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.
A problem I often run into when reading literary fiction in my free time is that after finishing a book I often go, “I wish I had been taught this in class.” Contrary to what you might be thinking, this is not a masochistic impulse.
For as long as I’ve known about it, I’ve been a fan of the idea that “the truth resists simplicity,” as John Green once eloquently put it. It’s not just a clever phrase because, as his brother Hank observed, it’s a simple truth about the rarity of simple truths, but also because many of society’s evils can be traced back to an ignorance of the fact that all simplicity is constructed, that there’s no entity in this universe with just one essential trait. Our species has an unshakable habit of essentializing the other — whether they differ from us socially or biologically — and we’re all guilty of it. Simplifications are especially harmful when directed toward living beings, but at the end of the day our brains know no way around them.
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.
Coming Clean on my Relationship to Drugs
I used to say that with a smoker for a parent, fate leaves you two options: you either join them in their addiction (and it will feel oh-so-rebellious at the time) or you grow to become an evangelical non-smoker. I took the latter route, my brother the former.