Nobody can be objective
I think that the possibility that anybody can be objective, other than on a rare occasion, or about a particular subject, is exceptionally low indeed—in fact, I think it is impossible. This is certainly the case with me. People who say and think they are genuinely objective are either fools or liars. Of course, it is exceedingly difficult to fully appreciate all the ways in which we are biased. Having said that, it is incumbent upon me, as I am offering my thoughts in a blog, to help make readers aware of my biases in advance—at least to the extent that I am aware of them. Readers can then make their own judgements as to whether or not I am being honest or comprehensive in my testimony below.
I am currently a member of the Green Party of the United Kingdom and I have been a member since 2019. Prior to that, I was a long-standing member of the Liberal Democrat Party in the UK, which I joined in 1990—I left as I felt the party was going nowhere, poorly run under Jo Swinson, and was drifting aimlessly. Also, it was curiously middle-of-the-road, constantly playing it safe, which struck me as pointless for a third party seeking to break through in a two-party system. Whilst a LibDem I had served on two policy working groups (one chaired by Shirley Williams and the other by Vince Cable) and in the 1997 general election I stood as a parliamentary candidate in the Hertfordshire seat of Welwyn Hatfield. I suppose that sounds like it might make me solidly left of centre, and perhaps I am. However, in 1976 I was the campaign coordinator at the University of Rochester for the Republican Party in the USA—and I was active throughout Monroe County, New York, where the University is based. During my student days I flirted it with the Libertarians, and in 1978 I came to live in the UK and work in Parliament for two Conservative MPs: George Gardiner MP (Surrey Reigate) and Nicholas Winterton MP (Macclesfield). At that time I also had some involvement with other research assistants for other Conservative MPs. There is no doubt that I have travelled leftwards, but my political allegiances are not straightforward and also vary from issue to issue.
Social or income class is particularly important, especially in the UK but even in the United States, so I disclose my affiliations in this regard as well. Both my parents were survivors of the Holocaust, and this left its indelible mark upon them and my family. They knew and experienced hunger, loneliness, and starvation. I was born in 1957 and we lived in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York, a lower middle-class neighbourhood– and I mean this in the US sense of the words “middle class”—my folks earned below average wages. My mother had been a seamstress and my dad cut girdles on the Lower East side of Manhattan before joining his brothers and father in the family business to drive the delivery truck. In the mid-1960s we moved from Brooklyn to Bayside, Queens, New York after my dad had saved a bit of money and started, with my mom’s help, his own business, exporting lighting fixtures and parts from Italy, Hungary, and Germany to the United States. By the early 1970s I would say that we were middle class or upper middle class and within 10 more years we were upper-class, by US standards, based upon the success of my father’s various businesses. For example, I did not pay for my university education. Having had most of my career in the City and on Wall Street I am by any standard upper-class, in the US sense of the word, which is based on income.
By UK standards it is much harder to say what I am. I do not feel upper-class, as obviously I have no connection to the aristocracy. In terms of the way I live one would probably say I am solidly middle-class. However, if class is based on the family one is born into, then I was certainly born into a working-class family—a family that had known poverty and earned its means through manual labour. This is something I have only done once or twice myself, briefly in a supermarket in the USA and also as a golf caddy—but this was as a teenager to earn some extra money and certainly not to provide subsistence. Since leaving business school in 1980 I have had professional employment and have generally been earning in the higher income brackets. I own where I live and have done so since moving to the United Kingdom in 1987—living mostly in London. All this will certainly influence my thinking although I am not always sure how.
I was born into a Jewish family with a mother who was a quintessentially secularised Viennese Jew (think Freud). My father was from what is now Satu-Mare, Romania. This is the birthplace of the Szatmar Chassidim, and although my father was Orthodox he did not have a Chassidic background. I attended yeshiva from kindergarten to the second year of high school or 10th grade, when I was expelled. A yeshiva can mean vastly different things, but in my case this would be a modern Orthodox yeshiva where we would wear kippahs (skullcaps) and tzitzit (religious undershirts) all day, pray nearly every morning and take classes both in English and Hebrew. I rejected this and became increasingly hostile towards my religion, religion in general and the hypocrisy I regularly observed. I cannot say exactly, but these feelings probably began when I was eight or nine, and this hostility was certainly a factor in my expulsion when I was about fifteen.
