Where is what we actually want out of life in this whole rush-to-power malarkey?

martinlutherkingjr-063_0

It’s easy to forget with the 24 hour news carousel forever spinning, but there is a whole point to this politics malarkey – us.

I recently had a slightly frustrating and insulting exchange on Twitter in the wake of the Labour party NEC decision to (quite rightly) keep Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper for the potential leadership challenge. It went something like this:

 

Some bloke:

“Deluded Corbyn supporters can’t see Labour will never be elected again” yawn, etc…

Me:

“What’s the point of power for power’s sake if you don’t get the chance to enact polices you actually want?”

Some bloke:

“You really don’t understand government do you?”

Me:

“I suppose you do and are going to enlighten me with your superior knowledge?”

Some bloke:

“Power is all that matters. I guess you saw what the Conservatives achieved yesterday?”

Me:

“You mean May getting to be PM? What’s your point?” (I must stress, at this stage I am genuinely wondering what his point is – I am interested to know now that his initial insult against my intelligence has subsided…)

Some bloke:

“You really are a fool aren’t you? Goodbye.”

 

A fool! A fool no less! For asking someone to clarify a point they were yet to make.

The conversation ended soon after that with me wishing him farewell and good luck with his megalomania. I very rarely comment on other users tweets who I don’t already know, and this is why.

However, he kind of proved the point I’ve made before and will make again: what is the point of power for powers sake?

The reason I support Corbyn, more so than I do the Labour party, is because I agree with the things he wants to do i.e. his policies.

According to random bloke, that’s not important. What’s important is that we all support a version of a party being led by people who I massively don’t agree with, because “power is all that matters”.

I don’t feel I need to explain the false logic in that argument, do I?

Maybe I do, because I hear this all the time. Firstly I hear it in the mainstream media (none more so than the BBC), and then I hear it spilling passively out of the mouths of people who I know and meet.

“Corbyn is unelectable” they say… Well, no, actually, he isn’t. In theory, in a democracy, no fully-fledged citizen is, especially when you happen to be the democratically elected leader of a major political party.

“We don’t want to be a party of opposition” they say. Well, Labour, by definition, IS the opposition party. Perhaps the reason they didn’t pick up votes under Miliband in the last two election was because they didn’t represent a significantly opposing view and therefore didn’t enthuse those who would have turned out to vote for them to do so? Or many (like me) moved our votes elsewhere in search for some other world view even remotely aligned with our own?

It doesn’t take much prodding to unravel these arguments, does it? (They are barely even arguments) And that’s what we need to do, because no one in the mainstream media is going to do it for us like they do for the Tories/establishment.

I guess that random Twitter bloke was trying to imply that the way the Conservatives steered Theresa May into power was some kind of ‘achievement’ in terms of public/media opinion and opposition to having an actually unelected person take the reigns of power with seemingly little fuss. And if you are a Conservative, who supports May, then maybe that is an achievement, but, what has that got to do with me, and people like me, who want to see the kind of policies Jeremy Corbyn is proposing represented in our democracy?

Absolutely nothing.

Because it may be about the never ending rush for absolute power, but that doesn’t make it a good thing for the rest of us.

We live in a country now where idealism, socialism, disarmament, tolerance and welfare  are branded as being undesirable tenets on which to base a society. This is thanks to the power of the media, the capitalists and the complicit politicians who want us to think this way. And for once someone who says they want to break down the power held by the unelected media and business conglomerates over our lives and democracy is able (against all odds) to even be allowed a platform to say this, and the world turns against him, and by extension, anyone who agrees with him.

What’s worse is they are making us say it too… to ourselves, to each other, as if we know something. We don’t know anything about politics, not really, not most of us, only what we are told, and we are told, relentlessly, “he’s unelectable… he’s unelectable… he’s unelectable…”

You know what? Fuck them. Elect him. Or at least stop just repeating everything and at least try to think about it and put it into your own words so we can all talk about it and see if there is some valid reasons behind it all worth discussing.

Don’t just tell someone ‘they don’t understand’ and call them a ‘fool’ for asking… Get angry, yes, but direct it constructively. I don’t know, write a blog or something…

Allotted Life.

pots

After a hard day spent digging potatoes and cropping various other fruit and vegetables in my allotment yesterday, I was thinking: how many current so-called quandaries can be answered with the word ‘allotments’? I came up with the following list:

Food prices are set to sore! Allotments.

