Category Archives: Philosophy

The Circle of Life is Broken – a review

My only complaint about this book is that the title suggests a far more depressing read than is actually the case. I should have known better – Brendan Myers isn’t the kind of philosopher to succumb to despair. It is of course a challenging and sometimes uncomfortable book, but there is also lyrical writing driven by a passion for life and existence, a book written to try and express possible ways forward.

For anyone looking for ways to think about the climate crisis, and to think about what they personally might be able to do, this is a good book to read. There are no glib answers here, there’s no sure fire quick fix and there is a lot of analysis of things that have already been tried and that failed. There’s also an enlightening history of ecological science which will help anyone not experienced in that field to better understand the ways in which we talk about the world and how that impacts on our responses to the crisis. Brendan also explores the kinds of psychological factors and human-created pressures acting on us to keep us where we are, with all the disastrous implications.

I particularly appreciated the way Brendan has tackled both the history and current manifestations of eco-fascism. Hate, as he points out, is not going to save anything or anyone. However, there is a lot of eco-fascism out there and like most kinds of fascism, it often seems persuasive to people at a surface level. The classist, racist, eugenics-oriented aspects don’t reveal themselves at first glance. Any argument that involves blaming poor people for existing will lead us into this territory and it is so important to be alert to where that thinking goes and how harmful it is.

For anyone into philosophy, and anyone who wants material to reflect on, this book has a great deal to offer. It is an invitation to engage, to contemplate, and ultimately, to act. Heartily recommended.

More on the publisher’s website https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/earth-spirit-circle-life-broken


Justice on the Druid path

It is important to think about what we do in the name of justice and not to assume that the desire for justice of itself guarentees anything about our actions or the impact they have.

There’s nothing like righteous indignation for making a person feel powerful and important as they lash out. That can be alluring and addictive. It’s important to be sure at the very least that you’re lashing out at the right person – someone who has the scope to fix a problem. All too often the person who gets lashed out at is the one who happens to be nearest and easiest to hit. Shouting at a low paid employee over decisions other people have made regarding the company they work for, is not a just action.

The internet gives us a steady supply of opportunities to lash out at other people in the name of justice. Online it’s easy to hit people who are vulnerable. It’s also easy to pick on people who are actually doing good work and care about getting things right but do not meet your standards in every imaginable way. By this means we can end up knocking down the people who were genuinely trying to fix and improve things while ignoring the people who are causing the actual problems.

If you’re in a fight and enjoying it, there’s a lot to be said for pausing to look at that. Are you really helping anything or anyone, or are you just enjoying your own feelings of power? Might you be playing at being a white knight? Are you making yourself feel good and important at someone else’s expense? Who are you talking over? Is there anything important you might have overlooked? What’s the real power balance between you and the person you’re fighting? 

People are seldom persuaded by aggression. There are times when a show of force gets things done and there are times when that may well be the right choice, but it shouldn’t be our first port of call. People are depressingly averse to reasoned arguments and evidence when that goes against beliefs they have invested in. Getting angry with them doesn’t turn them into better people, usually. 

If you can’t fix a problem, or challenge someone who can then often the best choice is example, not engagement. Put your truth into the world. Show your values through your actions. Do something restorative, because that’s often the best form justice can take anyway. If you can’t fix a problem, draw attention to it, try to offset it in some way. Anger is not a direct path to justice. We have to take our anger and turn it into something useful that helps people, otherwise we’re just being self indulgent.


Attraction, bodies and culture

Human bodies are such interesting things. We’re a diverse sort of species. We come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, colours and builds. Some of us are naturally quite furry and some of us are skinless landsharks and all places in between.

The bodies we have are affected by our health and our ancestry. What we eat and how we spend our time will all have their impact. Most cultures have standards for what counts as especially attractive and that’s diverse too.

To what degree is our capacity for attraction informed by our cultures? What happens when our desires don’t neatly match what we’ve been told to want? Or when our bodies aren’t considered socially acceptable? One obvious case in point here would be the obsession some cultures have with youth being the standard for beauty. We all get older, and fighting that process is pointless – but it does make a lot of money for beauty industries.

For me, attraction doesn’t begin with a body. I can find people aesthetically pleasing without feeling any urge at all to follow through on it. If I connect with someone emotionally, then I will find them attractive. I don’t have a type exactly, I’m not much affected by gender or gender presentation. I tend to go for high cheekbones, but that’s about it, and it’s certainly not a deal breaker.

How someone’s voice sounds is a bigger factor in attraction for me, than what they look like. I assume it wouldn’t be a dealbreaker but at the same time I’ve never been attracted to someone I didn’t think had a gorgeous speaking voice. I’m also really affected by how people smell, although that’s not easy to spot when it’s happening. We can unconsciously gather a lot of information about each other from smells, so for me it’s only been when people’s smells have changed that it’s registered with me.

I’m very much attracted to creativity, imagination and unusual minds. I like interacting with people who think deeply, and who are interested in things, and excited about things. What exactly they are into turns out to be less important. I like spending time with people who have passions and wild enthusiasms. 

