Angst & Instability

I don’t know anyone who does not suffer from some form of Anxiety. I have written about this variously elsewhere on this site but the more research I do on psychology and philosophy (for work I might add, that is literally my job) the more it seems an inevitability of modern living. I was recently reading Kierkegaard’s ‘Sickness Unto Death’ which he calls Despair, which he defines in the almost comedic way of: “relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation”. Soren was talking about the search for God and the idea of sin or simply a life without God being the eponymous ‘Sickness’, however there is a lot in the text that neatly describes the sort of depression that is on the rise today. For such a short but dense philosophical text, chiefly about God, it is worth the read purely because of its demand for self-exploration and understanding. In it Kierkegaard talks about the idea of ‘embracing oneself’ which is very much a buzzword amongst the positivity movement that is so prevalent today but more than that it grapples with the notion of the infinite and the finite and reconciling our place within both. As such ‘Sickness Unto Death’ can be seen as one of the earliest existential texts.

Even more interestingly Kierkegaard also wrote a text called ‘The Concept of Anxiety’ in 1844. In it he uses the analogy of a man at a cliff edge looking over the edge and being terrified by the drop yet with a compulsion to jump off. This internal conflict is what he defines as Anxiety or Angst: living in indecision. What this signifies is the dread that accompanies an awareness of our own freedom. The immensity of our abilities and our freedom in such a vast, and largely uncaring, universe is powerful and daunting, Kierkegaard recognizes this and gave us the definition for what teenagers around the world are accused of feeling every day. And he was right. What greater kind of indecision and accompanying dread is there in life than the transformation from a near total lack of awareness in childhood to almost too much awareness and understanding in adulthood? Every teenager is afflicted with angst because they have not yet learned to compartmentalize in the way adults do and bury ourselves in the minutiae of everyday life to ignore the immensity of experience and existence. Naturally, as a Christian, Kierkegaard says this is to do with sin and not accepting God but again need not be read that way. The idea of reconciling the finite and the infinite is a struggle which we all deal with. Or at least I thought it was.

HP Lovecraft is a horror writer from the early 20th century who built on this existential dread of reconciling our place in the Universe that was explored in a similar way in fiction by Ambrose Bierce and Robert Chambers but is definitely born of Kierkegaard’s explorations into Despair & Angst. I’m a fan of this type of horror writing and apparently I’m not alone, many things in popular culture at the moment are turning to this kind of existential horror in in either direct or oblique but always interesting ways. I wrote about this resurgence on this site previously too. Despite this it would seem this type of horror is purely the bastion of the straight white male. The thing that prompted me to write this piece was on Twitter recently, someone RTed a quote by William Hutson of the hip-hop group Clipping who said that “Lovecraft’s cosmic pessimism is only terrifying if you’re a straight white man and you thought you were the centre of the universe anyway.” Now an important thing to know about Lovecraft was that he was a racist and anti-semite and these factors undeniably informed his writing. Writing at a time of post war civil rights meant a straight white dude was being confronted by his own existence, specifically (he thought) having his freedoms removed. Now whilst this is certainly true it does little to explain why Ice T recently talked about his love for the Lovecraft story ReAnimator on Twitter or the incredibly horrifying existential confrontation of Get Out that was such an enormous success. And, most tellingly, the cultural penetration of Game of Thrones which is purely about the existential threat of the amorphous Winter, the night that is “dark and full of terrors” and so on, and the futility of our fighting it (a topic explored by Wisecrack). Lovecraft’s brand of existential terror is indeed informed by his problematic beliefs but the genre itself only seems to become more and more potent as the years go by.

Despite the despicable racism, anti-semitism, nationalism and class disparity that continues today, life in the west has improved vastly since the late 19th century. Equality took massive strides forward over the last 50 years and we live in a world of technological wonders like the internet that has increased the living conditions of billions and the rise of automation in industry has given us more free time to do what we love. And yet here we are with all this luxury, realizing how it equally penalizes other nations and cultures, how automation robs people of jobs and their identity, with rising political beliefs of a return to old fashioned segregation and discrimination, sexism and a potent form of nationalism all on the rise not the decline. In short, the whole planet has been confronted with its own freedom and the truly awesome immensity therein and far from embracing this and attempting to make a far more equitable and sympathetic society utilizing all this incredible new tools at our disposal, millions have shied from it. Instead they prefer to close their borders, demand a return to the ‘good old days’, where freedoms were limited, people were told what to do and personal liberties were maintained violently. By extension this can be seen in individuals as much as it can different societies or nations or people.

