Thursday, 20 June 2013

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand - a philosopher (so-called) and novelist that inspired Margaret Thatcher. Glenn thought it would be a good idea to find out more about her, so we purchased a fiction book by her ('The Fountainhead') and a non-fiction book about her work and ideas ('Ayn Rand' by Mimi R. Gladstein) and took the plunge.

What a journey it proved to be. I am glad that I did it, but I would not want to repeat such an experience too often! Want to make the most of life, enjoy life, and be forward looking and all that. Still, it was a useful learning experience.

'The Fountainhead' and 'Atlas Shrugged' are 2 of Rand's most important novels. They are regarded as 'modern classics' and have sold loads of copies. In fact, Rand's novels sold over 20 million copies along with 25 million copies of her non-fiction works.

However, 'The Fountainhead' proved to be a pretty bad read (to put it mildly), I thought - but more about that later. Whilst the book about Ayn Rand and her philosophy by Gladstein proved to be very interesting and informative - a well-written book (unlike 'The Fountainhead' - certainly in terms of artistic fiction writing).

Rand (1905 - 1982) - a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright and screenwriter. Rand was a Russian Jew and was very cynical about Soviet Communist Russia. She developed a philosophical system called Objectivism. Rand moved to the USA in 1926 and was very praiseworthy of the American capitalist, laissez-faire way of life (although she didn't think it went far enough, and thought it was still too collectivist-focused - heavens!) She thought that reason was the only means of acquiring knowledge and rejected faith and religion. Very significantly (in terms of understanding how capitalism works and perpetuates itself) Alan Greenspan, the former US Federal Reserve Chairman, was one of her leading followers.

The essence of Rand's Objectivism was: "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." (quote from Rand on Wikipedia).

Rand saw Objectivism as a systematic philosophy, with positions on metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy and aesthetics.

Rand's philosophy argued that humans should be selfish and productive; that mostly, that is the right and moral thing to do. She was against collectivism.

The book 'Ayn Rand' by Mimi R. Gladstein, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2013, proved to be very useful and informative. It is part of a series on 'Major Conservative Thinkers and Libertarian Thinkers, (Vol 20 in series). The Series Editor is John Meadowcroft.

In the Series Editor Preface John Meadowcroft has this to say:

"The novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand was one of the most powerful and influential twentieth century advocates of free market capitalism.." (Meadowcroft, p. ix)

The philosophical movement, Objectivism (which she inspired and largely founded)

"...flourished during her lifetime and continues to attract followers to this day..." (Meadowcroft, p. ix)

And she believed in:

"...the moral supremacy of individualism over collectivism. " (Meadowcroft, p. ix)

Rand thought that human progress depended on the wisdom, creativeness and for-sightedness of individuals. Whilst the collectivist state was rather like a burglar, with people taking things that did not belong to them. Whereas, selfishness, in contrast, encouraged people to produce. (Heavens!) The argument can, perhaps, be seductive to some, because it is obviously the case that some people in society work hard and take risks and that others can benefit from this, and can sometimes be seen to be riding on the backs of the 'workers' and 'producers'. But this is an immature way of looking at the whole situation and is just one of the many unfortunate consequences of the capitalist system and the gross inequalities that it engenders (and the way in which it is organised under it), rather than a reason to praise capitalism.

Meadowcroft said that:

"In Rand's view, altruism was the philosophy of a society of serfs, whereas selfishness was the mindset of a society of free men and women." (Meadowcroft, p. ix-x)

Moving on to the book itself, the author Gladstein spoke about Rand saying that:

"Ayn Rand was a polarizing and controversial person in life, and her personality and ideas are of such dynamism and force that even a quarter century after her death, she still provokes strong emotions and controversy." (Gladstein, p. 1)

Her editor at Random House, Hiram Haydn, said in his autobiography that Rand always made him feel like a "soft-headed, ambivalent, tortured liberal".

In her novel We the Living, Gladstein said that:

"Rand spells out through both the narrative and dramatically that any system that values the collective above the individual is doomed to quash productivity and fulfillment as it glorifies the mediocre." (Gladstein, p.22)

Gladstein then moves on in the book  to discuss a section from Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged which is actually headed 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his need' (the famous Marx quote of course). How about that! Dear oh dear!

Apparently, in the plot, the able are made to work harder and produce more, in order to try to cater for the needs of the masses and those that are less able. But this meant that the efforts of the able were not properly rewarded, which de-motivated them. So the able started to hide their capabilities.

