Shadows

It is with great pride that I can announce that my new album Shadows is out now.

Bringing this project to fruition has been a long and at times challenging process. This album deals with a difficult part of my life that I now think in thankfully behind me. I always feel a bit odd about writing about the meaning of instrumental music, as strictly speaking the music has no explicit message. What I hope it does convey is some of the emotions I was experiencing and the struggle that goes on inside every one of us between hope and despair.

Whilst the bass is featured heavily on most of the tracks I hope that those who hear Shadows will think of it as yet another one of those solo albums by bass players that can be so tedious to listen to. Whatever it’s musical shortcomings I am proud of the fact that I am not subjecting the listener to overly long piece of work. Out of al of the tracks that I recorded for this project I have tried to be ruthless in cutting what is unnecessary. Hopefully what remains is only the best material. That said, t is impossible to maintain critical distance from your own work. Because of this I cannot speak directly the Shadows artistic merit. In a world that is so oversaturated with music one must think carefully about putting yet more out there. Clearly I believe my work to be deserving of an audience or I would have not released it in the first place. For those in a rush I think the strongest track is Hope.

Writing this work has challenged me, I am used to writing with others and as this is a purely solo project I had no one else to fall back on or draw inspiration from. Completing work on your own requires a discipline that I am not used to. I am grateful that the muse has allowed me to conqueror my demons this time and finish something entirely guided by my own wishes. Most of the music was completed before the pandemic took hold, but it seems appropriate that in an age of isolation I should release Shadows.

My thanks go to Robin Newman who mixed and mastered all of the songs. The first mixes he produced were so good that very few changes were requested by me. Not only has he helped me with sculpting the audio but also answered all of my mixing questions no matter how stupid or silly they were.

Looking forward, I hope to get Shadows out on CD too, but this may take some time.

I do not expect many people to hear Shadows . To those who chose to spend some of their time with my music you have my gratitude. I hope you enjoy the journey.

Toby Coe

London, 2021

Schopenhauer’s Pessimism

This piece assumes some knowledge of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, here is an excellent introduction. I will do my best to explain the elements of his philosophy pertinent to the following discussion, but only very briefly.

Schopenhauer believed that the world is an expression of a blind force: the will. Through blind striving it produces the continuation of the species and life in general. Humans spend their lives as slaves to this omnipresent will and it is the cause of suffering. Humanity is the result of the will being objectified through the operations of consciousness (time, space and causality). In this piece, I want to examine the reasons for Schopenhauer’s pessimism and propose an alternative perspective.

Throughout Shopenhauer’s writing he rightly brings attention to the suffering that is experienced by all forms of life on a constant basis. However, he errs by not also talking about the many wonderful things this ephemeral existence of ours has to offer. It feels as if he has made his mind a long time ago about the meaning of life and stuck to this belief no matter what happened to him subsequently. R.J Hollingdale thinks this, and says this in his introduction to a collection Schopenhauer’s later writings that Schopenhauer was afflicted by an “… immovability of mind1.” which meant the beliefs of his early life he stubbornly carried with him into his later years. His belief that life is essentially meaningless seems to have come from bad experiences he had in as a young man, Hollingdale contends that the two years he spent working as a clerk after the death of his father were so miserable that the negative attitude towards life in general became an “irremovable part of his make-up2“. His suborn attitude can seen in the fact that in his main philosophical work The World As Will And Representation he has almost nothing to say about the positive aspects of life at all. Nor in any of his subsequent work has he changed his mind. Setting aside psychological explanation I will now examine the reasons for he presents for his pessimistic outlook. I will try and show how he was mistaken and what a more balanced outlook on life might be.

The Case For Pessimism

The first argument Schopenhauer uses for the essentially meaninglessness of life is that the metaphysical whole from which all individuals are representation of is in essence blind and without purpose that brings forth individuals into lives of suffering: “Awakened to life out of the night of unconsciousness, the will finds itself as an individual in and endless and boundless world , among innumerable individuals , all striving , suffering and erring 3…” We can see this most clearly in the forces of nature which operate without any agency. As we move higher up the hierarchy of being that Schopenhauer calls levels of wills objectification we arrive at animal life, at this level of complexity all we can perceive and endless struggle for reproduction and survival in having this insight he has discovered the basic premise of Darwinian thought many years before Darwin’s time. Moving next to the level of sophistication,namely, human society we see that humanity is also engaged in similarly brutal and harsh existence. Many die every day of disease, poverty, are enslaved and become the victims of war and oppression. If these fates are avoided then they often become trapped in what Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation” unable to do what they truly want but instead subject to the will of another whether that be family, employer or government.

