Thursday, September 30, 2004

Socrates for Six-year-olds

‘News is Good’ writes about how his kid siblings demonstrate a will to altruism and that the apathy so blighting the adult population has not yet set in. In the case of these particular kids, I suspect they will remain insulated from ignorance in the fashion of their hairy bro, but nonetheless kids do seem to care more about a global good than adults do. This perhaps suggests that the will to altruism and a concern for the social is an innate tendency or, at least, something instilled at an early age. The kids haven’t yet been subjected to the beige dullness that comes with a career path; to adventure's antidote lying within bank statements; or to any of the other things that help to instil selfishness, indifference and the laze. Their faith in love and escapade remains untarnished and their thoughts can be of others. ‘NiG’ asks how these qualities can be maintained in the young rather than allowing them to disappear into the folds of age.

There’s just no simple answer to that is there? But presumably it lies in education. School, at the moment, prepares us for life in an existing world - a second hand world created by and currently occupied by someone else - rather than showing us how to make it better from the get-go. School teaches you how to survive; how to make your own way through your own life; to not bight the hand that feeds you; and how to find happiness in conforming, in buying stuff and in stopping doing that because y’know, people are looking atcha. If we were to deconstruct ‘school’ and start over, we could change its mission from being focussed on getting kids to mature into controllable and selfish components of a short-sighted and malfunctioning machine towards being focused on maintaining a social and philosophical awareness.

This is nothing new, of course. There have been attempts both to introduce some philosophy - mainly of ethics - into the classroom and also to introduce some of the same stuff into the media mainstream in order to help in healing the wounds left on the soul by formal education. I recall watching a video in a university seminar called Socrates for Six-year-olds about a philosophy programme for sprogs. It seemed to be working wonderfully and it was fab to watch kids being interviewed about their own independent ideas deriving from their new classes. It'd be cool to revisit those kids and see where they are now. The ‘Pop Philosophy’ of Grayling, De Botton, Blackburn et al has proved to sell very well, as have the anti-consumer/pro-fair trade stuff like Reefer Madness and Shopped but this stuff makes the mistake of preaching to the converted and failing to make much of a difference in terms of practicality aside from making a people go ‘huh - maybe there’s something in being clever after all’ before putting the book down, vacating the staff canteen and going imediately back to the grind. But hey, they’ve got a mortgage to pay and kids who need new shoes: they don’t have the time to get all Che Guevara. In my secondary school, we took part for a few years in a programme called Time to Reflect in which someone would read from a big book of ‘reflections’ during the morning’s twenty-minute registration (roll-call) period. The reflections would come in the forms of religious parables, news stories and bits from pop-culture (I remember a kid reading pieces from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for some reason). The idea was that each ‘reflection’ would present an ethical or moral quandary of some persuasion, which the group was then encouraged to discuss. It was actually a great idea. The only problem was that we could all still taste the cheese-flavoured puff-crisps we had for breakfast; most of us were still rapidly working on the trigonometry homework due for submission in twenty minutes time and the inky skinheads at the back of the room kept throwing stationary at me and James Parry and shouting ‘yoom gay’. No one gave a shit about fictitious Parvinda, nonexistent Bryn or their hypothetical ethical quandary.

Basically, modern life doesn’t cater for philosophy; for experimental thought; for the pursuit of the Platonic ‘Good’ or for the bringing about of social change by the people. While there are no Nazi-types going around burning philosophy books in the name of government or commercialism, Atum’s ‘non-discursive thought’ or ‘thinking outside the box’ is seldom sponsored. When efforts are made such as those of Grayling or the nice Time to Reflect people (who incidentally do still operate as I discovered while tidying up the education periodicals in the library yesterday), they don’t really have much affect: their round pegs don’t really fit into modern society’s square hole. Something more practical has to take place if major change is to be implemented: a restructuring of the entire education system would be great! But also quite impossible. The next issue to consider would be how ‘Practical Philosophy’ can succeed where others have either failed miserably or merely urinated a bladder-full of sense into an entire ocean of madness. To me, at this moment in time, it seems that modern life has to adjust to accepting philosophy more willingly and that a supplement to traditional education (right the way through to university level, I suppose) might be a way of doing this.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

From I love me to I love you.

