Journey to the Centre of Life

When I started university, I picked up Karl Marx and read everything. You name it, I read it – except Capital II, I never got around to that one. I soon styled myself as a solidly left-wing kind of person. I hated the current government, I did not respect my boss at all, I voted for standard left-wing politicians. I demonstrated in the streets, the US was evil, and Lenin was just misunderstood. I didn’t go so far as to sign up for the communist party and I would not consider myself a radical, but I certainly had some sympathies.

What attracted me to thinkers like Karl Marx was the answer he provides to the question of why injustice exists in the world. In an increasingly agnostic world, we can’t just use God to explain the way things are – which is a rather horrible place. Everywhere one looks there just seems to be endless suffering and injustice. Marx gives you the answer to this question.

So, I progressed through university, reading everything I could get my hands on including a lot of books from all across the political spectrum, but I remained fairly left-wing. I saw injustices in the world and thought this was inherent to a corrupt system of exploitation and I dreamt of a world where things were just easier for myself and everyone around me.

It broke my heart once to see a group of men sleeping in the street, not because they had no job, but because they had to start work at 4.30 in the morning and this was the only way the could be on time because they had no car and public transport doesn’t run at that time. This to me was unjust, and an example of exploitative system. Now I see this as just a bunch of guys trying their best to do what they think is right.

Something that really stuck in my mind though was that things on the left just never seemed to add up. If a socialist system was superior, why were we not at least edging towards it? Surely, even the average person would be able to understand that socialism is far more attractive than exploitative capitalism? Most important of all was the question – why is the other side winning?

To answer these questions, I committed myself to read a lot more of thinkers on the right, but without my left-wing lense. In other words, I wasn’t going to read these texts any less critically, but I was going to approach them differently from what I had previously. Before they were the thinkers that justified capitalist enslavement of mankind through a corrupt political system, now I wanted to assess them for what they had originally intended their texts to be.

My first port of call was Rousseau and his Du Contrat Sociale – and boy was it an eye opener.

Rousseau’s famous line:“man is born free, yet everywhere I see him in chains” resonates with me to this day. Rousseau’s answer for the existence of justice said to me that more fundamentally than exploitation, we are held back by convention.

Then I moved onto the other heavyweights: Hobbes, Locke, Mill and Burke. The collective achievement of these writers showed me the enormous progress western philosophy has taken to lift off the shackles of superstition, deference, and servitude.

I threw in other important writers, especially those who I would describe as confused socialists, Orwell and Camus. It was important for me to understand their relationship with socialism and why they turned their backs on international communism. For me, the story of Camus particularly is the most poignant

when your ideology justifies violence against others it is broken.

I recognise now that left-wing ideology fundamentally does not work. That is not to say right-wing ideology is any better. So, I sit now in the centre. That all changed when I read Schmidt, and now I don’t sit anywhere, I’ve just left the party altogether. Basically, I’m floundering on the floor in crushing cynicism.

So, what are the lessons I have learned so far?

  1. Marx was wrong: capitalism is not coming to roaring conclusion. It’s just not going to happen.
  2. Always be sceptical: no one has the right answer, they have only an answer.
  3. I am free: my life and destiny are entirely my responsibility.
  4. Power should remain within the individual: Governments cannot be trusted – delegating power will invariably lead to worse outcomes for people.
  5. Suffering is a part of the human condition: it is what we do with it that counts.

And what I recommend for people? Two words: Marcus Aurelius.

The Seperation of Powers

Inherent within our liberal democracies, the separation of powers doctrine is designed to ensure that no one branch of government can come to dominate the others. In simple terms, the executive cannot interpret law, the legislator cannot not enforce it, and the judiciary cannot (shouldn’t) create it. Reminding ourselves of this important doctrine could act as the basis for improving our democracies and re=empowring citizens.

This principle, widely recognised in the modern period, serves as a foundation for our political systems even today. The likes of Montesquieu, John Locke, and Rousseau pioneered the modern approach but the idea that the power of the government goes as far back as the Greeks. Herodotus, for example, noted distinctions between institutions as much as between factions within the Greek City-States,  and in the famous Constitutional Debate three Persian nobles debate the merits of government and the extent of its power. Inherent within Herodotus’ ideological scope is also the idea that political power should be limited.

Among ancient writers Polybius perhaps stands out from the rest. He famously argues that what made the Romans superior to the Greeks was their ability to harness Monarchy, Oligarchy and Democracy within one system. This was the Republic, or Res Publica to the Romans. By doing so the Romans were able to harness the benefits that each of these systems created whilst simultaneously mitigating the negative aspects of each system. Scholars to this day doubt that the system Polybius describes  ever existed and functioned as he would have us believe, but the staying power of this idea

had profound effect on later thinkers and leaders who founded our modern democracies. The Founding Fathers of the United States were particularly influenced and aimed to balance the powers of each branch of the government against one another and with the powers of the states. Indeed, among the Founding Fathers there was a fierce debate as to the balance of these powers and interests.

Some, like Thomas Jefferson fought tooth and nail to ensure that the Federal Government was not too strong, and advocated that Congress be the most important institution of the Republic. Others, like Alexander Hamilton, wanted a more centralized state lead by a strong executive represented by the President. Of course, over the centuries the balance of these powers has waxed and waned depending on the circumstance. This is true of the United States, and it is true elsewhere.

Important to understand within this concept of the separation of powers is the idea, or perhaps the recognition that power tends to accumulate and consolidate towards a single institution. This simple tenet led some political theorists in the early 20th century to turn towards fascism as the natural conclusion.

Robert Michels argued that within democratic structures there always exists an ‘Iron Law of Oligarchy’ progressively moving the democratic structures towards an oligarchical one that serves the interests of the few.

Karl Schmidt also thought that democracy created the conditions for fascism because each constitutional crisis lead to a consolidation of more powers within a single institution in order to resolve that crisis. This idea remains prevalent still today among those who believe that governments are concentrating too much power and leaving citizens feeling alienated from the political process, in turn feeding radical reactions on both sides of the political spectrum.

The separation of powers is the cornerstone of our modern liberal democracies. As our economies and societies become increasingly complex governments are struggling to maintain pace. This is turn places strains on the political system forcing governments to operate more efficiently. Unfortunately for citizens, this can mean a reduction in liberties and freedoms for the sake of efficiency. The consolidation of powers by an institution, or a group of institutions is often justified on this basis.

The democratic deficits that modern democracies are facing will not be solved by political powers who seek to “reform” institutions and make government processes more bureaucratic and obscurer for citizens.

Going back to the fundamentals of our democracies should act as the roadmap for governments and citizens alike. Personal freedom and legitimate means for citizens to control their lives outside of mere economic choices will lessen the democratic deficit and lead to less extremism on both sides of the political spectrum.

The Social Contract

The 4th of July gives us time to reflect on the age-old question, do people have the right to self-determination? Many have opposed this idea, and continue to do so even today. But liberal thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau give us cause to think that perhaps we do. Indeed, Locke, Rousseau and other such contemporary thinkers were influential for the American founding fathers when they drafted the American Declaration of Independence in 1776. A reading of Locke in particular suggests that there is in fact a right for all peoples to be able to self-determine their government which entails the right to secede from a pre-established order.

