Showing posts with label Philosophy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philosophy. Show all posts

Sunday 17 May 2020

The Critic - A Certain Modesty for Numbers Men

In The Critic magazine again, this time writing about Expertise in Difficult Times.

The response to Brexit and Covid-19 both hinge in different ways on how we relate to experts and expertise.

When do we just have to trust the experts? And when should we use our own judgement?

There's a real difference between questions of hard, material sciences and the social and political responses to policy and leadership: Materials have the decency to follow consistent laws; People can be shaped, inspired and lead, or not.

As the modern world gets more complex more crises will hinge on expertise. We need to get better at realising what questions have black and white scientific answers, and which depend on assumptions, judgements and political leadership.

Article Below.
https://thecritic.co.uk/a-certain-modesty-for-numbers-men/

Saturday 1 February 2020

The Critic - I think, therefore I speak very carefully.

A new conservative magazine, The Critic has kindly published an article of mine attempting to cast, more Light than Heat, on the concepts of sex and gender rapidly being integrated into our society.
In summary, my argument is that we owe Trans people respectful, compassionate and decent treatment that includes access to the medical treatment that will relieve their dysphoria, and ensures society grants them the same respect and opportunities everyone else receives.

But that shouldn't mean people have to accept strong claims about the definition of sex and gender that are both very historically recent, and also ultimately metaphysical in nature. Nor should the law be enforcing them. The whole argument can be found below.
https://thecritic.co.uk/i-think-therefore-i-speak-very-carefully/

Saturday 15 December 2018

Why is Max Scheler's 'Value Ethics' better than all the others?


When you say you've done a PhD there are only two responses. Some people change the subject, and the rest ask what your PhD was about. Once you're past that, they usually ask why? Sometimes what you're doing is obviously sexy, like curing Cancer, or inventing solar panels, but usually it's a trickier question. Well, my PhD was in Philosophy, more specifically in Ethics, and most specifically the remarkable Theory of Ethics of Max Scheler (1874-1928). That answers the first question, but what about the second. Why did I do it? And was it worth doing?

Ethics is all around us all the time. Questions of what is valuable and important are a constant issue in our personal lives, our professional lives, and our politics. It never stops and it's part of all the arguments that plague our society. Despite this few people consider what basic ethical principles and theories should guide these constant decisions. We would consider it crazy if people constructed buildings without reference to physics, or grew food without thinking about biology, or manufactured materials without chemistry. But there is no comparable reliance on ethical theory: it isn't taught rigorously in schools, and is barely discussed even by those professionally engaged in areas like Politics.

Now one of the reasons for this is the confused, disjointed state of theoretical ethics itself. Every physicist agrees on Newton's laws but in Ethics there are multiple fundamental theories about what defines the 'Good' and 'Evil', each of which contradicts the other. Deontology, Utilitarianism, and Virtue Ethics, are roughly the main schools of thought: focused on fixed moral principles, outcomes of actions, and personal virtues, respectively; Or in other words: means, ends, and virtues. Each of these has many subdivisions and adjusted theories, and the details and issues with them fill libraries, but the basic problem with each is that they are infuriatingly partial.

None are just rubbish, but each grabs hold of an important ethical principle and clings to it like it's the only valuable thing in the world. They then judge our complex experience of things as meaningful and valuable by that singular principle, not the other way round, discarding bits of experience that don't fit like someone chopping off their toes to fit into their shoes. This inevitably results in absurd consequences eventually. Classic Kantian deontology famously opposes telling a lie to save someone's life from a murderer, classic Utilitarianism suggests torturing a totally innocent person forever would be morally correct if enough people enjoyed it enough. These are just simple examples, but the problems with these theories in many areas run deep.

That's why there are multiple such theories, because each leaves a big part of the ethical territory un-colonised, leaving a space then inevitably filled by another theory that intuitively focuses on that vacant ground. What is needed is a theory that tries to accurately describes the whole range of our experience of meaning and value and builds itself around that, rather than insisting experience should fit the straitjacket of a simplistic theory.

This is what Scheler's Ethics does so well. Its depth lies in its attention to the broadest possible range of our ethical experience: of events, of intentions, of objects, of actions, of people; and distinguishing, describing, and analysing as many of the different Values involved as possible. Phenomenology, the method Scheler's uses, prioritises analysis, in the sense of breaking experience down to identify the nuances of values that defines our ethical life, and trying to describe them as accurately as possible, before then asking how they fit together. Where other theories are rationalistic: taking one principle of what can be morally good and then trying to force experience to fit that; Scheler's approach is empirical: It approaches ethical experiences and asks, what do we experience, and how do we experience it? We can then apply this understanding in practical cases where these values arise and must be weighed against each other.  

The idea of 'Values' is the primary building block of Scheler's ethics, described in his greatest work--Formalism in Ethics and Material Ethics of Values. This covers all our concepts that primarily describe a type of positive or negative worth. Scheler's analysis includes an incredible, complex, multi-dimensional range of Values we experience: contingent values of the useful, values of comfort and agreeable sensory experiences; values of life, health and vitality; values of the mind, of truth, personal moral goodness and artistic beauty; of intellectual discovery, justice; and religion, holiness and the meaning and purpose of life. By sticking as closely to experience as possible we minimise the risk of ethical theory wandering off into the absurd. Ethics can never be a science, its material is not physical after all, but this approach is far closer to the scientific (and a science like Botany at that) than the overly rationalistic alternatives that risk being carried away with their own ideas. Scheler's theory is defined both by the breadth of values it considers and its detail. An ethical situation may involve many values, and the more we distinguish and understand, the more rigorously we understand that situation.  

