Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Religious Diversity

By Ian Harris                             Otago Daily Times                         May 13, 2016

Colonised New Zealand began as a largely homogeneous Christian society, remaining so until well into last century. Now the reverse is true: in terms of religion, our society has become one of the most diverse in the world. Resented, this diversity will exacerbate division and hostility. Welcomed, it will help provide the social cement of trust which people in a globalising world sorely need, in a way that economic integration, currently all the rage, never could.

All it requires is acknowledging “the dignity of difference” – which happens to be the title of an important book by the former Commonwealth Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks. Religion has a vital role to play in shaping the way ahead. Some will look at history and object that religious difference has actually fomented antagonism around the world, especially when used to reinforce the social, economic and political domination of one group over another. Invariably, that has resulted from an abuse of power, in denial of a tenet affirmed by every major faith: Always treat others as you would want them to treat you.

Christians and Muslims have the worst record here. Think of the crusades, Catholic Spain’s expulsion of Muslims and of Jews, the mutual bigotry of Irish Protestants and Catholics, and in today’s world, Muslim intolerance of Christians in much of the Middle East, and outright persecution by extremists in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan.

Adherents of other faiths are not blameless. Hindus have sacked Christian churches in India. In Myanmar, Buddhists seek to suppress Christian and Muslim minorities. While their motivation is basically nationalistic and political, they invoke religion to cloak their prejudice in a mantle of sacred duty. Add to that some people’s Dawkinsesque intolerance of anything religious at all, and you have the makings of a witches’ brew of discord.

To that there is a religious answer, and people of every faith, and even of none, are called on to contribute to it. From a faith standpoint, Lord Sacks explains why: “Biblical monotheism is not the idea that there is one God and therefore one gateway to his presence. To the contrary, it is the idea that the unity of God is to be found in the diversity of creation.” It is therefore essential to let go of any sense that all would be well if only everyone could be crammed into the same mould (your own, of course): “The test of faith,” says Lord Sacks, “is whether I can make space for difference.”

In light of that, it should come as a relief that there are those who see New Zealand as potentially a role model for religious diversity in the world at large. That was given form and focus in March through the launch at Parliament of the Religious Diversity Centre in New Zealand. It expands on a variety of local interfaith groups, but does not replace them.

The professor of religious studies at Victoria University, Paul Morris, reminded the gathering that New Zealand had moved from being 91 per cent Christian in the 1961 census to around 50 per cent in 2013, while those declaring “no religion” had risen from 5.5 to around 40 per cent. We now have sizeable Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh communities, and nearly a quarter of a million members of religions other than Christian.

A 2014 report by the Pew Research Centre ranked New Zealand 19th among 232 countries and territories for religious diversity, above Australia, Belgium, France, Britain, Germany and the United States. Most diverse is Singapore. Prof Morris said such diversity could either threaten social cohesion or be an enormous positive resource for social harmony. But its positive value had to be consciously developed.

Studies showed many professing “no religion” nevertheless say they are “spiritual” and interested in religious issues. Also, perhaps counter-intuitively, members of religious communities are more likely to be open to people of other faiths than the “nones”. Presumably they know the value of faith for their own identity, so can value it in others. As Lord Sacks observes: “Those who are confident in their faith are not threatened but enlarged by the different faith of others.”

The new centre will carry out research, offer training in religious diversity, educate, give policy advice, and comment on relevant public issues. Launching the centre, patron Helen Clark said: “The world badly needs voices of reason and tolerance and people who will work to build dialogue and respect across faiths and beliefs. I do believe that New Zealand can show the way.” Let’s prove her right.


Anzac Day 2017

On Anzac Day this year there was the usual commemoration of the cost of war, as our soldiers who did not return were remembered. And as usual there was some attempt to assure us that we are still protecting our way of life with the traditional means of defence. It is understood that continued peace depends on our readiness to make a similar sacrifice in the future, if another threat should descend on us or our allies. 

I have usually been absent from Anzac Day celebrations, not because I am less concerned about the loss of so many young lives from our shores, but rather because it leaves out, in total silence, the many more millions across the world, who suffered from this great turmoil of contending forces striving for domination. Who spares a thought for them? The civilians, young and old, of nations swept along by imperial overlords, and those wearing the wrong uniforms. Who cares what happened to them?

Here and there, when peace on earth has been the main focus, these forgotten human elements have been briefly mentioned. But they are the collateral damage that always accompanies war. If we care about them we must recognize that war is our chief enemy and theirs.

This year a small group of peace-minded young and old decided to meet, without any display of war weapons, about three hundred yards below the Museum where the much larger memorial service was taking place. Here justice, twin brother or at least close relative of peace, got more than a brief mention from the bevy of speakers. These included the Imam of an Islamic group in South Auckland.

A Muslim? Yes. A missing name from most Anzac Day services. Muslims were on the opposite side at Gallipoli, and in some quarters are being groomed for a similar role in a new conflict. That fact alone should alert us to the need for concern, and some action to follow. So here I ask you to consider a slightly abbreviated account of what Imam Shafiq of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at NZ presented to us on Anzac Day 2017. 
-Arthur Palmer

Assalamu Alaikum… kia tau te rangimarie ki a koutou. May peace be with you. I am humbled and privileged to be part of this Prayers for Peace Service as a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a revival movement within Islam. I begin with a Prayer from the Holy Qur’an:

“All praise belongs to God, Lord of all the worlds,
The Gracious, the Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgment,
Thee alone do we worship, and Thee alone do we implore for help.
Guide us in the right path… Amen

As today commemorates those killed in war and war veterans, and our prayers are with them as well as all the innocent civilians killed, it reminds us the importance of peace all the more. A time when the conflicts around the world are spiralling, and the fears resulting in a global catastrophe are increasing every day, there is a great need for every section of society to gather their energies and efforts and prayers for peace in the world at large. We must commend Church in Progress for organising today’s event.

Islam teaches us to like for others what you like for yourself. This golden principle is also enshrined in the teachings of some other faiths. Therefore, as believers we should be united and we should ensure that our efforts within our circles are for peace to prevail over all regions of the world. Regrettably, in many parts of the world, far greater is priority is being given, either directly or indirectly, towards asserting dominance and satisfying a craving for power and authority. I must condemn the evil acts and crimes against humanity of certain so-called Islamic groups. I do not know how to assure you that the barbaric acts of ISIS and other terrorist groups and individuals are totally in violation of the true Islamic teachings.

