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.

The Board Room Game.

Image

My desk sits in the square bowl of a test tube corridor that marches away from my line of sight into a corner I never get to turn. On each side of the passage there are adjacent doors where my advisors wait for the ping.

The room is stark bur brightly lit. My desk itself has shades of oak and brutal corners. There must be a way to receive the ping, so I guess there is a screen now. Maybe once it was a plastic inbox, or even a telephone; but now it is a screen. I figure this screen is to my right, at an angle, so that it doesn’t obscure my view of the corridor. There are no other computer parts. The screen is already connected through its conception in this place.

As I reckon it, I am dressed in a white shirt with black trousers and shoes. I suppose I am Mr Formal. My job is to be formal, reasoned, measured. Perhaps that is why my desk has no adornments or decoration. It is a bare room, waiting for the ping.

I don’t know what the other rooms look like. I’ve never been in to see them. When the time comes, those who are interested will flock out and channel down to the angular bell bottom suite. They will argue their case and I will listen and judge, maybe interrogate, maybe ignore. It all depends, as you will see.

The screen lights up (for it was otherwise dark and unreflective), and there is a proposition, a ping.

“Should I care about this?” it reads. It is accompanied by images of sneering men making decrees upon those less fortunate.

Should I care? I don’t know. I will wait to see who shows.

Doors start to open at various distances, but that is no issue. The occupants move at different speeds to compensate. Some are quick to my desk, others drag their feet. Whether they come from near or far is really not important.

I can never be sure which doors will open. They all get a copy of the same ping, the same question, the same relevant supporting information from banks below or above us (I’ve never been). Some may join later as the discourse develops, late to the game but spurred by some new concern or data, or they may not.

First at my desk, looking much like me (exactly like me) is Pandora. A pretty name for a man. We gave him that name. None of us really have names. He carries a can of worms that he hasn’t been able to put down since we discovered the particularly strange metaphor, and is permanently topped by a neon question mark. Other than that, he looks exactly like me, right down to the black shoes.

‘Is there something more to this?’ he asks.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well there’s what we’ve been told, and what we know already, but is there more we don’t know? Can we look further, deeper?’ he continues.

‘Not before I’ve heard the others’ I reply as usual. And here they come.

The next, Pyrrho, has joined us. He is a lot like me, but his shoulders ride higher.

‘What difference does it make? I mean, to us. Will it affect us?’

‘Maybe’ replies Pandora, ‘we’d need to know more.’

‘Do we? Do we really? If we don’t know it, and it’s not apparent, then what’s the problem here? Other than those we go and find’ he persists.

Before Pandora can answer Lyssa has pushed through the others and slammed his hand down on my desk. He is my image, but red in the face and he rarely stops moving.

‘This pisses me off!’ he screams at me, and the others, ‘who do they think they are? They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it! We should do something, NOW!’

He circles around, hand over mouth and eyes bulging, but of course, he cannot decide what to do: only I can decide. Though he does scare me, I don’t like him. On rare occasion he has held me by the throat and forced me to consider no others. But usually, he goes back to his room and seethes quietly to himself.

‘We should get more information first’ suggests Pandora.

‘Why bother?’ intervenes Pyrrho.

‘Why wait!’ demands Lyssa.

Anyone else to the table? Not just now. They may come out and appeal soon, but it is time to make a decision. I address the lobby.

‘Okay everybody. Here’s what we’ll do. Go back to your rooms and watch your monitors. I’ll call up what we’ve got, and we’ll go from there.’

‘What’s the point?’ says Pyrrho, whose memory is long but selective, ‘it will be the same as always. The options will be many and unrealistic. They will deter us from our primary objectives. Lyssa will calm down eventually, as usual, and Pandora, well he’ll get his day when we have a moment to spare I’m sure. Why not make the decision then?’

‘Go back and watch your monitors’ I repeat, and they do.

Moments later we are all appraised and gathered once again.

‘Has anyone anything further to add? Now you’ve seen the options?’

A more sedate Lyssa steps up.

‘Maybe I overreacted before. I’ve been talking to my colleagues. I mean, we’re not happy about this, don’t get me wrong, but we don’t want to take the lead. Not just yet’.

A predictable response. I look to Pandora.

‘It is something we would like to look into further, but not at this time, not as a matter of priority.’

