Category Archives: Philosophy

Light the blue touch paper 2016

cartwheel2016 has brought us Brexit and President elect Trump and a feeling that the wheel of fortune is turning; the world is changing. Already the Infosphere* is awash with explanations, ideas and remedies for these perceived disasters. I say perceived because we don’t yet know the actual trajectory events will take and where we will end up as a result of these votes. An energy of discontent and disillusionment has been building not just since the Bankers plunged the world into turmoil in 2008 but since the philosophy (if one can call it that) of an unrestrained free market capitalism skewed in favour of the rich took hold. The stored potential energy for change that has been building in the system discharged in 2016, converted into the kinetic energy of motion. The ball has started bouncing. Eventually it will run out of energy but the question is what will have happened in the interim?

So we wait like small children on bonfire night full of anticipation and trepidation as the blue touch paper slowly ignites. Hope and fear curling round each other in a finely balanced state of gleeful apprehension. Will the rocket take off and reward us with a glittering spectacle or will it topple over and screech across the garden sending us shrieking and running for safety (and kind of enjoying the danger and excitement of this out of control moment).

Like everyone else who takes even a passing interest in the affairs of the world quite a lot of articles about the how and why of Trump’s victory. I’ve listed a few at the bottom of this blog if anyone wants to go and check them out. I found there to be thoughtful and insightful analysis both from those on the left and right of the political spectrum about the events of 2016. The more I read, however, the more I realised that in my opinion they all missed one small but vital point. The ability of humans to tell stories. Each of these articles represent one person’s story about the events. We make stories because that is how we make sense of the world.

Humans are compulsive story tellers. It is our greatest strength and also our greatest weakness. I think that is the single most important genetic quirk that set us on the path to being different. My dog, clever and sagacious as he is, does not come home from his wander round the village and regale me with the story of his morning. We have been doing it for countless millennia. Our ability to tell stories is inseparably linked to the asking of questions like ‘what if’ and ‘why not’? Science is at its root the story of ‘what if’ questions and history well the name tells us what that is. We make our own individual story as we go through life, we map the world and experience into narrative and we speculate about the future through what if and why. So it is no surprise that all these commentators tell their story. Each of us has a story about 2016. Why we voted or didn’t vote, who we voted for, what we had for breakfast that day, the row with our neighbour over the dustbin, the happy feeling from someone complimenting us etc., etc. Gradually this narrative will solidify and become the history of 2016.

At the moment we’re all trying to guess what will happen and there are some scary scenarios that ty-newydd-etc-118acould well come to pass and justify any amount of anxiety. We are all ‘What iffing’ like mad. The future is uncertain because it is unknown and unknowable but that has always been the case – modern life merely gives us an illusion of security. We know this in our subconscious but our conscious mind wants a plan, wants a map through uncertain geographies. So we ‘normalise’ and therein lies our biggest threat to our species. We try to explain away or rationalise but with some things we mustn’t do that. It happened with fascism in the thirties and ended up in the second world war. We do not live in the thirties the challenges the world faces are very different and though the name fascist is applied to many on the far right this is not fascism as practised by Hitler or Mussolini or Franco. This is something different, less definite. It is born out of a system that is collapsing round our ears.

This desire to rationalise away the uncomfortable is why nothing will be done about the over exploitation of resources until disaster has occurred. Why people hope Trump will turn out to be a reasonable and enlightened President. Why Boris Johnson can say if we don’t sell arms to the Saudis someone else will. Why the Sun, Daily Mail and Express voice ever more vile sentiments about immigration and about the rule of law while politicians make feeble comments about the freedom of the press. It is why the far right deftly use the Overton principle to move humanity along the conveyor belt to the shredder.

ty-newydd-etc-120aOne of the constant questions I hear from my friends and kindred spirits is ‘how could the left have lost the hearts and minds of the dispossessed and disadvantaged to the point where they would support the very people and system that has brought them such misery. My answer? The story told by the left was complicated confusing and boring. Like one of those books where you have to keep going back to check who is who because the plot is unclear. The right on the other hand tell a rattling yarn.’Once upon a time our country was great…’ and so on and people remember the story. Well now we have to invent o new story. One that doesn’t normalise the worst aspects of the human psyche. One that celebrates co-operation and compassion as values to be cherished. Not politics not left or right but just people getting along and living together on a very small planet.

