Martin Luther King, Bertrand Russell, Carl Jung, Tony Hancock: some of the Face to Face interviewees on BBC iPlayer, while the NS gives us John Gray and Ross Douthat (Face to Face, 28 January). Gray is a useful antidote to any optimism one might be feeling, and perhaps the New York Times feels its readers also need a Cassandra to ruin their brunch.
What surprised me was Gray and Douthat’s failure to mention the environmental crisis. How can anyone consider the future without taking into account the potentially disastrous impacts of global heating? Whether or not there is a revival of Christianity, whether the West continues to exercise cultural dominance and if wokeness is here to stay seem almost parochial questions on a planet facing such enormous challenges.
This kind of existential threat is terrifying, of course, but it also carries with it the hope of change and the hope of new ways of thinking, working and consuming. Let’s hear from some people who can hint at a possible way forward.
Hilary Patrick, Isle of Arran
I’m not an academic, and the debate between John Gray and Ross Douthat (Face to Face, 28 January) has at least made me grateful for that, but I was confused by the references to wokeness, “the woke simulacrum” etc. Could one of your contributors explain the problem?
By my definition, accusing someone of being “woke” is a shorthand for dismissing someone who cares about the voices of those who have spent the majority of their existence being marginalised, treated unfairly or persecuted. I’m not sure how caring about others sends a society into decline and I would be sincerely interested to hear an explanation.
Jim Simmons, via email
It has been said often in recent weeks that there is no historical parallel for the present political crisis (Notebook, 28 January). In fact, the fall of Lloyd George in 1922 has many similarities. The crucial issues then were trust in the prime minister and the decline of his personal credibility. Contributing factors included “sleaze” in the sale of honours scandal of 1922 and distrust of No 10. Will Boris Johnson’s time in office also be ended by back-bench Tory MPs who fear that the public has irreversibly lost trust in the Prime Minister?
Emeritus Professor Stuart Ball CBE, University of Leicester
In it together
Rachel Cunliffe (Notebook, 28 January) overlooks that the individual and the collective are inextricably bound – libertarians in our midst might even complain “shackled”. Pointing out that we do not ask drug-users, alcoholics, smokers, or even extreme sport enthusiasts to pay for healthcare omits the detail that in all of the above, the user-practitioner will normally harm only themselves. With the virus, we are all potentially “killers of strangers” (and colleagues, friends and family).
Ken Evans, Matlock, Derbyshire
Jonathan Liew (Left Field, 28 January) spoils an interesting column about Manchester City’s unpopularity by attributing to Pep Guardiola qualities that older football-watchers recognised in managers of previous generations. Stan Cullis, Bill Nicholson, Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Brian Clough and Bob Paisley also understood the importance of “manipulating” space, “exploiting” angles and “restricting” the opponent’s options. Lord Kinnaird, the notorious hacker, was even more rigorous on these matters!
Michael Henderson, Bamford, Lancashire
West is east
When next visiting the man in Hove who cannot repair his watch, Nicholas Lezard (Down and Out, 28 January) would do well to enquire whether he sells compasses. The line between Hove and Brighton is the former’s eastern border – not western.
Peter Barnes, Milton Keynes
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This article appears in the 02 Feb 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Going Under