A certain irony…

So, I’ve been looking at the statistics which says there is an increase of students interested in religious studies at ‘A’ level (such that Michael himself took back in the day). Could this be interpreted as an increase in religiousity and interest in the divine? Not if you put it in so strict terms.

Yes, (from numerous interviews) people are interested in the wider questions. But most of the curriculum involves philosophy of religion and philosophical ethics…a consequent increase of interest in those subjects (as well as theology and religious studies) can be explained not by belief, but curiosity. What a strange age where religion becomes a curiosity, like literature.


Sexed up new words and douchebag phrases

Very often a new word or phrase comes into the english language in common use. ‘Sexed up’ is a phrase that was used to refer to the Iraq report on its weapons; where it was overplayed about the weapons capacity of the country (2003). In 1993, or was it 1999, the phrase ‘Institutional Racism’ was used to refer to the police’s conduct of the Stephen Lawrence case; of a black teenager who was murdered by a gang.

Yesterday came out a statement from the Chancellor who said that he was aware people were “pissed off” at the conduct of the labour government. “Pissed off” is a very interesting expression. In the United States, its’ a fairly normal, or if anything, regular phrase. It is a little rude but only in the sort of way that you can’t say it in children’s cartoons, but you can say it on Friends. In the UK, “pissed off” enjoys a more sever status. Not as extreme as “fuck” or “shit”, but above “damn”, and just below “bastard” (bastard is allowed to be said in most US television, I note).

On the way to seeing Sinistre, I passed a few shops; generally, shops and adverts tend to reflect what is, or has become commonplace language. I’ve talked about in the past, of the phrase “for sure” which has just suddenly appeared as commonplace among middle class upper educated people. I find the term “douchebag” quite an interesting one. I’ve learned its meaning from Robot Chicken and Family Guy. There was a sketch where Stewie says something like, they ruined [x] like how douchebags ruined the guitar, and what followed totally encapsulated what a douchebag was, I suppose the UK equivalent (although not structly equivalent logically) is the stereotypical Jack Wills consumer of clothing, the upper-class sonofabitch who wears a tracksuit while still looking posh. perhaps in decades of the future people will parody such a look. I hope no one ever parodies how I look!

Anyhoo, so the one phrase that I saw on the shop was “credit crunch”. I listen to a lot of BBC radio, watch a lot of BBC news, and lots of the stories are (sadly) the same; the difficult economy, the food situation and the ‘biofuel’ argument vs. india’s growing economy as reasons for the latter. Okay, so people seem to be using the phrase “credit crunch” to describe the economy situation. One the one hand I thought it apt because since everyone is using the same word to refer, everyone understands what we mean by this phrase. However, I am aware that the USA loan situation, or the situation with UK banks are hardly the prime reason for the economic situation; other factors come into play:

  • housing,
  • people betting on the stock market for how inflation goes (quite self-indulgent in a way),
  • Employment oursourcing
  • The growing economies of asia
  • (aforementioned) energy/food/resource management issues
  • The initial explosion of consumer spending, which is now slowing down

The point I am making is, that “Credit Crunch” isn’t the best word to use to describe this period, “depression” is a bit of a better one!! I looked up on wikipedia what “credit crunch” refers to, and it says that it describes a shortfall when many debts are taken which leads to high interest rates and changes in lending activity. Fine, that’s a good word to use in the case of the subprime instance. But for the economic situation genera? No its not. But the more people use it, the more people use it in adverts, television etc. The more it just becomes accepted.

Seeing a word that is new on an advert reminds me of how commonplace a new thing can become. I am immediately reminded of the dotcoms that became big during the late 90’s and early 00’s. How there were so many advertisements for (now defunct) dotcoms! So, that’s another instance of new phrases that we can understand in our public consciousness. “Ebay it”, one may say, or “I got it from Amazon”.


Politics of identity this week

I think, where we are in the situation of the politics of identity can show our stage of progress, and also, the relativity of our social situation. Consider the following instances:

Africa: Zimbabwe, South Africa. Both nations are trying to elevate themselves out of a discourse of racialised politics; the notion of a black Africa has passed; it was a response to a colonial discourse, but now the cultural climate and socio-political situation has become far more subtle. I suppose the acts of Mugabe characterise for us now, how dated an issue of postcolonial social issues are. Mugabe was originally the black visionary against British white rule; now, he’s a tyrant against progress.

