18 Feb 2013
Your goal in life is to be free.
Free from nature.
You were born with a particular body, into a particular family, into a particular geographical, social and cultural context, and you were brought up in a particular way.
Your goal in life is to escape from that, and to discover your true self, independent of the constraints of nature.
It's striking how many aspects of our culture can be construed as attempts to do just that.
- We assert our freedom from nature by moving away from our town (or country) of birth, and by following a career path different from that of our parents.
- We value technology because it allows us to escape from our own "natural" existence, to forge our own identity, to be whoever we want, wherever we want, with whomever we want, whenever we want.
- Money sets us free, because with enough money we can escape from where we live and be anywhere on the planet within a few hours.
- Money sets us free, because we can change our bodies so they reflect our true identity. We can even change our biological gender.
- We perceive our true identity as having absolutely nothing to do with nature (particularly our biological gender), and it is discriminatory to suggest otherwise.
- We assert our freedom to control our bodies, even to the extent that anything that might depend on our bodies for its survival must, by definition, not be another human being.
This kind of attitude finds its way into the church too. Most obviously, in the liberal segments of the church, attempts are made to re-interpret the faith as if our identity as human beings is essentially genderless. But this attitude also finds its way into the more conservative evangelical segments of the church. To pick three bees from under my bonnet:
- We tell the gospel as the good news that we will one day escape from nature entirely, to live in an ethereal, heavenly paradise.
- We find is easy to reconcile the evolutionary narrative with the biblical narrative, because it doesn't matter to us whether agony and death are hard-wired into the present created order: after all, nature is inherently evil, and we are looking forward to escaping from it when this created order is discarded in favour of something completely different.
- We see environmental concern as a distraction from the work of the Kingdom, because this present created order is of no enduring value, and because our goal in life is to escape from it.
There are philosophical underpinnings for this battle between nature and freedom. I need to delve deeper into them, but for a starting point, read about the Nature-Freedom Ground Motive, as described by Andrew Basden, based on the writings of Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd.
9 Nov 2012
I can understand why someone would be zealously opposed to abortion. But it's been less obvious to me why someone would be zealously pro-abortion. I've been pondering it a bit, and this is what I think is going on.
Both sides would agree with the following:
- It is wrong to take the life of a human being
- If a foetus is a human being, then it is wrong to take the life of a foetus
- If a foetus is a human being, then a pregnant woman has no choice but to complete her pregnancy
- If a pregnant woman has no choice but to complete her pregnancy, she is not autonomous
- A pregnant woman is fully human
Then the sides go their separate ways...
- A foetus is a human being
- Therefore, it is wrong to take the life of a foetus (from 1, 6)
- Therefore, a pregnant woman has no choice but to complete her pregnancy (from 3, 6)
- Therefore, it is not necessary to be autonomous in order to be fully human (from 4, 5, 8)
- To be fully human is to be autonomous
- If a foetus is a human being, a pregnant woman is not fully human (from 3, 4, 6)
- Therefore, a foetus is not a human being (from 5, 7)
I think the reason people are zealously pro-abortion is that they are deeply offended by what they perceive to be the suggestion that a pregnant woman is not fully human. And so they should be. But that stems from a particular view of what it means to be fully human. It's the view that to be fully human is to be an autonomous individual. If a pregnant woman is forced, against her will, to endure nine months of physical, psychological and emotional turmoil, it's really impossible to describe her as an autonomous individual. And, for those who believe that to be fully human is to be an autonomous individual, this means the pregnant woman is denied her full humanity.
So, for those who are zealously pro-abortion, it seems that the issue is really nothing to do with evidence. Instead, it's a matter of what it means to be human. Either the foetus is human, or the pregnant woman is human. It can't be both.
6 Nov 2012
Here are some commonly-used words and expressions. On their own, they are completely neutral. But we don't hear them as neutral, because they are about the past, present and future. And we know (don't we?) that the present is better than the past, and the future will inevitably be even better than the present...
- This is the 21st Century!
- The latest ...
- You're living in the 19th/20th Century!
- That's unacceptable in this day and age
- Modernise (we will modernise public services)
- New recipe
- Change (we promise to bring change)
Are there other "neutral" expressions that express a similar (or contrary) view about where history is heading? Feel free to comment below!
25 Jul 2012
Some of our social customs are so familiar that we don't realise how weird they are.
Sponsorship is one of them.
Here are two things a person might say, one of which is "normal", while the other is bordering on the offensive:
- Hi, I'm raising money for my favourite charity by ascending Mount Everest blindfolded on a space hopper. Would you like to contribute?
