outsidein »

  • Thank you, and good-bye

    May 23, 2010 @ 1:50 pm | by Bryan

    The Shona proverb I cite most often is chisingapere chinoshura. It’s often used to console those enduring hardship, or to help people maintain a sense of perspective at the end of some venture. Sadly, the time has come for me to speak that proverb over myself and this blog.

    Outside In has been going for almost two years now. Over that period, I’ve had the immense pleasure and privilege of writing about life in Ireland, as well as commenting on global current affairs. I’ve learnt an incredible amount, and have relished the privilege of discussing, debating and sometimes just fighting with all sorts of people – important public figures, anonymous internet users, and Mark, my housemate. I am grateful to, and humbled by, all those who have taken the time to read the things that I’ve written, those who have gone on to share their own views, and most of all, those who became part of the Outside In community.

    So why stop now? Part of the reason is that I don’t really have much else to say about the underlying debate informing all the issues discussed on this blog. I can’t say precisely what that underlying debate is, but it definitely involves questions around the possibility of making claims for justice and recognition from a position of difference, be that with respect to global poverty, migration or multiculturalism. One of the philosophers I am currently reading, Alasdair MacIntyre, suggests that people within liberal societies have a tendency towards engaging in debate for its own sake, even though there is no hope of resolving those debates. The existence of such debate, he suggests, merely serves to create the impression that various positions are being taken into consideration, when in reality that is not the case; not really. True to my resolution at the beginning of the year, I refuse to Bug Out.

    One could argue that I have just given a reason to carry on blogging. Spending the next two years trying to move beyond debate for its own sake, or trying to understand why MacIntyre’s critique of modern Western society holds so much water would be time well spent. Maybe one day. For now, I’m tired. I have too much else on my plate. There are other questions, other tasks, which for me are currently more pressing.

    So, here ends this particular journey. I leave you in the very able hands of my colleagues, the other Irish Times bloggers. To quote another Shona saying, vakambowonana havashayane, which basically means, ‘till we meet again…’


  • Gladwell and Minister Harney

    April 28, 2010 @ 11:55 pm | by Bryan

    I really like Malcolm Gladwell. I had the privilege of listening to him speak when UCD hosted the writer a little over a year ago. On that occasion, he even kindly answered a question I put before him as he signed my copy of Outliers. Days later, while reading the book, I remember disagreeing with something he had written (the first and only time that I’ve seriously disagreed with Gladwell). Mixed in with stories about Mozart, Steve Jobs, and Korean pilots, while defending his 10 000 hour thesis, Gladwell makes the case for charter schools.

    Charter schools seem to me to be a particularly American solution to poverty. A testimony to the mastery of the market, they demonstrate what can be accomplished given the right incentives. Typically, inner-city American children fall behind their better-off cohorts academically. The root problem is that social issues keep these children from devoting as much time to their studies as others. Charter schools therefore start early in the morning and end late in the day. They also offer shorter vacations since they aim to keep their pupils in active learning for as long as possible. The idea is that if these children are in school for a sufficient period of time, they will cover as much ground as children in better social circumstances and will therefore be more likely to succeed academically. And they do just that, making the schools very popular in poor areas, despite being almost cruelly taxing on their pupils.

    I don’t like the idea of charter schools. An old paediatrician once called me a bleeding heart liberal, but on this issue, I think we would agree. Charter schools, in my opinion, treat the symptom rather than the underlying pathology. If poverty is the issue, I don’t see how allowing a few to keep up academically can be thought of as anything but a temporary bandage. Reading Gladwell hold up this bandage as a potential solution makes me more than a little uncomfortable.

    That same feeling was evoked in me by the minister for health, who wrote:

    …The critical question is how we use all resources, particularly public resources, to help people stay healthy and to get best outcomes for patients from healthcare…

    …It’s a critical question for all developed countries because the hospitalisation model of healthcare is financially unsustainable…

    …I invite people to recognise that it’s more important how money is spent than how it is raised from the public…

    …Our policy is equity of access to publicly-funded health services. We are open to using all providers who meet quality and value for money standards to contribute to public services…

    A comparison between Gladwell and Minister Harney isn’t quite fair. I generally tend to agree with the former while I mostly disagree with the latter. I just don’t share her faith in the market. Gladwell believes in charter schools because he believes that if you spend long enough at something (10 000 hours), you’ll do well at it given some aptitude. Minister Harney on the other hand, from what I can gather, believes in the market.

