Calling out the fey

The introduction is here.

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all: -
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;


Language is constructed through pattern recognition and generalisation, and the connections between ideas forge meaning.[1] The Science is that web of communal meaning, and thus all language is of universals, generalities. What we notice in an experience is what fits known patterns, turning it from a collection of sensations into a thing. At best we notice simultaneous patterns and construct from the sensations many overlapping things, but it’s always a process of filtration. The direct sensation is lost, we let that moment of truth with a capital T slip away, hoping better to grasp its ghost – the thing, the connections and relevance, the mnemonic.

This is why I’m distrustful of language, especially language used unconsciously.[2] Symbols, concepts, clusters of meaning – thus, language – are terribly good at protecting us from our real emotional response to a situation and at concealing from us the direct understanding of a thing.[3] Paradoxically ideas are also essential to meaning and meaning is the basis of more than momentary feeling, however intense. So language and ideas have to be an aid in the creation of that connection of feeling and thought which is deep understanding, and not a substitute for that connection. Objective reality, that construction of a world we can agree on and talk about, is at best provisional. It helps reach toward the real truth of experience, but it should not be mistaken for that. Nor is all experience equally available to us; the ability to anaesthetise ourselves through our symbol set is just an instance of this mechanism. We experience fully only that to which we pay active attention, especially engaged and passionate attention.[4]

The temptation is to filter too soon. We think we already know, so we don’t actually see. When we really experience a thing it’s as if we had the patience and care to allow the sensation to experience us. Understanding or interpretation dawns gradually, naturally. That’s one of Sherlock Holmes two secrets: first he really sees, and then he has the courage to accept all the consequences of the conclusions he draws from what he sees. Usually people insist so strongly that their reality should fit the consensus of what to expect in a situation that they reject experience which does not match.[5] To truly experience a set of sensations, and then to truly allow the consequent opening-to-possibilities is, I think, called wonder. It’s not a passive sort of perception, it’s instead a combined passive-active-joyous mode of being – passionate – even if the thing being grokked evokes sadness.


To my mind there are three ways we can interact with others. The first is to interpret their possible proclivities, beliefs, motives; map from that their likely actions, and determine my possible interactions with those possibilities. This approach works from conceiving of the other as an object. It’s not necessarily kind or unkind, and it’s certainly not incompatible with ethical systems which structure one’s treatment of others according to rules. But it is a power relationship. It’s a necessary starting point: the objective connection.[6]

Human empathy and imagination allow us to instead conceive of the other as ourselves in different circumstances, and from that as not-ourselves but still from a subjective viewpoint. What would I-the-other want, need, believe? This is still a conceptual understanding, but one that’s much richer.[7] It’s sustained by good objective understanding, but its basis is inherently compassionate. Such relationships overcome loneliness because when the other’s actions and professed feelings match the imagined-other’s actions and feelings then it proves the existence of the other’s subjective experience.

Finally, compassionate understanding of the other allows one to reach past language and concept to directly experience the other: beyond subjective or objective; before the idea of self or other. [8] It’s wonder-in-another, and it works as a conversation or a feedback loop. Pure communication without nameable content. Or rather its content is that truth with a capital T which is the uncensored experience of being. It’s love.

Nor does this apply only to other humans. The compassionate understanding which forms the basis for love is harder to apply where understanding is more difficult, but since understanding is conceptualisation of experience, love is possible wherever there is experience. Mammals all need some level of empathy since it feeds the understanding which makes them effective mothers. They’re relatively easy, because the feedback is good. Love beyond this is founded in the inklings of pre-conceptual experience which permeate the basis of our consciousness, or on the blast of pre-conceptual thought which forms the mystic experience.[9]


The best anaesthetic is not to care. Wonder and love are based on passionate and active care. This is the foundation of attention and attention is the foundation of experience. Being-in-the-world is a thing you do, not have. And it’s impossible to care without being motivated by the consequences of that care. To act. To dare to disturb the universe.

