How much moral credit are we due for where we end up in life, and for who we end up?Conversely, how much responsibility or blame do we deserve? I don’t just mean Kylie Jenner or Donald Trump — all of us. Anyone.
How you answer these questions reveals a great deal about your moral worldview. To a first approximation, the more credit/responsibility you believe we are due, the more you will be inclined to accept default (often cruel and inequitable) social and economic outcomes. People basically get what they deserve.
The less credit/responsibility you believe we are due, the more you believe our trajectories are shaped by forces outside our control (and sheer chance), the more compassionate you will be toward failure and the more you will expect back from the fortunate. When luck is recognized, softening its harsh effects becomes the basic moral project.
Random selection embodies a very different conception of fairness to meritocracy. But if we accept that what we call meritocracy is predominantly a way for advantage to self-replicate, why not at least experiment with lotteries instead? Big graduate recruiters or Oxbridge courses could set “on paper” entry criteria, select candidates who meet them at random and test whether there are any differences with candidates selected by interview.
I am willing to bet that, as observed in Texas, they would do no worse. And that there would be other benefits: diversity of thought as well as diversity of demography. Quotas are often criticised for their potential to undermine those individuals who benefit from positive discrimination; everyone knows they are there not purely on merit, or so the argument goes. An element of random selection might engender a bit more humility on the part of white, middle-class men; it goes alongside being honest that meritocracy is a convenient mask for privilege.
This whole experience had given me a different perspective on my life.
I look back at the woman I was 5 years ago with a fondness and familiarity that will never go away. I loved who I was then, but I’m not the same person now.
Luck, coincidence, black swans events. They’ve played a huge part in my life, and in shaping who I am. There’s no way Abi and I could have predicted 25 years ago what our lives would be like now. We had privilege back then, but didn’t realize it. Over time, we’ve had even more fortune happen to us, and we’ve been able to take certain life gambles that happened to pay off (quitting and taking certain jobs, having kids, moving countries). We’ve been able to put ourselves in the way of good fortune, and we’ve capitalized on the opportunities that arose.
We have even more privilege now, and we do realize it. We try to use it for good. I try to make tiny changes to earth. I haven’t read Toni Morrison’a books, but there’s a quote of hers that resonates with me:
I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.’
- ⭐⭐ Bron | Broen (The Bridge): One of the best detective thrillers I’ve seen. The plotting is exquisite: over the course of each season the show follows a ton of characters that don’t seem significant at first, but are later revealed to be part of the puzzle, like keys for a sequence of interconnected locks. The crimes and the perpetrators are extreme and byzantine, but the police investigating them are grounded and vulnerable a way that British and American TV police often aren’t. (They’re also not buff and beautiful. They feel like real humans.) Sofia Helin is brilliant as protagonist Saga Norén. There’s a scene early in season 4 where she’s shown getting dressed in her iconic leather trousers, zip-up sweater and overcoat, and driving off in her classic Porsche 911. It was like watching a superhero do their first “suit up” scene in a Marvel movie. It also made me want to watch more European detective shows.
- ⭐ Jessica Jones season 3: Good. Sad we won’t be seeing more.
- Stranger Things season 3: Hmm. In the episode “Bouncing Back From Rejection” of his WorkLife podcast, Adam Grant interviews M. Night Shyamalan about his successes and failures. Shyamalan talks about how he likes shifting genres during a film, and how he has learned that it’s better to shift from a genre of lower emotional intensity to one of higher intensity. (Like going from a family drama to a supernatural horror in The 6th Sense.) You have to raise the stakes. This season of Stranger Things didn’t do that. We’ve got supernatural comedy/horror all the way through, but it went from dread in the first four episodes to caper in the final four. My expectations weren’t fulfilled.
- ⭐ 💩True Detective seasons 1 and 2: Season 1: brilliant. Season 2: exactly as bad as season 1 was good. Like Star Wars prequels vs. original trilogy bad. Could the characters be any more stereotyped? Could their dialogue have been any more awkward and implausible? Was George Lucas called in as a script doctor? So much mis-casting, so much faux noir.