Reading the outline of the day… I found a mention of the production of weapons of terrible destruction. It is sad that despite all the conflicts and bloodshed in different parts of the world, mainly the Middle East, the major powers of the world are concerned only with their business interests, and they have continued to sell millions of dollars’ worth of heavy weaponry to the warring parties. All they care about is that their cheques clear so that billions are added to their own national budgets. In short, money talks and morality is left nowhere to be seen. We are living in a world of duality and double standards, especially when we look at world politics and the role of the world powers. Can we still hope for peace? As believers we never lose hope. But we must work harder and pray harder for world peace. 

-Shafiq ur Rehman (Imam), Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at NZ 

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The cause of death that dare not speak its name: austerity

Gary Younge                    Guardian/UK                     15 April 2017 

The reasons for knife crime are complex, but it’s wrong to ignore the impact of cuts to youth funding.

On Monday Cedric Anderson, the estranged husband of a special education teacher, Karen Smith, walked into her
primary school classroom in San Bernardino, California, and shot dead both her and eight-year-old Jonathan Martinez; injured two other children; and then fatally shot himself. Martinez was the 67th child under the age of 11 to be shot dead in America this year. (Four more have been killed since then.) Smith, who had married Anderson just a few months earlier, was just one of the estimated 50 women in the US to be shot dead by a current or former partner each month. Of the 91 mass shootings so far this year, almost one a day, all of those where the identity of the shooter is known were committed by men.

Every day in America, on average, seven children and teens are shot dead.
While writing a book exploring the gun fatalities on one random day, I asked every family who I reached an open-ended question about what they thought was driving such shootings. Not a single one volunteered the answer “guns”. I concluded that many I spoke to regarded guns as one might regard traffic, if your child were knocked down – as the regrettable, tragic price one pays for living in modern society, about which little can be done. Similarly, when mass shootings take place commentators will discuss a range of issues – religion, gang affiliation, mental health and race – but masculinity rarely comes up. It’s simply been so factored in to our understanding of how the world works that it escapes scrutiny.

It’s as though once a certain pain threshold has been breached plausible explanations cease to register. People will walk a mile to avoid the evidence right in front of their nose, either because they don’t like it or, more often, because to deal with the underlying issues would demand a conversation for which there is no “public language”: when things aren’t being discussed, it’s hard to find a way to talk about them.

Inured to the obvious, the familiar becomes banal and ultimately invisible even as it stands in plain sight. “Who hears a clock tick, or the surf murmur, or the trains pass?” wrote James Kilpatrick in the early sixties, explaining why white American southerners were so wedded to segregation. “Not those who live by the clock or the sea or the track.”

The day after Martinez and Smith were killed, two Londoners were stabbed to death within 90 minutes of each other, making
three knife fatalities in the capital within a 48-hour period. By the end of the week the Metropolitan police had released its annual figures for last year, revealing a 24% increase in knife crime. National figures, which will soon follow, are likely to show a less pronounced but nonetheless sustained uptick in knife crime.

There have over the years been a number of explanations for both the existence, prevalence and growth in knife crime among the young. David Cameron laid some of the responsibility
on BBC Radio 1 and its hip-hop output; Tony Blair just came straight out and blamed black kids: “We won’t stop this by pretending it isn’t young black kids doing it.” Gangs, drugs, culture, lenient sentencing, absent fathers, police being too sensitive to be effective – and police being insufficiently sensitive to be trusted – have all been suggested at various times. In an editorial this week the London Evening Standard argued: “education and better parenting, coupled with greater responsibility from the minority of retailers who still sell knives to juveniles, offer the best solutions.”

Some of these explanations make sense. (Drugs, for example, have been a factor at some points.) Some are nonsense. (Britain’s parenting, for example, hasn’t suddenly become worse.)

Race appears to be a false flag.
National statistics that break down knife crime by ethnicity are not publicly available. Research indicates that once social class is taken into account, black kids are no more likely to be involved than their white counterparts. Of the 11 children and teens who have been killed by knives so far this year, most have been white – but in the national press the term “knife crime” has only been used when black people are killed.

But it seems there is one enduring explanation for why things have been deteriorating among young people in particular in recent years: austerity. In 2011, the government
scrapped the education maintenance allowance, the £30 weekly grant to low-income students who are in school or college. Funding for the education of 16- to 19-year-olds fell by 14% in real terms between 2010 and 2014, leaving sixth-form colleges struggling for survival. Since 2010 there has been a £387m cut in youth services, and between 2012 and 2016 603 youth clubs were closed. In London, £28m has been slashed from youth services budgets in the last five years, leading to 36 youth centres in the capital closing. A starved NHS is unable to adequately provide mental health assistance to the young. The government now plans to cut funding to schools in urban areas.

Once the government has made the political choices that effectively produce a crisis, it then expects the police to establish order and calm over the instability. Only
it’s cutting the police too. “We’re leading to a very serious conclusion regarding the potentially perilous state of policing,” said ZoĆ« Billingham, Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary, recently. “It’s a red flag that we’re raising at this stage. A large red flag.”

Police say that young people who are carrying knives increasingly
do so not through gang affiliation but for protection; youth workers say they are scared and don’t trust the police to protect them. In short, as a nation we are actively and consciously underfunding our kids.

Few would make the claim that there is a direct, seamless, causal link between these cuts and the rise in violent crime. Government policy does not put a knife in a child’s hand and encourage them to use it. But any insistence on personal responsibility must be weighed against the collective responsibility societies assume when it comes to keeping children safe.

Nor could anyone reasonably claim that this is the exclusive reason for the increase – the causes of knife crime are multilayered and complex and
it was trending down for the first few years of the coalition before its recent rise.

But as the cuts go deeper, leaving vulnerable people more desperate, the contextual connection is compelling. If you make it harder for young people to stay in education, harder for them to get treatment if they are mentally ill, harder for them to find safe and productive places to spend leisure time with each other and with adults who are trained to work with them, then we should not be surprised to see an increase in social problems among the young – including social violence in general and knife crime in particular. Austerity has become such an established feature of our political economy that many are becoming blind to its ramifications. Keep tightening the belt by degrees for long enough and we forget why it is we are struggling to breathe.

In all sorts of ways we are creating obstacles for our young people to succeed, and in so doing setting too many of them up for failure. In this particularly gruesome way, we are seeing the results.