All of which sounds very serious, but caring about something is a joyful activity. I suspect this is for the same reason that exerting oneself utterly in a physical activity is joyous. It lifts the spirit to be wholly engaged. But caring also combats fear, and thus brings with it playfulness. Fun. Real communication is a happy activity. Love is expressed best through play, laughter, teasing. Personally, I get too serious – which I suspect is because I’m prone to as much fear as courage. I can see the possibility of lightness but it usually eludes me. I substitute determination, a thing that will slay dragons by means of conscious will rather than the sort of brave gentleness which makes it look easy.

Passion is both unfashionable and dangerous. Wonder and love are incompatible with the consumer culture’s plastic pacifier dipped in sugar and fat. To care is to need to risk, to be willing to spend oneself for the needs of the other. This is Holmes second secret, accepting the consequences of real understanding. If people believed in and understood their experiences were true they would have no choice but to care, and people are afraid to care with any actual passion. Instead they walk past someone who is desperate, and they keep their own needs secret from themselves.

It’s not the white picket fences that really frighten me, it’s that I might one day be too afraid to continue living outside them. Hence the mantra calling out the fey. It describes a hope of wonder and love and passion and risk. Of caring easily and completely. Reminds me of an imaginary time when this was easy. Provides a compass for this course that I’ve more or less stayed on my whole life.

I’m just not a very good mariner. Maybe the compass will help.

  1. It’s fascinating, by the way, that it’s through empathy that we solve Wittgenstein’s conundrum of communication. I see someone talking about a thing, and by imagining what I would feel prompted to say in the same situation, and why, I’m able to imagine that the other means the same. The extent to which my guess is correct is a function of our degree of commonality and my ability to imagine that commonality and understand the differences. Understanding must precede communication, which will make talking with aliens difficult.
  2. The short version of why that is is explained here and I’ve made obsessively carefully reasoned argument here for the cultural/memetic angle on that.
  3. For example this, and all sorts of propaganda from ancient to more recent times.
  4. What Kierkegaard calls deepest subjectivity, or the infinite passion of inwardness.
  5. Change Blindness”, for example. Subjects approached a confederate, who stood behind a counter, to participate in an experiment. After a brief interaction with the experimenter, the subject signed a consent form and handed it to the experimenter. The experimenter then ducked behind the counter to put the form away, and a second experimenter popped up from behind the counter to conclude the interaction. This time, 75% of subjects failed to detect the change in experimenters.
  6. Utilitarianism objectifies all in this way, including the actor. I should do whatever is best for all-as-objects. Kant’s focus of action is subjective, the good will, but his conceptualisation is of all including the actor in objective terms (even though via their subjective choices). His universal law is the same as saying “take my potential action out of the subjective – could I want it to apply objectively?”
  7. It’s what Kant was aiming for, clearly, and what he would call an ethical relationship.
  8. Yes, it sounds mystical. At that level of pure sensation there is only the ocean. Buber has it. The absolute exists within the particular, not apart from it. The rose is within the worm, rather than the other way around.
  9. That mystical. Or any other, pretty much. Non-duality. Most attempts to interpret it are simply confusing, so there’s not much to say.
Posted in philosophy, theory, world | 3 Comments

Calling out the fey: introduction

I’m terrified of white picket fences. Someone I knew in high school started saving cash from a weekend job to use as deposit on a house. That seemed like a joke, but a few years later I met him and he had that house, and a secure job, and he’d met the woman he was going to marry. His life was mapped out and it was perfectly sensible. The fabled summer ant. He and his wife would be able to afford their 1.7 children, and even send them to college. His retirement was going to be comfortable.

It’s a carefully considered and effective strategy, which recognised and fulfilled his needs and, I hope, made him happy. But the very idea makes me ill. Not because that he might have died before he had a chance to enjoy his savings, but because he wasn’t living, not the way I see it. He merely existed, in the most painless and comfortable way possible. That is if you’re somehow anaesthetized to the boredom and creeping horror.

The world is teeming with similar zombies. Most of them driven by a combination of the security stick and the pleasure carrot. This makes them less effective than Brian because they’re torn between short term and long term requirements, and also because they don’t approach their goals rationally. This is how people become consumers, and the advertising industry – in other words, the whole of western consumer capitalism – has grown up to encourage this in a co-dependency which is sucking meaning out of people’s lives and destroying the planet.

