عَشِقَ | عِشْق

need not ‘want’

The Art of Love --- Ovid


Should anyone here in Rome lack finesse at love-making,
Let him
Try me – read my book, and the results are guaranteed.
Technique is the secret. Charioteer, sailor, oarsman,
All need it.
Technique can control
Love himself.


— From “The Art of Love” by Ovid (2 C.E.)

The Art of Love --- by Ovid
Cyan Magenta Yellow Black

a♡bibliography

01.Beautiful “&” Sublime
02.📕 The Kama Sutra (c. 369 B.C.E.)
03.📕 The Art of Love (2 C.E.)
04.📕 The Arabian Nights (10th c. onward)
05.📕 The Perfumed Garden (15th c.)
06.📕 The Carnal Prayer Mat (1696)
07.📕 Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748)
08.📕 120 Days of Sodom (1785, published: 1904)
09.📕 Flowers of Evil (1857)
10.📕 Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928)
11.📕 Story of the Eye (1928)
12.📕 Tropic of Cancer (1934)
13.📕 Delta of Venus (1940s, published: 1977)
14.📕 The Story of O (1954)
15.📕 Lolita (1955)


I WANT YOU
I NEED YOU
I NEED YOU
I NEED YOU

REFERENCES (on request)

Al Nafzawi, M. (1989 [15th c.]). The Perfumed Garden: First illustrated edition of Sir Richard Burton’s translation. London: Hamlyn/Octopus Publishing Group/Hachette Livre/Lagardère Publishing.

Bataille, G. (2001 [1928]). Story of the Eye. London: Penguin Classics.

Baudelaire, C. (2016 [1857]). Flowers of Evil (duel text edition). London: Alma Classics.

Cleland, J. (2000 [1748]). Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. Ware, Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth Classics.

De Sade, M. (2016 [1785/1904]). 120 Days of Sodom. London: Penguin Classics.

Desclos, A. [Réage, P.] (1994 [1954]). The Story of O. London: Corgi Books/Transworld Publishers Ltd./Penguin Random House/Bertelsmann.

Haksa, A. N. D. (Translator). (2012 [369 B.C.E.]). Kama Sutra: A Guide to the Art of Pleasure. London: Penguin Classics.

Irwin, R., Lyons, M. &, Lyons, U. [Translators] (2010 [10th c.]a). The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights (Volume I). London: Penguin Classics.

Irwin, R., Lyons, M. &, Lyons, U. [Translators] (2010 [10th c.]b). The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights (Volume II). London: Penguin Classics.

Irwin, R., Lyons, M. &, Lyons, U. [Translators] (2010 [10th c.]c). The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights (Volume III). London: Penguin Classics.

Lawrence, D. H. (2006 [1928]). Lady Chatterley’s Lover. London: Penguin Classics.

Li, Y. (1991 [1657]). The Carnal Prayer Mat. Ware, Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth Classic Erotica.

Miller, H. (2005 [1934]). Tropic of Cancer. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.

Nabokov, V. (2005 [1955]). Lolita: 50th anniversary edition. London: Vintage Books/Knopf Doubleday Publishing.

Nin, A. (2000 [1940s/1977]). Delta of Venus. London: Penguin Classics.

Ovid (2012 [2 C.E.]). The Art of Love. London: Vintage Publishing/Alfred A. Knopf.

Lit.’s “LIT,” literally

The wannabe wordsmith’s
redacted //

📁 Conrad et al.  |  📁 Plath   |  📁 Walcott



I love my one&only as do poets love the poetry that kills them, as do sailors the sea that drowns them.

^ Adapted a little &, agreed:


The classics can console. But not enough . . .

A while back, as per the curriculum’s instructions, I was discovering the works of Toni Morrison. Now a similar set of instructions invites me to investigate the works of Derek Walcott. Like flotsam I’m adrift, listing and teetering, buoyed a bit — only just — by the Gulf stream’s salinity (or should I say in fact the Dead Sea’s? You tell me for, what occurred in the arena and environs of what’s today named Palestine, really underpins all that we call the Western canon of literature). I dwell, I’m sure you’ve ‘deduced’ — you [2nd pl.], the fabled fictitious, as in you aren’t at all there, you; you [2nd sing.], the mercurial one whose mental whereabouts is a mystery to humankind n beast alike — in Arabia Deserta. That is, the region above Arabia Felix — from desert to orange grove, yeah right, no, think Queen of Sheba, the heat of a relentless afternoon in Sana’a and the incessant burn of insatiable internal desire; a constant unflinching flame — and, below Arabia Petraea — that I’ll expand and add to Palestine: ‘The Hebrew Bible’, Mesopotamia, Gilgamesh and, to hell with time and geographical rigidness, Homer’s epics too.  [1]


If I should die, think only this of me…
She’s gone, and all our plans
           are useless indeed
And say with conviction:
“Dulce Et Decorum Est”
But fa sure, consider this rejoinder to Horace:
is it? Is it really worth it…

I see it and read it in “Unspeakable, unspoken” and I see it and read it in “Omeros.” Time heals yeah? And believe you me I listened to 1619 — I even put the audio files here for posterity — but you see, we can lionise Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece because what happened there is past and what remains are beautiful things like democracy and underfloor heating and fa sure, fantastic fiction in both poetic and prose from. So yes I see colonialism and slavery as they rightly should be seen, but — dear reader — has not humankind always been unkind to fellow humankind? Us and them was not manufactured by the likes of Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama. No! It was there in Sumeria, it was there lurking in the orchard, it is, I brazenly say, within the fabric of humankind, part of the human condition.

The episode involving Odysseus's confrontation with Polyphemus in the Odyssey bears similarities to Gilgamesh and Enkidu's battle with Humbaba in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
“Polyphemus”
By Guido Reni (1575–1642) (c. 1640). __ Must’ve been a cold day? Right! ;P __ The episode involving Odysseus’s confrontation with Polyphemus in the Odyssey bears similarities to Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s battle with Humbaba in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Grindstone

Here are some pages of potential interest. I hasten to emphasise and underscore the adjective ‘potential’:

01. — On vocabulary (by J.H.K., 2020)
02. — On language (by Rouse, n.d.)
03. — Literary devices (by Bonnie & Clyde)
04. — “The Elizabethan era”
05. — “British literature of the 20th c.”
06. — “Global literature” (esp. Derek Walcott)
07. — “Comparative literature” (esp. Sylvia Plath)

In terms of public interest and the greater good, a duet of works by Walcott, for study purposes only:

📘 “Collected Poems 1948-1984”
— Initially, many were self-published (Editable PDF).
📘 “Omeros”
— A take on Homer (Editable PDF).


REFERENCES

Walcott, D. (1986). Collected Poems 1948-1984. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

Walcott, D. (1990). Omeros. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux


Derek-Walcott's--Books
“The discontent that lies in the human condition is not satisfied simply by material things.”

— § —


NOTES

[1]   To try and trace the course or deduce the derivation of something is not always a scientific endevour. No! It can be far more speculative and subjective in certain circumstances. It was a long time in coming and the comeuppance was and is harsh. See:
“Empire of Deceit: entrapped in honey, money or, plain old power?”

📕📕📕

{S.} {O.} {S.}

Last night, I was literally saved by a book


so, in deference and in homage of,


I do hereby present to thee


an encomium entitled:


“Between Bookends”


dedicated to


the book


Brave New World
Aldous Huxley
 
“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly – they’ll go through anything”
 
Science. Technology. Want for nothing. Maximum pleasure. Welcome to a world where society exists without war, poverty, sickness or unhappiness, where instant gratification and mass consumerism sooth the inhabitants into happy conformity. One man stands to challenge all this: Bernard Marx, alone in harbouring a longing to break free. His attempt to do so sets off a chain of events that could disrupt everything.” — Is this Brave New World that Huxley imagined where we are headed, or are we already there? Take the drugs and float away through Huxley’s relentless cityscape, and you might find answers to questions you didn’t know you should be asking. (This is taken from a too be published 2021 edition introduction by Yuval Noah Harari.) [1]


Brighton Rock
Graham Greene
 
“Heaven was a word: hell was something he could trust.”
 
