Keeping the memory, or “My old hardware is a burden to me”

My hard drive

My old hard drive – we’ve had some great memories together

The subject of this blog post started with a little pile next to my table. There’s a printer, a scanner and a generic box (of unsorted documents that graduates to sorted/processed documents) which sits right next to my desk. I have an 2006 Canon Pixma printer, which supposedly was designed to print photograph sized prints in photograph quality I used it a few times but I found that it ran out of ink very quickly. I argued this point with my dad that it is not economical to own such a printer that barely prints maybe 2 dozen prints for the cost of £30-40 colour prints, when you can get prints for 20p or so each these days. As such, for this reason, and due to the other reason that I have a smaller and more efficient portable printer (its so portable it fits in a shoe bag), my once fancy Pixma printer is now obsolete. Also thanks to great retailers like Boots and other such photo processing serviciers (sic).


This Pixma printer is a 1ft square or so heavy box of plastic that just fills up space. It feels like emotional clutter due to its unuse. I feel guilty that a fancy printer is essentially surplus to requirement. I then thought about the 2 xbox 360s that I have above a cupboard. I bought two because one of them was in disrepair and I felt a strong urge to get an xbox by christmas of some time maybe a year or two ago, in order to have a ‘halo marathon’ (a tradition among a few friends of mine). Now that the old Xbox 360 is obsoleted by the new Xbox One(tm); I have more tat that is just gathering dust. I also have Xbox accessories, games, pads and even a neat little wifi adaptor. If these things were universal for say, a PC or other device I surely could have found use for it.


Thinking about my old technology brought me to a deeper and deeper rabbit hole. I’ve got meters upon meters of USB cables all scrunched up in my desk. I have endless earphones that don’t work or half work, or are ugly that came free with something. I have AC adaptors for things I don’t even remember owning and some of these things are not even 10 years old yet I feel like I am one of those people on the hoarder TV shows.


All this technology finds itself obsolete very quickly and it makes me sad. Lately I’ve been thinking things like: I have been using my USB keyboard for 8 years now, I should get rid of it; perhaps I should get rid of my USB speakers – they have served their time.


Lately I bought a tablet and a phone. I have a reputation among my friends for having ‘old technology’, and I am often reluctant to stop using something simply because a newer version of x has come out, or that the newer version does more things. Having said that, I am not exactly a Luddite. I sometimes  used my older laptops as experiments in Linux and in overclocking and working beyond their original specifications and default software settings. I’ve found  that some laptops that I bought have hardware specs that purposely lock out other operating systems. The Xbox 360 and other consoles notably have measures to detect if a device has been modified and once noticed, locks out and bans the user/machine for what I think is an open and inquisitive exploration into a piece of software.


People should not feel guilty for ‘hacking’ into their store bought hardware and using technology in ways beyond the original company’s design for them. I’ve seen creative mp3 players installed with windows xp just to see if it can be done, and games consoles with fancy lighting. I think that such modifications are an ode of respect to the companies that made these devices, and show a sense of openness and imaginative creativity on part of the consumer, that makes a consumer an active participant in the commodities they buy, and exactly because of this, the things that they buy are not ‘commodities’ but enabling.


Products like the iPad and Windows 8 devices are said to be enabling by all the Press Releases and tech conference presentations, but only in a limited way of thinking and perceiving and using a device. I feel that there’s a political analogy here. I think about geographical space lately. In the area where I live, there are lots of shops, and lots of houses, but nothing else. There’s a public library, which had the threat of closure more than once in the past decade. However there’s not really much for anyone if you don’t have spending money or a mortgage/monthly rent. The physical space where I live is exceptionally limited in the terms set by consumption: you live, sleep, and buy.


For this reason I think that my local library is an amazing place. I like going to the library just to peruse the books. I see a lot of self-improvement books, a lot of books about Tamil culture (a cultural group who have a distinct presence locally) and even a few comics, graphic novels and Mangas. The library is a place where you can read magazines and newspapers at no charge and there are sometimes local Councillors having surgeries and children’s storytelling meetings there.


