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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, May 6, 2012


I  learned only this morning that the moon was special last night - but I had spotted its brightness from my verandah and snapped this at 21.00.

My upbringing in a Scottish manse imbued me with a strong Protestant ethic. I have, as a result, always driven myself hard. “The devil finds work for idle hands” did not need to be uttered at home simply because it was an unspoken adage. Rather than loafing around as a teenager, I was busy organising and getting up at 05.30 to do my rowing training on the choppy Clyde waterfront. And I was soon trying to hold down 2 jobs – academic and political. However ironic Weber’s thesis about Protestantism being the cause of capitalism might seem, it always had a certain plausibility for me.  
The German sociologist Max Weber published The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in 1914. The Protestant Ethics is variously defined as - 
a feeling of obligation in one's calling (a sense of vocation), hard work, self-discipline, frugality (thrift), sobriety, efficiency in one's calling (stewardship), rational and systematic behaviour, high ethics, earthly rewards as signs of grace and salvation.
Not surprising, therefore, that I had (in my younger days at any rate) a rather furtive attitude to novels – could I really justify such an indulgence when so much needed to be sorted out in the world?

The article is in a rather annoying format so I have excerpted its key argument here - 
Is fiction good for us? We spend huge chunks of our lives immersed in novels, films, TV shows, and other forms of fiction. Some see this as a positive thing, arguing that made-up stories cultivate our mental and moral development. But others have argued that fiction is mentally and ethically corrosive. It’s an ancient question: Does fiction build the morality of individuals and societies, or does it break it down?
This controversy has been flaring upsometimes literally, in the form of book burningsever since Plato tried to ban fiction from his ideal republic. In 1961, FCC chairman Newton Minow famously said that television was not working in “the public interest” because its “formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons” amounted to a “vast wasteland.” And what he said of TV programming has also been said, over the centuries, of novels, theater, comic books, and films: They are not in the public interest.
Until recently, we’ve only been able to guess about the actual psychological effects of fiction on individuals and society. But new research in psychology and broad-based literary analysis is finally taking questions about morality out of the realm of speculation.This research consistently shows that fiction does muold us. The more deeply we are cast under a story’s spell, the more potent its influence. In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction, which is designed to persuade through argument and evidence. Studies show that when we read nonfiction, we read with our shields up. We are critical and sceptical. But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally, and this seems to make us rubbery and easy to shape.But perhaps the most impressive finding is just how fiction shapes us: mainly for the better, not for the worse. Fiction enhances our ability to understand other people; it promotes a deep morality that cuts across religious and political creeds. More peculiarly, fiction’s happy endings seem to warp our sense of reality. They make us believe in a lie: that the world is more just than it actually is. But believing that lie has important effects for societyand it may even help explain why humans tell stories in the first place.

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