“F*cked,” the book by Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson, is not good

F*cked: Being Sexually Explorative and Self-Confident in a World That’s Screwed seems promising and I’m sympathetic to its premise, but the execution is poor. The pull quote for an early chapter says, “Self-esteem isn’t everything. / It’s just that there’s nothing without it.” Is that true? I don’t know, but there is something without self-esteem. Like, say, the earth. “Everything” and “nothing” are too vague to be useful here. In the same chapter, Fisher writes, “Until I began recording the Guys We Fucked podcast, I really had no idea just how bad people felt about themselves.” Do people feel that bad about themselves? How do we know? We get no evidence and Fisher seems unfamiliar with selection bias; someone writing to an agony aunt is likely to feel worse than a random person in a population.

Another early chapter says, “Shame is nothing new—it’s been used for centuries.” But no longer than 999 years? Or more than that? If it’s more, why “centuries?” One minute searching the literature brings up, “Cross-Cultural Differences and Similarities in Proneness to Shame: An Adaptationist and Ecological Approach.” Almost everything they write about has people who’ve spent their careers studying it, but almost none of that knowledge percolates into the text. A pity.

Psychology Today, a pop psych site, appears at least three times, and there are lots of generalizations but no works cited page. In that respect it’s not worse than the books it criticizes (“We were tired of these books that pander to women like we’re all hot messes, unable to handle our emotions without the assistance of a man, a glass of rosé, and a Xanax”), but there is better out there. A book like The Guide to Getting It On is better.

F*cked presupposes so much anxiety in its readers; again, articles like “The Fragile Generation: Bad policy and paranoid parenting are making kids too safe to succeed” come to mind while reading it, as they did while reading La Belle Sauvage. The books opens, “Are you a degenerate cum dumpster who isn’t worthy of love or affection? Probably not, but odds are someone has made you feel that way at one point in time.” No, and probably no one has. Examples like this are way rhetorical questions should be used sparingly, if at all.

Don’t be like me and fall for the book, even if you are like me and sympathetic to its premise.

La Belle Sauvage — Philip Pullman

La Belle Sauvage is good but suffers from a problem: it occurs a little more than a decade before His Dark Materials and concerns Lyra as a baby. But anyone who’s read His Dark Materials knows that she survives. The supposed threats to her are drained of potency and that in turn drains the book of vibrancy. It feels more like a kids’ book than His Dark Materials, too.

There is even a strange moment on the third page, about Malcolm: “he took tips to be the generosity of providence, and came to think of himself as lucky, which did him no harm later in life.” So we know he survives, too.

Many sections are charming, though not in a flashy way:

There was probably nowhere, he thought, where anyone could learn so much about the world as this little bend of the river, with the inn on one side and the priory on the other.

There are probably many people who do think that you could learn more “about the world” somewhere else, but an 11-year-old could very easily believe otherwise, as Malcolm does.

Malcolm is also charmingly unmanaged; many passages like this:

“I lent the canoe to someone, and that man brought it back.”
“Oh. Well, get on and take these dinners through. Table by the fire.”

between Malcolm and his mother feel not of this world, or at least the chattering-class part of it. Valuable items like canoes would probably be the subject of much supervision today. Too much. Articles like “The Fragile Generation: Bad policy and paranoid parenting are making kids too safe to succeed” came to mind as I read Malcolm’s journey towards antifragility.

Scholars are important in the Pullman world, which is a refreshing change from much of our world.

Sprinkled throughout the book is a sense of malevolent bureaucracy, religious in form here but transferable to other kinds. The Consistorial Court of Discipline, the “Environmental Protection” people, the League of St. Alexander: they all have an undertone of official harassment, and even people not formally part of the organization can act like people in the organization. Yet suspicion of bureaucracy is not enough to impede its growth. The individuals matter, even the ones who are “terrifying” like Sister Benedicta. Even those adults who aren’t part of bureaucracies, per se, are making or speculating on bureaucratic pronouncements, like “I should think every boat that exists will have been requisitioned by the authorities.”

Despite moments of interest, La Belle Sauvage is not as narratively compelling as The Golden Compass, though I don’t entirely know why. Even apart from the issue of Lyra surviving, I often found my attention wandering, thinking about other books.

This piece is excellent and discusses the thematic elements, although it’s also spoiler-laden.

Links: Nashville, the social experiment, education and outrage, and more!

* Me, on Grant Writing Confidential, on “Nashville, seen and unseen,” regarding a recent trip there.

* “Sex and the Seductions of Social Explanation.” Concerns a very interesting book that I’ve now ordered.

* “Why Trump Just Might Blow Up NAFTA.” All of us may eventually suffer the poor choices of 2016 voters.

* “Education in the age of outrage.” I think part of what individuals (like me!) can do is simply try to tone down the outrage machine and focus on facts and understanding first and evaluation second (or third). Most people want to do judgment first and understanding later, if ever, which is not very satisfying for anyone, even the outraged.

* “Kimbal Musk wants to feed America, Silicon-Valley style.” Great! Sign me up.

* “A Jane Austen Kind of Guy: I get it that women find my affinity for their writer intrusive, but her world has much to offer men, too.”

* “‘Willing to Do Everything,’ Mothers Defend Sons Accused of Sexual Assault.” It’s surprising that almost no one saw this coming.

