Something slightly more philosophical

I’m not quite sure why, but I don’t think that I’ve often, if at all, mentioned the Philosophy in Pubs group that I run in either this blog, or on Twitter. I think that whilst political opinions are openly and robustly discussed at the Philosophy group, I have probably tried to keep this group at a little distance from my overtly party political activities and comments. It may also be that I don’t wish to give the group any more publicity than it already receives – a monthly column in the Bridport Times magazine. Largely as a result of this monthly column, attendance at the monthly discussions has been, well, shall we say, very healthy, sometimes bordering being a bit too healthy. Once you start getting more than 20 people together to discuss an issue it becomes difficult to control and ensure that everyone has a chance to engage.

So, why am I writing about it now? Well, quite simply, because, following last week’s meeting, it is dominating my thoughts. For two reasons: what we discussed at this meeting, and what we agreed to discuss at next month’s meeting. The question chewed over last week was: Can or should technology be ethically neutral? I will avoid summarising a direct answer to this question here (if you want one, see the April edition of Bridport Times) and instead focus on some thoughts that came to me as a result of our discussion.

These concern the extent to which technologies like social media have the power to change social norms and embody new norms; the degree to which these technologies can directly influence our perception or understanding of the world. I’m thinking particularly of how easy it is to use abusive or threatening language against someone who you have never, and are unlikely to ever meet; how our language to others can be normalised without the opportunity of direct social engagement. Or how teenagers learn about sexual norms from pornography rather than the fumbling embarrassments of direct sexual experiment. Up until very recently new norms have developed slowly. They have evolved. Those that have proved useful have been retained, those that have not have been lost. And the test has always been direct social feedback, feedback that has been nuanced by other body language and social context – feedback that now comes in the form of a simple, context-free ‘like’.

At the next meeting we agreed to discuss fashion. Yes, fashion…the philosophy of fashion. This has come about because of my association with Transition Town Bridport. Every year TTB run ‘Green Fortnight’ – a series of events around the town aimed at raising public awareness of a particular aspect of developing and living a sustainable way of life. As this year’s event is focussing on fashion I rather casually suggested to the person leading on the event that we devote a PiP session to discussing its philosophical aspects. Now I had completely forgot about this when I received an email from the organiser asking if this was actually happening. Fortunately this arrived the day before our PiP meeting, and when I suggested it to the group the idea was very favourably received – especially as I offered to introduce the topic myself. So my project for the coming week will be to do some research and thinking into fashion from a philosophical perspective, something that will be completely new to me, but something that I’m actually quite looking forward to. I will report back in a subsequent post.

Another area of research that has been dominating my thoughts for the last couple of years concerns the role that stories and narratives play in our lives; the extent to which we use them to structure and give our lives meaning and purpose. More particularly, I’ve been thinking about the extent to which meta-narratives, those over-arching narratives such as supplied by religion, or more recently supplied by our dominant economic model, supply what we take to be common sense. I’ve been following this line of thinking because I suspect that one of the main reasons why so many of us accept, at one level, that our climate is starting to breakdown and become a problem for human societies, but at another level refrain from taking the necessary action, is because it will retard economic growth or development – and this feels like it is contravening good old common sense. Fortunately I have been invited to talk at a number of local climate related events in the next couple of months, so will have an opportunity to test my thinking in live debate – always the best test!

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