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Postcards from Scotland

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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 01/06/2005

I met Marc Lambert of the Scottish Book Trust a few weeks ago when we were both asked to take part in a talk in Borders bookshop. He then kindly arranged for me to get a copy of a book called Hope in the Dark: the Untold History of People Power by Rebecca Solnit. It was published last year in the US and has just been reprinted by Canongate for a UK readership.

I hadn’t heard of the book but decided to take it as my holiday reading on a short trip to Italy. I wasn’t disappointed. For me the most interesting chapter was the one called “Getting the Hell out of Paradise”. In it Solnit argues that Judean Christian culture has at its centre the notion of ‘paradise and the fall’ and she argues that such a mindset is at the core of radical politics. It is a mentality which we have in spades in Scotland – the legacy of the utopian dream of the Reformation fed and watered by decades of radical leftist politics.

But Solnit convincingly argues that such a belief in Paradise is neither healthy nor helpful. She maintains that it leads to perfectionism and the feeling that any improvement, though a step forward, is never good enough. What’s more the desire for Paradise can lead to the ‘gulag’ as people who stand in the way of reaching utopia must be eliminated – just look at what happened in the Soviet Union and China.

More importantly Solnit argues that the very idea of Paradise flies in the face of humanity and nature itself. Paradise is a static place where strife, change – indeed history itself – have been eliminated. She argues that we can glimpse the hellish, soulless boredom of what Paradise might be like in the ‘soft ennui that shades over into despair and decay of the soul’ in well-heeled American suburbs.

Solnit argues that what we need to realise is that as human beings we need a world which requires of us ‘courage, creativity, passion’. This is why she argues that ‘paradise is not a place in which you arrive but the journey towards it’. In other words, it is through activism, the pursuit of goals bigger than ourselves that we find meaning, happiness and fulfillment.’ Interesting stuff.

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