The second argument Schopenhauer uses is that pleasure is essentially negative and ultimately empty; no sooner are our desires satisfied than our cravings are renewed afresh and must be satisfied again. “All satisfaction or what is commonly called happiness, is really and essentially always negative 4….” We become trapped in a vicious cycle of pleasure seeking that ultimately leads nowhere. This claim has a great deal of factual weight behind it, we have only to consult our own experience to see countless examples of such a dynamic. For example, on a hot day when I am thirsty the need for a drink becomes all consuming. When my thirst is quenched I am deeply satisfied. However, this satisfaction is only temporary. If I have another drink the effect is not nearly as strong and decreases with each drink I have. Eventually, my mind wanders to considering the next desire that must be fulfilled, and so on…

Schopenhauer believed that the only ultimate release from perpetual cycle of desire, toil, satisfaction and unhappiness is death. Aside from this, the only route of escape he saw a being possible in this life was living a life of aestheticism; as the saints of all religions have done. He recognized that his teaching had many similarities with those of Buddhism and Christianity in so far as they preach the denial of the will and a life of self sacrifice and hardship as preferable to one of hedonism. Further, that they have pessimistic views of the external world and its ability to deliver us happiness and fulfillment. However, Schopenhauer errs here in that he has not paid very close attention to the contents of the gospels, for as much a Jesus advocated poverty and simplicity of living he also turned water into wine. He is also reported to have to have in John 10:10 that “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” In light of this a life of pure aestheticism is not totally consistent with the teachings of Jesus.

Schopenhauer was the first philosopher to take the role of art seriously. He thought that through the aesthetic experience consciousness could temporarily be relieved from the dominance of what we would now refer to as the ego. I am going to use the word “will” (in the metaphysical and psychological sense) and “ego” interchangeably. He also believed this escape was also possible through the operation of an unusually strong intellect, that this is what makes the discoveries of genius possible. Great minds were endowed with an excessive amount of the intellect capacity that was more than the bare minimum by required by the will/ego for the practical matters of life. Further, that occasionally the intellect is able to escape the service of will and operate freely in the same way we are able to escape the its dominance through aesthetic experience. Crucially, he thought any dethroning of will could only ever be only temporary that even the most gifted were still subject to its dominance most of the time. This idea is supported by the evidence of the greatest artist and intellectuals have had the capacity to be as narrow minded and petty as anyone else. Kant complained that the inmates at the prison near his house sang too loudly. The famous architect Brunelleschi pretended to unwell in order to to show up a rival who was working on a project with him. Schopenhauer himself unwittingly proved his own point by pushing a woman down the stairs outside his apartment because she was making too much noise.

The tragedy in Schopenhauer’s philosophy is that he believed without living a life of pure aestheticism release from the dominance of the will was impossible. That the most that could be hoped for were fleeting moments of reprieve in a life otherwise controlled by the selfish agenda of the ego. He never seriously considered the idea that any form of enlightenment was possible without a life of privation. It is said the Buddha only found enlightenment once he had given up aestheticism. Further, that as described in this excellent video the pursuit of deprivation for its own sake can never constitute a true release from attachment as implicit in the pursuit itself is an attachment, namely, an attachment to the avoiding pleasure. In erring on this matter we must not judge Schopenhauer too harshly. According to Eckhart Tolle some Buddhists think enlightenment is “just for the Buddha5“. The belief that the the will/ego can be never be defeated permanently is a a widespread one. Even if such a total defeat was not possible would not even the slightest loosening grip of the ego’s control over our lives be a wonderful thing? It seems to me that Schopenhauer like myself in the past had decided this was not possible in advance and had therefore never tried.