A gang war is raging through the dark underworld of Brighton. Seventeen-year-old Pinkie, malign and ruthless, has killed a man. Believing he can escape retribution, Pinkie is unprepared for the courageous, life-embracing Ida Arnold, who is determined to uncover him. This is Graham Greene’s chilling exposé of violence, class, and gang warfare inspired many imitators. Few, if any, can match the originality of Brighton Rock, and of Pinkie – one of fiction’s most unnerving and compelling villains.


Catch-22
Joseph Heller
 
“He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.”
 
It’s the closing months of the Second World War and Yossarian has never been closer to death. Stationed in an American bomber squadron off the coast of Italy, each flight mission introduces him to thousands of people determined to kill him. But the enemy above is not Yossarian’s problem – it is his own army intent on keeping him airborne, and the maddening ‘Catch-22’ that allows for no possibility of escape. Penguin, the publisher, writes, “No book has satirised military madness so hilariously and tragically. It is the tale of one man’s struggle to survive the sheer lunacy of war.”


The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories
Angela Carter
 
“Midnight, and the clock strikes. It is Christmas Day, the werewolves birthday, the door of the solstice still wide enough open to let them all slink through.”
 
We grow up on fairy tales but it is only later we realise what we have been fed. Angela Carter saw the power of these dark stories – stories in which objects betray, children threaten, men turn into animals and women are unsafe. Erotic, subversive, ancient, modern: the tales in this book pulse with a vivid, radical imagination. Turn the key, enter the chamber. Carter untwists our old tales and offers them up with sensuality, depravity, humour – and a mirror held up to ourselves. (From a yet to be published 2021 edition with an introduction by Laura Dockrill.)


Slaughterhouse 5
Kurt Vonnegut
 
“So it goes.”
 
Billy Pilgrim – hapless barber’s assistant, successful optometrist, alien abductee, senile widower and soldier­­ – has become unstuck in time. Hiding in the basement of a slaughterhouse in Dresden, with the city and its inhabitants burning above him, he finds himself a survivor of one of the most deadly and destructive battles of the Second World War. But when, exactly? How did he get here? And how does he get out? Travel through time and space on the shoulders of Vonnegut himself. This is a book about war. Listen to what he has to say: it is of the utmost urgency.


The Old Man and the Sea
Ernest Hemingway
 
“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”
 
In the baking sun, in a small village off the coast of Havana, lives an old fisherman named Santiago. It has been eighty-four days since he last caught a fish. The locals call it bad luck. Refusing to accept defeat, Santiago sets off in his tiny skiff alone, fishing further out than ever before. It is here, over a number of days, that he, his will and his character are tested beyond imagination. Faced with bad weather, hunger and thirst, the old man finds himself in battle with a giant marlin, a fish bigger than any to have been caught before. Nature is not kind and gentle in this fable, nor is Hemingway. You hold in your hands one of the very best pieces of writing to have ever been created.


When Breath Becomes Air
Paul Kalanithi
 
“Even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living.”
 
This magnetic, hopeful book was first published in 2016. Adored by millions of readers, it is a Vintage Classic already and a book that will stand the test of time. — We often ask ourselves how we should be living. In Paul Kalanithi’s deeply moving memoir, he is forced to ask himself the question, ‘how do you live when you are dying?’ At thirty-six, having just finished his training to become a neurosurgeon, he was faced with a devastating cancer diagnosis. This is his memoir. From student, to doctor, to patient, to father, and to writer, Paul preserved his last years and legacy in this truly unforgettable book.


To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper Lee
 
“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”
 
This evocative and amusing novel has charmed and inspired generations. — Summers for Scout in the Deep South are long and golden. Her story is one of innocence, and growing up. It is also about justice. When Scout’s father Atticus Finch, a lawyer, agrees to defend a black man against an accusation by a white girl, he takes on the prejudice of the whole town. Through the case, Atticus teaches Scout that your imagination is not just for childhood games, but for understanding other people. Because you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.


Stoner
John Williams
 
“He learned silence and did not insist upon his love.”
 
For nearly fifty years this book existed as quietly as its protagonist before it was rediscovered. It is now regarded as one of the most heart-stopping and beautiful classics of the twentieth century. — This is the great forgotten novel of the last century – a quiet book; the story of a quiet life. William Stoner is a man who learns to contain himself, but beneath the surface lie passions and principles. An undistinguished career, an unhappy marriage, a bitter conflict with a colleague; Stoner endures. He is a different kind of hero. This wise, moving story seethes with the power and beauty of an individual life.


The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood
 
“Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”
 
Atwood’s Handmaids have become a symbol of feminist resistance. This masterpiece blurs the boundaries between fiction and news headlines. — Imagine a world where women’s bodies are controlled by men. Where society has descended into religious patriarchy and censorship. Where the environment has been destroyed and a powerful few hold the reins to all wealth and freedom. Welcome to Gilead. This is the story of Offred, a Handmaid forced into sexual servitude, in the country once known as the USA.



Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness . . .
. . . Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all
          Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.


— John Keats (extract, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”)


NOTES

[1]   Vintage Classics [Penguin, 2021]: “MOST LOVED. MOST RED.” — ten must-read modern classics. You get me, don’t you:

William Burroughs and, Maurice Girodias (a bootleg pornographer and renegade Parisian publisher; he inherited Olymipa press — think: Henry Miller’s 1934 novel, “Tropic of Cancer,” which had explicit sexual passages and could not therefore be published in the United States; Anaïs Nin’s “Winter of Artifice” (1939) and James Joyce’s “Haveth Childers” Everywhere and “Pomes Penyeach” (1932) — and ran, for a time, Obelisk Press, notable publication firsts were Burroughs’ “The Naked Lunch” and, “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov).
 
“Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

*ART

Joseph Conrad places fiction in the schema of *art

— What is *ART?

As Maria Popova writes in The Atlantic on the subject of (the increasingly, nowadays, ‘controversial’) Joseph Conrad, “Much of his writing bears a profound philosophical quality, exploring the depths of psychology and other pillars of existence.” In this post I give you some of Conrad’s case for how strings of (“tired old”) words can be construed as a form of fine art. I would personally place literature (not music, as he does) at the pinnacle but, this is me and, I am not he:

A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line. And art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colors, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential—their one illuminating and convincing quality—the very truth of their existence. The artist, then, like the thinker or the scientist, seeks the truth and makes his appeal. Impressed by the aspect of the world the thinker plunges into ideas, the scientist into facts—whence, presently, emerging they make their appeal to those qualities of our being that fit us best for the hazardous enterprise of living. They speak authoritatively to our common-sense, to our intelligence, to our desire of peace or to our desire of unrest; not seldom to our prejudices, sometimes to our fears, often to our egoism—but always to our credulity. And their words are heard with reverence, for their concern is with weighty matters: with the cultivation of our minds and the proper care of our bodies, with the attainment of our ambitions, with the perfection of the means and the glorification of our precious aims. It is otherwise with the artist.
 
Fiction—if it at all aspires to be art—appeals to temperament. And in truth it must be, like painting, like music, like all art, the appeal of one temperament to all the other innumerable temperaments whose subtle and resistless power endows passing events with their true meaning, and creates the moral, the emotional atmosphere of the place and time. Such an appeal to be effective must be an impression conveyed through the senses; and, in fact, it cannot be made in any other way, because temperament, whether individual or collective, is not amenable to persuasion. All art, therefore, appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its high desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions. It must strenuously aspire to the plasticity of sculpture, to the color of painting, and to the magic suggestiveness of music—which is the art of arts. And it is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance; it is only through an unremitting never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to color, and that the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.
 
The sincere endeavor to accomplish that creative task, to go as far on that road as his strength will carry him, to go undeterred by faltering, weariness or reproach, is the only valid justification for the worker in prose. And if his conscience is clear, his answer to those who in the fullness of a wisdom which looks for immediate profit, demand specifically to be edified, consoled, amused; who demand to be promptly improved, or encouraged, or frightened, or shocked, or charmed, must run thus: My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see. That—and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm—all you demand—and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.
 
