Tag Archives: The White House

Ethics In The Real World

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Ethics In The Real World
82 Brief Essay on Things That Matter
By Peter Singer
Princeton University Press – £19.95

No man is liberated from fear who dare not see his place in the world as it is; no man can achieve the greatness of which he is capable until has has allowed himself to see his own littleness.

Such humble thinking wouldn’t go a miss in the White House right now, not to mention the Turkish Parliament and an array of other so called high places of high-octane power.

It does after all seem that when certain movers and shakers, hipsters and shirkers – be they politicians, financial investors or perhaps worse, City mortgage advisers – reach the penultimate threshold of no longer having to worry about the next pay cheque, they automatically feel compelled to relinquish all and every shred of decency they may have once had.

A quality which may well perhaps, (partially) explain why they are the people they invariably are: usually highly motivated and focused, yet simultaneously dull and exceedingly unpleasant.

In a round-a-bout kind of way, this (partially) accounts for Ethics In The Real World – 82 Brief Essay on Things That Matter being the book it is: real and inspired, provocative, yet relentlessly well thought through and honestly considered. Qualities which ought hardly be surprising, as Peter Singer has often been described as the world’s most influential philosopher, which these 330 pages (excluding Introduction, Acknowledgements and Index) do much to clarify.

One can literally open any page of this most wonderful book, and be wholeheartedly reached by way of unarguable truth – with even the very idea of philosophy itself, already being scrutinized in the book’s Introduction: ”There is a view in some philosophical circles that anything that can be understood by people who have not studied philosophy is not profound enough to be worth saying. To the contrary, I suspect that whatever cannot be said clearly is probably not being thought clearly either.”

And the shedding of light on philosophy doesn’t end there.

The chapter ‘Philosophy On Top,’ actually concludes with the optimistic note: ”More surprising, and possibly even more significant than the benefits of doing philosophy for general reasoning abilities, is the way in which taking a philosophy course can change a person’s life. I know from my own experience that taking a course in philosophy can lead students to turn vegan, pursue careers that enable them to give half their income to effective charities, and even donate a kidney to a stranger. How many other disciplines can say that?”

Indeed, how many other disciplines can say that?

There again, As Singer openly admits: ”Given the practical importance […] as a good utilitarian I ought to aim to write for the broadest possible audience, and not merely for a narrow band of committed utilitarians.”

Broken into eleven prime parts (Big Questions, Animals, Beyond the Ethic of the Sanctity of Life, Bioethics and Public Health, Sex and Gender, Doing Good, Happiness, Politics, Global Governance, Science and Technology, and finally, Living, Playing, Working), these 82 essays traverse all that is fundamentally important in one’s life.

As such, this book ought to be considered as something of a prime humanistic template for (the intrinsic motivation of) one’s everyday behaviour.

David Marx

Before Auschwitz

auschwitz

Before Auschwitz –
Jewish Prisoners In The Prewar Concentration Camps
By Kim Wunschmann
Harvard University Press – £33.95

So tomorrow, January 20th, we have President (elect) Donald Trump to look forward to.

He, whose parents were members of America’s Klu Klux Klan organisation, will enter what has to be the most powerful office in the world. An ever increasing, wayward world might I add, in which tyrants and terrorists, deprivation and division, continue to make headlines; while those who kneel at the alter of hedge-fund hypocrisy, continue to succeed in keeping it that way.

It’s as if the populace of the so-called intelligent species, has learnt absolutely nothing.
Nada.
Nic.

Nic that is, other than:
a) wholeheartedly know how to turn away when someone else is in need (as in the cold, blooded murder of the MP, Jo Cox – who, as she lay on the ground being to stabbed to death, hordes of people did absolutely nothing because they far were too busy filming her murder on their mobile phones)
and
b) wholeheartedly embrace the dictum: what’s in it for me?

Just two exceedingly valid reasons why people need to at least be made aware of January 27th, Holocaust Memorial Day, to comprehend an iota of where blatant ignorance can lead. In a word, Trump., in anther word., ISIS., in another (chilling yet infamous) word, Auschwitz.

The world would indeed be wise to take note of Before Auschwitz – Jewish Prisoners In The Prewar Concentration Camps, which pioneers the formulaic and prerequisite ideological stance of nationally condoned suffering, barbarity and murder.

The book’s six chapters, Introduction and Conclusion, compellingly unearths the little-known origins of the concentration camp system in the years leading up to the Second World War, and reveals the instrumental role of these extralegal detention centres in the development of Nazi policies towards Jews (and its eventual plans to create a racially pure Third Reich): ”First of all, a historical study of the imprisonment of Jews before 1939 demands an understanding of the period in its own right. The concentration camps of the pre-war era were different from the wartime camps. They had different forms and different functions. Simply to place them into a seemingly linear development of Nazi anti-Jewish policy […] would miss the particularity of the pre-war period. The development that ultimately culminated in genocide on an unprecedented scale was neither preordained nor the direct result of a single man’s long-standing fantasies. Karl Schleunes’s concept of ”the twisted road to Auschwitz” is more apposite, helping us to grasp a process of gradual development in response to outside influences and internal power rivalries, a process that, at each stage, might have pointed to a different destination.”

A different destination indeed, which, from the relative comfort of hindsight, is all too easy say, come to terms with, and ultimately assimilate. But these 235 pages (not including Appendix: SS Ranks and U.S. Army Equivalents, Abbreviations, Notes, Bibliography, Acknowledgements and Index) really ought to shunt hindsight unto the Rose Garden of The White House – for all the world’s media to witness on a regular basis.

