Thursday, September 16, 2004

One brief outline.

The most important problem with life as lived today is our inability to want to understand things, which is a consequence of not being in any position to do so. It is my understanding that the general feeling of apathy can be resolved through education, as this is what structures our self-belief in being able to think about the world, and in the fact that when we do so our thoughts carry meaning.

And this already is a difficult thing for me to stomach – that it is the case that future generations are the only people who can be helped to get society out of its present state of apathy; that future generations are the only people who can be helped. It seems an awful lot like consigning a lot of people to a rubbish bin, which makes me feel very uneasy considering the likelihood of very able and sincere people already living and as uneasy as I. If it is not the case that those people (should they exist) are muted in the minds of those swelling numbers of the apathetic and inconsequential to them, then most likely this view is extreme. I have come to the conclusion that better education is needed because of my specific and limited experience of people; it is an inductive conclusion that must always justify itself by the available evidence, and since my experience is always expanding I may find that it is woefully inadequate. I hope that there are people able to make a difference, and a hope for myself of a future of doing the same.

My understanding and conclusion at this present moment in time is a worse case scenario, as I see it, yet at least the action in this scenario is straightforward – politics. Political change requires either the backing of the people, or it requires the money that only industry has. Straightforward, yes, but vastly improbable on both counts.

It may appear to you that I have presented to you a knee-jerk conclusion, an extreme distortion that has merit only in being obviously and demonstratably false and therefore comforting. This view can only come as an ignorance of certain psychological habits that are the results of ideological frameworks people do indeed live their lives by (and however ignorant people are of social forces, the effects of social forces are nevertheless measured in the people). I shall attempt to describe to you a few of my thoughts and observations as to how this is the case.

A detailed investigation of what this means would have to come from a social scientist, but I hope it will be enough to mention a poignant symptom (and one that involves philosophy directly)- the trivialising of argumentation entirely into perspectives and points of view. Person ‘A’ has one view, person ‘B’ has a different view, yet this does not merit investigation, it is simply stated with a shrug. Individualism has its cake, and eats it. The price of eating the cake is something individualism (an entrenched and unchecked individualism, such as that held as a consequence of consumer capitalism) as an ideology does not understand, and is therefore a source of great turmoil to a population of individualists. One might say that these people are individualists but many other things besides, and this is true, but philosophy does not reside among these things for the vast majority. Philosophers indeed people would have to be to be able to understand the drawbacks of their habitualised worldviews, for what is it to try to think and talk of relativism and it’s implied nihilism in these ways and to not thereby be attempting philosophy?

But philosophy, as it stands, is neither recognised nor sought as the legitimate investigation into these things. Philosophy is what happens after one too many beers; it is not a mode of thought worthy of serious consideration. To the layman philosophy is a basket of a multiplicity of meaning and therefore of none; how can a joke such as this be important?

This is sadly all too entrenched in the common wisdom, and philosophy is almost completely absent from education. People have no recourse to something they do not understand. Worse, something they misunderstand; for to be ignorant of something and know it is not so offensive to attempt to correct as is something about which one already has strong opinions (and it must be said that culturally imparted opinion is particularly feverish if challenged). Added to this there is the colossal problem of presenting complexity to those who distrust and hate it, and uncertainty to those who live seeking stability in the face of great stresses. Can philosophy be educated into an unwilling mind? I have hoped in the past that there is some specific way to do this, that there must be the right combination of words that make it clear that it is best to open oneself up to it, but this was naive. My experience has been fraught with people who would rather confront me with lies than to feel uncomfortable in their considerations, because they are their considerations, even though they cause them much suffering. The effort is akin to attempting to bandage a wounded animal that will not let you near it. No matter how good the bandage is, the thrashing and biting makes your task impossible. I understand why Satre once stated 'Hell is other people!'.