What of Schopenhauer’s arguments for the futility of life? Regarding the purposelessness of existence in general it is by no means clear that this is the case. For although the forces of nature of evolution appear to operate without purpose this purposelessness and existence these thoughts are inexorably linked to our perspective as human beings. To an ant the foot that squashes is not capable of being attributed with any concept of agency, as agency is not part of the ant’s mental framework. However, from the perspective of the person stepping on the ant all sorts of motives can be attached to the action. As an idealist Schopenhauer should have appreciated this. To be clear, I am not trying to smuggle any teleological explanation of the universe here. However, it must remain an open question from a purely philosophical perspective as whether existence has a purpose. For is entirely possible that there is a purpose to life that is beyond of the capacity of our cognitive abilities or that some aspects are comprehensible, whilst others are simply out of reach. We simply do not know. Schopenhauer’s mistake is to jump from the conclusion that life appears to be meaningless (an idea supported by evidence) to the far stronger conclusion that this is must be the case of a metaphysical level. In some respects this mistake is similar to the mistaking of appearance for reality that he lambasts materialists for.

The second argument Schopenhauer’s uses, namely, the futility of all desiring in general is backed by a great deal of psychological evidence but is it true? For are there also not those who live lives of contentment also? Who do fall victim to the hedonic treadmill on occasion but are able to see it for what it is and are not deceived by it. Schopenhauer does not see this possibility except outside the realm of sainthood. This is clearly a mistake, this attitude may have been motivated by the snobbery that was a large component of his outlook on life, he is forever contrasting the brilliant intellectual and artists with the generic and replaceable mass of mankind. He clearly sees himself as part of the former category. The problem with this attitude is not that there is no such thing as those who are uncommonly talented and exceptional. His mistake is to fixated on the extremes of the human condition rather than seeing all achievements spiritual or otherwise as existing on a continuum. Even if the will (in the metaphysical sense) cannot be totally defeated perhaps meaningful victories are possible. Further, that such questions cannot merely be answered by philosophical reasoning alone, an investigation into what is possible in the human experience must be done on a empirical basis also. This is not to say Schopenhauer did not partially conduct such an investigation; he lived in many different countries throughout his life and read widely. Rather, the deficiency is that even if he did not see examples of more ordinary levels of enlightenment he did not consider the possibility seriously. Instead, he dismissed it on theoretical grounds.

In summary, both of Schopenhauer’s arguments for the inherent futility of life are insufficient. In his defense it must be pointed out that much philosophy prior to him had been characterized by a misguided optimism. The classic example being Leibniz’s idea that we live in the of the best of all possible worlds. Schopenhauer correctly shows the this idea cannot make sense of the vast amount of suffering in the world. However, by arguing against one extreme of belief he ends up advocating an equally extreme position that life is inherently futile. This position cannot make sense of all that is undoubtedly good about life. The two opposing positions cancel each other out.

The Alternative

If life can have a meaning what meaning should we give to it? I fear a blog post is not going to answer such a perennial question. However, what I hope I can achieve is to outline an approach to the question.

First, I must a make a crucial distinction this is between what I know intuitively and what can be established within the bounds of reason. The theologian Hans Kung persuasively argued in his work Does God Exist? that nihilism and specifically the ideas espoused by Nietzsche rest on shaky foundations. That the fundamental meaninglessness of life is something that does not accurately take into account all aspects of reality “For fundamental trust can also accept the element of truth in fundamental mistrust -the nullity of reality- while, on the other hand, fundamental mistrust cannot recognize any element of truth fundamental trust, any reality in all the nullity. Hence the attitude of fundamental trust , and this alone, is open to reality in its uncertainty6. This asymmetry reveals to us the that fundamental trust is the more rational attitude to life. However, one might argue that a false dichotomy has been set up here, surely, a third intermediate attitude is possible? Where one maintains an ambivalent attitude to life neither fully trusting nor wholly rejecting its meaningfulness. Kung could easily respond to this criticism by saying that the alternative I am describing is really just a lesser form of nihilism and thus can still be fitted into the his conceptual schema. In light of this, the criticism I have offered is not fatal to Kung’s project but we must bare in mind that he has not considered all options. Reason can establish (although tentatively) that life having meaning is a rationally defensible position.

It is my belief that intuitively we can know on a deeper level that life is meaningful with no reference to reason. That when the egoic consciousness is stripped away we are able to feel a freedom that his hard to describe. Over and over again such experiences of transcendence have been reported by those in the most desperate and wretched circumstances. I must make it clear that I am not trying to glamorize suffering nor pretend that all suffering is somehow for the good. What I wish to assert is that within a dark situation the opportunity for transcendence is always present, it is up to us whether we take it or not. Each of us most confront the riddle of life for ourselves and decide which way we chose to go. Suffering is a bottomless pit, that if we allow it to will consume us. Even in materially prosperous societies where there is little poverty many still suffer. The path to true happiness lies within not without.

