Elevation and Contemplation

Cinema has had to fight for its place as an art form. Back in its Lumière Brothers and Georges Méliès origins it was seen as a trickery, as an intriguing way to manipulate light. Little clips were shown at the theatre interspersed with song and dance. If you wanted to elevate the soul or reflect on man and nature you would head to the Louvre and Orsay on the banks of the Seine and not to these idiosyncratic inventors stitching together film. Cinema has evolved and accommodates a wide range of story and emotion that has the ability to profoundly touch what it means to be alive.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve seen La La Land, Manchester by the Sea and Silence. Each take you away to another world, unforgiving in its most troubling moments yet often uplifting.

[v minor spoilers below]

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Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as Seb and Mia

La La Land by Damien Chazelle is the easiest to recommend. It is full of joy while tackling questions about aspiration and love. 

- Is persistence despite continual failure wise? 

- Is being successful at a compromise better than failing at an ideal? 

- What if our dream is not what we thought it was? 

- What if love gets in the way of what we want to do?

There are no clear answers, it’s just a story of two people trying to figure it. Reminiscent of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort except with a deeper focus of character and purpose. It’s a truly special film and one that will stay with you for a while. It’s a musical and its songs have a simple elegance about them. The last musical to get Oscar attention, Les Miserables, has a notably booming soundtrack. I remember my inebriated student friends from first year passionately singing red and black, viewing it as the only fitting way to end a night out; La La Land is unlikely to get similar treatment but its soundtrack is just as worthy of attention. It beautifully catches the hope, sorrow and nostalgia of Seb and Mia and will likely continue live on in your Spotify playlist.

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Andrew Garfield (left) as Rodriguez

Silence by Martin Scorsese is a difficult film to watch. It is long, slow and is often distressing. It examines authenticity and challenges the relationship between faith and how we live our lives. I found it a rewarding experience, a film that asks questions we don’t want to face and shows the world in all its complexity.

Andrew Garfield is phenomenal, he prepared deeply for the role and developed an expression of faith that continues beyond his portrayal of Rodriguez. In Silence, Rodriguez’s beliefs of truth and beauty resulted in immense suffering for the people he encountered. Reconciling this perceived injustice with the purpose he came to Japan with stretches his identity to the limit. Persecution on this scale is thankfully rarer today yet beliefs on identity and what it means to be authentic are questions which still demand an answer. Silence is an important film and one in which there is much to take away.

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Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler

Manchester by the Sea by Kenneth Lonergan is a poignant reflection of a man reconciling his past with his new responsibilities. It’s a deeply affecting film and it took me a few hours to recover after leaving the cinema. Casey Affleck plays the isolated Lee Chandler who is suddenly thrust back into his 16 year old nephew Patrick’s life. We see flashbacks of a gregarious Lee which is juxtaposed by the present day Patrick who is juggling two girlfriends, hockey practice and his band. Present day Lee is withdrawn and is struggling to navigate a life in Manchester that he had deliberately removed himself from.

This is a powerful film that in different ways to La La Land and Silence challenges what it is to have an identity. Is it something that is fluid or is it permanently marked by the past? If challenges are presented by external circumstance in La La Land, by the deliberate will of others in Silence, then much of the condemnation in Manchester originates from within Lee himself. Manchester by the Sea is a film that recognises that life isn’t easy and sometimes there’s no following value statement on that, it’s just how things sometimes work out.

All three are still out in Cinema (Jan 2017) and I’d recommend catching them in their full big screen glory.

Stimulus and Response

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. 
- Viktor E. Frankl

It is an easy trap to lament circumstance: health difficulties, losing a job, relationship breakdown. Frankl’s key message is the Stoic one of knowing what we can truly control (our thoughts) and then using that as the foundation as to how we positively interact with the world.

We can’t fully control the ‘stimulus’. Yes, many of us are fortunate to be able to make decisions that influence where we are and who we meet but we can’t rely on it. Therefore, we should focus on what we can control — our thoughts, attitude, intentions.

Frankl’s ideas were formed during his time at Auschwitz. Stripped of everything that he could formerly control, how he responded to his environment was critical for his well-being during his time in the concentration camp and beyond.

We all have the power to respond well to circumstance and fundamentally, make good decisions. We should strive to remember that power when we encounter challenges and respond in a way that aligns with what we value.

Strong Opinions, Loosely Held

Convicted, Convicted, Convicted, New Facts, Change Mind — this is the explanation of Marc Andreessen to Tim Ferriss of how to best deal with an uncertain future yet still move forward.

Strong, cohesive views are best born out of challenging your perspective and exploring alternate ideas.

Wisdom isn’t reduced to simply being right, but rather it’s about being truth seeking, having good judgement and recognising the limits of what you know. Marc was explaining his view in the context of investing, but “Strong Opinions, Loosely Held” holds value in business and in our daily communication.

