Plato, Kipling & Safe Spaces

soviet propaganda poster muslim women

(Trigger warning- this post mentions without condemning Rudyard Kipling, a Dead White Man)

In one of his poems, The Disciple, Kipling wrote-

HE THAT hath a Gospel
To loose upon Mankind,
Though he serve it utterly —
Body, soul and mind —
Though he go to Calvary
Daily for its gain —
It is His Disciple
Shall make his labour vain.

Although couched in Christian terms and first published at the end of his story The Church that was at Antioch clearly the author had a more universal application of the principle in mind. This is shown by the final verse which references both Islam and the religions of India-

He that hath a Gospel
Whereby Heaven is won
(Carpenter, or cameleer,
Or Maya’s dreaming son),
Many swords shall pierce Him,
Mingling blood with gall;
But His Own Disciple
Shall wound Him worst of all!

The point is a simple one which is that visionaries and pioneers have their hopes wrecked most of all by their successors. That which drives people to create great movements such as the world spanning religions or the great ‘isms’ of the 19th and 20th centuries- Socialism, Communism, Zionism, Nationalism, Fascism etc etc- is the internalising of some partly seen glimpse of one of the Platonic ideals. That is, an Idea in its perfect abstract form is seen and then an heroic attempt is made to make that form a lived reality here upon earth.

Such revolutionary impulses are something of a mixed blessing since all too often they contain strong procrustean tendencies and merrily proceed to hammer rough edged human pegs into ideally shaped smooth holes. The advantage which they sometimes bring is that caught up within the scope of the grand vision are a myriad of lesser issues which touch upon vital matters of ordinary life and great changes for the better occur during the process of the long march towards the New Jerusalem. Whether Fascism is a price worth paying to get the trains to run on time or Communism to achieve universal literacy in Russia is of course another question.

The Soviet experience, indeed, is an instructive one. The Lenin’s, Trotsky’s, Zinoviev’s and Kamenev’s, a generation of deep thinkers and sharp debaters, were succeeded by the dull and pedestrian minds of Stalin and his acolytes. Leaving aside the historical peculiarities of 1920’s Russia we could generalise that the attempt to impose an ideal vision into the interstices of daily life for millions of people requires a focus on the banality of the every-day and only banal minds can or will perform this task. If one reads, as I did in my misspent youth, the debates and speeches at Soviet and Comintern conferences one is struck by the way that years of genuine argument about ideas and underlying principles is succeeded by unanimity and an abandonment of intellectualism. The process has happened, I think, so often in history that one is justified in thinking, as Kipling clearly did, that it more or less amounts to a universal law (unless human frailty is overcome through divine assistance as, I believe, is the case with the Catholic Church.)

So, what has all this to do with safe spaces? One of the phenomenons of recent years has been that students activists have made two significant demands. They seek to exclude from debate and discussion, to ‘no-platform’ in the jargon, those whose views they deem to be grossly offensive and, since this can never be 100% successful, they also try to create safe spaces where no unpleasantness may ever by any chance occur. Among those whom they aim to no-platform are often pioneers of the very ideas which the students endorse, people such as Germaine Greer, Peter Tatchell and others of that generation. This is an experience which the Danton’s and Trotsky’s of history would recognise. In one sense it means that the revolution has been won. The feminists, LGBT activists, social liberals and cultural marxists of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s have made their ideas a part of the social, legislative and intellectual framework of the Western world.

The downside of this for those who support these ideas (and I don’t) is that leadership has now passed into the hands of the Kiplingesque disciples. Unanimity is sought, intellectualism is cast out, banal minds regurgitate half-digested ideas which they have passively accepted not arrived at through ratiocination or debate. The ground, in fact, is being cleared for the revolution to defeat itself. The question is what legacy will it leave? There is much, amid the idiocies of current student politics, that is worth salvaging out of the vision of the pioneers, that women’s status and viewpoint are never secondary considerations, that people should not be persecuted merely for their sexuality and so on. This legacy question is as important for us as the “what happens next?” question and it is up to us to answer both of them. And, also, to hope that we are never cursed by having disciples.