"Those who were truly responsible, reduced their draw on 'the family' funds, whereas the irresponsible and shiftless found innumerable ways to take advantage of the system, procreating irresponsibly, adding worthless relatives to the family rolls, and nurturing all kinds of sickness and disabilities." (Gladstein, pp. 39-40)

Atlas Shrugged grew out of Rand's response to the idea of what would happen if the producers, the people of the mind, went on strike. The character, John Galt, in the book builds a morality.

"Virtuous actions achieve virtuous things. As the established goal is human existence, humans should choose those values that enhance it." (Gladstein, p. 45)

The character Galt says that these values are reason, purpose and self-esteem.

"Reason is essential because it is the means to the acquisition of the knowledge that is needed to live. Purpose is valuable because it provides a goal for reason to achieve. Self-esteem is important because with it human beings can believe themselves worthy of life and able to achieve it." (Gladstein, p. 45)

Gladstein continues:

"In sum, Galt affirms that the achievement of one's happiness is the moral purpose of one's life. His rationale for that its purpose is to protect human rights, to create a society wherein life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are maximized." (Gladstein, p. 51)

The character Galt says that there are only 3 fitting functions for government: the police to protect one from criminals, the army to protect one from foreign invaders and the courts to protect property and contracts from breach or fraud and to settle rational disputes according to objective laws. This was clearly a reflection of Rand's own thinking.

In addition, in Atlas Shrugged there are 3 recurring references - individualism v. collectivism, egoism v. altruism, reason v. mysticism.

"Collectivism, altruism, and mysticism all work to undermine human potential and are the tools for destabilization and a counterproductive future. The paths to a vibrant future with maximum potential for human happiness are through reason, egoism, and individualism." (Gladstein, p.55)

Rand thinks that in a free society people are free to avoid the irrational.

Talk about twisting what Marx meant in regard to Marx's quote: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need", which is about becoming truly human, finding a means for self-expression and being fulfilled etc. I say no more.

Meanwhile, Rand's non-fiction works include Capitalism: the unknown ideal, The Virtue of Selfishness and Man's Rights

In Capitalism: the unknown ideal Gladstein says that:

"In the context of Objectivism, laissez-faire capitalism is the only system appropriate for the life of a rational being. Rand stresses that Objectivists are not conservatives but radicals for capitalism." (p. 67)

Apparently, Rand thought that the book became necessary because the previous defenders of capitalism had not fought for it on a moral-philosophical basis.

"Rand identifies capitalism as the politico-economic system that has more than any previous or subsequent system in history, benefitted humankind while being attacked and misrepresented." (Gladstein, p.67)

But, even if this were the case, it is not a system that we have consciously sought out; we have not been aiming to set up a moral system; we did not morally select it. So, this makes all this argument a nonsense.

In Man's Rights:

"Rand asserts that the basis for a free society is individual rights and that historically the dominant political systems have been based instead on some form of what she calls 'altruistic-collectivist doctrine', a doctrine that subordinates the individual to some higher authority, be it in the form of religion (mystical) or state (social)." (Gladstein, p. 68)

And this is where Thatcher got her notion from that 'there is no such thing as society' - from Rand (dear oh dear!). This is what Gladstein says:

"Rand declares that there is no such thing as 'society' because society as an entity is made up of individuals and thus must not be placed outside the moral law...The United States does not regard the individual as belonging to the state or society but as an end in himself. He is protected against the state and the state's powers are limited by the constitution." (Gladstein, p. 68)

For Rand, there is only one fundamental 'right'; the right to one's own life. From that, there is derived the freedom to take those actions necessary to sustain and enjoy life.

"She is very clear on the fact that the government was created to protect individual rights and the Constitution to protect the individual from the government." (Gladstein, p. 68)

In regard to rights, she says for example that just because there is the right of free speech, this does not mean that the microphone has to be supplied. For Rand, there are only individual rights; not economic, collective or public-interest rights.

Also Rand thought that Anna Karenina was "the most evil book in serious literature", apparently, because of its message of hopelessness - heavens! (p. 76 in Gladstein book). How dreadful - it is a brilliant book and can really help certain people in certain situations, in particular crises that they might have in their life. And the language and style is just so beautiful. It transcends so much. This one really disturbed me.

