“The Joyful Wisdom” Audiobook

Posted by Anti Citizen One on July 31st, 2009

I recently finished a long term personal project: an audiobook reading of Nietzsche’s Joyful Wisdom aka The Gay Science. The running time is about 13 hours and much longer than I expected. It partly explains my lack of blogging!

Curiously the first chapter and appendix are both collections of poems. It is rather odd for his reputation to thing of him being a poet. The book is also valuable (to me anyway) as it was written just before Zarathustra and acts as a kind of preface. I think I understand some of the metaphors better than before.

One day I might do a selection of highlights but for now I need a rest from it!


On Tyranny

Posted by on July 30th, 2009

When I read this quote by C.S.Lewis today I couldnt help but feel that it applied not only to the major and obvious examples but also to the many subtle and noxious tyrannies that we are all at some point subject to or perhaps even unconciously participating in.

Some tyrannies I have in mind (and there are many others):

Militant Secularism/Atheism (that would push all religion to the private sphere)

Religious Fundamentalism (the type that seeks social conformity in belief)

Scientism (the belief that the natural sciences has authority over all other interpretations of life and fields of enquiry)

Ratio-Fascism (the assertion that only rationalism is valuable as en explanation or a field of enquiry into the world)

Political Correctness

Total Rights Assertion (the imposition of one perceieved “right” at the expense of other “rights”)

Objective Relativism (the absurd notion that all the varieties of traditions must be equal to everyone)

50% + 1 (the tyranny of the majority – the good of the many etc.)

Ethnocentrism (the viewpoint that “one’s own group is the center of everything,” against which all other groups are judged.)

countless other “isms” (I welcome contributions to this threadbare list)…

anyway here is the quote:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”   C.S.Lewis

erratic thoughts on freedom of speech

Posted by on July 28th, 2009

The concept of free speech has been discussed and mulled over here on a number of occasions. So I apologise for any repetition. These are just some disjointed thoughts that I had late last night on the matter which I guess kind of represents my metanarrative on the whole topic.

Firstly there are two types of freedom of speech.

The first I would call a de facto freedom … this really is the simple fact that if I am able to think and to speak I can freely think and speak whatever I wish without hindrance.

The second is the notion of the right to freedom of speech and this relates more to our demand to exercise our de facto freedom of speech and thought in a social environment wherein for whatever reason (taboo, peer pressure, legal restrictions, tryanny) we are sometimes prevented or chastised and censored (and censured) for our exercising the de facto freedom of speech.

Nothing can limit our de facto freedom unless we are rendered mute. But the influence and the impact of our de facto freedom can of course be restricted, though it may be difficult (but not impossible) to control our thoughts governments and other nefarious agencies can limit the audience to which our thoughts when expressed may be recieved.

Now I am slightly suspicious of the “rights” discourse. As the great Utilitarian Jeremy Bentham once stated the whole concept of “natural” rights is nonsense. In truth rights are our own invention, and they are reified by us by attributing them to God or Nature or some greater thing than ourseleves individually.

Generally I have always argued that although “rights” have their social advantages (for example I am in no hurry to be killed therefore I jealously guard my right to life), the fact is that “rights” inasmuch as these abstract concepts are real in any sense, are in constant competition with other rights. One need only cast an eye over many contempory ethical debates to see conflicting notions of rights, right to life, right to choose when/how to die, right to choice etc… There is no such thing as a right that is cut and dried and so objectively obvious that you cannot think (even if it is ridiculous) that it may have an opposite and competing right.

My right not to be killed stands opposite the right for someone to kill me… it seems silly but the latter right (though very rarely expressed as such) is evident all around us, from the psychopath, to military conflict, terrorism, to government sponsored murder (ethnic cleansing, eugenics, capital punishment).

But further to the inherently un-natural modus operandi of rights is the binary opposite of the concept of a “right” itself and that is an “obligation” or a duty.

There are those who would argue, as I have at times that the right to freedom of speech ought perhaps be tempered with an obligation not to unnecessarily offend or to incite actions that may infringe other rights.

It is alas something I have not argued fully or satisfactorily. Which in part explains this here ramble.

Lets take some social models to explain this binary opposite.

An authoritarian police state (Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Communist East Germany.. as examples) controls what can be published, or even spoken about by means of censorship, propaganda and a system of social informants that keep police aware of un-patriotic or ideologically unsound sentiments. In such a state we could say that there is no “right” to freedom of speech, but that there is an obligation to say, do and think what the ruling elite would want you to say, do and think.

