Thursday, August 23

Malcolm Turnbull lost his grip as Prime Minister in just 48 hours

Click here to read How Malcolm Turnbull lost his grip as Prime Minister in just 48 hours.
I think part of the problem of everyday existence and politics today is their underlying “ideologies" whether conservative, liberal, or socialist, is they lack coherency. These dogmas ate argued on the basis ‘we are right, you are wrong' tag, about things that are indefinable.  In general I don’t think free-thinking individuals always fit into any system of thought. That could be the equivalent of putting on a straight-jacket.
Given today’s revelations we gain new insight into how the so called liberalism was at odds to conservative values and how quickly liberalism fractures on so many issues.
A more sensible approach might be tied to a social justice theme to argue policies identified with this thematic rather than being beholden to any particular ideology. In a sense an ongoing work in progress.
Another example is what sort of policy you have on power or energy must always revert back to some basic party style philosophy.
That determines who owns what and the underlying principles to regulation. Only once you have sorted that out you can then make sensible decisions on emission targets and draft an industry policy. What happened is we adopted a target bereft of an industry policy.           
Having such conflicting ideas in the liberal party it is a recipe for disaster. It can only work if you have a nimble leader who convinces both sides they are wrong and leads the troops to a third way, which is to be receptive to the mood of their electorate, not to be swayed by external powerful influencers. Such a tortuous position survived in the past but I’m not sure it can continue on indefinitely.

Hence I think the days of the liberal party surviving as a broad church (John Howard’s idea) to become more sympathetic to a conservative agenda is unlikely to survive unless they ditch the very idea of liberalism. Or they redefine what it means to be a liberal human being. Can anyone tell me what you think it means. Individualism seems to me to be a nonsensical idea that contradicts our history to identify with a culture that shapes and helps explain that shared existence.  
Whilst I don’t agree with conservatism as such at least they can define just a little better what they believe in as opposed to the liberals who can’t. Although we might not like it much.      

Thursday, August 16

Is there such a thing as a true self

Reading an article from the conversation I was struck by the last line: Deep thinkers will question whether the idea of an authentic true self passes philosophical muster. But even if it is an illusion, it may be a useful one.
That reminded me of the determinism versus free will debate. At the end of the day it makes sense to live your life as you have free will as otherwise you can’t make sense of it. But mostly I believe in determinism, but even so that rarely comes into play in my thinking or living except for the rather obvious mortality issue.
So let us say that the authentic self is illusory but even so explore the possibility it is a kind of work in progress as a human construct.   
So it’s going to vary throughout your lifelong experience and also according to what’s in one’s mind at the time.  So no absolutes are possible as it properly must be regarded as transient according to the circumstances.  
But from a personal viewpoint I find the idea of having a set of values that I might loosely associate with I think is my authentic self ( regardless of whether that is illusory ) is very useful and none more so than one is under a lot of pressure. Without wanting to give the impression from an egotistical point of view  I am a paradigm of virtue, that principle has served me well when getting rid of fraud in corporate situations when it came down to showing a bit of courage and suffering at a personal level as a consequence. Not such a big deal some might say but in a large group none the less you may finish up being the lone one willing to stand up so to speak. It happened on a number of occasions and each time it involved introspection. As best as I can think of it that means you arrive at a conclusion about yourself and what staying true to yourself really means. In other words staying true to your authentic self at the time. I think the idea of relating to one’s authentic self is very helpful. Not just for me but others, in similar positions in life, have all said the same thing.
A help to self- examination throughout life, but I hasten to add It cannot be pretentious as in publically pretending to be authentic.         

Sunday, August 12

In search of self and freedom

In this paper I want to talk more about the modern era of existentialism to expand on the work of Sartre, his long life partner Simone de Bouvier and Camus.
For Sartre, my reference is to what is considered his most important works, ‘Being and Nothingness’.   
Although influenced by Heidegger, Sartre was highly skeptical of his conclusions, but retained some elements evident in Being and Nothingness.
Being and Nothingness.  

