The sweet life of social media (On modern Authenticity)

Lately I have found, in addition to using notebooks to express myself, I have found that words aren’t my preferred medium of expression right now. I don’t particularly have any deep thoughts about Kant or philosophy or culture but that is far from saying I’m not engaged in mental matters.. I’ve lately been really interested in Khanacademy’s maths courses and I am doing a few coding and API pet projects. Some of which I am interested in seeing the consequences or implications/applications of. I guess you can say I’m just tinkering a lot lately.

 

I’ve said in the past that I’m not a fan of social media, or I try to understand the new platforms around but not indulge in them so much. The blog is soo 2000s, and it reminds me a little bit of Barney Stinson’s character who used to say ‘haven’t you read my blog?’. Interestingly as the show How I Met Your Mother moved away from the 2000s, that recurring gag had less usage. Blogging is as established (and thus passe) as Facebook was once edgy and for cool insiders. I also have less and less time to blog anything particularly interesting, or anything I’m willing to air as an interesting thought.

I used to believe that platforms like twitter and tumblr were facile means of self expression to communicate things of very little depth. I still think that to a large extent. However I am tweeting a bit more and instagramming prolifically despite it. Perhaps this is my ‘kool aid moment’, or (to mix the metaphors) – joining the crowd cos I can’t beat ’em.

I try to communicate myself through instagram and twitter by capturing aspects of my life or things I am interested in or things that just capture what life is like in the present moment. For example, I share my interest in the comedic actor Matt Berry with an occaisional #mattberry accompanying a silly picture of his. I am cautious of the way that media platforms put forward a selective or aspirational version of self, which I consider a bit cynical or inauthentic. The way that I like to post things on instagram are to show things in the real world that I find funny. An example of this was that I was in a department store this week and I saw a brand of condoms which had a picture of a chicken (cock) with a helmet on, the allusion to protecting one’s cock being obvious. I also sometimes like to capture things that I see in my local community. Adverts for missing kittens is commonplace, another thing I sometimes capture is if I see a lot of cans of alcohol on a street corner, which I feel has an emotive impact on nearby residents about the state of the area they live in.

There are other things that I like to capture just as repeating motifs, I like to capture pictures of cows whenever I see it, which is an affectionate joke with a friend of mine. I like to take pictures of whenever I have some of my favourite foods or watch my favourite films. I’ve found that when I tweet or post something on facebook that I see people having different perceptions of me. I am portrayed as a unified individual to all people through twitter or IG, because anyone with internet connections can see who I am on those platforms. However the things that people may like or dislike on them reflect their perspectives of who I am. To illustrate, I find that a certain clique of my friends (intellectual liberal types) often ‘like’ whenever I post an article on some political topic that has their overarching point of view, while another group of friends really like when I post pictures of cats and/or yetis. The people that I follow and like to follow on social media reflect who I am as a person and my ‘brand identity’ – I am seemingly a cliched Guardian reader but I also like The Spectator and New Statesman; I like following fitness inspiration and body-positive people. I also really like following some of my former teachers and lecturers to see what kind of work they are doing. I am also a fan of Pusheen the Cat, who brings joy and happiness to all.

There is an odd kind of personhood and extension of mind that goes on with this odd social life. In meatspace it is expressed by a person constantly with their face to a phone screen, which I must unfortunately say is ubiquitous in today’s age. I’m not sure if I’m possibly portraying myself as more intereesting than I really am in social media. My aim through my blogging and instagramming is to show that I am in fact, very dull and boring in what I post and am interested in. That would be a very odd criterion of success, but a signifier of my actual social experience.Maybe I should post pictures of me playing about on my phone, which would acccurately depict my life through a mirror.

In praise of the Notebook

I can’t remember who said it, but it was said that the notebook is a wasteland of the mind.

 

I’ve not been posting lately. I had found that I have less and less that was interesting to say. Then I discovered the notebook.I have 3 different kinds of notebook. The ‘prized possession’ notebook is a nice fancy leather-bound thing of beauty where its dog ears are affectionate and the words meaningful. I keep minutes of meetings I go to, and notes from when I am at a discussion group. I also keep a few cuttings from magazines of things that I deem worthy – such as when something of mine gets published on print, which happened a fair bit last year.

