Derren Brown (2021) A Book of Secrets: Finding Solace in a Stubborn World.

I can’t remember very much about Derren Brown’s guide to practicing stoicism in an unhappy world, Happy. This is the follow up. Pretty good fun, more like a chapbook and diary (his father died during Covid). I’ll no doubt forget all the lessons learned here too.

 Stoics taught us fortitude comes from controlling our thoughts and actions. The common mistake we make is to try and manage things we cannot (serenity prayer). Derren suggests, You are not fragile, you have all the resources you need.

Without stoic wisdom, what is our default mode? Mine is to read books and leave the real world behind, or in front, or wherever it goes when you’re reading.

No feeling is final. Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours.

Knowing Everything.

Let everything happen to you.

Beauty and terror

Just keep going

Leonard Cohen Beautiful Losers:

How can I begin anything new with all of yesterday in me?

Hidden Ambiguities.

I remember moments of my own excessive certainty; my many years as a Christian patiently explaining to anyone who would listen how Jesus must have risen from the dead. There were simply no other explanations for the events that took place. P31

Richard Holloway.

Religious mansplaining.

Whenever a spiritual revelation is enshrined in an institution invented to carry its meaning through time it is easy to understand how its guardians can become overprotective of the treasure they are responsible for, especially if their access to the original it theoretical rather than experiential…there is a clear tendency in subsequent generations to overdefine and concretize the original revelation.

Divinise the one to whom the original revelation came.

Cf. political revelations, ‘Marixsm-Leninism’. Maoism, Fascism.

The New Seekers in the early seventies would like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. The Seekers, a small Chicago based group that believed the world would end 21st December 1954 at 7am. A flood would wipe out humanity. But they would be saved. Picked up by UFOs with whom they were in contact by psychic links with the planet Clarion via automatic writing.  The group had been infiltrated by social psychologists that monitored what happened next, when the flood didn’t happen and the alien never showed up. The group, like the Jehovah’s before them had given away all of their belongings and removed all metal items from their clothing such as fly zips and bra straps, in accordance with the instructions they had received.  

Tears and disbelief were put aside when a message came through the channel of automatic writing that the group had been spared the coming apocalypse. And because of their belief God had also spared the world.

The believers doubled-down on their belief with an outpouring of evangelism. Much like anti-vaxxers, Trumpism and a belief in QAnon hadn’t been channelled, not be automatic writing, but by Russian state hackers.

Michael W. Miller, writing in the Observer about Janet Malcolm makes sense of this cognitive dissonance by quoting her.

Hypocrisy is the grease that keeps society functioning in an agreeable way, by allowing for human fallibility and reconciling the seemingly irreconcilable need for order and pleasure.  

Aristotle: the good life as principally steering a course between the extremes of temperament. Neither intellectual cowardice, nor plastic New Age wisdom.

We have largely forgotten the role of Fortune in our lives. The Greeks were very keen to remind us. Pride, in our modern mantras, at the mercy of FATE.

Schopenhauer mankind trapped between pain and boredom.

Slippery selves every face having its opposite.

Rilke: People in love are the furthest distance.

Arthur C Clarke (1962) Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic [or Star Trek]

We live longer and more happily when we have friends around us.

David Bosiano (2018) Emotional Success.

Prosocial feelings, no man is an island.

Gratitude

Pride in ourself(ves) and others.

Compassion.

John Paul Satre: ‘bad faith’ , an insincere existence.

Nietschean ideal of ‘Become who you are’.

Jonathan Rauch (2018) The Happiness Curve.

Wait, Wait. Wait. Life gets better after your forties.

Paul Harris, American magician: A baby arrives in the world and embarks upon a gradual process of disenchantment.

Busyness. A marker of success. Doing becomes being.

Identity: cognitive dissonance, rationalize and edit out what does not fit in with notions of ourself.

Jim Steinsmeyer, designer of magic and theatrical special effects.  Magicians guard an empty safe. [cf Wizard of Oz, when the curtain pulled a man pedalling a bike and shouting through a megaphone]

Emanuel Levinas: Face to face encounters the bedrock of our existence.

Beauty, striking beauty, causes the body to ache.