In closing, it is a tragedy that Schopenhauer came so close to a deeper happiness but never discovered it. However, his stubbornness also aided him by enabling him to continually promote his philosophy decade after, decade whilst being almost totally ignored by the public and his intellectual peers. If he had not been so single minded it is possible he would never have completed his works and his writings would not have been transmitted to our time. For all the mistakes Schopenhauer made there is much of great value in his philosophy. His style is direct and conversational, his style is free of needless technical jargon and technical nit picking that which plagues modern philosophy. At times when reading him you feel as if he is speaking directly to you. It is my firm belief that his stubborn commitment to his work in face of many obstacles was not misguided. It is my hope that one day his philosophy will be appreciated more widely.

Triumph and Unease, The Rise of Nerd Culture

One of my few memories I have of primary school was being given a teased because I was reading The Lord of The Rings. At that time all things fantasy and sci-fi were definitely not cool; skateboarding and sports were cool. As a young boy I could never have predicted the great cultural reversal that has taken place in the last decades. Even the meat heads who I practice martial arts with have all watched the Avengers film Endgame and probably all of the proceeding titles to boot. What happened? How has our cultural world been turned upside down? I will do my best to answer this question and through this specific change try to understand how culture has changes in general.

For me it all started fittingly with Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptations of The Lord of The Rings. What he achieved with these films was to take what is sprawling and inaccessible story, which is full of obscure lore and an unmanageable large cast of characters and render it into something accessible. At the same time retaining the Wagnerian imagery and emotional power that made the books resonate so deeply with so many. The films went on to be wildly successful both commercially and critically. This I believe was the genesis of the new cultural trajectory. For surely somewhere in Hollywood a light bulb must have turned on in the head of many a film executive when they realized that nerds were willing to shell out to see cinematic renderings of beloved classics. Further, that the even those who were not hardcore fans were sucked into the orbit of these pieces by the minority who were obsessive in their devotion the sci-fi and fantasy genre. This has lead in turn to more “mainstream” titles being fully or partially displaced. This logic was proved by the earlier massive success of Star Wars which although is by comparison with Lord of The Rings quite light in terms of the complexity and intellectual challenge is none the less definitely nerdy. Another precursor to the turn in the cultural tide was the explosion in popularity for the Pokemon card game (which despite being an avid collector of the cards I never played), cartoons and films. The key difference between this and the success of the The Lord of The Rings is that Pokemon was always bounded to the younger generation and never shed its childish connotations in a way that it could be adopted by adults without some element of embarrassment, at least this was my experience growing up, now this has to some extent changed which I will discuss later.

By contrast, the success of The Lord of The Rings crossed boundaries of age, as the older generation fondly remembered the books and and the younger gained access to Tolkien’s universe through the films. Of course, there were purists who despised both the literalness that comes with the cinematic rendering of a book and the boiling down of the narrative to its barest essentials. In my experience these were a minority.

Next came the early Spiderman films staring Tobey Maguire, this development was portentous as it paved the way for every comic book no matter how stupid to be turned into a film. Once the flood gates were opened a vast quantity of such films were released, there was simply too much money to be made. This is not to say that the spate of comic book adaptations that came after this were all devoid of artistic merit, many of the Xmen films where decent. However, clearly the majority were motivated as all Hollywood blockbusters are by narrowly commercial concerns.

At the same time in the early 2000s information technology began exerting more and more influence over peoples lives, as a result many in the tech world were becoming exceedingly wealthy. The rise of the nerd in the business world is perhaps connected to the rise of nerd culture. For surely money and power have always been sources of prestige. By attain these things the nerds by proxy legitimatized the cultural expressions of this identity.

