PoW: Amazon, Plato, Amanita Muscaria
Interesting times in the publishing industry. Last week, literary agent Andrew 'the Jackal' Wylie suggested authors would increasingly by-pass publishers to sign deals directly with Amazon. This week, we've seen the first big deal of this type, with Tim Ferriss, the author of the Four-Day Body, signing a seven-figure deal with Amazon, with royalties meant to be in the region of 70% (compared to the 15% typically offered by publishers).
Sounds good for authors - but then again, is it really good news if Amazon forced out traditional publishers and became the only game in town? Ferriss might get a seven-figure deal, but what about new writers? I think there's something quite dangerous in one giant corporation owning both the bookshop and the reading device and the publishing firm. Where's the diversity?
Wylie makes an ominous comparison between what's happening in the publishing industry and what happened in the music industry - where the ubiquity of Apple's iPod and iTunes platform gave Apple huge profits while laying waste to the music producers. The result was that musicians could only make money through live performances. Is that what the future holds for authors? I look forward to the sight of VS Naipaul crowd-surfing at Hay, or Alan Bennett performing a secret reading on the roof of the British Library.
There've been some interesting articles on the riots. Tim Montgomerie in the Guardian suggested Left and Right needed to find common ground - the Right accepting social environment is a factor in our moral choices, the Left accepting that family environment is also a factor. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks blamed the permissiveness and moral relativism of the 1960s.
Sacks wrote: "Britain is the latest country to pay the price for what happened half a century ago in one of the most radical transformations in the history of the West. In virtually every Western society in the 1960s there was a moral revolution, an abandonment of its entire traditional ethic of self-restraint. All you need, sang the Beatles, is love. The Judeo-Christian moral code was jettisoned. In its place came: whatever works for you. The Ten Commandments were rewritten as the Ten Creative Suggestions. Or as Allan Bloom put it in The Closing of the American Mind: 'I am the Lord Your God: Relax!'
Allan Bloom would have liked the philosopher Angie Hobbs' suggestion that our society could benefit from a strong dose of Plato. She writes:"Each of us needs to consider whether we have, even unwittingly, helped foster the warped conceptions of value and status that currently obtain. We need to consider what we write, read and buy, the music and lyrics which we create and to which we listen, the programmes that we make and watch. Our society needs to scrutinize itself without flinching from some unpalatable truths, and then seek to renew itself, including its educational institutions, in ways which will allow for true psychic harmony to be achieved and maintained. As long as rewards and status are given, and can so clearly be seen to be given, to selfishness and greed, we cannot pretend that the riots are nothing to do with us." Right on!
Here is Emma Worley, co-founder of the Philosophy Shop, writing on the RSA's blog about the importance of introducing philosophy and moral reasoning into the curriculum. Here is an interesting video of the Young Foundation's project to teach emotional resilience to gangs. And here is a rather unusual piece where David Goodhart, founder of Prospect magazine, takes issue with Lethal Bizzle over the ethics of grime.
Finally, here is a wonderful blog post by Claus von Bohlen, an interesting young man of letters. Claus is a novelist, tobogganist, psychologist and psychedelic explorer (he also briefly trained as a policeman). For the last few months, he's been living in the Alps, trekking, and experimenting with psychedelics in an attempt to 'break on through' and communicate with other realms. In the blog post, he crosses a glacier, and then encounters a large magic mushroom, which he decides to take. I personally would love him to publish a book of his mountain walks and inner explorations - a psychedelic Rousseau for our times.
I will be away on holiday for the next two weeks, see you in September.