From as far back as Plato and Aristotle, humankind has continually asked how to organise itself. For Aristotle, this question was fundamental to human existence – hence he defined humans as ‘political animals’ and so, according to Aristotle, it is within our nature as humans to organise ourselves into political communities. Writing much later but in constant reference to Plato and Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau also attempted to answer these same questions by using a philosophical construct known as the social contract. This has been a radically persuasive argument ever since, and the foundation for much of our modern political discourse.

The State of Nature

The social contract describes how humans move from the state of nature to form the political community. The state of nature is outside the political community. Hobbes illustrates this as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” It’s a state of war against all, where humans have absolute license to do as they wish. The expression ‘nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted’ would aptly describe the state of nature to Hobbes. Everyone in the state of nature is equal.

Locke’s state of nature is different. Whereas Hobbes thinks it is a state of war against all, Locke thinks that because all are equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in their “life, health, liberty, or possessions”. For Locke, it is a law of nature that calls for the preservation of one’s “life, liberty health or goods” and when someone violates this natural law then there is a natural right in the state of nature to execute the law of nature and seek retribution, like for like. By violating the law of nature even in the state of nature the offender declares themself outside the bounds of reason and common equity,


Liberal thinkers all believe that humans are equal. This is an important departure from Plato and Aristotle who both agreed (but particularly the latter) that some are intended for slavery and others for freedom. Hobbes writes in chapter 13 of Leviathan that “nature hath made men so equal, in the faculties of body”. We also have an equal desire to attain the same things, which due to scarcity they cannot all enjoy. This creates conflict; and from conflict war. As equals all power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one has more power than another.

Freedom and Liberty in the State of Nature

In the state of nature, humankind is free to the greatest possible extent. Liberty in this sense is “the absence of external impediments […] to do what he would” (Leviathan, Chapter 14). It is a natural law that humans are free to do as their reasons determines because in the state of nature there is no one to stop us from doing so.

Locke describes the state of nature as follows: “the perfect freedom to order their actins and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature without asking leave or depending on the will of any other man”. In the state of nature, humankind is isolated from each other – a real Robinson Crusoe (as Rousseau put it), looking on the other in hostility. Locke adds though that the state of nature has some constraints. One is not free to dispose of their body (i.e. to commit suicide). The state of nature has a law of nature that governs it and obliges everyone (The Second Treatise of Government, Chapter 2).

Leaving the State of Nature

The state of nature is governed by certain rules of nature. The first law of nature for Hobbes is that humans naturally seek peace. The second, “that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far-forth as for peace and defence of himself he shall think it necessary […] and to be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would all ow other men against himself. In this way, Hobbes is saying that reaching a state of peace requires reciprocity from all parties.

Leaving the state of nature is to set aside certain rights for the sake of peace. Agreeing to seek peace equally between parties is the initial contract. Importantly, it is a voluntary act. One cannot be compelled by force to give up their rights. Rousseau notes (On the Social Contract, Book I, chapter 3) that “force is a physical power [without] moral effect. To yield to force is an act of necessity, not of will…let us then that force does not create right.”

And so for the sake of peace humankind agrees one among another equally that they shall lay down their rights to pursue war. This forms the basis of the social contract. As Rousseau (On the Social Contract Book I chapter 6) formulates it:

“These clauses, properly understood, may be reduced to one – the total alienation of each associate, together with all his rights to the whole community, for, in the first place, as each gives himself absolutely, the conditions are the same for all; and, this being so, no one has any interest in making them burdensome to others”

Creating the Political Community

Hobbes say that the end or purpose of the political community is the preservation of the self and to exit the state of nature. It cannot be a state where the individuals would be worse off than if they had stayed in the state of nature, otherwise the parties would not agree to leave the state of nature. As noted above, the conditions of the contract are to apply universally and to not favour one over another, and I only give up only so much of my power as I would have another have over me.

In the state of nature, we each are executors of the law of nature. But since none of us are omnipotent, and all of us have a subjective reality one of the most important aspects of the social contract is that disputes between parties should be adjudicated by a third party who can apply the collectively agreed upon laws. Thus, by entering the political community, we give up our right to seek retribution when another violate the law of nature.

This alienation of one’s rights to the other parties in the form of the political community creates political power. Political power is the “right of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community in the execution of the laws, and in the defence of the commonwealth from foreign injury and all this only for the public good” (The Second Treatise of Government, Chapter 1).

Hobbes writes that “covenants, without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.” This is an important distinction between Hobbes and other liberal thinkers because Hobbes believes that humankind is naturally vicious (in the sense that they will always tend towards vice if left alone) and therefore, for the sake of peace, the community needs a superior being, a Leviathan, to enforce the peace in the community. Hobbes observed, as Aristotle had before him, that some animals such as ants and bees live in societies without a coercive power. The difference between these animals however is that humans are, firstly, in constant competition for honour and dignity and thus, inversely, envious and hateful towards others, and secondly, the common good is identical to private good whereas for humans, the two are distinct from one another.

The political community therefore is for the sake of preserving the life, liberty, property and health of its members. Each of the members agrees to give up some of the liberty in order to live in peace with one another. Investing the community with political power arises from the transference of that natural right to seek retribution on those who violate the law of nature. The aggregation of this right is in turn executed by the community on those who seek to harm it, whether these be foreign powers, or members of the community who act outside of the laws of nature.

The Right to Self-Determination

From the above account it follows that individual have the right to self-determine their choice of government. This can be done peacefully, qua ritualistically, via free and fair elections, or they may do so violently, by overthrowing the government if the government is deemed to have acted in violation of the natural law.

It is notable that, all but Hobbes agreed that democracy was the best form of government for this reason. The fact that one voluntarily gives up their rights in order to join the political community suggests that one is free to also retract the transference of those rights and thereby return to the state of nature.

It remains to be seen then, if once agreed, a social contract can be dissolved. On this point, Locke and Rousseau are silent. Hobbes’ answer is as outlined above. That once transferred is cannot be given back and the sovereign has the right to enforce the peace of the commonwealth. Locke and Rousseau, who were both more liberal in their beliefs do not account for situations when a group of a society wishes to secede from a commonwealth.

The American Experiment

With that said we do know that the founding father of the United States were heavily influenced by the likes of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. The founding fathers used language directly taken from Locke’s Second Treatise of Government to justify their secession from England. It is no mistake that the opening phrase of the American Declaration of Independence reads as if Locke had written it himself,

“we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The founding fathers then go to list of the grievances against King George and reason why they were to wage war against him. It is perhaps the most famous case for the self-determination of a group of people. The Founding Fathers clearly saw that the social contract had been violated by King George, just as the English Parliament had in 1649 when they cut the head off Charles I.

The power of American experiment on political discourse ever since cannot be understated enough. It has determined the course of history ever since its inception and helped to inspire other revolutions around the world at the time, and afterwards, most notably the French Revolution.

Modern Times

In the 21st century, despite its enduring influence, the social contract and the right to determination do not maintain the same ideological place it once had. This has been due in part to the rise of Communism beginning in the 19th century which offered an alternative to liberal principles. Since the American revolution we have seen the rise and fall of fascism and communism and growth of modern capitalism on the back of four industrial revolutions. This is a different world to the one of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. But this shouldn’t mean that the power of their ideas should have any less relevance for us.