  Atum defined the aim of this weblog in his initial post as: " devise ways of encouraging people to live their lives in more fulfilling and less damaging ways."
  A key part of this, we seem to have discovered, lies in the possibility of 'responsibility' - is it possible? The major problem is "apathy," defined as "the wilful ignorance and denial of responsibility that encourage nothing to be done." Although I foresee that I might have some concerns with this formulation of 'apathy' by Atum if it gets taken in certain directions, for now I'm happy to rest the gaudy Playdoh of my further comments on it.
  We can put personal responsibility on those who are irresponsible about their dealing with the world first. We must find some error in those who are adequately surrounded by the ever-increasing counter-network of information that seeks to inculcate feelings of grief, anger, or shame in people with images or statistics of global turmoil, destruction, and unhappiness... which is sadly often manmade. However, to understand the problem more deeply, we must also hold those massive institutions who wield formative powers upon human society - through their political, economic, and sociological efforts to impart certain dispositions to prevalent ideologies on the public; and their increasing involvment in the psychological formation of individuals from an early age since the world wars, as discussed by the academically popular sociologist Nikolas Rose responsible - responsible for the virility of this mindset.
  One viewpoint without the counterbalance of the other is in, my mind, extremely lacking. To blame people and ignore the myriad forces that work on them makes one hateful and prejeudiced against the 'suckers', the 'losers', the 'unwashed'. 'Let the fuckers eat cake' is the sort of mindset that might develop (and I would know, I have a psychology degree and am an expert. Yes).   To hold up the 'common man' as intrinsically good, were it only not for those nasty politicians and the toady teachers who uphold their odious curricula of disempowerment, is bumwash. We are increasingly knowing in our world. Evidence of what is happening hits us all the time, a massive tide of faeces that we cannot block out completely without imposing a mental block. When people in America turn to Fox News, or their conservative newspapers, or Rush Limbaugh, they are aware that they are towing a certain ideological line. Instead of being simply un-burdened with the knowledge of their self-imposed stupidity, they are happy to be dumb.
  So how may we fix this?
  Let me please saunter into a mode of solution that might one day finalise itself in a best-selling self-help book, co-authored by all on this blog, entitled "How To Take Responsibility & Live a Better Life". It's lucrative stuff, people, get on the bandwagon immediately!
  Part of the general 'apathy' around us is, I must admit, caused by what Atum has called "the trivialising of argumentation entirely into perspectives and points of view". What happens here is that "Person ‘A’ has one view, person ‘B’ has a different view, yet this does not merit investigation, it is simply stated with a shrug," and this is a type of relativistic individualism, where the person can feel free that their way of life is theirs alone, their 'opinion', and henceforth unchallengeable. How many times in pseudo-intellectual debates have I heard the cry of "well, it's my opinion!", as if it in anyway makes it less objectionable? One occasion I remember was my continued efforts to show somebody that their reasons for wanting to vote Conservative ('they plan to do X, they did Y, they stand for Z') were contrary to certain facts. With a tone of 'facts are disgusting, like rotting pieces of a glamour model's fake breast' the person replied, yes, "Well, it's my opinion". How can opinion ever 'beat' fact?
  This deification of opinions adds up, I'd contend, to a permissive society, accepting of social libertarianism, but sadly without the possibility of questioning any of those liberties. We are free agents, and are free most of all to do obviously stupid things and support the stupid people above us who promise us more stupidity in return for our continued stupidity. We may pollute, destroy, and impoverish with practised ease.
  One sad example of 'my opinion is just doublesuperer than yours (or the facts of the situation - ha!)' is displayed in Gary Younge's article A hierarchy of suffering, where he notes that an increasing tactic on the political right is to, in effect, say that "in my opinion I, a rich white male with every possible advantage in this unfair world, am being victimised". This statement of persecution backs up, for example, the Iraq war, and the continuing (although ever more criticised) support of Israel.
  More pertinently, what leads on is an unwillingness to either give criticism of someone else's level of responsibility towards others, or worse, the unhappiness of being given it. We have all walked past the charity tin, but what if the tin holder had chased us? Instead of being shamed by our greedy neglect, and handing over a pocketfull of un-needed change, most people would instead feel violated, even assaulted. If we were to walk up to people in the street and ask them of their opinions on important issues, and what they intended to ever do about them, how many would be interested in responding and listening?
  We are overwhelmingly apathetic about important issues, in my opinion, because we feel absolutely right to hold our opinions, whatever they be.
  This is many ways laudable. Atum bought me Schlosser's Reefer Madness for my birthday over a year ago, which I am finally reading, which covers part of the battle against pornography. It is cheering to read of jurors who refuse to impose their own judgements of what is right or wrong on those convicted of selling porno, acquitting them of charges of obscenity because they believe in the individual's right to choose what they may or may not erotically enjoy. However, this belief in everyone's individual rights has been taken too far. We are all entitled to our opinions - but what of our responsibilities to other people? If our opinions lead us to believe we have no responsibilities to anyone other human but those of our family unit, we should be entitled to argue whether this is ethical. But ethics are not as important, it seems, as our rights to be apathetic, uncaring bastards.
  Perhaps we must reconfigure popular debate. We already feel able to question each other's moralities and viewpoints when it comes to how others deal with their families and close friends. It's seen as fair game, especially since shows such as Jerry Springer, to decry the wife-beater, the wife-cheater, the abusive parents, those who make quick cash by cheating friends on dodgy pyramid investment schemes. These are not matters of "This is my opinion on how to live, and it is sacred". We understand these are matters that negatively affect others, and that we should therefore be held responsible for what we are doing to them.
  And this is how we should feel, more and more, about our duties to the world in general. In America, as Schlosser points out, it would cost only 5 cents per person to provide decent wages for the many thousands of illegal workers on Californian strawberry fields, people who work in the hardest conditions for little and are bilked out of their money with share-cropping schemes. Those who protest against this tiny increase in their taxes should not be seen as protecting their interests, and valiantly expressing their opinons, but as unpleasant hateful little shites.
  How can we start to change our hidden system of ethics from staunchly pro-individual to pro-others? This is a political question at heart, and I don't hold out hope that it will be particularly simple. But, having watched three of my considerably younger siblings grow up and seen them interacting with their friends, I know that young children are easily moved by the suffering of others, and are more than anything motivated by what they see as 'unfairness'. Unfairness often seems to be the cornerstone of an infant's view of justice. Where does this go as they grow up?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Is responsibility possible?