As for me, I think my goals are as innate as Brian’s. I need to engage with life, both intellectually and emotionally. I need to experience, feel, and understand. I think the reason that’s so important to me is that I find it very easy to withdraw from engagement, and occupy myself with distractions from having to care and make an effort. Books, computers, education, my own imaginings, and even to an extent politics.[1] The thing is that each of those are useful to engagement, when used for that, and a displacement activity from engagement when used otherwise. Just like financial security, and like pleasure. Without them life is a struggle rather than a joy, and without a light heart there’s engagement only with the idea of a thing, not with the experience itself.

Which is why I’m scared of those fences. I don’t want security because it makes it too easy to sink into a comfortable disengagement, but I need money so as not to be distracted by getting it. I don’t want an intellectual life, but it’s both a pleasure and a necessity for understanding. It’s also perilously close to all sorts of ways of forgetting goals; a slow and apathetic disintegration that I’ve come close to, briefly, a few times in the past. And each time I’ve become deeply, desperately, miserable, and changed things. Which is exactly what happened when I had a lot of money and got distracted by hedonism. Nothing about my needs is a choice, but like Brian, or rather, most of the time like Brian, I carefully think about how to best meet them.

I don’t think my goals are uncommon, but our culture misrepresents and subverts the idea to certain kinds of consumption. Because of that it’s important to reframe things [3], to make a language and a set of ideas – what a friend of mine would call a mythology – to understand this completely and on its own terms. Someone else’s framing begs the question, puts a worm in the heart of the rose.[2] You think you have what you mean and suddenly it’s turned around to mean the consequences of its preconceptions. In essence any new question needs a new way of thinking, and any new way of thinking is a whole world.

Which is a big ask, but we’re pattern matchers and world creators, we humans. And I have a shorthand for this idea, I call it “calling out the fey.”

  1. Politics, after all, is the game of “someone on the internet elsewhere in the world is wrong.”
  2. There’s a reference I can’t find, but I mean this not that
  3. Hence some famous reframings.
Posted in philosophy, society, theory | Leave a comment

All the things I wrote in 2008 and 2009.


With a rare exception or two I haven’t written here for several years. Various things have intervened – moving to a new country, starting a new business, and preceding all that some formal study. What I’d like to do is go through here and edit things, weed out the crap, format it nicely, and redo the blog design. Generally keep house.

More important, since you dear reader can skip the rubbish and out of date current events yourself, for now, is that I include here the other main tract of material which matters to me, and that’s the academic-style writing that I did during that formal study. I think I had a few good ideas amongst it, and there are some things I want to be able to refer to in future things I might write.

They’re all PDF files so for now I’ll just link them in this document and add an introduction to each one, to help you sort through and decide which you might want to read. I’ll also try to somewhat order them so that those with the more interesting content are first.

Is, or should, ethics be based on genetic predisposition?

I argue that while genetic and memetic influences are important in forming what’s called these days our “moral intuition”, that we benefit from making the effort to untangle these and understand them so that our ethics is fundamentally from a rational choice of values, even though these values are in the end an intelligent expression of our emotional and practical needs. Social/memetic motives primarily benefit the social or institutional organism they make up, and not the individual. Genetic motives are unsophisticated and may be outdated.

Here’s the paper.

“Change”, not “time” is fundamental.

A defense of the discredited idea that we live in an ever-changing present rather than a 4-dimensional unchanging block of space-time. I think what’s called “presentism” has it slightly wrong, but that space-time (in what is clearly a multiverse) is an untenably inelegant model. The essay doesn’t get into this but this whole thought process shows clearly that our physics, our world-model, is not especially “reality” but rather the most effective way of squaring experience with expected experience. There is no “reality” as such. The block view of space-time has blinded us to a great deal of what we experience, I think.

Here’s the thing.

Passion, meaning, and truth – subjective and objective. Tragedy. Boredom.

All the good stuff, as seen by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. This is a fun little read and it expresses my horror of the conventional and safe.

Here you go.

Buddhist arguments for putting the environment as a system ahead of the needs of humans as a species.

Because wonder is a selfless act. Here’s the article.

