All posts filed under: Review

Meaning Matters

Everyone seems to be talking about meaning at the moment. Many appreciate that our lives need some kind of existential structure—cultural worldviews, social roles, and goals that give us purpose. Some speculate that we are suffering a crisis of meaning in the modern Western world for a variety of reasons including increased social alienation, automation, and the decline of religion. Others believe that meaning comes from within the individual, that we can abandon traditional beliefs, duties, and attachments and fashion our own existential framework. Some argue that meaning isn’t really that important at all and that we should instead focus solely on practical concerns such as physical health, economics, education, and the environment. As a behavioral scientist who has spent nearly two decades conducting research in existential psychology, I have some thoughts on why we should care about meaning and how modern life challenges our search for it. First, meaning is important. Perceptions of meaning in life influence a wide range of life outcomes. People who have a strong sense of meaning in life, compared …

The Impassable Road to Redemption

Oops! That page can’t be found. This is what I find when I click on the author link that says “Frank Sherlock—Bloof Books.” Before clicking, I catch a preview in my search results of what was once there. A photograph of the short-haired, bearded poet, wearing a white collared shirt and black blazer, pink background behind him, a partial bio: “Frank Sherlock is the author of Life Is to Blame for Everything, Space Between These Lines, Not Dedicated, Over Here, The City Real & Imagined (w/CA Conrad), and a collaboration with Brett—“ Nothing was found at this location. Try searching or check the links below. Nothing may be found, but surely, something has been lost. The former Philadelphia poet laureate had recently admitted on Facebook that he’d played in a racist skinhead band as a poor and misguided teenager back in the late 1980s, after he was outed by another poet. Sherlock was probably nervous about the risk he was taking. Would his followers understand? Was an artist required to disclose everything about his past to the …

Self-Harm Versus the Greater Good: Greta Thunberg and Child Activism

Greta is eleven years old and has gone two months without eating. Her heart rate and blood pressure show clear signs of starvation. She has stopped speaking to anyone but her parents and younger sister, Beata.  After years of depression, eating disorders, and anxiety attacks, she finally receives a medical diagnosis: Asperger’s syndrome, high-functioning autism, and OCD. She also suffers from selective mutism—which explains why she sometimes can’t speak to anyone outside her closest family. When she wants to tell a climate researcher that she plans a school strike on behalf of the environment, she speaks through her father. The book Scenes from the Heart (“Scener från Hjärtat,” 2018) recounts these medical difficulties and the events that led to Greta Thunberg’s now-famous “school strike for climate,” in which hundreds of thousands of children have refused to attend school to protest about government inaction over climate change. Greta herself strikes every Friday and spent three weeks sitting outside the Swedish Parliament at the beginning of the school year. Written by her family—mother, father, Beata and Greta—the …

Timely Return to Battle for a Veteran of the Culture Wars

A review of The Case For Trump by Victor Davis Hanson. Basic Books, Hard Cover (March 2019). “I too grew up, and still live, outside a small town in California’s Central Valley,” Victor Davis Hanson writes, in his new book The Case For Trump. “For a century (1880–1980) it was a prosperous multiethnic and multiracial community of working- and middle-class families. By 2010, high unemployment was chronic, drug addiction was endemic, crime commonplace. In 1970, we did not have keys for our outside doors; in 2018, I have six guard dogs.” Hanson remains one of the rare prominent writers and theorists to throw his intellectual weight behind the new conservatism that is taking shape across the Anglosphere and broader West since the twin victories of Brexit and Trump in 2016. While there have been recent attempts from both conservative (Legutko, Hazony, Mearsheimer) and liberal(ish) perspectives (Deneen, Goodwin and Eatwell, Walt) to explain what went wrong, Hanson’s latest refers more specifically to the social conditions in the United States. It is also very different from the works of …

George Faludy: Hungarian Poet and Hero for Our Times

Had the poet George Faludy not written in his native Hungarian—arguably the most impenetrable of European languages—he would, as many have argued, be world famous. He died aged 95 in 2006, his life spanning the First and Second World Wars, the Russian revolution, and the Nazi and communist takeovers of his country. Having achieved literary fame at 20, he would be imprisoned by both regimes and spend much of his life as an exile in France, Morocco, America (where he was a tail-gunner for the U.S. Airforce), and Canada, where he fled communism, only to find his lectures picketed and disrupted by campus leftists to whom his experience was an inconvenient truth. A ladies’ man all his life, he surprised the world by suddenly entering a gay relationship with Eric, a Russian ballet dancer, who’d fallen in love with Faludy in print and then rushed across the globe to find him. In his 90s, after communism fell and Faludy, returning to Budapest, achieved living legend status, he married a poetess 70 years his junior with …