Scheler approaches the question of how we experience and discover ethical values with a commendable neutrality as well. His theory is true to the reality that we are all capable of ethical awareness, understanding and discovery outside any rational argumentation. New ethical insights are not discovered by abstract reason, or philosophical research, but by flashes of insight profoundly felt by people as they discover some new value of persons, objects or acts. 

He argues that philosophy has displayed a rationalistic bias and so misses the fact that the experience of value, which is the basis of ethics, occurs through both reason and feeling. It is through value feeling that we discover ethical worth of all different types: whether the beauty of objects, or the importance of health and joy, or the wonder of a scientific discovery, or the life-changing impact of a child's birth. We do not discover values just through emotion, but different diverse forms of feeling structured by reason, in the same way that our knowledge of objects is based on experiences of the senses shaped and categorised by reason. Scheler correctly recognises that acts of feeling and will are the eyes of the heart, and this opens up new answers to questions about how we can have ethical knowledge, and how ethical insight can also motivate and affect us.

One of the most attractive features of Scheleran ethics is how it does justice to both the objectivity and pluralism of ethics. Within the full, ordered universe of values and nuances of values, different individuals and societies have discovered different portions of the whole, and hence have different, consistent moral rules that reflect the values they have experienced and prioritised. These moral laws can vary considerably but all reflect the underlying insight into values achieved by those people. And then historical moments of ethical advance happen when a minority of individuals, or just one prophet, achieve a new glimpse into values that go beyond those already understood by their society. But this is not a proof of relativism but a testimony to the sheer scale of the universe of values, which always offers more to discover.

This pluralism is not just a matter of moral shortcoming either. It is an essential, positive feature of the diversity of gifts in individuals and whole cultures, which give them unique, profound access to different forms of beauty, or art, music, courage, compassion, and other values. We each peer into the wider universe of values from a different vantage point, with subtly different eyes, and we need each other to reveal the fullness of values. No individual can entirely replace the insight of another, no culture is fully replaceable with another, as shown by the unique pieces of beauty they create. It is only together, with the contribution of all peoples and cultures, that we can build a true symphony of values and gain the greatest and most complete view into the Good we have the potential to achieve. The objective demand of ethics is fundamental to our striving for a better world. The diversity of value and cultures is an equally fundamental fact of experience. Scheler shows there is no need to abandon either of these for relativism or a mono-cultural absolutism that condemns without understanding any ethical vision different to our own.

Scheler's theory explains how there can be such divergence between the goodness of a person and their seeming knowledge of ethics. Of course it is possible to teach people to be better, and to encourage goodness, but fundamentally it is people's native inclination towards love, kindness and other positive values, the clarity of moral vision that their capacity for feeling gives them, that predominately defines their goodness. All the study of Ethics in the world cannot give goodness if they don't experience and feel values for themselves. Indeed it is more likely to lead one astray, like a scientist theorising without all the evidence before them. The relation between goodness and ethics is like that between seeing and optics, or running and the science of sport.

This investigation into the breadth of ethical experience also gives insight into the relation between morality, and ethics, and other, wider, important elements of value experience. By morality we commonly means something like how we act towards other persons. But this is intensely related to other experiences of value of a qualitatively different type: questions of aesthetics, art and beauty; of religion, holiness and the meaning and purpose of life; and the more mundane issues of human comfort, enjoyment, and prosperity. By putting these into the context of each other Scheler gives a clearer view of their defining features, their differences and similarities, both in the values themselves and how we access them; and so offers a framework to coherently consider how all these areas relate to each other. 

Values are multi-dimensional, rationally ordered and complex, and so people are as well, hence, they can be good in many ways and bad in many ways, something that so often confuses us in politics and personal life. Individuals, cultures, states, political movements, and religions can all be analysed and contrasted in terms of the values they acknowledge and prioritise. This perspective is increasingly relevant in recent years as we become more and more aware of how many of the deep political divides we face reflect not just technical disputes about effective means, but fundamental differences in values. 

I could go on and on. In philosophical terms, Scheler's phenomenological theory covers meta-ethics and epistemology, as well as frameworks for normative and applied ethics. In layperson's terms it offers fresh perspectives on everything from integrating the values of natural and artistic beauty and religion into an ethical whole, to doing justice to how animals, babies, things, and adults all have and experience different types of values. For example, the sense you get that your dog inspires you, and your dog appreciates you is correct, because your dog can emotionally and rationally experience agreeable sensory values of comfort, etc, and vital values of health, energy, loyalty to pack and joy at running in the air. Your dog experiences The Good, and at that level your dog is good.

But to return to my starting point, the richness and neutrality of description Scheler uses gives the potential to construct an over-arching theory of Values covering the territory of multiple current Ethical theories, while understanding and including the insight of each of them in a greater whole. This offers new answers to previously insoluble paradoxes, both issues that neither deontology, utilitarianism, nor virtue theory can answer, and questions which they answer in equally plausible but opposite ways. There is no need to mutilate our ethical experience to fit it into some prearranged theory. Rather it is by paying analytical, descriptive attention to the breadth and range of human value experience that we can answer these questions. Then we may have an ethical theory that includes all our experienced values on consistent principles, and so can weigh them, and usefully apply them to the practical problems we face: in business, in politics, our personal lives, and so many other areas.

