speakers corner

 Speaking in Brief

1. Corporations are the capitalist form of collectivism.

2. Modernism is dead. Long live modernity!

3. Montaigne was partly right: I can be educated and a fool, but I can also be ignorant and not wise.

4. When I see, hear, and read modern art I call out ‘Just say something; don’t worry about how you said it!’

5. Vultures feed on corpses left by tradition and its endless striving for prestige. We can call the vultures ‘modern’ because they need no family pedigree.

6. To pay women for housework would incorporate the Household.

7. Socialists should have declared ‘We shall never appeal to envy!’ There are more votes in greed and vanity than envy.

8. Was Marxism the first sorcery to enlist our aspirations against ourselves?

9. The Spirit of the Age….. You hypocrite! You self-righteous prig!

10. Genetic engineering is threatening to make us free to be what we choose as well as free to do what we want. Ahead of that we shrank the human genome – almost to a mouse.

11. The best way to get people to take a threat seriously is to be the threat.

12. ‘The Space Age is over!’ cries the cynic. Of course – it’s routine.

13. We don’t use the word ‘noble’ because it was misused. We don’t use the words ‘progress’ or ‘civilisation’ because they do not describe what we see.

14. ‘World’ in philosophy has a simple meaning. It refers just to what we experience or imagine outside (not beyond) ourselves.

15. Existentialist characters from Clarissa Harlowe onward were expected to fade out rather than fit to the world. We will have matured when we can treat them as merely wise.

16. What happened to the old German role of doing what others talk about and so making yourselves a tragedy? Americans and Muslims now share it.

17. The horror writer H.P Lovecraft died in 1937. Just a few years later he would have discovered that the Cthulu mythos was unnecessary.

18. A writing career most often depends on making a name for yourself first – once a name you sell regardless. The logic is similar to a military career where you start as a Field Marshal and then work your way steadily down the ranks so as to retire as a private after forty years service.

19. The mystery of consciousness…. Alert! Wake up! They’re coming!

20. Doctors often describe people as ‘immature.’ But societies are founded upon immaturity.

21. Logic and science are our oath of obedience to the Ninth Commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. (That is also a principle of honour.)

22. Gender distinctions are technically distinct from racial or national distinctions as they do not depend upon fantasies. But the problem of the megalomaniacs still remains.

23. The art of charity is to make a decision about yourself and then forget about it.

24. Greens talk of the ‘balance of Nature.’ But don’t we want Nature balanced?

25. I do not enjoy being ill but it gives me time to think.

26. How can we trust our languages when we do not trust one another?

27. Best pointed out that the French Revolution took honour into public ownership. Then the modern abominations of fascism and Leninism became possible, because they took the cruelty into public ownership also.

28. Wisdom needs independence. Therefore it must have influence and not power.

29. Why can’t some fool explain that the point of ‘ethical’ foreign policies is to train our children in ethics?

30. I won’t give up my hope of a world order just because it’s the best way to make money.

31. (a) A progressive is someone who says we can do what we want, and then expects us to cooperate. (b) A conservative is someone who complains we are spoilt, and then promises to give us everything we want.

32. The modern court jesters are the ones who greeted the modern revolution: Marquis de Sade and Rasputin.

33. The best model for computer software is Kafka’s bureaucracy.

34. Intelligence services are most efficient when it comes to making paranoia rational.

35. What is a miracle? Is it an event like our existence which appears so improbable you have to say it never happened?

Ours as a pocket universe

36. How could we ever distinguish ‘love’ from sentiment, lust, passion, infatuation, or images? Why not forget it and just have the Golden Rule of ethics?

37. Positive and negative freedom are different perspectives: If I run a bar the end of licensing restrictions sets me free from controls. If I am a customer it sets me free to stay drinking through the night.

38. Must a universal morality be our last refuge?

39. What is the difference between suicide and martyrdom? Who decides which is which; the audience or the critics?

40. I suggest that science fiction should be not limit itself by attempting to be mere literature.

41. Even ordinary folks talk a lot about trust now. Naturally – because we don’t anyone or anything past the end of our noses.

42. Existentialism has dropped out of fashion. To be expected when it tells us the truth about our society.

43. Religion is about personal faith, authority, ritual, losing my ego, salvation, tradition, obedience to God, the moral point of view,… No wonder we all get confused.