Gladstein continues:

"In Rand's metaphysical philosophy, reality is objective and absolute. For her epistemological system, the mind is capable of discovering valid information of that which exists. Because of her basic premise that man is a rational being and an end in himself, he has a right to choose those values and goals that best serve his purpose to be the best person he can be. This is in accordance with her moral theory of self-interest...a coherent philosophy that includes metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics must precede and determine politics and that politics then precedes and determines economics." (Gladstein, pp. 85-6)

Rand says that one's life should be one's ethical purpose and that values should be chosen that forward that purpose (p. 102). But this could be de-motivating (apart from anything else) - doing things for these so-called 'moral' purposes. Yet, at the same time, she argued that people should be selfish.

"Rand...sometimes called herself a radical for capitalism, thought that capitalism was the only moral politico-economic system in history. In her thinking, capitalism was a great boon to humankind, having produced goods and technology that enhance the quality of life." (Gladstein, p.103)

Moving on to 'The Fountainhead' Ayn Rand's Introduction in the Penguin, 2007 (first published in 1943) is interesting.

Rand makes it clear that she rates Aristotle, who she says, sees things not as they are, but as they might be or ought to be. In fact, he was the only philosopher she really rated, even though Nietzsche had quite a big influence on her thinking in the early days.

Rand says in the introduction:

"Since my purpose is the presentation of an ideal man, I had to define and present the conditions which make him possible and which his existence requires. Since man's character is the product of his premises, I had to define and present the kinds of premises and values that create the character of an ideal man and motivate his actions; which means that I had to define and present a rational code of ethics. Since man acts among and deals with other men, I had to present the kind of social system that makes it possible for ideal men to exist and to function - a free, productive, rational system which demands and rewards the best in every man, and which is, obviously, laissez-faire capitalism." (Rand, p.ix)

Interestingly, she also talks about Nietzsche in the introduction. She had a quote from Nietzsche at the head of her manuscript for 'The Fountainhead', which she subsequently removed (as she later disagreed with much of his thinking), but then brought it back into the Introduction.

She says:

"I removed it, because of my profound disagreement with the philosophy of its author, Friedrich Nietzsche. Philosophically, Nietzsche is a mystic and an irrationalist. His metaphysics consists of a somewhat 'Byronic' and mystically 'malevolent' universe; his epistemology subordinates reason to 'will', or feeling or instinct or blood or innate virtues of character. But, as a poet, he projects at times (not consistently) a magnificent feeling for man's greatness, expressed in emotional, not intellectual, terms. This is especially true of the quotation I had chosen. I could not endorse its literal meaning: it proclaims an indefensible tenet - psychological determinism. But if one takes it as a poetic projection of an emotional experience (and if, intellectually, one substitutes the concept of an acquired 'basic premise' for the concept of an innate 'fundamental certainty'), then that quotation communicates the inner state of an exalted self-esteem - and sums up the emotional consequences for which The Fountainhead provides the rational, philosophical base." (Rand, p.xii)

And this is the actual quote from Nietzsche:

"It is not the works, but the belief which is here decisive and determines the order of rank - to employ once more an old religious formula with a new and deeper meaning - it is some fundamental certainty which a noble soul has about itself, something which is not to be sought, is not to be found, and perhaps, also, is not to be lost. The nobel soul has reverence for itself. - " (Friederich Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil)

Also, as Gladstein said:

"Early in her career, Rand's work retained vestiges of her encounter with Nietzschean thought. However, as she honed and developed her own philosophy, she was able to expunge much of that from her texts." (Gladstein, p. 23)

I think this is unfortunate, to say the least. If one is inspired by a great writer/thinker, then it is wrong to not properly acknowledge this. Really, it is a form of plagiarism. Nietzsche inspired Rand, and then she largely dumps him. And why did she do that? Because he uncovered truths that she did not want to know or like. On initial reading, Nietzsche might seem to be 'for' capitalism, in some way, encouraging people to 'go for life', to make the most of life, and all that. And she must have liked that. But the more one reads, the more one realises the falsity of such a position. Rather, Nietzsche explore the complexities, the multi-layers and the contradictions. He was very brave, took many risks and just transcended so much. And so it sent him mad, in the end. Very difficult to marry it all up. He was a genius, and thought on levels that were completely beyond the capability of Rand.

