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Saturday, February 8, 2014

You've got mail: The Philosophers' Mail

Socrates: Very interesting but not that many people care


What does tabloid news written by philosophers look like? Now we know. This is The Philosophers' Mail, the intellectual’s version of the globe-straddling, flesh-flaunting, million-clicks-a-minute daily news.

Every day, The Philosophers' Mail starts with the stories everyone is interested in - a double suicide, Miley Cyrus, a paedophile teacher, Gwyneth Paltrow's marriage, a fireball on the runway, but then applies its own very particular spin, in the direction of traditional philosophical interests: calm, complexity, dignity and wisdom.

"Our view is that there is nothing wrong with crime stories," says the famous philosopher Alain de Botton who publishes it. "In fact if you look at western literature most of it is crime – from Sophocles to Anna Karenina. There is nothing about crime that makes it a low subject but rather how it’s handled. Crime has lessons for everyone - Sophocles’ point of view was that we should look at the mother who has chopped up her children and not just gawp but wonder what the lessons are in this."

An amazing analogy, Alain brings to my attention is the story of the man who boiled his wife alive. "Our take on it would be that this is actually a nice story because it helps us to feel sane – here’s a guy who is so obviously insane. You may be feeling really bad about yourself, but at least you can read that and think: 'At least I'm not that guy'."

The same goes, he says, for the car executive in Bangkok who threw himself out of a window after a 10-hour argument with his wife and killed himself. "People love the left field stuff," says Alain. "We covered that story by saying that the man was just too hopeful about relationships, that he believed in love too much. So our message was to keep your hopes in check."

Another interesting perspective is on our distinct lack of attention spans. But Alain again offers a different theory, which is that our shrinking ability to pay attention existed long before smartphones and apps.

"In previous ages, there were no novels before 1750 – before that people read poems - short stuff. Just because it’s short doesn’t mean it has to be terrible. The artistry will be around whether you can you say it in 400 words."

What do you think of The Philosophers' Mail?