44. A secularist holds that death is simply eternal.

45. Caring for others is hard, gritty business.

46. Authority will be restored when we find fresh ways to teach rather than merely campaign.

47. (a) Growing up means moving on from learning to listening to advice. (b) Growing up means moving on from caring for the world to coining in the dough.

48. Aging now means relying on people who cannot be relied upon.

49. Modernity shifts women from images of grace (if you’re lucky) to just the latest images (you’re a joke).

50. In the 1900s modern art told us what was coming. The 2000s wouldn’t say.

51. We’re still looking for alien civilisations. But what could we ever say to them?

52. Khaled Hosseini reminds us of what we should have remembered from our own literature.

53. The point about ‘saving the planet’ is the planet will go on but we may not.

54. C. J. Friedrich misunderstood experts if he thought they understood the contingent.

55. Family honour was the first experiment in anarchism.

56. Modernity shifts honour killings from epic tragedy to social problem in rundown communities.

57. A liberal is someone who represents whatever we don’t like.

58. How else can we assess machine intelligence other than by finding whether the machine disobeys its mistress?

59. Logically, if the future is warm and wet, we should get back into the sea.

60. We are told Abraham offered his son’s neck to prove his faith. Now each group has its own test of faith.

61. In a global economy the one way to stop migrants coming for jobs is to see there are no jobs.

62. {Have you got your pinta milk a day, cholesterol and blood pressure, anorexia, obesity crisis,…} = 0. The public health sine wave.

63. Q: Can we use folly to assess morality? A: Yes, provided we can agree folly is no category of immorality.

64. Churchill proclaimed ‘We shall never surrender!’ Now we fight over who we shall never surrender to.

65. How can history be a science when alternative history stories are fantasy, not experiment?

66. The lesson of scandal is that condemnation fails when virtue is already corrupted.

67. Is there comfort in religion when the transcendent is immanent enough to tell us to do what we want?

68. The global economy depends upon the principle that drama is required training for any employment.

69. Stress is good for you until it becomes anxiety.

70. Tolerance is repressive because it insists that you tolerate other people.

71. The neo-Darwinists have not kept up with our desertion of biological roots – we make love songs banal.

72. (a) Inquiry into Meaning – the main project of analytic philosophy; Sub-title: ‘Or, how can we rumble the lying bastards?’
(b) Critical Theory – either making sense is oppression or ideal communication is worth talking about although it never happens.
(c) Modern philosophy is a footnote to advertising campaigns.

73. Metaphysics is a way to understand things, not to live with them.

74. (a) A nationalist is someone who wants to keep the homeland, and then turns the homeland into a wasteland to keep its economy up with its peers. (b) A patriot is someone who encourages politicians to spend money on prestige projects.

75. Our present culture confuses barbarity with sincerity.

76. Socrates knew how to learn because he asked questions instead of presenting a thesis.

77. Clarifying language can solve metaphysical problems because we have no choice about them. But we have not decided whether we have a choice about moral problems.

78. Q: If the problem of ethics without religion is a sociological, not a philosophical, problem, can secularists find a sociological solution? A: Maybe, if they let charities and terrorists remind them that religion is not always a matter of propping up the status quo.

79. Moral philosophy cannot provide love, but it can allow it.

80. ‘Keeping up with the Jones’ is the point of honour transferred to consumer goods and education.

81. Many years ago, I was told that positive thinking readily leads through to ‘my God’. Surely, Satan is more than just negative thinking?

82. Back in 1847 Marx warned us that a little house shrinks to a hut when a palace arises beside it. That is why there is no limit – the palace of Versailles would shrink to a hut when a greater palace arose beside it.

83. We are told that taxes must be kept low to avoid capital fleeing abroad. The natural response would be to create the first Global Empire.

84. Bettany Hughes is not responsible for politicising spirituality. She merely records God’s sex changes.

85. The Soup Dragons made the complete plea for freedom of the will by singing: ‘I’m free to be what I choose, any old time’.

86. Wittgenstein hoped to spirit away our philosophical puzzles with analysis of language. Sadly, that left decisions to be made.

87. Critical Theory and linguistic analysis agree that we can be bamboozled by language. Yet we still yearn for strong leaders to bamboozle us.