Fears discussed and addressed dissipate like mist when the sun breaks through. Fears closeted and suppressed canker and grow and are fed by those with their own agenda. Brexit happens, Trump happens Shit happens, etc., etc. We need to talk to each other. To admit that we all have a shadow line inside us even though we don’t like to admit it. It is there, those knee jerk reactions, the synaptic pathways laid down in our brains by repeated use. We need to make an effort not to normalise. To stand up against injustice even in the small everyday compass of our lives. Be open, be friendly why not? When a system is collapsing all bets are off and there is a chance this could lead to a much better future for humanity. There is a chance it could lead to another dark era for humanity. No sleepwalking allowed in interesting times otherwise in the words of Tom Leherer

“And we will all go together when we go.
What a comforting fact that is to know.
Universal bereavement,
An inspiring achievement,
Yes, we all will go together when we go.”

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

*Infosphere = the place where all communication happens – whether media, social media or just talking to each other.

These are some articles that resonated with me so no surprises that they are from the liberal left wing area of the Infosphere. There are several from the Guardian which these days is a toothless old dog but one of the few bits of the mainstream media that I still read.

http://charleseisenstein.net/hategriefandanewstory/

http://theconversation.com/trump-victory-comes-with-a-silver-lining-for-the-worlds-progressives-68523 (Yanis Varoufakis)

http://paulkingsnorth.net/2016/11/07/the-revolutionary-moment/

https://agentofhistory.com/ send your love to Donald Trump

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/commentisfree

Aditya Chakrabortty – Rust-belt romantics don’t get it: the middle class is being wiped out too

Owen Jones – A win for Trump was a win for bigotry. Here’s how we resist him

George Monbiot –Neoliberalism: the deep story that lies beneath Donald Trump’s triumph

Jaqueline Rose – Donald Trump’s victory is a disaster for modern masculinity

Suzanne Moore – So much has been broken by this election, but we can’t collapse in on ourselves

 

Making and Becoming Part II

More musings on the interaction and interplay between the ideas represented by ‘making’ abstract-landscapeand ‘becoming’ led to an emergence of some unexpected connections in my mental universe.

Making and Becoming are words and as such are metaphors which we use to communicate. Each of us will share some meaning in common but I doubt whether any two people have exactly the same nuances and harmonics of reference attached to these labels. That is of course what makes it so interesting. It is why creative pieces, whether visual or aural take on a life of their own once their enabler/maker has let go of them.

My travels took me through the landscape of ideas represented by Democracy, Duality, Mysticism, Newton’s Third Law, Reality, Quantum Reality and Wittengenstein’s proposition that “the limits of my language are the limits of my world” which is to say that the Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao. 

knowledge leaves 1That is probably where I should stop though like Lao Tsu I am going to go on using words but, hopefully, rather less than 5,000 of them. Ideas can be represented non-verbally in music, dance, sculpture or painting, Chagall was a consummate exponent of visual story telling, but words are necessary tools if often imprecise ones. So bear with me while I ramble on attempting to share what to me at least was an interesting journey of exploration.

So my last blog ended with the thought that many of the problems the world faces arise from too much making and not enough becoming. I was really considering the idea of making as a conscious act of will and becoming as the opposite process of emergence. Slower and less deliberate; the contrast between the yang energy of making and the yin energy of becoming.

So this led me Newton’s third law which states ‘When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.’ Or ‘for every action there is and equal and opposite reaction’.

