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Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

Yesterday I took my children to Rickett’s Point Marine Sanctuary in Port Phillip Bay and the day before we rambled through the Australian Garden at Cranbourne Royal Botanical Gardens. It is joyful to explore new places with children, particularly your own, and watch them absorbing the wonders of the world. I am reminded of comments by the philosopher Serres:

The world is divine and full of divine things. This sea, this plain, this river, the ice floe, the tree, light and life. I know it, I see it, I feel it, I am illuminated by it, burning… I find happiness in the divinity of things themselves; they push me toward pantheism.

I wonder for how long my children will experience life as joyful: the boundless upsurge of experience. At what point do they/we become weighed down with the exigencies of life? I already see my six your old becoming encumbered with the demands of education. An inevitable downward spiral from an unfettered connection with the divinity of life towards an overladen consciousness that is barred from such direct experience. There are times when I fall into thinking I should be helping my children get ahead of the pack at this early age by schooling them in a musical instrument, problem solving or some other endeavour. And then I think, why? Why these pressures we formulate for ourselves?

ricketts

A constructed creek and cliff face at Australian Garden in which my children splashed

Can joy generate knowledge, or is it simply an experience that temporarily surges? What of the Aboriginal people’s of the world, now almost completely colonised, did their knowledge surface thorough joy?  Profound knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants and the mythological depths of dreams: I doubt the product of rational processes, but the surging wisdoms of peoples inseparable from the world’s boundless experiential potentials. I’m sure the same ecstasy poured through the veins of our scientists as they attempted to understand the world. But by understanding they crystallised human endeavour in rational forms in which we are now trapped, the immediacy of experiential joy now out of reach. But not so our children, my children, whom seem able to effortlessly dip their hands into the divine pool of the world.

ricketts1

The rock pools at Rickett’s Point are full of life

And so any chance I have with my children, we explore! New places, natural places, constructed spaces – crawl inside, get dirty, jump in fright, breath in the scents. Is this the best education, the best start? An education in joy! There is plenty of time for them to become weighed down by civilisation – the demands of education, work, travel, family, politics. And the best part is they remind me to still my own frenetic mind into a quiet certainty, losing myself in the waves, the rolling hills, the clouds; the knowledge that the act of existing is the most wonderful, improbable and fantastic experience of all.

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Civilisation is an excessive protrusion from the ground of imagination that appears as advancement and progress. Modernity forms the peak of this protrusion pushing ever outwards, from the inside; so called post-modernity observes from the outside, critiquing the shape and source of the protrusion.

The sun is an appropriate simile for the ground of imagination – a flux of infinite potential, the source of imaginative power from which realities emerge. This ground of imagination suggests that any reality, or truth, is merely one of an infinite number of possibilities. Civilisation(s) can be imagined as a solar flare extending from the sun, rising from the imagiantive flux, appearing as a linearity; with a beginning and an end, a sense of progress as the linearity protrudes ever onwards, and a sense of death as the protrusion falls back, inwards, reabsorbed into the imaginative ground.

solar flare

The linearity of the solar flare is suggestive of the progress of civilisation emerging from the ground of imagination

Modernity, as Deleuze and Guatarri suggested, has an independent dimension capable of spreading everywhere. No individual can escape its grasp. For example, while we (hopefully) feel positive and supportive of the Arab women who fight for equality and freedom, and simultaneously deplore Monsanto’s attempted owernship of agricultural plants, these seemingly disjointed events are related processes: the homogenisation of life experience. Modernity strives for homogeneity, where everyone is treated the same (human rights), everyone eats the same (standardised food stuffs) etc. As such homgenisation is the hand-maiden of progress: a teleology of self-same perfection. There is no better parody of this than the film Starship Troopers in which a future humanity is represented as an internationally homogenised mass of state servient soldiers with undifferentiated social norms.