Reading List

(the links will take you to pdfs of the texts)


Aristotle, The Politics

Jean=Jacques Rousseau, On the Social Contract

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

John Locke, The Second Treatise of Government

The Honest Atheist

There are two types of atheist that exist, and only one intellectually honest position to take. On the one hand there are those atheists who claim that no god exists at all. This asserts a truth claim. The more intellectually honest position is the philosophically agnostic position. This group recognise it is not possible to even know whether god exists or not and therefore choose to take no position either way but otherwise live their lives (i.e. construct their moral edifice) as if no god involved itself. Fundamentally this is the only real difference between these two groups. In reality both live their lives as if god does not exist recognising that it is up to us humans to create the ‘heaven on earth’ which the religious seek in oblivion.

The likes of Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris sit firmly within the former group I described above. Their work sets out to show the inconsistencies of religious doctrine by using the scientific method, or what might be termed more generally as rationalism. The latter group, though not necessarily representative of all, reject this rationalist atheism on the grounds that it fails on its own premises. The rationalist seeks to order and the universe and to make sense of it, just as the theist does, albeit by alternative means. These are evangelising claims to the masses that we no longer need religion to explain our existence and we can find meaning in the universe using science. Moreover, the religious claim to moral rectitude no longer retains its merit given the history of religious intolerance and willful ignorance. The rationalists is therefore similar to the theist by searching for meaning in the universe.

Camus was an atheist who famously rejected rationalism. Camus asserts, rather than demonstrate that rationalism fails because he thinks that humans do not have the capacity to comprehend the universe. This is a part of the human condition and is what makes life absurd. We struggle our entire lives to make sense of a meaningless universe that we cannot possibly ever hope to make sense of. This contradiction between man’s search for meaning in a meaningless universe is at the heart of Camus’ notion of the Absurd: “The mind’s deepest desire, even in its most elaborate operations, parallels man’s unconscious feeling in the face of his universe: it is an insistence upon familiarity, an appetite for clarity. Understanding the world for a man is reducing it to the human, stamping it with his seal” (Sisyphus, p. 17). He clarifies that it is only mankind’s relation between itself and the universe which is absurd. Neither are absurd in isolation, only when they come into contact with one another.

Placed in the meaningless universe, searching for meaning, man believes his actions to be meaningful while all the while the clock ticks down until it is his turn to die. This is another aspect of the absurd which becomes clear in the final pages of L’Etranger when Meursault is confronted by the priest. The absurdist man comes across as indifferent to the world around him, as Meursault does, when in reality he has just recognised the meaninglessness of it all. Camus adds the absurd man expresses what he calls a ‘confession of ignorance’, similar to Socrates’ famous maxim, “I know that I know nothing.” In those final pages of L’Etranger, Meursault tells the priest that he does not have time to think about matters such as the existence or not of god. Instead, Meursault focuses on his experience of the here and now. L’Etranger ends with Meursault saying that he “felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again” (L’Etrangerp 123). Meursault is in the final state described at the end of The Myth of Sisyphus, where Camus claims that we must think of Sisyphus as happy as he descends from the mountain to push his rock once more up the hill (Sisyphus, p. 123). Thus, Camus’ Absurdism, prima facie is a rather pessimistic theory, but in reality is rather optimistic in its simplicity.

Camus rejects rationalism, and differs from the likes of Richard Dawkins, because, he says, our attempts to understand the universe are ultimately in vain, but only so for the reasons often ostensibly given for understanding the universe. Dawkins on the other hand claims that rationalism and science is just a better method for understanding the universe than a religious one. Ultimately Dawkins holds onto the notion that the universe has a meaning and which is best explained through science. Camus on the other hands says:

“You enumerate its laws (the universe’s) and in my thirst for knowledge I admit that they are true. You take apart its mechanisms and my hope increases. At the final stage you teach me that this wondrous and multi-coloured universe can be reduced to the atom and the atom itself can be reduced to the electron. All this is good and I wait for you to continue. But you tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this world to me in an image. I realise then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know…science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art” (Sisyphus, pp. 19-20).

The world just is and is, in itself, not reasonable. The questions metaphysicians and epistemologists ask about the nature of reality fundamentally do not concern Camus. The universe just is, and we are experiencing it. After all, it does not really matter if we are a brain in a vat someplace else; this is the reality we experience as it is:

“here are trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I feel its taste. The scents of grass and stars at night, certain feelings when the heart relaxes – how shall I negate this world who’s power and strength I feel?” (Sisyphus, p. 19).

Camus invites us then in the face of such meaninglessness to embrace a philosophy of the here and now. To enjoy the world around us despite our vain efforts to understand it. Camus’ notion of an absurd universe is one that I believe is the more intellectually honest position to take for atheists. Camus does not prove that god does not exist. Instead his idea is an extension of Nietzsche’s idea that god is dead. Camus is therefore more like the epicurean who says that god might exist, but, that if he does he has no bearing on existence. Therefore, Camus is the agnostic atheist. The moral implications of Camus’ absurdism is a subject for another essay, except to say, that again, Camus offers us a much better theory than what rationalists such as Dawkins can ever offer us.


The State of Democracy

In New Zealand we live in a supposed democracy. But what does this actually mean? Can the average person on the street honestly give a decent definition of democracy? I doubt they could, since people have a very limited knowledge of the political process and the context in which it has developed. Often, the slogan “by the people, for the people, of the people” is thrown about, but this is just a slogan, it has no real substance, it does not offer a detailed definition of this institution that we supposedly take seriously in our country.

In the present times, a period of mass media, fast-paced change and global interconnectedness where ideas are quickly exchanged, I think the real message behind democracy is lost on most people. Indeed, for many people, although you might say a small minority, democracy is out of favour for a plethora of reasons. Many believe that the politicians do not adequately represent us, while some believe that the process is cumbersome, slow, and hinders progress.

On one side we often have, in the vein of Russell Brand, those who look for a utopian egalitarian state. On the other side there are those who wish we could do away with democracy and hand power to those who provide the most for society, the business owners. Both sides of the argument have some important criticisms to make, and yet both sides detest each other, while simultaneously both wishing for the same the thing, getting rid of the current system. My own view on this is that the system is dysfunctional but those of the past can offer us some hope and a model by which we can move forward.

The disillusionment in democracy is unsurprising when society feels disconnected from the political process and each other. Those in power know this and benefit from our inaction all the while presenting a façade of concern that voter turnout is low. Sorry, to burst these people’s bubble, but voter turnout is not democracy. The Athenian democracy, which by all accounts is the first democracy, at least in the western tradition did not believe in electing people to make decisions. This, from the people who invented the very word democracy (demos = people, kratos = power).

The concept of voting to the Athenians was, in fact, undemocratic and in was used only for the election of generals out of necessity. The rest of the political system was direct whereby the people voted on issues themselves. Other aspects of the system were controlled by a glorified lottery system. Most importantly, the political ideology was controlled by the people. This means that issues affecting people were brought before the rest of the population to discuss and resolve. The system we live under is a far cry from what the Athenians had. Political ideology is controlled by those in power. We can see this when politicians offer change piecemeal, discuss issues that only they wish to discuss, pass laws to protect themselves in power and all the while blaming us, the people, those who put these people in power, for low voter turnout.