Applying this to the ideas of making and becoming led me a bit further into wondering about its application to the abstract rather than the physical. For every idea there is an equal and opposite idea. This prompted some interesting speculation about modern-day politics with its oppositional right-wing and left-wing ideologies and I need to explore that in another blog or I will outdo Lao Tsu and spend 10,000 words before I finish. So back to making and becoming. Is it that one necessarily begets the other because they are the two forces needed in the creative process? I would say the opposing force to making is destroying and I think that would hold up in most people’s judgement. So I was left with asking what is becoming? What do I mean when I talk about this idea? I came to the conclusion that Becoming is a process that finds itself, it emerges. It occupies the still space and it is of itself and the centre. So as an artist or writer perhaps we should concentrate les son the making aspect of what we do and more on being enablers. Letting the work emerge as a result of the creative process flow through us. It is where I started from in thinking about making and becoming. The most rewarding part of  being creative is the process. That is what illuminates the mind and spirit and energizes the body. The book,the poem, the picture, the song are the by-product of this alchemy. perhaps we need to apply this way of thinking to the whole way we live as a society? 

Quantum worlds provide a very different experience and reality is simply what we observe (the double slit experiment) or what our brain produces from energy fields. So reality is subjective not objective. I am but equally and oppositely I am not. I use words to attempt to communicate idea/concept/understanding as perceived in my subjective reality. So Words are metaphors. Art and music are metaphors. My creation is altered by your observation and response to it. It becomes something new in your reality. That is change and the process of change the dance of life and entropy. Metaphor is metaphor; life is metaphor and the secret at the heart of the Tao is that there is no secret.

I didn’t discover any answers just more questions and possible paths to explore. The pursuit of understanding would be no fun if it could be answered as easily as ‘do you want a cup of tea’? On second thoughts that prompts a whole new set of speculations and is not as straightforward as it might appear at first sight.

Making and Becoming

My last post was about going to Carnac as relief from the general feeling of doom and gloom that was pervading our household over the current state of the world and where it seemed to be taking 2016-10-08-12-40-22us. I didn’t mention that while eating our picnic near one of the sets of alignments I spotted an interestingly shaped bit of wood lying on the ground.  Both David and I were the sort of children who collected interesting things (feathers, stones, bits of bone, wood etc) neither of us have out grown the habit and with his 2016-10-08-12-40-09enthusiastic endorsement of it as ‘that’s fantastic looks like waves’. I tucked it under my arm and brought it home.

I photographed it on the tarmac outside the house when I got back so that I’d have a record of it in the state in which I found it. The piece of wood was pretty dirty and definitely not far off crumbling completely.

Found Art is one of my enthusiasms but ‘Found’ is one thing usually the ‘Art’ requires a little more effort. So I set to work cleaning, treating, sanding, oiling, polishing. A continuation of my Antidote to Doom and Gloom. The physical act of working on a piece of art is wonderfully absorbing. To begin with I had to pay close attention because it was extremely fragile and the last thing I wanted was for it to break into pieces but by the time it reached the stage of beeswax and polishing it had achieved its final form and the whole process became a meditation. Sitting in the October sun rubbing a piece of cloth backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards slowly bringing out the colours and the patina. While I was doing this I found myself pondering about the idea of making and the idea of becoming (in the sense of beginning to be). Making contains both the meaning of process of creating and the essential qualities needed for something. Michelangelo’s statement that ‘Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the sculptor’s task to discover it’ encompasses both meanings. But in the found art piece it seemed to me the wood itself played an active part. It transformed and emerged and the finished piece had its own identity. It Became. 

The ‘finished’ piece, and I use finished only in the sense that I stopped working on it, has its own definite character and energy. My hands picking at a bit here, sanding off a rough bit there and polishing it for hours merely allowed this creature to be caught in the moment of its transformation from one thing to another. Certainly not the waves we both saw when I picked up the bit of wood but an ancient and powerful beast. 

It seems to me that making and becoming are inseparable not just in the artistic process but in everything. If we make something without allowing it also to emerge than we have a flawed end result. Maybe that is most of what is wrong with the world at the moment too much making and not enough becoming.

Footnote to self – drink cider after and not before proof reading your article that way you won’t have the embarrasment of re-editing after you’ve posted.

Whispering in a hurricane

I haven’t been very active on my blog – nothing since August. Over the past few months from time to time I’ve been tempted to put finger to keyboard and post in response to the various events that have spiked above the median level of my disaffection with the current state of our so called democratic society and it’s drift towards Inverted Totalitarianism. (The name coined by by Sheldon Wolin to describe the place to where it seems we are unerringly headed. A place where you absolutely do not want to be – a dystopian future that promises to combine the worst of 1984 and Brave New World.)