The problem is apathy, the wilful ignorance and denial of responsibility that encourage nothing to be done. How this is to be seen and dealt with in people remains a problem – Bobocop said that the wilfulness of the ignorance is to be deplored; a view now changed in light of News is Good’s exposition of the power relationship, keeping the vast majority of people stupid and apathetic for the material gain of the few. Yet there is enough of Bobocop’s ‘Christian women’ to firmly place responsibility at the doors of those who are apathetic.

News is Good writes:

“So I prefer this belief. A useful belief, a helpful belief, a nourishing belief. That people are made stupid for the prime reason that this is how we can keep the status quo going. That people are made stupid entirely because stupid people don't buck the trend. That people don't have to be like this, although changing it won't half be difficult.”

Which in itself is fine. It is held however in a dichotomy with Bobocop’s earlier post, and is shown here to be an alternate to it – a useful alternative, it is stated, and not a ‘balloon of rising incandescent gas’. Yet I must press for arguments here, as there seems to me that the politics of control are not inconsistent with personal responsibility. The former seeks an explanation for how our mindsets have come about, and the latter seeks to blame those that have the given mindset. All things being equal, perhaps to cut that blame of being apathetic away in view of the circumstances out of which apathy arises would be the most fair decision (whose uses are as immediate as identifying the obviously political nature of those circumstances). However, all things are far from equal.

