Welp, I’m not reading a story anymore. If last week’s book were a chocolate cake, this week’s would be a bowl of lentil soup: yummy, but also nourishing, and slower to digest.
This week I’m reading Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head, and though it’s philosophy, not fiction, it’s very good. Crawford has a lot to say about how we understand ourselves, particularly in our relationship to the world and the larger society. His work challenges assumptions that we Western our destiny and that we Westerners hold dear, but which may in fact be neither correct nor helpful. One such assumption is such as the fact that we are free to choose our destiny, and that this act of choosing constitutes our will and the most essential part our being.
His work is cohesive and as readable, at least as much as any book of philosophy is!
Here’s a sample:
Another way to put this is that the left’s project of liberation led us to dismantle inherited cultural jigs that once imposed a certain coherence (for better and worse) on individual lives. This created a vacuum of cultural authority that has been filled, opportunistically, with attentional landscapes that get installed by whatever “choice architect” brings the most energy to the task – usually because it sees the profit potential.
The combined effect of these liberating and deregulating efforts of the right and left has been to ratchet up the burden of self-regulation. Some indication of how well we are bearing this burden can be found in the fact that we are now very fat, very much in debt, and very prone to divorce.
The effects of this have not been evenly distributed. To gain admission to the svelte, solvent middle class, and stay there, now requires extraordinary self-discipline. Such discipline is generally inculcated in families. Two self-disciplined people meet in graduate school, make, and pass their disciplined ways on to their children. But we also make use of external props that are available to those with means: jigs for hire.
Here’s the Goodreads blurb:
We often complain about our fractured mental lives and feel beset by outside forces that destroy our focus and disrupt our peace of mind. Any defense against this, Crawford argues, requires that we reckon with the way attention sculpts the self.
Crawford investigates the intense focus of ice hockey players and short-order chefs, the quasi-autistic behavior of gambling addicts, the familiar hassles of daily life, and the deep, slow craft of building pipe organs. He shows that our current crisis of attention is only superficially the result of digital technology, and becomes more comprehensible when understood as the coming to fruition of certain assumptions at the root of Western culture that are profoundly at odds with human nature.
The World Beyond Your Head makes sense of an astonishing array of common experience, from the frustrations of airport security to the rise of the hipster. With implications for the way we raise our children, the design of public spaces, and democracy itself, this is a book of urgent relevance to contemporary life.
And in case you missed the last Teaser Tuesday post: This is a (semi) weekly series I’m doing, posting an excerpt from a randomly-selected page in whatever book I’m reading. More info here. Feel free to chime in with whatever book you’re reading!