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Category Archives: Philosophy

Sugar tax

I flick the edge of the container, to save myself the mess. An old habit.

My opiate, my addiction, benign and made benevolent by a lifetime of positive experience. The poke off sweets. The ice cream float. A caramac and a Beano as my granny takes me home.

Another few grammes after so many. What harm could it do?

It is my stroke, my diabetic ulcers, my heart attack, my cancer.

How little I think of it and how much. Every man has a vice and mine lives in youth, it is comfort, it is joy, it is reward.

A swirling wonder, bursts of energy, after a long day. A routine. One solitary wee bottle of bru on the bus home.

They’re taxing it now. They say I shouldn’t.

Today I bought two.

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Let’s not cut off our nose to spite our face

a3d07eb45c1e9938550314c8076c86b6I’m not the most vocal ‘Yes’ voter in Scotland, to be honest I’m one of those people who would have voted for devo max if had been an option (what Westminster offered in the final weeks was laughable, unbelievable, and didn’t sway me for a second). That said, I did come to see the merits of our country standing apart and answering to itself for it’s own failings and celebrating its own achievements. There was a positivity in this country that I had never seen in my three decades here.

Once the dust had settled I was sad to see the slightly pouty nature of some of the ‘yes’ camp in the weeks after (some are even now still pouting). Though I should point out that a bit of pouting is nowhere near as bad as the disgusting unionist display in Glasgow, described as a ‘celebration’ (though this was clearly a very noisy minority of ‘no’ voters). That said some of the ‘no’ camp have developed a general smugness which doesn’t seem in keeping with the ‘togetherness’ they claimed to represent. The bit that bugs me is that neither camp seems able to remember what their side represented.

On one side we have the ‘Yes’ supporters, a group which made a clear effort to mark themselves out as people who were ready to muck in and help build a whole new country together if the vote went their way (no small task). These people caught me, the positive attitude, their willingness to take off the blinkers and see that something, anything, needed to be done to change a system that has left most modest-sized towns in this country with a food bank.

On the other we have the unionists, (calling them the ‘no’s seems a little negative to me). If we take them at their word, these were people who didn’t want to see a collection of nations torn asunder. They saw the yes campaign as pure nationalism and worried that it would go too far, that English, Welsh, and Irish people might be made to feel unwelcome in a post-devolution Scotland. Personally I don’t think that would have happened but to be fair we can’t know.

So here’s the problem, we have unionists who are demonstrating something that’s a long cry away from the togetherness of ‘better together’ by laughing at their fellow citizens’ plans to make a change, to try and help build a fairer country.

On the other side we have yes voters who have lost their spark, the worst of them seem to relish in any problems our country has post-no with a slightly anarchistic ‘I told you so’ in the way they address them.

It’s not fair to this country and it’s not fair to the ideals of the campaigns that either of these kinds of people decided to follow. On one side we have a cry for togetherness and understanding, underneath which there was often a recognition that things are bad just now, but that we could work through that ‘together’. On the other is a group who once saw themselves as nation builders. Admittedly the new task ahead may be less grand sounding but it’s still important.

Our country is in trouble, we need new industry, we need new jobs but most off all we need the energy and cohesiveness of our people to pull ourselves up after our bit of self-discovery, to be a nation again. Not a nation ‘who fought and died for..’ but instead one who lives for the future, who lives for each other and wants to see the people (any people) who call Scotland their home do well for themselves. We should not relish in our neighbours’ misery because their misery is our misery. For better or worse, for the time being, we are in this together, we all had so much energy in September, the winter will be over soon and I think it’s about time we all got back to work at improving our lot.

Thanks for reading, as always comments are more than welcome in the section below and you can catch up with me over on Twitter, All the best, John

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Posted by on 16 January, 2015 in Philosophy

 

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Lofty ideals are beautifull yet deadly

Snow_Leopard_RelaxedWhy do people do genuinely, shockingly, terrible things? I’d say it’s down to values. At some point in our lives we tie ourselves to principles and beliefs that matter to us (this is far from being a bad thing, at its heart it’s what makes human beings so incredible). We might not sacrifice our lives for these ideals but the vast majority of us will still happily sacrifice some of our own personal freedom/liberty in favour of promoting this ideal or belief. This can be as simple as giving up time to a religion, to a career, to the arts, or it could be a larger sacrifice where one steps away from the ‘average’ life path of others in one’s community entirely, instead choosing to dedicate oneself to something that feels greater than ordinary human existence.

The problem comes when some people start to value this ‘thing’ over the lives and liberties of others. When this happens other people become a means to an end, we will infringe on their liberty because we feel we are promoting an ideal that is greater then ourselves and these others, we might even say things like ‘it’s for their own good’. This can become so extreme as to offer an individual in this position a way of rationalising their belief structure, making it easy to use their own beliefs and ideals to permit disgraceful and possibly even inhuman acts.

It is possibly our greatest strength as a species that we can aspire to be more than meat bags on a rock in space, we can aim for the stars and appreciate the wonder that is inherent in human identity. We can hitch our wagon to something transcendent that could survive far beyond our life-span. However, alongside this beautiful feature of the human condition comes the possibility that some of us may pay such close attention to these lofty ideals and concepts that we neglect to see our brothers and sisters passing us by on their own journey, hitched to their own wagons.

