Nature is Healing.” The Lamp recently put this essay online, and it’s a doozy. Stay all the way to the end of Sam Kriss’s haunting meditation in living in a digitized world: “I took to going on virtual holidays, flicking around the Greek islands on Google Maps: warm grey peaks, white towns jumbled together on every bay. Google’s satellites capture the world at a resolution of 50cm/pixel: about as detailed as you can get without individual people becoming visible. This is deliberate. It keeps the image clean, so you can see the charming squares and the promenades along the sea without any of the clutter of human crowds. From space, every city is deserted.”

Wendell Berry on Healing our Divisions.” John-Paul Heil reviews The Need to Be Whole and considers the theological underpinnings of Berry’s argument:’ “Berry’s project, in this book and his life, has been to diagnose the ills of where and who we are and to propose remedies. But the deepest and most hidden wound in the human heart, the disconnect that causes all others, the cancer that Berry confronts (more explicitly in this book than anywhere else in his corpus—though he cannot cure it) is the alienation of humanity from God.”

Human Resources.” David Polansky revisits the 1970s Soylent Green. While the particular dystopia envisioned by the film didn’t materialize, he still finds it eerily revelatory of today’s dangers: “Is Soylent Green then merely a curio — a Seventies relic like The Late Great Planet Earth or pet rocks? Perhaps not. For technological advancement is not a panacea for social ills. And while our own story (so far) has averted the apocalypse, we have not averted some of the more dystopian implications of that era’s speculative fiction.”

What ChatGPT Reveals about Our History—And Demands of Our Present.” Sam Sawyer meditates on the uncanny power of ChatGPT: “It is charity and willing the good of the other, not mere comprehension, that most deeply undergirds human connection. These new A.I. tools can profoundly accelerate some kinds of understanding in ways that will be both helpful and harmful, as all tools can do.”

The Age of Average.” Drawing on some of the same sources as an FPR essay from a couple of years ago, Alex Murrell describes our increasingly monochromatic world: “from film to fashion and architecture to advertising, creative fields have become dominated and defined by convention and cliché. Distinctiveness has died. In every field we look at, we find that everything looks the same.”

Lessons From Will and Ariel Durant.” Brian Miller ponders the analogies between agrarian cycles and philosophical ones.

Spinning Toward Autocracy.” Bonnie Kristian reviews Spin Dictators by Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treisman, in which they argue how power now masks itself in spin rather than raw force: “Where once most despots ruled through fear, employing gruesome violence to cow the populace into submission (9), now they tend to take a lighter touch. As the liberal world order developed and enlightenment values gained sway in halls of power (38, 169), spin dictators learned to ape them. These smooth-edged autocrats are willing to become, in Aristotle’s phrase, ‘not harsh, but dignified,’ to use, following Machiavelli, ‘simulation and dissimulation’ instead of brutality to achieve their ends (14).”

I Really Didn’t Want to Go.” In an essay that uneasily inherits David Foster Wallace’s famous experience on a luxury cruise, Lauren Oyler recalls her rather dismal voyage on a Goop cruise: “Cruises should be illegal. In the weeks before I set sail, the FT published a feature story about the American cruise industry’s destruction of Europe through overtourism and pollution. Barcelona, which hosted more than two million cruise passengers in 2019, was ranked the most polluted port in Europe in a report published that same year. Despite the daily presence of annoying tourists clogging port cities’ winding streets, a study found that up to 40 percent of cruise passengers traveling through Bergen, Norway, never left the ship; half of those who did spent less than twenty-five dollars. ‘They’re not really modes of transport,’ one expert told the FT. ‘They’re just very carbon-intensive hotels.’”

A Child’s Primer for Liberty.” John O. McGinnis describes the complex view of liberty Laura Ingalls Wilder portrays in her classic books. I recently tried to read Prairie Fires, Caroline Fraser’s biography of Laura, but I couldn’t get past the incessant castigation of Laura’s resilience, her determination—learned from her parents—to find beauty and joy in remarkably difficult circumstances. Resilience is apparently evidence not of underlying virtues, but of a serious character flaw. McGinnis refreshingly offers a different reading: “As Wilder’s book shows, many early celebrations of liberty focused less on abstract political rights but on the moral virtues and duties that create a people who flourish in a society of political liberty. These virtues consist not only of self-reliance and independence, but also personal altruism and neighborliness in a framework where religious observance helps nurture these virtues.”

There Is Plastic In Our Flesh.” Mark O’Connell wrestles with the prevalence of microplastics in our bodies and their possible consequences: “Maybe it’s nothing; maybe it’s fine. Maybe this jumble of fragments — bits of water bottles, tires, polystyrene packaging, microbeads from cosmetics — is washing through us and causing no particular harm. But even if that were true, there would still remain the psychological impact of the knowledge that there is plastic in our flesh. This knowledge registers, in some vague way, as apocalyptic; it has the feel of a backhanded divine vengeance, sly and poetically appropriate. Maybe this has been our fate all along, to achieve final communion with our own garbage.”

Jon D. Schaff on Liberal Arts Education, Favorite Recent Reads, and the Intellectual Life.” Current talks with Porcher Jon Schaff about his current reading and writing: “A friend and I think that what the world needs is another defense of the liberal arts. Yes, there is a bit of a cottage industry on this topic, but we think we have a unique angle to the subject. Without giving too much away, as one never knows how a project will progress, there is a bit of a Tolkien angle to our work. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing on liberal education. What is it? What is it for? Can it promote virtue? If so, how?”

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    • I remembered your review and have heard from others whose judgment I likewise respect of their admiration of the book, but as I admit, I couldn’t get far past the intro because the tone and (what seemed to me unearned) psychoanalyzing were too grating. I’ve learned to freely put books down as there are plenty to read!

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