The Strange, Calming Beauty Of Wrack And Ruin

While browsing the newspaper’s photography section yesterday, I found myself drawn to a series of images of a recently discovered and almost perfectly preserved Second World War Kittyhawk fighter plane that had crashed in the Sahara desert. It invoked a feeling in me I often get when looking at derelict or abandoned places and objects, and that I have often found difficult to explain. It reminded me of the feeling I had when reading Alain de Botton’s description of his exploration of an aeroplane graveyard in the Californian desert (something that has earned a place on my ‘to do’ list); there is a unique stillness to such places that is hard to replicate. The meeting point of the eerie and soothing has a very special quality and I am not the only person to notice this.

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If Ryan Gosling Had Stayed Home To Support Eva Mendes He’d Be Hailed As “Progressive”

At the Golden Globes this year, award-winner Ryan Gosling took the time during his acceptance speech to thank his wife Eva Mendes (who, sadly, recently lost her brother to cancer) for supporting him whilst he was making La La Land. He also dedicated the award to his late brother-in-law.  It was an honest and heartfelt tribute that really resonated with most people. He said: Read More…

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Free Thinker

First published by Robin Gilbert-Jones in 2012, this profile of Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the first installment in a new series by Imagine Athena on the great “Free Thinkers” of our time. We’ll also be looking at Bertrand Russell, George Orwell, and many more. 

A child of the Darod clan, born in a Mogadishu hospital, her mother thought her an unremarkable and slow-witted child and her father, though he loved her, had expectations of her that went little further than obedience and submission. Defying their expectations Ayaan Hirsi Ali was to lead, by any measure, an extraordinary life. This life is all the more extraordinary when you consider that, by her own estimation, she may even be the only child born in that ward, on that day, who is still alive. Read More…

Best Films About Politics and Culture on Netflix

Best of Enemies (2015) A sharp and cerebral documentary about the adversarial relationship between arch-liberal Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley the conservative founder of The National Review magazine. The two men were enormously influential intellectual figures in American political life during the 1960s. Best of Enemies centres around a series of famous televised debates that took place between them in 1968 in which their fierce rivalry was on full vitriolic display.

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What it means to be a Freethinker

After a period in the sun, during the heyday of the Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins (among others) New Atheist uprising, terms like freethinker, sceptic and the more specific atheist seem to have lost their popular allure. This is understandable among their obvious targets, the religious and superstitious, among whom they were unlikely to find a fan-base in the first place but, peculiarly, those to whom such terms (either in actuality or in potentia) could be applied have often sought to distance themselves from being associated with them.

In the early days of this website I spent many happy pages dismantling the superficially simpering but ultimately sinister certainties of the religious, yet over the years I have had to turn my spotlight increasingly to the ideological myths and superstitions of academia and journalism. These fields have become increasingly tainted by a commitment to narrative over truth, to a priori framing, rather than reasoned conclusions subject to revision on the basis of new evidence – i.e. the central scientific criticism of religion. Read More…

Dirty Jobs

One of the themes we’ve explored for some time now on Imagine Athena is how utopian dreams turn into nightmares. It is much better to deal with things as they are in reality than it is to pursue grand ideological visions, which are often more the product of wishful thinking than solid fact. The political quest to nudge every high school graduate into pursuing an academic degree is a good example of this. In the United States and Western Europe, huge numbers of young people now take on astronomical amounts of government-backed debt to attain degrees of sometimes dubious value. Mike Rowe, the producer of the American television series Dirty Jobs, which aired from 2005-2012, has been a vocal critic of this policy. He has long argued that, nowadays, instead of making the best of the opportunities that are available, we are encouraged to live our lives according to a template: a fixed notion of what the ideal existence is. But rather than achieving that we end up  living identical lives devoid of creativity or originality. The result: people become unhappy when they don’t live up to that ideal and thousands of well paid vocational jobs go unfilled every year.    

After 2016, Does Left and Right Mean Anything Anymore?

2016: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Depending where you fall on the political spectrum. And it would be easy to describe this purely in terms of the left/right dichotomy. But the political events of 2016 have actually showed just how uninformative the terms “left” and “right” even are.

They obscure the true nature of certain political positions and can, in fact, be deeply misleading, hiding genuine differences as well as convergence between people on the so-called “same side” or even opposing sides. Read More…

The Roots of the Pagan Tree

cultural-appropriation-christmas-tree

From the archives…

Over the last half-millennium the great European empires spread out to the New World, the Antipodes and the old kingdoms of South and South-East Asia.

Hernán Cortés led the Spanish into what is now modern-day Central America and sacked the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan where Mexico City now stands, and Francisco Pizarro conquered the ancient Incan civilisation to the South. Later, starting out essentially as privateers preying on Spanish and Portuguese shipping, the English became adept at ship design and Francis Drake circumnavigated the earth, returning with a King’s ransom-worth of Iberian gold. Gradually realising their potential they extended south into Africa along with the Dutch, also masters of seamanship, who plied their trade in ship building and commerce and banking in conquered territories across Asia. While all this expansion and conquest had obvious economic and territorial goals, the warrant was always the same: the extension of Christendom. Read More…