20th November 2019: A moment

Poetry
Walking distracted towards my destination.
A to B.
When, 
stopping me in my tracks, 
I hear the bellowing bells in the brick orange tower
clang raucously together:

ding.

ding.

ding.

The transcendent, abiding sound of metal against metal, 
that has signalled many a moment.
Contrary in variety. 

I look up at the origin of the alarm which tells me another
hour has gone by;
the sky about it is a grey-blue in colour,
kind of bleak
and the colour of oblivion.
But the orange of the centuries old building
creates a kind of beautiful contrast-

the preservation of Time,
the change that occurs over Time,
the stillness of Time. 

– Accalia Smith

BOOK REVIEW: Humankind

books, Reviews

I love this quote by Richard Curtis. It’s true that we only hear about the exceptional so when an unexceptional thing occurs in front of our eyes we don’t believe it.

I started writing this post when it was first published as I devoured it within a week, it was so compellingly written and its ideas different from anything I had read before about the history of humankind. I had to quickly get down my first thoughts about it upon completing reading – my initial thought being ‘who can I share this book with? I need someone to talk about these ideas with!’ For some reason, I didn’t publish that review (what a bad publisher I am!), but despite this review going up a few months after finishing it I felt like it was still a book I had to write about and share my views on because more people need to read this book – its the other side of the argument about humankind, the hopeful version of it, dismissing the modern western Hobbesian idea that humans are born selfish and shedding different, rarely shown, lights on our history.

So. Whats it about?

Humankind: A Hopeful History is a Non-fiction book written by Danish Historian, journalist and Author, Rutger Bregman. I had heard of Bregman when watching his TED talk on Poverty. I found his speech style compelling, some of his points interesting but his argument lacking on a couple of points. It was persuasive but by the end I found myself asking ‘but what about…?’ and ‘why wasn’t… considered?’ Nevertheless when I saw that this book was being published by Bloomsbury in the UK this June (2020) I was intrigued as the premise seemed to be what I was searching for in my next read- something to challenge ‘well known’ interpretations of the past and to be readable -not full of academia jargon like many history, or any ‘professional’ books, are. I’m pleased to say that it exceeded those expectations.

The book spans many different parts of human history. Beginning with the origins of civilisation, about how we became ‘civilised’ and stopped being hunter-gatherers and moves on to looking at modern day tribes, analysing WW2, and finding parts of the past not frequently reported on. The biggest of these being the ‘ Real Lord Of the Flies’, which is being made into a movie soon (you know a book must be good when a film is being made from just one short chapter!) For years, William Golding’s book has provided a blueprint into how we treat people, being used as evidence for our government and how children should be educated. As a non fiction book, there are no real ‘spoilers’, either Bregman convinces you or he doesn’t with his fresh take on history but it is interlaced with stories of its own kind that you might find surprising. The variety in topics covered in this book will mean it will appeal to a variety of readers; whether your’e interested in the history of science, psychology, true crime or literature, this book will give you a new hopeful side to the stories you might have already heard of and some you might not.

Bregman covers a variety of ideas thinking about how history is shaped, about how our current knowledge came to be, about the news and the implications of ‘fake news’ too. As a former journalist himself, it’s fascinating to see reporting and the news through the lens of someone who has worked in it and also seeing someones quest to find truth through all the speculation and coating of the past. It’s also interesting finding out more about how the past and our interpretations of it has shaped us as a species. I also found the research about placebos and nocebos particularly compelling (but youll have to read the book to find out more about that!)

‘Humankind’ & ‘Quiet’:

I read this book alongside Susan Cain’s bestseller ‘Quiet’, a book arguing that introversion and extroversion should be qualities respected equally. This book deserves its own post but it was fascinating reading these two side by side. Bregman focuses occasionally on ideas Cain focuses on in her book, particularly with thinking about psychological experiments and thinking about how we view an ideal self. Cain said of Humankind that ‘Bregman’s application of history leads to a new understanding of human nature.’ it ‘changes the conversation and lights the path to a brighter future. We need it now more than ever’. A statement I can absolutely agree with, in times of rapid change and uncertainty we need to be reminded that we actually might not be born with self centred wired brains, that at the end of the day, we might actually be a species that wants to help each other out. It just so happens that there are a select few who’d rather not, and some that are too easily swayed.