In contrast we would point to to the ideal “democratic” society where freedom of speech is cherished as a right and we have no duty to think say and do what any authority tells us.

But is such an ideal attainable? and is such an ideal compatible with democracy?

In theory I would suggest it is attainable, by our simple mass civil disobedience against any laws that repress our freedom of speech.

But I am not so sure that total freedom of speech – or unregulated freedom (which is no freedom at all) is compatible with democracy.

Frequently our debates on this site have focused on what we might call the “offence” clause.

I have often argued that we have the “right” to take offence – and that this is a symptom of free speech and a fundamental corrollory of democracy. To argue that people should not take offence is an inverse tyranny, asserting one competitive right over another. But the discussion stalls over what actions the offended may legitamately take in response to free expression… Censorhip? Fatwa?

Here I think is where I will wrap things up (somewhat imperfectly). But firstly a closing thought.

Perhaps if the notion of the “right” to freedom of speech was more coherently presented as being part of double-sided coin, the flip side being an obligation not to abuse that freedom of speech i.e. by inciting hatred, violence, etc., then democratic society should not feel the need to censor.

If the right to free expression was tempered in the fire of the right to be offended then perhaps this would cease to be an issue.

But alas there is a pay off that needs to be made. If we are to talk about the responsible use of rights are we not in danger of quietism, of muting great works of art or political and philosophical rhetoric?

Probably we would.

But thats the democratic way, there is no real thing as a right, and likewise though democratic society pays lipservice to freedom of speech in truth that freedom is anything but free.

So what alternative? Well we could go the path of absolute duty (authoritarianism) or a free for all anything goes (chaos). The latter of which ironically is also a form of tyranny, i.e. if total freedom of speech is advanced at the expense of the “right” to be offended, then simply one abstract notion that we call a “right” is asserting its authority or its value over another abstract “right”.

At least we have a de facto freedom of speech and thought … unless we’re all automatons (but thats a whole ‘nother discussion!)

This week I will be mostly reading…

Posted by on July 1st, 2009

Three Dialogues on Knowledge, by Paul Feyerabend.

Yes its that time of year again where I read my favourite philosophical iconoclast. However I’m not going to give a comprehensive review of the book (mostly as I’m only 1/3 of the way through it). Amazon reproduces the blurb from the back of the book and that succinctly describes its scope and its method.

As the title suggests it is concerned with knowledge, specifically in the fields of epistemology, ethics and metaphysics. Consequently lots of topics get attention paid to them including religion, science, astrology, culture etc.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is its style. It is – quite unlike most of Feyerabends work, easy to read. It is written in imitation of the Socratic Dialogue. I get the feeling that Feyerabend (who as well as being a Professor of Philosophy was a graduate of both Physics and Theatre) wrote these dialogues not for inward digestion but for public performance – consequently it is much more accessible to the reader than other works of his. He also is conscpicously absent, each of the characters represent aspects of him or even anti-characterisations and I get the impression that because he is absent as a figure (even mocked in one of the dialogues) he doesnt feel the need for grand standing controversial gesture statements – even if the content brings up controversial ideas i.e. the anarchic nature of science.

Anyway I may occasionally post excerpts from the book.

I start with this one on education – which also touches on ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, tradition, culture, existentialism, anarchism etc. I found it a very powerful passage.

A: So you really are against education.

B: On the contrary! I regard education – the right kind of education – as a most necessary aid to life. I think the poor creatures who were sent into the world just because a man or a woman were bored with each other, felt lonely and hoped that producing a nice little pet might improve matters, or because mama forgot to insert her intra-uterine device, or because mama and papa were Catholics and did not dare to have pleasure without procreation – I think these poor creatures need some protection. They got life without having asked for it – and yet from the very first day of their existence they are pushed around, forbidden to do this, ordered to do that, any conceivable pressure is exerted upon them including the inhumane pressure deriving from the need for love and sympathy. So they grow up. They become ‘responsible’. And now the pressures are refined. Instead of the whip we have the argument, instead of parental threats the pressures issuing from some midget whom his fellow midgets regard as a ‘great man’. Instead of eating his supper he is supposed to search for truth. But why should the children of tomorrow have to imitate the leading idiots of today? Why should those upon whom we have imposed existence not view this existence in their own terms? Don’t they have a right to please themselves even if this scares the beejesus out of their teachers, fathers, mothers as well as of the local police force? Why should they not decide against Reason and Truth…

A: You must be dreaming…

B: And this is my good right. This is everybody’s good right and it must not be taken from us by an education that maims instead of helping us to develop our own being to the fullest.

– Second Dialogue (1976)