Thursday, 23 February 2012

Happy Birthday, Dr Du Bois !

W E B Du Bois was born 23 February 1868.

What would he make of our world today ?

Over at , Robert W Williams comments "In a world that can be improved to promote the highest ideals of knowledge, peace and love, I would like to think that the progressive spirit of Du Bois lives on."

He asks himself where this spirit can be found and considers the implications of what we used to call `new technology`; "High-tech communications permit wider and speedier interactivity across the globe itself. It is an interconnectivity which challenges what we mean by the terms `global` and `local`."

His comments are echoed by the writer of  an editorial in a recent British Humanist Association newsletter (Unsigned - We Are Citizens of the World - BHA Newsletter 30 January 2012, at ) ;

"We are finding new ways of keeping in touch with each other. This, at times, can make the world seem very small and enables our actions to have a much wider impact. New technology and ways of communicating constantly remind us that we are citizens of the world."

Online campaigning groups are everywhere it seems. It`s worth stressing that these may be quite different in character according to the time and place in which they find themselves; Move On in the US is firmly rooted in the Democratic Party while 38 Degrees, it`s sister organisation in the UK, where distrust of politicians is more widespread, is viewed by many ( most ?) of it`s supporters as an alternative to existing political structures.

 However, the point made by Dr Williams and our anonymous humanist, that the local has become global, retains it`s validity it seems to me.

Are there pitfalls to be found ? Inevitably, new forms of organisation throw up new difficulties and it`s worth remembering that staff of these organisations tend to be appointed rather than elected.

Dr Williams has another point to make ; "I am also aware that there is a digital divide which separates the electronically outfitted, jacked in and techno savvy from those less technologically equipped  and trained. It is a divide that spotlights the unequal material relationships in which we as humans are implicated. Such disparities would probably alarm Du Bois, and might have provided him with further evidence of poverty amidst plenty (or maybe because of it)." 

These concerns have implications for practical matters such as the provision of public services. Dr Williams` comments reminded me of an article I read recently by Ayub Khan,  an official connected with the Library Service in Warwickshire, UK ; "There are still millions of people who have never used the internet, many of whom are what society politely calls `disadvantaged` . Around 23% of households don`t have an internet connection. For the unconnected, real libraries...are a way of joining the digital world and not feeling so left behind." (Ayub Khan - Where Next for Libraries, , 2 Feb 2012 , posted in the blog section) .

Dr Du Bois led a long and active life characterised by many idealogical twists and turns. Many individuals and organisations claim continuity with his work. A variety of schools of thought, some mutually exclusive, claim him as their precursor or their adherent. Some have accused him of inconsistency, but whatever changes of outlook he may have embraced, his "progressive spirit" remained constant. If we are looking, as Dr Williams suggests, for the true spirit of the man then in addition to the `usual suspects` , maybe we should also look among the less exalted souls campaiging in support of local services and to regenerate run-down neighbourhoods.

I can think of no better way to end this article than by quoting Dr Williams once again ;

"Dr Du Bois` spirit remains vital and cogent even today."

Happy Birthday, W E B Du Bois !

Thanks once again to Nottingham-based author Dr Tony Shaw for use of his pictures. Visit him at .


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