So is it the case that changes in education must be made, without significant consideration given to those currently living? Despite the hardships of dealing with those who call a horse a ‘cow’ out of spite, I hope not. And if it not the case, it will either be the case that 1) most people are not spiteful and can be reasoned with, or that 2) I will meet people who are as disgruntled as myself on this issue, who can either in their number and influence constitute the scaffolding of new social discourses, or who can vouch for the truth of statement 1).

All that is clear for the present course of action, then, is that I must refine the ways that I deal with people to give me more of a chance of showing the truth of statement 1), and hold out hope that I will meet people of the kind that can give 2) a fighting chance – though it must be said that I haven’t to this day met any such people.


Blogger bhikka said...

Brilliant blog, will keep my eye on it!

6:22 PM  
Blogger Claypot said...

I think this post is too long for my small non-intellectual brain to comment on all of it, but, some thoughts:
I presume that you are speaking of people in a generally 'westernized' context. I don't think people have an inability to want to understand things, I think they have deliberately developed a steel wall of 'not giving a shit'. Your belief that this can be overcome by education is an interesting one. Take the French for example. I am not completely au fait with their education system, but of the many French friends I have all of them have studied philosophy in high school. I think it may even be compulsory. My conversations with these French people are always lucid, thought-provoking and intelligent. In other words, far more interesting than most other conversations I have. The French don't take any bullshit. They are thinkers and movers. I applaud their regular strike actions. Not for their populace crappy railways and health systems. Now take Zambia, where I currently live. Education is the big thing we fundraise for, because - and I think the world at large would agree - education is key. In fact it's all they have. The majority of people in Zambia live on less than £1 a day. 20% of the population has AIDS. They try their best to send their kids to school. They do not, however, care about philosophy or about questioning why they are so poor. They want only to be like the consumerised West. Although they value education, given the choice of a philosophy class or a new pair of trainers they will take the trainers. So what compels one culture to consider philosphy compulsory, and another unnecessary?
Good luck with finding like minds to lead the revolution, it's badly needed. I had thought there was a glimmer of hope with the publication of the very accessible 'No Logo', but it seems to have been just passing news. It has always seemed to me that the doyen(ne)s of philosophy, political economic and social thought have locked themselves away in their ivory towers producing incomprehensible works, while watching the apathy carry on around them.
You must have an incredible strength of character to be able to live in the West - if in fact you do - while thinking these things. I am glad I left the UK. It is a country that will suck the very life blood out of you, while battering you about the head with tv 'reality' programmes and newspapers and magazines full of 'celebrities', wiping out any morale you might have left with public transport that is not even fit for animals and workplaces full of angry spiteful people. Enough, I am not well educated enough to elucidate.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Atum said...

Thanks Claypot for your wonderful comments.
I am addressing people in the ‘westernised’ context, indeed, and specifically those in the UK. I agree with your analysis of Britain, as I’m sure do many, but strength of character must be demonstrable through action, of which this website is only the beginning. The French do have a better system of education, but I think it’s more to do with the government recognising the worth of thinking workers, rather than worrying about how people understand their lives in any humanistic sense. Zambia is another story – I would expect that in Zambia and many other countries where life is harder, philosophy takes little priority and I wouldn’t suggest that that is something out of place; but informed political change in such countries could be a good thing. Unfortunately the governments very much take their cues from us Brits, French etc. and if they didn’t, I imagine they would get very poor very fast and people’s lives would be worse. Third world changes do begin here in the UK (and they certainly do not culminate in invasions, by the way), because our political system is subject to be changed by our citizens – the obstacle to such change being of course people’s apathy. I’m not presuming to be telling you anything new, but I think it does highlight a little the pressing nature of the apathy problem. There is more worry when books like ‘no logo’, ‘fast food nation’ et al all point out the unacceptability of consumer capitalism, and lead to no real change (and probably subsequently to lots of people who read them to feel apathetic because “the system can’t be changed”). The mainstream, arguably because of its integration of the rebellious ‘sixties’, thrives on rebellious feeling, as now money can be made out of the appropriation of any ideology. This has lead many philosophers to conclude that all traditional forms of dissent are untenable.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Claypot said...