Sometimes, stretched at ease in the shade of a roadside tree, we watch the motions of a labourer in a distant field, and after a time, begin to wonder languidly as to what the fellow may be at. We watch the movements of his body, the waving of his arms, we see him bend down, stand up, hesitate, begin again. It may add to the charm of an idle hour to be told the purpose of his exertions. If we know he is trying to lift a stone, to dig a ditch, to uproot a stump, we look with a more real interest at his efforts; we are disposed to condone the jar of his agitation upon the restfulness of the landscape; and even, if in a brotherly frame of mind, we may bring ourselves to forgive his failure. We understood his object, and, after all, the fellow has tried, and perhaps he had not the strength—and perhaps he had not the knowledge. We forgive, go on our way—and forget. And so it is with the workman of art. Art is long and life is short, and success is very far off. And thus, doubtful of strength to travel so far, we talk a little about the aim—the aim of art, which, like life itself, is inspiring, difficult—obscured by mists. It is not in the clear logic of a triumphant conclusion; it is not in the unveiling of one of those heartless secrets which are called the Laws of Nature. It is not less great, but only more difficult.
 
To arrest, for the space of a breath, the hands busy about the work of the earth, and compel men entranced by the sight of distant goals to glance for a moment at the surrounding vision of form and color, of sunshine and shadows; to make them pause for a look, for a sigh, for a smile—such is the aim, difficult and evanescent, and reserved only for a few to achieve. But sometimes, by the deserving and the fortunate, even that task is accomplished. And when it is accomplished—behold!—all the truth of life is there: a moment of vision, a sigh, a smile—and the return to an eternal rest.

1619

Lest we forget or indeed, in case we aren’t yet fully au fait, you may like to listen to or download even, the “1619 Project” podcasts.

“Elsewhere”

_ that’s where i am _

“Elsewhere”


Elsewhere Anchises,
 
Fatherly and intent, was off in a deep green valley
Surveying and reviewing souls consigned there,
Those due to pass to the light of the upper world.
It so happened he was just then taking note
 
Of his whole posterity, the destinies and doings,
Traits and qualities of descendants dear to him,
But seeing Aeneas come wading through the grass
Towards him, he reached his two hands out
In eager joy, his eyes filled up with tears
And he gave a cry: “At last! Are you here at last?
I always trusted that your sense of right
Would prevail and keep you going to the end.
And am I now allowed to see your face,
My son, and hear you talk, and talk to you myself?
 
This is what I imagined and looked forward to
As I counted the days; and my trust was not misplaced.
To think of the lands and the outlying seas
You have crossed, my son, to receive this welcome.
And after such dangers! I was afraid that Africa
Might be your undoing.” But Aeneas replied:
“Often and often, father, you would appear to me,
Your sad shade would appear, and that kept me going
To this end. My ships are anchored in the Tuscan sea.
Let me take your hand, my father, O let me, and do not
 
Hold back from my embrace.” And as he spoke he wept.
Three times he tried to reach arms round that neck.
Three times the form, reached for in vain, escaped
Like a breeze between his hands, a dream on wings.


Virgil, “The Aeneid” (Book VI). Translated from the original Latin by Seamus Heaney (1939-2013); published by The New Yorker in 2016.

^ I have now read this a dozen or more times and only now, is a meaning emerging. I’ve no context (((I could dig but I shan’t — i.e., I could read up on Virgil’s “The Aeneid” and/or look into a good half-millennia’s worth of essays and tomes that draw out and align his Roman founding myth with that of Ancient Greece’s — I did though happen across a few painted works of art on the subject and these are depicted below))) but what’s beginning to form in my mind is a passage depicting a dream, double vision, wanting a heartfelt wish to materialise, wanting beyond want a thing that is neigh on impossible to get or to have. More devastatingly so because, even if it were to be realised, the ramifications of it — I speak here more personally now — would soon act to indelibly taint and mar the realised dream. Back to the poem, some things can never be sated; sons and fathers reaching in vein to bridge breaches. Must there be fault-lines along this cline? I know not, if ever I had a connection, it has long since gone (I don’t feel beholden, I don’t feel denigrated). As my woman said to me, no response stings more than apathy. To elicit consternation and ridicule is better than a snoring Lecturer on student presentation day or, a swipe left without a second glance or a moment’s hesitation (I don’t recall if rejection’s a swipe to the left or to the right but, you get the point don’t ‘you,’ oh fic-fuckin-ticious you). Mums ‘n’ daughters; Freud (Sigmund) ‘n’ Freud (Lucian) & the Oedipal complex and, the impassioned lyrics “The killer awoke before dawn / He put his boots on / He took a face from the ancient gallery / And he walked on down the hall // He went into the room where his sister lived / And then he paid a visit to his brother / And then he walked on down the hall / And he came to a door / And he looked inside / Father? / Yes son / I want to kill you / Mother, I want to… /// was it ‘fuck,’ or just ‘kill’ too? Etc. etc. I’m sic n tired of relying on context for understanding, for my long-run weakness to blindly adhere to the interpretations of others. Literature is art, art is in the eye of the beholder, it is for me — in my isolation wing of solitary confinement — to decide what I see and what I feel when I happen across a piece of poetry.

Virgil reading “The Aeneid” to Augustus, Octavia, and Livia
By Jean-Baptiste Wicar (1762–1834) (1790).
“Aeneas flees burning Troy”
By Federico Barocci (1535-1612) (1598).
“Aeneas meets Dido”
By Rutilio di Lorenzo Manetti (1571-1639) (c. 1630).

Short-termism

the zeitgeist of now

See too: “Mask Wars” by J.H.K.

Abstract

The essay considers the prospect of large-scale, ethically motivated (individualistic) short-term sacrifice taking place for the assumed longer-term (collective) common good. Put differently, it considers the likelihood of the deferral of immediate gratification occurring; the not eating of one’s cake today so that one (or indeed, one’s offspring) can have it tomorrow. Put specifically, this essay will ask why it seems possible for world governments and international institutions to act quickly and decisively when met with a crisis like Coronavirus (Covid-19) yet seemingly be incapable of acting in such a way when it comes to tackling the longstanding issues of desertification, overfishing and rainforest destruction (i.e., the catchall: ‘environmental crisis’).[1]  In sum, I will argue that the reason is simple: today’s humankind have been conditioned to act and think in the short-term, to take pleasures today and bury their heads in the sand when it comes to dealing with the consequences. This is exemplified in activities such as binging on Netflix (resulting in overtiredness and the propensity to eat junk food the following day); spending on credit cards (whereby the hard graft of actually earning is deferred to a future date); overconsumption (that is causing unsustainable natural resource depletion) and, indulging in meat eating (which directly leads to yet more natural resource depletion and, greater likelihood of more zoonotic diseases, resultant from the homogenisation of animals and factory farming).[2]  I will argue that because Covid-19 is an immediate problem, government and citizenry seem able to forfeit a lot in an attempt to tackle it ‘now’; however, because the global environmental crisis is seen as a longer-term, abstract and theoretical problem, the political will to make big sacrifices—policies that enforce radical lifestyle changes—is lacking and are, it seems. easy to defer to a non-binding ‘future’ point in time.

Introduction

It has been argued that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in an impressive level of large-scale inter-governmental coordinated action. However, the extent to which the action is coordinated or unilateral is not yet an established fact.[3]  Nonetheless, there clearly has been a great deal of collaboration (be it helping to repatriate citizens, the sharing of research for an inoculation etc.). So, if such collaboration on global issues has now been proven possible, would it not be possible to believe that something similar could happen with respect to the environmental crisis? To answer this question, we would first need to consider if the Covid-19 pandemic is in any way analogous with the environmental crisis? Incidentally, a strong case for directly linking this pandemic to the environmental crisis can be made (consider, e.g., factory farming, overpopulation, and rapid unregulated urbanisation). There are indeed many interconnected questions. What possible lessons might be got from the globe’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic for addressing the environmental crisis? What role may international organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) play in bringing about such transformative measures? As Weizsäcker and Wijkman (2017) point out, while leading governments now, “claim to recognise the need to change our way of life, “if we are to survive as a species,” it is far from clear if they actually appreciate, “just how radical that change needs to be.” Lastly, what can concerned individuals do in relation to self-sacrifice for the greater good—not eating the honey to ensure generations to come can have some on their tongues? Does the adage, “think globally, act locally,” still suffice?[4]

This essay will consider the role of ethical sacrifice in effective action on the current pandemic and how that might be extended to effective action on the environment. It will proceed as follows. Firstly, it will consider the issue at hand, the quarantine we in the Arabian Gulf and those in many other parts of the globe are placed under because of Covid-19 (“The issue at stake”). It then considers possible ways of addressing the environmental crisis in light of responses to the current pandemic from the theoretical standpoints of utilitarianism and deontology (“Hypothetical speaking”). The essay then moves on to look at how we tend to opt for immediate gratification even if we half think we would get greater gratification by delaying it, this is made into a honey today allegory throughout this text (“Short-termism”). The next section considers the mechanisms by which such acts of short-term self-sacrifice may actually take place in an ethically sound and non-coercive way (“Implications of large-scale coordinated action”). In the essay’s final part (“Concluding remarks”) research is referred to that implies there are ways to overcome humankind’s propensity to opt for a teaspoon of honey today as opposed to a very likely—but not guaranteed—tablespoon tomorrow.

