Manchester and the ‘what to do’ question…

Manchester is famous the world over for its football, its music and now, sadly, for being the latest in an ever-lengthening list of European cities that have suffered terrrorist atrocities- Madrid, London, Oslo, Brussels, Berlin, Nice, Paris – in recent years. (And globally the list takes in Oklahoma City, Boston, Mumbai, Baghdad and so very many others).

Manchester has had terrorist incidents before, (such as the IRA bombing in 1996) but Monday night’s atrocity is on a different level of horror.

The pattern is familiar now – the attack, the rolling media coverage, the hashtags, the facebook ‘safe status’ search, the heartbreaking circulation of photographs of the missing – young, innocent people – the tales of heroism, the diligent professional work of the emergency services, the skill of the medical staff, followed by speculation about the perpetrators and their motives, the resolute sombre speeches of national leaders, and the solidarity expressed by other politicians, especially those from cities recently afflicted.

Also there are vigils. Last night thousands of us gathered in front of the Town Hall for a much needed vigil and show of solidarity, unity. The city had been on edge all day. Sirens and helicopters, people compulsively checking updates on social media and news feeds. The now all-too-familiar messages of solidarity from other cities that have been the subject of attack in the recent past. And when (not, sadly, if) the next attack happens, then Manchester’s leaders will themselves be signing condolence books and sending tweets.

I was with my wife and friends, and although we heard some of the poem, we heard little of the speeches of assorted political and religious leaders (it was a bit like that opening scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian – blessed are the cheesemakers).

Of course, the words were not the point. The point was that Manchester rejects the idiocy of hate, divisions based on class, religion or race.  Manchester is cosmopolitian, and very determined to say that way.

What can we do?

The blood banks are full to overflowing – for now. But giving blood is a really good thing to do, part of the gift relationship. A work colleague wrote yesterday “Fear of needles not withstanding, I tried to give blood this morning because I am O-. However, they are a bit overwhelmed and can’t register me yet. I should have registered before. Anyway, if you are a registered, universal donor, you are exactly who they are looking for right now!”

Perhaps put a note in your diary for a fortnight, or a month’s time from now?

I personally don’t think the choice of target – where young women gather to hear about women’s power – was an accident. Neither do people like Australian commentator Greg Sheridan. So, continuing to support increased opportunities for everyone (while recognising the historical and systemic barriers that women have faced)

Contesting some of the ways that this atrocity will be used. I think there are two things here. Firstly, people outside the UK (and within it) have some very weird (by that I mean “wrong”) ideas about how things are. Remember the terrorism “expert” who claimed in 2015 that Birmingham was a ‘no-go’ zone?

To quote a wise friend

please push back against people with very transparent agendas who will use this event to talk about Manchester as some kind of “war zone”, or make references to “no-go zones” where lots of South Asian immigrants live. I’ve already seen people pushing that narrative, and it couldn’t be more wrong. Manchester is a beautiful city full of sports, music, and history, and it is made all the better by its diversity….. Muslim taxi drivers offered free rides to get people away from the arena. Muslim doctors worked overtime to help the victims…. And today, as the smoke is clearing, people are dusting themselves off, helping and comforting the victims, and getting on with their lives. Manchester is resilient and it will survive this.”

My wife, who speaks both Arabic and acerbic spent time yesterday doing precisely this kind of ‘push back’ work on Twitter and Facebook, against those who want to stir up hatred and stupidity.  It’s a Sisyphean challenge of course. Or perhaps, more like cleaning out the Augean stables.

Secondly, the attack may be used as part of the ongoing power grab by the State, for ever more control, surveillance. This is really tricky, because on the one hand there is a need for more frontline staff, but at the same time swelling budgets end up swelling the scope of the state’s reach into private lives. Troops on the streets is, at the very least, ‘unsettling.’  Those who try to exchange freedom for safety often end up with neither.

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On the Manchester bombing – safety, fear, solidarity

Facebook messages come through every minute – people marking themselves as “safe.”

Twenty two people are not, and sixty more are physically wounded.  The psychological wounds for others who were there, for the emergency services, and for others further afield (loved ones, friends) will take time to be obvious, longer still to heal (if they ever do).

Already the familiar patterns are kicking in.  The election campaigning suspended, the newsfeeds full.  We all know the rituals now, of a twenty-first century terror attack in the West.  The hashtags, the solemn declarations, the “Je suis” marches, the sombre faces of politicians telling us what we know, having no more to say than anyone else,  but having to fulfil that role.  We look for solace.

We will learn more of the attacker who committed this mass murder.  Arrests will be made, trials held.  Recriminations will be launched about “why wasn’t more done?”, “why wasn’t this spotted?”

We are scared. We do not want to admit – cannot admit- what we have been told;  that while there is a lot that can be done to make these massacres less likely, the risk can never be removed altogether.

This is not the first attack, it will not be the last.  And the blood banks are full already, so we wonder what solidarity looks like, how do you HELP in a situation like this?  Beyond the grieving, and the listening to the fears and terrors, and supporting those who have suffered, what is to be done?  how?