One of the greatest aspects of the Athenian system was its inner contradictions. On the one hand decisions had to be discussed by the population, while at the same time political consensus was essential for the state to function. The rich and powerful were subservient to the masses, and yet were the leaders of the state. The Athenian system gives us something to think about. While the people controlled what was discussed and the issues brought forward it was those most capable of leading who lead the state. The Athenians faced issues similar to our own such as: how should we redistribute wealth? How do we involve more people in the political process? How can we make the system more efficient and fair? More importantly, they asked and answered I think very capably, how do we stop a small minority of the population having too much power in the state.

Some argue that direct democracy is unrealistic because nothing would be accomplished if everybody had a say on every issue. This does not seem the case in Athens where the demos decided on all issues including foreign policy and even conducting war. This was in society that was not face-to-face as some people think, and perhaps even less so than our own, given that nowadays we can communicate quickly via the internet. We also ought not to forget that under the democracy Athens lived through one of the most important golden ages in history of unprecedented wealth. They built the Parthenon, and developed many of the things we take for granted in the 21st century.

We owe a great deal of gratitude to the Athenians. Despite their many flaws, they are more like us than we give them credit. The most important gifts to us are the ideas of political equality before the law and freedom of speech. The positive right for every citizen to have their say on any issue he pleased not just those offered to us by politicians. One’s advice might be ignored. Nevertheless, the citizen was included directly in the process. These important aspects supposedly underpin our democracy, yet while we each have the right to freedom of speech, this freedom has no real power anymore. Things in New Zealand might not be as bad as they are overseas, but this does not make it right to just neglect our principles are dabble in hypocrisy. If we supposedly care about democracy we ought to take notice. Before long it could be gone.

Ban Homeless People. Ah, Problem Fixed.

Can you believe that poor people actually exist. What’s more, we actually have to look at them! How dare they ask for money so they can eek out a bare existence sleeping on the streets of Auckland. Recently Larry Williams wrote an opinion piece in the New Zealand Herald, the right wing propaganda mouthpiece of middle class New Zealand. Apparently, homelessness has become a problem, nay, “scourge”, on the streets of Auckland and it’s high time the government do something about it.

I love how for people like Larry Williams and Bob Jones (whom Larry cites in his article), the solution to homelessness is to pass a law. Yeah, because laws just magically solve the problem. It’s not the system that puts these people on the street, no it’s simply their choice. To these people, being poor is a choice without actually thinking about the socio-economic reasons for poverty. If poverty was a choice then ostensibly no one would choose it, and we would all live in a utopia. Given the gross abundance of poverty in the world, I think it is safe to safe no one is choosing to be poor, the utopia doesn’t exist, and the right wing talking point of personal freedom is clearly shown to be baseless.

In regards to choice, however, people such as Williams will often point towards poor people’s bad spending habits. In this sense they claim people are poor because they are spending their disposable income on things they shouldn’t be. For this they rely on their own subjective anecdotal evidence, having seen ‘one of them’ in places such as McDonald’s. This leads to another common observation that they are also obese. Clearly they are eating well because is they were actually poor they wouldn’t be able to afford food and they would be skinny. Again, Larry and other right wing hacks fail to actually account for the psychological reasons underpinning people’s desire to eat unhealthily. Such phenomena are compounded by the low cost and mass production of this food.

Heaven forbid however the government actually attempts to tackle these underlying problems through means such as taxes on sugar and fat. So while its okay for Larry to patronise people he sees as beneath him, its not okay for the government to do so to him, even though theoretically the government is meant to be the manifestation of society’s will, which if anything is the only acceptable form of patronising. However I digress.

I think Larry Williams has a hard time thinking that other people actually exist. He mustn’t even think that other people might have the same, or similar, hopes, dreams, and desires as he does. He sees the poor, not as people he can relate to, but indeed, the Other. Someone to contrast and construct his own identity from. This process dehumanises and relegates the issue of homelessness and poverty to an issue that can be solved with positivist law.

The basic legality of any anti-homelessness law should also be brought into question. One fundemental human right recognised for hundreds, if not, thousands of years by humankind, is the right to free movement (slavery notwithstanding obviously). People should be able to move around as they please. It’s only with the invention of provate property have we made the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable freedom of movement. In New Zealand, we recognise this distinction legally between public and private land. When he forbid people from owning the foreshore around New Zealand we think it normal, right, and good that all Kiwis can access beaches and the ocean no matter where they are (there are exceptions to this of course but the point remain nonetheless).

Thus, how can Larry Williams claim that the poor shouldn’t be allowed to sit on the street. It is public property after all. No one owns that land, except perhaps the government. Even so, it is declared public land to be used by the public i.e. by everyone. Homeless people are using it, just not in the way that you like. If people are choosing to be poor, as Larry claims they are, then it follows also by his own reasoning that they are choosing to sit and sleep where they wish. It seems rather hypocritical for Larry to chastise these people for choosing to sit around doing nothing all day drinking and getting high, in other words, being poor, and in the same breathe say they shouldn’t be able to do.

Along this slippery slope Larry will continue to wander mindlessly. I bet that if pressed hard enough Larry would be in favour of forcing the homeless to work in exchange for food and shelter without considering for one second the ramifications of what he is actually advocating. But Larry does not care. And why would be? When he sits up there on his comfortable upper middle class high-horse wanting freedom and personal liberty, what he is really saying is freedom and liberty for me and the people I like, but sorry not for anyone else.

Larry Williams calls homeless people a scourge on our society. It is so ironic that in fact it is people like him, unsympathetic, ignorant, selfish, weaselly little men who see the world in black and white. For all their talk of freedom and personal liberty, these are the people are the most slavish of all. They are slaves ideologically, intellectually, and economically. Larry Williams is the face, or rather, the voice, of a system that oppresses  and exploits the poor and then turns around and blames them for being poor.


If You are Dying You Should be Looking for Work

New Zealanders think their country is a land of milk and honey. While this might be true if you live on a dairy farm which also keeps bees, nothing could be farther from the truth. There are systemic problems in New Zealand society that have flow on effects. These problems should make us question our morals and ethics as a nation, and yet, they don’t.

Many of us Kiwis are raised to be ambitious and wanting the most out of life. This is certainly a cause for praise. However, a culture of stupidity pervades society and is best represented in the sounds that some might call words spilling forth from politicians’ word holes. This rhetoric is meant to appeal to ‘middle’ New Zealand, and it does, very much so. Indeed, ‘middle’ New Zealand dominates the political landscape, but is, unfortunately, populated by stupid uneducated people. Labour and the Greens have lost ground in the last ten years to National precisely because National speaks a unique dialect of stupid which middle New Zealand laps up.

If one was to ask an average New Zealander what the ‘social contract’ is they might probably think it had something to do with dole bludging and welfare. Successive governments have violated the New Zealand social contract systematically. When people don’t learn, or understand, what the social contract is, they are ignorant of the fact governments have power because we cede power to them in exchange for certain things.