Finding areas out of the general consensus keeps the status quo accountable and in turn allows growth. Blockbuster’s ‘strong view, strongly held’ in regards to its existing business model in 2000 led to it spurning the opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million; Netflix is now worth $32.9 billion and Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Blockbuster’s ‘strongly held’ view meant it failed to react to the ‘new facts’ of internet based systems. “Loosely held” means we are able to successfully adapt when the world changes.

Strong, cohesive views are best born out of challenging your perspective and exploring alternate ideas. If you confine yourself to one environment, one peer group and consistently read the same angled media then it is unlikely that you will have a world view that is different to the one given to you. It is a passive belief rather than active. The biggest danger with a passive, assumed belief is to then equate ‘normality’ with it being ‘correct’.

We should be encouraged to stick our heads above the parapet with reasoned, strong views. Then, as the world changes, we should be similarly encouraged to reassess and change our views as necessary.

TimPemberton.com

Unity and Opportunity

There is a now a mandate for Britain to leave the EU and as a consequence, a restoration of democracy and legislative power from Brussels to the UK. With democracy there is a huge opportunity to create good governance and for this to be a reality there needs to be a unity and coming together of all parties to create a better, fairer and just future.

The highest turnout for a generation is testament to the engagement this referendum brought. As mentioned last week we need to be extra mindful to those who had a difference in opinion. Steve Hilton said “this is a big moment, one that requires serious reflection”. Just as Leave should refrain from gloating or celebrating a ‘defiance against the elites’, Remainers should not sink into bitterness, resentment or despair. The future is one we can and should be optimistic for.

Yesterday, one commentator I saw on facebook, said people should reconsider voting for leave as it would be a tacit vote for xenophobic policy. There are many ways to break down this ridiculous assertion but what I find most worrying is this trend of intolerance and moral superiority which, ironically, is what the EU is most guilty of. It’s on par with the similar absurd university ‘safe place’ policies or, worse, the trend of ‘no platforming’. All the tools to create a just society still exist. The EU doesn’t have a monopoly on facilitating collaboration, just as we are now more able to interact with the wider world we can adopt a healthy, positive relationship with Europe going forward.

The future is one we can and should be optimistic for.

The future is uncertain. This would have been true either way but particularly now as we leave an organisation infamous for its complexity. There was a lengthy section on the BBC with Jacob Rees-Mogg and Hilary Benn. Jacob summed it up perfectly highlighting Remain’s campaign as one that hinged on keeping the markets stable with Leave being one that centred on democracy. Remain often paraded ‘official bodies’ as an attempt to highlight the ‘correct answer’. Of course these statements are explained by vested interests in the financial markets and a priority for a short term stable economy over all other things including democracy. There was never a ‘correct answer’, just differences in what you prioritised. Leave is a victory for a preference for good governance over federal bureaucracy.

A No to EU means we have an opportunity to forge our own democratic path. This is something that everyone should be a part of. We can’t fully capitalise by demonising ‘the other side’ or by entering a lengthy blame game. There is huge opportunity in front of us, let’s not lose sight of that.

Some thoughts on Brexit

The referendum campaign seems to have largely been argued on either a ideological based argument or a polarising fear based one. Neither are helpful and neither allows a fairly neutral voter to make a reasonable decision.

I will be Voting Leave on June 23rd and I hope that the majority of the UK will come to that conclusion as well. I don’t think that everyone who votes ‘Remain’ are wrong, because this isn’t a decision that relies on totting up the numbers to come to the right conclusion; Rather it requires looking at several key areas in which the EU affects the UK and deciding which future will best enable the UK to protect and serve its citizens, and be a positive influence to the world at large.

When you have a belief about something and you are defending it, you are often led to extremes in order to differentiate yourself from the other side. This is something we should resist and it is a shame that both sides have succumbed to polarising the debate. Whatever the result it is likely 45%+ will have voted for the opposing result and we should be mindful that these people are our friends and neighbours.

There are three main areas that have dominated the campaign: The Economy, Law and Governance, Immigration. They are intertwined but I believe each stand individually as examples in which the UK will be better off leaving.

The Economy

There will be a short term impact with a Brexit vote, if you manage a sterling based hedgefund or are a import based SME then you are likely to be adversely affected in the immediate aftermath. The medium to long term is, however, far rosier. As Steve Hilton argued in The Times today:

“a British government that actually governed Britain could decide to build on our unique (and pre-EU) economic advantages of language, law, timezone, scientific and service-sector strength by shaping employment and industrial policy to make Britain the best place in the world to start and grow business. That’s what taking control means: more jobs and higher living standards”

The Black Line is when the UK joined the then EEC

The EU has been in relative, economic decline since we first joined it. If we left the EU we would be able to make our own trade deals with the growing and emerging areas of the world. As an example, EU trade negotiations with Japan, India and the UAE have been suspended or have barely moved in the last 5–10 years. A dynamic UK outside the EU would allow the worlds 5th biggest economy to create trade agreements that best suit our uniquely placed economy as opposed to the one-size fits all approach of the EU.