The I think in the Critique of Pure Reason

Detailed exegesis. Long. I ended up really understanding Kant, but it’s mostly of academic interest now, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Here ’tis.

The Buddhist argument from control that there is no self.

It’s a good argument. It’s interesting philosophy. It’s amazing how deeply clever those medieval Tibetans were.


Connectionism and Meaning

I defend the connectionist theory of mind as the mechanism for the construction of meaning. The essay is a little dry but I think somewhere, buried here, is the beginning of an important insight into how we make the world from our senses. But I can’t yet get it clear, it’s only glimpses. “Meaning” is a really interesting and loaded word, and I don’t think it means what we think it means, to paraphrase Inigo Montoya.


The Gorgias, and Freud

These two are the least interesting, unless you thought Freud was anything except a dangerous fraud. Well, a dangerous fraud with one good idea – that the mind is a mechanism constructed from a series of mutually interacting psychological forces. Spoiler alert: psychoanalysis has been proven in double-blind studies not to have the least beneficial effect.

Here (Gorgias) and here (Freud)

God in Kant and Spinoza

I didn’t know nearly as much about Kant when I wrote this, and it shows. Just the same Spinoza is wonderful and seriously underrated – more for his ethics than his metaphysics, but just the same.


Posted in environment, philosophy, science, society, theory | Leave a comment

The joy of violence

This is a very thoughtful, if jokey, consideration of non-violence from someone who understands violence a lot better than pacifism.

Here, she’s exactly right:

Pacifism as a concept kind of pisses me off.

Still, non-violence intrigues me, not least because of its power to frustrate the violently inclined. The central paradox of terrorism—we will hurt you, but we refuse to fight you—has its mirror image in non-violent resistance, which declares: We refuse to hurt you, but we will fight you. This can be a brilliant tactic in certain situations, especially if television cameras are present.

And this here is the malaise affecting the American Empire, in a nutshell:

But sparring happens fast, and you wear a mouthguard that makes speech difficult and messy, you’re usually out of breath anyway, and it’s much easier, if you get hit too hard, to simply hit your partner back a little bit harder. It’s the quickest way I know of to spin a match out of control and make your sparring partner hate you. But it sends a message, and in the instant, when you have just been hit uncomfortably hard yourself, it feels right. It feels so right it’s scary. This is someone you like, and trust, someone you have invited to hit you, and suddenly, you’re hitting her harder than she wants you to, and feeling good about it.

If you want something to be afraid of, forget about anthrax, snipers, and people with bombs in their underwear. Hit somebody when you’re mad at them, and see how you feel. That’ll keep you up nights.

Using violence, and getting what you want as a result, is a heady and addictive feeling, a whole-body experience. There’s a lot of adrenaline involved; the righteous act of violence burns in the vein. And it’s a very short step from feeling successful about violence to feeling justified. This is when people really get into trouble: When violence feels good, you start to equate violence with goodness. Then it’s easy to move on from defending (yourself, your family, your country), to judging and punishing. It’s a progression that seems very logical and civilized but in fact it turns people—and countries, and religions—into monsters.

But that’s the thing. How do you battle with monsters without becoming what you fight? I think you start by realising that there are no monsters, there’s just us and we can all be monstrous. Then you solve the problem posed by the other’s behaviour and intent not as right and wrong and blame and evil, because these things are justification for our own anger. Perhaps that solution requires violence. I think if it seems to then it’s worth being terribly careful that our thinking has not been captured by the frame of the other. Usually that’s the hardest part of the problem, to step outside the inevitable and find another answer.

If it looks like a nail it’s going to call for a hammer. Then the best you can hope for is the self-sacrifice and crypto-violence of the “non-violent resistance” (and those TV cameras.) But what Gandhi did when, as often, truly inspired, was to act, not fight, not resist, and not suffer or martyr himself or his followers. But act positively in a way which explained a different more true understanding of the situation and disarmed the British or South African understanding of an inevitability and a need and a right to use violence.

It’s not about the violence, in the end. Violence is the outcome of seeing the world in a broken way. That’s why the answer is truth, and it’s why he called his movement Satyagraha.