Overall, this book was compelling and thought-provoking, an essential in these times of uncertainty to know that hope isn’t futile. As the epigraph from Chekhov says ‘man will become better when you show him what he is like’ and this book shows us the other side of the coin when it comes to human nature, so read this to better understand what we, us humans, are truly like so that maybe we can be better towards each-other.

The Moon #2

Poetry
The Moon #2

We can only see
What the light shows us.
 
A slither you now are
To our eyes;
A small piece of the puzzle,
A slice of the cake.

Not the full picture
Nor the whole sponge.
 
A slither of light arched
Into a darkening void
Back bent, fading
From our sight-

Until the earth turns
And more is revealed.
 
More pieces of the puzzle placed
For us to see your rounded face
With its curious expression: 
(Shocked or shouting?

mocked or missing?)
Up to interpretation.
 
For we can only see
What we are shown. 

- Accalia Smith

This is my second poem on the moon, a follow up to the first which I titled ‘The many faces of the moon’. This one focuses less on the literal attributes of the moon but to what its story means to our lives. Are we the moon with only part of ourselves revealed to the onlookers? Are we only interpreting part of things because we’ve not been shown the full picture?

It’s also a commentary on poetry in this way – that everything is up to our own individual interpretation. Only you reading this now will have the experiences you have, have the childhood you had, have the life you have – we can only attempt to try and be in each others shoes and see different perspectives but we can’t fully live them all. It’s those experiences that make you have the interpretation you have depending on what matters most to you. Poetry is a ‘slice’ of what you want it to mean in a way, directed a little by its writer and the words they chose to use.

Similarly we are the writers of our own image but people will interpret what you ‘show’ them differently. Journalists can write what they want you to know, interpreting what is important for you. Marketeers decide for you what they think you’ll want in your lives, interpreting you. Politicians show you what they want you to interpret and they interpret you too.

Sometimes we misinterpret – although perhaps there isn’t a wrong way to interpret?

Perhaps there is if all the facts and opinions are not given to us. How can we make up our own minds about anything without the full picture of it.


Laurence Fox’s New Political Party: “Reclaim”

Thoughts

Laurence Fox is known more for his acting in TV Shows like Lewis or Victoria or in films such as Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Becoming Jane than as a politician. He first politically came to the publics attention earlier this year, in January, after controversial interviews and debates on Good Morning Britain and Question Time over Sam Mendes’ 1917‘s choice to include Sikh soldiers in the WW1 film. He claimed that it was ‘forced diversity’ and continued to comment on Megan Markle’s treatment by the press and the ‘woke’ generation as well as saying that he would boycott the British supermarket chain ‘Sainsbury’s’ after it announced support of ‘Black History Month’.

Now he has announced that he is founding ‘The Reclaim Party’ due to his disappointment in the conservative party’s inability to ‘conserve’ and uphold British values. What these values are for Fox do not seem completely clear, although the main issue seems to be ‘respect’ and reclaiming Britains past – assuming a more nationalistic view perhaps. He also seems to be for diversity despite his appearance at previous interviews, urging for ‘progress’ rather than ‘stagnation’ which Fox claims is the case currently under Conservative government. The party already has its own Facebook and Twitter accounts and are using the slogan ‘Reason / Reform / Progress’.

Pitting this party against the conservatives seems like an interesting move for a former Conservative supporter. By potentially taking votes away from the conservatives they are increasing the chances of a labour majority. According to the party’s website though, they are calling themselves a movement perhaps suggesting that they want to bring about change by giving a platform for their ideas and opinions but maybe not for power.

