Monday, April 25, 2005

Beware the Promise of Choice

I've been reading Lost Icons (2000) by Rowan Williams and the first chapter is concerned with childhood and choice and argues that as society we are given wider and wider choice, but are disabled from knowing how to make good choices. He wants "... to demythologise the goodness of choice" (47). This is hard-hitting in an election where all the main parties are promising to give us more and more choice. Political language here of 'choice' masks the reality that more choice for some, means less choice for others. The illusion of choice without limits is nothing more than a blantant lie. With more and more choice comes less and less freedom, especially when we are unable or disabled from ability to know how to make moral choices.

The language of "choice" goes with the language of "rights" and "consumption", there is no room or at least no articulation of "responsibilities" and "duties".

Regarding advertising he says: "all advertising tends to treat its public as children - tends, that is, to suggest that decisions can be made without cost or risk" (23)

Instead he believes we need to recognise that "real choice both expresses and curtails freedom - or rather it leads us further and further away from a picture of choice that presupposes a blank will looking out at a bundle of options like goods on a supermarket shelf" (32)

And that adult choices, are "adult" because they are choices with recognised consequences: "... adult choice implies a recognition that such a choice is weighty, potentially tragic, bound up with unseen futures for the agent and others agents" (47)

(Comments please, especially from the shy people who have not yet commented. If you're always making comments hold back at lets others have a chance first.)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

American Politics?

One thing I noticed last year when we were all watching the coverage of the US Presidential elections, was the role of the media. We've mentioned this already, but it is quite interesting that The Sun this week decided to actively support the Labour Party again. This means, of course, that they will launch damnable attacks on the other major parties in an attempt to make Labour look best via reductio ad absurdum: that is, making everyone else look absurd.

This tactic has already been employed by Blair and Brown this week:

"There will either be a Conservative government or a Labour government people wake up to on May 6, so that choice has now got to be made."

The chancellor, Gordon Brown, speaking in Edinburgh, warned a vote for the Lib Dems could let the Tories in through the "back door".

Mr Blair agreed, saying: "In these constituencies as I was saying earlier, votes are siphoned off that way. You end up with a Tory MP, and therefore, if there are enough of those people, a Tory government."
(The Guardian)

This is little more than a scare tactic. In America, it would be accurate, as there really are only two parties that can win: Republicans or Democrats. I'll spare you that rant.

It seems to me that the cheif tactic, as I have said before, in this election is "It's either me or him, and I'm better than him." Well let's remember that we have a different political system to the US, whatever The Sun would like us to think, whatever the Blair Administration would like us to think. We have choice. We don't have to vote for the lesser of two evils. There are over a hundred parties standing for election, and there will be at least 3 in your area, more if you live in a big area.

Let's ignore the rubbish in The Sun, who, let's face it, are looking after their own interests. As Peirce Morgan said on This Week on Thursday night, "Rupert Murdoch always backs the winner. He looks after his own interests." He's supporting Labour because he thinks they will win, and he wants to carry favour. This is why Fox et al. declared the elections for Bush twice in a row. We can leave conspiracy theories at the gate, and still see it's natural for someone with a reputation to want to hedge his bets with the winners instead of looking silly.

So once again, go and vote, and vote for whoever you want to win, not the party that will stop who you don't want to win from winning.

Friday, April 22, 2005

the need for imagination

It's me again. I was watching last night's Question Time and one member of the audience, during a discussion on crime, said he wanted to see more imagination used in tackling crime and punishment, and gave the specific example of restorative justice. It would be great to see one political party take this idea seriously and run with it. I really do believe we are unimaginative about tackling crime. We need to build community and a responsibility towards community. This was what Blair used to talked about in the mid-1990s before he became PM. It is unfortunate he throw it out and became so punitive-focused. Our society says you commit a crime you go to prison - we have know no ability to look at the topic in a different way - see abortion debate, the immigration debate, the education debate and health service debate. We need to help the public see imaginative ways of approaching and considering these issues.