Friends and family of mine live their lives very differently now to the way I saw it as a kid. With the gig economy and most relationships (of any kind) being cultivated online and therefore needing nothing more than our smart device to run most aspects of daily life, we are given an enormous amount of freedom. With a wealth of things to do, to live and to experience in our time we instead live our lives in increasingly smaller homes and binge-watching season after season of television shows. The response to this is often “well I can’t afford to do anything” which in itself is another existential argument but what we’re essentially saying is we want to forgo our choice i.e. we are living in indecision. Some people are dedicated to moving forward and doing things and smugly tell us about it online in a passive aggressive way that says ‘you should be doing the same, you lazy bum’, others are dedicated to regressing society and become President, whereas I think most of us are the ones stuck in that stasis of indecision, not knowing how to move forward or back and consequently not putting the effort into defining ourselves beyond the roles a steadily dissolving society has given us. We are freer than we have ever been as species (that does not mean there are not people who have little to no freedoms and are not subjugated) and yet far from accepting and utilizing this freedom the vast majority of us either shun it entirely or refuse to do anything with it and that, I believe, is where this epidemic of anxiety has grown from.

Far from being the exclusive malady of the white middle class, I think this existential anxiety is rife amongst humanity today, whatever your belief, creed, colour or nation. The need for creating purpose in our lives and a direction for humanity as whole has never been more necessary but equally never more ignored and therefore, Kierkegaard’s need to reconcile ourselves with the immensity of existence, with God or without, seems to be the ultimate test of our times. If we cannot learn to justify our own existence and our place in the universe we may be heading for a lack of it.

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Enframed Online

Please like, subscribe, follow, give me the thumbs up, leave a comment, favourite, retweet etcetera. In the abstract arena of the internet where everyone under the age of 40 makes their living, the currency is in the above listed units. That’s how you get traffic, hits, interactions, views, metrics and so on which equals profit. Somehow. I think it’s from advertising but that’s getting choked these days too so I don’t really know. Either way, both our livelihoods and our own self-worth today are measured in these kinds of metrics making social media a bizarre kind of augmented reality video game like Pokemon Go. Gotta catch em all!

This kind of thinking – technology as a mode of living – was perfectly defined by Heidegger in 1949 as ‘Gestell’ in German or ‘Enframing’ in English. The idea being that for something to exist in the Human world it must be ‘framed’ by us first i.e. something doesn’t really exist to us until we have named it and discovered its purpose. It is a lot more complicated than that but that’s the broad strokes. As such, we have enframed other people to serve the purpose of ‘followers’ or ‘friends’ on social media, they are a literally a resource to be mined, a different node with unique attributes in a system that falls into certain predictable patterns that we can then manipulate for our own ends, literally like a computer. It is perhaps little wonder then with the YouTube vlogger, the influencer and the blog pundit we have ended up with such a right-wing society developing in the west.

Now this hypothesis was developed by Heidegger prior to the invention of digital technologies so I doubt he could have foreseen how prescient this theory was. His perception of it was seeing the totality of vision or everything on Earth as ‘Standing Reserve’ or any matter waiting to be exploited by us (there’s no coincidence the Standing Reserve is used in military vocabulary too). Heidegger saw it as the way humanity has evolved and grown by using the environment to create tools, homes, toys, vehicles, etc but technology in general is our way of life so we must enframe the environment around us to see it as a resource. Whilst this is an accurate way of describing humanity it is equally problematic when it is applied to people. Heidegger himself flirted with Fascism and the Nazi mentality can most definitely be seen as a very extreme method of enframing, i.e. humans as a resource to be exploited. Ironically the current Neoliberal model of Capitalism is also very much the same; seeing people as consumers, artists as creators, art as content, a useful item as product. To enframe is to rob something of its own essence, its own definition of what it is and with every demand for a like and subscribe we are framed as a resource.

For me the fact that a lot of the ‘Alt-Right’ online, who like to troll and abuse anyone not white or male, seem to talk of objectivity, espouse a love for science and demand ‘The Truth’ in every discussion. This search for objectivity which they deem objectively true is an oxymoron. All experience is subjective but their belief in this objectivity reveals how they have enframed everything as a means to serve their way of life. In essence, the various YouTube channels, Facebookers, Celebrity Tweeters, Instagram Influencers and so on that say they are apolitical still enframe their audience as a resource for them to continue living their lives, so are indulging in a type of ‘soft-fascism’. Yes, I’m calling PewDiePie a fascist like everyone else. But seriously, the fact the likes of Milo, Cernovich and Alex Jones do so well online is because they don’t see people, they see metrics and text on a screen, a similar mentality as the various Nazis when asked how they could perform their crimes replied all they were doing was signing bits of paper. Whilst this comparison is admittedly extreme, the dehumanization in both cases is most certainly there.