Consumerist god reigns supreme

Ian Harris                        Otago Daily Times                13 April 2017                   
What’s the point of society taking time out to celebrate Easter when its true devotion is to the greatest of all contemporary gods: consumerism? That is, to a credo where human purpose is focused on getting more and more, and human fulfilment is measured by the possessions we accumulate.

A token of this is Parliament’s genuflection to the consumerist god by allowing local councils to open the door to tinkling tills on Easter Sunday, and the number of communities opting to do so. Nothing, it seems, should get in the way of the sacred duty to make money.

Till now, and still for those communities that have chosen to live by a different standard, Easter Sunday has been a public sign that there are other values for men and women to live by, other approaches to the great questions of life, meaning and purpose. For those willing to stop and reflect, Good Friday and Easter Sunday will remain such.

Church folk have sometimes blurred the issue by defending Easter closures as protecting a religious privilege validated by an obsolete supernaturalism, instead of promoting a response to those great questions in a way that engages the open-minded among religious and nonreligious alike. It’s too late for that now, and where Easter Sunday drifts slowly away on the tide of commerce, Good Friday and Christmas Day will one day logically follow. The consumerist god, worshipped enthusiastically in hymns praising freedom, choice, even basic rights, is all-consuming. It will not be content until people are at last enslaved by their possessions, for it is those that are increasingly reshaping our values and thus, ever so surreptitiously, how we choose to live.

American priest Matthew Fox, advocate of “original blessing” instead of original sin, sees consumerism as a modern idolatry. “Indeed, our very economic system, to the extent that it creates and whips up consumer fetishes, is running on idolatry,” he says. This is because it flourishes on the view that the acquisition of more and more goodies will somehow satisfy the deep longing of the human heart – “even if such idolatrous buying results in other people going hungry or the earth itself being exploited, species rendered extinct, and climate change raising the seas, destroying cities and homes and the future for our great-great-grandchildren. “Such idol-worship fails to satisfy the heart. But dissatisfaction is at the heart of economic idolatry – it feeds the machines of advertising to keep us buying. And buying. And buying. The addiction of shopping is a special form of idolatry, born of consumer capitalism.”

So there is more to freedom and choice than being able to shop on the traditional holy-days. Indeed, Easter itself is about freedom, choice and basic rights – but on a level that leaves consumerism for dead. It is the freedom, choice and right to be more, not have more. And it springs from a very different vision of what human happiness and fulfilment are all about.

At the heart of this vision is a concern for relationships. Accordingly, the churches have interpreted Easter in a variety of ways over the centuries. Traditionally, emphasis on a theistic God has been central, so the focus was the individual’s relationship to that God. Befouling that relationship was people’s sin, which led to guilt and fanned the fear of hell. Jesus’ death on the cross, however, could cancel their sin, absolve them from guilt, and assure an after-life in heaven.

In a world where heaven and hell were believed to be as real as Earth, and the church’s narrative fitted neatly within it, immersing oneself within that framework made sense. It brought genuine release and newness of life, along with meaning, purpose and fulfilment. In the 21st century that imaginative superstructure has crumbled, so for many Christians, celebrating Easter within its confines is now impossible. They still celebrate, however, for the core meaning of the season remains constant in freedom, choice, and the right to be fully human, all underpinned by unconditional love.

Jesus was put to death because he ran foul of the power structures of temple and state. Yet out of that tragedy, and all that had preceded it, his followers found inspiration and opportunity – not to buy things whenever they felt like it, but of genuine choice in becoming new people. And they asserted the basic right of everyone to do the same in relationships where love, not money, is the touchstone. For that, “death to the old” and “resurrection to the new” are appropriate metaphors – and it’s got nothing to do with shop trading hours.


Thursday, 13 April 2017

My generation fought to be free. What happened to us?

Polly Toynbee                    Guardian/UK              4 April 2017    

We were the generation who won all those freedoms on sex, contraception, abortion, gay rights, divorce, who saw the start of women’s lib, an end to censorship ... what’s happened to us? We stood for liberation. But our Brexit voting has revealed a great many things about ourselves we might prefer not to know. My generation and those older thought we were the avant garde; the tearers-down of barriers; freedom fighters for the
permissive society in the vanguard of progress.

What’s happened to us? The big baby boomer generation bears down on a shrinking proportion of the young. In attitudes, we are not ageing well. A
YouGov poll last week revealed how yearning for that imaginary 1950s golden age was a strong force that helped blow Britain out of the EU. Remember, 64% of over-65s voted for Brexit, while 71% of under-25s voted remain.

Yet the
anti-immigrant sentiment, much stronger among the old than the young, was only the topsoil on deeper strata of backward-looking aches among the old. Brexiters are 53% for bringing back the rope (supported by just 20% of remainers). Bring back beating in schools, say 42% of Brexiters (against just 14% of remainers). Three times more Brexiters than remainers would bring back incandescent lightbulbs, blue passports, imperial weights and measures and pre-decimal currency – which would fox anyone under 55.

At the last election, 20% more over-65s voted Tory than for Labour. Compare that to the under-30s who voted 4% more for Labour. YouGov finds
nearly three quarters of the over-65s would ban burqas (36% of the under 30s). A kindly 62% of the young think we have a moral obligation to refugees, a view shared by only 39% of the old. Same-sex marriage gets 83% support from the young, but just 46% of the over-65s. We who saw the start of women’s lib, an end to censorship, capital and corporal punishment, who threw off hats, gloves and conventions to wear and think what we liked? But no doubt many of my generation never bought into what seemed like the spirit of the age: abolishing capital punishment was never popular.

My generation should count their blessings as the never-had-it-so-good
beneficiaries of the National Health Service, better schools and overseas travel, with new opportunities in that great upward sweep from blue to white collar work. Now most of us sit on the proceeds of decades of booming house prices, enriched by an unmerited, untaxed property windfall. True, the over-60s are twice as likely to give to charity as the under-30s, though generosity may be easier with more cash. Growing old, too many in my generation seem unwilling to share all that experience of progress they have enjoyed.

Of course the poorer old need and deserve all these supports, but the biggest cohort ever to retire on decent pensions still keep their universal perks. The extreme
£12bn benefit cuts starting this week take most money from young families and give 80% of tax cuts to the richest, leaving the poorest third considerably worse off. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts there will be 5.1 million children in poverty by 2020, up 50% – directly due to tax credit and working allowance cuts starting now. Those with children are hit hardest: children’s services, health visitors and schools cut back, yet universal pension perks are protected.

