Philosophy Mondays | Spinoza’s Ethics: A remedy for fear, hate and bitterness?

~ Body and Mind in Spinoza’s Ethics: a challenge to the Cartesian cogito ~

by Vic Briggs

Spinoza vs Descartes

Spinoza (1632-77) vs Descartes (1596-1650)

Part I

Introduction

“Although he lived three hundred years before our time, the spiritual situation with which Spinoza had to cope peculiarly resembles our own. The reason for this is that he was utterly convinced of the causal dependence of all phenomena… In the study of this causal relationship he saw a remedy for fear, hate and bitterness, the only remedy to which a genuinely spiritual man can have recourse.”

— Albert Einstein

Philosophy is generally associated with the search for knowledge of the self and of the world, and Baruch Spinoza (1632-77) was faithful to these traditional preoccupations. He dedicated his life’s efforts to framing an epistemological theory of the universe explaining the complex lattice of man and his universe.

Feuerbach regarded Spinoza as the emancipator of reason in a new era, with the Ethics more than any other philosophical work establishing the foundation for the force of reason.

In one of his epigrams on Spinoza, Althusser voiced the philosopher’s belief that the truth of a philosophy exists in its effects. It is certainly difficult to find a modern philosopher other than Spinoza whose system has been contended with more passion and determination by fractions otherwise opposed in thought, but united in their denunciation of his works, often without making the effort of reading them:

“I have not read him, but who would want to read every obscure book written by a madman? But I have it from many who have read him that he was an atheist and pantheist, a teacher of blind necessity, and enemy of revelation, a mocker of religion, and thus a destroyer of the state and of civil society; that he was in short an enemy of the human race and died as such. He therefore deserves the hatred and loathing of all friends of humanity and true philosophers.” (Philolaus, in Herder’s dialogues on Spinoza’s system)

In fact the geometrical form of Spinoza’s Ethics with its apparent rigid definitions and axioms makes the undertaking a difficult one for the uninitiated reader, a frustration clearly expressed by Montag:

“In reading the definitions I could not entirely escape the feeling that each term referred to the others which in turn referred to it in what appeared to be a circle of empty abstractions: substance, modes, attributes, essences.”

For the message of Ethics however, this geometrical form was indispensable. Spinoza wanted the reader to pay little attention to the language used, and concentrate on the ideas that he endeavoured to convey by the means of that language.

Ideas, unlike language, are clear and distinct and based on real definitions, therefore being less prone to confusion in the thinker’s opinion (here Spinozian and Cartesian opinions converge).

This reliance on real definitions cannot be without assumptions and there are obvious difficulties with such an approach, as an interpreter of the text can never be sure of whether they are being mislead by the language of the text to ideas other than those intended.

“the apparent impenetrability of his writing is in some measure the opacity of the present to itself”

— Montag.

Yet it is not this that had caused so many to refute his philosophy.  There were countless accusations of atheism, fatalism and pantheism regarding Spinoza’s Ethics.

Perhaps it is for this reason that philosophers who benefited from the necessary “distance” conferred by time, such as Althusser for example, would be able to regard the work’s supposed atheism or heresy as one of its distinct positive aspects, in being able to express a revolutionary spirit representative of a history repressed and denied.

Other important criticisms included the apparent confusion of God with the world or with nature that Spinoza’s definition of substance infers. Such accusations attempted to perpetrate the idea that Spinoza’s God was a part of a finite, degradable world. In this respect the critics failed to understand Spinoza’s theory of substance, modes and attributes and made the false assumption that the attribution of extension to God would somehow render him corporeal, which was certainly not Spinoza’s intention. Spinoza’s particular emphasis on the distinction between Natura naturans – God – another name for the attributes, and Natura naturata – the totality of finite things – disproved his critics’ claims when observed.

What then determined so many to refute his philosophy? It was his departure from the philosophical mainstream of his time, his radical dissonance with orthodox theology and his challenge to accepted dualist conceptions of minds and bodies, God and substance, activity and passivity.

Leibniz, among many others critics, had deprecated Spinoza’s philosophy as exaggerated Cartesianism. Spinoza’s philosophy has indeed been greatly influenced by Descartes. In many ways, his own philosophy speaks to those issues raised by the Cartesian self, and although many similarities of approach exist, the conclusions the two philosophers reach are radically opposed.

To understand these distinctions more clearly it is necessary to take a closer look at Spinoza’s system of thought in the Ethics and his development of the theory of bodies and minds united through ideas and their objects.