This is only a brief introduction to the remarkable fruit of Scheler's theory. If you're interested in reading more take a look at my academia.edu page, which includes a more detailed chapter length introduction to Scheler's Metaethics and Epistemology, or my PhD Thesis which relates Scheler's Ethics do developments in philosophy since, including its relation to Emmanuel Levinas' phenomenological ethics. It also has Guides to some of Scheler's major works.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

The Reality of 'Ethical Experience'

.
Good & Evil, Right & Wrong, Morality, Ethics; these make up a huge part of what it means to be human, to be a thinking, rational & emotional being. From the rules of politeness and decency in our small personal interactions with others, in the struggle between good guys and bad guys that fills our entertainment and our view of history, in our personal ethical choices or lack of them as consumers, our political discussions dominated by arguments about fairness and social justice, to our awareness of great moments of good and evil in our world. Considerations of morality make up a huge part of our mental landscape, our daily lives and our culture and we all have a keen sense of right and wrong, even if we only deploy it in reference to the good we do and the wrong other people do to us. And moral judgements and issues range from the almost entirely trivial to the most unbelievably important issues in the world.

We almost all understand morality, and the basic nature of right and wrong, even if we disagree about some details. Ethics is an immensely practical affair; as universal, commonplace, and often feeling as fiercely real as the physical rocks and trees and other things of the world we live in. The way we 'work out' morality is also equally practical. We see 'moral' value and right and wrong in the world around us in the same way we see colours. We don't reason it out from logical first principles like abstract mathematics. Even small children or the makers of children's TV can be better people and teach clearer moral lessons that the most wise of moral philosophers.  There is no connection between how much you have studied Ethics and how ethical you are.

Despite this though too much reasoning about Ethics and Morality seems to approach the subject as though it were abstract mathematics or metaphysics. Starting from first principles and abstract definitions philosophers work out ethical systems and then apply them, fully formed, to real experience; often finding real experience a disappointment when it does not measure up to the neatness of theoretical vision. But this is the totally wrong way to do it. Maths has some very particular features. We all understand very basic mathematical notions like space and number, but once we go into almost any detail quite precise study is needed to go any further to even be able to imagine the possibility and understand the concepts of more advanced ideas. No-one, or almost no-one, just trips over the ideas of group theory or set theory, or differential equations unless they have them painstakingly explained. In complete contrary to this, one meets and experiences the ideas of good and evil everyday without the need for much explanation.  These ideas are given and transparent in a way that experience of our ordinary world is, and experience of morality is, but Mathematics, Metaphysics, and even the abstractions of Science are not.

Like I said, there is no such connection with studying philosophical Ethics and experiencing Morality, or even knowing what is the moral thing to do. All we can say is that people who study ethics have a better grip of the principles and 'laws' behind every-day moral awareness and decision making, but they are certainly not generally any better at doing it.  This is totally unlike Maths, but there is something it is very like.  And that is the relationship between ordinary experience of the world and natural science. In the ordinary living world we act, we live, we see, we hear, we feel, we experience and do a whole host of other things entirely competently without understanding the physical principles behind them, and neither do we need to have their concept explained to us to experience them.

Even if we talk about studying natural Science what this gives you is an understanding of those principles that lie behind such experience, but you don't in any way need it to live and experience the world and even amass knowledge about it.  Understanding physics doesn't make you a good walker, understanding optics doesn't help you see better, understanding Newton's laws on gravity isn't essential for bungee jumping. (Note this is definitely not to say that understanding those scientific laws cannot help with these activities. Considering our analogy that would make studying ethics particularly pointless if true.) But there is the same fundamental relation between Ethics and moral experience as there is between experience of the physical world and Physics, Chemistry, Biology.

At this point the obvious counter-argument to my analogy to the natural sciences is that objective scientific principles can be read out of nature, tested, measured, confirmed, whereas moral principles are less accessible. This is obviously true. I certainly don't claim that moral and physical knowledge are the same, but neither are they as different as they perhaps appear. We are so used to knowing so much about every facet of our world, but not so long ago this was not the case. Going back further than a few centuries the physical world, as much as the moral, was a confusing mass of phenomena, in which for a very long time it proved impossible to latch onto any firm principle, before light began to truly dawn in the 16th Century. Coming from the opposite direction there is a surprisingly widespread and accepted consensus on fundamental ethical truths and values (if often wildly differing applications) both across our society and all human societies. These two facts belie attempts to establish a crude dichotomy between the idea of a physical world from which one can read off, objective confirmable laws and a moral in which we have only subjectivism, relativism and personal opinion.      

What I think this all means is that the reality of 'Ethical Experience' has to be put right at the centre of any investigation into morality. We can deny whether Ethics and Morality has any fundamental and essential reality.  We can argue over the details of our moral intuitions and experiences, like ten people giving their ten different eye witness accounts of the same car crash.  But we cannot deny the reality of that ethical experience, of the experience of value we 'see' in others, of our intuitive reactions to ethical situations and new ethical ideas, and the, again, different feelings and judgements that come through learning of great moral heroes or villians, or of the way people have morally acted in extreme situations.

