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My Diary

Anne Frank, Fairness and Science Fiction

Diary Entry 15.06.17

 

I am, like most men, a creature of habit. I spend a significant amount of my time in libraries, scanning the volumes on the shelves. I read the back covers of the interesting titles and flick through pages. Just a few days ago, I was performing my usual bookish rituals in my local library. I chanced upon two volumes of Anne Frank’s diaries in a row. I glanced through the diary and began reading one of the passages. Anne was writing about a day of clumsiness when she had banged into a cupboard in the hidden annexe and raised a terrible racket. She was told off for it. As I read, I was struck again by the beauty of a diary. Here was a teenage girl who, although she was living in an extraordinary time and in extraordinary circumstances, was describing the banal minutia of everyday life. And it was completely captivating. This was the magic of a diary. The persons writing don’t have to be famous or distinguished. They can be the most typical people but are all unique. The reader experiences their daily thoughts and their reflections at different times of the day. There is a special bond of closeness between the reader and the writer that one can’t easily find in other types of literature. We feel that we have entered not only the life but the mind of the writer. In fact, it was the glorious feeling of intimacy that I felt reading that passage of Anne Frank’s diary which inspired me to again sit down at the computer and write about my day. I am sure that Anne never thought that anyone that she didn’t know would ever read her diary. I myself never imagine that anyone will be particularly interested in my day, but I always hope for the future reader that I can share a mind with. Hope and certainty have a tortured relationship, of course.

 

Today began with teaching schoolchildren about fairness. I was teaching them that ideas of fairness can be based on different concepts. We had talked about fairness as equality last week. This week, I introduced three new ideas through a reading of Aesop’s fable, “The Ant and the Grasshopper”. I talked about fairness as being about the equal distribution of happiness. The grasshopper in the story just stays in a state of leisure and indulgence and enjoys perfect happiness. The ants, on the contrary, suffer. They work all year round. There is an asymmetry of happiness. The grasshopper is only miserable in the winter when he has not saved food. The ants could be miserable all year round. Yet when the grasshopper is miserable, he is straight away given food. He does not suffer and enjoys too much happiness. Therefore, fairness should be about people enjoying equal shares of misery and happiness: the grasshopper should have been made miserable and have had to work as well. The next concept was about fairness based on need. The ants share food with the lazy grasshopper because he needs the food and they have enough to provide him with. Lastly, the other idea we touched upon was fairness based upon the idea of desert. The ants work, the grasshopper does not. Therefore, in terms of fairness based on the idea of desert, the grasshopper should not have been given any food. It is lucky for him that fairness based on the idea of need is there to save him from starvation. We talked about some examples where we could apply the concepts. There was the famous doctor and nurse pay dilemma, which I am sure everyone has heard of. The children favoured the idea of fairness based on equality and didn’t seem to be able to apply the new concepts which I was teaching them. I suggested that they open themselves up to new perspectives even if they did not agree with them, as they had to be able to talk about them and respond to them when constructing their own ideas. At the end of the lesson, the children were able to recall the important concepts.

 

I spent the rest of the day walking in the park, drawing and finished the day off with a little reading. The drawing that I did was a black and white one, or a noir, as I like to call it. It is of a woman holding a pitcher of liquid. She is spilling it on the floor while she is crouched down. The pitcher has a picture (notice the word play) of a ghastly death-like figure with a scythe on it. I spent about an hour on it and drew it without any photo references. I was pleased with how it turned out, given that I hadn’t spent too much time on it. As per usual, I will decline from pointing out what the picture and the pitcher are about, as I leave this up to the reader to figure out. I think it is pretty obvious in this case.

 

The book that I am reading at the moment is called “Railhead” by Philip Reeve. The story is quite typical, but the imagined details of the book are what set it apart from the other stuff that I have been reading recently. It is a science fiction novel. It features a robot that gives herself freckles and trains that have individual identities. There are jungles in which prehistoric animals have been given rebirth so that they can be hunted by the rich and powerful. The novel plays around with ideas of politics, too. There are ideas of resistance pitted against ideas of conformity and preserving the status quo. It is a very adult novel, even though it is written for children. This is my first introduction to Philip Reeve. I am enjoying the book at the moment, but I am only half way through. It is the message of a book that is important and not its style. I will only figure out the message when the book is finished and therefore I am reserving judgement. However, Reeve’s imagination is certainly powerful. I’m just not sure if it has been ridden upon in an impetuous manner, or one with the sufficient control that marks the experienced and wise hand.

 

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