How to be a Philosopher
A general disbelief in most things from a young age
helps. Have you always wondered why some people, belief
systems and countries seem to put across the idea they
are always right? Questioning parents and teachers is
a good first move to set you on your path. From this
you soon learn about punishment and know that free thought
comes at a price. Being made to be on the outside of
things helps you to see the world from a different angle.
This is the first Law of Philosophy: seeing things from
a point that is not safe or comfortable. Of course,
there are games you soon learn to combat the forces
of 'right' - just make sure that you remember they are
games. Never believe in your own lies.
In the Beginning
Once in a past age of certainty there was a very clear
Bishop Ussher worked meticulously through the Bible
and came up with 8 p.m, 22 October, 4004 BC. as the
day the earth, and therefore the universe, was created.
As you can imagine this brought much relief and there
was rejoicing all round. This was in 1656.
Such certainty deserves acclaim. You can imagine the
portly bishop went home none too pleased with himself
having solved this problem. Drank warm wine in front
of the fire before falling into a peaceful sleep. Everyone
(Christians anyway) went off to sleep secure in the
belief that God had placed the Earth at the centre of
his creation with humans (man they would have called
it) being the sole reason for all the effort. It was
reassuring to know that the world was a relatively small
place and hadn't been around all that long. It made
you feel kind of important.
The estimated age of the universe is now 15 billion
years and it is getting older every year. If the age
of the universe was compared with a football match there
would be no one on the field till quarter time when
a load of one-celled amoeba oozed out. Not very good
at kicking the pill they did have the ability of taking
a hard bump and simply split in half if the going got
too tough. Captains often asked for head counts. The
first primeval fish (impressive skills on wet days)
would appear just before half-time, with the first reptiles
appearing during the break to carry out the oranges
or their ancestral citric equivalent. Dinosaurs didn't
get their chance till the ten minute mark in the third
quarter, but being susceptible to knee injuries (too
top heavy) were stretchered off before the end of the
premiership quarter. Meanwhile the human species were
still dreaming themselves into being and finally in
the form of those hirsute, bent-over, knuckles trailing
on the ground ancestors that emerged 4 million years
ago (some things never change), they get a run off the
bench in the final two seconds of the match.
Some people might think they sure have made their presence
felt despite obviously being on the wrong side of the
But back to Ussher. At the time the universe was a
small place simply because humans had no other way of
seeing it differently. Those who did often got in trouble
with Church authorities, and since the Church just about
ran the State it really did mean trouble. Just ask Galileo
Galileo is remembered for inventing the telescope and
proving that the Earth was not the centre of the universe,
instead it revolved around the Sun. This was not strictly
true as he stole the idea of the telescope from the
Dutch though he improved on it. He also had the Polish
astronomer, Copernicus, to thank for questioning the
old belief in the centrality of the Earth (the old Ptolemaic
model), though again he was the one to prove it.
This shift in taking the centrality away from the Earth
had great ramifications for the Church. They were all
powerful and what the Pope said was almost infallible.
To question this central tenet involved questioning
the very basic foundation of the Church and its beliefs.
Anyone who dared to cross the orthodox Church Thinking
found themselves visited by the Inquisition and its
tortures. Galileo was no exception.
On the day they came for him Galileo could smell the
burning flesh of that other heretic, Giordano Bruno.
It stuck in his nostrils as he was delivered to the
Inquisition. There is no way of bypassing what happened:
the smell in his nostrils formed miraculously into fear,
it was as solid as marble, cold as steel and it sat
lodged inside of him, so that when they rattled the
instruments of torture he forgot a whole life of arrogant
postering, threatening to stand eye to eye with death
and laugh, and cried out that he repented. None of it
was true, he had misread the stars, the telescope was
This might be a little tough on the guy as he was sixty
eight at the time and a devout Catholic!
They say it set back Science 100 years, nevertheless
it did get out and the physical laws of Science came
to dominate in the subsequent centuries. The Church
was still a little slow in officially recognising this.
The Pope finally acknowledging officially that Galileo
was right in the 1990's.
Galileo was one of the first to shake the certainty
that had held the world together for two thousand years.
Later Darwin, Marx, Neitzsche, Freud and Einstein would
shake it from its hinges.