Outside of this little haven of the library is shop upon shop. The options are limited in shops: you buy, and that’s about it. This can be very isolating and exceptionally limiting to the imagination. With my group of friends we sometimes try to subvert the perception of geographical urban space by inserting a bit of humour (and confusion) to the area. One thing we like doing for example is going out in costume or wearing a horse mask, the breaching of our ascribed sense of conformity to public spaces shocks most of the public. Another thing we sometimes do is while in a moving car, play a bit of music on our instruments, usually people are amused or bemused. I think there is a significance to being bemused. It shows the possibility of other alternatives for use of that space. The ideal of art is to show an interpretation of the world differently and hopefully show that we can differently interpret the world as it is.


Technology is similar. Technologies are sold to us so often as things that are enabling and yet, when we are overwhelmed with it, or when we are sanctioned for using technology in an alternative way, this is hardly enabling. It saddens me that there is such limitations often built in to hardware, that limits alternative uses.


Another aspect of my woe about my hardware is that there’s such a waste. I’m getting rid of a few old laptops this month, and once upon a time they probably cumulatively cost £8000-9000 all together, and now I have to pay for someone to get it off my hands! All of the machines I’m getting rid of this month are not even over 10 years old. By contrast I still have some VCRs from the mid-late 1990s and they work as well as in the days in which they were used most.


There seems to be a turning point with old technology, certain things like a first generation Nintendo/Famicom console are lovely products in their retro glory. A friend of mine recently bought a flat and one of his ‘christening’ gifts was to set up his NES in his fancy HD big screen TV. We found that Duck Hunt, the game that uses a light gun, no longer works on new TVs, because of the way that the light gun was designed for CRTs (old style TVs) to map and track pixels. Something like a NES, a SNES or maybe even a Dreamcast, are seen as retro-tastic mementos of a golden past and childhood or teenhood or early adulthood, and yet my old laptops which are highly more sophisticated technically than games consoles, and my printers and USB accessories have been made to be obsolete by the successors.


Old games consoles from the 80s and 90s are quaint bits of retro, yet consoles from the 2000s are a heavy burden, because the new generation of consoles are basically the same in functionality – but do more! I think that the same cannot be said for the transition between say, the NES and the N64 – they do vastly different things and enable vastly different possibilities. However between say the PS3 and PS4 – they are basically the same machine where one does vastly more than the other but there is no qualitative transition of gaming or thinking or concept.


I would consider this way of consuming computer games and hardware to be in line with the critical Adorno view of late capitalist culture. Like Adorno I think that the transitions to newer technologies and the pressures to take up things like tablets and HD televisions; Blu-Rays, Tivos, 4G and cloud services are difficult to avoid to function in the modern world, but it is highly wasteful and makes things obsolete very quickly. I really love my new tablet computer at the moment, but I know there will be a day when it becomes hurrendously outdated and obsolete compared to what comes in the future.


What can we do about this? I feel like this is the open question that I cannot quite answer yet. I think this is the interesting open question of our culture. How do we find ways of opposing the trend of creating so much waste, while keeping modern? One thing I have done is that I’ve opened up my old laptops and taken various chips out and I’m going to re-use some of the hard drives and play with the RAM cards and explore the processor chipsets in the same child like way that I used to break things to see how they worked. One other reason I kept some of my old hard drives and processors are that they are a physical memento, a sentimental trinket that looks cool kept in my room, but they are also my, if you will excuse the amphiboly, memories.

Life hacks (and living deliberately)

For the past 7 years (maybe longer) I’ve been thinking often about the ‘life hack’, that killer method or approach or little trick that will make me more productive, free up my time or enhance what I am able to do. Of course the specific term ‘life hack’ was not in my vocabulary until maybe a couple of years ago, I was always trying to find some way to frame, streamline and maximise some notion of productivity and output.