The question has been asked, are we approaching, or even reached, the end of history? Not in the Fukuyama (victory of Capitalism) or Mayan (victory of nutters) sense(!), but in the sense of the grand narrative of the Enlightenment coming to an end, and the unravelling of assumptions of the importance of human centered theories (science and reason): the solar flare falling back in on itself, to be reabsorbed into the ground of imagination. Unless progress is so successful that a dystopia arises, where humans are replaced by machines, in a network of relations of perfect symmetry where change is unneccesary and any notions of a human soul/spirit have been eradicated, separating forever life from the ground of imagination from which changes and transformations emerge. In this case the tip of the solar flare departs like a pod,  separating from the sun, and existing in stasis; a dim and eternal glow.

The collapse of the solar flare, unless one holds on to the ideals of humanism in some forlorn attempt at hope, is inevitable. The rush to destruction is ever accelerating with hyper consumption peaking and the effects of climate change inevitable. But the ground of imagination from which human action draws its power is inextinguishable – potential can’t be destroyed, only realised. It is tempting to think that pre-modern indigenous knowledge existed (and exists) within the ground of imagination, eschewing the temptation for linearity and choosing to understand existence as flux (where dreamings shape the world, not geometry) . As for meditations upon our own receeding civilisation (which must first complete the task of absorbing the world into its domain), it is not a question of pessimism but of excitment for the possiblities of newness which will begin to emerge in the homogeneity of the present. As such the search for newness becomes fruitful, even optimistic.

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A meaningful life, is to create. Simple. Nietzsche suggested something similar when he wrote that the world was a dream of the Gods, and the highest act of human nature is to mimic the Gods by dreaming new world’s ourselves. So what is it to create? This is of course a personal question. It is not just an artist that creates, anybody who makes something creates. The life of children and 9-5 work is a template for creating in so far as the basics can be met – “I have created children, I create something of use everyday”. (Though Nietzsche would be horrified by the correlating of the quotidian with the creative!). To be creative is to bring something new into existence – physical or mental.

The soporific of the everyday is dangerous as it can seem like one is creating and yet one is repeating the same action. Recognition of this (conscious or otherwise) leads to depression, glumness . I need look no further than the faces of peak hour traffic to know this. Equally those that escape work and are free to do nothing are equally depressed and glum. I think of the tattslotto winners! So it is the act of creating that keeps the self buoyant and alive. Why? Existence, all of it, all ways, is in the act of creating. It is as if all existence strives to create the new. Death is only a necessity to make way for the new. Death is the glorious departure of a manifestation of newness. Death is a gracious departure to make room for the new. To create the new – seems to be a fixture of existence. So if existence is the newness of the Gods’ dreamings, then we, the product of their dreams, create, to align our actions with the meaning of our own creation.

Aligning creation with success – now there’s a problem. A problem with humanism, the great philosophical charade in which God is put to death and replaced with a new God – the God of humanism: we are now God! Jealous little Gods who scramble over one another to be the greatest God – the God who creates best, loudest, most audaciously, the most narcissistic. So are we witnessing the death of humanism (hopefully not humanity!). What will it be replaced with? Hopefully something other than ourselves, against which we can measure ourselves. To measure ourselves against ourselves is to turn in on our selves, to destroy one another as we compare our selves to one another – that we are truly the new: my child is cleverer than yours, my artwork is more compelling than yours, my body is sexier than yours..! At least when there were Gods, we could compare ourselves to something outside ourselves.

Escaping success, means escaping comparison with the other human. To instead compare ones creative output with some other drive or destination, or hope, or non-human otherness. How to reach this state? Intangible as it is… I keep creating. And comparing myself to others: can’t help it, still a humanist, hoping for the death of humanism, to make way for the new… the other.

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Anarchy has a bad reputation – no doubt. In recent years Anarchy has become synonymous with angry young men & women with red balaclavas tied around their mouths running through streets smashing the windows of Nike shops. Or in other cases dressed in white padding & holding home-made armour, ready to charge police lines, as did the English Wombles. These men and women are passionate about the future of society and strive to influence it. Feeling powerless in the face of a seemingly unconcerned society on the brink of destruction, this is their way of fighting back.

