Well, Happy New Year all.
Here’s a post introducing you to two people I admire. At least from the little I know of each, they lead lives that exemplify the virtues I believe in. They’re common virtues, lots of people have them – probably most people have them, though our culture obscures this from us. The core virtue is a rejection of anxiety and megalomania and a cognate embrace of all that life can be when you attend to things that seem to have value in themselves. That ridiculously vague and basically tautological but there you go. I’ll let their achievements in living speak for themselves.
I was privileged to meet the distinguished intellectual biographer Ray Monk when he visited Australia to give the Seymore Lecture on biography for the National Library of Australia. He’s a very nice, thoughtful and, I realise on listening to the interview above, sweetly spoken guy. Ray maintains what seems to me to be the sanest social media presence of anyone I know. Followed by lots of friends he’s made in philosophy over the years, he tweets but mainly communicates via Facebook where he keeps up a steady stream of short commentary and posts the odd picture of something he’s liked and stays in touch with friends.
He’s recently become a vegan which rather took me aback as he’s not a very ideological soul, but good on him and he seems to be enjoying it and you get quite a bit of it on his Facebook posts – but never in a preachy way. Anyway, he’s a quite marvellous lecturer, particularly about his first and I think ultimate intellectual love, Ludwig Wittgenstein. If you find Wittgenstein hard to figure out, you know you’re not alone, but Ray is a revelation on him. Never more so than in the interview above, which was the immediate prompt for this post.
The other recipient of my admiration is Denis Noble who is a distinguished emeritus professor of physiology in his early eighties, still plugging away as an academic, critic of the hot breath of intellectual philistinism and reductionism – in this case in its Neo Darwinist guise (Yes, I’m look at YOU Richard Dawkins!).1 I read, greatly enjoyed and recommend his latest book, Dance to the Tune of Life. Indeed I wrote a review of it. I haven’t posted it because I’ve not finished the second part which was to draw parallels between Nobel’s critique of neo-Darwinism and a critique of neoclassical economics though if you’re interested email me and I’ll send you part one.
Here’s a passage from his Wikipedia entry:
He contrasts Dawkins‘s famous statement in The Selfish Gene (“Now they [genes] swarm … safe inside gigantic lumbering robots … they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence”) with an alternative view: “Now they [genes] are trapped in huge colonies, locked inside highly intelligent beings, moulded by the outside world, communicating with it by complex processes, through which, blindly, as if by magic, function emerges. They are in you and me; we are the system that allows their code to be read; and their preservation is totally dependent on the joy we experience in reproducing ourselves. We are the ultimate rationale for their existence”. He then suggests that there is no empirical difference between these statements, and says that they differ in “metaphor” and “sociological or polemical viewpoint”.
In any event, this is just one string to his bow. If you look at his webpage at Oxford University, you’ll see down the bottom a video of his performance with his brother in Oxford Trobadors. From their website:
The Oxford Trobadors take their inspiration from the music of the language, Occitan, in which the 12th and 13th century Troubadours composed. La lenga de l’amor
The language and culture are still alive today in the south of France and parts of Italy and Catalonia. ‘Troubadour’ in Occitan is written ‘Trobador’. The language resembles Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.
With music from medieval to modern, and influences from Rock, Pop, jazz, folk and classical, The Oxford Trobadors play to packed houses. As Ray Noble puts it:
“We put on a show. The group come from a variety of musical genres. We don’t think how a song should be because it is medieval. We think this is how it is, the language, the poetry and the rhythm, the feeling; and so we may use rock, jazz, folk or classic styles to bring the music to life for the audience. Above all we are entertainers.”
There are lots more concerts here. Denis taught himself Occitan when he regularly holidayed in the South of France many years ago and in addition to his first language, English lectures in what sounds like pretty good French and rather worse Italian.
- Denis was an examiner on Richard Dawkins’ PhD and largely subscribed to the Neo Darwinist orthodoxy himself at the time. ↩