These days with the amount of advice about life hacks it’s just too much. I had subscribed to a life hacking blog on Feedly and it filled up too much of my time. I have a suspicion that the plight of the modern person who seeks the life hack is essentially living a life of pecuniary means (to frame it in the Veblen sense).

I still look for that life-hack. I love using Google Calendar, I swear by synchonising my tablets and computers and phones so that everything is on the cloud in case my physical machines die; I’m experimenting using Google Keep at the moment (to some benefit) but I think there is an analysis paralysis about the life hack bit of advice.

The idea of a life hack seems to be a contrasting term, implicitly implying that some alternative ‘regular’ way of doing things both exists, and is less efficient. Not all life hacks are the same. However the whole discussion and discourse of there being a world of little hacks and tricks that makes life easier seems to entail that one needs to add one more consideration above everything else, which can be very demotivating.

I am constantly reminded of the expression of Thoreau’s Walden, of living deliberately. I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means. Living deliberately is a similar contrast term and it might be said that Walden’s way of life is a life hack of sorts. Lately I’ve found that the very same things which are very enabling of my life like Google Calendar or alarm clocks, are also the things that become boring furniture that we ignore in our room. Living deliberately contrasts, one might claim, to living automatically and wedded unthinkingly to routine.

Perhaps that’s my ultimate life hack at the moment: live deliberately. I apply all sorts of other fancy things like APIs that give me push messages when certain events happen in the real world or online (or if someone searches for my name), but I also realise that all of these things become a burden and those bits of hacking and gadgets and innovations that I implemented to work for me have eventually led to me working for them. When Google Calendar operates as my punch card I really have a difficult claim to say that it liberates me. I wonder what Walden might think of GCal. In recent weeks – perhaps a sign of me getting older, I have less time to blog and to read blogs – and I’ve had to develop a bit of a filter or even just outright ignoring certain things, because I would prefer to read a few things properly than attempt to read a lot of things badly. Living deliberately involves making choices that say ‘no’ as well as ‘yes’. Life hacking seems premised on ‘yes, yes, yes’.

The Apathetic Russell Brand

Hello all!

It’s not something that we choose to do on this blog anymore to comment on current affairs issues. However one thing made me in particular change my mind about this, one is that Michael hasn’t put up a post for a while as he’s busy so he let me write a post. Another thing is that between us we have seen a lot of Facebook commentary on this specific issue.

Russell Brand has been a bit of a firebrand hot potato lately. The Observer recently put a piece about cultural ‘bad boys’ (where are the ‘bad girls’ or bad-choose-not-to-identify-by-gender-binary? – but whatever, newspapers). So, maybe we’ll give a bit of context as to what’s happened.

The 101 on Russell Brand

Brand was once known as being an MTV VJ, and presenter of Big Brother’s Big Mouth, then he got really really famous internationally and used that fame to discuss issues that were very personally relevant to him, such as the way his spirituality has come to help him and the issue of addiction, which he has done much work towards tackling in the UK. In recent weeks, Brand had created a furore at the GQ awards for pointing out something that was mentioned in a 2011 biography of Hugo Boss, namely that the company (who was sponsoring the GQ awards) made uniforms for the Nationalist Socialists. Brand did something that Goffman would probably love, he destroyed the definition of the situation and made everyone lose face by destroying the facade of an awards ceremony by bringing up the blasée attitude of an earlier speaker about the Syrian civil strife going on at the time. There was once an interview a while back where Brand completely baffled and shocked the conservative journalist Peter Hitchens, while discussing the issue of addiction, which reflected a clash of cultures as well as ideas.

Its none of these things which Brand has been talked about on my facebook feed ad nasueam lately. It’s the interview with Jeremy Paxman (of current affairs programme Newsnight), where he mixes amusing jibes, verbose lexicon (see what I did there?), and a range of very general and unsystematic points which very much related to a swathe of younger people in the UK.

What was said?