88. Marx’s greatest achievement was to found the first school of thought sustained by its enemies.

89. Has there ever been a political or activist group which did not practise prefigurative politics? Surely not.

90. The ancient art of rhetoric loses out not only to television and digital media but also our distrust of The Hidden Persuaders.

91. Suppose God knows I am going to create suffering. Just why is it worth while for him to leave me free to carry on?

92. Once religion is invoked as a sociological tool to sustain morality, we need to ask why the next step is not to declare society to be God.

93. Nietzsche’s saddest omission was not to spell out the difference between humility and humiliation.

94. Religion has told us we should not expect to understand everything. Science now reinforces that message.

95. Since the Second World War democrats have not settled whether people want equality or aspiration to impossible dreams.

96. The biggest task facing the moderns is to make clear the difference between preaching and explaining ethics – or just plain health warnings.

97. Nowadays there is no clear boundary between the disgusting and the romantic. But was there ever such a boundary?

98. There’s no sense in insulting people as ‘wild animals’ now we know how disciplined wild animals are.

99. ‘Let me go’ may mean no more than ‘Leave me in peace!’

100. ~ The Old Testament gave us the Ten Commandments.

~ The New Testament gave us the command to love one another.

~ Sociologists and conservatives told us religion binds society together.

~ Belief in God helps us live longer

~ Alpha courses show us the meaning of life

Anything else? Uh, oh – what about theology and truth?

101. St. Augustine told us God had to leave us free to choose evil so we could be moral. But why does God need moral persons so badly that He leaves us free to argue about morality?

102. Professor Niall Ferguson tells us consumption won the Cold War for the West. But the self-same Ferguson tells us over indebtedness kills civilisations.

103. Even as a student I guessed I would have to become a prophet before I could become employable.

104. Marx and Wagner were singularly disagreeable characters, but each managed to tell us some things about ourselves we do not wish to hear.

105. Most intellectuals assume we will all be shocked to learn we are part of a determinist world. But many of us don’t care.

106. For centuries now some politicians, sociologists, and educationalists have supposed education should connect us with our cultural heritage. Why not teach wisdom first so as discover whether such a connection is possible?

107. ‘Free up business!’ say the neo-liberals. ‘Free up sex and culture!’ say the liberals. As we go on, we discover why everybody dislikes liberals. Simply anybody can be a liberal.

108. The best way to resolve the impasse between Vitamin D and skin cancer would be to issue stop watches to the entire population.

109. Since science is about testing for errors, we might wonder how it became certain that any unorthodoxy must be a placebo. After all, organized events are meant to be placebos anyway.

110. In 1960 Kingsley Amis thought he could pastiche Richardson’s Clarissa. In the 21st century certain Asian families do it properly.

111. History from the First World War to date demonstrates that peacemakers must chat with ordinary people.

112. Dr. Sachs has pleaded for leaders who are also teachers. Sadly, the usual conception of a ‘strong’ leader is someone who never learns, and therefore cannot teach.

113. Q. How long does it take for a sick tradition to die? A. As long as it takes for the patient to realise she is sick.

114. The glamour of patriotism is that of a short cut to duty. Like all short cuts it misses the long road ahead.

115. Nassim Taleb has claimed that it is a rule of capitalism that systems should be allowed to fail. Not necessarily so, because it is also a rule of capitalism that businesses may grow into systems too big to fail.

116. Secularists are apt to accuse religion of creating intolerance, cruelty, and wars. The real problem is religion’s failure to prevent them.

117. The difficult stage in nurturing and disciplining Blooming Minds is after they leave school.

118. Humans will be spacefarers because the only other escape is death.

119. Modernity alone teaches that children suffer from family breakdown even in the absence of titles or legitimacy.

120. The British do their celebrations well. Yet, except for the Festival of Remembrance, they talk about them badly.

121. Once upon a time Rock told Beethoven to roll over. He didn’t hear, and now the ball rolls back to him.

122. I suggest a new parlour game: can you guess what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have made of his counter-feminist American followers?

123. Now politicians and sociologists have discovered we have aspirations; may we have a little more choice of aspirations, please?

124. If anyone asks me, I would say: Never call me Master, just think – Is this wise?

125. I propose a referendum on instructing, or forbidding, intelligence services to use torture. Where moral questions  (which is most questions) are concerned the slogan for democrats should be, not ‘Let the people decide’ but ‘Make the people decide’.

