Region: Philosophy 115
HOT off the presses. Philosophers Winter Edition News.
We have kept the prices low as a continued introductory offer. The first few are free; after that, we enter bankruptcy.
This marks the third edition of our news. Enjoy the read:
The reviews are in from our last international bestseller. Like a successful author, we share some of the world-class reviews, to try and sell you something you thought you didn't need on our very own dust cover. Thankfully, as we are fully digital, we don't worry about dust; just the impending doom of a power cut.
“Newsletters are wonderful, but couldn't you deliver them already scrunched up as a paper ball, ready for play? Well, I suppose humans like The Dora Milaje and Howard P Lovecraft might want something to read with their morning tea or coffee.”
“I would like to second the paper ball delivery method. Or perhaps we can have two copies of each edition, one to read (and shred later) and one to shred right away?”
As we enter into the dark and cold – dreich, dare I even say – weather, we can finally say Winter has come! Long are the days when Winter was coming. Shame! Shame! Shame! The nights are dark, and full of terror. Alas, a dragon is unlikely to take us away to the sunny beaches of King’s Landing. Instead, as we huddle for warmth, we can take some sense of solace that we have a Winter edition of the Philosophers newsletter. In these times, I advise you use this to fuel the fire (especially considering the cost of fuel now...). You’re welcome.
Philosophers continue to expand, like the waistline of a populace in lockdown. Over this quarter, our population increased by around the 140 percent mark to over 240 plus – breaking into the top 100 regions by population size. We continue to welcome everyone’s contributions on the RMB, from our friends abroad, to those who choose to call Philosophers home. We are not the most roleplay-centered of regions. What we lack here, we make up for in other domains.
Last quarter’s theme centered on the climate emergency, and the importance of looking after the ecosystem we all call home. As COP26 takes place as I write in my home city of Glasgow, we look for hope in tackling the climate change. This quarter, we focus on Marginalisation as our overarching theme from our wonderful contributions. As we bounce back from the terrors of looking into loved ones' eyes for months on end of forced isolation, we recognise that many haven’t been so lucky. We are all a little freer to enter back into the terrors of society. Looking after ourselves and one another has never been so critical. The networks we have with one another, and how we build back on the social capital we have missed out on is more essential today than in most points throughout living memory. As the pandemic struck, we were told, as though it was read, that “we were all in this together”. This is all too often the common trumpet horn by those who live detached lives, all too often unable to experience any type of emotion for others. We need, for our self-care, a route of minor escapism which can help process and offer an avenue of critical and deep reflective spaces for centering ourselves to action.
We take a look at the contributions from across Philosophers. The last three months have seen a flood of debate. Take a glass of wine, or five bottles, and settle in for the long read. But before we do, Philosophers went on a few (alas, virtual) holidays, and read a good few books whilst doing it. There must have been severe come down from the wine, however, when we contemplated what’s in the dark. Take a look at our polls below.
The results are in from our virtual holiday of Mongolia. The area which philosophers opted to visit was Sacred Sites.
Virtual World Tour: Korean Peninsula, part 1. Which cultural practice caught your interest? The clear favourite: Island of Jeju seasonal rite.
Virtual World Tour: Korean Peninsula, part 2. The clear favourite: Daemokjang wooden architecture.
The animal we brought along on our holiday
Favourite animal tautonym poll. In botany, generic name and specific name are always at least somewhat different. In zoology naming conventions, they can be the same. The great favourite was Idea idea, Linnaeus’s idea, a butterfly.
Books we read
Favourite Shakespearean Tragedy. A majority of votes were shared between two plays, Macbeth edging Hamlet by 13 votes to 11.
Favourite Shakespearean Comedy. The runaway favourite: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare’s late romances. The most popular choice was The Tempest… Now my charms are all o’erthrown.
And the eventual come-down when we got back from holiday
Lights Out: What is out there in the dark? Majority rule: A vast, expanding collection of stars and their planets teeming with uncanny life.
Could Plato’s Republic be created, and if yes, would the methods be peaceful or not? Asks one Philosopher. In true Thatcherite style, similar to the shock doctrine of Naomi Klein’s analysis of her premiership, according to Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, some “boots on the ground” is really the most steadfast way:
“An ideal society consists of three main classes of people – producers (craftsmen, farmers, artisans, etc.), auxiliaries (warriors), and guardians (rulers); a society is just when relations between these three classes are right. Each group must perform its appropriate function, and only that function, and each must be in the right position of power in relation to the others. Rulers must rule, auxiliaries must uphold rulers’ convictions, and producers must limit themselves to exercising whatever skills nature granted them (farming, blacksmithing, painting, etc.) Justice is a principle of specialization: a principle that requires that each person fulfil the societal role to which nature fitted him and not interfere in any other business.” “Wouldn’t all you need is a strong military and the prevailing religion on your side to maintain any system?”