The issue at stake

As I write all university students in the Arabian Gulf are in self-quarantine (as are many other categories of people; international travel has essentially stopped and most forms of social gatherings have been halted). This period of self-quarantine is in most countries mandatory, varying degrees of punishment are given for those not obeying these orders. The question this essay considers is more focused on the justification for the quarantine than the right of authorities to impose it upon us. Specifically, how can policymakers and think-tanks concerned with the environmental crisis learn from the measures and restrictions rapidly imposed by governments the world over and the general acceptance of citizens to accept these.

Environmentalists have a hard task (not least because overconsumption and going to shopping malls to buy things whether we need them or not seem to now be the pastime of all those in the world who can afford to or have credit cards). As O’Donoghue and Rabin (2000, p. 233) put it, “people have self-control problems.” Environmentalists have to somehow tackle the extent to which the idea of Social Darwinism has become the norm in schools, welfare systems and society at large. As Von Weizsäcker & Wijkman (2017, pp. 6–7) explain the way that Social Darwinism has become blindly accept as the way of things, “right and proper” and even “an iron law of nature” in which “only the most competitive should survive” poses a huge challenge. The notion of survival of the fittest, in my view, does not apply to all species and especially not social ones like us. However, it is easy to see why those wanting to maximise their profits and retain all of their wealth for themselves would propagate Social Darwinism as an immutable truism. Secondly, and in a not unconnected way, environmentalists need to tackle the de facto way in which businesses now operate today, a culture in which the free market doctrine of Milton Friedman is seen as gospel in public management systems worldwide (see, e.g., Klein, 2007).

If we take the point of view that this current quarantine is for the greater good, what arguments could we make to convince sceptics of the merit of self-sacrifice in relation to addressing the root causes of global warming? (i.e., what are the key points to make in order to encourage the public to accept and lawmakers enact self-quarantine legislation). We will also need to ask what a proper ethical framework for understanding the role of sacrifice and large-scale coordinated action with respect to such events ought to be. Such understandings will help give insights in how to better deal with the environmental crisis. Any such insight would need to articulate clear roles for international organisations—e.g., WHO, the World Trade Organisation and other UN bodies—governments and citizens to play. Such roles will need to be conveyed in a consensual way in order to be affective. The truth is most people would prefer a future of uncontrolled chaos than a future where everything is clean and green if the price to pay for the latter is to be bossed around and always told what to do.

Hypothetically speaking

Philosophically speaking we could adopt a utilitarian or a deontological perspective in order to justify self-quarantine as the ethically and morally appropriate thing to do. We may then extend the same logic to further acts of individualistic self sacrifice in order to tackle the environmental crisis. To be clear, in the theoretical sense, “utilitarianism” places the focus on the pros and cons of the consequences of any given set of government policies or personal lifestyle choices; it looks beyond self-interest in the here and now and focuses on the common or collective interests of others at a later point in time. The “deontological” differs in that it focuses on the ethical implications (rights and wrongs) of the actions now and not the consequences of those actions at a future point in time.

As we know, democracy is compromise and as we know too, being too dogmatic in one’s views is neither progressive or likely to result in new inventions and forms of creative art. Therefore, it seems to me that in the real world, thinkers and philosophers should not advocate exclusively utilitarian or deontological arguments for dealing with the environmental crisis (and/or the current Covid-19 pandemic). It might help to think of the “carrot or the stick” analogy. As opposed to it being a binary choice, a one or the other, it should be a combination of the two: a bit of carrot and a bit of stick. The question then becomes how much carrot and how much stick?

As Fisher (2019) points out, the discounting of the needs of future generations is analogous to “burying a shard of broken glass in a forest.” The logic is as follows: if a child steps on the glass and cuts themselves today (‘now’) then a discount rate suggests this injury is much worse than a child hurting themselves on that same piece of glass in a millennia or so from now (in the ‘future’) but basically and ‘ethically’, “there is no difference between the two.” Giving in to temptation (e.g., scrolling through an infinite number of Instagram posts as opposed to finishing the research essay) leads to immediate gratification (e.g., happiness from effortlessly looking at satisfying things), but also to delayed negative outcomes (e.g., anxiety and a lower score for a essay submitted after the deadline date). On the other hand, resisting temptation (e.g., drafting and redrafting the research essay) does not make one feel good in the here and now but should result in delayed positive outcomes (e.g., a well received essay with a high grade awarded to it)—see the research of Magen and Gross (2007) on ‘temptation’; a key human tendency.

If we watch TED talks or listen to Big Think or Intelligence Squared debates it seems to be so that the longevity of humankind depends on us reducing our honey consumption rather radically to enable (in theory) our grand and great grandchildren to partake in this heavenly delight too. They key questions seem to be (1) is it, or can it become, part of human nature to be altruistic enough to care about people we will not even be alive to walk and talk with? And if so, (2) what will it take to break free from the short-termist ways so many of today’s humans seem to have adopted?

Short-termism

Modern society is suffering from “temporal exhaustion”, the sociologist Elise Boulding argued in the mid 1970s; “if one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imagining the future.” Just imagine, Fisher (2019) ponders, how would Boulding react to today’s “relentless, Twitter-fuelled politics” and the non-stop fashion advice etc. that we are bombarded with on a daily basis as a consequence of the internet of things and our love/hate affair with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. As Fisher (2019) states, it is little wonder that “problems like climate change feel so hard to tackle right now.” He asks, “how often do we contemplate the impact of our decisions as they ripple into the decades and centuries ahead?” (see Appendix B). As Magen and Gross (2007 p. 415) put it, today temptations surround us—“sugar-coated donuts [and] distracting TV shows—critically these things all have one thing in common, the “promise [of] immediate pleasure and delayed suffering.” They go on to articulate how less obvious forms of temptations are also potential sources of harm to us and others—e.g., “driving too fast, speaking angrily, and procrastinating”—and caution that the struggle against temptations is “constant, and success is far from assured.”

In a seminal study that sought to investigate the antecedents and correlates of choice behaviour with respect to the delaying of gratification, Mischel and Gilligan (1964, p. 411) observed that

Yielding to temptation—in a situation in which attainment of achievement rewards is contingent upon deviant (cheating) behaviour—was conceptualised to be a function of (a) the strength of the motivation to attain the prohibited gratification, and (b) the inability to delay immediate gratification.

Some psychologists have used the metaphor of a “horse and rider” to describe this tension between our rationality and urges, “the rider knows it is smart to think longer-term, but the horse has its own ideas” (Fisher, 2019). This begs the question, if we are susceptible to ignoring the wellbeing of our own health the day after tomorrow, it is even harder to imagine how most people will have real empathy for their yet to be born descendants. This focus on self-interest and short-termism is most obviously seen in politics (doing what is necessary to be popular today and not what is best for the given country’s longer-term interest) and economics (consumption over and above necessity).

As Semuels (2016) has argued, once upon a time, what was good for many business tended to be good for the country as a whole, “companies invested in their workers and new technologies, and as a result, they prospered and their employees did too.” Today things are different. They are different because people want to have their honey today, not to delay for a possibly larger and possibly tastier quantity of honey tomorrow. There is now widespread concern that businesses are too focused on short-term profits and are thus not, “investing in their workers, in research, or in technology—short-term costs that would reduce profits temporarily” (Semuels, 2016).

Implications of large-scale coordinated action

Beckstead (2013 p. ii) has put forward the following thesis, from a global perspective, “what matters most (in expectation) is that we do what is best (in expectation) for the general trajectory along which our descendants develop over the coming millions, billions, and trillions of years.” This sounds and seems to be utilitarian in nature for it suggests that future generations are of more import that our current one. We most of us have tasted some honey, those yet to be born certainly have not. What right do we have to deny them this delicious opportunity? The issue soon becomes technical and difficult because who knows what are the best actions for us to take ‘now’ to ensure that we can best ensure there is honey available to be tasted in the ‘future’?