Ethical Experience, the basic substance of moral intuition and experience is given to us, it is something that forces itself on us as we go about our ordinary lives, whether we want it or not, and as such it bears a totally different relationship to us and our understanding than rationalist abstractions like Mathematics or most philosophy. And it is this basic ethical experience in every part of our lives that must be at the fundamental basis of any attempt to understand morality, good and evil, or our concepts of meaning, Good and value in the world in general, in the same way that our experience of the physical world must always lie at the basis of our scientific theories.

As far as studying Ethics goes this means that we must attempt to clarify our ethical and moral understanding by studying closely the vast quantity of data that reveals itself through this reality of ethical experience, in its many forms from the trivial and everyday to the vast and truly profound. I think that what this means is that it would be wise, instead of adopting the rationalist, abstract and systematic approach of Mathematics, to approach Ethics with more of the empirical, practical and even piecemeal spirit of natural science. By analysing the structure and nature of Ethical experience we will not at first give a conclusive yes or no answer to the massive moral issues that plague our society but, like with natural science, by advancing over the world we experience inch by inch with a fine tooth comb we should be able to build up our knowledge in a more secure manner, as on a sure foundation, rather than racing to build our house only to find it rests on sand.

I believe that a piecemeal, one bit at a time, approach could give a better hope of understanding each individual and differing part of our ethical experience in its own right. We need a descriptive approach to Ethics that looks at our lived ethical experience and from that attempts to describe and understand what morality is like, and only from that builds up to the abstract laws that define and explain that moral reality. Rather than a prescriptive approach that starts with a particular metaphysical bias, whatever that may be, and attempts to force our experience to conform to that, discarding bits where they do not fit. Only the first, bottom up approach, can do justice to the messy, real nature of ethical experience.  The second, top down approach can only ever whitewash over the beauty, detail, richness and colour of that Ethical experience that makes up such a large part of our human life, whatever the particular metaphysical bias it chooses to start with. And hence only the first approach can be a complete basis for any truly thorough attempt to understand the role morality plays in human existence.  And examples of the second, despite their undoubted wisdom in this or that instance, should be generally rejected as insufficient.
       

Wednesday 31 August 2011

God Bless you, George Monbiot. You've never been so right!

 .
George Monbiot does speaks a lot of total rubbish.  But, My God, when he's right, he's right.

On the Guardian website he's making a point I've thought true for years.

That academic knowledge and research is painfully restricted from the wider public by a high wall of ridiculous prices for books and journals.  
 
That academic discussion and research, much of it funded by every single taxpayer, is kept hidden and restricted for the benefit of journal publishers and academic institutions, locking that information within small and incestuous 'professional' academic circles, much to the detriment of our entire wider society.
.
Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist
Academic publishers charge vast fees to access research paid for by us. Down with the knowledge monopoly racketeers

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/29/academic-publishers-murdoch-socialist
.

Only he says it far more eloquently (and well informed) than I ever could!

It's good to see a mainstream journalist giving both barrels on such a nerdy and niche,  but I really think quite important, issue.  So Good on you George Monbiot, Guardian hack that you may be.  Keep fighting the good fight.


And if you're interested in the spread of knowledge and discussion in our society do give his article a read.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Love Is . . .

.
Love is patient; Love is kind;  Love does not Envy; Love does not boast; Love is not arrogant; Love is not rude. Love does not insist on having its own way; Love does not get irritable; Love does not resent; Love does not rejoice in evil; Rather Love rejoices in Truth. Love bears all things; Love believes all things; Love hopes all things; And Love endures all things.  Love never ends.

Love is the meaning and purpose of a human life.  Everything else is a tool, a method, a stalling tactic.  We eat so that we may have strength, we breath so life goes on, we study so we know more so we can achieve more, but all these are merely means to the end of having the chance, the opportunity, the possibility to Love; whether we love our life itself, the Universe we inhabit, the joys and wonders we experience, or discover, or learn to understand, the other unique human beings we meet or the God Almighty who gave us all this.  And gave us all this to Love.

But what is Love?  St Paul gives us a description that takes the breath away, that stills the voice, that rests perfect.  But it is a list of features, rather than an essential definition. Love comes in many different forms, we can love another human being , as a friend, as a lover, as family; or we can love a piece of beauty or music or calm or expression, or we can love a sensation, like the taste of chocolate chip ice-cream, or we can love a subject and be driven to learn more, understand more, know more of the thing we love.  Or most mysterious of all we can Love God, who we can never clearly see, or truly know, but people like me feel utterly drawn to none-the-less.

All these Loves are different, as many and diverse as there are different individual possible objects of Love.  But still they are all very much the same.  The Greeks famously had three different common words for what we simply call Love.  And it is important to recognise how Loves can be different.  But also to realise that they all have so much in common.  Though one may be a thing of little importance, whereas another can define an entire life, or shake the whole world.

All Love has so much in common, though still each is utterly unique, to the person loving and the being loved.  What it always is is the utterly deep appreciation of the value of the thing loved.  This leads to care, this leads to kindness, this leads to constant devotion, this leads to boundless optimism.

Love is not just a feeling and Love is not just a commitment. In fact if it is any one thing it is a realisation. But really it is all these things and more.  It is utterly unique and it is totally universal. It can involve your whole being; body, mind, heart, and soul. And Love binds you together as one being, just as it binds you tightly to the thing you Love.