Religion played an exceedingly small part of my life for many years, and I married a woman who had a Catholic mother and a Lutheran father and had herself been to Lutheran school until she was 15 (for the record—she was NOT expelled). Bizarrely, and not at my request, she converted and became an Orthodox Jew shortly before we got married. This was an ongoing source of conflict with sometimes serious but often comical consequences. My hostility to religion remained until the early noughties, when my wife introduced Friday night dinners– a concept that went down reasonably well as the best approach to my heart or head is via my stomach. Since we separated in 2010 religion has played no obvious role in my life. Nevertheless, the imprint of my early childhood experience feels increasingly significant and has been noticed by astute observers. It is also meant that over recent years I have taken to re-reading some of the religious texts I read decades ago—they are comfortably familiar and feel like a cosy well-worn jumper. My hostility has certainly diminished and is now more than partly offset by a soft fondness for the history of “my” people, the ethical precepts (when not tainted by hypocrisy), the food (!!) and the songs.
I grew up in the USA in the 1960s and would certainly have described myself as a patriot in my early years—this may have also been manifested in my Republican leanings, mentioned above. The Vietnam war and Watergate were defining experiences and caused me to reflect in greater depth on the country I was born in and its true nature. I certainly became less patriotic and the election of Ronald Reagan as President and the subsequent Iran Contra scandal, together with other factors, cause me to leave the USA with my wife and son (we since had three more children, all daughters). My preference was to live somewhere in continental Europe, I was especially keen on the Netherlands, but my wife persisted, and we moved to the UK in 1987. I have never had the slightest interest in returning to the USA, although my wife had some uncertainty in this regard and experimented with the idea of returning there around the turn of the century. This resolved itself in 2001, shortly before September the 11th. People who know me well would not describe me as US Patriot, but rather as someone who is deeply critical of the United States, its nature, and its role in the world.
During my life, in addition to the US and UK, I have also had the pleasure of living briefly in Hanover, (West) Germany for five months in the 1970s, in Paris in 1994 for three months, in Kiel, Germany for two months in the summers of 2009 and 2010, and now spend quite a bit of time in the Haut Savoie region of France—my German and French are basic (and my fluent Hebrew has evaporated). I have also spent quite a bit of time in Berlin and Amsterdam, where I have often contemplated living. I do not feel American, or British, or English—although anyone who knows me can hear that I sound and sometimes act in a very American way. I would say I am a bit of the Londoner and definitely feel more European (like my parents) than British. I carry a US passport, which is ridiculously hard to get rid of, I am a naturalised British “subject” and a citizen of Austria via my mother. I certainly do not feel Austrian. Having said all that, most of my professional life has been in the UK, I live and study in London, and the preponderance of what I will post will be about the UK and Europe.
The fact that I am adding this as a “late entrant” probably reflects a gender bias, of sorts, on my part. Having said that, the growing awareness of gender and related issues makes this worth adding. Throughout my life I have been surrounded mostly by women. My father travelled for half the year, and I was largely raised by a combination of my mother and her mother. I have three daughters and a son, and he is certainly not the macho type, so our household felt more feminine than masculine, based on classical understandings of those adjectives. The overwhelming majority of my close friends have been women, whose company I have tended to prefer.
I have always been straight, from the standpoint of sexual orientation, and although I have and have had friends with a different orientation, the overwhelming majority of my friendship group are straight men and women. My children have, to the best of my knowledge, been in exclusively heterosexual relationships. Thus my thinking on these and related issues will incorporate this bias.
I am white and born to white parents. My early school years I exclusively mixed with white children and my neighbourhood was similarly monochromatic. In high school, university and business school (all in the USA) the student body was more diverse, but as is frequently the case in America, there was little racial mixing. Nevertheless, as a teenager I had black friends—but few. My professional world has predominantly been as white as my early years—the legacy of historical discrimination which has been slow to change—although this was modestly less the case in the social enterprise world (where I was active from 1999-2021). I will undoubtedly be strongly influenced by the privilege that comes with being from the majority race. My only experience with racism has been moderate doses of antisemitism, both in the USA and the UK.
I think I am probably your typical, urban, Jewish, secular, middle-class, straight, white, US-born liberal. My orientation will no doubt surface in my posts. Having said that, I may jump out of my stereotypical character from time to time. And where I have pegged myself may be quite different from where the reader would place me on these various spectra—but that is mostly about their bias than mine. 😊
London, UK—29 September 2022
I started my career in mainstream finance and then impact investing before returning to his lifelong passion of politics in 2021. This blog reflects that return and is my way of sharing the impressions of someone journeying from finance back into education to study politics after four decades at work. For those interested in why I started this blog click here. I welcome any comments!