One of those things is to be looked after and cared for when we are sick. You pay taxes so that others might have proper healthcare, and also so that, in the event you become sick, there is a wellspring of support for you and your family. Not so if you might literally be dying in New Zealand. No the government in response to Middle New Zealand’s desire to stop them dole bludging loser from stealing their tax dollars, have set up a benefits system whereby you can be literally dying and they will ask you to still look for work.

We have come to the point in New Zealand where ethics no longer factor into any social equation. Recently, the government changed the benefit system, requiring all those previously on the sickness benefit to now prove they are sick and also continue to search for work. If you are going to demand people who are quite literally on their death bed to work, we might as well just get rid of the pension scheme and make everyone work till they die.

Minister Anne Tolley’s response to issues raised by the Cancer Society illustrates that the New Zealand government is run by a well-oiled machine of chipmunks. Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has defended the system of making cancer patients prove their illness and asking them to look for work, saying the government had to draw a line somewhere, and giving special consideration to cancer patients would undermine the simplicity of the benefits scheme. Things in New Zealand need to be simplified so the humble idea of helping another person when they are down might be palatable to people.

This is just a taste of the dark side of New Zealand. At moments like these some people call for the masses to “wake up!” I won’t give that advice today. No, today I am asking New Zealand to go read a book or two so they can understand that we can’t just let stupid people control the political discourse. We can let a bureaucracy of chipmunks led by the supreme leader John Chipmunk destroy what little conscience New Zealand has left.

At the end of the day, we give up power to the government in exchange for certain rights and guarantees. It’s time we actually demanded these things from government. Let’s start by telling dying people, “Actually no, you don’t have to work right now, just focus on getting better.”

Les Artisans De Notre Paysage Intellectuel:La Séparation et La Distinction entre Logos and Mûthos

Nous vivons en démocratie, quand nous tombons malades, nous nous tournons vers la médecine et les médecins pour nous guérir, nous croyons en eu justice la loi, et nous utilisons les mathématiques de Pythagore dans nos vies quotidiennes. En Europe, il suffit de sortir pour voir l’influence de l’architecture grecque. Cependant, s’il y a une chose que les Grecs nous ont légué, et ce qui serait la plus importante? Pour moi, c’est la philosophie et la science. Je les mets ensemble parce qu’á l’époque, les penseurs grecs n’ont pas fait la distinction entre les deux comme nous le faisons aujourd’hui.

Pour eux, ils sont les deux faces de la même médaille. Cette relation étroite a eu une profonde influence sur l’histoire, notamment l’histoire de la religion qui se poursuit encore aujourd’hui. Cependant, je veux aller plus loin, plus fondamental, et dire que ce n’est pas seulement la science et la philosophie per se, mais, en fait, quelque chose plus fondamentale de la pensée qui sous-tend ces sujets, qui a eu l’influence la plus profonde sur la société contemporaine partout dans le monde. Donc, aujourd’hui, je vais essayer de discuter de la forme fondamentale de la pensée des Grecs dans le cadre de la science et de la philosophie d’une part, et de la religion de l’autre.

À un certain moment dans le passé, science et religion ont été différenciées. Linguistiquement en ancienne grec, nous avons deux mots qui résument avec justesse cette situation. D’une part, nous avons le mot mûthos, à partir duquel nous obtenons le mot mythologie. Ce mot signifie en grec, « discours formulé, que ce soit une histoire, un dialogue ou l’énonciation d’un plan.» L’autre mot, logos, à partir duquel nous recevons beaucoup de mots comme la logique, la biologie, la technologie et cetera, à l’origine il signifie également la parole dans un sens général. Cependant, entre les 8e et 4e siècles avant Jésus Christ mûthos et logos deviennent des termes séparés et distingués. Nous pouvons remercier les Grecs pour cette distinction. Lorsque nous comprenons mieux les conditions dans lesquelles ces mots deviennent non seulement distingués, mais aussi en contraste l’uns de l’autre, nous apprenons aussi beaucoup sur la façon dont les Grecs pensent en y réfléchissant, j’espère que, nous pouvons aussi en apprendre plus sur la façon dont nous pensons aujourd’hui dans un monde où le débat entre laïcité et religion est de plus en plus passionné. Le n’est pas une coïncidence si aujourd’hui religion et science semblent anatomiquement opposés une á l’autre. Le débat qui fait rage aujourd’hui entre les deux côtés n’est pas un nouveau combat, propre à l’époque moderne. Ce débat a fait rage pendant des milliers d’années et il a commencé il y a 2700 ans en Grèce, quand le philosophe grec Thalès se mit à répondre à des questions sur la nature au moyen de démonstrations.

Au huitième siècle avant Jésus Christ les Grecs commencent à écrire. Commence alors la lente évolution d’une société de tradition orale en une société où l’écriture permet la conservation des connaissances collectives et du discours public. Au sixième siècle l’écrit est si développé que nous pouvons retracer les débuts de plusieurs genres littéraires différents. Ainsi, par exemple, l’Iliade et l’Odyssée sont écrites dans les formes que nous connaissons aujourd’hui. La poésie sous diverses formes commence à fleurir et se développe dans la dernière partie du siècle dans la tragédie, puis la comédie. Nous recevons aussi les premiers traités de médecine, ouvrages philosophiques, textes géographiques et de la documentation publique sous la forme d’inscriptions. Plus tard au cinquième siècle, nous obtenons des textes historiques et de la prose philosophique remplace la poésie philosophique (pour la plupart). Ces évolutions sont indispensables pour le développement du logos, ou argument rationnel. Car, non seulement le fait de communiquer dans une certaine langue, mais aussi la manière dont on communique, représente un autre mode de pensée par exemple, via les différents genres littéraires. On peut mieux comprendre ce mode de pensée en pensent la différence entre dire la poésie et un article de Wikipédia. La poésie est très symbolique et joue sur l’esprit d’une façon diffèrent d’un article de Wikipédia indiquant les faits. Les sociétés orales diffèrent des sociétés littéraires parce que « l’organisation du discours écrit va de pair avec une analyse plus rigoureuse et la commande stricte du matériel conceptuel ». Ainsi, ce n’est pas seulement le contenu lui-même, mais la façon dont il est organisé qui est différente. C’est un tournant pour la séparation des récits mythologiques traditionnels et de nouveau récits, plus rationnels, de la réalité.

Le philosophe, contre revendications des techniques persuasives de l’argumentation rhétorique avec les procédures démonstratives sur le modèle des processus déductifs utilisés par les mathématiciens qui travaillent avec des nombres et des figures géométriques. De cette façon, comme l’écart entre mûthos et logos s’agrandit, le processus se reproduit. Aristote, par exemple, en exposant ses différentes catégories est simplement retombé sur les catégories fondamentales de la langue dans laquelle il pense. En outre, quelqu’un comme Aristote ne rendre pas seulement explicites les relations logiques de sa langue, mais pense également dans la langue d’un philosophe. Par conséquent, le logos et le mûthos ont dévié l’un de l’autre au point où le logos devient non seulement «parole» simple, mais aussi la rationalité démonstrative, et en opposition complète à la fois dans sa forme et dans sa signification fondamentale au mûthos.

