The threat of intimidation as a feature of our age

There’s a blog that I quite like reading. I’m not going to mention it as I don’t want to give it any negative attention, but I will say I admire the blog and what they do. I won’t even say what it’s about as that itself will be a giveaway.

 

A couple of months ago this blog wrote to respond to a current issue which was developing in their industry which they chose not to respond to. They acknowledged the issue so as to say ‘we are not ignoring this, we are just not commenting on it’. This response was due to the malicious ways in which online reprisals were taken against anyone who took a stand against them.

 

When I started this blog I thought of the medium of blogging as an extension of the old ‘freedom of the pen’, where one can air political and social views about issues and theories of the day in a platform of discussion.

 

At some point in this decade, as it is easier to communicate yourself through the online world; the measures of silencing have been more innovative as well. As such, I feel increasingly reluctant now compared to previous years to state one’s views. I feel like there’s a cop out in dealing with culture of the past in that there is a sense of staleness that 19th century Kantians might not do a DDOS on me, or the 1920s anti-adornians were to leak all my social media accounts.

I have the utmost respect for those who can be honestly candid in the online world. The fact that I can’t even mention a blog that I like and the comment on an issue I won’t even mention, is out of a sense of intimidation.

In other news, I am really enjoying tablet games lately. Despite my lack of time I am able to manage a model of gaming where I participate for about 5-10 minutes every few hours, instead of a massive long session of 5+ hours! I’m quite enjoying the diversity of games these days. Having said that, I sitll do quite like those long sit down gaming sessions.

Amorphous, Nebulous and enthymatic, or British Values

Lately there has been a bit of public discussion about the issue of what are British values? This comes from a discussion about a suggested coup of one faith group to allegedly influencing a school in negative ways that are not just out of local educational policies, but are also unBritish. In a similar vein, this week saw the death of Rik Mayall, a comedic actor that I grew up watching through the show Bottom. I remember watching Bottom during two periods of my life. One where I was a lot younger and mostly saw the desperation of the characters in their shoddy mod-like clothes; and later on with a more critical eye which appreciated more of the dysfunctional side of Eddie and Richie. I mention this because Rik Mayall was to me, a quintessentially British character, and yet could hardly be considered an estalishment sort of figure.

 

I was watching this week’s BBC Question Time where people talked about British values and pointing to values but not defining explicitly (or in the Carnapian sense) what exhaustatively consists within the notion of “British Values”.

 

This week began the world cup. I recall this thursday going to the gym and seeing how the roads were exceptionally empty. Most people were presumably at their homes watching the opening Brazil/Croatia match. To me, the casual interest in football seems quintessentially British. I say a casual interest because when it comes to Premiership or European championships, people are passionate but not to the degree as it is with the national England team.

 

One phrase that I normally use to the ridicule of my friends is: [That’s] not cricket! British values could be linked to old traditional notions such as the commitment to observing and codifying rules. By this I give the examples of the codification of Rugby football or the Marquess of Queensbury rules. Often when I am playing Badminton we are committed to the principle of fair play. That means being honest about whether a shuttle is in or out of the perimeter of the court , even if it means you lose your point and could have gained a point if you lied.

 

It could also be said that our values are constantly under change, as the idea of what counts as British has changed over history. The intake of French Huguenots in the 16th century or the wave of migration from the West Indians in the 20th century have had impacts on the culture and it could be said that it is this integration and mix that makes of a distinct culture.

 

At the moment I am reading book V of Gibbon’s gargantuan The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It starts off with a very familiar Augustan era (contemporaneous to the time in which Virgil wrote), and I am currently on a section describing the reign of Charlemagne and the emergence of what will become modern Europe. The Roman Empire had contact with African factions of Christianity; China and India in trade; and the emergence of Islam affected it all to the point that what we consider as the Roman Empire is beyond recognition to the age of Augustus Caesar.

 

I suspect that national and cultural identities work in this way. By acknowledging the influences we find out who we are, and also by pointing out how much an identity is in flux shows the potential of how things can change. To close I recall a remark that I once heard from a German I had a conversation with when I said of my view (which I now have changed my mind on) that I am not a fan of British composers compared to the Germans. The German said to me: my favourite British composer is Georg Friedrich Handel.

 

The wrong side of History (and some parallels)

At Noumenal Realm some of us often have a conversation that goes to the effect of: when history judges us individually and as a period, I wonder how we will be judged. Perhaps we will be on the wrong side of history about certain issues. There were some people who thought that 100 years ago, a war would be the best thing for the morale of a general public. Michael thinks that being a meat and fish-eater (particularly of Cod) will make him seem abhorrent in the future as these commodities (that’s how we see them today) are so scarce yet deeply affect biodiversity and wider sustainability concerns.

