Ivo's Recommended Reads #3/2018

Updated: Aug 3, 2018

Happy Sunday, dear friends. May these readings keep your beautiful minds well nourished:

1) Honouring Simone Veil.

2) The terrible toll of expelling immigrant children.

3) The potential universality of authoritarianism.

4) The ethics of total retaliation.

5) Important facts about fundamental human progress.

6) The importance of transcendence and where to find it.


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1) Today, Simone Veil is being transferred to the Panthéon in Paris - a great honour for an incredible woman. A survivor of Auschwitz, she would become a minister in different French governments and the president of the European parliament. She was a passionate fighter for the legalisation of abortion in France and an ardent supporter of the unity of Europe. Read Agnès Poirier's tribute published in the Guardian when Veil passed away last spring:


"Veil, a survivor of Auschwitz who lost both her parents and a brother in the hell of the camps, always spoke softly yet forcefully about the war’s darkest hours. However, she didn’t let it define her. She would study, work and be an independent woman, as her mother had urged her before dying of typhus in March 1945. Her experience in Auschwitz profoundly informed her love for the European project and its construction, with, at its heart, the reconciliation with Germany. The moment of her election as the first president of the European parliament in 1979 was intense with restrained emotion. Parliamentarians rose from their seat, one after the other, turning towards her, applauding louder and louder. Film footage shows her smiling timidly, but her eyes say it all. A few years earlier, Veil had led the mother of all legal battles at the French parliament, defending women’s right to abortion."


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2) In 2017, Rachel Aviv wrote a moving and yet terrifying piece about the mental and physical distress immigrant children suffer when they are ordered to leave their new homelands. Read Rachel's article in the The New Yorker:


"In Sweden, hundreds of refugee children have fallen unconscious after being informed that their families will be expelled from the country..... In December, 2015, the Migration Board rejected [the] final appeal [of Georgi's family], and, in a letter, told the family, “You must leave Sweden.” Their deportation to Russia was scheduled for April. Soslan said that to his children Russia “might as well be the moon.” Georgi read the letter silently, dropped it on the floor, went upstairs to his room, and lay down on the bed. He said that his body began to feel as if it were entirely liquid. His limbs felt soft and porous. All he wanted to do was close his eyes. Even swallowing required an effort that he didn’t feel he could muster. He felt a deep pressure in his brain and in his ears. He turned toward the wall and pounded his fist against it. In the morning, he refused to get out of bed or to eat. Savl poured Coca-Cola into a teaspoon and fed Georgi small sips. The soda dribbled down his chin."


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3) Cass Sunstein is asking one of the most fundamental questions in political science. Are the potential roots of tyranny universal? He reviews three books on the rise of Nazism in 1930s Germany. His answer: Yes, it can happen everywhere. Read Cass' essay in the New York Review of Books.


"[These Authors] show how habituation, confusion, distraction, self-interest, fear, rationalisation, and a sense of personal powerlessness make terrible things possible. They call attention to the importance of individual actions of conscience both small and large, by people who never make it into the history books. Nearly two centuries ago, James Madison warned: “Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks—no form of government can render us secure."


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4). How to understand the electorate that favours hard-hearted populists like Trump? What motivates them? Susan McWilliams thinks she found an answer in a book on the Hell’s Angels, published 50 years ago (read her article published in the The Nation):


“After following the motorcycle guys [the Hell's Angels] around for months, Thompson concluded that the most striking thing about them was not their hedonism but their “ethic of total retaliation” against a technologically advanced and economically changing America in which they felt they’d been counted out and left behind. Thompson saw the appeal of that retaliatory ethic. He claimed that a small part of every human being longs to burn it all down, especially when faced with great and impersonal powers that seem hostile to your very existence. In the United States, a place of ever greater and more impersonal powers, the ethic of total retaliation was likely to catch on.”


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5). The world seems to be in a dire state: But are things really getting worse? Your gut may say yes. How ever, at least some important data points say no. Max Roser put together three of the most existential facts on fundamental global progress (read his article published with the Gates Foundation):


"Fact #1: Since 1960, child deaths have plummeted from 20 million a year to 6 million a year.

Fact #2: Since 1960, the fertility rate has fallen by half.

Fact #3: 137,000 people escaped extreme poverty every day between 1990 and 2015."


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6). How can we find consolation in the face of our daily struggles and existential failures? And how can we manage the fact that our lives ultimately don’t matter? The School of Life published a beautiful essay on the importance of transcendence and where to find it:


“... [T]he sources of transcendence needn’t be – as religions presumed – composed of deities. They might involve the sight of the stars at night, spread out in a mantle of darkness: uncountably many, unimaginably distant and themselves constituting only an infinitesimal fraction of the cosmos. We can begin to conceive how vanishingly minor our sun, our planet and we ourselves are in this sublime immensity. Imagined from sufficiently far away, all human differences fade. Our collective similarities seem more evident. Our conflicts and competitions feel less urgent or significant."



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Published in collaboration with the International Association for Political Science Students.

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© 2018 Ivo Nicholas Scherrer