The new T-Mobile ad campaign disturbs me deeply, deeper than words. The only therapy is an analysis from Potlatch. Till then, unconsolable despair.


Jill Kirby (Centre for Policy Studies) a few Wednesdays ago on the Today programme:

Charities “spend[] too much time lobbying rather than focussing on problems on the ground” (around 3:30). “A lot of the big children’s charities have become very political in leading the End Child Poverty campaign… Ending child poverty is a good thing, but it’s a political question. Actually, the best way in which a charity can help children in poverty is doing the kind of outreach that many small charities do do… its actually being on the ground, providing a place of refuge…” (3:40-4:15)

A charity dedicated to ending child poverty cannot legitimately seek to influence government to end child poverty? Surely a charity, given its work “on the ground”, is ideally placed to pass on to government its insight into the source of the problem.

For Kirby, alleviating the failures of a suboptimal system is a charity’s proper place; improving the system is “political”. In her ideal, charities should work only to hide the system’s endemic flaws, regardless of the fact that they are propping up the very source of the problems they seek to end.

Seen and not heard, indeed.

“My concern is that when people put their hands in their pockets to support a charity, they want to know what it is a charity can do that government won’t do — if government can do these things it will do them, but what charities do is… charities are there on the ground looking after the disadvantaged, so their way of helping children in poverty will not be to go out and pester a politician.” (5:05-5:30)

“Is there a direct connection between the person giving the money and what they are helping? — in other words are they saving a child’s life, a bird’s life, are they stopping cruelty in some way? Now, yes, there may be some indirect result through the campaigning the charity is doing… but the most important added value which a charity can provide, which a government can’t provide, is actually being on the ground, actually saving lives, saving children, being there for those who need them. Its not actually being in parliament, being a lobby group.” (5:54-6:25)

Someone has scientifically established why we like beautiful art. Its because in art, what is beautiful is what our genes tell us is good for us, and what they tell us is good for us is what was good for us when we were hunter-gatherers. That’s why we like landscape painting — the mammoth gather on the plain. QED.

Put aside the point that art isn’t just about the beautiful. And put aside the point (made by Nigel Warburton, Jerry Fodor) that there’s insufficient evidence for some of the armchair evolutionary psychology going on…

My problem is the following.

Grant that Dutton is right — perhaps we like landscape paintings because the genes which make us like grassy plains once gave us a survival advantage over those which made our rivals dive back into the sea. But what kind of “because” is that!?

Surely this is the same problem as with all determinism(/reductionism). We can believe in (strict, physical) determinism all we like, and most of us would be comfortable claiming the universe is governed by physical rules (and that humans are part of the universe), but no one says “I choose the penne al’arrabiata because of the way the little cells in my brain are firing” … or “because of the current position little pieces of matter hold on the flightpaths they embarked upon at the beginning of time” [obviously I don’t study physics — insert appropriate theory]. We say “I choose the penne al’arrabiata because its cheaper” or “because its my favourite dish”. To then explain “because its my favourite dish” by the positions of those little pieces of matter on their flightpaths is to lose the point of saying “because”.

Of course, we could replace all of our “because its my favourite” language with “because of the molecules/genes” language, but that wouldn’t be explaining anything — putting an illusory language into a more scientific one — just redescribing it, replacing some sounds with others without changing anything.

(This has all been said before, better — I know)

I’m not sure about all of this “told-you-so-ism” in the left today. The arguments seem to be along the lines of “the crisis has shown that socialism (or at least nationalisation) is better at running a capitalist economy than capitalism is, so the socialists were right.”

No. If we should switch to socialism, it shouldn’t be because capitalism isn’t very good at being capitalist, but because capitalism isn’t very good at being socialist. (But then, people keep telling me that socialism isn’t very good at being socialist, so I’m not too sure where that leaves us.)

If there’s violence, it’s because the protesters are a violent crowd of thugs bent on causing fear and destruction. If there’s no violence, it’s because police tact and diplomacy tamed the violent crowd of thugs bent on causing fear and destruction.

Immanuel Kant, born 22nd April 1724 in Königsberg, Prussia; died 12th February 1804 in Königsberg, Prussia.

Born to a Pietist family, Kant never physically left the region of his birth, but why bother if one can deduce the nature of the solar system from rationalist premises?

It was around the time the University of Königsberg appointed him Chair of Logic and Metaphysics (at the age of 46) that reading Hume famously awoke Kant from his “dogmatic slumber” and provoked his elaboration over the course of the 1780s of his (“Copernican”) revolutionary system of metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics.

Immanuel Kant

Cameo #2 joins our cannon for his appearance in Bernard Williams’ “Human Rights and Relativism”, where his quest for a “pure moral philosophy” which “does not borrow in the slightest from acquaintance with [man] (in anthropology), but gives him laws a priori as a rational being” (Groundwork, Preface) earns him hypothetical transportation to Camelot in the place of Twain’s Yankee. Williams flings this incongruity in the face of the idea that “moral judgement must take everyone everywhere as equally its object”:

“Of course, one can imagine oneself as Kant at the court of King Arthur, disapproving of its injustices, but exactly what grip does this get on one’s ethical or political thought?” (In the Beginning was the Deed, p. 66)

A little late, but here’s Ferdinand again (died 23rd January 1516), and appropriately enough, he’s appropriating America from a very airy apartment with a flick of the wrist. 

Ferdinand and America