Anna Gát: What to Read This Weekend #47

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90s nostalgia, failing Britain, rape in the intelligentsia, language vs decline — and hugs, optimism, Pilger, Friston, Musk, Betty Ford, Elizabeth Bishop, Wong Kar-Wai, Thomas Szasz, Spinoza and more!

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Hello my friends! HAPPY NEW YEAR! 🎉 What a treat it is to spend another year in your company – all our discussions, all the ideas, the books, the friends… What a privilege, in and around Interintellect 🙏🏻

We closed a pretty awesome year (this is a whole thread, do click through:)

… and are gearing up for 2024, growing, learning, connecting across geographies, generations, and political divides. You too can join us here.

Some superb salons coming up online: Morgan Housel on timeless wisdoms, Krista Thomason on emotional realism and therapy-speak, Devorah Baum and Tara Isabella Burton on marriage (in partnership with Yale University Press), Shruti Rajagopalan et al. on new funding models in science, Khe Hy on the post-achievement individual, Jim O’Shaughnessy on the Tao and AI. More here.

And, as every Friday, some incredible readings for you below. My personal selection! (Again, there are so many pieces, I could make it part1 and part2 like last week, but I’ll resist, for your comfort.) Enjoy! x Anna

What I read this year

Reading multiple books across topics ensures that I always have a book I want to read at that moment. I am also a slow reader. This combination means I take weeks, sometimes months, to finish books. And I don’t finish everything I start, and I am quite ruthless about abandoning crap. This year’s major realization was that books about the “current thing” written in the “current moment” are usually rubbish.

  • Shruti Rajagopalan

After Rape: A Guide for the Tormented

Suppose a victim recognizes that she does have the right to justice. How does one go about securing justice? I am a young writer and my rapist is a better known writer than I am. If I come forward (whatever “coming forward” means) this nightmare will become the thing for which I am known. I used to say that “I will come forward when my fame exceeds his,” but even then, who can say that his name won’t come up every time someone googles mine if I make what he did known? I do not want to be renowned for my victimhood and I do not want to be tethered to his name forever. As long as I maintain this tormented silence, “my rapist” is an association kept alive mostly inside my own head. If I come forward, everyone will know about that shameful bond.

  • Celeste Marcus; Liberties — the single most important piece of the past week by my brilliant, fearless friend: so much is quotable from it, you must read it for yourself

Is the west talking itself into decline?

The finding that language and culture can play important roles in triggering economic development has major implications for the west today. Extending the same analysis to the present, a striking picture emerges: over the past 60 years the west has begun to shift away from the culture of progress, and towards one of caution, worry and risk-aversion, with economic growth slowing over the same period. The frequency of terms related to progress, improvement and the future has dropped by about 25 per cent since the 1960s, while those related to threats, risks and worries have become several times more common.

  • John Burn-Murdoch; Financial Times

‘Wild Butchery of Souls’ — A contemporary poet aims to capture the terror of World War I

We are not creatures of the moment, “existentialism is simply the myth of the noble savage gone baroque,” and so we must somehow evoke a past which is at once utterly foreign and intimately ours.

  • Phil Klay; Commonweal — excellent!

How the Nineties are haunting millennials

Stigma isn’t the only thing Lewinsky has shed: in the old paradigm, a woman in her early twenties who slept with a married man, even a powerful one, was considered an autonomous actor and old enough to know better. In the revised one, she’s not just a victim, but practically a child. Her shame is gone, but so is her agency — and with it, any sense that she may have had a hand in the current shape of her life. The cultural revisionism that refashions the wanton seductress as a hapless innocent speaks to the interplay of millennial childhood nostalgia with the overwhelming sense that we still aren’t really adults. The same generation that treats grownup responsibilities like bill-paying or doing laundry as a sort of LARP (“adulting”) is also characterised by its insistent and continued interest in childish things.

  • Kat Rosenfield; UnHerd

Is Plagiarism Wrong? (2019)

Academia has confused a convention with a moral rule, and this confusion is not unmotivated. We academics cannot make much money off the papers and books in which we express our ideas, and ideas cannot be copyrighted, so we have invented a moral law that offers us the “property rights” the legal system denies us.

  • Agnes Callard

How Philosophy Makes Technology Better

At its best, philosophy is thinking in advance. The ability to predict where technology is going is more possible than it might seem. While predicting the specific path of any given innovation is impossible, it is quite possible to predict broader trends. And the real power of prediction isn’t about technology; it’s about the human response to technology. 

