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Posts tagged "Alain de Botton"


Something Major Has Gone Wrong Here: Why Alain de Botton Loves the Concept of Original Sin

A quick excerpt from a recent interview with School of Life founder Alain de Botton in the current Believer. Here, de Botton defends the concept of original sin as the starting point for functional relationships:

BLVR: Did you grow up atheist?

ADB: I grew up totally atheist… Christians were a naive lot who had sort of fallen for Jesus. They were sentimental, they were too emotional… It was all very tribal and just ridiculous in a way. But that was the ideology I grew up with. And now I’m very interested in Christian vulnerability, the taboo. So I spend quite a lot of time discussing that, you know… I love the concept of original sin, the idea that we’re all fundamentally broken and fundamentally incomplete. 

BLVR: Why do you love that idea?

ADB: Because it seems to be such a useful starting point. You know, if you imagine a relationship in which two people think they’re great—you know, perfect—that’s going to lead to intolerance and terrible disappointment when they realize that they’re not great, they’re not perfect. Whereas imagine a relationship that begins under the idea that two people are quite broken and therefore they need forgiveness from the other and they need to apply charity to the other and they need to forgive the other, and so that seems a much better starting point. I like these descriptions of human beings as being really quite flawed and crazy and out of control and you find that in Buddhism and Judaism and Christianity. The human being is presented as a very fragile, sort of broken creature. And I like that. It’s a good starting point and also it feels true to my experience.

BLVR: How are you defining broken?

ADB: By broken I mean “not quite right.” And that could mean so many different things but it could mean “with a great tendency to anxiety,” say, or “with a great tendency toward despair,” say, or “with a tendency to panic.” Any of these fundamental dispositions toward low self-esteem or whatever it is; many of us have a background of ways in which we’re not quite right.

BLVR: That’s all of us.

ADB: Yes, all of us. So that’s why the concept of original sin seems so plausible and applicable and also kind, because it basically says, Look, when you meet someone new, don’t just look for the positives; just assume that something major has gone wrong here. Treat everybody you meet as though they were laboring under some really big problem, basically. That’s the starting point of any encounter. Rather than how great are they, it’s more like, OK, where’s the broken bit of them? That’s a much kinder and more interesting way of getting to know someone. And also to say, That’s the bit of you I’m actually interested in. Like, I don’t really want to hear—that’s fantastic that you’ve been promoted, and you know that’s great, but, like, I don’t think that’s where your real self is.

Kinda reminds me of a line from Grace in Practice“Once the grievous nuance and unplumbable depth of the psyche were named, the power of the absolution could rise to the occasion. Once the total depravity of original sin was out of the closet, then the magnificent response latent within the grace of God in the cross of Christ could be portrayed. It could be displayed for people to see.”

Why We Eat (and Think About Eating) Too Much

Another excerpt from Mark Greif’s intimidatingly excellent essay collection Against Everything, this time as an excuse for posting the accompanying de Botton video almost as much as the quote itself:

It will be objected that the care for food is a fascination only of the rich; this is false. Stretching from high to low, the commands to lose weight, to undertake every sort of diet for the purposes of health, to enjoy food as entertainment, to privatize food care as a category of inner, personal life (beyond the shared decisions of cooking and the family dinner), have communicated new thought and work concerning food to the vast middle and working classes of the rich Western countries, too.

I think there is something wrong with all this. Underlying my opposition is a presumption that our destiny could be something other than grooming–something other than monitoring and stroking our biological lives. Many readers will disagree. I respect their disagreement if they are prepared to stand up for the fundamental principle that seems to underlie their behavior: that what our freedom and leisure were made for, in our highest state, really is bodily perfection and the extension of life.

One of the main features of our moment in history, in anything that affects the state of the body (though, importantly, not the life of the mind), is that we prefer optimization to simplicity. We are afraid of dying, and reluctant to miss any physical improvement. I don’t want to die, either. But I am caught between that negative desire and the wish for freedom from control. I think we barely notice how much these tricks of care take up our thinking, and what domination they exert. (pgs 38-39)

You Complete Me? Grace, Loneliness and the Religion of Romance – David Zahl

Carrying on with the videos from Tyler, here’s the first of the breakouts, courtesy of DZ:

You Complete Me?: Grace, Loneliness and the Religion of Romance ~ David Zahl from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

Insanity, Marriage, and the Virgin Mary

Insanity, Marriage, and the Virgin Mary

I couldn’t let this day pass without posting my favorite passage from Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love, in which our favorite Swiss pop-philosopher/religious atheist hints at the appeal of ‘true religion’ under the guise of abreactive art and in the process gives us a crash, er, course on grace in relationships. It comes from mid-way through the book in the chapter on “Universal Blame” (ouch!), just after one of the protagonists, Rabih, finds out that his position at work may soon be up for grabs. In other words, if things don’t turn around, he’s going to lose his…

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Five Golden...Themes! What We Loved Talking About in 2016

Five Golden…Themes! What We Loved Talking About in 2016

In lieu of a weekender, today we give you something of a year-ender, 2016’s five golden (or not so golden)…themes. By all means, tell us in the comments what themes you spied in the headlines throughout the past year.