Gone to Jericho adds to the debate where a diagnosis of the current political structures are geared toward tyrannical rule to establish a power base, anyway: “In the United States and United Kingdom, Trump and Johnson have made a point of being divisive figures, Orbán too, and Bolsonaro. Democracy can be tyranny by the majority. A benevolent dictatorship is not ideal, but when you have a gerrymandered first past the post system propped by harsh police and prison culture, you see why so few leaders make the attempt to unite their nation any more.”
A quick reading of Pinker would suggest we live in a fairly civilized state, where violence is no longer an adequate force in the political arenas of the nation-state, yet as we already can see across established nation-states, the role of power tools is only all too insidious for all those bar the powerful. Wacquant offers some analysis in regards to our penal system and the marginalized, arguing we have entered a post-welfare state towards a penal state: hyper-ghettoization. Why else has it been politically accepted (in some quarters, at the very least) to throw assertions around and be applauded, by the likes of Trump? Bring back Stanley Cohen’s classical analysis on the sense of otherness, please. For anyone interested in how a properly funded penal system could look like, I advise reading Bregman’s journalistic work of some of the Scandinavian models.
Rosa damascena opens the debate to what is, and how do we experience “empathy”? “Do any of you ever perceive the so-called identifiable victim effect in yourself when thinking about others? Do you find it easier to care about a recognisable individual than about a large, vaguely defined group? I observe this in myself frequently, but not sure how to counteract the mechanism. With animals, if someone tries to awaken our sympathy, for example lobbying for a nature reserve, it tends to be more effective to appeal to our emotions showing us cute mammals or birds. The less similar to ourselves we perceive them to be, the more difficult it becomes to intuitively care.”
Sunrise Trail answers: “It is easier to care about an identifiable individual, but it’s also possible to care about a group that is suffering. Where I live, small boatloads of people occasionally make it from Mauritania. Think of all the boats that don’t make it. These refugees are not always welcome, especially during a pandemic, but with the disquiet, there is also compassion. If there’s a baby, that’s where the focus of concern goes.”
This is always an interesting field of study. Is it possible, or indeed, even desirable to be empathetic on all matters around us? There is some interesting published work, both from a psychological and sociological point of view. Let’s quickly break this down for the sake of pith, without looking at every theory out there (impossible task for this newsletter, and one I will scarcely attempt)...
In talking about our previous thread on violence, others have continued within their work to talk about areas of ghettoization towards the so-called “post-emotionalism” as termed by Rodgers. We reply on services, such as in most of Europe, to access quality health care without breaking the bank. The ideal of mutual assurance has been around for generations in the majority of the rich world. Oppose this with our furry friends who do not have access to a nationalised health service, and our opinions are reversed toward a sort of proto-emotionalism (raw and uncontrolled).
English Literature / Shakespeare
Paris and Menelaus exeunt, fighting.
Central Kadigan takes a nuanced approach to Shakespeare and decides what is the one for him. “I almost went with ‘Titus Andronicus’ just because the death and destruction is damn near total. I ended up voting for ‘Hamlet’ because it is the archetypal classic tragedy, but ‘Macbeth’, ‘Lear’, ‘Othello’ were all possible options. Much of the effectiveness of a tragedy hinges on the evilness of the villain. Iago in ‘Othello’ and Aaron in ‘Titus Andronicus’ are two of the most evil characters that Shakespeare wrote about. I’d have to say that Aaron may be more evil; while Iago destroys Othello because he is jealous, Aaron destroys Andronicus just because he’s bored.”
Central Kadigan gives us some analysis from what makes a Shakespeare play (my thanks, as I had never come across his writings properly, always hiding that day in the bike sheds, smoking something which Bill Clinton had tried, yet never actually inhaled): “As I recall, Shakespeare’s plays contain two plotlines, a major and a minor plot. It is believed that the minor plot was used to give the principal actors a brief break during the staging, and was often more lighthearted than the main plot. Anyway, in the version of Macbeth that we have today, there is only a major plotline. It is likely that what we have is a stripped-down version of the play – this would also explain why it is notably shorter than his other plays. It was common at the time to do short versions of plays, often achieved by removing subplot lines, if the performances were ‘by command’ to a VIP, such as to the King or a high-ranking aristocrat, bishop, or ambassador. In Act IV, Scene 1 of Macbeth, there is a procession of portraits of eight kings followed by a mirror. This would make sense, if King James VI/I Stuart was in the audience, the mirror, therefore, a way of putting him into the play. It follows then that we do not have the full version of Macbeth, but we have a version that was pared down for performance for King James. I found this all infinitely fascinating, and it makes us wonder how great the full version must have been!”