- Hi, I'm raising money for my favourite charity. Would you like to contribute?
What goes through our minds when we gladly give money in the first case, but feel very awkward in the second?
Generally, we would think that it is pretty rude to interfere with someone else's charitable giving. By all means tell me about your favourite charity, but leave it up to me to decide how much money I give (if I give anything at all).
But it's okay to do impolite things under certain circumstances. For example, it's generally considered to be a palpable solecism to knock on someone's door at 3am. But if your house is on fire and you need to use that person's phone, normal conventions are set aside.
But what is it about me performing some impressive feat that makes it acceptable for me to interfere with your charitable giving? On the surface, me hopping up Everest would appear to have no connection with you giving money to charity. But somehow my use of a space hopper could lead you to donate to a charity of my choice. Why?
Maybe part of the answer is that it bestows a certain amount of honour on the person being asked. Please sir, you know that if I had £10,000 to give to my favourite charity, I would give it myself. But I don't have that sort of money—and to prove that to you, I will do something that a normal person would never do for less that £10,000. I only ask that worthy benefactors such as your fine self take note of my sincerity, and out of pity supply me with just a small amount of what I lack in terms of money, so that my efforts can be translated into financial benefit for my favourite charity.
Is that the answer? Do we really have such elaborate social conventions in our enlightened age?
13 Jun 2012
Good evening and welcome to my lecture. For those who lack knowledge my name is Professor Singen Smedley and I am a vastly erudite and important scholar.
This evening I will be lecturing you on the topic – how we became enlightened.
11 Jan 2012
What is the dominant worldview — or religion — of people in the West? Arthur Jones identifies the "Western Religion" as being materialism, with the related beliefs that "physical nature is all there is" and that "enjoying material possessions is all that matters". It is the story of science, technology, economic growth and consumerism, as follows:
- How do we gain true knowledge? Through science – by asking the elite scientific experts to share their wisdom.
- Why do we want that knowledge? So we can develop the technology to control the world (even including human behaviour).
- Why do we want to control the world? So we can have constant economic growth.
- Why do we want constant economic growth? So we can all live in a consumer paradise.
I think he's onto something, though I suspect many in the West would live as if the second statement is true ("enjoying material possessions is all that matters") while not being so sure about the first ("physical nature is all there is").
17 Aug 2011
Thinking aloud, I wonder if we could characterise consumerism as being a view of the world in which the sensory aspect is the only aspect that matters. (In that sense consumerism would be reductionist, not in denying that the other aspects are real, but in denying that they are ultimately significant.)
So we could ask a consumerist some questions:
- How are you, Mr Consumerist? I'm feeling great/dreadful.
- Why do you want a new iPhone? My current phone makes me feel boring, and a new iPhone will make me feel good about life.
- That's not very rational, is it? So what?
- Why did you buy those expensive trainers? It makes me feel good to be seen in them.
- Why are you going somewhere exotic on holiday? I want the experience of something new.
- Why did you give money for the famine in Africa? It makes me feel bad seeing that on the TV.
- Why is it important to have law and order? It makes me feel safe.
- What exists in the cosmos, apart from yourself? Lots of things that have the potential to make me feel amazed, fascinated, satisfied, happy, amused, exuberant, loved and significant — and, sadly, lots of negative sensations too.
- Look, a tree! Yes, something that gives me the feeling of wonder, the sensation of seeing something I consider to be beautiful, the fascination of studying it, the thrill of climbing it, the satisfaction of reaching the top, the taste of its fruit, and the warmth of it burning in the fireplace.
- Tell me about God, if you believe in him? I believe in him, and he makes me feel loved, forgiven and good about myself.
- The Sun is one of around 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is itself one of around 100 billion galaxies in the known Universe. Let me tell you how that makes me feel.
- What is important to you in life? I want to experience life: the feelings of affection and significance that come through family and friends, the feeling of satisfaction at doing an interesting job where I can make a real difference, the feeling of having a moral code and sticking to it, and the endless experiences that are available to me through technology, communications and travel.
A quick search online suggests that I'm perhaps not alone in this line of thinking. For example, Andrew Basden writes in A Presentation of Herman Dooyeweerd's Aspects of Temporal Reality:
Absolutization (undue elevation) of any aspect brings harm because it breaks inter-aspect coherence. Absolutization of aspects in theoretical thought leads to other aspects being either ignored (example: positivism) or explained away in terms of the favoured one (example: evolutionism). Absolutization of aspects in society’s mindset (example: consumerism) destroys other aspects of society, such as justice or generosity (p.24, my emphasis).