It’s probably worth pointing out here that I write for a YouTube channel and most of my writing work is published online these days so I am by no means saying the internet is inherently bad but there are significant problems with our relationship with it. I like to think the stuff I write and the way I approach the internet goes some way to assuming the people who view my CONTENT are their own people with their own complex opinions and experiences that they bring to the discussion but I fully admit this is not always the case. Many is the time I have made a criticism of a celebrity or ‘important person’ online only to have them reply in defense. This always depresses me because typically I will stand by the criticism but by no means wished to offend or upset the person, in the same way you may have a criticism of a friend in real life but you would not wish to insult or attack them at a dinner party, I’d like to think I had better manners and was kind enough to know when and how to broach the subject in private. The internet and social media does not lend itself to this way of thinking. I enframe these celebrities as untouchable objects who neither hear nor care about my petty concerns so I can offer my super important hot takes to the world but then I am regularly proved wrong when I get an angry or wounded reply in defense.

I, more than most, have a lot to be grateful for thanks to the internet. It has given me a whole new life, new friends, travel, work and a girlfriend but the reason for that is, I hope, I always see the various people I interact with online as human beings with thoughts and feelings like me. A certain level of empathy is needed in the age of social media that is sorely lacking and has created an enormous amount of issues that has undeniably ruined lives. The alternative now is to just go off grid entirely which presents its own problems in a world where almost every financial transaction, bank, business and relationship is formed or fostered online. For me personally the sheen has definitely left the internet. The novelty of Amazon, YouTube, Social Media, et al has worn off with various scandals and problematic views, actions around tax avoidance, propaganda and misinformation, sales of personal information, abuse, Sexism, Racism, as well as poor customer service, built in obsolescence and much, much more. The Digital Revolution has transformed the world and isn’t stopping now but I think people are starting to predict, if not a Post-Internet Culture, but a culture where the internet is massively reduced in its scope and perhaps a return to more ‘analogue’ methods of interacting and sharing experience and knowledge. By no means does this remove the problems presented by our selfishness or our need to enframe the world as a mine of resources but it would certainly mitigate the impersonal mode by which we’re engaging with people, and the world, at the moment.

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Worst Case & Ariel

“You either love it or you hate it” was the slogan for Marmite because the people who did their marketing were smart enough to know this was the truth and they weren’t convincing non-buyers to get it so they just ran with this idea that had fallen into common vernacular. Bands, Books, People could all be described as “Marmite” meaning you loved or hated it, no middle ground. Today this partisan mentality has extended to EVERYTHING, nothing is seen as middling anymore or can simply be ignored, it is either the greatest thing to have ever happened or the worst. It will either save us or destroy us. The thing I found to be most interesting in all this is how this extends to the topic that has been the preoccupation with popular culture for the last 15 years or so: The Apocalypse.

The Left see an imminent apocalypse due to climate change, economic collapse and escalating wars whereas the Right see it in the rise of political correctness, social justice or just anything that doesn’t grossly benefit white dudes. Now the important distinction here is how both define these futures for society and civilization, for the left it’s a Dystopia that awaits but for the right it’s a Utopia. The pejorative use of the word Utopia has always perplexed me. Why is the idea of a prosperous, equitable society that benefits all seen as such a bad thing? I think the first thing to understand is that the people who complain about “Utopian dreamers” are normally the people currently living in a Utopia themselves: privileged, wealthy white people who have never known real conflict on their shores in their lifetime and are rarely said no to or not catered for, but it also seems to boil down to a total misunderstanding of what Utopia is.

I just finished reading Thomas More’s book ‘Utopia’ which is where we get the word and its general meaning from. Unfortunately, little more than a basic precis is given to us by the modern definition of the word Utopia if you haven’t read the book. The book itself is about a mysterious sailor named Raphael who tells Thomas of an island nation that he visited/discovered off the coast of South America. It is a seemingly ancient society and civilization of total harmony and the more it is described the more we realise how difficult it is to see happening at the time the novel was written but thanks to a surprisingly nuanced and detailed explanation of the different aspects of Utopia by Raphael we can see reflections of the country in our own contemporary society, references to courts and policing, sales and taxation and even home ownership and gardens are discussed as the perfect model for a well maintained civilization. Thus, the most striking thing reading Utopia today is that by the book’s definitions it already exists in the western world, but only here and only to certain class of people.

