The Science Minister and the Sea Cow edited by Finlay Lloyd, 6 of 52

Well I am a bit worried as it has been well over a week since my last completed book and blog. I am reading about 3 books at once at the moment, but I doubt that I will blog about them all. I did promise in my last blog entry to review this book, The Science Minister and the Sea Cow as I was completely seduced by the title. It is essentially a collection of essays about choice and how we as humans make choices and how we avoid making choices. This is professionally my area of research as an anthropologist and I am consuming as much information on it as possible. I am currently working as a research associate in primary and population health, studying how women and general practitioners make choices for their maternity care services; this is in light of the growing range of services available to Western women today. Choice is an interesting conundrum, how do we know we have a choice, how do we exercise our rights to choice, do we understand what ‘choice‘ really means?

This book had some excellent essays on choice, much of it was constructed around the political dimension of choice, how religion informs choice and how religion and politics together influence choice. My criticism of this book is that only a handful of the essays truly explored the idea of choice and how it relates to the individual and society. Terry Lane’s essay ‘The Science Minister’s Star Sign’ was particularly interesting and thought provoking as he explores how morality and choice are not necessarily exclusive, but what would the world look like if they were? He teases out the argument that politics and laws that are informed by religious or other absolutist ideas, can be worse than having no law. ‘No matter what political system was used to create the law, it lacks all moral force if it protects a wicked system'(pg 11) is quoted in reference to segregation and the jailing of Martin Luther King. He suggests that we can view absolutism as a type of schadenfreude – pleasure in the misery of others. (pg15 and a new term learnt for me!) I think we can all identify with this phenomena in our lives from time to time.

Another interesting ‘ism’ explored is ‘centrism’ in Sharon Beder’s essay ‘Balancing Bias in the Media’ and she raises issues that have been of great interest to me for some time. How the media presents information to the public is an ethical dilemma to say the least, primarily as so many people who read newspapers trust that they are receiving unbiased and well researched information. This is just not the case in the majority of media reporting, I have myself been approached by media to report on issues that I know will be sensationalised and given a right wing perspective, that does not reflect the reality. The media is reporting from a stance of taking a balanced perspective on issues, but Beder places this in the realm of ‘centrism’ which serves to dilute the real debates that are happening in the community or politically. Yes, let’s hear from all points of the spectrum, not just the most vocal, popular, academic, celebrity or professional voice of the moment. Beder’s discussion of what is happening in environmental debates is again being played out today (this book was published 2007), where the global warming deniers voices have become dominant in the media after the UN backdown on inaccurate predictions of the Himalayan Alps melting by 2035. It is an essay that gives us all good reason the pause and reflect on what our media presents to the public and how this influences choice.

Of a more personal nature are two essays; one about the choices as individuals we make in life, and the other about the choices our families make in life that may have far reaching impact.  The essay on a stripper’s dilemma in choosing to pose for photos in dingy and unsavoury places, that leads her to think about where she is and where she is going in this life.  The essay that I found most poignant was about the sadness around the suicide of a father and the unfolding of his unknown history that was a complete surprise and revelation. An artist, Merrie Hamilton discovers that her deceased father’s mother was Aboriginal; a secret that was withheld from her and her immediate family. It makes her question many aspects of her life, no less the relationship she has with her parents and the discovery of family that she now has. She explores the choice that her grandparents and parents made to keep it a secret, but wonder why that choice could have been sustained for so long. She certainly feels no shame in her Aboriginal heritage, many Australians have Aboriginal ancestry. This quote is about choice, but in regards to promoting a choice;  ‘Reconciliation process will be  substantially advanced if persons of whom that is true take steps to identify those origins (Aboriginal) and take pride in finding them.’ (pg 156) The difficulty could be in the identification and location of that origin, such is the silence of our forebears choices. I found this most poignant.

The last essay I enjoyed immensely was written by Paul McDermott. True confessions now, I was a big Doug Anthony Allstars fan along with my friend Sue – in their early days. They were crazy, clever and intelligent cabaret comedians that we got so much joy from their anarchistic shows at the Adelaide Fringe every 2 years. I wasn’t really surprised to find that McDermott was just as exceptional a writer, witty, sharp and thoughtful. His essay seemed to me to be an illustration of the humanity of choice, with all its associate contradictions, befuddlements, distractions and dominant thought processes. Plus it was a witty and clever exposition.

Wow, that was a very long review of this book – I guess that is due to the individual nature of the essays and I only chose to review a small number. If you are interested it may be a little difficult to get hold of, I borrowed it from the University of Adelaide’s library.

Readability 7 out of 10

Cant put down rating 7 out of 10

Recommend to others 7 out of 10

Do I want to read another book by this author – I am interested in reading only some of the authors other works – but not compelled.

#7 I’m not sure – it will be a surprise as I am spoilt for choice after my birthday.


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