17 Jan 2008
To be free to choose is to be free from commitment
... because to be committed means you've chosen already.
To be free to choose is to be free from belonging
... because if you belong you won't choose not to belong.
To be free to choose is to be free from making choices
... because once you've made a choice you are no longer free to choose.
To be free to choose is to be free from any ties
... because ties limit your choices.
To be free to choose is to be free from certainty
... because if your mind is closed you are not free to consider new ideas.
To be free to choose is to be free from needing anything
... because if you depend on something you can't choose to be without it.
To be free to choose is death.
22 Sep 2007
You're at a party. Talking to someone new. It's someone of the opposite sex. Thought goes through your mind (again): maybe this could be the one? Who knows? How could you tell? Nice weather, mmm. Really? I've been there too! What did you think? Small talk, small talk. But how to find out what this person is like...? Let's get beyond the superficialities. Ah!
What kind of music do you like?
As if that could matter! What a strange question! What about her background? What does her father do? Or her grandfather? Where has her family lived? Where do they originate from? What was her up-bringing like? What kind of school was she sent to? Is her family religious? Where do they stand in the social ladder? Surely these are the questions you should be asking if you want to find out what she is like!
Don't be silly.
Those questions have nothing - absolutely nothing - to do with what sort of person you are. They are about what you inherit by virtue of your birth, not by any fault - choice - of your own.
On the other hand, your choice of music - what you listen to on your iPod or other similar/superior device - ultimately has absolutely nothing to do with your birth. True, in childhood you may have been limited both in what you knew about and what you had access to. But that is no longer the case. Nor is your choice of music affected by anyone else. It makes no difference to them, and it's none of their business. There are no constraints on what you listen to in private. It is one of the freest choices you will ever make. And if you value your ability to choose, your choice of music will be very close to your heart.
You are most human when your choices are least constrained.
What you listen to is your own free and unconstrained choice, and therefore it is an indicator of who you are.
You are what you listen to.
Don't you think?
10 Jun 2007
Tolerance, equality and diversity: three words that reflect the core values of our culture. But what do they mean?
A tolerant person is one who believes that all lifestyles and beliefs (within reason) are equally valid, and is therefore quite happy for people to hold these beliefs.
In contrast, intolerant people have a different (inferior) view of reality, thinking that different lifestyles and beliefs are not all equally valid. These intolerant people will try to persuade other people to change their beliefs. Tolerant people think that intolerant people are wrong about how they view reality: intolerant people need to learn that they are wrong to think of their own beliefs as superior to others and that it is wrong to try to persuade other people to change their beliefs. A tolerant society should not put up with intolerance.
A person is said to value equality if they consider all lifestyles and beliefs (within reason) to be equal. In contrast, people who do not share this conviction do not value equality and therefore should not expect to receive the same treatment as everyone else. This is because such people are responsible for the division and hatred that permeate society.
People may be described as welcoming diversity if they believe that the differences between various lifestyles and beliefs (within reason) are insignificant and certainly not differences in how right or valid they are. Holding this belief helps them to embrace diversity; anyone who draws attention to differences in a judgemental way is a hindrance to this.
If these definitions are accurate, it follows that
- "tolerant" people are intolerant of those who truly disagree with them
- people who value "equality" think that if people are truly different (in their beliefs), they should not be treated equally, and
- welcoming "diversity" is the same as hating true diversity.
I hope I'm wrong.
20 Oct 2006
I've been thinking lately about what it is that makes us tick.
There has been plenty of discussion in the media about what makes a person British - in terms of values and attitudes. After all, if we ask immigrants to become British, what do we mean? But it's worth asking that question not just for Britain but for the "Western" world as a whole. What is important to us in our (Western) culture - so important that if it someone tried to take it away from us we would be devastated and indignant? It's not an easy question to answer.
I think I've stumbled on something with this idea of choosing. I've noticed this not only in the amount of choice we now have, even before breakfast, but in the fact that we genuinely like to be able to choose. (This is different from being decisive!) People get really upset if you deny them their right to a choice.
Opto ergo sum, by the way, is Latin for I choose therefore I am. It's a take-off of Descartes, who said, Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am).
As my thoughts coalesce, I'll cough them up and deposit them here. So I invite you to watch this space - if you choose.
17 Sep 2006
We're surrounded by choices.