Shyness, can make those suffering from the condition (introverts) seem cold and aloof.  Susan Cain (2012) Quiet.

Shyness a fear of negative judgement. 

277 Schopenhauer. Most people discover ‘when they look back on their life that they have been living the whole time ad interim, and they are surprised to see that which they let go by so unregarded and unenjoyed was precisely their life, was precisely that in expectation of which they lived.’

Writing is a waste of time? Discuss.

Photo by Jeremy Avery on Unsplash

The networker, John Naughton, Observer, Artificial Intelligence is making literary leaps.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/nov/02/ai-artificial-intelligence-language-openai-cpt2-release

I write stuff nobody much reads. Think of a number below ten and don’t multiply it. There’s a large hole in my idea of normality. I imagine someday, someone, somewhere will pay for my writing and I’ll be in the promised land of earning a living from writing. There’s no evidence to support this assumption. Meanwhile, I just putter along, doing no real harm and getting on with it.  Writing helps me figure out what I think and the odd time gives me joy. Endorphins kick in and I’m on a writer high, conquering the world, word by word.

Anyone that’s being paying attention to the rise and rise of artificial intelligence (AI) knows how the world is going to change. Has already morphed into an existential threat (although the case for that may be overstated).  We know that it is going to do the boring jobs. Then it’s going to do the less boring jobs. AI or pattern-recognition software will be our doctors and nurses our servants and masters a tax on humanity with profits going to the off-shored wealthy.

For us dreamers and scribblers AI seemed a jump too far. I was aware that AI was already performing simple tasks such as writing obituaries and sport columns for mainstream media. Deep Blue pattern-recognition software filtered down to games that challenge novice chess players at different levels. ‘Go’ the board game that seemed to rely on intuition rather than logic seemed a step to far, but the best players in the world were swatted aside by machine learning. I could go on, but I guess you see the pattern emerging.

Write every day, that’s the way, is the kind of crappy mantra I more, or less, adhere to.  What John Naughton is saying here is AI can mimic the way you write. Just the same way that SIRI can listen to what you say and reproduce speech. AI can be you. A different but a better you, with an authentic voice that is yours, but not you.

The myth of the writer in the attic (although I do sit in a cupboard) pondering and pouring out hard copy is hard cheese.  AI can do that quicker and better. Just the same as it can play chess better than you, all the way up to Grand Master level.

We all know how the story of writerly success is promoted. The fairy tale being written in an Edinburgh café by a writer down on her luck. Outliers brought into the mainstream by fate. A fluke of luck, a billion pound industry, resting on the back of a tortoise. Buy a lottery ticket, write that book. You might win.

Lies. Lies. Lies. I sometimes even believe them.

The economics of the creative industries (around 14% of GDP) rely on elasticity of supply.  AI has changed that algorithm.  Why do we need screenwriters when AI can do it faster and better? Why wait for the next great novel when we can just download something very similar?

The slog of writing remain much the same, but the chances of being published and making a writing from living are pretty much gubbed. Oh, well, back to the old-fashioned keyboard. Read on.

Josh Ireland (2018) The Traitors: A True Story of Blood, Betrayal and Deceit.

the traitors.jpg

Josh Ireland’s The Traitors was an Observer Book of the year and it’s terrific. A history book written like a novel and takes the reader from the hungry thirties to the post-war triumph of the new-world order. For those that backed the Axis powers and the Nazis, but were born in Britain, traitors to a man, there could be no redemption, but not all faced the hangman’s rope.

There are parallels now with the nineteen thirties with the growth in right-wing governments. The narcissistic demand to be worshipped and the simplistic ideology of them and us. In Trump’s world view, for example, it’s not the wicked Jews, but Muslims, non-whites, Mexicans and those that have the wrong kind of children, poor children that are suspect. They are to blame for all of society’s ills. Borders need to be reinforced. Sanctions taken. More barbed wire, walls and prisons built.  If they just had the right kind of children, rich children, we wouldn’t have these problems is the right kind of conservative belief. If governments, bureaucrats, and little men just got out of the way of the market, and gave free rein to the whip hand of employers. Stupid is, as stupid does. Britain First sounds very much like Make America Great Again and the hidden hand is an iron fist.