Of course the old never willed any harm to the young, and the real blame lies with the government’s draconian cuts, deliberately shared so unfairly. But the voting habits of the old are the underlying cause of a shift of wealth and income towards them and away from the impoverished young.

The one oddity is the care system, dysfunctional in every way and starved of funds, as described in a trenchant
Commons report last week. If the grey vote is so politically powerful, why doesn’t the social care crisis force the government to act? Partly because relatively few over-65s at any one time need care: many older voters don’t confront the crisis until their very last years, when the average time in residential care is two and a half years.

What do we do about my generation? They have the voting power but too many seem to lack awareness of their good luck. If Brexit further harms the life chances of the young, the old who voted for it will owe them serious recompense. [Abridged]


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Geering Looks Back

Back       March 10, 2017      Otago Daily Times    Summary by Ian Harris

The gift of life is to be celebrated, preferably while we live rather than waiting for others to do it over us when we die. Birthdays are an excellent time for this, an opportunity to reflect on all there is to be thankful for, what life has taught us, how we have changed. So it was fitting that on February 26, on his 99th birthday, the Rev Professor Sir Lloyd Geering, should preach before a packed St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Wellington on “How my thinking has changed”

Sir Lloyd told how it was only in his late teens that he became involved in the church and, at university, the Student Christian Movement. In his studies at Knox College, the approach to the Bible was liberal. He realised that far from being a set of unchangeable doctrines, Christian thinking throughout history was everchanging. Theology was affirmed as the intellectual exercise by which Christians think through their experience and relate it to all other knowledge: “This is what I have tried to do ever since.”

Sir Lloyd moved later to a more radical approach, demythologising stories about Jesus expressed within a framework of mythical thinking, in order to discover their truth for today’s non-mythical world. Later again, evolution became prominent in his thinking. “Rather than God making the universe,” he said, “it was the process of evolution, by eventually bringing forth humans and language that created such concepts as God.
 “My discovery about the priority of language made me realise that we humans do live in two worlds.  But they are not the material world and the spiritual worlds our forefathers assumed they lived in. Rather they are the physical world and the world of human thought.”  The human thought-world then becomes the lens through which we see and understand the physical world. Sir Lloyd focused on three areas to illustrate how his thinking has changed:
 God. Initially, God was for him simply part of the total package of Christian ideas. The word named the mystery of life that could not otherwise be grasped by the human mind.  “More recently I have come to realise that God does not name a cosmic reality at all. It is a humanly created idea in the human thought-world – a word by which we have tried to make sense of the physical world we live in.  “God is an idea that has played an extremely important centering role in our evolving culture. It was the idea of God as creator of the universe that led to the rise of modern science, as mediaeval theologians tried to discover what they called ‘the ways of God’ by conducting experiments.  “But also associated with this idea of God were the values of love, compassion, honesty and truth. These make such moral demands of us that they transcend us. And though the idea of God had its beginning in our mythological past, it remains a useful symbol for our highest values. God is love, just as the New Testament asserts.” 

 Jesus of Nazareth. “He is not for me to be worshipped as the divine Son of God, for that sort of language belongs to the world of ancient mythology.” He was rather a wise man, a sage. “The original Jesus did not talk much about himself at all, or even about God. Rather he talked about the Kingdom of God, describing this in parables, such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. He used this term to describe his vision of how people should live with each other in loving relationships of reciprocal goodwill.
 Mortality. “We humans are finite, earthly beings, just like all planetary creatures. We are given one life to live, and there is no future existence beyond the grave in some heavenly spiritual realm.”  Summing up, Sir Lloyd said though his thinking had changed markedly since he first embraced the Christian faith, “at no time have I ever thought it necessary, or even desirable, to reject Christianity, as some atheists delight in doing.  “On the contrary, I remain very grateful to the Christian tradition. From the prophets and apostles of old, and particularly from that remarkable but elusive figure of Jesus of Nazareth, I have learned a lot about how to live life to the full.  “I believe today’s secular and humanistic world owes its origin to the Christendom out of which it emerged. And if humankind is to flourish in the future, it needs to acknowledge these spiritual roots and continually learn from them.


FERDINAND – the Peaceable Bull

by Arthur Palmer          February 2017

Was there ever a more unlikely hero than this? In the land of Spain it is the height of valour and national glory to show that you are able to court danger and escape the perils of conflict with apparent disdain. Bull-fighting is lauded as an artistic way to demonstrate this, and matadors are heroic models. Then what do we make of this tolerance, or even affection, for Ferdinand, the bull who had no desire to engage in this display and preferred to sit quietly and smell the flowers?

Perhaps it was the timing. When the story first appeared we were in the mid-thirties, emerging slowly from a major economic depression, following a disastrous war. We needed a new model to admire. To many of all ages this rejection of violence rejoiced the spirits and delighted the imaginations of a world that was unsure where to look for answers to ancient social problems. The children’s book, written by Monro Leaf, was translated into many languages, more than sixty it is said, and came to the attention of men whose job it is to restrain all threats to national power. This unrealistic rejection of violence was not to be encouraged. The powers that be banned the book in many nations and it gradually faded from world attention as the Thirties focussed on the unfinished business of WW1 and began preparing for the next contest.

In April 1942 I met up with Ferdinand again. As a young Methodist I had become a convinced pacifist in my teenage years and now, at 23, I was entering Strathmore Detention Camp. Here I joined about 300 other objectors who had refused the army uniform, and were now coming to terms with a sentence of detention until the end of the war. This supposedly milder form of imprisonment was a new concept, and the Government was anxious to have it accepted, so for the first year it was easy-going, designed to keep us out of the news while the terrible war hogged the headlines.

After three months at Strathmore my attitude was painfully negative: “I refuse to work in this Detention Camp. I protest at this wartime expedient, designed to stifle our cry for peace. Count me out.” Eight of us signed a statement to this effect and we were sentenced to prison rather than the Strathmore experiment. I was sorry to leave so many of my conchie friends, though several of them before and a number of them later were to be found in the prison camps, which were very similar. So I appeared before the Court again and was transferred to Mt Eden Prison for three months, and later to Mt Crawford Prison in Wellington.