We are shown, indeed by the very content offered on this blog, that our instructions for life as inherited from our family, peers, education, and wider society, allow us (and yes, direct us) toward the pit of oblivion. We are shown by biological science the plasticity of the human mind, as we are shown by history the ability of the human being to become other than what it can psychology, politically, and philosophically be described as. It would not be controversial to state that we criticise, refute and destroy because we are able to refine, abandon and rebuild. I feel it is necessary to say this because there is no simple exposition of a political situation that can easily be said to account for the undercutting of human endeavour and will to change, where it is responsible and capable. News is Good’s political explanation is appealing, and in my view correct, yet to conclude that it undercuts responsibility would not require heavy support, it would require a complex of wholly other arguments. I am not suggesting that it is indefensible – indeed I have and do question our ability to be properly responsible, but this idea still requires us to adopt a defensible position toward it.

The question that we are tackling is in what sense it is appropriate to deal with a specific problem; this question remains unanswered. It is not obvious that those who live subject to political control are thereby not responsible for the state of their minds, and likewise it is not clear how those who are greedily crawling around in the intellectual gutter deserve to be blamed. I do wish to offer, though, a defence on the now undefended position of personal responsibility.

My argument is a pragmatic one, in essence. If News is Good favoured one idea because of the easily identifiable buttons that need to be pushed, then I hold this one on account of our difficulty in pushing them. It may be easier to talk apathetic persons into care and action that it would be to actually exercise an effective political influence. And political influence is barred not only by politicians and businessmen, but also by those whom we ultimately wish to affect - apathy toward politics is at somewhat of a high, I’m sure we will agree, and perhaps the only way political action can help is if we do indeed ‘go educational’ (in itself a mean feat), effectively leaving the existing apathetic to die out. This may indeed be the only way, but, alternatively, perhaps there is a case to be made for the ability of people to feel responsible.

What comes to mind is the training of feelings of responsibility through regulative discourses, which seems to be the only way to invoke feeling in others these days. Regulation is something like suffering, something akin perhaps to oppression, and this idea is difficult to accept – but if it is indeed the only viable method then it must be taken. Aristotle’s Ethics considers training to be a vital precursor to education, as it sets the disposition of the person as ready to receive it. Similarly for the use of discourses, what is good for the goose may in this case be good for the gander.

It remains to be seen how responsibility-encouraging discourses differ from political change (as politics is usually the process by which discourses are adopted and abandoned), but that they can be initiated from outside of politics (i.e. philosophically and socially, leading only then and inevitably to adjustments in politics) could prove fruitful.

However it is not at all clear at this stage how such ‘regulative discourses’ could live up to their names – as regulative discourses, as I understand them, are either directly and specifically linked either to the identities people agree to confer upon each other, or otherwise to morals (which are almost always an accompaniment to these identities). Some moral system, some way of laying praise and blame upon people will be called for if this ‘discourse’ argument is to actually have any content. Coker’s laying of blame on the Christian women seems a plausible example to follow, but please keep in mind though that should this fall short there are surely other arguments that show how personal responsibility might be possible – it isn’t the case that people are not (and cannot be held to be, which may very well be different concerns) responsible for their predicament.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Distortion: in the eyes of flawed humanity, or in the way they are taught to see?

