Racism is the exception, not the rule, in Germany
Ai Weiwei’s statements about Germany may contain a grain of truth, yet they oversimplify the situation and thus reinforce old prejudices about the German psyche (Tired by art, 31 January). Indeed, one in eight of the electorate voted for the AfD in 2017, but their reasons for doing so were as varied as those of the British who voted for Leave or of the Americans who support Trump. To depict them as Nazis is grossly unfair.
Yes, there still are fascists in Germany, and too many of them. However, there are also thousands of Germans who demonstrate against rightwing extremists, not only in Berlin.
In addition, Germans may be slightly more submissive towards the authorities than other people. Nevertheless, more and more of them have taken to the streets opposing the fossil industry on Fridays for Future.
I am sorry that Ai has experienced racism here and I want to apologise. However, the examples mentioned by him are not the rule, but the exception.
Brexit won’t weaken UK’s European spirit
To those of us who feel sadness at The end of the affair (31 January), I say “Take heart and think again!” Yes, I would have preferred Britain to have remained a member of the European Union. Yes, I share the anxiety of so many people who face an uncertain economic future, and whose so-called settled status hangs in the balance, as Britain’s institutional machine shrouds their cases in red tape.
However, I don’t believe Brexit has weakened – let alone broken – our European spirit and identity, or severed our friendship and harmony with fellow Europeans. If anything this moment of folly has served to strengthen my sense of belonging to Europe. In the face of our long-standing heritage as a European country, Brexit will go down in history not as a “seismic shift” as you call it, but as a sorry episode of sabre-rattling nationalism.
Faith in reasoned argument has faded
A Trump social media campaign successfully wooing the US masses on Facebook; a religious right pulling in the votes in Bolivia and Peru (7 February); a resurgent far right with a popular base becoming ever stronger in Europe and elsewhere; an Australian federal election won by conservatives partly by pork barrelling with sport grants. The nightmare continues. The examples are never-ending.
I’ve spent the last 40 or more years encouraging high school students that rationality is the intellectual bedrock of our democracies.
If I were to come out of retirement now, I would still encourage my pupils to think for themselves; to engage in civilised discourse; and above all to vote on the basis of an evidence-based, reasoned and humane understanding of the issues.
But I would do so with a much diminished confidence that this approach could withstand the increasingly dangerous and dark political trends so well-articulated in the Guardian Weekly.
Adelaide, South Australia
Trees don’t need humans to give them names
In his “wilderness experience”, Mark O’Connell (The secret level, 31 January) laments that he couldn’t give his tree a name. That’s OK: names are cultural, not natural.
Berkeley, California, US
Ultra-rich travellers are destroying the planet
In A new way to burn round the world (24 January) Rupert Neate quotes Jack Ezon on the popularity of these round-the-world private jet holidays: “They really give people the opportunity to explore the world in the limited time they have.”
Their time, and indeed all of our time, is becoming more and more limited due to the obscenely excessive amount of CO2 emissions that their jaunts are creating. Lucky rich folks who can get to visit the entire planet need to know that their actions are destroying it.
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Cities must demonstrate food self-sufficiency
Noel Bird’s sharp question (Reply, 31 January) about optimal city size suggests an even greater one: namely, the placement of that city within surroundings that will achieve both maximum food self-sufficiency and maximum energy savings.
Planners and politicians worldwide have given this little or no thought. The city of Edinburgh is ideally poised to demonstrate this balance, if it can escape the greedy clutches of bog-standard housing developers.