Posted in philosophy, society | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

A rant and a proposal about essential services

Water rates have recently been introduced here. That means the local council now sends us a bill, quarterly, for the cost of supplying water to our house. Actually the bill is for the cost plus the profit earned by some utility company set up for the particular purpose of administering the provision of domestic water, a job which had been done by the council. It’s not market capitalism because we don’t have a choice of water utility, rather it’s the idea that if you pay to have someone exploit you they’ll do a better job (for you? for who then?) than if you elect someone to exploit you. It’s pretty clear if only from the example of Californian electricity under Reagan’s governorship that this is not the case. The private utilities run down the service while increasing the price, something that should surprise no-one given that they have no incentive to do otherwise. Australia saw this happen over the last decade with a privatised telephone monopoly. Bolivia saw it with water.

But it could be worse. I saw recently in the home of monopoly capitalism gone mad a situation where being a few weeks late with the water bill meant getting your water cut off. Would the electricity company cut off power to medical equipment, or heating to an old lady who might freeze? Probably. In Australia we’re on that borderline, water is an essential service and won’t be cut. Power is not, and might after a month or two so of warnings in the post. Actually the US is just further to the right on the same scale – the city wouldn’t send the baliffs in to evict you because the land tax or the rates were late. Instead they’d levy a fine for being late and start charging interest on the overdue amount. Eventually, probably several years down the track, they would send in the baliffs.

Which set me thinking. Clearly a bank can be “too big to fail” and we throw out the religion of so called rational economics in view of the fact that these large institutions have been allowed to hold us all hostage. That was the wrong response, clearly it was the mortgagees that should have been protected. The government should have bought all the defaulting loans, for their now smaller value, and let the institutions fail. Home owners would have continued to pay their loans, or been given time to pay in the case of financial difficulty. Call it socialism if you like, it’s better than having the taxpayer cover the cost of the larger institutions swallowing one another and making out like bandits in the process. And why should the government do this for its people? The right answer is because the government is the people (it’s not the church of the great god “market”) and the people benefit from this, but another way to break it down is that housing is an essential service. Like food, medical care, and education. And information, by the way.

In my view all essential services should be provided as a minimum standard right of citizenship. I’ve always found it difficult to see a way through the problem that what is a right on the level of a society is likely to be, treated by the individual as an entitlement – and entitlement thinking destroys responsibility and initiative.

But here’s a possible medium term solution, in the context of the current economic and political system. The government, after all, has in most cases a life-long relationship with each citizen. That can be the context for a debt. It works like this – any essential service I require but cannot afford right now is provided by increasing that debt. I can’t pay for student fees, so they accumulate as a debt. I can’t afford water or rates or even (basic) food, so it is accumulated as a debt. The same for medical care. The loan that embodies this debt is not run for profit, however. Interest in any year would be exactly the cost of money to the government, say the treasury bond rate. At the same time, the provision of these services cannot be to the profit of monopoly providers – nor a cabal of semi-monopoly providers like the health industry. So the government must provide some itself and regulate the provision of others. Debt will be recovered on a sliding scale of repayments against income, up to for example 50% of income above $60k per year.

Naturally many people will die still owing large amounts. This is no disaster – the cost of caring, often badly, for a disabled person or someone chronically unemployed is represented in government finances in any case. Doing it properly will cost less and provide better outcomes. Many people will end up paying back their debts.

So, what do you think? It’s so far only the beginning of an idea, an attempt at putting individual repsonsibility together with state responsibility.

Posted in society, theory | 2 Comments


By Michio Kaku

The carp could see rippling shadows on the surface of the pond. The third dimension would be invisible to them, but vibrations in the third dimensions would be clearly visible. These ripples might even be felt by the carp, who would invent a silly concept to describe this, called “force.” They might even give these “forces” cute names, such as light and gravity. We would laugh at them, because, of course, we know there is no “force” at all, just the rippling of the water.

Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment

Nuclear power back on the agenda

Greg Palast writes:

So, we’ve got both candidates hawking the nuclear snake oil. But there is one difference between them. A big big BIG difference.

McCain’s ready to spend a hundred billion dollars on nuclear power, no questions asked. But Barack Obama puts a crucial condition on his approval for building new nukes: an affordable method of disposing the new plants’ radioactive waste.

