A little bit of philosophy!

Good afternoon dear reader, to the next instalment of my blog. I hope the holiday season has left you cheery, in rude health, gregarious and prosperous.

Today, I crave your forgiveness for indulging myself in some pretty philiosophical discourse. Usually, I take the opportunity to use empirical evidence and or just plain ranting when writing but I hope, nevertheless, my musings  have some meaning and  chime with you in some way.

As an IR (International Relations) and politics student of old, for me the world we inhabit today is fascinating but also horrifying at the same time! You know how it is it is like observing a car crash or a very rotund person undressing, you know you should not watch but somehow you see it through to the bitter end without even batting an eyelid. However, this may say more about me than you dear reader!

Now to my indulgences! I am struck by the timeless nature of philisophers, people like Adorno, De Tocqueville, Foucault, Camus who identified the faults in society and with democracy exceedingly perceptively. We have most famously perhaps, Plato and Socrates, who wrote with such accuracy centuries ago about the flaws in our politics and democratic systems.

As Alexis de Tocqueville used to say “History is like a gallery where there are few originals and many copies.” Somehow, we human beings seem programmed to keep repeating the same mistakes and  blithely believe that we can obtain different results. I’m thinking of fascist ideas most prominently here but others can also cited. I have already expounded at length in previous articles about the modern day fascist wannabes who litter our American and European landscapes right now, and my feelings towards them, so I won’t go into further detail here about that!

What I want to dwell on is the increasing and troubling disdain we seem to have for ‘checks and balances’ and expertise in our body politic. The slick and nefarious used car salesmanship tactics of Trump, Farage, Le Pen et al has been used to misdirect the ire of the masses towards the minorities in our societies.

Take the example of Brexit, where those campaigning to leave the European Union (EU) narrowly won the referendum with 52% to 48%  but have behaved in a zero-sum fashion to the Remain side and treated their views and concerns with unabashed disdain and miserly contempt. Brexit highlighted the deep seated schisms in British society which had hiherto been papered over and allowed simmering resentments against foreigners, women, liberals and homosexuals to boil over  and see the light of day. The UK government is now in a defensive position and scrambling desperately to control the flames it fuelled when it called this ill fated referendum. Now those who won the referendum, the naysayers and merchants of doom I like to call them, believe they are empowered by this nebulous concept of ‘the people’ and bash the judges, diplomats, journalists, economists, academics, politicians and civil servants who dare to challenge and provide a check on the falsehoods that they peddle. No prominent UK politician has had the spine to stand up and defend these last bastions of reason and virtue in our politics, nor dared to even challenge and confront the ill informed and ignorant views of the right.

Across Europe, illiberal and populist governments in Poland and Hungary, but increasingly in the U.K., France, Spain, Italy and Germany governments are succumbing to the pressure of these enraged and bitter right wingers and are hurriedly pushing through measures to appease them. In my adopted home country, Spain, the government is trying to regulate gatherings of people and control the use of Internet memes. In France we see a Socialist PM desperate to scapegoat ordinary Muslims and banning the burkini (used by only  a tiny minority of people) to placate racist sentiments and win votes.

Now im going to steer onto a more unexplored philosophical territory which I have not touched on in my blog before.Theodor Adorno, who had fled Nazi Germany for USA,  was always an intriguing writer for me but his opinions always seemed to strike a chord with me. A left winger, he argued that the populace at large was kept dumb and distracted about politics by what he called ‘the cultural industry.’ He once famously described Walt Disney as the most dangerous man in the world! Through skilful advertising, flashy consumer goods, lowest denominator pop music, glossy gossip magazines and mind numbing, thoughtless TV programming the population was kept ignorant and simple about critical political, economic and societal decisions. This fed the rise of fascism and left society particularly vulnerable to the clutches and predatory nature of populism, even during economic good times. He even said we should be more attuned to the early signs of a fascist, whihc are often displayed in bullies, and ensure there was a thorough psychological analysis of such persons to make sure they were mentally stable and if so, that they were given the proper education to drill these habits out of them at an early age. This guy is well worth a read is all I can say, even if, like myself I must add, you don’t agree with him entirely.

In the same vein of thought, we have Emile Durkheim. A Frenchman with expert diagnostic skills of societal weaknesses he analysed the problems inherent in  modern capitalism and democracy. Rather than seeing setbacks and misfortune as a fact of life, modern society makes us see it as a sign of failure on our part if we can’t achieve the lifestyle or ambitions mapped out in countless magazines and TV shows. Similarly we as human beings need a sense of clan or community. We crave it apparently along with a sense of belonging. Tribes, religion, family and close friendships used to offer us those but with the advent of new technologies and consumer goods we have moved to richer, individualistic free thinking societies but are unable to process the many decisions we now have to take e.g. Who to marry, where to live, what job to have, what religion to follow etc. As a consequence we often believe that we are too busy, too unsure or too uninformed to make educated and rational decisions in our lives. If we fail in our decisions, capitalism can take a harsh a view, and we are said to have failed in life. We therefore, have more malaise and suicides in society.