    But even before we get to the question of service delivery, an important question must be answered. What does ‘equity of access to publicly-funded health services’ mean? We can even simplify that. What is equity? Does it mean that people get what they pay for, such that those who are willing to pay extra are entitled to more or better or faster services? Does it mean that absolutely no distinctions should be drawn between patients, so that regardless of one’s ability to pay, or how expensive one’s treatment may be, each will be treated ‘equally’? Or does it mean that each citizen will be allocated a fixed sum of money, health credits so to speak, and will be entitled only to their fair share such that when those credits run out, they are no longer eligible for state health services? Or that the state’s health services will be structured so as to serve the greatest number; meaning that those whose ailments are expensive to treat will have to access their healthcare elsewhere?

    And what about the suggestion that ‘the hospitalisation model of healthcare is financially unsustainable’? Isn’t it only unsustainable if one holds to a certain set of values? The Cubans (I know, this example is well worn now), seem to value healthcare above modern consumer goods. I imagine that the idea that the hospitalisation model is unsustainable, on a budget of €15 billion, when far greater sums can be found to prop up the financial services sector, would make no sense to them.

    Doesn’t the question of what is or isn’t financially sustainable then really rest on what we take as our foundational principles? Isn’t the same true of what we mean by the word ‘equitable’?

    I suppose what worries me most about the minister’s article isn’t so much the matter of our ideological differences, or my fear that, as Dr Christine O’Malley suggested on radio today, the subtext is a desire to privatise health. No, the real worry for me is that we make Gladwell’s mistake and fight over which bandage to apply rather than engaging in debate over the real underlying issue. What are our views on justice? What does equity look like? Who should get what and why?

    The only way €15 billion isn’t enough to sustain the health of less than 5 million people is when there is an attempt to throw money at the issue instead of directly addressing those difficult core issues.

  • Solzhenitsyn, Mbeki, X-factor and the rest of us

    April 26, 2010 @ 10:11 pm | by Bryan

    “Even the most broad minded of us,” writes Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago, “can embrace only that part of the truth into which our own snout has blundered.

    ”In the same chapter, Solzhenitsyn describes magnificently how as an army officer, as a member of a privileged group, he was incapable of understanding the perspectives of those not as fortunately situated. It was only when his fortunes turned, when he found himself imprisoned and knocked off his high horse, that his world view began to change. Only when he himself became a wretch did he begin to understand, and empathise with the wretched. But as his account makes clear, even that sort of toppling isn’t enough to change everyone’s perspective. Some will hold on to their views no matter what.

    With that in mind, is the idea of cross-cultural (or cross-anything for that matter) dialogue a farce? Will Kymlicka, a staunch defender of liberal multiculturalism, is essentially of the opinion that immigrants should assimilate into the majority culture, and from within that culture assert their rights and make a life for themselves. Whether he is right is neither here nor there for me right now. What really interests me is that this ‘uniculturalism’, albeit one that embraces the Chinese takeaway and African clay pot, is called multiculturalism. Could the reason be that the farthest we’re willing to go in order to accommodate those whose snouts have blundered into a trough other than our own is to allow them to feed among us, and only when they have learnt to call our take on truth ‘The Truth’, accept them?

    Could this be why many thought that former South African President Thabo Mbeki underwent some strange Jekyll/Hyde transformation upon assuming power? As an activist in exile, Mbeki was dependent on the goodwill of people in nations powerful enough to sway the apartheid regime. He therefore wisely plonked his snout in the right trough and articulated his position in a manner that he knew would be intelligible to those whose support he needed. When he became the head of one of the most powerful states in the Southern hemisphere, he returned his snout into its former trough and became unintelligible to his former beneficiaries.

