Tuesday, 30 April 2019

TRUTH, TRIBES AND RECONCILIATION


The phrase 'Truth and Reconciliation' is associated most strongly with so-called Truth Commissions or Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (etc) which have been established historically in countries from Canada and Congo to Peru and Yugoslavia - and famously in South Africa post-apartheid.  Such commissions have often had the job of uncovering the truth about past wrongdoing in situations of serious conflict, in particular violations of human rights, violence, disappearances, and so on.  


So the phrase should perhaps not be used lightly.  Yet truth has been at a premium in both the USA and the UK in recent years, as we have previously debated at Wychwood Circle, and a potential UK prime minister is at this moment being taken to court for lying in the EU referendum - with some critics arguing that this is no place for the judiciary to get involved since 'politicians always lie' while continental diplomats cannot foresee doing any deals with a future prime minister who is known for his 'mendacity and duplicity'. 

When Peter Silva's talk was planned the expectation was that the Brexit debate would have led to some sort of constitutional conclusion, however messy, leaving the UK (in or out of the EU) riven and polarised. We still await an outcome - if indeed one is possible given the degree of polarisation - and there are suggestions that we may just have to stay in semi-permanent limbo. Meanwhile, there might or might not have been wrongdoing or violations of human rights - and only one public and political death - but a crucial task of any future government will be to try and effect a reconciliation in our divided society. It's hard to see how. 

So, with or without a commission, both truth and reconciliation must be high on the agenda in our political and moral climate for years to come. Peter Silva, who now lives in Chipping Norton, knows at first hand what life in South Africa was like before and since their TRC and he has also just visited the USA, where the political and social divisions are also great. He comes with both academic and life experiences to provoke our thoughts and many who have heard Peter before will know that his engaging style of public speaking will both inform and challenge us. 

Join us at the Village Hall on June 9th at 7pm, or earlier for refreshments.  Retiring collection (£3-5 suggested). 

PEOPLE LIKE US: WHY WE ARE NOW TWO TRIBES


Monday, 8 April 2019

FLUNG TO TWO OPPOSING POLES


It hardly needs stating that we live in turbulent times.  As yet another deadline comes and goes and the UK increasingly becomes the focus of incredulity, hilarity or pity across the world, it is opportune that Wychwood Circle has two speakers in the next couple of months to help us think through a moral (and inevitably political) stance on the Brexit divisions.

The Times journalist Janice Turner wrote recently that
Brexit has flung 65 per cent of the population, according to research by BritainThinks, to two opposing poles. ... So the minority in the centre, what I call "Brexit non-binary", ... have endured three years of roiling, upset guts.
It has been hard hearing our communities caricatured as duped and bigoted. ("I'm glad my constituents aren't as stupid as yours," said a Remain area Labour MP to another with a Leave seat.) 
I don’t believe that non-binary minority are alone in having had their digestion or even their psychological stability upset by the madness of this recent period.  Commentators (including our next guest speaker) have written about underlying anxieties, families divided, mental health damaged (64% reported this in the same survey), vital decisions postponed, non-British EU nationals struggling to confirm their ‘settled status’, etc.  And all this on the basis that 37% of the electorate voted one way in a Yes/No referendum three years ago!

TRIBES, TRUTH ... AND RECONCILIATION?

Broadcaster and columnist (and former Canon of Christ Church, Oxford) Angela Tilby was one of the first to speak out about the division of the country into ‘two tribes’ – and that was a year ago.  It seemed slightly exaggerated at that time to ask our second speaker, South African academic and priest Peter Silva, to speak under the title ‘Truth and Reconciliation’.  One year on, it seems anything but extreme to imagine we might have to hold some sort of similar process to try and bring the country together again.  The Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested that church people invite those of opposite views to tea on a Sunday afternoon;  it may take more than that.

Angela Tilby will join us on May 12th in Milton Village Hall to speak about ‘People like us’: are we now two tribes?

Peter Silva will speak at Wychwood Library on June 9th on the topic Truth and Reconciliation, including a survey of the South African experience and its relevance to the UK and US today.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

BY WAY OF THE HEART - with SUE LEIGH


Sue Leigh’s new collection of poems, Chosen Hill, is out now from Two Rivers Press. 
She has won the BBC Proms Poetry Competition and Carol Ann Duffy’s Shore to Shore competition and her work has been published widely in magazines and journals including the Areté, Oxford Magazine, The Spectator and the TLS. 
Living in rural Oxfordshire, she reviews regularly for PN Review and teaches at Rewley House, Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education.








Monday, 21 January 2019

LANGUAGE, TRUTH AND SLOGANS


Wychwood Circle has always been about breaking down barriers and exploring reality.  From our earliest days we met monthly in Wychwood Library, sharing the space and talking openly about our differences.  Some of us were keen to resist the dualisms which suggest that you must be on one side of the debate or the other; we refused to accept what Nick Baines has called ‘the polarising premises that the ideologues represent as the only options’. 

In June in our remote Cotswold village, we will be discussing ‘Truth and Reconciliation’, a phrase associated with post-apartheid South Africa but not without its resonances in contemporary Britain (or the US or Hungary or the Philippines …).  To help us do so will be someone with personal experience of violence in South Africa, of the sort which some are threatening in our own divided country if they do not get their way.


The devil has the best tunes; do the populists have the best slogans?

One wonders what happened to civilised discourse and moderate opinions.  Is it all about resentment of inequality, distrust or even fear of big business and/or politicians, of national and international structures such as ‘the world order’ which originally grew out of half a century of global conflict? And is it partly a matter of language, the language of division and extremes, of soundbites and slogans? 

Referring to some well-known populists from Trump to Viktor Orban (and some much closer to home), Nick Baines, Anglican bishop of Leeds, suggests some answers when he says:
“Language is key, fear is fundamental, and hope is reduced to instant gratification of visceral demand.”
He quotes Rabbi Sacks who has written that, to gain traction, “populism has to identify an enemy” and then amplifies its claims of victimhood at the hands of that enemy, using language to dehumanise and disrupt. Nick Baines goes on:
 “Reality and rationality are dispensed with on the altar of visceral emotion, as the populists set themselves up against those they decry.  They are ‘the people’; their opponents are – what? Identity politics is not neutral here.”

Identity, economics and gender

As thinking, concerned individuals in our small community, some Christian, some of no particular faith or organised religion, some definitely atheistic, we cannot ignore politics, however uncomfortable it may seem. 

However, we try to go below the headlines and the slogans and in the next couple of months we will consider identity at a local level (including daily violence in Northern Ireland in the Troubles) through Anna Burns’ Milkman; an alternative to the established economic system which some would say has played a big part in the situation we are in (Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics); as well as the big issue of gender, relating it specifically to theology and the male-dominated version of religion which has dominated history to date (March 3rd, Daphne Hampson).


Join us at the February 10th discussion of three books (see below). 



Monday, 14 January 2019

FEBRUARY BOOKS FOR DISCUSSION

FEBRUARY 10th - Book Discussion


Next month we revert to our original practice of basing our discussion on some reading.  However, to save you having to read them, some kind volunteers have agreed to present three books which can then be discussed up to a point. Some do choose to read the books in order to be fully informed and this enlivens the discussion.  The books are as follows (with links to reviews):

MILKMAN, the Man Booker prize-winning novel by Anna Burns (2018)

DOUGHNUT ECONOMICS, a radical approach to economics by Kate Raworth (2017)

FULL CATASTROPHE LIVING, a book on Mindfulness Meditation by one of its original proponents, Jon Kabat-Zinn (1990)

Please do join us - and bring a friend - on February 10th at 7pm in Wychwood Library.