What about the novel, 'The Fountainhead' itself? Well, it proved to be a very dull read. So dull, in fact, that I could not bring myself to finish it. I thought it might be more like Barbara Taylor Bradford's 'A Woman of Substance' - a rags to riches-type story, which would celebrate capitalism in an enticing and engaging way, but it wasn't. Presumably, this was because Rand was trying to prove that capitalism is the most rational social system, and aiming to be objective, but the result was pretty dire.

Gladstein summarises some of the main themes in 'The Fountainhead' very well, I think (pp.25-30). Rand identifies the theme of the book as 'individualism versus collectivism". The novel revolves around the story of Howard Roark, a talented and independent architect and his interaction with a number of characters. Gladstein says that:

"It is through these stories that Rand illustrates the sources, psychological and societal, which go into the making of either a collectivist or an individualistic." (Gladstein, p. 25)

In regard to the characters, there is Gail Wynand, a cynic with qualities of greatness; Peter Keating, a secondander who bothers too much about the opinion of others and Ellsworth M. Toohey, the ultimate collectivist whose real purpose is to rule others.

In regard to Peter Keating:

"For such people, it is not what they acoomplish but what others think they have accomplished." (Gladstein, pp. 25-6)

They do not act but give the appearance of acting. The live off the fruits of others.

Then, there is Howard Roark himself who asserts that:

" is the doers, thinkers, workers, and producers upon whom the world depends." (Gladstein, p.26)

Roark blames the acceptance of altruism for those like Peter Keating that live secondhand. Roark is an independent thinker, who produces and works and takes calculated risks.

Whilst;s Tooley's:

" was crowded, public and impersonal as a city square. The friend of humanity had no single private friend. People came to him; he came close to no one. He accepted all. His affection was golden, smooth and even, like a great expanse of sand; there was no wind of discrimination to raise dunes; the sands lay still and the sun stood high." (Rand in 'The Fountainhead', p. 309).

As Gladstein said, Tooley:

"Having reduced Peter Keating to a selfless and willing pawn, Toohey has no fear in revealing the methodology of his plan to kill the individual and man's soul...By setting selflessness and altruism as the ideal, an ideal that is unachievable, one fills people with guilt and a sense of unworthiness. Such people are more easily ruled." (Gladstein, pp. 26-7)

In addition:

"Killing a person's capacity to recognize or achieve greatness while concurrently setting up standards achievable by all, kills incentive to improve, to excel, or to perfect." (Gladstein, p. 27)

In the end (after a court case), Roark "...rejects the right of the government to demand the gift of his talent and refuses to exist for others; he states that he recognizes no obligation toward others except not to participate in a slave society and to respect their freedom." (Gladstein, p. 30)

In general, I just found 'The Fountainhead' to be a bad work of fiction. It was not engaging; instead it was a dull read. The characters did not seem real; they had no depth to them; no passion; no essential qualities of what it is to be human. And it was not inspirational. It was also irritating, because it was just about readable, so I kept ploughing on with it for a long time, thinking it might get better, eventually to give up (I was probably about 4/5 through it). I felt annoyed; it had wasted my time, and it put me in a bad mood. It was an extremely unsatisfying read, and if many others started to write fiction like that, it would kill novel-writing as an art form, I think - that is how strongly I feel about it. Apparently, Rand took barbiturates for years; perhaps, this is reflected in her writing. Such drugs can inhibit, or even kill, creativity. The creative spark that brings a book to life for me, was not there. Whether or not that can be blamed on drugs is another matter. But we must remember that Rand was trying to prove that capitalism is a rational system, and she was writing this novel to try to prove that. So, it aimed to be objective, but this made it very dull. Dear oh dear. Leave the likes of her to it. I want to live in the complete opposite way to that. I want to be moved and inspired by artistic works and experiences that transcend every day life and make life something beautiful or at least something interesting and worthwhile. I certainly do not want to be reading novels that give me the opposite experience. So, that's enough of that. I won't be reading any more of Rand's novels, that's for sure.

Recently, though, I read an interesting and useful piece in the 'Sunday Observer' by George Saunders (26th May), which also helped to clarify and confirm my thinking on Rand.  The piece was 'George Saunders (People Agenda) in the 'Sunday Observer, New Review', 26th May, 2013, p. 5

George Saunders is a USA writer on Buddhism, but in his school days and slightly beyond, he was very keen on Rand. He said:

"...if you are a crummy reader sometimes bad art can do magical things. She [Rand] appeals to a certain kind of adolescent male, I think, and she definitely got to me."