Sometimes we simply disrespect their choice in ideology and, if someone is strong in their beliefs, this disrespect should have no effect on them whatsoever. Sadly sometimes we go beyond this, we think that our ideology is worth more than the life and aspirations of our neighbour, when this happens human beings demonstrate their capacity to be worse than animals. In these moments we can allow ourselves to destroy (or even take) the lives of our neighbours. All in one moment someone can display their capacity to rise above their animal nature, holding tight to hefty ideals, yet at the same time they drop so low in the way they treat their neighbours as to become more abhorrent than the lowliest pond scum. At it’s core acts like this remind us that we are far more complex than anything else we have seen, we can access this degree of barbarism but so too can we aspire to be more than that.

At least that’s how I try to get my head around moments like this. People are beautiful and terrible, we sometimes forget that we are the most dangerous and dominant creature on the planet, we need to treat each other with respect but so too are we intelligent enough not to allow offence to be misinterpreted as a physical threat, and we don’t have to fall foul of our baser reactions. This is the heart of being a liberal, we can accept differences in people but we don’t have to accept mistreatment and brutality as parts of those differences. We can, and should, be better than that.

All the best to anyone reading this, feel free to add your own take on this in the comments below, Cheers, John

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UPDATE 16/06/18): If you enjoyed this and would like to read more of my work please pop along to my author page on Amazon. Simply click this link.

 
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Posted by on 10 January, 2015 in Philosophy

 

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Small town philosophy

1236837_914517181911287_1936006581401853506_nWe might expect perspectives to be very different relative to where people live, but the truth can be much more subtle. I’ll admit that living in the countryside can mean that things like solitude can be taken for granted but, as a fellow member of Crieff Philosophy Society pointed out, someone in a bustling city could feel more alone than a country bumpkin out on an empty hillside. It’s all relative.

So what is different about small-town philosophy? To be honest I think the lack of higher learning institutions and the more sparse population can add more potential diversity. In a city it’s (relatively) easy to find like-minded individuals, whereas in an area with a smaller population you often have to be happy with similar-minded individuals. Though this might sound like a negative thing it can actually be a more rewarding experience than just meeting with people who agree with everything you have to say (more or less).

In a city I would probably be socialising with a very similar demographic to myself. That’s not to say a wider, more diverse, circle of friends couldn’t be had in a city, I’m just noting that it would be easier to find like-minded people in a city given the population density. In the countryside you’re kind of forced into a broader circle and it can be extremely rewarding.

The philosophy society has been meeting for around two years and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the conversations, the differences of opinions, and the alternative attitudes I’ve encountered in our wee group.

Our numbers look set to swell a little in the next few weeks/months, at least if social media is anything to go by. I recently set up a Twitter page for the group to run alongside our newly arranged monthly get-togethers which will be informal nights out, focussed around a chosen topic, on the first Thursday of each month. All these initiatives seem to be exposing the society to a larger portion of the local community and I’m hearing a lot of positive feedback.

Our next get-together is on 6th November and the chosen topic is identity. So expect more posts on gender, nationality, nature vs nurture etc. through the course of October.

If you’re lucky enough to be part of a philosophy group, either in a town or city, what have your experiences been like? Is it equally as easy to find diversity in the city? What kind of events work best for your group? I welcome any comments or suggestions you have in the comments section below and, as always, thanks for reading, Cheers, John

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Posted by on 5 October, 2014 in Philosophy

 

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Scotland: A Nation of Philosophers

125371-satellite-image-of-scotland-without-any-clouds-taken-on-may-26-2012-from-neodaasuniversity-of-dundeWith eyes peeled open to the realities of what politics really involve, over three million people took to the voting booth last week to decide on the future of their country. In the run up to this vote being cast we in Scotland were bombarded with such a swathe of information from both sides, and in a host of mediums, that for the last few weeks those who were taking their vote seriously (and I think that was a very, very large majority of the Scottish electorate) became fully active philosophers.

For me the term ‘philosopher’ refers to a certain type of individual; open-minded, yet sure of their own stance, critical of information sources, yet humble enough to recognise the limits of their own investigative powers, and most importantly a person who actively engages with the world around them and sees how things connect and how varied human interpretation of the way the world works/should work can be. I spent nearly ten years studying the subject and working in the field and this is what I gleaned from it.

Keeping this in mind we can (and should) of course celebrate the sheer magnitude of democratic action we saw when over 80% of a nation voted on something. However, the more interesting thing is what this referendum has done to all of us, it has changed us, made us more accepting of difference whilst making us more aware of our own traits. On top of this we have come to see the fallibility of once trusted institutions like the BBC and various different news outlets but at the same time we’ve come to recognise that our view of the world is not the only view of the world.

