Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

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Delay, Ideas, Narrative etc.

July 26, 2009

DELAY

Posts are always few and far between these days, as life in other areas online and offline takes up most of the finite time I have. Anyways, they will continue, as spurting this crap out from time to time is still fun.

First up, the post on capitalism in Japan. I’ll return to this later, as I’m going there again soon and want to look around and read a little more with that particular subject in mind. Anyways, a small sample of thoughts of late…

IDEAS

The other day, I was thinking about how stories (whatever they may be about) expressed through a number of different mediums have such an all encompassing effect on, well, everything in our culture. Not that this is a revelation or anything (for those of you thinking “well, duh”). It’s just cool to think about. The latest thoughts in regard to this were triggered whilst I was watching the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice (of all things!) which prompted me to re-read the novel. Go ahead, laugh… OK, but really… Just think about that novel.

The first thing to be said before I go on is that Pride and Prejudice completely ignores the emerging working classes of the time. I’ll say more about this below. However, it does reveal so many things about the emerging middle classes and their connection to the old aristocracy and landed gentry of England (as well as some insights on religion as well). Hence it is still an important novel to read for anyone interested in history from a general leftist point of view. It’s also simply a good read.

Jane Austen’s witty, scathing, sarcastic and ironic commentary on the society that existed during her time was first published in 1813. OK, there’s a corny love story in there as well (and there’s no doubt that she was a good story-teller as well as a good writer), but there’s so much more going on in this novel. You see the influence of all the old ideas that had dominated English culture during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance such as remnants of feudalism, inheritance of property and property owned by simply the King/Queen and a landed lord class and the like. But you also see the new emerging middle class philosophies of capitalism, entrepreneurship and new ways of controlling property and expanding the political power of the emerging middle classes. If you look a little closer, I think it becomes clear that Darcy is not just a member of the aristocracy. He is a prime example of how some aristocratic and middle class ideals and ideas started to merge during this period. He’s a business man just as much as he’s a toffee-nosed snob. These ideas and ideals manifested themselves in a new ruling class that had cemented much of their power in England (and Europe) by the time of the First World War. It is far too simple to say that the aristocracy died out. A large proportion of them merged with the middle classes over two to three generations during Austen’s time.

Many of them were making the transition from a landed aristocracy to a business savvy, property owning (and buying), money owning middle class. An exception is Lady Catherine – a die hard member of the decaying aristocracy of the time, relying on old social norms over new middle class ideas. She despises Elizabeth and her family – especially Mrs. Bennet’s middle-class background.

We all know the story of Darcy and Elizabeth’s pride and prejudice getting in the way of their true feelings for each other. These are personal, of course, but they are completely focused on class consciousness. Elizabeth constantly mocks Darcy as an upper class snob and Darcy is appalled at the middle class Bennet’s behaviour on several occasions and lumps Elizabeth into the category of crude, uncultured middle class scum. Whilst there is this definite divide between the middle and upper classes in the novel, there is also a constant merging of these two classes together which gives us a snapshot of the emerging relationship between them during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  There is a constant attempt from middle class characters in the novel to emulate and mingle with those of the upper classes. From ‘above’ there is also a reluctant admittance that as one moves through society, one must mix with this new emerging middle class. This is revealed beautifully in the novel through the Netherfield Ball episode.

The very fact that Darcy and Elizabeth are able to overcome their respective classist reservations by the end of the novel reveals an emerging middle (and working!) class ideal of personal character and hard work determining one’s lot and not simply class or wealth. While I don’t think this is all Austen was getting at, it is nonetheless front and centre in the story. If the novel was written one or two hundred years earlier, there wouldn’t have even been a middle class and Darcy would simply have married Anne DeBourgh. This change in social attitude with members of the younger generation is further revealed by the union between Bingley and Jane Bennet as well.