People don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables! Allotments.

People don’t get enough exercise! Allotments.

People are becoming increasingly disconnected from the food they eat! Allotments.

People don’t take enough time to connect with nature! Allotments.

People don’t get involved in a community! Allotments.

What do we do with all the Brownfield sites? Allotments.

We need more green spaces! Allotments.

We don’t take enough time to quieten our minds and relax! Allotments.

 

It’s quite a good list isn’t it? And I’m sure there are more.

 

Now, I’m not a mad gardener. At least, I’m not a gardener, as such. I’m not even that great at motivating myself to get down to my allotment a lot of the time, as the various letters and phone calls from the allotment squad secretary will attest to. But my partner and I do, when we can, get down there eventually, and despite our patchy knowledge, always seem to do okay.

You can listen to Gardener’s Question Time all you want (if you can survive the stomach twisting tweeness of it all sometimes) – and you can fret about propagation, irrigation, irradiation and genetic modification, but generally, what it comes down to, is putting some seeds in some soil.

It’s quite amazing to see those few little seeds you sowed in pots in spring turn into this in summer (including the spuds above, and this is less than half of what we’ve had so far):

veggie

And actually, for part-time gardeners who don’t really know what we’re doing – this isn’t a bad hoard, and this isn’t our first of the season – we’ve already had a good bounty of rhubarb, onions, garlic and raspberries, and given friends and families bags of spuds, cabbage and the odd cucumber here and there (when I say the odd cucumber, that’s because I found out it was actually a marrow). We’ll have more potatoes than we need for the  rest of the year and beyond, and for a time, a load of lovely fresh fruit and veg.

But there are problems. As far as I can tell there are not enough allotments to go around, and there is a certain expectation of lifestyle attached to the idea of taking one on. And unfortunately some of this can be true, or at least reinforced by certain people who tend to involve themselves in organisational roles. I have, as I mentioned, been bothered a bit by the allotment squad, and in the past I have complained to the council who told me I should be spending 10 ½ hours a week on my plot! This was obviously slug poo. I spent nothing like that on it this year, and as the pictures above show, I still got a healthy return.

Also, I like the fact that members have the options of joining the committee and attending meetings and additional allotment activities (competitions, group days etc…), but I don’t want to feel inclined to do so myself. For me the ‘community’ bit is more that every once in a while, while you are tending your plot, someone may come over and ask you if you want a spare cabbage or something, and then, after pleasantries, go away again. But that’s just me. My plot doesn’t have a fence around it, none of them do in my allotment. I really want a fence. But that’s just me – I’m an optional socialite – I like the choice of solitude if that’s how I’m feeling.

The point is that allotments have become a bit of a hobby often seen as a retirement pastime and not part of our everyday lives. I guess that the scale of growing needed to actually sustain us all and replace intense farming may be unachievable in the current world set-up, but wouldn’t it be good to at least remind the commercial powers-that-be that we are still capable as a species of feeding ourselves every once in a while? Maybe make some demands on quality and price by generating our own competition? And as I demonstrated with the above list, be more healthy, more involved, more connected and more grounded as a result? I must add that I am not all of these things, but I am a little closer to each as a result of having an allotment.

It kind of makes you wonder why that’s not the case and why our government isn’t clambering over itself to encourage and increase this massively beneficial activity. Why we apparently prefer to stare at great big areas of unused dust and rubble behind barbed wire fences because some developer has bought the land and is keeping it fallow on the off chance they could become even more rich one day by selling it on to another developer with exactly the same idea.

You don’t need me to tell you that commercial interests are given more priority by governments than our individual health and wellbeing, but I just did anyway. You may disagree, but if you do, I would ask you to go and visit your local Tesco’s in the nearest out-of-town grey miserable retail park, and look at the clamour of grey miserable people hauling themselves over grey miserable concrete to go and buy processed yellow food, and tell me, honestly, could we not be doing a little better for ourselves?

And anyway, if you grow your own you get to say things like ‘look at the size of my cucumber!’ every once in a while, which makes it all worthwhile.

Disproportion.

hammer nut

 

(Note: This story contains some mild descriptions of violence).

