Monday, November 21, 2005

Mr. and Mrs. Dad say 'So What?'

It should concern us that children are targetted by business in such a way that their mental functionings become dependent upon following brand discourses. But why should we want this to be different? Asking this question is to ask why a person who has autonomous use of their faculties is better than a person who does not. The answer I can immediately indicate is in two parts (and they are independently sufficient).

Firstly, an analysis of the likely outcome of the corporatised person, who has emotionally invested in getting life satisfaction from what the market offers (both in terms of material and ideological gain), will reveal that this person is perpetually unhappy and abused. These facts are of course necessitated by the 'economic realities', the acceptance of the nature of which News is Good is more able to describe.

Secondly, the understanding of any problems whatsoever - societal, interpersonal, philosophical, political, however we contextualise them - are only dealt with arbitrarily if we have the movement of capital shape both the content and the conditions of our responses to them. If considered answers to important questions are irrelevant then we had better leave the ebb and flow of life to the dead, stale corpses that litter our graveyards. The irrepressible fact of suffering should wake us to a basic need to respond appropriately to problems - dealing with suffering seems to be a pretty universal imperative if you ask me; a line between cruelty and compassion must be drawn somewhere, and this natually shatters such absurd maxims as 'let the world come and go as it may'. Note that even whether you should, while at work, even DO any, are not accounted for by the authority of one's company.

The consequence of these considerations is that it must be the case that the person with the independent mind (and the independent use thereof) is the only person capable of being both a happy and a good person, or at least not a sorrowful and cruel one. As soon as we realise this and choose to approach life's problematics, of which the most obviously pressing is the insitutionalised nature of not so doing, the better for humanity - for only then can we can hope to be defined within the term.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Intellect is property.

  A number of pieces of information have collided recently in my head, causing a coalescing of thought. Two pieces are anecdotes of children given handsomely homemade gifts - one a fully functioning shop made lovingly by a grandad. The children, sadly, let the toys languish, not knowing at all what to do with them.
  In Joel Bakan's the Corporation I am also reading about the marketing concept of 'the Nag Factor', in which products are sold to kids so that they can nag their parents for said items. Happily, they understand the demographics of parents well enough to describe such types as "the indulgent" or "the conflicted parent". Indulgers are working parents who splurge on gifts to feel less guilty about not seeing their kids enough. Conflicted parents don't wish to buy such things but end up doing so anyway, due to the nagging. Thankyou, corporate salesmen, for helping parent's lives in this way! Now they will always know what to buy!
  In the same book, you can read about the lives of Chris and Luke, who sold themselves as sponsorship devices to companies to fund college. A pleasant fairy tale of empowerment, responsibility, and corporate goodness.
  Another is a Guardian piece on ads. Can you believe it, 99% of the adverts we see each day entirely pass us by! It's as if we just don't care enough to scrutinise each personally! The most amusing thing about all of this is that anyone thinks that better advertising would make us buy more. Perhaps we have only limited personal resources and wants to buy things in the first place?
  Finally, there is an interesting essay on personal property, also in today's Guardian.

  The coalescing thought took all this information in. What if... what if the main point of advertising is not actually to sell things?
  There is so much of it everywhere. How much impact does it actually have? The article I mention above shows that at least some people in business are not surprised that the impact is low.
  Another point is that education is also on the agenda of the salesman. Children are educated to want and to nag. The lives of people can be co-opted for sponsorship.
  And, finally, this education is having an obvious effect. Some children do not comprehend how to play with none-branded toys. The love and devotion of the handmade, the 'bespoke', passes them by. They cannot imagine the possibilities of such toys. Such tales anger me quite severely: what has happened to imagination?
  The answer that I am led to is: it has been colonised entirely by the corporation. We are raised to want and to nag. We are forever surrounded by adverts that we barely notice and do not remember. Our intellects are filled up with the remnants of the intellectual property of others and we are losing the ability to have our own. It is actually necessary for corporations to do this. In order to sell more, they must take our own resources and abilities away so they can sell them back to us in a more plastic, more wrappable, more lucrative form.
  It seems that children are, ideally, not supposed to imagine, they are supposed to buy into the imaginations of marketers. How can parents not be complicit in this assertion of ownership over part of their child's mind? How can they refuse the recycled demands from the adverts that shout from inbetween each and every cartoon?