The interview addresses an accusation from Paxman: why should we listen to the political views of someone who considers it rational not to vote? The accusation unpacked is, if one is not taking part in the political process then one has an audacity to raise the profile of alternative political views, or something like that. Brand said a lot of things in that interview, and it’s kind of like throwing wet toast against the wall, one might throw lots of things, but eventually a couple might stick. That’s how many people I know feel.

Brand points out how voting in a 2-3 party system every 5 years is hardly being involved with a political process. I think I agree with that. I think having such controls on dissent in political parties, and having so much emphasis on the party line creates a homogeneous set of policies and ideologies, and shows the genuine disjunct between grassroots activism, community action against discussions in hallowed Westminster. Is it rational not to vote? That’s something a lot of people consider a dangerous idea, and the reason can be construed in a Kantian light, if people as a whole consider it rational not to vote, then the institutions we supposedly vote for have no legitimate representation of public interest.

Perhaps we need to rethink our idea of a democracy. There are alternatives to democracy, you know. Was it last year when a variant of Condorcet voting was ruled out? I was personally in favour of Condorcet systems of voting. I am quite interested in direct democracy as well. It’s one thing to like an idea, like say, socialism, or the redistribution of wealth, but enacting it and upholding an idea is tricky, and sometimes boring. Some critics of brand are right to be wary of a charismatic individual. I’m sure Brand isn’t intending to be some figurehead for change nor willing to take charge of that. However its great that someone that is recognisable in the popular culture is trying to facilitate thinking about these issues: of environmental catastrophe and economic and social inequalities. I say to that, bravo Russell, you’ve caught the consciousness of a lot of people – isn’t that after all, the ideal of political and avant-garde art? Isn’t that after all, the goal of what politicians aim for in garnering consent? It’s just a shame that there wasn’t really a message.

Perhaps more celebrities should follow Brand’s lead, especially the crazy haired ones.


Coda: I saw this earlier on in the week and laughed – I thought to myself: that’s the other Brand!

Congratulations Doctor Bateman

One reader of the blog (probably the only reader), Chris Bateman has managed to pass through his viva for his doctorate by publication. Bravo for the amazing accomplishment.

Bateman often mentions about being a philosopher/intellectual outside of the conventional establishment. I think that historically most of the more interesting philosophers had been out of the establishment, which owed much to the uniqueness of their thoughts. Schopenhauer for example, who was massively influential to Romantic and 20th century composers, was a Kantian of sorts, but also outside of the university establishment during his more creative periods. Nietzsche was never strictly a philosopher by the terms of his own time, but he was more in his profession and educational background, more akin to a classicist. Then of course there are the cliche examples of Descartes’ opposing his Jesuit educated Aristotelianism, the establishment mentality of his day; and of course Spinoza, who was exiled from various communities yet kept a community of correspondents which was extremely varied – from Boyle to Leibniz!

Sometimes we find interesting thoughts and profound in unusual places. I’ve recently read a couple of philosophical profiles of two distinctly non-establishment philosophers, Tommaso Campanella, and Bernardino Telesio. Both were empiricists in a time when Aristotelian and overly rationalist thinking was so ubiquitous that we might not have even thought such empiricism could exist as a movement when there are so few. There is a certain amount of boldness to have interesting thoughts outside of the establishment.


My amazement at Whatsapp

It’s been a year since I finally upgraded to a Smartphone. Despite appearances I am quite a late adopter for appliances I generally have. I quite like to use something until it is completely dead and then I’ll upgrade. That way my technology becomes quite rustic, like my laptop speakers or my mp3 player! That mp3 player has lasted a lot of theme park water rides and drenching and still survives.


I’ve found many of the apps to be really helpful in everyday life. Using Google Maps to find locations; using Evernote for basically everything; Foursquare to find potential places to go and keep little logs of my travels. I think however the most interesting app has been WhatsApp. What has life been like without it! I keep about a half dozen casual conversations, most of them non-serious.