I woke up to find two stories that I thought were notable. The Sochi mayor (city of the upcoming Winter Olympics and Paralympics) claimed that there were ‘no gays’ in Sochi. This parallels to me the denial of the existence of disabled people in Russia late in the 20th Century. Isn’t such a denial both ridiculous and ignorant? Yet our time and during the cold war, it was ideologically motivated to say whether being non-heterosexual (‘gay’ is such a limiting catch-all term) is a choice.

I see on the BBC front page that there is a discussion of a counter-campaign from an ‘ex-gay’ group that imitates Stonewall’s advertising. This is our zeitgeist.

Going back to Sochi, I find it interesting how there is going to be a Paralympian series of games, from the same country that denied the existence of disabled people. There’s very much a parrallel here, by virtue of the fact that a politician would use the same rhetoric of denial of existence to a group of people we now accept – well, that’s not to say its unproblematic to live with disabilities with regards to social or economic and political discrimination (it certainly isn’t unproblematic).

More parrallels: George Takei, of Star Trek fame, has an influential Facebook page. One of the really interesting things he points out (excepting for the really naff visual puns he puts up) is that there’s a parrallel between the discourse between same-sex partnerships and inter (intra?)-racial marriage in the Jim Crow era. Much of the ‘junk science’ of race studies in the 19th and 20th Centuries might be said to be ideologically motivated, another example of how our historical perspective shows a bit more insight with hindsight. Yet inter-racial marriages (I hate that term) is hardly now an issue of legislation and, although there may be social sanctions on the basis of what communities we belong to (and that’s very relative), it’s hardly considered an issue of law. What difference is it does it make between where one is born (or grandparents, parents etc), versus what their status of hormonal development was during the embryonic stage? Pointing out such parallels make the distinctions we make in law seem based less on informed prejudice but social and ideological presumptions.

(A post by Sinistre)

The ‘crack mayor’

Today I’ve been a bit preoccupied with the amount of coverage on Rob Ford, the incumbent Mayor of Toronto. For much of the day I’ve been sent a few of the ‘comedic’ treatments of the subject which I thought was notable from the US. For context (i.e. anyone reading this when this topic is long forgotten; Ford had an growing number of incriminating allegations about his behaviour which has recently exploded in his public embarrassments. It’s a comedian’s field day to have a story where a member of public office is found with street drugs, not least a conservative one on a grassroots ticket.

Examples of comedic treatment of the subject come from the following:

There’s a very obvious source of comedy from the revelations. I wonder if history will judge us differently about the kind of preoccupation on this story: are we being insensitive? Not specifically to Ford himself (although that is a consideration too), but to those who are troubled by crack-cocaine. It could be said that a member of public office who had made such a public denial prior to a retraction of such a denial of using crack-cocaine is an open house invitation to alleging some form of flawed character. But I wonder if in coming decades this will be seen as a questionable source of humour.

I find it particularly of interest how a few years ago, Craig Fergusson made a point not to make jokes about problems going on with celebrity Britney Spears with the suggestion that there may be some form of substance abuse, and Fergusson candidly opened up about his own experience with addiction and overcoming similar demons. However, it seems that this time, perhaps because it is a politician, or someone who made such a public denial, there’s little sympathy for Rob Ford. But what about the casual ridiculing of those other people affected by crack cocaine implicated by these jokes at Fords expense?

What do I think? well I watched those videos with a little bit of laughter, but I was a little bit self conscious about how potentially problematic it could be. I was then reminded of a Chris Rock stand up routine from ‘Born Suspect’ about a similar subject nearly 20 years ago.

Antisophie

“Exploring Beethoven’s Sonatas” – A MOOC from Jonathan Biss

This month I have been following quite a few MOOCs. One MOOC in particular, and the subject of this post, is “Exploring Beethoven’s Sonatas” delivered by the concert pianist Jonathan Biss. Watching this MOOC helped me with a few reflections about music appreciation in general, as well as my own aesthetic tendencies and preferences. I recommend the MOOC for anyone with an elementary or nonexistent familiarity with classical music.

Accessibility

One particular dimension of the course, which surprised me a lot, was that it was very non-technical. I was expecting commentaries from musicologists and extended discussions on cadences and fugal writing. However it was not the specialism of Biss, who as a concert pianist, to comment on those aspects of Beethovenian and 18th century composition. However it does serve as a good introduction for anyone who has a passion about music to understand more about the ways in which Beethoven has a distinct legacy and relevance to listeners today. You don’t need to know too much about music to understand this course.

Music appreciation is lifelong

One of the key themes to this MOOC was that music appreciation is lifelong. Coming to terms with great musical works is ongoing through our lives. I grew in my appreciation of Beethoven while going through the course. I used to be a massive fan of the Romantics, and as I got to learn more about musicians like Adorno and Gould, I became a little bit more formalistic and austere in my musical preferences. However I feel like I’ve gone to a middle-way with Beethoven. There are pieces of music which have special value, and their value can relate to a time of your life, or your way of seeing the world then.