The Meaning of Life
It is a little disconcerting, even disappointing, that
after thousands of years of intelligent and serious
men (!) examining every available bit of evidence at
their fingertips and beyond, to still come up with nothing
substantial, nothing so that we could comfortably go
home to bed and say 'Yes, well that's it then'. No nearer
the truth than we were in the beginning.
What conclusions can be drawn from this?
The first is that it is no surprise that philosophy
is not as popular as Law and Medicine as career choices.
Secondly it is surprising that there is still a Church,
especially the Catholics. How many times can you get
it wrong without being dropped from the squad.
The problematic part is that many of the philosophers,
scientists, theologians at the time thought they were
right. Somebody, it seems, is changing the rules for
those next up.
For those of you who do not wish to read the whole
book but want the answer to the meaning of life, please
turn to page 180.
Every age group has a stereotype, but teenagers probably
have to put up with the most. For a start older people
will explain their behaviour as a 'phase that they are
going through.' This tends to trivialise the experience
of what they are feeling and doing, as it is set in
terms that make it sound like it is only part way along
a developmental spectrum, and presupposes that people
progress and understand the world better as they grow
older. The older generation certainly have more experience
and knowledge, but their understanding is simply another
version of the world. Growing older also means losing
something, a way of seeing. They often see youth behaviour
as 'lacking maturity' as if maturity is a wonderful
place where everyone acts so thoughtfully.
However the very experience of what you feel and think
as a teenager is as real as anything that comes after.
To be in love at sixteen will be described as 'puppy
love' or 'a phase that will pass'. This might be partly
true but at the time it is as real and as poignant as
anything you may ever experience. Even if you look back
thinking it foolish it is more likely that it is how
you have been conditioned by society to see it this
way more than the experience at the time.
Another interesting point is that teenagers are an
invention of 1950's Western culture. Before that people
of this age group were set into more prescribed roles
and were moving into employment, and getting set to
get married. In other cultures there is not the same
Many claim the cultural phenomena of young people 'hanging
out', having time and a more rebellious attitude was
a result of the invention of the small transistor radio,
capitalist affluence, the post war baby boom, and the
rise of rock music and film.
Christ didn't sound like a bad bloke and was in many
ways a rebel. He questioned the traditional assumptions
of the day and preached love and turning the other cheek.
This itself caused him to be unpopular with the authorities
at the time as they believed that it was better to have
a vengeful God who was clearly on your side and didn't
mind smoting the unbelievers whenever he got a chance.
Preaching 'Love Your Enemies' was not high on the agenda
when all the lads met to see who they could get the
boot into next. The people on the hit list were always
those 'different' to them so to have a subversive claiming
to be the Son of God, preaching love and hanging out
with whores, lepers and other undesirables made him
the next one on the crucifixion list.
Christ's attitudes were just too radical for the time
and it was because of this more than anything else that
he was crucified. The punk kid who wanted to do it his
Eventually the Christians became the dominant group,
but they didn't quite follow the lead of their Messiah
and it always surprises me that more people haven't
complained, stood up and said 'This is not what he meant'.
The culprits were the Church fathers who took over after
Christ died. For a great example of inventing history
that would have made Stalin feel inadequate, these Church
fathers got rid of anything subversive, put women back
in their place, and came up with terms like sin and
the 'fall', concepts that Christ had absolutely nothing
to do with.
If it ever worries you that we are always the 'good
guys' look up the term Ideology that appears later.
What would you do?
You have got a whole weekend to do anything you want
to. No questions ever asked, nobody will ever bust you,
you are totally free. What would you do?
Everything you do matters and never disappears. Every
action performed still exists, not to be judged, but
to simply exist. Imagine our lives on video. You might
need a whole video shop to hold the cassettes, but there
they would be, sitting on the shelves down all the aisles;
pick a tape and there would be your three hours of life,
whether you were partying, bored in front of a maths
problem, or sleeping. On the other hand, anything we
do cannot possibly matter; it all means nothing. The
two are equally true and co-exist without being in conflict.