One major question remains. Was it necessary to repeat the massacres of WW1 to defeat this evil doctrine of racial superiority? How could the violent death of millions of citizens of many nationalities, many of them unresisting bystanders, be the only option at this time? The last such military contest had laid waste whole continents and left behind the seeds of further violence, as this new crisis was demonstrating. This world war contradicted my core beliefs. I was unwilling to be part of a repeat, though rather short on convincing answers to probing questions as to what should be done right now to counter the Nazi threat.

But I did gain something from that brief interval, and Ferdinand is one of the good memories. At a Camp Concert in May 1942 Ferdinand entertained us with conchie Brian Snowdon’s re-make of Monro Leaf’s classic, even leaving some lines unaltered, but with that more subversive twist and a catchy tune:

Oh, there once was a bull, a magnificent bull
In the green grass around Taranaki,
And he loved modern waltz and such innocent faults
As music and women and baccy.
He was gentle and kind and his moo was refined,
Attracting the heifers’ attention,
But his attributes mild made the other bulls wild,
And they sent Ferdinand to detention.

Ferdinand, Ferdinand,
The bull with the delicate ego,
Ferdinand, Ferdinand,
The heifers all called him “amigo”,
Ferdinand, Ferdinand,
He’d curtsey and greet them politely,
Oh he knew how to tango and dance the fandango,
But he’d never learned how to fight.

Ferdinand would not shirk
Useful everyday work,
But considered armed violence vulgar,
Turks and Wops by the dozens he counted as cousins,
He was brother to Greek and to Bulgar.
When they asked him to go, and he gently said “No”,
The Chief Bulls were stricken with horror,
And they cried “What would hap. if some slap-happy Jap.
Assaulted your heifer tomorrow?”

Ferdinand, Ferdinand,
He thought it considerate of them
To be derned well concerned
About his own personal problem.
Ferdinand was so bland. He answered, “If you will look after
The wealth you collect and want me to protect,
Well then, I will look after my wife.”

Ferdinand wastes his time spreading phosphate and lime
Or whatever the public determines.
Other bulls find it pays to go wasting their days
Out in Poona (Bai Gad!) shootin’ Germans.
Ferdinand’s tail is long, and the tale in this song
Has several instalments impending.
Many years will have passed ere the tale ends at last,
And Heaven alone knows the ending.
(Repeat first chorus.)

-Sung by the “Whenuaroa Warblers”, a camp choir group, on May 9th, 1942.

Yes, those who listened to that, in Strathmore Detention Camp in 1942, spent on average another three and a half years in such isolation. Not much was heard of Ferdinand in those succeeding years. Nazi war-making skill and the world’s haste in emulating it had silenced him. At huge cost the levers of power were transferred to new hands, and now, seventy-five years later, we find ourselves wondering what awaits us as a new President in America assumes a key role in world affairs. We pause to consider what may come next. Is this what we bargained for when so much human potential, much of it innocent and unresisting, was sacrificed or blotted out? Were there no better weapons than this to counter the racist demons which caused our world so much anguish, and which continue to bedevil us?

It’s time to look for new answers.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Europe torn asunder after desire to debate

Ian Harris                        10 February 2017                       Otago Daily Times

Secular moderns don’t find it easy to get a handle on the remote theological squabble that exploded in Europe 500 years ago this year, even though its effects are with us still. That’s because the life-and-death concepts so vital to everyone at the time — God, faith, sin, forgiveness, heaven, hell, eternal life, the nature and authority of the church, the Bible — mean little to growing numbers of Westerners today.

The explosion was the great Reformation of church life in Europe. Yet, strikingly, the man who triggered it had not the slightest intention of splitting the Catholic Church asunder: Martin Luther was a model monk and parish priest, diligent in his studies, faithful in his religious observances, concerned for his parishioners in the small east German town of Wittenberg.

Like many loyal churchmen of his day, however, he shared a visceral disgust at the corruption of the late medieval church, uber-rich, uber-powerful, uber-political. For example, Pope Leo X, a cardinal since the age of 13, needed big money to complete the building of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. To raise funds, he authorised the sale of get-out-of-purgatory guarantees. The money rolled in.

The German franchisee was a prelate who, for a handsome donation to St Peter’s, had at 24 become archbishop of two wealthy dioceses and bishop of a third. For this he had to borrow heavily, and Leo helped him to pay off the loan by selling the guarantees, or "indulgences", in German territory. Half the proceeds would offset the multi-bishop’s loan, the rest would flow to St Peter’s.

The church had long seen to it that sin loomed large in everyone’s consciousness and fears of hell were graphic and real. People might repent of their sins but must still be punished, whether in this life or the next — for which the church invented purgatory.

Earlier popes had moved to ease their plight by assuming the power to shorten or even cancel their punishment. After all, hadn’t Jesus and the saints amassed a huge credit balance of good works, a "treasury of merits" they could draw on? It was available to anyone who bought an indulgenceLuther’s prince forbade these transactions in his domain. But Luther heard that some of his parishioners were travelling to a town across the border to buy an indulgence from a travelling monk who, to boost sales, broadened the papal guarantee to include dead relatives.

The monk pleaded: "Don’t you hear the voice of your dead parents crying out, ‘Have you no mercy on us, for we suffer great punishment and pain? From this you could release us with a few alms.’ As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs."

The question "How can I be saved?" caused Luther great anguish, and he was appalled. So on October 31, 1517, he posted on the local church door, which doubled as a bulletin board for Wittenberg’s university, 95 propositions to be tested in debate. In the previous two years he had come to believe with St Paul that putting one’s whole-hearted trust in Christ was sufficient to bring sinners eternal life — and it came from grace freely given, not by punishment beyond death, and especially not by buying it for cash.

Indulgences were a delusion, he declared, and "those who believe they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers." Ouch! Another thesis questioned why Leo did not use his own fabulous wealth to build St Peter’s, "rather than the money of poor believers". Apart from the denunciation of indulgences, though, Luther showed due deference to the pope.

Then they were translated from Latin into German. The new printing presses worked overtime to spread them around. Swirling social, economic and political currents magnified their impact. The theses tapped into wider resentments — church corruption, the torrent of German money flowing to Rome, papal restraints on the German princes’ autonomy. Luther found himself a hero for saying openly what so many were thinking.

