Category Archives: Spirituality

Reflections on #Lexit: Why Capitalism is Not the Problem

As the Brexit process – and quite possibly the United Kingdom itself – continues to jump the shark, original and rational (let alone coruscating) analysis of this phenomena remains that scarcest of commodities. It was therefore with great relief that we were alerted (via the Twitter feed of the inimitable Paul Mason) to the existence of Lea Ypi’s excellent There is no left-wing case for Brexit: 21st century socialism requires transnational organisation.

Ypi – who is a particularly iconic Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science – posits a compelling and sophisticated case for why Britain’s impending departure from the world’s most valuable single market is unlikely to engender a more humane set of outcomes for a general population apparently in thrall to that curious mix of uncritical neoliberalism and buck-passing xenophobia laced with deliberate ignorance.

However, it is her analysis of why those social demographics commonly (and not always accurately) lumped together as ‘the Left’ have failed to advance politically from the 1990s onwards which stopped us in our tracks: ‘As representatives of the centre-left wore business suits and moved into central bank buildings, those of the radical left kept the squares, the flags, and the slogans. But both lost ordinary people.’

After some reflection on this exquisite sentence, we at Mediolana aver that it merits unpacking as follows:

  1. The non-distinction between those members of society who (to use a Chinese metaphor) leap into the sea of business and those in the financial services sector mirrors the Left’s broader analytical weakness in not distinguishing between people who engage in productive wealth generation on the one hand, and those who use this same wealth to subsidise their own bad bets (cf. the 2007– global financial crisis).
  2. More broadly, the Left’s antipathy towards capitalism as a whole – and not, say, the grotesque elements of financial capitalism specifically – is not merely analytically bankrupt, but helps ensure the continued rampant exploitation of vulnerable groups by its misidentification of the problem, which is fundamentally a moral and even spiritual one, albeit one with a partially material solution. (Indeed, the most extreme instances aside, whether an economy is ‘capitalist’ or not tells us surprisingly little about the state of equity and the quality of life experienced by the people who inhabit that system.)
  3. On a final and related point, given the fundamental nature of the problem, the Left must at last seriously consider how it is going to mine the world’s great ethical systems for guidance on how to sustainably address complex human impulses such as greed, dehumanisation and the erosion of empathy. To this end, Karl Marx’s facile orientalism needs to be rapidly discarded; instead, sustained and respectful engagement with both Western and global spiritual traditions should commence with immediacy.

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Resurrecting Brand Anglican: Can Embracing Contemporary Media Save the Church of England? #COFE #FollowTheStar

With the Christmas period fast receding into the distance, it seems entirely apposite to glance back at one of the more intriguing pieces of marketing in the run-up to what has become arguably the greatest target date in the global economy: the Church of England’s 96-second video clip that was the centrepiece of its Follow the Star campaign (‘FTS’, ‘#FollowTheStar’).

According to Adrian Harris – the Head of Digital for the official denomination of state in the United Kingdom’s largest constituent nation – the core concept behind #FollowTheStar was to get more people to attend church. To this end, his organisation’s 2018 Christmas advert follows real-life parishioners in their preparations for and attendance at what one assumes is a semi-fictional Christmas service.

The commercial itself is not the worst out there, although like many of contemporary examples of the genre it suffers from a lack of investment in developing visually compelling characters with truly arresting personalities.

However – after some reflection – we at Mediolana can’t help but wonder if, perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, the basic logic of the ad is somewhat flawed. Understandably – in an era when attendances at Church of England venues are reaching unprecedented depths – the C of E is desperate to funnel warm bodies back into the pews; however, the depiction of a full church as displayed in the marketing spot is not just arguably a tad deceptive, but is setting up the viewer for a big disappointment should they ever follow through on their interest in the ‘service’ being proffered.

Instead, it could be posited that the Church of England should look at the problem from a near-opposite perspective and ask itself the basic question of why it is losing market share in the first place.

This is indubitably a vexed and complex issue, but one thing can be said for certain: any religious denomination whose teachings and general theological direction are virtually indistinguishable to that of mainstream opinion in what is easily one of the more secular societies anywhere on Earth is in serious danger of not differentiating itself enough to be relevant – or even basically interesting – to those of a spiritual bent.

This is a problem which even the tremendous resources and privileges that the Church of England enjoys for historical reasons cannot solve. And until this essential weakness is addressed, the curious spectacle of the established church in the home of the industrial revolution experiencing biological leakage to stronger ‘brands’ such as Buddhism, Islam, and other Christian denominations risks continuing unabated.

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Word Down: China Bans #Internet Sales of Planet’s Most Popular Book!

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Making Relationships Great Again, Part 2: Three New Rules for a Post-Weinstein Era

As regular readers of this blog will be well aware, back in the comparatively innocent days of January 2017 we published a piece – inspired by an article at the magnificent Fashion Artista – which exhorted women to help make relationships great again, in large part by recognising the power that they have to reject mediocre processes and outcomes.