Love is revelation, Love is the one thing that is truly transcendent; Love is true prophecy because in Love the person sees utterly through the skin of things, through the ordinary everydayness of the world, into the Truth that lies hidden just out of ordinary reach. For in Love a person sees through the stuff that makes up the world and catches of glimpse of what lies beneath it: the endless, bottomless well of value, the beauty, the wonder, the perfection hidden inside every ordinary thing whether anyone else sees it or not. And he doesn't just see it, he falls head first into it.

And the world is then filled with light. William Blake said "To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour."  A single flower can be enough reason for an entire life's devotion if someone truly sees the wonder that is contained in it. A single sight of beauty can leave you transfixed for hours.

The world can be grim and dark, the world can hurt, the world can wear you down, the world can seem bleak and grey. But just a little bit of Love shines through all that and fills the world with light that darkness in the entire world can not overcome.  Love makes the utterly ordinary extraordinary.  Love makes a bunch of noises a piece of music, love makes the fall of night a beautiful sunset. Love makes you realise in all the darkness that good will certainly win, that Heaven is real, because through Love we experience it, and that evil will never destroy all that is good. Love is solid and real in the world even when everything else slides into dust.

To Love another person is to truly live. It is to see them as they truly are, the bright Image of God. For in love you see the infinite beauty in their eyes, the infinite nobility in their soul, the infinite possibility in their life if only they chose to do it. And you see the sheer perfection even though on an intellectual level you know that they have flaws like everyone else.  For just a moment you cannot see the flaws at all. You just see the kindness, the generosity, the wisdom, the dedication, the gentleness, the patience, the elegance, the warmth, the intelligence and the laughter. You see the one you Love as we all should truly be, were we all not fallen, and you realise why Life is sacred.

To know someone loves you is the greatest thing in the world.  To see someone's love for you written over their face in a moment is that greatness and wonder captured in a single frame. To be standing unaware, and then to see them looking at you with that incredible, indescribable, unforgettable, unmissable look, which says more perfectly than anything else could ever say, I Love you. Who knew a human face could express so much. And it takes your breath away. And you would live in that moment forever if you could.

Love gives you strength. Love means you can endure more than you ever thought you could.  Love means that the cold and the dark don't touch you because Love transforms every situation. Even a boring or dull task with someone you love becomes a source of joy and laughter and an experience to cherish, because you are sharing it with them.  Love is incredible because uniquely love is not something about yourself but is utterly about the those you love, and so it connects you more deeply with the Universe we inhabit than anything else can.

Love drives you to great things.Love alone can make you sacrifice anything and everything, even if they do not love you.  Love gives true heroism, courage, nobility, wisdom and without it none of these things really exist.  Love makes you realise what truly matters and Love drives you to do something about it, because Love makes every obstacle  and danger seem like a tiny thing compared to all the wonder.

Love may not be grandly expressed; Love may not burn brightly for all to see; Love may be unspoken; Love may be a quiet thing, but it is no less wonderful for that.  Love goes on and on.  You may not feel, but you may still Love, in your commitment, in your dedication, in your kindness, in the actions that you do. And that is Love to.

Love can hurt, and if you trip and fall Love can lead you to do terrible things.  Love can bring great pain, it can be fragile, and it can break, and then it can hurt more than anything else. "Sometimes it last in love, but sometimes it hurts instead".  Love can lead to great loss that cannot be healed, even with time. It can only be slowly forgotten.

But to Love is to realise that the risk is worth it.  To realise that to feel great loss means that you had something wonderful, if only for a while.  Otherwise it would not hurt so much to see it gone. To Love is to realise that it is better to have stood on the peak of the highest mountain and seen the Sun for a few minutes than to have spent all your life in the valleys in the shadows, never knowing what could be possible. Love is a light that even its pain and darkness cannot put out.

Love is the meaning of the Gospel and the Law and the Prophets.  Love is the 1st and 2nd Commandment. Jesus talked about the pearl of great price that a man sells everything he has to hold that pearl and is happy, the treasure in a field that a man sells everything he has and owns just to buy that field. He speaks about the reckless joy and abandon of Loving something and truly knowing it matters, whatever that may be, and that is his description of the Kingdom of Heaven and God.

Christians argued for Centuries about the importance of Faith, and Works, and Gifts of the Spirit, and Knowledge. But in a few lines St Paul bats them all aside. If I speaks prophecies and do wonders and speak in tongues but do not have Love, it is nothing.  If I have all faith, but do not have Love, it is nothing.  If I do all works, but do not have Love, it is nothing. If I know all things, but do not have Love, it is nothing.

St John says it even more briefly: God is love.

God is Truth and Being and the only thing that is truly solid and real in a world of shadows.  But far more than all that God is Love. and as St John also says whoever Loves is truly of God.

And with that I don't know what else to say.   Nothing can truly describe.  Yet if anything is worth writing about it I would say that Love is.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

"Weak" Secularism.

Sometime ago I posted an article called "Weak" Democracy. This described my idea about what is sufficient for a way of organising society to hold democratic, moral legitimacy. Here I describe an analogous concept concerning the role of religion in society, and the extent to which it is necessary or desirable to exclude particular religious or ideological opinions from the public sphere (for a society to have fair, moral legitimacy), and also why this is important.