  • R.B. Griggs

To My Friends Across the Political Divide

When you demonize those who disagree with you, you invite treatment in kind.

  • Martin Gurri; Discourse

On the Muppets

For almost a year now, I’ve been wrestling with an incipient essay on why I love movies like Metropolitan and When Harry Met Sally and, now, The Muppet Christmas Carol so much. It’s bound up, intimately, not just with a moral vision but a specifically temporal one: something I’d like to call nineties romanticism.

  • Tara Isabella Burton

Optimism = agency

The future is uncertain, and sometimes scary. But we resolve these uncertainties – and these fears – by working at them, not by running from them. And in order to work at them in a meaningful (constructive, horizon-broadening, positive-sum) way, it helps to believe that the future can be better than the present. 

  • Shahid Hussain Nowshad

Why seek self-realisation?

Spinoza thinks that knowledge and increased (self-) understanding help us to increase our ability to act, and hence our ability to persevere.

  • Helen de Cruz; Aeon

The Profile Dossier: Stephen King, the Master of Suspense

King believes that idea-generation is an active process, not a passive one. He says, “Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground … Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world.”

  • Polina Pompliano

Terrible beauty: Unearthly good looks, from Beowulf to YouTube

The drunken men stop their arguing because they feel it too, “softened, reminded of their humanness, exactly as they might have been softened by the cry of a child in danger, or an old man’s suffering, or spring”. Her beauty is an organizing, civilizing force among human beings. It arrests their everyday brutality, forces them to feel when they would rather hurt. But Grendel experiences it as an assault.

  • Irina Dumitrescu; Times Literary Supplement

Is 2024 the year of reckoning for academia?

What made Gay’s case so problematic was the longer excerpts and their number. It’s going to be easy to forget the importance of that. Already, there is evidence that academic scandals are quick to trigger a lot of outrage, even when the person at the center is actually innocent.

  • Erik Hoel

Metaphysical Foundations of Science

“I don’t altogether accept P. F. Strawson’s distinction between ‘revisionary’ and ‘descriptive’ metaphysics, much though I admire his book Individuals, which was in fact one of the first serious books in metaphysics that I read, long before I became a student of philosophy. I do, however, follow Aristotle and Locke in taking it that ‘common sense’ is a reasonable – indeed, the only reasonable – starting point for philosophical thinking. But it is only a starting point, and some common sense ideas will inevitably have to be abandoned by the philosopher, since some of them, when pursued to their logical conclusions, give rise to puzzles and paradoxes, which it is the task of the philosopher to try to resolve – an idea, of course, that goes back at least as far as Socrates.”

  • E.J. Lowe interviewed by Richard Marshall.; 3:16

Toward a shallower future: Adversity isn’t worth the price of adversity

“I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.”

  • Noah Smith

Defense Against The Dark Arts: An Introduction

What does ‘the Dark Arts’ imply? Immediately, the name conjures up images of wizards practicing secretive techniques in their hidden castles, scheming against the righteous defenders of reason. Its practitioners are thought of as skilled and conniving, with a good understanding of human cognitive weaknesses that allow them to exploit them to their own advantage. 

  • Lyrongolem; LessWrong

Writing for children is hard, and they need good books more than ever

If I were forced, by some unexpectedly tyrannous literary fairy, to choose between writing for adults and writing for children, I would choose children. Because when you write for a child, you write for someone who is in the process of becoming the person they will be. You write for a person who is ravenously hungry – for ideas, for facts, for comfort, for power, for safety, for certainty, for jokes. The books you read and adore as a child become part of you: if the books are good enough, they get into your blood and bones, hair and eyes and fingernails, and live on inside you, for long after you have forgotten the details of plot or title.

  • Katherine Rundell; New Statesman

An Oral History of Lilo & Stitch

“I actually have a hard time watching animation now because I see the same expressions, gestures, hand movements, everything. Everybody just uses the same stuff over and over again. It’s this formula of animation. I don’t see the uniqueness anymore.”

  • Bilge Ebiri; Vulture

Return of the oppressed (2013)

Intra-elite competition also seems to affect the social mood. Norms of competition and extreme individualism become prevalent and norms of co-operation and collective action recede.

  • Peter Turchin; Aeon

Irrational optimism and the rebuilding of local journalism

What I think matters most is the stories that are now being told that might not have been. I loved that quote at the end of our housing investigation just before Christmas: “Thank you,” a woman said as Mollie left, “We’re so grateful somebody’s listening.”

