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An Ode to the Barber Shop

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Isn’t it amazing just how much of our lives we take for granted? The vast majority of us have never really taken into consideration the organizational effort that goes into running a local library or operating a small business. Like most of us, I have eaten at pubs, borrowed library books, and gotten my haircut without giving a second thought to the little intricacies that make such things possible. Then my barber decided to retire.

If I’m honest, learning that John, my barber of over five years, had decided to retire threw me in a loop. The prospect of finding a decent, skilled barber who could deal with my thick, wavy hair seemed virtually insurmountable. The truth is that the relationship John and I had ran deeper than just mere haircuts. Our friendship was based on a familiarity built over a number of years. John knew my hair and knew how I liked it. And I had the honour of having my hair cut by a man who had been barbering since the mid-sixties, and who was a pillar of his community.

John was one of a dying breed: the traditional barber. They offered men a haircut and, perhaps, a shave (occupational health and safety not withstanding), and little else. These barber shops were usually small and run by only a few men. They had built personal relationships with their clients over a number of years. These barbers knew their customers, knew their backgrounds, and knew how they liked their hair. (Naturally, this was dependent on clients returning to the same barber year after year, month after month).

The traditional barber is a relic of a bygone age. Whenever I think of old-fashioned barber shops, I think of the 1920s to the 1950s, of a world of glamour and sophistication when ladies wore evening dresses and men had neat hair and wore dinner jackets. When I think of old-fashioned barber shops, I think of the Rat Pack and James Bond and the movie stars of the 1930s to the 1950s. For me, the old-fashioned barber shop is synonymous with timeless male style.

Sadly, society no longer believes in style, glamour, and sophistication. The traditional barber shop has given way to a cruder, wannabe variety. These establishments are more masculinised hair dressing salons than proper barber shops. These places think that by offering cheap haircuts in an atmosphere immersed in masculine nostalgia – usually achieved through wood paneling, empty Jack Daniels bottles, and pictures of men doing “manly” things – they can achieve the mantle of the traditional barber shop.

The truth is that they can’t. Gruff looking barbers with arms covered in tattoos are about as far away as one can get from the dapper gentlemen who cut men’s hair in the past. When I walk out of the barber, I want to look and feel like Cary Grant, not like a thug. John made that happen for me. He and his kind are vanishing rapidly. They will be missed.

The Loss of Civility

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Society has a problem with politically-motivated violence. At a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, a man with Nazi sympathies drove his car into a crowd of protestors, killing one and injuring many others.

Likewise, the so-called anti-fascists, Antifa (they are, of course, nothing of the sort) has resorted to using violent and intimidatory tactics at numerous protests and rallies.

Needless to say, such occurrences raise serious questions about the consequences of political polarisation and the lack of community sentiment and incivility that it brings.

One of the features of the 2010s has been the increase in political polarisation. As people become more willing to identify themselves by their political ideology, the tendency to view one’s political opponents as extremists have, likewise, increased. Consequentially, it has become easier and easier for people to demonise others because they don’t hold the same political views that they do.

Such polarisation, of course, has been fuelled by a biased and segregated news media system. The online video and podcast revolution, combined with a mainstream media that heavily slants towards the left, has meant that people are often only exposed to those views that match their own. As such, the right has been manipulated into believing that all on the left are social justice warriors, protestors, and radical feminists, whilst those on the left have been manipulated into seeing all on the right as Nazis, race baiters, white supremacists, and alt-righters.

To a large degree, political polarisation has come as a consequence of the loss of a sense of community. People no longer associate with their neighbours, and, as a result, they have come to see each other as potential enemies rather than potential friends. And, under such conditions, it becomes very easy to see another person as evil when their political views do not compliment your own.

The loss of community has occurred for three major reasons. First, the advent of social media, online shopping, video subscription services, and smartphones has meant that people are no longer required to venture out into society and interact with others. It is no longer necessary for a consumer to interact with shop staff, for instance, because they can shop in the solitude of their own living room. Modern technology, for all its benefits, has provided us with a faux sense of sociability. A kind of sociability that allows us to communicate with others but does not require genuine human interaction.

