Recent favourites

What I’m listening to

The podcasts from the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) are quite enjoyable. Some of my favourites

  • Ingrid Fetell Lee: How to find joy in the everyday - This was a delightful podcast of a lecture and Q&A at the RSA given by Ingrid Fetell Lee. She was previously a design director at IDEO and now works mainly on a concept she calls the aesthetics of joy. For several years, I worked as a director at SPARC, later the Center for Innovation at the Mayo Clinic. Listening to this podcast, I realize how much I miss our far-ranging, hopeful work there. I particularly enjoyed her ideas about how negative emotions have evolved to narrow our cognitive focus. When confronted with danger, our focus narrows to solve the imminent danger. Positive emotions, such as joy, expand our cognitive focus in ways that make us more creative.

  • Michael Sandel: The new politics of hope/The tyranny of merit - as a first introduction to the work of Professor Michael Sandel, this was excellent. The talk focuses on the ways in which meritocratic hubris leads to dysfunctional societies and to the populist uprisings in the United States, Britain and elsewhere. An beautiful, short animated version of this talk is good brief introduction to this work. A quote from the talk is worth repeating over and over: “A lively sense of the contingency of our lot conduces to a certain humility. There but for the accident of fortune, go I. But a perfect meritocracy banishes all sense of gift or grace.”

  • Robert Frank: The role of luck. Frank is an economist at Cornell. His twist on meritocracy is in some ways similar to Sandel’s in that he recognizes the same “lively sense of contingency of our lot.”

  • Jonathan Haidt: The psychology of tribalism - I’ve long-admired Professor Haidt’s work. He has turned his scholarly attention to understanding the differences between conservatives and liberals in a very sympathetic way. This was a good introduction to his way of thinking about tribalism and polarization.

What I’ve been reading

I re-read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”, William Shirer’s magnum opus mainly because I’m so saddened by the idea that my own native country is slipping into irrational fascism. Even today we read that Trump wanted to send undocumented immigrants to the U.S. concentration camp at Guantanamo. Why is it that so few see that we are so close to “Enlösung”? Or do they just not care?

After listening to Professor Sandel’s talk on the meritocracy, I decided to get even more depressed and read “The Meritocracy Trap.” (Yale law professor Daniel Markovits) More of the same. Is there any escape short of revolution?

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About Alan Duncan
Ertswhile physician. Musician. Polymath. Language geek. French C2. Russian B2. Contact me here if you must.