- 💩💩 Another Life season 1: Cool-looking trailer, but the first episode is utter garbage. Hot, sweaty garbage. Angry “give me that hour of my life back, you bastards” garbage. Offspring of Interstellar and Arrival, stabbed in the back, and corpse left in a Dumpster to rot for three weeks in the middle of a post-apocalyptic heatwave garbage.
- ⭐ The Mighty Thor vol 1: Thunder In Her Veins, by Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, et al.: Excellent
- ⭐ The Mighty Thor vol 2: Lords of Midgard, by Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, et al.: Also excellent
- MIB International: It’s fine. Not great, but not as bad as some critics made out.
- Rim of the World: War of The Worlds meets summer camp.
- ⭐ See You Yesterday: Starts as a lightweight kids-do-time-travel-for-science-fair, but takes a tragic and impactful turn to explore the impact of gun violence and biased policing.
- ⭐ Lego Movie 2: Fun
- Glass: Brilliant first two acts, but stalls for the climax. Tries to open up an expanded universe; fails.
- ⭐ Prospect: Low budget science fiction drama about a girl and her prospector father looking for the one dig that will allow them to pay off their debts. It all goes wrong, and she has to team up with one of the bandits who ambushes them to fight for survival. Terrific script, fantastic drama.
- ⭐ Spider-Man Far From Home: Very cool, very fun.
- ⭐ Happy Death Day 2 U: Fun sequel! Heavier on the zany, lighter on the slasher thriller tension, and with some surprisingly deft emotional touches sprinkled throughout.
- ⭐ Fast and Furious presents: Hobbs and Shaw: Can you make a good blockbuster action movie based just on the ridiculous charisma of Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, and the (played for laughs) over-the-top hyper-masculine chemistry between them? Yes. Yes, you can.
- ⭐⭐ Against the Rules by Michael Lewis: Michael Lewis is my favourite author of non-fiction. This podcast, about “the decline of the human referee in American life and what that’s doing to our idea of fairness” is just as entertaining and insightful as his books. He’s talking not just about sports referees, but “referees” in every sense of the word: regulators, judges, arbitrators – supposedly neutral parties of every kind. It’s a fascinating blend of psychology, politics, and justice both legal and social. Highly recommended.
It seems strange that it’s such a short time, but we’ve had Rocky and Solo for three weeks now! They’re very good bois.
They’re also not very bright.
- ⭐ Squirrel Girl vol 9: Squirrels Fall Like Dominoes by Ryan North, Derek Charm, et al: I like Kraven in this series. If I were to cosplay a Marvel character…
- ⭐ Squirrel Girl vol 10: Life Is Too Short by Ryan North, Derek Charm, et al.: Squirrel Girl will remain defined by Erica Henderson’s designs, but I’m really enjoying Derek Charm’s art now.
- ⭐ Velvet vol 3: The Man Who Stole The World by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, and Elizabeth Breitweiser: Gorgeous art, tidy finale to this spy thriller.
- Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads: I’m not steeped in the DC New Gods lore, and don’t have any attachment to Scott Free and Big Barda. So I’m probably the wrong audience for this book. I picked it up because of rave reviews, and because I like King and Gerads’ other work. I can see how other people would love this, but I found it boring.
- In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin: Hmm. Rebus by the numbers.
- Ms Marvel vol 10: Time and Again by G. Willow Wilson, Nico Leon, et al.: It’s fine.
- ⭐ Dark Matter by Blake Crouch: Extremely fast-moving parallel worlds sci-fi thriller about a man trying to get back to his wife and family. Reminiscent of Bob Shaw’s The Two Timers.
- ⭐ The Truth About Burnout by Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter: Like Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, this book felt transformational to me. It feels like a lot of my reading and interestes over the last few years have touched on psychology, and organizational psychology in particular. Christina Maslach has been publishing research on burnout for 40 years. This book from 1997 is a landmark summary of what occupational burnout is, and the measured factors of its contributing factors in the workplace. This isn’t about relaxation exercises or positive thinking; this is hard research and case studies. It’s eye-opening and in many ways blindingly obvious. If you want to get a taste without reading the whole book, watch Maslach’s video below.