The Darcy-Bennet and Bingley-Bennet unions are a reflection of what was happening at large in the middle and upper classes of England at this time. There was a broad unspoken alliance of sorts between these two as over a few generations, their vested interests and new business ventures were propelled by an all-encompassing political and social will that unfolded throughout the 19th century. It is interesting to note that at a time when France was reeling from the middle class inspired revolution of 1789, England was gradually consolidating power and wealth at home and abroad through old aristocratic conventions and vigorous new middle class entrepreneurship. This is not to say that England was without political and class tension and upheaval. But the overall enduring strength of this unspoken alliance and transition is there for all to see: the royal family are still in Buckingham Palace today.

As for the working classes, anyone who’s read Austen will know that she didn’t write about them at all. She has been criticised for this by many. However, I think this criticism is unfair. Austen wrote her works with the society she grew up in and experienced in mind. Were she to write about the working class experience of her time, she would have had to live and work among workers. This was not the circumstance into which she was born and she cannot be criticised for that. She has given us valuable insights into middle and upper class society, not the working classes. If anything, this should increase the importance of her works for those of us on the left. Equipping ourselves with only a working class outlook is narrow and counter productive. Besides, there are a plethora of other sources to consult on the different dynamics of the working class experience during this period.

NARRATIVE

So, I’ve read a few good books of late. One in particular that I’d recommend is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It’s an excellent story with a narrative from the perspective of death. Beautifully written, it is a unique take on life in Germany just before and during the Second World War. This is a topic which has been written about many times, but this work stands out and both young adults and adults alike will get so much out of it. Go and read it… Now!

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Friedrich, Karl and the perpetual crisis

November 29, 2008

Guess who… And from where…

“The productive forces at our disposal no longer tend to further the development of the relations of bourgeois civilisation; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these relations by which they are encumbered, and so soon as they overcome these encumbrances, they bring into disorder the whole of bourgeois society, then endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The relations of bourgeois society have become too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by the enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. And by what means? By preparing the way for more general and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.”

– Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, published 1848.

Oh dear… So much insight for one small passage. Now, every monopolistic, capitalistic right-wing moron who isn’t smart enough to understand the above passage will insist that the “current economic crisis” is starting to correct itself and that the market will “come good” over the next year. No, no, no! The only reason why some of the largest corporations in the world aren’t in the hands of receivers right now is because the government has bailed them out. Yes, that “old socialistic” visible hand has come in and injected shitloads of money into the very corporations who have misled the masses, handled their money irresponsibly and then (behind closed doors) begged the government (who are indebted to these right wing bourgeois fucks) to bail them out while they walk away without a single scar.

Yes, my friends. The government is always looked at by conservative right-wing economists as the evil entity sticking its nose into the business of business and robbing citizens of their money in the form of taxation. Do I entirely disagree with this assessment? Of course not – they do have a point in certain contexts. But, on the whole, current western government is just a tool and mechanism of the essentially monopolistic capitalist system in which we find ourselves and hence they will bail out those of their ilk before they give a damn about those who have lost out and are about to lose out in this latest “crisis”. That very system that Marx and Engels describe in the depths of their (and I don’t give a shit how old and cliqued it is) brilliantly written Communist Manifesto is the system we find ourselves in. Think about it: On the one hand by the enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces”… hhhmmm, so by war (in every sense of the word) – The Empire has started two obvious ones over the last seven years. On the other by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones” . If you can’t see these, then you’ve been living in a cave forever. This wasn’t really even an insight in 1848, when the manifesto was written. The conquest and exploitation of new markets is evident in China and India, even in an extremely superficial analysis.

If you want to go deeper, look at the effect that this has had on the emerging working classes in places like China and India (where that annoying glitch of trade unions is largely avoided thanks to an overbearing alliance of business and government. Yes, China’s government has never been “Communist” – it is now a fully functioning fascist capitalistic dictatorship). So, there’s your exploitation right there… Then look at the middle classes of those respective countries… Then look at the effect that the outsourcing of jobs from the rich world has had on the working populations of places like, say, Detroit in the good old U S of A.