This change in our cultural landscape leaves me with a sense of vertigo and unease. the main source of this being that the changes in culture bear eerie parallels with changing generational dynamics. For fantasy and especially the type of fantasy epitomized by the popular Marvel and DC comics is childish. In many comics the motivations of the characters, the emphasis on action and the simplistic the morality are childish (although it must be said much that is considered “adult” could also be guilty of these sins). Have not the lives of millennials become increasingly indicative of a an eternal pseudo adolescence? Fewer and fewer people will have will children many still live with their parents well into their 20s and beyond. What I am not suggesting that the cultural change has caused a change in lifestyle, rather, that the two trends have occurred in parallel and each has reinforced the other. It is the infantalisation of the adult that the rise of nerd culture symbolizes. I say this as someone who is undoubtedly a nerd, I work in IT, not a day goes by when I am not interacting with one form of device or another, the majority of fiction that I have read is of the sci-fi/fantasy genre.

Part of my mistrust must surely stems from the resentment that arises when something that you used to feel was the exclusive property of you and other connoisseurs is now the property of the masses. There is an element of snobbery here which cannot be denied. In my defense, I think some of this feeling are justified. For example, the films of the The Lord of The Rings have largely supplanted the books, the memories I had of the books are supplanted by the styling of the cinematic depiction. The clunkier parts of the books were largely evaporated away from the plot of the films (with the exception of the extended editions) . This boiling down is necessary for the purposes of adaptation but removes much of what was charming from the original story. As tedious as many of the passages in the trilogy were to read they added a sense of depth and eccentricity to the narrative that linked them to strangeness of the ancient myths and legends Tolkien was inspired by. The removal of this elements can make the narrative of the films feel flimsy by comparison. Further, this theme occurs again in again in the adaption of any narrative that originally appeared in book form to film regardless of genre. Whilst the two mediums are not mutually exclusive but I cannot help but feel that in many cases the reduced low fat narrative of the film has supplanted the original. Here I must also add that in some cases this taking liberties with the original plot can lead to improvements, especially if the story being adapted was not very good in the first place.

Is my unease justified? Or a mere exercise in snobbery? One way of answering this questions is to consider the qualities of both the mediums. Is there is an inherent difference between events depicted in film and those of the written word beyond the surface and obvious? One key difference is the way they are experienced by the viewer. In the cinema you are a passive observer of the action rather than an active participant. By contrast, a book requires the reader to engage their mind and imagination with the work. A film through its immersive quality can silence the viewer’s critical faculties in a way that a book simply cannot. This is not to say their cannot be thought provoking films, but that their ability to impose their message on the mind of the viewer is far stronger due to the passive state they induce. In light of this, we can see how a bad film is far worse than a bad book, for a bad book does create as immediate an effect on the mind than the written word. The violence done to the mind by a low quality work is greater. Further, that the simplification of narrative and concept that the film encourages increases the likelihood a film will be bad as consequence of its medium. In so far as this is true my unease is justified. Unease is not the same a condemnation; I do not share Roger Scruton’s wholesale opposition to film as a medium.

Another question that should be asked is what this shift in taste can tell us about mass culture? Does it operate by a sort of logic? Or are its operations blind and purposeless? Earlier, I have argued the former. That the changes in culture has run in parallel with the changes in the world at large. Further, that they can to limited extent influence each other. As this influence can only be observed through the similarities between the two trends it is impossible to say with any precision how accurate this conjecture is and if it is true which of the two trends is the more influential. There is undoubtedly a element of cultural change that is cyclical and presumably the dominance of nerd culture is itself part of one of these larger cycles. Contrastingly, there is an element of cultural change that is undoubtedly random, I can remember when for brief period of time blue suits were all the rage in central London; now they are nowhere to be seen. It is as if they were like freak growth of some plant triggered by unusual conditions; blooming quickly but then disappearing.

However, the rise of nerd culture has by this point had many years of upward trajectory and cannot simply be dismissed as a fad or something that is likely to go away any time soon. As many societies in some respects have become increasingly anti-social might this lead to a counter reaction to a life excessively based in the world of fantasy and by proxy the internet, which in many ways embodies the idea of a fantasy world. It offers types of interaction that is simply impossible face to face or by any other medium. Further, the ability to adopt any number of pseudonyms that Edward Snowden so eloquently describes in his memoir Permanent Record, means that a user can indulge in any number of fictional existences. Surely the dominance of the internet over almost every aspect of modern society must also be symbiotic with the cultural changes under discussion? For the “real” world has increasingly become transformed through the application of internet based tools whether this be shopping, dating, careers or socializing. One consequence of this is that stereotypical interests of the computer programmers behind this change have a cachet to them that previously did not exist. Science fiction seems less ridiculous and overblown when our lives are increasingly dominated by the influence of technology.

