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leaving home miscellany

(c) Roddy Macfarlane (2012)

Beauty... You came back. But I didn't notice. I was too busy defining myself.
- Carter Ratcliffe

Five years in Aberdeen; I was transformed here. It's enough to make you grateful for the pathologically dark cold, the fish stink, and those that fled sinking economies for this raft of fossilised sun-sludge. Aberdeen is a test of character. There are so many cliches about why it's a shit place that valuing it, choosing it, does say something about you. Everyone grumbles about the town - its insane weather and uniform architecture, its oilmen and lack of clubs. The difference between you as incomer and you as settler is if you see past this to quieter facts: the pride and persisting difference of the place. You earn your affection. If you disagree, go watch this and then talk to me.

(Anyway towns are like multiplayer games - their worth depends more on who you're playing with than the game.)


When is a set of thoughts an ideology? I think it is some family-resemblance of

  1. when they are political thoughts.
  2. when they're applied to everything in the world (always wrong).
  3. when they are held too tightly (a comfort blanket).
  4. when they are validated socially rather than justified empirically
  5. when one doesn't agree with them.


the greatest enrichment the scientific culture could give us is... a moral one... scientists know, as starkly as any men have known, that the individual human condition is tragic... But what they will not admit is that, because the individual condition is tragic, therefore the social condition must be tragic, too... The impulse behind the scientists drives them to limit the area of tragedy, to take nothing as tragic that can conceivably lie within men’s will... It is that kind of moral health of the scientists which, in the last few years, the rest of us have needed most; and of which, because the two cultures scarcely touch, we have been most deprived.
- CP Snow

I think about Snow's ancient 'Two Cultures' thesis a lot. (It is the fact that science people and arts people are socially, professionally and philosophically segregated in a drastic and unhealthy way.)

First thing, though: lots of people are in neither culture - Snow's division is for the middle classes. And a second thing: some are in both. (A non-standard instance: hard scifi fans. They look into and beyond our knowledge, beyond the nasty ahistorical product cycles of capitalism, or the crypto-primitivism of its opposition.)

For all that arts Open Days go on about employability, there is a vast difference in the basic goal of Arts degrees and Science ones. Sciences offer knowledge, mostly for the purposes of practical power; the arts tend to encourage self-creation and social criticism. (To supplement this crude model, here is my crude model of all education.

  1. Primary school: purpose is pupils' survival in a world driven by more or less abstract information - thus literacy, numeracy, IT, general knowledge, socialisation).

  2. Secondary school: purpose is differentiation. Exposure to lots of types of knowledge in the hope that one of them sticks.  

  3. Tertiary: Where it diverges. Arts kids are supposed to 'think' and locate themselves in culture. Science kids are to memorise things and obtain control. Savoir c'est pouvoir.)

As always, Rorty offers a drastic solution to the Culture split: if, he says, we only gave up foundational philosophy, letting the names of departments denote very loose communities of people rather than strict subjects about defined objects in the world... "the oppositions between the humanities, the arts, and the sciences, might gradually fade away". It is very hard to imagine this. But this doesn't necessarily speak against him: it's our failure too.

(PS: There is also the third culture of people who can speak to no one but themselves, but from whom the physicists derive their power and the economists derive their authority.)



I took English in first year, and quickly became contemptuous of it, though not for the usual reasons. What I resented was that no-one realised I was a fraud - that I never read the books, that I didn't know the history I discussed, that my opinions were just that: groundless reaction-shot opinion. It spoke badly of the whole practice 'English' that they couldn't see I was making it up (or, at least, that they didn't call me out for making it up).

Certainly this was unfair - I attacked people for being charitable to the fucked-up ball of woolly thinking I was. I was radically unfocussed, dully countercultural, miserable, and ensnared in the awful twin ideologies I now call rockism ("extreme experiences are the only really real ones") and lacrimism ("sadness is the source of the profound"). Luckily there was a kernel of curiosity and arrogance too, the kind that can in the right conditions grow up. After reading Pierre Bayard I can actually see unfalsifiable bullshit as a strength of the field. It allowed me to unfold.


Sadism is masochism for egalitarians.


Rappers in a single sentence (in honour of Christian):

  • Jay: I am telling you, I have always sounded victorious.
  • Kanye: Fine; I am awful - but one must love oneself regardless.
  • Biggie: Look at me, up here (but not like I'm not meant to be up here).
  • Nas: The old soul's new life: how is it smooth villainy becomes me?
  • Em: Your knives have such short reach: the last must be the blade itself.
  • Fiddy: Refrain from disparaging my cynicism - unlike yours, it is earned.
  • Chuck D: I read so hard, the books combust; neoliberalism earns my disgust.
  • Missy: Out beyond ideas of wrong and right there is a field; I shake my behind there.
  • Kim: A phallus is hardly necessary condition of overbearance.

I don't know why abridged rap should sound like the Bloomsbury Set - but you're in my head, you follow my rules.


(c) BBC (2013)

I read to forget the impotence of reason.


Idea for the purposes of drawing attention to effective altruism: create a posthumous league table of people's charity. A list of folk (including celebs for PR purposes) in descending order of % of lifetime income given. (The second column would track the stat which actually matters: the % given to effective altruist organisations.)


Novel idea, based on a true story:

Nuclear engineer comes to Dounreay in 1955. These people are bloody brilliant as standard, and after the plant came online, there's nothing to do up there: so he's bored off his tits. Starts a cactus farm in the north, to see if he can. Publishes awful Caithness poets. Plays clay pigeon with sea mines.


(c) Nicholas Roerich (1901), 'Overseas Guests'

How often is the pain of being mistreated overtaken by the pleasure of thinking you're not, right now, the oppressor?


Thought up one actual argument against the Abolition of suffering: maybe pain, and only pain, enables the expression of defiance and the will to survive. (What Spinoza called the conatus.) These are not nice, but they are unique and thrilling feelings which arguably give life as we know it an extra dimension. (Not particularly convincing, is it?)


People say 'the revolution' when they just mean 'a better world'. Sometimes unironically. But when I hear 'the revolution', I hear 'a better world for me and mine, right fucking now, over the broken spines of those who disagree with me in the merest detail.'


"A couple should be two people against the world."

This belief and those like it are the reason we should spit when we hear the word 'romanticism'. To justify your selfish quasi-psychosis, simply latch on to another human being. Declare your egoism a matter of 'romance'. Nietzsche famously says that real lovers act beyond good and evil. Maybe. Then entering this dumb kind of passion is itself wrong. Beyond nothing, signifying no-one.

Love of one is a piece of barbarism: for it is practiced at the expense of all others.
- Nietzsche, mocking me
(read this line in a silly voice)


The maddening maxim: To ignore is to abet.


Reputation is the integrity that other people think you have, not what what you actually have.

(Alternatively: your 'integrity' is just the reputation you deludedly think you deserve. I like the first one better, probably because my rep is diminished, of late.)


"Join us in the resistance. (We moonlight as the resistance to the resistance.)"