Jason Cowley writes compellingly of the Steve McQueen documentary series Uprising (Editor’s Note, 30 July). I shall watch it myself as I need to learn more recent history of this country from before the time I settled here. In 1983-87 I was in my early twenties and studying in England, having spent all my life up until then in Ontario. It was a huge shock to me when, on a train journey in 1984, I witnessed from the passenger across the aisle blatant racism and verbal abuse directed at the conductor – like me, an immigrant, but, unlike me, from the Indian subcontinent. After the conductor, with great patience, resolved the passenger’s complaint and moved off, they muttered to me something about thick bloody immigrants. I was feeling very uncomfortable, but meekly replied, “I’m an immigrant.” The response was, “Yeah, but you’re not from that kind of place”, to which I shot back, this time angrily, “So what?” End of conversation.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Our planet’s crisis
“A message for the planet” (Leader, 30 July) should be required reading for presidents, prime ministers and newspaper editors, the majority of whom lack the courage to be honest about the state of the world and its warming under our burgeoning population of 7.8 billion, increasing at 81 million new souls annually. As the Leader notes, the current reality is that “G20 countries have devoted around $291bn of bailout spending to fossil fuel industries, compared to $246bn for clean energy”. It concludes that “no country can escape the consequences of an overheating planet”. We have been warned.
Iffley Village, Oxford
Stephen Bush’s column on the “curious position” of the climate crisis in domestic politics is spot on (Politics, 30 July). Young people in Britain and across the world have made considerable sacrifices over the past 18 months, despite being – broadly speaking – not the group worst afflicted by Covid. Our government did not think twice before, rightly, imposing lockdown measures to protect the older generation. Alas, it is unwilling to do the same for the young, as proven by the “quibbles”, as Bush aptly puts it, over the inevitable costs of tackling climate change. In mere months, young people got with the programme for the pandemic. It is time for the older generation to do the same with the climate crisis.
Josh Williams (age 27)
It’s difficult to square Rory Scothorne’s praise of Tom Nairn (“The prophet of post-Britain”, 30 July) with his subject’s work, which was meant to encourage support for independence by providing a sulphurous vision of England – a country from which any decent people would seek to escape, breaking all bonds of governance to find asylum in the European Union. The leader of the “attack” is the SNP, whose focus on getting out of Britain has left a once admired education system as the dunce of the UK and has seen drug deaths rise to 1,339, or 234 per million inhabitants, in a year – nearly three times the rate of the next worst region, the north-east of England. The EU will demand, as the head of the European Policy Centre, Fabian Zuleeg, has made very clear, that Scotland become a model member – with no opt-outs, no special deals and a commitment to join the euro. It must have a hard border with the UK and unpick a vast legacy of laws, agreements and links built over more than three centuries. In Nairn’s baroque prose, national independence flows in “the Celtic bloodstream”, and must find an outlet. But its results would be, for the large mass of people, largely negative, deep into the future.
I highly respect John Gray, but his essay is sadly flawed (“A world of shadows”, 30 July). Chinese leaders don’t need Thucydides to teach them how to deal with the US. Their own history is full of complicated multipartisan power struggles: the period of the Three Kingdoms in the third century is the most prominent. Still less do Chinese leaders need a relatively obscure German philosopher (Carl Schmitt) to guide them in their totalitarian rule. Since Qin Shi Huangdi in the third century BC, all successful Chinese rulers have studied and applied the political philosophy of legalism, whose teachings can be found in works such as the Book of Lord Shang and Han Feizi (both have excellent English translations). As Western power and influence wane, Western ideas no longer dominate – unless you view the world from the lens of Euro-centrism, which is unwise.
John Gray is obviously no cheerleader for the new ideology of hyper-liberalism. He is well aware of how the portrayal of Western civilisation as “a uniquely pernicious force” serves to flag up the “immaculate progressive credentials” of an aspirant ruling class. However, followers of the “hyper-liberal credo” will take some heart from his view that the idea of the homogeneous nation state and its associated ethnic cleansing originated in revolutionary France. What those who wept in exile by the rivers of Babylon in 597 BC would have made of this is a question for another day.
Louise Perry is right (Out of the Ordinary, 30 July) to claim that gender-critical feminism is becoming respectable. Everywhere you can read that there is a thing called “transgender ideology”, which, by redefining humanity and denying the reality of sex, would make feminism impossible. In reality, trans people are a tiny minority, only wanting to live our lives. The vilification of out-groups is always close to respectability in the authoritarian mind, and writers on the left and the right have scaremongered about trans people.
I am trans. I don’t want all the words around motherhood changed, only for pregnant trans men to be treated with respect. I don’t care whether anyone who is not trans has a gender identity: I have, so I live my life as who I am, despite hate on the streets or in respectable publications. Reading that trans identity is a danger to women and children makes me terribly frightened.
Louise Perry says that gender-critical (GC) thinking, which claims biological sex to be immutable and not a social construct, has gained in respectability over the past few years, but GC theory is not as niche as she seems to believe: it’s just that fear of being sacked or of violence, threatened or actual, deters us from speaking out. This assault on free speech is a matter of grave concern.
GC theory has entered the public forum in response to a number of issues. The 2004 Gender Recognition Act has been updated, making it easier for people to self-identify as male or female. Self-identification can be problematic, as in 2018, when the violent offender Karen White was placed in a women’s prison and went on to sexually assault two inmates. Gender dysphoria is a real and distressing condition, but there needs to be more deliberation about prescribing puberty blockers and then moving on to radical surgery.
I wonder, too, if widespread gender stereotyping might not in some cases give rise to feelings of discomfort with one’s own biological sex. Yes, I thought, as I watched the diver Tom Daley busily knitting – give that man a medal.
Reading the pensées of Bryan Magee (30 July) I was reminded of the peculiar genius of this writer. When Magee wrote on Schopenhauer or Wagner he managed to communicate a metaphysical passion in clear, beautiful sentences. After reading Bryan Magee I always found that my sense of life, its mysteries and possibilities, had been deepened.
The Reverend Ben Brown
I was struck by Jason Cowley’s choice of Magee’s aphoristic “notes” but also by what they omitted. In note 26, Magee declares: “If death is the end, then all this is a miracle.” Had I met him, I would have asked why “all this” being “a miracle” depended on death being the end. How differently we might all live on this trashed planet if we lived as if everything is a miracle. Isn’t part of the role of philosophy to have us question how we live, as well as why?
Of 270 Bryan Magee pensées, number 117 describes today: “Our true identity is masked from ourselves, and so we associate with one another as if we were masks wearing masks.” Yup.
I skipped through the pensées and was intrigued by 79: “In matters concerning erotic love, openings are all important!” My exclamation mark.
Joining the dots
Henri-Edmond Cross may well have “painted his picture in a hybrid of pointillism and divisionism; the first being constructed by dots”, (“An Anarchist on the Riviera”, 30 July), but he may also have been referencing the similarly mosaic imagery of the new colour photographic process called Autochrome, which was familiar to Alfred Stieglitz and his acolytes. Patented in 1904 and invented by Louis Lumière (the younger of the two brothers), this was the first practical colour process.
Fulford, North Yorkshire
I was glad to see (Letters, 30 July) that a Coulsdon resident, Terri Charman, appreciated Nicholas Lezard’s relish of loose-leaf tea – and advised him to “pick up a classic Brown Betty teapot for a few quid any day of the week” in one of Brighton’s many charity shops. Across the border here in Hove, I can testify to our charity shops being an even greater source of teapots. The other day I bought for £10 a vintage china teapot shrouded by insulating metal. I do not speak lightly when I say that this outlay has changed my life.
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