UK exports

The trend of exports to the EU compared to exports to Non-EU has dramatically shifted over the last 20 years. The gap between Non-EU to EU will continue to rise, being able to create our own trade policy will allow the UK to be unshackled from inefficient EU regulations and negotiate with our partners on our own terms.

Finally, the EU is unnecessarily expensive. As Daniel Hannan recently pointed out, the net contribution to Brussels over the last 5 years is more than every single austerity measure the UK has faced combined since 2010. It is a fallacy by Leave to suggest that this saving can be simply redirected to the NHS but the point of the EU being an unnecessarily high cost stands.

Law & Democracy

The issue of democracy was what ultimately swayed me from Remain to Leave. This extended quote from Rob Liddle outlines much of my concerns about a future within the EU:

There is really only one clinching argument — and it is astonishing that so little hyperbole has been expended on it. It’s this: democracy... The unelected president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has recently made it clear that any country that elects a right-of-centre populist government will be stripped of its rights to make decisions within the EU, and possibly subjected to a loss of income. He did not hint at this, he actually said it. If Austria had voted its Freedom party into power, it would have had its decision making capacity within the EU removed.

The EU is currently applying the same sanctions to Poland, whose electorate had the impudence to elect a mildly socially conservative government. The Poles could face a total removal of their voting rights and economic sanctions — all for voting in the “wrong” party. The European Commission gave itself these powers- to bully and ostracise countries that vote for policies that contravene Juncker’s own personal credo — back in 2014. This is not merely outrageous and scandalous but genuinely worrying. No dissent allowed from the socially liberal, fiscally conservative line. Because it is not only right-wing populists who have incurred the wrath of Juncker and the rest of the commission. If you are Greek and vote for an anto-austerity left wing socialist party, you will be bullied too. No dissent allowed. None. If you are opposed to any more immigration to the EU and are a bit worried about Islam — that’s your voting rights gone. Europe will be a sort of gigantic safe place where only approved opinions are allowed.

… It has become a tyranny, intolerant of any dissenting voices, contemptuous towards the wishes of the people. Why, given this, would you ever vote “remain”?

Accountability is a crucial aspect of good governance. The EU doesn’t have accountability and relies on a system of unelected presidents who are able to inflict their personal agendas unchecked.

Furthermore since signing over sovereignty to the EU there have been numerous cases where UK citizens have complained to our parliament about unfair laws, normally Westminister is able to at least respond to these concerns, yet with invasive European jurisdiction Westminister has been helpless (VAT on Fuel, VAT on sanitary products, deportation of criminals).

The problem is not only a lack of accountability for the EU but that it in turn limits our ability in keeping our own government accountable.

The narrative of the EU project is one of closer and closer integration. It’s a slow moving bus that is going down a one way street. The leaked information about the EU army is especially worrying. NATO has been the major force for peace within Europe despite what the EU might proclaim. A EU army will throw NATO’s position into question. America is unlikely to continue to be as supportive within NATO if an EU army starts to assert its agenda.

Immigration

We can create a better and fairer system than the status quo by taking full control of our immigration policy. A better system is one which treats people with the same just rights irregardless of where they come from. There are tens of thousands of non-EU marital partners who are banned from joining their British spouses because they don’t earn enough money to reach the arbitrary, restrictive threshold. On a similar level, tens of thousands of skilled non-EU workers are denied entry.

Net migration was 330,000 last year. The Convervatives pledged to keep this in the tens of thousands. In order to keep this in the realms of possibility, the UK have been severe in restricting non-EU immigration as we are not able to impose any limits from within EU.

I’m a huge supporter of immigration. I’m currently on a one year working holiday visa in Australia, last year I lived in Italy in what would have been a student visa and have visited dozens of countries on various tourist visas. Visas open to young people to study and travel is something we should encourage. Likewise, visas in accordance with something similar to Australia’s points based system is effective in encouraging talent where a country has shortages. Complete, unrestricted freedom of movement strains a countries housing infrastructure and public services, particularly in the UK where there continues to be a shortage of affordable housing. Mass immigration can also be a barrier to growth for developing countries. The ideal end goal for Syria is not for 20 million people to resettle in Europe but rather for 20 million people to be safe enough to live in Syria and make their country thrive.

Small government and a transfer of power from the state to local communities and charities creates a better society. We have a unique opportunity to move towards this positive future. Or, alternatively, find ourselves siphoning our taxes and resources to prop up a cumbersome, invasive federal European state.