 

My other kind of notebook is the newspaper and magazine, flyers and receipts cut out collage. I find anything of the printed word in a physical form (physical defined by ‘can be glued by pritt stick’), and I put things together. Often political messages or things that define the zeitgeist of our day. For example, one thing that I’ve found interesting to keep an eye on is the current borders of control of what we call Ukraine, which seems to change weekly, that would be something very interesting to keep a printed version of to show its change. Like the ‘prized possession’ book, I have some collage notebooks which are very pretty and I am proud of, and then others which are more an experimentation of this collage-newspaper-cutting technique that I am playing with.

 

The final kind of notebook is a true toilet of my mind. I have a few lined books which I use to keep anything that’s on my head in. I keep things like a shopping list; things I need to do to keep the house tidy; maths working out from Khanacademy; playing with maths ideas to try and understand them in my head; playing with logic ideas; pseudocode ideas; doodles of me as an abominable snowman/yeti in various situations (usually sleeping) and sometimes, philosophical analysis.

 

I’ve found a certain kind of freedom of thought to using my notebook. I’ve thought about a lot of philosophical topics that I am hardly an expert on and played with some ideas, such as ‘game’ strategies (one of which is ‘when should I board the train in rush hour’? and ‘how do I decide what to wear during seasonal weather?’). The notebook is my naked thinking, warts and all, not fit for a reading public or an understanding public, and has been my main form of communicating my ideas lately. As such, I have not much to blog about lately. Or better to say, nothing I want to put on this blog.

 

 

What I’ve been up to (Nov 2014)

So I haven’t blogged much lately.

Life’s been busy. I’ve been active in a non-philosophical capacity of late. Simultaneously, I have been involved in some really engaging discussions at the Philosophy Club. The last discussion was on Freewill and the one before it asked: ‘are there things that you believe which you have no proof for?’

I have also been involved (minimally) with a Kant reading Group based in London Metropolitan University led by one Dr. Adam Beck – reading the Third Critique.

I’ve also been busy with interviews and moderately occupied with work.

As such the content of my blogging during this coming period of months will probably be less about philosophy simpliciter as I’ve not much attention to do quality philosophising.

Which individual do they remember?

Hitchens, in an address of the notion of death, appeals to Shakespeare’s ‘seven ages of man’ notion. Throughout our life, we have transitions to different kinds of people. The person we were as a child may be unrecognisable to our selves of today. We are always going through different phases of life, and as one new phase begins, another dies. In that sense, many people have died many times over before our ultimate demise. Why is the physical death so ultimate and conclusive when we have died many times before? So the thought goes…

We have a habit of immortalising a single kind of person when an individual dies. Although we acknowledge their growth and change, we alays remember them in some singular, unitary kind of way. Michael Jackson escaped his negative press by his death, and became remembered for his career highs. Some, by contrast, will always be remembered for their death. This year, the actor David Carradine had died, few people remember him for his circumstances of his death (autoerotic asphyxiation), but more toward whatever production they remember him most fondly. Kill Bill, for example, or Kung Fu.

Sometimes people can be remembered as their youthful selves, perhaps those to whom it would benefit seeing them as the eternal young. Others, by contrast, may be seen in a moer sagely light as the elder. I recall a discussion about which picture of Brahms one should remember. While Brahms is most often remembered as the mature, bearded man; his career the highlights of his career span throughout his younger years as well. When we consider David Hume, we imagine his empiricist philosophy, and the man sporting a turban. It was a twenty-three year old Hume, however, who had written his Magnum Opus, the Treatise on Human Nature. Why should we not remember Hume in his glorious youth and at his most intellectually fierce.

