of The Secret of Our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter, Joseph Henrich, has since both asked and stated: ”What makes us unique? Are we really just smart chimpanzees? Why is our species both so cooperative and yet so violent? Addressing these questions, Robert Boyd adroitly combines detailed analysis of diverse societies, crystal-clear experimental studies, and rich descriptions of hunter-gatherer life with the precision that only mathematics can provide […]. Boyd boldly leads us on a scientific journey to discover who we are and where we came from.”

In and of itself, we would be more than wise to take supreme note of the latter – before it’s too late.

David Marx

Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East

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Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East
By Azriel Bermant
Cambridge University Press – £22.95

Throughout my political life I have usually sought to avoid compromise, because it more often than not turns out to involve an abdication of principle. In international affairs, it is often also symptomatic of muddle and weakness. But over the years I have been forced to conclude that the Arab-Israeli conflict is an exception. Here a historic compromise is, indeed, necessary.

                                                                                    Margaret Thatcher

It does make one wonder where former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, the all round architect of so-called Broken Britain, had the vivacious vim of audacity to think, let alone actually utter the word, ‘compromise.’

She is nevertheless, completely correct to use the word in relation to the appalling, on-going stalemate of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although so far as eradicating great swathes of the United Kingdom, by way of the unlawful/soul-destroying Miners Strike of 1984-5 is concerned, she remains the most unscrupulous of political vermin, to have ever traipsed the steps of Downing Street.

Suffice to say, said Miner’s Strike has very little to do with Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East, but just as Tony Blair has become increasingly tarnished over his handling of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War; for me personally, I cannot help but forever equate Thatcher with said strike and the total, total annihilation of (Britain’s) moral society.

With this in mind, let it be said that there was a most pronounced prism of cynicism which needed to be reigned in as I made my way through these twelve chapters of predominantly linear, literary diplomacy. Twelve chapters of coherent and very considered analysis of that which the title purports: an examination of the ‘Iron Lady’s Middle East policy throughout her tenure in office.

Something which, all things considered – her relationship with America and Ronald Reagan especially – wasn’t always quite as verbatim as expected. Her London constituency of Finchley may well have been predominantly Jewish, but Thatcher wasn’t always in agreement with Reagan’s foreign policy towards Israel.

A questionable modus operandi that Azriel Bermant touches on on numerous occasions throughout these 217 pages (excluding Figures, Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography and Index), not least in the book’s Introduction itself: ”Thatcher was instinctively sympathetic towards Israel, and she did attempt briefly to counter the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) position on the Middle East. However, there were also numerous occasions when she took the lead in supporting policies that caused considerable difficulties for the Israeli political leadership […]. This book therefore, challenges the exaggerated emphasis that has been placed on the differences between the FCO and 10 Downing Street on Middle East policy, and also questions the impact of partisan pressures on Thatcher’s policy towards the conflict.”

With an inexorable spotlight on her rather brazen approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this book fundamentally questions claims that Thatcher sought to counter Foreign Office policy, by maintaining she was in (relative) close agreement with Whitehall on the unsurprisingly, on-going dissension.

As such, a little dry perhaps, but on the whole, Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East is concise and very much to the point.

David Marx

Your Brain’s Politics

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Your Brain’s Politics –
How the Science of Mind Explains the Political Divide
By George Lakoff & Elisabeth Wehling
Imprint Academic – £9.95

The US Pledge of Allegiance says, ”…one nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” Well, we just established that America is actually a nation under two Gods. Let’s talk about the God that a conservative president is calling upon when he says, ”God bless America.”

                                                               ‘God Bless America’

I’ve often wondered and been simultaneously annoyed by the highly incredulous dictum that is God Bless America. Why? And why not have God bless the entire world?

For a full shake-up of such tangential misappropriation, might I suggest reading Your Brain’s Politics – How the Science of Mind Explains the Political Divide, an easy to read dissertation on why we (sometimes subliminally) feel and vote the way we do.

At first glance, ”issues like economic inequality, healthcare, climate change and abortion seem unrelated. However, when thinking and talking about them, people reliably fall into two camps: conservative and liberal. What explains this divide? Why do conservatives and liberals hold the positions they do? And what is the conceptual nature of those who decide elections, commonly called the ”political middle?””

Scientific food for thought?

Within these 123 pages (excluding References), George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling endeavour to come to terms with how cognitive science has invariably advanced our understanding of both political thought and behaviour; which, as a result, suggests how we ought to somehow re-adjust our long held thinking – not to mention the quasi-rationality thereof.

David Marx

The Legendary Past

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The Legendary Past –
Michael Oakeshott on Imagination and Political Identity
By Natalie Riendeau
Imprint-Academic – £30.00

In the modern world, as Oakeshott’s theory of modality implicitly recognizes, an irreducible plurality of viewpoints is the norm, but this plurality precludes the shared background he believed the Roman and Christian social myths had provided in ancient and medieval times. Hence, the possibility of maintaining the practical analogue of civil association, that is, government through the rule of law, is also adversely affected insofar as this depends on the existence of such a shared background.

(Legends of Political Life: Ancient Rome and Modern England)

Michael Oskeshott once declared that humans ”know who they are, where they are in the world and how they come to be there.” This might well be the case when it comes to normal people, normal, replete with a modicum of intellect.

Yet so far as Westminster is concerned, I’ve just read that a second Brexit Referendum may well soon be upon us; which, either by proxy or immense stupidity (or both), would wholeheartedly suggest that the so-called humans in charge of running Great Britain, have not an iota of a clue.

A sure-fire premise of a political persuasion, which looks set to continue ruining the lives of many millions -for many years to come. A fiasco of sorts, this book – which contends that political legends are imaginative constructs, poetic creations, which evoke an event from the practical past and allow societies to translate their political experience into the idiom of general ideas – does much to inadvertently shed some sort of abstract light on.

But where The Legendary Past – Michael Oakeshott on Imagination and Political Identity really comes to life, is amid its many provocative and social assertions, of which there are numerous.

For instance, the declaration that humans ”inhabit a mysterious and menacing universe for instance,” upon which authoress, Natalie Riendeau continues to write: ”while this might sound like a dramatic declaration […] a hyperbole the meaning of which may be easily dismissed or deemed to be only of relatively minor importance to his thought, such a conclusion would, in fact, be mistaken. The idea that humans are able to find their way in a menacing ad mysterious universe, more than this, that they are successful in making themselves at home in such a world, an achievement that paves the way for our ‘human living-together,’ to use Hannah Arendt’s expression, and consequently the political, is key to Oakeshott’s political thought.”

Hmm, human living-together, now there’s a concept (as well as an”expression”); especially given some of the raging conflicts currently taking place throughout the world – of which there really are far too many mention in a book review.

That said, when one places the above two strands of relative complex thinking side by side (Oakeshott’s and Arendt’s), one invariably knows one is going to be in for a topsy-turvy read of the most intense design; which in truth, is just one way of describing this altogether confrontational and rather robust read.

David Marx