Friday, August 01, 2003

Comparitive Review: Violet Berlin vs. Isaiah Berlin

JAMES says:

Violet Berlin
(Media gaming pundit / presenter)

To boys of a certain age, I think we’ll always be scarred by Violet Berlin. It was such a dilemma, we love computer games, we hate Violet Berlin (we’re indifferent to Andy Crane the broom cupboard traitor), do we watch Gamesmaster rip-off program Bad Influence? With her lisp and bizarre hair style, she was a definite stunting factor in our burgeoning sexuality. For me, she represented everything that was bad about adults attempting to make TV for teenagers. She was quite clearly not cool, but it was thought that as she was a girl who played video games she would be alright. Well, as Bits was later to conclusively prove, that is not enough. Plus, she failed entirely to deal with the problems caused by living in a post-liberal society. I suppose I could just not have watched it, but video games on TV were scarce in those days, and we had to take what we could get. When Bad Influence inevitably finished after one series, I thought I was free of the Violet terror. It was with a sense of excitment, when, years later checking out my newly installed hundreds of channels of cable TV, I came across the Bravo computer game show. But then, that thin lisping voice starts commentating over shots of computer generated men shooting each other. It couldn’t be, they wouldn’t dare. Then there she was. The hair had changed, but it was unmistakably her. The Bastards, they’ve done it, they’ve actually done it. She’s Back…


Isaiah Berlin
(Man of letters)

Eschewing the computer games route, Isaiah instead decided to go for the world of academia and political philosophy. This savvy move, there were no computer games at the time, typifies Berlin’s pragmatic but thought out approach to his work and life. Berlin was unsure about any systems that explained everything, and those that believed in them. He famously quoted the Greek poet Archilochus, that ‘the Fox knows many things, but the Hedgehog knows one big thing,’ although I’m not sure if he ever tells us what this big thing is. Probably Marxism. Berlin’s philosophy is convincing because, unlike his predecessors, he doesn’t claim to have any grand final answer. He sees society as a series of conflicts, which each need to be negotiated. While some might find this unsatisfying, I think it’s very close to the truth. There are no perfect societies, only societies that are able to overcome obstacles well, and those that can’t. This view might explain why Berlin never wrote any grand work, only essays, which as I student I was obviously grateful for. He is a persuasive writer, and has a sense of innate dignity lacking from his violet namesake. Plus, he wrote ‘White Christmas’, so respect.


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