‘And what of you Pyrrho? As if I need to ask.’

‘Whatever’ he says.

We are all sick with guilt. I know they feel it because I feel it too. It rumbles in our stomachs which are otherwise devoid of contents. There is still time for this to change what happens next: unless we take our medicine.

‘Let’s see how we feel after this’ I suggest. On the desk there are four small misty plastic caps filled with a dose of elixir. It is hard to tell from the colour, being a deep plum purple, but I suspect it is strong in pragmatics.

We all pick up and pour down, and wait. It soothes the guilt somewhat, not entirely, but it bolsters our resolve. It has a hint of selfish determination followed by notes of possible future action.

‘I think we all know what we need to do Gentlemen’ I conclude, and obligingly the screen presents me with the preferred option written in bold type, enclosed in a shaded grey box. It reads:

“Stay the course. We can do more about this later.”

Underneath there is the a tick and a cross. I press the tick and the image flicks to black. The others recede back to their rooms.

Inside me the concoction stirs and repeats a little. Outside of me the television changes to the next news story as I drain another cup of tea and think about what I need to do today, how I can ‘stay the course’.

My screen flicks into action with the next proposition and we start again. This will happen a million times at a million moments today, but not all will make it ‘to the top’ otherwise we’d all be for it. We would crank to a grinding halt and make no further steps, for the choices of so many. And we can’t let that happen because, well, because we just can’t.

In search of the immaterial: A short discourse on the mind.

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Prior to the enlightenment movement of the late 17th and 18th Centuries (a movement towards rationalist logic, usually characterised by empirical research and reasoning) there was a place in philosophy (and science in general) for the concept of ‘immaterial substance’, or the soul if you prefer.

This view dates back to Aristotle (and beyond) and still persists today in some branches of philosophy, but to a much lesser degree than the alternative ‘mind-function identity theories’ that were popularised by scientific rationalists (in which all states of the human mind, our capacity for reason and such like, are equated purely to the physical function which performs them, and nothing else).

To put it in more accessible language, the prevailing theories (that have undoubtedly been of use to science) is that we are merely a bag of bones and matter, nothing more, whereas dualists (as coined by Rene Descartes and following in the Aristotelian tradition) believe there is an unseen, (as yet) immeasurable quality to our being that works in conjunction with the body but is a distinct entity.

One of the features of the enlightenment and subsequent thinking is that it allows for atheism and the absence of a deity, indeed this is a prerequisite for much of the work it achieved. Prior to this it was not only a cultural assumption that had to be built into theories, it was often enforceable by law and punishment.

Due to this there has been a kind of conflation between the notion of the immaterial soul and the existence of deities in subsequent discourse. To believe one, the assumption goes, is to believe the other. Furthermore, to believe in the notion of deity, one is usually assumed to be prescribing to one of the many cultural doctrines that have formed around this concept. So, it follows in our culture for example, to believe in the immaterial, is to believe in a deity (or deities), and to believe in deities is to believe in the ‘God’ from the Christian tradition and to ascribe to the teachings and laws of the Bible.

This makes having a sensible debate on the issue of the immaterial soul rather hard to have, as the existence or otherwise of a God and the cultural implications (perceived or otherwise) that these beliefs have caused are contentious issues.

The trajectory of logical empirical thinking is to ‘reduce’ (reductionism). So for the functions of the mind responsible for high-reasoning and creative thinking (key areas of study for philosophy as these abilities seem to mark us out from other biological life), a reductionist can simply scan a human, ask them to make a series of reasoned or creative decisions, and identify areas of electrical activity in the brain that appear to correspond. The hope of such endeavour is that we can then make statements such as “when the human mind is reasoning about x, the brain state y is evoked, therefore, reasoning about x is the same thing as brain state y” and so on.

As a result, we have the ‘demystification’ of the human condition. Identity matches are catalogued, described and reproduced as reference for further study. As science continues to advance, the ability to trace these states down to smaller and more specific conditions increases. In theory, we should eventually have a blueprint for a human mind and be able to understand from scientific methods alone, all we are thinking, feeling and how we view the world.

The problem is, we haven’t arrived at this unified theory, and many would argue, each layer of reduction reveals such complex interrelations between all the component parts, that in fact, it becomes harder and harder to comprehend the whole in any useful way.