Divided in five major parts, Spinoza’s Ethics offers more than a philosophy of morals, as the title may entitle one to expect. The work consists in short of a cosmology in the first part establishing the concepts of God, Nature, substance, attributes and modes; the second part could be conceived of as a psychology identifying the relation between human bodies and human minds and addressing the question of the nature of man; the third and fourth parts contain a psychology of the emotions which to some extent appears as a theory of human happiness; and finally the fifth part fully justifies the title of the work as Ethics, although expounding an ethics that would appear unfamiliar to his contemporaries, with no dogmatic good and evil expressed, morality becomes the tenet of individual’s understanding of emotions through reason.

Subsequently, I will attempt to show that, while Spinoza may have adopted a Cartesian approach (that of mathematical method) and language, most concepts appear transformed in his philosophy. The ‘borrowed’ notions were used in new ways and his thought developed more often in opposition to Descartes’ ideas rather than following them.


 

Note to my readers: Originally I intended to make this post available on the Monday following my previous post. Those of you who expressed an interest in the subject deserve an explanation for my renewed absence (I am in two minds regarding how explicit or otherwise I ought to be in this respect), but first I would like to apologise for the delay. 

This introduction is by no means exhaustive. It neither could be, nor did it aim to be so. It assumes a degree of acquaintance with Spinoza’s work and is intended as a mis-en-scene for the discussion of the relationship between body and mind in Spinoza’s Ethics and the challenge presented by Spinoza’s theories to the model of the Cartesian cogito on which I will expand in subsequent Philosophy Mondays posts.

All comments and questions are welcome. I can’t promise that I will be able to answer all to your satisfaction, but I can promise to do my best.

If you are new to Spinoza, the following webpages contains a few biographical details and an overview of his work: http://www.philosophypages.com/ph/spin.htm and http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/spinoza/

 

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Philosophy Mondays | A reply to my readers

philosopher v2On the 31st of July I posed a question to my readers. The number of replies was encouraging and since there is sufficient interest in philosophy, I have decided to take the plunge and share a part of what I have written on the subject.

There were some very good suggestions for future questions, and in time I will attempt to tackle each of them.

For the time being, however, I will begin with aspects of philosophy I am familiar with and hope that these will be of interest to others as well.

The range of future articles will differ from one another both in the density and complexity of the subject matter, as well as in the manner in which I approach them. Some will be easier to digest than others, but I will do my best to clarify the more obscure points and write introductions that will hopefully make it easier to delve into unfamiliar territory. I will also do my best to ensure that there is a post on the topic on the Monday of every week, hence the Philosophy Mondays tag.

My first philosophy series will consider the relationship between body and mind established by Spinoza in the Ethics and will assess its challenge to the model of the Cartesian cogito; with the first article in the series, being dedicated to introducing Spinoza and giving a context to how his Ethics was received by contemporaries and others.

I’ve opted to make it a series, rather than one post, because the length of it would otherwise exceed 5,000 words and while I would love to think that each and every one of you would take the time to read it all, it would certainly make it easier and I hope more enjoyable too, to have it available in this alternative format.

As you are probably already aware, the word philosopher translates from ancient Greek as “lover of wisdom”, so to all of you lovers of wisdom who will be joining me on this journey: thank you. I hope it will be a rewarding one for all.

Odd Trio Redux

A question to my readers

plato

As some of you may already know: while being a writer, I am also a philosopher-in-training. Currently my philosophy project is on hold, however there are several pieces that I have written that would lend themselves well to this medium.

So here is my question to you: Do you think that philosophy posts would be a welcome addition to my current range of topics, and if so, what subjects would be of most interest to you personally?

Awaiting your replies.

With best regards,

Vic

‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted’

world-in-danger_Royalty Free

“Truth”? Who has forced this word on me? But I repudiate it; but I disdain this proud word; no, we do not need even this: we shall conquer and come to power even without truth. (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power)

Lying on his deathbed, Hassan i Sabbah — the Old Man of the Mountainfounder and ruler of the Hashishim, otherwise known as the Order of the Assassinsleft his followers with this anarchic declaration: ‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted’

Both the terms hashish and assassin are claimed to have derived from the Hashishim Order, that simply signifies the followers of Hassan. The etymological richness of the order’s name exemplifies how meaning changes over time, accruing new values.

Philosophy is generally associated with the search for knowledge of the self and of the world, yet the search for ultimate meaning can be life-denying and therefore cripple human fulfilment.

There is no absolute truth.