He continues:

"So I went to college and read all the rest of the books and she was sort of my patron saint. Then you get an uncomfortable moment where you realise there's this little bag you're holding that's filling up with phenomena that don't really fit the model. And that bag got heavier and heavier. My family ran into some financial problems. And I thought, she would not understand what we're going through. She'd equate it with some kind of moral weakness on our part. And then after college I went to Asia and saw some things there that made the bag really heavy and at some point I just said, 'I don't get her any more, I'll set her down.' Only years later I was like, 'Oh my God, she's very dangerous'. But I like that. I like the idea that someone can change. You could be a rabid right-winger one moment and then..." (p.5)

So, let that be a warning to us.

I will end on this note, as an additional warning. I recently watched an interview with Rand on YouTube, where she was arguing against women being leaders. A nice and amusing contradiction, I thought, as she influenced Margaret Thatcher's thinking. But Rand had made it; she was a successful woman  - indeed, it was the desire for that that largely fuelled her philosophy and her writing, I think. It  made her very much stand out from the crowd, whilst at the same time, very much supporting capitalism and so she became famous. This surely says something about the manner of the woman. She should not be taken too seriously, but then again, given how much such thinking is influencing government policy in the west, on another level, such thinking cannot be ignored.

However, having now completed my own project on this topic, I will leave it to others to explore it further!

I guess it needs to be done, but not by me!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Art Tank

An exciting opportunity for creative artists

Art Tank can be found at:

"Art Tank have formed to celebrate the contemporary art that is emerging today. We are an online art space that aims to discover new creativity and offer a unique platform for artists who are both new to exhibiting and who are already established. The difficult economic climate that everyone is faced with today effects artists and people who work in the creative industries, just as it effects other trades and professions.

We have seen how artists need a much better scope for opportunities in which a career can develop and young people can fulfill their capabilities and work with something that challenges them. We are dedicated to selling, promoting and fostering the work of artists that we are excited about and we are grateful to work with you!

Art Tank is Abu Bakr and Jamal's collaborative online project.

We are at the moment, looking for artists of all kinds to register with us so please send your best work to, and we will get back to you as soon as we are able. Thank you."

Alternatively, email

Selected artistic works are available for sale on 'Art Tank' and can be purchased online.

Here is an example - a painting entitled 'Spring' by Peter Offord

Art Tank 'Products Page' is at:

Friday, 7 June 2013

Thinking Through Spinoza

'Thinking Through Spinoza: a research symposium' - held at Queen Mary College, University of London, 24th May 2013. Organised by School of Politics; led by Dr Caroline Williams (Notes)

Baruch Spinoza (1632 - 1677) - a Jewish-Dutch philosopher, that opposed Descarte's mind-body dualist philosophy, and instead thought that the mind and body were a single entity, and that there is only one reality. He was a lens grinder, and turned down various rewards, honours and prestigious teaching positions throughout his life, preferring to concentrate on his philosophy.

A well-attended and interesting event.

'Opening Remarks: thinking through Spinoza' - Dr Caroline Williams

TheoryLAB - study of political theory. Political theory is experimental. Laboratory builds connections and has a transformative capacity. Louis Althusser looked at Marxist theory in a laboratory setting. Trying to develop something different. Spinoza's philosophy could be seen to be a type of laboratory. Spinoza's work was often marginalised.

This is first event in this thinking lab - TheoryLab, at Queen Mary College.

'Spinoza's concept of equality' - Dr Beth Lord, Philosophy, Aberdeen
Spinoza upholds notion of equality of person. Each person has the right to do things that are good for them. Moral and political equality.

But Lord thinks that Spinoza's equality notion is ambiguous.

Can be equal in terms of laws of nature, but we can't all live according to laws of nature.

What kind of equality should we aim for?

Look at equality in economic terms? People can't all be equal in wisdom.

In 'The Ethics' Spinoza says that we have equal rights. But that it is a fairly empty concept.

Spinoza - "...the right of nature extents as far as its power extends...each individual thing has the sovereign right to do everything that it can do, or the right of each thing extends so far as its determined power extends." (Theological Political Treatise, 16:2)

Democracy encourages individuals power to be proportionate to the share in the whole. Moral equality is invented by civil law.

Spinoza has a lot to say about equality and inequality in the Hebrew state, Lord said. The Hebrews make it impossible for anyone to become a debt slave. 'Unfree man' - someone who can't pay his debt. 'Debt slavery' - Hebrews prospered because they ruled out debt slaves, Spinoza said. 'Debt slaves' - bad for the state. e.g. interest-bearing loans. A very live issue at the time that Spinoza was writing. Used Old Testament comments to argue against interest-bearing loans.