When I was informed by the service that I had to subscribe to the service, I was kind of aware this point in time would happen, but then I found out the price of the subscription was ridiculously cheap. These days everything is overpriced and it is such a delight to find an app that I use a great deal which by no means breaks the bank! Thinking about how much I’m saving from the alternative of texting and picture messaging makes WhatsApp a really cool appliance. I had to admire the business model of it as well. Get one hooked and then put a minimal price. I also expect that many other users will subscribe, and that will be a very neat profit. I am pleasantly surprised and impressed at this neat little strategy for an app!


This is admittedly quite a frivolous post. I like Whatsapp for being frivolous. I keep a group chat with my friends from badminton, and then I also like to snap pictures of things I think are amusing like newspaper headlines or other such items to share with friends for a quick laugh. I am generally apprehensive about apps because sometimes they can be a convenience at a cost of being some form of inconvenience (for example: smartphones have a short battery life at the cost of being really useful).


Clever move, Whatsapp. Clever move.


Goodbye Google Reader

In my opinion I think there’s a direct relationship between the discovery of Google Reader and my emergence as a blogger through WordPress. I used Google Reader as a way of collating news, where before I would follow websites individually and constantly have lots of bookmarks.


As you might know. Google is shutting down Reader in a few months. I’m very sad. Google Reader is by no understatement, a big part of my life. I find out jobs through RSS feeds, I get podcasts, read news, philosophy blogs, find out about journal articles, watch videos and even follow comedy blogs like wtfpictureisunrelated. The centralisation of my internet browsing in a single place was a great innovation for me. I even made APIs to do things like link it to a mobile phone app, so that when I star a story it will be sent to my phone so I could read it on the train. I’m going to miss GReader and I’m not understating by saying it has been a big part of my modern life.


So now what shall I do? I have been reading a couple of ‘here are some alternatives’-type pieces. I might trial other RSS readers, I might separate my podcasts from blogs – get a podcatcher and then use another program for RSS reading. To be honest I feel kind of lost without GReader. That is the impact of a brand’s presence, and Google’s ubiquity. On the other hand I am not entitled to complain as Google Reader was basically a free service. I think the moral of GReader’s closure is that you really can have iconic brands and presence in the internet and social media age. Maybe one day people will be all hipster if they say: ‘I was around during Google Reader’ or ‘I was using it before it was cool’. One of the other things I didn’t realise is how so many other people use it in largely similar ways to me.


I just hope they don’t close down Evernote, then my life is seriously borked!


Rediscovering musicianship in 2013

I think its fair to say that its official. It’s only been a few rehearsals so far, but I am part of a group of musicians who are performing together. We are a group of about 4-6 friends (depending on who is available/venue/available instruments) and between us is a lot of friendship, love and passion for performing.

I think it becomes official that we are a committed group when my friend who hates playing the Cello announces to great shock: I think its time to bring this along to our playing sessions. I have been rediscovering my musicianship over the past couple of years, by regularly practicing piano again and performing last year to an audience. Rediscovering involves an inward reflection of finding what it was in my past that made me a musician and re-learning what I used to know.

Lately I have gone beyond rediscovery and I am going into new and uncharted territories. I have experience playing as a piano soloist, but I am now going into accompanist mode. I’ve been playing accompanist lately for a singer, a trumpeter and a saxophonist. I’ve attempted to go through a piano duet (Faure’s Bercuse from Dolly Suite) and I am exploring some pieces that I’d love to play in an ensemble context. However it seems that I have a lot of emphasis on Gabriel Faure’s repetoire. There is an odd thing that the music I listen to is vastly different to the music I perform, and the classical music that I tend to lean to is vastly different to the music I want to play.