Keep Calm and Hail Satan

On its surface Hail Satan?, directed by punctuation enthusiast Penny Lane (Nuts!) and distributed by Magnolia Pictures (Man on Wire, Capturing the Friedmans), is a straightforward if openly sympathetic report on the rapid growth of the Salem, Massachusetts-headquartered Satanic Temple and the Temple’s goading of heartland conservatives in the perennial debate over the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. All of which is entertaining enough. But, below the surface, Lane’s film is also a case study in the resiliency of religious identity and atheism’s waning power as a rallying cry, as a movement, as a flag worth waving in an age of identitarian politics. A revealing line is delivered about halfway through the film when Mason, a clean-shaven, bow-tied Satanist from Little Rock, Arkansas (yes, there is such a thing; a central message of the film is that the Satanists aren’t who you think they are), explains that he’d been a “zesty little atheist” before becoming involved with the Temple. Mason’s disdain for his former identity is mischievous but unmistakable. So is his enthusiasm for a more positive, more nourishing …

A College President Stands Up for Academic Freedom

What happens when university students call on authority figures to censor students or staff at institutions of higher education? At Yale such students have been awarded prizes, at the University of Missouri they’ve been successful in forcing administrators to resign, at Claremont they were able to force their president to implement a long list of demands, and at Evergreen State College a throng of students were allowed to take control of the campus while harassed faculty sought refuge off-campus. At other colleges around America, and even on campuses in the U.K., Canada and Australia, university administrators have met illiberal student mobs with a parade of mealy-mouthed platitudes and prostrations. This pattern of weakness has been dismaying for all people who value academic freedom and open inquiry. This week, however, a line has been drawn by David Yager, President of Philadelphia’s University of Arts (UArts). In response to students calling for the censorship of Camille Paglia—one of the most admired humanities scholars in the world—he articulated a full-throated defence of intellectual freedom, showing administrators of supposedly superior …

Divorce and the ‘Silver Bullet’

Divorce is almost always an ugly and painful experience. But for parents with children, there are additional heart-rending realities to confront. No loving parent wants to be absent for their kids’ many firsts and bests—the first tooth falling out, the first goal scored, and so on. Countless goodnight kisses will be missed, and at crisis moments when they need you most (and for the many moments when they don’t need anything more than knowing you’re close by), one parent will not be there to provide advice, compassion, and comfort. Also hanging in the balance are hundreds of thousands of dollars of shelter and vehicles and toys and books and worthless junk priceless only to you. These stakes drive people to lie. Lies are at the messy heart of divorce, almost by definition. Sometimes the lies are so large and consequential that lawyers and judges are pressed into service to officiate a death match of he-said-she-said. But there is a lie among lies that practically guarantees child custody, optimal parenting time, the money you’re sure you …

Politics and the Practice of Warm-Heartedness

A review of Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt by Arthur C. Brooks. Broadside e-books (March 2019). “While politics is like the weather, ideas are like the climate,” Arthur Brooks explains. “However, even a climate scientist has to think about the weather when a hurricane comes ashore… Political differences are ripping our country apart, rendering my big, fancy policy ideas largely superfluous.” Brooks, outgoing president of the American Enterprise Institute and author of a shopping list of bestselling books, is now taking on the challenging question of how to bring together a divided country. In his latest book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt, he makes the case that Americans are sick of bitter, personal fighting and want a more united nation. The challenge is to work out how to get there. Brooks blames America’s bitter politics on the “outrage industrial complex”: the media, politicians and commentators who entice voters, attract television viewers, and sell books and event tickets …

The End of Aspiration

Since the end of the Second World War,  middle- and working-class people across the Western world have sought out—and, more often than not, achieved—their aspirations. These usually included a stable income, a home, a family, and the prospect of a comfortable retirement. However, from Sydney to San Francisco, this aspiration is rapidly fading as a result of a changing economy, soaring land costs, and a regulatory regime, all of which combine to make it increasingly difficult for the new generation to achieve a lifestyle like that enjoyed by their parents. This generational gap between aspiration and disappointment could define our demographic, political, and social future. In the United States, about 90 percent of children born in 1940 grew up to experience higher incomes than their parents, according to researchers at the Equality of Opportunity Project. That figure dropped to only 50 percent of those born in the 1980s. The US Census bureau estimates that, even when working full-time, people in their late twenties and early thirties earn $2000 less in real dollars than the same age …