To Be, or Not to Be

“Choice is a great burden. The call to invent one’s life, and to do it continuously, can sound unendurable. Totalitarian regimes aim to stamp out the possibility of choice, but what aspiring autocrats do is promise to relieve one of the need to choose. This is the promise of “Make America Great Again”—it conjures the allure of an imaginary past in which one was free not to choose.”

On Optimism and Despair

A talk given in Berlin on November 10th, two days after the American presidential election:

'Sometimes it is put far more explicitly, like so: “You were such a champion of ‘multiculturalism.’ Can you admit now that it has failed?” When I hear these questions I am reminded that to have grown up in a homogeneous culture in a corner of rural England, say, or France, or Poland, during the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s, is to think of oneself as having been simply alive in the world, untroubled by history, whereas to have been raised in London during the same period, with, say, Pakistani Muslims in the house next door, Indian Hindus downstairs, and Latvian Jews across the street, is thought of, by others, as evidence of a specific historical social experiment, now discredited.'

The Sorcerer of Jazz

“Miles Davis was a deeply competitive artist, and the idea that he was losing audiences to white rock musicians with inferior skills—and, worse, had to open for them at concerts—inspired him to beat them at their own game. But he did so very much on his own terms.”