Author Archives: Chris Waldburger
Author Archives: Chris Waldburger
There is a tendency these days to equate comedy with silliness or a lack of artistic credibility. When last did a comedy win Best Picture Oscar? When last did our matric students study a Shakespearean comedy?
But finding something funny is what makes us human. And one of the funniest films ever made in my view is the ‘90s classic, ‘Dumb and Dumber’.
Last week, I did a piece of analysis for social media analytics company, Brandseye. Their intelligence tool is based on big data collection – but also human insight, in the form of their signature Crowd.
Their success – in predicting Brexit, and coalition governments in the SA local elections – overturns some prevailing sentiment in the tech and business worlds – that machines are now cleverer than people, and might take over society, like something out of Terminator or The Matrix.
What their Crowd does is sort through big data, adding human insight, in the shape of an awareness of irony, narrative, and humour, to the evaluation of media information.
When I was googling images of Steve Biko for one my posts this week, I came across the haunting image of his corpse – his battered face after dying from torture.
I thought of his own words then – his words about bestowing on our society the gift of a human face.
I’ve been thinking about this concept for the whole week now. What does it mean for a society to have a human face, and what do we mean by the concept of some ideal, abstract human face?
And how does this connect with how Biko’s face came to be in death – bloodied and desecrated after he died naked in the back of a truck?
One of the great philosophers of our time, Roger Scruton, has looked at the same issue, in a series of lectures he gave entitled ‘The Face of God’ at St Andrew’s in Scotland in 2010.
The main point he makes is that as human beings, with consciousness and choice and intention, we find ourselves most fully in relationships not only with other people, but also with the world.
To give two examples, we build restaurants to eat together with other people; and we go on walks in mountains and on beaches. And both things make us feel more human.
First of all, let me say that I understand poverty will always exist in some form or another because we live in an imperfect world.
One of the misplaced keys to politics is, I believe, a sense of the tragic. We need to realise that we can’t bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. There will never be a utopia (after all utopia really means ‘no place’).
With that in mind, we need to take the world as we find it, and try to ameliorate the suffering that seems to be part of the human experience. We should do this not only because it increases human happiness, but because it is how save our own souls – by treating our fellow humans as neighbours.
So what big ideas can we use to try to alleviate poverty?
I want to throw out something radically simple.
I have been wondering how I would describe the unifying theme of my writing.
For a long time, I have considered myself a conservative. By that, I don’t mean the politics of George Bush, as some mistakenly think – but rather a politics that values tradition, the family, morality, and is sceptical as to how much a large government can achieve.
I think all politics is ultimately about an organic relationship between liberty and order, worked out in time and space by a people according to their own history and traditions.
I think when governments are too confident in their own ability to re-make society, to engineer society, disaster strikes. Think of the gulags, the social engineering of apartheid, the Terror of the French Revolution and its subsequent Napoleonic Wars.
A lot of white people are angry in South Africa. They are angry about being blamed for being privileged, for inequality, and for all the aftershocks of apartheid. They are angry about BEE, quotas in sport, and a terrible ANC leader.
They are also nervous – nervous about a lot of black people questioning the deals that took place around 1994, questioning land ownership, and white people’s whole sense of belonging in this country. That anxiety creates a lot of the anger.
But the key thing to remember is that this conversation, and these emotions, especially as it is played out on social media, can have no satisfying resolution. Just being angry or scared is not going to do anything for white South Africans, no matter whether those emotions are justified or not.
You can dabble in anger, and you should definitely process it, but you need to know that what you choose to do and how you choose to live will ultimately define not only your life but also the future of our society. And anger is not enough to live a meaningful life.
Every society, every group, naturally creates an outsider. It’s how the group stays together.
Think about the last time you gossiped with a crowd. By pointing out somebody’s else’s flaws, didn’t it give you a sense of belonging?
Almost every ancient tribe or city was founded on some kind of murder.
Thebes had Oedipus; Rome’s monarchy had Remus – its empire had Julius Caesar; post Civil-War America had Lincoln; the Zulus Shaka; the first thing Cain does after killing Abel is start a city.
The Ancient Israelites literally came together every year by killing a scapegoat. One goat was sacrificed at the altar; the other sent into the desert, carrying everybody’s sins.
I teach quite a bit of Shakespearean tragedy, and it is notable how the whole point of tragedy is the audience finding some comfort, or catharsis, in the downfall of a single tragic hero.
If you are still mystified about the rise of Trump, this is the article you need to read.
His critics dismiss him too glibly. But the fact that such a strange man like Donald Trump has so much popularity tells us something is shifting in the world.
And that shift comes as a result of a seismic aftershock to globalisation.
Globalisation is the process by which the world’s economies and cultures have become interlocked and inter-connected.
Two examples help us to understand it:
1. Money lenders in the US take gambles on risky mortagages and crash their economy. Here in South Africa people somehow lose their jobs as a result as demand is sucked up worldwide.
2. I remember travelling to Malawi a decade ago. Even in its quietest corners, I came across young children wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the images of American rappers.
The great hope after the end of the Cold War and the fall of Communism was this idea of a new global village, where democracy and free trade inspires a free and prosperous world, progressing under the auspices of a Pax Americana.