@calmlyobserving

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The picture is a Soviet propaganda poster from the 1920’s aimed at Muslim women

 

 

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Shangri La-sur-Loire

shangri la by sonja christoph

The chances are that you are reading this because you want to know what the odd title means. I will come to that presently but first I want to talk about cults. The word has acquired a sinister connotation in modern English but its Latin original cultus means  “care, labour; cultivation, culture; worship, reverence.”  It retains something of that meaning in French so Anglophone visitors to Francophone regions are sometimes bemused to see references to the culte Catholique. We can see that culture, cultivation and religious cult share a common root of some kind. I would suggest that community is an implied component of the concept “cult.” People come together to produce culture and worship (also crops but that’s not my interest here.) That is, however much individual creative work an artist may produce or however intense a person’s particular spiritual life may be they do so as the inheritors of a community tradition, participants in a current community of activity or belief and contributors to a future storehouse of artefacts or practices which subsequent generations can benefit from.

Which brings me to Shangri La-sur-Loire. There are three strands I wish to pick out here. The 1933 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton, the French town of La Charité-sur-Loire and the idea known as the Benedict Option (Ben Op).  Taking the last point first; the proposition is that we are in an epoch of civilisational collapse. A perfect storm of trends and events is combining to put an unbearable strain on existing Western structures and societies which will be unable to endure in anything like their current form. During an analogous period of human history, the ending of the Latin Roman Empire, the best values, culture and religion of classical society were preserved by a loose network of intentional communities formed under the monastic Rule of St Benedict. When the chaos subsided somewhat these formed the basis for the flourishing of a new culture and way of being which led to the world that gave us the Gothic Cathedrals, illuminated manuscripts and all the other glories of the High Middle Ages. The Ben Op proposes the creation of new intentional communities in order to carry the best of our civilisation through the tribulations to come.

In its pristine form the Ben Op is a primarily Christian idea. It perceives that the faith has no traction in mainstream Western society and never will but since that society is dying Christians should prioritise survival and future rebirth over fighting unwinnable battles in a world whose time is in any event severely limited. It is no doubt true that the psalmist’s lament-

We have become a taunt to our neighbours,
mocked and derided by those around us. (Ps 79:4)

applies to Western Christians but given the rising tide of anti-intellectualism and the perceived link many see between culture as such and the despised ruling elites it might with equal truth be said by devotees of the Opera, the fine arts or poetry. To put it another way the different forms of cult as well as having a common origin are currently facing a common fate.

Lost Horizon, which was published in the year that the Nazi’s came to power in Germany, imagines an isolated community, Shangri La, which although originally religious in purpose has become transformed into an entity which deliberately seeks to preserve all aspects of culture against the imminent danger of global destruction. This is a not uncommon literary trope, we see something similar in A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Glass Bead Game and in the kingdoms of Nargothrond or Númenor of the Silmarillion. Possibly the first author to explore this idea was the fifth century Tao Yuanming in The Peach Blossom Spring. As a lived experience arguably the oldest practitioners were the Jews of Babylon who used their exile as an opportunity to refound and reinvigorate their ancient community around the concepts of Law, Land and identity.

image

What I am suggesting is that the formation of intentional communities to preserve what is worth preserving is not simply a matter that need only concern Christians. And so we come to La Charité-sur-Loire. Loosely translated the name means kindness or generosity on the Loire. It is not the original title assumed by its inhabitants but was given to it by outsiders. The reason for this was the loving hospitality given by its monks to travellers through the town of whom there were many since it sits on the pilgrimage route to St James Compostela. The town went through various vicissitudes over succeeding centuries including an assault led by St Joan of Arc and a great fire. Today the monastic community is long gone but La Charité is now a Ville des Livres (City of Books) and visitors can explore numerous shops selling antiquarian texts and maps. In effect one intentional community has been replaced by another, albeit much looser, one.