However, the problem with violent revolution is that it is ineffective. Society has a history of violent revolution that is never successful, because revolution is absorbed by a society that thrives on conflict and violence. It is everywhere all the time. In war. In the police force. In the criminal class. In the school yard. It is inherent. A system in which violence is inherent will never truly be overthrown by violence – it will just re-emerge in a new form (from feudalism to communism/capitalism or from communism to capitalism). The other problem with violent revolution is that it places too much faith in political power. It works on the basis that those in power are corrupt, and those without access to power would do a better job if they could take power for themselves. One only needs to look at the left wing revolutions around the world to see that society continues to chug on with disregard to wealth distribution, environment and humanity regardless of who is in charge.

The capitalist system is like a machine that carries out processes. And we all participate in its processes. The machines sole purpose is to increase economic output. The machine will carry on this function regardless of the fact that the human race and the Earth is being pushed into catastrophic territory (over population, climate change, ecological destruction). Now, we can say that Rupert Murdoch or some other rich and powerful person is responsible for this and he/they should be overthrown, but this is missing the point. Rupert is as much enslaved to the machine as any other member of society. How do we know that under his powerful smile a heart does not lurk that wishes for a more meaningful life? If he disappeared, someone would simply take his spot, which is true for any job. If society is a machine and we are its parts, then parts can easily be replaced. Violent acts of revolution can arise from anger and jealousy – they have more than me and this is unjust. But if you replace the rulers, you also have to take the stress, illness and complications that come with the rewards.

Calling society a machine is not as abstract as it may seem. Speak to many who work full-time and they will talk about its drudgery and meaninglessness. Talk about the problems of the world that our lifestyles are exacerbating and people will tell you how powerless they feel to stop it. That’s because we are! We are locked inside something that we can’t change. The machine carries on relentlessly. If in violent revolution we try to overthrow it the machine either flexes its muscles through the military, the police force and the media, which crushes dissent, or it allows its leaders to be overthrown and simply has someone else fulfilling the function of leader. Are the leaders of feudalism, capitalism and communism, in practice, really that different?

So what does Anarchy propose? And I am not talking about the Anarchy of angry protesters, but the Anarchy of organised alternatives to the self-destructive machine of human endeavour, which in our present case is Capitalism. I lift some ideas from the book, Bolo Bolo; (a bolo is a kind of anarchist collective that would survive through co-operative means by, for example, growing their own food). The only way to defeat the machine is to devalue the concept of work! This is the truly radical idea in the book. It is the obsession with work in contemporary society that threatens our existence. Work on an individual level, an organisational level, a national level, an international level is what drives the machine onwards, ever forward, toward the dangers we all can sense; yet we can’t stop doing it! (On tonight’s news Julia Gillard, the deputy prime minister of Australia, was interviewed and stated: ‘the most important thing to do in life is to work’). The author of Bolo thinks we should spend four hours a day tending the collectives agricultural needs. And the rest of the time we spend doing what we want. Sounds unlikely? Well yeah, of course it is. But in principle, regarding the survival of the human race, he’s right.

So having lost faith in politics or revolution to affect real positive change, I began to realise that trying to implement the ideas of Bolo Bolo on a personal level was the best way forward. Working part-time. Creating a vegetable patch. Making the home as environmentally friendly as possible. Cutting down on car use. Trying to leave as little an imprint on the planet as possible. Concentrating on creative tasks. There are some that have gone further, and pushed into the realm of the collective – (check the link, these people do not look like anti-capitalist crazies!).

It would take a mass transformation of consciousness for an anarchist system to work. People turning their backs on work, money, the demands placed on them from the cradle to the grave, and working towards a more Earth-friendly, human-centered co-existence. But it seems so implausible. Too easy to crush such a way of life, such is the incessant desire for wealth and power. Like John Lennon, we imagine.

