Art as a way of living

January 16, 2010

Art too is just a way of living, and however one lives, one can, without knowing, prepare for it; in everything real one is closer to it, more its neighbor, than in the unreal half-artistic professions, which, while they pretend to be close to art, in practice deny and attack the existence of all art – as, for example, all of journalism does and almost all criticism and three quarters of what is called (and wants to be called) literature.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Nishitani Keiji recognised nihilism as the central philosophical problem of the twentieth century.

One of the major contributing factors to this nihilism, Nishitani saw as contemporary science. He believed this because our modern science is based on faulty epistemology, linked to a fundamental rift in human consciousness.

What did he mean by that, exactly?

In 1961 he published “Shukyo to wa Nanika” (what is religion?), later translated as “Religion and Nothingness”, in which he looked at nihilism, relating it in part to “modern” science, which “objectifies” not only the natural world but also the human subject; this results in the “depersonalisation” of the human being and the “denaturalisation” of nature. Deep alienation follows.

For as long as I can remember, I have believed “industrialised man” to be alienated from the world surrounding him; likewise the society we’ve created has adopted or assumed values based on this same alienation. Nishitani early on confronted his own nihilism. It was his struggle as a young man with despair and nihilism that led him to philosophy in the first place. He studied Nietzsche, Max Stirner, Heidegger and decided their thinking was “positive nihilism” (almost a creative nihilism!) as opposed to the “nihilism of despair” which he saw as something that bled from Europe to contaminate the whole modern industrialised world, including Japan.

He claimed the deep depersonalisation of human beings was exacerbated by our almost worship-like attitude to science, a stance equivalent to societal atheism; this “scientism” had grown from the classic (although faulty) epistemology separating subject and object, which in turn creates the illusion of the subject – I, Me, Mine – as an independent “entity” divorced from the rest of the world, apart from its environment.

I find Nishitani Keiji arguments very robust as an explanation of where the world is right now. His “cure” for the problem Śūnyatā (“the standpoint of emptiness” – developed from the teachings of the Buddha) is equally robust and very persuasive – but runs counter to the motivational basis of any capitalist society (western or eastern), and therefore would prove unacceptable to the majority of individuals comprising that society. It seems a truism that even when confronted by its own destruction, the human race will bicker, prevaricate, display incredible greed and self-interest – but never, NEVER, act in unison to prevent its own annihilation.

That is mankind’s tragedy.

Nevertheless, Nishitani Keiji was one of the world’s great thinkers. Over the years more and more philosophers (in the west especially) have taken up his thought, considered its challenges and the implication of its key ideas on the fundamental issues facing the world today. Ultimately Nishitani Keiji believed there was hope.

And I in my turn believe where there’s hope, there’s possibility…

The dilemma of science

January 11, 2010

“Science has the answers to all mankind’s problems.”

Do you believe this? Scientists make lots of mistakes, don’t they? For example:

The Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson overestimated the number of people who’d contract Swine Flu; he estimated 65,000 would die. Consequently, we as taxpayers, purchased 29 million doses of Swine Flu vaccine from two drug companies, but only used four million doses. Now we’re going to give away millions of doses of vaccine at a potential cost of one billion pounds sterling.

Science is often inexact – or, rather, the pontifications of those high priests of science, the scientists themselves, are often inexact. So we had a “barbecue summer” predicted in the UK this year and a mild winter: the summer weather was wishy-washy at best and parts of Britain were colder than the South Pole this winter.

In fact the Met Office people have predicted mild winters for the past three years in the UK. We didn’t get them. Last winter’s abnormal cold pushed Britain’s death rate up to 40,000 above the average. This winter it’ll be far, far higher.

Scientists advised the Highways Agency and Local Authorities there’d no longer be a need for large stockpiles of salt for frozen roads. The world, after all, is warming. The Transport Minister, Lord Adonis then admits as a nation we entered this latest cold snap with only six days supply of grit! Crazy. But it has been claimed some councils have more “Climate Change Officials” than gritters.

Obviously climate change is something that needs to be studied over hundreds and even thousands of years. There’s been a scientific explanation from the met office about the current cold snap: “regional” phenomenon, due to “natural” factors. Yet it’s affecting the whole northern hemisphere; 1,200 places in the US last week reported record snow, and freezing low temperatures.