These were the words of an old friend, Anna, who I
still miss. She was going through a Buddhist period
at that stage and often sat with her legs crossed in
a lotus position. She also used to stand on her head
when we went down the beach. I would be out surfing
and it was comforting to see her legs poking straight
up into the sky across an expanse of water.
Does our language shape our reality?
The Soweto Riots in South Africa were about language.
The White Afrikaaners wanted to continue the practice
of having the Afrikaans' language taught in schools
instead of the Blacks' own language.
The Blacks claimed that the Whites' language denigrated
their people in the associations and meanings that were
attached to words in reference to them. Blacks were
seen as sub-human, subservient, dirty slovenly creatures
with primitive ways. This was all done through the connotations
of words that had evolved over time in that culture.
In their own language they were constructed as noble,
proud and capable of ruling their own destinies.
The Afrikaans' language can be seen as constructing
these people to see themselves in a negative way as
this 'reality' was embedded in the language they had
to use everyday. In turn, the people found they believed
in the 'reality' of the language which then shaped their
perceptions of self.
The history of colonalism is full of such stories.
The Whites viewed indigenous peoples' language as little
more than 'primitive babble', lacking the refinements
of English, French, Spanish or Dutch. The first thing
they did to indigenous people was to dispossess them
of their language, making them use the oppressors' language
and accepting their subjugation.
In the English language people have also been categorised
by the way they use language and their accent. It was
not till recently that the Cockney accent in England
and the speech of the Negroes been accepted as having
equal status. Many still regard people who speak with
an Oxford accent as being necessarily more intelligent,
cultured and superior. As we know speaking la-de-da
doesn't mean you've got a brain in your head.
All history is selective, it cannot be otherwise. Someone
is going to tell the story and one viewpoint is going
to be privileged over another. There can only be versions
of reality, versions of history and truth that shift
and sway. It is in the interests of those in power (ruling
classes) to construct the past to suit their values;
values that will perpetuate their privileges and rights.
One figure from the Bible most will know is Mary Magdalene.
She is famous for being the whore who repents. This
was not exactly the story but one invented by the church
to serve its own interests.
Let's hear the story from her viewpoint now:
Mary of Magdala
I was never a whore, just an epileptic with a head
full of demons, seven to be exact
claimed the holy fathers later and assigned each a
When he came into town, when he held my head in fisherman's
hands for the briefest of moments I knew he was the
man, and packed up my things, dressed in flowing violet
letting my hair fall to my waist, and followed this
man, this itinerant Christ through the desert to Jerusalem.
You do not know me: I am one of those inventions of
history, whose story has been stolen. Jealous because
I was the first to see the risen Christ the apostle
Peter refuted my vision, saying Would the Redeemer have
spoken secretly to a woman without letting us know.
I should have seen it coming even then. Turned into
the whore, the great sinner whose penitence and remorse
was just what the church needed to make the body a temple
He would have turned in his grave had he not risen
already. A physical man who sweated and smiled, who
all the women loved, but he chose his men badly, always
ready to forgive and didn't see that the Rock that his
church would be built was carved by masons whose thick
fingers felt none of the life of the stone; intent on
using heavy hammers when it needed the delicate point
After that day on Golgotha the men hid in houses, scared
of the Roman soldiers but we, the women, had stood on
the hill in the open and mourned the body of this man
and the man himself, visited the grave though we could
have been crucified ourselves for mourning a crucifixion
in a public place.
I am, we are, fictions of these men who came after:
men who stripped the sacred from the body, who preached
celibacy from the recluse of stone walls and raised
altars, who would continue for two thousands years to
There are more Marys in the Bible than goats in Sumeria.
I am stray pieces of shipwreck that have washed ashore
for others to make a narrative, while this thing I call
self lies beneath gashes of reef.
I have been confused with Mary of Egypt, a penitent
in the Syrian desert for forty seven years and the Samaritan
woman in John who was converted by Christ at the Sychar
well, and numerous other Marys, so I tell you now I
was none of these and had left the city soon after that
day at Christ's tomb, going aboard a small boat that
soon became rudderless, till washing ashore at Marseilles.