The other thing that struck me was something that seems slightly abstract about the book: it is not a first-hand account, it is an account of a first-hand account. Anyone who is aware of the ‘Unreliable Narrator’ trope in stories will know this is one way of being given a story that may or may not be true. Or both. Any book you are reading purports itself to be the objective truth, be it written first person or not, you take the story at face value even if you know the person telling the story is subjective. In the case of Utopia you are hearing a subjective account of a subjective account and this places Utopia in an interesting place not just as a book but an idea that has come to define the word. Even in the context which defines the idea of Utopia it is seen from a distance, it is a myth even in its own story explaining it. Utopia is a country viewed from afar, never to be landed on, that we see as perfection but can never attain. Perfection has always been unattainable, as any wise person knows, so Utopia can only ever exists as an idea even in its own story. Therein lies the difference between the Left and Right visions of the next stage of civilization, the left knows aiming for Utopia is doomed to failure for “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp” but we equally fear the reality that a dystopia is achievable due to its definition being founded in very real and present concerns. The Right, however, are the opposite. Their Utopian hell is unlikely to ever happen but they inch ever closer to a dystopian present of their liking and design.

Another text that uses a mythical island to confront us with a form of Utopia and Dystopia is Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. Whilst Prospero’s island is not a Utopia, nothing more than a rock really, it is easy to see the way everything on the island, embodied in Ariel and Caliban, is depicted as being Utopian or Dystopian depictions of humanity. Even the way the survivors of the shipwreck see the island is the opposite to one another:

Adrian:            … the air breathes upon us here most sweetly
Sebastian:        As if it had lungs, and rotten ones.
Gonzalo:         Here is everything advantageous to life.
Antonio:          True; save means to live.
Gonzalo:         How lush and lusty the grass looks! How green!
Antonio:          The ground, indeed, is tawny!
Sebastian:        With an eye of green in’t.

An island that depicts both the best and worst in people seems a perfect sister to More’s Utopia (a text written 100 years before the Tempest) that reflects the problems of the contemporary England of More’s age to a dream-like, mythical place of societal perfection. Prospero even says in his “we are such stuff as dreams are made on” speech, the implication that everything there on the island is false, this “insubstantial pageant”. At the end of the play both the selfish and greedy Caliban and the righteously furious but altruistic Ariel are freed from their servitude to Prospero by him as the survivors along with the Magician himself and his daughter leave the island to return to the ‘real’ world, this could be seen as relinquishing the notion of the dichotomy presented by the island of good and bad or black and white thinking (Ariel in performance is often White, Caliban is typically depicted as Black). As such we could see Prospero’s island as both Utopia and Dystopia that the characters can return to civilization with knowledge of, in the same way as Raphael returned with an understanding of the Utopians.

The point I am trying, laboriously, to reach is that the Hegelian argument of Thesis and Antithesis (the need for two opposing arguments to decide on a synthesized method to progress with) need not be embodied in reality. Diametrically opposed views are useful in debate and thought experiments as there will always be a counter argument for any point of view or belief but its usefulness in day to day life is not beneficial, as we are seeing today. Whilst this may sound like an attempt to say “Can’t we all just get along?” it isn’t. I do not believe in liberalism or centrism, I believe in everyone being educated and intelligent enough to understand an argument from each extreme and be able to utilize this knowledge to better approach a topic as opposed to simply taking an oppositional or dogmatic stance on any given thing. We need be neither Ariel nor Caliban, we can be Raphael and see the ideas of perfection or corruption without making them a reality and know there is something better to aim towards.

Having said all this, I admit this was one hell of a reach. I based this article on the title which was given to me from an autocorrect mistake by my girlfriend when she meant to say ‘worst case scenario’ but I liked it so much I wrote it down to use as a title later. It kinda makes sense though. And I highly recommend reading Utopia, fascinating reading given the current political climate, especially in the UK and USA. There’s nothing wrong with being a Utopian dreamer, Shakespeare clearly was.

The Beauty of Fascism

 

Have you noticed that Trump says ‘Beautiful’ a lot? And words similar? Everything he likes or that benefits his administration or wants to create will be beautiful. The same kind of language appears in the rise of similar parties in the UK and Europe, not necessarily beating the drum of ‘Beauty’ but certainly speaking in terms of restoration and face lifts. London since the stock market crash has become a forest of cranes and building sites as modern architectural wonders grow into the air. A political equivalent of ‘keeping up appearances’ in the eyes of the world permeates the Nu-Right. Watching a recent party political broadcast on behalf of our unelected Prime Minister in a pathetic attempt to placate the growing unrest (in spite of soaring opinion polls for her and her party) it was a bizarrely rose tinted video filled with smiles and opulence, an Instagram-like filter was even used to give the whole affair a golden hue as if far from being plunged into a bleak future of segregation, vilification and economic suicide, the nation and her party literally glowed with delight and promise. A return to Aesthetics seems to have been adopted by the leading political parties of developed nations today.