When I was a young teenager I was playing football on the playground at school in my dinner break with my friends. Not for the first time, a thug from our year came up and took the ball from us and started kicking it around to his mates. My friends and I were generally pretty meek people and had to put up this kind of thing.

This time, however, I decided to try and tackle the bully to get the ball back. When I did he fell over as a result and got his shiny new coat wet. I hadn’t intended to knock him over, that’s just what happened as he tried to shield the ball from me and I put a leg out to get at it. As I walked away holding the ball, I knew what I had let myself in for. This guy had a reputation for being pretty vicious. I’m not talking about ruffled hair or tipped out bags, I’m talking about violence.

I rolled the ball back to my friend and prepared to face up to the inevitable. He was approaching, red in the face, swearing and threatening me. Already a crowd had gathered. ‘Fight!’ they shouted, as usual. The bully was my height, but twice my build, with a shaved head and his fists clenched. I’d never been in a fight before, so in the few seconds I had to think about it, I decided I needed to do something.

I tried to punch him. It probably wasn’t the best decision, but it felt like the only possible way I could avoid it happening to me. I missed, having never thrown a punch before with the intention of actually hitting someone. He recoiled from my feeble swing, which was further impeded by my school bag falling off my shoulder and dragging down my arm. The next thing I saw was his knuckles coming towards my face. He didn’t miss. He didn’t miss the first time, but I didn’t go down. He didn’t miss the second time, but I didn’t go down. He didn’t miss the third time when my nose exploded in a cloud of scarlet and still I stood. I should have gone down.

After this he got me in a tight headlock. He was strong. His boasts and reputation were not unfounded. As I was held there, dripping from my nose onto his black trousers, he said to me, “We better calm this down now, there’s a dinner lady watching.”

At this I became angry. Up until that point it had just been a series of sharp pains and confusion, but that statement brought it into focus. How could I calm down the complete beating I was getting? I hadn’t started it. It had started long ago across all the stolen footballs, threats, beatings and taunts that most other people had to put up with at the whim of people like him on a daily basis.

I tried to act, but I don’t know how to fight. I tried to lift his knee to get him off me and topple him backwards. Instead, he brought it to my face, three times, further smashing my already popped nose. Then he let go, and I went to the office to get myself cleaned up. The next day I had concussion and couldn’t come to school.

Nothing of any real consequence happened to the lad. In theory I had started it with my  feeble attempt at a punch. Before that is was just playground squabbling. I had incited the violence that followed by my desperate attempt at pre-emptive defence.

What interests me with this memory, is whether this was a fair decision? Did I deserve the level of violence that I incurred because I tried to stand up for myself? My instinct tells me no, but the bare facts of the matter sound different. Consider this version of events:

Today at school someone tried to steal my football. I knocked him over and then tried to punch him. He defended himself and I came off worse.

It’s so easy to twist facts around to make the situation sound more two sided than it was, to try and engender sympathy for the disproportional response by glossing over the history and context of the matter. You may disagree with me and think I should of stayed my hand and waited till I was hit first, or gone down after the first punch and curled up in a little ball. You may think that I sacrificed any right to blame or victim status because I tried to do something rather than wait passively for something to happen that all reason and experience told me was certain.

You may think that, but it doesn’t feel right to me.

Stalked by Philosophy.

scary soc

Well, I’m happy to say that last Thursday I completed my final exam for my Open University degree, specifically (for this particular module) in Philosophy of mind.

Over the last four years I have completed six modules (in this order): Creative writing (Levels 2 & 3), Arts Past & Present (level 1), An Introduction to Philosophy (level 2), Introducing the Social Sciences (level 1) and Philosophy of Mind (Level 3).

It was a funny order to do things in, but then, I never actually intended to do a degree. I started with creative writing in order to become a better writer, and spread the first two courses over two years. Then I thought… what the hell. I enjoyed the experience, and I thought that philosophy, arts and social sciences would give me a good understanding of universal themes and thoughts in the world that could only benefit my writing and general creative activities.

All in all, I was right! It turns out that philosophy has been the real stand-out component (after the creative writing), and although I don’t necessarily ascribe to a great deal of Western philosophy conclusions, I have, and do, find the questions it raises fascinating and very important.