The revenue stream from indulgences dwindled, and the church’s focus switched to papal authority. It ordered Luther to bow to authority and recant. Yet, initially, all he had sought was to debate the question: Can the church justify indulgences on the basis of scripture and reason? The cleft widened. Leo branded Luther "a son of perdition" and excommunicated him. Luther publicly burnt the document. A number of German rulers gave him their blessing. Mutual abuse flew and grew. The church in Europe was irrevocably sundered.

A new Europe was being born. 


Sunday, 12 February 2017

Trump fears terrorists, but more Americans are shot dead by toddlers

Gary Younge                Guardian/UK                 8 February 2017
Gun deaths – intentional, accidental and self-inflicted – dwarf those related to terror. The talk is of secure borders but within the US many live in a state of fear.

Let us leave aside for the moment the fact that since 9/11 not a single American has been killed in a terrorist attack by a citizen from the
countries on this list (of Trumps). The reality is that an American is at least twice as likely to be shot dead by a toddler than killed by a terrorist. In 2014 88 Americans were shot dead, on average, every day: 58 killed themselves while 30 were murdered. In that same year 18 Americans were killed by terrorist attacks in the US. Put more starkly: more Americans were killed by firearms roughly every five hours than were killed by terrorists in an entire year. It is unlikely that scrapping a rule requiring extended background checks for gun purchases by some social security recipients suffering from mental illness will improve the situation.)

One need not downplay the importance of terrorism here. Terrorism is not only murderous. In its ability to spread anxiety and undermine democratic engagement with violence it is also deeply reactionary. Rather than galvanising people around a cause it divides them in the crudest manner possible – on the basis of fear. That’s as true when America kills innocent civilians. But the fear most Americans experience daily isn’t imported – it’s home grown. That’s true across the board, but particularly true for some minorities. Every day seven children and teens are shot dead in the US. Firearms are the biggest killer of young black people and the second biggest killer of all children, after traffic accidents.

While researching my
book about all the young people who were killed on one random day – 23 November 2013 – every single parent of a black teenager who lost a child that day that I interviewed said they assumed this might happen to their kid. “I didn’t think it would be him,” said one mother. “I thought it would be his brother.” “You wouldn’t be doing your job as a father if you didn’t,” said another.

Many of the areas where these young people live, and die, look like war zones – empty lots, half-demolished houses, depleted infrastructure, militarised policing, potholed roads, boarded-up houses, abandoned churches. But more importantly, they are experienced as such. People (mostly young men) disappear – either to prison or to the grave – leaving a huge gender imbalance. Times are hard, and the informal economy is rife, meaning there are spivs everywhere making an ostentatious display of their wealth. The one major difference is that whereas wars often cement communities as people band together against a “common enemy,” in these areas the enemy is everywhere and, potentially, anyone.

Many of those who insist that, when it comes to terror, one must balance individual rights against collective security, become curiously silent when it comes to adapting their interpretation of the right to bear arms to the issue of public safety.

In 2002
I interviewed the late Maya Angelou about her views on the 9/11 terror attacks. “Living in a state of terror was new to many white people in America,” she told me. “But black people have been living in a state of terror in this country for more than 400 years.”

If the current administration applied just half the zeal to making sure all people in the country feel included and safe as they do to making sure some outside of it feel excluded and anxious, the impact on Americans’ sense of security would be repaid exponentially.

After a judge blocked the Muslim ban over the weekend Trump said that if there was another terrorist attack America should blame him. Between me writing this article and you reading it the chances are another child will be shot dead. Whom, I wonder, should we blame for that? [Abridged]

Gary Younge is the author of
Another Day in the Death of America, A Chronicle of 10 Short Lives


Trump is only finishing what Hollywood and the media started

Waleed Aly                   Sydney Morning Herald               2 February, 2017

For a brief moment, it was almost as if they were people. They were scientists working on new treatments for HIV/AIDS or whose research had helped contain the spread of that Ebola outbreak a few years ago. They were engineers who led NASA deployments of rovers to Mars. They were elderly people banned from returning home after travelling for a family funeral – and others banned from attending the funerals of their American relatives. They were translators helping Western journalists or the US military. They were dog-owners whose pets were suddenly stranded. They were high-school students who wanted only to attend a space camp. They were vets and doctors and musicians. They were Olympic gold medallists and Oscar-nominated directors and actors.

That's what struck me immediately as news of the Trump administration's immigration ban screamed across the world. I'd never really seen Muslims described in that way, and it was frightening just how much it stood out. It was like some lost tribe had been discovered: the previously invisible inhabitants of the badlands that occupy our fears far more than they do thoughts.

Trump's signing of an executive action to bring sweeping changes to the nation's refugee policies is causing fear and alarm for immigrants in the U.S. whose family members will be affected. And frankly, that's why we're here. Something as crude and bludgeoning as this only happens because of the years that precede it. Say what you will about Donald Trump, he is not suddenly afflicted with insanity. He is not the generator of some new malevolent thought. He's building on foundations he hasn't laid. He can only do this because the cultural environment exists to receive it as some version of common sense. He can treat Muslims in a grossly undifferentiated way because that's largely the way public culture has trained us to see them.

That doesn't mean Muslims must always be terrorists – though that is only a semitone from Trump's rhetoric. It's that they must always be defined by their relationship to terrorism. If we're in a tolerant mood, we'll make a series of disclaimers about the "moderate majority" who reject such atrocities. And sure, that's true.

But the trouble is that's not the story of a people. It's not anything really, other than a statement of what someone isn't. In this formulation you can be "not a terrorist", but you can't be something. Not a contributor, not an asset, not even a battler. You can't be complex, nuanced, evolving. You can either confirm or "challenge" a predetermined stereotype, but that's just another way of saying you must prove your innocence – over, and over, and over ...

So it's hardly surprising that – even as the touching stories of those caught up in Trump's dark fantasy were everywhere – the fact of a terrorist attack on a mosque in Quebec City this week barely touched any emotional register. Nothing about the lives of the six Muslims killed, or even of the Trump-loving white guy who killed them, seems to have been worthy of the same treatment. Trump did make his condolences public, but only as his press secretary said the event justified the President's "proactive rather than reactive" steps

It would be wrong to call this a double standard. It's not that we feel an affinity with Trump's stranded travellers that we don't with those killed in Quebec. The truth is we feel little affinity with either. It's just that the former are fodder for a story we're more interested in telling right now. The best way to tell that story has been to discover the humanity of those affected, but the story is really about Trump and his cyclonic presidency. That's the cause of the emotional investment. Were they victims of Obama, or even a right-wing lone-wolf terrorist, they'd be immediately less interesting, less human.

