Category: philosophy

Backpacker blues

Byron Boy by Luca Van Der Heide (Scatole Parlanti, 2020)

The young unnamed backpacker who narrates this novella is searching for an escape from routine and predictability. This quest takes him from Italy to New South Wales in Australia – all the way to Byron Bay to be precise.

The slim volume recounts three months of keeping body and soul together by doing back-breaking work as a blueberry picker. In the process he forges friendships that are destined to be fleeting since the chosen life of the traveller means that hellos are temporary and goodbyes are final. The typical questions this transient community ask one another are: What brings you here? Where have you been? Where are you heading?

What connects these fellow journey men and women is a kind of updated hippy lifestyle dream. Freedom is the constantly moving target. They may have different notions of what true liberty means but they share a common agreement that hell constitutes a comfortably numb life of ease. The author is driven by a fear of not finding independence; of feeling trapped in a vicious cycle of conventional life choices. Continue reading

Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman (Bloomsbury, 2020)

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According to bumper sticker wisdom, a cynic is a disillusioned optimist but Rutger Bregman , the Dutch author of ‘Utopia for Realists’, wants at all costs for us to resist cynical thinking about humankind.

The premise of this ‘hopeful history’ is that humans have been given a bad press and that, far from being selfish, mean and mean-minded they are on the whole actually quite nice.

A large chunk of the blame for humanity’s negative image is laid at the door of the mainstream media who realize that sensational stories about the nastiness and brutishness of people helps sell copies and/or serves as effective click-bait.

Bregman concedes that his views may come as a shock to many and admits that when he initially pitched the idea of the book to a number of publishers they thought he was nuts. Since we know where we stand with cynicism, to argue the contrary is, he acknowledges, “downright threatening, subversive and seditious.” Continue reading

I AM DYNAMITE – A LIFE OF FREDERICH NIETZSCHE by Sue Prideaux (Faber & Faber, 2018)

“I am not a man. I am dynamite” – ‘Ecco Homo, Why I Am Destiny’

fredItalian politician, journalist and all round trouble maker Giuseppe Mazzini once told Friedrich Nietzsche to “ban compromise”. This is the kind of reckless advice any libertarian, free-thinker is likely to lap up and act upon but it didn’t do Nietzche much good.

The German philosopher who died in 1900 aged 56 was certified insane for the last 11 years of his life and lived in a constant state of anxiety and sexual frustration before that. Continue reading

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson (Penguin Random House, 2018)

"Chaos is the domain of ignorance itself. It’s unexplored territory" - Jordan B. Peterson.
"Chaos is order yet undeciphered" - José Saramago (The Double)

jordanThe book ambitiously seeks to find common ground between a series of dichotomies such as crime vs punishment, Christianity vs Atheism, sacrifice vs impulsiveness, constraint vs liberty, fidelity vs promiscuity and, most important of all, order vs chaos.

It is the work of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, a clinical psychologist  and professor of psychology who has taught at Harvard and Toronto universities.

More by design than accident, Peterson has become a key social media influencer thanks to numerous TV appearances plus a series of university and public lectures posted on You Tube. The book summarizes his core beliefs and advocates rules which he maintains will help us become better citizens with the added advantage of helping to fulfill our ambitions.

He states that “making your life better means adopting a lot of responsibility, and that takes more effort and care than living stupidly in pain and remaining arrogant, deceitful and resentful.” Central to his argument is that the weak are lured by the promise of unfettered freedom which only leads to chaotic, self destructive habits. Continue reading

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Gillian Welch – blessed

Mark Twain was on to something when he said that “a pessimist is a well-informed optimist’.

Psychologists will tells you that a negative mindset is defensive posturing to hide some deep-seated vulnerability. It is also said that positivity and good heath go hand in hand . But breaking out of a vicious cycle of cynical thinking is easier said than done.

I have little faith in those glossy magazine articles that are full of superficial lifestyle tips written to order rather than based on actual experience. The abiding message such fluff pieces peddle is that negative thoughts ought to be smothered at birth.

I believe this perceived wisdom is not only wrong but also potentially damaging. How can you look squarely at the world and still be full of idealism and gladness?

Personally, I’d rather be in the company of a confirmed pessimist than a contrived optimist. I identify strongly with Gillian Welch who sang so memorably: “You know some girls are bright as the morning and some girls are blessed with a dark turn of mind”.

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