On education, let's listen to Philip Pullman and the Archbishop of Canterbury, two people who are saying sensible things. On crime and punishment, let's take account of what's going on in New Zealand and also South Africa, in terms of restorative justice. On immigration, let's stop talking about immigrants or asylum seekers as statistics, but take into account that these are real people.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Christian Europe: RIP

There's article in today's Guardian that's called "Christian Europe: RIP". It argues that the new Pope will see the decline of Christianity in Europe. For many the idea of a Christian Europe ended quite a few years ago. There are books out now called 'post-christendom' and 'church after christendom.' The other thing is many christians in the church see this as not the problem that the media want it to be. Instead of the church trying to prop up the state it can recover more definitely its mission to the world, which my favourite theologian Stanley Hauerwas says, 'is to be the church'. For too long the church has been trying to be the world, that we've lost our distinctiveness and our purpose. So Christian Europe RIP, amen to that!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

'We've Ad Enough' : Adverts as prompts 1

The point of an advert is of course to make you buy something.
But are they also about making you buy into something too?

A story that highlights the power of adverts can be seen in the recent controversy over an ad campaign for Reebok, where the rapper 50 Cent laughs at escaping a police chase and being shot 9 times. Presumably owing to the death-defying power of his spanking new trainers.

Reebok says: "The... campaign is intended to be a positive and empowering celebration of this right of freedom of self expression, individuality and authenticity."

Which is an ironic way to describe a mass produced product.

Not only that, but MAG (Mothers Against Guns) are holding the advert (and the company) responsible for at least 3 gun-related crimes in South London the week that the ad aired. Scary, if it's true. But no doubt quite justified. I think TV affects us more than we realise (see the post on TV turnoff Week) and it's good to see that people have voiced their opposition to seeing a powerful company using such a [dodgy] role model to glamorize crime.

The fuss worked (albeit a little too late). The ASA launched an investigation and the ads were pulled. Their spokesman said "it's almost glorified that he's been shot 9 times. There's an emphasis on that, and it's almost seen to be cool."

As a sideline, anyone fancy blogging on the fact that the ad campaign was entitled 'I Am What I Am'?!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Paxman Interviews

This week will be three interviews by Jeremy Paxman with the three major political leaders. Today saw the first, with him interviewing Charles Kennedy in Liverpool.

I have to say, it was a complete waste of time. It was half an hour of Jeremy spouting off really random and ridiculous things for the sake of his own ego, and not really allowing Charles to answer. I shan't be watching any others.

What was clear was Jeremy's grasp of rhetoric compared with Kennedy. Jeremy was saying the most absurd things, but I can guarantee someone will think Charles is rubbish for not knowing the exact income of a nurse in Cardiff. Why anyone but a nurse in Cardiff would know this is really rather a mystery to me. An example:
"do you know the exact salary of a nurse in Cardiff charles?"
"well it's about..."
"you don't do you?"
"well, not exa..."
"well i'll tell you shall I charles? it's £20k pa. you know what that means don't you charles? it means you're a dirty rotten liar who doesn't know anything and isn't worthy to sit in my presence is what it means charles."
"you can't answer that, can you charles?"
"no, i thought not. now moving on to other areas of complete inadequacy, failure and self-contradiction..."

Completely pointless, got nothing out of it politically. Just half an hour of Jeremy asking Tabloid questions and talking over the response. Honestly, I think Ali G would have done a better job.

But rhetoric, refer back to Andy's post the Beauty of Language and the corresponding Guardian article and it's all very interesting. I think it's the so called journalists that have the grasp of rhetoric, and the party leaders have to just play with normal language... which makes them look more than a bit idiotic, but could make them look honest too. Who knows...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Rainbow in Leeds

Rainbow in Leeds, April 2005

Getting political

Let's get political. Which party deserves our vote? Are you swayed by the personalities (Blair, Howard, Kennedy) or the policies? Is it an issue of trust or are the parties all the same?

