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Archive for the ‘life’ Category

Oh God, What Is Alain De Botton Banging On About Now?

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Alain de Botton has a new book to plug which means he has been trolling the newspapers with eye-catchingly stupid ideas. This time round it is an atheist temple, a concept so stupid it is painful to even type. Before taking the piss out of de Botton and talking a bit about atheism though, I’d like to address the practicalities of the proposal.

The idea is to build a 46 metre tower for £1m in the City of London. Currently de Botton has raised less than £500,000 from a group of property developers and hopes to raise the rest from public donations. Even if he reaches his target, that seems a pretty low figure. If we think about another ludicrous folly that’s just been erected in London, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the construction costs were £19m and the land was thrown in for free. Admittedly that was a bigger and more complicated (and uglier) project but still.

The nice computer generated image on de Botton’s website shows the tower plonked down right next to the Bank of England. I think we can safely say it won’t be located there since there is no space for it and, if there was, no one would give the land to him for free. Press reports suggest instead that it is “likely to be located” in the Barbican. Again, I’d like to know where this land is. Such a location would also rather undercut the majestic soaring tower shown in the illustrations since it would be surrounded by the UK’s three largest residential buildings which at 123 metres would be two and a half times as tall.

Then there is the fact that whilst much is made of the buildings height, nothing is mentioned of its width. The illustration suggests this is about four metres, making this awe-inspiring temple about the same size as my front room. If you are going to build a tiny tourist attraction for reflection, why not build unlimited urban wood for a fraction of the cost and inconvenience? If you want a practical space for the discussion of humanist ideas then build something less ostentatious and more useful like Conway Hall?

So that’s why I don’t think this tower will ever get built and why if it did, it wouldn’t actually fulfill its intended purpose. Now onto the snark. Here is the project’s statement of intent:

As religions have always known, a beautiful building is an indispensable part of getting your message across. Books alone won’t do it.

This is a pretty unorthodox historical analysis. Consider Fountains Abbey, one of the UK’s greatest religious buildings. Back in 1132, were medieval peasants sitting around their hovels, flipping through their bibles and going “hmm, this narrative isn’t very compelling, if only there was some impressive architecture to swing it for me”? No, they weren’t since, for all intents and purposes, books didn’t bloody exist. Even after the invention of moveable type three hundred years later, your average serf on the street wasn’t likely to have a nice little library of Penguin Classic. Or even be able to read. The idea that churches and cathedrals existed to supplement books is ridiculous, they existed to glorify god and spread the good word because congregating physically was the only way of doing so. This is no longer the case. In fact, the decline in church attendance has mirrored both the rise in other forms of communications and the increased education and leisure time to access them. de Botton simply ignores this, looking backwards to a time when everyone was illiterate as his solution to a perceived 21st Century problem.

But does this problem actually exist? Putting aside the nonsense about buildings being an “indispensable part of getting your message across”, why do atheists need to get the message across at all? I am an atheist. This is for the simple reason that I don’t believe in god. As long as I am not discriminated against, however, I don’t care what anyone else believes. Despite positioning himself as the cuddly alternative to Richard Dawkins, he is guilty of exactly the same crime: proselytising. I’m sure I speak for a lot of atheists when I say I wish they would both just fuck off. I’ll give the final word to Chris Bertram though:

Any spat between Alain de Botton and Richard Dawkins is one where I’m kind of rooting for both of them to lose. On the other hand, Dawkins has some genuine achievements to his name and has written some pretty decent books, so there’s some compensation when he acts like an arse, whereas in de Botton’s case…

Written by Martin

28 January 2012 at 11:43

Posted in design, life

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The Books That Built Me

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A couple of weeks ago Larry had a post about his important childhood books. His memory is better than mine so I’ve divided my childhood into two year chunks and guessed when I’ve had to. Still it gives you a pretty good idea of the books that shaped me as a reader.

8

Space Ranger by Isaac Asimov
The complete works of Roald Dahl
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein
The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe by CS Lewis
My Friend Mr Leakey by JBS Haldane

10

The Lord Of The Rings by JRR Tolkein
Redwall by Brian Jacques
The Dark Portal by Robin Jarvis
The Animals Of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann
Down With Skool by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle

12

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
The Colour Of Magic by Terry Pratchett
The Wizard Of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin
Dead Cert by Dick Francis
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

14

The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
Crash by JG Ballard
Dispatches by Michael Herr
Use Of Weapons by Iain M Banks
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

16

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Regeneration by Pat Barker
White Noise by Don DeLillo
Candide by Voltaire

18

London Fields by Martin Amis
The Child In Time by Ian McEwan
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
The Problems Of Philosophy by Bertram Russell
Oscar And Lucinda by Peter Carey

Written by Martin

29 May 2009 at 11:15

Posted in books, life

You’re All London Dicks

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It’s a huge misfortune, this will-o’-the-wisp attraction exercised by London on young men of brains. They come here to be degraded, or to perish, when their true sphere is a life of peaceful remoteness. The type of man capable of success in London is more or less callous and cynical. If I had the training of boys, I would teach them to think of London as the last place where life can be lived worthily.

George Gissing, New Grub Street, 1891

Somehow, without me really noticing, this month marked the end of a decade spent living in London. God knows how this happened. I promised myself when I moved here that it was only for ten years, tops, but now I imagine I will be here for the Olympics at least.

“London’s kind to the confident. Otherwise, what is there? Get on the tube in the morning and people stare straight into your face from less than one foot distance. That’s no way to live.”

M John Harrison, ‘The Good Detective’, 2007

I’ve had a west, north, south and east postcode. I’ve been bombed on my birthday. I’ve been sad and I’ve been happy and I’ve been in limbo. I guess I’ve changed a lot over this period but the only think that comes to mind when I think about how living in London has changed me is this:

I can now use chopsticks

Written by Martin

30 October 2008 at 16:13