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Chris Bertram

Sunday photoblogging: Saint Guilhem-le-Désert

by Chris Bertram on October 17, 2021

Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert

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Monday photoblogging: Béziers cathedral

by Chris Bertram on October 4, 2021

You have to look very hard to discover that this building replaced the structure destroyed when anti-Cathar crusaders massacred up to 20,000 people in 1209, an episode during which the crusader commander Simon de Monfort, faced with the difficulty of distinguishing heretics from Christians, infamously uttered the words “kill them all! God will know his own.”

Béziers

Group size and tolerating those with whom we disagree

by Chris Bertram on October 3, 2021

The other day I tweeted what I took to be a fairly banal sociological observation and one that took no normative position, as such. I observed that people in families or smaller communities are, as a condition of participating in many everyday social activities, under some pressure to be more tolerant of people with divergent moral, religious or political views to their own than are people in large communities or networks such as cities or the internet. People in larger networks typically have more choice about who they interact with and so can restrict themselves more easily to others who think like they do. Notice that there aren’t necessarily two distinct groups of people here. People interact both in small family groups for some of their time but also in wider networks. In the first, there’s pressure to put up with the disagreeing other, to some extent, in the latter there’s much less pressure since you don’t have to engage.

Some people reacted a little negatively, or so I took it, to my observation. It was suggested that I was “lauding small towns” over cities, though I was not. Others, more supportive, chimed in to say that growing up in small places they’d been under more pressure to justify themselves and their views to others with whom they disagreed, whereas in cities they’d not had to bother. And some people notices that the working-age population did indeed have to tolerate people with different opinions to their own since they had no choice but to be in the workplace, while perhaps retirees could select co-thinkers and screen out unwelcome opinions.

My banal observation didn’t just come out of nowhere. On the contrary it arose from the comparatively privileged experience of living in two quite different places. In the one, I can have a social life where I end up hanging out with people who are pretty similar to myself; in the other, if I am to have any social life at all, it has to be with relatively small numbers of people who just happen to be in the town and know one another. That can be enriching, since I end up having conversations with people different to myself and learning about points of view quite other to my own. But there’s also a pressure to self-censorship, to avoiding certain topics in case they cause ill-feeling and to letting remarks go when they are possibly but not obviously freighted with racism and sexism. Generally, I think exhortations to people to get out of their bubble and to speak across divides are a waste of breath. But put people in different circumstances with others with whom they disagree and they will find ways to rub along and communicate, with a mix of challenge and restraint.

Monday photoblogging: Cirque de Navacelles

by Chris Bertram on September 27, 2021

The always-spectacular Cirque de Navacelles on the border between Gard and Hérault drawn by the River Vis, of which this was a meander from which the river diverted about 6000 years ago.

Cirque de Navacelles

Sunday photoblogging: Marseillan

by Chris Bertram on September 19, 2021

Marseillan, this afternoon.

Marseillan

Sunday photoblogging: Liverpool panorama

by Chris Bertram on September 12, 2021

Liverpool panorama

Anniversaries

by Chris Bertram on September 11, 2021

As everyone knows, today is the 20th anniversary of 9/11, as well as being the 48th of the coup that toppled Allende in Chile. But decades being what they are, as well as locations and long-term consequences, 9/11 is the one that will rightly be getting the most attention. Its most important consequences include millions of dead across Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, as well as other parts of the Middle East, a catastrophic loss of freedom across the world because of ever deepening securitization and hardening of borders, Guantanamo and torture at the hands of “liberal demogracies”, an enraged Islamophobia that has infected the “West” and divided countries between racist right-wing populists and the rest, bringing us Trump and Breivik among others, and, ultimately, a relative loss in power of the American hegemon with the humbling withdrawal from Afghanistan. Israel’s leaders were encouraged to dig in, knowing then that they could get away without any concessions to the Palesitinians. Some of developments no doubt have other causes too, but without 9/11 we’d be a lot less far down the path. Osama bin Laden failed in most of his aims and the slaughter of nearly 3000 people was for nothing: the Caliphate is no closer than it was, though the world is a lot worse, perhaps especially for Muslims.

Everyone who was then alive and still is will know where they were that day. I was on the top floor of the Bristol philosophy department when I started picking up the confusing news and turned the radio on. Nobody really knew what was happening and there were odd reports of things that don’t seem to have happened, such as, if I remember right, a car bomb outside the Pentagon. I went down and told a couple of other people the news and we listened and watched, obsessively refreshing our browsers. In the following days, we had little meetings and seminars in which some of us had to push back against the idea that the death of three thousand American civilians was somehow “deserved”. Having travelled to the US at Easter of the previous year, gone to the top of the World Trade Center with my young sons (our very first visit to the US), I was sentimentally inoculated against that particular brand of anti-imperialist triumphalism, for which I consider myself morally lucky.