As a performer I am strongly leaning to the Romantic and to a much lesser degree the classical and baroque period. However if I were to talk intellectually about music my interests lay in composers like Bach and Schoenberg. I arrogantly said this week that ‘Beethoven may be a brilliant composer but Bach is a genius’. There is an odd tension between my performing life and my intellectual and aesthete sensibilities. On the way to the rehearsal I had a lot of heavy metal playing on my mp3 player. I play a lot of indie and other various genres on my monthyl playlists and I am very wide about trying to find music that I want to discover and listen to, but when it comes to musicianship as a form of self expression – things like black metal, heavy metal or Schoenberg go to the wayside in favour of Debussy, Faure and ballad like pieces. I’m a contradiction: Romantic at heart, but modernist at mind.

I think there should be more to be said for this strange contradiction. I may explore my musical sensibilities in future posts, especially as my involvement as a musician has expanded greatly recently. What a joyous thing it is to be able to perform with friends! I’m also going to try and break out my clarinet in the next couple of months…


The farce of (Social) Class

The other day I was channel surfing to find the latest episode of some television show on my set top television box, and while browsing, I saw one of those inumerable television programmes where a television presenter is assisting a married couple to buy a home somewhere nice and rural.This made me painfully aware of class. Today in Britain we are living in multiple and often separated social-historical narratives. The Olympics have shown that determination can show that anything is possible, but the evening news shows there’s a lack of opportunity. The Paralympics showed that disabled people can demonstrate feats of amazing endurance, mental fotitude and physical ability, but have severely limited job prospects or financial stability to live independently, irrespective of their condition. If we believed in the narratives of the media and other social forces around us: the right qualifications, training and hard work can take you up the ladder; but the audience is always right and people who go ahead are those that ultimately we as a whole pick, like a talent show winner or the one who is most popular.

I see these as crass contradictions tearing apart the consistency of a culture. We are all familiar with some or all of these kinds of narratives, the thing is, we may accept some and not others, or we occupy a space in which some of those don’t apply. Culture is a mass, different worlds occupying different spaces, these spaces are ideas and ideologies. Living in multiple social bubbles suggests a sense of separation from others, which can happen but we also can come across in our workplaces and other social spaces those of difference. This painfully aggrivates that there is a notion of class at play.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the ways in which some psychologists and to another extent, some philosophers have pointed out the roles of cognitive bias as a way of affecting our decision making. There has been helpful highlighting of gendered prejudices against women through the research on Implicit bias led by a few philosophers (Saul, Stitch inter alia) which shows how cultural prejudices come into play in our decisions and beliefs. There’s recently a word that has come into awareness of how men in academia behave in a patronising way to women, presuming the former’s correctness, its’ called ‘mansplaining’.

Until maybe about a year ago, the notion of priviledge was something I never considered. There seems to be this discord that I can’t quite put my finger on, about how people these days speak of equality because they fail to accept that in some fundamental sense, it is unthinkable to accept that the reality is a tyranny, a tyranny of politeness and affable discrimination. It’s not the kind that is obvious in everyday face-to-face, but its the kind that is shown by statistics when we look at gender and ethnic representation in senior management. Its the kind we see through bivariate and multivariate analysis of factors like income bracket or what kind of degree a person has. There’s something deeply wrong and uncomfortable about the narratives we play by where people speak of ideals and values but how they act and how social facts do not accord with that reeks.

One of the recent cultural jokes in the country is how the Chancellor of the Exchequer highlighting the importance of changing government spending uttered a phrase  which suggests that class has a real presence in Britain today, and the doublespeak involved with our discourse on aspiration and equality. The phrase uttered was ‘we’re all in this together’, which was interpreted by many as a farcical notion that there is little confidence in the Government because some are better off than others. It was even used as an ironic slogan in a tube advert a few months back.

I’ve presented a meandering of thoughts, a musing, hardly a systematic presentation of thoughts. I normally leave that to Michael and Antisophie to be more organised with writing things. There is something that smells and it lingers in British society. Something that seems deeply inconsistent, highlighting rhetoric against reality. The reality becomes obscured if it is indistinguishable from such rhetoric, and I am beginning to find reality difficult to identify with so many differing constructed social messages. Something seems deeply wrong with the notion of class. I haven’t even touched upon cultural capital. But I’ve pondered enough for now.