Sartre, in his final ontology sums up what there really is; on the one hand ‘before itself’, is the conscious source of our meaning whilst on the other hand  ‘what it is’ so to speak, having no characteristics and which he calls ‘in itself”.
Therefore a world can only be meaningful as ‘before itself’ gives meaning to the ‘in itself’, similar to the Kierkegaardian idea.  

But the before itself represents pure nothingness to incorporate the Heidegger influence.  The way to describe this is just a nothingness or nullity if you will or that it has no essence. However what Sartre also posits is the ‘before itself’ by necessity, must have some kind of content and identity to live as in itself for itself. This contradiction of us constantly having to cope with the dizzy idea of nothingness, yet at the same time creating a meaning for ourselves out of this void is what Sartre illustrates starkly in the strange and dizzy images from Nausea.

But what is meant here is made much more clear.  In fact the only difference to the father of existentialism, namely Kierkegaard, is that  Sartre asserts you can’t get a defining commitment. His position is that whatever we are, is so free that we constantly redefining whatever we are. No commitment could ever be for eternity ( with GOD) or from that perspective it is necessary for us because of that nullity. But to reiterate Sartre realises we must have some kind of content and identity to live as ‘in itself’ ‘for itself’. 

The way Sartre gets around this idea of a nullity and self is in the employment of a feudal passion. So he acknowledges the self needs to have an identity, so he proposes it is this passion that fills the void (before itself) or nullity if you will, to engage in his so called life projects. So, for Sartre, we are in a constant state of commitment as per each life project, Sartre acknowledges, as does Kierkegaard, we need to get together this sense of self as otherwise we will be in state of despair.      

So that according to Sartre there is always a real risk of continually reverting to bad faith as we are covering up this frightening reality of a nullity by wanting to have some form of external influencer as in a ‘other’ to give comfort and clarity to our existence. He suggests this bad faith arises every time we place reliance on some other convention or form of authority. In other words to allow others to make choices for us based on how you ought to live. He doesn’t accept there is a narrative to our life or that to find meaning to our life we need to go back to our roots. All of that kind of thinking for Sartre is in effect bad faith.

This is a somewhat bleak assessment in keeping with his atheistic perspective. However I don’t think it is a very good argument for atheism inn existentialist philosophy. One could still adopt a theistic or agonistic perspective so long as you accepted that a cause (GOD) did not interfere or influence our freedom or to make decisions embodied in the concept of free will. Bearing that in mind his philosophy might be described as the secularised version of Kierkegaard.
However, this does not mean we escape any form or responsibility. On the contrary he posits we have that responsibility for the whole of humanity at the same time. But the question to ask is how would you determine this?

How can you acutely assess, how your decisions you are free to make impact on the rest of the world, so that their freedom is not compromised?
His solution to this ethical question was to use imagination, so that such a freedom to make choices involved a prior responsibility to imagine the effect on humanity that should not curtail the freedom of that ‘other’.

Albert Camus       
Albert Camus followed a similar idea to posit that not only does our life lack meaning, but it is absurd. Hence he introduced the philosophical question of suicide. But in answering such a question he affirmed a positive life response. Rather than contemplating suicide, his response was that the acceptance of the existential reality of absurdity one is then totally free to create our own meaning, free from any preconceived notions or idol worship. In other words to rebel passionately against that absurdity so we are free to create our own meaning and to passionately embrace each moment of life free from any preconceived notions.    

There can be no notion of values, only that of more quantity as may be gained from the more passionate experiences.  Camus does not present any substantive philosophical foundation to support his position other than to point out no firm conclusions have ever been presented on metaphysics previously.

In his book ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ is the depiction of one condemned for all eternity to pushing a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll continually roll back to where it was before and so on. This was to emphasize the futility and pointlessness of his task. But Sisyphus is willingly to continue on in eternity happily engaged in what seems a pointless task. 