The Ben Op idea is not a survivalist retreat to desert or mountain. Many of the original Benedictine houses were hidden, like La Charitié, in plain sight in towns, on main communication and transport routes. They were involved in the life of their epoch and of their region. More than that, however, by virtue of a shared purpose they were also involved in keeping safe and keeping alive the things which they valued most. Shangri La, because of its isolation doesn’t fit into that model but it’s ability to thrive was dependant not only on its intentional community but also on a mutually beneficial relationship with its neighbouring geographical community of valley people. Its value for us then is as a sign of such cooperation and that Ben Op purposes need not be seen as narrowly conceived.

Unlike Christians, perhaps, protagonists of high culture may not see the need to be physically proximate to those who share their interests. The internet, after all, enables a virtual community to be formed which eliminates the tedious business of living cheek by jowl with people whose egos are as monstrous as our own. In the event, though, of total or partial civillisational collapse the net will likely cease to function or at least become greatly diminished. A need for our times is the rediscovery of culture as cult and the creation of cultic communities in real life occupying real space with explicitly formed intentions anent preservation and survival. The chances of survival would be greatly increased if the two cults, Christianity and the liberal humanities, were to act in concert (as it were) but there even my untrammelled imagination dare not go.

@calmlyobserving

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The pictures are Shangri La by Sonja Christoph and La Charité-sur-Loire

 

 

 

 

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Trust Me, I’m a Politician

Bernie Endorsed Hillary

As the decades rolled by and I observed crisis succeed crisis I always resisted the temptation to run around yelling “the sky is falling, the sky is falling.” Systems are more resilient and challenges less radical than their opponents and supporters respectively bargain upon. Now, in 2016, it appears to me that the chances that the Western system will fail and disappear are at least as great as that it will continue. None of the current crises- economic, political, social, cultural, demographic-  taken singly are unprecedented in their nature or severity. The occurrence of so many of them simultaneously across such a wide geographic spread, however, is something new in my experience. It dwarves the last great shock to hit the Western world, the 1968 events, which happened during an era of sharply rising prosperity and social mobility.

The nearest comparable epoch appears to me to be the period preceding the Second World War which is rather worrying. Nothing, though, is inevitable until it happens. There are many ways in which the current system can more or less survive the current existential threats which it faces. In this endeavour it is our political class which has perhaps the greatest responsibility. If they act wisely and intelligently then the Western system will adapt and continue. If not it will catastrophically crash and burn, or at least significant component parts of it will. But are wisdom and intelligence the first words that come to mind when we consider the mainstream politicians of the West?

Returning to our comparison. It has often struck me that the most significant event of the period from the beginning of 1930 to the end of 1940 was not the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany. It was, rather, the sudden, total and wholly unexpected collapse of France. Many factors contributed to this not the least of which was the disgust that French politicians inspired in their people, a disgust which proceeded by extension from the politicians to the political system which they embodied. This repugnance was not lessened for Frenchmen when they had uniforms put upon their backs and rifles put into their hands. Although many did fight heroically and vainly in 1940 many more did not feel that their system was worth dying for. A decision which was perfectly rational in its way had it not been for the fact that what they gained, Nazi occupation and Vichy, was far worse than the terrible thing which they lost.

Returning to 2016 we can see that huge swathes of the population in Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and elsewhere regard their own political class not as representatives defending their interests but as venal, corrupt, self-serving liars. Again many factors have played into this widespread alienation but the behaviour of politicians themselves is not the least significant of these. By this I do not mean that the bulk of politicians are anything other than well meaning individuals whose primary concern is the common good. There have always been corruption scandals, over-promising manifestos and misleading use of statistics yet none of this has had the hyper-magnified effects of recent years upon public opinion. What we have had recently is a decline of civility.

