Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category
Who could have thought…
The bars were sponsored by liquor companies, the kitchen by Lufthansa. One room had marble walls, another, cashmere. Hundreds of guests plucked hors d’oeuvres from Plexiglas trays, but when I reached for a passing tray of pigs in blankets, the waitress tried to stop me. “These are for Michael,” she said.
That would be Michael Moore, filmmaker, who was enthroned nearby on a crowded sofa nibbling from a skewer, which did seem less in harmony with his everyman sneakers and populist persona than a sausage wrapped in fried bread. The Monday night party in Manhattan, which spread over two luxurious penthouse suites, was sponsored by Esquire and tricked out with the magazine’s advertisers’ products. The guests were there to celebrate Moore’s latest movie [Capitalism, A Love Story], which had just had its New York premier uptown.
It is clear, isn’t it?
One can only imagine if the above were accepted at face value, how much spicier the National Gallery would become…
It turns out, Pope Benedict was not so wrong after all.
Excerpts from “A Rescue of Religion” by John Gray, The New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 15 · October 9, 2008 – reviewing “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?: 23 Questions from Great Philosophers” by Leszek Kolakowski, Basic Books:
It is part of Kolakowski’s achievement as the greatest living intellectual historian to have tracked the ways in which religion has shaped Western thought. His work is, in effect, a sustained argument for the irreducible presence of religion in intellectual life and in society. In Kolakowski’s view the secular movements of the last century, such as communism, […] deployed categories of thought, including a view of history as a narrative having a consummation or end-point, which are inheritances from Western monotheism. […] Religion was not in truth superseded, either in Marx’s thought or in the movements Marx inspired. Instead, the promise of salvation reemerged as a project of universal emancipation.
The renewal of religious categories of thinking in avowedly secular systems of ideas […] continued in the ideology of neoconservatism. The notion of the end of history […] derives from religious traditions of apocalyptic myth. […] Presupposing as they do a teleological view of history that cannot be stated in empirical terms, all such theories are religious narratives translated into secular language. […]
Religion has had a formative influence on our categories of thought, which it is the task of philosophy to examine. Excavating the archaeology of our concepts is a part of philosophical inquiry. For us, that inescapably involves tracing their debts to Judaism and Christianity. Any way of doing philosophy that neglects these traditions is unhistorical and impoverished.
There are some philosophers for whom the only place for religion in philosophical inquiry is that of a bogey, a specter of irrationality that must be exposed and expelled so that philosophy can be an entirely secular discipline. As Kolakowski has argued, however, a good deal of secular thought has been shaped by Western religion. Exorcising religion is harder than it seems.
The winner of the Diagram of Diagrams Prize has been announced: “Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers“.
That is supposed to be the book with the oddest title in the last 30 years.
My favorites were the “Lesbian Sadomasochism Safety Manual” (who would have thought that was an issue?) from 1990, and “Bombproof Your Horse” from 2004 (another post-9/11 book, one suspects).
Montereggio: International Booktown Festival, 1-4 Maggio (in Italiano)
Where Is Montereggio? (Mappa da Google Maps)
Montereggio 2008 – International Booktown Festival (In English)
When everything is due, anything that goes missing causes a tragedy
Why is it that the most affluent societies are the ones where the fear of the future becomes some kind of collective Phobia of the Novelty, mixed up with a morbid fascination for dreaming up their own, however improbable, catastrophes?
Conversely, what makes quite poor people keep their hopes high for the future? If we could restrict ourselves purely to risk analysis, the opposite would be true.
Being rich means having a multitude of metaphorical cushions protecting one’s fall, for example being able to buy actual insurances.
For many instead, being poor means finding oneself wondering if there will be anything to eat for dinner.
And yet it’s in the Affluent West, plus Japan that blatant absurdities like the Principle of Precaution are fashionable.
I won’t even mention how many people are hooked into believing in toto the interminable series of catastrophical environmental reports that nowadays grace newspapers almost as commonly as gossip columns.
One way to understand such a paradox is via what can be called “the Curse of Affluence“.
Humans naturally being hoarding animals, they have no qualms in pretending that everything they can get their hands onto is actually due to them.
Therefore, the more they have, the higher their fear some, any of it may disappear.
Imagine one earns $25,000/year. Having been particularly good at their job, he/she gets a promotion and a salary of $40,000.
The happiness that brings disappears quickly though, and the following year the new level will be considered a given, not an achievement.
One will soon start to yearn for a higher salary still. Not only that: the new income will have surely brought a few more luxuries in one’s life. Losing those would feel like an abysmal failure: anxiety for the future will therefore kick in.
If left unchecked, that anxiety will increase more and more with increasingly higher salaries.
If we apply the same line of thought to a society of people, then we can understand why they would all live in fear of losing their affluence rather than trying to enjoy it while they have it.
If everything is due, then anything that goes missing is in itself a tragedy (it works the other way around: if nothing is due, than anything that is obtained is a cause for celebration).
At the end then, a whole nation of rich people may as well stop functioning, with each one of them paralyzed by the fear of losing any of their innumerable luxuries, life included.
With the trap of a pessimistic Decadence bubble growing larger and larger, progress is then passed on to those that are not yet rich enough. And so on.
To free affluent societies from their fears, first of all risk management should be made part of the school curriculum, like literature or maths. Also, people must be reminded for example via museums of the terrible aspects of non-affluent life.
In general, anything that would expose them to the practicalities of being dirt poor will definitely help. Just as (of course!) the spreading of a simple concept: that the neverending accumulation of stuff can only kill all hopes.
“There can be no safe future without safe motherhood”
Women Deliver global conference (London, 18-20 October)
The very, very first step we need to do to provide at least the possibility of freedom for the whole of humanity, and not just men, is actually made up of two actions:
Step 0.1: diminish the chances of death during pregnancy
Step 0.2: increase the survival rate for children 0-5
In fact, as long as would-be mothers die at the enormous rates of 1 in 6 in places like Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, no wonder the relative value of each of those human beings is not considered that much.
Cynically one would ask why would anybody emotionally attach himself to a person that is quite as likely to die within a year (obviously, in reality things do not work out so simplistic, but still…).
Furthermore, if children die in large numbers (especially in their most vulnerable years, from birth to 5), the only way to nurture some possibility of leaving descendants in this world, is to conceive as many babies as possible.
Having women wait out their entire reproductive lives doing only house chores, with no time for business or political activities whilst going from one pregnancy to the next, becomes then a perfectly logical, if horrendous choice.
Given the fact that death-during-pregnancy and the need of a large number of children just to hope for one’s family not to die have both accompanied humanity for much of its existence, no wonder women have been set aside as virtual slaves for millennia.
And so there is simply no opportunity for “emancipation” if we don’t get mortality rates lower for mother and for young children.
Luckily but tragically, the solution is not that difficult.
It’s all very feasible stuff and so it is a real tragedy that we have not achieved yet that for all: just as abject poverty and “under-development” are still very widespread.
In truth, there is a precise correlation between those concepts, and the health of women and children is one of the best indicators of how truly “rich” a country is.
And so: let’s provide education to all the girls, and provide them with all the drugs and all the resources needed to mantain their health and the health of their children.
Otherwise, all efforts may as well go to nothing.