Category: belief


EDUCATED by Tara Westover (Random House, 2018)
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What is education for?

This deceptively simple question is guaranteed to open a can of worms.

In Charles Dickens’ ‘Hard Times’, the severe school board superintendent Thomas Gradgrind expresses the view that “facts alone are wanted in life”. Schooling in Victorian times typically followed the view that young captives in the classroom were little more that vessels to be filled.

In our supposedly more enlightened age, decent-minded folk are scathing towards such blatant child abuse. The robotic process of memorizing and reproducing information is rightly dismissed in favor of an educational model that encourages students to, in the words of Noam Chomsky, “shape the questions worth pursuing”.

In a talk to teachers, James Baldwin followed the Chomskyan line when he said “The purpose of education is to create in a person the ability of to look at the world for himself”. But Baldwin was also aware of how problematic a well-informed, critical populace could be and added that “no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around”.

In ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover , the author implicitly asks readers to consider where instruction ends and indoctrination begins.

In a note to readers, she advises: “This is not a book about Mormonism. Neither is it a book about religious belief”. Yet the fundamentalist of her survivalist parents and their rigid application of principles prescribed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have a huge and primarily negative impact of her upbringing.

A weaker, less stubborn personality would have been broken and submitted to a conventional life mapped out for her. As it is, she not only survives to tell her remarkable tale but thrives against all odds to become an esteemed scholar and to exemplify the virtues of individual thought and creative enquiry. Continue reading

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AFTERLIFE written, directed by and starring Ricky Gervais

(A Netflix Original, 2019)

Screen shot 2019-03-11 at 18.59.48Yesterday, I blogged about Gus Van Sant’s flawed attempt to deal with complicated issues of guilt and grief in ‘The Sea of Trees’.

In that movie, the death of the lead character’s wife drives the leading male into a narcissistic flirtation with suicide until he finds some vague spiritual redemption. This kind of cop-out is all too often the way these stories go.

God’s reputation for moving in mysterious ways allows scriptwriters to sidestep the less palatable, but all too probable, conclusion that when this mortal coil is cut there is no heaven or hell, no all-knowing deity. …. nothing.

These too infrequently voiced non-beliefs are squarely addressed in the unlikely form of a new comedy vehicle for Ricky Gervais. Since Gervais has been outspoken advocate of atheism, it is with a knowing sense of irony that he should choose to call his six part series on Netflix ‘Afterlife’. Continue reading

CAROL directed by Todd Haynes (USA, 2015)

carol_film_posterI borrowed this film from my local lending library in Cesena, Italy. This excellent ‘mediateca’,  somewhat anachronistically, continues to maintain a healthy stock of old and new DVDs.

In a card inside the case of more recent acquisitions you are invited to write what you think of the movie: “Lascia un commento, potresti convincere qulache indeciso” (Leave a comment – it may convince others who are undecided).

For Carol, there is just one review which (translated from Italian) states that it is “the story of an upper class woman who destroys the life of her husband and, not content with this, also ruins the life of a poor young working woman. All this in the name of a presumed sexual liberation. A film of homosexual propaganda”.

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The offending review of ‘Carol’.

This blinkered and spiteful reading of Todd Haynes’ elegant and intelligent movie illustrates that, despite some encouraging advances in LGBT rights, this is no time for complacency. Continue reading

SILENCE IN THE AGE OF NOISE by Erling Kagge (Viking, 2017)

cover Blaise Pascal was exaggerating for effect when he wrote that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” but I understand the point he was making. If you are not at ease with yourself, how can you be truly at peace with the world?

Norwegian explorer, publisher and Rolex model Erling Kagge quotes Pascal but his own lifestyle doesn’t involve much sitting around alone. He has climbed Everest and journeyed to the North and South Poles. He once spent fifty days walking across the Antarctica during which he had no contact with the outside world and no encounters with any human being until he reached his destination. In his Ted Talk (Another Lecture On Nothing) he says “I believe in making life more complicated than it needs to be”. Continue reading

 

AMORTALITY by Catherine Mayer (Vermilion, 2011)
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“What a drag it is getting old”.

Mick Jagger wrote these words when he was still in his early 20s. It’s a line from ‘Mother’s Little Helper’, the first track on The Rolling Stones’ 1966 album Aftermath.

Far from being the usual affirmation of the ‘sex,drugs and Rock’n’Roll’ lifestyle, this atypical Stones song addresses the plight of stressed housewives who turn to prescribed drugs to calm their nerves. Jagger adopts a mockney accent in an attempt to convince us of his sincerity but it all sounds very mannered and false.

If Jagger still finds aging a drag he hides it fairly well. Now in his mid-70s he’s still performing concerts and impregnating young women with abandon. He is living proof of what Catherine Mayer calls ‘amortals’; those who refuse to ‘act their age’ and live as if it were impossible to die.

With improved healthcare, it’s not just the  wealthy who are living longer with plenty of energy left to burn. Mayer observes that “there is no such thing as age appropriate behavior anymore” and refers to the growth of this ageless living as a “grey tsunami”. Fast approaching 60 and having run my first full marathon last year, I feel that I’m an active member of this tidal wave of ‘amortals’ but found the book disappointing.

It was conceived as “a guide to an uncharted phenomenon” and in the opening chapters the author is at pains to reassure us that it is not intended as a polemic. However, by the end, she gives up any pretense of objectivity when she challenges institutionalized ageism, stating : “I hope readers will take from this book inspiration to push for change, on a personal level and as consumers and voters”. So much for not being polemical! Continue reading

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