The joy of having a lifelong musical appreciation is that you can revisit pieces of music and simultaneously revisit yourself in a dual form of internal critique. To appreciate music is to appreciate culture, and to have an engagement with culture often involves an engagement with our own sense of individuality. It is fair to say for example, that my appreciation of motets and choral forms comes as a default from having a Catholic upbringing, but something like Beethoven’s later period is not something I was introduced to, yet learning more about Beethoven’s work in the post 1810 era makes me feel like I’m discovering a new part of myself, and a different kind of appreciation as a musician and amateur performer. I’m starting to appreciate what some may call ‘mature’ works of piano, which require emotional maturity as well as technical competence.

Socio-historical reflections

There are sociological and borderline philosophical insights that Biss had about Beethoven which will at a later point inform my commentary pieces on Adorno and philosophy of music, however for now I won’t focus too much on that. What I will say is that Biss’s discussion about the ‘independent’ musician feeds very much into discourses of today. Heck, even technical discussions about sonata form relate to songwriting today (which is a sign of poor technical ability for pop musicians today). Beethoven, unlike Bach, was able to write music that he wanted to write. Biss establishes a two tier scale of the independence of a musician against their creativity. The scale goes something like this:

Bach

Prolifically creative, Patronaged musician

Haydn

Highly creative

Patronaged, then independent musician

Mixed ability during independent period

Mozart

Highly creative during Patronage

Poor ability during independent period

Beethoven

Poor creativity during Patronage

Highly creative during independent period

The idea of the creative individual, self supporting has implications from the Transcendentalists of the American philosophers to Romantic ideas of the Bohemian, and relates to the discussion of the Adornian cultural industry. Beethoven was the cultural archetype of the independent genius, which has been mimicked endlessly since. There is a very interesting discussion to be had about the nature of dependency for artistic types to perform their work, relative to the financial support that they have. This discussion I’m sure will prompt my thinking on Adorno’s capitalistic view of culture.

The cult of Beethoven worship

Beethoven, for many the name has establishment and bourgeoisie linked to it. Like say, Bach or Aristotle. There is a reason why there is such hero worship about Beethoven, and that is due to the depth of his genius. Often however we have dilettantes who may for instance reference Descartes without actually understanding it as a way of passing off cultural capital or intelligence, and this is sad and facile. Saying this may merit an accusation of calling me a musical or cultural conservative: there is a good reason why Beethoven deserves a high place as a landmark European figure, akin to say Aristotle or Newton. Beethoven’s Sonatas express a multitude of temperaments, technically speaking they are wonderful works of pianism, the ‘New Testament’ to Bach’s ‘Old Testament’ (i.e. the Well Tempered Clavier).

A course such as this helps to unpack some of the reasons of Beethoven’s greatness. It even addresses a comparative to Mozart, in which the latter does not fare as favourably in terms of creativity. I have recently been annoyed at someone who has been trying to start a philosophy salon without having a clue about how to conduct philosophical argumentation or even appreciate the depth of the philosophical ideas he’s trying to appropriate, to borrow Adorno’s word, it is dilletanteish . A course such as Biss’s on Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas makes accessible the numerous and profound ways in which Beethoven’s sonatas are truly powerful even as listeners in the 21st century.

Changing my own attitude to music appreciation

I’ll try my best not to sound snobby about music. Glenn Gould’s low opinion on Mozart’s later work is upheld by Biss himself. I remember a conversation that I had with someone completely unrelated to music, where the topic of piano appreciation came up. I talked about how I liked the showy Rachmaninov and Chopin pieces at the time, and he said how he enjoyed Beethoven Sonatas. I said to him that the Romantics were better than the Viennese classicals, and to me their appeal was much more obvious to me. The showiness and fanciful fingerings and exploitation of dissonances had a much more visceral and sensory appeal. The gentleman said to me that an appreciation of Beethoven comes from a more mature place and mature sensibility. I’m starting to be won over by that point of view. Not to say that I do not appreciate the Romantics anymore, but I am growing to enjoy the formalism and structures imbued in the more 18th century works. Biss emphasises the lifelong power of music appreciation. Music is a bonding thing between people and introspectively, music and its wonder is ongoing. Our relationship with the same piece of music can change, perhaps diminish or grow, and Beethoven’s Sonatas are a great example of a set of works that show development relative to Beethoven’s own life cycle, but also in response to our own introspection.

Michael

Remembering LucasArts

On April 3rd, one of the consequences of Disney’s takeover of the Lucasfilm empire is that LucasArts, the publisher and developer of games, is going to be shut down. One of the most notable announcements related to this was that the Star Wars: 1313 game project will not continue, and was considered to be the great white hope for the future of Star Wars gaming.

