Thursday Thoughts (on Friday)

Still struggling to put together my thoughts on freedom and creativity, so here is a neat encapsulation of the subject starting with Picasso’s perceptive insight …

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‘Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.’ – Pablo Picasso

Look back to your childhood. Did you doodle? Did you jot down story ideas, eager to share them with the world? The world of childhood is one of uncomprehending hope and whimsy. It is a world where imagination is just as important as reality.

But somewhere along the way, reality becomes more important. Reality pays the bills, gets the promotions, and provides a career. Too often we hear the term ‘starving artist.’ Seen as almost second class citizens, except in the confines of their own social clusters they are derided for carrying on the traditions of their childhood. Painting? Writing? Dancing? What kind of career is that? What kind of ‘job security’ is there? Why don’t they find a ‘real’ job? They are all dreamers, dreamers who need to get their heads…

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Communication Breakdown, Part 2

As 2016 finally implodes in a shitstorm of fake news and false facts, I find myself in need of consolation. If I was a hedgehog, I’d hibernate. My previous post ended in a soothing flurry of proverbs but their analgesic effect has now worn off, so here’s another one:

‘When the heart weeps at what it has lost, the spirit laughs at what it has found.’

Arab proverb

Gulp, think I’m going to have to wait a while before that one works!

In the meantime, here is some music:

Hmm, that’s blown away a few cobwebs, if only because it was 1970 and not 2016! My life was ahead of me then, all speculation and no nostalgia. Who was it said, I wonder, that nostalgia is not what it was? I reckon we were the first mass-media generation and the fusty old past was a backward-looking book we were only too keen to close. Like Bob Dylan, we went along with Rimbaud’s injunction that it was necessary to be absolutely modern. Adults in the 1950s, wearied by the war, usually seemed happy enough to let us get on with it. After all, our freedom was what they had been fighting for.

And by comparison with children today, we were allowed to run pretty wild. But don’t run away with the thought that it was a golden age. My cousin Helen makes this thoughtful observation:

As children spawned just after WW2, we remember what it was like before the screws tightened on British society: schools were often appalling, there was little Health and Safety, and we had rights now gone for ever thanks to Thatcher and Blair. While this meant industrial accidents, child deprivation and unfairness, it also meant freedom to protest. Freedom of action. When in Marrakesh for my 60th, I was overjoyed at the lethal collapsed pavements which we had to navigate to avoid breaking our ankles. I felt once again the thrill of being in control of my own path – literally! I suppose what I’m saying is that you need some danger, mayhem and confusion as the crucible for inspiration and change. What have we lost in our present over-protected first world?

We learn best through trial and error: without mistakes, no achievements. How else can we grow up and not just older? Here is Helen again:

Young adults today don’t know anything different from the over-scrutinised, coddled society we have today. They don’t suffer from the feeling of loss of rights. How much more obedient will future generations be? They will accept without question their body-chipped, iris-recognition life. We also have to be vigilant for signs of the return of repression under the excuse of protection and safety.

We have always been contaminated, heavily, with the infantile responses programmed into us by all the “Sit still, be quiet, do as you’re told” directives of childhood: but looking over the parapet today it seems (Warning, generalisation alert!)  that younger generations are lacking in the cussedness, determination and daring that makes my generation such an inconvenience to the Establishment when we cross swords with it.

1984 has been and gone, with no obvious sign of Orwell’s Big Brother, but soon enough our every move will be followed by the often shadowy forces of control and commercial exploitation. Can you have a true democracy where adults are, in effect, infantilised? Helen traces the problem to our shallow ‘soundbite’ culture:

I blame the internet in part – the tsunami of information which helps to desensitise compassion and stifle curiosity. But why be curious anyway? The apathy of today is a realistic assessment of our political system. When you’ve grown up with celebrity culture, naturally you’ll be more interested in the Kardashians than the fact that there’s been a 6.5 earthquake in the third world.
Helen and I used to exchange long illustrated letters in our early teens and we’ve just resumed our correspondence on, ah yes, the internet! Perhaps we can prove Marshall McLuhan wrong when he said The medium is the message … in our case, I very much hope and believe, it’s not the how but the what!
Anyhow, no more talk of hibernation, I’m inspired to write and post an epic poem in defence of freedom before the weather closes in completely …
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Communication Breakdown

To put my previous post into perspective, here is a short news item about what it really means to lose your voice.


For once I’m happy to remain speechless. But here are three traditional sayings that somehow rise to the occasion:

‘Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater, as our might grows smaller.’ – Anglo-Saxon hero facing the Vikings

‘The owl of Minerva only flies at dusk.’ – Hegel, after the Greeks

‘In dark times, the eye begins to see.’ – Chinese proverb


Blow Back

P eople say that writer’s block is when you
R un out of ideas. Don’t believe them. It’s when a thousand thoughts
O verflow and jam
T he
E xcessively narrow
S traw they’ve stuck in the
T urbulent milkshake of your mind.

I wrote this acrostic poem in response to yesterday’s Daily Prompt Protest but didn’t post it because it seemed, well, just too damn odd! Looking at it again, though, it does seem to summarise the way I feel at the moment about broadcasting my viewpoint to the world. So I thought I’d try to work out what’s happened. I don’t feel up to stringing a logical argument together, so here are a few random bullet-points in no particular order:

  • the political situation in post-Brexit Britain and pre-Trump America is an airless vacuum as if everyone has taken a deep breath at the same moment
  • facts are stranger than fiction, as always, but in shorter supply than usual
  • any attempt to be satirical is bound to fall short of the weirdness that calls itself reality
  • writing about yourself feels like changing the subject
  • anything you say about what’s going on in the world could become irrelevant before you finish the sentence
  • being controversial may alienate some and frighten off others
  • trying to be funny feels like whistling in a graveyard
  • whistling in a graveyard makes you look stupid
  • every word you utter reveals how you voted, which defeats the object of a secret ballot
  • when did words ever change anything anyway?