I will try and demonstrate what I mean with a little diagram.

M

/          \

A1                           A2

/\                            /\

A1(a)     A1(b)             A2(a)  A2(b)

/\             /\                    /\         /\

A1(a)x /A1(a)y    A1(b)x /A1(b)y  A2(a)x/A2(a)y  A2(b)x/A2(b)y

Okay, so my mathematic conventions may not be strict here, but hopefully it should follow. If we say M = mind (the thing we are trying to look for a unified theory of), and A1 and A2 represent such a simple binary decision matrix for an action-decision, such as ‘Shall I go for a walk?’.

So it could follow along these lines:

A1 = I will go for a walk. where

A1(a) = Is it cold? And A1(b) = Is it warm?

A1(a)x = Do I need a jacket or A1(a)y = Don’t I need a jacket?

A1(b)x = Do I need sunscreen or A1(b)y = Don’t I need sunscreen?

Where:

A2 =  I won’t go for a walk and

A2(a) = Should I go later today? And A2(b) = Should I cancel the idea?

A2(a)x =  Do I have anything else to do later today? And A2(a)y = Is the rest of the day free?

A2(b)x = Does not going for a walk make me feel good? And A2(b)y = Does not going make me feel bad?

And so on. Now the point of this little diagram is to demonstrate that even with a massive simplification of a basic decision tree like this, it is hard to see how identifying each mind state involved with each variable in isolation is of much use to anyone. If I spent my life studying the part of the mind that is responsible for A2(a)x (Do I have anything else to do today) – I am not going to be much closer to understanding what it is to be ‘M’ having decided to go for a walk.

Okay, so perhaps we don’t want to be looking in isolation then, no, we need to understand how each component relates to those above and below it in the chain of reasoning. But remember that this is a ridiculously simple rendering of a decision that pays no attention to multiple factors that could be considered. For the sake of demonstration I have manufactured a binary example, but in reality, we would be checking (consciously or not) a whole series of considerations, each leading to the unified ‘M’, and each with their own multiple conditions. On top of all that, our decisions seem to be modified by moods and emotions, which can alter states of thinking for none rational reasons and lead to unexpected outcomes – where do they come into the picture?

Now the purpose of this isn’t to ‘set the bar’ or turn away in defeat from nature’s complexity. This approach (as I mentioned) has led to some broad and specific advancements in science and psychology. What I am attempting to demonstrate it that as an absolute approach to understanding what it is to be mindful, to be of a mind, it is inadequate.

It strikes me that when considering the mind, we need to be expansive rather than reductive, in order to make sense of it, find out it’s limitations and abilities, and appreciate the holistic functions it has so brilliantly evolved. If we compare this to something that we do understand fully, like a television (because we invented it), it might make more sense. After all, a TV is nothing more than a series of lights being triggered in a particular pattern and order, repeatedly, to give the impression of a unified set of images. The show on the TV may be the most informative and life changing documentary ever to be broadcast. I am unlikely to get much from it if I am concentrating on one specific diode, relating to one specific pixel, in one corner of the screen. Indeed, learning that that one pixel goes from green to red to blue, isn’t going to tell me anything about the show.

But TVs aren’t like human minds are they, because a TV, without charge or signal, is just a vessel waiting to be activated by a force from somewhere else. To all intents and purposes, a force we can’t usually see, that carries information useless to anything but the device designed to receive it. We would find the notion of a TV operating without the added element of a signal to be ridiculous, and in comparison to the operations of the human mind, it is simple to the point of primitive.

What then if we replace the TV with a computer? Much the same in basics, but with added complex functionality. The reason I mention this is because one of the prevailing reductionist theories of mind is the ‘Computational Theory of Mind’ (CPM) – in which, as per my diagram above, the hope is to find the ‘programme’ behind our mental states in such a way that  is useful to the sciences. But as I have hopefully raised here, there are at least two problems:

1.            The programme of reduction in the time given:

A simple analogy should work here. You sit two people down in front of two identical computers and ask each to make use of it. One (the reductionist), proceeds to dismantle the facia, remove the motherboard and study the component parts. The other, the expansionist, switches it on and starts experimenting with the buttons and functions that have so obviously been presented for such use.