 

Some people have spoken of the non-Star Wars games that Lucasarts was well known for, particularly the way that games such as Secret of Monkey Island or Sam and Max challenged our assumptions about games. I thought I’d give an highlight of the things I really loved about LucasArts that were definitive to my growing up. If LucasArts will no longer continue I will be sympathetic to the fact that some of the later games were sub-par, but I will miss what LucasArts meant for me during my formative years. I thought I’d talk about some of my highlights.

 

Dark Forces/Jedi Knight/the Kyle Katarn games 

 

Whenever one is having a night in with my crew, one of the staples alongside blues-based jamming, ordering unhealthy takeaway and watching bad action movies is to play a first person shooter. One of the cliches I say at this point is ‘guys I should let you know I have motion sickness, but I’m happy to watch you play’. This is the legacy of me playing Dark Forces!

 

Dark Forces was a shooter in a Star Wars setting, addressing stories that were sideways to the main films. I especially liked the original story, and how it created a new situation within a universe that I already knew and loved. Then came Jedi Knight (the Sequel) and this was one of the defining games of my early teens! I absolutely loved the multiplayer and it indulged my fantasy of having lightsaber battles in the most interesting of settings, over walkways with a massive pit underneath. I also was introduced to modding through Jedi Knight. Modding was one of the most awesome things about gaming in the late 90s in my view, plus I learned a few skills from the community. One of my first email addresses was from a server that hosted Jedi Knigth Mods (Massassitemple.net).

 

Then came the sequels to Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast and and Jedi Academy, which are games which had a big impact on my late teens. I absolutely loved the way that those games engaged my imagination, and gave me the satisfying indulgence of being part of a science fiction world. Although in that world most people were trying to kill my almost all of the time. That’s probably not a good life lesson.

 

Rebel Assault and Rebel Assault II 

 

Another couple of games I loved from LucasArts are by objective standards, pretty bad games. Rebel Assault and Rebel Assualt II were my first introductions to PC gaming. Most of my experience had been from console games. What marked the games as significant to me was the ways in which different modes of gaming were within the same game – from flying to first person shooting to differing arcade modes.

 

I loved the way I engaged with the game, and introducing family friends to the game. I would play Rebel Assault II repeatedly, even though I knew how this game on rails would turn out, there was the illusion of real agency in this game that had replayability. Also the 90s were a pretty dull time compared to today, so replaying games was something that was probably a bit more common.

 

X-Wing, Tie Fighter, X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter, X-Wing Alliance 

 

One of my family friends had a demo on a floppy disk of Tie Fighter. We played it endlessly for the longest time. I was introduced to the X-wing series of games through the later game: X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter. I loved the fact that Tie fighter and XvT was that you could play as the bad guys. I also liked the narratives present in X-Wing and Tie Fighter, and the ‘awards’ system and presence of secondary objectives. I loved learning about flying the spacecraft, where later on in XvT, and X-Wing Alliance, involved an extremely complicated system, like adjusting shields, laser power, targeting system and mapping.

 

The Star Wars flight simulators were a big part of my growing up. They were so monumental to me as say, my musical interests. They introduced a more abstract way of perceiving the world, thinking about memorising keyboard combinations and even the clunky 1990s joystick was a lot of fun. Back in the day, joysticks had this really awkward input plug that my modern laptop would have no hope of using. Ah, the days before USB!

I’ll miss the decline of LucasArts, not for what it is now, but for what it was. That’s how I’ll remember LucasArts.

Michael

#AMDG , or On the Jesuit Pope

We are living in an age of so many unprecedented things it is too much of an effort to keep track of them all. I thought I would care to mention one unprecedented thing of significance to us, and that is the announcement of a Jesuit Pope, the first ever Jesuit Pope.

 

There are lots of different things I could address about the most recently appointed head of the Catholic Church: the fact that he is from Latin America; the issue of liberation theology, or the other issues that many in the public and the Church congregation which to have the new Pope address, such as celebacy, scandals in the Church or the role of women. I’m going to do the side-stepping thing of not discussing them for the purposes of this post, and only talk about two issues specifically. Firstly – the question of ‘Why Francis I as a papal name?’ and secondly What significance is there to a Jesuit Pope?. It should go without saying that this is a speculative exploration in the exercise of writing this piece.

 

Why Francis? 

 

When I heard that the Pope was named Francis the First. I immediately thought of one Saint. Unlike most of the commentators around the Vatican and in Catholic media, I considered Francis to take after Saint Francis Xavier, who is the patron saint of Goa, known for introducing Catholicism to India and Japan and one of the first Jesuits. We at Noumenal Realm considered it interesting that we have a particularly different relationships to Francis Xavier. For I consider him as one of the founders of the Society of Jesus foremost, while Michael considers Xavier as the missionary who brought Catholic Christianity to parts of Asia.

 

Many commentators likened the name to an association with Francis of Assisi, better known for love of animals and nature. The question of what’s in a name is a significant one – as one is a missionary going to the edges of the known world spreading values, and the other has more of a conscientious connotation. Perhaps it is like me always to overplay the Jesuit connection with everything!