The last word has to go to Yootoepeeuh for their wonderful depiction of the bloody spectacle: “I once saw a performance of Titus Andronicus. There was a stagehand whose job was to mop up the fake blood between scenes so the actors didn’t slip and fall. Delightfully gruesome.” Wonderful stuff!
We ask why right-wing political parties have managed to infiltrate the mainstream political processes which should, arguably, find a sense of equilibrium and homeostasis, yet is evidently lacking within the polarisation of the politics. Arguably, this has been a long time coming, decades in the making. A look at some of the practical empirical evidence reveals that landslides in recent election cycles in the West (even under first past the post) have become razor-thin margins.
Digital Influencer argues that: “I feel like part of it is the decline of institutions. For example, in the U.S., trust in the media is very low, I think because, as the internet subverted the previous financial model of media organizations, the quality and objectivity of the mainstream media declined, in my personal opinion. Most people aren’t well versed in critical thinking, so instead of taking what a news outlet says on a case by case basis, they see the very real problems in a news outlet they perceive as being in opposition to their worldview, and assume everything about it is false and bad, and retreat to the news outlet that reinforces their world view but is even less reliable, seeing only what they want to see. The results of declines in other areas, like healthcare, rising inequality, political corruption, covid, etc., get filtered through these reactionary sources of information and into the minds of reactionary people.”
Rosa damascena gives a practical point of view of “closing” or narrowing the wider systems, and limiting the chains of interdependence of places that should be open, transparent, and forward-thinking.
Why isn’t Durkheim talked up more? Indeed, as we enter into an ever-closed system of society, with literal and metaphorical walls, people no longer are open to the same level of exploration. The ever gapping of the fragility of networks, away from solid and ‘real’ networks. Relationships can act as a cost/benefit analysis, always changing to benefit the person alone in so-called liquid times. Population centres become the playground of the detached, and prone to exploration, as opposed to the common good – all inherent within the lovely Bauman analysis. What once was ripe for collective action, and collective voice, becomes mute:
“What are societies doing right, where right-wing extremism and resentment against scientific approaches affect only smaller parts of a population? What’s going on there, for example in terms of income distribution and taxation? How are research institutions situated (physically and in terms of public discourse) in relation to society at large? Which societies would you look at as examples of greater resilience, and how does that resilience work?”
“A physical example: The campus university as an architectonic concept is a physical manifestation of borders between science and population as a whole. In an extreme case, it can be described like this: Nice buildings inside a fenced-in park, accessible only for authorised staff and students. No reason for non-members to ever go there, because there are no talks, workshops, or other events designed for everyone. (Except perhaps sports, which is just money-making show business and does nothing in terms of education.) If the campus university also offers its own housing for staff and students separated from the town as a whole, there’s no occasion for anyone to even have a university member as their next-door neighbour. A research lab where biohazard and other dangerous materials are handled, I’d certainly put into a closed building behind a fence, a gate, and security guards. But ordinary universities? Why close them off? They should be integrated into urban planning in general, interspersed with flats, offices, other public buildings, parks, and shops.”
Digital Influencer argues that open and free access to education is, possibly, one way out of the quagmire of right-wing and individualistic political discourses: “[H]aving courses and one-off classes that are free/cheap and easily accessible to the public, so non-student citizens can feel engaged in the discourse, and these courses could lead them down further intellectual paths. Through a low-income housing program, I got access to free one-off classes on plumbing and carpentry and they were great. I wish they had that for all subjects, at least more visibly, and some incentives for ‘normal people’ to go. I wish I had the knowledge to point to more resilient societies. I just have a vague perception of certain developed European countries doing better than us in the U.S. and U.K. Maybe someday I’ll have time to research places that are intellectually and democratically healthy in different ways, and why.”
However, not all are in total agreement. With the advent of chartered education, private schools promoting their ideals as opposed to rigorous critical thought, can be a potential pitfall, as Ding Dong the Witch is Dead advances: “All this talk of institutions being accessible is well and good but some schools and universities do more harm than good. Religious fundamentalism has created an anti-intellectualism in the United States which is at odds with science and rational thinking. Would you want Bob Jones University in the centre of your town?” Thankfully, there was no mention of the post-modern and post-Marxist critic Jordan Peterson.
The Matrix Paradox
All possible worlds asks the question on our lips since the reboot of the Matrix was announced: “Let’s say there was a virtual reality simulation where you’d have complete control over your life to the point that all suffering could be eliminated...What price would you be willing to pay to participate in it? And I don’t just mean money – how much of your actual freedom of choice and responsibility would you give up to live there? Hell, would you even choose virtual reality over the genuine, physical world?”