The party are currently going through the electoral commission and Fox and his fellow party members have a few years yet to come up with a manifesto. What seems strange to me though is the lack of coverage of this story in the press. Originally the press were going to broadcast the party as in association with Nigel Farage (former leader of UKIP). Fox has said that they were forced to announce the Party sooner than they wanted to because they did not wish to be associated with this rumour. Perhaps this mix up is the reason for the lack of press coverage or, perhaps, it is because of the little information about it; there probably won’t be much given until the electoral commission has passed the name.

The party has already managed to raise £5 million for funding according to reports in The Telegraph suggesting that the party has already got much support. Additionally, Fox has said that many people contacted him after the controversial debates thanking him for giving them a voice that they were too frightened to use. Fox has put this down to the ‘Woke’ and cancel culture, saying that these movements are against freedom of speech.

On ‘Culture wars’ :

This term has been thrown about a lot recently with mixed opinions on how it should be used when talking about British society or, indeed, British politics. Many think of it as an American term, associating it with the extreme controversies and divides of religion, race and political stance (republican or democrat). Recently, it has been used in Britain to talk about the Brexit Polarisation and other increasing divisions. Many argue that although there is division in this country it has, on the whole, been less extreme. Others say that was, perhaps, until Brexit.

The main reason, Fox has said, for creating a party is to promote freedom of speech, taking a more individualistic approach and promoting unity rather than division in a statement on the party. Equally, Fox said that ‘I know we’ll be seen as a culture wars UKIP’ in an interview with The Telegraph1 .

On ‘Woke’ culture:

Originally this term meant ‘to be awake’ to injustice, especially racial as it was used throughout the 60’s. As ‘Woke’ has increased in usage, the word is becoming to cover more than that. Fox claims that being ‘woke’ means that too many people are finding injustices in everything. That does seem to be the case with increased protests and quick fire social media reactions to things shared that spark instant anger. For example, take the government advert about a ballerina with the slogan ‘her next job could be in Cyber but she doesn’t know it yet’. It was published before the pandemic and meant to encourage girls to work in Cyber. However, this image went viral on social media with people thinking the government was making an attack on the arts industry, claiming that this was clear proof that the government doesn’t value the arts. Perhaps the new rise goes hand in hand with fake news. However, it probably should not be put down to being ‘woke’, at its core it means that more people are caring and taking an interest in the world around them. Perhaps they just need to know how to find the truth, and sift through the rubbish. Fox’s take on what being ‘woke’ means to him remains unclear, as does his and the future Reclaim party’s thoughts on what should be done about it.

Recent controversy:

On top of accusations of racism from January, Fox has faced recent backlash for the use of the word ‘reclaim’ that has previously been used in charity organisations. For more visit The Guardian

What we need to know more about:

  • The people involved in the founding of the party. Fox as an actor with little political experience is unlikely to have set the party up on his own. What if others are using Fox’s controversial and famous profile for its use?
  • What specifically are the ‘British values’ that Fox thinks we should ‘reclaim’.
  • Policy – what will the party’s policies be? This is a question we won’t get the answers to anyway at least until the electoral commission has granted the name of the party.

Sources & more information:

1The Telegraph Interview ‘Chopper’s Politics podcast’ & written interview by Christopher Hope (the video is free to watch but to read the article you have to be a Telegraph subscriber which I am not, I have taken the headline only due to this)

Peter Whittle Interview with Fox – The New Culture Forum Channel [Note: Whittle is a UKIP member]

Culture wars – The Economist

LSE recorded online event: Brexit and culture wars: is this the new normal? [This is a really interesting discussion about everything going on at the moment; from Brexit to Racial injustice to the pandemic, each speaker has their own views on ‘culture wars’ in this country compared to others.]

The conversation on ‘Woke’ origins and Marketing

The formation of a new Party, especially during these unprecedented times, is an interesting move made by Laurence Fox but does reveal what perhaps we already knew, that there are divisions and people feeling unrepresented. Whether these are the beginnings of a ‘culture war’ is uncertain but the platforms are forming to mix things up in Parliament – the shame is that party making is becoming the way to show unrest and want of change (or maybe going back into the past in Fox’s case?)