Who we find appealing informs so many aspects of our lives. It’s not just about romance and sexual partners. It’s there in how we pick our friends and our social spaces. It can inform who we vote for and who we hire. There’s a lot of privilege that comes with conforming to certain kinds of beauty standards and lots of scope for abuse, shaming, disrespect and disadvantage the less you conform to those standards.


What is courage?

I’ve been thinking a lot about courage lately (previous post about courage). Often we define courage as feeling the fear but acting anyway. What troubles me about this approach is that it defines courage as something that only exists in opposition to something else.

One of the things I like about virtues is the idea of cultivating them, but if courage only exists in relation to fear, then you can only cultivate it by having things you are afraid of. You can only measure it in terms of that – so the person who develops courage so far that they overcome fear doesn’t really count as courageous any more. 

I’m interested in the idea of courage as an innate quality, not a reaction. It struck me that this would require the courage to be for something, rather than coming up in opposition to fearful experiences. What things are we invested in such that the idea of them gives us courage? It takes courage to act, to make changes, to stand up for things. It’s perhaps not so much about overcoming fear as overcoming apathy and disbelief. The courage of your convictions is a rejection of the idea that you can’t make a difference, or that the struggle itself is futile. It can take courage to try and to strive – not because the action is fearful, but because it takes a certain kind of boldness to assert meaning in this way in face of an often uncaring universe.

Thanks to some helpful facebook prompts, I’ve been thinking about lions and oak trees in relation to courage. Neither of these really suggests overcoming fear to me. They do however suggest ways of standing in your own power, with a kind of poise and awareness that makes action possible. 

I’m considering the idea that fear isn’t the opposite of courage – often fear and courage exist alongside each other. Apathy and defeatedness are the opposites of courage. It is apathy and a feeling of defeat and futility that stops people from acting – fear is often a spur to acting and creates necessity. Courage is the quality that keeps a person moving when it seems like all is lost, or the problem is too big to take on. Thus whether or not you are afraid may not be the best measure of whether or not you are courageous.


Human rights are not negotiable

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Neimoller

The problem is that all too often people don’t act until they can see the chain of implications that leads to them. They won’t act until the threat to them is immediate and obvious. Some of us – because we’ve learned from history, and we’re anxious and we know we are marginal in some way – see how one thing is likely to lead to another. Some of us looked at the attacks on trans rights and knew that this would be the opening move leading to wider and deeper attacks on the LGBTQ community as a whole. Some of us looked at the way in which attacks on trans folk were being framed in terms of biological essentialism, and could see the dangerous implications for all women.

But it shouldn’t be about that. Supporting each other’s human rights should not be dependent on being able to see how our own human rights might be specifically threatened in the future. Human rights have to be universal – question that and the whole thing becomes unstable. If anyone is placed outside the embrace of human rights, then anyone can be dehumanised. Human rights only work as a concept if everyone has them, and they are not considered negotiable. The rights of people to live peacefully on their own terms should not be overruled by the entitlement of people who have a problem with that. Either we all have human rights, or none of us do.


Druidry and Asking Questions

For many people, Druidry is as much a philosophical path as a spiritual one. I’m all for asking questions, and for pondering things, but I think it’s also important to ask questions about the questions.

How much time should we spend on questions that we know cannot be answered? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? There are questions you can kick round forever and never answer. You might argue bitterly with people who disagree, thus adding to the total sum of misery in the world. 

Philosophy doesn’t have to be abstract. There’s no need for it to be irrelevant. One of the best and most powerful questions we can ask is the one favoured by small children – why? Why are things the way they are? Why did this happen? Sometimes it helps to carry on and wonder what it means, but not always. The quest for an abstract or spiritual meaning can be a distraction sometimes. The important question might not be ‘why did I see a thrush today, what does it mean?’ but ‘why do I not see thrushes every day?’

It’s always good to ask if things are inevitable or not. We get so used to our own human structures that we collectively take them for truths and realities. Countries are just ideas, as are currencies. The five day working week, nine to five is just an idea, it’s not our natural destiny as people. Who we include and who we exclude, what we allow and what we deny, what and who we treat as important, what and who we throw away… there are so many questions to ask.

Whatever improvements you want to make in the world, part of the process involves convincing people – yourself included – that change is possible. People can only imagine change is possible when they aren’t persuaded that the current state of things is inevitable and natural.


Crafting a Fine Death

Some years ago, I ended up writing a hundred fictional obituaries for living people, as part of a kickstarter. It made me think a great deal about what a good death is, and how that relates to our lives.

I decided as a teen that I would rather regret my actions than my inaction. I’ve lived much of my life with an awareness of what I might regret if I was to be suddenly on my deathbed, and it means that most of the time I could leave easily. I don’t have much unfinished business – and where I do, I’ve already reconciled myself to it. I have chased my dreams and followed my heart enough not to be dissatisfied with this life. I have not put off the things that mattered to me. 

I tell the people I love that I love them. When I mess up, I do my best to deal with it quickly. The things I have not dealt with were things that did not turn out to matter all that much.