Grâce à la forme du discours écrit, le logos est plus exigeant sur l’esprit. Son objectif est d’établir la vérité de l’affaire par investigation qui fait appel à la raison critique du lecteur seul. Dans un sens, cela égalise le terrain de jeu. L’instauration de logos dans sa forme écrite signifie que les arguments ne peuvent plus être gagnés ou perdus uniquement sur la base de l’éloquence de l’orateur. L’organisation interne d’un texte écrit correspond à une logique qui implique désormais une forme de débat dans lequel chaque côté argumente dans des conditions d’égalité avec les arguments et contre-argument, aboutissant à la vérité a partir de raisons avancées dans le texte devant eux. Les Grecs eux-mêmes sont très conscients de cela. Thucydide écrit au début de son oeuvre.

« L’absence de merveilleux dans mes récits les rendra peut-être moins agréables à entendre. Il me suffira que ceux qui veulent voir clair dans les faits passés et, par conséquent, aussi dans les faits analogues que l’avenir selon la loi des choses humaines ne peut manquer de ramener, jugent utile mon histoire. C’est une oeuvre d’un profit solide et durable plutôt qu’un morceau d’apparat composé pour une satisfaction d’un instant. » (Thuc. 1.22.4)

Dans son histoire, Thucydide ne se préoccupe pas de simples histoires, mais de la dure réalité de la situation. Les faits parlent d’eux-mêmes et sont accessibles à tous. En effet, le mot grec pour histoire est historia qui signifie enquête. Le même engagement envers les faits, pour ainsi dire, est aussi prolifique dans les textes médicaux et philosophiques. Commentant dans la Métaphysique sur théologiens, Aristote dit:

« Hésiode et tous les Théologiens n’ont cherché que ce qui pouvait les convaincre eux-mêmes, et n’ont pas songé à nous. Des principes ils font des dieux, et les dieux ont produit toutes choses […] quant à nous, nous ne comprenons même pas comment ils ont pu trouver là des causes […] Mais nous n’avons pas besoin de soumettre à un examen approfondi, des inventions fabuleuses. Adressons-nous donc à ceux qui raisonnent et se servent de démonstrations, et demandons-leur comment il se fait que, sortis des mêmes principes, quelques-uns des êtres ont une nature éternelle, tandis que les autres sont sujets à destruction. » (Meta.III.1000a)

Ainsi, le logos se distingue de mûthos de telle manière que le logos suggère une reconnaissance d’une réalité objective qui est observable et est en mesure d’être comprise. Depuis des millénaires, cette idée a été débattue par les philosophes au sujet de l’épistémologie. Au 21e siècle, la science cognitive commence enfin à donner de nouvelles lignes de pensée.

La citation ci-dessus d’Aristote indique clairement la distinction entre mûthos et logos. Ils sont si distincts au quatrième siècle, qu’Aristote dit que nous ne comprenons pas les théologiens. Le dialogue entre les deux parties est devenu similaire au débat d’aujourd’hui entre religion et laïcité où souvent il semble que les deux parties ne s’écoutent pas. La raison de cette rupture est intrinsèque à la langue et la forme de pensée. Mûthos, ou discours spirituel est beaucoup plus symbolique et parle d’une forme de pensée totalement différent de celle de logos et il est moins intéressé à répondre aux questions de «ce qui est». Le mûthoi de différentes cultures et religions sont différenciés temporellement et spatialement si bien que même deux personnes parlant sous la forme d’un mûthos ne peuvent même pas se comprendre les uns des autres. Les Grecs, par exemple, pensent d’une manière très bipartite et le mûthos des Grecs est mieux comprise comme une description de tensions et contrastes interdépendants qui permettent aux Grecs de comprendre l’univers. Ce système bipartite est prolifique dans les sociétés primitives encore aujourd’hui où le noir est opposée au blanc, la gauche à la droite, le bon du mauvais, les hommes des femmes et cetera. Un tel système bipolaire fait sens superficiellement pour nous en tant qu’observateurs, mais nous reconnaissons également qu’il est complètement différent de notre propre forme de pensée. Ainsi, alors qu’Aristote et les théologiens pourraient parler la même langue, ils occupent différentes formes de pensée. Aristote pense sous la forme de la pensée en tant que philosophe, il voit le monde à travers le logos, tandis que les théologiens voient le monde à travers le prisme du mûthos. Les deux sont incompatibles entre eux.

En tant qu’historien l’un des textes les plus fascinants pour moi est les Histoires d’Hérodote. Il a probablement été la première personne à écrire en prose. Il vivait à une époque ou la paysage intellectuel était en mutation. Son oeuvre contient beaucoup de mûthos. Cependant, son travail démontre aussi le premier vrai engagement avec objectivité. Pour voir comment le logos s’est développé, je voudrais comparer l’introduction des Histoires avec l’introduction de l’Iliade d’Homère, le premier ouvrage jamais écrit dans la littérature occidentale, et qui démontre clairement la forme de la pensée du mûthos. Les cinq premières lignes sont:

« Chante, déesse, du Pèlèiade Akhilleus la colère désastreuse, qui de maux infinis accabla les Akhaiens, et précipita chez Aidès tant de fortes âmes de héros, livrés eux-mêmes en pâture aux chiens et à tous les oiseaux carnassiers. Et le dessein de Zeus s’accomplissait ainsi. » (Hom, Il, I.1-5)

Le premier mot en grec est la colère. Le deuxième mot est chanter, et le troisième mot est déesse. Ensemble, ces trois mots sont importants. Le poète fait appel à une déesse pour l’aider à chanter la colère d’Achille. Le chant se réfère à la manière dont le mûthos sera livré et le poète ne se réfère pas à lui-même, mais à la volonté divine dans sa tentative de livrer l’histoire. A l’issue de l’introduction ligne cinq le poète réaffirme la connexion au divin avec la ligne “ainsi le plan de Zeus est venu à son accomplissement”.

Quand on compare cela avec les Histoires d’Hérodote nous pouvons remarquer quelques similitudes, mais plus important encore, les différences marquées dans les premières lignes de l’ouvrage. Hérodote commence en écrivant:

« En présentant au public ces recherches, Hérodote d’Halicarnasse se propose de préserver de l’oubli les actions des hommes, de célébrer les grandes et merveilleuses actions des Grecs et des Barbares, et, indépendamment de toutes ces choses, de développer les motifs qui les portèrent à se faire la guerre. » (Hdt. Histoire, préambule)

De nouveau, en référant au texte original, Hérodote commence en se référant directement à lui-même. Puis il se réfère à la manière dont il livrera son travail en utilisant deux mots importantes historia et apodexis. Historia est le mot pour investigation alors qu’apodexis signifie démonstration. Ici nous pouvons clairement voir une rupture entre logos et mûthos. La forme complète de la pensée a changé. Hérodote ne ressent pas le besoin de faire appel à un dieu pour raconter son investigation d’événement réel qu’il vise à démontrer. Tout cela pour dire qu’Hérodote n’est pas un hyper-rationaliste. Loin de là, en fait. Tout au long de son oeuvre, un soupçon de divin se fait sentir mais il est clair que, dans l’ouverture de son oeuvre monumentale, Hérodote se réfère à la fois à ses prédécesseurs tout en se détachant d’eux.