In part the advice of Climate Scientists helped dig the graves of those 40,000 people last winter; these would be the elderly, the infirm, the vulnerable. The “scientific” advice given, of course, was incorrect. While scientists talk about “warmer winters” government will take no action to defend against freezing arctic cold, or fuel poverty which is rife in Britain today.

Okay, enough about climate. What other mistakes have scientists made?

Well, what about Thalidomide? Remember that one, do you?

The introduction of the Cane Toad to the sugar cane fields of Queensland Australia to control pests – the Toads went out of control and are killing native wildlife as far away as the Northern Territory. And the Toads are still spreading.

What about DDT?

Ummm.

Scientific errors and controversies inevitably occur in the absence, ignorance, or dismissal of good data, and the promotion of bad data or analyses. We like to quote scientists as experts. We have put them high up on a pedestal. We forget they are human, too.

Take a step back in time and the first scientists, alchemists, believed it’d be possible to turn led into gold. They were wrong. Johann Joachim Becher in the mid 16th century was convinced there was another element beside air, fire, earth and water which he called “Phlogiston”. Most scientists of his time were convinced he was correct in this judgment. He wasn’t. Up until the nineteenth century most scientists accepted the claim that the earth was only 6,000 years old. They were so, so wrong. Until the nineteenth century, doctors didn’t see the need to wash their hands before surgery. They were wrong, too. The huge number of cases of gangrene that resulted were universally thought to be due to “bad air”! Again, they were mistaken in their analysis of the problem.

The list could go on and on and on.

The scientific method is a tool to help people progress toward the truth despite their all-too-human susceptibility to confirmation bias and other errors. It’s the bias and errors we need to watch out for: one day they may prove the death of us all.

In the meantime it would be as well to remember scientists are human. They aren’t omnipotent beings, Gods for the 21st century. They are individuals seeking funding for their projects and ideas. They have all the inconsistencies and frailties of other human beings. They do make mistakes. They do get it wrong. Sometimes spectacularly so.

”The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.”

Dante Alighieri

Metamorphosis

January 7, 2010

So you wake up one morning as a Chav – in fact you could be king of the Chavs, for all I know!

No, scrap that, EMPEROR of the flaming Chavs! In fact, you’re behaviour could make Ming the Merciless look like Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Agnesë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu – now, of course, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, since her beatification by Pope John Paul)!

Anyway, you wake as a Chav (like Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s ‘‘Die Verwandlung’’ – “The Metamorphosis” – who woke terribly transformed), so what are you going to do about it?

Let’s give this a little thought: Samsa in Kafka’s novel found himself transformed into a giant earwig-like or cockroach-like insect; subsequently he became a burden to his family who kept him locked up and isolated in his room. Obviously Kafka used Samsa and his fate as a metaphor for oppression (in this instance the oppression of Capitalism and duty) and alienation (from society).

Now, as a Chav, duty won’t be much of a problem for you – other than excise duty, that is. And likely the only oppression you experience is the cost of Stella, aka “wife beater”, and the whiney neighbours who secretly (illegally?)film you taking a dump on their front lawn after a night down the pub with mates. Naughty, naughty, neighbours.

In fact, chances are after your metamorphosis, you could become an oppressor yourself – to neighbours, local authority officials, police, you name it. So you’ll soon come to realise being a Chav does have advantages. You, most likely, will alienate society! You’ll certainly piss off your neighbours at the very least (but not the really hard cases, eh?).

So, as a brand new Chav, what should you do to begin?

Make a “to do” list, prioritise your objectives: a five point list is good; ten points is better. But remember – it’s best to include a “time scale”, a deadline by which to achieve your chosen objectives! You should also keep in mind, as a Chav, you’ll no longer be numbered among the seven million or so semi-literate individuals living within UK borders; instead you’ll have joined the vast number of happily illiterate folks, the unintelligentsia, who spend their time watching six year old repeats of Big Brother on digital TV while consuming Doner Kebabs and dripping rancid lamb fat on the sofa.

