Ad Initio: Causal Hauntology
Anticipating a future event, or merely anticipating a future possibility, can – and does – cause us to act in the present. I find this odd, ontologically speaking. A thing which has no being has (causal) efficacy. Normally, we think A (temporally prior event) causes B (temporally posterior event). In these ‘predictive’ cases (often cases where one acts from prudential considerations) B causes A. I think this is what Aristotle calls ‘final causation’ – one can be pulled from the future rather than pushed from the past…
Of course, and obviously, it is not only future events that determine my [current] behaviour. Past events, which are only manifest in me as history (which I instantiate, and solidify with my presence), are replayed (as trauma), and affective (as neuroses).
I cannot escape my past – indeed, I cannot even confine it. My past is my present. It makes me feel ashamed – it displays my humiliation & makes it public every time I externalize myself in some way. Music and art and literature (all of which, are, of course, ‘art’) are all things I engage with to understand, participate with, and, with luck, de-fuse these [negative] feelings. Perhaps if I read more, look more, listen more, I’ll eventually be fixed.
Ad Interim: Vox Artis Vox Populi/Dei
I’ve started listening to a lot of experimental jazz – especially, at the moment, a group called E.S.T. Much of their music confuses me – I can’t seem to access a steadiness, a regularity, a predictiveness in many of their songs. Eventually I give up trying to access what’s going on in the music and this invokes a state of ataraxia so intense I feel… almost optimistic.
Forgiveness – I once heard – is when one stops hoping for a better, or merely different, past. Sometimes, I am optimistic that this will happen, for me. One day, I will stop hoping.
I have a strong desire for permanence and stability – yet, every time I set things up in such a way as to achieve, or obtain, a determinate and clear future, I start to resist it. Is this an arrogance? Perhaps I worry that I can do better? Perhaps I’m too lazy to participate in my self-imposed routine for the long-term. Either way, this gives my life an instability I loathe, yet cannot do without. I have the constant feeling that my life-proper is just about to start (any.minute.now – I will be adulted). Perhaps every time it does, I lose hope of a better future.
I can’t hope for a better future: I can’t hope for a better past. Yet I do both – and this hopeful self-delusion is determining in an extremely destructive way.
Perhaps this is why I enjoy chess so much – the determination of the past and its necessitating possible future-shapes. The counter-disposition is probably why I like jazz so much – the inaccessibility (at least to me), the opaque order, the triumph of organicism over mechanism.
Ad Mortem: Let us grant, for the sake of argument, that a foetus is a person…
I think this is the source of my chronic depression – the resistance, the impossible striving – both against and with determination – acting against my nature and losing. I am consumed, I am burned-out, I am tired. I am almost at the point of giving up. I want a quiet, boring life. I want a life of achievement and value. I cannot have both, it seems. This is exhausting. This is exhausting.
Today in my class (over which I take ownership, apparently) we spoke about conflicting rights. Ronan grows a tall tree in his garden which prevents sunlight shining into Matthew’s garden, thus devastating his carefully cultivated ornamental flowers. Ronan has a right to grow a tree in his garden. Matthew has a right to have his lovely flowers flourish. Neither can happen but at the expense of the other. How are we to settle disputes of this sort? For what it’s worth, I don’t care about these instances so much.
We were talking about ordering of rights with reference to their right of free expression and their right to an education. They can’t – at the same time – participate in idle chatter and receive an education. By stepping into my classroom they are choosing to prioritize their right to an education over their right to free expression. By stepping into my classroom they are consenting to being punished if they are to act in such a way that prohibits or hinders their education, or the education of others around them. The things I do to get them to pay attention… NOW SHUT UP AND LISTEN!