So, we have the conquest of new markets – China and India’s bourgeoning (oh – I know you’re marvelling at my oh so clever pun! And, yes – there are two correct ways to spell this in English!) middle classes and desperate poorer working classes. Then the “more thorough exploitation of old ones” – the outsourcing of jobs in the United States, Europe, Canada and Australia which (to varying degrees in each of these countries) forces working classes into the position where they need to get more jobs to make enough to get by and/or then become more indebted to the… massive corporations who have created and perpetuated this whole “latest crisis” through their irresponsible investment, their irresponsible lending and their irresponsible borrowing… You see? The so-called “economic cycle” is precisely what Marx and Engles have described above. It is the economic cycle of perpetual crisis – it thrives on crises to survive.

So, who loses out at all of this? Most of us, it seems. The masses (in their various class forms throughout history) endure the suffering, hardship and economic (in the form of increased taxation and various depleted social government programs) cost of each crisis as it is progressively and systematically played out.  Who does well? The few who run the show: the indebted spine-less “representatives” of our respective democracies and dictatorships and the corporations who fund them in many direct and indirect ways. In a word, the bourgeoisie (and the few aristocrats who are left in the world). Call them what you will with the passing of time. They take many more forms than what Marx and Engels envisioned. But the essence of what Marx and Engels envisioned is what matters, if you have a clear enough line of sight to see it.

So, I hear you saying that you fund the government too, right? Well, you are correct madam and sir! But, how do you vote? You vote within the system… As do I… In the words of one of my favourite bands, Propagandhi:

“You can vote however the fuck you want, but power still calls all the shots. And believe it or not, even if (real) democracy broke loose, power could/would just “make the economy scream” until we vote responsibly.”

And, yes, my friends… This is where our right-wing counterparts have a point (refer to what I wrote above). Taxation is exploitation (doesn’t that sound familiar? From a distant lost past perhaps). Our simple right-wing friends get it wrong in how taxation is a problem though. And (don’t you just love artists and musicians for their ability to sprout truth in a simplistic, but beautiful light?) to quote Michael Franti: “Take a look at where your money’s gone… See? … Take a look at what they spend it on. No excuses! No illusions!”

The system is the problem people. What system? Thy name is monopolitisic, government supported, greedy capitalism.

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Smashing misogyny, patriarchy and sexism

November 24, 2008
As White Ribbon Day approaches, it seems the day where women are treated as equals, subjects and people is still a distant dream. Indeed, for someone who is a feminist, it feels wrong that I should long for the time before I was alive in the 1970s because it seems like feminism was gaining traction and the female fist was raised in resistance and defiance back then. The world has changed, but it hasn’t necessarily progressed. Bleak is the world where:
The above are results of an Australian survey only. These stories are repeated in millions, if not billions of lives around the world.
Bleak is the world where I just watched the news and saw 21 nations at the APEC summit with only 2 represented by women. Bleak is the world where I today heard a 15 year old boy claim triumphantly that he would rape and kill a woman. Bleak is the world where in every conflict that is happening around the world at the moment, rape is used as a prominent weapon to degrade, dehumanise, humiliate and destroy women. Bleak is the world where men don’t speak up about this fucking bullshit – and shame on every man who doesn’t. We are brothers and sisters and we are both subjective human beings who are at one when our minds interact to make this world a better place. We are nothing and no-one if we let it happen and don’t confront it ACTIVELY. Smashing misogyny, patriarchy, sexism and any other form of oppression is a 24 hour a day attitude and activity, not merely an intellectual plaything.
Raise your fist and resist. We have work to do. We have a world to improve.
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The Expanse

May 6, 2008

I jotted down this small passage today as it came to me in a brief lull at work.

We don’t even know how big the universe is. We know that it is still expanding (actually, it’s getting quicker at doing this as time – whatever that is – passes). We think that mysterious matter we call “dark energy” makes up 73% of it, but we’re not even sure what this “dark energy” is. We know that there are massive amounts of energy spread throughout the universe, but we’re not sure what ultimate form this energy takes. We’re not sure exactly what time is and how it “passes” (or is that just our perception?). And as this and a myriad of other questions are speculated, theorised or philosophised about by all of us, the striking fact that we are existing amongst this vast expanse of spacetime, matter, energy and each other jumps up and down on my heart as it pumps blood into the reflective consciousness of my mind.

Word.

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Hate whaling?