However, since the recent, explosive and murky revelations involving the now former CEO of The Weinstein Company – accusations which are themselves giving birth to a seemingly endless and grotesque reel of similar allegations against all manner of entities – it has quickly become apparent that the relationship scene in much of the developed world is even worse than we thought: a broadly post-religious, post-modern milieu which is not merely defined by empty sex, but arguably some seriously abusive practices which are rapidly corroding the very fabric of the individual.

Given this reality – and to avoid a situation where the human interaction environment resembles a zero-trust zone in which the only winners are lawyers – there is, perhaps now more than ever before, an absolutely desperate need for some new rules which help obviate the desecration of male-female relationships. After some contemplation, here they are:

  1. The ‘Serie A Handball’ Rule. Those soccer fans with even a passing familiarity with Italy’s Serie A will have noticed an intriguing development in recent seasons: that of defenders placing their hands behind their back at the mere possibility of an incoming aerial pass into the penalty area by the opposing team. The reason they do this is to avoid any suggestion that they might intentionally handle the ball and give away a spot-kick. Similarly, men in positions of power over females should adopt a zero ambiguity approach pertaining to physical contact that leaves no doubt as to their good intentions.
  2. The ‘Female Sexual Desire Exists’ Rule. A longstanding moral precept in Western Christian and even post-Christian culture is the idea that women are – somehow – not supposed to show interest in sex. This is problematic on many levels, but the key point here is that it deprives women of agency in relationships: because they are not meant to display certain emotions and desires, this in turn gives creepy predators a kind of cultural licence to proceed with nefarious acts on the grounds that lukewarm reactions to even wanted sexual advances are normalised. Conversely, in traditional Chinese, Islamic and Japanese cultures, fulfilment of female sexual desire is itself perceived as a sublime goal, so long as this takes place in the right context. Comprehending these teachings in their fullness is not merely viable; it is urgent.
  3. The ‘Just Be’ Rule. When women are (i) not under constant threat of being intimidated, groped, or worse; and (ii) respected as people who have a powerful and discerning sexual dimension that is not afraid to make itself known, the psychological space to develop deep emotional connections can appear. And men can, in turn, relax and just be, safe in the knowledge that females – who are an order of magnitude more obsessed with love, sex and relationships than most males can ever realise – will not hesitate to let a man they like be aware of precisely that fact. Moreover, this system incentivises non-predatory behaviour whilst rewarding virtue; it represents a serious upgrade on today’s degraded dynamics.

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Hygge-ing Hell: ‘World’s Happiest Nation’ in New Serotonin Scandal!

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Eroding, Eroding, Eroding: Saudi Arabia ‘Facing Soft Power Meltdown’!

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Filed under Political Science, Politics, Spirituality

Resurrection, 2.0: Three Strategies to Save a Dying Church of England

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Numbers can sometimes be deceptive, but it is difficult to put a positive spin on the latest official Church of England (‘C of E’) attendance figures: the proportion of the population warming the Anglican pews on a typical Sunday morning now stands at a sobering 1.4%. Even the Church’s preferred set of attendance statistics – those counting attendance at any point during the week (not unlike a video-on-demand service) – has slipped below the one million mark in a country of over 53 million people.

More alarmingly, the trend for anyone who cares about the future of this branch of Christianity is clear: the decline of attendances in the five short years between 2009 and 2014 was no less than 7%. Make no mistake: unless something changes, the Church of England as it is currently constituted is heading for extinction.

So what can be done to arrest the complete annihilation of an organisation which – in sectors as diverse and vital as education and poverty relief – still plays such a key role in the life of the nation? After some contemplation, we at Mediolana can think of three strategies which are ripe for implementation:

  1. Rock-Star Leadership. For many decades now, the Church of England has suffered a chronic leadership deficit. This has not been remedied in more recent times. Rowan Williams (2002-2012) was and remains a gifted theologian and commentator, but his limitations as a communicator – particularly to anyone under the age of fifty – were painfully obvious. The Most Reverend Justin Carey – his indubitably talented replacement as Archbishop of Canterbury – is anonymous beyond the call of duty. The C of E desperately needs a CEO who is not merely personable and charming, but who can convey Christianity’s core spiritual message in an authentic way that can inspire people enough to actively want to connect with their local church instead of their nearest shopping centre.
  2. Women. In a society which risks being characterised by the decisive ascent of de-spiritualised zombies, women remain a constituency who are not completely satisfied with the status quo: they disproportionately populate the self-help sections in bookshops, practice meditation and value the integrity of the (permanently disintegrated?) family unit. The Church of England must undertake a serious initiative to engage with women and their concerns; they might be surprised by what they find.
  3. Multiple Religious Identities. In our increasingly globalised world, Umberto Eco has pointed to a new reality he terms the ‘colouring’ of religion; essentially, the cross-pollination of religious practices. This is particularly evident in cities across Western Europe and Asia: agnostics following the Tibetan Buddhist Dalai Lama and (post-)Christians seeking out halal meat are two such examples of this possibly irreversible trend. The Church of England could become a lead actor in this process by recognising multiple religious identities as a matter of policy: declaring that a person can be simultaneously C of E and, say, Taoist would not just pose a whole new set of interesting theological issues for the established order to grapple with, but it could multiply the potential subscriber base manyfold – and instantly.

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