I don't want to hijack your inspiring weblog and go off on a tangent. However, stuff to think about: Is it not in some ways more important for countries like Zambia to encourage philosphical thinking and therefore, hopefully, action? I think that change must always come from within. Such developing world governments do not as you suggest 'take their cue' from the West, rather they are dictated to. For the West to try and change things is admirable and important. But to make a faintly ridiculous comparison - see how whatshisface from Ryanair when presented with a bill from the EU allegedly (and I hope it's true) wrote back saying 'Fuck off'. What if all the debt-ridden countries just put two fingers up to the West and refused to pay any more? Zambia at least must be applauded for standing up to the US and refusing food aid that was GM. Indeed there is the thought that to stand up to Western bullies would only make life for these people more difficult, but I genuinely don't think life could be much worse here for people. In recent weeks both local elections and a constitutional review have been cancelled because the country cannot afford them. Democracy is too expensive in other words. In a country where a fifth of the population has AIDS the government has only recently and reluctantly declared a state of emergency, which allows them to produce ARVs locally and cheaply. The reason they have done so reluctantly is because making their own drugs pisses off the Americans, and as we all know America is a dangerous baby to take toys away from.
I have a suggestion - why don't you becoming a travelling philosophical 'preacher'? If so many developing countries can wholeheartedly embrace the bullshit that is Christianity, I think there is hope for them embracing philosophy and therefore real change.

BTW, why is no one else commenting? Is it just completely proving your point about apathy?

12:21 PM  
Blogger bhikka said...

I agree that people in developing countries would make a stand if they could; but with the tangled web of economic (free trade) dominance, and the governments of developing countries are corrupted or either backed into corners to do certain deals with the west to continue getting aid and support for developmental projects. I do not see that it is possible for the people of these countries to stand up for their rights and for their voices to have an impact while this is going on. Although there are and have been so many courageous people who have stood up and made their voices heard and put their lives at risk or have actually died for the freedom to speak. (An interesting site to visit for one story:

The consequences of voices heard is but a tiny impact and change is slow with corporations becoming the new superpowers replacing (or heavily influencing) governments in terms of decision making, we have a large battle on our hands! Most of the multinational corporations have assets that supercede that of small nations.

Powerful corporations do not care about the impacts of their economic interests on people or the environment that their decisions will primarily affect; they do not care about human rights when it comes to economic gain.

Western governments and corporations have a tenacious hold in economic and political sense and this is what WE need to smash to then give those people in developing countries the freedom and power to stand up to this control and make the changes that their quality of life will benefit from.

I agree that there is an apathy but at the same time there is a powerful uprising around the world, people are fighting for changes to be made in the face of adversity. There is more an illusion of apathy here in the west because we are shielded from witnessing some of these bloody conflicts or seeing the suffering of people that are affected by our economic wealth.

If you went on some of the first anti-war and anti-capitalist marches last year in london, the turn out was estimated to be over a hundred thousand on one of many I went on. That is certainly a special number, and there was ovbviously a lot more people who were unable to come or may have not even known about the protest but would have come anyway (the media of course always undercalculate numbers).

I think many people do not know what to do about the current situation, but if they did know what to do, they would start making changes. I have realised this whilst being on some Greenpeace campaigns. When you educate people about what is going on for example with the GM debate or overfishing in the North sea, people will immediately express their support on a campaign and want to do something to help. We always come across two kinds of people, those who are open and want to know and become active and those that really do not care! But there are a lot of people who do care out there and it is best for us to remain positive but whilst being aware we have a large fight on our hands but to not to be too cynical about it.

Changes are begining to happen and more people than ever before are becoming aware of the negative effects ( environmental and human suffering) of the global capitalism takeover.

Read G.Monbiot's The Age of Consent, a manifesto for a new world order and N. Hertz, The Silent Takeover. Two books that do suggest an alternative instead of just giving a bleak analysis of what is going on.

Also visit

2:55 PM  

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