That said, since completing the exam (where I had to answer three questions in three hours with nothing but one of them old-fangled pen things and no notes) I was looking forward to a break from the concepts of life, the universe and well, everything. But that was not to be, because now I don’t have to think about it for exam-passing purposes (fingers crossed) – I’ve only just started to realise IT IS EVERYWHERE.

I always knew in principle it was everywhere – it’s quite hard to think of any subject that isn’t touched by fundamental questions of reality. But now, more than ever, it is reverberating around my head, as if the pressure from the exam has been alleviated and released a kind of dense thought-steam into my noggin. Not only that, but it seems to crop up on everything I watch, read and hear, and in so many conversations. It’s like I’m being stalked by Socrates, constantly around the corner and occasionally shouting ‘But why Garry? But why? Why does the cat meow? Does it even understand the concept of communication and that you are a separate entity with your own thoughts and feelings? Does it Garry? Does it?’.

‘Go away Socrates!’ I shout back. But he was never there… He was never there.

Even trying to escape into a film didn’t help. As I watched the passable remake of ‘Robocop’, and considered the main character ‘Murphy’: nothing but a brain, face and spinal column, hanging in a Robotic shell, having his emotions suppressed and losing his sense of ‘self’, I thought ‘hang on!’, and up popped Daniel Dennett, the modern philosopher of mind – ‘What is consciousness? Is it just the processing of information? Why are we different from machines? ARE we different from machines?!’ he screamed.

And I shout back ‘Go away Daniel Dennett. Go away with your physicalist theories that struggle to explain the phenomenological nature of experience and therefore redefine it in order to solve the problem.. .’ But this time, he really was there, and I had to chase him with a stick. (On a real note, it was as I was contemplating that Robocop was actually one big metaphor for the nature of consciousness that I realised one of the characters is actually called ‘Dennett’ in a not very subtle nod to the philosopher).

Not only that, but one of the first conversations I had after my exam was a friend asking me “what actually is philosophy?” in order for me to explain to a child she was looking after. I started to answer, but then I thought… hang on! And in the corner of my eye I spotted Plato, pointing a gun at me, saying “yeah Garry, what actually IS philosophy? Tell me! Tell me so I can write it down many years ago and then use this gun to make people listen”… which led to all sorts of causal loop and possible quantum world problems, I can tell you.

How was I to escape? I needed some kind of activity that wouldn’t challenge me to think about all these grand metaphysical and empirical questions. Something… easy.

Thank God the football’s on.

Not to have a go at the sport. I actually do watch and enjoy it (international matches at least). But it ain’t half easy on the brain.

Man kick ball. Other man kick man. Man blow whistle. Man kick ball again. Etc… It’s almost like it doesn’t matter what happens… in fact, it’s exactly like it doesn’t matter what happens. There is something in the relative pointlessness of it all that I relish. It matters to some people, some of the time, but only subjectively, not actually. Yes, football is just what you bring to it. Those men are not kicking a ball, they are kicking projected desires and hopes on your behalf in some kind of socially accepted contract and… hang on… there’s someone in the room with me… it’s only bloody Immanuel Kant! ‘Tell me about the nature of football and human desires!’ he is shouting, brandishing a machete, ‘construct football as a metaphor for the transcendental presupposition of experience itself!’ he continues…

It seems there is no escape.

Do worry – but it’s not your fault

Did you build this? (I didn’t think so)

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I like to think that the people I consider friends are fairly representative of the wider world at large. If this is the case, than I can optimistically presume that the wider world, all be it nuanced and imperfect in many ways, is generally made up of decent people.

I also like to think that I am able to see past prejudices about other sections of society who I may not have so much in common with. I understand that circumstances and environment can radically distort a human view of the world, and it is hard to see that from within the distortion, so when I encounter prejudice or hatred – I do try and see the human at the other end of it. Especially when I bear in mind that I may have many of my own, hard to recognise from my point of view.

And if this is true, then it leads me to conclude that how I think about things that are happening in the world, on an instinctual level at least, must be similar to how many, many others think. We may not all express these feeling in the same way, we may not all be aware of them or pay them much heed – but I reckon we all feel them, somewhere, to some degree.

