Trump, Brexit: How to Think about the Unprecedented

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

The candidacy, campaign and election of Donald Trump to be the forty-fifth president of the United States of America challenged the ways many people, including experienced political reporters and commentators, made sense of this new political phenomenon. For almost two years many people struggled unsuccessfully with the meaning of the situation as it unfolded because they were using conventional categories of thought for something those categories could not help explain. The emergence of someone like Mr. Trump, who could claim that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still be elected as president, actually being elected (albeit while losing the popular vote), is an unprecedented outcome in U.S. politics. After the fact, there has been a scramble to explain him and to contain the implications of his behaviour. None of these explanations are very convincing (e.g., ‘voters wanted ‘change’ rather than ‘continuity’). This is not surprising as, so far, the mainstream media at least are operating with existing categories of thought: if a situation is unprecedented, then the categories formed on the basis of past experience will not be appropriate. In the U.K. there were many similarities between the Brexit campaign and Mr. Trump’s campaign, most notably, perhaps, in the abandonment of any recognition – not to mind obligation – of truthfulness. The behaviour of the campaigners and voters in both countries – many of the latter having little regard for facts – is unprecedented and the big question posed by this extraordinary experience is: How to Think About the ‘Unprecedented’? Hannah Arendt faced that question when she went to the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961 in order to see Eichmann at first hand and to report on the trial. We can look to her response to that experience as an exemplar of HOW to THINK about a new phenomenon. Thinking with Arendt Arendt went to the trial of Adolf Eichmann, not out of ego or seeking acclaim, but because she needed to understand the unprecedented situation of a state policy for the industrial ‘processing’ of people. She wanted to take what she believed would be her last chance to see an example of a real Nazi who was involved in that horror and she spent much time contemplating the transcripts of Eichmann’s lengthy pre-trial interrogation and of the trial. Arendt, of course, was no ordinary reporter; as a ‘journalist’ she had unusually strong skills of observation and looked at such things as free of pre-conceptions as possible. Her awareness from this experience led her to the insight that it was necessary to think anew. Her method was to look at a particular (Adolf Eichmann) in order to formulate a new way of understanding, rather than subsume it under existing ready-made generalisations or categories, e.g., ‘monster’, which she decided was not appropriate for this unprecedented phenomenon. For Arendt judging always concerns particulars and things close at hand. Here’s an everyday example of what she means: When we go to a restaurant and enjoy a ‘good’ dish … Read More

The Keynes CentreTrump, Brexit: How to Think about the Unprecedented

The Benefits of Journaling for Personal Professional Development

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

Reflective journals, well known in the form of diaries, have been kept by all sorts of people for many different purposes. Writers, for example, use them as a means to generate ideas or to experiment with language. In the natural and social sciences, researchers keep notebooks in which details of experiments, interviews and surveys are recorded. Business executives use them to guide, manage and reveal their professional development. In the mahayana tradition of Buddhism there is a practice known as lojong – ‘training the mind’ (lojong is Tibetan: lo means ‘intelligence’, ‘mind’, ‘that which can perceive things’; jong means ‘training’, or ‘processing’). The purpose is to enhance awareness by catching our first thoughts and ideas as they emerge through the reflective or contemplative process. The Reflective Journal is a practical tool by which the “mental place” and the “capacity to pause” can be created by anyone. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Nancy J. Adler points out the importance of taking time to reflect in the fast-paced, frenzied lives that we live: “Using a journal regularly will give you the courage to see the world differently, to understand the world differently, and to lead in new and needed ways”. Benefits Journaling is a great space where learning can happen and insight may occur. This ‘space’ supports change in personal thinking which is at the heart of the learning experiences we provide at The Keynes Centre. The purpose of the Reflective Journal is to facilitate, in a private way, the process of intellectual transformation which accompanies critical reflection on sources of knowledge, i.e. the selected books in the case of our Book Club or selected films in the case of our Film Club, and the faculty for making good judgements. Through the Reflective Journal participants can ‘see’ how their own thinking is progressing over time and how they are making their own contributions to what they think about issues. The Reflective Journal is an individual forum for reworking information drawn from external sources covers personal observations, questions, and hypotheses and, indeed, digests any matters causing unease, interest and challenge. It is used to contemplate ideas from discussions, own thoughts or any other source of knowledge and to revise thinking by helping to Sort thoughts Come to a viewpoint Watch for confirming indications Practice using the viewpoint Maintain awareness of thinking. This is a great tool for them to record and reflect on their reading and learning processes, revisit or redefine their achievements, chart the thinking process, identify ‘brick walls’ or learning ‘milestones’, and celebrate successes and reassess challenges. The most important feature of the Reflective Journal is that it is personal and private, allowing the writer the freedom to surface, express, explore and develop ideas without the restrictions, fears, assessments of external observers. It is the place where we can focus and productively engage with the ‘internal dialogue’ always going on inside of us. Some suggestions for moving beyond the ‘blank page’:  Record and reflect on your learning process … Read More

