Tag Archives: philosophy

Money and philosophy

There would be a simple way to have all non-essential workers stay home without over-burdening the companies they work for. That same method would enable self employed workers to stay home, too. It would make it reasonable to ask for rent holidays. It would put money into the economy where it would do most good. Small business people would have a chance to re-boot in the future. That solution, is universal basic income. Giving everyone a viable amount to live on is also the least bureaucratic way, and thus the quickest, of rolling out an intervention.

However, giving people money in this way challenges the capitalist philosophy of what money means. We are used to measuring human worth by income. Those who earn most are considered to be worth most. We are encouraged to look up to them respect them, see them as valuable. At the same time we’ve called low paid people unskilled and considered them as having little value. If you pay everyone the same, it’s like we’re all worth the same as human beings. It’s a radical shift in thinking.

As the virus impacts on us, we’ve gone from seeing many low paid jobs as low worth, to recognising that these people are the heart of our infrastructure and the backbone of our societies. Money, it turns out, was not a good measure of the value of people working in supply chains and retail, bin collectors, cleaners, carers… their worth to the rest of us is far higher than their paychecks suggest.

As isolation kicks in, we may be more in need of our entertainers and creators. Especially the ones willing to interact with us, teach us and support people in being creative to stay sane. In their absence, we might notice the things that were valuable to us – venues, gigs, events, festivals… Most of the people working in these industries are not wealthy.

What do we deserve? What resources should we have access to? When the not-so-free market dominates, our scope to access everything is based mostly on our buying power. Our buying power is based on what our work is worth to the market, not what it is worth to other humans. Unpaid domestic work is totally undervalued, but right now, people cleaning things are keeping their families safe and well. Such work has always been valuable, but the value has been invisible.

What if we deserve to have our basic needs met because we exist, not because a specific level of profit can be extracted from our labours? What if the people who make money out of money while doing no one any good are not entitled to more benefits than most other people? What if we deemed making profit by exploiting others to be a disgusting activity, not one that should bring benefits? What if worth was measured in terms of actual worth, not earning potential? Meanwhile, the massively affluent ditch their workers with no pay and demand government bailouts.

Universal basic income gives everyone the same fundamental worth and the same basic entitlement to have needs met. Practically speaking it could be a magic bullet for solving a great many of our problems right now. Philosophically speaking, it would radically change our cultures for the better.


Standing and Not Falling – a review

Presented as a workbook for those wanting a spiritual detox ahead of working magic, Standing and Not Falling is a text you could work through over 13 moons. The idea is to deal with the kinds of things that might get in the way of a magical practice, and pave the way for a deeper and more effective kind of sorcery. For anyone interested in serious magic, this is well worth a go.

I didn’t read it or work with the book in that way. I pick up this kind of book because it is always useful to research for the fiction. I’ve learned a lot that I can no doubt apply in my speculative writing. What I didn’t realise when I started reading the book, is how valuable it is as a philosophical text.

Lee Morgan has a great deal to say about how we navigate inside our own minds, how we perceive the world and relate to it, and how our thinking shapes our experiences. There’s a lot here about being embodied, about animism and relationships based on animist philosophy. There’s great content about ancestry, our relationship with the land, and how we deal with mainstream culture – and for that matter, how it deals with us. There’s a great deal to chew on. Much of it aligns with my own thinking, so that was pleasingly affirming, but at the same time, it’s a very different perspective on those familiar issues and it opened up a great deal of new territory for me.

I recommend that Druids pick up Standing and Not Falling to read as a philosophical text. It has a great deal to offer on those terms. Anyone interested in the bard path will also be interested in how the book is written – the crafting of it, the way language is deployed, the poetic qualities the author brings – these are all worthy of your attention and may well be a source of inspiration.

I don’t feel qualified to comment on this as a magical text because it’s not my path. However, what I can say (having read a fair few magical books for research purposes) is that I’ve never seen anything like this before. There’s a world view here, and a way of relating to self, world and magic that, while it has some familiar elements, really isn’t like anything else I’ve run into. It’s well worth a look.

More about the book here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/standing-not-falling 


Freedom, responsibility and community

I ran into existential philosophy in my teens, and with it the idea that you can only have freedom in so far as you are willing to take responsibility. It’s a notion I’ve carried with me into everything I do. What it gets you, is a very different sense of what freedom even means.