Politeness may seem a trivial concern to a world which might shortly go up in flames. I would argue though that it can act as an important fireguard. The point is this, civility towards an antagonist proceeds from a respect for them and for the people they represent. It assumes that your opponent, although profoundly wrong, is at least as honest, sincere, intelligent and well meaning as yourself. They are not acting out of malevolent or sinister motives, they are at worst honestly mistaken. Extremists are never civil, they take the Manichean approach that their enemies are dominated by the powers of darkness and deliberately wish to inflict suffering and misery upon the people. When mainstream politicians adopt the language of extremism to describe their equally mainstream opponents, often within the same political party, then they are effectively opening the gates of hell.

When the same words and phrases are used to describe a Marine Le Pen and a Boris Johnson, a Hugo Chavez and a Barack Obama then voters can be forgiven for not being able to differentiate between extremism and moderation. If you spend years demonising a mischievous imp then what do you say when a real demon appears? You have already been broadcasting at full volume you have no additional sound to add which would alert the public to the fact that something new and dangerous has arrived. The recent brutal murder of the British Member of Parliament Jo Cox (eternal rest grant unto her O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon her) apparently by a bona fide fascist highlights some of the issues here.

After the murder politicians of all parties and members of the public were lavish in their tributes. Jo was a talented, hard-working, committed and much loved public servant. Yet it is an oddity of our system that it takes a violent death for people in politics to acknowledge that these qualities exist in their colleagues and opponents. Moreover the long term fascist commitment of Jo’s alleged murderer was swiftly elided into the terms of the Brexit referendum debate as if there was no significant political difference between a Nazi inspired murderer and someone campaigning for the UK to leave the European Union. Where the extremes are understood to be the same as the centre then voters will have no barrier to prevent them voting for extremists.

The words we use affect the thoughts which we have. In US discourse in particular I am often given the impression that the political class have used over-cooked rhetoric about their opponents for so long that they have begun to believe it themselves. Heres the thing, in France, Britain, America and all around the Western world most politicians are decent people trying to do the right thing. If the language they use about each other conveys the opposite impression; that politicians are ravening beasts intent upon destroying civilisation as we know it then, you know, civilisation might well be destroyed because the barrier of plain common decency which separates the extremes from the centre will have been torn down not by the extremists but by the centrists. In the name of God, in the name of all thats holy I call for a return to civility, politeness and mutual respect in our public discourse. The alternative is a price too high to comfortably contemplate.

@calmlyobserving

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The picture shows Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders endorsing Hillary Clinton for President

 

 

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Lust, Decadence & Immorality

Pompeii brothel

The poet Gregory Wood describes, in one of his poems, soldiers ending their day in ‘bleak debauchery.’ This rather startling turn of phrase describes rather neatly a great truth. It is only while it preserves the charm of novelty that debauched, decadent behaviour can be said to be exciting. It possesses the glamour of unknown possibilities and unforeseeable excitements so long as it is new to us. After a while though it loses these attributes and becomes repetition. In relationships or creative endeavour the possibility of growth always exists, in debauchery this is not so. We can add quantity but never quality to these experiences. As our appetites become jaded we may seek to add in elements to stimulate the effects of our actions but this is not growth rather it is an attempt to recreate the excitement of our first encounters with immorality.

This absence of possibilities to grow does not necessarily act as a deterrent to continued plunging into the world of debauchery. The lust for this or that experience, gambling, drunkenness, promiscuity, becomes an itch that we need to scratch to obtain brief ease or, in the situation Gregory Woods wrote about, as a consolation, a powerful sensual experience to drown out for a while the memories and anxieties which the rest of our life produces in us. Indeed it is its sensual nature which is its key characteristic. The senses can drown out the mind and the emotions and there are times when mind and emotion are seen by us as enemies to be avoided not instruments through which we can fulfil our potential. Where we are guided by sensuality not thought then we can expect less complexity and thus the consequence of repetition and the absence of the possibility for growth.