“There is no such thing as a right to pretend something you oppose doesn't exist, and no such thing as a right to be shielded from the fact that most people reject your values. So nonbelievers simply do not have a right to live in a society free of religious sentiment. And public displays of religious sentiment - the Ten Commandments, Nativity sets in public parks, the phrase "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance - are a straightforward First Amendment issue. Freedom of speech, which is not, I believe, limited only to individuals. Government agencies and bodies have it too. The public exercises of religion listed above involve an absolutely trivial expenditure of public resources and don't infringe on the rights of non-Christians in the slightest. Opposing these exercises is not about protecting the rights of the minority but about suppressing the rights of a majority, using the courts because opponents have failed to make their case on its merits. But public displays of religious belief send an exclusionary message. Maybe. But the last time I checked, messages of all kinds were protected by the First Amendment. Even exclusionary ones. And if you find yourself being excluded, maybe you might even ask whether you're on the right side of the issues. You'd feel differently if you were in the minority. I've spent a total of two years of my life in Islamic countries. If you're expecting me to buy into the idea that it's a violation of my rights to have the majority express a different religious sentiment, you have definitely picked the wrong person.”
Professor Steve Dutch: Some Issues Where Liberals are missing the boat.

The above passage by Professor Dutch precisely encapsulates my beliefs on Secularism. I support Secularism. The Secularism that means giving each member of society a level playing field and avoiding all use or threat of force against them, or the restriction of basic opportunities on grounds of their faith or belief, is a good thing and an essential element of society.  The same is true of avoiding every type of discrimination on grounds except the direct defense of that same society from immediate force or the threat of immediate force; and the obvious discriminations we make daily on grounds of immediate merit.

This Secularism is about respecting the dignity of each person and that their potential to contribute to society is based on their fundamental and basic identity as an individual human person and not on the basis of belonging to any privileged group, whether defined by heritage or belief. This Secularism is based on the understanding that honest and good men may disagree about complicated issues without one being either evil or stupid, and that it is not the nature or even the coherence of the beliefs one holds, nor the backgrounds one identifies with, that makes a man good or evil, or competent or incompetent, but rather the specifically moral actions he takes and the words he speaks and the knowledge he holds and the merit for the task he outwardly displays.

The idea is to accept that each man holds his conscience in good faith and make as much accommodation for the fallen, fallible but essentially decent nature of humanity as possible. From this basis, and an appreciation of human dignity, secularism wishes to avoid forcing any man to become a martyr because of his conscience. To not force any man to give up his chance for opportunity because of what he believes or who he is.  In other words, to construct a society with the least force must be deployed as possible, on the basis that ideas are the correct means to combat ideas, words the correct means to combat words and force only correct when absolutely necessary to combat force or the immediate threat of force.  This is a pacifist notion, only desiring to use force when it is most necessary, to restrict other immediate force or threat of force, and to utilise different methods the rest of the time.

On the other hand, Secularism that is based on banning anything that may be of religious inspiration or association specifically from the “public sphere” is neither desirable nor necessary. It is the repression of cultural expression that serves no purpose apart from to harass a majority or minority. Culture and belief are almost universally things which have public expression written into their nature. A person’s beliefs should affect how they think and act and as far as a person or group has a public life the expression of a person’s or group’s religious or cultural identity will be public.

Furthermore a majority in a society, or even a minority with a position of authority has the right to express their belief or culture within the fabric of that society. There is no theory of the state or government that says everything it does or associates with must be acceptable to all members of that society, as long as it does not use force, threat of force, or discrimination of opportunity then those of different opinion have no grounds to object on the basis of a lack of moral legitimacy.

The difference between these two types of Secularism, the first I call "weak" secularism and the second "strong", is simple.  It is the difference between what they are trying to achieve.  My idea here is that the driving good behind secularism, and much secularisation that has occurred in society, is not that removing religion or other ideologies from a position of prominence or privilege in society is a good in itself, but rather that it is a good as far as it provides opportunity and space for all persons's to flourish and fulfil potential as their conscience dictates they must.  It is the principle of minimising the force needed to maintain society and maximising the space for opportunity it holds.  It is also a pluralist notion, to trim ideologies back to create as much space and freedom for merit and individual potential to flourish and shine.  

  Weak secularism is based on a mutual respect, and a desire to give each the space to express oneself. This applies both for an established and majority faith and belief for a different or individual faith and the different or individual faith for the majority faith or belief, even if it is embedded in society and the expression of that society. This respect and tolerance goes both ways. Each admits the other the chance to pursue opportunity and human flourishing as they believe they must. It seeks to maximise the possibility for expression, whether minority or majority, whether official or unofficial.

The 2nd, on the other hand, claims to seek to provide space for public expression and flourishing by restricting that same expression and flourishing. It, hence, seeks to restrict what expression may be acceptable just as much as any establishment of religion or another ideology. Its attempt is not to maximise freedom for all, which is the basis of a good secularism, but rather to restrict it. It hence fails as a basis for a society built around a core of eternal moral truth of seeking peaceful co-existence between people, that is seeking to build a society that provides all space, and works with the nature of human beings.

