52B/52W, Week 7: Ethique à l'usage de mon fils



Ethique à l'usage de mon fils - Fernando Savater

Another CEGEP read from my flat-mate's bookshelf... the next book to be review is a quite rough read, so I had to read something lighter. While I didn't learn much from this book, I'm still glad I got my hands on it.

As it's title implies, this book is a treaty on ethics, from a father to his son. This implies many things: first and foremost, the tone is quite different from other works of philosophy, as you'd expect. First off, it's terribly cheesy: maybe it's the fact that this book was written in the 90's, or the way is was translated, but some passages are totally cringe-worthy. We've all been through "serious" talks with out parents: were babies come from, why you shouldn't smoke, money and how to spend it; that kind of awkward. Secondly, examples are abundant, and more often than not are very personal: Savater Jr. probably was really big into motorcycles, because that definitely came up a lot. Thirdly, the book cites occasionally, but generally refrains from laying down statements as if they were facts. As a descendant to existentialism with regards to the notion of freedom that the book exposes, Savater presents his content more as guidelines and pointers rather than rules, being obviously sensible to giving his progeny a free mind, one that through reason and experience  can come to it's own truth, and forge it's own ideas.

This is the first work on ethics that I have read cover to cover, having only read bits and pieces of Aristotle, Epicurus and the likes. Because of it's intent, I don't feel like I have learnt too much; the flipside of the expository nature of this book is that the basics are brought back, important things like the different between ethics and moral, their place in the wider spectrum of philosophy and the implications of elaborating one's ethical code. In both form and content, it is an excellent primer the philosophy of our time, with it's implied agnosticism and tendency towards concepts relating to secular humanism; the perfect book to spark interest in philosophy in the heart of a young adult.

Really hoping I can steal this book off my buddy. I'm of the opinion that a general grasp of philosophy is essential for any cultured individual, and I'd love to give this to my own son some day.

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52B/52W, Week 6: A History of Modern Lebanon



A History of Modern Lebanon - Fawwaz Traboulsi

This is a book on historical facts about Lebanon, hence very hard to review since I am far from being an expert on Lebanon. As such, this post will not be a review, but rather a discussion on a contradiction that the history of this still nascent and politically unconsolidated country highlighted for me: the delicate balance of freedom and political power in it’s weberian sense.

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Laïcité, liberticide et opportunisme


Je ne voulait pas en venir à ça. Le sujet m’emmerde profondément, parce que sous sa forme actuelle il s’agit plus de shit-disturbing de souverainiste plus qu’un enjeux véritable. Je doit tout de même l’adresser parce que l’ampleur du débat (ou plutôt du bruit produit de part et autres) l’exige: la charte de la laïcité de PQ.

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52B/52W, Week 5: Discours de la Méthode



Discours de la méthode - René Descartes

The low end of higher education is frustrating because you are told plenty of very interesting things which were thought up by very interesting people, but usually totally out of their original context, thrown at you to understand and memorize; exam fodder basically. In my CEGEP philosophy classes, one of the authors used as such was Descartes. Rich and concise from the hundreds of years of criticism, analysis and interpretation, the ideas of the “father of modernity” were presented to us as revolutionary in their context, and beautifully crafted quotes were compared to the bleak general ambiance of pre-enlightenment Europe. How we marvelled: this guy’s a genius!

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52B/52W, Week 4: Fin de cycle



Fin de cycle - Mathieu Bock-Côté

Mathieu Bock-Coté is another author whom I had the pleasure of being able to listen to, and speak to, before reading his book. Here again, the habits in writing are very similar to his manners of speech. In a conference I had in my CEGEP days with him, one thing that struck me is the extreme attention to diction that he has, in stark contrast to the typically quebecois spoken french which usually exhibits characteristic slurring  and peculiar pronunciation of vowels. Anywhere outside of Montreal (and probably inside it too), there is a word for this way of talking: we refere to it as  un parlé radio-canadien, in reference to the almost un-naturally pure french spoken on state TV. The expression has negative connotations, implying that one who talks Radio-Canada french is a highbrow, a pompous intellectual, and maybe even a traitor, an alien to the rest of the quebecois who all use joual.

In that sense, I felt Bock-Coté's book to be very radio-canadien, which made for a very interesting contrast with the theme it discussed, namely sovereignty.  It's more or less as if a tibetan wrote an essay on freeing his country in Manadarin, but intended it for his own people.  Not that joual and standard french are mutually unintelligible, or even so radically different, politically or otherwise; besides, writing in joual has be relegated in the past century to writing poetry and text messages. It's the choice of words that made this book feel so weird, namely the quantity of -isms that can be found per page, many of them newly minted by the author. We social sciences folks love our cool-sounding words, but comes a time in this book where you start wondering if he's deliberately attempting to fill the page with neologisms just for the sake of doing so.

All this pedanticism doesn't harm the point he's trying to make. I get it, and as a self-describe conservative, he touches upon many aspects of the national question which I also don't feel comfortable with, things that in retrospect I have been criticizing for years concerning the nationalist movement. The almost leninistic method of propagating a fully-fabricated and inflexible conception of national sentiment through the institutions after the quiet revolution, the narrow association of nationalism and social-democracy, the demonizing of the rest of Canada on ideological grounds, all that definitely speaks to me.  The pedantics are but a bit of madness in a relatively well constructed method, but considering it's target audience, it might be enough to alienate a potential readers.

I'm operating on the basis of pure presumption, but if this book is an attempt to reconcile conservatism and nationalism, and to start a new Quebecois social cycle in which the pluri-ideological objective of obtaining nationality is brought back to center stage, it's doing so in a rather weird manner. As the author himself describes it, the nationalist political elite, if not the whole of our political and bureaucratic elite, are now resolutely social-progressivists which envision independent Quebec as a means of indulging in this progressivism. He blames the stalling of nationalism on this very definition that the movement has come to give itself. Through it's semantics, this book is clearly not for the masses; even if it remains accessible, it's vocabulary and length is in my opinion enough to alienate the masses. If this is so, why is Bock-Coté attempting to convince the very elite he denounces? It's no secret that what's left of conservative Quebec is mostly rural, and definitely not very present in the metropolitan intelligentsia; in that sense I fail to see how a book with such an academic tone is a useful endeavour.

I can understand how the method was more or less forced upon the author: a more populist approach to advocating things like the end of multi-culturalism, and the consideration of ethnic nationalism would have had him shot down by the other academics who pray at the altar of progressive-nationalism every morning. For such a young man, why risk that? In it's current form, the book and it's author are already controversial enough. But what is the point of controversy in an arena where the status-quo is already equipped to win anyways?

In that sense I think that this book uncovers a stale debate: the definition of official nationalism in Quebec has been written half a century ago, and there's little hope to changing any of that, especially in the context of the western world more or less reaching a consensus on the concept of cosmopolitism. The usefulness of this book is reminding us that national pride isn't necessarily what is taught to you in school, and that there are other ways of considering the question of nationality. As a practical effort, I feel that this books fails at inspiring it's the proper audience, specifically because  it's doesn't target them directly. A good read none the less, if only for it's originality... just don't expect it to be derived into a manifesto by anyone any time soon.

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