I haven’t been short of material. The refugee crisis and Britain’s disgusting response. The misinformation and sniping that accompanied Corbyn’s unexpected victory in the Labour party leadership contest. Nuclear deals with China, TTIP and other madness. Our purblind response to the accelerating degradation of the planet and its natural resources. The yet more austerity imposed on us by Cameron and Osborne, men who readily understand that The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.”*

But each time I’ve sat down I’ve been overcome by the vision that all I’m doing is whispering in a hurricane. After all what can I add that others have not already said much better and more persuasively. Whose reach and audience is so much greater than mine. And I’ve deleted my words and posted a picture of a cat playing the piano on FB instead. I’d almost come to think that words were simply part of the problem and the solution might be to forget prose in favour of doing. Providing help to desperate refugees, marching to protest against the degradation of the environment or closer to home putting food in food banks for the hungry, etc. – pick your cause and get going.

Now the terrible bombings in Lebanon (hardly reported by our mainstream media) followed by Friday’s events in Paris have prodded me into writing this. It still seems like whispering in a hurricane but I came to the conclusion that the volume and reach of what one says is less important than the fact that one says it. No words can adequately describe the horror of bombing unsuspecting people who are going about the daily business of their lives (and by extension our lives). I lived in London at the height of the IRA bombing campaign. It had the same purpose of shock and horror. The idea of turning the inhabitants of Britain against the Irish who lived among them, their neighbours and work mates. Isolation and division. It didn’t work then because the strands between Britain and Ireland are old and deep and although there was some anti Irish sentiment in the immediate aftermath of each atrocity by and large it faded quickly.

Most of us live in the comfortable middle ground between secular and spiritual, good and evil, eschewing extremes and rubbing along with each other as best we can. The extremists call it the grey zone because it does not belong in their world of absolutes, of black versus white. Daesh want to destroy the grey zone. Daesh – I prefer that term to ISIS or the Caliphate or any other name they choose because it is an Arabic word meaning ‘a group of bigots who impose their will on others’ which perfectly sums up not only Daesh but every other extremist movement in history. They want only polarised extremes not the colourful, chaotic, holistic, tolerant centre where humanity flourishes. Unlike other extremists such as the the UDF and the IRA they won’t sit down and carve up the territory once they’ve removed all the moderates from the equation. What can you say to a man who tells you he prefers obeying God rather than men, and that as a result he’s certain he’ll go to heaven if he cuts your throat?” *

Before we get too complacent we should remember that it isn’t so long ago that we had religious intolerance, bigotry and hatred of that dimension in Europe. The religious conflicts that tore through Europe between 1520 and 1650 were on any interpretation bloody and brutal; every bit as appalling as anything Daesh are serving up in the so called Caliphate and elsewhere. Drawing parallels from history is always a risky business because history does not repeat itself – it would be too easy if it did – but we can look at what happened in the past and ask ourselves some searching questions.

The first must be, what is it about our way of life that makes it worth preserving? What is it that makes us sure that what Daesh stands for; the way it wants to shape society is wrong and abhorrent? The second must be, is the rhetoric of war is the right solution? If not then what is the right response? Each of us may answer these questions differently. I have no easy or complete answers. What is important is that we ask them and consider our answers to them. Then we should ask ourselves what consequences might flow from our action or non-action. Not just the ones we desire but all the ones that might occur.  What those responses say about us as people and about the sort of world we want to inhabit. 

It seems to me that extremism is born out of fear and hatred. Out of poverty and oppression and injustice. It is fed by ignorance. We created a vacuum with our ill judged war in Iraq and Daesh have filled it. Faced now with a force that clearly understands the value in war of shock and awe (videos of beheadings, mass killings) and who want to impose on us their world view rooted in the violent seventh century beginnings of the Muslim faith what should our response be? For me the answers to the questions I posed above lie in the essential difference between tolerance and humanity and their polar opposites. I don’t believe we should bomb Syria or put our troops on the ground there. We have already made enough of a mess in the middle east. That is the easy option that will lead only to Daesh recruiting more eager young people who want to be martyrs. I do think we should support the Kurds and the Iraqis and others who have no option but to fight Daesh because they are defending their homes and loved ones. Perhaps the only justification for war is the need for self defence in the face of an enemy who is hell bent on destroying you and everything you stand for.