Valuing the Humanities: a panel discussion

Yesterday I went to see a panel discussion at the London School of Economics under the auspices of the Forum for European Philosophy. There was a fairly varied panel present. Martin Rees, a person with a great many titles: Astronomer Royal, President of the Royal Society, Lord of Ludlow, Master of Trinity College Cambridge and of course, a professor in Astrophysics. An unusual choice was a Richard Smith, known as a one time editor of the British Medical Journal and by his own testimony holds a passionate appreciation of literature, philosophy and poetry. The other ‘humanist’ panel were Prof. Martha Nussbaum, who is well known for her work in international social issues such as gender relations in India and her recent work seems to involve some familiarity with south-east Asia. Finally and by no means least was a certain Professor James Ladyman, a philosopher of science who has also been known in broadsheet media as a stern critic of the managerial style of academia since well before the annoucement of the Browne Report.

Some interesting points were made, some of which give a lot of historical and cultural context which is often forgotten by the knee-jerk and short-termist politics and journalism of the present day.

Democracy and the humanities

Nussbaum made the point that the humanities have a vital role in well functioning democracies. The humanities have an important role even outside democratic countries. Nussbaum gives the example of China, Singappore and India, which has invested much into their technical and vocational institutions which provide professional qualifications. These countries, according to Nussbaum, have realised the worth of humanism and the skills that come from learning about the humanities and have introduced courses as a crucial component to vocational/professional training. These skills are important to the corporate world in the understanding of other people and how one might deal with different personalities or castes.

How to make an appeal

A case should be made for the intrinsic value of the humanities, but in the discourse of public reason, it is important to appeal to a terminology and set of factors that politicians and the public would be appealed by, which would involve an instrumental form of reasoning. As such, many academics have to subordinate or submit to the logic of capital in how funding is allocated. This means that if one is to concede to academic funding and the mechanisms which organise it, certain key factors are hindered, such as freedom of the pen, and allowing the authority of the management-style administration of the university.

Professor Ladyman noted about the absurdity of the management reasoning, in one meeting he noted that the university authorities proposed that they had to do something to ‘invigorate’ the economy, or how important philosophy is in fighting extremism, for instance, with tackling movements like intelligent design proponents. Ladyman pointed the absurdity in this: while he is being asked how to tackle extremism as an academic, Bristol City Council has cut a scheme to teach english to Somali immigrants: one of the most vulnerable groups in the community. Ladyman makes the important point that the agenda imposed by HEFCE of ‘impact’ for ‘good research’ is absurd. The standards of excellent scholarship are internal to the subject of study. Also, the ‘impact’ of an intellectual development is hardly known immediately. Ladyman cited a great many examples:

  • G.H. Hardy, author of ‘Pure Mathematics’ once said that ‘Quantum Mechanics and Relativity’ have no relevance during his contemporamous early 20thC. Now, think about superconductivity, or the GPS technology. Consider the potential impacts of quantum computing. Impact isn’t the implicit reason why good research comes about, sometimes it is just about knowing more about a specific subject.
  • Bertrand Russell’s theory of descriptions and work on logic and foundations of mathematics became the staples of further mathematical logic, and spruned on developments in artificial languages and essentially foundational issues in computer science.
  • Philosophers who during the Enlightenment talked of the fundamental political values of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ led to the intellectual emergence of the founding of the United States, as well as the liberal democracy around Europe. Consider the ‘impact’ of a certain Second Treatise of Government

The case of the sciences

Lord Rees came from a completely different background to talk about the humanities, but unusually for a panel discussion (especially one which would involve philosophers), there was widespread agreement about the value of the humanities, but practically speaking, it had to take until the motion of increased tuition fees was passed before any reactionary talk happened.