  How is it that it is so easy for us to see what others find so challengingly unreal? Where we cast our eyes and find rubble, others seem to have palaces before them.
  Bobocop's previous post asks us to find these people ignorant, and to consider that they are ultimately responsible for their ignorance. This is fair enough, for 'no-one is innocent' - we all know the world we're living in and can only choose to be so callously unswayed by the desperate pleas all around us.
  Or is it this simple?
  To me this seems like the doctrine of original sin, that in the very creation of human life is a flaw that exacerbates the person's venal desires until we are all Hulking out in all sorts of incestuous / murderous / beastialicious ways if not for the calm guidance of Faith.
  Naaaaa. The world seems more like some stinking pond into which we, like tadpoles from eggs, unthinkingly emerge. Our tails catch in the muck, we are blinded by it, all around us is the stench and the taste of corruption. Who should blame us for exercising our privileges as utterly rich people - if you earn 'even' a minimum wage in the West you are in the top 10% of wages, since most people exist on less than that hourly minimum wage each day - wallowing in what ever cheap enjoyments our many many pennies can afford?
  An Image: Life is a coach ride. What it is driving through is dark, unpleasant, and moves one to tears, to fears, to wanting to do something, to wanting to escape it. And most people exercise their ocular facilities in the exercises of the onboard TV which displays many varieties of lifestyle programmes. And dodgily homophobic prime-time sitcoms about gays.
  Yes, yes, yes, we as a race ignore so much of what is happening around us. And it seems so obvious, so right, and so true to get angry at the morons who continue in this agonisingly amoral trend of absolute apathy, their ambitions aspiring ever asswards. (What of the self is more worshipped now than the ass?, a thing sat on so happily, fattened so swiftly, toned so self-redeemingly.) But I submit to you this - an anger of this size is untenable. It is a balloon so full of rising incandescent gas that it rises too swiftly into the reaches of the atmosphere and pops.
  If humanity is so unshiftingly Failed, and there is no God to sort the Wrong from the Right, what else but wearily except it?
  So I prefer this belief. A useful belief, a helpful belief, a nourishing belief.
  That people are made stupid for the prime reason that this is how we can keep the status quo going. That people are made stupid entirely because stupid people don't buck the trend. That people don't have to be like this, although changing it won't half be difficult.
  I am training to be a teacher in the post-compulsory sector, teaching the subject of psychology. This will involve a bewhildering array of people - I can possibly be in contact with kids of 14 to adults of any age before death - in any number of places - the college, the school, the church, the university the community hall, wherever a class can be pulled together.
  The books I have on teaching are few, but one of them is 'Dumbing Us Down' by John Taylor Gatto. In the Publisher's Note, David H. Albert writes that "[i]n the context of our culture, it is easy to see that critical thinking is a threat." This is because "the Combine needs dumb adults, so it ensures the supply by making the kids dumb... the Combine only has limited use for hundreds of millions of self-reliant, critically thinking individuals who engage in conversation and who determine their own needs as individuals and communities free of the Combine's enticements and commands... What the Combine needs, most of all, is Wal-Mart clerks and burger flippers..." (Note: the 'Combine' is from Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a book about how power can convince people into believing that they are the problem when they disagree with society, when in fact the problem is society and etc. It's pretty good and Jack Nicholson was in the movie and he was in Batman and there is no finer test of acting brilliance than Batman.)
  The world has a vast array of techniques to persuade us into silent dumbness. What is exemplified most commonly by the loudest voices? Innovation in business, the competition amongst others to end up on top. What is ignored by these voices? The use of co-operation to produce a better future. What are we told to want? Not even things per se, instead the very accruing of desires that need to be ever fulfilled, to want want itself, to have such a prodigious amount of want that one can prove oneself financially strong enough to be able to weather its fearsome excesses. And what are we told not to want, not to aspire to?
  Well, practically anything that's a bit, you know, 'liberal', 'bleeding heart', 'touchy-feely'.
  We damn well want the survival of the fittest, even if it means that the fittest keep ruining everything so much for the unfit that it destroys everything.
  But, friends, it is important that WE see through this. We don't accept the ideologies that have created all this and keep creating it. We do, to our credit, attempt to think critically, and enjoy being a little snarky clever numpkins for its own deliciously bastardy sake. ('Oi, you, I'm going to question your beliefs, even though it's not seen as particularly polite or productive within the framework of our 'efficient' IT-based economy.') And we can do something about it.
  I'm interested in learning to teach in order to use the qualification and experience to step up into a professional area of psychology - probably educational psychology, but perhaps instead community psychology. In this area, I will be surrounded by people blithely doing and thinking what they're told is best, interested in the perks and the moneys and the home-life with their family and widescreen TV at weekends. They will catch up with the footie and the soaps and buy expensive consumer electronic equipment and perhaps join a book group at 40 and read some Rabelais and declare it 'very smashing indeed, pass the Beajoulais'. And some of us will use our positions to agitate, to question, to change.
  And we can best keep on doing this in any way possible, to tell others the hows and the whys of what we are doing, climbing the structures of power around us in order to expose them for what they are.
  A teacher can turn round and write 'Dumbing Us Down', and attempt to start a movement. A philosopher can get a chair at Cambridge and then complain angrily about admissions policies that seek to deny those from disadvantage backgrounds their place. And a burger man can poison late night revellers outside pubs because they're loud and drunken and just basically unpleasant.
  We can always do something. And we must keep doing it, and trusting in it, and asking others to join in, and making our case. Because maybe people aren't born stupid, they're very carefully trained to be.
  And some of us seem to be catching on to this possibility.