    But it’s not just Mbeki. Every successful politician seems to understand this phenomenon. Isn’t that why few run election campaigns on substantive issues? If a candidate or party dares to take a position on something, it will alienate all those who feed elsewhere. If campaigning is conducted at the level of the most abstract generalities, this problem doesn’t arise. Take ‘change’ for example. It’s a wonderful slogan. From what, where, when, who, into what? The answers to those question may force a politician to leave world of generalities and lose voters, so they are never answered. The Conservatives, a party named after the concept of constancy, are therefore more than happy to waffle about change. Nick Griffin, leader of a party initially based on the exclusion and, if I am not mistaken, even the expulsion of non-whites, has learnt a thing or two from Cameron, Clegg and Brown. He now refuses to talk in the language of specifics. He rightly assumes that if he doesn’t mention that he might quite like a Britain without blacks or Asians, one or two members of those groups might vote for him! Who knows, in the next decade or so, we might see Griffin on the set of an X-factor-esque show, with the leaders of the other parties, trying to win votes in the most vague terms possible.

    I digress. What most surprises me, with respect to the matter at hand, is that we all seem perfectly content with the current state of things. Sure, we complain. But that’s only because you’re meant to do that. We complain in the same way that we join with Kymlicka in calling for multiculturalism. It’s not like we actually mean it. No, what we really want is uniformity, agreement, conformity … with our own point of view; which incidentally, to borrow Terry Pinkhard’s phrase, we wish constituted ‘authoritative reason’ for everyone else. It just so happens that in any given group, the views of a majority converge to create something like a majority point of view; a consensus.

    So, back to my original question: is the idea of cross-cultural dialogue a farce? Not so long as all those holding minority positions, once they have got their issues off their chests; once they have formed their grassroots organisations and held meetings; once they’ve had parades, shows, festivals and other events; once they’ve had their say in newspapers, on the radio and on television; once they’ve taken money from the majority in the form of government grants; not so long as after all of that, they plonk their snouts where they very well know they ought to.

    Put in simpler terms, of course the idea of cross-cultural dialogue is a farce. We just find the pretence comforting.

  • On global migration

    April 21, 2010 @ 2:56 pm | by Bryan

    The topic that seems to generate the most response on this blog is immigration. That makes sense, I suppose. There aren’t too many fora out there that facilitate a back and forth between those who are concerned about the consequences of immigration (imagined and real), and immigrants themselves, or those who view immigration in a positive light.

    Although I often refer to the issue, I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly spelt out my own position. Here goes:

    Like most of you, I remember my parents’ painstaking attempts to get me to understand the difference between right and wrong. One of the main pillars of this concept was the idea of fairness. There is something about the fact that just about anyone on one end of the world can visit, or relocate to most parts of the other, while only a very small proportion of the latter can even visit the former, that violates that basic sense of fairness. As I got older, I was taught that life isn’t fair, but that it ought to be just. I was taught that fairness would mean every time my sister got a doll I should get one too, whether or not I ‘deserved’ or even wanted one. Justice, on the other hand, meant that the same concern shown to her would be shown to me. We would be treated in a similar manner, based on consistent principles, and shown the same love, even if that meant sometimes one got gifts, rewards, privileges or duties that the other did not.

    That the rules governing global migration are unfair is in my opinion uncontroversial; they obviously are. That just makes them consistent with life, and I can happily live with that. What I struggle with is the fact that they are also unjust. What has the average Irish person done to deserve the option to visit or relocate to a bunch of different countries should she so wish that the average Tswana, Peruvian or Bangladeshi has not?

    The highly influential political philosopher John Rawls believed the answer lies in political culture. His answer in The Law of Peoples, sounds like a version of a conservative American politician’s self-help, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps, take-responsibility philosophy. The Tswana, Peruvian and Bangladeshi, by this account, need to sort out the political culture in their country because all countries have the resources to reach a satisfactory level of ‘development’, and then they won’t have to migrate. Not only can they then stay put, but once they no longer pose the risk of not returning to their own place of origin, rich countries will grant them the privilege of visiting and spending their money on said rich countries’ tourism sector. I’ve added to it, but that seems to me to be Rawls’ general point, and it’s one that many, maybe most people in the rich world, share.