From a rather different angle an ancient Hebrew poet wrote “let me find life in following thy ways.” (Psalm 118:37) This speaks to a perception in various philosophical and religious traditions that behind or within existence in the transient and phenomenal world which we experience through our senses there are eternal verities which we encounter directly through Mind or Spirit. Plato and the neoplatonists thought of them as Ideas, like Truth, Beauty and the Good which exist beyond the realm of shadows which we inhabit (hence the allegory of the cave in Plato’s Republic.) The Zen concept of enlightenment, satori, when we unlock the Buddha nature within is essentially similar. The use of spatial analogies like within or without is unavoidable but misleading since Mind or Spirit is presumed to be universally present so the distinction between within and without is merely a descriptive tool to be discarded when that which it describes is understood.

The concept here is that the sensual life though real is less real than the life of Mind because it concerns itself with what arises and passes away. Which is to say it attaches undue importance to things which will shortly cease to exist. Mind can give due importance to that which always was and always will be. Here the possibility for growth exists because though the verities do not change we do. The more we contemplate them the more we mirror that which we contemplate. The finite grows into the infinite the temporal into the eternal. The argument against this is that we know that the objects of sensual experience exist but we cannot say the same for the objects of Mind. However, we only know that the objects of sense exist because our senses have encountered them. In the same way we can only know that the objects of Mind exist if and when our Mind encounters them. Given that the Mind is more complex than the senses clearly that which it encounters at its own level requires more effort and attention than that which the senses encounter at theirs.

Most of us most of the time occupy the space between unchained sensuality and unfettered Mind. In our relationships, our work, our hobbies, our creative endeavours we seek to live and to grow. Yet this is rarely entirely satisfactory at times, perhaps frequently, we seek to escape with our bodies and minds from the mundaneness and unsatisfactoriness of the everyday. Because the senses are near at hand, powerful and habit forming they are often our first resort taking the form of anything from excess chocolate to flagellation. That is not the only option though. We can seek that “what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” as St Paul puts it (2 Corinthians 5:4.)  The restlessness and ennui which normal life cannot eliminate opens up a space and an incentive for us to use Mind to search for what lies beyond the transient and the phenomenal. And this, unlike bleak debauchery, is not an escape from the daily but an expansion of it into new and infinite dimensions. To be fully alive is to be growing to be half dead is to be forever repeating. Lust, decadence and immorality are bleak because repetitious and they lead us to death in life, death of the Mind. The French letter killeth but the Spirit giveth life.

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The picture is from a fresco found at Pompeii 

 

 

 

 

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Should the Old Obey the Young?

Cenotaph Charlie Gilmour

In debate on a variety of issues from LGBT rights through to UK membership of the European Union the final decisive argument is often that “the overwhelming majority of young people support it.” There are a couple of assumptions in this which bear further examination. Firstly, that youth possesses a level of wisdom and insight denied to those who have merely lived longer than them. Secondly that what they support now represents the future of society as they age and replace the cohort before them. That is, young people are wise now and rigid and unchanging going forward which seems an unlikely combination. It also, incidentally, presumes that their own children will be docile and obedient to them in ways which they themselves are not to their own parents and grandparents.

Many, if not all, the commentators who advance this “listen to the young” argument share a third premise, that of the inevitability of progress. They believe that not only does civilization add to its store of knowledge and productive capacity but that it grows ‘better’ ethically and becomes more free as an unavoidable consequence of this growth. Since today’s young people mostly subscribe to ‘progressive’ values then these commentators support them, not because they are young but simply because they agree with them. That this recourse to the “listen to the young” slogan is purely opportunistic can be seen clearly in the fact that they do not apply it to the youth of, say, Nigeria or China because they do not subscribe to the politically acceptable set of values. I do not have space to expand on the point here but to be clear I think that the notion of progress is nonsense on stilts.