126. Making moral structures is greulling work. It will be the new slavery: No pay, just the whiplash of anger, fear and anxiety until the work is done.

127. Tolstoy once said ‘All impulses of the soul are pure and elevated to begin with’. No one could believe that after 1914.

128. Any campaign can claim, if it wishes, to care for those who suffer. Just think about GM crops.

129. Hillaire Belloc lived too soon to find the path to Rome is a detour on the path back to Las Vegas.

130. Shale gas development gives us the option of changing the song title from ‘Viva Las Vegas’ to ‘Viva Balcombe’. For any Balcombe residents who may object the global market system provides two options:
(a) Sell your property at an inflated price and move out;
(b) Stay and organise a local campaign, hiring Elvis impersonators for publicity.

131. Whatever happened to the new conservative generation of 1982 who wanted standards again? No one says, but one theory is that standards became performance targets.

132. The most obvious reason why people doubt there can be ethical experts is that Plato tried to train them and failed.

133. The most pressing problem with morality at present is finding a foundation for it which does not leave every moral argument a tragedy and every solution a bureaucratic quick fix.

134. Once the global economy becomes global power we can leave competition to business.

135. The Rational Optimist points out that fracking in the energy market automatically cuts CO2 emissions. The Irrational Pessimist can point out that climate change was the only challenge capable of uniting people across their group identities.

136. What is a religion? Is it a theology first, and ethics second, or the other way around?

137. What’s the point of trying to communicate if it takes 1,200 years to say ‘Hello’ and another 1,200 years to say ‘Piss off!’

138. Since Communism died, we have tried to resuscitate God. Sadly, we have revived the Gods.

139. The most likely explanation why the ultimate in every ideology from family honour to market capitalism is anarchism is that anarchy is the ultimate romance.

140. Already more than half of welfare dependency is pensions for those destined to become dependent.

141. The philosophers were right that mathematics allows us to arrive at results by pure reasoning. But the point about mathematics is that the only choices it offers are multiple solutions.

142. With the ‘throw-away society’ capitalism can ensure that the customer is wrong.

143. Sadly, when we hear pleas for ‘timeless values’ we hear no recognition that even if the values are timeless (at least while consciousness exists), the ways they work in practice are not. Which is why Mayor Roberts’ daughter and minister Brown’s son did not end by creating the sort of society their fathers wished to see.

144. Philosophy can never be just poetry. Sometimes it can say a lot in a short space, but it also has to show why it says what it says.

145. Nothing shows the failure of Western civilisation better than our having to wait for feminism before rape could be thought about intelligently. Hence Nietzsche’s creative destruction came early – before 1914 with Thomas Hardy in the unlikely role of Ubermensch.

146. The rubbish tip is the new home of the Commons. Here Hegel really did speak the truth, as tragedy became farce.

147. Property becomes rubbish. Private property is recycled rubbish.
Notes: (a) The one exception to this rule occurs when the Sun reaches the end of its life, exterminating (either freezing or vaporising) all private property owners. The trash is then already recycled, but remains in the Commons until aliens arrive to reappropriate it.

(b) If there is a meta-cosmos, that would remain eternally in the Commons (more precisely, be the Commons) whether God exists or not.

148. Karen Armstrong seems to have won most people over to the idea that the world’s religions share common values. Sadly, that is not enough to make peace.

149. Something Islam has to teach conservatives is that faith cannot be detached from economics.

150. Secularists need to learn that ethics have to succeed without religion.

151. The art of peaceful revolution needs to be cultivated because otherwise revolution is civil war.

152. The philosopher is not doing a proper job if others do not argue back.

153. Ecology and ethics are both struggling because scientists have yet to achieve their own goal of making reliable predictions.

154. Capitalism’s biggest problem is having handed spirituality over to religions which can no longer take care of it.

155. Ol’ Man River kept rolling on. So did history.

156. Walzer’s ‘Supreme Emergency’ defines the precondition for socialism to work.

157. In 2014 we ought to be celebrating the first 100 years of realism about war.

158. Democracy puts the people in charge, which is not the same as giving them what they want.

159. The remaining modernist intellectuals might still imagine taboos would be broken by describing a rape in a book or showing it on film. Nonsense – taboos are broken by showing a woman’s recovery.