Platon est également très critique envers le mûthos notamment dans sa capacité à manipuler les gens, surtout les jeunes. Il bannit de façon célèbre presque tout mûthos dans la République pour son influence corruptrice sur la jeunesse. Cependant, dans un de mes dialogues préférés l’Ion de Platon fait un travail de démolition philosophique d’Ion qui est un rhapsode. Un rhapsode est en Grèce antique quelqu’un qui mémorise les poèmes épiques d’Homère et d’Hésiode et voyager de ville en ville donnant des spectacles et des conseils. Ces personnes étaient généralement bien respectées dans les communautés grecques et Platon détestait cela parce qu’ils n’etaient pas engagés au logos et à la vérité de la même manière qu’il l’était. Ainsi, à la fin du court dialogue, Socrate a montré qu’Ion est un imbécile et indigne de tout respect de la communauté.

Ce qui est frappant à propos du logos c’est son universalité. Le même engagement à démontrer la réalité à travers le logos se poursuit aujourd’hui, presque dans tous les domaines de nos vies. La façon dont Platon traite Ion dans l’Ion est tout aussi vraie aujourd’hui qu’elle l’était à l’époque. Nous avons relégué mûthos à la religion et l’aven mis de côté. Ceci est la raison pour laquelle beaucoup de gens ont commencé à dire que la religion est de plus en plus redondante au 21e siècle, ce même sentiment semble avoir été exprimé par Platon et beaucoup d’autres il y a 2500 ans. Le logos est universel parce que, même si Aristote et la foule d’autres penseurs grecs pourrait être avoir catégoriquement tort sur presque tout ce qu’ils disaient au sujet de la science, la biologie, la chimie, la physiques et cetera, ils ont néanmoins, développé une méthodologie pour établir la vérité par la démonstration et la rationalité qui sont encore d’actualité aujourd’hui – ils nous ont essentiellement donné les fondations de notre paysage intellectuel. Pour cela, nous leur devons beaucoup de gratitude et, je pense, le respect intellectuel. En effet, dans le domaine de la philosophie, Aristote et Platon sont encore étudiés à ce jour, encore plus qu’avant. Les gens semblent avoir oublié que le siècle des Lumières a été déclenché par des hommes comme Copernic, Galilée et Newton, qui étaient eux-mêmes étudiants engagés de la philosophie antique et la science. Galileo était, entre autre, un platonicien. Peut-être que dans les pages de Platon, d’Aristote, et d’autres penseurs grecs, les premiers penseurs des Lumières ont trouvé une nouvelle source d’inspiration pour l’engagement à démontrer la réalité via le logos après des siècles de mûthos chrétien ajoutés á l’aristotélisme corrompu.

Ainsi, même si Copernic, Galilée et Newton ont démarré la révolution scientifique à l’époque moderne, nous devons tout autant aux Grecs de nous avoir transmis une tradition universelle de la critique et du questionnement distingué d’abord dans leur propre langue entre mûthos et logos. Il y a une leçon à en tirer pour notre époque. Le débat moderne entre la religion et la laïcité peut parfois sembler frustrant pour les deux parties parce que l’un des côtés ne semble pas comprendre l’autre. Je pense que, ce que les Grecs peuvent nous apprendre, est qu’il n’y a pas un côté stupide ou ignorant, mais plutôt une différente de la forme de la pensée, une différence entre mûthos et logos. Il est important de noter que le mûthos devrait ne plus être considéré, en fait plus de tout. Cependant, le rôle du mûthos dans le monde moderne est un autre sujet, pour le moment, remerciés les Grecs de nous avoir offert ce formidable courant de investigation rationnelle scientifique.

NZ Fun Police Strike Again

The political establishment from all sides have rallied this week against freedom of speech and expression. Wicked Campervans, a holiday van hire company, graffiti their vans with ‘offensive’ art and slogans for marketing purposes to distinguish themselves from the other players in the field. Admittedly the slogans are sexist, crass, and might even say, rude. In other news apparently government ministers from both sides of the aisle received memos from the North Korean regime instructing them on how to crush differing opinions that do not fit within the narrow band of white middle-class discourse.

New Zealanders think they are supporters of freedom, a centre pillar of which is the freedom to say and express whatever they will. It’s a shame though that New Zealanders wouldn’t recognise a political principle if it were a grain of sand on a beach. “Freedom of speech, but only in certain circumstances, and only for me”. Those that defend the company’s right to have these slogans on their vans generally say that it’s funny and people need to get a sense of humour. While this might be true, all one needs to do is point to the principle of freedom of speech. Voltaire has been misquoted as saying that, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” This doesn’t just apply to political rhetoric. All speech is protected, even the most heinous and odious.

People who disagree with the company’s rhetoric say they should be censored, and forced to change their vans because it offends them. One woman worried about the kids! Always the kids! Their precious little minds if exposed to such words might shatter into a thousand tiny pieces. Guess what fucktards your shitty arguments offend me, and my mind might explode in second if you don’t shut up. Does that mean I should censor you? No. Of course not, because that would be ridiculous. I’m being hyperbolic to get my point across. Since people disagree on what is and isn’t offensive in different times and places, the principle of freedom to express whatever one wishes, has the added bonus that we don’t have to decide. Everything is on the table, we all free to say what we will, and no one has the right to censor any other.

But how then do we stop an anarchic state of mud-slinging from developing in public discourse. Through reason. Liberal ideas that most of us all agree with in the 21st century have come about because they have been argued for with stronger reasoned arguments, not because we forcibly shut our opponents’ mouths. If you think sexism is wrong, have some reasons for that, not just because you were told to think that way. Censoring people like Wicked Campers does nothing to educate the young people of the difference between acceptable and unacceptable public discourse. If parents are worried that their children will be exposed to such content, they should do their jobs as parents and teach their children to think for themselves critically and to recognise of their own fruition that sexist comments are wrong.

The involvement of the government in all of this demonstrates firstly that they don’t give a crap about freedom of speech, and second, they will swing on the pendulum of public opinion in order to appear as though they are expressing the will of the majority. Some things are off the table for discussion for a reason; to stop dipshit governments from attacking fundamental rights. The worst part of the government’s role in this however is the crackdown on fun they are so hell-bent on pursuing. The vans’ slogans are intended as jokes, and are meant to be a bit of fun. As soon as anyone has fun outside the narrow band of middle white New Zealand the sky falls in and people go into a nervous meltdown worse than any Fukushima or Chernobyl.

New Zealanders like the person who wrote this article ( need to grow up, and maybe read a book or two on political rights. There are more important things happening in the world than some words on the backs of some vans. Instead of writing easy fluff pieces about how the nation is outraged at some “not very nice looking vans”, how’s about they do their job and critique the government.

The Plot to End All Plots…

Game of Thrones (GOT) will soon air its sixth season and here are some key plot points that occur. Nothing, followed by hours of nothing, before finally ending with an event that moves the plot along an inch at a time. As a reluctant fan of the show I have finally had enough. I will no longer be watching a show that just keeps stringing me along for 10 hours at a time just to watch one badass scene. This, and several other reasons are just some of the problems in the television series of Game of Thrones and I feel it’s time that someone put apologist fans in their place.