  I don't know. We are asking others to question what is everywhere the biggest and most neon statement, to privilege their own thoughts of the suggestions of others. And that is a state of development that we are not really taught how to reach.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Egoism, but how rational?

  In the long summer break between ending my PGCE and getting my job, I attempted to take apart Ayn Rand.
  Sadly, the task was far too big, as she is far too wrong in far too many ways to deal with, unless one is committed to writing a book. And, in the end, why would her supporters listen, when they are so fundamentally opposed to arguments against her? However, I cannot hold my tongue against one aspect of her 'philosophical' beliefs, culminated in various essays and fictions etc.
  Rand was a rational egoist, believing that self-interest was rational and right, in all circumstances, actively denying the goodness of altruism and promoting selfishness as a virtue. I do believe this is not slanderous to her position, if anything, she would herself probably find it not strong enough a statement of her values.
  There is a curious problem about being such an egoist. How is it possible to hold and teach the philosophy at the same time? Say that I believe in the fundamental rightness of being moral, in that I consider others. I can exhort others to follow this standard, and there is no contradiction - I believe that I know what is good and right, and wish for others to share in it.
  It is not so easy to be so transparent when espousing rational egoism. Why should you hold the belief and also teach others it? If, say, you believe society is rather too altruistic (as Rand did) and that people should act in their own self-interest, then the most rational course of action is to praise altruism and benefit from it, while giving little yourself. That way you can live a prosperously immoral life, while appearing moral in order to evade detection (which is, interestingly, the argument of Thrasymachus in Plato's Republic).
  What does it mean to hold and preach such a belief, however? On one hand, it might mean that Rand was simply imperfect, teaching something that she did not hold completely herself, as it would be contradictory. But I believe that there is every evidence that she did try to live by her philosophy, which is exactly why she is still so adored - she is a figurehead for such a lifestyle.
  Ayn Rand, I think, acted in her own self-interest by writing about and publishing upon the subject of rational egoism. By trying to win others round to the argument, she obviously made things more difficult for herself, by increasing the competition for resources. If she had succeeded within her lifetime of changing the social and political conduct of some area, and living there, it would be a much harder place for her to live without the possible (although to her uncouth) altruism of others as a support, as all would be following the edict to be selfish. How would that help her when compared to Thrasymachus' cunning approach?
  I believe that it is feasible to conclude that her whole philosophy is based on her self-interest. It is not about teaching others to further their own self-interest, as there seems to be little reason to think that this option would fit in with her very philosophy. She was selfishly attempting to garner a society around her. She was cultivating social status amongst people. She was living off her philosophy and selling it to others for financial and social profit, without intending it to help others - by her very own thinking she should care not at all for that.
  So, perhaps it might be a good idea, if you are the sort of person to fall in love with her writing, to consider whether it was written to teach you how to help you or her.
  I admit, perhaps there is much evidence that she helped all sorts of people around her in many ways, indisputably not for the furthering of her own ends. And what does that make of her philosophy? How could that be explained?

  This is only one possibility. IF there is no reason why rational egoists should help others to become rational egoists unless a world of rational egoists would help the individual rational egoist (and I cannot see how that is (rationally) the case) there are two more answers that I can imagine:
  Firstly, Rand's work was a capitalist fascism, then the importance of the myth of the business-superman and libertarian-fatherland are the real aim, not rational egoism. This possibilty fascinates me, as it is historically a neat-and-tidy concept that would tie various ideologies together.
  Secondly, I have a suspicion that the real aim was not towards a society of rational egoism but simply one against the values that she despised. Against the communism that she hated and escaped from, therefore against any left-wing or socialist political system (it can, of course, be argued that the communism as was practised is nothing like socialism etc. ad infinitum), winding up as against altruism. Such a journey, from personal experience of the Soviet regime to a hatred of altruism, is hard to contemplate, both psychologically and philosophically.
  As hard as it could be to grasp, this explanation would explain why, rationally, she teaches others rational egoism from a standpoint of rational egoism which, to me, does not make sense. She is not espousing it to create a new society and increase the competition around her - much better to be two-faced! - but to destroy the contrary ideals.
  Is the espousing of universal selfishness in your own interests? If not, it is hard to see why it is espoused by the selfish. Is it, perhaps, in order to quash something desperately unliked?

