Tonight was my monthly book club. The discussion was on Kamila Shamsie's Home Fire, which I enjoyed. The book takes a number of unexpected turns, and while the characters are not the most developed, the story is compelling, and they are after all figures in a tragedy. The discussion was polarized; some people found the writing cliché, the characters flat, the story melodramatic, while others found many of the scenes (including the radicalisation and the events in Karachi) quite plausible, the topic timely and interesting, and the writing engaging. There are provocative parallels with current politics, and a few others examined the book's interesting re-interpretation of Antigone.
It's late so I'll not say much tonight. It was the first meeting of the Monday evening face-to-face intellectual conversations to which I've been alluding. I've named them Through a Glass Darkly, though this met with some dissent. I enjoyed the conversation although participants have requested that I add more structure.
Yesterday evening, during an invigorating and exhilarating exploration of Kew Gardens with a dozen of London's best and brightest, after steaming chestnuts in the cold, I was thinking about that old impenetrable chestnut: consciousness. We had in tow enough provisions for a small army, lugged through the laserlit pines and before the aqueous projections, and onto fairground rides amidst bewildered children.
A major realisation I've had this month, mentioned in passing in previous posts, is that even without beer, I adore pubs. This should not have come a surprise; my mother, a lifelong teetotaler, also loved pubs when she came to visit me in London. One thing she observed is that no one rushes you. You could buy a single soft drink and sit for hours, and no perky waiter will come to check on you even once, much less once per mouthful. You can comfortably have a business meeting, a rowdy rant with friends, or just read on your own. They are less regimented than a restaurant, less lonely (and less loud) than a bar, and less sterile than a Starbucks.
A week left of November and it's been going well. I've done some interviews this week, with the cycles of anxiety, relief, and regret that follow. I'm once again looking forward to the weekend. Despite not working, I seem to have settled into a seven-day cycle. By Friday I'm more social and less productive. Perhaps this is conditioning from years of working and schooling, or perhaps there's something more fundamental. The Israelites appear to have come up with the seven-day week, whereas other civilisations used eight-day weeks. In either case, the unit would represent roughly one quarter of a lunar month, but I wonder whether there isn't something more fundamentally human than that going on.
I'm whelmed. Both over- and under-, the former by a slew of nascent endeavours, the latter by their fruit and lack thereof, by the talk earlier this week, and by 2001 last night. Not that the film was underwhelming, but maybe Kubrick's disdain for the follies of man has rubbed off on me in a sort of misanthropic mimesis.
On Tuesday I saw Jonathan Haidt speak at intelligence². Emily Maitlis moderated the discussion with Kehinde Andrews, Eleanor Penny, and Rabbi Lord Sacks. Though the topic was interesting the debate itself was disjointed. The book he wrote with Greg Lukianoff, The Coddling of the American Mind, however, is well-worth reading.
Two-thirds of the way through the month. I spent the past three hours in a pub, conveniently one of the closest to my house, for an Effective Altruism social. The people in attendance were strikingly intelligent, thoughtful, and engaged, as I usually find them to be, and I greatly enjoyed their company. Some there had been involved at uni but not known it was such a thing in London, or had found out about EA itself through its excellent career guide, called 80,000 Hours, which you should check out.
San Francisco in 1860, 1960, and now,
the wage increase resulting from the Black Plague,
at what point English GDP per capita passed Chinese (I got it wrong but it‘s around 1750),
two views of Jonathan Haidt‘s work (from human sciences and from philosophy),
Tonight I saw Jonathan Haidt speak at intelligence². Although I quite liked the book he wrote with Greg Lukianoff, The Coddling of the American Mind, the discussion was a bit disjointed and did not come to any conclusive answers. I'll write about it at greater length tomorrow.
We became the embrace. We two solidified a union forged long ago in labour. Our bosses brought forth upon this city a new friendship, conceived in bondage, and dedicated to the proposition that liberty lay in dissolution. Now we were engaged in a great experiment, testing whether that friendship, or any friendship so conceived, could long endure. The trial was whether it would withstand a month's clarity, though as we were to learn, crystalline clarity is eroded in conditions other than the solvent, spirit, solution, in which we had dissolved our twenties. This clarity we had usually lacked, and though opacity never obscured our ardour, it had often made it harder to reconstruct the night before in the cold light of the morning after. We stayed parched at the party, perched on a ledge, though we stayed too late, and despite remaining supportive and mutually abstemious, longer emotional ties bound us to the yoke of the night. I could not break the ties that bind, could not forsake a friend of mine. So we wandered down the timeless gorge of changes where sleeplessness awaits.