The person we remember may tell us something of when we may talk of the ‘peak’ of their career. For many composers, we remember them for great works of music but ignore the horrid circumstances of their twilight years. Stephen Foster, composer of great American Folk tunes like Beautiful Dreamer died penilless. It may be seen as an appeal to remember those who had died young, considering how much more they could have done in their lives. The likes of Kurt Cobain, Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin may have been saved of a life of mediocrity. There are many who age well, some who died agelessly young, and those who, by manner of their own poor dispositions, age terribly. Ironically, it is those who try to hark back to a past self.

Michael

Education Today

I’ve been pondering about making some posts about the recent changes in UK education, but I think I shall give pass that over for the time being. There seems to be a change in the landscape regarding education.

Let us go into the current situation to set out the ideologue:

1. The standards of post-16 qualification, AGCE’s (‘A’ levels), are being undermined by the increased numbers of pupils getting A grades.
2. The standards of ‘A’ levels are being undermined by the percieved lowered standards, and the teaching methods that undermine independence in favour of memorising a syllabus and learning to answer exams in the fashion that they know it will be asked. In other words, there is less surprise, or test of skill and creativity in exams and more strategy involved.
3. Universities have for a long time been concerned with funding deficits: this is due to a whole variety of factors, some are general  and some are specific to the university and their research culture.
4. For the past few decades, many have pointed out the ‘professionalisation’ of academia; this includes the many buzzwords like ‘business model’, ‘schoolification’, interdisciplinary network initiatives, public engagement, ‘research’ and so on. While some aspects of the contemporary academy are positive (increased contact with the public; commissions for documentaries and television series and other wider media), there are some aspects in which academia has lost something of a better past.

i. The ‘lone-scholar’ archetype: academia, particularly the arts and humanities, used to be less ‘research’ based and less interdisciplinary, but engaged with more hard hitting and in-depth systematic studies, this is not to say that this kind of study does not occur, but is becoming more epheemeral in departments and less the norm.

ii. The ‘old’ notion of interdisciplinarity. Interdisciplinarity is inherently a weak idea; it is like, how, I consider the concept of someone calling themselves eclectic: Jack of all trades, master of none. There used to be a time when people were masters of many things. Physicists like Descartes and Newton have particular resonances to many fields beyond physics because of the way in which their philosophical thinking engaged and melded with their mathematics and natural philosophy.

Few physicists from the mid-20th Century really know much about philosophy beyond basic philosophy of science (or skeptics 101, if one were to be American about the whole thing). A similar thing should be said of philosophers today; many, excepting those few on the real cutting edge of philosophy of psychology and mathematics, are not themselves scientists or mathematicians. Interdisciplinarity is a response in a way, to the death of the polymath, and the increasingly ‘professsional’ status of academia. In a sense, a certain kind of concession should be made to the ‘dryness’ objection of the continental philosopher to analytic philosophy today.

I’ve a bit of time before I can elicit some more responses in terms of the underlying political responses. For now I shall just sketch out the landscape

Sinistre

This week in radio

Over the past 6-7 days, I’ve found that there has been a quite spectacular selection of radio programmes available for podcast, here are the highlights

1. In Our Time, BBC: The Logical Positivists.

In Our Time is always a staple favourite for its broad yet expertly chosen topics.Melvyn Bragg always expresses some reservations on air when doing a programme about philosophy, especially when it comes to the more technical, inaccessible and unfriendly issues. This issue was one of the best in the whole programme. The Logical positivists were one of the most important movements in philosophy, particularly in how they have shaped the contemporary landscape of philosophy. Barry Stocker and Mary Carwright were the expert commentators, particularly notable ones at that.

Something that Bragg insinuated but did not explicate very much was the fact that the three experts come from very different camps and perspectives. The Logical Positivists can be a divisive issue in philosophy. It is continental philosophy par excellence, and yet, the Vienna (and earlier Berliner philosophers for that matter) are ignored the most by ‘european tradition’ ( as opposed to the anglo-american analytic) philosophy. The Logical Positivists do not talk much about normative philosophy in the way that applied ethicists or contemporary social thinkers do, but have a somewhat nuanced relationship with value theory (viz, the trajectory of Error Theory or Emotivism).

