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Who is your PhD for?

It may sound like an odd question, even presumptuous to ask who my PhD is for. I’ve always justified my choice to do one on the grounds that I love research and I found a subject I wanted to explore. (Why do people act environmentally friendly – answer, we always do.) In other words it was all about me. But if that were true, then I know from my own experience that I probably would have got bored. I have only been able to sustain interest in the most mundane of activities by looking beyond myself.

My experience is supported by a number of philosophers and scientists. Hegel’s philosophy in a nutshell is that a person can have a full existence not only if it lives for itself but also lives for another. Freud says that while pleasure comes from the release of tension, ultimately ending in the final release and death, our instinct for life goes beyond the pleasure principle. According to neuroscience research, neurons survive when connections are made to other neurons.

The question is, who else is my PhD for?

The immediate and obvious answer is that my PhD is created for my supervisers and viva examiners. After all, at the end of the day, I don’t want to have nothing to show for the time and money (especially as its not my money). So even though it is my research, I don’t think I have ever rejected any of the guidance or recommendations provided by my superviser. And I do have one eye to what the examiners will read and how I might justify what I have written, to the extent that I have cited my intended examiners’ work.

But if that’s all my PhD is for, it would probably be pulped after viva instead of being available in the library. instead, it becomes another brick in the wall of knowledge, waiting for others to build on it. So my PhD is for other researchers.

But I don’t intend that my PhD collects dust in an academic library, hoping that someone finds it. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and there’s no-one around, does it make a sound? Similarly, as Hegel argued, does my research exist if there is no one to at least acknowledge or recognise it. One of my favourite metaphors for doing a PhD is pregnancy and childbirth, complete with labour pains; why would I not want to show off my baby? not just at conferences and in articles, but a book,this blog and other social media channels. My PhD started life as an environmental problem. Well, I do think it may or may not suggest particular policy actions. I hope its not presumptuous of me to think that my PhD is for society.

Finally, before I started, I prayed that whatever I produced from my research would not contradict the Bible. As far as I can see, God has answered my prayer. Indeed, my research has given me a greater understanding of many of the paradoxes in christianity. Furthermore, Hegel’s philosophy is obviously influenced by christianity and one cannot deal with him without dealing with the spirituality, which is heavily interwoven in it. So in the end my PhD is for God.

The Big Society is the Parental Society

If there’s one good thing that has come out of the riots and looting in English cities this week, it’s that it has brought out the parent in society.

The shock, outrage, fear and heartbreak at the destruction did not result in a society that wallowed in self-pity and impotence, wondering when a paternal state was going to come and sort things out and make things better. In fact, if anything, society, local communities, found that there was very little point depending on the state, whether police or politicians, which only proved itself to be as vulnerable and fragile as a little child.

Instead, come Tuesday morning in London and later in other cities, members of local communities were out in force cleaning up the mess, offering support to victims and the emergency services, protecting neighbourhoods from further looting. A number of social media initiatives, such as @riotcleanup on Twitter, sprang up to work with councils and the police to find out where ordinary members of the public could go to help out. ‘Local’ didn’t just mean your neighbourhood or borough, but even your own city and, for some, county.

Next to the parental society, the vague pronouncements, unsatisfiable promises and unthinking diagnoses of a “sick society” and “broken Britain” from politicians seems absolutely childish. Indeed, I would argue that calling society sick or broken is an insult to every person who got knee deep in broken glass (literally and metaphorically). I might also add that the looters’ own justifications for their actions made them sound more educated than the politicians.

This is what the Big Society is about. The reference to size is superficial, in that parents are bigger than their young children. But it doesn’t mean a retrenchment or shrinking of the state. Instead, for children to be big like their parents means to take on the responsibilities of being an adult and being a parent, which includes holding their own young children to account. A Big Society is a Responsible Society, not one that is absolutely dependent on a childlike state.

It was ironic that the police were practically pleading for parents to find out where their kids are and to bring them in. Whether this worked or not is unclear but it perhaps it was an indication as to the proper relationship between society and the state.

The Erotics of the Debt Ceiling

So, according to the general gist of the media coverage, there’s just under a week to go to financial armageddon. If the US government cannot get Congress to agree to a lifting of the debt ceiling, it won’t be able to service its debts and pay its bills and…well, to be honest, beyond America, I am not entirely clear on the next bit.

I am actually kinda curious. A bit disappointed that Greece hasn’t defaulted yet, given that all the pundits are talking about the exposure of European banks. It’s a bit like a disappointing porn film. Maybe it’s just my sado-masochistic fantasies LOL. The thought of the world’s biggest economy defaulting on its debts is…well, let’s just say that SOMETHING has to go down ;) I guess you could say that the Democrats want to keep it up with a good hand job. The Tea Party, on the other hand, want to service it with a good whipping (and you thought they were the ultra conservatives). Honestly, how’s a country to decide.

On the other hand, when the choice is between being masturbated by Hilary Clinton verses being whipped by Michelle Bachman dressed in black rubber, it’s a bit of a no-brainer.

