3 out of 4 stars
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A tower block blaze leaves hundreds homeless. Down the road, luxury flats owned by foreign speculators stand empty. The victims protest and are helped through community initiatives. A beleaguered leader calls an election to strengthen her mandate but loses out when voters heed the slogan “For the many, not the few”. In public, the citizens are constantly monitored by closed-circuit TV; in private, they are glued to their screens while algorithms process their preferences. Yet online social networks have supported some popular movements.
Is this dystopian science fiction? No, it’s Great Britain in 2017. In her non-fiction book I Spy With My Little Eye, researcher Linnea Mills surveys the country’s current social trends and analyses their implications for the moral landscape. She uses the Seven Deadly Sins as a framework for her commentary. For example, the obsession with celebrities’ lifestyles and appearances reflects the sin of pride. What implications do these excesses have for our society, especially for the younger generation? Mills cites research findings that illustrate the impact. Our young people may be in danger of attaching more importance to appearances than to talents and personal qualities.
Mills offsets the worrying considerations by looking at the virtue that opposes each sin. The quality contrasting with pride is humility, understood as a realistic sense of one’s importance and place. Here, she quotes research indicating that the most successful leaders place long-term benefits to the team and company above personal or short-term financial gain. A thought-provoking quotation rounds off each section.
What I loved about this book was the author’s refreshing vision. She drags the concerns that were niggling at the back of my mind into the spotlight and articulates them clearly. For example, she notes the trend of spending a lot of money on children’s birthday parties and on party bags containing plastic trinkets. It is hard for parents to resist these currents when everyone does the same and children have expectations. Yet, as Mills says, do our children really need all these pieces of plastic and crucially, what are we teaching them to value? I appreciated the awareness-raising and the inspiration to change direction.
In addition, I liked the inclusion of the virtues as an antidote to the vices. Those sections provided information on what has been found to enhance health and well-being. The charming illustrations also deserve praise. I feel that the discussion could have gone deeper sometimes. On the other hand, the conciseness made for a quick read. Unfortunately, I found a critical mass of errors. Examples are: “mantel of anonymity”, “weary of intervening for fear of being barked at”, and “it’s eventual collapse”. On that basis, I rate this otherwise excellent book 3 out of 4 stars.
This book would appeal to all parents who would welcome insight into the pressures likely affecting their children. Like the author, I would say that a twentieth-century childhood gave me insufficient experience of the realities facing my twenty-first-century offspring. All the content is of general interest; I would recommend this to anyone needing a moral compass to navigate contemporary socio-cultural squalls. I’d also recommend it to anyone interested in sociology, current affairs, or politics. Those of an academic bent would appreciate the comprehensive references.
The material is all drawn from a British context, but the trends described are largely international. Consequently, this would be of interest to readers in other countries. Despite the Seven Deadly Sins framework, this is not a religious book. It would not appeal to those who do not like non-fiction or socio-political commentary. Some of the insights may cause discomfort, but I feel that’s worth facing in the interests of greater well-being, especially for children.
I Spy With My Little Eye
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