Even my own interest in 18thC philosophy puts me in a postion where I must stand in relation to the the Vienna philosophers: am I to accept their critique of Kant, for instance? What was rightly noted in the programme is that this is not a very simple question: the vienna philosophers were not an intellectually homogeneous group; as they composed of members from different disciplines and focii. Schlick was one of the first philosophers who actually understood the modern physics of Einstein with much rigor. Neurath was a sociologist who had aspirations for the social status the academy as part of a social ideal of academics of all stripes working together, a notion which, though perhaps desired and desirable, is so very far from the truth.

A lot of Scholarship is dedicted towas the early history and origins of analytic philosophy. I’ve found it particularly interesting in the increase of interest that links Carnap to Kant (Friedman, Chigwell). The vienna philosophers were living in both wonderful and horrific times. Einstein was a mature physicist and the icon of the generation, but also, Austria and Modern Germany were under the Nationalist-Socialist reign.

Their further reading looks particularly nice


2. BBC Analysis: Thought Experiments

Various studies have demonstrated that by slightly different appraisals or wordings of questions concerning moral considerations,we exhibit different reactions or responses. Theres a moral significance to these studies, particularly concerning issues like whether we attribute intention to actions, responsibility,or how our actions line up with our propositional beliefs.

A lot more needs to be said of this issue. The standpoint of the anti- x-phi’s goes something like this (and I suppose this would be my view): so we have these studies that give us insights that go against our normal moral theories and insights. That’s fine, what else can you tell us? Interesting it may be, although the armchair-burning gesturing is quite purposefully and unnecessarily polemical. As if to say all philosophy except theirs is ‘armchair theory’. While philosophy does not normally rely on empirical measues, it is far from being pie in the sky idea-mongering, the sort of associations had with those having pot-fuelled thoughts on the world. That said, the current generation of philosophy often has an eye towards work that has instant gratification or generating departments which are “paper-mills”. The old focus of exegesis, comprehensiveness and the labours of criticism are not as strong as they used to be. The studies, in terms of social science methodology are quite interesting nontheless.

3. The Spirit of Grunge (BBC Radio 4)

This program marks 15 years (I think) of when Kurt Cobain had killed himself. This was a survey of Grunge and in particular, its place in mainstream UK youth culture. In the UK’s pop music history, the late 80s began to grow tired of the new wave optimism and hit factories which hardly met the aspirations and pessimism of Thatherite 1980s. The emerence of acid hose and fusion groups like the Stone Roses exploded and disappeared from the scene just as quickly. Along comes grunge.

Grunge, according to the journalists of the programme, captured something in the social consciousness. It’s lo-fi and authentic roots could no longer be sustained as the genuine grunge movement became a victim of its own success, most signficantly marked by Cobain’s death. I think it was really nicely captured when one of the commentators described it thus: the outsider music genre becomes popular. The jocks begin to listen music that the bullied nerds and loners had made, and in that respect, the genre could no longer be viable.

Some other subthemes include: inauthentic grunge and authentic grunge: Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Smashing Pumpkins should hardly be considered to be grunge: Pearl Jam was a rock and roll band which had a twist, Smashing Pumpkins had more prog-elements to it. Also noted was how hugely unlikely Cobain’s success was: a boy from a broken family, living at one point in a trailer park in an area of great poverty and substance abuse. Popularity normally has a clean and friendly face and it was unlikely to be his.  The tragedy of grunge was in how the alternative becomes mainstream and commercial.

This narrative often is to be had: music which starts out as par of the fringe, polemical, challenging and ideologically opposed to the mainstream becomes homogenised and neutralised. ‘Nirvana’ is no longer a symbol of grunge, but a shirt in HMV that costs £13.99. It’s for that reason that I think its uncool to say that one likes Nirvana.

The potted history of UK music follows grunge with a reaction against it: britpop, locally made, self-indulgent, singer-artist archtypal and less ideological. Oasis is noted as a band which embraces its own success, with songs purposefully trying to be anthems, trying to be legendary, trying to appease for the masses.

Michael