Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Consequences of Going Viral

Things got pretty manic at Finnginn HQ last week. 

In case you are wondering, Finnginn HQ consists of me on a sofa in my writing clothes (pyjamas) with only a duvet, a laptop and a flat white decaf for warmth.

There's no reason why you would have noticed, but our quiet corner of the internet had a lot of visitors. Over 140,000 unique pageviews. This is atypical. A typical week might see 140 unique pageviews. So, what happened?

Firstly, some people shared my post on the new anti-rationalism on their Facebook pages. This alone might have sent me heading for a record week, but because the post had a philosophical theme, I also posted it on the r/philosophy discussion forum on the social media platform Reddit.

Reddit works by a system of votes. If people are interested in a link that has been shared they can tap an 'up' arrow to upvote it. If they find the topic distasteful or irrelevant they can downvote it. My post garnered 4500 upvotes which took it to the frontpage of Reddit where the most popular topics amongst all the discussion forums are displayed. This is where the bulk of that extra traffic came from. 

Inevitably, with that amount of traffic, there were some people who disagreed with my arguments. About 90% of the 900 comments found some flaw or bias in my reasoning. Here's the archive of the comment thread if you are interested. I'm just going to quote the guy who stuck up for me: 

"I'm surprised at the contents of much of this comment section. This post doesn't do the best job articulating his point, but he's one of very few people talking about this at all. This has been my biggest concern this whole campaign. Trump's whole campaign has been based on anti-rationalism. This is not an indictment of conservatism, but of the campaign and debate style of Trump himself. He consistently lied about things he had said, lied things others had said, flip-flopped on his own positions, refused to answer straightforward questions, and insulted rather than made points. There was almost no logical argumentation or consistent policy to be found. And yet we as a country still took him seriously, and even went so far as to elect him.

You might disagree with Hillary's positions, but Hillary actually had positions. I normally advocate choosing between candidates based on logical reasoning. But this election had one candidate directly against logical reasoning."    u/dalr3th1n

One unexpected consequence of going viral is that Google are now trying to bribe me into having adverts on this page. They say I can fast track to Adsense and make £50 a month. Obviously, I told them to stuff it where the sun has never been seen to shine.  

Anyhow, seeing as how I'm popularity averse, I think I might leave the philosophy alone for the rest of the year. Maybe a poem next week? A rant about how much I dislike office Xmas pub crawls the week after that? And then BAM! hit back with my new appraisal of Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies in time for the inauguration of the new POTUS. 

What do you think? (I'm glad its just us again.)

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The New Anti-Rationalism

Rationalism has a specific meaning in philosophy: it is the creed of the rationalists - those who believe that knowledge states cannot be derived solely from sensory input. As it happens, my tent is guy-roped firmly to a tree in the centre of the rationalist camp. However, for the purposes of today's rant, I am using the everyday meaning of rationalism - i.e. the creed of those who reject ideas that are logically inconsistent.

(If you are thinking, 'What the hell is he going on about? I only come here to read the anecdotes about the crazy people that drink in the pub," thanks for stopping by, but this isn't one of those weeks.) 

Still here? Cool. Let's begin by defining some more terms.

Why, you might do very well ask, do we need a term like 'anti-rational' at all? Surely the opposite of 'rational' is 'irrational'? 

As previously stated, a person who is rational rejects logically inconsistent ideas. A person who is irrational does not or cannot reject logically inconsistent ideas. An anti-rational person happily disseminates ideas with no regard for their consistency, logical or otherwise. The anti-rational person has no desire to establish truth (or at least eliminate falsehoods). They wilfully choose to ignore truth in favour of provoking an emotional reaction.

We are living through an age where anti-rationalist rhetoric is being used to gain political ground. In Europe, the last great age of anti-rational rhetoric was the 1930s and it culminated in events that led it to become rather unfashionable for quite some time.

George Santayana's quote is apposite here: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The generation who fought Fascism in Europe are mostly too dead to give their great-grandchildren the clip round the ear they deserve for joining the English Defence League and Le Front National.

In his essay, The Ancestry of Fascism, Bertrand Russell describes three characteristics of reason:
  1. Reason relies on persuasion not force.
  2. Reason seeks to persuade by the use of arguments that the user himself finds completely valid.
  3. Reason values observation and induction over intuition. 
You only have to look at the recent American election and the plebiscite on Britain leaving the European Union to see that the second and third characteristics have been abandoned in much political discourse. If President Donald Trump carries out his threats to the American Moslem population, then the first characteristic falls as well.

The Ancestry of Fascism is included in the collection In Praise of Idleness

The Ancestry of Fascism makes for sobering reading. It was written in 1935 and presciently predicts both the Second World War and America's decisive involvement in its termination. Russell also points out that: "Rationalism and anti-rationalism have existed side by side since the beginning of Greek civilisation, and each, when it has seemed likely to become completely dominant, has always led, by reaction, to a new outburst of its opposite."

The latest anti-rationalist discourse is extremely dangerous at a time when the world needs to address the threats posed by anthropogenic climate change.  

We are in dire need of an outbreak of rationalism.    


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Backing the Losing Team

I should consider myself fortunate that I am not the sort of person whose temperament is dependent on their team doing well. It's not been a good year for my team. I'm not certain that my team have had a good year in my lifetime. 

Obviously, I am not talking about football: my home team, the Weymouth Terras, came a respectable seventh in the only Premiership that matters (the Southern Football League Premier Division) and everyone knows that (even though their fans are reluctant to mention it) my adopted team, the Norwich Canaries, won the Milk Cup in 1985. 