One way of trying to measure this is use Social Discount Rates (SDRs). SDRs might be used to put a present value on costs and benefits that will occur at a later date” (LSE, 2018). In the context of tackling the environmental crisis, SDRs might be used to calculate and forecast how much today’s society should invest in trying to limit the impacts of climate change for tomorrow’s generations. In other words, they calculate how much self-sacrifice will probably be needed in the here and now in order to ensure the generations of the future will still have a natural environment to enjoy and utilise in a sustainable way. SDRs are designed to weigh future people’s benefits against the costs borne by us today (we self-sacrifice by self-quarantining; we could then self-sacrifice by reducing the number of times we travel by air for holidays and pleasure).

This all gets complicated because nobody really knows how much we should sacrifice. Imagine for instance international travel, should we tell rich people to only take one holiday per year, would they accept this? Which government could win elections with such promises? According to Hodgkinson (2014), the main issue in terms of addressing the environmental crisis is that, if the world’s key governments and institutions were to agree to reduce carbon emissions now, “people living in the future will benefit, not those living today … but it is we [who will] bear the costs of reducing such emissions.”

Remembering the extent to which Social Darwinism is seen as a law of nature (it is not) and the extent to which most business leaders and world governments have adopted the economic philosophy of Milton, it is hard to see how anyone (be it a liberal democratic institution or a concerned individual) advocating frugality, reusing as opposed to throwing away and repurchasing is likely to do well. The thing is this, free market economic policies are causing the overexploitation of the natural environment and businesses are all encouraging people to spend big today and forget about tomorrow. The few businesses or governments that might want to self-sacrifice will likely be put out of business or become unelectable as short-termists will price them out of the market. As many have suggested, the dominant view prevailing view at the international level about action on climate change seems to be, “Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?” And it is those views about what future generations are worth that will determine whether or not we are actually able to deal with the world’s most pressing issue, the global environmental crisis (e.g., Hodgkinson, 2014; Martin, 2015)

While I argued that short-termism is the current zeitgeist, politically, economically and in terms of humankind’s consumption and lifestyle choices, and that it is short-termism—“The Century of the Self” as Adam Curtis (2002) calls it —that is the main reason for there being no clear roadmap to address the environmental crisis, I am actually a rational optimist.[5]  I will dwell a bit and now ask you to dig deep, in a thinking sense, to what Andersen wrote in 2012. She argues, and I paraphrase, that humankind must consciously put aside their own pleasures and preferences for the greater good, because it exercises a kind of ‘moral muscle’ in us. She continues, such selfless acts can actually strengthen us by showing us that we are not simply selfish, hedonistic creatures. Acting in such a way, she contends will probably lead to, “stronger bonds of trust and mutual respect” amongst human beings, reminding us that “living on this planet is a group endeavour; that none of us can survive alone.” We must begin to accept (with the ‘carrot’ of improving our ‘moral muscles’) that making ethical choices that may not be comfortable or lucrative are sometimes, simply put, the right thing to do. I would say that too much of a draconian ‘stick’—like the authoritarian tracking of citizens to, monitor their temperature as some states are doing now—will ultimately backfire.[6]

Concluding remarks

As Magen and Gross (2007, p. 415) point out and then ponder, “many of us succumb to temptations, despite knowing that we will later regret doing so … how can such behaviour be avoided?” I can reply with experience, “such behaviour cannot easily be avoided.” However, referring once more to the seminal work of Mischel and Gilligan (1964, p. 417), two important findings are drawn, both of which do offer us hapless sinners some ray of light (a possibility of there being some honey and happiness both in the ‘now’ and for the ‘future’). First, they did observe that responses to temptation are not “simply a function of internal controls” and that conceptualisation concerning behaviour in a temptation situation should take into consideration the reward value of the prohibited gratification. Secondly, they concluded that “individual and situational differences in preferences for such immediate gratification.” O’Donoghue and Rabin (2000, p. 247) talk about ‘naïfs’ and ‘sophisticates’ and they demonstrate that with education and increasing the awareness of the implications of behaviour today and its impact on them tomorrow may result in changes to short term behavioural patterns. They back this up by saying the sophisticates were in some ways more able to delay immediate gratification as they were more aware of its possible future adverse consequences.

Therefore, it seems to me that if leaders and role models can really sell us the idea of delayed pleasure (e.g., the foregoing of (some) honey for the common good of tomorrow’s generations) can bring us happiness in the sense of the feel-good factor of being a nicer person, then we can hope to learn from the Covid-19 pandemic response. We can then realistically dream of averting the impending climate change catastrophe. It is very important that we do not be totally utilitarian or totally deontological in approach. I will say that a mixture of the two is both ethically and morally sound and critically, more likely to bring to us the end we want without making the means too unpalatable and difficult to endure.

— § —

Notes

 
 
[1]   In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic; the extent to which it has impacted on GDP growth and international travel by air is unprecedented and is projected to result in the biggest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s (Gopinath, 2020). The ‘environmental crisis’ includes the following features, all of which human population growth and consumption choices cause: biodiversity loss (a load of fauna and flora are threatened with extinction because of the destruction of their natural habitats and direct exploitation—think of Wuhan’s animal market and overfishing of the seven seas), climate change (global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion), deforestation, desertification (soil erosion and degradation) and the scarcity of clean fresh water.

 
 
[2]   Refer to Sheahan et al. (2008); “Zoonotic SARS-CoV likely evolved to infect humans by a series of transmission events between humans and animals for sale in China” (p. 2274).

 
 
[3]   As I write this essay, China and the USA are playing a blame game. Basically, both governments are attempting to shift attention from their own mistakes by seeking to turn the public attention to the mistakes they allege of each other (see Appendix A). More recently still the U.K.’s government has accused Russian spies of seeking to steal British research insights into Covid-19 and, the very next day (‘…you took it all away’) the U.S.A.’s government accused Chinese spies of seeking to pinch American research insights into Covid-19. (see: Walker (2020) and Gramer (2020), respectively)

 
 
[4]   For instance, see the Intelligence Square debate on this motion “To Stop Climate Collapse, We Must End Capitalism”: intelligencesquared.com/events/to-stop-climate-collapse-we-must-end-capitalism/

 
 
[5]   In this wide-ranging video documentary, we hear a lot about consumerism and commodification and links this to contemporary view on fashion. It makes the argument that superficiality benefits big business. what is interesting is that this was made before social media. So, the points made almost 20 years ago are even stronger today. The last US election was not about politics and policies, it was about media manipulation, showmanship and ad hominem gone wild.

 
 
[6]   China is using big data to control and monitor everything its citizens do, where they go, what they do and who they meet. Many others are following China’s lead in increasingly monitoring every move of their citizens be it Hungary, Thailand, or the Philippines (Gebrekidan, 2020). Closer to home, we see this happening too in Egypt. As Magdy (2020) writes, Egypt’s President has granted himself more powers using Covid-19 as a cover. While some of the new powers can be linked to Covid-19 human rights groups say, others such as the power to now ban public and private meetings, protests and even celebrations, can not.