160. The best comedians don’t try to be funny.

161. Baby boomers deserve their benefits because they were told the West could afford them.

162. Art and science now both face the same challenge from modernity – that of distinguishing themselves from rogue trading.

163. In case anyone asks: Why are you bothering with moral philosophy? I have three main reasons:
(a) It gives me something to do, and keeps me off the old crocs list as long as possible;
(b) I try to encourage people to stop bitching about who’s to blame for (whatever) and start making up their minds what they want and what they believe in;
and (c) Encourage people to stop relying on institutions; be they schools, churches, cooperatives, armed forces, or anything else, to make us all good.

164. There’s just one problem with being high-minded; recognising that other high-minded people don’t agree with you.

165. Academics can get away with normative theories. Politicians have to deal with people who don’t accept the norms.

166. Frackers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but the methane.

167. If I were God I would now tender my resignation.

168. Middle East, climate change, child porn, money laundering, …. Tell me what the nation-state can do?

169. We are used to politicians and campaigners claiming the moral high ground; we need them to know that brings the moral high ground into disrepute.

170. Strangely I agree with theists about needing something beyond myself. My problem in finding that is that if I call it God or even tradition and social cohesion it is no longer beyond myself at all.

171. I learned the hard way not to trust my own instincts, let alone other peoples’.

172. Therapists have never controlled me, because I alone can decide whether they did me any good.

173. Do Foucault’s histories of power mean anything other than the liberal agenda of holding power to account?

174. The honour of women gives the lie to the Critical Theorists’ notion that Christianity suppressed sexuality. Wagner was the proper Antichrist because he made the Christian hero a fool.

175. The fall of socialism has cleared the way for Pope Francis to preach to us about taking all that the Church has and giving to the poor.

176. If David Attenborough is to be believed, we have already replaced biology with technology. That leaves natural selection in place.

177. I cannot tell people how to be wise, except to suggest they look at the opposite of being stupid.

178. Even God needs languages to speak in. But why would a ‘modernist’ think an ancient inscription capable of saying something other than what the inscribers meant to say?

179. Is thinking philosophically just a matter of having arguments no one else is prepared to have?

180. Once the logical structures of language have been elucidated, one of the next stages would be to correct grammar textbooks and dictionaries. Example: The word ‘deferential’ did not mean ‘respectful’ or ‘polite’ because it meant that you never disagree in public.

181. Philosophers have always recognised the close connection between the theory of meaning and the theory of truth. They have less often pointed out the connection then extends to ethics via truth.

182. Because only in unusual cases will it be morally right to lie, expressions of the ‘common good’ must be particularly precise.

183. Certain philosophers from Aristotle to Wittgenstein have hoped to settle arguments by appeal to everyday practice. So what happens when we argue about the everyday practice?

184. Presumably linguistic analysis will be most useful in helping us to control our languages.

185. People don’t normally need a private language to express innermost thoughts. As Robinson Crusoe I don’t need a language at all, and once back in society the only problem may be need for illustrations, roundabout imaging (poetry), or neologisms.

186. Recent philosophers have been apt to draw too much from the public character of language. Specifically, I can say ‘….are marvellous’ or ‘….are dreadful’ using the public language.

187. Even when opposing doctrines use terms like ‘charity’, ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’, ‘virtue’, or whatever in different ways to fit their claims, we have rival public languages, not private ones.

188. Frege was more accurate than ancient thought because he never supposed that mathematics (or logic) could tell us how to live. He was also more accurate than the moderns because he never supposed the public language could tell us how to live either. Specifically, although he was an anti-Semite he never ruined his reputation or legacy by telling his students that because they spoke German they are destined to be the master race.

189. The British would be especially foolish to rely on tradition and history because of the change in position of islands in the 21st century compared with earlier times.

190. A modern paradox is to have an aging population which spends more time rushing around even as it has longer to wait for death.

191. Religion could be kept out of politics only if it could be kept out of ethics.

192. The first error of so-called ‘neoliberals’ was to miss the lesson from family honour that totalitarianism can exist without a State.

193. The second error of ‘neoliberals’ was parallel to the first: they forgot that law recognises corporate ‘personality’ – that is to say, corporations can follow Hegel.