  I am very interested in why such ideals as altruism - and therefore unconditional or low-conditional love, agape, mutual/communal respect and so on - are so hated. I believe they may be the actual main target at the heart of all this. There is a movement to destroy them, and it might be that they are not stating their real motives clearly. What is it about humanity that some examples of it wish to destroy what many would call humanity itself?
  Otherwise, I am still interested in why she cloaked her own philosophy self-interest as one of being interested in the self-interest of others. What did she gain?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Descartes before the horse?

There are a couple of thoughts about Academic Philosophy that continue to fill me with amazement. The first is the rather obvious fact that Philosophy departments coexist with other departments and don’t attempt to analyse what is happening in other areas of the University (and indeed, right across the hall). This may be a problem of not seeing the wood for the trees, but this blindness I think has its root in the acceptance of the way we do further education, and the internalisation of the separation between disciplines in academics (including the physical routines of classes and offices and the logistics of students) . Surely that which is most immediately problematic to the Philosophers of today isn’t an empirical natural world, but an uneasy office-like existence of thoughtful beings subjecting themselves and their ‘intellectual children’ (if you like) to an omnipotent bureaucracy that shields itself from thought by setting thought’s dimensions and limits. Detailing this (perpetually, as I would have it) would not be Philosophers ‘causing trouble’, but just bothering to do Philosophy in the first place.

Secondly, the facts of publication are grotesque and absurd. Academics need to be publishing a certain amount of papers a year to be granted funding (i.e. to keep producing knowledge and not spiralling into an undergraduate-teaching nightmare where thoughts are only repeated and the academic has no chance to pursue the activity of Philosophy), but who is it that reads all these papers? It would take more time than there is available to academics to keep abreast of what other academics are doing. And so the cycle of endless, empty knowledge continues. Surely Philosophers, who are, I have found, acutely aware of the problem, need to care enough about knowledge not to produce it arbitrarily, holding it up in the air to the chime of a death-knell. If the truth isn’t worth fighting for in these instances, how can Descartes be taught with any exhortation to follow and internalise his inferences? If Descartes embarked on scepticism in a quest for the truth, then upon what absurd principle are we to follow him if we are not prepared to question the most obviously deceitful of our conceptual practices?

Island Dichotomies

Talking with a University friend today, who has shunned Philosophy in favour of higher marks taking English courses (another story), made me realise how strange it is when people feel trapped by their emotional needs even when they know them to be false. My friend seeks security, and certain particulars like this of conventional living, due to childhood needs that weren’t met due to a broken home scenario. What surprised me is that rather than attempt to understand and reconcile this with their obviously valuable thoughts (fairly radical and against social conditioning), cracking straight the contradictions implied by this, the idea they have of living involves a future of compromise where thoughts aren’t really met. I’m sure it isn’t making excuses, though these things often are, but a legitimate attempt to deal with living in the world. It occurred to me later what is most significantly wrong with this. Rather than working out life based upon a dichotomy of the future having to comply with our emotional needs and intellectual probings, there should in fact be an active principle working out the differences between the two (and prioritising the latter over the former), and this is consideration of the lives of others. As I reflect on the remarkably honest conversation I had today with my friend, I am mainly taken aback at my inability to offer this angle on the problem, and I wonder whether things are starting to take their toll on me even when I am ‘in gear’, so to speak, and able to have these wonderful explorations with people. I wonder how much legitimate trade off in the lives of the intelligent people I have met and will meet conform to this pattern of exclusion of others. The intellectual capacity of my friend is clearly great, yet this seems to make the issue more, and not less, worrying.