Yes, I take some heart from the parade of Hollywood celebrities, for instance, dedicating their awards-night speeches to standing against what Trump has unleashed. And I take some heart from the thought that finally Muslim stories are being told that actually correspond to their lives, But not too much. Not when few cultural institutions have been as effective at building the most one-dimensional Muslim stereotypes as Hollywood. And not when a media now saturated with disdainful, heartfelt coverage of Trump's chaos, has not even the slightest hunch that it has done so much of the dehumanising work for him.

Monday, 30 January 2017


Teilhard de Chardin: “The only true happiness is… the happiness of growth and movement… the happiness of growing greater.” From “Spirit of Fire” by Ursula King P185

Winston Churchill: “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”

: “It is perverse to insist that burning a man to death with petrol is a greater moral evil than using munitions like phosphorous bombs in military operations which we know will burn a great many innocent people to death, including children. It is the nature of every society however, to point out the cruelty of the enemy while obscuring the cruelty of one’s own actions.”
richardjacksonterrorismblog, 2015

“You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”: from the musical comedy “South Pacific”

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a different shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Quoted by Somali writer Ayeen Hirsi Ali in her book “Nomad” (2010)

A New Sensibility:

“We need to imagine new models for the relationship between ourselves and our earth. We can no longer see ourselves as namers and rulers over nature but must think of ourselves as gardeners, caretakers, mothers and fathers, stewards, trustees, lovers, priests, co-creators and friends of a world that, while giving us life and sustenance, also depends increasingly on us in order to continue both for itself and for us. “ From Models of God P. 13 by Sallie McFague (1988)

“The models of God as mother, lover, and friend offer possibilities for envisioning power in unified, interdependent ways, quite different from the view of power as either domination or benevolence… If one reflects on the characteristics of the love shown by parents, lovers, and friends, the words that come to mind include “fidelity”, “nurture”, “attraction”, “self-sacrifice”, “passion”, “responsibility”, “care”, ‘affection”, “respect” and “mutuality”. In fact, all the qualities of love so neatly demarcated in the ancient divisions of agape, eros, and philia come into play. These words suggest power, but a very different kind of power from that associated with the models of lord, king, and patriarch.” From Models of God P. 20 and 29 by Sallie McFague (1988)

Trump's first speech in office was unapologetic appeal to nationalism

Gary Younge                         Guardian/UK                     20 January 2017

Even the heavens wept. As Donald Trump stepped forward to become
America’s 45th president the cold shower that broke over Washington offered no end of metaphors. His address, however, was literal to a fault. There was no higher calling, no sense of a greater purpose, no florid imagery or impassioned idealism. This was as crude and unapologetic an appeal to nationalism as one might expect from a man incapable of rising to an occasion without first refracting it through his ego.

It is said that presidents campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Trump campaigned in graffiti – the profane scrawls of a mindless vandal – and, if his inaugural address was anything to go by, may yet govern in tweets – the impulsive, abbreviated interventions of a narcissist.

Were this a reality TV show, we would have switched off by now. All the better qualified, more sympathetic and empathic characters have been eliminated. The last man standing is a scheming, pathological misanthrope whose disrespect for the rules alone should have disqualified him. The producer would have been fired; the advertisers would have bolted. Nobody in their right mind would want anything to do with it.

But there is a difference between reality TV and something surreal that you can watch on TV. From the robed supreme court chief justice holding aloft Lincoln’s Bible for Trump to swear on to the gathering of former presidents, the entire purpose of an inauguration is to celebrate a mature democracy. As the White House is bequeathed to the popular choice, it’s intended to symbolise continuity and stability – a common destiny in a shared polity. Friday achieved the opposite. To watch Trump take the oath was to bear witness to democracy’s fragility. It marked not simply the transfer of power from one leader to another but the erosion of the very values that give that power legitimacy.

That frailty stems not from any question about whether
Trump won the election but how he won it and what that victory portends. There is more to democracy than elections and more to elections than simply voting. Democratic traditions are underpinned by norms that he not only disregarded (on that score he would not be the first) but brazenly and gleefully violated – advocating violence at his rallies, haranguing the media, fuelling racial animus, religious exclusion and misogyny.

As such, his
inauguration represents an indictment of an entire political culture. It leaves condemned a Democratic party that could not defeat him, a Republican party that would not disown him, a mainstream media that failed to scrutinise him and a social media that spread his lies far faster than any scrutiny could travel. All were found wanting. Now all will be tested.

This is no local problem. Those who take to the
streets across the globe to demonstrate Trump’s presidency over the next few days would do well to stay there and resist his counterparts in their own backyards. Where this particular threat to democracy is concerned, America is by no means exceptional.

In Washington, the moment was all the more disorienting because of what it replaced.
Barack Obama’s approval ratings are higher now than they have been for some time, reminding us of the stratospheric expectations of that freezing January day when he first took office eight years ago. It’s as though his presence could never compete with his promise or his passing.

To watch him accompany Trump through the process was to see the civility of pageantry triumph over the candour of politics. Several of those with front-row seats, from both parties, had concluded Trump was unfit for the office he now holds. “When making life or death or war or peace decisions,” Michelle Obama said six weeks before election day, “a president just can’t pop off or lash out irrationally … If a candidate traffics in fear and lies on the campaign trail … well that is the kind of president they will be.”

That is the president who was sworn in on Friday. No amount of pomp and finery can mask that. That is why what was billed as a ceremony felt more akin to a charade. It is also why many in the US, and beyond, are not simply concerned about what comes next; they are genuinely terrified. An impulsive braggart and bigot is now in control of the world’s most powerful military and economy. Fear and malevolence won. The hands that
once grabbed pussy now have access to the nuclear launch codes.


Monday, 16 January 2017

Faith and Reason

by Ian Harris                      Otago Daily Times                    Jan. 13, 2017

I have a problem with new year resolutions. It's easy enough to make them. They're always super well-intentioned. The problem is that by the middle of February I've forgotten what they were. Even jotting them down somewhere doesn't help, because the "somewhere" has a way of quickly losing itself amid a paper miscellany. So what's the point?

This year, however, I am surprised by a resolve to revive the custom. Just one resolution, mind, but growing as it does from a couple of cameos in the news late last year, it seems one worth sharing.

