Tag: quotes



Peter Townsend was the founding Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex and he has been an inspiration for many, including me. I first read his study of care of the elderly – The Last Refuge – as a student in the mid 1960’s. His book was enormously influential at the time. I was later to have the privilege of teaching with him.  Most famously he developed the idea of relative poverty and he lived to see it being widely accepted and applied  in many countries across the world.

But it has now been rejected by the current coalition government, who have returned us to the old language of the disreputable poor: the skivers and the scroungers , ideas we thought had been laid to rest. This government has displayed a dire form of anti-humanity which has distressed large numbers of people. If it returns to power, it plans to take it even further with even deeper currently unspecified cuts into welfare of between £11-30 billion pounds.   I sigh with disbelief and horror. It would be cruel and nasty government. Poor Peter would turn in his grave at the horrors being perpetrated  and the loss of much of his life’s work.

Let’s recall the final words of his book, The Last Refuge (1959):

We look back with horror at some of the cruelties perpetrated in the 1860’s, just as our descendants, a hundred years hence, will look back with horror at some of the cruelties we perpetrate today. Possibly the ultimate test of the quality of a free, democratic and prosperous society is to be found in the standards of freedom,  democracy and prosperity enjoyed by its weakest member.

I am already starting to feel the horror!







I first encountered the work of Eric Fromm as a graduate student in the 1960’s through his influential and best selling work,  Escape from Freedom/ Fear of Freedom (1941). As he summarisese the book:

“There is only one possible, productive solution for the relationship of individualized man with the world: his active solidarity with all men and his spontaneous activity, love and work, which unite him again with the world, not by primary ties but as a free and independent individual…. However, if the economic, social and political conditions… do not offer a basis for the realization of individuality in the sense just mentioned, while at the same time people have lost those ties which gave them security, this lag makes freedom an unbearable burden. It then becomes identical with doubt, with a kind of life which lacks meaning and direction. Powerful tendencies arise to escape from this kind of freedom into submission or some kind of relationship to man and the world which promises relief from uncertainty, even if it deprives the individual of his freedom.” (Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom [N.Y.: Rinehart, 1941], pp. 36–7

As I recently have been reading a magnificent biography on his life by Lawrence J. Friedman, I increasingly realise how he has been a persistent, quiet influence. Of course he fell out of favour with many ‘hip’ theorists because he is an outspoken humanist;  but his work does seem to have had  a world wide impact- even now. He introduced me to the important idea of bridging Freud with Marx. An early Freudian (and a life -long clinician) , Freud soon disowned Fromm’s  humanism ( Fromm turned to a theory of ‘characterology’- about how people’s personalities  are shaped by their society). He was also an early Marxist ( and life-long socialists activist), and a member of the Frankfurt School –  a key figure in assisting their move New York under the Nazi threat; but here again his humanism put him in disfavour too ( Marcuse wrote a scathing influential attack on him and his work). Some of his later work is seen as a little superficial – The Art of Love is perhaps his best seller. For me though he sets an agenda for a humanist psychology making a bond between the human being and society’s regulation – the damage that is usually done here and especially so under capitalism. Love is the answer.


Lawrence Friedman’s new book on Fromm – THE LIVES OF ERICH FROMM: LOVE”S PROPHET (2013) is a marvellous intellectual biography and well worth reading.

Lawrence Friedman's new book on Fromm - THE LIVES OF ERICH FROMM: LOVE"S PROPHET (2013) is a marvellous intellectual biography and well worth  reading.


This is the moment: Happy New Year!

    This is the moment. It only takes a moment. The fateful moment. The banal moment. The long moment. Dancing through life. Anything can happen. Seize the day. Take the moment. Make the moment last. Let the Moment Go. I wish. (with thanks to Jerry Herman, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, Frank Wildhorn and all…

Imaginations- in the Times Higher Education. October 2nd

Imaginations: University of Essex’s sociological half-century Eminent sociologist Ken Plummer captures 50 tales of a groundbreaking department.   The continuing relevance of the ideals that have inspired one of Britain’s pioneering departments of sociology is examined in a new book.   Ken Plummer, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Essex, has devoted much…


Edward Said (1935 – 2003) is best know for his 1978 book Orientalism,  a critical analysis of how the west’s cultural biases result in serious misrepresentations of Middle Eastern affairs.

In the preface to Orientalism he wrote:

“…humanism is the only – I would go so far as saying the final – resistance we have against the inhuman practices

and injustices that disfigure human history……”

He defined Humanism as, “be[ing] able to use one’s mind historically and rationally for the purposes of reflective understanding,” and went on to say, “Humanism is centred upon the agency of human individuality and subjective intuition, rather than on received ideas and approved authority.”

Said’s final book, written in 2004, is Humanism and Democratic Criticism, a collection of  five lectures on the place of  and need for humanism in today’s world

He was an advocate for the political and the human rights of the Palestinian people and a critic of Israel. Despite being a pro-Palestinian activist, He was critical of Islamic organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. As he explained inPower, Politics, and Culture (2002): “First, I am secular; second, I do not trust religious movements; and third, I disagree with these movements’ methods, means, analyses, values, and visions.”

 In 1992 he achieved the title of University Professor, Columbia’s highest-ranking professional status. Said also spent time as a visiting professor at Yale, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins Universities

Remembering Michael Schofield

A dear friend Michael Schofield, the researcher and campaigner, died on Thursday 27th March, aged 94.     This “Tribute to Michael” was presented at Golders Green Crematorium on Tuesday 15h April by Ken   For timeline , click here…….. For the service, Click here  The service 1 I first met Michael in 1967 as…

Inspirations- Great Humanists: Nelson Mandela

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world
“Tread softly, Breathe Peacefully, Laugh hysterically”
“It is music and dancing that make me at peace with the world”

As Nelson Mandela dies, and a new film also appear based on his memorable book,  Long Walk to Freedom, it  is time to celebrate his role as a leading world humanist by remininding ourselves of some of the things he said:

“I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.”

“A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones”

“Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.”

“Without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry, or savor their songs.”

“I have never cared very much for personal prizes. A person does not become a freedom fighter in the hope of winning awards.”

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”


Someone who wrote to me recently had this quote attached from Aldous Huxley; and I rather liked it. It reminded me of one by William James. Here it is:


It’s rather embarrassing to have given one’s entire life

to pondering the human predicament

and to find that in the end one has little more to say than,

‘Try to be a little kinder.

Aldous Huxley (1894 – 1963)

Source: Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine, an Autobiography

No Other Way


There’s no other way.

That’s what they say.

Economics must put money before people,

And medicine must put profit before health.

Education must put management before wisdom,

And religion must put war before love.

Technology must put machines before environments,

And politicians must put power before care.

We must follow the way things are done.

There’s no other way.

That’s what they say.

But what if economics valued feelings,

And medicine always pursued dignity.

If education aimed for the flourishing of humanity,

And religion wanted better worlds for all.

If technology looked out for justice,

And politicians put people first.

If we all just tried to be kind to each other?

There surely is a much better way

Than the one that they preach to us everyday.


I am not the greatest fan of Pop Idol (more of a Glee person myself!). But I was pleased to find that the winner of Arab Idol this year not just sung and looked great, but also had a message to say:

Mohammed Assaf

” A revolution is not just the one carrying the rifle. It is the paintbrush of an artist, the scalpel of  a surgeon, the axe of the farmer. Everyone struggles for their cause in the way they see fit.

He went on to say: Today I represent Palestine and today I am fighting for a cause through my art and the message I send out.

He was the first Palestinian to win it.

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