All too often, people take freedom to mean selfishness and the scope to do what one will, act on whims, run off alone and generally be antisocial. Now, I’m very much with the wiccans on this one – an it harm none, do what you will. Freedom without being alert to harm is not any kind of good at all. Freedom that doesn’t care about harm easily turns into abuse and exploitation. We can think about how big companies treat the planet and living things. We can consider the freedoms the rich have and who pays for those.

There’s a lot of noise in politics at the moment about the way in which those who have should not be called upon to support the have-nots. Freedom from social responsibility for the rich is not something I understand. When it manifests, it is framed as a good thing for those being relieved of their responsibility, but what does that do? What does it mean to feel no responsibility for anyone else? No duty of care? No ownership of the suffering of others?

When we undertake to be responsible for each other’s wellbeing, we create community. When we are willing to care enough to lift up those who are less well off than us, we increase the amount of good in the world. When we see ourselves as involved with and invested with the lives around us – human and non-human alike, we are rewarded by our own sense of connection. The person who engages and takes responsibility is never alone. The person who can only care about themselves can only seek comfort in wealth and material goods, and these things do not provide comfort.

Rather than talking about freedom from responsibilities, we need to explore the very different kind of freedom you get by taking responsibility for other lives. It is an honour and a blessing to hold that kind of responsibility. It is a place of power and openness, and it lifts the person who gives as much as the person who receives.


Choosing to Learn

I was very taken recently with Imelda Almqvist’s blog about Trump as a teacher (read it here). Imelda’s underlying philosophy is that we are all here to teach each other. I have a similar line of thought – that everything has the potential to teach us, but it’s up to us to decide what we want to learn.

Any situation can offer multiple outcomes in terms of what we might choose to learn. We could choose to learn from Trump that we can’t have nice things, the world is full of hate and there’s no point trying. It’s not the only possible teaching available, as Imelda points out.

Choosing what to learn is about consciously choosing who we want to be and the direction we want to move in. The trouble is that the vast majority of learning we do through life is done unconsciously. We absorb information from what’s around us and from the experiences we’ve had. Often we don’t dig into it, so we get knocked down by the people who attack us, and demoralised by the shit peddlers and we learn to compete and control and scrap over resources as though they were finite when they aren’t while wasting other resources as though they were infinite… which they aren’t…

Imelda’s blog post is not just interesting in its own right, it’s a map for taking a journey. If we want to choose what to learn, we’ve got to step back and contemplate things, put them in a wider context, delve about in them. A deliberate, contemplative engagement with the choices we have opens things up for us and gives us all the opportunity to take what we need from our experience, not what’s being pushed at us.


No one gets out of here alive

As far as I can tell, I have always had a consciousness of mortality. As soon as I had the words available to me, I started asking awkward questions about death, and god, and eternity and all that stuff. As a three year old proto-existentialist, I was sent to Sunday School. If anyone had taken me seriously, I’d probably have signed up in earnest. I needed answers. What I got was fuzzy felt and things to colour in.

During my childhood I managed to make some peace with the idea that everything dies, the distance between stars, and what it would mean to go on forever. Sometimes these things kept me awake at night. I hit my teens determined to live as though any given day might be my last. It’s a philosophy that has, on the whole, stood me in good stead. That ‘might’ is important because it creates room for long term thinking, too. Along the way I have buried friends, and watched friends suddenly bury loved ones as well. Disease, and accident can come out of nowhere. We do not know how long we have, and we don’t know how long anyone else has, either.

That consciousness of death stops me from taking anything or anyone for granted. It hardwires gratitude into my awareness, because every day I get to the end of without having lost something or someone precious to me, is a bit of a win. I tell the people I love that I love them, because I won’t take the risk that no further opportunities to say it may arise.

Death has taught me that the things we regret not saying and not doing can really stay on and haunt you. It’s not the mistakes that hurt, it’s the failing to sort them out afterwards. The questions not asked, the words left unspoken.

Being afraid of death may make a person wary of acting, nervous about living. To be oblivious to death can be to make poor risk judgements, or to fail to really grasp the moment. A consciousness of death keeps life in perspective. It shows up the petty dramas for what they are, and it also throws a thwacking great spotlight onto the bits, the people, the things that really matter. It means not putting off until tomorrow anything that can be done today, in case the opportunity doesn’t come round again. It means squeezing as much out of living as is possible.