Sunday, September 19, 2004


I’ve just finished reading John Windham’s speculative fiction novel, The Day of the Triffids. In it, there is a cynical and hard-boiled but far from loveless character called Coker. He’s successfully survived the slow apocalypse which has brought much of the rest of the world to its knees and as a result of his struggle for survival in the novel’s post-civilisation world, he has become an intensely practical man and grown to deplore the pretentious, the aesthetic and the religious. While an extremist in most respects and a born-again utilitarian, the character of Coker can be employed as a metaphor in order to help illustrate what contributors to ‘Practical Philosophy’ might stand for.

Coker is troubled by laziness, by indifference to social issues and by those who refuse to learn until only desperation commands them to do so. Moreover he demonstrates to us that people can be made to see; that change can be sought and that the masses can be inspired by the humble few.

He and the story’s main character, Bill Mason, happen across a commune of chance survivors: their number consisting entirely of middle-aged Christian women. The women are afraid to deviate from God’s familiar commandments or the respectable 1950s social etiquette despite the concepts of God and Society essentially being killed off along with the rest of the world. For weeks these women have been fumbling around in a darkened mansion until Bill and Coker show up and use their petrol reserves to fuel an electricity generator. The women are astounded at the ingenuity of the men - a prospect which only angers Coker:

“If you had just taken the trouble to start the engine,” Coker said, looking at her “if you wanted light why didn’t you try to start it?”
“I don’t know anything about engines or electricity.”
Coker went on looking at her thoughtfully.
“So you just went on sitting in the dark,” he remarked, “and how long do you think you are likely to survive if you carry on sitting in the dark when things need doing?”
She was stung by his tone.
“It’s not my fault if I’m no good at things like that.”
“I’ll differ there,” said Coker, “it’s not only your fault, it’s a self-created fault. Moreover its an affection to consider yourself too spiritual to understand anything mechanical. It is a petty and very silly form of vanity. Everyone starts by knowing nothing about anything, but God gives him - and even her - the brains to find out with. Failure to use them is not a virtue to be praised: even in women it is a gap to be deplored.”
She looked understandably annoyed. She said:
“That’s all very well but people’s minds work on different lines. Men understand how machines and electricity work. Women just aren’t interested in that kind of thing as a rule.”
“Don’t hand me a mess of myth and affectation; I’m not taking it,” said Coker , “you know perfectly well that women can and do, or rather did, handle the most complicated and delicate machines when they took the trouble to understand them. What happens is that they’re generally too lazy to take the trouble unless they have to.”

Where Coker talks of the ignorance of the Christian women, we write of the apathetic population (as explained by Atum in his initial outline). Where Coker speaks of an understanding of electricity and physical mechanics, we write about the awareness of social issues and desire to push for change. Now more than ever, people must take the time to develop this understanding if the world is to resist being pulled into a pit of stagnation by the tentacles of consumerism. This understanding can be developed if one turns to philosophy and the social sciences, but it's far easier not to take an interest at all and to rather accept at face value whatever daily slants are puked out by the tabloids and what important issues are forgotten about when the media spotlight turns once again to the cute and the trivial.

“You can’t say any longer ‘oh dear, I don’t understand this kind of thing’ and leave it for someone else to deal with. No one is going to be muddle-headed enough now to confuse ignorance with innocence now - it’s too important.”

And he’s right. There are no innocent bystanders. Only ignorance - a conscious and deliberate one - allows the third world to continue starving and prevents justice being brought to greedy corporate criminals.