 

A Jesuit Pope 

 

Ah the Jesuits, they live in poverty and obedience to the Pope. The Jesuits are sometimes called ‘God’s Marines’ due to their militaristic nature. The Jesuits have placed themselves in many educational institutions and have taken a large part in mission work historically. I grew up with tales of Jesuit adventure and the very real perils that they faced in their work, including beheadings. I also have memories of the Jesuits claiming that they had their own personal views about homosexuality and women being inducted to the priesthood, but must always submit whatever personal views they had to the authority of the Pope. I always saw that as freethinking within limitations. I also respected such freethought from what appears to be a very authoritarian order.

 

I’ll always have a bit of a rational blind spot about the Jesuits, as they made me who I am in very large ways: inspiring my interest in Classics, Theology and Systematic thinking. The Jesuits also taught me that you should live by ideals, which included adhering to them. One of the things that has been coming out about Francis I is the way that he enacts poverty to his real life. The way that Francis I takes austerity in his own living conditions and behaviour, dress and actions is embarrassing the status quo of how things are done and have been done in the Vatican. No more custom red shoes, no more elaborate stoles and no more popemobile? This is a Christianity that I was grown up to believe in, not one of rock-star like entourages and fancy clothes, but one where a concern with the poor means identifying with the poor in how one lives, eats, dresses and travels.

 

Living with a minimum, without too much extravagance, and dressing for simplicity was the way that I was taught by Jesuits, and the ideal that I saw Jesuits live by. I was told about how Jesuit teachers had a ‘common pot’ where they put their wages, which were used for things like food, personal travel and clothing expenses. Even my dress sense has been influenced by the Jesuits. Smart, but universal. Simple and utilitarian. Try not to be too flashy. Try dressing to be adaptable. Wear black.

 

The Jesuits live with orders to have obedience to the Pope, does that make a Jesuit Pope a contradiction? How is it that an individual Jesuit can have complete obedience to himself? This reminds me of that old saying from Meister Eckhart: Can God make a stone so big that he could not carry it?

 

Perhaps I am being more deferential than I should. It is also the case that there are many critical avenues that people wish to address the papacy. I choose just for this post to focus on the Jesuit angle, because if he’s anything like the Jesuits who taught me, there is definitely space for reform.

 

I suppose all one can do is keep eyes open. It’s also amusing to see #AMDG trending on twitter!

 

Destre

Antisophie’s Words: using ‘man’ as a prefix, -porn as an adjective

As part of an ongoing series I have been thinking about words that I hear in everyday speech and writing, and I think about how they have a specific location in our contemporary context, both in terms of being located in the English langauge, and being as signifiers of things in our time and that I hope one day will look like a bit of a commentary of our society (and its decline). I’ve talked about unnecessary words in the past, so….

Using ‘man’ as a prefix (or, the man-portmanteau)

(advisory: mention of eating disorders)

For some reason I found the show Will and Grace on tv the other day. I remember thinking how edgy it used to be with all the gay culture allusions and how edgy it was with all the double-entendres. But then I realised when I watched it I was an impressionable teenaged girl and many things seemed edgy when they actually weren’t. I remember recently watching this particular episode where the character Jack appeared to be sad about a relationship breakup, and said something to the effect that he was a manorexic. I then felt very icky about how I used to like the show and how deeply troubling it was to make a gag like that.

I often hear uses of the word -man used in a portmanteau fashion. A portmanteau is is a combination of words that don’t conventionally go together. Usually this is as a way of trying to show some significance of the newness of a combination, or it may be affectionate, or it is an ad-hoc way of trying to explicate what one means. Some portmanteaus however have gained common currency and are recognised beyond an ad hoc usage, like ‘chillax’.

The man-portmanteau (see what I did there?) is often used as a diminutive variation of an already existent word, or something that triest to make a phenomenon more masculine. ‘Manorexic’ is sometimes used in a demeaning way to look at anorexia, sometimes it is used in a non-serious way and in a growing usage acknowledging male eating disorders, it is sometimes used in a serious way. Other examples of using a man-prefix/man-portmanteau include:

  • Man cave
  • Man flu
  • Mancession
  • Man bag
  • Mankini
  • Manscaping
  • Man-child

The use of these prefixes seem to communicate quite different things. Something like man-scaping, mankini or man- bag tries to communicate something that is by the distinction of having association with maleness, unusual. Other terms like man cave and mancession have very specific meanings. Man cave is usually associated with a cultural symbol of a boorish anti-domestic type or indulgent. Mancession refers to the way that economic conditions have influenced male dating behaviour and its effect on women looking for men. Much of these prefixed terms seem to communicate different aspects of masculinity: vain, boorish, immature or lackadaisical. I am ambivalent however as to whether these ascriptions are wholly negative.