And out of it all came blogging and ultimately Crooked Timber as we all argued online about processes and forces beyond our comprehension with people like Instapundit, “Armed Liberal”, and Norman Geras. Michael Walzer asked whether there could be a “decent left” and the answer seems to have been that “decent leftism” was a gateway to right-wing alignment for many (where are the signatories of the Euston Manifesto now?). I too wrote things then of which I am now ashamed.

So let’s remember the three thousand, but also the more numerous dead of Mosul and Fallujah, of Helmand, of Aleppo, of nameless places where drones struck, of Utøya too. All those people who would be living now but for 9/11 and the reaction to it, as well as those who did not die but are maimed in mind or body.

A song about the day itself from one of the greatest songwriters of the past 20 years:

Kukathas on Immigration and Freedom

by Chris Bertram on September 8, 2021

I just finished reading Chandran Kukathas’s book on immigration, Immigration and Freedom, (Princeton: 2021) and I recommend it strongly. In some respects it is a quirky book and Kukathas is coming from an intellectual home that most of the left-leaning readers of Crooked Timber are not friendly to. Hayek gets a lot of mentions, and I’m guessing that many with social democratic or Rawlsian sympathies won’t share Kukathas’s scepticism about the bounded state being a locus of political community and justice (though cf James C. Scott). Kukathas’s basic argument, though developed in detail over many pages, is that to control immigration, states need to monitor and control migrants. But in order to do this, states also need to monitor and control their own citizens. Because one thing human beings are prone to do is to associate with other human beings, independently of their immigration status. People love, befriend, work with, create with, employ others and some of those people are immigrants. So to stop immigrants from doing the things the state doesn’t want them to do, the state also has to monitor its citizens who want to do those things with them and if necessary to pass laws preventing them from doing those things.
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Sunday photoblogging: Venice arch

by Chris Bertram on September 5, 2021

Following some advice on Jamie Windsor’s excellent YouTube photography channel I decided to look through the last two years of my photos to see if there were some I’d neglected at the time but which would benefit from a second look. This is one that did, from Venice in summer 2019 before the world changed.

Venice arch

Last night’s sunset from Liverpool

Wirral sunset

Sunday photoblogging: ruined outbuilding

by Chris Bertram on August 22, 2021

Pézenas

Sunday photoblogging: Pézenas in time of COVID

by Chris Bertram on August 15, 2021

Pézenas

Sunday photoblogging: Valmagne Abbey

by Chris Bertram on August 8, 2021

Valmagne

Sitting in limbo

by Chris Bertram on August 4, 2021

I’m in the UK now, having spent the last (lovely) six weeks in France, an EU member-state with a much more functional government than we have. When we left for France in mid-June, it was on the UK government’s “amber list” and had just started admitting visitors from the UK with proof of full vaccination and a negative COVID test. To get such a test in the UK we had to pay £80 to a private provider. We also had to pay for additional travel insurance to travel to a country that the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against travel to, the advice having rendered our existing travel insurance inapplicable. All went swimmingly on the journey out apart from a 30-second hiccup when a French border guard thought a different set of rules applied to us, requiring urgent reasons for travel, but a colleague set him right.

Our plan had been to stay in France until the UK government moved it to an easier category not requiring quarantine. But the opposite happened. Ostensibly because of a surge in the Beta variant in France, the UK moved the country to an enhanced “amber plus” category, requiring 10 day quarantine even for the fully vaccinated. This measure against France was quite inexplicable, since there were other European countries with higher incidences of Beta, and becauce the French cases were actually overwhelmingly on French islands in the Indian Ocean. Perhaps there were other, more political, reasons behind the change, or perhaps the British government is bad at geography but couldn’t lose face by backing down once the error had been pointed out? Who knows? Rumour has it that France will be taken out of “amber plus” this week, and that the fully-vaccinated will be allowed quarantine-free admission to the UK from France this week, as visitors from the US and most of the EU are. That’s no good to us. (And note this is at a moment when nearly all internal restrictions have been lifted in the UK.)
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Sunday photoblogging: Edward Weston tribute capsicum

by Chris Bertram on July 25, 2021

Bought at the market in Pézenas, France. I could hardly not take a photo of it, could I?

Edward Weston tribute capsicum