Aesthetics was a philosophical movement developed from the early Greek idea of Beauty, one of Plato’s ‘Forms’ by Alexander Baugarten in the 18th century. It deals with the nature of art, beauty and taste through the creation and appreciation of something beautiful. One of the most noted Aesthetes was Oscar Wilde. Prior to the second world war the appreciation of art and beauty was reasonably uncomplicated, the Romantic ideals of beauty are still indelibly printed on our collective consciousness. “A rose by any other name” and so on. Beauty, thanks to the Romantics and Aesthetes, became inextricably linked with love and was often assigned an equivalence with truth. Art and culture prior to the rise of Modernism near universally accepted the most beautiful things as the best and most honest. And then Nazis appeared. Part of the Nazi ideology was an entrenched desire and love of beauty. The very idea of an Aryan Race is that of a race of perfect and beautiful people, a master race. The Nazis hoarded art and built vast and grand buildings, each a mass of finely detailed and exquisite design and architecture. Since then a love and appreciation of beauty has become problematic, it is now linked with humanity’s darkest hour. Beauty had become inherently ugly.

In the fairy tale of Beauty & The Beast, a rude and selfish man is punished for this crime by “Being made to look as ugly on the outside as he is on the inside” and thus turned into a beast. Throughout the tale he is confronted by a woman, the embodiment of beauty, and made to change his nature by falling in love with this beautiful girl. On the brink of death the Beast is brought back to life by the woman’s declaration of love and transforms him back into a handsome prince. At play here is a traditional association with beauty, that it can transform the ugliness and cruelty in the world into the good and beautiful. It has often been noted in analysis of this story that identity is in fact lost through this conformity. Applied to real life – the idea of an unattractive person who is withdrawn and insular because of society’s treatment of them because of their appearance, that they should simply be a nicer, more welcoming person to those who insult or deride them and then they will be seen as beautiful – this seems like a problematic acceptance of aesthetic beauty so as to conform to a society that demands they be hidden from view. The need for the Beast to ‘transform’ into a handsome prince so he may be better accepted and therefore worthy of marriage speaks volumes for how the adoration of beauty lacks a great deal of humanity.

The fascism of beauty is still very much alive and well, we all know the unfair standards of beauty set by mainstream media and its focus on aesthetics (certainly when it comes to women) and how ostracising it is. Post WWII the modernist movement even went some way to attempt to counteract it. Brutalist architecture and much more plain, abstract, disjointed, even plain ugly design was incorporated into architecture, literature, music and art itself but in the same way as we resist the ugly undercurrent of beauty we equally resist the unattractive veneer of a more fair minded appreciation of the world, people and culture. Anyone who has seen Kubrick’s vision of A Clockwork Orange will know how oppressive the Brutalist architecture aesthetic is and yet the right has openly returned to its love for beauty. Why?

The answer, I think, lies in the Philosopher and MP Edmund Burke’s treatise on the Sublime.

Burke again takes note of the Greeks and their idea of The Sublime and sees it not simply as that which is beautiful i.e. aesthetically pleasing, but as that which can destroy us. He points out that the sight of a beautiful vista: a tempestuous ocean from the shore line, the grand canyon, a forest of redwoods, etc belittles us, reminding us how small and insignificant we are and how easily a roaring sea, bolt of lightning, a volcanic eruption or a tornado could snuff us out at any given moment. The sublime is beautiful and dangerous. As such, this seems to be how fascism adopts beauty for its own ends. Beauty and grandness is imposing and implies threat so by adopting each of these and the mode of Aesthetics the parties most in need of appearing strong, desirous of little challenge and the outward appearance of welcome and inclusion appear stronger, welcoming, inclusive and warrant little challenge.