First was a comment on television in October by former trade union leader Helen Kelly, broadcast a fortnight before she died. The interviewer raised the question of leadership and, switching the focus to values, she drew on the Trump phenomenon in the United States election to make her point.

What she hated about Donald Trump, she said, "is that he's so unkind. I want him just to be kind."

It left me wondering what incidents in her life of championing those at the bottom of the pay scales lay behind such a remark. Disputes where safety was the issue? Or exploitation? Or fairness? Or respect? In a healthy workplace those issues place demands both ways, employer to employee and vice versa. They're to do with personal decency, where questions of what is humane, what is responsible, what is just, what is kind are not only relevant but central.

The second cameo comes from the very different circumstances of November's Kaikoura earthquake. Residents were well and truly shaken, visitors stranded, businesses disrupted. How to respond?

Jeff Reardon, who moved to Kaikoura after experiencing the Christchurch earthquakes and had stored crayfish to celebrate his wife’s birthday, thawed them, cooked them, and handed them out to tourists whom the quake had prevented from moving on. Asked why, he said simply: "It's not hard to be kind, eh!" The phrase flashed around the world, and was quickly given pride of place on local T-shirts.

Kindness again. How human relationships thrive on kindness, whether in families, schools, workplaces, wherever! Spreading wider, kindness to pets, bobby calves, hens (free-range, please), porkers does something unique and positive for both the owners and their charges.

Kindness to the environment does likewise – everyone who tends a garden knows that. The natural world has an intrinsic value both in itself and for human sustenance, enjoyment and restful calm.

In her Christmas broadcast, the Queen echoed the theme, highlighting the myriad acts of kindness that are neither dramatic nor showy, but part and parcel of everyday life. She praised the quiet dedication of ordinary people who do extraordinary things, adding: “The cumulative impact of thousands of small acts of goodness can be bigger than we imagine.”

So can neglecting to do them, since that opens the way to unleashing a range of more malignant impulses. Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth presents that murky alternative most graphically when she worries that Macbeth is “too full of the milk of human kindness”, lacking the steely resolve to sweep others aside in his desire to be king. And she saw to it that the milk of human kindness curdled in his being.

A pity neither had the chance to ponder the line from Tennyson that “kind hearts are more than coronets”. But they would have ignored it. They were already caught in the quicksands of ambition and the lust for status and power.

Nor would wise words attributed to French-born American Quaker Stephen Grellet early in the 19th century have moved them. He wrote: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it; for I shall not pass this way again.”

As with the Macbeths, cynical moderns might sneer at such a sentiment. That would be as damaging as it is sad, because failure to nurture it, or worse, a determination to get ahead by foul means if fair won’t serve, corrodes character and corrupts relationships.

Which brings us back to new year resolutions. Last week, as revellers around the world counted in the new year, many joined in singing Robert Burns’ turn-of-year chorus:

We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Capital! All they need do now is project that intention into the everyday circumstances of the year ahead. It’s not hard to be kind, eh!

The single story is not the whole story

Barbara Chapman              Sydney Morning Herald              January 11 2017

In 2009, Nigerian-born author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivered a TED talk called "The danger of the single story". It has been viewed more than 11 million times. "Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become," Chimamanda said. Irrespective of its accuracy, the single story becomes the definitive account of a person, group, country or continent simply through repetition. Plausible falsehoods become accepted as truth if repeated often enough.

Stories are immensely powerful – look at the longevity and sway of religions founded entirely on narratives. Power itself also determines how a story is told and what the broader agenda is. Truth may have little to do with it. An old African proverb encapsulates this power: "The hunter is glorified because the lion doesn't have a storyteller." Thus the single-story genre will always do great harm to the relatively voiceless while barely touching the powerful.

The single story can also reveal a great deal about the teller(s), often more than it reveals about the intended subject. Consider Faysal Ishak Ahmed, who was detained at Manus Island and died just before Christmas. Faysal was/is routinely described as an asylum seeker, which is now a loaded term. But he was much more than that. He was a son, husband, father and friend. All of those roles defined him and fleshed out his life far more accurately than the term "asylum seeker".

The single story stereotypes and truncates because it artificially narrows the frame of vision. It is particularly dangerous because of its power to over-simplify complex entities, from an individual person to an entire continent. I taught a large migrant English class of some 30 adults, with many strong personalities. The class was about 60 per cent male, mainly well-educated and of widely differing ages, ethnicities and religious backgrounds. The students had to elect a leader to represent them at management forums. The unanimous choice was "Mariam".*

Forthright, sincere, witty, strong, unassuming and intelligent, she represented her classmates with alacrity. Mariam took on a notoriously rude official and resolved the problem painlessly, with no hard feelings. A born leader, her management skills were second to none and would have been an asset to any business. Yet, she had no highfalutin CV. Limiting people like Mariam to the usual single story of young wife and mother, or refugee, shears off a wealth of human capital.

At what point can a person stop being a refugee and become a born leader? The former is temporary circumstance; the latter is innate talent, much needed by the society. My grandmother travelled the world by ocean liner in an era when – we are now told – all married women were shackled to domesticity. "But that's an exception," counters the teller of the single story.

Although individual lives are complex and multifaceted, they are constantly being homogenised into an all-A powerful but erroneous single narrative, depending on the viewpoint of opinion leaders. For women, especially, this leads to exceptional personal ability and achievement being frequently eclipsed. The public domain is peppered with terms such as bleeding heart, disgruntled employee, victimhood, loser and the gamut of political pejoratives. They are vectors of the single story, deeming those people not worth listening to and unworthy of being shown humanity, fairness and respect.

In the aftermath of World War II, Hannah Arendt wrote that moral imagination requires the broadest possible frames for decision-making, including dissenting opinion, to preserve a society's ethical standards and safety. We need to hear the voices that demur and to hear from individuals who are commentated on but never able to directly respond and put their point of view across.

As US writer Andrew Solomon said: "It is nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know." The single story, and the prejudicial impulses it taps, keeps alive forces of dehumanisation that have underwritten extraordinary cruelty throughout history. Yet, it occurs all around us, in the public domain, and social, work and other contexts. To counter such polarisation, we need stories that present the variety, depth and complexity of individual human beings throughout the public domain. This encourages empathy and understanding, even across deep philosophical divides. * Not her real name. [Abbrev.]