Saturday, 20 December 2014

All The World's A Film Set

I'm one of those people who wanders around with earphones in all the time. I'm also one of those people who thinks about what things 'mean', and this stupid, simple habit of mine is no exception. I've written before about the aesthetics of nature, and it occurred to me when I was writing the essay I culled that from back in the spring that it would be interesting to apply this to the urban landscape, which I shall do at a later date, as well as the natural (read 'natural' as exactly what you think I mean by 'natural'). This, in turn, lead me to dwell on the observation that when we're dealing with what we may call environmental-ambient aesthetics, the aesthetics of the locale, technology has allowed us to introduce the dimension of music to it in a way that was not previously possible.

In essence: we can literally add a soundtrack to our lives. 

Of course, the urban and rural landscapes have never been devoid of music. There has always been the solitary walker whistling, the Salvation Army band on their brass instruments in the town square, even the bird singing. However, these are obviously and distinctly public affairs. The band playing music, or the walker whistling, or the bird singing, invites the other to listen, either directly or indirectly- by which I mean, the whistling walker is most likely whistling for themselves, while the brass band are playing music for the public. Even if the headphoned walker sings along, listening to music like this is a distinctly private affair. It is something occurring for (and being controlled by) solely the subject. 

As such, the music chosen by the subject can potentially transform the simple act of strolling through town into a cinematic experience. It provides an element of distance and unreality that renders the lived experience an observed experience, in the same sense in that we observe the images on the cinema screen. Depending upon the choice of music deployed this sense of unreality can be exaggerated still further, in much the same sense the soundtrack of the movie sets the tone of the scene.  

Except the movie is our lives.

I remember a few years ago I was introduced to the music of Joy Division. I would have been about 18, and I got into the habit of walking around the nice, friendly suburb I live in at night, listening to Ian Curtis wailing. I find walking around at night a pretty evocative experience anyway, but having that music, so cold and wintry and raw with me, informing my feelings as it helped shape them, the experience transformed into something new and distinct. It wouldn't be accurate to say that this use of music turns our subjective experiences into artworks, but it certainly makes them into something like artworks.

Digital music technology undermines the notion that the artwork, in this case the piece of music, is defined by its separability from the rest of lived experience, that it is something that reveals itself only in particular ways and in particular places. It is certainly an uprooting of music, a displacement of it, even a democratisation of it. It is not dissimilar to how home media and the Internet have undermined the cinema. As is ever the case, the unholy pair of technological innovation and the capitalist profit motive have opened up new landscapes of experience for us. One wonders what new vistas are still yet to come...

I can't wait to go exploring.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Reports on the Reactosphere #5: Music To Neoreact To

The Holy Language of the Tropes has given us this wonderful expression (which describes at least some of the music I listen to regularly, for better or worse), and that got me thinking...

(Goes without saying I'm not suggesting that any of these musicians actually are Neoreactionaries, but I've never let something as inconvenient as the facts get in the way of a good time)

A while ago, someone (I think Hurlock but I'm far too decadent and indolent to leaf back through all of those Chaos Patches to find it) suggested this as an anthem for NRx. Admittedly, I can well imagine the huddled masses standing in devastated awe before their corporate overlords as Japanese danger-noise barks out of the loudspeakers ringing the Palace of Optimates, but what other fine pieces of music would be appropriately inspirational, or at least appropriately harrowing?

Here are my candidates:

Meltdown, the rather pleasing musical adaptation of Mr Land's essay of the same name, would be the most obvious choice if I were in charge, but it might be a little too long to play at the Olympics.

Respect the Hierarchy by Von Thronstahl would probably appeal to certain currents of NRx, but might be a little too Hyperborean for some.

Hate Us And See If We Mind by Rome (who are pretty obviously both on the Left and the finest neofolk musicians around today) would be appropriate for the title alone, but seeing as it's one of the central tracks on their beautiful new album about the collapse of white-minority rule in the former Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, (A Passage To Rhodesia, which you must all buy at once) it even carries a secessionist spirit.

Though, putting its obvious Leftism to one side, I think that this might be the most suitable, as long as you replace 'anarchy' with 'monarchy.'

