Category: philosophy


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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goodreads 2018.jpgSince 2014, I have set and maintained a relatively modest reading target on ‘Goodreads‘ of 50 titles a year. I find this website invaluable at the end of year when it comes to reviewing the books I’ve read.

Being gifted, and being thoroughly absorbed by, Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘The Buried Giant’ led me to a reappraisal of the Nobel Prize Winner. Up until then, I’d read only ‘Remains Of The Day’ and hadn’t been particularly drawn to his other novels. The slow, deliberate pace and absence of colloquial language put me off but now this actually drew me in. Perhaps it’s an age thing. Ishiguro skillfully takes the reader deep into the mind and, above all, the memories of his characters. The only novel of his I haven’t read is ‘The Unconsoled’. Aside from the uncharacteristically messy ‘When We Were Orphans’, I rated all of his works very highly.

Getting fixated on this male author sabotaged my resolve to read more female writers this year. By the end of the year only 20 of the 50 were by women. Of these, my two favorite novels, one old and one new, were Sarah Waters’ quietly subversive ‘Fingersmith’ and Gail Honeyman’s funny/sad study of loneliness : ‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’. Continue reading

doughnut book.jpgIn this important book, English economist Kate Raworth sets out an optimistic, many would say idealistic, vision of a new global economy that creates a thriving balance thanks to its distributive and regenerative design.

She is searching for the “sweet spot for humanity” arguing convincingly that the time is ripe for a radical rethink of the profit-driven model that runs, and ruins, too many lives stating that “now is a great moment for unlearning and relearning the fundamentals of economics”.

Given the way the world is rapidly spiraling out of control, it is sadly a case of now or never: “Ours is the first generation to properly understand the damage we have been doing to our planetary household, and probably the last generation with the chance to do something transformative about it”. Continue reading

WALKAWAY – a novel by Cory Doctorow (Head Of Zeus, 2017)

220px-walkaway_28a_cory_doctorow_novel29_book_coverWhat is it that derails dreams of utopia and resigns us to the notion that the future is fated to turn out dystopian? Cory Doctorow‘s ambitious and entertaining novel doesn’t provide any definitive answers to this plight but asks plenty of thought-provoking questions.

The problems of the soul-corroding world of work in the modern world are vividly described by Doctorow as one character  remembers a daily routine consisting of “early mornings crunched on meaningless deadlines with the urgency of a car-crash for no discernible reason”.

Cory Doctorow poses the question : If another world to this is possible, what would it be like? His answer comes in the form of a utopian vision of a “better nation” which takes the sociopolitical aims of the Occupy Movement to their logical conclusion. 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

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