For example – take today’s headline:

 

‘POLLUTION TO SPREAD AROUND ENGLAND’

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26844425)

 

How does this make you feel? Like me, do you despair a little? Have you looked out of the window only to see the faint haze blocking the sun and thought to yourself, ‘well this is rubbish’? Have you imagined, even for a second, what it will be like if this becomes normal? If every day we have to don our carbon filter masks, scrape off the airborne grime from the car windscreen, and head out to contribute further pollutants to our communal air?

If so, have you felt a little guilty? Come on – group therapy here – have you? I did, for a moment. But then I decided, it’s not my fault. And you know what, it’s not your fault either.

Of course, we may be made to feel like it is our fault. Just as we were made to feel like the global economic crash was our fault, and that’s why we have to suffer for it. Just like we are made to feel that energy consumption in the way it is organised and distributed now is our fault, and that’s why we have to pay through the nose for it.

If this all sounds like a shirking of personal and social responsibility, let me put it another way – when I say not our fault, I mean those of us (the majority) who aren’t actually responsible for the organisation, design and distribution of these services, or the legislation that surrounds their usage or alternatives.

So yes, I drive a car. A car pollutes. I don’t drive all the cars though. I don’t decide who can drive a car and when, and where, and what type of fuel and engine is allowed to be used, or how much these cost. I don’t legislate for emissions. I don’t decide how extensive, or expensive, the public transport alternatives are, or should be, if we were serious about reducing pollution. I don’t come up with laws to allow massive companies to trade in pollutant quota’s and offset pollution against ‘development’ projects in the third world that are often doing more harm than good. I don’t decide how much we prioritise the development of ‘clean’ energy, or spend my time pandering to media inflated fears over subsidies and trivial aesthetic excuses. I don’t go over to China and shake hands and say ‘yes – this is more like it!’ and broker deals over nuclear power plants. I don’t lift and drop scientific advice at the whim of whatever business interest is sponsoring me or my party. I don’t have control or influence over the media. I do not make millions/billions/trillions from decisions that may not always be in the best interest of the majority of people, or the health of the planet. I do not conjure up money that doesn’t exist to give to none sovereign organisations who systematically remove wealth from the many and redistribute to the few. I don’t fill screens and billboards with adverts for things we don’t need. I don’t encourage a climate where consumer goods are made to be broken or outdated as quickly as possible in the name of profit and so-called ‘healthy’ economies. I don’t think that numbers going up and down are more important than people’s lives and well being, or obsess over them. I don’t have the option to use alternative sources of energy. I don’t have the option to use free/cheap and well connected public transport. I don’t decide to build a high speed railway that will create a two class transport system and is unnecessary, unpopular, expensive, and destroying homes and the countryside at the same time. I don’t decide who can and can’t work from home or in their communities so as to reduce commuters. I don’t run London. I don’t offer more debt to buy houses we can’t afford while always promising more, rather than letting prices fall, just in case it might upset my wealthy associates. I don’t declare that the world works better in competition and then step in when the outcome of that competition doesn’t suit my interests. I don’t charge people tens of thousands to better educate themselves and try to achieve a more fulfilled life. I don’t encourage debt while pretending that I don’t. I don’t profit from debt. I don’t have inherited wealth/status family connections and influence to exploit. I don’t control the resources. I don’t start wars. I don’t judge one country over another thanks to trade deals, energy reserves and arms contracts. I don’t think it’s okay that the top five families in this country have more wealth than the lowest 20%. I don’t think it’s okay that the money spent on defence could lift every child in the world out of poverty. I don’t have the power to change that. I don’t have an  alternative option who represent my concerns to vote for, or any remote chance of becoming that option myself (because I don’t have the inherited wealth/status family connections and influence to exploit).

In short: it’s not my fault, and it’s not yours either. Unless of course, you are one of the very few people significantly involved in the things mentioned above, and you can’t put your hand on your heart and honestly say ‘I am doing this for the good of the greatest number of people, and not for the narrow gain of a few’. If you can honestly say that – we’d love to hear from you – and your thoughts on why it’s not working.

 

A Discourse on Empathy

If there is one thing I have learned in the past two years of studying philosophy, it is that the meanings we take words to have are often contestable with even the slightest of scrutiny. I was recently invited to take part in a discourse about ‘empathy, compassion and understanding’ and this learning held true once again.