USA: A black senator putting himself up for president on the same day that a civil rights leader (who was also black..) spoke 40 years ago. In the age of selling oneself; using the race card is a strategy to win, not a cheap ploy. However, that leads me to another issue I would like to consider (another post). On the same day, the republican opposite announced a (gasp) female running mate!! What’s next, a member of the ‘disabled’ community as the defence secretary? (just for the sake of it) I bet they even disabled him, too…

UK: A top Asian police officer acccuses the top dog, Sir Ian Bliar (sic) of racism. The number two officer accuses him of being on an ego trip and is using race to hide his incompetence. The other side may say that ‘don’t criticise us’ is a crude hiding strategy of racism. It seems to me, a moot point on either side.

It is interesting how the politics of identity comes into play. I was listening to a radio interview earlier today with Lenny Henry; where it was said he shares the same birthday (and age) as Michael Jackson; both are entertainers, both broke a racial barrier to get famous; but only one of them is still black (was the joke of the presenter). It was made a point, or rather, a question, to Henry of whether making a point of his ethnicity significant? On the one hand, sometimes its just pandering to a false ideal of how society actually is to force representation, but on the other, positively affirming the presence of difference in the community, and making our media reflect that. So, we can see black and asian presenters on the News as reflecting society, perhaps even sexual difference or disability (I found out a certain BBC economics correspondent was gay…I wouldn’t have known!); but on the other hand, if you go to some parts of the world, its just not ethnically or factually accurate to force ‘difference’ or ‘diversity’. Its not the case that we need a village black guy; if anything, that’s demeaning…

Still, a difficult issue. But an important one; like discrimination on the basis of belief; it is a sign of an advanced social and moral order that we have such interesting questions coming up, isntead of the more crude issues that have been behind us.

Sinistre (and Antisophie)

You know, I found out that Godel had studied Kant’s Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. I find this interesting because I feel Kant’s methodological foundations for science have many difficult implications for mathematics (difficult for they are highly speculative, yet possibly fruitful).


Beyond Survival (another take)

[Editorial: In a strange turn of events I made the title seem like a rejoinder to the post previous to this, but these both were submitted to me accidently and not related to each other]

That mechanism of survival

Throughout the later 19thC, and perhaps onto the 20thC, many spoke of the notion of natural selection as a social narrative; both descriptive and normative. Some people talk of the function of society, or some biological mechanism (e.g. monogamy, sexuality, anxiety) as being part of the pre-programmed function or genetically inherited as a survival feature, or a feature to propagate, or react etc.

It almost becomes a moot point when people address the issue; some people make natural selection look like teleology, or innatism, or more like their actual default view, and yet oppose it on those grounds, where others, show it is a little more subtle and strain themselves to show how natural selection explains away design.

I find it interesting when the same appeal can be used for opposing arguments. Let me consider one example. The proliferation of culture, art, science, and morality, as a point to contend with this social interpretation of natural selection.

Why culture opposes natural selection and vice versa

Sometimes people say that culture and literature and those things that make us human cannot be explained by natural selection (but who said it did?). Conversely, some people say that various social features like courtship, competition, and even governance, hums to the harmony of survival of the fittest and the propagation of one’s genus. Insofar as either relate to the individual or group survival, and reproduction of humanity.

But let us consider now, what place has the literary and cultural in human life? Does it oppose, or promote natural selection? I saw both points are wrong. To say literature and morality opposes natural selection is misunderstand what the actual Darwinism purports to (it works as a natural scientific, not social thesis); and to say that culture and art looks favourably to natural selection is to invoke a poor explanatory propositional schema by way of presupposition (to think that the biological determines action directly as an input->output relation is far too crude, but not necessarily wrong).

We could say neither of these things. But rather, that culture, art, morality, literature, etc. are in fact, tangential developments. But, why? While the survival instinct may be very present in us, and things like reflexes behaviour (reacting to danger situations by panic and increased adrenalin etc.) may have been helpful responses and learned (I say this term metaphorically) over the generations; we are then to say that these kinds of responses are no longer helpful in our new social and human situation.

It is because of the security of our social system and the established things such as religion, culture, music, morality, philosophy, science; that we do not need to consider survival as our most ultimate concern, sure, it’s important, but think of our daily lives; we don’t wake up in a branch and protect ourselves and children from potential competition or fight for immediate resources. In a way, we seemed to have deferred the job of survival and, more importantly, resource management, to bureaucracies and government; our resources, like our waste, litter, consumables, and energy, are up to the bigger powers that be to help us.

