breaking news from the world of ideas

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Friday, 18
September 2020
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08:00

Boeing’s deadly sin

The full extent of corporate failure at Boeing over the 737 Max has been revealed this week. The congressional investigation into the crashes is damning, findingcost-cutting… that jeopardised the safety of the flying public”, “regulatory capture” and a “culture of concealment” leading to the deaths of 346 people in two separate crashes. 

The dry procedural language used in the report stood out to me, in part because I have been reading an economics classic by E.F Schumacher, Small is Beautiful. While official documents condemn “troubling mismanagement misjudgements”, and Boeing admits “mistakes were made”, it is left to the bereaved families to use words which for most of us come closest to an accurate summation: “I lost my dad to greed, corruption and lack of human decency.” ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Wednesday, 26
August 2020
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11:18

Outside religion, who’s talking about forgiveness?

This week the mother of one of the victims of the Christchurch massacre forgave the perpetrator

Speaking with moving dignity, Janna Ezat spoke about her son who “didn’t have an enemy in the world until the day he was killed. He used to give me flowers for my birthday. Instead I got his body.” She added: “I decided to forgive you. In our Muslim faith we say…if you are able to forgive, forgive”. 

The archetype of a grieving parent forgiving their child’s killer has become a horribly familiar, and it is always moving one. Perhaps because the act runs so contrary to expectations, it is always covered in the news. The most recent memorable example is the Charleston massacre, in which nine churchgoers were gunned down by (again) a white supremacist who had joined their bible study. Three relatives went on to offer forgiveness at the attacker’s bond hearing. ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Wednesday, 12
August 2020
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15:00

The spiritual transgression of facial recognition technology

Yesterday the civil liberties campaign group Liberty won a landmark court case against South Wales Police around their use of facial recognition technology. The court ruled that the use of Automatic Facial Recognition (AFR) was unlawful because there was a lack of guidance on where AFR could be used and who could be put on a watchlist, as well as data protection issues.

Facial recognition technology has many uses, primarily in law enforcement, but it also raises substantial privacy concerns. Many of us who object to its widespread use do so for concrete reasons about how power in society is structured, but also for deeper and less definable ones. ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Thursday, 16
July 2020
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11:47

How social media became a rancid Babel

This week I interviewed Mary Harrington, a columnist on these pages who is also a trained psychotherapist. We discussed the role of social media in driving division, and she framed the problem in a way that illuminated a tired old trope. She thinks that behind these warring factions online there is:

…something very deep, a real yearning for connection, for recognition, to be understood. This is knocked back again and again because you can never really be fully understood except face to face, and even then it’s difficult because it takes self-reflection, charity and a willingness on both sides to try. Online you have this magnification of the different ways you can be misunderstood, and the ever more desperate yearning to be understood, and then it curdles into this kind of rancid Babel of acrimony.
- Mary Harrington

There are often substantive legal and conceptual issues underneath our most painful debates and focusing on the relational dynamics, tone and existential tenor can be dismissed as trivial or avoiding the issues. It isn’t. Social media is, for better or worse, now the main site of our collective reasoning. It is where we narrate ourselves to ourselves, as individuals and collectively. It shapes how we see our own identity and that of others, and the health or otherwise of those conversations has an enormous impact on whether we are able to resolve, or even live with, our differences. ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Friday, 3
July 2020
Idea
08:30

Let’s put an end to macho cultural pessimism

The only ‘Big Book’ I’ve managed to catch up with during lockdown is a year out of date. Fleishman is in Trouble was last summer’s high-status holiday read, and coming to it now feels almost nostalgic. The central themes have been well treated elsewhere, but one side thread stood out, around tone. Our narrator (Libby Epstein), a female reporter, describes trying to write like macho, superstar journalist Archer:

 The way he had of releasing the valve of his anger slowly, tensely, beautifully….created a generalised disgust for the state of the world that seemed like the only conclusion a smart, thinking person could come to.
- Libby Epstein, Fleishman is in Trouble

The narrator envies the cultural power of this style of writing. Archer’s womanising, entitled, expense account-milking behaviour is tolerated, encouraged even, because his sharp sardonic prose sells magazines. ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Friday, 19
June 2020
Idea
07:00

Inequality is not a ‘Left-wing’ issue

Economic inequality is one of the defining issues of our time. Its effects can be discerned in all those issues that more obviously dominate our political life — race, immigration, populism, the EU. It doesn’t get tackled with much political will, however, for one primary reason. It is seen to be ‘owned’ by the Left. The Right in the UK has preferred to speak of ‘equality of opportunity’ and ‘levelling up’ or the straightforward relief of absolute poverty, hampered by fears of state overreach and the shadowy legacy of communism.

Even prior to the pandemic, this was changing. ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Monday, 1
June 2020
Idea
07:00

Why Dietrich Bonhoeffer is essential lockdown reading

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I have been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers in Prison in lockdown. Imprisoned by the Nazis for taking part in a plot to assassinate Hitler, the great theologian had time to process how much the world had changed since his childhood. Many of his urgent reflections on how to live resonate with this moment, not least the theme of home.

The centrality of the home in a time when we’re all confined to it is obvious, but it’s also part of a longer trend. I wrote last year about the “pivot to burnout” that saw branding companies and marketers focus on the “domestic cosy” trend — even before it was enforced, we were spending more time in (and more money on) our living spaces. ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Wednesday, 27
May 2020
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11:33

When will churchgoers sing again?

Plans for the reopening of churches, along with many of our great institutions, remain hazy. It seems likely that services, as well as being masked, deep cleaned and socially distanced, will be devoid of song. The debate over whether singing could be possible behind masks, or if singers were far enough away still rages, but most cautious church leaders will opt to avoid the risk altogether.

Sensible, maybe, but also heartbreaking. Choirs up and down the country will be experiencing a similar grief. The news for close-knit communities, who have transitioned to digital rehearsals, that they can’t make music together for some time will be a blow. We’ve had enough pro-choir popular television for us all to know the arguments — singing together releases endorphins, builds social cohesion and is a tonic for our mental and physical health. Hundreds of thousands of non-church goers will feel the lack of it. ...  Continue reading