Postscript:

Some years ago my wife and her previous neighbour agreed to pull down the fence that separated their front yards, and created a shared garden. Recently a new neighbour moved in and started pulling out all the plants they had planted and is demanding a new fence to be built. This is a micro-cosmic example of why anarchy will only ever be a Utopian dream, and never a reality. (Perhaps we can retreat into a practical-fantasy reality and build our own bolos within our physical-social networks?).

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Capitalism: the new cool?

There was a schism appearing in the minds of youth when I was at University in the early 90’s; between the old socialist mindset and the blooming Capitalist mindset. I still had a foot in the socialist camp – believing in ideals, the possibility of a people-led movement, the hope for equality. On the other side was what seemed a bizarre phenomena at the time (though now is completely normal), capitalism was becoming the new cool. This is well covered by Thomas Frank in his meticulously researched book One Market Under God, in which Capitalism’s ability to become the new cool is described. I saw it happen first hand with board members of the student union bragging about money, material goods and discussing which big brand they should invite to advertise on the new tele-info system spread throughout the campus. It was anathema to us left-leaning types. They simply laughed at us when we brought up points like – ‘a university should be a place of learning free from commercial influence’ and ‘a student union should be about collective action, not profit’. Twenty years later I’m back at Uni and Capitalism is now the order of the day. The majority don’t do politics, and they are certainly not anti-capitalist. There are a few socialists hanging on and even the outline of a student union or two, but they are essentially toothless.

East Berlin Crossing Man

In 2002 I was in East Berlin, visiting, trying to imagine life under the Communists. There wasn’t much to suggest it except for different shaped men at crossing lights, a few depressing looking buildings, and groups of people, who did not seem imbued with the stressful countenance of the Capitalist citizen, sitting around drinking . Sitting in a cafe I met a girl from East Berlin and her Mother. The daughter was about my age and the mother in her 50’s or so. They had lived in East Berlin, seen the wall come down and watched the resulting transformations in German society. I asked them what it was like to live under communism. After all, this seems as exotic and foreign a life as any to a boy brought up on the fat of Capitalist success in Australia. The mother’s answer has always stayed with me. ‘It was like’ she said with flat, tired eyes, ‘there was nothing to look forward to’. She waved her arms as if to suggest she never wanted to experience it again.

Recently, I was reminded of this conversation while watching the upsetting documentary ‘When Borat came to Town‘, which describes Sacha Baron Cohen’s unethical exploitation of a Romanian village when filming Borat. The villagers made 3 Euros from their involvement. Lawyers promised them a windfall if they sued. Nothing happened. (The uninformed being exploited by entertainers and lawyers – is this not the perfect metaphor for the West?). The man who led the law suit was broken by the end of the documentary and claims, ‘I have given up on dreaming. Without money there is no point in having dreams’.

Borat: the face of exploitation

So here we have two characters, both recent citizens of Communism, that see Capitalism if not as a shining light, at least as an opportunity to build dreams and have something to look forward to in life. Yet in my own country of Australia, a bastion of Capitalism, I see a community becoming fractured by the pursuit of money. Neighbours who don’t talk to each other, drivers that abuse one another, a society increasingly stressed. I don’t see much happiness in my country. But I do see a lot of people moving fast, climbing over one another to be the best and becoming increasingly suspicious of their fellow citizens. In East Berlin people seemed to have a lot a time to sit around and talk with one another. In the documentary I mentioned, people were dancing in the street and again there was a lot of sitting around and talking. There was community.

It seems the drive for Capitalism is irresistible (all that lovely stuff!), and its destructive impact only apparent when it’s too late. It’s all terribly confusing! We want to suck the fruits of Capitalism; even anti-capitalists seem pretty content with the lifestyle on offer i.e. embracing technology cheaply disseminated by Capitalism, yet when we have obtained it we become miserable, suspicious, competitive. Can we create the perfect society? Is happiness possible? Or are humans, like the Buddhists concluded, destined to suffer because that is the nature of life?