Second, past-times that were once considered neutral have been co-opted to spread politically-charged messages. People can no longer go to a football game, watch a movie, or listen to music without having political ideology preached to them. As a consequence, society lacks the entities that once allowed people to bond with one another despite differences in their political beliefs.

Third, engagement with the community has declined. People are no longer engaged with the community in the same way that their grandparents were. In the past, social clubs, community groups, sports clubs, and religious institutions provided a space where people of diverse beliefs, values, and opinions could come together. As a consequence, such entities promoted a degree of social unity and social cohesion. Today, however, people are becoming more and more willing to self-segregate. They isolate themselves, choosing only to socialise with friends and family.

What all this has amounted to is a loss of civility. It is very easy to justify all manner of bad behaviour when one sees their opponent as a threat to their very existence. Our modern society shuns manners and dismisses common courtesy and is surprised to find self-centredness and vulgarity in its wake.

CIVILISATION IN TERMINAL DECLINE

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Our society appears to be suffering a terminal decline. At least that’s the conclusion traditionalists and devout Christian believers like myself have been forced to conclude. As the old-world withers and vanishes, a culture of selfishness, moral relativism, and general immorality has been allowed to grow in its place. The culture that produced Vivaldi, Dickens, Shakespeare, and Aristotle has been replaced with one that has as its major ambassadors the likes of Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber.

The first clue that a monumental change had taken place came in the guise of Princess Diana’s farce of a funeral in 1997. An event that was cynically exploited by politicians and celebrities and recorded for public consumption by round-the-clock news coverage (her funeral would be watched by two-and-a-half-billion people). As Gerry Penny of The Conversation noted, Diana’s death marked the beginning of the ‘mediated death.’ A death that is covered by the mass media in such a way that it attracts as much public attention, and therefore revenue, as possible.

Compared to Princess Diana, Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965 was a spectacle of old world pomp and ceremony. After lying in state for three days, Churchill’s small coffin was carried by horse-drawn carriage along the historic streets of London to Saint Paul’s Cathedral. His procession was accompanied by Battle of Britain aircrews, royal marines, lifeguards, three chiefs of staff, Lord Mountbatten, and his own family. The silence that filled the air was broken only by a funerary march and the occasional honorary gunshot.

Much like Diana’s funeral, tens of thousands of people came to witness Churchill’s funeral. But unlike Diana’s mourners, who did everything they could to draw attention to themselves, Churchill’s mourners were silent and respectful. They realised, unlike Diana’s mourners, that the best way to commemorate a great man was to afford him the respect that his legacy deserved.

Cynics would dismiss Churchill’s funeral as nothing more than a ridiculous display of pomp and ceremony. However, these events serve an important cultural purpose by connecting the individual with his community, his culture, and his heritage. In doing so, they bring about order and harmony.

Winston Churchill was the great Briton of the 20th century. Like Horatio Lord Nelson in the early 19th century, it was Churchill’s leadership that saved Britain from Nazi invasion and it was his strength and resolve that gave ordinary Britons that courage to endure the worst periods of the War.

And understandably, many Britons felt something approximating a kind of personal gratitude towards him. A gratitude deep enough that when he died many felt it to be their duty to file reverently pass his body lying in state or stand in respectful silence as his funeral procession passed. What Churchill’s state funeral did was give the ordinary person the opportunity to pay their own respects and feel that they had played a part, if only in a minute way, in the celebration of his life.

Winston Churchill’s funeral and Princess Diana’s funeral represent eras that are as foreign to one another as Scotland is to Nepal. While Churchill’s funeral represented heritage and tradition, Princess Diana’s funeral symbolised mass nihilism and self-centredness.

But why has this happened? I believe the answer lies in the dual decline of Western culture and Christianity.

The French philosopher, Chantal Delsol described modern Western culture as being akin to Icarus had he survived the fall. (Icarus, of course, being the figure in Greek mythology whose wax wings melted when he flew too close to the sun). Where once it had been strong, resolute, and proud, it has now become weak, dejected, disappointed, and disillusioned. We have lost confidence in our own traditions and ideals.