I wished for the amnesia of mountains and acted the
penitent in a cave, but never was fed by angels or performed
miracles by raising mothers or babies from the dead,
but sought the silence of solitude, looking over the
hollow and curves of hills, the sky as pale as time
on some days, before returning to the coast and finding
Lazarus, that man who had seen the other side though
never spoke of it, seeking the comforts of each other
and settling down to a life near Aix.
I read somewhere a list of definitions of what reality
might really be. There was the old parallel universes
(Sliders style), one that said it was exactly as it
appeared, one that stipulated that consciousness itself
creates reality, but the one that was a scarier than
hell (and hell was invented with the specific purpose
of scaring people to be good) was the one where the
universe operates on a non-human logic. It is impossible
for us to know.
Time and Space
Imagine having a space craft that could travel almost
at the speed of light (186,000 miles/second). You're
sixteen years old and you leave your twin sister at
home as you race out into space. Inside your spaceship
you spend a year doing the sort of things one does in
space; an absolutely ordinary year with all the same
components (365 days of 24 hours) except for being in
space and travelling extremely fast instead of comfortably
home on Earth.
When you return home you are seventeen years, having
aged one year because you have lived one year.
There to meet you is your twin sister looking decidedly
matronly with her three children and second husband.
She says, 'Just made it home in time for our forty-second
birthday', before having a closer look at you and saying
in a voice that suggested there has been sibling rivalry,
'What's the name of the moisturiser they gave you up
For the reasons this happens (clue: it's not the moisturiser)
The Western world is obsessed with immortality. They
want our bodies to last forever. As if the body maketh
the human. That's why we should exercise, stop smoking,
drink less, take out superannuation and only take reasonable
Locations for the Philosophical 1: Easter Island (Rapa
You can go nowhere else in the world and be so far
away from everything. Literally. Surrounded by thousands
of miles of Pacific Ocean it is famous for its huge
carved statues (Moais) that litter the coastline and
This is a place to get perspective. Life suddenly comes
into focus when the aircraft you are arriving in, touches
down, just missing the ocean by a few metres and pulls
up just in time before falling off the other end. The
island is quite large, it's just that they built the
airport on the narrowest part of it.
This is a philosophical question that deserves attention.
Why do people make things so hard for themselves and
others? There is the excitement factor and this always
causes problems in people's lives, but there has to
We could all smile and get along with others and there
would be no conflict - no personal fights, no Crusades,
no Palestines. So what is stopping us from agreeing
to be agreeable? Most people would think this is impossible,
conflict is inevitable, even on the smallest levels.
There is jealousy, envy and a host of other human traits;
things that might be called human nature. But can we
blame so much on human nature? Hasn't this 'nature'
been shaped and cultivated already by the social environments
that we cannot escape? In essence, have not our attitudes
to all things around us been built into us and we might
be able to modify and change some of these but it still
falls way too far?
Besides it's a good story to tell about the plane that
just fits onto the runway.
Elsewhere on the island you can escape to quiet settings
on an edge of coast and look out to eternity, with nothing
barring the way all the way to Antarctica.
So said Meursault in the novel, The Outsider, by Albert
Camus. In the big scheme of 'all things' the petty rules
we follow, the obligations and etiquettes, are all absurd.
Meursault kills an Arab on the beach in Algiers, but
the novel shows that it is more his refusal to show
remorse that causes the Judge to give him the death
sentence. Evidence shows that he did not cry at his
mother's funeral and the Judge and gallery are shocked
at such inhumanity. He must be a monster.
For an Australian example see the media coverage of
Lindy Chamberlain and the Dingo.
Advertising says you are not good enough as you are,
you are not even likeable: you girls need to be slimmer,
guys get some muscles. You need to be elegant, sophisticated,
look like this, wear this brand. Watch these shows to
be in, drive a car like this, drink Coke, Pepsi, Coke,
Pepsi. Believe in what we say.
The two fingers 'up yours' sign has a certain power
and is a show of rebellion, though it depends totally
on who or what you are holding up your fingers to.
It also has an interesting history. In the famous Battle
of Agincourt of 1415 the English troops got the upper
hand as they had archers. They were able to shoot accurately
from a distance without putting their lives at risk.
The French were naturally annoyed (more likely pissed
off in French) so they held up their two fingers, the
fingers that the English used to draw back the bow,
suggesting without any subtlety that they would amputate
these two fingers if they captured them.