Responding to this was the self-answer of “My opinion on the matter, as you can probably guess, is that I would take part in the simulation under one condition: I hold Absolute Autonomy over myself. As long as I get to choose what I experience when I disconnect myself from a given situation (I’m assuming the existence of a game-like ‘Quit to main menu’ option) or how I just live my life there, everything else is secondary. This stems from my skeptical belief that we can’t even tell if we’re in a simulation right now, so we might as well make a simulation that is more comfortable than whatever avocado toast hellscape THIS is.”
Ober land was in a sense of agreement. Best of “both worlds” does seem a rather agreeable solution: “I agree that a ‘quit to main menu’ option is a must for entering this simulation. One requirement I’d have if I were to enter indefinitely, is if my friends move in too, and I’m able to hang with them in-sim. Like San Junipero from Black Mirror.”
Shanlix offered a more guarded response: “I would consider a virtual haven as a last resort option for one’s preservation, with someone at the end of their lifespan or in some kind of species ending scenario. As long as someone has a ‘use’ in the physical world, no matter how small (excluding theories that we’re already living in a simulation), then I believe that they should make full use of one’s capability in the ‘real’ world before considering a virtual afterlife. I guess it is a similar feeling for immersing yourself in a game. Although you have the choice of NEETing and playing some MMO all day, you still have responsibilities outside of the game.”
The Concept of Evil / Devil
In Liquid Times, we have Liquid Evil. Opposed to solid evil (and solid times), it moves like a stream down water. Difficult to see and difficult to fully grasp due to the privatisation of what was once the public sphere or a solid sphere with defined edges, especially in the (early and middle) manifestation of the state. Or least, so says Bauman. For the issues many have, we are reminded by the personification of liquid evil – Margaret Thatcher – that there is no alternative (TINA), yet we know that to avoid the trappings, that there must be. So let us jump into the debate.
The quality of the writing of Satan is questioned by Concordare: “Outside of Milton, I don’t find Satan a particularly interesting character... As for the Bible, I find it something of a mixed bag. There is some good writing in there; Ecclesiastes, Ruth, and some of the parables of Jesus spring quickly to mind.”
Ober land finds alternative joy and meaning in the concept of Satan: “I just genuinely find Satan inspiring. I see Satan as a being who tempts people to eat the Forbidden Fruit, whatever it may be in a given scenario. Your government bans weed? Weed is the Forbidden Fruit. Your parents won’t let you have a boyfriend/girlfriend? Having a boyfriend/girlfriend is the Forbidden Fruit. Satan’s the one who tempts you to defy these figures and partake in the Forbidden Fruit, and in doing so, these authorities cease to be your god, and you become your own god. That’s why Satan says ‘ye shall be as gods’ to Eve (Genesis 3:5).”
Boscolia questions the writing style and what this may mean for the identification of Satan: What makes you conclude that the serpent in the Garden of Eden is Satan? The text in Genesis doesn’t make that identification. Interestingly, though, “So the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals. You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life’ (Genesis 3:14). This does seem to suggest that before this punishment the serpent didn’t crawl. Did snakes in Eden have legs?”
Ober land defends the idea of Satan. We are getting closer and closer to our open gambit of what Evil is, and how difficult it can be to identify: “I believe the typical association of Satan or Lucifer with the serpent in the Garden comes from Revelation 12:9: ‘So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast out to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’ Or from Revelation 20:2: ‘He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.’ I, and I believe most modern Theologians, would disagree with that interpretation… the serpent (of Eden) is meant as an allegory for human temptation, not as a personification of Lucifer. That which separates the serpent from the rest of God’s animals is the ability to speak. It is not some deific or demonic being, merely a cunning beast who tempts Eve. I must admit I’m not surprised that one who would idolize Satan would not really understand the scripture. Those who would read the Bible and come out inspired by Satan must not have read the Bible at all.”
This now takes us to more “logical” or dare one say Kantian tradition of the rejection of God and therefore, the Devil, through the use of logical and rational means. I am sure (no, positive), that this is open for debate. Kant himself did believe in God (very likely), but some of his work questions it in a rational sense. This is echoed in the following debate:
Central Kadigan writes: “As I was raised Roman Catholic. As an adult, the more I read about philosophy and science (I am a biochemist), the less convinced I was by “faith”. To me, belief in a supernatural deity is unnecessary, defies logic, and an extraordinary claim would require extraordinary proof, which does not exist.
That being said, I find the academic discussion of religion, particularly comparative religion, to be endlessly fascinating! The same way that scholars, and general readers, and even school kids are interested in Greek, Roman, and Egyptian myths. I think of it as ancient mythology and modern mythology.
There must be some criteria we use to separate what we think is true from what we think is untrue. For me, that test is logic, reason, and proof. If we accept as true that which defies logic and reason and for which there is no proof, then there is no limit to the absurdities that we would hold as true.