I don’t always get this right of course. Some of my priorities haven’t been too clever, and there are still things I regret not saying, and things I cannot fix. But on the whole, my consciousness of limited time has served me well. It colours every choice I make, everything I say yes to and everything I decline. I have an awareness that you can turn out to be saying ‘no’ forever if someone dies, and not know when you said it, that it would be such an absolute. I take my smaller decisions seriously as a consequence. Often, the little things are all any of us has, and they become the big things by dint of timing and context.

It’s not a dress rehearsal, this, so far as any of us know. We might be collecting points towards a shiny afterlife, but then again we might not. I prefer to live as though this is all I’m getting – it focuses the mind somewhat. I know there are some schools of thought that without a sense of afterlife and consequences, we will live irresponsibly and without virtue. I don’t find that to be the case, but instead feel that the desire for a life lived well is motivation enough to try and do the right things for the right reasons.


Loneliness and Revelation

I took Loneliness and Revelation – a modestly sized philosophical text by Brendan Myers – with me to a recent weekend Steampunk event. It turned out to be very apt reading. The main theme of the book is loneliness, which Brendan considers to be intrinsic to the human condition. Inside our own heads, each of us is separate and alone. There are some religious traditions that try and overcome this by making us one with everything, but as this book so usefully points out, if everything is one, you have a singular thing that still has every reason and opportunity to experience loneliness. That in many myths, the original creator god creates to deal with being alone, is well worth considering.

This is not, as a consequence, a book about how to never suffer loneliness again. It explores the things we can do to tackle our insularity – both the things that work, and the things that are popular, but don’t. There’s consideration of the ethical side of how we assert ourselves in the world, questions about how to live well and be happy alongside this issue of intrinsic loneliness. There’s a lot of reflection on the relationship between creativity and loneliness as well. Given the size of the book, it is broad and deep in ways that I really liked.

A big public gathering of some 4000 people, was in many ways the perfect setting for reading this. Steampunk is a very creative community, in which hours of work and great care and attention is lavished upon kits and creativity. People do this very specifically to be seen, to be noticed by others. The kit in turn gives permission to start conversations; it’s not just acceptable, but desirable to approach other Steampunks and compliment them on attire, artefacts and the like. Having spent some days in a space that encourages social contact between strangers really brought home to me how generally impossible it would be to walk up to a stranger in the street and start a conversation with them. In most spaces, loneliness is supported, not connection.

Expressing who we are in the world, by word and deed, is a big part of what Loneliness and Revelation explores. The power of manifesting something of who we are and having that seen, known and understood is something Brendan offers as key to overcoming loneliness. And yet modern human interactions push us in the exact opposite direction. Work uniforms, scripts for dealing with ‘clients’, with brands offered to us as self expression, and photo-shopped celebrity mistaken for being seen and recognised. It made me wonder how much online trolling comes from the basic need to be seen and heard, and a loss of any sense that this might have an ethical dimension to it.

That’s a very superficial bit of reflection on a very deep book. It’s changed me and influenced my thinking in ways I have not yet fully digested. There is much here about how to live and how to choose life, and I think it’s a book many people would benefit from reading. If you are the sort of person who likes to reflect and if you lead with the head, and favour a reasoned approach, this is a book that will help you think about how you are in the world, and how you want to be. It’s not always an easy or comfortable read, but if you are the sort of person who doesn’t need it all to be optimistic and upbeat, (and if you’re reading my blog, I rate the chances) you might well want to read this.


The Other Side of Virtue

I loved this book, it’s one I cheerfully recommend. I’m very happy today to be sharing an excerpt.

Overture to The Other Side of Virtue (O Books, 2008) by Brendan Myers

The story of Christian virtue begins with the story of Moses, the holy man who climbed the holy mountain to receive the Law. Like any system of ethics based on law, it was intended to separate right from wrong as clearly as possible. This is why most of them begin with ‘thou shall not’. Of course, the law forbids things that nearly everyone would agree do not belong in a civil society: thievery and murder, for instance. So on the face of it, there can be no objection. But we should be very cautious about taking up such a gift and accepting it without question. Such pre-packaged gifts are sometimes like the Trojan Horse. They often conceal all sorts of other problems and complications. In the case of the Ten Commandments, the problem is this: if you accept it, you effectively hand over to God the responsibility for determining what is right and wrong. Your only choice in life is whether to obey or to rebel—precisely the choice made by Eve, in the Garden of Eden.