    I’m all for personal responsibility. And should an individual, a group, or a national culture have negative consequences, then it’s perfectly just to let them have to deal with those consequences. But I struggle to understand how anyone who has ever paid any attention to the world beyond their front door can believe that a nation’s condition is solely, even primarily the result of its culture. Take Ireland for example. It hasn’t been a closed system in which the only things that have really mattered to its trajectory have been internal. Nations are open systems, and a lot of national culture comes about as a result of external influences. And then, as Thomas Pogge brilliantly highlights, the global political economy is such that with all the will in the world, few nations can pursue the policies they want without first taking note of the external environment.

    Maybe that’s where the fork in the road lies with respect to migration and global justice more broadly. Some see the matter as predominantly local while others think the international context is decisive. That most of the former are the beneficiaries of the status quo and the latter the losers is telling of human nature, and that probably cuts both ways.

    So, if the material benefits of human labour are unevenly, and unjustly distributed, if the same is also true of natural resources, such that some places give up the resources around and beneath them for much less benefit than that accrued by those who take them, why shouldn’t people be allowed to follow the wealth? I completely understand and empathise with the concerns that some have over the effects of ‘mass migration’, but frankly, I think the right to follow the world’s resources trumps those concerns (empirical studies show that the average American consumes something like 6 times his share of the planet, the average European 4, and the African less than her full share).

    The real issue, of course, is global distributive and regulatory justice. But until that’s addressed, I can’t see there being a plausible moral argument against the right of the poor to follow their share of planet.

  • A thought

    April 20, 2010 @ 3:44 pm | by Bryan

    The plume of ash from the volcano under the Eyjafjallajökull glacier in Iceland. The eruption resulted in flights being cancelled across Ireland and Britain. Aircraft may remain ground for a number of days. Photograph: AP Photo/Jon Gustafsson

    The plume of ash from the volcano under the Eyjafjallajökull glacier in Iceland. The eruption resulted in flights being cancelled across Ireland and Britain. Aircraft may remain ground for a number of days. Photograph: AP Photo/Jon Gustafsson.

    When I first heard that volcanic ash had grounded most of Europe’s air travel, I wasn’t bothered very much. While I have a fair bit of travelling ahead of me in coming month, it won’t be the end of the world if I have to delay my plans. Besides, these natural phenomena pass.

    And then a friend asked, “What if it doesn’t pass away soon? What if this volcano continues to spew out ash for another couple of months? Imagine how isolated we will be.”

    I’m sure that won’t happen. I’m sure that before we know it, most of us will have forgotten that there was a brief period during which it was difficult to fly into, out of, or around Europe. That idea of isolation, nevertheless, is a useful one.

    Most of us talk about globalisation without questioning the idea that we live in an interconnected world. We take for granted the fact that in many very real ways, Canada is no longer that far from Ireland. But for the majority of the world, the isolation that some European travellers have felt over the last few days is the normal state of affairs. Yes, the middle-classes in Africa, Asia and Latin America have phone lines, access to the internet, and the ability to travel regionally by road and rail. But not too many of these can afford to fly, and fewer still would get tourist visas to places like Europe, America or Australia (God forbid that they might decide to stay!). Moreover, those middle-classes only represent a small minority of their overall populations.

    It makes you think, doesn’t it? We live in a world where one group of people can be seized by near panic over the loss of something that another group almost never have. Something in fact, that isn’t even at the top of the list of things that the latter would ask for given a magic wand.


  • A final word on race

    April 13, 2010 @ 10:40 pm | by Bryan

    Race is a difficult subject. It is one of those things that members of polite society avoid like the plague. I can understand why. It’s a minefield and too often people have been accused racism when only guilty of indelicacy.