As a scientist – and as a thinking person in general – I see no need for a belief in a deity. There are certainly phenomena that we cannot yet explain, but the earnest search for understanding and truth is what makes us human. It is intellectually lazy and disingenuous to end inquiry and just say “the gods did it”. Well put, Kadigan!
This thread of thought is picked up by Telgan Alpha: “The idea of a God is truly abhorrent to me. The most totalitarian concept there has been in the history of modern civilisation. I would much rather put my faith in what I can be part of – networks of people. Imperfect, at times both good and evil (sometimes at once). But my faith here is more productive and realised daily.
There is no need to say where is the proof of God – as mentioned, “science” cannot prove the existence of magical wizards who take the Hogwarts Express either, but we, justifiably, enjoy the books and films and take it at face value it was not a high budget documentary, or based on reality – as no one has seen them so can we be 100 per cent sure? A little (okay a lot) hyperbolic language here, however, why we should place the concept of God in any higher regard to the existence of Santa is just cultural BS. My version of Santa could easily be the incorporeal being of infinite perfection. Indeed the being is to many children. Both are human-made, and at least Santa doesn’t have the insidious nonsense of correcting standards of religious morals (well, on the whole :) …)”.
Sunrise Trail adds to the argument: “Why suppose there is a God if there is no evidence for it? But I’ve seen this question asked: If there is a God who created the entire universe and ALL of its laws of physics, does God follow God’s own laws? Or can God supersede his own laws, such as travelling faster than the speed of light and thus being able to be in two different places at the same time? I have found this conclusion from Life’s Big Questions on BBC Future: Scientists don’t try to prove or disprove God’s existence because they know there isn’t an experiment that can ever detect God. And if you believe in God, it doesn’t matter what scientists discover about the Universe – any cosmos can be thought of as being consistent with God.”
Again using logic – in a fairly humorous way, Telgan Alpha adds: “I enjoyed reading the extract from the BBC regarding God, from Sunrise Trail. I am a little worried however in the final sentence. Just because something is consistent does not necessarily equate to the best fit of the argument as being valid.
The last word I believe can go to Stroke of luck for the non-stop debate: “Why should God exist? Isn’t the presumption of a god based on cultural superstition from the past? God was needed to explain everything before we started looking for scientific facts. Instead of looking for God, why not keep looking at our world as objectively as we can and see what we can learn?”
We turn again to a previous debate about the power of arguments, and the idea of how we evolve our positions in life. I guess what one may call a core reason for philosophy and psychology.
Rosa damascena begins off the debate: “We had a conversation some time ago, where we tried to remember on which occasions and how we had in the past changed our minds about something-or-other. I don’t think even one person recalled that they ever changed their mind about something because of ‘an argument with another person’, which the other person ‘won’.
Rosa damascena believes: “In practical terms, I think the best one can do is to ask one’s questions, explain one’s reasoning, listen, in short, have an open-ended conversation. And then leave it at that. Not expect much immediately or anything really. It’s more realistic to realise that if some other person at some point in their lives will change their mind on the subject in question, one’s own input will at best amount to a small fraction within their life experience and thought. If I dwell too much on the notion ‘I will argue so well that I am going to convince someone!’ the subject fades in favour of the ego.”
Sunrise Trail points towards passion and emotions as a possible cause of life’s big questions: “When I think of big, divisive questions I haven’t changed my mind over the years, e.g. Brexit, Scottish independence, Québec independence.
Telgan Alpha is a little more relativistic: “I'm not sure. I have been won over throughout the years with critical and ongoing reflective thought. I am usually open to new ideas and concepts. And when some convincing evidence comes out or an interesting new way of looking at something, I have found myself being taken on the journey (if, naturally, convinced). Of course, many hardliners point to X variable and Y variable and note different conclusions and have a different method: often in old currency the ideologues or traditionalists. That isn’t to say we all fall foul to this, either. We would be daft to assume we were immune. That is fine too. This often happens professionally as well as politically: both tend to be interconnected for many of us anyway. The idea of action or no action, even in a professional setting, is a political act. Maybe that is because I come from it from a more radical standpoint – something which is an inherent value for me (within my concept of justice), and likely no matter the evidence to my contrary, I can point to X variable and Y variable and use whatever methods are best for the question I have rather than someone from an opposing side has. The concept of Just Gaming comes to mind here by Lyotard (and Thebaud).”
Boscolia echoes Rosa Damascena’s position: “It's true that people rarely if ever change their minds from view A to view B following an A versus B debate, but the exchange and discussion of ideas is anything but futile. As has been said, we change our own minds and our ideas grow and deepen over time. Reading and discussion provide the fertiliser for that growth. For me, it usually isn’t about switching from A to B, but about realising that both A and B are flawed and forming a deeper understanding of the question.