If not the Oval Office itself, although, knowing Trump, he’d probably deny the fact that The Holocaust ever took place.

In investigating more than a dozen camps, from Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen to less familiar sites, authoress Kim Wunschmann uncovers a process of terror designed to identify and isolate German Jews, primarily from 1933 to 1939. During this period, shocking accounts of camp life filtered through to the German population, sending the preposterous message that Jews were different from true Germans: they were portrayed as dangerous to associate with and fair game for barbaric acts of intimidation and violence.

The latter of which is rather like Brexit’s reaction to non-Englanders, only on a far bigger, far more criminal level. But hey, it’s still early days.
And tomorrow we have Trump, to look forward to.

As Robert Gellately, author of Stalin’s Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War has written, Before Auschwitz is ”an impressive, well-written study of a little-known chapter in the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Wunschmann has carried out prodigious archival research, unearthing all kinds of interesting and troubling material, particularly on the fate of Jewish citizens who were sent to the camps without trial and held without rights in what the police euphemistically called ‘protective custody.’ Her book will certainly find a wide readership.”

Here’s hoping it will, because it’s outwardly brave, memorably brazen and overtly bodacious.

David Marx

Republic Of Spin

spin

Republic Of Spin –
An Inside Story Of the American Presidency
By David Greenberg
W.W. Norton & Company – £27.99

Liberalism will become an enclave conviction of a shrinking minority unless those who call themselves liberal reconnect their faith in tolerance, equality, opportunity for all with the more difficult faith in the dirty, loud-mouthed, false, lying business of politics itself. This disdain is cynicism, making as high principle.

                                                            Michael Ignatieff (”Letter to a Young Liberal”)

From Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama, presidential historian David Greenberg herein recounts the rise of The White House Spin Machine
And what an eye opening read it is.

Republic Of Spin – An Inside Story Of the American Presidency, is a tantalising, variable history that traverses more than a hundred years of vibrant, vivacious politics; the seeming catharsis of which, comes to an equally tantalising head this Friday, January 20th. The day tolerance and intelligence will leave The White House (with Obama’s exit) and misogynistic mayhem will enter The White House, (with Trump’s arrival).

That said, this book’s 448 pages of sweeping, startling narrative, essentially takes us behind the scenes, wherein, we are all the more potentially enlightened, as to how the tools and techniques of image invention actually work. On the way, we meet Woodrow Wilson convening the first ever White House press conference, Franklin Roosevelt huddling with his private pollsters, Ronald Reagan’s aides, crafting his nightly, news sound bites (well who else was going to craft them – most certainly not he after all), and let we forget, George Dubya staging his ”Mission Accomplished” photo-op.

If that weren’t enough, we also meet the many backstage visionaries who pioneered new ways of gauging public opinion and mastering ye me/me/me/media…

Furthermore, Greenberg examines the many profound debates Americans have waged over the effect of spin in politics by asking: ”Does spin help our leaders manipulate the citizenry? Or does it allow them to engage us more fully in the democratic project? This book illuminates both the power of spin and its limitations – its capacity not only to mislead but also to lead.”

Indeed, its six Parts (‘The Age Of Publicity,’ ‘The Age Of Ballyhoo,’ ‘The Age Of Communication,’ ‘The Age Of News Management,’ ‘The Age Of Image Making’ and ‘The Age Of Spin’), are, if nothing else, something of an irredentist revelation; that in (equally revelatory) truth, most of us have known all along. A pivotal aspect of the book, which the author brazenly writes about in the Introduction: ”[…] in the broadest sense of the term, spin has always been a part of politics. Politics involves advancing one’s interests and values in the public sphere, and political leadership means winning and sustaining public support. From the orators of Plato and Aristotle’s day to the European monarchs who superintended their images, leaders have always given thought to the words and images that will help them remain popular and achieve their goals.”

Had such a sad, tremulous indictment of political leadership and array of home-truths, not run utterly r-i-o-t throughout the 2016 American Presidential Campaign, Republic Of Spin – An Inside Story Of the American Presidency, would be no-where near as urgent a read as it invariably is.

In fact, in a mere handful of months from now, it will – in all its rambunctious repository of hindsight – prove nigh irresistible. Mark my words; even if only to read the following from the book’s final chapter, ‘Barack Obama and the Spin of No Spin’: ”The sheer pervasiveness of spin inevitably leaves an unpleasant after-taste. The heavy investment in crafted talk and burnished images can make our political rhetoric and theatre feel empty and even meretricious. Because it’s ubiquitous and unremitting, and because it stands in opposition to the straight-up truth-telling that we idealize, spin is always going to strike us as a vexatious or lamentable feature of modern politics. Paradoxically, though, our persistent worry about spin, while at times debilitating, keeps us vigilant about its abuse. And ultimately democracy has to make for duelling perspectives; politics always demands a give-and-take. As long as the public remains sovereign and public opinion reigns supreme, the debates will go on, the disputes will rage, the media will yammer and thrum, the people will make their arguments and form their judgements, and spin – much as we might crave relief from its relentlessness – will endure as an essential part of our political world.”

How’s about that for a touch of ”yammer and thrum?”
If you think Messrs. Campbell and Blair were the most notorious Prince Regents of Spin, read this. You won’t be disappointed.

David Marx