Truth has been constructed by men through a historic process, and even our own understanding of who and what we are is the result of a lengthy process of training and cultivation through the evolution of morality and centuries of social development.

Meaning or truth is historical and flexible, rather than a-temporal and absolute.

Even conscience and free will are not natural givens, but the outcome of historical and psychological evolution of humanity. The existence of both is essential for society as much as it is for Moral philosophy, as it can attribute guilt and responsibility.

The creation of free will and a moral perspective demarcates the birth of the ‘absolute’ truth and consequently the unceasing seeking of ultimate knowledge and truth.

Man’s conscience, his sense of responsibility, is instilled by means of punishment, in a relationship similar to that between creditor and debtor.

‘How do you give a memory to the animal, man? …’ ‘A thing must be burnt in so that it stays in the memory…’ (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morality)

Science and philosophy are by no means an advance away from the will to truth, rather sophisticated versions of the same doctrine: a denial of sensual, present life in exchange for a pursuit of a believed, pre-determined truth — a truth that has been constructed through historical and psychological development, which differ for various civilisations, being simultaneously valid and null.

‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted.’ This is a fundamental affirmation of unrestricted creative freedom: an apocalyptic avowal that goes beyond the call to destructive, unrestrained behaviour:

“Everything is permitted because nothing is true. It is all make-believe . . . illusion . . . dream . . . art. When art leaves the frame and the written word leaves the page, not merely the physical frame and page, but the frames and pages that assign the categories.” (William S. Burroughs)

Only when we acknowledge the absence of eternal or pre-existing truth, can we be free from the burden of guilt.

Only then can we become our own master, legislator, executive and judge in the pursuit of a fulfilling sensual and creative life.

Only then will we stop blaming the elusive other for our actions and assume responsibility for everything we do in drawing our own horizons of truth.

 

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http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/12/07/fifteen-minutes/

Madness: Thinkers Welcome Aboard.

Madness does not come easily. It’s not something that can be accomplished overnight. It requires unswerving determination and commitment.
Along the way there will be many attempting to bring you back to sanity. Many more will make light of your madness. Others still will try to persuade you that you may be many things other than mad.

But stick to it. Don’t give in. If you reject madness, you give into convention. For what is to be mad than to see the world otherwise than you’ve been taught to see it?

Reality is not linear. Like a mirror that reflects fixedly our beliefs about the world, its synchronicity depends on its remaining whole. Shatter the mirror and you have hundreds, thousands, – countless variations. Madness rests somewhere between mystery and opportunity.

If I look one way when I’ve been compelled to look another, something’s changed. If I don’t replicate exactly the behaviour that is expected of me, something new comes into being. See?

Only children, philosophers and madmen contend with questions about death and the meaning of life. I’m no longer a child, not yet a philosopher… where does that leave me?

I think, therefore I am… mad.

L0031760 Sir Charles Bell, The anatomy and philosophy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

vicbriggs FOR HarsH ReaLiTy

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This article was first published as a guest post on HarsH ReaLiTy: http://aopinionatedman.com/2013/11/09/madness-thinkers-welcome-aboard/ with the following reblog message: This is my second piece for HarsH ReaLiTy. On madness. You may think it somewhat of a departure from yesterday’s post, but humour and madness have a long history together. More often than not they go hand in hand. Think of the King’s Fool: The Entertainer. The Thinker. The Madman. Thought you would appreciate some thematic continuity. Think! Be Mad 🙂

God @TheTweetOfGod Sigh… maybe Nietzsche was right.

 Humour will save us all in the end…

Dear lensgirl53,

Thank you for your considered reply to my comment. I will attempt to engage in what follows with the main points you make. Of course, if you feel that there are additional ones in need of consideration, just let me know, and I will happily oblige.

lensgirl53: I know this is controversial

Not at all, I assure you, if by controversial you meant your own contribution to the debate of course. The issue at hand is indeed a controversial one.

lensgirl53: but I can’t just let this slip by because of some people’s casual toss of the word and understanding of “prejudices”…

Nor should you let it ‘slip’, as you say. I am glad that you didn’t. As I’ve said many a time in the past: You have a voice too. Use it.

Do correct me if I’m wrong, but I assume that in this particular case by ‘people’ who casually ‘toss the word … “prejudices”’ around you meant me?

If I may be so bold as to protest.

In my line of work, tossing words around is not current practice. My choice of words in general is measured, and my use of this word in particular, particularly so, given the issue under discussion.    

Perhaps we ought to return to the context in which I appealed to the term. I said, and I quote: “As far as I am concerned, Man created God in his own image – and somehow seems to have managed to imbue his invention with his own prejudices in the process.”