1. Donald Trump. It goes without saying, but nothing frenzied the network television companies and newspaper writers and Twitter opinionators quite like Trump’s historic campaign ride this year. Well, nothing besides Trump’s actual victory. Opinions about his ascendance and eventual victory have been as diverse as it has been profuse. In all honesty, he could have his own five golden themes—and that would just begin…

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The Triumph of Hope Over Self-Knowledge

A quick paragraph from Alain de Botton’s marvelous first book, On Love (1993):

41m6kn3sf-l-_sx326_bo1204203200_What is so frightening is the extent to which we may idealize others when we have such trouble tolerating ourselves–because we have such trouble… I must have realized that Chloe was only human, with all the implications carried by the word, but could I not be forgiven for my desire to suspend such a thought? Every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over self-knowledge. We fall in love hoping we won’t find in another what we know is in ourselves, all the cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise, and stupidity. We throw a cordon of love around the chosen one and decide that everything within it will somehow be free of our faults. We locate inside another a perfection that eludes us within ourselves, and through our union with the beloved hope to maintain (against the evidence of all self-knowledge) a precarious faith in our species.

The Benefit of Treating Your Spouse Like A Small Child

From a talk he gave on love this summer, Alain de Botton here gives us permission to view our significant others as the small children they actually are. Relying on a searingly low anthropology, de Botton argues that pessimism is, in fact, the key to a successful relationship. He says, “Pessimism is often seen as the enemy of good things, and indeed it is in many ventures. But when you embark on the journey of love, pessimism, in fact, is the most generous and kindly emotion you can direct towards yourself and your partner.” One of the ways we do this, he figures, is to disentangle one another from the “adult” expectations we have for one another. (The entire 20 minute talk, below, is well worth the listen. This comes in the last couple minutes.)

1436848227586_the-little-rascals

The first thing we need to understand is: let’s stop treating our partners as if they were adults and let’s start treating them like small children. The reason this is so important is when a small child has done something wrong—let’s imagine you have a small child, you cook them dinner, they’re two years old, three years old, you have broccoli and some schnitzel and you put a plate down in front of them and they just swipe it off and go, “Ech!” and start screaming. Now, what do you do as a modern parent? You don’t hit them. You don’t go, “I’m so offended, I’ve had a hard day at work, and now this—you’re persecuting me!” You don’t say that. Instead, you go, “Maybe my poor child’s got a sore tooth, or maybe he’s a bit jealous of his sister being born, maybe that’s kind of weighing on him, maybe he’s a bit tired, that’s why he’s behaving like this.” In other words, we’re incredibly generous with our system of interpretation. We don’t do this with adults because we think, This person’s an adult. And, most adults look like adults, unfortunately. It would be so much more useful if we looked like children.

The thing about breaking something—like a broken arm—is that everyone can see it. “Oh, you’ve got a broken arm! I’m so sorry, let me open the door for you.” If you’ve got a broken bit of your soul, a broken bit of your psyche, everyone thinks your normal. But you want to say, “No, no, I’ve got this thing, it’s broken even though it doesn’t look broken.” We don’t look like children—but we are inside. And we’re so aware of how patronizing it is to be treated as if you are younger than you are, but we forget how generous, how kind, how truly loving it is to treat someone as if they are younger than they are. Because this is what it means to truly love someone: to be generous in one’s interpretation of another person.

The Secret to Long-Term Relationships: Insanity?

The Secret to Long-Term Relationships: Insanity?

We’ve all been there. You say something to a friend or family member or spouse that seems innocuous. “Have you seen my sunglasses?”. “I may have to postpone our lunch.” Or maybe you do something thoughtless but minor. You forget to return an email. You borrow a piece of clothing without asking. The response you get is vicious–way out of proportion with whatever you’ve said or done.

This happens with alarming frequency in relationships, especially romantic ones. Soon both parties have shifted into “combat mode” and the conflict has escalated to painful heights. Your action or comment has triggered something significant in the other party, what psychologists…

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You Know You're Ready to Get Married When...

You Know You’re Ready to Get Married When…

A few more quotes from Alain de Botton’s wonderful new book, The Course of Love, all taken from the penultimate chapter where he outlines what it might look like to be “Ready for Marriage”:

Pronouncing a lover “perfect” can only be a sign that we have failed to understand them. We can claim to have begun to know someone only when they have substantially disappointed us.

However, the problems aren’t theirs alone. Whomever we could meet would be radically imperfect: the stranger on the train, the old school acquaintance, the new friend online… Each of these, too, would be guaranteed to let…

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What Children Teach Us About Love (and God)

What Children Teach Us About Love (and God)

Chalk it up to feeling a bit sentimental as my wife and I enter the final stretch of waiting for baby number three (most likely our last prenatal go-round). Or maybe it has to do with the increasing number of conversations I’ve been having with young couples perplexed by why anyone would ever want to reproduce, given the obvious insanity of the contemporary parenting treadmill and the (largely recreational) venting that occupies so much online real estate. Or perhaps it’s that I’m trying to think of something to say this Sunday about Naaman, the leper-warrior who, at the prophet Elisha’s behest, begrudgingly “went down and…

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When You Marry the Wrong Person

When You Marry the Wrong Person

A few months after my wife and I got engaged, an older friend of hers pulled me aside and tried to do me a favor. He told me that if there was anything he wished he could have told his premarital self, it was that, no matter who you marry, they will be coming from the opposite end of the spectrum, culturally speaking. If he had known that up front, it might have spared him and his significant other considerable heartache.

Like much of what people tell you before you get married (or have kids), his words were both 100% true…

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Two Love Stories

Two Love Stories

For your weekend, here’s a reflection on what Alain de Botton considers to be the root of all status anxiety, from his 2004 book of that title. He begins by explaining that our never-ending search for love drives our hungry pursuit of status, and in turn that this love-search is only really half-acknowledged:

“Every adult life could be said to be defined by two great love stories. The first—the story of our quest for sexual love—is well known and well charted, its vagaries form the staple of music and literature, it is socially accepted and celebrated. The second—the story of our quest for love
from…

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