Archives for posts with tag: philosophy

Communism has such a bad reputation. Probably because of all the killings and dreadful standards of living… Oops.

Well modern communist/marxist thinkers are fully aware that communism failed and would fail again. This quick joke from Slavoj Zizek is something that shows how modern marxists think about reform today. No more does anyone serious hark back to revolution and system-wide change.

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Oh, the philosopher inside me rages against the weathered shores of capitalism. Where does it all stop?!

Ultimately capitalism is failing. The evidence is everywhere. Not only do we now witness profitable business going bankrupt or not being able to secure credit in time to purchase goods, but we see the decline in morale of the workforce. Juvenile delinquents, dissident students, out of work parents – where are the answers?

You can feel it, I am sure. You feel that somehow and inexplicably, things used to be better because in a very real way, things are getting worse. Well, let me show you how people are beginning to opt-out of politics, boycott society and throw away (or up on) the system.

Wanton destruction or profound rejection?

Its so painfully obvious when you open your eyes, I mean you can’t see the forest for the trees. Capitalism is experiencing yet another hiccup in a life-cycle comparable to one massive flu. The problem has always been that the cure is worse than the disease. Communism failed, it would fail again too. Anarchism never really took off, and Fascism sort of fizzled out, only to simmer away annoyingly in the background.

If the banks weren’t evidence enough, here’s the rest. Unemployment and a veritable boycotting of society-at-large is creating a melting pot, apparently placed upon these plastic benches at my local park. The people who did this are not just stupid, but also profound. This is because their actions are the result of dissatisfaction. It is the inaudible rumble from a proletariat class that will be heard through the cost of petty repair bills. Where disenchantment rises beyond acceptable levels you will not experience revolution, but riot. (Not dissimilar to Bristol this year)

When you don’t want a product because it doesn’t work or is owned by a company with questionable ethics, you boycott that product. When you notice society is in decline and the government talk more about excuses than results, what should you do? Boycott society? Well for some of us, this has already begun.

If I don’t know which piece of cake I’m going to get, I’m more likely to cut fairly than if I do.

The world, as a cake, is very unevenly cut – look at it.

Global GDP Cake

History suggests that uneven distribution of capital is sought for. In International Relations we talk about the balance of power or rising powers. It’s almost every day that someone quakes because soon China will regain it’s world number one position after a 500 year slumber. So it seems self evident that uneven distribution is sought for by the powerful, and fought against by the weak.

In day-to-day life it’s the same. Most of us are individualistic. We have been trained this way by society because, short of a first-date, your dinner is not bought for you. To survive you must look after yourself (and your children) above others. If you had to cut the cake into four pieces, and you knew you were going to get first pick, you would cut yourself a massive slice, and then leave three small pieces behind. Life doesn’t work like that though. You didn’t choose your slice, nor did anyone else, nor any supernatural force (as if you are a chosen special-case, or doomed soul).

Picture this impossible situation: you have not been born – you don’t know where you will be born, who your parents will be, how much money you’ll have, or what your life chances will be. Indeed your conception of the world is covered by a ‘veil of ignorance‘. Now, all of a sudden, you have the power to decide for everyone how wealth will be distributed. How much do you give to who? Equal amounts to all so that luck doesn’t play a role? – or perhaps gamble? lots to some and far less to the rest; you might be rich, you might be destitute. I can tell you the result of this actual research: most of us choose a fair distribution.

The Lottery of Life

You can apply this conception (a little more realistically) again by swapping wealth for talents / disabilities. You do not know if you will be born into a wheelchair or as Usain Bolt. You can also do this with race, creed, height, hair colour, everything.

What’s the implication? Well basically, next-to-nobody would choose this global or national situation we are ‘in’, yet plenty of people get in the way of development goals globally or look poorly upon taxation domestically. (p.s. I don’t mean we should give to charity, in fact please do not give to charities. This creates a horrible cycle. I condone properly administered redistributive taxation as a form of compensation to the people with small slices).

This conceptual situation combines two ideas from John Rawls – one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th Century. He calls this the ‘veil of ignorance’ and the ‘original position‘. As you can see, the ‘veil of ignorance’ is not knowing where you will be born or what the situation is; and the ‘original position’ shows that your situation from birth is unfairly determinate to the rest of your life – something no-one would choose. Talents and fortunes fall like manna from above, as do you, so there’s no telling how good or bad your life will be.