Of course, the decline of Western culture has a direct correlation with the more consequential decline of Christianity. It is faith that informs culture and creates civilisation, and the faith that has informed the West has been Christianity. It is the moral ideals rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition – that I love my neighbour, that my behaviour in this life will determine my fate in the next, that I should forgive my enemies – that form the axiomatic principles that undergird Western civilisation.

This faith has been replaced by an almost reverent belief in globalism, feminism, environmentalism, diversity, equality, and human rights. Our secularism has made us believe that those who came before us were ignorant, superstitious, and conformist. And what has the result of this loss of mass religiosity been? Mass nihilism and a decline in moral values.

But when faith falls so too does culture and civilisation. If we are to revive our civilisation, we must be prepared to acknowledge that tradition, heritage, and religion are not only integral, but vital.

A CRITIQUE OF GLOBALISM

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Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, has stated that disagreeing with globalism is like disagreeing with “the laws of gravity.” Similarly, new French President, Emmanuel Macron, another supporter of globalism, wishes to deregulate France’s ailing industry and boost freedom of movement and trade. Donald Trump’s election to the US Presidency, and the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, however, have challenged the presumed supremacy of globalism as a political force.

The roots of globalism can be traced back to the 2nd Century BC when the formation of the Silk Road facilitated the trade of silk, wool, silver, and gold between Europe and China. It wasn’t until the 20th century, however, that the idea gathered momentum. Following the Second World War, world power was to be split between America, representing the capitalist west, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, representing the communist east. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, America took it upon herself to create an undivided, democratic, and peaceful Europe.

Of course, the aim for an undivided Europe, indeed an undivided world, existed long before the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1944. Allied delegates, met at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to establish an economic system based on open markets and free trade. Their idea gathered momentum. Today, the Monetary Fund, World Bank, and, the World Trade Centre all exist to unite the various national economies of the world into a single, global economy.

In 1950, the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, proposed pooling Western Europe’s coal and steel producing countries together. Originally, Schuman’s objective had been to unite France with the Federal Republic of Germany. In the end, however, the Treaty of Paris would unite Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands in the European Coal and Steel Community. By 1957, the Treaty of Rome had been used to create the European Economic Community.

Globalism is an ideology which seeks to form a world where nations base their economic and foreign policies on global, rather than national, interests. It can be viewed as a blanket term for various phenomena: the pursuit of classical liberal and free market policies on the world stage, Western dominance over the political, cultural, and economic spheres, the proliferation of new technologies, and global integration.

John Lennon’s Imagine, speaking of ‘no countries’, ‘no religion’, and a ‘brotherhood of man’, acts as an almost perfect anthem for globalism. Your individual views on globalism, however, will depend largely on your personal definition of a nation. If you support globalism it is likely you believe a nation to be little more than a geographical location. If you are a nationalist, however, it is likely you believe a nation to be the accumulation of its history, culture, and traditions.

Supporters of John Lennon’s political ideology seem to suffer from a form of self-loathing. European heritage and culture are not seen as something worth celebrating, but as something to be dismissed. And it appears to be working: decades of anti-nationalist, anti-Western policies have stripped many European nations of their historical and cultural identities. In the UK, there have been calls to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes – an important, yet controversial figure. In other countries, certain areas are have become so rife with ethnic violence they are considered ‘no-go’ zones.

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Perhaps, it is the result of “white man’s burden”, Rudyard Kipling’s prophetic 1899 poem about the West’s perceived obligation to improve the lot of non-westerners. Today, many white, middle-class elites echo Kipling’s sentiments by believing that it to be their duty to save the world. These people are told at charity events, at protests, at their universities, and by their media of their obligation to their ‘fellow man.’ When it comes to immigration, they believe it to be their responsibility to save the wretched peoples of the world by importing them, and their problems, to the West.