194. I state here on a public medium that my life insurance is handled by a public company in the private sector. But all the mainstream politicians want the private sector to grow for sake of public resources. How about private commons for public greed?

195. I’ve never denied being aspirational. My only demand is to be allowed to decide which aspirations I will have.

196. ‘Anarcho-bureaucracy’ sounds merely a joke. In which case, epic heroes, local and charity administrators, priests, and company managers are all comedians.

197. If the places demanding home rule get small enough we can all ignore them.

198. The feminist claim that the personal is political was previously made by dynastic families.

199. When will secularists realise that theology is an intellectual discipline, not least because of its paradoxes?

200. Separation of powers and democratic theory left one public office unfilled; that of the Jester.

201. Mathematics distinguishes between equality and sameness in all respects. We fail in doing likewise because of personal pride and group identities.

202. Regeneration would be essential for people to want to live forever.

203. Having stumbled into the contemplative life, I cannot be sure about it being the highest level of human existence.

204. Histories of philosophy assume that defences of ‘private’ property are individualistic. But private is not the same as individual.

205. Republicans and democrats are fond of trying to have us focused on our common concerns. It seems obvious we all need to eat, but are GM crops the right way to deal with the problem?

206. Lawyers can get agreement by ‘constructive ambiguity’. Was that the origin of the heroic ideal?

207. Do Marxists and Foucault talk too much about power? No doubt, but the psychology of recognition prevents anyone getting off the subject.

208. Once an ideal becomes an ideology it fades into a pretence.

209. The critics of alternative medicine as unscientific are apt to forget that we trust scientists only so far as they make things work.

210. The difference between a health fascist and a real fascist is the difference between a bore and a commandant.

211. The God of the Gaps comes under pressure again if the universal constants are only naturally selected.

212. G. K. Chesterton thought that if we didn’t believe in God we would believe in anything. Time to recognise that we may believe anything we please, but not do anything we please.

213. Will Israel be able to show that ‘return home’ does not translate as ‘lose it’?

214. Modernity has made clearer that the great beast is everybody, not just the people.

215. Class analysis is mere number crunching unless it warns ruling classes about their natural degeneration.

216. Advocates of local action correctly understood that curbing power is about breaking elites up into small fragments. But fragmentation can be done by activity as well as by place.

217. The rule of law protects people only if law can control power.

218. Liberals are accused of assuming a neutral standpoint we can all refer to. Liberals should say the neutral standpoint has to be created.

219. Holding power to account, ensuring power is responsibly exercised,…, all mean resistance must be possible.

220. Are there any ways to avoid setting myself above those I criticise on moral grounds? Only by accepting the Bible’s unspoken quotation: I let myself be judged.

221. Animal rights has provided the best way to distinguish between humans and other species: we have lifestyle choices and they do not. Consider; can parasitic wasps or leopards adopt a vegan lifestyle?

222. Up to now we have been arguing about whether gender is inborn or a social construct. The direction of biotechnology is toward making it a consumer choice anyway.

223. Sometimes we try to avoid choices. I have spent weeks avoiding a choice between pain and a thrombosis.

224. Political correctness has two features: (a) Contradiction in terms, and (b) Lesser of two evils.

225. Any fool can distinguish between criticism of Israel or Jewish settlements and anti-Semitism. The problem is so many people are not happy to be just a fool.

226. Islam and Christianity both struggle to give peace and justice a chance against pagan sacrifice and service.

227. Donald Trump reflects the spirit of the age: Trust me, I’m a scumbag! But negative authority becomes hard when you need moralists to carry out your plans.

228. Preaching carries contrary hazards: being a prig if you practise your preaching and a hypocrite if you don’t.

229. The causes of conservation and the environment need long term forecasting to become the fear of God.

230. The unstated principle of liberalism is that opponents must not be enemies. Carl Schmidt thought that emotionally unreliable.

231. Is there a way to refute Carl Schmidt without genetic engineering? In the high-tech age the answer to that question will determine whether homo sapiens must evolve into something else.

232. I have just been taught that the best way to challenge an onerous duty is to carry it out in full when requiring costly support.

233. For my sins I can enjoy religious art. Yet I have to ask: Can it stand in for theodicy?