It must also be noted that this applies to other ideologies as well as religions.  As far as a way of organising society restricts potential for development for those who hold certain (metaphysical) views it is not secular, regardless of public religious content or not.  In this model the old Soviet Union was less secular than today's Britain, because in the first you must hold to certain official ideologies and pieties to be allowed space in society, whether Marxism or the rule of the Communist party, whereas in the 2nd you do not.  This is despite the official atheism and 'Secularism' of the first and the Established Religion, and Bishops in the legislature, of the 2nd.

The point is that restricting one type of expression is only a good as far as that expression is directly restricting another.  Beyond that it is just restricting expression for the sake of it and thus directly opposed to the creation of as free a society as possible, with as much opportunity as possible for all.  This is the true aim that makes so much secularisation a good thing, not the underlying removal of religious content and expression itself.  And it is only when we realise this true nature about what is good about the phenomena that we can realise precisely what to do to maximise this.

Monday 29 November 2010

'Weak' Democracy - A Principle in Defence of Monarchy.

.
Considering recent discussion around the announcement of Prince William's wedding this seems as good a time as any for a good look at the underlying principles that support our Constitutional Monarchy system.

Those in favour of a Republic in this country often argue along the lines that a Monarchy is inherently illegitimate because it is unelected.  That is, neither I nor anyone else have ever placed a cross in a box with the Queen’s name in it.  I disagree with this, and my disagreement with this is based on a basic disagreement about our understanding of the nature of Democracy.  

I do not believe in the necessity of democracy in the terms that are being used in this argument for a republic, but rather what I shall call 'weak' democracy.  I believe this is the correct expression of political principle and it is one under which Monarchy is not essentially illegitimate.  In fact nor is pretty much any other system, except under certain particular stated restrictions.  

The first thing to point out though is that in referring to 'weak' democracy I am explicitly not making any value judgement about the concept or its correctness compared to anything else, or the system we have today.  I am fundamentally a democrat and believe in the central moral importance of Democracy in any political system.  But I believe something very particular by this.  And I not only believe 'weak' democracy is the more correct and full understanding of Democracy and the idea of legitimacy for a state than the 'strong' democratic idea implicit in some republican criticism but also that it is, really, the understanding practically implicitly instantiated in our, and indeed almost all, actual democratic systems both in our country and around the world.  The reference to 'weak' democracy merely refers to the fact that it is a logically weaker claim (in the sense of not requiring as strong assumptions) to make about what is necessary for Democracy than that implicit in the 'strong' democratic argument.    

The distinction between the ideas of 'strong' and 'weak' democracy is mostly the distinction between election and consent.  To exercise authority and power a leadership does not need election, as the republican criticism of monarchy seems to state.  It merely needs effective consent.  A Monarch does not have to be elected to be legitimate and have “weak” democratic consent, they must merely have the support and consent of their people to continue in that role in that system.  

Firstly, it must be conceded even that neither authority nor power necessarily needs our consent to hold legitimacy over us.  Ultimately, of course, all legitimacy, power and authority comes from God.  For believers God is then this thing, an authority over which they have no veto, for non-believers morality may be substituted.  Both hold a lawful authority over us without requiring our consent, let alone our election.  

In more earthly terms, though, our consent is required, due to our basic sovereign right as human beings.  This consent does not necessarily require explicit statement though, nor on a society wide level does it require each individual to like what is going on.  It merely requires the society in general to accept the structure of things as they are.  In Socratic terms we consent to the laws and constitution of the society we live in as long as we do not speak and act against them to change them, and hence cannot object when they act against us.  A more precise definition of the concept is difficult to fashion, precisely because it is  but we can more easily describe what it is not.         

My contention is that not only is the 'weak' democratic ideal superior, that it is actually the ideal that almost all human systems of democracy are based on, but that the implicit principle of 'strong' democracy is frankly ridiculous, and almost impossible.

We can look at the relations between smaller non-state human associations and organisations.  A person can lead a group, can lead an organisation, without having to rely on explicit democratic election or decision-making.  It would be nonsensical to demand that a group of friends meeting together could not legitimately decide where to go or what to do without a secret ballot, or to demand that a person can not lead a group, or be followed by that group, without his action being put to a ballot of all the concerned parties.  A requirement for consent is all that is required in all cases.  A group of people together self-evidently has the right to follow the commands of a person they designate as their leader, without requiring each decision taken to be put to a vote.  

This is relevant because I would argue that States are not essentially metaphysically different to other social bodies and human groupings.  They have international sovereignty, but even what that means is difficult to pin down.  They are still subject to the law, though they also shape it, as well as morality and the basic requirements of human decency and legitimacy.  States are of course different to other bodies, but then all bodies are different to other bodies.  A tribe is different to a family, a friendship group is different to a local government body, an international organisation is different to a national one.  But the state is not differently different in any metaphysically significant manner to other human social groupings such that radically different rules apply.  They are still figments of the human mind, a concept and institution invented and described to serve and represent a useful practical purpose.  The same basic standards of legitimacy and morality apply. 

When looking at the ideas of Monarchy and Republicanism, the more useful distinction we need is on the basis of Democratic consent and election or the lack thereof.  In other words, it is between governments where a single individual or individuals has unique sovereign power irrespective of consent or otherwise, one where consented and responsible “representatives” of one kind or another govern, and an absolute democracy where there is no group to which power is delegated, and everything must be done on the basis of election.  This scheme takes into account the relevant point, of direct election or consent, and in it one can obviously see that representative republican democracy and constitutional monarchy, however constitutionally strong that monarch may be, stand on the same strata. Note that by a constitutional monarch I mean one whereby the monarch is held to be himself responsible under the law to the same extent as his citizens, rather than having arbitrary power to act as he pleases, however few actual codified legal constraints there may be on the monarch’s power.  Such a restriction under law is itself, after all, again merely a phrased restriction under morality.  At it is this compliance with morality and the practical and effective nature of the system that matters when considering it.