In opposing the idea of ever increasing military action I am not saying we should wring our hands and do nothing. We can and should retaliate. Anonymous are taking down Jihadist twitter feeds through hacking. I may defend your right to free speech even though I dislike what you say but when you abuse your right and use it to incite hatred and violence I am entitled to exercise my right to stop you. We also need to cut off their supplies of money and arms. They trade in oil. How? We should concentrate on blocking that source of income rather than bombing Syria. We should above all welcome and help the victims of Daesh. The millions of desperate Syrians who are flooding across the borders into Europe. They are not the people we should be scared of. They are the people who we should help not only out of common humanity but also because they are our greatest allies against the threat posed by Daesh to all of us.

fuck daesh copyA friend of mine lives in the 11th arondissement not far from the Boulevard Voltaire. He took this picture and posted it on FB. A more wholesome and human reaction than that of media and politician’s calls to close borders and hate and blame ‘migrants’. One that neatly encapsulates why living in the ‘grey zone’ is the best place for humans.

Our politicians on the other hand seem hell bent on war. Those who aren’t are dubbed extremists. Why? Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.” *

The only way to comprehend what mathematicians mean by Infinity is to contemplate the extent of human stupidity.” *

* Voltaire – it seems appropriate to quote him after last Friday.

perception and reality – the mind and consciousness

Roger Penrose’s book ‘Shadows of the Mind’ was published some twenty years ago.  When it first came out I immediately added it to my reading list but one thing and another intervened including a career change and relocation from London to Mid Wales and it slipped down the agenda and wandered off into the infinite labyrinth of my mind.   My Glia’s, however, are equipped with roller skates and a sense of mischief.   Left to themselves they hunt about for interesting stuff and present it for my inspection and approval in the same way as Dog presents his latest wastepaper basket installation art piece to me, that is to say, hopeful but not certain of approval.   Anyway recently they tracked down this particular ‘to do’ somewhere between the mid-Palaeolithic and teatime and dragged it back up to the surface.  So after a shamefully long flash to bang time I am finally reading it.

Penrose, who is a mathematician, sets out to explore what modern physics has to tell us about the mind and to examine what we mean when we talk of ‘awareness’, ‘understanding’,  ‘consciousness’ and ‘intelligence’.   These questions go to the root of what it is to be human and also whether digital computers (in the sense of Turing Machines) can achieve conscious awareness.  In the intervening period I read Iain Mcgilchrist’s book ‘The Master and The Emissary’ which examines the same concepts but from the point of a neuroscientist.

Penrose takes the view that appropriate physical action of the brain evokes ‘awareness’ but this physical action cannot be properly simulated computationally (he argues against the argument that all thinking is purely computational and feelings of ‘awareness’ are evoked by the carrying out of appropriate computations – a position that, if correct would mean that a computer controlled robot which convincingly behaves as though it possesses consciousness must be considered actually to have a conscious mind).  His book is largely an exploration and argument in support of the proposition that we perform non-computational feats when we consciously understand.   The distinction between the two viewpoints has profound implications for questions of free will, determinism and what it means to be human.

Iain Mcgilchrist’s book examines the way in which the division of our brain into two hemispheres is essential to human existence making possible incompatible versions of the world with quite different priorities and values.  He doesn’t expound the old left-brain-right-brain divide but looks at the functioning of the hemispheres as related to the type of attention we pay to the world.   My mind placed Penrose and McGilchrist’s ideas alongside each other and came up with a synthesis or at least the idea that the type of attention paid by the right hemisphere is the non-computational element of Penrose’s proposition.   The bit of our brain that allows us to understand intuitively that if Abraham Lincoln’s left foot is in Washington his right foot will also be there, or to gain from an early age an understanding of the concept of three from three oranges or dogs or whatever and from there to go on to understand the infinite sequence of whole numbers.   The left hemisphere’s attention more closely resembles that of a Turing machine and performs in a way that can be explained in entirely digital computational terms.  The right hemisphere, however, operates in a manner that is non-computational other than possibly on a quantum level.