January 16, 2008

Fair enough. So do I. But why not the killing of cows, pigs, chickens, fish? I mean, what’s the difference? Lots of people in Australia are getting in a fuss about Japanese ships hunting whales in and around Australian waters. People are getting outraged at the way in which whales are harpooned, hauled aboard while alive and then cut up… After this, the Japanese groups with vested interests claim that the whales are scientifically studied and catalogued. However, some Australian groups with vested interests claim that it is sold in Japan as whale meat and that this is the primary reason that some Japanese ships are hunting whales. Either way, why not object to other animals being treated in this way? I love whales and think they are beautiful. But they are no more worthy of our respect and protection than other animals.

There was some indignant reaction in Australia last week when a video, produced by an anonymous person from Japan and distributed on YouTube, made claims that Australians hunt kangaroos and other animals for both sport AND to eat and we kill other animals such as cows and pigs to simply eat them. The video went on to claim that Australia’s objection to Japanese whaling is simply a reflection of Australia being racist and acting with overtones of cultural imperialism. It’s not my intention here to address the particular points made by the video. I just want to ask a few other questions while the issue is out there.

So, why are whales so special? Why is it more appropriate to eat a cow, pig, chicken or fish than a whale? What about a kangaroo? a beautiful, majestic deer? A moose?

We compartmentalise, steralise, lactate, torture, abuse, neglect and then eat cows, pigs, chickens, fish, kangaroos, deer etc. everyday as a society. But, when whales are hunted, a double standard of outrage surfaces. Is it simply because some species of whales are endangered? If this is so, then why not make as much noise for any other species of animal or plant that is endangered?

The way whales are treated by the Japanese is a direct reflection of the way that we as a society treat the cows, pigs, chickens and other animals that we raise with the explicit intention to chop up their bodies, wrap them in plastic and sell them in supermarkets for x amount of dollars per kilogram. It’s an outright double standard. Different cultures kill and eat different animals. Both exploit the animal, who has vested interests of their own: their right to life and their right to freedom. Humans of all cultures are guilty of robbing all animals of their right to life and freedom. Whales are one example of this… and many more can be found in among our own culture as well as in most others.

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Apocalypse … When?

July 23, 2006

Are humans simply doomed to bring about our own destruction? Is our nature to destroy ourselves like big Arnie says in Terminator II? Lately, I’ve been hearing this more and more – that it is in our nature to destroy ourselves and that one need only look around the world to find proof of this. However, I’m torn about this and have been for quite some time. OK, the world is pretty messed up and has been since the dawn of what we commonly refer to as “civilization”. But it’s not like we really have another self-conscious life form in the universe/multiverse to cross reference with is it? So how are we to know? If we evolved into something with the ability to reason and self-reflect, then this implies, even if only to a small extent, that we can be aware of ourselves and what we yearn for and balance this with how we reason about these yearnings. Do we auomatically choose war, death and destruction with this ability?

With regard to the “current situation” in the world, the question posed becomes much more complex. We must really ask to what extent each current war/conflict/fight/dispute or whatever is a reflection of this “nature to destroy ourselves” or if it is more about pawns whose free will to reason and will for natural peace (or something else) has been hijacked by the power-hungry, the elite, the religious fanatics or whatever other form of social invention that we humans have conjured up since the development of our self-awareness.

Or is it that the statement “it’s in our nature to destroy ourselves” is a completely wrong way in which to think about the issue? Since we actually have the ability to reason and self-reflect, doesn’t this imply that our “nature” (whatever it may be) is overridden by the development of our reason anyway? Do “we” really use our reason to choose death, destruction and war? If we do, then it would seem that we as humans have set up this conflict between our will to survive and our “reasoned self reflective choice” to destroy ourselves with war and what not. So, we have these two seemingly conflicting sides – our will and reason. Is there a happy balance between them – can one be manipulated by the other? Is one advantaged to win out over the other? I really don’t know.