The original idea of Virtue had nothing to do with Christianity. In Europe, it is older than the Gospels by more than six hundred years. Consider the origin of the word itself. It comes from two sources. The first is the Latin ‘Virtus’, itself rooted in the word ‘Vir’, meaning ‘man’. From this direction, Virtue means something like ‘manliness’, and implies ‘macho’ qualities like toughness and aggression. The other source is the Greek word ‘Arête’, which is sometimes directly translated as ‘Virtue’, but can also mean ‘Excellence’. Excellence is what happens when some quality or talent is perfected, completed, rendered praiseworthy and beautiful. It is what makes someone or something stand out as special, a cut or two above the ordinary, and deserving of special admiration. There is nothing passive about Excellence. Instead of modesty or humility, the logic of arête calls for active qualities like initiative, honour, and intelligence. It also implies a few half-moral, half-aesthetic qualities like nobility, strength, proper pride, beauty, and grace. And it implies various social qualities, like friendship, generosity, honesty, truthfulness, and love. Virtue ethics could be more properly called ‘Arêteology’, meaning an account (logos) of what is excellent (arête) in human affairs. This account describes not only the things someone does, but also the kind of person she is. And it had almost nothing to do with obeying laws. Laws were meant for the ordering of society; being a good person was something else. The questions of ethics, in the ancient world, would never have been: What laws or rules should I follow? Which of my choices creates the least harm, or the most benefit, for those it affects? Who am I to obey, and what gives him his authority? To a Virtuous person of the ancient world, those would have been the wrong questions. The right questions were: What kind of person should I be? What kind of life should I live? What is an excellent human being like? What must I do to be happy? The general answer to questions like these went like this. You have to produce within yourself a set of habits and dispositions, something like a ‘second nature’, which would give you full command over your powers and potentials. In other words, you have to transform your character. The ‘familiar’ side of virtue has to do with a predisposition to follow laws and commandments. The ‘other side’ asserts that who you are is much more important than the rules you follow, and at least as important as the things you do, when it comes to doing the right thing, and finding the worth of your life.

The Other Side of Virtue is about that original idea, and how it is intimately connected with what it is to be human, and what it means to live a worthwhile life. I show how it appeared in the heroic and classical cultures of ancient Europe. Then I show how it appeared again in various different historical movements that revived or patterned themselves after those ancient cultures. The Italian Renaissance, Romanticism in High Germany and in Merry Old England, are only the most well known examples. There are also contemporary movements afoot, such as modern-day Druidry and Wicca, which embody the original idea of Virtue in various eclectic ways. What all of these different movements seem to have in common is that in their own way they all expressed one or more of the following three primary ideas.

  1. First and foremost, life involves inevitable encounters with events that seem, at least at first, to impose themselves upon you. Fortune, nature, other people, and death itself, are among them.
  2. Second, these events also invite us to respond. The response generally involves the development of various human potentials and resources. Some of these are social, such as one’s family and friendship ties, and some are personal and internal, like courage and integrity.
  3. And third, that if we respond to these imposing events with excellence, and if the excellent response becomes habitual, they can be transformed into sources of spiritual meaning and fulfillment. This transformation opens the way to a worthwhile and flourishing life.

There are a few others, but these ones are the most important. If I had to gather them into one sentence, this is what I would say: Virtue is the ancient idea that excellence in human affairs is the foundation of ethics, spirituality, self-knowledge, and especially the worthwhile life. Self-knowledge blossoms first and foremost with adventurous transformations of our way of being in the world. The Immensity, as I shall call it, is the situation that calls upon us to make the choices which create those transformations. It is a situation that changes us. But since our choices are involved, this is the change that also configures us, creates us, and so makes us who we are. To answer the call to Know Yourself is not only to discover who and what you are, but also to become that which you discover yourself to be.