Returning to my main theme. Older people possess one thing necessarily unavailable to the young, that is, long experience. Traditionally this has been seen as giving them an edge in acquiring wisdom and thus being able to form sound judgements on complex issues. If that no longer applies then it can only be because young people have access to a source of wisdom, denied to older people, which enables them to form better considered judgements than their elders. The one word used in this context is ‘connectivity.’ Through the use of technology people can communicate swiftly and directly to each other and can research information and ideas rapidly. Although this is not age-specific technology clearly those who have grown up with it (because their elders invented it for them and/or purchased it for them when they were children) are more adept at its use. Through it they can sweep aside age old prejudices and discover that we are all alike, a mystery hidden to those who subscribe to the ancient belief systems (which each proclaim that we are all alike) and old fashioned ways of doing things.

The strength of this argument lies in the potential of the internet. We can use it to explore new ways of thinking and to learn new things. We do have virtually instant access to a store of knowledge that used to be far more difficult to acquire, though not impossible if we were patient enough. Potential is not actual though. Do young people for the most part really use the net in this way? The ‘echo-chamber’ effect of social media is much talked about. The tendency of each person to use technology to reinforce what they already feel and believe. For example after the UK referendum on Europe one young woman reported shock because she had thousands of friends on Facebook and only three of them were in favour of the Leave campaign which actually won. This may be an extreme example of selecting in the like-minded and selecting out the challenging but it is not uncommon to a lesser degree. If we inhabit a small village we have to get to know people we don’t like and don’t agree with. If we inhabit the whole world we can ignore the different and choose to associate only with the similar.

I would argue that contemporary young people get their ideas about right and wrong, good and bad from the same sources they always have, that is their teachers and their role models. Social media can then play a policing role in that anyone who expresses doubts about the received consensus can expect to receive abuse rather than argument and runs the risk of being unfriended, blocked or otherwise sanctioned unless they keep their doubts to themselves. Because most parents are working much of the time a large part of child and young adult development is now in the hands of State functionaries. Teaching has long been known as a liberal profession and that certainly applies in more than one meaning of the word liberal. Today’s young people overwhelming subscribe to the same set of ideas that their quondam teachers and current lecturers subscribe to and that is no coincidence. It is certainly the case that some people form their philosophies of life through a considered process of ratiocination after careful research and reflection but it would be absurd to suppose that this applies to the vast majority of teenagers and twenty-somethings who are also busily discovering hormones, sex, drugs and partying as well as the challenges of new studies or new jobs. For the most part they are followers not leaders in the world of ideas.

We have no reason though to assume that these ideas are a fixed and unchanging set of data. Experience will become the property of today’s young people as the decades roll by and this will affect the way they view the world and the judgements which they make about it. Most of the British youth of 1975 voted in favour of what is now the European Union, in 2016 many of these same people cast their votes to leave it. People change, life changes them. It always has and it always will. The belief that because young adults now favour the worldview of their teachers and the liberal Left then they will always do so rests on the assumption that they will discover that these ideas are consonant with the real life experiences which they shall have going forward. Obviously the liberal Left think that that will be so but they may well be wrong, they often are. Only time will tell. And time is the one thing most young people have a lot off in front of them.

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The picture shows a young protester swinging from a memorial for the war dead in London

 

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Britain & Europe: Accept Decline

image

Voters in the United Kingdom (UK) are being asked to vote in a referendum on their future membership of the European Union (EU.) In an earlier post I looked at this issue from the point of view of democracy and also racism. Here I shall consider the economy and the environment. It is a curious fact that economists and environmentalists who are, as it were, natural enemies with radically different perspectives have for the most part united around supporting Britain’s EU membership. It surprises me that so few people are surprised about this emergent consensus or have asked why it might have come about.

To begin with economists. A positive avalanche of reports and statements from large international financial institutions, large international bureaucracies and huge transnational corporations have landed on UK voters predicting economic catastrophe should they vote for a British exit from the EU (Brexit.) The Leave campaign response has been to point out that many of these bodies benefit financially from the Union and that this has influenced their conclusions. I think this is too crude and insults the integrity of report authors. What is more significant is that economists and bureaucrats have an instinctive horror of instability. For them stability means growth, uncertainty means decline. If they were asked to express a preference as between a popular revolution in China producing a liberal, pluralist democracy or continued one-party rule producing stable economic growth and improving trade then as economists or bureaucrats they would probably favour the Chinese Communist Party.

