On Human Progress
My General English teacher from three years ago was very fond of dropping the phrase “There’s nothing wrong with being a Marxist in theory” whenever politics was being discussed in class. From her tone of voice you could tell that she was declaring herself a Marxist with that statement, so I was always quick to respond that Marx’s conception of historical materialism — especially its reliance on the idea of an “end of history” — doesn’t hold up when you look at how the world actually works. Of course, my teacher wasn’t talking about the philosophy underpinning Karl Marx’s writing so much as policies of radical wealth redistribution. But she never elaborated, giving in to my half-assed retaliation, probably because she could tell from the way my eyes were gleaming with that cocky teenage certainty that I had completely made up my mind:
If your model of society rests on such shaky theoretical ground, why bother with the nitty-gritty? Why should I give you the benefit of the doubt?
But let’s not badmouth Marx too much. After all, it’s understandable that someone like him would want to be proven right by history. Then again, what does that even mean?
The rhetoric of self-aggrandizement contained in the phrase “the right side of history” has become so popular as to warrant idiom status. But what is the underlying narrative when prominent political figures like Barack Obama repeatedly advance their vision for the future under the slogan “we’re on the right side of history”? What’s implied and what, if anything, explained?
I used to be somewhat cynical about The School of Life’s views on education. It’s easy to see them as a reflection of that oft-bemoaned “Peace, Love, and Understanding” mentality which has supposedly downgraded the millennial generation to a bunch of wimpy participation-trophy addicts.
When you read a book about memory, be it a memoir or novel, do you ever make up some happy ending and start to dread every passing remark by the narrator about what actually happened? They’ve got to be teasing you. There’s no way they’re unaware of the hope they inspire with their recurring monologues about What Could Have Been, their casual hints at a blooming love affair that never made it past the stage of fantasy. It’s torturous! So your only solace is wishing hindsight away.
On Meritocracy and Mouse Poop
[I]t is only by reconciling contradictions that power can be retained indefinitely. In no other way could the ancient cycle be broken. If human equality is to be for ever averted — if the High, as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently — then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.
— George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
Let me ask you a personal question. What’s the grade you’re most proud of in your life? For myself I couldn’t pick a favourite. But a very strong contender would be an Ethics test I took in my penultimate year of secondary school, graded by the single grumpiest and hardest-to-please teacher I’ve ever had, Mr H.
If you’ve ever received a basic introduction to the translator’s craft, it was probably accompanied by a cautionary finger pointed at the concept of word-for-word translation.
With a large part of the populus at war with various long-standing and once-believed-sensible institutions — government, the economy, even society itself — it comes as no surprise that our timeless scorn of bureaucracy hasn’t let up either. In fact, you could make a good case for this shared hatred to have the potential to bridge the political divide that has been growing in many Western countries. Finally, something on which we can all agree.
Or, Theseus’ Chewing Gum
I’ve always been interested in the idea of boundaries. Specifically, the boundaries between categories. For the longest time, I’ve been trying to make sense of categories we assign to objects of all kinds by thinking about food. From what point on can grain be considered food, for instance? As soon as it’s edible? As soon as it’s been processed into the product it was planted to become? What if what you eat was never deliberately planted? That berry you picked off of that roadside bush — was it “born” food or not?