Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The life of the mind?

I always wondered where that phrase came from. Turns out to be one of my least favourite authors, Ernest Hemingway: “Live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the Romance of the unusual.” (In our Time, 1925). This year I have mostly been thinking about what sort of life the next generation in western Europe will have. I'm inclined to believe it will be one of reduced circumstances, increased conflict and dead-end jobs or under-employment.

The implosion of the value of a "liberal education" in the face of economic and environmental pressures and new technology is horribly fascinating. I've been watching Dale Stephen's Uncollege movement for some time with interest but a little scepticism. The stress on "learning how to learn" and ignoring certification seems spot on. Sceptical, because it's predicated on the hollowed-out notion of reinventing the "professional". Yet jobs are being cored out by supply chain expertise to bare procedures that can be fulfilled by anyone with basic literacy and people skills.

If Cassandra's right, what will we do to find some balance in a life where consumerism will falter, and the next generation will not "better themselves", but work long hours in jobs with few prospects just to survive? In the 1920s and 1930s the life of the mind was provided by Carnegie libraries, night classes and the "Home Service" on the radio. My best Christmas present from childhood was a small black radio. Here's what that present gave me this week:

Thomas Lynch of "Six Feet Under" on the American poet William Carlos Williams. I particularly loved his idea that Williams' "rendering" of images in neutral language was a way of sublimating the pain of his work as a doctor. http://www.bbc.co.uk/

Newstalk's science programme Futureproof interviewing Deborah Blum about the work of psychologist Harry Harlow in the 1950s on the nature of affection and love: http://deborahblum.com/Love_at_Goon_Park.html . Harlow's experiments were important and are still fascinating, but also cruel to the Macaque monkeys that he used and could not have been carried out today. Futureproof is on iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/no/podcast/highlights-from-future-proof/id417001442

A brilliant "Hardtalk" interview with Naguib Sawiris about Egyptian politics and the proposed new constitution. I began by assuming I would agree with the views of a rich, liberal Coptic Christian and finished utterly unconvinced by him. Fantastic work by interviewer Zeinab Badawi. http://www.bbc.co.uk/

Me old mucker Will Self on the need for a reformation of the priesthood of economics: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/pov 

An excellent piece on the eastward shift of power in Europe by Alan Little: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p9l5f

Savour the life of the mind. Oh, and this is fab for Christmas: NASA Johnson Space Centre Gangnam style spoof: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Sar5WT76kE

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