Credit and debit - should be between equals.

Rational people help each other freely, through mutual aid.

Spinoza gives us a notion of equality - equals are parts of a greater whole.

Spinoza thinks formal essence exists and that humans have common basic capacities, based on formal essence.

Comment from Professor Moira Gatens - women not under men by institution but by their nature, Spinoza said. But Beth Lord thought that was only one comment from Spinoza and should not be taken out of context, and other things he said suggests he thought differently about women. Also, of course, he was writing at a particular time.

'Spinoza's Geometric Ecologies' - Dr Peg Rawes (Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London)
Looking at architecture, maths, trigonometry, geometry.

Spinoza's philosophy based on logic.

Relation between geometry and nature.

God equals Nature

Relating architectural design to Spinoza.

But market drives lot architectural design - this cannot be denied, Rawes admits.

Spinoza's concept of 'substance'. Nature can be related to ecology and rights, in its widest sphere. The well-being of society.

'Vital Materialism: Spinoza after Deleuze' - Professor Rosi Braidotti (Director, Centre for the Humanities, Utrecht)
Decline in humanities and social sciences.

Professor Braidotti has written a book called 'The Posthuman' (Polity Press, 2013)

What is the human and the humanities, she asks?

Humanities are fragments. Explosion of some sort of structure of knowledge.

Can we use Spinoza's ontology to rescue the humanities and the social sciences?

Methodological naturalism and dynamic vitalism.

Vital organistic; whole - more than 'naturalism'.

Transcendetal consciousness.

Commodification of life; recreation of life things; synthetic material. Producing materials for creation of new worlds and for sustainability.

Multilplication of levels of life.

All species are equal for their vulnerability to be capitalised and commodified. Equal for their capacity for extinction. So, a 'negative equality'.

Humans might no longer be at centre of things. Moral panic - don't have a moral system to contain this disaster. Getting out of hand with technology.

Drones - have no human intervention. Just fire on their own. Means - man is not at centre of things. Drone technology - no human agency involved in it, Braidotti said, in the decision to fire. Should we redesign the programmes of this Post-Human technology?

Panic - our inability to deal with what we have produced ourselves.

Trying to moralise the post-human world that we have created.

Is it now - ethics v. morality?

Some try to tell Braidotti that the Humanities is over.

Moving into Study areas, and away from academic areas - e.g. Women's Studies, Death Studies, Food Studies. Seems to be never-ending - the amount of different studies that one can have. Mentality of follow the budget - see who gets the money.

Man spent 4 years looking at whether Austerity measures were right. Found out that the Maths was wrong. But they still did not change the Austerity programme. Austerity measures - a form of extinction; extinguishing/obliterating certain groups of people that are seen to be 'undesirable'.
'Creating a dynamic, resilient world' - topic at World Social Forum.
Need to complexify death, Braidotti said - it is not straightforward.

Comment from Beth Lord - no longer acceptable to be a Sole Researcher. Instead, want collaborative working. Imported from the Sciences, where they work together. Imposition of new-liberal capitalism on our working methods. OK if want to work with others, but might not always want to. Impinging on academic freedom. But need the funding, so have to do collaborative working, researching and writing.

'The symptomatic relationship between law and conflict in Spinoza' - Dr Filippo del Lucchese (Politics, Brunel)

Spinzoa's thoughts include ideas on permanent revolution.

Some good conflict produces good laws. How can relationship between law and conflict be defined?

Parallism - relationship between mind and body - Cartesian. Spinoza says that mind and body are together active. Mind and body on same ontological level. And Spinoza opposed Descarte's mind-body dualism but instead thought they were a single entity. He thought that everything that exists in nature (i.e. everything in the Universe) is one Reality (substance); that there is only one set of rules governing reality.

Conflict - been kept out of much of literature on Spinoza.

'Spinoza and the production of subjectivity (or the 3 kinds of knowledge and the passage between)' - Dr Simon O'Sullivan, Dept of Visual Cultures, Goldsmith)
O'Sullivan has written a book on this topic -
'On the production of subjectivity: five diagrams of the finite/infinite relation' by Simon O'Sullivan, Palgrave MacMillan, 2012

Spinoza's ethics - the 3 kinds of knowledge.