When I say ‘contestable’, I mean in a specific sense. Broadly, we can look at definitions of these words and  come to a mutual, universal consensus, and that is what we basically do in everyday language and communication (otherwise we wouldn’t get through a sentence!). But when asked to consider these terms, we soon realise how nuanced, and sometimes divergent individual interpretations can be. Empathy, for example, can be defined in the following terms:

                “The ability to understand and appreciate another person’s feelings, experience, etc.” (“empathy, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2014. Web. 26 March 2014.)

This seems a good place to start, however, what the OED description lacks is any subjective account of what the word means. It tells us nothing of ‘how’ we empathise (nor is it intended to), but by striving to objectively define the term, it does offer us some initial insight.

 

There is a more commonly used, metaphorical description that I’m sure you’ve all heard before: ‘Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’.

We often find the use of metaphors in language to describe abstract concepts, perhaps because they tend to offer us a richer, novel, yet accessible way to explore an idea in terms we are more familiar with.  Just the simple idea of ‘walking’ the life of another conjures up sights, sounds, interactions and experiences – the imagination, consideration and appreciation of what it might be like to be somebody else.

But notice that in both the dictionary and folk definition of this term, no ‘normative’ description if offered, i.e. it makes no qualitative assessment of the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of the act of empathising: its positive or negative virtues.

In considering this, I am led to thinking that empathy is in its nature a passive, innate ability within us. In my recent discussion I found myself saying  something along the lines of: “empathy just happens to me – I don’t choose it – but it does moderate how I then act”.

As a writer I often try (and actively seek out) the opportunity to empathise with characters and real world ‘like’ examples who I don’t agree with, or have little in common with. This is to help me try and understand their motivations, intentions and world view. Notice how the word ‘understand’ begins to creep in at this point. Of course, we can never fully understand anyone else’s states of mind, but empathy is the best tool we’ve got, and it is also necessarily intertwined with the imagination.

From this, I would propose, that judgement follows, and as a result, emotional states such as ‘compassion’ can be evoked. So although this blog, and my recent discussion, is titled ‘empathy, compassion and understanding’, maybe the order needs to be jigged around a little, (and a few words added):

 

Image

 

There may be a case to be made that ‘understanding’ and ‘judgement’ are one and the same thing, however, that needn’t affect the above, given their central positions in this chain of reasoning. The inclusion of ‘experience and imagination’ at the start of this chain is just an acknowledgement that without the sensibilities to experience and the ability of the imagination to ‘re-represent’ ideas in our minds, we could get no further anyway.

* I used ‘anger’ as another example in the ‘emotional state’ parenthesis to try and demonstrate that ‘empathy’ alone is no guarantee of positive outcomes, but I don’t think that this conclusion is in itself a negative one, or in any way lessens the importance of empathy.

Initial Conclusions

Perhaps the more we try and understand others, on an emotional and factual basis, the better judgement’s we will make, and the more apt our emotional responses may be. It seems obvious that empathy stands at the forefront of this process, but it needn’t be one way. If we imagine the above chain as a snake eating its own tail, rather than a straight line with finite ends, then we can ‘feedback’ our own resultant emotional states into our empathy, and come to new and more complex conclusions. (Think of a psychiatrist asking ‘how does that make you feel?’ and then that answer informing a new round of thinking which may shed light on deeper, more subtle emotional states once this is considered; a kind of ‘self-empathy’, if you like).

Similarly, it seems this process works in degree’s of fidelity: it’s quality is dependent on how much information we actively seek out about the subject (the preconditions). It seems obvious that the less know I about someone, the less I am able to empathise, but that will not prevent me from empathising to some degree. So, if we want to empathise better, we need to seek out and experience as much as possible about the subject, or our resultant emotional states may be misjudged, underdeveloped or erroneous. (I would argue that this is the cause of much hatred and misunderstanding in the world – not a lack of empathy, but an underdeveloped and ill-informed empathy – a twisted or broken empathy, if you like).

Maybe, therefore, a project to understand, measure, and even look (in some cases) to repair empathy, would need to consider the range of experiences and information available (and readily accessible) needed for people to build a greater knowledge, and as a result, experience a better quality of empathy and a more apt emotional connection with others in the world.

Authors plea!