— § —

References

Andersen, E. (2012, 26 May). The Noble Art of Self-Sacrifice. Forbes. Retrieved, https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2012/05/26/the-noble-art-of-self-sacrifice/#3588ff7136ac

Beckstead, N. (2013). On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future. Ph.D. Thesis, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Retrieved, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/40469/PDF/1/play/

Curtis, A. (2002). The Century of the Self. Retrieved, https://youtu.be/eJ3RzGoQC4s

See: Bidoonism’s Adam Curtis anthology

Fisher, R. (2019, 10 January). The perils of short-termism: civilisation’s greatest threat. BBC. Retrieved, bbc.com/future/article/20190109-the-perils-of-short-termism-civilisations-greatest-threat

Gebrekidan, S. (2020, 14 April). For Autocrats, and Others, Coronavirus Is a Chance to Grab Even More Power. The New York Times. Retrieved, nytimes.com/2020/03/30/world/europe/coronavirus-governments-power.htm

Gopinath, G. (2020). ‘Global lockdown’ will cause worst recession since Great Depression, says IMF. The Guardian. Retrieved, theguardian.com/business/video/2020/apr/14/great-lockdown-recession-great-depression-coronavirus-imf-video

Gramer, R. (2020, July 22). U.S. Closes Chinese Consulate in Houston Amid Surge in Chinese Espionage Cases. Foreign Policy. Retrieved foreignpolicy.com/2020/07/22/us-trump-china-escalation-tensions-spying-closes-chinese-consulate-in-houston-chinese-espionage-cases/

Hodgkinson, D. (2014). Thomas Piketty, climate change and discounting our future. The Conversation. Retrieved theconversation.com/thomas-piketty-climate-change-and-discounting-our-future-30157

Klein, N. (2007). The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. London: Penguin. Retrieved https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=cpmRBAAAQBAJ

LSE. (2018). What are social discount rates? The London School of Economics and Political Science. Retrieved lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/faqs/what-are-social-discount-rates/

Magdy, S. (2020, 9 May). Egypt’s president expands powers, citing virus outbreak. The Washington Post. Retrieved, washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/egypts-president-expands-powers-citing-virus-outbreak/2020/05/09/849af3e0-91f2-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html

Magen, E., & Gross, J. (2007). Harnessing the need for immediate gratification: cognitive reconstrual modulates the reward value of temptations. Emotion, 7(2), 415–428. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.7.2.415

Martin, R. L. (2015). Yes, short-termism really is a problem. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved https://hbr.org/2015/10/yes-short-termism-really-is-a-problem

Mischel, W., & Gilligan, C. (1964). Delay of gratification, motivation for the prohibited gratification, and responses to temptation. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 69(4), 411–417. doi:10.1037/h0048918

O’Donoghue, T., & Rabin, M. (2000), The economics of immediate gratification. Journal of Behavioural Decision Making, 13(2), 233–250.

Prasso, S. (2020, 6 May) Lawsuits against China escalate Covid-19 blame game with US. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-06/lawsuits-against-china-escalate-covid-19-blame-game-with-u-s

Rachman, G. (2020, May 4). The US and China’s dangerous blame game will do no good. The Financial Times. Retrieved, ft.com/content/ffc6ac00-8de0-11ea-9e12-0d4655dbd44f

Semuels, A. (2016, 30 December). How to stop short-term thinking at America’s companies. The Atlantic. Retrieved theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/12/short-term-thinking/511874/

Sheahan, T., Rockx, B., Donaldson, E., Sims, A., Pickles, R., Corti, D., & Baric, R. (2008). Mechanisms of zoonotic severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus host range expansion in human airway epithelium. Journal of virology, 82(5), 2274–2285. doi:10.1128/JVI.02041-07

Trofimov, Y. (2020, 8 March). Democracy, Dictatorship, Disease. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved, wsj.com/articles/democracy-dictatorship-disease-the-west-takes-its-turn-with-coronavirus

Von Weizsäcker, E., & Wijkman, A. (2017). Come on!: capitalism, short-termism, population and the destruction of the planet. Berlin: Springer. Retrieved books.google.co.uk/books?id=nWA-DwAAQBAJ

Walker, A. (2020, July 17). U.K. ‘95% sure’ Russian hackers tried to steal coronavirus vaccine research. The Guardian. Retrieved, theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/17/russian-hackers-steal-coronavirus-vaccine-uk-minister-cyber-attack

— § —

Appendix A: The blame game


Appendix A: The blame game
Note  Illustration by James Ferguson (Rachman, 2020).

Despite there being many instances of global cooperation etc., not everything is ethically minded and being done altruistically. According to one viewpoint, historians of the future might record that, “the Covid-19 pandemic marked the start of a new cold war between China and the US” (Rachman, 2020). As Prasso (2020) makes clear, mistakes in relation to the virus were made on both sides—cover-ups and arrests on China’s part, downplaying the virus’s contagiousness and suggesting the injecting oneself with household bleach may be a remedy on America’s part.
 
Point: “Coronavirus, explained”
 
Counterpoint: “Once upon a virus…”

— § —

Appendix B: Me, myself & I


Fisher-2019-a

Fisher-2019-b
Note  Illustrations by Nigel Hawtin (Fisher, 2019)

As Fisher (2019) stresses, today’s population of 7.7 billion is small if balanced against all humans who are to be born. If Homo sapiens endure for thousands of years to come, billions of yet to be born individuals do rely on us to do the right thing regarding the environmental crisis. Intangibly it will benefit ‘our’ peace of mind; the benefit to ‘them’ will be very tangible.

Seemingly deceitful

“The Devil’s Trident” et al.

Simply put an illusion is something that is not real. But we most of us want to believe in things that science and reason tell us, by verifiably replicable experiments and observations, are not real; are “illusionary.” They say we see with our eyes, but let us be clear here, our eyes simply act as conduits to our brains, it is our brains that decipher and decide. For those fortunate enough not to be blind, we do like to be titillated by objects of beauty, panoramic views, the flickering of a fire, the waves rolling in and, optical illusions. The latter are a subject of much interest, writing in 1976, Coren et al. (1976, p. 129) pointed out that in the 120 years since Johann Joseph Oppel published the first systematic work on visual geometric illusions, “nearly a thousand papers have appeared that deal with distortions evoked by simple two-dimensional patterns of lines.” In the past 20 years with the aid of computers (to analyse) and social media (to share) the interest in optical illusions has grown further still (Alter, 2013; Hogenboom, 2015; Schultz, 2013). In this short essay I will discuss a number of such illusions, the way/s in which they trick the brain (alongside the human visual system) and the psychology behind them. But first I will discuss the workings of the eye and how it, like the human brain, is very susceptible to chicanery and trickery—to being deceived.

In the beholder’s eye

We know that the human eye works like a camera. When we look at something, light reflected from that thing enters the eyes through the pupil. Bizarrely it comes in upside down and this light and colour info is focused through the optical bits and bobs within the eye (see Appendix A). As Whitaker et al. (1996, p. 2957) point out in relation to the typical functioning of the human eye:

Judgment of the relative position of objects is an important feature of the human visual system. We seem able to perform this task effortlessly across spatial scales. Thus, whilst we can view two objects and estimate their separation, we are also aware of the relative position of internal features of the objects themselves.

However, the human eye, as with the human mind can easily be tricked. Optical illusions occur because our brains automatically try to interpret and make sense of what we see, usually they get things right, that Apple iPad ‘is’ an Apple iPad but, magicians and sellers of snake oil (and psychologists and visual artists) have long known eyes can be tricked because the human brain is partial to seeing myth as fact and fact as fake. Optical illusions fool our brains into seeing things which are there when they are not actually there or are not seemingly there when, in fact, they actually are.

Perception—what we think, what we think we see—is the interpretation of the things that enter our minds including via our eyes. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is subjective. Therefore, the same object will not be seen as the same thing by any two people. As pointed out by Hogenboom (2015) Aristotle wrote that, “our senses can be trusted but they can be easily fooled.” This was in the context of him looking (not into Nietzsche’s abyss, but) into a waterfall for too long. He observed that, if we watch something moving quickly for too long, and then look at an inanimate object next to it — like the rocks beside a waterfall — they will appear to move in the opposite direction; a phenomena now classified as the “motion aftereffect” or, “the waterfall illusion.” Neuroscientists have argued that this can be explained by the fact that it takes a lot of energy and effort for the eye to compute fast moving and continually ‘forward’ moving objects so that when it suddenly switches to seeing a stationary object if over emphasises the lack of movement and moves the object slowly ‘backward’ (Hogenboom, 2015).

There is a theory attached to all of this and it is called the Centroid Hypothesis. It states that judgments of distance between visual objects are influenced by the brain’s computation of the “centroids of the luminance profiles of the objects” (Whitaker et al., 1996). Concerning the Devil’s Trident (see Appendix B), the Müller-Lyer arrows (see Appendix C), the Penrose triangle (see Appendix D) and similar illusions, the pattern of neural excitation evoked by contextual flank overlaps with that caused by the stimulus terminator, thereby leading (due to the shift of the centroid of summed excitation) to its perceptual displacement. The relative displacement of all stimulus terminators leads to misjudgement of distances between them; that is, the illusion occurs as a side effect due to necessarily low spatial resolution of the neural mechanism of assessment of the relative location of the visual objects.

The Devil’s Trident 🔱

Devil's Trident -- an optical illusion
Figure 1: “The Devil’s Trident,” Masterton and Kennedy (1975, p.107).