Additionally, economics has for long been known as ‘the dismal science’ for a good reason. Gloomy prediction is the stock in trade of economists. Its what they do. Looking to the future they see change and change is what they like least hence their reports are seldom mistaken for rays of sunshine. None of which necessarily means that they are wrong. Leave campaigners are hamstrung by the perceived need to deny, at least in public, that Brexit can possibly have any negative consequences at all. This is simply not credible. At the very least there will be short-term disruption which will have an impact upon the economic life of the UK.

The reason why Brexiteers feel the need to be so Panglossian in their arguments is that like the Remain campaigners they are wedded to the idea that growth is good. I think that this is mistaken. Beyond a certain point acquiring more stuff does not add to the sum of human happiness. Indeed aspiring to possess more goods- shoes, handbags, cars, houses etc.- than we can possibly need or even use makes us more anxious and driven not more at ease with ourselves. In a country like the UK it would be positively beneficial if the economy were to shrink and the living standards of the top 80% or so of the population, with their associated consumption, declined. If we spend less time pursuing material benefits then we can spend more time pursuing emotional and spiritual ones like solidarity, community building, compassion and strengthening family life.

If therefore the forecasts are correct then they represent not a threat but a promise. A managed decline of the UK economy, with the poorest and most vulnerable being protected, will be beneficial to the quality of UK life and will act as a stimulus to drive back the crass materialism, hyper-individualism and long hours working culture that have been such a blight on so many lives. Of course, most front-line politicians are even more horrified at the thought of advocating lower living standards and less consumption than bureaucrats are in the face of instability.

Which brings me to the environmentalists (Greens.) Green philosophy has long been in favour of ending economic growth and reducing consumption. This is not so much because of a desire to promote human spiritual and moral well being; more a concern to protect the planet and the creatures on it (including humans if absolutely necessary.) It seems anomalous then that, for the most part, Greens have lined up behind the option which will promote precisely the opposite outcome. The EU, additionally, is committed to other things Greens are against such as globalisation and centralisation. More parochially the way the Union is structured encourages the economy of the South-East of England to overcook, with associated concreting over of open spaces, while the rest of the country cools down, with associated industrial wastelands and depopulation. A Brexit makes an environmental and economic rebalancing of the country more probable than a Bremain.

It seems that Greens have done a Tony Blair and abandoned their philosophical underpinnings in pursuit of short-term pragmatic goals. Specifically: UK voters (currently) tend to elect anti-environmentalist governments and the EU bureaucracy (currently) favours maintaining a Green-ish regulatory framework. So, in order to protect the country against the people Greens have opted for the centralising, globalising, pro-capitalist, undemocratic structure which is the European Union with the vague hope that it can somehow, somewhen be reformed into a ‘Europe of the Regions.’ As I argued in my previous referendum post it seems to me that the safest way to secure long-term political objectives is to create a consensus in their favour amongst voters such that no government will dare to override them. This has happened with the National Health Service and it seems unduly pessimistic to assume that it can’t be done around other issues too.

To conclude then. The referendum on 23 June offers UK voters, at least those outside of Scotland, possibly the best chance in their lifetimes to vote in favour of reducing their material well-being. This is a consummation devoutly to be desired. Against this is the risk that the economists may be wrong as they often are and that, sadly, after a brief dislocation the economy will once more grow and consumption will continue to rise. There is also the danger that UK voters will continue to vote for governments of which ‘we’ disapprove. The choice is a clear one, Aristotelian pragmatists will vote Remain, Platonist idealists will vote Leave. It is not policies but characteristic outlooks on life which will decide this referendum.

