Just because there is sh*t in the world, it doesn’t mean the world is sh*t

“And, God forbid, do not read the Soviet newspapers before lunch.”

“Um … Why, there are no others?”

“Do not read any then. You know, I observed thirty patients in my clinic. And what do you think? Patients who did not read newspapers felt great. Those who I specifically forced to read ‘Pravda’, lost weight.”

“Hmmm,” said the bitten one, ruddy with soup and wine.

“Moreover, reduced knee reflexes, bad appetite, an oppressed state of mind…”

[Translated from Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov]

Whenever current affairs get really divisive, my faith in humanity wanes. Like really, wanes.

I am referring to the combination of the Belfast trial, the upcoming referendum in Ireland, the Skripals, the Russian election and the tragic fire in Siberia…

Feeling overwhelmed by all the recent news coverage and watching friends engage in social media battles, I was walking down the street and I really didn’t know how to handle it… and then I realised I was near a gallery.

I went in to look at The taking of Christ by Caravaggio, the most celebrated painting available in Dublin. I sat beside it for like a half-hour, probably looking like a mad person.

I stared at it just to get my mind off the other stuff.

I vaguely remembered a lecture that discussed how the arms of the different characters are all disproportionate. Look at Judas vs Jesus vs guard in armour:

IMG_9559.jpg

And then I thought: Jesus, there are some serious problems with this painting! Yet, this is one of the most celebrated paintings out there. And it is, in my opinion, beautiful.

Just because there is sh*t in the world, it doesn’t mean the world is sh*t.

On social constructionism

What is a social construct? A rather arbitrary intangible concept created by society. Therefore, under the assumption that X is a social construct, one interpretation of X is not more truthful than another. For example, if gender is a social construct, by definition, the idea that there are 50+ genders is neither more or less truthful than the idea that there are two.

The concept of social constructs is itself very much a social construct – as is any sociological theory. Therefore, calling X a social construct to show that X is irrelevant is… irrelevant.

Those who claim to be at war with a given social construct, on the basis of it being a social construct, need to do more than highlight its arbitrary nature, because their proposed views are equally arbitrary, or offer an alternative that is qualitatively different than just a new set of social constructs.

If you substitute the word culture for social construct above, it’s easier to understand. Of course, if you feel that the concept of social construct is qualitatively different to the concept of culture, please convince me, so that I can stop worry about theory and just join the cool kids.

Looking at the broader picture of social constructionism, I don’t really buy into its fundamentals because I don’t think that perception changes reality, just like I don’t think that Photoshop takes the cellulite off Kim Kardashian’s behind.

 

 

Decisions

Whenever I struggle to make a decision, I think of Seneca’s letters. In short, the message is, if you had a very short time to live, what would you do?

I have recently discovered another method.

Imagine you are an 85 year old you giving yourself advice. What would your 85 year old self tell your present self?

Written under the influence of geriatrics and Saint-Emilion.

“Impatient, immature, all-or-nothing attitude to ambition”

There an interesting psychiatrist and author, Theodore Dalrymple. Not his real name, which he chose because it “sounded suitably dyspeptic, that of a gouty old man looking out of the window of his London club, port in hand, lamenting the degenerating state of the world”. How accurate.

His writings are a joyous mix of thought crimes and insight porn expressed in an academic, albeit overwhelmingly British, manner.

Following on from our discussion of “specialness” and achievement, here are his musings on class in the context of the Hillbilly Elegy:

It might be said, of course, that not everyone can go to Yale Law School (thank God, one might add). But it is not a question of Yale or jail. Gradations of success are innumerable and every way of earning a living that is of service to others is honorable. Part of the problem, I surmise, is that we have been infected with the idea that only the highest achievement—either in academic status, monetary reward, or public fame—is worthy of respect, and all else counts as failure. From that premise it follows that there is no point in making a vast effort only to be a quiet, respectable, useful, God-fearing failure. It is precisely the absence of this impatient, immature, all-or-nothing attitude to ambition that accounts for the success of Asian immigrants. Whether Hillbilly Elegy will reinforce or counteract this attitude is an open question. Source.

 

Paglia on postmodernism

I became curious about this social critic, Camille Paglia, as she spoke about characteristics of dwindling civilisations at some point.

Here is her interview with the celebrity-academic-provocateur Jordan Peterson. She speaks about her subject with impressive passion. Some of what she says seems arrogant and self-congratulatory but some parts of it are refreshing.

I have it set to the point where she talked about the 1960s and went straight into the no true Scotsman fallacy – which very nearly put me off watching the rest of it along with her body language that doesn’t quite match her words (psychedelics that she identifies with “totally” while also pushing them away with both hands).

But if you soldier on, she says some interesting stuff from 8:00.

 

Roger Scruton on modern art

I came across this philosopher, Roger Scruton.

There are a number of things that scare me about him, not least his appetite for listing his awards on his landing page. The man who claims to be a philosopher has prioritised telling his visitors who has handed him medals and ribbons and when – over telling us what he believes. Oh well.

He has produced this interesting video on modern art. I believe that some of what is created today is art. Some of it is, in my view, so vacuous, and it is soul-destroying to see it being put on a pedestal.

Image: Tracey Emin, My Bed, 1998 via the Tate