Thursday, December 22, 2011

reflections of a christian agnostic

Although am agnostic I enjoy celebrating Christmas not just for hedonism's sake (I like that bit too especially the eating part) but also as a 'religious' feast.
I think non Catholics can still feel at ease celebrating the birth of a historical figure who preached universal love and intellectual honesty, someone who spoke his truth to power gently but firmly.
Over the past years I came to the conclusion that Christian humanism can easily co-exist with the values of the enlightenment.
On the other hand I came to discover that rabid anti clericalism can easily co-exist with xenophobic, extreme right and the most irrational viewpoints.
So does religious fundamentalism and traditionalism which can turn the cross in to a banner of cultural exclusion.
Not surprisingly while I disagreed with Bishop Mario Grech on divorce, I admired his equally principled stance against the government's detention policy.
During the first part of the year I actively campaigned through my writing for the introduction of divorce, something which I consider to be a vital step in a clear separation of church and state.
In many ways the introduction of divorce was a blessing for the Catholic church as its rejection may well have triggered a resentment of a gross imposition.
In many ways divorce was introduced thanks to good Catholics who not only made a distinction between church and state but who felt solidarity towards people who were being denied a second chance. The same reasoning may one day lead to an acceptance of gay marriage and granting citizenship to the children of migrants.
In fact what both secular and Christian humanism share is a world view in which what counts for the goose counts for the gander, human dignity should be respected in all circumstances.
Obviously there are also issues like abortion or euthanasia where such convergence is more difficult but at least the emphasis on human dignity makes rational debate possible in a way which excludes both eugenics and zygote fetishists.
But there is much room for convergence on protecting the dignity of future generations from short term policies in both fiscal and environmental field, particularly when it comes to climate change policies.
Another thing which runs deep in both traditions since the time of Erasmus and Spinoza is a sense of introspective moderation and sobriety.
In today's world where the politics of anger characterize populist movements like the 'tea party' in the US and 'lega nord' in Italy, one should heed the distinction made by Vaclav Havel, between theater and politics.
"In a theater, our consciences are touched, but responsibility ends when the curtain falls. The theater of politics makes permanent demands on us all, as dramatists, actors and audience - on our common sense, our moderation, our responsibility, our good taste and our conscience".

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

London calling?

The riots in London and other UK cities have given rise to at least two contradictory narratives.
According to one narrative this is purely a law and order problem, where a bunch of thugs are terrorizing their own communities. The fact that their only motivation was to loot upmarket consumer goods is presented as proof that the young rioters are simply trying to steal what they cannot buy.
According to another narrative the riots are a symptom of a social injustice and poverty aggravated by Tory cuts and follows the traditional account of riots as an expression of class warfare in deeply unequal societies triggered by police brutality.
I find both accounts simplistic which ignore another aspect; some rioters could be simply taking what they perceive as their fair share of the consumer bounty.
Some could be doing it for the thrill of feeling in control and they do this without any ideological discipline or solidarity with others like them. In this sense the revolt is post racial and post socialist as it does not seek a redistribution of goods but simply provides an occasion for mayhem and private appropriation of goods.
The rioters simply used the indignation against a police blunder to grab an opportunity to loot.
Relative poverty is surely one of the factors leading people to loot but the link with tuition fees is tenuous considering that university was always out of reach for most of these people. But still snobbing the rioters for looting handbags instead of food stores ignores the fact that yearning for these goods is an integral part of the fabric of capitalist societies. And lets admit it; the bounty of goods (despite its ecological problems) is one of the most appealing aspects of life in capitalist societies.
And surely one of the most appealing aspects of late capitalism is the widespread availability of tools of communications. Media commentators damning twitter and blackberry for fanning the flames of revolt exposes an inherent classism. Surely inciting violence through any means is bad but underlying some of the commentaries is a sense of revulsion at the fact that balckberries are being used by wretched youth. Is it this such a scandal that these people are participating (in their own misguided ways) in what has been loaded as a revolution in communication?
Ultimately the thugs will not gain any sympathy even within their communities. They may well strengthen calls for draconian law and order thus reversing the few liberal gains in the past year. But probably the rioters do not care about this. For a few die hards more repression will give more opportunities to riot. Most will simply return to their dreary normal lives after the carnival ends. What we are seeing is a celebration of gangsterism in place of community solidarity.
The silver lining of all this could be a realisation that a degree of social cohesion and inclusion is necessary not just for the well being of those living at the fringes but also for the majority which for the past decade felt insulated from what happened in the ghettos.
When people wake up to this realisation they might be more willing to understand the value of public services and community services which cost money but are necessary to offer a prospect to people to have legitimate aspirations. Surely the rioters themselves do not seem to care a fig about all this and some will still aspire to live a snoopy dog life irrespective of all the money invested in their education.
Still more social inequality through cuts (some of which necessary) unaccompanied by social investment in mobility funded by taxation will make things worse.
A deeper reflection on the riots deals with the way both rioters and the looted seem to have lost a sense of power over their own lives.
Ultimately in an increasingly globalised word where even nation states have very limited power, the arbitrary lawless exercise of power gains a new appeal. Obviously this does not make the riots anymore legitimate. In many ways the riots were simply an attack on conviviality which made life hell for fellow citizens. Most of the victims are poor hard working immigrant communities who had to keep watch of their few possessions threatened by this orgy of violence.
Since there is no turning the clock back, the only long term way forward is a new definition of global and more educated citizenship which is more willing to comprehend the complexities of the world but also more empowered to feel a part of a change it can understand and influence by thinking globally and acting locally ... surely a lot of gibberish for the handbag grabbing mob but a wake up call for political engagement.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Welcome to 812 new inhabitants

True progressives would first express solidarity with migrants from war zones like Libya, then insist that these traumatized people are not detained, and finally call for greater European solidarity without losing a sense of proportion.
812 people are a lot but far from a cataclysm or a biblical exodus.
We only weaken our case in Europe by crying wolf all the time.
And fundamentally most of these people who have no country to go back to, qualify for protection by right. They are also likely to stay and live here for a long time.
The right for asylum is not conditional. And as a civilized state we have to grant these rights. Keeping people who clearly qualify for protection in detention simply prolongs their suffering.
A government which constantly refers to Christian values should show more compassion. Unfortunately for this government christian values are mostly invoked to oppose divorce and persecute novelists.
And the Labour Party's stance on immigration (which is devoid of any discourse of rights and solidarity) seems bent on exploiting xenophobic sentiments on this sensitive issue, which makes it anything but progressive.