The Keynes CentreThe Benefits of Journaling for Personal Professional Development

Overcoming Leadership Anxiety

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

The field of ‘leadership’ is a mess. Forget the 6 traits, 7 skills, 8 habits, 9 behaviors! These ways of thinking only give you leadership anxiety. Here are some ideas for a different approach:

The Keynes CentreOvercoming Leadership Anxiety

Some thoughts on Netflix’s ‘Making a Murderer’ and Documentary ‘Truth’

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

Netflix’s Making a Murderer premiered last month, December 18, and has since generated heated debates and been making daily headlines. This 10-episode documentary series, by filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, chronicles the exoneration and subsequent murder conviction of Steven Avery in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. Avery is a junkyard car dealer with an IQ of 70 who spent 18 years in prison for a rape he did not commit before he was exonerated due to DNA evidence in 2003. Two years later, in the midst of a $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc county, he was arrested for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. His sixteen-year-old nephew, Brendan Dassey, was also convicted for the same murder. In 2007, after separate trials, both were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. This “fly-on-the-wall” documentary series examines those convictions and offers a narrative that includes potentially planted evidence, suspected police and prosecutorial misconduct, an apparently coerced confession and a defence lawyer who abandoned his teenage client. Subsequently, this narrative has led viewers to respond with near-universal outrage about Avery’s and Dassey’s verdicts. Since its release, it has become one of Netflix’s most watched programmes and has even been considered by Forbes Magazine “Netflix’s Most Significant Show Ever”. The series have generated daily online discussions about whether Avery and Dassey were skilfully framed by a morally corrupt county police or whether they are evil monsters guilty of killing an innocent young woman. In addition, as we write this, more than four hundred thousand people have signed a petition to President Obama demanding that “Steven Avery should be exonerated at once by pardon” (as Avery was convicted of state crimes, not federal ones, the President does not have the power to pardon him). As interesting as the ‘guilty or innocent’ debate is the debate about ‘Documentary Truth’. In many online forums, news reports – and their comments section – and social media there have been heated discussions about the documentarians’ bias towards Avery’s and Dassey’s innocence and the filmmakers’ lack of ‘objectivity’ and commitment to investigate the ‘truth’ about what happened to Teresa Halbach. Documentary ‘Truth’ Writing in the New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz recalls an interview she did with Penny Beerntsen, the victim of Avery’s wrongful conviction of rape, in 2007. In this interview Beerntsen explains that she declined participating in Making a Murderer chiefly because she felt that the filmmakers struck her as having already made up their minds: “It was very clear from the outset that they believed Steve was innocent…I didn’t feel they were journalists seeking the truth. I felt like they had a foregone conclusion and were looking for a forum in which to express it.” This is exactly the problem of the commonly-held view of what documentaries, and journalism, are about or should be about: seeking the truth. This is way of thinking about these two forms of storytelling has been criticised in many academic studies from various university journalism and documentary departments across the world. Any serious work … Read More

The Keynes CentreSome thoughts on Netflix’s ‘Making a Murderer’ and Documentary ‘Truth’

Hannah Arendt and Reading for Change

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

Our Reading for Change Book Club recently featured in the blog of the Hannah Arendt Center, at Bard College, New York. Click on the image below to read the full post.

The Keynes CentreHannah Arendt and Reading for Change