Posts tagged ‘migrants’

July 13, 2018

The Good Migrant: Scots who lived by their brains

Handsome, funny, cultured, considerate, sociable, well-read – his library contained over 1000 books mainly in Greek and Latin, a few volumes in French and Italian and lots in Dutch; only two were in the English language – a folio Bible printed in Edinburgh in 1610 and a King James Bible. Learned, definitely, and gifted with a superb memory. That was Gilbert Jack – once regarded as young iconoclast from Aberdeen. He died aged 50 of a stroke which paralysed him down one side and left him unable to speak during the remaining two months of his life. His death came as a great blow to the academic world for Gilbert Jack aka Jacchaeus, long-time professor at Leyden University, was an inspirational teacher of Aristotelian metaphysics.

Now I don’t begin to understand metaphysics. The more I’ve tried the greater my brain hurts but I think, but don’t take my word for it, it is a branch of philosophy that explores what lies beyond the here and now of the world- what’s out there but invisible to us; beyond the physical existence – such as God. The word metaphysics comes from the Greek metá meaning beyond or after and physiká, physics. In the 18th century the giant of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume, argued against metaphysics, dismissing it as sophistry and illusion.

Gilbert Jack metaphysicsI don’t remember when I came across Gilbert Jack of Aberdeen. His name came up when I was scraning for something else. And not only his name but countless names of fellow Scots who became major figures in universities across Europe in the study of philosophy and medicine. I’ve thrown in medicine because the development of medicine in Scotland grew out of the close interaction between universities and colleges across Scotland and abroad and in any case Gilbert Jack was also an MD, having taken his medical degree at Leyden at the same time he was teaching there; his dissertation was on epilepsy – De Epilepsia.

The importance attached to education in Scotland led to this small nation punching well above its weight in the supply of talent to the world. In the centuries before the Scottish Enlightenment there was no less exchange of intellectual ideas across Europe which included Scots. Born in Aberdeen c1578 Gilbert Jack attended Aberdeen Grammar School before going to Aberdeen’s second university, Marischal College. He appears to have continued his studies at St Andrews before going on to Herborn in Hesse and Helmstädt in Lower Saxony and finally on 25 May 1603 to Leyden, the Netherland’s oldest university .

Within a year of arriving at Leyden, this brilliant intellect, a young iconoclast from Aberdeen, he’s been described as, was made professor of philosophy and logic and for the next 25 years he dominated Aristotelian metaphysics at the university (in his own time Aristotle’s ideas were not themselves described as metaphysics but first philosophy.) However, some of his ideas proved too challenging for Leyden and he was temporarily suspended from the university in 1619 for promoting the notion of predestination rather than free will – but I could be wrong.

Jack wrote up his ideas and proved as able an author as teacher. His first published works came out as 9 volumes in 1612: Institutiones Physicae, Juventutis Lugdunensis Studiis potissimum dicatae which sold well and republished followed by Primae Philosophiae Institutiones and Institutiones Medicae. These works provided textbooks for students elsewhere studying metaphysics and his fame spread. He was sought out and befriended by fellow academics and was invited to take up the chair in moral philosophy at Oxford University but he turned down the offer, preferring to stay at Leyden where he was content and where he had done the bulk of his work.

Today, Gilbert Jack would be regarded as a high flyer; celebrated by his contemporaries as a fine scholar, a grafter, popular lecturer and all-round good man. When he died on 17 April 1628 he left a widow and ten children to mourn him along with the world of academia. His fellow professor at Leyden, Adolf van Vorst, gave his funeral oration in Latin in which he praised his colleague for his contribution to philosophy, his attachment to Leyden and for being a thoroughly nice person.

Sadly forgotten in Aberdeen he was, nonetheless, celebrated as a philosopher and physician in the Netherlands; its most famous metaphysicians. Gilbert Jack was but one of so many Scots who went abroad and contributed to the banks of knowledge and learning enjoyed by succeeding generations but who are largely unknown at home here in Scotland: William Makdowell or MacDowell from Roxburgh, professor of philosophy at Groningen; Mark Duncan, also Roxburgh at Saumur in France; John Murdison at Leiden; Walter Donaldson a graduate of King’s in Aberdeen who went to Heidelberg, Frankfurt and Sedan; fellow Aberdonian Duncan Liddell, mathematician, astronomer and physician educated at the Grammar School followed by King’s College then built his life at Gdansk in Polish Prussia and Brandenburg University in Frankfurt with fellow Scot, John Craig, professor of logic and maths (and briefly physician to James VI); Andrew Melville from Baldovy by Montrose at Geneva; Adam Steuart professor of philosophy at Saumur, Sedan and Leiden; John Cameron, theologian at Saumur, Bergerac, Bordeaux and Montauban; Robert Baron, Professor of Theology Marischal – one of the six Aberdeen Doctors – influences in the dispute between supporters of the National Covenant and Episcopacy and who taught at Marischal and King’s universities whose Metaphysica generalis was posthumously published in 1654. A mere handful of examples from a vast haul of home-nurtured talent which grew here and abroad.

Punching above our weight is what Scotland has done consistently over hundreds of years. Of course much of that has been to do with people escaping poverty and using education as a means of improving their lives. Scots became migrants, many to the Continent, though not exclusively by any means, and benefitted from and contributed to the invaluable exchange of ideas once possible before passport barriers were erected. Just as well these bright people lived when they did and not in today’s febrile, hostile, anti-migrant world.

September 6, 2015

The Power of the Still Image

I am an idiot

A few days ago I was harangued by a tweeter and called an idiot. It’s happened before but we followed each other so I thought it worth engaging in a dialogue but each of her responses exploded with anger and so I shrugged my shoulders and retired to bed.

The reason for her fury was I published a picture of the little three-year old Alan Kurdi dead on a Turkish beach and I had done so without the permission of the child’s mother.

News of the family’s fate was only emerging so I didn’t know at the time that his mother and brother also drowned but his father survived.

I could see where my angry tweeter was coming from – a young mother herself she was clearly heartbroken by the image and would have hated to see her own child exposed in such a way. I imagine she felt it was exploitation of the child though she did not say this.

It seemed to me her understandable feelings of horror and outrage were just a little misplaced. This was no school play where little children are protected from being photographed by other adults unless permission is given by a parent. Here, on the Turkish beach, where so many others were washed up dead, was a striking image of an innocent child, a victim of war – of the instability and violence that comes from trying to live a normal life under impossible circumstances. This child’s parents risked everything to get him to a better, safer life in war-free Europe.

He was not the first wee child to die in a desperate rush to leave bombing, rapes, beheadings and sanctions behind. He was not the first wee child to be drowned. Nor was he the first wee child to be washed up dead on a beach. He was a migrant. That fate is not uncommon amongst migrants. In fact it so common the numbers rarely register with us when we read them in newspapers or hear them on the news – if we bother to take notice of them at all. Numbers are fairly meaningless to us. The bigger the number the more meaningless it becomes. We cannot compute numbers into little children. It’s too abstract a concept.

But this picture – this picture clearly struck a chord with people across the world. This picture illustrated what this ‘migrant crisis’ is all about. It is about people escaping the sort of life we cannot imagine in the desperate hope of finding something better, of finding security to develop as human beings – normality.

For someone of my vintage the immediate comparison was the picture from the Vietnam war of the little girl, Kim Phúc, who had been napalmed and was running naked down a street. No-one asked her mum for permission to use it, and like Alan’s photograph it was quickly circulated across the globe. Of course we had heard about the Americans dropping napalm bombs but stuff happens. Then we saw this terribly distressed girl and realised the consequences of American politicians and generals signing off orders to drop napalm on combatants and their farms. Kim was a combatant – goodness is that what these men and women safely cocooned thousands of miles away consider a combatant? – justified incidental collateral damage?

With Kim’s photograph her fellow-countrymen women and children stopped being just numbers in a long list of numbers that conceals the reality of victims – of human beings like us being treated so appallingly. Public opinion was outraged and attitudes hardened towards the US policy. Once ordinary citizens have begun to sit up and take notice of government actions it is more difficult for bad things to happen.

Images not words can be harbingers of change. If you don’t think so then why is it companies spend so much perfecting the right image to symbolize their businesses? We are moved by images. We respond to images. Little Alan’s death is a tragedy, as is his brother’s and his mother’s. We feel for his father. Should the photographer had tracked down his father and asked his permission to use the photograph that has become iconic of the refugee crisis? I don’t think so. Call me an idiot for suggesting little Alan has become the property of us all. The randomness of the image has been distilled to represent the callous disregard of too many government leaders who like David Cameron denigrated desperate refugees as sub-human – swarms of insects – to his everlasting shame and the shame of all those contemptible MPs who a few short weeks ago insisted we keep little children like Alan away from the United Kingdom. Some have undergone an epiphany with Labour’s leadership contenders falling over each other to offer sanctuary to a migrant refugee. The British press, too, have softened the hard-line, stunned into altering the terminology of consistently calling them migrants to occasional reference to refugees. As is becoming increasingly the norm the mainstream media drags its heels behind public opinion on social media. Following clear signals from the country that this nasty little Englander attitude towards foreigners shown by the media and the government was so lamentably out of tune with public opinion there has been a reluctant gritting of teeth and altering the message. Days ago the BBC told listeners the Prime Minister was ENABLED to act, to alter his policy on migrants – or did they say refugees? because of the picture of Alan. Typical BBC, ever propagandising for the government – Cameron wasn’t ENABLED he was shamed into shifting his position. Now that comment was arguable idiotic.

Emigrants into the USA

Immigrants into the USA at turn of 20thC

PS My angry tweeter stopped following me. And I her. Maybe we should exchange pictures instead.

Imagery https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/sellings-the-game-marketing-home-and-away