28 August 2008

The poet and the mathematician

It is the mathematician, not the poet, who can come closest to that shy, elusive creature Truth. The mathematician, unlike the poet, the mystic and all those who use language, is unfettered by cultural subjectivity and linguistic limitations. While wordsmiths (yours truly not exempted) depend on a generous fairy-dusting of glamour and sentimentality to woo an audience, mathematicians, and their cousins mathematical logicians, engage in an unselfconscious attempt to understand the fundamental laws of all things, laws expressed as numbers and their relationships bound together by the glue of logic. If the poet is music’s pretty poster child of romantic pop, then the mathematician is the hoary classical theorist with a command of music’s very building blocks.

23 August 2008

End the (consciousness) war!

Reason is not the ultimate human faculty lauded by classical philosophy, yet neither is it the 'slave of the passions' as David Hume believed. We must avoid the simple, convenient and false reason-emotion dichotomy that rends apart what is intricately entwined, even interdependent. Neuroscientific evidence shows the important role played by feelings, instinct and the unconscious mind - aspects of our humanity often reviled as inferior to reason and logical thinking - in our personal theatre of life.

Liberty Ltd, unlimited

Consumerist capitalism and its reliance on markets and markets alone to promote freedom, specifically the consumer’s freedom of choice, ignores certain hard truths about human nature. Libertarian economic philosophy makes grand - and erroneous - assumptions regarding the behaviour of individuals pursuing their rational self-interests; that base emotions like greed and callousness don’t exist (or worse, are trumpeted as good), that private choices don’t have public consequences, that human values are simply the aggregate of personal wants and desires removed from a wider social context. We are free to choose from five-hundred-and-seventy-three brands of washing detergent but are blocked from buying television air-time for civic messages criticizing consumerism. The contradictory message is clear: we are free to spend our money as we see fit, so long as we spend it as consumerist capitalism sees fit. We can subscribe to any social ideology we want to, so long as it's consumerism.

15 August 2008

Meaning and association

Mundane objects are made oppressive with the weight of emotional associations. Sentimentality chains itself to the most banal things. There is this fear that reigns a tyrant over so many, this terror of loss that shadows all things material. We grip tight, accumulate and hoard in a vain attempt to make time stand still. We console ourselves that though a cherished moment is deceased, we can still summon the memory of it, especially with the aid of a physical catalyst. We may not be able to raise the dead, but we can call forth their ghosts. Sentimentality is a sort of necromancy.

08 August 2008

Critique of pure Kantianism

I’m reading Clive Hamilton’s latest book, The Freedom Paradox. Its premise, that the freedom of the modern individual to pursue endless consumer choice and sensual gratification has failed to provide ‘inner freedom’, sounded promising enough for me to pick it up. The first few chapters had me nodding my head in agreement as Hamilton dissected the current disappointing state of liberalism in the social, political and economic arena. John Stuart Mill’s ideas on individual liberty were mildly rebuked for his oversimplified views and gushy optimism, though Hamilton acknowledges Mill’s seminal role in the formulation of many liberal values we enjoy today. Hamilton throws water on my fiery Millism, but I could use some cooling down.

Then, at the start of the book’s second act where Hamilton introduces the metaphysical basis of his argument for a ‘post-secular’ ethics, our foregoing relationship, which started out amiably enough, begins to sour. You see, Hamilton turns Kantian.

04 August 2008

Are you sure you're not religious?

Peace, progress and prosperity have birthed often unforeseen offspring, both beautiful and hideous. Among the latter are new popular delusions. Though religion - as it is commonly understood - is perceived to be on the retreat, the comfortable civilization has not entirely lost its need for mysticism, for collective illusions. Its increasing secularism masks the accompanying rise of another breed of religiosity, one that has evolved to fit the times, this age of peace, progress and prosperity.

01 August 2008

The utopian fallacy

There is one ideal that a utopia will never allow if its definition is to remain consistent, and that ideal is pluralism. Any utopian world-view has an implicit ideological homogeneity that does not, in fact cannot, tolerate dissent. For a utopia to be what it is - a system of political and social perfection - its members must necessarily embrace similar values and ideals, otherwise its integrity disintegrates. Can any society be called a utopia if it has members, even a tiny minority, who are dissatisfied with the supposedly flawless social order? Can it still be called a utopia if there is but one malcontent?