Here are six I was compelled to make before breakfast.
- Should I get up? I'm not a slave or a child. No one will force me to leave the comfort of my bed. Whether or not to get up is entirely a matter of my free choice - a decision I make (eventually) every day.
- What should I wear? Who shall I be today? Shall I be colourful and confident? Shall I put on my new self, discovered during last week's shopping trip? Or will it be the tired old self, 2004 edition, worn out, faded and uninteresting?
- What shall I listen to? Barely an hour has past since I last regained consciousness. I've already had to make two difficult decisions, but this next choice could take the rest of the day. True, Aunty BBC is always proffering her wares, but surely it's best to consider all the available options? Can I interest you in another radio station, sir? How about one from the internet? Any country you like. Or listen again to any broadcast from the past week. Need a broader range to choose from? How about a podcast? Or some music - one of your MP3s perhaps? Don't have the track you want? Buy it online at the click of a button!
- What shall I eat? It's easy to limit yourself to a hundred varieties of cereal, ten kinds of milk, and a few thousand combinations of bread, I can't believe it's any different to Flora and marmalade. But why restrict yourself? Don't you know what you're missing? Why not try a continental? Or Japanese (including rice and raw egg)? Pancake? Thai soup? And please - what kind of tea or coffee would you like? This is the 21st Century!
- What shall I read? Forget the daily paper: don't you want the freedom to choose? All the major news sources are available online these days - why not customize your Google News page to give you only what you want to read? Or just subscribe to your favourite news sources with Bloglines!
- Finally, where should I go for my early-morning jog?
4 May 2006
A weblog, or blog, is well described by Dilbert.com:
When I see news stories about people all over the world who are experiencing hardships, I worry about them, and I rack my brain wondering how I can make a difference. So I decided to start my own blog. That way I won't have time to think about other people.
People who are trying to decide whether to create a blog or not go through a thought process much like this:
- The world sure needs more of ME.
- Maybe I'll shout more often so that people nearby can experience the joy of knowing my thoughts.
- No, wait, shouting looks too crazy.
- I know - I'll write down my daily thoughts and badger people to read them.
- If only there was a description for this process that doesn't involve the words egomaniac or unnecessary.
- What? It's called a blog? I'm there!
As I said, this is not a blog. Now you will understand why I say that.
However, I have an almost irrestible urge to blog. No joke, I do. Maybe it's a typical male obsession with things (toys). But maybe this obsession with the latest technology (MP3 players, camera phones, pocket computers, version x of whatever piece of software) reveals something deeper - some utter dissatisfaction with my current existence and a belief that these new toys will satisfy? Now let's be rational. Why might I find blogging attractive?
- Blogging is writing, and writing is good for you.
- It might enable me to meet like-minded people.
- There's no risk of you telling me to go away because I'm boring you (relationships without risk always seem attractive).
- It would allow me to bring all the aspects of my life into one place, so I might actually discover my "true" self. (Though in reality it is more likely to compound the problem than solve it.)
- Somewhere in the recesses of my being I genuinely believe that technology will satisfy my deepest needs (happiness, security, purpose, etc) and the needs of the world (peace, prosperity). Blogging is new technology, so maybe it provides the answer? Can't know until you try it!
I don't like the idea of blogging because:
- It takes time.
- The internet is big enough anyway.
- "I'll read my friends' blogs and they can read mine" is a pathetic substitute for real relationships.
- It may greatly enlarge my ego.
- I might end up preferring to spend time online with my community of "people just like me" rather than with the fascinating and diverse group of people I happen to meet in "real life".
- I'd be supporting my culture's desire for soundbites rather than substance. Just think, if you gave up reading endless blogs and articles for a week, you could read a book!
- Come on Anthony, you know that new technology won't solve the world's problems. Look back over the past few hundred years, look at the wars, look at the suicide rate in our "advanced" society, look at our broken relationships, social problems and bleak outlook for the future. Isn't it obvious? Every time something (some thing) lures us in, offering a better life, it fails to deliver on its promises, leaving us even emptier than before, and even more desperate to discover the next innovation, convinced that it might be the advancement we've all being waiting for. It's a lie! Don't believe it!
So here are my ground rules for future posts:
- Don't waste your time or other people's time.
- Handy hints for computing are acceptable.
- So is announcing/advertising things to the world (but not too often!).
- Thoughts about life, the universe and everything can be posted here only if they've already been shared with real people in the context of real, face-to-face conversations.
If I break the rules, please tell me!