That’s not small stuff. While The New York Times reporters following McCain repeated his line about “inexpensive” nuclear power without question, a buried wire story on the same day noted that the Energy Department is putting the unfunded bill for disposing nuclear plant waste at $96.2 billion – nearly a billion dollars per plant operating today. And no one even knows exactly how to do it, or where. Obama has the audacity to ask about the nuclear waste’s cost. “Can we deal with the expense?” he said on Meet the Press.

read more

Posted in environment, world | Leave a comment

Many worlds quantum physics

The Many worlds interpretation of quantum physics – a clever take on why it makes sense and why not much else does:

“That’s right,” Huve says, “He wouldn’t. Ponder that.”

“This is the world where my good friend Ernest formulates his Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment, and in this world, the thought experiment goes: ‘Hey, suppose we have a radioactive particle that enters a superposition of decaying and not decaying. Then the particle interacts with a sensor, and the sensor goes into a superposition of going off and not going off. The sensor interacts with an explosive, that goes into a superposition of exploding and not exploding; which interacts with the cat, so the cat goes into a superposition of being alive and dead. Then a human looks at the cat,’ and at this point Schrödinger stops, and goes, ‘gee, I just can’t imagine what could happen next.’ So Schrödinger shows this to everyone else, and they’re also like ‘Wow, I got no idea what could happen at this point, what an amazing paradox’. Until finally you hear about it, and you’re like, ‘hey, maybe at that point half of the superposition just vanishes, at random, faster than light’, and everyone else is like, ‘Wow, what a great idea!’”

“That’s right,” Huve says again. “It’s got to have happened somewhere.”

“Huve, this is a world where every single physicist, and probably the whole damn human species, is too dumb to sign up for cryonics! We’re talking about the Earth where George W. Bush is President.”


Leave a comment

Don’t believe the fearmongers

Worldwide decline in deaths due to terrorism over the last 5 years

The reason this isn’t widely understood is that official figures include civilian deaths in Iraq, which is a war zone and would not normally have been included. Similar conflicts in past years, such as Sudan, have not been included. The actual figures are 20% of the numbers usually quoted as terrorist deaths, therefore.

But this, to me, is the most significant finding of the Canadian study:

“[An] extraordinary drop in support for Islamist terror organizations in the Muslim world over the past five years.”


A worldwide food crisis

Food prices have soared around the world, up 40% since mid 2007. There are 660 million people, equivalent to half the population of China, living on less than $2 per day. These people already spend such a large percentage of their income on food that the increase means they are either starving or in great danger of starving.

We’re already seeing the effects of this, in these poorest nations:

Food riots have rocked Haiti and impoverished Burkina Faso, gripped by a nationwide strike, is the latest African nation to face unrest over the increasing cost of basic foods. Dozens have died in other riots in Africa.

Africa, of course, is hardest hit

Forty people died during price riots in Cameroon in February. There have also been deadly troubles in Ivory Coast and Mauritania and other violent demonstrations in Senegal. Only threats from the government headed off a general strike in Egypt on Sunday.

but Asia will not be immune

Bangladesh and the Philippines, where the poor currently spend around 70 percent of their income simply on food, will be among the worst hit.

There are three main factors contributing to this situation:

  1. Climate change and local droughts are partly to blame. African deserts are expanding, other countries including Australia and Khazakstan are affected by drought, and storms have damaged crops in India and Bangladesh. The poorest one sixth of the world’s people are also by and large located in regions where water shortages and ecological changes will bite deepest.
  2. Meanwhile a growing middle class in China are demanding, and paying for, more meat in their diet. Each extra cow uses land and water which could otherwise grow ten times that number of calories in the form of grain.
  3. In this growing crisis biofuels may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to fuel, Jean Ziegler, called them “a crime against humanity”.

The world is distracted by the Iraq war, the threat of terrorism, and the price of oil, but political stability is critically dependent upon food security – and that is hard enough for all sorts of reasons related to distribution, quite apart from these fundamental production problems.