Equity by contrast is ugly. The need for humans to create beauty inherently requires the removal or hiding of anything not aesthetically pleasing or meeting the individual’s taste, hence the fascism, but a more egalitarian, equal, equitable aesthetic vision requires the inclusion of the parts of society and art and culture that generally we do not care for. Featuring the handicapped, the mentally ill, the non-gender-normative, and just generally anyone who is not aesthetically pleasing is representative of the world as it stands today but this is not the world we see represented through art. If anything these supposed minorities are shamed into either conforming to a given aesthetic taste or simply shunned. This was changing until recently. With the sudden rise of right wing populism the demands on a more ‘Traditional’ aesthetic standard has been rekindled and anything not deemed beautiful is neither necessary nor desired. Sadly the left seem as resistant to letting its standards of beauty slip to combat this. Fairness, inclusion and equity, that which ‘Liberals’ or any left leaning individual deem to be their dictums, by their very nature are messy, difficult and yes, very ugly.

What Burke calls The Sublime is a beauty of nature, of existence itself and importantly rife with ugliness throughout. To experience it is to be humbled and to dwarf our petty demands on the planet or the cosmos, this is not something that can be manufactured by humanity and it is why Trump and his acolytes’ continual allusions to beauty ring so hollow. Be suspicious of those who try to convince you of the beauty they see without acknowledging the ugliness too. It’s only fair.

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An Alternative Life

 

There’s a scene near the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy is teaching a class and says “Archaeology is the search for Fact, not Truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is just down the hall.” At a time in history that will now forever be viewed as a cataclysmic slide into retrograde beliefs and historically appalling ideologies this phrase, of all phrases, seems to strike a ringing chord for me. Celebrity Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted recently “I dream of a world where the Truth is what shapes people’s politics, rather than politics shaping what people think is true.” When the gatekeepers of important political information are outright lying using what they claim are ‘alternative facts’ the Truth has suddenly become a rare but malleable commodity, akin to gold. But it very much depends on your perspective today who you believe is the alchemist. And what rare metals you believe are facts.

I spent some time sofa surfing in Brighton last year before I travelled to America where I spent Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and – importantly – the Election with my girlfriend. Whilst sofa surfing I was left to chat with my friends’ flatmate who liked a chat of an evening. His favoured topic of discussion was science. He loved it, delightfully rattled off scientific facts he had learned through casual study in his personal time and took even greater delight in pointing out the foolishness of people who had faith or believed in something that was only explainable without empirical evidence. His passion regularly made these discussions animated. At another time I was out for dinner with my work colleagues when a similar discussion came up and I happened to point out my general contempt for a Mr Richard Dawkins (not because I disagreed with his theories but I find him a singularly unpleasant fellow) to which I was taken to task, quite aggressively, by a colleague who I am still good friends with but at the time seemed to see me as akin to a child murderer. She took great objection to my dislike for a scientist and took it to mean I had no belief in the scientific method or empirical evidence. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe profoundly in the scientific method, evidence based research, model projection and you ignore the findings of these at your peril. Anyone who does not recognise the contribution to society made by the scientific community is outright incorrect.

In my current under-employed state I watched through the entirety of Rick & Morty on Netflix the other day and was totally enamoured with it. Not just because it’s uniquely animated and performed, nice and short – each episode clocking in around the 20 minute mark – and genuinely funny and original but because akin to my other favourite cartoon Futurama, it is very very smart. Unlike the open sewer that is The Big Bang Theory which merely parrots scientific findings and geek culture buzzwords the writers probably find on Reddit, Rick & Morty takes huge concepts and ideas and doesn’t attempt to boil them down so they’re digestible but uses these as a premise to explore character development and story arcs, just like in y’know real life. Hanging from the paper thin premise of a knock-off Doc & Marty from Back to the Future they explore graph theory, string theory, the Post Hoc fallacy, the Uncertainty Principle and much, much more. Like Futurama it is beloved by the ever critical (and massively egotistical and arrogant) ‘Nerd’ culture, calling it a “love letter to science”. And whilst I occasionally found it glib or walking well trodden ground from other sci-fi that it was well above, I loved it too ranking it an equal favourite animation with Futurama.

And I think this is where the problem comes from.

My whole life I have never vilified religion or the religious and I still don’t. Why? Because the people against it, relishing in referring to themselves as Atheists, have come across as even more volatile, aggressive, bombastic, argumentative, determined-to-convert, rude and down right unpleasant than any ‘Religious’ zealot I have yet met. It is not a new theory but one that is spat upon today that Atheism is just as much a religion as any other. In the above mentioned conversations and so many more throughout my life, when I point out there are just as many holy books, churches, temples, priests and other religious ephemera attributed to Atheism as any other organised religion, I have been met with a (very literally) violent reaction. There are, obviously, differences between Science and Faith, namely Science has a need to demand criticism, questioning and wants to be proved wrong i.e. like life itself it wants to progress which indicates it’s probably the right path to take. However you’re slightly blinkered if you think faith hasn’t been proven wrong and developed over the course of 3 millennia. What startles me though is how staunchly any questioning of Science is refuted with the immediate appearance of mountains of evidence to support whoever’s claims are being questioned and the line of questioning duly shut down completely as if to say “that’s that put to bed.” This seems to negate the very rule which they live by, a lack of query. If, as I do, you truly believe science is for the benefit of mankind and will provide us a species with a future, this kind of questioning really shouldn’t have any impact on you or your faith (yes, Faith) in it.