- ⭐ Free Solo: Podcasts I listened to have consistently pointed out how poorly Alex Honnold behaves towards his girlfriend in this film. Are they right? I think so. Is it still a good documentary? Yes.
- ⭐ Us: Superbly tense and subtle at the same time.
- ⭐ Shazam: Fantastically fun and funny. Best DC superhero film since Nolan’s Batman.
- 💩 Little: Fiona and I went to see this because we used to be in the habit of watching garbage films together, and we hadn’t done it for ages. This is garbage penned by someone who has never worked in a “company” and has never attended a “school”.
- Wreck It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet: It’s fine. Occasional moments of brilliance, but mostly just fine.
- ⭐ Widows: Densely textured thriller with an emphasis on drama rather than action.
- Creed 2: Creed was never not going to have a sequel. It’s decent, but predictable and lacking the intensity of its predecessor.
- 💩 Tomb Raider: This was never not going to happen. This was never going to be good.
- The Silence: Stanley Tucci is always a joy to watch. But can I even remember how this ends? No.
- ⭐ Happy Death Day: Highly satisfying Groundhog Day time-loop slasher. Funny and exciting.
- Man On Wire: I was unexpectedly disappointed by this. It’s a competent documentary, but a lot more matter-of-fact than I’d expected.
- ⭐ Avengers: Endgame: They stuck the landing. After watching it in the cinema twice in a week, my main impression was how very long it is. Good, yes! But I hope we can get back to some short and snappy Marvel movies.
- 💩💩 Transformers: The Last Knight: Hoo boy.
- 💩 Beyond Skyline: Someone had told me this was surprisingly watchable. Their standards are clearly lower than mine, and subsequent recommendations will be weighted accordingly.
- ⭐ Baantjer: Het Begin (Amsterdam Vice): Gritty Dutch police thriller, set against a backdrop of drugs and squatters’ rights riots in the week before Beatrix’s coronation in 1980. I don’t watch many native Dutch films; I was super impressed by this.
- ⭐ Detective Pikachu: Brilliant. If you’re happy to buy in to the world of Pokémon and cartoonish battles and stereotypical bad guys, this is utterly charming and mischievous.
- ⭐ John Wick 3: Parabellum: This is more of a ballet or a Gene Kelly musical than a movie. The fight scenes are choreographed and filmed with stunning precision and grace. The plot and characters are just filler to join the action scenes together, but even so they’re done with a crisp, dry wit.
- X-Men: Dark Phoenix: This is just okay, which puts it miles above Apocalypse.
- ⭐ Little Big Lies season 1: Loved this.
- 7 Days Out: Netflix documentary series about the immediate build-up to big events, and the people who take part in them. Variable.
- Luther season 5: I wasn’t really feeling this. Alice Morgan was brought back too unseriously; the villains were overplayed.
- ⭐ Star Trek Discovery season 2: This is high quality Trek, with great characters and drama, but you really have to work hard to ignore any “science” or “numbers” they throw out. Perhaps a drinking game would add value here.
- ⭐ Game of Thrones (the whole thing, s1-8): After watching season 1 years ago, and knowing that this was an entire story designed to have an ending rather than continue indefinitely, I decided to wait until the whole thing was done. (I don’t have a great memory for plot and character details if I have to wait a year between instalments.) Fiona and I started binge-watching it just before the first episode of season 8 hit screens, and timed it so that the last episode would be available by the time we caught up. It meant we had to spend some effort avoiding spoilers, but I think it was worth it overall. It’s an amazing cinematic achievement. But it’s hard to disagree with people who thought the last episode was a betrayal. It’s impossible to satisfy everyone when you bring a big story like that to a close. The finale was an equal opportunities middle finger to everyone who had invested in their favourite characters.