Monday, 8 December 2014

Updates and Expectations

I started a new job last week (my first since graduation!), and as such I'm really not sure how regularly I'll be updating this for at least the next month. Considering how irregular my postings on here are anyway, that could easily mean there'll be no new content until the beginning of next year. I'm hoping that after a week or so of work I'll enter into a kind of equilibrium and be able to summon up the time and energy to write on at least a monthly basis.

Whether not that will happen, I don't know.

Hopefully, there'll be at least one more post this month, which will just be a look back on the last year, and maybe a 'listicle' where I go through my favourite reads of 2014.

I've been toying with a few ideas for my next 'proper' post on here too: Neoreaction as politicised Nietzscheanism; a self-rebuttal to my previous post on equality; a vague attempt at a phenomenlogy of moral experience; something about idolatry and the philosophical concern with the detrimental effects of art. There'll also be more Reports on the Reactosphere, starting with NRx's take on Islam.

I'm also hoping for a general increase in the quality of what I write here.

Oh, also, I got featured on the latest Chaos Patch on Nick Land's blog, which I was pretty pleased with.

Anyway, watch this space.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Equality and Morality

Egalitarianism is one of the most common ideas that one comes across. As such, it is very, very good to be suspicious of it (even if it turns out to be true). Despite the catastrophic failure of the project of communism, egalitarianism is still a principle you have to go to some odd corners of the Internet to find serious speculation against. Let's unpack the idea of equality a little, and see where it takes us...

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There is an obvious sense in which human beings are clearly not equal, and that is in terms of ability. It is a very clear empirical fact that some people are just better at getting things done than other people are. That is: person x is more useful than person y, the implication here being that there is an inequality between them. However, you would be right to observe that this may only true for a specific task that x and y are engaged in (let's call it z). For the purpose of completing z, x is more useful, superior even, than y: that doesn't mean that x is just better than y on some kind of abstract level, and it certainly doesn't mean that I should be required to back out of the room that x is sitting in without turning my back on her...

This being said, is it not true that some people are just generally more useful than other people?

Let's use the example of IQ here. I asked a friend with a real, bona fide psychology degree about this bit, so if I make any glaring mistakes, blame him. Contact details will be provided to any angry mobs who demand them. Anyway: IQ doesn't produce an objective measure for intelligence per se; there are far too many different forms of intelligence (which is a pretty vague concept anyway) for such a thing to be practically achievable: emotional, artistic, mathematical and so on. What it does do, however, is give us a useful ad hoc measure for certain abilities in certain circumstances, from which, if we take into account potential confounding factors, and combine it with other measures and observations, we can end up with a pretty reasonable general estimation of a person's intelligence.

We could, perhaps, arrive at a general measure of usefulness if we went in a similar direction. Let's call it Utility Quotient (UQ). I'm wary of getting too bogged down in an example that is only meant to illustrate a few thoughts, so I'm just going to assert that this hypothetical measure gives a reasonably accurate measure of a person's general value to society. UQ might be determined by combining several different measures together to arrive at a useful result. For example, a person might have consistently low scores for social aptitude and common sense, but they also happen to be a genius micro-biologist who leads their particular field, whose work has many and various practical implications, and as such scores a higher overall UQ than a person with common sense oozing out their ears. Perhaps UQ is designed in such a way that it can take into account people with exceptional, albeit selective, skills like this. Hell, it's my thought-experiment: UQ can take this into account.

Even without a measure like this, we would still most likely agree with the initial point: some people are just generally more useful than others, or have specific skills that make up for a lack of broader skills. The point I'm driving at is: even if we agree that, yes, everyone has different talents and skills, it does still make sense to say that some people are just generally superior than others in terms of ability and contribution to humanity. This is surely an empirical fact.

(By 'generally superior,' I mean in terms of the contribution they make to the general well being of humanity, whether or not this is limited to their particular community or is more global may be reflected in the UQ scoring too. Again, this is all purely hypothetical).

Why, then, are we so concerned with insisting that human beings are equal?

I think it is more of a reaction to the fear that by considering human beings to be unequal in ability we have to conclude, therefore, that they are not of equal moral worth. The attitude that some human beings are simply expendable (or do not count as human beings at all) was one of the most obvious driving forces, or justifications at least, of many of the great horrors unleashed during the 20th Century. However, does the recognition that human beings are not of equal utility really mean that they are not of equal moral worth? Or, does the act of accepting inequality of utility necessarily lead down the road of concluding that they are, therefore, not of equal moral worth?

