Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, The Master, tells the story of drifter Joaquin Phoenix’s relationship with the head of a New Age sect, which looks suspiciously like Scientology. The group, called The Cause, aims (like Scientology) to clear its members of the karmic traces of their past lives, and return them to their inherent perfection. Read more…

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There’s a new spirit of self-help and mutual improvement blowing through public health policy. I first felt its breeze in Scotland’s national mental health strategy, which was published in August, and which made much of its ‘person-centred approach’ to mental health in Scotland. One of the main themes of the strategy is “embedding more peer-to-peer Read more…

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This week, Lena Dunham, the very talented writer and star of the HBO series Girls, got a $3.5 million advance for her first book. I mean, I really do think she’s very talented, Girls is an exceptionally good TV show, and perhaps she really is “the voice of my generation…or at least a voice of Read more…

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I was at a drinks party of a history conference this week, talking to a young academic who was writing a PhD. ‘And what are you working on?’ she asked me. I said I was researching philosophy groups, and was interested in the role of support groups and self-help networks in education and health. ‘Oh’, Read more…

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A few newsletters back, I talked about the idea of the ‘mass intelligentsia’, and posted an interview I did with Melvyn Bragg about the term (he used it in this programme on class and culture back in March). I’ve been digging into this idea a bit more since then, for an academic research project I’m Read more…

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