“The engine just happened to be a symbol. The point is we’ll all have to learn not simply what we like, but as much as we can about running a community and supporting it. The men can’t just fill in a voting paper and hand the job to someone else.”

The only risk I think we run is of preaching to the converted. Did the efforts of developing a "people's philosophy" (Grayling, DeBotton, Blackburn et al) really help? I'm not even sure how 'Fast Food Nation', 'Supersize Me' and 'Shopped' and Michael Moore's stuff changed many things. Having said that, I think 'international world peace day' came about as the reult of one man's efforts and someone has already mentioned the origins of Greenpeace on here. It's important not to keep on trying: if you throw enough shit at a wall, some of it's gotta stick.

To be intimate with distortions.

  It's probably not too contentious a thing to say that Britain today is in something of a sorry state. And I don't mean 'today' as in the terribly sweeping and dramatic way that actually covers upwards of three decades in one statement using a word that really should mean this single day only. I mean today as in today - this day. This one here.
  For recently the collective attention of those of the public that do at least give a flying fuck through a rolling donut about world affairs has been rolling gently around a victorian hall of mirrors, chuckling at itself reflected gaudily in the mis-shaped glass, as Scarily Real Events have passed by them, practically unnoticed.
  Right now, fox-hunting is big news. The papers fire their opinionated artilleries, scattering bursts of shrapnel over a battlefield that is far out of proportion to the importance of the issue. While innocents were gunned down in the streets of Iraq - amongst the injured an Iraqi journalist working with the Guardian newspaper - our eyes were wobbling like jelly to the seductive sights of some old toffs preening themselves in the media glare. And such momentous things as Kofi Annan accusing the US of war crimes are forgotten as dubiously 'famous' men burst into the house of commons, shouting and generally acting like shits.
  What is this sick desire to create and then roll around in our own toxic waste of fuckups and messups, when the world is already awash with the same stuff we've been exporting for the past innumerable years?
  These problems, 'our problems', are nothing. Some morons - almost certainly with inside help from a disgruntled pro-foxhunting political type - break into the house of commons and act like typical Hooray Henry's, moaning about traditional practices that most people find indicative of a backwards mindset. The world can go to hell in a handbasket, and all they want to do is make sure that the hell they arrive in still has the pleasant pastime of ripping apart hunted mammals.
  What is it that makes us so entirely oblivious to actual, real-life events? And does philosophy have any bearing on this? Perhaps this problem will seem more philosophical if I equate actual events with truth, and these made-up complications that we concentrate on so as the comforting lies that keep us from the pain of problematic living - and that I too think that a major part of the solution is education.
  I went to Birmingham with my girlfriend a few days ago. We had a nice French meal, walked along the canals, made jokes about the Saga FM bus, laughed, and annoyed people on the train. And we also stood in the rain for a long time at one point, viewing a collection of Yann-Arthus Bertrand's [Earth From the Air] images that stand in an impressive and mighty group in a free outside exhibition. Many things are shown - a solitary human figure standing on a massive iceberg, the sheer size of it humiliating; a mangrove swamp naturally shaped like a heart; a tiny and luscious archipelago. And also there are slums in 'developing' countries; the side of a highrise in Brazil bustling with life maintained on wages unthinkably low; scenes of massive population overcrowding in Africa; the erosion of land as environments are damaged. All have lengthy descriptions of the image and what it may mean, most of them with a hefty dose of political intent. Wherever you go on the earth, life is in the process of being degraded for the profit of somebody else, being crushed by the pressure of the need to survive against imposed hardship, the life of the plant, animal, mineral, and human.
  There is a short video of Mr. Bertrand that shows him at work. He is an impressive man, trying to visually show us some things about this tiny planet that we too easily forget. There is a massive amount of merchandise showing his mostly pretty and pleasant pictures. And there was a bizarre indoor exhibit sponsored by Birdseye that was entirely made up of publicity shots of frozen ready meals. The Birdseye lady came up and asked us if we'd like to take part in a competition to take pretty pictures of things. I said, "No thankyou, it's hard for me to take pictures being blind". She scuttled off chagrinned.
  What the exhibit does is to draw us closer - although only briefly - to many other peoples living in many other places with many other problems. Problems that won't just blow over, problems that aren't created by a group of pointless people scared of their own pointlessness. Problems that involve the facts, the truths, that are plastered over the exhibition - that much of the world is without electricity, that most people live on under $2 a day, that there are hundreds of thousands of children fighting in militias all over the world - the facts that we somehow feel we can ignore, as if the pleasantly amusing distortions of our own stupid western country in the hall of mirrors are enough to distract us from the actual disfigurements of the human condition all around us.
  In yesterday's Guardian newspaper, Martin Jacques wrote about the ['death of intimacy']. Perhaps he is in some way right - and what we need is not merely to be confronted with The Truth. Philosophy, as I come slowly to understand from my brief glances at it from the outside, is not an entirely gentle thing of reading books and considering. It is rigorous in its methods and application, often utilisises mathematics and formal logic, and harsh with knowledge when it feels the need to be, and a philosopher might conclude that the best thing to do for this sorry situation would be to examine, dissect, and then explain the harsh realities of the world, the Actual Truth of living.
  Perhaps what we need is for this cold steel to be softened somewhat by contact with those who are unable to turn away from the pains of the world around them, to be buried in the continued stupidities of the English class system. We need an intimacy with each other, a bond, so that we are able to comprehend the mistakes we make, and their affects on others. The truth we need is not only the simple and brutal one of what the world is today, but also the complex and inter-related one of how our participation in our little country effects so many other people, how the institutions around us rule in our names to wield power over those so far away we do not even consider. We need not only the feeling of responsibility that comes from being part of a sick world, but that which comes from the understanding that we have always been a cause of this sickness, however small and however unwitting.

