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Reasons for Living
Culture as the motivating force for progress
Most of the pieces on this substack explore what needs to change in the political and economic spheres to set the world firmly on the path to progress. But progress isn’t just about political economy, nor is the sole object of our lives to create a more just, inclusive and sustainable world.
There has to be something beyond the worlds of work, politics and economics. Yes, we need to be able to provide for our basic material needs, but what about everything else: the entertainment, learning, joy, play, creativity, doing things we enjoy with others who share our passions? This is what I mean by culture: the arts, sport, all manner of interests, hobbies and pastimes that bring people together.
This ‘Culture’ section will celebrate these things with reviews and essays on aspects of culture than transcend the ‘cultural differences’ so often exaggerated by people who wish to drive a wedge between communities and societies that have far more in common than not.
Progress is not an end in itself. The creation of a world in which more people enjoy economic security is the means to a far more exhilarating end: a world in which everyone is liberated from the drudgery of everyday life to develop and indulge the passions that give meaning to our lives; the things that really make life worth living.
And sometimes there is a role for the arts in reminding us of our common humanity and prompting us to think about the world and our place in it. Apart from the sense of community we get from enjoying a performance in the company of others, or involving ourselves in some kind of voluntary activity, many artists believe their art can make a positive difference. As the Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda wrote recently:
Music will not change the world, but music talks to the hearts of people .… and if music changes the hearts of people, people will change the world.
The pieces that follow here will, naturally I suppose, be inspired by my own passions: Music, Wine, Whisky, Film, Books, Cricket and Tennis, but might occasionally stray beyond these subjects.
And I’ll begin by straying from this list slightly, because I’ve just enjoyed watching FX’s fabulous comedy/tragedy/drama, The Bear, which is streaming in the UK on Disney+.
Without spoiling any plots - or pots for that matter, quite a few of which do get spoiled in the show - The Bear is an intelligently scripted drama about a group of people thrown together by circumstance and forced to make the most of their situation. On the surface, it’s about food and the trials of running a restaurant (this one happens to be in Chicago but could be anywhere in the post-pandemic world), but it’s really a show about the evolving relationships between a group of characters, and the obstacles they must overcome in order to create something of genuine value in world that too often values the wrong things.
The first season focuses on how a bunch of co-workers cope with a sudden forced change of management in the landmark independent fast-food restaurant where most of them have spent their entire working lives. After a stunning plot twist at the end of season one, the second pivots to a new scenario: same people, but they’ve closed the old restaurant and are working on a new project: to turn the place into a successful upmarket eatery. As well as the sheer improbability of launching such a venture, the group are having to deal with the behavioural consequences of everyone else’s baggage. And what baggage there is!
It’s brilliantly funny and strikingly tender at the same time; every character exquisitely drawn and superbly acted. With fabulous cameos from Bob Odenkirk, Olivia Colman and Jamie Lee Curtis, and a backstory episode (the baggage) that is barely plausible but at the same time utterly believable, The Bear is a minor masterpiece; one that says so much about the power of human beings to overcome adversity in pursuit of their ambitions. A third season has yet to be announced. Here’s hoping.
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