    All of that, I understand. And I empathise with those who are frustrated by the fact that they feel unable to broach the subject without being branded with a swastika. What I don’t get is why there is such an aversion to calling racism out when it clearly raises its ugly head. Why are there so many doubts over the race-based nature of a crime in which an eye witness says the murder drew to a close an episode in which the perpetrators used racist language and singled out that particular aspect of the victims? Do some people really think race was just coincidental, in the same manner that an armed robber might accidentally shoot the person he was robbing? Could have simply been coincidental, the thin veneer hiding criminality that was just waiting for an outlet? I don’t buy it. But even if that were true, were that outlet always or predominantly a person of colour or an ethnic minority, surely we would still be dealing with an issue to do with race?

    There’s more than just a reluctance to discuss race at play here, there’s also a reluctance to acknowledge the presence of racism, which is rife in contemporary Ireland. My Polish friends tell me that in some parts of Poland, gangs of young men trawl the streets for visible minorities to assault. A German friend recently bemoaned the rise of visible neo-Naziam in parts of her country. Ireland doesn’t have those issues, at least not in those proportions, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

    But a few years ago a friend of mine lost an eye, and literally had his skull cracked, as a result of being beaten by a group of young men one evening. His assailants made it clear that his crime had something to do with the colour of his skin. Another friend cleverly explained his inability to get the sort of employment for which he is qualified as the result of ‘not getting the same benefit of the doubt’ as people who did not look as different as he. I don’t think I know a black person here who hasn’t had a racial slur hurled at them. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve wondered how long a store would stay in business if the assistants treated everyone with the same disdain shown towards me or my wife. Perhaps some of that is in my imagination, but there’s something about a guard making a bee line towards you and eyeing you like a hawk, while trying to make out that he is sorting out a shelf. Once, I was tempted to ask if he really thought I could stuff a pram under my jacket, and if his time wouldn’t be better spent watching over smaller items. Someone I know of eventually asked the trailing security man to carry her shopping for her if he insisted on being her chaperone.

    I live in the real world and am well aware of the fact that there will be unpleasant people with unpleasant attitudes, regardless of where you are. But what I find incredibly frustrating is what often seems to many of us like the blatant refusal to acknowledge our reality and that of other non-white Celts in Ireland.

    Before starting this blog I was warned by colleagues to expect some unpleasant comments. Though I knew enough not to need the warning, I was grateful for it. To be fair, I receive far fewer aggressive racist comments than I expected. But I do get them. Almost all I delete without reading beyond the words that jump out; the sort of words that even in this context I cannot bring myself to repeat. But the other day, because I felt it was pertinent to the subject being discussed, I approved one of those racist comments. For the most part, the reaction seemed to me to be to laugh it off as some sort of prank or something so far beyond the pale as to not warrant notice or further consideration. Someone even speculated that the comment had been ‘planted’ deliberately to sway the debate. Only, I ‘know’ the person who made that comment insofar as he often has colourful opinions to make about people of my race, collective worth, and his desire to see our mass emigration. I generally choose not to share those opinions. Yet the fact that when I do share one of those comments, it is essentially ignored in the same way that one deliberately takes no note of an ugly pimple, is again, frustrating.

    I don’t think race is the most important challenge facing Ireland at the moment. It is nowhere near that. But the way it is handled – by the average person just as much as by the relevant authorities – is no different to the way more threatening issues are handled: a concerted effort is made to pretend that there are no problems, up until disaster is loudly announced. Schopenhauer held that the will drives action, but I don’t think this is what he had in mind.

    In time, when the dreaded ghettos appear, I can only imagine what excuses will be given, and the degree to which the parties in opposition will blame those in government, with the rest of us nodding in agreement, just as has happened with the current financial difficulties. Unfortunately, that won’t do a single thing to prevent the emergence of those ghettos and the social ills that are sure to follow.

    That’s pretty much all I have to say on this subject. An intelligent writer leaves readers with a sense of hope, or at the very least, shows them concrete steps they can take to address the matter that has been presented. I’m evidently not that. In the words of Lauryn Hill, “Fantasy is what people want, but reality is what they need … and I’ve just retired from the fantasy.”