The Devil’s Trident (a.k.a., “The Impossible Trident”) was first noted in the academic press by an American psychologist—Donald Schster—who is said to have been inspired by an advert he saw in a magazine (Schuster, 1964). Accounts of the “Devil’s Trident”—see Appendix B—stress that the middle prong, “appears to be in two places at the same time” and that it involves, “incompatible surface depth cues linked as though they were compatible” (Masterton & Kennedy, 1975, p.107).

Knowledge of optical illusions is not a recent thing. Like all good things, we can go back to Ancient Greece to find initial thinking on the subject: Aristotle and the waterfall (as mentioned above). Indeed, as Bach and Poloschek (2006 p. 21) say, Plato also alerted us to the discrepancy between perception and reality in his “Allegory of the Cave.” Philosophers remain intrigued to this day. As Donaldson (2017) argues that impossible figures prove problematic for sense-data accounts of perception that contend that, corresponding to every visual human experience, there are mental objects (sense-data) that we are aware of—and that sense-data have the properties that the objects that our experiences tell us they do. The problem is that sense-data would have to be impossible objects … surely, impossible objects can’t exist!” There are other explanations. For example, illustrations like the Müller-Lyer arrows (see Appendix C) confuses the brain (in some cultures, according to Alter (2013), not all) and it overcompensates, “making the line appear bigger — as it would have to be in real life to produce those kinds of proportions” (Hogenboom, 2015).

Concluding remarks

To sum up, we can assume that we will never be able to suddenly see true reality with crystal clear clarity and 20/20 vision, be it the waterfall’s rock, the shadow play in the cave or the Devil’s Trident. But this is the magic of reality. This is something we should embrace and revere, not fear. Just because we do not know what lies within black holes or what exists beyond the edge of the universe does not mean we need to create myths to fill in the gaps and then dogmatically and religiously follow them (see Dawkins, 2011). Personally, I like that art can trick us it actually says to me we are human. Also, I feel that visual illusions are actually logical and explainable by reason and science: our brains have evolved to need to constantly predict what is about to happen so, illusions demonstrate our brain being logical and telling us what we should ‘typically’ see not what we rarely physically see.

References

Alter, A. (2013). Are These Lines the Same Height? Popular Science. Retrieved, https://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-03/are-these-walls-the-same-size-your-answer-depends-on-where-youre-from/

Bach, M &, Poloschek, C. (2006). Optical Illusions. Visual Neuroscience, 6(2), 20-21.

Coren, S., Girgus, J., Erlichman, H., &, Hakstian, A. (1976). An empirical taxonomy of visual illusions. Perception & psychophysics, 20(2), 129–137. doi.org/10.3758/BF03199444

Dawkins, R. (2011). The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. London: Bantam Press.

Donaldson, J. (2017). “Impossible Trident” in F. Macpherson (ed.), The Illusions Index. Retrieved, https://www.illusionsindex.org/i/impossible-trident.

Hogenboom, M. (2015). How your eyes trick your mind. BBC. Retrieved, http://www.bbc.com/future/bespoke/story/20150130-how-your-eyes-trick-your-mind/index.html

Howey, T. (2016). “How the eye works” Retrieved, https://www.tomhowey.com/How-the-Eye-Works

Masterton, B. &, Kennedy, J. (1975). Building the Devil’s Tuning Fork. Perception, 4(1), 107–109. doi.org/10.1068/p040107

Schuster, D. H. (1964). A new ambiguous figure: A threestick clevis. The American Journal of Psychology, 77(4), 673. doi.org/10.2307/1420787

Schultz, C. (2013). Are Optical Illusions Cultural? Smithsonian. Retrieved, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/are-optical-illusions-cultural-6633978/

Whitaker, D., McGraw, P. V., Pacey, I., & Barrett, B. T. (1996). Centroid analysis predicts visual localization of first-and second-order stimuli. Vision Research, 36(18), 2957–2970. doi.org/10.1016/0042-6989(96)00031-4

Wikipedia (2020a). “Impossible trident.” Retrieved, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impossible_trident

Wikipedia (2020b). “Müller-Lyer illusion.” Retrieved, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCller-Lyer_illusion

Wikipedia (2020c). “Penrose Triangle”. Retrieved, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penrose_triangle

— § —

Appendix A


How the Eye Works
(Howey, 2016)

— § —

Appendix B


Devil's Trident -- an optical illusion
Note: The devil’s trident (or ‘tuning fork’) is a drawing of an impossible to physically construct object. As articulated by Wikipedia (2020a), “it appears to have three cylindrical prongs at one end which then mysteriously transform into two rectangular prongs at the other end” (see also: Masterton & Kennedy, 1975, p.107).

— § —

Appendix C


Note: The Müller-Lyer illusion typically comprises of three arrows and we think the stems of these arrows are different lengths but, as the diagram shows, they are in fact the same length; as far as we know it was first devised by the German sociologist Franz Müller-Lyer in the late 1800s (Wikipedia, 2020b).

— § —

Appendix D


Impossibility in its purest form” is how the so-called Penrose Triangle is described. It is another of these object which can be drawn but cannot exist as a solid object -- just like this paper’s 'Devil’s Trident'
Note  “Impossibility in its purest form” is how the so-called Penrose Triangle is described. It is another of these object which can be drawn but cannot exist as a solid object (Wikipedia, 2020c) — just like this paper’s “Devil’s Trident” (see Appendix B, above).

📙 Sophie’s World

— by Jostein Gaarder (1991).

Do please allow me to introduce to you, Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder (by the by, it was published in Norwegian in 1991 and then in English in 1994). It is a novel of sorts that seems to align with Bertrand Russell’s 1945, History of Western Philosophy. I say “of sorts” because essentially I see it as a way — one of many, see e.g.: “Put simply” — of making the key philosophers and their main ideas more accessible to the likes of me.

📙 Sophie’s World
inspired by Bertrand Russell’s:
📙 History of Western Philosophy


REFERENCE

Gaarder, J. (1994). Sophie’s World. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


The novel centres on Sophie Amundsen, who is introduced to the history of philosophy by one Alberto Knox, a lecturer in philosophy by way of a number of letters and various other, often somewhat cryptic, mediums.

يا صوفيا 🍉 هلا و غلا


Every day, a letter comes to Sophie’s mailbox that contains a few questions and then later in the day a package comes with some typed pages describing the ideas of a philosopher who dealt with the issues raised by that morning’s questions. The philosopher, Alberto Knox, sends her these packages via his aptly named dog, ‘Hermes.’

Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder (1st ed. 1991)
Lets delve, together you and I, into the rabbit hole.

Alberto first tells Sophie that philosophy is extremely relevant to life and that if we do not question and ponder our very existence we are not really living. Then he proceeds to go through the history of Western philosophy. Sophie (and us readers) gets a reasonably coherent extended review from the Pre-Socratics to Jean-Paul Sartre. We get by way of Alberto, key points regarding the Renaissance, Romanticism, and Existentialism, as well as Darwinism and the ideas of Karl Marx. I thought it might be interesting to consider his categorisation, it is stated as being focused on ‘Western’ philosophy so the omission of the other canons is an acknowledged one.

Ancient Philosophy

— The Pre-Socratics
Including: Thales, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles & Democritus
Socrates, Plato & Aristotle
— Ancient Philosophy after Aristotle
Including: the Cynics, the Epicureans, the Stoics & Plotinus

Catholic Philosophy

— The Fathers
Including: St Augustine & Pope Gregory
— The Schoolmen
Including: St Thomas Aquinas

Modern Philosophy

— From the Renaissance to Hume
Including: Machiavelli, Erasmus, More, Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Locke & Hume
— From Rousseau to the Present Day
Including: Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Byron, Nietzsche, the Utilitarians, Marx & William James.

I don’t like to paraphrase the following remarks but life ain’t always gunna b nice to you so, here goes, a reviewer at Publishers Weekly (familiarly known in the book world as PW and, they say, “the bible of the book business” has been printing out literary reviews since 1872 and somewhere along the timeline decided to drop the apostrophe) did write something along the lines of this: Regardless of age many readers will be tempted to skip over the somewhat “dryly written” philosophical lessons — which are not particularly integrated with the “more engaging” meta-fictional story line. This reminds me of something Li Yu is said to have said in his Carnal Prayer Mat.


How low contemporary morals have sunk! But if you write a moral tract exhorting people to virtue, [you] will you get no one to buy it.

