I’ll be giving a paper called ‘How to be disappointed in theory’ at the postgrad research seminar of Nazarene Theological College (University of Manchester), on Friday 13th of March. It summarises the critique of purity I offer in my chapter of the book I co-edited, and then pushes the discussion on to talk about Hegelian theology. All welcome.
Originally posted on Durham Abbey House:
There has been little serious reaction – so far – to the Archbishop of York’s recent contribution to the political debate, once the immediate knee-jerk flurry after its launch had died away. The Morning Star provided a thoughtful review (9th February 2015), while noting that the book is ‘couched in religious terms on occasion’ – oops!
John Sentamu’s first and last book-end chapters are a clarion call for a return to the vision of solidarity shared both by Sentamu’s predecessor William Temple and by the British post-war consensus around the two Beveridge Reports that led to the creation of the NHS and a State commitment to full employment. My copy of the 1976 edition of Temple’s book ‘Christianity and Social Order’ provides quiet testimony, in the form of a foreword by Edward Heath, that this consensus was not a matter of party politics. It is poignant that Heath wrote…
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Ernest Hemingway said ‘most people never listen’ – and perhaps we could all be a bit better at it. Including the Government, who’ve been sticking their fingers in their ears for ten years over prisoner voting. This is an emotive issue, but let’s stick to the facts of what the European Court of Human Rights has (and hasn’t) said.
The Court has ruled (on four occasions) that the current blanket ban on prisoner voting is unlawful, and that we need to grant some voting rights – but to whom is for Parliament to decide. In theory this could mean the smallest of concessions, say enfranchising those serving less than six months or convicted of non-violent offences.
What the Court hasn’t done is direct the UK to give every rapist and murderer in the land a ballot slip. The Government also hasn’t listened to its own cross-party parliamentary committee, which recommended giving the vote to prisoners serving less than 12 months.
If we look outside our own backyard of hysteria, we’re out of step with much of Europe: France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Norway, Portugal and many others have systems where some convicts can vote or judges can impose disenfranchisement as an additional punishment.
But in a way this is neither here nor there – the fact is we’re part of an international human rights framework, and that comes with a responsibility. It means not picking and choosing what verdicts we like best, but responding in a rational and coherent way to court judgments. In this case, it means having a clear-headed debate about what voting bans achieve and when they’re appropriate.
For the record, prisoners are rightly deprived of certain rights when convicted – to punish them and protect the public. But we don’t deny them food, or access to their family. Why stop them voting? How does it help the victim, or the prisoner’s rehabilitation? Surely it only ostracises them further from society?
Some others not listening this week are the Metropolitan Police, Transport for London and Westminster City Council, who, despite being well aware of their duty to enable peaceful protest, have adopted a ‘not my job guv’ approach to a planned demonstration by the Campaign Against Climate Change.
The organisers of the Time to Act march have been told that the police will no longer facilitate the temporary closure of roads along the route – while the other authorities are telling the CACC they need to hire a private traffic management company, at a cost of thousands.
Article 11 of our Human Rights Act doesn’t say ‘everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly – if they have the financial means’. There are some things you just can’t put a price on – public protests are a powerful way of making your voice heard by those in charge.
And, finally, a rare victory! The Committee Stage debate on the Armed Forces Bill turned out to be more fruitful than we expected – the Committee voted to change the Bill so that the proposed Service Complaints Ombudsman will have power to investigate the substance of a complaint, as well as looking at maladministration. Important changes that will help create a complaints system that is effective, transparent and independent. Military life is different, but does that really mean our Armed Forces should settle for second-rate justice?
Turner – glorious in conception – unfathomable in knowledge – solitary in power – with the elements waiting upon his will, and the night and the morning obedient to his call, sent as a prophet of God to reveal to men the mysteries of His universe, standing, like the great angel of the Apocalypse, clothed with a cloud, and with a rainbow upon his head, and with the suns and the stars in his hand…But let us take with Turner the last and greatest step of all. Thank heaven we are in sunshine again, and what sunshine! Not the lurid, gloomy plague-like oppression of Canaletti, but white, flashing fullness of dazzling light, which the waves drink, and the clouds breathe, bounding and burning in intensity of joy. The sky – it is a very visible infinity – liquid, measureless, unfathomable, panting and melting through the chasms in the long fields of snow-white, flaked slow-moving vapour, that guide the eye along their multitudinous waves down tot eh islander rest of the Euganean Hills. Do we dream, or does the white forked sail drift nearer and nearer yet, diminishing the blue sea between us with the fullness of its wings? It pauses now, but the quivering of its bright reflexion troubles the shadows of the sea, those azure, fathomless depths of crystal mystery, on which the swiftness of the poised gondola, floats double, its black beak lifted, like the crest of an ocean bird, its scarlet draperies flashing back from the kindling surface, and its bent oar breaking the radiant water into a dust of gold.
I should like to elucidate the problem with the help of a trivial experience of my own. Time and time again, when questioned or interviewed, one is asked about one’s hobbies. When the illustrated weeklies report on the life of one of those giants of the culture indus- try, they rarely forego the opportunity to report, with varying degrees of intimacy, on the hobbies of the person in question. I am shocked by the question when I come up against it. I have no hobby. Not that I am the kind of workaholic, who is incapable of doing anything with his time but applying himself industriously to the required task. But, as far as my activities beyond the bounds of my recognised profession are concerned, I take them all, without exception, very seriously. So much so, that I should be horrified by the very idea that they had anything to do with hobbies – preoccupations with which I had become mind- lessly infatuated merely in order to kill the time – had I not become hardened by experience to such examples of this now widespread, barbarous mentality. Making music, listening to music, reading with all my attention, these activities are part and parcel of my life; to call them hobbies would make a mockery of them. On the other hand I have been fortunate enough that my job, the production of philosophical and sociological works and university teaching, cannot be defined in terms of that strict opposition to free time, which is demanded by the current razor-sharp division of the two. I am how- ever well aware that in this I enjoy a privilege, with both the element of fortune and of guilt which this involves: I speak as one who has had the rare opportunity to follow the path of his own intentions and to fashion his work accordingly. This is certainly one good reason why there is no hard and fast opposition between my work itself and what I do apart from it. If free time really was to become just that state of affairs in which everyone could enjoy what was once the prerogative of a few – and compared to feudal society bourgeois society has taken some steps in this direction – then I would picture it after my own experience of life outside work, although given different conditions, this model would in its turn necessarily alter.
From ‘Free Time’ in The Culture Industry.
Not having a Facebook page is, according to Time, regarded as suspicious by many employers. Meanwhile Acxiom has information about more than 300 million US citizens (which is more than the FBI has). They use 70 categories to classify people. One of their categories is ‘rubbish’. Anyone with even cursory knowledge of history knows that distancing language of this kind is extremely dangerous. On a related but anecdotal level, I picked up my god-daughter from school recently and though she is not yet ten years old she already thinks being filmed in school is normal and that if she wants to play fight with her friends she has to find some place the cameras cannot see.