    The reality is that the fixation with the idea that everything really is okay is problematic. So long as it stands, hope isn’t too far removed from delusion.

  • I still don’t get it

    April 9, 2010 @ 1:19 pm | by Bryan

    I still don’t get it. I understand despondency in a completely dysfunctional system; in a place where deep down, people don’t believe that things can change. Ireland seems to me to be an incredibly democratic place – perhaps too democratic. It’s so democratic that given a conflict between ‘the right thing to do’, and ‘the will (or tyranny) of the majority’, in this country, the majority generally wins hands down and the ‘right thing to do’ is defined, after the fact, as protecting the wishes of the many.

    Does the general apathy then, towards race-based crime, social inequality, or both public and private sector mismanagement, boil down to the fact that the majority just couldn’t be ‘bovvered’ – be that because of a sense of information overload, innate inegalitarianism, distraction by the pursuit of shiny trinkets, or a more-or-less correct sense of the fact that they are largely immune to the afflictions of the few? If that indeed is the case, are things the way they are because the many will them so; a result of collective desire?

    The lessons I’ve learnt blogging here makes me think of society as a particular type of horror film – the type in which at the end, the main character turns out to have been the monster, the one doing the killing, all the while thinking of himself as a victim or potential victim. In Memento, the protagonist, Leonard, comes to terms with this fact and is content to allow himself the luxury of forgetting his crimes and go on thinking of himself as the victim.

    The question, is suppose, is what do you do when the society in which you live is a Leonard? The last time I was in that situation I packed my bags and moved to Ireland. Having found myself in the same situation, I don’t know what I, or anyone else who finds themselves in this situation ought to do. More and more though, I am of the opinion that pointing out what is being actively ignored is an exercise in futility.

    *Apologies to those following the discussion around Taylor’s ‘Sources of the Self’. I’ve travelled and unfortunately left my copy of the book behind. We’ll resume next Thursday.

  • Please help me to understand

    April 6, 2010 @ 11:06 pm | by Bryan

    I’ve been trying to make sense of it, but I can’t. How is it that people here are able to remain so calm?

    A major newspaper, the largest by circulation in the country, in fact, can print an article with the title Africa is giving nothing to anyone – apart from Aids, and while a few eyebrows were raised, and a few organisations tried to take the matter before the courts, the country generally just shrugged its shoulders and carried on as usual.

    A lady gets raped, the rapist is arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to a couple of years in prison. Radio phone-in shows are very busy for a day or two afterwards, but generally, the same shoulder shrugging and moving on is the order of the day.

    Drug dealers and gangs go around killing each other and wrecking parts of cities, but that barely seems to reach the collective consciousness. An ‘innocent civilian’ is killed by that same criminal element and for a few days newspapers carry stories about the growing drug epidemic and the need for more policing in poor areas. But for the most part, there’s another collective shoulder shrugging and a getting on with it.

    A young man is stabbed to death in his own neighbourhood for being the wrong colour and for a short while there’s the scurry of activity; activity aimed at keeping everybody calm and assuring us all that the crime was an anomaly – one of those freak accidents that in no way reflect the state of society. Yes, the affected community should remain calm. Those affected should let the authorities deal with the matter. But what about the rest of us? Why are the unaffected so good at shrugging our shoulders and getting on with things? Why do those who are distant enough to be both angry and constructive not act, or speak, or do something other than shrug their shoulders and move on?

    Years, no, decades after the fact, with its power in decline, there is widespread anger at the Catholic Church. Is that just how long it takes to mount a response? Were the unaffected during the years of those atrocities just as able to shrug their shoulders, to keep the peace, not ruffling feathers, just getting on with, as we are today?

    To what end? Maybe I’m just haunted by the ghost of Zimbabwe past, but I’ve seen this same passivity before. I’ve seen what happens to a house so accepting and forgiving of rot. Eventually, it falls apart. Even if it is a house of stone.

  • Fundamentalists and Pragmatists

    March 29, 2010 @ 3:20 pm | by Bryan

    Delegates watch Green Party leader John Gormley's speech on TV by candlelight to mark Earth Hour. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

    Delegates watch Green Party leader John Gormley’s speech on TV by candlelight to mark Earth Hour. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.