Find out more about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/other-side-of-virtue-the


Economics is more philosophy than maths

There’s a bold assertion to start a Monday morning with. It comes out of the difficulty of discussing alternative economic approaches with people who aren’t green. The argument always, always goes ‘but where does the money come from? It doesn’t add up? You can hardly run a country if you can’t do basic maths’.

The current economic models defining how our financial world works can all be traced back to people. John Stuart Mill and John Keynes have always been the poster boys, but there are plenty of other people with ideas in the mix. From the outset there have been countering voices, speaking against our current economic models. This is theory, not science.

The mistake we are encouraged to make, is to believe that our current economic system isn’t theory, but truth. That it is a science based on numbers, and therefore beyond question, is an understanding that serves to keep the current approach in place. The numbers follow the philosophy, not the other way round. If you require alternative economic theories to be measured by the dominant one’s standards, of course they don’t hold up, because what you get is a numbers game, not a conversation about the underlying philosophy driving the numbers.

So, what is the underlying philosophy? It is about value. Money is a system for recognising value, and we understand value as that which can be bought and sold, and we understand profit as good. Starting from this position, growth is good, and more trade is good, more consumption is good. Our system tells us that only that which we can sell has a value. Health only has a value in terms of ability to work, or to sell health care. Beauty only has a value if someone will pay to look at it. Unpaid work has no value, eco systems are assumed to have no value. The future has no value, your unborn descendents have no value and your quality of life has no value. It is possible to value things you cannot buy and sell. We need to reclaim that.

If your system is only interested in how to move money around, it does not even properly think about resources. It’s a very short term growth economy that we have – as we run out of resources, there’s no long term thinking about how to be viable in the future.

Our system treats work as a moral virtue for those who are poor, and as unnecessary for those who are rich. Anyone who is poor and unwilling to work is lazy and stupid. Anyone who is rich and unwilling to work is virtuous and clever – we are not considering the value of the work to the society in this, we are assuming money to be inherently good and having it to mean something. Thus a person who has never done anything useful because their parents are rich and they don’t need to, is loved, and a person who has never done anything useful because they belong to a culture of low aspiration, is hated. This is about valuing and belief, not about maths, because either way there’s a person who does no useful work, but attitudes to it are radically different.

If you start to question what value means, you need a totally different conversation about how economics might work. If you want to factor in your grandchildren (or someone else’s) your happiness, the condition of the oceans and the wellbeing of bees, you need a whole other philosophy. No one is buying or selling the wellbeing of bees, people are buying and selling the chemicals that kill them. This creates an inevitable bias if all you value is that which can be bought and sold.

For anyone interested in a grass roots approach, I’ve been wondering about how we act in our own lives to challenge this. My personal answer is that some of the best things I do are not and will never be for sale, and I watch myself for any evidence that I am letting the price tag influence my value judgements.


Know thyself

Like many things in Paganism, the instruction to ‘know thyself’ looks really simple at first glance, and gets more complicated the more you engage with it. How we establish who we are is one of the issues that has been keeping philosophers in paying gigs for a very long time. So to ‘know thyself’ you have to start out by deciding on what terms you will do that.

We might undertake to know our bodies through action and physical discipline, and that will also reveal to us facets of mind and character. We could use the tools of psychology to try and understand our minds, and introspection to become more aware of our emotions. We can seek the opinions and insights of others, or go into a process with our biographical history, our ancestral history as well. We can study the norms, assumptions and habits of our culture to see where we fit. We can take on cultural, philosophical or religious stories about who we are. Fallen or evolving, reincarnating, sinning, full of inner light, sparks of the divine or probably damned, we might also consider, in light of that, who it is that we want to be, as well.

As we wander through life, we pick up labels and stories about who we are, what we do, what we’re useless at and where we fit. Much of how this works depends on how you match with your culture. The gay child of fundamentalist monotheists will have a very different initial sense of self to the gay child born to fluffy hippy people. In some cultures, a set of behaviours will get you drugged and incarcerated, in others you would be respected as a magical person. Further, not all of the people who label us do so kindly, or accurately, so it is very easy to wind up with a set of labels that have nothing to do with who we are, and everything to do with the people who disliked us. Many cultures tell women that they can’t be leaders, sporting heroes, career people, great thinkers, or responsible for choices about their bodies.

