Heresy; Bambi

Paul Graham on Heresy and Truth

In his excellent biography of Newton, Richard Westfall writes about the moment when he was elected a fellow of Trinity College:


‘Supported comfortably, Newton was free to devote himself wholly to whatever he chose. To remain on, he had only to avoid the three unforgivable sins: crime, heresy, and marriage.’


The first time I read that, in the 1990s, it sounded amusingly medieval. How strange, to have to avoid committing heresy. But when I reread it 20 years later it sounded like a description of contemporary employment.

There are an ever-increasing number of opinions you can be fired for. Those doing the firing don’t use the word “heresy” to describe them, but structurally they’re equivalent. Structurally there are two distinctive things about heresy: (1) that it takes priority over the question of truth or falsity, and (2) that it outweighs everything else the speaker has done.

For example, when someone calls a statement “x-ist,” they’re also implicitly saying that this is the end of the discussion. They do not, having said this, go on to consider whether the statement is true or not. Using such labels is the conversational equivalent of signalling an exception. That’s one of the reasons they’re used: to end a discussion.

Paul Graham – Heresy

What Bambi is Really About

Kathryn Schulz’s heretical essay on Bambi in The Atlantic is nuanced, darkly hilarious and profound. There’s lots to mull over about the world in general and how culture works (and doesn’t work) in particular. Tremendous stuff.

via Marginal Revolution.

… perhaps the most vociferous if also the smallest group of critics [of Disney’s Bambi] consists of devotees of Salten, who recognize how drastically Disney distorted his source material.

Although the animals in the novel do converse and in some cases befriend one another across species, their over-all relations are far from benign. In the course of just two pages, a fox tears apart a widely beloved pheasant, a ferret fatally wounds a squirrel, and a flock of crows attacks the young son of Friend Hare—the gentle, anxious figure who becomes Thumper in the movie—leaving him to die in excruciating pain.

Later, Bambi himself nearly batters to death a rival who is begging for mercy, while Faline looks on, laughing. Far from being gratuitous, such scenes are, in the author’s telling, the whole point of the novel. Salten insisted that he wrote “Bambi” to educate naïve readers about nature as it really is: a place where life is always contingent on death, where starvation, competition, and predation are the norm.

That motive did not make Salten go easy on human beings. On the contrary: his depiction of our impact on nature is considerably more specific and violent than the one in the film, not to mention sadder. Consider the moment when Bambi, fleeing the hunting party that kills his mother and countless other creatures, comes across the wife of Friend Hare, in a scene that reads like something out of “Regeneration,” Pat Barker’s novel about the First World War…

In the final pages, the old Prince takes Bambi, himself now old and beginning to gray, to see something in the woods: a dead man, shot and killed by another hunter. (Amazingly, Walt Disney planned to include this scene in his film, excising it only after the sight of the corpse made an entire test audience leap out of their seats.)

Kathryn Schulz – Bambi is Even Bleaker Than You Thought

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