I find this extraordinarily fascinating.  To me it explains much about the way we function as a species as well as on an individual level.   Why for example we would need to invent language and why we consider that because our  cerebellum controls things such as motor skills that have become ‘automatic’ it does not have ‘conscious’ thought but acts unconsciously.    Surrealism as a movement explored the idea of the unconscious mind to reveal it and reconcile it with rational (conscious)  life but I think what we are dealing with here is a different kind of consciousness bearing the same relationship to what we now classify as ‘conscious’ thought as quantum theory has to the Newtonian world of classical physics.   One of the most bizarre premises of quantum theory is the idea that by the very act of watching, the observer affects the observed reality.   I think here we approach a convergence of quantum theory and the Buddhist and/or Daoist philosophy of ‘mindful attention’, the concept of interconnectedness and ‘being’ in the now.

I would argue that the type of attention we pay to the world changes what we find there (the glass half empty or the glass half full being a simplistic example) with important philosophical, societal and technical implications for the future.    How we respond to climate change, whether our thinking is governed by labels that discriminate and separate, whether we collaborate or compete these all shape the world not only that we inhabit now but also the one in which future generations will have to live.

The ability to look at things from a different perspective, to fail to conform to stereotypes and to value diversity and difference; in other words to squeeze ourselves through the eye of the needle and follow the Fool out across the rainbow are all in my view necessary prerequisites for a healthy future for our species.

 

Language and Rights

I want to continue the theme of last week’s blog about language and the meaning of words but in a much more specific context.  I have been worrying about the way in which despite the use of words that imply we have ever more freedoms and choice we are in fact losing rights and being ever more curtailed in our freedoms.   We encounter assertions of rights as we encounter sounds: persistently and in great variety.

Wesley Hohfeld died at 40, he was Professor of Law at Harvard and his published work consists of one slim book with a long title Fundamental Legal Conceptions as Applied in Judicial Reasoning.   This book was one of my study texts in my third year at university and it exercised a very profound influence on my thinking.

Hohfeld created a very precise analysis which distinguished between fundamental legal concepts and then identified the relationships between them.  His analysis of rights is a framework of elegance and simplicity revealing that most familiar rights, such as the right to free expression or the right of private property, have a complex internal structure. Such rights are ordered arrangements of basic components, much in the same way that most molecules are ordered arrangements of chemical elements.

Hohfeld identified four basic “elements” of Rights; Privileges, Claims, Powers and Immunities.  Each of these has a distinctive logical form, and the incidents fit together in characteristic ways to create complex “molecular” rights.  Each of the incidents—the privilege, claim, power, and immunity—can be a right when it occurs in isolation but each Right has an opposite and a correlative.  Hohfeld was primarily concerned with legal rights but his analysis extends equally well to moral and ethical questions.

That is probably more than enough Jurisprudence for anyone who is not a lawyer but I wanted to explain the background to my thinking that prompted this blog.

Most people who are not lawyers or philosophers would probably define ‘Right’ as meaning ‘what is just or fair’ but this is not the same as our modern subjective sense of ‘a Right’.   So why is this important?  Isn’t what we mean by ‘a Right’ clear enough for all practical purposes?  Well I would argue that it isn’t that each and every one of us needs to have a precise and clear understanding of what we mean when we talk of ‘rights.’

This is really a development of the point at which I ended last week’s blog; the way in which the language we speak limits us to the modes of perception already inherent in that language.  The form or label comes to be not merely a useful reference in a catalogue system but a limit and constraint on our thinking and we are vulnerable to other people shifting that meaning without our being aware of it.  Hohfeld identifies ‘Privilege’ as the type of right that is contained in the idea that I have NO DUTY NOT TO DO IT.  In other words there is no infringement of another’s rights in any sense in my painting my bedroom in black and red stripes or picking up a shell on the beach.  What is being steadily and in my opinion rapidly eroded is this type of right and it is going unnoticed in the white noise created by the multiplicity of assertions of rights and counter rights.

