Category: philosophy

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”.

Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue (Harper-Collins, 1998)

Screen shot 2019-12-01 at 10.25.48This is a self help book for the soul in which traditional Celtic wisdom from Ireland is couched in universal terms. It is full of  quotable anecdotes about living correctly and completely.

On the downside, affirmative thoughts are frequently undermined by woolly references to ‘spiritual’ values that imply all life’s gifts are God-given. O’Donohue argues that “At every moment and in every situation, God is the intimate, attentive, and encouraging friend”, ignoring the fact that there is not a shred of concrete evidence to support such a statement.

As a life-long Atheist I find the pseudo-religious aspects of the book frustrating primarily because it seems at odds with the admirable Humanist thrust of the key ideas. How can we be truly free as individuals if we are subservient to a divine being? Continue reading

EARTH ABIDES by George R.Stewart (1949)

earthIsherwood Williams (Ish) is not much of mixer which is just as well because most of humanity has just been wiped out by a deadly virus.

You might imagine this means the horror of piles of corpses lying everywhere but the dead bodies have either all been buried or we assume that all the victims gathered together in medical centers to tidily expire en-masse.

When we meet Ish, he is laid up in his remote mountain cabin after a snake bite. This poison seems to be the reason he is immune to the pandemic.

When he recovers he finds that civilization as he knows is has disappeared.  Being a pragmatic and practically-minded kind of guy he resolves to cope with the great disaster methodically and logically. He gets a truck, food supplies, weapons and a dog. His trusty hammer becomes both a life saver and a symbol of his enduring strength. Continue reading

EDUCATED by Tara Westover (Random House, 2018)

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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