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The Vampire and the Marionette

Buffy and Angel

In his book The Soul of the Marionette: A short enquiry into human freedom the philosopher John Gray writes- “What seems to be singularly human is not consciousness or free will but inner conflict- the contending impulses that divide us from ourselves.” The character of Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer I think illustrates this point. He functions perfectly well as a vampire until he is cursed by a Roma clan who impose a soul upon him.

The series does not, so far as I can recall, attempt any definition of what a soul might be but they do depict its impact on Angel. From being single minded and ruthlessly focussed he becomes self-divided and tormented. Effectively he ceases to be a monster and assumes the characteristics of a human as Professor Gray further describes them- “no other animal seeks the satisfaction of its desires and at the same time curses them as evil.”

It might be supposed that what is implied is that when one possesses a soul one also gains a conscience although explaining one concept we don’t full understand by referring to another concept we also don’t fully understand doesn’t get us much further. If conscience is that part of our psyche which, basing itself upon reason, tells us that certain actions are ‘wrong’ and others are ‘right’ because of the consequences which flow from them to ourselves and the community of which we are a part then Angel would not require a soul to access this. He would simply require the ability to reason and this, as a vampire who was able to function in a concealed way within human society, he already possessed prior to the curse.

In fact in his vampiric mode Angel operated in a perfectly rational way; in order to become practically human he had to become less reasonable not more. Which is to say that humans are creatures who possess reason but are not governed by it acting alone. Why might this be? Gray also writes “There is nothing to say that when all the work of reason is done only one view of the world will remain.” We are faced at many moments in our lives with choices to make and any one of them will be more or less as reasonable as the others. The basis for the choices we make cannot then be simply reason but must flow from some other source. The self-division which is our species characteristic may in fact be that necessary source. The aspect of our personality which is most dominant at a particular moment will determine our action, not because it is most reasonable but because it is most congenial, although other parts of our self may not find it so.

Why does this inner conflict exist? Professor Gray offers us this- “Being divided from yourself goes with being self-aware. This is the truth in the Genesis myth: the Fall is not an event at the beginning of history but the intrinsic condition of self-conscious beings.” As an aside I would say that this is an unnecessary either/or, the Fall could be both/and- an explanation of our inner lives as well as a description of an historic rupture between humans and the Divinity. However that might be the mere fact that we are aware of ourselves sets up an inner duality- that which is aware and that of which it is aware both of which are ourselves. And while this number must be at least two it can be much more depending upon our inner complexity. Angel shows us that humans are not only more conflicted and less rational than monsters but also more complicated.

Was he then happier as a vampire than as a quasi-human? I don’t think so because he had less to achieve. Monsters cannot grow they can only continue. Humans in seeking to resolve or at least address their inner-conflicts can change and gain in not knowledge so much as wisdom. Oscar Wilde in The Soul of Man Under Socialism wrote- “The note of the perfect personality is not rebellion, but peace.” Which I think is true enough. The rebellion of ourselves against ourselves can, if we manage it wisely, resolve itself into a position of inner harmony. One of the neoplatonists suggested that it is only the lowest and the highest forms of life which are simple everything in between is complex. The monster abides in its bestial simplicity the human, or the vampire with a soul, can come through these complexities and divisions to a state of inner unity, a oneness.

How is this possible? Wilde argues “What a man really has, is what is in him.  What is outside of him should be a matter of no importance.” This accords with the Stoic view which Epictetus rendered as “What do we admire? Externals. What do we make the prime object of our concern? Externals.” combined with the injunction to look instead at those things which are wholly within our power which are the ability to give our consent to the right and refuse our consent to the wrong. As Professor Gray pointed out it is our desires which form the centrepoint for our struggles. If once we can master desire and subdue it to our control then our complexities reduce themselves to simplicity at a higher level. That is, at a low level we are simple because we fulfil our desires without hesitation. Go slightly higher, acquire in Buffyian terms a soul, and we struggle between our inclination to yield to our desire and our apprehension that we would be wrong to do so. Travel higher still, which it is now open for Angel to do, and we can arrive at a new simplicity where we do not yield to our desires at all only to the necessary which is also the good.

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