Note that I aim my criticism specifically at the show for two related reasons. The first is that I have not read the books, which doesn’t mean I am somehow unqualified to express my opinion on the show (see below). The second reason is because my criticism is directed at the show as a medium to express the story of George R.R. Martin’s books. The fact that the series has now caught up to the books and the stories now divergent from one another is a clear example of how the two entities are distinct from one another.

My greatest criticism with GOT is that nothing happens. Each season can be summed up in a few simple phrases. Season 1: Ned no head. Season 2: dragons burn some peeps. Season 3: red wedding. Season 4: wall fight. Season 5: Jon dead. These are the major plot points of GOT and it takes 50 hours to see them all. Because of the medium in which the plot plays out, GOT is not a good story for television. Television, cinema and to a similar extent, theatre, all share distinct similarities that distinguish them from other forms of media, such as literature or music. As mediums for narrative they are ill suited to the incredible depth of the GOT thrones universe.

All works are limited in their scope and length and some mediums are better suited to long and convoluted plots. This is one reason why many people will say “the books are better than the movie”. Books allow authors to construct narratives at a much slower pace, and the details and significant themes of the plot are revealed through one means of exchange – written words. That the books are almost always better I can believe to be true (one could take exception to Twilight which in any medium is utter trash). For the fantasy genre, this is certainly true. One only has to compare the books of the Lord of Rings, the Hobbit, or Harry Potter with the films to make this point clear. This is not to say those films are bad however. It is generally agreed that Peter Jackson did a phenomenal job with Lord the Rings in its scope and depth as films. Even he would be quick to agree though that they are fundamentally different from the books. Books are a far better medium in which to express convoluted plots.

Movies and television on the other hand are completely different.Movies can be the most challenging because of the collaboration between the producer, director, and writer can make or break a film. Films are limited in their scope because they are a very visceral experience. Film multiple senses at once and the great films are ones that stimulate multiple senses, in just the right way,while giving the audience the story.

Star Wars is a perfect example of good and bad cinema. According to Rotten Tomatoes, The Empire Strikes Back is considered the best of the 6 (original and prequel trilogies) films created . Probably because it combines the best elements of cinematography and storytelling to create a cohesive story. In cinema it is not just what the characters say but the camera angles and visual metaphors that play a larger role in the storytelling. The scene when Luke confronts Darth Vader/himself on Dagobah is a perfect example of this. The sequence makes use of the elements of cinema to tell the audience what is happening without the need for a character to be explaining what is happening.

The prequels on the other hand, do not make any use of this sort of storytelling. The prequels are dialogue heavy with fight scenes thrown into the mix. This is a reason why they are bad storytelling in a cinema context. Indeed, on paper the prequels might have looked better than they did when it came time for George Lucas to bring them to life on the silver screen.

Television is similar to movies, except that it is both restricted in some aspects and at liberty in other elements. Story arcs can typically play out over several hours which constitute an entire season. Each episode needs to move the plot along however; otherwise audiences will become disinterested. There is less of an emphasis on visual metaphors or symbolism for the most part. A series like season one of True Detective is a fine example of television at its best. Each episode plays an integral role in the season, and the season ends with a definitive ending. True Detective is perhaps not analogous to GOT because it was intended as an anthology. Nevertheless, the same principles should apply in any good television show. Audiences need to experience catharsis and closure.

With this is mind, my main criticism of GOT is that there are too many characters with very little plot going into each season. The amount of characters in GOT is a common criticism, and fan apologists claim that:

“The fabric of George R.R. Martin’s world is so intertwined and rich in background detail that even removing a character of little significance could snowball and cause a problem later…”

This is a poor excuse, and instead of defending GOT, in reality it proves my point that the expansive work of GOT is not suitable material for a television series. In each episode characters get 10 maybe 15 mins of air time. Some characters are wholly absent for long stretches of time. The audience is forced to remember back to what happened to them in a previous episode or season fast forward to the scene at hand, and before anything meaningful happens in terms of plot, the scene cuts away to follow another character. This makes the pacing of the plot akin to that of a snail. My criticism here is not that we have trouble remembering what happened in the past, but that it takes two or three weeks for just one plot element to play out on the screen in front of us. This kind of pacing is fine in books because as I noted above, books are a different medium and are better suited to long complex plot points.

An example that I hope illustrates my point are the seven episodes Jaime Lannister spends in a cage (2.1-2.8) before taking a trip with Brienne of Tarth to return Jaime to King’s Landing for 13 episodes (2.8-4.1). It takes an entire season. 13 hours! 13 hours to watch Jaime Lannister travel from Rob Stark’s army in the north south to King’s Landing. Now, you could say there is are a lot of other events playing out, but this doesn’t rebut the essential point that the pacing of the show is slow due to the amount of characters in the story. I shall reiterate that this does not make GOT a bad story. In terms of story for television however, it is far too large for the small screen.

True Detective by comparison centers around two main characters. The attempt to expand this to three in the second season failed miserably. Two seems to be perfect number for the genre of crime television. GOT has upwards of 40 main characters with supporting cast. Seasons last ten episodes, each episode one hour long, and fans a strung along hour after hour, season after season just watching a series of minor plot points play out. The number of characters is problem that I feel is beginning to effect other series hoping to ride off the wave of GOT’s success with a mass audience.

My first example is Arrow which airs on the CW. This series has always had two plots running simultaneously which was never really a problem because it largely involved the same character in each storyline. The main cast was also limited to four or five people in the first season before expanding in subsequent seasons to include, the tech girl, his sister, the second sidekick, the ex-gf turned ninja, the other ex-gf turned screeching person. The current season has been the weakest by far.

Another series, Vikings, has also been effected in this way. In the first season Ragnar was able to sail to England, twice, and become earl of Kattegat. In the last season all he managed to do was attack Paris after some events in England. This season we are five episodes in and we are subjected to three concurrent plot lines in Wessex, Paris, and Norway (Kattegat and Hedeby) and although the plot continues to advance in good step I fear the continued influence of GOT will drive the show to a point where nothing happens and we have to watch multiple seasons just to see the plot move along.

One final point. A reason for slower pacing of a plot can make events seem more monumental. This might be the case, but the Battle of Blackwater, while a spectacular sequence, is nothing in comparison to the Helm’s Deep sequence in LOTR: The Two Towers. My point here is that slower pacing leading to a monumental event might work once, maybe twice, but when your show revolves around this single premise, the formula becomes tired quickly.

I’m calling bullshit on GOT this year. I won’t be watching it until I have watched this new coat of paint dry in my lounge, and after that ten more coats. That’s what I would rather be doing than continue to watch the giant cock tease that it GOT. To all those watching this year I say good luck. Maybe you’ll 30 more seconds of a White Walker. Maybe you’ll get a glimpse of a dragon. Shit, Daenerys might actually make it Westeros. In the meantime, as you sit there week after week waiting, praying, pleading for something to happen just stop for one minute and question whether anything meaningful has actually happened in the episode.


I think its number 3, the other reasons are non criticisms just put there for click-bait.