The Book of Safety (From a Guide to Living to 100)
1. Obey all rules; remember they are for your own good.
2. Order your life carefully, and any risks should
be small and measured.
3. Eat sensibly, have a daily intake of fibre and do
not take up cigarettes or anything potentially addictive.
4. Organise superannuation, life insurance and other
insurances against flood, fire, earthquake, plague,
low flying hordes of locusts and other malignant acts
of God (or any lesser deities) at an early age.
5. Do not pierce your body, except for the regulation
one hole in your ear lobe.
6. Book your children into good schools soon after
7. Listen to your fear, it is a biological adaptation
to keep you safe.
8. Do not mix with people who are likely to get into
9. Have orthodox views on religion, politics and racial
10. Dress neatly, keep hair off your face, walk with
a straight back and remember that people are always
watching so present exactly the face that they want
Humans perceive reality through five senses that give
only a very limited and partial view of the world. We
have an imperfect access to the knowledge of the world
though we assume that we have direct access to the real
world. For a start:
Our eyes respond to a very narrow band of wavelengths
within the electro magnetic spectrum. Our ears respond
to limited range of vibratory frequencies. The brain
does not have direct access. It acquires information
from pulses of bio-electrical activity pumped along
nerve fibres. Then it must interpret it - dealing only
with symbols and these are encoded in language.
Language itself shapes the way we can perceive the
Ask the person in the street the names of two famous
philosophers and most will say Plato and Socrates. Being
the first in their field they were able to say things
that others hadn't had the chance to yet. Socrates never
wrote anything but hung out on the streets of Athens
having philosophical conversations with anyone who would
stop. If he was around today he would probably be one
of those guys who sit on one cup of coffee all day in
an outdoor cafe. More likely Fremantle than Claremont.
He got a name for being impossible to beat in an argument
and his fame spread and other well known philosophers
hit the streets hoping to beat him in a verbal joust.
Plato was his pupil and became more famous than his
master and did write his ideas down. He is known for
his metaphor of the self in 'Plato's Cave'. This tells
us to imagine living in a cave all your life. Inside
is a fire and being used to the darkness of an isolated
world you come to believe that the shadows thrown by
the fire are real. This is what life is to those who
have not discovered who they are.
To fully uncover the self you must leave the safety
of the cave and break an opening out of the cave. And
there it is: a wide world unimagined before with the
light of the sun and colours.
Nice metaphor but Plato was a bit of a fascist otherwise.
He certainly didn't believe in equality and was the
The nineteenth century German philosopher Friedrich
Nietzsche hated Socrates. He believed he stood for all
the insipidness possible in humanity as he allowed the
State to send him to his death without ever complaining.
Socrates had accepted the judgement of the Court, though
he was innocent, as it was in the interests of the community,
he believed, for him to obey the rules. Nietzsche wanted
people to make their own rules. He also didn't like
Christianity or Christ as it preached that people should
turn the other cheek.
This is a desirable state as it usually means you are
feeling good about yourself and you think others would
like to be just like you.
It also involves quite a bit of detachment. You separate
yourself from the ordinary lot of people and feel superior.
Those who are uncool are excluded and sometimes ridiculed
in subtle or unsubtle ways. It can also be a detachment
from your own self as you disconnect from certain emotions
and feelings as this would involve expressing concern
over things that are decidedly uncool.
It's all attitude, but it also image and can manifest
itself on an exterior level by acting in certain ways,
wearing particular clothes, having a certain style of
hair, etc. It might be more a teenage phenomena but
the very worse examples are the megarich older set.
It doesn't have to be a bad thing and like anything
will vary depending on the particular attitude that
is desired. Bob Marley was cool in a cool way, Naomi
Campbell is cool in a nasty way, the guy out of Friends
(the one who wants the good looking girl) is definately
If an archaeological team from another star system
came down to a ruined Earth in a thousand years time
they might come to the conclusion that the two great
religions of the planet were Coke and Pepsi.
In every corner of the Earth they would find huge icons
where the people worshipped the flashy white and red
gods that appeared on monstrous billboards, proclaiming
the Word: 'It's the Real Thing'. The visitors would
see them as vital, energetic deities who were omnipresent,
dynamically revealing metaphysical truths and not knowing
they were only the smaller gods of capitalism who had
in their way converted unlikely populaces into accepting
a whole way of life.