More time for this please…

It’s a fine balance, I think, between the different ideals and approaches to life. If any one extreme dominates (as Capitalism presently does and Communism once did) things go awry. I would like to be able to spend more time with my fellow citizens with a non-competitive, non-suspicious countenance, drinking and discussing life. But I would also like to be working toward something that I desire (not what the capitalists or the state tells me I should desire). Perhaps anarchy could deliver this balance (a system that has little hope of succeeding), or perhaps a people-focused democracy (rather than economic focused) is the answer. More on that in next week’s blog!

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Gee, the world is busy. There is no moment when the air is not filled with intrusive sounds. Anxious footsteps scurrying on their way to ‘somewhere’. The roar of an airplane’s engine, a passing car. Or the constant bombardment of images from the television or from roadside advertising. Our brains are constantly confronted with human made images and sounds – our very own synthetic environment, where our divorce from ‘naturalness’ is complete. You have to go a long way to be immersed in the world of natural sounds and images. But we aren’t going that way, we are pouring into the cities, all around the world. And the cities are growing, and getting louder and bigger. We have become experts in noise.

Silence has become terrifying. When was the last time I heard silence? I can’t think. And when silence comes what impact does it have on the brain of the individual, used to the bombardment of noise? To the point that the noise becomes a comfort, a blanket, a masking of the internal noise. That’s what happens when you hit silence. The internal noise becomes apparent. And its instant busyness is so confronting we turn on the television or see a movie or ring a friend. Just to turn up the external volume.

What of the moving image? Always something moving before our eyes in the city. The brain is constantly stimulated. What happens when a brain used to movement is dropped in a zone of naturalness? And there is nothing but the sway of trees and movement of waves for hours and hours on end. And the view like the sound is forever changing, although it is slow. For there is no rhythm as such. Not like the daily predictability of the time when the car motors will start roaring, or the television will start bleating, or the school teacher will say, ‘pick up your books!’.

For we are caught in a machine of our own making. A world that runs according to the needs of machines. Times, boundaries, deadlines, demands, seductions. Our brain is slowly being reprogrammed so that its relationship with the natural is eliminated, while our willingness to fall into quotidian rhythms as required by machines becomes complete. Take that brain into an area of ‘naturalness’ and it will seek the lights of a fast food store and the distracting sounds of a passing car.

But the brain won’t get it! Only the rustle of tired leaves until the shocking squawk of an eagle breaks the sky. The heart pumps in this break of predictability. For now the body is being forced into a different relationship with its surrounds. What mystery lies in the sudden surge of an animal’s body through the undergrowth, or the moaning violin of two tree branches sawing in the wind? To what depths of understanding can these seemingly simple moments take us? These are the questions that will become redundant when the world is one large city, living on the soulless flick of a clock and the demands of the machines we have created.

We who are extensions of the loud & luminous system we have created, blind to our participation in the grand symphony of cosmic unpredictability.

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There is a great line in the REM song (which is also the title): ‘It’s the end of the World as we know it, and I feel fine‘. I used to find this line strange. How can you feel everything is fine if it’s the end of the world? Perhaps you’ve given into substance abuse, and so, have anesthetised yourself to the coming gloom, or perhaps you are nhilistic and couldn’t care less if it is the end of the world. Or perhaps you’ve figured something out which gives you joy even in the face of hopelessness. Regardless I have always loved this line and sing it with great gusto, as it somehow makes sense.

And it possibly is the end of the world as we know it. That is not to say the end of all life, but the world as we have come to know it. We show no signs of reducing our rapacious consumption of goods to which the bounty of the world must perpetually relent her sustenance. Even after 50 years of dire warnings about the future of our civilsation we show absolutely no intention of doing what needs to be done to ensure the survival of our civilsation. Instead we continue to buy bigger machines, buy bigger houses and constantly shop! And the rest of the world that do not have what we wealthy citizens have crave our lifestyle. This is reflected in the growing capitalist economies of China and India and the flow of economic migrants from poorer regions of the world to the wealthy regions of the world.