Which is akin to the marketing adage/joke:


SEX
— Ah! Now that I have your attention, let me tell you about something completely different. . .

Providing a polar opposite perspective is Steven Gambardella. He writes that Sophie’s World has changed the lives of millions of people and is the “red pill of literature.” It is “the best place to start reading about philosophy” and “eloquently captures the wonder of philosophy, the giddiness you feel when you realise you are floating in space.” The rabbit is sketched to be representative of the universe. In the book, we humans are compared to tiny insects in the rabbit’s fur. Some of us burrow down into the warmth of the fur, while the philosophers among us climb to the tops of the hairs “to stare right into the magician’s eyes.” As Gambardella states, it was written by a high school teacher with a passion for the subject, became a bestseller and has now “sold over 40 million copies.”

The red pill and blue pill is a meme representing a choice between taking either a “red pill” that reveals an unpleasant truth, or taking a “blue pill” to remain in blissful ignorance. The terms and concept are taken verbatim from a scene in the 1999 film The Matrix.
rabbit-hole
Run rabbit run, take me into the abyss — the deep and bottomless midnight zone of eye & ur innermost consciousnesses.
Going [reaching || falling] down the rabbit hole
Falling / Going / Reaching down the rabbit hole, is a metaphor for something that transports someone into a ‘troublingly’ (or possibly too ‘wonderfully’) surreal state or situation.
The Persistence of Memory
“The Persistence of Memory”
By Salvador Dalí (1931). One of the most recognisable works of Surrealism [Spanish title: La persistencia de la memoria].
By hook or by crook, let them — these contemporaries of Sappho and idols of Catullus — reach down into your rabbit hole; let Freud & co. sweet-talk you there, bent over, cowering under or splayed out on the psychologist’s faux-leather, mock-Chesterfield couch.
On a tangent of his own Gambardella says that philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom — knowledge is merely instrumental and is applied to get us by — it is thought about thought. Knowledge of philosophy, he argues, allows us to enhance our pleasures and diminish our pains of our own accord. He quotes Seneca as saying:


Without [Philosophical pondering] no one can lead a life free of fear or worry. Every hour of the day countless situations arise that call for advice, and for that advice we have to look to [it].

Me, well I’m a dipper (skinny I wish) and this applies to all that I read and my writings and musings too. The chalice or urn is neither overflowing or bone dry. It is, I submit to you, bang in the middle. The purpose of this book in my view is to encourage us to think for ourselves, question things that are taken as given and doubt dogmas, as Gaarder writes, “my concern [, dear Sophie,] is that you do not grow up to be one of those people who take the world for granted.” I’d take the red over the blue, politically and metaphorically speaking and in relation to the pleasures and pains of love too.

I’ll end with a nod to who I’m guessing was an influence on Gaarder: Bertrand Russell. Russell was an English philosopher and campaigner for freedom (of expression and from authoritarian control). Reassuringly — to me anyway — he said do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once seen as being eccentric.

The History of Western Philosophy


Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.

Bertrand Russell


The fundamental cause of trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell


p.s.
Consider visiting Bidoonism’s page on Philosophy and/or reading her recent reviews of the following works:

Eldridge, R. T. (Ed.). (2009). The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gottlieb, A. (2000). The Dream of Reason: a History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Gottlieb, A. (2016). The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy. London: Penguin.

Grayling, A. C. (2019). The History of Philosophy. London: Penguin.

Kenny, A. (1998). An Illustrated Brief History of Western Philosophy. New York: John Wiley & Sons

Russell, B. (1945). A History of Western Philosophy. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

Mayday, ((m’aider))

venez m’aider (“come and help me”)

The Handmaid’s Tale stresses the importance of reading to our freedom…

This book is usually, and quite rightly, placed in the same category of dystopian fiction as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, but has a particular focus on the tyranny of patriarchy (the Aunt’s being the lapdogs so to speak). **I do though get confused by Offred because, well, yes you’ve gotta adapt to survive, but she seems somehow accommodated to her trysts with Commander fRed and in to her dalliances with the driver. What happens to Molly? how exactly did her daughter get wrested from her bosom up by the cold river?** The book’s ending pleasingly open-ended, because come on — dear J — there ain’t no such thing as black — 000000 — and white — FFFFFF. __Context — our sub-text & reading in between the lines my Only.One — is everything; ain’t it m8? Atwood stresses this by emphasising how changes in context impact upon behaviours and attitudes. We read the phrase “Context is all” in the book several times: Think scramble. And yeah, I loved it how our Ofred believed that she’d won round one and let him take the second, but after several “games nights” realised his superiority at this particular board game.__

… it also stresses the trap that academics may fall into: the risk of misreading and misunderstanding historical texts.

Snippets


There is more than one kind of freedom. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy it was freedom to, now you are being given freedom from. (p. 24)

⁓Total Control⁓


Men are sex machines, said Aunt L, and not much more. They only want one thing, you must learn to manipulate them. Lead them around by the nose, this is a metaphor. This is nature’s way. (p. 143)

⁓Total Control⁓


So there it was. Out in the open: his wife didn’t understand him. That was what I was there for then. The same old thing. It was too banal to be true. (p. 156)

⁓Total Control⁓


The moment of betrayal is the worst, the moment when you know beyond any doubt that you’ve been betrayed: that some other human being has wished you that much evil. (p. 193)

⁓Total Control⁓


“Nature demands variety, for men” he says. “It stands to reason, it’s part of the procreational strategy. … Women know this instinctively … they buy so many clothes to trick the men into thinking they are several different women.” (p. 239)

⁓Total Control⁓

B02BACD9-6C87-42CC-AA9A-FA6A6FCA7008
George Orwell’s “1984” is often juxtaposed with fellow English author, Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”

Who controls the past controls the future /
Who controls the present controls the past.


p. s.

“Mayday, mayday, mayday”
Mayday is an emergency procedure word used internationally as a distress signal in voice-procedure radio communications. The “mayday” procedure word was originated in 1921, by a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London. The radio officer—one Frederick Stanley Mockford—opted for “mayday” from the French m’aider (“help me”)—a shortened form of venez m’aider (“come and help me”)—because he had a thing at that time for a fine young thing from Paris.

My hero: George Orwell by Margaret Atwood
I grew up with George Orwell. I was born in 1939, and Animal Farm was published in 1945. I read it at age nine. It was lying around the house, and I mistook it for a book about talking animals. I knew nothing about the kind of politics in the book – the child’s version of politics then, just after the war, consisted of the simple notion that Hitler was bad but dead. To say that I was horrified by this book would be an understatement. The fate of the farm animals was so grim, the pigs were so mean and mendacious and treacherous, the sheep were so stupid. Children have a keen sense of injustice, and this was the thing that upset me the most: the pigs were so unjust. The whole experience was deeply disturbing, but I am forever grateful to Orwell for alerting me early to the danger flags I’ve tried to watch out for since. As Orwell taught, it isn’t the labels – Christianity, socialism, Islam, democracy, two legs bad, four legs good, the works – that are definitive, but the acts done in their names. Read on…

Lust and Lambast
A hand left poignantly unshaken; a republican party, quite unstirred.

Writing concisely is not my style yet, as column inches for anything other than celebrity gossip, consumer reviews and self-help are now such a precious commodity, I must be succinct. Even if I were allowed to go wild with the word count, it would probably demonstrate only the validity of the Law of Diminishing Returns. Nowadays smartphone shortened attention spans need to be taken into account. In order to gain wide readership on matters of current affairs, being parsimonious with prose is a necessity. Gone are the days when waxing lyrical in verbose flowery language on issues of international political economy was considered a mark of distinction. Read on…

Reading is key

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

Charlie Cook

Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book
— Axel Scheffler & Julia Donaldson (2005).



Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.

John Locke


Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

Sir Francis Bacon

Book Art (02)
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
John Steinbeck
Bookcover Art (13)
“Love and work… work and love, that’s all there is.”
Sigmund Freud
Bookcover Art (16)
“When we are not sure, we are alive.”
Graham Greene
Bookcover Art 14
“Many artists and scholars have pointed out that ultimately art depends on human nature.”
Steven Pinker
book___03
Joseph Conrad also wrote The Secret Sharer (oh Jay)
Book Art (01)
“Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”
Franz Kafka


If you do not like to read, you have not [yet] found the right book.

— J. K. Rowling