Being in /thrown into the world. Shocks of being thrown into the world. Movement and rest. Bodies and minds are modes; speed and slowness. Modes - moving.

1st kind of knowledge - isolated deposits of knowledge
2nd kind of knowledge - some deposits of knowledge joining together
3rd kind of knowledge - large area; smaller areas within it and deposits of knowledge within these 3 different areas.

O'Sullivan produced some simple but effective diagrams to illustrate these 3 kinds of knowledge.

Through 2nd kind of knowledge - get ethical dimension to ones life. Knowledge of modal essences; God and nature. Essences exist outside space and time. Not tied to the individual. More powerful in effecting the mind. Can 'become what you are' from the 3rd kind of knowledge - relate to Nietzsche.

Spinoza thought - will be part of the Eternal - similar to Nietzsche. 'Eternal return of the Same'

3rd kind of knowledge - can't really be commodified.

'Spinoza and Art' - Professor Moira Gatens (Philosophy, Sydney)
Professor Moira Gatens looked at Spinoza's attitude to the creative arts.

Did Spinoza have a theory of aesthetics?

Is there a place for art in Spinoza's philosophy?

A reconstruction of Spinoza's art might begin with a look at his work on Prophesy, Gatens said. Looked at Prophets - common moral code. Prophets deal with fiction, images, drama. In pictures - can do things that Philosophy can't.

What does Spinoza's Philosophy have to say about goodness?

Spinoza says that imagination is powerful but can get us into trouble.

Spinoza - perfection/imperfection; good/evil. Aesthetic judgement.  How can we agree or disagree with idea of a 'perfect horse' or 'perfect house'?

Spinoza says - 'good', 'evil' are useful words; ideal of the free man. Ethical path to freedom.

The more perfect the individual is, the more his power of acting, in so far as it is understood, through his nature.

Spinoza's philosophical understanding of perfection; the more perfect I am, the more real I am.

Power of thought and mind - to form adequate ideas etc.

The more real I am, the more I am at one with nature.

Spinoza sees reality as perfection.

Joyful path of freedom - have to co-operate with others.

Spinoza wanted to accommodate religion in his own time. Spinoza says there's difference between genuine and false prophets. He wasn't interested in theorising about ideal communities but looking at actual human communities.

Genuine prophets - can decide what is good for humans; a set of rules.

Imaginative insight - so we can live in relative harmony. Imaginatively; grounded knowledge.

Spirit of God - created beautiful works of art.

Enjoy art because it gives us positive feelings.

Therapy, imagination, blessedness. But how much self-awareness does one bring to this state?


N.B. Spinoza's philosophy provided an alternative to materialism, atheism and deism. 3 of his ideas, in particular, had strong appeal:

1. the unity of all that exists
2. the regularity of all that happens
3. the identity of spirit and nature

Karl Max admired Spinoza's materialistic interpretation of the universe.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

May Day Manifesto Relaunch Seminar at Marx Memorial Library

This proved to be a great event - a Relaunch Seminar for the May Day Manifesto, held at the Marx Memorial Library on 23rd May 2013.

It brought back memories of our great UEA days; our great experiences as undergraduates there.

'Soundings' (a journal of politics and culture and published 3 times a year by Lawrence and Wishart, London)
is  re-issuing the May Day Manifesto (which was originally published in 1968) with a new introduction by Michael Rustin. And this event was a re-launch of this Manifesto (as the first one was so successful and not everyone that wanted to attend was able to).

There were 2 speakers at the launch:
Michael Rustin and Madeleine Davis

The event proved to be quite historical, looking back at the political and cultural changes in the UK over the last 45 years or so. And this also made it very moving for me; the 1970's were a great and special period. There were changes afoot for ordinary people and there was great optimism. Well, we only got to go university because of all these wonderful changes, with the building of the new campus universities in the 1960's, which the University of East Anglia was one of, of course.

Michael Rustin, Professor of Sociology at University of East London and a public intellectual, spoke first. Michael Rustin started 'Soundings' with Stuart Hall and Doreen Massey. He is now on the Editorial Board of the journal, along with Stuart Hall, Joe Littler, Doreen Massey and George Shire. Prior to that he was on the Editorial Board of 'New Left Review' -

Michael Rustin began by exploring why the 1968 manifesto was published. He explained that there was a strange feeling of disappointment with the Harold Wilson government after 13 years of Tory rule. The Labour Party had won the election; there was a Labour Government in power, but there had been no real Labour break-through. It was not a transition to socialism; instead, the Labour Government was just adapting to capitalism. The manifesto was a state of protest against this, and a call for action. I remember how intensely Glenn and I felt this disappointment ourselves; we were disappointed with both the Wilson and Callaghan governments. But in retrospective, how good they were compared to what subsequently followed. Dear oh dear! Yet, all this, of course, led to what we now have - neo-liberalism.