Please feel free to dispute, elaborate and comment on this initial exploration of empathy as I have set it out here. I enjoy the use of philosophical methods to explore concepts, but I also get frustrated with some approaches that purport to ‘know’ the answer. The value of an exercise such as this (I believe) is to throw up new considerations, tease out assumptions, and lead to continued discourse about the topic in the hope of shaping ‘real world’ activities and inform considered thinking and outcomes. For example, maybe ‘empathy’ is the process I’ve set out above, not just part of it – or maybe it’s nothing like this at all! There is still a lot to be discussed and explored here – this is barely a scratch on the tip of a massive iceberg (there goes those metaphors again!).

Thank you for reading.

Garry Abbott

 

Web:                     www.garryabbott.co.uk

Blog:                      www.garryabbott.com

Email:                    info@garryabbott.co.uk

Twitter:                  @Garry_Abbott

The Philosophy of ‘Wahey!’

Here’s another routine that if I was a stand-up, I would do. But I’m not, so I’ve written it down instead:

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This year, all being well, I will finally get my degree. Only a few more essays and an exam to go.

I came back to higher education as a mature student, being in my thirties, which can be strange and socially awkward for some people, but not for me! I still tore up the town on Freshers’ week and drank my fair share of discounted drinks, oh yes – I mean, I study at the Open University so when I say town, I mean my living room, and the discounts were two for one on Cabernet Sauvignon from the local Bargain Booze, and when I say ‘tore up’ I mean I watched the hell out of the ‘Game of Thrones’ on box-set, and it wasn’t really Freshers’ week, just every week really – but it’s more or less the same thing isn’t it?

Anyway, I’ve been studying philosophy, which is a fascinating subject, it really is, but I do find it spends a lot of time asking the really big questions, like ‘is there a God?’, ‘what is the true nature of the self?’, ‘can we trust our senses to interpret reality when they can be deceived by nature and dreams? And therefore do we have any reason to believe anything exists at all other than our own consciousness, ergo cogito sum, do I think, and therefore, am I?’. But I sometimes wonder if the smaller questions in life might not be more illuminating, such as ‘why do we all go “wahey!” every time someone drops a glass in a public place?’

It might not sound like the cutting edge of philosophical study, but sometimes, looking in small and seemingly insignificant places can shed great light on otherwise dark places, a bit like finding a torch in a sock draw. And also, despite a lot of people thinking that philosophy is an inherently un-testable, highly theoretical subject, there are actually a lot of avenues for empirical research we can look at here. For example, it seems to me that the actual shattering of a glass is in some way tacitly connected to the utterance of the sound ‘wahey!’ in any instance. I can’t recall the last time I was sitting in a pub or restaurant and I heard the sound of a small plastic beaker bouncing off the floor and a group of total strangers all collectively cheered. Can you? No. Because it doesn’t happen.

So what is it specifically about the dropping of glass that causes this phenomenon and moreover, do the circumstances in which the glass is dropped impact on the resultant behaviour? Here’s a thought experiment for you, a popular tool in philosophy where we hypothesise a scenario and then think about how it might play out, and what implications this could have:

Say we’re in a chemical biological testing facility, and a man walks past holding a highly contagious and deadly strain of flu in a glass beaker. The man drops the beaker. It smashes. Does everybody in the laboratory go ‘wahey!’ before they break out into screams of ‘oh my God! We’re all going to die!’ and start sleeping with each other? Granted, we can’t test that theory literally, but we could mock it up, film it, and pass it off as a new cutting edge comedy series for the likes of BBC3’s new ‘online’ digital output.

Also, do factors like scale, volume, distance and number of participants make any difference? If we change one of these parameters, does it have a significant causal impact on the result? For instance, if I drop a small shot glass, 50 metres away from a solitary unaware subject (so as not to skew the results) will she just let out a little ‘wahey!’ to herself? Will she just think it, but be inhibited by the lack of social context in which to express herself? Or will she run away from the man who is slowly advancing towards her repeatedly dropping larger and larger glass objects and filming her? From this we can find if it is a matter of degree, a sliding scale as such, of ‘wahey!’ behaviour (that from here on I shall call W-behaviour, cos it sounds more academic), or if there is a critical mass and combination of factors required to elicit said W-behaviour.

And what can we learn from all this? Interestingly, we can learn that after studying philosophy for the last few years, I am prone to over-thinking. Which just goes to show, if you put a torch in a sock drawer, you may just find those pants you thought you’d lost.

It’s all connected.