Posts Tagged ‘ #idealog ’

#idealog: we remember

An open letter by Siegfried Sassoon

published in The Times, 31st July 1917

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I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.

I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects witch actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realise.


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The Grave by Don McLean
image: detail from Otto Dix’s War Triptych (1929-32)

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#idealog: lest we forget

An open letter by Siegfried Sassoon

published in The Times, 31st July 1917

———————————-

I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.

I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects witch actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realise.


———————————-

The Grave by Don McLean
image: detail from Otto Dix’s War Triptych (1929-32)

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#idealog: crises of capitalism by david harvey

anthropologist and marxist geographer Prof. David Harvey lectures to the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) whilst someone draws.

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#ranthill: gender and distinction

the IAAF have today announced that South African track star Caster Semenya will be allowed to continue her career after nearly a year of official uncertainty about her ‘status’, and the results of the tests she has been forced to undertake will remain confidential.

problems began for Ms Semenya hours before she won 800m gold at the World Championships in Berlin last year, as a ball of rumours that had been circulating for a while suddenly hardened into an official investigation into her entitlement to complete in women’s athletic competitions. without ever being explicit about exactly what evidence lies at the basis of the suspicions (and therefore inviting speculation that it was simply a combination of her being fast, tall and broad), the IAAF reported that Semenya would have to undergo ‘gender tests’.

as you as intelligent RQT readers will be aware, the notion of ‘gender tests’ is a quite ridiculous one. despite what the IAAF thinks (and to be fair the BBC, The Guardian and almost every other news agency failed to correct them), in proper terms gender could never be ascertained by a test, given that gender is, as C20th philosophy and sociology has taught us, a fluid quality that each of us performs. in this sense, the term ‘gender’ is not synonymous with ‘sex’, which is what the IAAF really meant but was perhaps a bit embarrassed to say. in the simplest terms, ‘sex’ relates to biology, whereas ‘gender’ relates to social identity, which is why ‘gender tests’ is a nonsense concept.

the deeper problem, however, is that while a ‘gender test’ would be meaningless, a ‘sex test’ wouldn’t necessarily prove any more helpful. the issue is that while much of Western society continues to think of biological sex as being an essentialist and binary concept – i.e. a person is either a man or a woman – in reality this is quite far from the case. as the brilliant work on theology and intersex conditions by Dr Susannah Cornwall – my talented partner in crime and life (known to RQT readers as simply ‘The Dr’) – has shown, there are all kinds of experiences that disrupt this over-simplistic conception of sex, the most fundamental of which being that science is finding it ever increasingly difficult to find any absolute basis for the distinction at all. (for more info on her work, read Dr Cornwall’s blog here)

we can probably all see that sex cannot be determined on the basis of the external appearance of genitalia, because there are many conditions that result in unexpected relationships between external and internal apparatus. however, likewise, the best research shows that internal sex characteristics, chromosomes and even the size of gametes (considered until recently the only reliable location of sex distinction) cannot be relied on to give a universal decree as to the sex of the individual under consideration.

the IAAF’s decision not to publicise the results of Semenya’s tests might seem like a gesture of solidarity with the athlete (if a much overdue one), but in reality, the likelihood is that they feel they cannot release the results without also being specific about what it was exactly that they were testing for and how. if they were to publish any results, the decision that they have made would be open to all sorts of contestation, in this and any future cases. what is more, they would be forced to formalise the criteria that they themselves use to judge sex in terms of categorising athletes, which thus far they have seemingly been as vague about as possible.

whilst few of us would deny that on average male athletes tend to have qualities that make them stronger, faster and more powerful than their female counterparts, this is and has to be a matter of averages, not law. would Rowan Atkinson enjoy a ‘natural’ advantage over Serena Williams at tennis? while that might be a somewhat flippant line of argument, it also highlights the fact that there are all sorts of other aspects of human physiological and psychological makeup that function to distinguish the performance of athletes.

Michael Phelps might stand as a good example. he is built like a swimming machine: he has an abnormally long, thin but muscular torso, a massive arm span compared to his height (6’7″ span, 6’4″ height), size 14 feet and super-flexible ankles. i have none of these attributes, but if i were an international quality swimmer, could i legitimately expect an athletic body to regulate to distinguish between Phelps and me? in other words, should there be a category for people who have these or similar traits, and those that don’t, or would that be ridiculous? when compared to sex, the difference is a matter of frequency of the occurrence of advantageous characteristics, but one could argue that at the highest level that makes little difference – i.e. an examination of the differences between an averagely built male swimmer, an averagely built female swimmer and Michael Phelps might put the set of differences between the first two bodies into an interesting perspective.

of course one of the really fascinating aspects of Semenya’s case was the blatant fog of orientalism (or whatever the equivalent is in relation to Africa) that hung around the story. those who suspected that Semenya has an intersex condition regularly painted her as a country girl, who came from a deep-dark region of South Africa where such conditions are more widely found and as such constitute a ‘normal’ part of life. This racist and patronising discourse of ‘oh is isn’t her fault, she’s too backwards to realise she’s a man’ would be disgusting enough if it wasn’t also unbelievably ill-informed. Semenya might have grown up in a rural area, but she now studies at Pretoria University and works with their state of the art equipment, facilities and coaches.

i have only huge respect for the way in which Ms Semenya has handled the fact that her body has become the site of such a strange and political debate. she has consistently come across as a gracious, confident and highly focussed individual and i hope she goes on to excel in the sport and to be an inspiration for all people who find themselves in a similar situation. what is more, i hope that the IAAF are called to formally justify all of their actions.