Saturday, September 18, 2004


A strong implication of my post needs elucidating and brought out into the open. I wrote:

“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?”

The reason for this post is to explain this section somewhat more clearly. Before I begin I feel that I need to admit an error in the above, since only specific forms and uses of relativism imply or lead to nihilism (and we are dealing mainly with those that do). The implication that I need to elucidate is the idea that philosophical questions and propositions, where important, require philosophical investigation. And indeed the question is not one of whether all philosophical topics are important to people – indeed I might say that this is the case, but it is an unnecessary argument which can be accepted or discarded without affecting the above statement (and to avoid confusion, saying that ‘no philosophical problems are important’ is not the same as saying that ‘it is not the case that all philosophical problems are important’, the latter of which is the subject here).

So I must make a case for this. An argument I am inclined to make is that it is true by definition that ‘philosophical’ propositions are governed by ‘philosophical’ explanations, much as fixing problems with one’s ‘plumbing’ would require the knowledge and skills of ‘plumbing’, and ‘mathematical’ equations are resolved through a ‘mathematical’ analysis. That we use the word ‘philosophical’ to attach to a problem or proposition means that the said problem or proposition is put into a ‘philosophy’ box. This is a linguistic tautology, I believe, and as long as ‘philosophical’ is said to apply (and of course where it does and doesn’t there should be reasons) to something, ‘philosophical’ investigation is appropriate (where that something requires it).

The question of whether ‘philosophical’ problems such as ones of meaning and value mentioned in my earlier post (i.e. relativism and nihilism, which underlie apathy) actually require the appropriate ‘philosophical’ investigation hangs on the extent of their problematic nature. Since they are very problematic - some say, the disease of our times – they do require appropriate philosophical investigation.

I continued:

“But philosophy, as it stands, is neither recognised nor sought as the legitimate investigation into these things.”

Which obviously must change. In writing this post I feel that I can add to my earlier statements 1) and 2), by saying that in statement 1), the subject matter of the reasoning when dealing with “those who can be reasoned with” is the legitimacy of philosophical investigation; and that the words in statement 2) of “new social discourses” now can explicitly be expressed as including this same goal.

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.

Thursday, September 09, 2004


I am a second year Philosophy student, and I am interested in making people's lives better. This weblog is intended to showcase the different ideas of a small team, providing a collective resource that can be understood and built upon. The aim of this weblog is to devise ways of encouraging people to live their lives in more fulfilling and less damaging ways.