To conclude, whatever comes next culturally after this phase (if we are indeed in a transitory state affairs rather than something permanent) is unknowable. However, a reactionary move against the constant presence, for better and for worse, of technology in our lives seems likely. I am skeptical that this could ever reach the level of mass culture as surely the vast majority of people seems to be happy with the convenience and new opportunities technology affords. To buy into some new cultural option they must surely turn against it analogue in the everyday world as well. Until this happens I suspect that any wider change in the cultural landscape is unlikely.

What Is Normal?

Today more than ever we hear about the need to return to “normal” or the even more choice phrase “new normal”. The philosophically minded when presented with such statements must ask: what is normal? What was normality?

To avoid banal generalities I am going to try and stick to what I know which is the situation in the UK. Although I may at times refer to “The West” for stylistic reasons what I am really talking about is the UK.

The relationship of the citizen to the government has taken on more and more of the characteristics of the master-slave relationship set forth by Hegel. The master and the slave both depend on each other for mutual recognition of the other’s self consciousness. The government finds meaning in imposing it’s will on the citizens, the citizens find significance through following the directives of the government. This dynamic has always been present in British society but has reached unprecedented levels currently. As far as I am aware it is now a item of law whether one is allowed to meet another person outside of one’s household. A undeniable and important component of any return to normality will be a retreat of government from people’s private life. Whilst there must be pressure on them to do this as soon as possible, I fear that there is nothing more permanent than the temporary. That as the state spends more and more money that it is not recuperating via taxation it may have to seek more rapacious means of maintaining it’s existence. Also, there is the practical point that long after the virus has been vanquished the fear surrounding it and the possibility of a new variant or some other disease taking hold can be used as a political carte blanche to enforce whatever measures it wants. To be clear, I am not passing judgement on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of such fears. What I am commenting on is how they will likely be used by unscrupulous leadership. If the past is any indicator of future behavior it seems that people will broadly speaking comply with whatever deprivations are imposed on them. On this front, I see no return to normality any time soon.

Speaking about the cultural sphere in The West in the broadest sense it appears that all discourse outside of a few isolated channels and dissenting voices is dominated by left-wing or progressive thinking. As these ideas gain more and more dominance and are often spread in very intolerant and unquestioning way. An example, of this are the recent move of all major brands to embrace some idea of social justice or racial equality for obviously cynical reasons. Very little real progress (by the standards of those who hold progressive beliefs) will be achieved. When people who diverge to whatever extent from these beliefs feel threatened they may be sparked in a counter reaction which creates further polarization. Alternatively, people will simply express publicly all the right opinions, whilst in private they sharpen their knives. This duplicity will mean that the appearance of an increasingly “progressive” society will continue a pace, whist underneath the surface little or substance will change. To be clear, I am not against a more equal or fairer society in principle. What I object to are the coercive means that are deployed to achieve it that are ultimately counter productive.

Despite the spate of censorship by internet platforms it is still the case that you are far more free to think what you want in the relatively anarchic internet than you will ever be in “real” world. I should qualify this statement by saying that certain views although controversial are too obscure to attract the sort of critical mass of attention that is required for something to be frowned upon in the first place. An example of this being those who think that both the mainstream left and right in this country are intellectually bankrupt. Such an opinion is so far out of the norm and has so few adherents that it can be safely ignored by the powers that be. Especially, when this distention is not combined with an “extremist” ideology, I use scare quotes because every original idea that has ever been proposed was at some point labelled as “extreme” by those with vested interest against change. The printing press was not a welcome development in the eyes of many in Europe that the censorship mechanism that was the original copyright laws were put in place in England to control it. The thought that women deserved to treated the same as men was also a once a radical idea.

On the fringe of what is acceptable today you may see the orthodoxy of tomorrow. I remember laughing at tourists from Asia because they were wearing face masks. How ridiculous they looked, I laughed at their obviously unfounded paranoia. Now the rest of the world has adopted what was previously viewed by as lunacy. I do not mean this in a snobbish way but if you look at the history of ideas you see again and again an intransigent and ideologically committed minority leading the passive majority. We see this the rise of fascism, Marxism and now socialism (perhaps the most widespread and enduring of “isms”). Observing this pattern can make one cynical as to the prospect of any real progress or meaningful change. Are not the vast majority of us asleep? Are we not largely guided by subtle currents of influence and brainwashed by advertising? Are we not lost in a sea of media (mainstream or otherwise) and content that is impossible to process?