Notice that I do not claim this statement to be a truth universally acknowledged. The above shows clearly that I do nothing other than simply put forth my position regarding the idea of God. It was important to elucidate this point, since my reply was to someone with a religious background, who had expressed a view coloured by that background, regarding a political and social matter of some import.

It would be helpful perhaps for me to clarify at this point why I felt it necessary to take issue with Mandy saying, and I quote, “…even though I don’t agree with homosexuality.”

She did not say that homosexuality is morally reprehensible. Had she done so, I would have rebutted in quite a different manner. I would have also taken a less genteel line in such a rebuttal.

What Mandy said was that she did not agree with homosexuality. Does not agree… on what?

Homosexuality is not a person, a political group with a manifesto, or an institution with a set of policies that one could disagree with.

Is it same-sex coitus that Mandy disagrees with? This would be an insultingly reductive view of homosexuality. I persist in the hope that this was not Mandy’s position.

Is it that Mandy disagrees with the existence of homosexuality as a counterpart to heterosexuality? Does she believe that heterosexuality is a ‘natural’ occurrence, whilst homosexuality is a lifestyle choice? If so, then this would suggest that, when she says she disagrees with homosexuality, what she means is that she disagrees with homosexuality as a valid lifestyle choice. I leaned towards this interpretation of her statement, and my comment on her article makes this plain.

Allow me to repeat that part of my reply which illustrates the above point:

“I struggle to understand what there can be to ‘agree’ or disagree with about homosexuality. Homosexuality is not a matter of opinion. You can’t disagree with homosexuality as if it’s equivalent to coffee-drinking, governmental policy on education, or… whatever-have-you: whaling! for example. Homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice.” (vicbriggs)

So far, so good. Now that you understand my reasons for engaging with Mandy on this issue, I will return to my later statement which incited your reply:

“As far as I am concerned, Man created God in his own image – and somehow seems to have managed to imbue his invention with his own prejudices in the process.”

As I have already indicated above, this statement is nothing other than a clarification of my position regarding the idea of God.

I am willing to acknowledge that since for me God is an idea, rather than an entity, and since I was writing a reply for someone for whom the opposite is the case, I ought to have taken pains to make the distinction clearer perhaps.

As for Man imbuing the idea of God with his own “prejudices”? I stand by this. I’m afraid that if you want to disagree with me on this, you’ll have to do it from within the framework of my argument rather than the Christian one, since my point is a philosophical rather than a religious one.

Suffice to say that all human beings are incapable of leaving their preconceptions fully off the table, and since this is the case, anything they create will necessarily be “imbued” with those preconceptions. Since for me God is Man’s creation, it follows that this idea is necessarily contaminated by humanity’s own shortcomings.

My statement was not intended to challenge anyone else’s faith. Everyone is entitled to make sense of life and death, themselves and the world in the manner of their own choosing. Religion does not do it for me, but I know it does work for others, and I’m not some militant atheist who requires for religion to be obliterated or else.

That being said, I am militant about maintaining a clear separation between public and private. Religion belongs to the latter and has no business dictating policy in the former.

I do take issue with those who use their faith to discriminate against others.

 

lensgirl53: Therein lies the difficulty of explaining our position on such delicate subjects as homosexuality that the Bible says is a sin…along with lying, murder, stealing, etc.

Actually, the Bible may say that homosexuality is a sin, but it does not say that it is a sin along with those others you mention. The sins you enumerate, as you well know, come from the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments. Commandment nr.9, lying: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” Commandment nr.6, murder:Thou shalt not kill.” Commandment nr.8, stealing: “Thou shalt not steal.”

Notice again, how I’m being pernickety about the choice/use of language and the context that language implies?

I do this because in choosing to enumerate homosexuality as a sin in the context of ten commandment sins, you are implicitly creating an image of homosexuality as a sin so great that it would be worthy of an eleventh commandment. If that was not your intention, then perhaps you ought to have referred to other sins that are not mentioned in the Ten Commandments, but appear in the Bible elsewhere. Consistency and parity of position would be appreciated in this context.        

 

lensgirl53: Now, I could start quoting scripture here but what would be the point? If a person does not believe in God or a Bible then those words will have no meaning. But if you are inclined to look it up…try the book of Romans and read it in its entirety.