Now nobody is going to take away my ‘right’ to paint my bedroom but they are enacting legislation that will curtail and control the way I act in public.  I have no duty not to walk down the High Street wearing a hoodie but my privilege to do this may now be curtailed if it causes annoyance or nuisance, similarly if I stand outside the chip shop talking to a group of friends I may be the recipient of an order preventing me from doing this in future because it causes annoyance or nuisance.  These terms lack any legal precision and are so broad and generalized that they could be used to catch a vast range of everyday behaviours to an extent that may have serious implications for the rule of law.   These terms replace the previous test of anti-social behaviour namely behaving in a manner likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.  A far more restrictive test than annoyance or nuisance; under the new definition protesters, buskers, preachers, and young people just hanging out with friends could find themselves on the wrong side of the law.  These are laws which are capable of extraordinary abuse in the same way as the notorious ‘sus’ laws were and they will no doubt be applied equally inequitably.  I doubt very much whether anyone will hand me out an injunction for wearing a hoodie but if I was sixteen and black they might well.

What worries me is that people don’t recognise the infringement of perfectly acceptable rights that this entails.  Understanding the framework of rights and the way they build on and interlock with each other is key to preventing their erosion by stealth.

Words and what they mean

shep quote copy

Shep quoting Lao Tsu and Sartre

It is an interesting hypothesis that once all humans spoke the same language.  Or that at least all languages derived from one prehistoric mother tongue.

Noam Chomsky’s theory is that language is so unique to humans that it must have arisen suddenly as the result of a single chance mutation occurred in one individual on the order of 100,000 years ago, instantaneously installing the language faculty.  Nice idea but I’m sure it is wrong.  It is not impossible that some individuals were ahead of the game in inventing language (as Leonardo was with submarines and helicopters) but there’s a lot of truth in the phrase ‘an idea whose time has come’.   Noam Chomsky I feel overlooked a fundamental fact about human nature and we haven’t really changed that much in the last hundred thousand years which after all is a mere blink of the eye in evolutionary terms.   I’m sure that if one evening round the fire an individual had suddenly announced ‘Hey listen up people I’ve invented this amazing thing called spoken language’ covert glances would have been exchanged, temples touched and he or she would have found themselves the recipient of the Palaeolithic  equivalent of care in the community.

Language emerged so far back in human prehistory that the relevant developments have left no direct historical traces but I tend to think it probably evolved in response to changes in our social structures.  Writing arose from symbols and I suspect language arose from signs and sounds in some way.  Plato believed that language developed out of sheer practical necessity and like a lot of his ideas it has some merit!  The theory I like best is what is called the lying hypothesis.  E. H. Sturtevant argued that, since all real intentions or emotions get involuntarily expressed by gesture, look or sound, voluntary communication must have been invented for the purpose of lying or deceiving.  He proposed that the need to deceive and lie–to use language in contrast to reality for selfish ends– was the social prompting that got language started.  It also very neatly explains why human communication is so fundamentally different from that of other species.  Bees don’t tend to lie about where the pollen is then piss themselves laughing as half the hive shoots of in the wrong direction.

Our language centre sits in the left hemisphere of the brain, the one that categorises and orders and language also creates false separations and objectifications through its symbolizing power.   Modern languages, for example, employ the word “mind” to describe a thing dwelling independently in our bodies, as compared with the Sanskrit word, which means “working within,” involving an active embrace of sensation, perception, and cognition.  Words and the way we use them subtly shape our entire way of life, including the way we think.   The language we speak limits us to the modes of perception already inherent in that language.  The fact that language is only form and yet moulds everything goes to the core of what ideology is.  The use of words to shift perceptions, to induce a change of attitude has been exploited by politicians and advertisers probably since the Neolithic because it works on our dependence on language.  Once the door to language opened it became impossible to imagine what we were like without it.

I come back to the subject of chaos thinking and the fundamental difference between knowledge by description not knowledge by acquaintance.  The former is a function of our left brain, knowledge that is mediated, inferential and categorised, the latter a function of direct unmediated experience of the world.  This direct unmediated knowledge is an important part of our ability to question and to innovate both as individuals and as a species.