On a more serious note, I suppose one could say that national debt really is a type of phallus – you know what they say about countries with massive debts, my debt is bigger than your debt, that sort of thing. Perhaps it is penis envy on the part of governments with smaller debts that masquerades as concern for the regional or world economy. I don’t know. But whether it is ‘penis envy’ or concern, it is arguably in response to the criticisms from the wider society, including the markets and the media. This isn’t in itself a bad thing.

The state has traditionally been seen as paternal. It still resonates now, particularly with current political philosophies such as libertarian paternalism and the nudge agenda. In this respect, therefore the paternal state is asking the maternal society (represented by Congress) to, well, I think you get the picture by now. But this whole gender polarity is perhaps a part of the problem.

Where does the state come from, for a start? It is born out of or created by society. Indeed, as per Jessica Benjamin’s psychoanalytic feminist critique of paternalism, it is people forming larger and larger groups that set up a system to govern their relations. Society only identifies with a rational, paternal state to disidentify itself from Mother Nature. So, in reality, therefore, the state is the child of society, yet the child has been given the power to dominate the parent.

Now of course it is up to the parent how they bring up the child, but if the child does something wrong, then it is surely the responsibility of the parent to discipline. This of course is the basis of the accountability of governments to the people and society. As much as it pains me to say this, perhaps the Tea Party may have a point (god, I feel so dirty, especially after the sado-masochism). Barack Obama has likened the national debt to a credit card bill. Well, I am not a parent, so may be one who is can tell me whether, if your child maxes out the credit card, do you ring up the company to increase the limit?

Taxdodging – a breakdown in the dialectic

Campaigning organisation 38degrees has secured national newspaper ad space to run a full page adverts calling on the government to do something about the £120 billion lost through taxdodging. That amount alone is enough to wipe out a good part of the deficit. Perhaps if this has been the first priority then the government would not have needed to take make drastic cuts so quickly and could give real and serious consideration to what other cuts should be made.

Taxdoging is more than just a simple case of a bunch of rich people not paying their taxes. It goes to heart of the philosophical foundation of the relationship or dialectic between state and society. Society cannot exist without the state, as the lawmaker, to provide some form of organisation or structure. But, the state’s power to organise or structure is dependent on the recognition by society, not just psychologically but also materially (i.e. financially). If we do not pay our taxes, the goverment has not power to do what it needs to do in our interests. It effectively ceases to exist and thus the order of society ceases to exist.

This is not an argument for big government. It is an argument for the inevitability of government. Jesus Christ, as the prime minister in God’s government, said that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is there also. Similarly, whenever human beings gather together into groups, some kind of leadership and organisational structure will always emerge to keep together the contradictory elements of self and other.

The Big Society – Does size matter?

I attended a workshop yesterday, organised by the Environmental Law Foundation, on how the concept of the Big Society could help local residents to achieve environmental justice. Of course, there is a still confusion about what David Cameron meant when he coined the Big Society. But I think I heard possibly one of the best definitions of it yesterday, from Steve Shaw, the National Coordinator of Local Works.

Local Works is an organisation that was specifically set up by the New Economics Foundation to campaign for and push for the parliamentary acceptance of the Sustainable Communities Act. This is what Shaw said:

“The Big Society has always been there. It is about the things you want to do but the rules are a barrier and they can only be changed by government. The Sustainable Communities Act comes in as a bottom up process to change. It is the only concrete example of the Big Society.”

I had heard of the SCA but didn’t really know what it about. Apparently, in a nutshell, local residents can submit ideas for local initiatives to their local council, who then pass it up to central government (via the Local Government Association) and the government has to seriously consider each before approving or rejecting. There probably is a bit more to it than that, but effectively it means that the people have a real say as to what happens in their local community.

Personally, I think the confusion arises more from the form of words rather than the content. I don’t think anyone is opposed to the idea of the Big Society – it’s a catchy, vacuous name for social responsibility, even though social responsibility is much more self-explanatory. In positing the Big Society, Cameron was trying to put forward an alternative philosophy to Big Government. The problem is that it is easy to understand Big or Small in relation to Government. But Society is not a specific entity. Big Society is just Society, the adjective is superfluous.

Arguably, the best definition of the Big Society, or social responsibility, comes from Margaret Thatcher (I feel so dirty now). In her autobiography, she clarified what she meant when she said that “there’s no such thing as society”: “My meaning, clear at the time but subsequently distorted beyond recognition, was that society was not an abstraction, separate from men and women who composed it, but a living structure of individuals, families, neighbours and voluntary associations. I expected great things from society in this sense because I believed that as economic wealth grew, individuals and voluntary groups should assume more responsibility for their neighbours’ misfortunes. The error to which I was objecting was the confusion of society with the state as the helper of first resort…Society for me was not an excuse, it was a source of obligation.” This is why you can’t describe society as big, because the obvious question would be: “how big?”

And then, if size really does matter, then everyone knows that nothing gets big by itself. If the government want a big society, it needs to masturbate it and in a controlled fashion, because there’s nothing messier and more annoying than premature ejaculation.

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