    In a fascinating episode of Tonight with Vincent Browne, the Green Party, specifically Minister Ciarán Cuffe, were taken to task for what Browne sees as ethically dubious political behaviour. I seem to keep bringing up the Greens in a negative light. I have nothing against the party and my intention is not to unfairly pick on them. It’s just that they raise difficult questions about the nature of social and political change.

    On Vincent Browne’s programme, political scientist and Green Party expert John Barry suggested that what the party was faced with was the reality that politics is ‘the art of the possible’; that realisation leading to conflict between the so-called ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘pragmatists’. On this reading, what may be seen by some as the morphing of an activist party into the very entity it once stood against must be viewed in light of the payoffs that have come along the way. That is, to get things done, one must be a ‘proper’ party, and in order to become a ‘proper party’, certain traits that make the activist party what it is must be got rid of. The ‘fundamentalists’ will be unhappy and may even jump ship, they will hopefully continue to provide something of a moral compass as members of the broader movement, but only the ‘pragmatists’ will be able to effect legislative change. It should therefore come as little surprise that praise from the media that the Greens have matured into a ‘serious’ political entity and have outgrown their ‘quirky’ activist ways will hearten the ‘pragmatists’ while bitterly disappointing the ‘fundamentalists’.

    Maybe my problem is that I’m a ‘fundamentalist’ myself – something of a political purist – but I really don’t buy into the idea that politics is the art of the possible. Rather, I am more convinced by the view that Mark Haugaard ascribes to Foucault: that politics is a continuation of war by other means. And if that notion is coupled to the idea that identity is a crucial battleground in that war, then the morphing of a group, no matter how quirky, into something that sits more at ease with establishment groups represents a significant defeat for the once quirky body and their supporters. I just cannot see how you change the culture of a place by adopting it. Pragmatism may very well be the expedient route to power, but if the person who arrives at that destination is barely recognisable from the one who set forth, what’s the point?

    Which begs the question, should groups like the Green movement even get involved with formal politics? Conventional wisdom is that people should get involved. I give some of my ablest Irish friends a hard time for complaining about things without putting themselves forward as candidates for elected office. I’m not so sure any more. What if engagement necessarily leads to a Green-like metamorphosis? What if the social structure of the political process bends all who participate into the mould of the typical politician?

    Does anyone have George Lee’s number? I wonder if he came to a similar conclusion? I wonder if disengagement, or maybe mass disengagement, can be turned into a means of bringing about structural socio-political change?

  • Sources of the Self – Chpt 8

    March 25, 2010 @ 11:58 pm | by Bryan

    Sources of the Self - Charles Taylor

    This was another interesting read. I was most struck by Taylor’s suggestion that Descartes’ philosophical innovation led to a change in the social organisation of that time. I heard quite a few academics question whether what they do really makes a difference in the long run. The same question applies to musicians, filmmakers, writers and anyone else who puts ideas forward to the rest of society. Granted few of us will be the Descartes’ of our time, but it’s still encouraging to note that ideas can fundamentally change the structure of society.

    My favourite passage this week:

    We could say that rationality is no longer defined substantively, in terms of the order of being, but rather procedurally, in terms of the standards by which we construct orders in science and life. For Plato, to be rational we have to be right about the order of things. For Descartes rationality means thinking according to certain canons. The judgement now turns on properties of the activity of thinking rather than on the substantive beliefs which come from it.

    …Rationality is now an internal property of subjective thinking, rather than consisting of in its vision of reality. In making this shift Descartes is articulating what has become the standard modern view…

    …for Descartes the whole point of the reflexive turn is to achieve a quite self-sufficient certainty. What I get in the cogito, and in each successive step in the chain of clear and distinct perceptions, is just this kind of certainty, of which I generate for myself by following the right method. This power to give ourselves the certainty we seek seems to have been the key insight in Descartes’s decisive moment of inspiration… (pp. 156-7).

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