One might consider the purpose of Camus in his novel was to express the idea that confronted with the grim reality of identifying a life without meaning, we rebel against that, but can be happy in the continuing task of living, even though it must end in death.

Simmone de Beauvoir.
I will turn now to her work to talk about existentialist ethics in the context of individual freedoms and the tensions that involves with wider societal freedoms.  This tension must inevitably lead to a responsibility, which in turn leads to an ambiguity as one seeks to incorporate the notions of values to freedoms within existentialist philosophy.
Pyrrhus ET Cinemas
Although a lifelong partner to Sartre, she approached the philosophical question of ethical responsibility long before Sartre gave it more serious consideration. Her first work was Pyrrhus ET Cinemas in 1944.  
The story begins between Pyrrhus, who is an ancient king of Epirus, and his trusted advisor Cinemas. But on every occasion Pyrrhus makes known his intention to conquer many lands.   Cinemas asks him what he intends to do afterwards. Pyrrhus says that he will rest once he has achieved all of his plans. Cinemas retorts, "Why not rest right away"?

The philosophy was written in consultation with Sartre’s ‘Being and Nothingness’. It was in accord with his idea of freedom in an objective world in relation to the conflict between being-for-itself and being-in-itself. But notice in Beauvoir's analysis we have the implied ethical consideration of other free subjects in the world.

Hence, she poses the question the external world can be seen as a destructive reality, so it is up to individuals to establish an ethical link which manifests itself via ethical action. That human bond aims to mutually express the freedom of the individual, but at the same time to encourage the freedom of fellow human beings.
However, she also asserts it may not always be passive because to remain a pacifist in every respect, regardless of the impingement on the freedom of others, is in effect bad faith.
The Ethics of Ambiguity
The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947) is a continuum of the theme expressed in Pyrrhus.  Although Beauvoir adopts mostly Sartrean philosophical ideas, such as there is no predetermined human essence or value, she presents the idea our human freedom is in a parallel with the need for that freedom of others for it to be properly actualized.

In the end she suggests in order for us to live ethically we are to assume the ambiguity as a given, to accept the paradox, and that it involves the proposition as ‘bad faith’. In agonizing over different perspectives she gets around the contradiction by concluding all we can do to live authentically at the crossroads of freedom and facticity.

Further reading is recommended to anyone interested in her work but I think this is enough to get the general gist of where her work is going; that is there are no clear cut answers and that the existentialists, like all philosophy and philosophers, has inherent weaknesses. All we can do is to take responsibility for our decisions in the light of information known and in exercising our freedom in parallel to the freedom of others, which are not to be compromised.     

Wednesday, August 1

Congarinni and Patrick Byrnes

Congarinni is a small village at Nambucca, and one of its pioneers was my great, great, grandfather, Patrick Byrnes who farmed 295 acres in 1864, to later operate a general store and pub, to take advantage of stopovers to the Bellinger River.
Here is a short poem I composed about his life.
Patrick Byrnes

Before the dock, his life ending?   
The Judge his rule, was pending
In clemency to the colonies I’m sending.    
The Captain Cook sailing to a far off land,
Let go the dark and filthy holds, just dream,   
Of a new land to make your home.
Upon the shore, a pardon came,
To the crooked river set sail,  
To build an Inn, to farm the land, to raise a family,
Along the crooked river there was no better man.
For Bullock trains, a favourite spot,  
Witty tales, tasty ales, not your only lot,   
Gentlemen seeking tweeds, a quality none better,     
Along the crooked river there was no better man.
To the cedar kings of high country where rivers just a speck,   
To the river’s mouth a graveyard for all the dreaded wrecks,  
He was the grand innkeeper, the one where all would stay.

The story of an Irish lad, who just stole for bread and butter.  
A pioneer whose fortune was told along the crooked river.