Monday 25 October 2010

George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946.

.
Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

And so begins this classic essay by George Orwell. Recently I've read some truly awful pieces of prose, especially about politics, which I have always noticed is cursed with being more densely infested by cliche than almost any other area of writing. There is nothing I could say about this that has not already been said better in this essay by George Orwell. It is piercingly intelligent, accurate and really funny. It is all about some necessary features for writing well and clearly, but should be of interest not only to anyone who writes but also to anyone who wants to think clearly in words (and that should be everybody). It also about how language is particularly abused when dealing with politics. It challenges some of our pre-conceptions about what makes good and clear writing and is not too long either. 

It is especially interesting if you have read 1984, Orwell's masterpiece, with its sections on Newspeak, because much of what George Orwell puts into Newspeak in 1984, he discusses in this essay. This is an important feature of Orwell's writing often not understood. He was mainly a journalist and campaigner, using his writing as a weapon, and only secondarily a writer of fiction. Features of his work always correlate with features of reality. And whereas Animal Farm was a parable of recent history, 1984 was a piece of prophecy, in the true sense of the word.  The prophets in the Bible did not just, or even mainly, tell what was going to happen in the future, but what would happen IF certain things continued to occur, often for the purpose of stopping them happening. Jonah prophesied Nineveh would be destroyed if the people did not repent. But he was so effective they did repent, and he then felt pretty stupid when they were then not destroyed.

George Orwell, in 1948, prophesied in 1984 what could happen if the worst trends he saw around him came to dominate society. It is a worst possible outcome but not a fantasy, in the sense that all the things he put in that book, and feared for our world, were things that he saw actually occurring or developing in the world, and had fought, spoken and written against his whole adult life. And many of those relating to the abuse of language he argues against in this essay, using real world examples. It's a fascinating bridge between the world presented in 1984 and the real world Orwell fought with in 1948.

It is also interesting because it argues a middle path between two views often subconsciously accepted in our intellectual society. Firstly, that language is something we have complete control over, an entirely neutral tool we may shape as we wish. And secondly, in the opposite direction, that the language we use defines and forces our thoughts and ideas, like a straitjacket we can't reach out of. The truth is, as almost always, somewhere in between. Like with any tool what we can do is shaped by what we have at our disposal. The language and vocabulary we have does exert pressure on our vision of the world and ourselves, subtly, and often totally outside our awareness. But, we are not slaves of our language.  We can make new words, new phrases, to match new ideas and ways of thinking, or just use different words and thoughts from the stock we already have, to change and express ourselves differently. But this requires conscious effort, to use our imagination and our knowledge to encourage ourselves in different directions. Enough of me though, I give you the words of Orwell himself, and they are well worth the read.


Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad -- I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen -- but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that i can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)

2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder .

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossa)

3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?

Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)

4. All the "best people" from the gentlemen's clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

Communist pamphlet

5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion's roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream -- as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as "standard English." When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o'clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma'amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

Letter in Tribune

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose construction is habitually dodged:

Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically "dead" (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles' heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a "rift," for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning withouth those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Operators or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

Pretentious diction. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic color, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i.e., e.g., and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers.* The jargon peculiar to
                                                                                                                                                                                                            
*An interesting illustration of this is the way in which English flower names were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, Snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning away from the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific.
                                                                                                                                                                                          
Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one's meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

Meaningless words. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning.† Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in
                                                                                                                                                                      
† Example: Comfort's catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene timelessness . . .Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bull's-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bittersweet of resignation." (Poetry Quarterly)
                                                                                                                                                                                           
the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, "The outstanding feature of Mr. X's work is its living quality," while another writes, "The immediately striking thing about Mr. X's work is its peculiar deadness," the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal P├ętain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations -- race, battle, bread -- dissolve into the vague phrases "success or failure in competitive activities." This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing -- no one capable of using phrases like "objective considerations of contemporary phenomena" -- would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase ("time and chance") that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.

As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier -- even quicker, once you have the habit -- to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don't have to hunt about for the words; you also don't have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry -- when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech -- it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash -- as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot -- it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip -- alien for akin -- making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means; (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink. In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning -- they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another -- but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: 1. Could I put it more shortly? 2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you -- even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent -- and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a "party line." Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases -- bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder -- one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

"While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement."

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find -- this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify -- that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one's elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning's post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he "felt impelled" to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: "[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany's social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe." You see, he "feels impelled" to write -- feels, presumably, that he has something new to say -- and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one's mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one's brain.

I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence*, to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases
                                                                                                                                                                     
*One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.
                                                                                                                                                                                   
and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defense of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.

To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a "standard English" which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one's meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a "good prose style." On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one's meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one's meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose -- not simply accept -- the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one's words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don't know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs.

Many thanks to Mount Holyoke's College, Massachusetts, Woman's Liberal Arts College, for the text of this essay  http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm