The Torment of Man

Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that great gift of freedom…

This quote appears in “The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician” by Tendai Huchu.

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I picked this up off a second hand book stall in a local shop. To be honest, I got it for two reasons: It looked in very good condition, and it had Mathematician in the title. I teach mathematics and so it kind of spoke to me, although I don’t really think of myself as a mathematician.

I’m trying really hard to extend the range of books that I read and to help I’ve been consciously trying not to think too much when buying one. It means taking a risk sometimes but in this case it really paid off.

It is a complex book that tells the intersecting stories of three very different characters. It’s set in Edinburgh but much of the story relates back to Zimbabwe where the main characters originated and the struggle for democracy and freedom there is a thread throughout the narrative.

I like it when a book is amusing and interesting but at the same time challenges you to think about some of the bigger issues in life. Currently we are having a huge debate about whether the UK should remain in or leave the European Union. The referendum is less than two weeks away and much of the political debate seems to be reduced to a slanging match, which is disappointing if not unexpected. The main reason put forward for staying in is “The Economy” and the main reason put forward for leaving is “Immigration”, yet everyone seems to accept the premise that immigration is ‘bad’ and growing the economy is ‘good’.

Our country was built on the work of immigrants. My family came here from Ireland in the 19th century, along with thousand of others. They came to work, and alongside all the working classes they built the railways and the ships, they worked in the factories and they dug the coal that powered the industrial revolution. The economy grew massively but it took a long time before the ordinary people saw any benefit. As a result the ordinary working people, struggling for housing, healthcare and education resented the immigrants who were competing for the same things, resulting in huge anti-Irish prejudice. And this persisted for a long time, even in the 1970s you would still see signs on boarding houses saying “No Blacks, No Irish”

The problem is that nothing has really changed. The UK has the fifth largest economy in the world, but the gap between rich and poor is huge. The richest 10% of households hold 45% of all wealth. The poorest 50%, by contrast, own just 8.7%.image

Immigration is not the problem, Inequality is. Our country could easily afford to provide enough housing, healthcare, education etc. for everyone, immigrant or not, it is just not politically expedient to do so. The Economy is not a goal in its own right, it should exist solely for the benefit of all the people of the country. The same should also be true of government.

 

 

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