In the Dickens classic, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, the protagonist ends the novel by sacrificing his life for the husband of his one true love, his rival in essence.
Before he dies, this protagonist, Sydney Carton, says the following:
“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.
“I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy…
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
The genius of the novel is that Dickens lets nobody off the hook – both the regime of pre-revolutionary France and the revolutionary leaders have blood on their hands.
But redemption comes from somebody who sees through the cycle of violence and absorbs it.
For us in post-apartheid South Africa, this redemption need not be merely poetic. It can, and must, be practical too. Continue reading
I have a bit of a thing for the Kennedys. I think JFK and Bobby probably saved the world by beating back nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
I probably know more than is strictly healthy about the JFK assassination. And I think American and global politics would have been massively better had Bobby himself not been killed in 1968, probably on his way to becoming president.
Yes, I know there was a very dark side to them too, but I still think some of the mythology was true.
Think of any modern politician today telling citizens not to ask what their country can do for them, but what they can do for their country – like JFK did in his inaugural speech. Continue reading
It is an intriguing coincidence that when one watches the news these days, the images coming from the US are almost exactly the same as those coming from South Africa.
What’s more, both have a hashtag at the heart of the burning, looting, and rioting – namely #BlackLivesMatter for the US, and #FeesMustFall for South Africa.
Is it a coincidence?
I don’t think so.
I think the movements stem from the same social force, brought to life by similar social conditions.
But before we try to understand that force, it’s worth simply recounting the brief history of both movements. Continue reading
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.
In my piece I just did for them, I showed how their system will always beat Watson, IBM’s super computer, in understanding political data. Continue reading
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.
Why don’t we just give the poor money? Continue reading
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.
But unfortunately, none of this amounts to a catch-phrase, a clear political style or theme. Continue reading
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.
So how should we act in this country as white South Africans? What can we do? Continue reading
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.
What was ignored in this is that humans are not really globalised creatures. Continue reading