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BeyondGeography's Journal
BeyondGeography's Journal
July 25, 2018

Whatever Happened to Moral Rigor?

James Baldwin understood the difference between empathy and approval. Today, we would rather condemn than understand

In his 1963 book the “The Fire Next Time,” James Baldwin describes meeting Elijah Muhammad, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam. Baldwin felt alienated by Muhammad’s black separatism and by his universal hatred of white people; at the same time, he admired Muhammad’s acute understanding of the countless ways in which institutionalized white power continued to injure and suppress African-Americans.

“I felt very close to him,” he writes about Muhammad, “and really wished to be able to love and honor him as a witness, an ally and a father.” Yet, reflecting on the moment when the two men said goodbye, Baldwin writes, “we would always be strangers, and possibly, one day, enemies.”

Baldwin was as committed as any writer has ever been. But the stuff of his commitment was a moral clarity steeped in intellectual difficulties and ethical complications — a labyrinthine clarity that he refused to sacrifice to prescribed attitudes.

Today we still revere Baldwin, but by and large we no longer follow his lead as a thinker. There is little patience now for such a rigorous yet receptive moral and intellectual style; these days we prefer ringing moral indictment, the hallmarks of which are absolute certainty, predetermined ideas and conformity to collective sentiments.

In the process of abandoning the type of complex moral clarity that Baldwin practiced, we have made behavior that is unacceptable the equivalent of behavior that is criminal. An equal amount of fury is directed toward actions as morally — and legally — distinct from each other as rape, harassment, rudeness, boorishness and incivility. The outrage over a police shooting of an unarmed black teen unfolds at the same level of intensity as the outrage over what might or might not be a case of racial profiling by a salesperson in a small Brooklyn boutique.

This is intentional: The general feeling seems to be that distinguishing between degrees of morally repugnant conduct will lead to some sort of blanket pardon of all such conduct; that to understand is always to forgive. Such concern is understandable, but misplaced — it flattens and obfuscates, rather than clarifies...


July 24, 2018

Democrats overperforming with the real swing voters: those who disapprove of both parties


President Trump helped win the White House thanks to an overperformance among voters who disliked both Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But ahead of November's midterms, Democrats are the ones cleaning up with this key constituency, data from the latest NBC/WSJ poll shows.

Democrats have a 30-point advantage over Republicans among this constituency on the generic ballot, a stronger lead than Republicans had during each of their midterm wave years of 2010 and 2014. Fifty-five percent of these voters back Democrats, compared to just 25 percent who back Republicans.

...What’s more in our current poll, these voters disproportionately are down on Trump (68 percent disapprove of his job, versus 52 percent of all voters), and they are enthusiastic about the upcoming midterms (63 percent of them have high interest, versus 55 percent of all voters who say this).

As we wrote about last month, Trump's strength among these voters was one of the clues we missed during the 2016 election. And it was an influential clue, as those voters made up 18 percent of the electorate in the merged NBC/WSJ polls in 2016.
July 15, 2018

France pins its hopes on Kylian Mbappe, the boy from the banlieue

Beneath grey apartment buildings in the poor suburb of Bondy, north-east of Paris, there was a familiar sound of summer afternoons: the thud of a football against concrete as children played kickabout in potholed courtyards.

But the French flags hanging from car windows, the banner supporting the French football team on a street corner, and children proudly wearing France football shirts showed a new sense of excitement. “Kylian Mbappé for president,” shouted a 10-year-old with a ball.

It was here in Bondy that Mbappé, the 19-year-old French hero of the World Cup, was born, raised and played his first games.

As France prepares to face Croatia in the final, the hero-worship of Mbappé has turned a positive spotlight on Paris’s poor banlieues. Several star players grew up in the capital’s outskirts, including N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba. The outpouring of pride is a welcome change for the ethnically diverse areas which, more than a decade after the 2005 riots, are still so stigmatised and discriminated against that one politician warned this year of “a new apartheid”.

...At a Bondy youth club, teenagers were preparing red, white and blue banners and stockpiling flags for the town’s screening of the final. “The World Cup has brought such a positive feeling here, it’s magic,” said Kamelia, 15, who played women’s football at AS Bondy, the small local club where Mbappé trained as a child. “There’s a real feeling of solidarity – whole families will be gathering to watch the match.”

...Unemployment and poverty on the estates north of Paris is still higher than elsewhere in France, and many young people remain marginalised and jobless because of their address, skin colour or their parents’ immigrant roots. President Emmanuel Macron once described the discrimination and inequality here as a kind of “house arrest”.

But Mbappé and his family tell another story of the banlieue – young talent, ambition and family support – which France has been keen to embrace this summer. If the young star began singing the national anthem and dreaming of playing for France before the age of five, much is due to his parents. His father Wilfried, who has Cameroonian roots, was a local football player and a respected coach in Bondy. His mother, Fayza, of Algerian origin, was a professional handball player. They still advise their son, who has been praised for giving his World Cup match fees to charity and he has said he would be lost without them.

“Wilfried Mbappé was a coach and youth worker while I was growing up, he always gave everything for the community; if it wasn’t for him, I might not be where I am today,” said Hakim Ziane, a teacher and youth worker. “It’s wonderful that the banlieue is being celebrated today rather than stigmatised. There are no barriers in this town. There is a lot of talent and we need to do what we can to make sure social mobility works.”


Watch the match today if you can or care to. One of the most thrilling sights in the world right now is Kylian Mbappe in full stride on a football field. Life is hard and France has suffered terrible tragedies these past few years and this formidable 19-year-old is bringing people joy. Allez les Bleus et merci Kylian.

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