August 24, 2012

Intellectual Rigour. But I never claimed to have it.


Okay, enough with the happy Peter Dickinson book news and the adorable puppy photos and all that chirpy stuff.   I am still kind of reeling from a couple of days ago* which may help explain why this evening . . . I am having a CRANKY ATTACK.**

            I’ve been reading a very interesting book, THINKING, FAST AND SLOW by Daniel Kahneman.   It’s had a huge amount of positive press (as in this link: ) and is a mega best seller and as someone who is even more depressed by the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY phenomenon than she was at the TWILIGHT phenomenon, which was as low as I was expecting the common denominator to get***, I say splendid, and may it sell trillions.  But . . .

            I found the first half a lot more compelling than the second, although I’d been making occasional spluttering noises of disbelief or disagreement from the beginning†.  But he lost me completely near the end.††  He decides to use LA TRAVIATA as a coat hanger to drape some stuff about the irrationality of human emotions over.  And he gets details of the plot wrong.  He says that Violetta’s lover, Alfredo, is an aristocrat.  He is not.  He is bourgeois.  When Papa Germont comes to do the heavy-dad thing at Violetta and convince her to give Alfredo up for the sake of Alfredo’s family and especially his sister, innocent flower that she is, and about to be sold, I mean married, to a man who won’t have her if her brother is shacked up with a whore.  There is no way this scene would work the way it works if Germont were an aristocrat.  It might work some other way, but that’s not the opera Verdi wrote.    

             Kahneman goes on to describe the end:  Violetta is dying surrounded by a few friends.  She is NOT.  She is ALONE, except for her maid, and occasional visits from her doctor, and the fact that the doctor who professionally declares the death sentence††† is treated like a friendly visitor underscores just how terribly alone she is.‡ This makes her last-minute reunion with her bourgeois lover and his thug of a father—who can afford to be generous because she’s going to be dead in a minute—infinitely more poignant.  Someone might have written what Kahneman says Verdi wrote.  But that’s not what Verdi wrote, and what Verdi wrote breaks your heart.  Stuff irrationality. 

            But if Kahneman is this careless over such easily checked details, what else has he been careless about?  

* * *

* The state of this society, in which I was born, grew up and am now growing old in, on the subject of sex, power and women’s rights, APPALS me.  You all know about Todd Akin’s recent, fabulously grotesque remark that a woman’s body will reject rapist sperm so she won’t get pregnant?  Uh-huh.  That alone does my head in, but now read this, any of you who haven’t already, it was a popular retweet on Twitter a couple of days ago:  Here’s the paragraph I wish to draw your particular attention to, emphasis mine: 

Today, I am an attorney and the busy single mother of an amazing second grader. My rape is responsible for both of these roles. You see, I enrolled at GeorgetownLawSchoolafter learning, firsthand, that pregnancy from rape creates unimaginable obstacles for women who decide to raise the children they conceive through rape. In the vast majority of states, a rapist has the same custody and visitation rights to a child born through his crime as other fathers enjoy. In 2010, a paper I wrote on this topic was published by the Georgetown Law Journal, and I continue to travel throughout the country speaking on this issue. 

              I despair.  Sometimes . . . I despair.  

** If you want to put your iPad down and go hunt up your hellgoddess SPF 157 dark glasses at this point, that would be a good idea. 

*** I AM BORED TO DEATH BY PORN, BOTH SOFT AND HARD^.  And pretty much always have been.  I went through a phase of watching quite a lot of, ahem, hard commercial porn, because it was all about sexual liberation . . . and is some of where I woke up to the reality of the fact that it isn’t.  And the apparent fact that some form of tie-me-up-tie-me-down^^ is the fantasy du jour of gazillions of women today frelling desolates me.  It makes me wish I was born on the second planet of Tau Ceti, where it’s all about tentacles and there are thirteen genders which are reassigned by blind ballot every other year. 

^ I’m a Scorpio.  We like sex.  We think sex is great.  

^^ No, I haven’t seen the Almodovar film, and I won’t.  Sue me.  I haven’t read FIFTY SHADES either.  Yes, I read TWILIGHT.  Well, most of it.  I tried.  

† I’m willing to entertain the possibility that to run experiments at all the lab coats have to simplify.  But simplifying human beings’ reactions is risky.  I’ve loaned my hard copy of the book to Gemma and have been listening on Audible while hurtling, so I can’t look up chapter and verse.  But one example that sticks in my mind is about an experiment in—let’s call it compassion.  A group of strangers are in a series of little booths, and each in turn has a chance to speak.  A plant by the admin, when it’s his turn, says that he is inclined to fits when he gets stressed, this is stressing him . . . and then apparently goes off in a fit.  The point is that almost none of the genuine guinea pigs attempts to go to his rescue, and this is supposed to prove that we’re less nice than we think we are. 

            Wait a minute.  You mean nobody was screaming for the admin, phoning for an ambulance—okay, I don’t know if this was since mobile phones became ubiquitous—or demanding to know what the hell was the problem that whoever screened experimental candidates didn’t find out that one of their prospects might have a fatal fit from the stress of being in this study?  Nobody either objected to the set up or smelled a gigantic rotting rat here?   No, I don’t want to deal with a stranger having a fit, so, fine, I’m not a nice person.  But I haven’t got a clue about fits^, and there ought to be safety precautions in place.

            And something else I kept thinking over and over as yet another bunch of credulous humans fell in yet another trap laid for them by the devious lab coats, isn’t anyone ever suspicious when they’ve turned up for some kind of unspecified psychological testing and are shown into a booth or handed a page of curiously bland instructions?^^ 

^ Or perhaps I should say that on the blessedly few occasions that I’ve been the conscious human on the spot, the first thing I did was go for expert help.     

^^ One of my terrible secrets is that I do sometimes read amazon reviews for nonfiction.+  THINKING gets mostly good customer buzz too, but the few objectors are instructive.  This one pretty much reflects my feelings.  And since I’m not sure how amazon customer review links work, the one I mean is by M D Holley. 

+ If you’re looking for a basic Japanese grammar or a knitting reference book, your means of making even a semi-informed choice are limited.  

†† Which I just listened to this evening and had to explain to the hellhounds since there was no one else around.  Possibly because I was trying to explain it to the hellhounds. 

††† The ridiculousness of the doctor declaring ‘she has only a few hours to live’ almost wrecks it.  But not quite.  Especially if you don’t speak Italian.  

‡ Maybe Kahneman is confusing it with the end of La Boheme.  Another heroine dying of tuberculosis in Italian, la la la la, who cares?  I care.


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