In a recent book 'Spiritual Machines' Ray Kurzweil
discusses how within thirty years Science will be able
to scan and download the brain and nervous system. Our
neurons have a relatively short lifespan so they will
be replaced with more reliable electronic circuitry.
Life is not a lot of laughs being fixed on a desktop
so there will be bodies (where these are coming from
I don't know but there's talk of actually being able
to 'create' body parts soon) that these minds will inhabit.
We will be immortal, with spare copies on standby for
We will have become software.
'The limits of my language mean the limits of my world'
wrote Ludwig Wittgenstein on one of his more lucid days.
He might have continued, saying language is like a pair
of glasses. The world can be quite different through
different lenses. Language can also be blinkers, a strait-jacket.
Location for Afternoon Tea 2: Hotel, Lake Windemere
The Lakes Districts in north-east England is a popular
tourist destination with hundreds of thousands making
their way by train or road to enjoy the beautiful countryside.
Most will venture out on boats, feeling at one with
Nature (and a few thousand other people) and glad to
be away from the cities.
Most will visit Dove Cottage, the nineteenth century
home of William Wordsworth, even if they have written
read a poem in their lives.
This is the country where Willy, his sister Dorothy
and poet-friend Samuel Coleridge took long, long walks
and then returned home to gather their thoughts in tranquillity.
This was apparently how poems were meant to be written
in their Romantic manifesto, and though William may
have kept his side of the bargain, Coleridge often found
his best work came after a night of opium.
At a hotel in the Brockdale National Park you can sit
out on the terrace and enjoy the mist gather over the
lake in the latter part of the afternoon, think about
the Romantic Poets and maybe knock out a sonnet or two.
This is all very genteel and you cannot go away without
being served tea, (no teabags here but glittering silver
teapots, silver plates and Earl Grey), with enormous
scones that look as if they had been laid by some giant
miscreant bird rather than baked by dear old Mrs Fagerty.
Disney and Nature
Many people do not engage first-hand with Nature. They
might drive into the country, even stop and pick flowers
in the Spring, but most return to holiday villas with
electricity and running water, or more likely microwaves
and video recorders. Those who venture into wilder places
are usually on packaged tourist deals.
Their knowledge and understanding of Nature has come
from the television and movies. And we can thank Disney
for some of this.
Disney films have totally humanised wild animals, made
them creatures that just happen to have feelings and
emotions that fit a Western ethical system of beliefs.
It was too hard to have real wild animals in films so
they had to train creatures and place them in settings
that appeared like their real homes.
So in one film bears are placed in a cave - Mama Bear
who resembles a stay-at-home wife, Papa bear who goes
out hunting and Baby bear who is the offspring of this
loving couple. In the wild Papa bear doesn't share a
home, is not always so nice to Mama and is notorious
for eating little baby bears. But Disney can have none
of this so he models them on an idealised American family
of the 1950's (which doesn't really exist, see Pleasantville)
and act out everyday family dramas.
In White Wilderness (1958) a film crew gathered together
a load of lemmings (brought from Manitoba to Alberta),
took them to the edge of a cliff and herded them off.
All on film of course and from this one piece of constructed
'real life' footage was born the myth, which many of
us believe, that lemmings are suicidal little rodents
who have the propensity to find themselves a cliff and
are propelled by a great instinctual urge to see what
the water is like. The animal has also entered the lexicon
of our language as a symbol of thoughtless, mass-destruction.
In John Sayles' 'Limbo', a very anti-Disney type of
film, he has rich entrepreneurs talk about the wilds
of Alaska as though it was a theme park for tourists
to see bears on the edge of land as they sail past,
watch whales from the comforts of their 'Love Boat'
or buy native crafts from the shops. All so these people
can go home with their snapshots and tell their friends
about their time in the wilderness.
When it comes down to it, when we really want to ask
philosophical questions about who we are and what is
it all about, we have ask how do we perceive ourselves.
What is a human? What is a self? What are all the different
assumptions underlying the models we see ourselves through.