Again, not everything is agreeable to me but it make sure for interesting reading and is worth a thought.

I can go on dear reader, but I shall leave you there and hope to be back again soon with some more of my thoughts and ponderances on our lives and politics! Till the next time!

 

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My new life in Spain!

Good morning dear reader and welcome to a slightly frosty Madrid! The weather is a chilly minus five degrees Celsius right now as I gaze out of my bedroom window.

However, I am aware that my last posting was rather pessimistic and sobering for many of you so this will endeavour to be a more cheerful piece. No room for doom mongering here!

So, a few days ago I introduced you to my new life out here in Madrid and the great and the good of my lovely and blissful domestic life. Now I will talk a bit more about Madrid and the political situation in Spain. Before I get stuck in I want to acknowledge once again the contributions of my two amazing Spanish flatmates and now I’m pleased to say firm friends, Iker and Borja. They have educated, enlightened and illuminated my mind to new ideas and developments here in Spain and provided invaluable knowledge to me about Spanish culture.

Let’s begin!

I’m living in the south of Madrid and the city is enchanting and a firm favourite of mine. I feel proud to call it home right now. Flying below the radar of more high profile cities in Europe, such as London, Barcelona, Rome and Paris, the more anonymous nature of Madrid has allowed it to retain a more truly Spanish feel whilst remaining inviting and authentically cosmopolitan. Wondering the streets you will see an array of architectural styles, Art Deco, Gothic, Baroque and Haussmann but you are always feeling completely free of the pretentiousness and stuffiness of London and Paris. The barrios (districts) are all different and each displays its’  own character and unapologetically wears its’ heart on its’ sleeve.

Madrileños are lively and welcoming people who justifiably take pride in their city but are welcoming to newcomers. One can never be short of things to do in terms of entertainment, I myself am partial to a bit of Saturday night karaoke with my friends, and as Ernst Hemingway, the famous American author once said, “Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night.” Nightclubs, bars, cafes, theatres, circuses and cinemas abound and I can often be found at the Cines Princesa which offers films in English with Spanish subtitles for those shamefully lacking the necessary Castilian skills set (I abashedly include myself in this category dear reader!).

Madrid is also a very verdant city, with the lungs of the city including grand parks such as Retiro, Casa de Campo and the Parque del Oeste. These are not the only ones by any means but they are certainly worth a visit. Retiro houses the beautiful and stunning Palacio de Cristal, Casa de Campo (the largest in Madrid) which contains Madrid Zoo and where I often went during the autumn to photograph the falling leaves, and the Parque del Oeste, with its crowning glory being the ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod, presented to Spain as a gift for help in protecting ancient relics and temples in the Nile Delta.

Museums are aplenty. Any culture vulture will feel they are in a veritable paradise. Alas, I have yet to visit the Reina Sofia, close to Atocha Station, which houses Pablo Picasso’s striking and poignant Guernica artwork but I have enjoyed a jaunt to the Prado where I spent almost a day in the labyrinthine corridors getting my full quota of Velazquez, Goya and El Greco and Bosch and yet I still feel I could have seen a lot more!

Shopping and dining out offer a wealth of tasty, yet affordable, treats compared to some other parts of our fair continent. There are the posh outlets in the Gran Vía, Serrano and Salamanca districts but for something with more ‘get up and go’ and to obtain a less staid atmosphere it’s well worth dropping by Malasaña or Moncloa for some bargains and quirky retail therapy and dining experiences.

All in all, I love this city and I would encourage you to visit – but I don’t want anyone else to uncover this hidden gem and force me to share it!

Now, to politics!

Before coming out to Spain I had read a good deal, and also written on this blog, plenty of articles and comments surrounding the politics of this country. Everything seemed quite rosy in terms of leadership and economic progress from the crash several years ago. What had singularly perplexed me all along though, was the lack of a strong far right political party. Of course, I welcomed this with open arms, but after talking to my friends and reading more about it I realised that whilst Spain is by and large a tolerant and open minded society there remain dark recesses of the far right lurking and waiting to find a champion (or demagogue in my humble view!) to herald their cause.

Unfortunately some of the young (and I stress some) are drawn to the disreputable remnants of the late Fascist dictator Francisco Franco’s supporters, but lacking organisation (and sadly finding themselves not just tolerated but indulged by the centre right) they have yet to form a fully fledged, united and successful far right political party. Much like the UK, Spain’s political system does not take kindly to upstart and new political forces and this also militates against them for the time being. Still us liberals and progressives must remain vigilant and ever watchful of such intolerant outfits.

As for the current government and the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, he has now entered his sixth year of running Spain and it is ironic that after two inconclusive elections (over the past year where Señor Rajoy was running Spain as a caretaker PM) Spain saw a strong return to a 3.2% economic growth rate! No qualms about no functioning government from investors!