I don’t think there’s a ‘pure’ untainted inner self that we can somehow find and get back to. We start with our genes, and perhaps a spirit that informs character (I’m unsure) but from the moment of arrival, experience teaches us stuff about who we are and where we fit, and because we are inherently communal animals, we internalise a lot of that. We learn that certain things are not for the likes of us, or we learn that some things are beneath us, and those influences can be subtle and far reaching.

The only thing to do, if you are not happy with the sum of yourself, is to unpick, unravel, try to understand, trace threads back to origins and work out what, of the things you have swallowed, you might be able to cough up and leave behind. Experiment with who you are, try thinking and acting differently, because change is always possible.

I had been given to understand that I’m not very practical – not safe with sharp implements, not capable of thinking technically. I was intimidated by power tools from an early age, which didn’t help. I spent most of my life thinking I had no skills for anything mechanical, technical or requiring a bit of engineering. In the last few years I’ve had more opportunities, and no one telling me I couldn’t… and it turns out that I can do a good deal more than I’d assumed. It also turns out that I’m especially good at taking things that are otherwise rubbish, and rigging them up to be useful.

That makes me something very specific…

That makes me a womble.


What are philosophers for?

It would be fair to say that Alain de Botton has been a big influence on me in recent years. I’ve read a lot of his books. He’s an atheist thinker, but happily not that interested in the tired old anti-religion arguments you can get from too many other atheists. Instead, he is much more interested in questions of how to live a fuller, richer, more satisfying, more meaningful sort of life without having to refer to deity, afterlife and so forth. With my heady mix of existential and maybeist tendencies, I’m deeply attracted to this approach.

I’ve read some ‘proper’ philosophy along the way. You know the sort of thing, that gets so bogged down in trying to define who ‘I’ is and what we mean by ‘being’ and ‘consciousness’ that your head is aching long before you’ve picked up any tips that might be meaningfully applied to life. I’ve read philosophy that seemed like a foreign language, full of unfamiliar jargon, references to things I hadn’t read… an impenetrable thicket that made the outpourings of Robert Graves look clear and easy. That kind of philosophy has taught me one thing and one thing only – that I do not have what it takes to be a reader of such work, much less a participant in the process.

What is philosophy for, if it is too difficult for some of us even to sit down with it? While I may not be the sharpest pencil in the box, I’m by no means the bluntest either, and am prepared to bet that what I couldn’t get to grips with would prove indigestible to a lot of other people as well. Which means philosophy is just for the highly educated, super clever elite and we lesser mortals should just knuckle down and do what our betters tell us. (That may in fact be the gist of Plato’s Republic).

Oddly enough, that doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm. Wilfully impenetrable writing on entirely abstract and irrelevant topics doesn’t do much for me, either. This is why the discovery of Alain du Botton has been so important to me. He’s incredibly readable, for a start, tending to assume that his audience doesn’t have a doctorate in philosophy. Plain English abounds, as do real life issues. You can read something of his and apply it to your own life. You can read it and dare to think that, given time and effort, you could put together a passable bit of philosophical insight on life yourself. You can aspire…

What really, is the point of philosophy if it does not put philosophy within the reach of everyone who has some interest? What is it for, if not to help us live this life in this world? And what are we here for, if not to reflect a bit on our experiences?

When I first added ‘philosophy’ to the topics list here, I half expected that the Philosophy Police would show up (complete with togas and long beards) to tell me I wasn’t allowed. Not having a doctorate in that subject, I had no entitlement to claim any insight at all. (For the record, I have no such problems or chips on my shoulder when poking about in other subjects for which I am equally unqualified, I think high level philosophy is inherently elitist and exclusive.) It hasn’t happened. Not least because *that* sort of philosopher may not exist, and if they do, they probably don’t get out much, or online. Philosophy is the art of thinking about stuff in a way that is useful. Being a philosopher is being a person who thinks about stuff in ways that are useful. Expressing that in ways other people might grasp is a gift to the world. So I’ll stick with Alain du Botton, and John Michael Greer, and with anyone else who turns up and makes sense, because I’ve come to the conclusion that if philosophy fails to make sense, the philosopher hasn’t done a very good job of it.

For further inspiration, can I direct you to http://www.thephilosophersmail.com