What I think is missing from everyday life today – and most definitely on the internet – is Philosophy.

Let us define terms here, I am not speaking of a life philosophy or personal philosophy which everyone develops over time and throughout their life but actual Philosophy. In its simplest form this is the question ‘Why?’ to be asked of everything. And I mean everything. Sadly today it does not seem to be asked of anything. It also requires a difficult and complicated understanding of a lot of different aspects of life, culture and yes Science. This requires reading, a lot of it. In the world of the internet, long form ‘Content’ is discouraged and actively ignored in a culture of tl:dr (as this blog will attest) so the idea of reading an entire text of very difficult theorem and dialectics based on largely intangible evidence is off putting to the point of I-don’t-care. The odd youtuber tries to bring Humanities to the table of ‘Vlogs’ but they are vastly outweighed by the number of loud and proud science channels/profiles.

A few of my friends are Academics, all both doctors and lecturers in the Humanities field and all have expressed dislike of current studies in Neuroscience. They feel with computers creating graphs of emotional responses to literature, or a model for the perfect novel, something is being lost in the analytics of culture – and Humanity – by the human mind. The scientific method aims to create an objective view of the world and our universe so it can be better studied but as Heisenberg himself pointed out: “that which you study you also change”. We change the outcome by measuring it. That is because as humans we are subjective. In short: a fact is rarely an objective one.

If you’re a fan of video games like me you may have heard of GamerGate. This was a recent explosion in a particularly vile sub-section of the internet and gaming culture that found a flimsy excuse to exercise their most misogynistic tendencies and were quickly laying waste to certain websites and certain careers that didn’t align with their views under the banner “Ethics in video games journalism” whilst simultaneously being the most unethical bunch of parasites in the world. You may not have heard of them or may have forgotten them but you know them now because they’re the people who got the UK to leave the EU and got Trump elected. They’re also the idiots who tried to boycott the latest Star Wars films because they were lead by girls and talk about the entirely fictitious ‘White Holocaust’. Milo Yiannopoulos is a good example. These giant children see themselves as Geeks, Nerds, the ‘Alternative’ crowd. They consider themselves informed and erudite and coincidentally are staunch believers in empirical science. In the same way as both the leave campaign and remain campaign AND the Democrat and Republican campaigns were all pretty detestable and had ‘Facts & Figures’ to support their claims, facts – it would seem – ended up being a dangerous thing. This, for me, stems from the religion or rather the Zealotry of Atheism and/or Science. Which is where Rick & Morty comes in.

Rick & Morty is indeed about science, Rick is a scientist but the show’s strength is not it’s adherence to science it’s Rick’s ultimate contempt for it. Rick & Morty is more of a show about Philosophy, reconciling the knowledge of oneself and the universe that science brings, with our existence as a whole. Something French author and Philosopher Albert Camus referred to as The Absurd and what is generally paraphrased today as ‘Existentialism’. Ultimately a pure scientist or Atheist should end their life immediately. We have nothing to live for, nothing matters, we are cosmically insignificant, overwhelming evidence suggests humans are a negative force on planet Earth and over population is hastening us towards a swift extinction anyway. But they don’t. We thrive as a species because of science. This dichotomy, this search for meaning in a meaningless existence, is a profound and troubling question that most people shy from. Some people feign Nihilism (normally the same people who love 90s grunge) as a cool exterior or adoptive identity but true Nihilists are rare, if not totally extinct because we have generally accepted we give ourselves meaning to live. See how philosophy helped us? If we didn’t develop these theories we’d all collapse screaming into an abyss as Nietzsche would have it. Rick & Morty explores many of these challenging themes in some depth but the fact that this seems to be overlooked in favour of the science of the show I find troubling. Even the word Science to me has become troubling, or at least its usage has, in the same way as ‘Content’ has come to mean many things whilst killing the nuance of many others, this dogmatic adherence to the Saviour That Is Science is damaging in the extreme. Claiming our involvement in the world is a binary response of either Faith or Science is what got us where we are today in the west: totally divided. Both could learn from one another yet both have dug their heels in harder and harder and resist the scientific and objective method of query as well as the philosophical, less tangible method of query. Both sides sharing links to biased articles, Tim Mnchin songs, videos of Stephen Fry DESTROYING RELIGION, interviews with Climate Change denying scientists and other equally specious ‘Content’ to serve a given agenda. There’s a reason the study of Consciousness is referred to as ‘The Hard Problem’. There is a great quote from a book called Boneland by Alan Garner where a character says “I’m for uncertainty. As soon as you think you know, you’re done for. You don’t listen and you can’t hear. If you’re certain of anything, you shut the door on the possibility of revelation, of discovery. You can think. You can believe. But you can’t ‘know’.” We know an awful lot today but there is a vast gulf between information, knowledge and wisdom, a gulf most of us are happy to stand on either side of and never try to traverse.