Oswald Mosley is surrounded by traitors. It is 28th May 1930 and in the stuffy airless chamber of the House of Commons he has been speaking, without notes, for over an hour. All around him sit men of power and influence…Britain is in the grip of a ruinous depression, and while they should be exerting every sinew to resolve what Mosley believes threatens to equal any in the country’s long and studied history, but instead ‘These old men with their long dead minds embalmed in the tombs of the past’ continue to betray the promises made to the generation who came of age in the blood and squalor of the Great War. When the veterans returned they were promised a land fit for heroes, but found themselves ignored…imprisoned in the damp and disease ridden walls of slum housing and have to bring up their children to share their misery.

Mosley, despite his star-billing, only plays a bit part in Ireland’s litany of Traitors. And such is the brilliance of Ireland’s prose I felt sympathetic toward Mosley in a way I never could towards the moron’s moron in the Whitehouse. Mosley, like Mussolini, flittered with socialism, before settling on fascism as an answer to society’s ills. The moron’s moron never had a thought but for himself and even a gifted author such as Ireland would be hard pushed to make him human.

Perhaps the closest match in this book is John Amery, son of Leo, a MP and minister in Churchill’s wartime coalition cabinet.  John Amery turns from a spoiled and rotten child into a spoiled and rotten drunken, whoring, manchild. He falls quite readily into Hitler’s plans to make the Duke of Westminster King and for Mosley to be Prime Minster in a puppet government run along the lines of the one in Paris. Amery would be high up in the new Nazi-backed British government, and imagines himself in the top job he deserves. The lies we tell ourselves are often the most honest thing about us.

William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw, as he was known to tens of millions of British subjects listening to his broadcasts on the wireless, was an honest man. He had been the darling of Mosley’s fascist party in England and hated Jews with a religious intensity. There hadn’t been room in the fascist party for two such giant-sized egos so Joyce started his own fascist party, but like a pint-sized Nigel Farage, outside the glare of publicity it withered and died. When war started Joyce did the honourable thing and travelled to Berlin with his wife to offer his services to the Nazi Party. One could never imagine Farage, like the moron in the Whitehouse, ever doing anything honourable.

Harold Cole was a dishonourable thief with ideas above his station. He joined the army in the nineteen thirties and seemed to make a decent job of it, being promoted to corporal and acting as chauffer to an officer in Hong Kong, before stealing the car and fleeing. He washed up and found his feet posing as an officer in Petain’s France and claiming to help allied soldiers and winged airman get back to good old blighty. With a nod and a wink he assured those that helped him that British intelligence would reimburse him. He established a reputation and a working network, remarkably, British intelligence did start to help him. The Abwehr were also willing to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Not that Cole ever had any intention of doing such a thing. Looking after number one was his only religion and his only ideology. He was quite willing to give names, including his wife and lovers, while watching them tortured and beaten to death.

Eric Pleasants has a good Cornish ring to it, connotations of our green and pleasant land.  His father was a gamekeeper with a limp and a lungful of poisoned gas, the legacy of the war to end all wars. Eric would have prospered nowadays, careful of what he ate, he never drank or smoked, a circus strongman and wrestler, he worshipped his body. War was a mug’s game and he wasn’t playing. He had no intention of joining up. Traffic lights were invented because nobody would give way. Bring me a man and I’ll fight him to the death was his motto. Otherwise leave me alone. Interred in Jersey, sent to a French labour squad, he joined  a squad of the British legion to fight for the Germans against their putative common enemy Russia and Communism, not because he believed in it, but because of boredom, better rations and sex. He was not punished by the British government. The seven years he spent interred in the gulags of the Soviet system seemed punishment enough. His is perhaps the most interesting story.

Traitors, a vision of them and us, based on an ideology of common hatred is an old religion. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter doesn’t cover it. When the tectonic plates of world events shift, as they are doing now, in particular, with global warming and the imminent starvation of tens and perhaps hundreds of millions, simple ideology is a potent weapon for radical changes that have at their base, ironically, visions of the status quo, where the rich remain the same old tired faces, mouthing the same thing as our thirties friends. We can’t all be Judas. The world is no longer big enough.