We can never fundamentally change the EU

The EU is set up in a way in which certain things are sacred, this was seen with Cameron’s European tour with negligible concessions. The slow moving bus will continue to trudge down its one way street.

No matter how much we are able to influence, debate and negotiate within the EU, we will be never be able to:

1. negotiate UK trade agreements outside the EU

2. have a purely accountable and democratic governance

3. stop unlimited, unrestricted immigration within the EU

This is crucial in breaking down the ‘Remain’ fallacy of leading or changing the EU from within. The important things which need to change are things that will never change while we are a member. We need to jump off the EU bus and drive our own vehicle, visiting and working with the emerging countries of the world. Freeing ourselves of invasive EU legislation and create a fairer, just society.

It’s a shame that the ‘left’ case for Brexit has been underplayed in the media, because for young people it is the most compelling argument. There’s a tendency to equate membership of the EU with a general world view of collaboration and working together with other countries. This is a huge mistake. Vote Leave isn’t about stopping collaboration, it’s about removing the UK from a toxic, oppressive system and engaging with the world at large.

TimPemberton.uk

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How should I understand Art?

There you are dutifully visiting the local art gallery, staring up at a slightly gloomy portrait from the 17th century and, while you’re partially satisfied that you’ve ticked the cultural box for the day, you’re left wondering if there is something that you are missing. What am I meant to feel? What is this meant to mean? Why does society consider art to be so valuable?

A childhood spent at National Trust properties meant that art has always been around me but for something that is so ubiquitous with a special place in society I struggled to correspond this lofty impression with what I perceived to be a lack of relevance particularly compared with emerging mediums in expressing ideas around life. A trip to the gallery was often accompanied with feelings of mild confusion and blankness; passing comments on particular historical importance or on the prevalent technical themes were not enough to elevate art to the platform that society had given it.

Two things changed this and helped me to understand art in a way that a powerful book or film can elevate our emotions, shift our perspectives and deepen our empathy. Firstly, Alain de Botton’s ‘Art as Therapy’ was instrumental in shaping a positive framework for Art’s role in the world. It’s role being a universal one that can help each of us navigate our understanding of the world. De Botton argues there are 7 key psychological functions of art:

  • Remembering
  • Hope
  • Sorrow
  • Rebalancing
  • Self-Understanding
  • Growth
  • Appreciation

Covered in more depth here: Brain Pickings: Art as Therapy.

Secondly, during my time living in Rome, I came across Chiostro del Bramante that was known to hold regular exhibitions throughout the year. A spectacular venue, it was a short work from my apartment nestled in the alleyways between Piazza Navona and Bar Del Fico. I saw two collections there: Escher and Chagall. For each they created a progressive journey of discovery for the artist and their work. The exhibition space is a series of rooms and passageways that guides you through a designated path of discovery of both the artist and the work. For Escher it brilliantly showed his work chronologically from his literal sketches from his travels in Italy to an ever developed interest in geometry, surrealism and finally abstraction. His remembrance and appreciation of his early travels in Italy was a continual factor in his work. He was asking questions of what is perception, does his impressions of the world truly reflect reality. He lived in Italy alongside the rise of fascism and with his work he was able to beautifully combine ideas of order and structure with those of chaos and futility. His work showed attempts to understand the reality of the world around him and further his place within this world.

Escher — Drawing Hands

Chagall, an early modernist, had an incredible, unique vision of how to bring his thoughts and emotions to manifest into his work. In one of the key rooms, the exhibition took a series of his sketches and brought them to life with music and visual projection. During this time I was studying History of Art at La Sapienza and appreciating Chagall’s synthesis between fauvism, cubism and into surrealism formed a part but not the full depth of my experience. Mindful of Botton’s functions, elements of hope, sorrow, remembrance were present throughout. The exhibition was fantastic in bringing out these elements, encouraging the viewer to participate, to empathise with Chagall’s pain and hope in his work and reflect on how this adapts our own perspective.

Chagall from the exhibition in Rome 2015

If you go to a gallery and come away with just one thing that has encouraged you to ponder and reflect on the way home then it has been a valuable experience. We need to simultaneously reduce the priggish perception of art in our society and broaden the perceived role that art can play for each of us. We should be encouraged to be more confident in our understanding of our emotions and democratise something that in the UK we are fortunate to have so publically available.

We're going to the North Coast

Thurso East

Fog, mist, blurred headlights, rain

We're going to the North Coast

Some things you can't escape

Beached; separate but stuck

Sleep

Early morning bolt to Thurso East

Together a spurious grasp on reality

Fumbling for direction and clarity

Filming from the van

Crash

Big waves, gliding on the water

Jousting one by one

Impossible to tame

Brief control, ever looming

Collapse

Stretching dark blue barrel

Slams down, white spray jumps

Mirtazapine, pressure, trapped

Fog, mist, blurred headlights, rain