We have always been a fairly cynical lot but our new-found critical edge is very distant from the flat, tired, almost unthinking cynicism we used to have about things like political promises and the behaviour of our media outlets. We’re waking up as a nation, whether a yes or a no voter people in this country are no longer willing, or even able, to simply accept what they’re told or what is done to them. We have become active, engaged and interested in defining and understanding the nature of our nation and in deciding what might be best for all of us.

The critical eye is open and tired cynicism is on the way out, we don’t simply find problems and exclaim mistrust any more, we are becoming a nation who wants to work at solutions and one that demands that those who seem to expect our trust must first demonstrate that they deserve it. I have not been interested in politics since I was at high school but right now in Scotland the nature of politics is about to get very interesting indeed because a nation of philosophers has opened their eyes and they want to see things change.

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Posted by on 27 September, 2014 in Philosophy

 

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Philosophy of Play

imagePlay is commonly regarded as the stuff of childhood, with adults who play seen as belonging to unusual fringe groups and sub-cultures. However if we’re really honest with ourselves the situation is actually quite different. Play keeps life interesting, whether you get sucked into any sport show going,  or if you are more drawn into the world of fashion, or even if you simply enjoy the odd game of Tetris you’re enjoying forms of play.

Watching or participating in team sports is one of many socially acceptable ways to appreciate play. The same could be said of the enjoyment of playing with identity and expression which are common to fashion. There is no doubt in my mind that a great majority of the more diverting activities which we participate in on a daily basis can and should be understood as forms of play.

I’ve been blogging about ‘toys, life and people’ over at johnthetoyshopguy for over a year now and I recently decided to write a book about the philosophy of toys/play. There’s such a rich mixture of sub-topics within this basic idea; does what we played with as children fix certain aspects of our personality/world-view? Why does society contrast ‘toy’ with ‘real’? Do we ever stop playing? And if we don’t does it help to be conscious of the fact that many activities which we take seriously can also be recognised as forms of play? What role do toys play in shaping cultural notions like gender?

I’m in the very early stages of planning my book so I’d welcome any feedback/advice you might have. It would also be great to hear what you think of my book ‘Living the Good Life in a Modern World‘ now available at the kindle store (first chapter available as a free sample). Thanks for reading, Cheers, John

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UPDATE 16/06/18): If you enjoyed this and would like to read more of my work please pop along to my author page on Amazon. Simply click this link.

 
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Posted by on 27 September, 2013 in Philosophy

 

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5 things that doing philosophy will help you with OR How to Become a Jedi

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Perhaps you’ve always thought ‘why’ so you’re now considering reading some philosophy. Alternatively maybe you’ve somehow landed in a philosophy class and you’re wondering ‘why???’. Either way, this list should help you get a grip on just exactly what you should expect to get out of studying philosophy. It should also show you why I think that studying philosophy is the closest thing to Jedi training you’re going to find on this planet. Here’s the list, philosophy provides:

1. An appreciation of just how bad many of the arguments you hear in your day are. This is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand it leaves you feeling superior but on the other talking about it to non-philosophers might get you labelled as a know-it-all. Mostly it’s supposed to build up your ability to spot nonsense and double-talk, so it should bring the added advantage of helping you avoid being drawn in or conned. Another advantage of this is a heightened ability to notice (and correct) flaws in your own arguments. Realising this skill can help you become a master manipulator; “These are not the droids you’re looking for”.

2. Answers which lead to more questions. Yes philosophy will provide answers (contrary to popular belief) but with these answers come more questions. With this in mind, if the thirst for knowledge keeps you going then more questions will just add to the fun, but if you want an absolute answer to the fairly ambiguous questions common to philosophy you’re likely to be frustrated. The thing is though, philosophical questions will never have clear cut absolute answers, that’s what makes them philosophical. (OK I’ve got nothing Jedi related for this one)

3. An ability to make difficult situations into abstract problems. This can lead to an easier means of finding a solution but it can also leave you tied up in your own thoughts. Use your new abilities wisely. (OK back to Jedi training now).

4. You’ll never look at anything quite the same way again. You’ll find that after a certain level of study you’ll start to find hidden depth and meaning in practically everything. One of the main benefits of this is that you’ll rarely feel bored again. (In Star Wars this is familiarity with the force in philosophy it’s familiarity with what we call ‘the meta’)

5. You’ll start to gain the ability to see arguments from the other person’s side and with this you’ll find that it becomes easier to let things go. In effect philosophy could make anger a rare event and one you can distance yourself from at that. (this kind of thinking can keep you from the dark side)

OK perhaps the last 2 are a little Vulcan too, but they’re still pretty Jedi and there’s no denying that they’re an awesome set of skills to acquire. Hope you enjoyed the post, if you disagree/have anything to add, feel free to drop a comment below. Thanks for reading, Cheers, John

PS. If you fancy seeing me use my Jedi/philosopher skills on the peculiar world of children’s toys pop on over to my other blog: John the Toy Shop Guy and if you’d like to have a look at my first book ‘Living the good life in a modern world’ follow this link 🙂

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UPDATE 16/06/18): If you enjoyed this and would like to read more of my work please pop along to my author page on Amazon. Simply click this link.

 
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Posted by on 21 September, 2013 in Philosophy

 
 
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