It was a simpler time: the 1980s, a time when events were sponsored by the Milk Marketing Board. Milk - the nutritious drink that we suck out of cows, heat to a high temperature to limit microbial growth, then sell in a supermarket for a price less than it costs to produce - sponsored the League Cup from 1981 to 1986. Coincidentally, this was a time when I was particularly interested in milk - I guess advertising works. 

Do you know who is sponsoring the League Cup next season? Carabao Daeng. Carabao Daeng is, of course, Thailand's second most popular energy drink. This is the world we live in.

I digress, I was talking about my team. My team are the people who yearn for a decent progressive world where people are nice to each other. Where the less able are supported by the better able. Where the quantity of light that is absorbed by your skin, the direction that your sexual organs point and the gender of the person that you want to kiss do not limit your opportunities. Where wealth is shared instead of hoarded. 

That's the team I support. The team that keeps on losing. 

The Cardigan's - My Favourite Game

On the plus side, I think I have just figured out how to insert videos into these posts. For someone who makes half of their living writing the internet, you would think I would have worked that out sooner. I'm guessing I'll never get a contract with Buzzfeed.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Letter to America

I fell in love with America when I was seventeen. I spent the summer of 1998 working as Campboy (I know. That job title doesn't translate too well into British English) at the Cotopaxi Smokehouse in Colorado. At the time, the Smokehouse's owner Gwyn Lawrence was a great lover of America too (he fell out with America when she deported him for not having a green card a few years later). 

My first impression of America was of its great size. Flying across it took about as long as flying across the Atlantic. My connecting flight from Minneapolis/St Paul to Denver was delayed 24 hours. The airline put me up in a great skyscraper of a hotel. From my window, I could see out over the nightscape of the twin cities - lit up and stretching to the horizon. This was only a glimpse of a tangle of highways and buildings that comprised just one (oh all right, two!) of America's hundreds of cities.

I took a Greyhound bus from Denver to Colorado Springs. I sat next to a grizzled Vietnam Veteran who brought me up to date on the Monica Lewinsky scandal that had been dominating headlines that year. He railed against the political elite and then he railed against the bus driver who appeared to have taken a wrong turn. He seemed to quite like me, though.

The Vietnam Vet was the first of many characters that I met on my first trip to the States. Uh...Clem, the Texan guitar slinger; Lance Romance, the Woodstock era hippy who sold us a foosball table; Ted Rebel Horse, the full blooded Navajo Indian who called me 'Little Brother' and was always offering me marijuana at seven o'clock in the morning before we started work. There was Quiet Jean, who gave me her copy of Jack Kerouac's On The Road and Leann from the Rock Shop who is my pen pal to this day.

There is no place more beautiful to me on the whole of this planet than the Sangre de Cristo mountains at sunset. The distant snowpeaks supported by the rocky red shoulders whose colour give the mountain range its name, the aspen pine forests, the noisy Arkansas river carving through the landscape.

Me (second from left) and Gwyn (second from right) taking on the mighty Arkansas.

Where I grew up, what we called a river could be dammed by a schoolchild in half an hour. The Arkansas at peak flow runs at 12,000 cubic feet per second (per second!). Getting used to this change in scale was a constant in my trips to America. In England, when an acquaintance moves to a town thirty miles away, in all likelihood you will never see them again. In the States, I found that people thought nothing of driving thirty miles to get breakfast.

America is a great country, I love the scale and beauty of the landscapes, I love the huge cities with their numbered streets and orderly grid systems. I love the milkshakes and the burgers and the beer and the soft packs of Camel plain. I especially love the welcoming wonderful people. 

There is a shameful sneer in the air in the UK at the moment - fresh from our own string of election disasters - that the odious Trump candidate is the President those Americans deserve.

As my first American friend on that bus ride 18 years ago knew only too well: the worst thing about America is the elite moneyed class. It is this parasitic subclass of plutocrats (not the American people) that have spawned this hateful misogynist and succoured him with media coverage. The America I know won't be fooled by the likes of him.            


Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The Granary Gallery

Just like I always dreamed, for most of my adult life, I have been a philosopher, poet, bartender. However, things might not have turned out that way. For about a year, when I was eighteen/nineteen I was part of an anarchist art collective housed in a disused granary in the grounds of the village Manor House.

I've never forgotten this brief chapter of my life. The ideas, creativity and intellectual arguments fomented in that cold dusty attic studio still influence the person I am today. What I had forgotten was the artwork I actually produced during that time. That was until a recent visit to my father's house. 

Understandably fed up with storing my junk for years on end, my father politely suggested that I take home what I wanted and he would skip the rest. I found some great stuff. Charlie seemed particularly pleased when I pulled out my old Jim Harley squier standard Stratocaster copy with the Jackson pickups and vintage Wah-Wah pedal:

"Do you have an amp for it?" she asked, tentatively, obviously keen to hear me shred. 

"I lent it to someone in 2001 and never got it back," I replied.

"Oh. That's a shame!"

As if my old Jim Harley Strat wasn't prize enough, in amongst some dusty papers I found some of the canvasses from my days in the Granary. 

Alien in a Hoody

Alex Asleep.

Melting Pot

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. As I make part of my living writing the internet I know exactly how much a thousand words is worth. For 1000 words, I get paid £24.41. Let's open the bidding at £25.