I've written some musings here.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Debate That Didn't Happen

Glancing through today's Guardian, I came across this article on the abortion debate that seems is not going to happen. It argues the debate should not be about whether abortion should be legal or illegal, but about why there are so many abortions each year.

Abortion is something we feel uncomfortable talking about and the debate is often so polarised in opinion between the pro-life and pro-choice lobbies that language suffers, but more importantly there is no room for dialogue and conversation.

Rowan Williams' article in The Sunday Times claimed, I think rightly, that 'the idea of raising the issues here is the first step towards a theocratic tyranny or a capitulation to some neanderthal Christian right (a jab at Christian Voice?) is alarmist nonsense.' He goes on to say that there is a 'seriousness of questions' and we should 'resist the pressure either to make them partisan or to shelve them respectully and indefinitely.' (Is the lack of desire for debate on this issue another sign of society numbs us from thinking?)

Stanley Hauerwas says, 'the irony of the abortion debate, as it now stands in our church and society, is that it frames the two groups, women and children, as enemies of one another' (The Hauerwas Reader, 2000, 605). He argues the Christian response to abortion is not about the rights of the foetus or the rights of the mother, but 'the responsibility of the whole Christian community to care for the "least of these"' (606). This reframes the debate into the kind of church to which we belong - that is, in the church we all belong to God, and perhaps more radical, we have no "rights" in a sense, rather we have "responsibilities" to every member of the church body. Hauerwas writes, 'as Christians ... we do not have the right to our bodies because when we are baptized we become members of one another; then we can tell one another what is we should and should not do with our bodies' (609).

He next points out 'the reason why people are pro-choice rather pro-abortion is that nobody really wants to be pro-abortion. The use of choice rather than abortion is a lingustic transformation that tries to avoid the reality of abortion' (610). Its a language thing (again!) - the language of 'choice' is favoured over abortion, because we know abortion is wrong.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Language: Learning the Rules of Engagement

One of my favourite characters in Philosophy is Wittgenstein, and most people who know me have realised I will try to talk about him whenever possible. You should be pleased to know that I shall keep this concise.

One of the areas Wittgenstein found himself most involved with in philosophy was language, and reading that last post, I think there is something that Wittgenstein can bring to the topic.

Wittgenstein theorised that language was a game played between players, and could not be private to one individual. In a nutshell, this says that all things are meaningful, provided they are said in the appropriate Language Game. You must understand the rules of the Game before you can properly play it. You could think of it such that each discipline has its own set of rules for discussion. A simple example would be that a zoologist who believes he is in a zoology department meeting will be appalled to hear the other participants talking of hitting wooden balls by swinging bats at them. Once he understood he was in a cricket club meeting, and understood what cricket was all about, the whole thing would make more sense to him.

Wittgenstein would probably say one shouldn't participate in a Language Game if we do not know the rules: we will confuse ourselves and others. Drawing on this, I think we can make a link to Andy's last post, The Beauty of Language. If we do not understand our language, and how it is used, then in many ways we are excluded from all kinds of debate, simply because we will not understand how they work. This is why, for example, most of the ancient Greek philosophers wrote books explaining the most important philosophical words, such as Plato's* Definitions.

In this coming election season, it is likely that politicians will start using the old devices of rhetoric to some extent. People who do not understand the rules of engagement will probably find themselves confused and excluded by the proceedings. Worst-case scenario: no one will vote!

It is important that we learn the rules of playing games with language: the rules of discussion, as well as those rules unique to political debate. Otherwise we could be in all kinds of trouble.

* Most scholars actually believe Plato did not write the Definitions, but it is accredited to him nonetheless. Back up

Thursday, April 07, 2005

the beauty of language

This article from today's Guardian is worth a read. It shows how our use of language has become unimaginative and we've lost something of the beauty of different words and their meanings and the use of rhetoric. For example, 'forward, not back' is completely unimaginative. I love language and words and reading a good sentence. We need to take our words seriously. We need to be imaginative in our writing.