Porn as an adjective

I’m trying to think a little bit systematically. I’ve heard the term ‘porn’ used as a descriptor and it makes me reflect one what pornography signifies if it is to be linked in a suffix way to other words. Examples of what I mean are:

  • Property porn – the phenomena of admiring property ownership and the upward mobility associated with it
  • Inspirational porn – A term used by Ouch Podcast presenter Liz Carr to describe the Paralympics and its irrelevance to the lives of many disabled people in the UK
  • Food porn – the subject of many tumblrs, Pinterest boards and television shows valorising glamorous food

Michael once made the point that a Kantian perspective would deny that gastronomy could be a thing of art, because we eat it. In doing so we have an interested perspective about its consumption. It is relevant to our appetitive interests to crave foods, even the unhealthy kinds. However the idea of food porn seems apt to me, because it is (fitting to the analogy of pornography) skirting between the respectability of being artistic in some ways, to just appealing to our craving of it. The aspiration of food is also a distinctly class-based issue and one of the modern signifiers of class, cultural capital and what Veblen would call a pecuniary interest. The use of porn to describe food seems very apt to me.

Thinking about property porn and inspirational porn. I think there is something deeply political about making them analogous to pornography. Pornography generally portrays a world that doesn’t really exist, but represents fantasies that most people can’t have access to. In a world where wages don’t get to make ends meet and a gamut of other forms of economic instability, the presence of programmes valorising home ownership and a ‘quality of life’ in living in an x bedroom house with water features and close to the city reflects lots of deeply held and I think covertly socially stratified based attitudes. With ‘inspirational porn’ to describe the paralympics, I think the point was to point out how elite athletes who happen to be disabled is a bit of an irrelevance to the reality of many disabled people, who are living in increasingly intolerable conditions with the introduction of things like the PIP its exceptionally stringent conditions. We see the ugly side of aspiration: we must aspire but we cannot have. We are told what we ought to have and how we ought to behave, but with little possibility of fulfilling it. That is a sick society and reminds me of how Marx described religion: as a spiritual gin. Of course, spiritual gin is a bit of an obscure reference, where one syllable will do: porn.

 

Antisophie

On opposition to Gay Marriage (and a Kantian thought)

It’s 8am, I’m very tired at the start of the day. I am still recovering from the two prongs of having worked late and went to sleep later. I got up only to check emails on my phone. I saw a message following an ongoing email discussion about the recent news of the legalisation of Gay Marriage and I suddenly had a surge of intellectual thought. I shouted out “AUGUSTINE!” and then thought to myself: this is a victory for Kantian philosophy. Okay, so many that bit most people won’t understand, I don’t think most people understand the things I shout out in public anyway. However, I thought I’d venture to explain myself further. A single word expresses about 1600 years of literature.

The orientation of my thoughts are around a certain story of current affairs, namely, the legalisation of same-partner marriage in England and Wales (but not Northern Ireland, and not yet Scotland). I find several things objectionable all at once, and I thought I’d go through them systematically.

Bad arguments

I think one of the things that I thought notable was the television coverage summarising the issue. One view was an old Conservative MP whose background of edcuational and cultural priviledge gave him the wisdom of the following proclamation: marriage is between a man and a woman, it has been so historically for years and should continue to be so.

That’s not really a reason, or an argument. It’s an old man stating his view in the guise of a discussion of implementing a legal measure. I think that’s what Aristotle called demos kratos. I found an interesting piece from the New Humanist from Jason Wakefield effectively debunking what are thinly veiled layers of anti-gay bigotry. Arguing from the premise of tradition or the status quo is bad for democracy, is bad for rational argument and insulting to the idea of progress. I do think however, there has been a good rational case following the likes of Mark Vernon to be wary about imputing the historic standards of marriage as an institution to what is effectively a newly emerging acceptance of wider sexual difference. Of course acceptance of difference (overcoming bisexual erasure, transgender issues and non-monogamy) is a battle of many fronts, of which same-sex marriage is one particular front.

For the purposes of this post I shall not go into those issues in particular. Instead, I shall consider some of the appeals of the kinds of attitudes that would be inclined to reject homosexual marriage and I shall take these into more philosophical consideration.

‘Marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman’ – essentialism

I hold this claim to be an essentialist appeal to the meaning of the term. By essentialist I would take it to mean a broadly Kripkean view that there is a certain ‘this-ness’, or natural kind appeal. This kind of appeal would assert that there is a point at which the object of marriage has been (excuse the pun) Christened in a brute way, as say me pointing to a glass of water and saying: THIS is water.

There are two kinds of ways of replying to this essentialist appeal. The first way is through permutation, and the second is to reject that it is essentialist. Let’s consider permutation. If we followed the thought experiment that christening some object and claiming some ‘this-ness’ to the criterial nature of the thing, as if we just point to something and say: THIS is marriage (like say, pointing to a couple arguing; buying furniture at Ikea on a saturday afternoon; appearing as a legally recognised couple in the eyes of the law etc). We can say that the ‘this-ness’ of what it means to be a couple (or coupledom) will still hold even in different conditions.

Permutation of a condition like, say, the recognised gender of either party in a marriage may still preserve many of the aspects of putative coupledom. Perhaps the essence of a marriage is in something else than its gendered membership: things like having arguments about what colour to paint the spare room; whether to take on parental responsibilities; buying furniture from sofa-world or being in love with each other. We can turn this case on its head and say, if we look at putative cases of opposite-sex marriages and find some element missing (like say: a married couple not having parental commitments/buying furniture together/being in love), would we still essentially call it a marriage? I will leave that question open. The kripkean essentialist account, as I understand it, can reasonably account for permutation. The seeds of a watermelon grown on mars that tastes salty and takes a square shape, is still a watermelon according to this essentialist view. Absurd maybe, but I don’t think the argument against same-sex marriage can take essentialist appeals as a rational option.

‘Marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman’ – social construction

An alternative view to the thesis that marriage is traditionally supposed to be between a man and a woman is to look at social construction, essentially (excuse the pun) a contrasting ontological perspective. Namely that of social construction. There is an overwhelmingly good case to consider the historicities of institution of marriage. To see marriage as a tradition is correct, but to quote Eddie Murphy’s character in Coming to America, it is also tradition that times must, and do change, my friend. To canonise history is a mistake, to canonise tradition as fixed is also an insult to our understanding of social construction, and perhaps to make an embarrassing ontological mistake. This is a bad reason to make an appeal against gay marriage, not least because it raises more questions than it would purport to answering an issue.

Historical reflections I: Natural Law (Thomism)

Some Catholics may be familiar with this kind of view. Natural law is the basis of many Catechistic principles. Natural law is a notion which has a large basis in Aquinas that through Reason we can see the work of God, and through His nature we can see his will, which in turn informs our moral understanding.

This issue is important from a perspective of faith, because there are many ethical issues that are not addressed in Scripture, and so another recourse is needed to create a religious persepctive. Natural Law appeals to lookings at purported facts of nature and imputing that seeing the teleology (or design/intention) of the natural world suggests God’s will. Perhaps a neat caricature of this view is the Flanders and Swann line: “If the Juju had meant us not to eat people, he wouldn’t have made us of meat!”.

Natural law has an interesting set of applications, this is not to speak of whether it is agreeable or disagreeable. Natural law has a philosophical utility in the kinds of conclusions it makes under the assumption of telos: for example: because humans and other animals have incisors, we are supposed to eat meat. Because of the female reproductive system, only procreation between a man and a woman is permitted. However this kind of view is so strong it would be against a whole lot of things: cybernetic implants and other post-humanist implantations to extend human ability and human life; vegetarianism is immoral. Not least a whole gamut of other philosophical problems: the naturalistic fallacy (which is a whole big issue in itself); the problem of interpreting God’s nature correctly (another big theology issue); the role of socialisation being undermined as ‘human nature’ is overemphasised, and perhaps most intuitively, the desiderata of an ordinary moral theory is to preserve certain things like: murder is wrong or the wrongness of sexual violence. . Natural law would seemingly have the same kinds of problems that sociobiology would have in taking an ambivalent acceptance to the these cases of nature. Not least to say that same sex relations actually happen in non-human mammals as part of a social ritual. Wouldn’t it then be considered natural? (or within nature’s repetoire?). Let’s go back to natural theology later.

Historical reflections II – Separate but Equal

The appeal of separate but equal has been a justification for a variety of contexts. When I googled the phrase earlier, it referenced a misquotation to the attitudes of the Jim Crow era in the USA. The rationality is that many hold there already to be an institution (the civil partnership) for same sex couples, which fulfills the function of marriage. However, it is the point it doesn’t, and to introduce a tier system which essentially is on the basis of sexuality is to establish a level of segregation that forms a barrier to equality.

I think that this rational strategy could be established more, and this may pose an interesting avenue for non-homophobic opposition to gay marriage. However, there is something prima facie suspicious when we introduce an idea of tiers about legally recognised relationships, and the fear that civil partnerships (which heterosexual couples are legally allowed to have) reflect both an aysmmetry (thus suggesting a tiered aspect) or a perception among some of the public that civil partnerships are marriage-lite’’. Which is essentially the fear that Mark Vernon expressed.

Historical reflections III – biblical references

Ah, now if we are taking a Christian perspective, we could appeal to the scriptures. Particularly 1 Timothy, and Romans. These are the writings of St. Paul, who is generally accepted as a scriptural ground for opposition to homosexuality. Then of course there is Leviticus 18 in the ‘Old Testament’/Jewish Scriptures. But then again, if we read into it, Leviticus also forbids tattoos! I do wonder sometimes when I watch the God channel on freeview digital television if some of these cool looking evangelicals who hold to the literalness of scripture know about Leviticus.

Without even taking to account the fact that in a secular environment, this statement of belief is not admissible in a public discussion on the level of Government. We could challenge the canon of the Bible itself. To do this we must consider the historical organisation of the library that is the Bible. Why are the synoptic gospels canonical over others, or do we have any reason to doubt their historicity?

Closing: The victory of Kant’s moral religion

I consider the issue of gay marriage a victory for the broadly Kantian project, of elminating the cultus from religion, from separating ritual from value. The Kantian perspective on religion (which has lots of details) was deeply influential in beginning the historical Jesus project of research, commonly associated with what is called liberal theology.

One way we can see the issue of gay marriage in England and Wales, is to see it as undermining aspects of doctrinal Christianity. Slowly and slowly we are finding moral communion and consensus towards the acceptance of same-sex partnerships through a non-religious and public conversation. We are moving away from the likes of scriptural justification for the basis of our ethical values and moving towards public reason – perhaps.

Lately I have been reading Bart D. Ehrman’s ‘Jesus, Interrupted’, we might review this book at a later time, but one of the overarching theses of the book is the point that there are good grounds to doubt the literalness of the way that the books of the New Testament have been established. The organisation of the books of the Bible are a result of disputes in Early Christianity during the late-antique period, and following Kant’s perspective on philosophical anthropology (an issue I based my MA dissertation on), there are grounds on which we can sympathise with other moralities from different cultural origins, on the basis of their historical basis. Strip away culture and historicities, and we can find a better basis of our ethical values.

How about, say, the formula of humanity: to perceive rational beings as ends in themselves. Human agency as the basis of our respect towards others by virtue of being human, or by virtue of being a moral agent (I take these two to be interchangeable for now). I think its fair to say that those who may be opposed to their views are entitled to practice their cultural heritage within reason, and this measure should not be seen as an affront to their beliefs. I also think that this kind of discussion is the kind of thing that is another feather to the bow of liberal theology, and the subsequent way in which it undermines many of the precepts of fundamentalist and literalist belief.

In closing. I thought it was odd that I didn’t have a philosophical opinion about this issue, but then I realised I did have a dog in this fight. Trust me to show the relevance of Kantian philosophy in any social issue.

Michael (in conversation with Destre)

On Watching the The Olympics (or Olympians and gender)

As with most other people, I think I am feeling a bit deflated following the close of the Olympic games. For me there were many things that I found exciting about it, the attention paid to a wide variety of sports, which included the ones many people generally are familiar with such as Football, Boxing and Tennis. There were, however, other activities which gained exposure such as Judo, Hockey Weightlifting and the various track events such as Modern Pentathlon, which despite the name is distinctly 19th Century.

I think that one positive that I found about the games is not so much the winners but the taking part. This apparently was the first Olympiad in which all countries had male and female entrants. I find that even though this event was supposedly apolitical, there is a small-p political in the participation of women. It was a real stand of defiance for a country like Saudi Arabia to put female competitors forward.

There are lots of things that can be said about the inequalities of Team GB and the lack of support of female olympians have had compared to their male counterparts. I would like to think that if there is such a thing as a legacy for the Olympic events in 2012, it would be to raise the profile of female sportspersons and atheletes both nationally and internationally and to raise awareness about the perception of physical fitness and sporting participation for women and young girls.

I kind of like how the cynics about the event had been less visible in the media. This may be a purposeful omission. The most critical and cynical thing I’ve mostly found on Twitter were comments about how the performers in the opening and closing ceremony were not their cup of tea as musical genres. It is yet to be seen what will come of ‘regeneration’ or legacy. But a little patriotism cannot be a bad thing. While it was pointed out that many of the olympians of Team GB had come from a largely private school stratification; there are instances of culturally and ethnically diverse olympians celebrated for their medal winning achievements. The face of Britain may well be a man or woman doing the ‘mobot’.

A couple of final remarks about the past couple of weeks. It has been noted that particularly with the track events (i.e. the ones with Usain Bolt), a great amount of showboating was involved when winning. There is no doubt that these are amazing athletes with entertaining personalities to match, but I suspect that male priviledge would not allow a similar kind of awe or aspect of showboating for female olympians, instead they were often described as ‘emotional’ or humbled by their achievements. There’s a real difference in gender when performing a victory that the accepted behaviour for a man is to work the applause of a crowd while for a woman, the humble and stoic smile is more apt for the presumed role.

In short, I saw a little bit of progress about the genders over the past couple of weeks, but until male athletes are better represented on search engines by objectifying search results, I don’t think there will be an equality of the sexes just yet. So for me, watching the olympics has given me a quite and humbling sense of awe about the progress of female olympians for the female sex. But not a showboating response

Antisophie