Central or Decentralised Power
The debate centres on national or regional independence in a globalised world. Some examples are looked at, and again, we could bring in Kant philosophy of the nation-state and to a world order, but alas, I have changed my mind :). The argument becomes centred on the concept of power, and where power should lie. Let us kick off the debate:
Sunrise Trail notes his multi-national make-up and sees the good in a sense of solid collective good (relatively) small collections of people can bring: “As a product of more than one country I approach the question of independence with caution. I think Québec and the rest of Canada are better off together, but some good friends persist in thinking otherwise. As for Scotland, my beloved partner is SNP to the core. Brexit and the election of the divisive Boris Johnson at Westminster cast aside any doubt, for the moment anyway. [Confession: We live in Spain :)].”
Telgan Alpha takes on a different approach and for two people from Scotland, with the on-going debate of the Scottish nation, things oddly remain grounded :): “Regarding independence of any nation or region – if that is what the settled will is, then I am all for it. I believe that Scotland should be an independent nation-state. Many I know aren’t, and their reasons when I hear it out all seem to be centred on a few missold points (in my opinion). But that is their opinion, and I respect that. A few times in the past I have tried to show evidence to disprove or offer a counter-argument, but the subject is quite emotive and very often logic or evidence doesn’t play much into it when the debate is centred on certain points. It is instead, on both sides, a value or belief issue, at least in part. And both sides play this to their advantage. What is the meaning of the state, the nation, and whatever else as equally as imagined takes the centre stage with the so-called big questions around – namely, currency and borders. As long as people have taken a bit of time and thought to come to their conclusions and don’t overly rely on tribunal nonsense, I am more than happy to hear good opposing approaches. Does this mean I will change my mind? I can honestly say, in all likelihood, no. Roll on the next independence ballot. My vote is a solid YES, for now. But I never say never, forever. This is a values issue as well. And I can say with a degree of certainty if the campaign becomes weird and takes a bizarre shift to a team that I believe will do an injustice to future talks and isn’t inclusive to how they plan to set up a new state, by vote is a solid no. The famous quip by Russell is in the back of mind:
I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.
I am, to be true, a massive believer in localism. Decisions taken should be made as close to those affected by it as possible, in other words, by the people themselves. If you can move away from centralization – that being a larger nation-state, I do not think that is, inherently, a bad thing. I suppose I would be very much so accepting of a federalist set-up, but one with a weak executive which can pull larger resources to areas in need (economic, disaster relief, etc.). But as a world stage would be my personal dream. Unachievable, my me yes, at the present state of the majority attitudes. Can dream though.
The question has been raised in Quebec – and until there is a change in survey data, I wouldn’t see it fruitful to hold another election. If there is a majority of the democratically elected politicians who have offered this as a clear perspective, then that must create a mandate for the question to be again posed in Quebec.
As for Catalonia, the Spanish constitution will never allow for such a question to be granted officially in the region. There needs to be some type of mechanism where this is allowed. How the Spanish state treated the unofficial referendum a few years back troubles me. That said, the way the whole thing was run was a little bonkers, but the need for a consultative referendum to hold an official referendum should have been taken seriously, and with sincerity. Some minor flashbacks to the referendum on Scottish devolution in 1979.
Simply because the state has power does not give it the right to practice it at any cost. This needs to be constantly kept in check, with appropriate safeguards in place. The voting system in the UK of FPTP doesn’t even come close to offering the necessary safeguards where the governments holding power have been elected with 35 per cent of the vote, yet have evidenced their disdain at a referendum where a similar numbers result was repealed for not meeting an arbitrary turnout percentage.”
Sunrise Trail counters: “Québec is geographically huge but with a population of only 8.5 million. Demographically 80% have French as a mother tongue, and 5.5% have English (mostly in Montreal). The remainder is a large immigrant population (again in Montreal). Canada is a relatively loose federation and the provinces have considerable power.
People in Québec, certainly francophones, tend to think of Québec as their country, and look to Québec City rather than Ottawa as the centre of political life, but Québec has always had a huge influence on how the whole of Canada is run. A French-speaking person is often Canadian prime minister, e.g. Laurier, St-Laurent, Chrétien and two Trudeaus. Québec still accounts for nearly one-quarter of the Canadian population (it used to be one-third).
Scotland has always punched well above its weight in the United Kingdom. But Scotland accounts for only 8% of the U.K. population. England accounts for 84.5%. This enormous mismatch is exacerbated when the government at Westminster governs unapologetically for the good of its own mostly English supporters.
I agree with keeping things local for the most part, but there is something to be said for centralised power. My first example would be the European Union, which others say is the proof of the need for localism, but I see as a great good. Together nations are stronger in achieving common aims. Secondly, if you live in some reactionary hellhole (Texas), and you need protection from the majority, thank goodness for federal power.”