  • Joshi Herrmann 

Culture is Coordination

In the language of game theory, let me suggest that, at root, the core concept in “culture” is “coordination”, i.e., whatever it is that makes us fall into one game theory equilibrium over others. So culture is not the players, their choice options, what they know at each choice, or their final game payoffs.

  • Robin Hanson

Look What We Made Taylor Swift Do

Whether she is conscious of it or not, Ms. Swift signals to queer people — in the language we use to communicate with one another — that she has some affinity for queer identity. There are some queer people who would say that through this sort of signaling, she has already come out, at least to us. But what about coming out in a language the rest of the public will understand?

  • Anna Marks; The New York Times

Britain’s Economy Is ‘Not Working.’ Here Are 2 Key Reasons

There’s an “overriding sense of things not working” in the economy, said Raoul Ruparel, the director for Boston Consulting Group’s Center for Growth and a former British government special adviser. That includes a lack of affordable housing, weak public services including transportation and long hospital wait times.

  • Eshe Nelson; The New York Times

Why I’m Worried About The Rise Of Liberal Young Women

What we desperately need to do is to offer young women more compelling counter-narratives. We must create spaces outside of academia and algorithms where they can explore diverse ideas. Zoomers today are simply having far fewer experiences: we are less likely to have gone on a date; to have had a job; to even spend time outside than previous generations.

  • Freya India

Anatomy of a Hug

Hugs amongst friends indicate the everlasting nature of dependability. These sometimes come in groups that propel the circumference of love. In here, you will find that you can be your cringiest self and yet will be accepted for that very cringe. Sometimes, friends also have the tendency to give a hug which is accompanied with unwarranted and excessive shrieking along with simultaneous jumping in the joy. To others it may look like madness, but little do they know how much exuberance it brings. Shamelessly relish these hugs, nonetheless.

  • Tanya Raj

Fighting The Tree

Maybe I wasn’t the son Dad wanted. Maybe, if he could have, he would have picked another kid, a son he could enjoy parenting.

  • Davon Loeb; The Sun Magazine

Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

I grew up in foster homes in Los Angeles. I fled as soon as I could by enlisting in the military at age 17, and obtained degrees in psychology from Yale and Cambridge thanks to the G.I. Bill and scholarships. I’m pretty certain I was the only one of my classmates who was living out of garbage bags at age seven and smoking weed at age nine.

  • Rob Henderson; The Free Press

John Pilger obituary

For Apartheid Did Not Die (1998), Pilger interviewed Nelson Mandela and caused discomfort to both white and black South Africans by describing a new “economic apartheid” that kept many black people in poverty.

  • Anthony Hayward; The Guardian — If you guys haven’t read Pilger’s book Tell Me No Lies, MUCH recommended, a superb wild ride of a history of 20th century investigative journalism

Elon Musk is not understood

One of the reasons Elon is such a enigma is that he is not very relatable to ordinary people, at least beyond superficial meme humor. He thinks in physics and math and is pre-occupied with obscure, illegible technical and managerial problems. For most of these problems, he is the first person in history to ever encounter them.

  • Casey Handmer

One Hundred Years Later (2020)

An experimental homage to Gabriel García Márquez on the energy crisis. Assisted by GPT-3.

  • Miguel I. Solano

God Help Us, Let’s Try To Understand Friston On Free Energy (2018)

Surprise minimization sounds like locking yourself in a dark room with no stimuli, then predicting that you will be in a dark room with no stimuli, and never being surprised when your prediction turns out to be right.

  • Scott Alexander

Coming to Terms With Loss in Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘One Art’ (2017)

The repeating lines of the poem’s villanelle form capture the obsessive nature of rejection and loss, trying again and again to make sense of an absence through a kind of rewinding.

  • Joseph Frankel; The Atlantic

Doc Holliday Is Dead But Tuberculosis Is Still Killing Us (2019)

In Illness as Metaphor, which considers how art can shape our view of disease, Susan Sontag wrote, “For those characters treated less sentimentally, the disease is viewed as the occasion to finally live well.” She continued, “At the least, the calamity of disease can clear the way for insight into lifelong self-deceptions and failures of character.”

  • Brian Gallagher; Nautilus

Celebrating 20 years of being In the Mood for Love (2020)

“I was only curious how it started… Now I know,” Chow tells Su, near the film’s conclusion. “Feelings can creep up, just like that.”