That depends on how one defines moral worth. So...what do we mean by moral worth? Or, more accurately, what do I mean by moral worth?

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Before we can ask how we determine moral worth, we need to actually define what is meant by the expression 'moral worth.' The definition I am going to assert for the purpose of discussion here is- the obligations that one has to another. Or, rather, that the other has a moral worth which means I have obligations towards them. From whence comes this obligation? For Kant, it is a part of our nature as rational agents that we have duties towards other rational agents; the Utilitarians consider us to have obligations towards other beings which are capable of pleasure and pain, or holding preferences in some versions; virtue ethicists would be more likely to suggest that it is a virtue to be compassionate, and that compassion involves acting in such a way that benefits others, for that is what it is to live a good life (I am simplifying all of these, of course).

It is easy to view these different theories as being cards in a game of Top Trumps, suggesting that we can find the 'best' system by comparing their various attributes. I find this a little ludicrous; it is far more helpful to see the different moral theories as building upon one another, informing the difficulties and strengths of one another, rather than as a number of competing systems. This is not to say that we cannot have preferences, or consider one theory to be better than others, but moral philosophy needs to be taken as a whole (in my humble opinion, at least). Speaking purely for myself, I consider myself to be principally a virtue ethicist with Utilitarian sensibilities, or possibly a Utilitarian with the sensibilities of a virtue ethicist.

As such, my view on the notion of moral worth is that: a virtuous person who pursues a good life is compassionate, that is, is open to the needs and suffering of others and acts in response to this. This is all very well, but what about occasions when one needs to prioritise one person's needs over another? And I don't just mean in the occasional trolley disaster. This is surely one of the greatest challenges, if not the greatest challenge, that any and every scarcity society must face: who gets what? And who decides this?

This isn't necessarily helpful. We were discussing whether or not recognising that people are unequal in ability was equivalent to suggesting that we do not have equal moral obligations to them. I think that the answer to this might be something along lines of the following: we have equally important moral obligations towards one another, but the nature or internal dimensions of these obligation, does not mean that we act uniformly to one another. If you'll forgive the clich├ęd example: suppose that one had to choose between the lives of a tramp and a scientist on the brink of curing cancer, and one chooses the scientist: does this mean that we have no moral obligation to the tramp? Although, in practice, it may appear not, perhaps this is not so. One movement we could make would be to state that, although our moral obligations require us to sacrifice one life for another, it is still a sacrifice. It is still, or at least should be, a recognition that the person who we must allow to die still has a moral worth, but that this moral worth occurs in a greater context of moral obligations, obligations that network around and through one another.

However, isn't there something perverse about this? What?

It feels more appropriate, almost, to suggest that when we let the tramp die we have failed him. By discussing his death as a sacrifice, it seems as if all we're doing is attempting to abrogate our sense of guilt by suggesting that we have not let him down. This is because, I feel, we cannot shake the idea that somehow, even though the scientist had the higher UQ, the tramp mattered just as much as he did. This does not necessarily suggest that there is any truth to the idea that this is the case, but the fact that we feel that way is morally significant, and should be addressed (though not here: I think a discussion of moral phenomenology deserves its own post). 

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Are we closer to an answer to our question? Does recognising practical inequality lead to us loosing the notion of equal moral worth?

What this question shows is the way that moral theories can break down when they encounter the world. We can talk all we want that everyone matters, that everyone is special, but if we translate that into action we end up with a situation where we cannot treat people with preferences. No one can matter more to us than anyone else, not even ourselves. Arguably, this is the direction that Simone Weil tries to go in.

When we make a moral judgement, we are making a choice, and choice implies preference (bloody hell, am I praxing here?). When we choose one life and not the other, although we do not necessarily state that the life unsaved had no worth, we are implying that the life saved mattered more. We can still hold that we have duties to everyone, but we must be more honest with ourselves: some duties come before others.

I find this conclusion slightly uncomfortable. I fear I can glimpse Gnon on the horizon.