What we've been reading: Survival, forgetting and Tallent

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Here it is again, our weekly series where we share what we’ve been reading, watching, enjoying, whatever.

This week, AccountingWEB’s noble leader and philosopher king Tom Herbert is off. It’s his birthday, don’t you know! But no worries: What we’ve been reading will soldier on in his stead.

This week, it’s another motley bundle of suggestions for you. Enjoy it and, most importantly, enjoy your weekend.

francois badenhorstFrancois - Survival of the richest

I’ve always found it odd that so many people lionize Elon Musk for his desire to colonise Mars. Musk is essentially saying, “Oh let’s not bother about fixing this planet of ours, let’s just head to the stars!”

The subtext is that Musk - if he manages to pull it all off - will decide who stays and who goes. You can guess what kind of company a Silicon Valley billionaire will want to keep on his Martian colony. You and I are getting left behind on this ruined planet.

But it’s not just Musk who is planning his escape route once things go irredeemably south. The wealthy, as Douglas Rushkoff finds out, have hedged their bets and they’re plotting to leave us all behind.

Whether it’s buying up land in New Zealand, hoarding resources or, yes, aiming for the stars, the preparations for disaster are in full flow. In Rushkoff’s example, five billionaires fly him in to ask questions about how to prepare for ‘the event’, their euphemism for environmental collapse.

One CEO of a brokerage house explains that he has nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asks Rushkoff, “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?” The options mooted: Disciplinary collars, robot guards, maintaining control of the food supply (like Immortan Joe in Mad Max Fury Road).

Rushkoff writes, “They were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion.

“For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape.”

So if the wealthiest have one foot on the rocket ship to Mars, or they’re plotting post-apocalyptic feudalism, what is to be done for the rest of us? “Luckily, those of us without the funding to consider disowning our own humanity have much better options available to us,” Rushkoff says.

“We can become the individual consumers and profiles that our devices and platforms want us to be, or we can remember that the truly evolved human doesn’t go it alone.”

valme claroValme: Why we forget most of the books we read

After reading this article I know I am not alone. I have a terrible memory when it comes to remembering most events in my life, and the plot of the books I’ve read and the films I’ve seen are not an exception. This often leads to ridiculous situations when I try to recommend a book or film and I cannot even give an accurate synopsis – I just remember I liked it.

The culprit is the “forgetting curve,” many might recall from their student years. In order to remember something, you need to review the material at regular intervals.

Although memory has always been pretty much like this, the internet might be changing how we process and remember information. As we can access information anytime we don’t need to store it in our brains. Instead, we can use the internet as an “external memory”.

Of course, if we only had access to a few books we would remember them well. Ironically, the price of being able to consume as much information as you want is this – you won’t retain most of it.

Spacing out what you read or watch will help you remember more details. But as we shape what we watch and read with our own emotions, the same book or film might seem completely different at various points of our lives. If we were able to recall them with encyclopedic knowledge, we would lose this.

As Beck writes, “books, shows, movies, and songs aren’t files we upload to our brains—they’re part of the tapestry of life, woven in with everything else. From a distance, it may become harder to see a single thread clearly, but it’s still in there.”

Richard HattersleyDickie: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

It’s not just the lyricism of the prose where My Absolute Darling mirrors Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It is also a story of a father and his child surviving in the dying, rotting remnants of a life that should have been.

But instead of the post-apocalyptic nightmare backdrop of The Road, debuting author Gabriel Tallent captures an equally inhospitable landscape in northern California.

At fourteen, Turtle Alverston has an intense knowledge of every gun on her wall, but cannot grasp her vocabulary list at school. Her scuzzy father has taught her everything she knows, in that regard (“You are supposed to come to the door and believe that hell awaits just on the other side, believe that this house is full of nightmares,” her father imparted during a gun drill.)

But he is not protective in the sense that he wants what’s best for his daughter. He molests and beats her. Turtle loves him in equal measure as she fears him. It’s her ramshackle home that conceals this abuse. It’s no wonder then that she routinely wanders away to explore like Mowgli the wilderness that surrounds the hunkering remains of her old family home.

Like The Road, the father and daughter are each other’s world. It’s a bleak world. But it’s theirs. (“It’s no way to raise a child,” Turtle’s grandfather said, “pretending that the world is going to end, just because you’d prefer it did.”)

This existential feeling brims in the prose and continues straight out of the character’s mouths. Admiring the rotting seaweed slushing about on the California ocean, Turtle’s father reflected:  “You’ve been looking at the ocean for years and you thought it meant something, but it means nothing.” Quite.

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