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Tuesday Round-Up

This is my first attempt at a Tuesday Round-up, a weekly opportunity to talk about podcasts, books, blogs and other media that have caught my attention in the last week or more. I also want to say welcome and a huge thank you to new readers from Guatemala, China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Austria. Feel free to drop me a line and tell me more about yourself.

Lockdown continues, despite the befuddled message of our illustrious PM, and many are chafing at the bit to get out and back to some sort of normality. The last few weeks haven’t been easy, but one opportunity it has afforded is the time to learn a language. I had a college Principal who was one of the humblest people you could ever meet, but when asked how many languages he knew, he replied, ‘Thirteen - but my Middle Egyptian is a bit rusty.’ Growing up in a part of the world where language acquisition was seen as an optional extra, I imbibed the myth that speaking other languages was a ‘gift’. Then I had the privilege to work with colleagues from Africa, most of whom spoke at least four languages as a matter of necessity, and I realised that monolingualism was a choice and even a luxury.

In the past few weeks, I have used Duolingo to begin to work on my Irish and German and been thoroughly enjoying the chance to pick some up. I have also registered with Queen’s University Belfast and their Lockdown Languages free course in Irish, at least to improve my Ulster dialect pronunciation. What a gift to be able to acquire some skills to make communication easier once isolation is ended?!

I have also had a little more time to read, and that includes interesting blogs. Lewis Baston is not only a friend from my Camden days and is a psephologist par excellence, but I found a fascinating article written by him in a very different vein. Shrinking Horizons is both poignant and hopeful and is well worth a read.

Sticking with lockdown, I also want to recommend the article from my SWF colleague, Dr Emma Pavey. Emma has an incredibly creative and resourceful mind and I miss our face-to-face conversations about growing veg, but I thoroughly enjoyed her Fruits of the Lockdown.

Finally for this week, if you haven’t seen Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom, this is your chance to catch up. I can’t believe I missed it the first time around. It has some fantastic lines, the best of which for me was the definition of the American Journalist’s task: To speak truth to stupid! In the face of a pandemic, stupidity among politicians - and the general public - costs lives, and must be counteracted. I came across this quotation from Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran theologian martyred by the Nazis:

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force.

Against stupidity we are defenceless; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed, and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one.

It seems obvious that stupidity is less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions.

The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he speaks on behalf of an empowered group. In conversation with him, one feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans and catchwords that have taken possession of him.

The stupid man is under a spell…[And] having become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.

The Bible’s words that the ‘fear of the Lord God is the beginning of wisdom’ teaches us that a person’s inward liberation from foolishness and decision to live responsibly and intelligently before God is the only real cure to stupidity.

Bonhoeffer, “After Ten Years, Letters and Papers from Prison

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