Now, in time, the reductionist may emerge with a detailed knowledge of the machine, down to the last microchip, but in the end, they are still going to have to switch it on and use it as intended to find out the rest. In the time given is important here, because when it comes to the human mind, the most complex computer we know of, if we give too much time over to the reductionist and neglect the expansionist, we may be missing valuable insight.

2. The implication of outside force.

What strikes me about the CPM and the whole notion of an ‘inner-language’ of thought, is that it leads logically to an agent, capable of using the mind in the way we would use the computer. Yes we can explain where the energy comes from to power it (we are after all, just walking furnaces of sorts), but that wouldn’t be enough to explain a computer. A power source is just one thing, we also need a useful functionality and an operator for it to mean anything. Now, I’m not going into design theory here, I’m sure the brain has evolved, but we do end up with a causal circularity between what is the programme, what is the programmer, and who is using it.

I’m not saying that proves anything, but if the reductionist programme is going to insist on using the computer analogy as a basis for theories, does it not have to solve this problem?

Dualism on the other hand, could explain this problem. As I said before, we would find it absurd for a TV to work without having a signal to contextualise the functions. And for the computer, if the programmer is evolution, the agent using this programme could be the immaterial substance. Drop a TV on an island isolated from the rest of humanity but within range of a transmission tower. Give it an incorporated power source and make it constantly ‘on’. Would we believe that the inhabitants of this island (presuming they don’t yet understand about frequency transmissions or TVs) would be wrong or stupid  to come up with the theory of a designer and a source substance? The fact that we don’t yet understand the spatial-temporal (or even dimensional) source of this agent, doesn’t imply it isn’t there.

Neither does it prove it is there, but the point of all this is to open up some more ideas and thoughts on the subject. I am not one for absolutism in theory, and I find that assumptions against dualism have crept in to modern philosophy and culture to a degree where we may be in danger of ‘taking the computer apart’ without even switching it on.

As with all things a balanced approach is preferable. We should perhaps give as much credence to those looking to expand our minds by exploring its functions (through meditation and spiritual practice for example) as those looking to reduce it to component parts. In the end it is all part of our thirst for knowledge and each is useful.

Thanks for reading. I would be happy to respond to any arguments or thoughts on these ideas.

Yeah, it’s my end of year thing for 2013 OK?

I know, I know – ‘end of year review’ e-mails, blogs and updates can get a little tiresome. But why? Maybe it’s because they intuitively conjure up lots of words that have the word ‘self’ as a prefix – congratulatory, obsessed, centred. It’s a curious thing that we shy away from sharing our own successes and challenges – maybe it’s cultural – but for whatever reason, I’m not going to let it stop me, this having been a landmark year for me personally and professionally. So you have been warned, this is an end-of-year review and will as a result be tediously reflective and upbeat. So there.

Obviously, it isn’t actually the end of the year yet, but very nearly, and near enough for me to want to clear the decks and not have to worry about doing blogs and such like over the next couple of weeks. So, unless I am struck by an uncontrollable wave of inspiration, I will make this the last blog of 2013, and try to have a ‘holiday’ until the new year.

A new start, long awaited.

In February this year I ended a decade of working in the wrong job. I say ‘the wrong job’ because it was, for me, the wrong job. I worked in a bank (formally a building society) as a ‘thingy’. A ‘thingy’, is a technical term for someone who isn’t able to answer the question “what do you actually do?” with any degree of clarity or precision. It’s not particularly good for your soul that situation, and the world is full of ‘thingies’. I was a kind-of technical specialist, I was a kind-of legal (compliance) specialist, I was a kind-of trainer, a kind-of auditor, a kind-of quality controller, a kind-of project worker, a kind-of data-entry clerk. One day I could be in meetings, discussing requirements for a multi-million pound computer system, all the while thinking “I’m not getting paid enough for this” and the next I could be endlessly tapping numbers into a spreadsheet, thinking “I’m getting paid too much for this”. There were many things I wasn’t quite, and many more things I’m quite sure I shouldn’t have been, but still it took ten years to break away thanks in no small part to the rut/routine that a (fairly) decent wage and a none taxing job can collude to create when you are busy figuring out who you are and what you want to be.

So that was the end of that. I left by my own accord, having hung on for a few years with the possibility of redundancy that never materialised, and unable to ‘get on’ with our new pay-masters: The Co-op, and their shambolic management (an assessment that I feel very much vindicated for, given the events of this year).