However, I think to say that “it’s in our nature to destroy ourselves” is a little simplistic and melodramatic. It is an easy thing to agree with on face value and certainly has been envisioned marvellously in films such as Terminator II. But it is just as easy to agree with and envision that “it’s in our nature to live in peace with each other”. I think there are just as many human beings willing and reasoning for peace and love as there are death and destruction – if not more… We just don’t get the press coverage. I think the logical choice between these two conflicting “natures” is to reason and will for peace and love. Since we are aware of our will and our thought process, we have the ability to change and manipulate our environment as well as ourselves. In light of this, it would seem only logical to me to choose life, love and peace. Since we’re here anyway, we may as well make the most of it and not end it prematurely.

So, what to make of most of human history then that seems to disagree with what I think seems logical? I don’t really know. There’s living and there’s living. We’ve survived until now, but not really as a result of any concerted effort to bring about a happy marriage between our will and reason and certainly not because peace and love have won out over war, death and destruction, because, as you would be well aware, they haven’t. But again, I think it’s difficult to say whether this is a result of our “nature” or of the complex situations arising from the complex social mechanisms we’ve invented. It brings me back to a line I quoted from Tool in a previous post:

How they survive so misguided is a mystery.
Repugnant is a creature who would squander the ability
To life an eye to heaven conscious of his fleeting time here.
Cutting it all right in two.

There has been much debate about what the last line means – cutting what right in two? The happy marriage of our will and reason perhaps? This would certainly be consistent with some other themes and metaphors used on Tool’s new album – but that’s to discuss at another time.

Our potential as individuals and as a collective species in my opinion is absolutely amazing and as we develop further technologically and our individual and collective consciousness expands, who knows where we will end up? I won’t use the word “limitless” because of the far-reaching implications of it, but I think almost everyone would agree that our potential is fairly far reaching. Perhaps our “fate” as a species relies on how we are to reconcile our seemingly “natural” urges with our amazing ability to self-reflect and reason. How will we reason over or about our will and will over or about our reason? I don’t know, but within me at least, I feel no conflict because I will AND reason for peace and love – to me, it just feels right and it just makes sense.

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The Marketplace of Ideas Online – good or bad?

July 17, 2006

Is having multiple anonymous editors on projects such as Wikipedia or having say, anonymous blogs or “myspace” pages a good or bad thing? What does it actually say about the changing ways in which humans interact, access and interpret information? I’ve only just had a chance now to listen to the Philosopher’s Zone from last week with Jaron Lanier talking about why Wikipedia and similar projects are actually a bad idea.

Lanier’s thesis seems to be that it is dangerous to rely on the “Collective” averaging out all points of view and then coming to a sort of “truth” about certain subjects. He thinks that in the case of projects like Wikipedia, the expertise factor of individuals is lost to the averaging out of the collective and we are all the worse for it. I agree with him up to a certain point, but I think his reaction may be a little too knee-jerk also. I must admit that Wikipedia and projects like it, whilst being far from perfect, do excite me. I like the idea of having multiple contributors and points of view competing to complete an entry of information. Really, just because the “mob” has access to it, does this mean that the quality of the information is going to be less? Afterall, what of the competition of academics over the last few centuries trying to get their articles into the Encyclopedia Britannica? Is that not the same issue? What if one academic got to write the article on say consciousness over another with a different view of what consciousness is. Britannica has always been taken as an authority as far as Encyclopedias go. So really, the academic with one view on consciousness has always won out over the other academic with a different view of consciousness in their battle to be the authoritative author of the consciousness article in Britannica.

Wikipedia is just an expanded version of this competition and marketplace of ideas. I think Wikipedia far outstrips Britannica in this regard though because at least you can access the “talk page” for each article and you can see the decision making process in regard to the information that ends up in each article. Of course, the wiki process is definitely not perfect, but who has ever claimed that it is? It’s yet another evolved form of information access and communication to have been borne out of the internet.

I also think that Lanier doesn’t give the reader or the consumer of this information enough credit. When I visit Wikipedia, which I do probably several times a week, my critical thought process goes into overdrive. I am fully aware of what I am accessing and the potential inaccuracies, fabrications or any other nasties that it may contain. Coincidentally, this is the same thought process I use when I read books or the newspaper though and I suspect that many other people have a similar thought process when interacting in the marketplace of ideas, whether they’re online or not. Surely this is a good thing.