1 Comment

Fighting words


discriminate |disˈkriməˌnāt|
1 recognize a distinction; differentiate : babies can discriminate between different facial expressions of emotion. See note at distinguish .
• [ trans. ] perceive or constitute the difference in or between : bats can discriminate a difference in echo delay of between 69 and 98 millionths of a second | features that discriminate this species from other gastropods.
2 make an unjust or prejudicial distinction in the treatment of different categories of people or things, esp. on the grounds of race, sex, or age : existing employment policies discriminate against women.

A short aside: Discrimination (in the first definition above) is the basis of analysis, and analysis is the basis of inference. That, in turn, is the mechanism by which we turn the basic reification of perception from a catalogue of ideas into a coherent view of the world. It feeds back into itself: the way we discriminate depends on our existing understanding, which creates interpretation reinforcing that discrimination and therefore that understanding.

Lately, in personal relationships, in the media, in politics, and online I’ve been coming across a certain attitude which has been bringing me down. The best way I can explain is by giving some examples from around here, but it could be from anywhere and by anyone.

  • Anyone who says that Islam is a religion of peace is as evil as those who carry out the bombings and murders!
  • We mustn’t forget that Mohammed WAS a paedophile; and a mass-murderer.
  • but that is clearly beyond your ham-handed writing skills
  • Same old nonsense. My time is too precious.
  • but underneath the veil of lies they are scheming and multiplying faster than any other people group, in an effort to overtake the world.

This is not about whether I agree or disagree with any particular statement: actually it’s exactly the opposite. This way of talking and this way of thinking is everywhere just now. Well, it’s probably always been this way but some days I seem to come across it over and over, and it gets depressing.

Language is for communication, obviously, but the type of language and the type of thinking behind the language fundamentally affects the outcome of that communication. There are types of language which are designed to engage the listener’s emotion, and types designed to engage reason. Or both! The key word here is engage. It’s an essential part of being human and it brings people together because it works by showing people what they have in common. Wittgenstein or no, we trust that the feelings produced by the world in another are the same as the feelings produced in our own hearts. Exploring that shared experience is what makes life worthwhile, one way or another.

So what about the examples above? They play on fear, which puts up barriers between people, or else they directly push people away by attempting to make them feel bad. Perhaps it’s the election which is putting it all over the headlines. All around me, at the moment, I’m seeing divisions between people.

The problem is, I’m responding in precisely the wrong way. In my own life and especially here on Newsvine I’ve been arguing. I’ve been pointing out with logic and sometimes with ridicule exactly why I disagree with one thing or another. Naturally I think I’m right but by thinking that I’ve badly missed the point. Statements like the ones I’m talking about are not about right and wrong, because they’re not designed for engagement. Constructive language is a type of sharing, and the statements above are not about that – they’re weapons designed to separate people. That’s not because of the sentiments expressed. Naturally I’ve chosen examples I find particularly objectionable but please don’t let that distract you from the point I’m making. Politicians, for example, will often say things with that same intent of separation but in a much more subtle way.

It’s a seductive mindset. I’ve noticed myself falling into it more and more these last couple of weeks. I want to show someone they’re wrong. I want people to see that anyone holding that point of view is stupid. Is that helping anyone change their mind or is it just adding to the discrimination in the world – in the second sense of the word above? If you’ll forgive me a party political example, Obama’s “race” speech was beautiful and moving precisely because it cut through the attempts by the press to divide people and engender fear and mistrust, not by more of the same tactics but by reaching beyond that discrimination in both directions to show us why what we have in common is more important than what separates us.

Look the people in my personal life, and on television, and making those statements above on Newsvine are not bad people. We disagree! No one’s going to change my mind by being mean, so what am I afraid of? It’s not the end of the world that there are things, even important things, which we feel differently about. It’s not exactly a matter of tolerance, even. It’s about keeping things in perspective: in the end, one way or another, we’re all in this together.


Discrimination is about differences, and it’s an essential part of reasoning. But if that’s all there is life is grey and flat. The juice is in realising that the differences don’t matter. Love is about not discriminating, and while discrimination is the basis of language, love is the basis of communication. So. My resolve is to give up responding to fighting words with discrimination and analysis, and to respond instead with love. Bear with me, this is going to take a little practice.