Consider by contrast the ‘Science is Vital’ campaign, which launched well before the Browne report came out. The Science is Vital campaign anticipated that there would be a threat to cuts and many figures rallied for the cause, such as Guardian’s ‘Bad Science’ Columnist Ben Goldacre, one-time ‘Belle de Jour’ blogger Brooke Magnanti and Richard Dawkins. There was not such a co-ordinated effort for the humanities. An open question was asked: Why is this? The suggestion made by a few audience members was because the humanities are not a unified body. You will have philosophers who often define themselves as ‘analytic’ and deriding ‘continental’ philosophers (I’m guilty of engaging in this line of thought), and social-theory leaning intellectuals in the arts who are so much talk and not enough action. The lack of action and a co-ordinated political effort is a testimony of the challenges that the Humanities face in creating a decent campaign.

It is up to the unusual suspects to speak up for the humanities. A certain Astronomer Royal, for instance, or medical scientists like Richard Smith who emphasise the importance of humanism in health. Richard Smith spoke of how inappropriate it is to train people to be doctors from the age of 18 where they have little life experience or humanistic education. In the US, for comparison, medics have to complete a liberal arts education before technical training.

Context over the short term

The issue of the government deficit is in a sense a distraction. The Humanities were at risk long before the Lehman Brothers’ crash. The Humanities were under threat from within and without. The decision to increase tuition fees will be implimented in a few years, a time where there may or may not still be an economic crisis. This decision is made on a reasoning of short-termism but its impact is long term. It is not exclusively the blame of the present coalition government, as the state of the education system has faced challenges and decisions made by the conservative and labour government s of the past three decades. Students, who are 18-21 years old are the least to have such a grasp of historical context. Its important to know of the past struggles and campaigns for higher education over the past few decades.

The panel discussion ended with an amusing quip by chair Mark Lawson (famous for his broadcasting on Radio 4) who said: I have to go and interview Ronnie Corbett now. An interesting juxtaposition to end a discussion titled ‘valuing the humanities’.


Haiti reaction: observations

I thought i would write a bit about some things I have observed following the recent natural disaster in Haiti.

1. Social media funding campaigns. Many of my favourite twitter celebrities have been promoting various disaster funds in light of the event at Haiti. I’ve also noticed a new item called a ‘Haiti drum’ on a facebook game I have been playing. It seems that the mechanisms for getting funding are so diverse as to call for an appeal from all groups. Even the godless JREF and Humanists are raising special funds.

2. It is almost cliche to not this, but there has been a renewed lot of articles that basically appeals back to the old philosophical problem of evil. Namely, why would God allow disaster to happen. This seems, whether for a believer or not; a very poignant issue. I was having a conversation with an atheist lately in bringing up this issue which was far from unfamiliar to the both of us. We asked the question in a different way: does suffering serve a higher purpose or end?

Perhaps we may make positives from our experiences of calamity and make better persons of ourselves from it. But maybe they are just absurd. Maybe they have no moral standing at all and suffering is completely irrelevant to our agency, or our moral and psychological development. For someone like myself, it seems a consolation to make a phenomenon like natural disaster subsue into some greater end or telos. If there were not one, it seems almost question-begging in some way.

This natural disaster seems to evoke something very fundamental in many people. That being, sympathy as an aspect of moral character. From the atheists to celebrities; many have taken to this Haitian disaster.

3. Another point I wish to bring up is that I read Naomi Klien’s book on disaster capitalism with some closeness to the event when the earthquake happened, and I do not have much doubt that Klien’s ‘disaster capitalism’ thesis is correct. It would be interesting for the sake of scientific hypothesis confirmation to see what political and financial infrastructure is placed in Haiti.

4. Perhaps one thing people might think is: where is Haiti? I’ve been following Haitian news stories for the past two years, and always commented that they have been ignored by the international community with regard to their political and social instability. A lot of citizen journalism comes out on alternative media sources that show vigilante violence in the area and one hopes that attention to the country will bring a change to the overall instability of the country.