After the second inconclusive election last June the PM has been able to outmanoeuvre his opponents and secure a grudging acceptance from the other parties and a wafer thin mandate to govern but my prediction is 2017 will see him fall. What comes after is anybody’s guess however! From my conversations here in Madrid Señor Rajoy has very few fans, even among the business community, but there is very little enthusiasm for any of the others and the recent surge in support for new leftists and progressives in the form of Podemos has started to ebb. The same for centrist Ciudadanos. What keeps the government going so far is the dysfunction among the socialist opposition and from what I hear it might be this continual disarray that has given the PM his longevity and his lifeline to remain ensconced in his official residence at La Moncloa. We shall just have to wait and see.

Keep reading dear reader and thank you once again for your continual appreciation for my humble effort and your unstinting support! Till the next time…

Why we should no longer tolerate the intolerant!

Welcome back dear reader, as always a pleasure to have you here.

First off, a happy New Year to you all. I hope your 2016 was a fruitful and enjoyable year and here is to 2017 being equally, if not even more, successful.

Unless you have been living under a rock we are all aware of the truly appalling and heinous acts of violence and atrocities being committed across the globe, ostensibly for religions, ideology, national sovereignty, economic advancement, racial protection. In fact you name it and there is someone gullible and ignorant enough to pick up arms to fight for their particular “cause.” Let me make very clear from the outset my unsurprising point of view, at least to those who truly know me, that this behaviour is never ever justified.

We have in the world, the thuggish and cult-like Daesh or ISIL terrorists, made up of large numbers of hardened criminals (which includes rapists, drug dealers, street brawlers and petty thieves) who suddenly believe they can claim some kind of “redemption” for their misspent and wasted lives by killing and maiming innocent people, both non-Muslim and Muslim. My rhetorical question to them is have they ever read any religious text (it is debatable if some of them can even read) or do they just believe the ramblings of some twisted guru or random video they see on the Internet? The latest New Years Eve bombing of revellers in Istanbul is just the latest in another example of their warped and delusional thinking. Attacks in Baghdad, Berlin,  Nice and Maiduguri only serve as a terrible reminder of this global scourge we must all unite and defeat.

It isn’t just Daesh we should be focusing on (although Daesh would gladly like it that way and so would right wing politicians in the West) but also the Buddhist nationalist terrorists massacring Muslim and animist ethnic minorities in Myanmar (Amnesty International has documented these minorities plight exhaustively if you wish to read more) or the record number of 16,000 child soldiers (according to latest statistics from UNHCR) being wontenly slaughtered for political purposes in South Sudan.

On the other side we have the less violent but intolerant views of right wing politicians. You know I’m talking about Donald Trump, Nigel Farage,Marine Le Pen, Frauke Petry and all the other wannabe demagogues stalking the plains of the USA and Europe. Their responses to the latest terrorist outrages is always wholly predictable and frankly breathtaking in its sheer audacity of political point scoring. By this I mean they automatically express condolences to the victims and then finish by blaming Angela Merkel, liberalism, the media, the “elites”, globalisation or religions. Yet, when we blame them for sowing the seeds of hatred and division they cry foul like little children.

My whole point in my piece here is to argue that we have to acknowledge human nature in all of this. I’m not absolving religions or ideology entirely for some of the blame but what we must understand is that ideology or religion, be it Communism, Islam, Buddhism, Fascism, Socialism, Christianity, or numerous others throughout history, have merely been used by unscrupulous individuals as a vehicle to power and to transport them to their ultimate destination. Namely power, wealth, control, domination for a handful of deranged and perverted individuals who have no morals or ethics. Whether these individuals truly believe what they espouse and feed to their untutored and unwashed followers is open to debate but we all know I mean people like Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin, Bin Laden, Kim Jong Un, Joseph Kony, Slobodan Milosevic, Mao Zedong et al.

What I would like to finish with is a call to action for liberals. For too long I heard, when I was in London especially,  from family and friends that we were in some kind of prosperous, democratic, post-racial, gender equal, open minded and enquiring world and that London epitomised this. I never succumbed to this post Cold War fallacy of an ‘End of History’, Francis Fukuyama inspired victory of our capitalist and democratic system over all others. For too long we liberals assumed the whole world thought like us and that we had achieved our goals of equality for all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability or non belief. Tolerance reigned supreme and we could all get down to the business of making money and freely expressing ourselves. However, it was always a fragile project and very much a work in progress.

It is important not to underestimate the smugness which previaled during the 1990s and early 2000s. When this system all came to a crashing halt in 2008 it took liberals and leftists a long time to snap out of this cosseted mindset and realise we still had much work to do. It is still why we see left wing and liberal parties suffering across the Western world and why we must never take what we have for granted and not allow those who wish us ill to make us willingly surrender it, and sacrifice ideals such as freedom of belief or expression on the altar of so called security. This is the inevitability of human nature which often seems doomed to repeat itself, as any goodness scholar of history will tell you. Socrates, the great philosopher, identified so many years ago the Achilles Heel of democracy (in his scenario of the sweet shop owner vs the doctor in a political contest) the doctor being the politician who tells you the truth about how sickly an excess of sweets can be and the sweet shop owner who promises you a tissue of falsehoods by saying you can eat as much as you like without consequences to your health. Now where have you heard that before dear reader!?