  • Dane Harrison; I-D

Don’t Worry, You’ll be Fine

There’s something very calming about believing that nobody cares about what you do, that you could just be whatever you want to be. It grants you a kind of unlimited confidence, like flooring the gas pedal on your free will.

  • Sherry Ning

“Song” (from One Thousand and One Nights) — A Poem Translated by Yasmine Seale (2021)

The shirt of pain

I wore laid bare

The grief within.

  • Literary Hub

The Troubled History of Psychiatry (2019)

Thomas Szasz, in “The Myth of Mental Illness,” argued that psychiatric diagnoses were too vague to meet scientific medical standards and that it was a mistake to label people as being ill when they were really, as he termed it, “disabled by living”—dealing with vicissitudes that were a natural part of life.

  • Jerome Groopman; The New Yorker

Personality and politics of 263 occupations

Several of the low scoring occupations are amusing, chefs (think TV cooks), start-up bros (I’m sure you have your own favorite anecdote), sales people (cut-throat), butchers (often used as villains in movies).

  • Emil O. W. Kirkegaard 

Betty Ford Shared Her Story and Changed Addiction Treatment Forever

She told the world she had been struggling with alcohol and opioid medications, and was seeking help for substance use disorder. For any average person at the time, that admission might have turned them into a societal outcast. But for Betty Ford, it saved her life. It restored her family. And it blasted a fissure into what is considered the biggest barrier to drug and alcohol addiction treatment: stigma. 

  • Jennifer Taylor

The demons that drove John Cheever (2009)

Cheever eventually grew so lonely that on the train into New York he would ask complete strangers: “Wouldn’t you rather talk than read?”

  • Rachel Cooke; The Guardian

Are Men Smarter than Women?

If Lynn is correct on the 4-point gap, it would indicate that the average man is smarter than over 60% of women, which is pretty important.

  • Richard Hanania — Oy vey!

Turning facts into fiction — Must works of historical fiction have an agenda?

What happens when – as has become noticeably fashionable – words are put into the mouths of long-dead historical actors? Thomas Cromwell, Robespierre, Cicero, Mary Wollstonecraft, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Benjamin Franklin, Roland Barthes move among unknowns and loom into our imaginations as fictions.

  • Norma Clarke; Times Literary Supplement

Albert Camus: Notebooks

Every time a man (myself) gives way to vanity, every time he thinks and lives in order to show off, this is a betrayal. Every time, it has always been the great misfortune of wanting to show off which has lessened me in the presence of the truth. We do not need to reveal ourselves to others, but only to those we love. For then we are no longer revealing ourselves in order to seem but in order to give. There is much more strength in a man who reveals himself only when it is necessary. I have suffered from being alone, but because I have been able to keep my secret I have overcome the suffering of loneliness. To go right to the end implies knowing how to keep one’s secret. And, today, there is no greater joy than to live alone and unknown.

  • Via Goodreads

The New Prince — A not so very different Machiavellianism

This postliberalism thus proves to be less Burkean than Machiavellian. Its zero-sum view of power and its focus on elites closely align with the thinking of Italian theorists of power lauded by Trotskyist-turned-conservative James Burnham in his 1943 work The Machiavellians. Such a vision undoubtedly finds a receptive audience within today’s political landscape. But postliberals moving in this direction unfortunately stand to leave behind much of the substantive critiques of the modern liberal order.

  • Andrew Lynn; The Hedgehog Review

Glynis Johns, who played Mrs Banks in Mary Poppins, dies aged 100

“The whole point of first-class acting is to make a reality of it. To be real. And I have to make sense of it in my own mind in order to be real.”

  • Maya Yang; The Guardian

Fired Comedian Ordered to Get Day Job Back After Jokes Ruled ‘Simply Funny’

A reporter who was fired last year when his employer found clips of his standup comedy online must be reinstated because his jokes are funny, a third-party arbitrator has ruled. 

  • Jules Roscoe; VICE

How to live like a Cynic

The ancient Cynic outlook was negative, but the Cynic did not become trapped by their negativity, or use a negative outlook on life as an excuse for doing nothing, for giving up on life, or for giving in. Cynic negativity was not associated with the idea that if everything is bad, nothing can be done, so let’s do nothing. Rather, Cynic negativity spurred the Cynic into action. Negativity was employed in a quest to become free of unnatural restraint, and to conjure a less servile state of mind. Negativity released the Cynic from social obligations, and social ties, and allowed the Cynic to think differently about the world around them.

  • Ansgar Allen; Psyche

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