Ideas?

When you think climate change, think “dam”…. #3MT

Here’s me giving my spiel in the “Three Minute Thesis” heat at University of Manchester

Here’s the slide I used.

hoover dam3

 

And… I’m through to the Three Minute Thesis Final to be held on Wednesday June 7, between 2pm and 3:30pm in University Place Lecture Theatre A. You can register for a (free!) ticket

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/university-of-manchester-three-minute-thesis-final-2017-tickets-34791162303.

 

 

Learning by doing – it’s the only way…

Case. Study. Bloody. Research.  Still, it meant I read

Stake, R. 1995. The Art of Case Study Research. London: Sage,

And on page 35-6 there is this gem-

One century ago, philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey argued that science was not moving in the direction not helping humans understand themselves:
Only from his actions, his fixed utterances, his effects upon others, can man learn about himself; thus he learns to know himself only by the round-about way of understanding. What we once were , how we developed and became what we are, we learn from the way in which we acted, the plans which we once adopted, the way in which we made ourselves felt in our vocation, from old dead letters, from judgments on which were spoken long ago… We understand ourselves and others only when we transfer our lived experience into every kind of expression of our own and other people’s lives.

 

Which puts me in mind of Jason Bourne in the second Bourne movie (The Bourne Supremacy) – while he is Goa, static, the memories are not coming clearly. Only when he moves do things begin to unlock…. (Compare Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – can only shoot well when moving…)

Constant craving- of liberty, independence and the State…

Researching my thesis/an article-I-want-to-submit somewhere, I got interested (i.e. briefly stuck my head down a rabbit hole) in the question on the use and abuse of metaphor in political theory.  Via inter-library loan, got hold of this-

Ankersmit, F. 1993. Metaphor in Political Theory. In Ankersmit  F. and Mooij, J. Knowledge and Language Vol III. Metaphor and Knowledge. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

And this quote told me lots. You too perhaps?

“And if we decide to follow the former path the first political philosopher likely to be of help is Benjamin Constant. For Benjamin Constant (1767-1830) not only gave us the first but also the clearest definition of the concepts of the State and of civil society. Moreover, as we shall see, his writings contain a surprising analysis of the very dialectics that we are looking for. No political philosopher has surpassed Constant’s analysis of the relation between State and civil society in depth and subtlety. The fact that in both his personal and public life Constant had an almost neurotic obsession with all the problems this relation may give rise to- especially where freedom and independence are concerned – may explain the penetration of his insight and why he is still the best thinker on the subject.

The concepts that do most of the work for Constant are the concepts of freedom and independence. The latter is perhaps the more important of the two since it give s the right flavour to the notion of freedom and since we can also apply it, unlike freedom, to institutional spheres like the State and civil society. The central role in freedom and independence (or freedom as independence)  in Constant’s political philosophy is already exemplified by his definition of the State and civil society in terms of freedom and independence.  In contrast to Constant, modern writers on State and civil society do not make the notions of State and civil society conceptually dependent on other notions and that may partly explain their helplessness. This conceptual relation is defined by Constant in the following way. In his treatise on the contrast between ancient and modern liberty, in which all th threads of Constant’s political philosophy are adroitly woven together into one powerful intellectual texture, Constant pointed out that ancient liberty or what we now call ‘political liberty’ consisted in the citizen’s right to participate in the process of policy-making. Modern or ‘civil liberty’, on the other hand, is the freedom of the citizen from immixture of the State in his affairs –it thus is primarily an independence from the State.  Ancient or political liberty is best suited to the small state of the classical polis, whereas modern or civil liberty is required for the large States of modern Europe….”
(Ankersmit, 1993: 177)

Turns out he was born in Lausanne. Small world…

Obama, Trump, Omar, Levy. The game…

I am no fan of Trump, obvs.  But this emoluments thing, about him crassly (and everything about the Donald is crass) enriching his family and business through the POTUS gig.  Everyone is losing their shit about it, but when Obama gets a gig to give a speech for 400k for it people were slightly less bothered.

If I were a Trump supporter, I’d call that hypocrisy, and if I were a Trump supporter who loved The Wire I’d be pointing to a scene which involved Obama’s favourite character – Omar, who steals from drug dealers.  Omar is in court, giving evidence against a drug dealer on a murder charge. The dealer’s lawyer, Levy, who is in a retainer from the Barksdale gang, is cross-examining Omar.

Levy: You are feeding off the violence and the despair of the drug trade.  You’re stealing from those who themselves are stealing the lifeblood from our city. You are a parasite, who leeches off..

Omar:  Just like you man

Levy:  Excuse me? What?

Omar: I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. It’s all in the game, though right?

Baffled, Levy looks at the judge, who shrugs.

 

Yeah, I know it’s an order of magnitude, and Obama has had the ‘decency’ to wait until after he left office. I am not a Trump supporter, and I know there is a difference.  But what I am saying is, if I WERE a Trump supporter, I’d not be seeing a very big difference….