Congratulations to Jason Cowley on getting his first vaccination (Editor’s Note, 26 March). Here in Brasilia I got mine too, as a 69-year-old, on 22 March. It was Coronavac, the Chinese vaccine that the president refused to buy seven months ago. My experience was in one way different from Jason’s: no appointments so a two-hour wait in the car; and in another way similar, as I was met by smiling, incredibly young and enthusiastic professionals who’d been working on their feet for many hours when I got there. I resisted the temptation, as I drove away, to open the window and bellow, “Screw you Bolsonaro!”. Two days later Brazil reached 3,000 deaths in one day (one every 27 seconds) and Bolsonaro addressed this benighted, stricken nation to claim he was the champion of vaccination and that normal life would soon resume. I get my second jab on 19 April. I won’t resist the temptation again.
Not a populist
David Hare’s article (“Populism without the people”, 26 March) was full of powerful insights. Strange, then, that he sees a populist as “someone who has appeal for the entire electorate”. The populist’s strategy is to cultivate one section of the electorate to the point of adoration and fire them with rage against the rest. He seizes power by activating his base, then works to marginalise everyone else. That was Hitler’s way and it is Donald Trump’s. Perhaps Boris Johnson is edging further towards the right, but he’s not, in this sense, a populist.
According to David Hare, when Michael Gove said he was sick of experts, he meant he was sick of facts. But the experts in question were dealing with prophecies by means of algorithm and mathematical modelling. The results were, at most, probabilities.
Experts warned of disaster if the UK did not join the euro, then if it left the EU. Experts devised an algorithm to replicate exam results last summer to almost universal condemnation. Medical experts recommend lockdowns for longer; economists recommend restarting the economy sooner. Once we had psychics and religious fanatics to foretell the future. Now we have experts.
David Hare writes: “In June 1975 I voted against Britain joining the Common Market.” No, he didn’t. That question was never put to the British people. We joined in 1973, purely on the votes of MPs (by 301 to 284).
[see also: Populism without the people]
I thoroughly enjoy Jeremy Cliffe’s column as it keeps us in touch with our European neighbours. I must take issue with his statement, however, that there are two German words for responsibility (World View, 26 March). The second word he mentions, “Verantwortung”, does indeed mean responsibility, as “Antwort” means answer or response. The first word “Vernunft” has a much more fundamental meaning – “reason”, the basic good sense that should underlie all positive human reasoning.
Don’t mention Reg
In the 1990s my local hostelry was a friendly independent pub, the Unicorn, situated off the Roman Road in Old Ford, adjacent to Bethnal Green. Stephen Bush’s column (Bursting the Bubble, 26 March), particularly his reference to Reggie Kray, reminded me of the one topic of conversation forbidden on the premises. Politics and religion were fine, but the moment the Krays were mentioned, the word “enough” emanated from the licensee, Jo. Far too dangerous a subject!
Rev Ron Smith
I enjoyed Stephen Bush’s informative history of the street names where he grew up in London, and his analysis of why defenders of John Cass cannot use historical context to absolve him of complicity in the slave trade. Yet his reason for promoting Jack Petchey as a more suitable alternative for street naming is a faux pas: “The only living person who gets streets named after them in this country is the Queen.” I hope that Tessa Sanderson and Keith Connor, British athletes of the 1980s, have not been ghosts for the 30 years that their names have adorned the street signs in Clapham.
“It reeks of the worst kinds of ideas about how groups of people in a society are dispensable for the benefit of others,” said Michael Rosen (Observations, 26 March), about the government’s early toying with herd immunity. This shouldn’t be a polarised debate, but the sentiment applies equally and we mustn’t let those who have failed us off the hook. The wreckage wrought by Covid mustn’t be minimised or boiled down to a generational stand-off. It’s about humanity.
John Gray’s article on Jacques Derrida was excellent (The Critics, 19 March). His argument that Derrida is more difficult to defend against his followers than his critics is perspicacious, and could also be applied to Ludwig Wittgenstein. He, for whom logic and language games were part of a search for meaning and ethical knowledge, has inspired a legion of successors who, in contradiction to Wittgenstein’s views, regard philosophy as a subservient science whose sole aim is to deliver technical improvements to communication. They seem to occupy most anglophone departments of philosophy, and it was they who objected to Derrida’s honorary doctorate from Cambridge in 1992.
[see also: Deconstructing Jackie]
In the picture
Richard Mabey identifies a problem that extends beyond nature writing (“The man who saw everything”, 26 March). Just as most of his competition entries were not about nature but “the people who had written them”, in documentary television personality replaces the subject. Sometimes, in art history programmes, the presenter stands directly in front of the picture. It is what presenters can show us that matters, not their faces.
Kevin Maguire (Commons Confidential, 26 March) says that Liz Truss takes a “culture war view” of women’s rights. Women’s hard-won rights to safety, privacy and dignity are under threat from an ideology that seeks to undermine them and denies biological reality. I’m grateful to Truss for her stance. If Maguire were female, he might be less cavalier.
I once wrote to Prince Philip with a suggestion for rainforest loss. He sent me a gracious reply pointing out that it was already being pursued as “debt for nature swap”.
Wondering how to pay him respect, I turn to the family name given to his children. The contenders were Windsor and Mountbatten, one a replacement for Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to disown the German connections of George V; the other the duke’s maternal family name, anglicised from Battenberg for similar reasons. Besides their artificiality, neither name fits the patrilineal tradition. Having left the EU, it would be a friendly gesture to show that the natural name for our royal house is acceptable to us.
Nicholas Lezard overlooks that Julie Burchill is merely part of a long and ignoble tradition in British journalism (Down and Out, 26 March). Since the time of the former Labour MP Woodrow Wyatt, left-wing firebrands have found employment in right-wing journals.
Having established a reputation for iconoclasm harnessed to pithy writing, they work out that the real money is to be earned abjuring their former opinions and condemning their one-time friends and colleagues.
Illnesses can be both “invisible” and physical (“When illness is invisible”, 26 March). My skin was so sensitive to light that I lived in the dark for ten years until tests diagnosed mast cell activation syndrome. My health is much improved but my psyche remains unreconstructed. Constant assumptions that my mysterious condition must be the result of emotional trauma made those dark years incalculably more devastating.
I take issue with the suggestion that Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris and Douglas Murray are “red-pilling” people to far-right politics (Correspondence, 26 March). I have followed these mainstream thinkers for years and am grateful to them for improving my thinking, yet I remain a Labour member, trade unionist and NS subscriber. What unites them is a critique of the intolerant ideology that is identity politics. I suspect Glenn Masson’s former friends, whom he accuses of becoming “far right”, might deny this label. They may suggest it is they who have lost him to identity politics.
Let’s acknowledge AA Milne (The Critics, 26 March) wrote probably the first children’s story involving anti-immigrant prejudice. When Kanga and Baby Roo arrive “suddenly” in the forest, Pooh, Piglet and Rabbit decide to steal Roo until Kanga promises to “go away and never come back”. Fortunately their plan fails, as does Rabbit’s attempt to “un-bounce” Tigger by abandoning him. It’s not all sweetness in the Hundred Acre Wood.
Put it in a book
Michael Prodger’s pieces on landscape painting must become a high-quality book when the series is complete.
[see also: The blossom-filled landscapes of Charles Conder]
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This article appears in the 14 Apr 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Careless people