Today I ought to be redefined. I ought to be a graduate with a first class degree in Politics and International Relations. Perhaps the most surprising yet simultaneously obvious fact about this is that: I have not been redefined. Bare with me because I’m about to get philosophical a little (a lot) boastful and somewhat emotional.

Charles Taylor (my latest favourite philosopher) talks a lot about identification as a basis for belief. In short his message is this: your mind does not exist in the same way as your heart or liver does, however your mind is quite inexorably your own. What does this say? Well, that you define the objects in your life, as opposed to them defining you. I am not changed as a person due to my hard work, perseverance and intelligence. I am not defined by my CD rack, car, preference of blue over pink, or exceptional distaste for belief. I am defined by my own perception of myself.

What does a fat exhaust define?

I therefore happily admit that although I know a lot about Politics (Philosophy, Governance, Surveys, Statistics) and International Relations (History, Life, Human Rights, Decision making, Diplomacy, Propaganda, Fear, Security, Units, Actors, Belligerents, Strategies, Theories [the list keeps going so I’ll stop]) I am far from defined by this knowledge – in fact, I define this knowledge.

However, when I stare into Jesse’s eyes, and when my beautiful, young, vivacious wife steps through the door after a long day at work, I begin to realise that I am being redefined all the time. It has been my relationship to my family that has pushed me to these dramatic heights. I begin disagreeing with Charles Taylor at this point, because he limits himself to the person. Of course my heart and liver are my own and yet are objects that I define. They cannot be compared to my mind, which can redefine my environment at the hint of a revelation. However Taylor hasn’t grasped something that I know today, that I should have known yesterday, and that I’ll celebrate forever:

My family are in my head, they are the reason I remember to breathe, they nudge me as I slide into the horizon, unhindered by vanity and identification. I am me, I am Jesse, I am Kathleen. This isn’t love, this is life. This is what Ayn Rand called ‘shared values’. If you want this, you have to just let go of everything and take what’s left in your hands as softly, but firmly as possible. You don’t buy it, believe it or achieve it, you define it.

The end of the world came and went this Saturday as predicted. Not for me, nor for you, but nonetheless a few million people died on that fateful day. God may or may not have had anything to do with it – perhaps old age, poor health or bad luck may explain things with more ‘reality’ attached.

That is the question, ultimately. Is God responsible? real? there? here? Sometimes we like to define ourselves according to the question, ‘do you believe in God?’. The answers appear to be: Yes, No, I don’t know. If we’re being pedantic we would suggest the alternative response ‘which one?’ . But I contend that the only ‘truthful’ response can be: ‘who cares?’.

I do not mean this in a derogatory way at all, in fact I mean the opposite. It is exactly that belief, the ability to believe, and the uncertainty of our perceptions, which creates the ultimate enigma. The in-vogue philosopher, Slavoj Zizek (see youtube), quite rightly points out that religion and atheism (but christianity in particular) does not make the command, ‘trust me’, but says, ‘I trust you’. You might think that this definition of what Christians call ‘faith’, supports the noble side of religion or the atheistic confidence in humans to discover, but you would be wrong. It simply identifies our human capacity to dissociate ourselves from reality.

When atheists attempt to explain how God cannot exist, or when religious types explain how God must, they are both believing something. They both have faith that their version of reality reflects life accurately and what is more, they are willing to argue about the ‘non-world’. This is why the answer to the question must not be: religious (Yes), atheist (No) or agnostic (yes/no). In fact we must cut the whole question to pieces. There is no satisfactory answer because the question is based on a misnomer, it is based on mental fatigue – we are so tired of thinking and questioning that we resort to believing.

Strong and blind belief is a virtue. Oh then I will strongly believe that you don't know much of anything.

Belief doesn’t stop here. Belief exists in everything we do. It is the concept that blinkers our ability to perceive alternative horizons. Of course, to a large and overwhelming extent, we cannot escape ideology and we will inevitably have a perspective on things. But the point is to reflect on this fact and reconsider the angle of the blinkers, the tightness of the fit, the accuracy of our vision. We ought not succumb to belief; we ought to strive to uncover our less obvious ideas. The real ‘biggest question’ is: what are the things that you don’t know, you know?