It is, in a way, a testament to the advancement and ingenuity of humanity as a species to think beyond survival, but also, it is a reminder of how fundamentally vulnerable we are to necessarily depend on the good people who take our waste every day, clean our streets, keep our nations safe (well, relatively), and supply us with food quite easily. Such that, the way to use these new, accidental features of literature and morality, are, ironically, new and innovative ways to cope with the human impulse. I write to live; I can’t live without football; what is the meaning of life? Why should I live?

Fundamentally, to the human impulse of survival, there is nothing more important; but once our own survival is secured, we then are led to other questions. Is it merely that human survival, once put away as a concern, leaves us to ponder other things to find meaning, purpose and motivation? I am not sure. This is not a moot point, but just an unclear thought


Beyond Survival


I was watching a piece the other day called Threads; a documentary-drama about what would/could happen if there was a nuclear holocaust. It is a BBC production, and it was set in 1984 (the political landscape was of the cold war highs of paranoia about nuclear oblivion. It was also (so I hear) the first time that a nuclear winter came into suggestion; namely, the side-effect of what would happen when the dust clears from a nuclear blast, rising to the atmosphere, and blocking rays of light and heat to penetrate the atmosphere.

Survival (as preservation)

I wouldn’t recommend watching Threads; when films these days say’ this film may contain scenes that may cause distress’; people don’t take it seriously, and neither should they; as its the same old, tired, and desensitised violence. But this, this gets really under your skin and makes you fear and chills one’s soul. Threads has the basic message that the things that make society strong are also the things that make it vulnerable to villany; economy, transport, energy, food. Such things are necessary and key to surviving as animal beings, who are appetitative and reproductive.

Culture, law, government, policing, education; these things, while not necessary for the bare survival of an animal; are the things that make us human. The short term effects of the nuclear blast told us of the failure of the handling of the NHS, the local government’s struggle to cope with control; reacting with the looting and disorder and begging for food and rations by means of increased powers alongside capital and corporal punishment. It becomes understanable in such a world of chaos that the governments (although such a word hardly describes what became of it; traffic wardens forced to act as jail guards) must react strongly to those situations where a real threat to order is percieved.

Percieved is the word here. We can percieve a threat, and react to it. In this drama, the threat percieved was the threat real. Can we say of our threats today are real? Conversely, in the beginning of the story, most of the people were ambivalent about the political situation, there was a real threat, but it was hardly percieved, as they got along happily unaware of the geopolitics of the day.

Preservation (of Humanity)

When the short term effects happen, of the infrastructual features of our everyday lives, falling apart, our survival is at risk. What is even more chilling (as hard as this may even be to imagine); is when our humanity itself falters. In a sense, the more disgusting implication of this film is that even though the governments failed, much of humanity was destroyed to the point that it could not repair itself. The future of their survival was not the true worry. For, eventually, after much of the human population was extinguished; many more died from the after-effects of the blast.

Since the priority was survival, things like crime, and even healthcare, were slowly pushed to the wayside; eventually, food rations were lessened in the hope that those who were able to actually rebuild humanity would actually survive, and those unnecessary who could not add to the effort would be left to die. Criminal behaviour slowly became indisinguishable from the survival instinct; as looting and murder became so commonplace not even to bat an eyelid.

Education became unimportant when survival was the priority, such that the children of the survivors were poorly educated to the point that english deformed as a language and only became something of the older pre-bomb generation. That, and the effects of radiation on pregnant women led to a general mental retardation, both social and genetic, of the children of these creatures.

Humanity came less and less of a real thing and more a distant ideal; as, in one scene, the child of a mother, leaves the latter to her death in quite an ambivalent manner; despite most of the film concerning this woman’s struggle to keep her unborne child alive in scenes past. The child, now socialised in this new, medieval society, simply leaves her dead without remorse, guilt or any feelign whatsoever.

I suppose the moral of the film is that most things are peripherery when survival comes into question; however, what a sad, and primitive state of affairs it is; to ignore or take little precedence in those other things that make us human, or that give us reason to live, when only the base survival instinct remains.


The idea of a Patrick Bateman

In one of the introductory scenes of American Psycho (2000); there is a monologue wherewhich Bale’s character, Bateman, introduces us to his life. Yuppie 80s drug taking, women-using, elitist opulent wealth. Where there is a fundamental superficiality, of the kind where a person can cry for help, or where only the talk of false personalities and fake attitudes can prevail. Where people are forced to smile as the norm of social conduct, forced to perform in the stage, never to break the fourth wall.

There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, an idea, an abstraction, but there is no real thing.