This discussion quickly mutated (mostly at my behest) into a conversation about abortion. If everyone has a right to life & a right to decide what happens in and to their bodies how are we to reconcile these, sometimes incompatible views? The students were conflicted about this. What interested me was that their views were split completely in accordance with sex. The boys in the class felt that the right to life always trumped a [woman’s] right to decide what happens in and to their body. The girls in the class thought that, while abortion ought to be discouraged (no reason was offered as to why this was so), there were circumstances in which a woman’s right to decide what happens in and to her body trumps the right to life. We didn’t even have to mention Thomson’s ‘Famous Violinist’…
I think this debate is legally clear and unproblematic – it is unsafe and harmful (especially – and perhaps exclusively) towards women to legislate against abortion. No-one can really want to see a bunch of back-street, un-or-under-qualified idiots hack away insensitively at a woman’s uterus. The safety of women has to be our priority here.
Morally, I find the arguments unclear and problematic. Further, I don’t think the exceptions (so-called) actually help. The moral status of the foetus is not determined by how it comes into being (e.g. rape or incest). That the foetus is, is enough. This isn’t to say the foetus has the status of ‘person’ – it’s just to say that whether it is or isn’t, isn’t determined by the external facts. I don’t know how the argument progresses from here – but I know that this has to be our opening position.
Legally fine, morally questionable – just like debates around prostitution.
Drawing the distinction between legality and morality is perfectly fine and we shouldn’t be too squeamish about it. The state, which obviously ought to be abolished, is a pretty poor yardstick of moral standards and any criterion is going to be profoundly deficient.
Ad Infinitum: Is value what the Gods determine esteem for, or do the Gods determine we esteem something because it is valuable?
I submitted my doctoral thesis a few days ago and was sent an e-mail concerning my graduation shortly after (which is very presumptive of the university – perhaps they know something I don’t, but should be excited about). I’d already decided to not go to my graduation ceremony, instead graduating in absentia. Why? Well, for a few reasons. Firstly, I’m not particularly pleased with my thesis as a piece of philosophy. While I feel the process of ‘researching’ and writing did me loads of good (I now have a fairly robust view of moral worth and political agency &c.), I’m not sure it’s valuable as a piece of philosophy in itself. Secondly, I’m not sure how much I value and respect the institution I attend. Each department seems to measure itself along quasi business metrics and it seems that the university as a whole is no-longer acting qua educational establishment. Thirdly, I feel like attending my own graduation would be self-congratulatory in a way I don’t feel like I warrant (note: I’m not making any judgments about the achievements of others). Fourthly, and finally – attending my graduation might suggest that I feel I’ve had an authentic educational experience in virtue of attending this university. My authentic educational experience is completely independent of this, especially given that the institution I attend is not an educational institution. My education was formed by my invigorating friends and my library card/amazon account.
This is why I feel angry, frustrated, and, ultimately, depressed for the new students arriving. They are moving into halls, they are optimistic, and their minds are primed to be receptive to a certain sort of experience. They believe they have made it to a wonderful university where they will be surrounded by ‘top minds’ and embedded in a historically continuous institution of renowned academic excellence. The institution will tell them that this is so – and, partly because they’re so invested in this being the case – they will convince themselves, utterly falsely, that this is what they’re getting. Their experience is self-validating, it is also validated by the institution they attend. It is a false experience; it is an inauthentic experience. They are paying ~£9000 a year for a mediocre education that will instil an inflated sense of self-worth that they entirely deserve, I’m sure, but don’t warrant. They will leave feeling confident. The world will crush them quickly. Their certainty, their solipsistically-validated confidence, will be proved to be unfounded. Rather than blame the university, they will blame themselves. They will become depressed. Their identity will be indeterminate and confused; inaccurate and existential-crisis-creating. They will get jobs either as middle managers, or as Labour Party politicians. Perhaps both. They wouldn’t notice the difference either way…
I was glad Corbyn won on Saturday – now if we could just have that split sooner rather than later, I could hurry up and re-join. I’m looking forward to the day when Corbyn is considered on the right-wing of the party. He’s the correct answer to the incorrect question. We shouldn’t be asking ‘how best can we administer the state and distribute goods?’, we should be asking ‘what form should society take and is the state necessary?’. This is really the difference between ‘what subjects should one study at school to get a good job?’ and ‘what should the rôle of education be?’.
Anyway. Enough of this Red Talk.
I’m off to have a cup of Earl Grey tea and a read of my book. #radical