Meanwhile the world’s climate is becoming more chaotic (even if Australia is full of climate change deniers), the world is running out of potable water and we have a population forever growing and forever demanding more goods and services. We are in a word, stuffed! Having faith that all of humanity will wake up one morning and say, ‘my God we are destorying ourselves, we must change our ways immediately’ is a way to avoid the malaise that such knowledge inspires; though it is a fairly ignorant viewpoint. Go to a local shopping centre and watch the lust on people’s faces as they greedily eat up all the goodies on offer. They ain’t gonna stop. Even though, overall, if you spoke to these people over a coffee they would be concerned about the state of the world and would wish they could do something about it…

Anyway I have accepted it is the end of the world as we know it, and after years of anxiety and anger I feel pretty much fine about it. My reasons are philosophical. Let me begin with a description of karma. I do not see karma as a moral law. I see karma as a natural law that ensures equanimity in existence. At the ground of existence is a harmony that keeps all things in check. This is necessary to ensure order. From order all arises including me here typing on this computer. It is the fundamental coalescing force of existence. (The nature of this existence is left for physicists and mystics to ponder. I have written an earlier blog on this.) Karma is the law which ensures that this state of equanimity is never compromised. Anything that goes to the extreme will be be brought back to a harmonious position through balancing actions.

In the case of our planet, Earth, we have a harmonious system that has developed over billions of years. The huge diversity of life, ecosystems and environments on our planet is testimony to the extraordinary range of possibilities that the harmony of existence implies. Karma works throughout this process causing extinctions, population growths, transformations and whatever is necessary to ensure harmony. The special case connected with homosapiens is our furious pace of change! We have changed things so rapidly due to our extraordinary level of intelligence that the few billion years of fine tuning, which created our planet is being transformed almost overnight. Unfortunately our intelligence does not always translate to wisdom and we have pushed things so far and so rapidly in one direction that karma will inevitably pull things back in another direction.

Time for an analogy. I picture a nail embedded in wood as an image of the point of harmony to which existence is held. The actions of existence are like a rubber band hanging off the nail. They will stretch in any number of directions depending on the circumstances. This is one of the extraordinary aspects of existence, it is harmonious and ordered yet it can take on many forms. One only has to reflect on the diversity of existence to appreciate this. The law of karma is analogous to the elasticity of the rubber band. If it stretches to far from a state of harmony it will bounce back. In the case of humanity we are stretching the rubber band to breaking point here on Earth, and it is going to bounce back. The form of this change is hard to predict. But pretty clearly, by recent events around the world it is going to be catastrophic.

The question arises as to why humanity would knowingly walk towards its own doom when it knows that it is walking towards its own doom? Not only that, we also have all the solutions to ensure our survival and the flourishing of our civilisation(s). And we have the intelligence and the imagination to pull it off. So what stops us? I don’t know! But I try to imagine a person who holds a gun to their head and is surrounded by loved ones who tell them they will help and that they will be there for them. But still they shoot. Why? Do they hate their self? Are they inherently selfish? Do they have an unexplained death wish? Are they blind to the love that surrounds them? Can these questions be translated to humanity at large? I am sure their are psychologists with some answers somewhere.

So getting back to the song. I feel fine because I am sure that universal processes are playing our whether or not humanity is able to hear it. Humans are a fine and extraordinary emergence from the ground of existence as is all life on Earth. If we were to destroy ourselves it would be tragic, but it would not be the end. It would mean a major transformation in existence on Earth as we know it, due to the laws of karma, but it would not be the end of life. The dinosaurs were wiped out by a meteor collision. They were grandiose creatures whose life ended with a type of climate change that will dwarf ours and yet life found a way and thrived, including our mammal ancestors.

I continue to fight for this beautiful world and the amazing creatures that live on it – humans and otherwise – but if it is the end of the world as we know it, it is not the end of all the world’s as existence knows it, and so yeah, I feel fine about that.

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