Tag Archives: philosophy

Wildness and culture

Often, the wilderness is represented as the enemy of, or the opposite of human civilization and culture.  This is, I think, one of the notions that underpins our dysfunctional western cultures and that can be blamed for a lot of our destructive thinking.

All too often, the desire for human civilization becomes the desire for power over the natural world. That in turn becomes an inclination to make everything unnatural – straighten out the rivers, plant the trees in rows, grow vast monocultures, and so forth. We cut the grass at the side of the road because we tell ourselves it looks tidier. What we’ve decided is ‘neat’ and therefore desirable, is stale and predictable.

When we make environments based on the desire to be tidy and in control, we make places that are harmful to humans. We don’t thrive in our austere urban spaces. Our mental health is improved by the presence of trees. We find solace in flowing water and flourishing plants.

Culture doesn’t thrive on sterility either. The best that we do as humans is more complex, and does not grow naturally in straight lines either. Poetry and art, music and extreme maths, philosophy and ethics, science and technology – our most creative thinking is not best served by our most sterile and limited impulses.

So, why do we do it? Why do we force our cities and lives into rigid forms that hurt us? Who benefits from having both people and the landscape under this kind of control? Most of us do not benefit. Most of us are made poorer by this process that has been with us for some hundreds of years.

Straight lines are efficient.  Tidy minds are less likely to have the inspiration for a revolution.

Our environments shape who we are. There is plenty of evidence now to make it clear that we are better, happier and healthier people when we live with trees. And yet we make tree-less environments that bring out the worst in us. And as those environments shape us we become the kind of people who live in empty, lifeless spaces and make straight lines out of our lives.

The wilderness was never the enemy of culture. Wildness is the rich soil in which human civilizations grow and flourish. I wonder how much our collective obsession with tidiness and control is a symptom of a dying civilization. We’ve been harming ourselves in this way for a long time now. Little wonder that so many of us have no idea how to live, and little desire to act in ways that would make life more viable.


Druidry and time, continued

This is my second blog post contemplating a druidic relationship with time. The first one is here – druidlife.wordpress.com/2020/06/19/druidry-and-time/

About ten years ago I had a run of experiences that caused me to focus very much on day to day life. Things that mattered greatly to me seemed unviable, or that I was threatened with losing. It was a frightening time, but, all I could do was take it day by day. Although things were hard, that day by day focus on gratitude, appreciation and making the very best I could of what I did have got me through and taught me a lot.

All the important stuff eventually worked out in the way I needed it to, as an aside.

The legacy from that time remains with me.  It taught me a lot about how to think about life. It taught me how precious the small things are, and how you never get the time back and how important it is to celebrate and honour what you have right now.

This is more of a seize the day philosophy than a live in the moment approach. It was impossible to live in the moment with the future so uncertain and so fearful. But it was possible to dig into each day as much as I could, to relish the best bits and make the best of what I had. I never lost sight of the bigger picture, but I focused a lot on the details of everyday life. And I learned that most of the important stuff is made out of those details anyway.

Whether we accept it or not, our relationships with time bring us a lot of uncertainty. You never really know how long you will have with a person, in a place, a job or anything else. I’ve found along the way that I regret things I didn’t do far more than I regret the mistakes I made. Life doesn’t always give second chances, so when I can, I jump in with both feet.  It’s important to recognise the uncertainty, I think. Important not to put off opportunities that might never come again and to recognise how brief and fragile life is. And then to engage with it as much as possible on a day to day basis. Take it as it comes, love it in its smallest parts.

I’m a big fan of doing little or nothing. Time spent on not much can be time very well spent. The one to watch for is when you’re filling in the time, or worse yet, killing time, when you aren’t really engaged with what you are doing.

I don’t think there’s any specific philosophy about time that is more innately druidic than any other, only to value what we get, to make the most of it in whatever way makes most sense to you. Whatever your relationship with time is, make it conscious. Choose it. Live it. Even if you have a wider belief that gives you all the time in the universe, this moment is precious and will never come in quite the same way again,


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.