When I left, I had a few things lined up, which really helped me to get straight on with my new life as a self-employed writer & musician (you see – that’s much easier to define, isn’t it?) I had been running my creative activities alongside my old job for several years anyway, but I always suspected that I would need to let go of the comfort (and boredom) of the office job if I were to really ever fully embrace my aspirations. So far, I have found that to be true, and long may it continue.

 

Unearthed

The first ‘big’ job, which lasted throughout the year (at intervals), was the ‘Unearthed’ project. This was being drafted in as a supporting artist to help develop and produce community engagement with a new memorial sculpture in my home town of Stoke-on-Trent (specifically in the town of Hanley – if you are confused by that, it’s because we have this whole weird, six towns into one thing going on over here – look it up). As part of this project I got to do several awesome things. I got to write, narrate and score an animation that was then shown at several public locations and continues to be available as an online resource. I got to write my first choral piece (set to the words of my own poem) that was then rehearsed and performed by students of a local sixth form college at a memorial ceremony with city dignitaries in attendance. And I got to work with the real words of the people we engaged with the project to produce an oral sound-piece, used to accompany an original composition and dance routine at the unveiling ceremony of the sculpture. This project took me to places I hadn’t expected, connection with history and communities though art, a sense of integrity and responsibility with story-telling and representation of real world events that I had never considered or encountered before. It was a great experience and I can’t thank Nicola Winstanley and Sarah Nadin enough for involving me in their excellent project – I am a ‘Dashyline’ fan! (Visit the project website, here: http://www.unearthed2013.co.uk/)

The Audio Mill

There was also a continuation (and I fancy a building momentum) of my composition and production work alongside my good friend and collaborator Kieran Williams as part of ‘The Audio Mill’.  This year we have produced several pieces for fashion houses River Island and Mr Porter for use in their viral campaigns. From a professional development point of view, working to brief to compose and produce original music in a variety of styles really helps you to hone your technical and creative abilities. So far (as I know) they have been very happy with all the work we’ve completed for them, and the videos our music accompanies are popular and well received. Obviously, the world of fashion houses feels miles away from me in my small office in Longton, laying down rhythms, bass lines, guitar licks and melodies, but thanks to Kieran’s ever fruitful move to London, the chance to showcase our abilities to a larger audience through an established outlet, is a welcome one, and I look forward to more work like this in the new year. Examples here: http://www.theaudiomill.co.uk/

Newsjack

My first BBC broadcast credits happened this year, in the form of several one-liner jokes and a sketch used as part of Radio 4 Extra’s topical comedy show ‘Newsjack’. There have been two series this year, the first airing while I still worked at the bank. However, I managed to get two one-liners into the first series anyway, and given the extra time and emphasis of self-employment, was able to up that score to 5 one liners and a sketch in the latest series! This is very satisfying work when it happens and takes time and practice to get right – the business of joking seems to be a serious one. This is an aspect of my work that I want to take forwards into 2014 one way or the other. I will, of course, continue to submit to Newsjack when it comes back, but one eye must be kept on ‘where next?’ – building on the successes and reaching for more regular and guaranteed work. I’d be happy if I could find a way to get some one-liners onto other radio 4 programmes (shows like the ‘Now show’ and ‘News quiz’ often have writers that have started through ‘Newsjack’ – it’s just finding the link in or being a persistent bugger I suppose). I have also tickled some light interest with a sit-com script this year – falling short of the mark but getting good feedback and encouragement from an industry insider. If the right idea comes along, I will be writing and pitching new series next year, as well as looking to contribute to more programmes. Watch this space. (well not this space, this space won’t tell you anything new – I’ll be more specific about what space to watch when we come to it).

 

Poetry

Poetry is something I do rarely, and am quite self-conscious about, but that might change following the publication of one of my (very few) poems written this year in a collection. The poem ‘I’m alright Jack’ was chosen out of 600 odd entries to form part of a collection of 50 poems by the publisher mardibooks called ‘The Dance is New’. It is a genuinely good collection, and naturally, I would urge you all to buy a million copies each from here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Dance-New-Michelle-Calvert-ebook/dp/B00FL887N8 (I promise you I am one of the authors! For reasons of Amazon weirdness, my name is not listed at the top of the page, but I am linked at the bottom – I am in there basically).