* “We Libertarians Were Really Wrong About School Vouchers” has an overstated headline but is interesting throughout for anyone interested in education, and this especially is true: “The socioeconomic status of the students in a school is somewhat easier for parents to observe than the quality of the pedagogy.” Really good teaching looks a lot like average if not below average teaching for a very long time, and it’s often hard to tell if the teaching has been any good until long after the class is over. Most of us know this anecdotally.

* “Cheater’s Poker: Esther Perel’s suave, crowd-pleasing take on surviving infidelity.”

* “Teenage Wasteland,” by Claire Lehman of Quilette, on Jean Twenge’s book iGen.

Apple isn’t selling as many new iPhones?

EDIT: Apparently the conjecture below is totally wrong, as “iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are hits as Apple sells 46.7 million smartphones in Q4.”

Allegedly: “U.S. buyers favor iPhone 7 over 8: research.” We’ll see whether it’s true when the actual numbers come in, but I’ve been on the new-iPhone-every-two-years treadmill for a while, and when I looked at the new iPhones… I passed. The good one with 256GB of hard drive space ends up around $1,200 after tax. The iPhone 8 itself looks like a marginal improvement and still costs something like $800 or $900.

There are some improvements, but the big ones (like the double camera lens) are on the iPhone X. The iPhone 6s I have is good enough and has the key advantage of a headphone port. I replaced the battery for $60 and will punt for another year. Perhaps next year the OLED and dual-camera models will be standard and cheaper. For now, this looks like a great year to wait. Or buy a used iPhone 6s or 7.

Links: Competent elites, romantic expectations, what we didn’t get, and more!

* “Competent elites,” a view not heard frequently.

* “We Expect Too Much From Our Romantic Partners.” Seems accurate and underrated to me. Also: “Does the mate-switching hypothesis explain female infidelity?

* Read Houellebecq To Free Your Mind.

* “What we didn’t get:” on science fiction, history, and other matters.

* “ “Peer review” is younger than you think. Does that mean it can go away?” One hopes that it is at least heavily modified, although given the present ossification of academia I am not optimistic.

* “‘I Hate Everyone in the White House!’: Trump Seethes as Advisers Fear the President Is ‘Unraveling.'” I have no idea whether this is true, but it seems plausible.

* “Some thoughts on how we might get from where we’re at now to a Second Civil War.” Probability is still extremely low but higher than I’d have estimated it one year ago. Note the authorial bonafides as well; this does not seem to be written by a crank.

* “How the University of New Hampshire spun blowing a frugal librarian’s donation on a stupid football scoreboard.” It does seem too nicely symbolic of modern universities.

* “The Minimalists Want You to Be Happy With Less.”

* “What Allan Bloom Got Right.”

* “Why Are Millennials Wary of Freedom?” I can’t tell if this is me simply getting old and grumpy (or simply retaining lifelong grumpiness), but I do notice that students don’t like to be told to think for themselves or use their discretion. Some of that is probably from bad training in schools, but is all of it?

Jung’s Red Book, Liber Novus, is like listening to drunk friends ramble

Jung’s Red Book, Liber Novus, is like listening to your drunk friends ramble; there are endless non-narrative, disconnected passages, and this one is representative:

I find myself again on the desert path. It was a desert vision, a vision of the solitary who has wandered down long roads. There lurk invisible robbers and assassins and shooters of poison darts. Suppose the murderous arrow is sticking in my heart?

The whole thing reads like that. Another, much later passage:

Just as the disciples of Christ recognized that God had become flesh and lived among them as a man, we now recognize that the anointed of this time is a God who does not appear in the flesh; he is no man and yet is a son of man, but in spirit and not in flesh; hence he can be born only through the spirit of men as the conceiving womb of the God.

Word salad or profundity? You be the judge. Jung didn’t intend to publish this book and I’m guessing he knew what he was about when he made that choice. I started it due to the reference in “Jung and the Trumpian Shadow.” Don’t repeat my error.

Jung is an interesting writer and figure, especially for narrative artists, but the Red Book is a poor introduction to him and his work. I don’t know what the best introduction is, but it isn’t this. Suggestions welcome.

The Red Book has 100 pages of introductory material and translators notes as well, which is rarely a good sign.

It is very hard and maybe impossible to predict what the future will value

In one of Tolkien’s letters he writes, after The Lord of the Rings has been an unexpected success:

the appearance of the L.R. has landed me in the pincers. Most of my philological colleagues are shocked (cert. behind my back, sometimes to my face) at the fall of a philological into ‘Trivial literature’; and anyway the cry is: ‘now we know how you have been wasting your time for 20 years’. (238)

But of course those philological colleagues are long dead and forgotten; philology itself has been mostly pushed out of most academic language departments, which are now focused on literature and literary criticism. Still, the larger and more important point is that it’s very hard to and maybe impossible to predict what the future will value; all a person and especially an artist can do is try to follow their instincts and interests. Tolkien’s led him in a direction contrary to what his peers thought valuable, and in this case he turned out to be right. Our peers’ judge of value, especially in public settings, is a pernicious guide to action.

What people really want and really are interested often differs from what people say they want and what they want others to think they are interested in.

 

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