My sons want to go to school. Vishnu is almost five and he’s starting reception at a nearby primary; he is bouncing off the walls at home, eager to make new friends, and has spotted a frame in the playground to climb. Kailash is eleven, starting year seven at a school he loves a 40-minute bus ride away; a world free of our parental gaze awaits, full of Art lessons, new languages, table tennis tournaments, and banter with people his own age.

I want them to go too, and so does my wife Siva, their mum. We have been parenting 24/7 without a break since March and have rarely had time alone together. We have ample living space and are lucky to have jobs we can do mostly from home — she’s an academic lawyer and I direct a research institute — but we are at critical stages of our career where we would gladly work ten-hour days, but have had to with about a third of that, on good days. …

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Extract from The Moves that Matter: A Chess Grandmaster on the Game of Life by Jonathan Rowson (Bloomsbury 2019). The audio extract of this chapter is available here.

In the Christian tradition, the time between Good Friday when Christ was crucified and his resurrection on Easter Sunday is a moment of repose between despair and hope. That struggle with despair and hope defines the human condition, and Easter Saturday can therefore be seen as a microcosm of our whole lives. Perhaps the reason we don’t hear much about Easter Saturday is that we live it every day.

It saddens me that people in public life have become so chary about speaking about spiritual matters, by which I mean questions about the ultimate nature, meaning and purpose of existence. Much of the population are now in an uncomfortable spiritual place, feeling neither religious nor particularly antireligious, and seeking a spiritual perspective that is intellectually robust and personally meaningful, but not knowing how to get there. …

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In a busy world where people feel the need to place you before you have time to describe yourself, “define or be defined” is a useful motto.

But it’s a tough challenge.

I am the Director of an organization, Perspectiva, which is often described as ‘a think tank’; that’s not what I think and feel we are, and this post is about explaining why, and beginning to articulate an alternative.

Imagine a straightforward conversation:

Q: “What do you do?”

A: “I work in a think tank.”

Q: “What does that mean?”

A: “It means I go into a tank and think.” …

It has become fashionable to declare a climate emergency so here goes: Emergency!

Nothing happened, which is sad, but hardly surprising. If a recent paper in Nature indicating that the probability of tipping points is higher than we thought doesn’t move us, the sight of Australia on fire probably should. Whatever our metric, risk appetite, or questionable deadline of choice, the climate conclusion is always the same: we have no time to lose.

Yet the very idea of emergency only gets us so far, so fast. Emissions continue to rise because we cannot disentangle climate collapse from the broader crisis of civilisation, including the fact that there’s no ‘we’ as such, and many of our problems are already baked in through hysteresis — things in motion that cannot easily be undone. …

Even games of skill depend upon opportunity

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Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty

At face value, there is no luck in chess. There are no random factors beyond our control; no dice, no card shuffle, no relevant weather conditions, no basketballs tremulously skirting the rim of the basket or tennis balls scuffing the top of the net and landing inexplicably on one side rather than the other.

Most chess players think our game is resolutely a game of skill. We are in control of events just as much as our opponent is, but there are no outside factors to hope for—or to blame. Norwegian player Jim Loy captures our playful determination to take responsibility for our plight on the board: “There is luck in chess. …

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Image of Bacanal de los andrios via

I live in London, and sometimes it feels like the city runs on coffee and alcohol. It’s relatively obvious why we drink coffee. It offers bursts of energy and alertness to help us think and work, and we don’t find that desirably bitter taste elsewhere easily. But our reasons for drinking alcohol are more complex. It’s not that alcohol as such tastes particularly good, though it comes in various tasty forms; and while we might explain it away as unwinding after work, taking the edge off, making social life more fun, or having a good time, the real reasons are much deeper. …

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****This is a truncated version of what was previously on this page because the full paper is now published at ***

Jordan B. Peterson is easily misunderstood. He is a clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto but is now known as a forceful cultural commentator who emphasizes the value, depth, and dignity of individual responsibility in an embattled manner, as if civilization is at stake. His magnum opus is not the current self-help bestseller, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, but a much deeper inquiry into myths and archetypes, Maps of Meaning, published two decades earlier.[i] Peterson’s online academic lectures derive from this earlier textbook and are where his intellectual quality is most evident; these videos are viewed in their millions by his fans but mostly ignored by his critics (Peterson, 2018a).[ii] Peterson’s news interviews, public debates, online discussions, and social media comments on the other hand typically relate to identity and ideology and are often much less judicious, though they attract widespread attention. …

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Big Ben is not the only thing in the UK that requires maintenance. Image sourced via

We are told the army is preparing to be on standby for a No Deal Brexit, which signals incipient social breakdown. Our Health Secretary is buying fridges to store medicines, reminding millions their health relies on contingent imports from the EU. We are assured there will be adequate food, which is not really funny. We are advised that our default scenario of leaving the EU without a deal would not be ‘the end of the world’, but not why that should be viewed as a good thing. Due to a recent legal ruling from the European Court of Justice, we now know we could stop Brexit by unilaterally revoking our Article 50 Notification, but many consider that apparently sensible idea an unthinkable betrayal. Why has Brexit led the UK to such an absurd form of masochistic implosion? Regardless of any of the original rationales for leaving the EU, clearly something bizarre and irrational is happening, but we need a deeper diagnosis to make sense of it.

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The Nordic countries are not merely cute. There are things going on there beyond the open sandwiches and the charming crime dramas. And whatever their secret is, I’m fairly sure it goes beyond merely folksy notions about ‘coziness’ or ‘enoughness’ like ‘Hygge’ in Denmark or ‘Lagom’ in Sweden.

Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and all their associated territories are (mostly) exemplars of successful societies — consistently ranked among the happiest, most prosperous, and most peaceful countries in the world. They generally have low levels of inequality, healthy economies, relatively good protection of nature and high levels of social trust. Some argue that the way the Nordic countries run their societies is the best we can ever do. Political Scientist Francis Fukuyama described the world’s governance challenge as ‘getting to Denmark’ — just one example of the pedestal on which the Nordics are placed. …

You keep saming when you should be changing. — Frank Sinatra

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In 2015 I chaired an RSA event with Vincent Deary on his book ‘How to Live’ and was struck by his emphasis on the perennial human challenge of getting from act one to act two.

Deary’s point is that in dramatic contexts of plays, books and films we rarely spend much time in act one; it is just the setting before the trouble starts and the changes begin. But in our lives we often spend many years or decades stuck in act one, doing more or less the same thing as creatures of habit and convention. …


Jonathan Rowson

Philosopher, Chess Grandmaster and Father. Founding. Director @Perspecteeva. Scottish Londoner,

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