                This is another area I intend to return to and perhaps ‘force’ a little more poetry out and onto the world (that’s not a bad thing – so much writing takes effort to get down on the page, just waiting for inspiration is not at all conducive to career development).

The Dimension Scales

Did I mention that I gone written a book? No? Well I have. It has been in development all year (and most of last year), a collection of short stories that will be released in 2014. This has been my favourite part of this year’s work. I finished my creative writing studies a few years ago, and this feels like the first piece of work that really puts all my learning together into one collection. I’m sure you’ve heard me go on about this before, and as of yet, there is nothing new to show you, but soon, very soon. I’m hoping that I will learn a lot of lessons from the release of this collection next year, and that a new work will be hot on its heels when I’ve had chance to digest the experience.

Education

I was thrilled and a little shocked to have achieved a distinction in two Open University modules this year: Philosophy and Arts History. Both form part of a BA degree I am working towards. Currently I am studying the last two modules (a higher level philosophy course and social science), and these will complete in 2014, at which point, I will get my degree. I started this education journey with nothing but the desire to learn more about creative writing (the first two modules that I completed three years ago now) – and was overcome by the education bug. I have since chosen subjects that I hope have informed me and my work in a positive way. History, social science and mostly, philosophy, are all helping me to get a deeper understanding of the world and myself. I would recommend to anyone who feels they might have ‘missed out’ somewhat during teenage years to revisit education if they can, or have the inclination. Learning is fun when you’ve chosen to do it and the subjects interest you. I don’t know if I will continue after the degree (I might leave it a year before deciding whether to do a Masters), but I hope to take the subjects I’ve chosen forwards into my work and life at every opportunity. They are already paying dividends.

Gravity Dave

My band ‘Gravity Dave’ have had a solid year as we’ve welcomed a new drummer to our number, written some great tunes, and gigged fairly regularly throughout the year. We have basically written and rehearsed/performed an album’s worth of material this year, and I think 2014 is the year to take this to the next step with quality recordings and more and more gigs. The main thing is that we all still find it really fun, creative and rewarding, so we’re not going to stop, and the music’s gonna keep flowing. I need a band, it is part of who I am and what I do, and I feel privileged to be part of this one with such great musicians. We’ve had a bit of a lull just in the last month or two due to problems with rehearsal space and health, but we will be back next year, and I promise, it will be bigger than ever. www.facebook.com/gravitydave

 

Anything else?

Well, this blog for one thing. When I started this, I didn’t know quite what it was meant to be, and I still don’t. All I know is that I enjoy it, and so do other people it seems. It’s quite a mixed bag as I’m sure you can tell. But it feels very important to me to keep on at it. It’s a bit like a digital sketch pad, a place to vent and experiment, reflect and celebrate. I hope those of you who follow this blog are generally entertained by it, at least enough to keep coming back. I have had some brilliant feedback from people directly, and I want to thank everyone who comes here and reads this. It’s kind of spooky that more people read this than I am aware of (according to the stats), but anonymity is the readers prerogative, and I appreciate your time spent reading my words greatly.

Another unexpected but fun development has been the rise of ‘ADMIN CAT!’ – a silly cartoon I produce to keep myself and some passing social network types entertained for a few seconds each week. This has potentially led onto some exciting developments for 2014…

 

And a happy new year!

I’m sure that as soon as I’ve finished writing this I will remember a whole bunch of other things. I have supported some great people and endeavours this year in a number of other ways not listed here. I occasionally still ‘do the spreadsheet thing’ for small businesses, and special mention has to go here to Misco Chocolates (www.miscoschocolates.co.uk) who are a constant inspiration to me in their attitude to life and work, both as business people and friends (as are all my friends, I must say).

You may notice a lack here of any personal details about the rest of my life! That is for two reasons: this blog isn’t really about that, and it hasn’t changed much (in a good way!). I live happily with my partner and my cats, and I love them all very much (even when they do bring in dead mice – the cats that is, not my partner).

So, all that is left is to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year! Please feel free to drop links to your end of year reviews or any  other work into the comment boxes – it is the least I can do to read yours if you have stuck with this! I do write really long blogs, but I don’t care, this isn’t Twitter. Thanks, as always, for reading. Here is a picture of me in a hat as a Christmas treat:

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Garry Abbott.