In the first chapter of Hard Times by Charles Dickens, ‘The One Needful Thing’, the first words of the book are spoken by Mr Gradgrind: “Now, what I want is, Facts.” The book goes on to reveal Gradgrind as cold and cruel, concerned only with numbers and facts. The more I hear about facts at the moment the less inclined I am to want to listen. Not because I don’t believe in evidence or proof but because the legacy is so pernicious. Like a great band or artist who inspired a legion of rather dreadful imitators (I’m looking at poor Jeff Buckley here) the sanctity of facts has come under the wrong kind of scrutiny but for me the true damage is there is no search for Truth. After all, they’re not the same thing. Philosophy is just down the hall.

indy-0

P.S. There are some excellent articles and videos on the web about the Philosophy of Rick & Morty, Wisecrack’s in particular.

The Stare

So men do this thing (I’m afraid I can only speak for men here, I don’t know if women do it or not, I’ve never heard a girl mention it or seen them do it). They open a fridge and they do it. They light a fire, they do it. Stand them next to a window, they do it. Stand them on a hill top, they do it. Play them a certain song, they do it. Give them a minute before bed, they do it. Break their heart, they do it. Make them angry, they do it. Give them any sort of reason to pause, a man will do it.

Men stare.

Having 'A Stare' on a boat in Australia.

I noticed I started doing it at school, for no apparent reason other than to think for a minute. Then I started doing it more and more as I mulled over anything. It was as I got a little older when I noticed whenever there was a fire nearby I would stare for ages at it, barely a thought trickling through my head. All the above listed I have done of late and it is a very cathartic thing. Probably like when female friends of mine have stated having “a nice good cry” has a restorative effect, men like a nice good stare. I’m not sure what it accomplishes but you feel better after it. It seems to be a shared moment for men too. It’s infectious. Get one guy staring in a room and, sure enough, eventually every guy there will end up with a wide eyed, glazed look at some middle distant spot. It doesn’t necessarily mean we are in a bad mood, or upset, or pensive (though that can be the case) it can just have been a long day and I need a long stand in front of the open fridge, bathed in the warm amber glow of the door light and cold air emanating from within while I look for something I want but haven’t got to eat. Normally Giant Chocolate Buttons.

This is not to say women don’t stare. Contrary to popular belief, I have seen a women before. I lived with three for some years and I have caught them staring on the odd occasion but from my experience women do not seem to do it with the frequency of men and nor do I think the same mental/physical process is taking place. What I’m saying is, no real research has gone into this post I’m just thinking out loud.

I don’t know why I felt the need to write a post about this but I noticed I’ve been doing it a lot lately, mainly while reading, so figured it worth a mention. I never read about it anywhere else. It is hardly a secret. Men are often called ‘fire-gazers’ and God knows every man I know does it and I’m sure most women who have spent any time with Men have noticed it too. It is a peculiar phenomenon and I’m not sure what purpose, if any, it serves. I think it is just a moment for internal debate or to allow a mental process to reach a natural conclusion, Men being simple beings can only focus that kind of attention on one thing for so long so everything else takes a back seat. Men rarely ‘look’ when they stare. My Dad said most people when they look extend their internal selves outward, stabbing out from the eyes, to ‘look’ means to direct a gaze as opposed to absorbing the light and letting the world in. That’s what seems to happen when Men stare. The world falls in through the pupils. You are not actually looking at anything, the looking is a side effect of the staring.

And then, normally with a gentle but quick intake of breath, a few blinks, back to earth, the world comes hammering down and life restarts. I’ve had a few good stares recently and anyone who knows me knows I’m quiet enough as it is, so a good long stare for me is about three days. Anyway, my name is Leo Cookman and I Stare.

Having a good stare in New York