Echo and Bounce

Reading update

The Claw of the Conciliator (Gene Wolfe)
Gene Wolfe continues to be subtle, ambiguous, and intelligent. Enjoying more on re-reading, but it’s hard to stay alert enough. I wonder if my friends who like magical realism will ever read any of his books. I’m starting to believe it’s set in Argentina, in homage to Borges. I must read some Borges.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years (David Graeber)
Really interesting. Not sure exactly how true though. Wonderful firework show of ideas about debt, how it works, where money comes from, the link between violence and slavery. Difficult to summarize, partly because Graeber hasn’t done the work of making clear links between all of his ideas. Would like to write more about this later.

There’s one bit where he talks about how things like weregild weren’t about saying “the life of your brother is worth two hundred shillings” or whatever, but rather an indication that the debt can never be repaid, pointing particularly to certain cultures where a bride price has to be paid for the groom’s entire life. At this point, he almost exactly replicates the logic in Hebrews 10 about how the necessity of repeating the payments (Hebrews: sacrifices) shows that they can never actually re-pay the debt (Hebrews: cleanse sin).

What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Michael Sandel)
Where Debt is sprawling, fascinating and though-provoking, this is precise, closely argued and convincing. Also, easy to summarize.

Sandel says that markets are great, but we probably shouldn’t use them for everything. First, because of fairness. The more things can be bought and sold, the more having money, and indeed not having money, matters. Second, because for many things, trading them on the market changes what they are. If you could buy a Nobel prize, would you?

He calls this second property of markets “corruption”. He doesn’t mean it to be a blanket negative. Perhaps it’s fine to allow the market to change some things. Maybe it is better, for example, to pay kids a couple of pounds for every book they read, and thus improve their reading abilities but perhaps completely sap any pleasure they might have had from the exercise. It’s a value judgement, he says.

He goes on to say, I think, that perhaps part of the reason markets take over everything is because we increasingly shun genuine moral and spiritual discourse in the public sphere. People are expected to check their beliefs (religious or otherwise) at the door. It’s an interesting thought, and one I wish he explored further. However, to do so would have wrecked the beautiful simplicity of this book.

The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Not sure why this one made it into the canon.

Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift)
As above. Often wished I had some sort of commentary to know exactly who or what he was satirising and why.

Pretotype It (Alberto Savoia)
Really good. Really short. Read it now. Will probably blog about it at Mere Code.

Premise is that before you start out to make a product (“do a thing”) you should do something ridiculously cheap and easy to check to see if it’s the right thing.