Is this just me, I wonder, or is any one else struggling with this stuff too?Image result for whistling in a graveyard




Plato’s Cave

I used to live in a room full of mirrors
All I could see was me
Well I take my spirit and I crash my mirrors
Now the whole world is here for me to see

Jimi Hendrix

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Jimi Hendrix manages to say more in these four lines, I reckon, than Plato manages in four hundred. Where Jimi talks of expanding consciousness from the delusion of self-absorption to a direct and sensual delight in the real world, Plato suggests the tangible world around us is an illusion we can only escape by retreating into abstraction. At least, that’s how I read his cumbersome and deeply depressing analogy of human existence as a kind of underground imprisonment jumping at shadows.

Click on for an excellent comparison of Plato’s ideas with the TV film ‘Fifteen Million Merits (Black Mirror)’. And the internet abounds with short films on Plato’s Cave, such as and

On the face of it, Buddhism agrees in principle with Plato’s assessment of reality. The Buddhists believe that life is ‘dukkha’ or ‘suffering’. This suffering – according to the Buddha – comes about through human desire to hold on to the physical realm, an attachment to things. Buddhists might agree with Plato that physical reality is in a constant state of change. But I doubt whether they’d exchange the beauty of the world for his spooky and rather bloodless realm of pure Ideas and Forms.

The Buddhist higher worlds are much more down-to-earth: they comprise learning, compassion and realisation – this last I take to mean a more intense engagement with the world amounting to an ability to live fully in the moment. Enlightenment, or Nirvana, may perhaps be regarded as the moment of psychological escape from the cycle of birth and death. Life and death are one.

Plato’s cave denigrates the material world. According to Mel Thompson, Plato “fails to illustrate that attractiveness of the physical world; the scene inside the gloomy cave hardly represents the delights of the senses”.  Plato’s analogy of the cave is nothing like the world we live in, so we can’t relate to it or understand it the way Plato wanted us to. He doesn’t help us understand the world we live in. He implies the senses are useless, but we have survived for millions of years because of them. All artistic endeavour, he says, is pointless because we are merely making copies of things that are already copies.

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Plato’s misanthropy doesn’t stop there. All finer feelings – such as unconditional love, perfect friendship and selfless altruism – are imperfect copies of purely notional concepts. This is clearly nonsense. And if we are to believe there is a perfect Form of everything then there must be perfect Forms of nasty stuff too. Yet the realm of the Forms is meant to be perfect, unchanging, and eternal. This world, as Stephen Law says, “requires the existence of deeply unpleasant things such as mud, faeces, and mucus. The ‘Platonic heaven of the Forms’ does not sound so heavenly … “

Problems with Plato’s Cave multiply because he fails to make a distinction between the visible world and the World of Forms, as the analogy contains physical objects. The Sun is a physical object and the fire in the cave merely a smaller version of the Sun. This does not provide a convincing explanation of the relationship between the physical and the metaphysical.

Plato divides our one world into two but he offers no proof of two worlds. It is a leap of faith. Aristotle argued that a Form does not have separate existence over and above a particular instance of it. It is impossible to prove Plato’s theory.

Plato would no doubt turn this round, as he turns everything else round, by saying that authentic knowing is not possible while we’re constrained by these bodies. And yet he says that he knows these things. With Plato we are entering the realm of magical thinking and starting to leave the ground. But we have to question  whether a priori knowledge really is superior to empirical knowledge.

Moral relativists deny that moral fact exists. Nietzsche suggests we decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. Hume and Ayer regard moral statements as demonstrations of emotion. Sartre says that we are what we do, which locates our identity in the social environment. According to these thinkers, nothing descends from on high. It’s down to us.

Plato holds the deeply patronising view that only an elite can work out reality but we know how easily elites can lose touch with everyday life. Knowledge of practical goodness is widespread – those ignorant of goodness can be educated or uneducated. Plato disparages democracy and draws an over-simplified contrast between the ordinary person and the philosopher.

In a way I can understand some degree of special pleading because his mentor Socrates died for expressing his views. Also, while Plato’s analogy is at best dodgy and at worst damaging, it does shed unintentional light on political questions like social conditioning. This shouldn’t be overstressed as Plato’s reference to it is only a metaphor within a metaphor – hating art, he can’t be expected to be much good at it, can he? – but for what it’s worth, here it is:

Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

Is it the nature of life that plays tricks on us or is it the nature of human societies? Plato predictably doesn’t make this clear. Susan Sontag found interesting connections between Plato’s dancing shadows and the arbitrary contextless way the media portrays reality, but perhaps that’s an idea for another post …


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Enough Already!

S ipping cognac through a crystal straw
A fter a seventeen-course banquet
T hat could have fed
E very person in his home village for a month, our Glorious Leader
D id at least show his appreciation with a burp.

This poem is definitely not about Fidel Castro, who showed much more concern for the welfare of his people than that. If anything it’s a reminder of the corrupt dictators who used to run South America long before equality became an issue there.

I wrote the poem in response to the Daily Prompt Sated. It’s an apt word to end my little acrostic series, which is becoming a bit of a duck-shoot. Time to get on with something more challenging, I reckon, so for my next post I will be entering Plato’s gloomy old cave …

S even
A crostic poems in
T hree days is more than
E nough,
D on’t you think?

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