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 genderAs 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).