#idealog: the inconvenience of dissent

look mum, i done a rant

a curious trait of our ‘liberal’ ‘democratic’ ‘culture’ has emerged from the damp smoking embers of last week’s election. apart from the blatant absence of any real understanding of/deep seated belief in our parliamentary democracy (“boo hoo hoo, why isn’t there a tory government when i and my friends all voted tory???!!!!”) the complex political wranglings initiated by the lack of a clear mandate have revealed an intriguing and seemingly un-Liberal shift away from the horizon of the individual.

in all the talk of minority government and coalition the (quite predictable) general desire – which is both reflected and ultimately generated by the mass media – has seemed to be for swift decisive and unswerving resolution. it has perhaps been no real surprise to the philosophically literate reader that when scratched away the neo-liberal paintwork of absolute choice has revealed an underlying desire for (and expectation of) diktat.

one intriguing aspect of the apparent paradox of the zealous desire to choose but equally potent disgust at divergence of opinion has been the apparent inability of the average social-networker, journalist or political analyst to grasp the key principle of coalition (which we might, if we wanted to push the envelope call ‘political community’). overwhelmingly the media rhetoric has been that of ‘strength and stability’ which given the current economic climate is of course no surprise. the surprise has been the apparent lack of an ability to perceive what politicians mean when they say – over and over again – something like “we recognise that what is necessary, above all else, is a strong and stable government”. it seems clear to me that what they are referring to is a political structure that will function to govern day-in-day-out over the next few months perhaps years – i.e. one that the individual MPs and members of the various parliamentary parties can actually live with and work within given the obvious ideological variation across and within the various parties.

what many commentators – be they professional or amateur – seem to be focussing on however is simply mathematics and naked power. numbers ruled election day being as it was a shit-storm of absurdly simplified statistics and meaningless on-the-fly extrapolation and now we seem to want them (that is the numbers themselves) to solve the problems for us. we are so used it seems to numbers dictating to us their own interpretation (or rather seeming to, while the hidden manipulators of the data remain such) that we can no longer treat numbers as what they are – tools for defining problems, demonstrating transitions and modelling interactions.

306 (cons) + 57 (dem libs dem libs dem dry libs) = stronger than 258 (lab) + 57 (lib dems) + 1 (green) + 1 (NIA) + 3 (SDLP) + 3 (PC) because 363 is a bigger number than 323 and bigger is stronger. or – put into words – gordon brown lost so he should sit down and nick clegg is the ‘kingmaker’ (a phrase i hope to never hear again) because he has the casting vote. the only problem with this reasoning is that these numbers irreducibly represent human beings with brains and eyebrows and toenails and convictions. a party whip is a negotiated tool not an absolute, assumed reality. attempting to let the numbers do the work relies on the notion that what we essentially have is three politicians who each have their gangs (who will do whatever they say). perhaps this is where the leaders debates led us with their unremitting focus on three individuals. we all forgot that very few people actually get to vote for any of those men and fewer still (0) get to choose between them at the polls.

the inescapably practical reality is however that parliamentary democracy relies on dissent not conformity, and that is why negotiating a functioning (i.e. ‘strong’) government needs be careful (and yes perhaps slow) work. we have been blinded by the logic of corporations into believing that it is unproblematic to think of companies of people as been essentially a single person. corporations think, act, sue and are sued like people – but they are not people. and they can only pretend to be on the assumption of effective hierarchy. political parties do not and should not work that way and neither should a society.

the paradox of the post-modern account of individual choice is that while endless alternatives constitute a positive, the ambiguity created by a lack of consensus in collective decision making constitutes a horror. what if we actually have to make meaningful decisions amongst ourselves? what if our choices need to represent foundational convictions and/or encompass civic duties? we are used to choice without responsibility, opinion without conviction and decision without duty. we are not used to having to know why we did what we did. we are also used to being and knowing political individuals defined by the ability to choose but divorced of substance – bodies and desires and beliefs (such are our private but never public idiosyncrasies). we can (and should) invest as much of our time as we like in personal development and self-transformation behind our closed doors, creating and dreaming about and investing in faux-dynamic narratives, but we should never look to change anything other than our own reality – that would be extremism. this is what thatcher meant by “there is no such thing as society, only people” – “shut up, mind your own choices, do as you are bid”. that is the iron hand inside the ever-proferring glove.

what i perceive in the media confusion and occasional outrage that has poured out of my computer, radio and tv in the last few days is in part the shock of political personhood. real people are complex and awkward and messy. cooperation requires nuance and negotiation. society requires polyphony. all of which it seems is an inconvenience to most. a coalition government with a small (and perhaps only ever theoretical) majority will require those involved to do actual political work. and not just once. but it will also require us as the electorate to follow the workings of parliament, to engage in the ongoing political process and to rely on more than just the ability to judge someone by their dress sense or media-awareness or how many celebrities like them.

there are such things as society, community, dissent and compromise. and one outcome of what most people seem to be hailing as a disastrous election might just be that we learn as a culture to fully embrace the work of sketching out, serving and celebrating that liminal, nuanced, mediated thing we call the common good.