So, the list (an example):

1. Fink upmarkit – go fer Shish Kebab. An not a crappy half a pitta with chips stuffed in, niver. Go the ‘ole hog. Big bits of burnt greasy meat. Yum, yum, yum. From tonite.
2. Get an ASBO. ASP. Aim to win three of these special Nu Labor awards by end of Feb. Show yer a man (sorry) MAN and not a big woman’s pee thing.
3. Don’t take ketamine wen you’ve bin sniffing Bostick or nail varnish remover or doin a lot ov weed – unless yer Income Support or other benefit payments are late. From next week.
4. Each time a cop car passes, shout in yer loudest voice: “Can I smell bacon?” From Today.
5. If it move, shag it (not yer stupid sisters/bruvers, unless nofink better about/available).

Over Arching Goal:

Wot would everyone say if we Chavs behaved like the countries of the world? I’ll tell yer. They would say wer stupid, crass, ignorant, hopeless. That’s right, init? Yet they’re worse, in they? So it’s about time we took over.

So, to recap: you’ve woken one morning, climbed from bed, glanced in the mirror and quietly said: “My God, I’m a Chav.” Despair not. While the word Chav supposedly stands for “Council House and Violent” later usage has diminished the need of a “Council House” though a particular attitude of mind, supported by irrational tantrums, violent outbursts and total selfishness, is essential. Make your “to do” list now.

Remember: fail to plan and you plan to fail!

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Your behavior from this point on must (MUST) have far reaching social ramifications. When approached or arrested by police officers, you say: “No comment” to each question asked. Confronted by Social Workers explain you are suffering from ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) which will be sufficient mitigation for even the most extremely aberrant behavior imaginable (especially with your now much lower IQ).

Remember: The World Is Your Oyster.

In particular you should express (with me) a particular debt of gratitude to Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and Nu Labour whose policies (pursued with such single-minded vigor) constitute one of the biggest experiments in social engineering ever witnessed in this nation; and without which the concept of a “Chav” could never have existed! The bright fabric of our day-to-day lives would accordingly have been seriously diminished. Socialism for the oughties has ensured a growing gap between rich and poor. It played the part of Robin Hood in reverse. It ensured we have a Police Force more concerned with “quotas” and “equality” than actual “policing”. The rise of the Chav coincided with an upsurge in the problem of binge drinking and anti-social behavior.

So, a final word or two from our new born Chav?

“Big shout out to all da boys, its fer life an yous knows it! Nu labor is fookin’ beeest! Them Conservative r all twats! I’ll fookin’ kill ‘em! The BNP is like Nu Labor, init? So okay. Izzit right, this election stuff? Fookit, I sez. Lets get twatted , go fookin’ mental, like. Lets just hav a government for life.”

God Lord, whatever next? The world according to Marie Claire:

‘One of the latest trends is “VUM-building,” which sounds like a doomed Soviet industrial project but is apparently a surefire way to get your man addicted to you. VUM stands for “Vaginally Used Muscles,” and a number of schools are offering courses in strengthening and toning the muscles using special equipment — a kind of gym for the vagina.’

‘ “Once a woman reaches optimal fitness, she can shoot a fountain of water up out of her vagina in the bath,” boasts Nikitina, a ponytailed blonde in a leopard-print top. The core device is a small silicone balloon that is inserted in the vagina and inflated with a pneumatic pump. “You squeeze against the balloon and measure the pressure on the attached gauges,” says Nikitina. Fine-tuning can be achieved by learning to shoot out pebbles onto a metal target.’

The mind boggles…

The Dead

January 3, 2010

Revolving in oval loops of solar speed,
Couched in cauls of clay as in holy robes,
Dead men render love and war no heed,
Lulled in the ample womb of the full-tilt globe.

No spiritual Caesars are these dead;
They want no proud paternal kingdom come;
And when at last they blunder into bed
World-wrecked, they seek only oblivion.

Rolled round with goodly loam and cradled deep,
These bone shanks will not wake immaculate
To trumpet-toppling dawn of doomstruck day :
They loll forever in colossal sleep;
Nor can God’s stern, shocked angels cry them up
From their fond, final, infamous decay.

Sylvia Plath