If you have been brought up in a Western liberal democracy
you would have naturalised the notion that we are all
individual and that to be an individual is valued in
our society. In turn it carries a bit of responsibility.
We are in essence the controllers of our own destinies.
We have a self and/or a soul that we are born with.
This brings up the old nature/nurture debate. Are we
born with the things that make us who we are or do we
acquire them through acculturation. That is, becoming
the person our society and culture makes us.
Here are a few of the beliefs of philosophers and religions:
We are born with an innate self that has the capacity
to improve by questioning life. We will never know very
much about anything.
Plato believed that people are born with vastly different
abilities. Knowledge is obtained by the senses and reason
and only the few gifted individuals will ever achieve
a state of understanding. He was a moral absolutist
who believed that morality was fixed: there was right
and wrong, good and bad.
Morality was fixed and these beliefs and social conduct
needed to be passed down through the ages for others
to live by. This implied that the individual had little
choice and just had to accept these beliefs and through
this their lives would be fulfilled.
Individuals have different worth. There is a hierarchical
set of beliefs that places some higher than others and
the individual had no choice other than to accept this.
They must do their duty according to their nature and
their place in society. The self is innate with some
born with higher qualities.
The self is innate and is capable of transformation
over successive life times. The individual needs to
live a 'good' life and one's actions in life and accumulation
of merit will determine their next lives. People need
to help others in material and spiritual matters. Motive
is what matters, so the idea that the individual's perception
of what is 'good' according to the Buddhists' beliefs
is assumed as essential.
The self is innate and individuals should strive towards
perfection through worship and imitation of God. Certain
moral laws to obey and love is the greatest virtue.
You should love enemies as well as yourself.
Clear line between right and wrong as decreed by God
to Muhammed. These beliefs are fixed and no circumstances
can alter this. Self is innate and at the command of
Karl Marx and all those Marxist who have followed believed
that there is no God and morality has been culturally
constructed to suit the interests of the ruling class.
Nevertheless he believed in some driving historical
force that moved inevitably to an end; that being a
future perfect society where all were equal and an 'objective'
morality was in place. The self was part of the greater
society which was more important.
In the latest Gallop Poll in America it revealed that
44% of Americans believed in strict Biblical creationism,
while only 10% believed in the fully evolutionary view.
A 1996 poll reported 96% of Americans believed in God.
In the same poll they found the reasons why they believed
in God were: 1. The apparently good design of the universe
(29%); there seemed such order in the universe that
it had to mean there was some great mastermind. 2. Personal
experience of God in everyday life. (21%).3. Belief
in God was comforting or consoling (10%).
This is the country that had slavery and didn't give
Blacks rights till the 1960's, barged their way into
Vietnam because they didn't like dirty Commies and had
60,000 of their own men killed for nothing; and the
only country to drop an atomic bomb, sorry two, on another
nation. There has also been more recent escapades: the
one million Iraqis who have died, mainly children, in
the last nine years because of the economic sanctions
imposed by the United Nations, under the direction of
Imagine what the godless nations are capable of!
Most have heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Some may even partly believe it. Yes, that girl with
the eyes too close, nose not quite straight, protruding
jawline and a body that will never be on a catwalk,
can become quite appealing once you get to know her.
The male equivalent is just as valid, though it is not
quite as important in Western societies for a male to
be beautiful. In fact we would rarely use the term.
To be handsome, rugged, have a face with character are
more suited descriptions and these allow for a few irregularities
In his documentary, Millenium, David Maybury-Lewis,
explores the idea of beauty in the Wodaabe tribe of
central Africa. The guys are the ones who drag out the
make-up, get dressed up, and head off to the village
sandground where all the women are waiting to select
the man of their dreams. Out on the sand they dance,
lifting their heels off the ground, jerking up and down,
flashing the whites of their eyes and their immaculate
When they are finished the girls send a messenger to
say which guy they would like to meet later.
This certainly subverts a few Western notions of beauty
and courtship. It's the guys who have to flaunt their
stuff and they are judged beautiful according to the
way they dance, and the whiteness of their eyes and
teeth. The girls sit on the ground looking a little
dowdy, but with the power to make selections.