What do you think? Is Fox standing for division or Unity? How can we unite in these opposing times?

Back to Education: A new study experience

Thoughts

This photo if of a fresh faced, nervous and excited me from my first day at university, it crazy to think that was over a year ago.

It’s coming up to my third week back at university, and students at school have been back for a number of weeks now. Being ‘back’ has brought with it a whole new experience of online meetings, prerecorded lectures and wiping down your place at each in person seminar. Its, well, bizarre.

I hesitate to call this post ‘back to uni’ or ‘back to school’ because, for the most part, we aren’t in the buildings of University. We are, like most students around the world, sat on our laptops trying to figure out the technology for us to continue learning. A select few want to show their face, some professors urge it. Some dragging their laptops to their beds for their 9ams, maybe pleased that they didn’t have to wake up earlier (there are pros and cons to online learning!). I don’t think Microsoft Teams or Zoom has ever had to work so hard. We also have what they are calling ‘hybrid learning’ at RHUL, that is a mix of online and in person seminars and lectures.

But even in person, the experience feels completely impersonal.

Some are online, their faces on the big screen in front of us, the seminar leader at the front in a mask wandering if the people online can hear them, looking at us, a group of four socially distanced likewise geared up in masks covering our expressions. Small group work is impossible for fear of breaking the distancing rules. People unsure of how to have a conversation with people they can’t see. The wifi lagging and people rapidly typing their responses in the chat section of the screen. Must try and get in there first before the conversation has moved on. Wait! I have a question. Furiously typing on the keyboard within their isolated walls.

It’s strange these times – we know these measures are there for a purpose but after a year in which there were strikes and a freshers year cut short by covid, my second year and my university experience seems to be flashing before my eyes. The experience I was expecting slipping from my grasp. I think it was Shakespeare who said that expectation is the enemy of happiness, we should be embracing the changes that come our way.

So how can make the most of it?

  1. Try meeting up in small groups – your own little seminars. It helps bring a little more motivation to studying with a less structured schedule. This makes a nice Segway for the next point…

2. Make a schedule/ timetable. Lectures are often prerecorded and we are told tasks are to be completed ‘in your own time’ which means more to fit in yourself. Organising yourself by planning your days more specifically can really help make the work more manageable and can help motivation more too.

3. Go to a park or somewhere outdoors when it’s nice to study. Being stuck in doors all the time can make studying more boring than it needs to be, by getting outside, listening to an audiobook or sitting on a bench to do some work can mix things up a bit. Additionally, fresh air may give you that extra dose of inspiration that you need to write that essay.

Good luck with your studies this year, whether it’s school or Uni or going back to work, life is a journey that throws hurdles at us from time to time. Uni life might not be the same but that doesn’t mean we have to dismiss this year – we can make the best of it.

POETRY COLLECTION: The Window #2

Poetry

In these times of rapid change, uncertainty and unprecedented crises people have united and divided. Today, in England, shops will begin reopening again and with them a moment in time comes to a close. With this in mind, I have been releasing a poem a day, each one my responses to the times as they unfolded- beginning right back to March as lockdown was about to begin to the present moments of anger and injustice.

This is the eighth poem in the ‘In This Time’ collection and the second half of the poems titled ‘The Window’ as my feelings toward this time change – each one marking a beginning and an ending.

The Window #2

I look out
The Window;
the portal
to the outside world.

A temptation.
And a reminder that
out of these four walls

Light spurts out
of the dark and heavy cloud,
warming the yearning face.

                                      Open.

Cold.         Fresh.        Free.

The aftermath falls,
releasing their clutches
from the leaves and branches.

Collapsing on the floor
with their comrades.
Exploding together

with the splash
like a record scratch,
bouncing like the needle

with a breath,
an expansion,
into music.

I look
outside my window
And the storm
calms down.