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Sina Odugbemi's blog

Quote of the Week: G. K. Chesterton

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When a politician is in opposition he is an expert on the means to some end; when he is in office he is an expert on the obstacles to it.”

- Gilbert Keith Chesterton, a prolific English writer, critic, poet, philosopher, dramatist, and Christian apologist.  Chesterton is often referred to as the "prince of paradox."
 

2014: The Graveyard of Fevered Hopes?

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The year that is ending in two weeks has exhibited two sobering characteristics. First, it has been marked by apocalyptic violence (the massacre of school children in Peshawar, Pakistan being the latest outrage). Second, it has been marked by pressures on communication freedom, and the relentless squeezing of civic spaces. The violence we all know about; for it seems to be kicking off everywhere. But the causes are legion; the politics in each case is bewilderingly complex. So, we’ll leave these alone and hope for the best. But we might usefully reflect, as the year closes, on what is happening with national public spheres and the emerging global public sphere.

There is a narrative of hope and freedom about the global communication context. That narrative celebrates the mobile wave and the astounding spread of information and communication technologies. It talks about how wonderful all this is for voice, for enlightenment, for freedom. Look, we are told, see all those cool young kids with their fancy gadgets, social media skills, and their ability to launch collective action eruptions, even revolutions! See how admirable and hopeful all this is, we are told. And, yes, events have often backed up the fevered hopes and dreams, even this year. Yet, as the year ends, the overwhelming sense one gets is that dark and powerful forces are counterattacking. They are certainly not on the ropes. Let’s look at the particulars:

Quote of the Week: Esa-Pekka Salonen

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"Many of my colleagues say, ‘Well, you know, music is above or beyond politics.’ I have the opposite view. I would very much like to be in the centre of the political debate. And I think one of the problems of classical music, or whatever you call it, is that we have been marginalised as part of the uppermost crust of society.  We play our Mozarts and our Beethovens, and it’s quite pretty and it doesn’t annoy anybody.”

Esa-Pekka Salonen, a Finnish orchestral conductor and composer. Salonen is currently the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London and Conductor Laureate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Quote of the Week: Angela Merkel

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"I am regarded as a permanent delayer sometimes, but I think it is essential and extremely important to take people along and really listen to them in political talks.”

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany since 2005 and the leader of the Christian Democratic Union(CDU), a German political party, since 2000. She is the first woman to hold either office. Merkel entered politics in the wake of the Revolutions of 1989 and was formerly a physical chemist in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
 

Quote of the Week: Janan Ganesh

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"The role of human agency is over-rated in politics. Not every development in public opinion is a reaction to something a politician has said or done.” 

- Janan Ganesh, a political columnist for the Financial Times. Previously, he was a political correspondent for The Economist. He appears weekly on BBC1's Sunday Politics television show and wrote a biography of George Osborne, the UK chancellor.
 

Quote of the Week: George Packer

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"Journalists become reliably useful to governments, corporations, or armed groups only when they betray their calling.” 

- George Packer, an American journalist, novelist, and playwright. He is well- known for writing on U.S. foreign policy in the The New Yorker and for his book The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq.

Quote of the Week: John Adams

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"Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."

- John Adams, the second president of the United States (1797–1801), and, before that, the first vice president of the United States (1789-1797). Adams was a statesman, diplomat, philosopher, and leading advocate of American independence.

How to Insult Your Opponent

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You really should not go around insulting those who take an opposing viewpoint in public debate. The ideal is clear. You treat opponents with respect. You take seriously what they are saying. In responding, you do not cheat, you do not unfairly sum up or characterize what they are saying. You acknowledge facts; you are not entitled to inventing your own facts. Above all, as much as possible, you avoid logical fallacies. You argue logically and cogently. For, that is the only way that the search for truth is advanced, and it is the only way that informed public opinion created. In short, abuse is no argument. Civility in public discourse is a great and worthwhile ideal.

And yet!

Much of public debate and discussion takes the form of invective. It was always thus; and it seems it will always be thus. The culprits, I suppose, are human passions; those self-same unruly horses that carry us to great heights when we want to achieve something worthwhile. We often become so convinced that we are right that we cannot imagine how anyone would disagree. And when we confront opponents who are as certain as we are that they are right something seems to snap. Faces contort. Abuse and spit fly. No matter how often people are told to calm down, commit to logical reasoning, respect facts… nothing seems to work. A huge chunk of public debate on the great issues of the day is characterized by the trading of insults.

Insults must serve a purpose, otherwise how come all public political cultures have them?

Quote of the Week: Michael Frayn

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“I think everyone has some fear of chaos. The structure of life is really quite fragile and it can easily be disrupted. So we are all collaborating to try and keep the show on the road – and we all have an unconscious anxiety that it may go off the road.”

- Michael Frayn, an English playwright and novelist and philosopher
 

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