Leave a comment

The conservatives and Obama

I do think it’s hilarious just how scared the conservatives are of Obama. I don’t think they’re scared of him because he’s black, or because he might beat McCain. I think they’re scared of him because he’s got principles. Genuinely.

And for people whose principles are slogans designed to provide cover for selfishness, entitlement, and laziness that one thing is terrifying.

Leave a comment

Nader: why, and why not


I’ve argued in favour of Nader in the past. The logic goes like this:

  1. The US political system is broken. The Democrats and the Republicans have things sown up between them so long as there is not preferential voting. They do not need to represent the wishes of the American people, they just need to make sure they get more votes than the other party. In the case of the Republicans this usually seems to mean convincing the electorate (against all the evidence) that they’re the “party of fiscal responsibility”, or that ignorance is strength, or most of all that war is peace.

    The Democrats, who in another country would be a party of the centre-left, chase the Republicans over to the right in an effort to poach their voters. They get in bed with big business and try to be “neocon-lite”. After all, they have nothing to lose. The voters are picking between bad and worse and the Democrats bet they won’t choose “worse”.

    In a country where five corporations control the majority of the media, it’s not easy to rock the boat. This by itself would drag the Democrats to the right, but in countries where representative democracy is a little more democratic, they’d nevertheless have to keep the left on side simply to prevent minor parties eroding their support base. In the US no such incentive exists. The main erosion of support is to voters so disaffected they stay home.

  2. There’s actually no solution to this. Citizens can lobby the Democrats to change their policies, but it’s in the interests of the party to pay lip service to social needs while keeping the media and the corporations as friendly as possible. Getting the media offside could result in truly disastrous press bias. The corporations are not one monolith, but just the same party funding is the basis of any election and every congressional constituency is vulnerable if there is a perception that jobs are at risk. Corporate capitalism is all about manipulating influence to gain competitive advantage. Elections depend on money. It’s a natural match.
  3. Or rather, there are two possible solutions and neither is very likely. The first is represented by Nader and the second is prevented by Nader, so I’ll come to it under why not?.

    Nader can’t win. He’s up against the electoral system, the media barons, the corporations, and the Democratic party itself. What he can do is take votes away from the Democratic party. If he does this effectively it’s because he’s been able to gain support for his vision of a non-corporatist, socially compassionate, ecologically sustainable America.

    The cost is Republican presidency, in the short term. In the long term, if he does it well, he forces the Democrats to adopt many of his policies to stop the rot. Now there’s a chance this prevents the Democrats from winning office. Perhaps the power of the media is such that a “green Democrat” is unelectable. But the voters have the final say, so long as Diebold doesn’t become too common and Jeb keeps his fingers out of the Supreme Court. In any case nothing is possible if the average voter doesn’t start looking for a little truth beyond the propaganda machine.

    So I could imagine a situation where the Democrats were forced to really become a center-left party instead of right-centrist the way they are now. But it would take time and it would rely on the Republicans disgracing themselves while the Democrats rebuilt. I think we can always rely on the Republicans to disgrace themselves, I’m just not so sure we can rely on the public to notice.

In a nutshell that’s my pro-Nader argument. We have to keep the Democrats honest, and it may be worth the short term pain in order to do so.

Why not?

This is easier. The Democratic party can reform itself from within.

There has always been the possibility that good men and women would reach office on a Democratic ticket and push against the tide of money men and strategists to create policies which meant something. By doing so they could draw socially conscious caring people in to the party and displace the time servers and the vested interests. A revitalised party would make some headway against the media and Washington’s corporate corruption.

Obama is no lefty. He doesn’t even have the politics of Kucinich. But he does have the vision and the charisma to begin a new direction. I also think he hides his true agenda under a bushel, so as to avoid scaring people. He could make a difference.

I want to give Obama a chance, and I want to do so with a united progressive voice, not splitting it with Nader. I’d love to see Nader campaigning, but campainging against the ills of the Republican mindset rather than campaigning against Obama. [By the way if it were Clinton I'd have a quite different view. I think she represents the worst of the corporatists in progressive clothing who have so damaged the Dems].

So I’m a Nader supporter, but I’m saying don’t do this, Ralph.

Posted in uncategorized | Leave a comment