With the usual autumnal retreat into our homes, life takes on a muted and solipsistic quality. Yet, for many, the end of this uneasy year cannot come quickly enough. Not that Covid-19 is likely to adhere to any particular calendar. Boris Johnson’s current three-tiered strategy clearly demonstrates that lockdown, in any guise, may well be as difficult this time around, especially given the scepticism where conflicting science is concerned.
The government is fast losing any modicum of authority and stands to alienate those very voters that helped it to power. In this issue David Swift takes a close look at how the government’s quixotic attempt at stemming the infection rate may have given those first-time Tory voters in the north of the country what can only be termed buyer’s remorse. Johnson’s heroic turn as Alexander in slicing the Gordian Knot of Brexit may yet be undone by his failure to level up the economy and take on the liberal elite.
As the clock runs down on the Brexit transition period, Britain’s future relationship with the EU remains unclear. For Stephen Booth “years of bad-tempered negotiations and political drama have drained the well of trust on both sides”. He assesses whether the hurdles are as insurmountable as they might seem.
This month’s diary comes courtesy of Gillian Philip, a victim of cancel culture when she was fired for backing J.K. Rowling. “Wokeness”, for want of a better noun, is no longer a byword for benign political correctness. Although social justice may have laudable origins, which few can gainsay, it has begun to reveal an insidious and intolerant aspect. The American journalist Bari Weiss, who fell foul of what she termed an “illiberal environment” at the New York Times, recently offered her Twitter followers advice from a wise source. The concluding paragraphs of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s essay “Live Not By Lies” are worth repeating here:
If we are too frightened, then we should stop complaining that we are being suffocated. We are doing this to ourselves. If we bow down even further and wait longer, our brothers the biologists may then help to bring nearer the day when our thoughts can be read and our genes restructured.
If we are too frightened to do anything, then we are hopeless and worthless people and the lines of Pushkin fit us well:
What use to the herds the gifts of freedom?
The scourge, and a yoke with tinkling bell
—this is their heritage, bequeathed to every generation.
The poet Robert Frost sought to define education as “the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence”. But has tertiary education outlived its value and usefulness? Helen Dale decries ever-expanding higher education—“degrees are an intellectual peacock’s tail and serve to signal a very specific kind of fitness. They also (like the peacock’s tail) habitually get in their owners’ way”—and argues against rewarding people materially on their intelligence alone. David Goodhart also persuasively argues that we must not only serve the cognitive elite—where supply now outstrips demand—but also develop a culture of “hearts” and “hands”.
Following the death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter (BLM) transcended its status as a social movement and became a watchword. Calvin Robinson’s personalised account of his own experience at the hands of this organisation—and how it attempted to cancel him—reveals how BLM may have missed the point it has been trying to make.
With Nigeria turning 60 as an independent nation this month, Remi Adekoya asks that we look to Africa rather than the United States for changing negative attitudes to blackness. He makes a case for Nigeria—a country of over 200 million—becoming the great black hope of the future.
If the global pandemic has taught us anything—which should include excising irritating phrases, such as “the new normal”, from common parlance—it is that life, however much we will it otherwise, remains uncertain. Of course, the Stoics knew this early. John Sellars makes a strong case for why stoicism still matters and how its philosophy might provide a guide in the current climate.
The distinction between what constitutes poetry and what does not is an argument that is unlikely ever to be resolved. The poet Ian Hamilton cuts a stoical and central figure in David Collard’s essay on the “poetry wars” of the 1970s, when traditionalists and radicals battled for the future of verse.
Cinema, Federico Fellini reminds us, “uses the language of dreams”. Lockdown has proved a nightmare for the movie industry. Matthew Bond assesses whether this is the end of cinema.
In his witty and contrarian Overrated/Underrated column, Stephen Bayley offers us lust over love. The latter, a recent invention, is prone to unhappiness, a price always having to be paid; whereas the former, well . . .
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