Rosa damascena strikes to the heart of the debate and thinks about power in terms of centralised or decentralised: “It’s so difficult, the question of what should be the responsibility and decision of which level. City, commune, district, nation, supra-national organizations, and levels in between...
In the coronavirus pandemic, for example, wherever I look on the globe, I find myself wishing for more power to whatever government level seems to be acting in the most responsible way. And I’m wishing for more checks and balances to curb the power of whichever level, to my understanding, is acting most irresponsibly. Which is entirely opportunistic and has no theoretical foundation at all. Where’s the sense in that? I guess the contents of political decisions are more important to me than whichever level enacts them. But absence of checks and balances is probably the worst, because stupid decisions on one level can wreak havoc without mitigation.
In the case of parties or movements in various countries that focus a lot on national borders and supra-national organizations (whichever ways), I try to look at what else they have to offer. What are their proposed policies on topics A-W? If their only focus is “national borders should be X”, or “more government power should be on level Y”, or “let’s leave/stay in state/supra-national organization Z”, I suspect them of being one trick ponies who will run out of ideas once the proposed reorganization has been enacted. Many of these movements also have long histories behind them, which makes them impossible to grasp unless one takes the time to read up on centuries past.”
Central Kadigan adds: “In a purely theoretical sense, and as a supporter of the ideals of democracy, I agree with you. However, as you alluded to, out here in the ‘real world’ the wheels of theory tend to fall off.
The main problem with such decentralization is that it can either be incomplete (with the central government retaining several key powers, and therefore not decentralized at all) or it is total (to the extent that the central government ceases to exist).
Looking at the history of the United States, we tried a weak and decentralized federal government like the one you mentioned. That government under the ‘Articles of Confederation’ lasted less than a dozen years, from 1777 until 1789. It was rather quickly realized that – as per the above paragraph – such a weak and decentralized federal government would either have to be a fiction (hindered in its ability to govern by trying to maintain the myth) or it wouldn’t exist at all.
In the end, it was realized that we could either fragment into several different independent nations, or we needed a strong and centralized federal government if we wanted to remain as one nation. On this topic, I highly recommend ‘The Quartet’, Joseph Ellis, 2015. Whether or not Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, John Jay, and James Madison lead us down the right path or not is a matter of debate.”
There is nothing more satisfying and daring in theoretical discussion than an actual empirical real-life example. And that is exactly what Nusakota alerts us to. We thank you for what I believe is one of the best contributions made so far. Take a read:
“My home country used to be very centralized, with the dictator basically controlling everything from the capital city using an army of soldiers on one hand, and an army of bureaucrats on the other. When he got deposed during the Asian Monetary Crises his successor decided to decentralize the nation, but since he feared separatism if he decentralized to the provincial level, he decentralized to the district level instead (that’s a county for you Americans). So now each and every district controlled basically everything apart from foreign policy and national defense and even had their own legislative assemblies to formulate local laws, with provinces only holding ‘coordination’ authority.
A lot of people, especially those living in the capital city, saw this as national suicide: the local government will mean that the nation would proceed to rip itself apart.
But that didn’t happen. Although authority was decentralized, the newly empowered districts always had a skills shortage, which meant they needed policy guidance from the central government. The local government did become more responsive to the local population, but at the same time, each district basically became a mini sultanate or petty kingdom.
Some were wonderful, one district managed to provide universal healthcare and free secondary school despite being a poor region without any big mining or industry interests in it. Another small city went from being among the filthiest in the nation to winning national cleanliness awards five years in a row, with a village running entirely off electricity from (garbage sourced) methane.
On the other hand, you have a city that was paralyzed when 40 of its 45 local legislators were arrested on a single corruption case. Or the multiple cases of dynasty building with one family pretty much turning an entire province into a mafia empire where the family matriarch became provincial governor and her family controlled most of the districts below her as well as the local bureaucracies.
In all though, it’s been a wild ride, since the end effect is that we have about 530 empowered district governments all running around, doing a lot of policy experimentation. Although government today is more wasteful and has more corruption than the dictatorship era, nearly all of the successful central government programs have come from copying district-level programs and scaling them up. So in that way, central government policy has become more efficient and effective. Also, since a lot of the corruption is done by locals instead of the elites at the capital, more of the corrupted money is at least being spent at their local communities anyway, instead of some foreign casino.
Previously during the dictatorship era, the legitimacy and success of local politicians flowed upwards, all local executives (Mayors, governors, district heads) were appointed by presidential decree, and although elections for the local legislature happened, they were shams and they only had power to ‘propose’ candidates.
Now with competitive and fair elections for all levels of government, local candidates at the very least need to bribe the local electorate instead of the national elites. These local electorates, even if there are definitely local power holders and entrenched interests still have interests tying them closer to home.