Today many seem to care about the environment, I am broadly in favor of this. But the question must be asked, why do they care? Is it through a project of individual research or discovery? Or is it simply that they care because they have been told to care incessantly from every imaginable source. The outcome of such messaging is not as distressing as the effectiveness of this light brain washing. For surely if it can be used for fairly vanilla purposes it can also be used for darker ones too. So to return to original question: what is normal? Normal can be whatever you are told repeatedly and asked to adopt unquestioningly. Beliefs that are truly a matter of choice cannot be categorized as “normal”· For example, in the UK we are free to believe in whatever religion or lack thereof we choose. In light of this being religious cannot be described as “normal”. It is a item of choice. Following UK lock down restrictions is not an item of choice, paying taxes is not an item of choice. Normality is very valuable to those who need it to justify their existence and it must be maintained at all costs. This said, I do not want be seen to be sliding here into a fashionable and toothless anarchism. Talk is cheap. What I would offer is this advice: if you are told to do something repeatedly by those who have no skin in the game question it1.

Normality is also a great comfort and a necessary one in cruel and uncertain world we live in. The absence of normality is often accompanied by poverty, deprivation and unease. From the security of normality people can make plans, start a business, a family and take risks. The normal development of children is entirely dependent on the strength of the mother-child relationship. In its absence psychological and physical disorders of all kinds are inflicted on the child. In light of this positive aspect of normal it is easy to understand why it is so dogmatically enforced and how under the canopy of its virtues so much that is pernicious is smuggled in. Fundamentally almost all people desire some basic level of comfort and provision for the necessities of life. Without these we are so caught up in the struggle for survival that we can never grow or try anything new. In my own case, I was so busy last year trying to survive economically that a mild unease underpinned many of the things I did. However, is there not a element of normality that has the effect of a sedative? For when everything is following a trajectory that we feel in control of our desire to question and interrogate our experience pacified. The necessity of criticism and inquiry is obvious when something has gone wrong. The need is far less obvious, and seen by some as pathology, when all is well.

Our society is becoming increasingly autistic the ubiquity of smartphones has lead to a atrophy of our social abilities. The post pandemic world that we inhabit seems to the logical conclusion of a trend that has been occurring for years. There is something very Hegelian about the way the agenda our society is becoming more and more anti-social. We are in the midst of a great social experiment, will the eventual lifting of restrictions lead to change of course in human relations where we finally realize that we need to wean ourselves off our addiction to social media? Alternatively, the trajectory we are on may remain stubbornly unaltered as people are drawn inexorably under the spell of big tech. I say these things as a nerd who makes living in IT and has learnt immeasurable amounts from internet (this blog could not exist without it). It is not technology I am opposed to without it I would be greatly impoverished: financially, intellectually, artistically and emotionally. What I am against is the how discourse online is increasingly controlled by a cabal of companies that can remove and censor user content at whim. Of course, if the user base makes a decisive move away from them they are in trouble, so to some extent we get the internet we deserve. Hopefully recent events online will be wake up call to many that we are too dependent on a few businesses to provide all of our services on the internet. A more diverse ecosystem must replace this.

The break with normality that be caused by the pandemic has clearly been seen by many as ideological opportunity the somewhat sinister phrase “build back better” has somehow entered currency. The questions must be raised as to who will be doing the building and who will be directing it? For if it primarily guided by existing power structures I fear we will get the same again and worse.

In conclusion, a simple recommendation or condemnation of normality is simply no intellectually viable. The associations it contains are complex and also to a great extent relative. In light of this it defies simple analysis. I have done my best to shed some light on the issue but must admit there is so much more that could be said. I will revisit this topic at a later date to see what has changed and what is merely the familiar disguised as novelty. I want to be an optimist but I fear such a outlook may be delusional. This crisis will undoubtedly serve as a great distraction; whilst we are living in fear and struggling those highly placed have license to do things they would not normally get away with. The idea of a vaccine passport would have been unthinkable before, now it is openly discussed. It is short hop from this to a bio metric passport. The invasion of personal freedom shows no signs of slowing down.