By contrast, nationalism champions the idea that nations, as defined by a common language, ethnicity, or culture, have the right to form communities based on a shared history and/or a common destiny. The phenomenon can be described as consisting of patriotic feelings, principles, or efforts, an extreme form or patriotism characterised by feelings of national superiority, or as the advocacy of political independence. It is primarily driven by two factors. First, feelings of nationhood among members of a nation-state, and, two, the actions of a state in trying to achieve or sustain self-determination. In simplest terms, nationalism constitutes a form of human identity.

One cannot become a citizen of a nation merely by living there. Citizenship arises from the sharing of a common culture, tradition, and history. As American writer Alan Wolfe observed: “behind every citizen lies a graveyard.” The sociologist Emile Durkheim believed people to be united by their families, their religion, and their culture. In Suicide: a Study in Sociology, Durkheim surmises:

“It is not true, then, that human activity can be released from all restraint. Nothing in the world can enjoy such a privilege. All existence being a part of the universe is relative to the remainder; its nature and method of manifestation accordingly depend not only on itself but on other beings, who consequently restrain and regulate it. Here there are only differences of degree and form between the mineral realm and the thinking person.’ Man’s characteristic privilege is that the bond he accepts is not physical but moral; that is, social. He is governed not by a material environment brutally imposed on him, but by a conscience superior to his own, the superiority of which he feels.” – Suicide: a Study in Sociology (pg. 277)

Globalism has primarily manifested itself through economic means. In the economic sense, globalism began in the late 19th, early 20th centuries with the invention of the locomotive, the motor-car, the steamship, and the telegraph. Prior to the industrial revolution, a great deal of economic output was restricted to certain countries. China and India combined produced an economic output of fifty-percent, whilst Western Europe produced an economic output of eighteen percent. It was the industrial revolution of the 19th century, and the dramatic growth of industrial productivity, which caused Western Europe’s economic output to double. Today, we experience the consequences of globalism every time we enter a McDonalds Restaurant, call someone on our mobile phones, or use the internet.

Philip Lower, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, told a group of businessmen and women at the Sydney Opera House that Australia was “committed to an open international order.” Similarly, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Amartya Sen, argued that globalisation had “enriched the world scientifically and culturally, and benefited many people economically as well.” It is certainly true that globalisation has facilitated the sharing of technological, cultural, and scientific advances between nations. However, as some economists, like Joseph Stiglitz and Ha-Joon Chang, have pointed out: globalisation can also have the effect of increasing rather than reducing inequality. In 2007, the International Monetary Fund admitted that investment in the foreign capital of developing countries and the introduction of new technologies has had the effect of increasing levels of inequality.  Countries with larger populations, lower working and living standards, more advanced technology, or a combination of all three, are in a better position to compete than countries that lack these factors.

The underlying fact is that globalism has economic consequences. Under globalisation, there is little to no restrictions on the movement of goods, capital, services, people, technology, and information. Among the things championed by economic globalisation is the cross-border division of labour. Different countries become responsible different forms of labour.

The United Nations has unrealistically asserted globalism to be the key to ending poverty in the 21st Century. The Global Policy Forum, an organisation which acts as an independent policy watchdog of the United Nations, has suggested that imposition of global taxes as a means of achieving this reality. These include taxes on carbon emissions to slow climate change, taxes on currency trading to ‘dampen instability in the foreign exchange markets’, and taxes to support major initiatives like reducing poverty and hunger, increasing access to education, and fighting preventable diseases.

In one sense, the battle between globalism and nationalism can be seen as a battle between ideology and realism. Globalism appears committed to creating a ‘brotherhood of man.’ Nationalism, on the other hand, reminds us that culture and nationality form an integral part of human identity, and informs us they are sentiments worth protecting. The true value of globalism and nationalism come not from their opposition, but from how they can be made to work together. Globalism has the economic benefit of allowing countries to develop their economies through global trade. It is not beneficial, however, when it devolves into open-border policies, global taxes, or attacks on a nation’s culture or sovereignty. Nationalism, by the same token, has the benefit of providing people with a national and cultural identity, as well as the benefits and protections of citizenship. Nationalism fails when it becomes so fanatical it leads to xenophobia or war. The answer, therefore, is not to forsake one for the other, but to reconcile the two.