This sounds all very liberated, and in a whirlwind
courtship that takes place surreptitiously in a tent
while the girl's 'given' husband searches for her, the
guy, Djajeego, exclaims his lasting love and they escape
on a camel into the sunset. Before they get home though
they bed down by a river and he asks how he can show
his love. No roses or chocolates, the promise of diamonds,
instead he suggests slaughtering a bull as if a dead
bovine is the most romantic gesture one can make. It
is hard to see this catching on in the West: first date
to the movies, the second to the abattoirs. Of course
this might be all part of a dinner-date.
However, crunch-time comes in the morning when he takes
her home and there are already two annoyed wives waiting,
young children on their hips.
Men are allowed more than one wife in this society
if they can afford it, in fact it is a sign of wealth
and success. And with a bit of smooth talking he gets
her to stay.
It doesn't need too much imagination to see that in
two years time she will be one of the disgruntled wives
waiting for wonder-boy to come home on his camel with
yet another wife.
As for beauty the men seemed to have won out again.
Boys/men between the ages of 15 and 25 kill themselves
four times as much as females.
In The Myth of Sisyphus Albert Camus (Nobel Prize winner
who died in a car crash) says that the one and only
philosophical question is whether we suicide or not.
Is life worth living or not?
Sisyphus is a figure in Greek myth who defies the Gods
and for his crime he is sentenced to eternity pushing
a large boulder up a hillside, only to find on reaching
the summit that it rolls down the other side and he
must walk down dejectedly (at least for the first few
times) to recover it, feeling its sharp edges, his hands
callousing over, and roll it back again. Forever.
This might be seen as a metaphor for life. The purposeless
journey up and down, the burden of the stone which is
life and all its pain.
One may wonder though if Sisyphus ever came to feel
close to his stone. Did he eventually come to caress
it as he pushed upwards? Did the familiarity of his
labour bring contentment?
Some may say this is what we do in our routine lives;
lives that have been ordained since birth by the society
we have been born into. The trick is to enjoy it.
Eventually gravity takes us all, it is those little
stones we gather, the smooth pebbles that we rub peacefully,
not the sharp flints that we soon discard, that weigh
Virginia Woolf killed herself by walking into the river,
wearing her old green cardigan, her pockets full with
Another famous cardigan wearer was Kurt Cobain who
killed himself. There is no reason, however, for us
to see the cardigan as an indicator of discontent or
Sylvia Plath who filled in the spaces between the door
and the floor with towels, then gassed herself by sticking
her head in the oven while her children slept upstairs,
wrote a wonderful poem called 'Stones'.
A friend rang the other night and wanted some advice
on love. Nothing personal or intimate - quite the opposite.
She was having an argument with a guy in the Med Library
over the nature of love. He believed in love and she
knew it to be a cultural construct. What she wanted
was some information to shoot him down in flames.
Love as we know it in Western Romance is an invention.
In Medieval times love became idealised as a spiritual
quality that old fashioned knights with chivalric manners
pursued. In reality it was little more than revering
women as objects of beauty rather than real flesh and
blood people. The Church also got in on the act and
made it 'forever' by institutionalising monogamy into
clear terms that were in their best interests. The French
Troubadores of the time also sang songs of true love
and spread the attitude. Today advertising and Hollywood
have taken it to unforeseen lengths. No Hollywood movie
fails to have a love interest and somewhere along the
way after conflicts and obstacles, boy and girl get
together. And, of course, true love is forever.
However there might be a crazy thing called love after
all. It might be what really matters in the long run
- strip away everything else you've got in life and
if you have loved and been loved maybe it has been worth
But what is it? Science have tried to explain it as
a chemical imbalance, an attraction that apparently
has a used by date of two years or so. Is it simply
meeting someone who you are attracted to and get on
with? Why the hysteria over love if this is all it is?
Can we make any judgements about love on the statistics
that a majority of people will marry people from their
own social class, despite the odd movie that shows these
I understood what was meant by 'God is Love' awhile
ago, which is quite amazing for someone who believes
both are constructs (most days anyway), but I have forgotten.
Just clean slipped out of my head, though I remember
it being more of a feeling. If I remember I will write
it in. Look for the title 'God is Love Yeh'
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