Ideally, I’d like to die doing something heroic. In practice, this body just isn’t capable of much heroism, and my best shot would be to put myself between another living being and a terrible threat. I’ve reconciled myself to that. I would prefer to die with some dignity, but given this body, that may be an optimistic thought and I may have to accept it not being like that.

I’m not afraid of dying. At this point I’m not especially afraid of suffering. I don’t want to spend years being useless, but I’m pretty good at finding ways to adapt to limitations so I shall imagine that I’ll keep going with something that contributes to the world. My ultimate vision of a perfect death is to have my body eaten by wildlife. I would like air burial. I would like my bones to be turned into musical instruments.

A good death is certainly a thing to aspire to. Many of us won’t get any kind of vote on the circumstances of our passing. However, a life lived well is a meaningful way to frame your death. A life lived well means that people can celebrate you when you leave, rather than feeling awful about you. I aspire to living a life that means, even if I die tomorrow, people who knew me can feel good about what I did while I was here.

(With thanks to Karen for the excellent prompt.)


Signs you might be a goblin

You are wearing all of your favourite clothes and you don’t care if they ‘match’.

There are some really good rocks and/or stick in your pocket.

You talk to snails.

You have polished the teapot because you love shiny things, but there is something living under your sink.

You like wearing wellies. 

Mending things just gives them more character.

There will be no dusting because the spiders are your friends.

Dungarees. Possibly with wellies. Maybe put a tutu skirt over the top.

Stripey!

You get excited about toadstools.

You get excited about pretty things, and shiny things and unexpected things and things that make noises in the night. You get excited.

I’m seeing mainstream media trying to define ‘goblin mode’ or ‘goblin core’ as being a slob and not really caring about things and not making an effort. I don’t think that is it at all. I think being a goblin is about having an entirely different value system from the mainstream and a different set of aesthetic preferences. 

The photo is of me at The Goblin Masquerade, in my frog wellies. Many people had put a lot of thought and effort into how they were going to be goblins.


Being Powerless

I’ve been thinking a lot about power lately, and my own relationship with it. So, what happens when you are powerless? What do we do in face of things we have no means of changing? When do we let go and accept defeat?

I tend to be the sort of person who will bang their head against a brick wall until it breaks me – metaphorically speaking. I hate giving up. I will try everything I can imagine – and I can imagine a lot – before I’ll accept that there’s nothing I can do. Arguably, if you’re still fighting, you aren’t defeated. There’s a case to be made. But as I got older and wearier, my appetite for tilting at windmills isn’t what it used to be. I’m trying to pick my fights, and to be more realistic about when and how I might be wasting what energy I have. Sometimes it probably makes more sense to admit defeat. 

How much power we have can depends a lot on how much power we’re allowed to have. Perhaps the most depressing and frustrating form of powerlessness involves not being able to use the power you could have. Not being allowed to fix things, or solve problems or deal with a situation. This can take many forms. It can be about how we do things in this family and the impossibility of challenging that. It can be about workplace culture. Some people won’t let you fix things if that’s going to make them look bad – it may be preferable to them to pretend that the problem is impossible to solve.

Some people are afraid of change to the degree that improving things is too intimidating. Some people have been so messed about, hurt and let down in the past that they have no way of trusting what’s on offer. If you don’t believe in yourself, help from someone else can look doomed to fail. There are people who won’t accept help because they are too invested in the idea of doing things all by themselves, even if that’s utterly unrealistic. Not a lot can be done about any of this.

However, people can change. Situations change. What may be impossible to sort out this week might shift into something else entirely next week. I’m trying to hold the idea that admitting defeat is not a permanent state of being, it’s a decision about a situation, and that decision can be changed if the situation changes. I don’t need to bang my head against a brick wall to prove that I care about what’s going on. Wearing myself out trying to fix the currently unfixable isn’t a good or clever thing to be doing and I need a more measured approach. I need to be ok with being powerless.


How long should we live?

We need to be ok with the fact that humans die. It’s a key part of being alive and there is a point at which trying to delay death becomes cruel, painful and unjustifiable. 

I’m very much in favour of preventing disease, preventing accidents and enabling people to live peacefully and well. I’d like to see far more investment in both research and education to support health and wellbeing. 

I feel strongly that anyone who is alive should have the right to a decent amount of life in as good a state of health as possible. In reality, your quality of life and healthcare will most likely have everything to do with your economic wealth. So when we’re talking about interventions that ‘save’ lives we’re often talking about extending the lives of privileged people who already have better than average life expectancies. Unhoused people have far lower life expectancies than housed people in the same societies but this seldom comes up around conversations about saving lives.

I don’t have any definitive answers here, not least because I think what’s really needed is to ask questions. We need to each ask ourselves about the lives and deaths we want for ourselves and for other people. 

How long do we expect to live? For much of human history, life expectancy was about thirty.

What conditions are we prepared to live in? We may not know the answer to that until we get into difficulty, but we should keep asking anyway.

Why do we treat some lives as disposable, yet are willing to go to great lengths to keep other people alive for as long as possible?

In what circumstances would we consider death a kindness?

How do we feel about life before death? How do we consider or contribute to quality of life for those around us and those we impact on?