Tentative Steps towards Civility #4: Being Offended is not (necessarily) the issue

Revolutions invariably eat their children.

It’s an almost inevitable fact of history. The expression was coined by a royalist journalist during the French Revolution, Jacques Mallet du Pan. But perhaps, if tweaking was needed, more often than not revolutions eat their parents. Think Robespierre in France; Trotsky in Soviet Russia; Röhm in Nazi Germany. (more…)

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Beware the conspiracy theorist’s ‘fact’: THE UMBRELLA MAN

This is superb and completely speaks for itself.

It subverts the natural, but risky, human desire to connect all the dots on the basis of a few curiosities and anomalies.

Errol Morris’ short film asks why it was that ‘The Umbrella Man watched the JFK motorcade in November 1963 with his umbrella up. Whenever someone is articulating a conspiracy theory like this one, it is always worth keep an ear out for ‘facts’ like this one… (more…)

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Let the meaning choose the word: Orwell on political language

It has its gainsayers (eg Steven Poole is pretty disparaging, though unfairly in my view) but George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language (the whole essay is online), is prophetic. Of course some of his linguistic concerns are matters of taste and fashion (as Steven Poole rightly notes). But written at the close of the Second World War, this article exposes the sham sincerity and dissembling motivation behind so much political speech and writing. That is the essay’s great virtue. And it has not gone out of date at all. (more…)

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Friday Fun 27: The delights of political Amphibology

Well, the US presidential election is in its final month at last. Will any of us sleep safely in our beds again?

History has been full of people who have hedged their bets and emulated the venerable Vicar of Bray. And in smaller ways, politicians are doing it all the time. Saying things that don’t actually say too many things in case they be accused of actually saying things they don’t want to be heard actually to be saying. (more…)

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The Lie Factory and the destructive power of political ‘narrative’

The presenting issue behind the article was the hysteria whipped up against Obama’s healthcare proposals in the US – something which those of us with ‘socialised’, crypto-communist medicine in the UK find hard to understand. I do realise that many on the US right are no fools, that the British NHS is far from perfect,  and that there may well be many good grounds for the position(s) they took. But that’s not my point here. My main concern is how politics (left and right) throughout the West now (has to) operates. This was the object of Jill Lepore’s New Yorker investigation a couple of weeks ago, The Lie Factory. (more…)

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The Loser Letters: impish wit and a satirical dissection of atheism

Mary Eberstadt has a wonderful turn of phrase and an impish wit, which are used to devastating effect in her 2010 book The Loser Letters. She boldly takes on the mantle of C S Lewis’ Screwtape, but instead of infiltrating the murky world of Wormwood’s diabolical apprenticeship, she joins the New Atheists in their quest to crush theism. So she writes 10 open letters, in the persona of A.F.Christian (i.e. ‘a former Christian’), to some of the leading lights of the movement like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. With great relish she writes to advise ‘The Brights’ (atheists) on how better to defeat ‘The Dulls’ (Christians), and above all to undermine belief in ‘The Loser’ (God). At times, the result is laugh-out-loud funny. (more…)

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Cynicism or Criticism? Developing an integrated mind at University

This is an update of a talk I gave nearly 15 years ago to some students back in Sheffield. My aim was to help them avoid the classic polar mistakes of either avoiding the intellectual challenges of university or being swamped by them altogether. There are all kinds of other joys, opportunities and challenges when people first go to uni, and so intellectual development is only one aspect of what needs thinking about. But I fear it is often overlooked altogether.

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