Michael Rustin continued, pointing out that there was also the 'Cultural Revolution' at the time. Raymond Williams, for example, believing in the possibility of the working class being able to engage in cultural pursuits and bringing about a different kind of future. Williams was a very powerful and influential figure at the time, and indeed, we loved his work and it had a profound effect on our thinking, as did so many of the other left thinkers and writers at the time - e.g. Ralph Miliband, Peter Townsend, Willmott and Young.

Meanwhile, though. the 'New Left Review' became more theoretical and more academic, and was not so amenable to ordinary readers. Michael Rustin explained that it became rather disengaged from political life and political action. Whereas, the earlier 'New Left Review' was much more involved with politics, and in particular, was closely aligned to CND. Rustin thought that if the 'New Left Review' had stayed in its old form it would probably have been more powerful. Or perhaps it might have been better if 2 different types of journals had continued to be published (so not an either/or). Mike thought it was a shame that that did not happen really.

So, all this also helped to lead to the creation of the manifesto, which sold no less than 10,000 copies in 1968.

However, in some ways Mike thought that the Manifesto had been a mistake because it was a simple statement and it did not provide any opportunity for discussion. Also, that it was published 2 years after the Labour had got into power, and that it would probably have been more effective if it had been published before they got into government.

The relaunch of the manifesto is in 12 issues. There are contributions from various people and there is more discussion. Mike thinks that it is better than the original Manifesto in this way.

However, the analysis and predictions in the original Manifesto have proved to be very right. People spoke about its prediction of imperialist wars; poverty and worsening inequality (e.g. Townsend); the Labour party becoming less democratic; the increase in marketing and spin; the media being dominated by private corporations etc. All this and much more was predicted in the manifesto.

The New Manifesto (or the Kilburn Manifesto as it is sometimes called as it was written in Kilburn), aims to describe and analyse the system as it is, rather than looking at alternative systems.

Then Madeleine Davis spoke. She is a lecturer in Politics at Queen Mary College, University of London. Madeleine said that the New Manifesto is rekindling the critical left. The Left are often criticised for being politically weak and too academic.

Madeleine said that the Labour Party today is looking towards the traditional left and that there has been a renewal of left critique of community, reciprocity etc. A space for critical thinking. However, that in some ways it is quite superficial. But the Labour Party needs this left critical thinking in some ways, to inspire it.

The launch of the original manifestos was not timed very well  (2 years into the Labour government got into power) but the time of the relaunch is better - 2 years before an election.

The original May Day Manifesto can be downloaded from the Internet.

In the discussion there was talk about moving beyond neo-liberalism. Furthermore, that there was a need for action outside of the Labour Party, to make Labour change and do something.

One of the courses that Madeleine teaches on at Queen Mary College, is on the 'History of Socialist Radical Thought'. I thought how wonderful it must be, to teach subjects like that. And, I was full of admiration for her; well, for both her and Michael Rustin.

There was also some further discussion about the big cultural change in the 1960s. Before that, culture very much belonged to the dominant class. But the 1960s changed all of that and that. Raymond Williams said that culture can be popular. This revolution has now happened; we have radical film makers and authors etc. In this way, there is now a more democratic space and the cultural change has been permanent and that is a good thing, said Michael Rustin.

On the way out I also bought the latest issue of 'Soundings' - (Iss 53, Spring 2013)

In the Editorial of the issue it refers to their online manifesto 'After neoliberalism', written by the journals 3 founding editors, Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey and Mike Rustin, saying:

"The aim of the manifesto is to focus attention on the nature of the neoliberal settlement, including the social, cultural and political battles that have attended its emergence and maintenance - and those that might help bring about its demise. It argues that mainstream political debate largely avoids confronting the systemic failures that underpin the financial crash, preferring to believe that normal service will shortly be resumed. And as long as this belief continues, political debate will centre on the extent to which state spending should be cut rather than on how to secure a political economy in which all of us have enough to live on, and a society in which the good displaces profit as the ultimate goal." (p.4)