So instead of say, wining and dining (+ shadier stuff) the Minister of Interior Affairs (who is a close confidante of the president) – local candidates now fund the roof renovation of the local mosque, buy new drums and flutes for the local high-school marching band, and distribute envelopes full of money to local voters during election day (we call it the ‘dawn attack’ since that’s when they tend to do it).
So the candidate works with locals to get elected, owes IOUs to locals, and corrupts government funds with local collaborationists.
For example he/she decides the local uniform budget for civil servants goes to his cousin’s clothing company – a small and inefficient cottage affair that had previously cheaply supplied campaign apparel. The government office renovation contract goes to an old family friend who donates part of the budget to the re-election fund, and so forth and so forth. If anything, it’s easier to money launder through informal networks then deposit money through a bank into a foreign shell company, as there are government agencies specifically tasked to track dubious financial transactions and transfers, especially those made to overseas.”
As the world faced the impossible odds of a Zombie Apocalypse, the scientists and experts all focused on the cure. The usual research of the cat meow and how beards help protect the face from a punch was stopped (Ig Nobel Prize, 2021). Although the cure did prove to be the cat’s pyjamas and extra protection against zombie bites with facial hair no doubt all proved invaluable to the efforts.
Mr Shoe is undead and a valued member of the Ankh Morpork City Watch. But HE keeps his undeadness to himself. Us curers cure the zombies as are shamblin about zombifying others! Who didn't ask for it.
During the course of the zombie uprising, there was a broad consensus that something must be done – anything! Some took it upon themselves to conjure up the will of magic:
Granny Weatherwax sniffed the air. There was something rotten in the state of Lancre. A faint shuffling sound.... Another whiff of moving rotting flesh reached her (rather well-shaped) nose. ‘It isn’t right,’ she mumbled to herself. ‘Thems as are dead oughta stay dead, and at peace and done.’ Somebody ought to Do Something about it. With a sigh, she reached for her erratic broomstick. ‘Out we go. This is getting out of hand. Need to assemble the coven.’
Infected: 0.0% (zero zombies, 267 billion survivors)
Discworld Philosophers v. Zombies. Residents of Philosophers were invited to dress up as their favourite Discworld character. The most votes went to Granny Weatherwax.
Wall of Fame and Shame
Wall of Fame Thinker
Reporter cautions us...
“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.” Terry Pratchett, Diggers
...and puts the world into perspective:
“Granny Weatherwax was not lost. She wasn’t the kind of person who ever became lost. It was just that, at the moment, while she knew exactly where SHE was, she didn’t know the position of anywhere else.” Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters
What is this marvel? A writer who can encourage us to think and laugh? A wholehearted endorsement comes from Ding Dong the Witch is Dead: “I love Terry Pratchett and Discworld, his comic fantasies. I’ve read most of the books, and there were a lot of them.” If you haven’t read any of the comic fantasy books by Terry Pratchett, they are wonderful fun.
Wall of Shame Thinker
In a twist of events, Ayn Rand again leads the pack on our wall of shame. If this keeps up, we shall consider renaming this segment after her. An honour most can only dream of!
“Why is our society faced with so much extreme right-wingery these days? Boris Johnson and his hopeless Ayn Rand groupies mess up time after time and are still five points ahead in the polls. Places like Poland, Hungary and Texas (good grief, Texas) compete to see who can be most reactionary in the democratic, western world home of the Enlightenment. …. I try to put myself in the shoes of others and empathise, but there comes a point when all you can do is stay in your flat, shut the door, lock it securely and pray the madness doesn’t slip in through the keyhole.” Ding Dong the Witch is Dead
With the might and global reach of Oprah, or in our case, the recasting of Richard and Judy’s talk show (as seen on Watch, not channel 4), we bring to you our almighty sticker of the Philosophers Book Club!
Book recommendation of the Quarter: The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Wengrow.
“Most thinking about [the state and humanity] in the contemporary West is just endless spinning between the views of Hobbes and Rousseau, neither of which has any basis in what we actually know about our distant ancestors and the development of human civilization. The truth is far stranger, more interesting, and has much more exciting implications about the possibility of organizing society.” Andisol
As we almost leave this year behind, we look forward to spending time with loved ones. This year has been a time of constant flux and constant change. We have all come through difficult times, yet what really shines through is the resilience we show each and every day. No matter how small or big. Like new jobs in the Great Resignation era or new homes fit for the outside world (just be careful of Amazon deliveries).
Again, we leave you with some inspiration to brighten up your day, or perhaps darken it, or was it something else? Who knows. We have already forgotten, quite frankly. Ah lockdown and memory problems ( – hopefully no more!).
Dear optimist, pessimist and realist
Do say: 2022 will be the year of a new job.
We wish all of our friends a very happy festive season. Until the year 2022.
Until the fourth edition in early 2022.
Sunrise from the Sea and The rose