Saturday VII • 25 March 2007

Guns and Yoga, in the NYT. It does take a Burbank day in the life to bring the together phrases “namaste” and “lock and load.”

I was the only guy in the yoga class…. they know they had a rifle-eyed street panther in their midst? …. Like the legless, armless silhouette I shot at earlier that day, I had holes of self-loathing blasted out of me. My Corpse Pose must’ve looked eerily authentic…. All these thoughts whizzed through my head like tracer bullets as I lay there, in the evening gloom of the studio, with a dozen moms breathing mom-breaths around me. I floated out of my body. I hovered over Burbank. I was one with my target, and my target was bliss. Namaste. Lock and load.

It’s gross to get off on the idea of shooting anybody, there being a war on. But looking for meaning in Burbank, the author might have limited starting points. And he writes pretty good.

? NYT science article on the argument that morality’s rooted in our biology, and that four behaviors—empathy, the ability to learn and follow social rules, reciprocity and peacemaking—are the basis of sociality. This evolutionary perspective is a bad bad threat to the last 200 years of social theory, which assumes that social life is a product of human creativity and institutions. I’m deeply bought into this legacy, but sometimes the evolutionary stuff is sexy. For example:

Morality is as firmly grounded in neurobiology as anything else we do or are….” Biologists ignored this possibility for many years, believing that because natural selection was cruel and pitiless it could only produce people with the same qualities. But… natural selection favors organisms that survive and reproduce, by whatever means. And it has provided people… with “a compass for life’s choices that takes the interests of the entire community into account, which is the essence of human morality.

Segment of This American Life, the  AV version. How does the moving image enhance this word-dependent narrative about… the moving image? Not enough to make me learn how to turn on my television. Or sit still for the rest of the show.

(Michael Leunig sounds like an old crabapple talking about television and relationship, but I have to admit it’s about that simple to me as well. No need for social theory on this one.)

? Smart review in the TLS of Mick Mann’s ethnic cleansing book, in which Mann argues that it is not African or Balkan nations but democratic countries that are responsible for “the most successful cleansing the world may have ever seen.” His examples: the US, which saw an 80% drop in its Native American population, and Australia, where 90% of Aborigenes died, in both cases mostly during the 1800s and early 1900s. No shit. This recollection suddenly puts these rich “white” nations’ liberal, missionary zeal in serious question.

? Am ambivalent about Susan Sontag, but not about Jenny Diski, who reviews a new Sontag collection and an Annie Liebowitz photo book in the LRB. The second half, on the photographs, is great.

A new S quotation:

I am often asked if there is something I think writers ought to do, and recently in an interview I heard myself say: ‘Several things. Love words, agonise over sentences. And pay attention to the world.’ Needless to say, no sooner had these perky phrases fallen out of my mouth than I thought of some more recipes for writer’s virtue. For instance: ‘Be serious.’ By which I meant: never be cynical. And which doesn’t preclude being funny.

And an old one:

I like to feel dumb. It’s how I know there’s more in the world than me.

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