Category Archives: culture

Proust begins

I’ve started working my way through Neville Jason’s excellent narration of Proust’s classic In Search of Lost Time.  Here’s my brief review from goodreads.com of the (21 hours long!) first volume.

Swann's Way (In Search of Lost Time, #1)Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Revisiting an author I avoided when I studied French at university, I was surprised that Proust’s writing was more accessible than I had feared. Not that it immediately grabs you: the vast sentences with their minute analysis of characters’ motives (“Nooo, not another subclause – my puny intellect can’t cope!”) engages you only slowly. Don’t look for a page-turning twist-driven plot here. What you get is a sort of beautifully-written, melancholy and contemplative retrospective set in fin de siecle France and driven by the big themes of love and memory.

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Haidt on the ecstasy of self-transcendence

Jonathan Haidt is one of my current favourite thinkers and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

In this TED talk he posits the possibility that humans evolved the religious impulse as an adaptation to assist group selection. In simpler terms, we are hard-wired to have transcendent  experiences because it makes us co-operate instead of acting selfishly.

Haidt uses the staircase as a metaphor for self-transcendence which should surely have resonance for freemasons who have taken their second degree.  He states:

The staircase takes us from the experience of life as profane or ordinary upwards to the experience of life as sacred, or deeply interconnected”.

Fascinating. Watch it.

Book review – Christian Nation by Frederic C. Rich

My review on Goodreads.com of this book I read in February:

Christian NationChristian Nation by Frederic C. Rich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Without realising it, I appear to have become a fan of dystopian counterfactual fiction. (Wow, is that, you know,  A Thing?). This particular novel certainly fits into that category, presenting as a memoir the events leading up to the establishment of a brutal Christian theocracy in the USA. The protagonist is a liberal-minded New York lawyer, who helps a charismatic friend battle the forces of a “dominionist” (Google it!) Christian movement that uses a Palin presidency as springboard to power. Implausible? Unlikely, but not necessarily implausible given the assistance of some unpredictable events that the dominionists seize on to do, as the author is at pains to point out, “what they said they would do”. It reads sometimes as polemic, the traditional twists and turns of plot never really happen and some might find the lengthy passages of legal exposition a turnoff, but I wasn’t bothered by these flaws. I had, in fact, expected a slightly trashier read but was pleasantly surprised by its erudition.

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The Archers gets it right

As a parent of a child with Down’s Syndrome (we prefer that term to “Down’s Syndrome child/person”) and occasional Archers listener I was impressed how sensitively the writers handled last week’s storyline involving a couple who are told that the child they are expecting will have Down’s Syndrome.

In particular the way the consultant revealed the results of the tests showing the baby had Down’s was almost a textbook example of how it should be done. Too often, doctors in these situations have out of date attitudes and information and end up traumatising the parents. “You can get rid of it, you know” is not as uncommon a phrase as we’d hope.

Almost, because the consultant could have been a bit warmer and reassuring and because her speeches sounded like she was reading from the Down’s Syndrome Association literature! The latter is hardly a complaint though.

Review: Mirage Men: A Journey into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs: The Weird Truth Behind UFOs

Mirage Men: A Journey into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs: The Weird Truth Behind UFOsMirage Men: A Journey into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs: The Weird Truth Behind UFOs by Mark Pilkington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Slightly disjointed in style, this book can’t quite decide if it wants to be gonzo journalism told first hand or a hard-nosed investigation into American alphabet agency UFO disinformation shenanigans. Still, has some intriguing insights into the murky world of the disinfo agents – the “Mirage Men” of the title – and the mindsets of the ufologists they manipulate. Injects some much needed pyrrhonism into the field. You don’t know what pyrrhonism is? Nor did I until I read the last chapter of this book.

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Book Review: Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History

Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern HistoryVoodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History by David Aaronovitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sobering antidote to the conspiratorial mindset that permeates the Internet. Skewers several recent conspiracy theories and traces the reasons for conspiracy theories’ development without settling on any single reason.

In particular I was intrigued by the analysis of the origins of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” hoax that defamed Jews and provided a pretext for their persecution. A pity this wasn’t expanded into a debunking of the NWO/Freemasonry/Illuminati meme.

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