The western secular world is in many ways also a post-Christian world, so you are mistaken in your assumption that the values and norms of Christianity as presented in its key texts have no meaning for those who do not believe. Meaning however does not equate faith. I am able to understand you and your beliefs and simultaneously adhere to my own worldview, my own set of “truths”.

Thank you for your suggested further reading. I was brought up as a Christian and have read the Bible and many other religious texts extensively as a result. In fact, at my last count, I had read the Old Testament (in its entirety) six times and the new one, almost as many.

I was a believer as a child, and then I grew up.

lensgirl53: As far as the desire of homosexual behavior….they may be inclined to a certain sexual orientation but the real sin is the act of immoral sex (hetero..and homo) The Christian perspective is that we should exert self-control in all things and when we fail, as we will do….then we are forgiven through our faith in Christ. Simple as that…a gift from a loving Father.

Interesting. Your explanation is insufficiently developed I’m afraid. I am still in the dark as to what, in your opinion, constitutes immoral sex. Care to elucidate?

My guess is that you make in the above a distinction between sex within marriage as moral, and church un-ratified sex as immoral, irrespective of whether it is a heterosexual or same-sex relationship? If so, where does that leave civil marriages, where the couple chose not to have a religious wedding?  

lensgirl53: And quit judging Christians, while saying that they “judge” others…it just isn’t so.

Quit judging Christians? I would ‘quit’ if I had been judging Christians in the first place. I’m afraid you have projected onto me and mine your own preconceptions of what un-believers ought to be like, what an atheist or agnostic may be expected to think or “believe,” and how they are likely to act around believers.

Please reread my comment to Mandy. Perhaps on second inspection you will be able to see that I do not judge her, and by extension, I do not judge Christians: https://shardsofsilence.wordpress.com/2013/09/21/be-happy-be-gay/

I have no interest in judging anyone. I am a thinker, a philosopher-in-training. What I try to do is engage with people at the level of ideas, which I find to be a fruitful and enriching experience.

Nor do I ever once say that Christians judge others.

Again, you appear to take it as a given that if a non-believer challenges a believer on any point, they are necessarily judging them, making some sort of personal attack. I can’t change your perception of this. Only you have the power to make that change. I can only refer you back to the above.

I have copy-pasted your comment before writing my reply in order to ensure that I do not attribute to you any words or opinions that you have not expressed in writing. Please be so kind as to return the courtesy and only claim that I say something when I do in fact say it, rather than when you believe it to be implied in what I say.

There is a distinction. And it is an important one: When I write/say something: that is my opinion expressed. When you write that I say something: that is your interpretation of my opinion, which may or may not correspond to my actual position.

lensgirl53: I would rather live as if there is a God to die and find out I am right, than to live as if there is no God to die and find out I am wrong!!

Therein lieth the crux of the matter: You believe that there is something to find out after death. I do not.

 

Thank you for your comment and for taking the time to read my reply. Additions and corrections to the debate are of course very welcome. Until then, I bid you farewell.

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Writing this article was made possible by Project O. To read my original contribution, please follow the following link: https://shardsofsilence.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/project-o/

For Mandy’s contribution to Project O, please follow this link: http://aopinionatedman.com/2013/09/20/project-o-article-80-mandy-uk-scheduled-for-9-20-1800/comment-page-1/#comment-63799

To read other contributors’ Project O pieces, and find out more about the project’s inception and aims, follow the link below: http://aopinionatedman.com/category/project-o/

There is also an interview with vicbriggs and OpinionatedMan coming up in October. Will link it up to my blog as soon as it is published. Alternatively, you can follow me on Twitter for updates: @shardsofsilence

Project O

Project O

Here’s a preview of my contribution to this project.

You will be able to see it on the Project O Director’s blog at some point in the near future. Follow the link for the template if you would like to contribute.

Question 1: Please provide a window into who you are, some background information in a not too overwhelming profile here.

I am a writer. A thinker. And a lover of wisdom (will say philosopher when I have the certificate to prove it. They put a lot of stock by paper where I come from).

I was born in the USSR – got the certificate to prove that one. Basarabia? It sounds a little like Bass-Arabia, although I can assure you, it’s no Middle Eastern palm-treed oasis or lagoon crawling with giant bass.

I left when I was fifteen. I got into Hogwarts: What? Hogwarts? I’m a wizard? Wow!  Ok, nearly: a scholarship got me into a boarding school in Romania. It was magic though, so Harry can swish the proverbial.

I’m British through and through now. Drink milk in my tea. Comment on the cleanliness or otherwise of public lavatories. Am obsessed with discussing the weather almost as much as Benedict Cumberbatch (I’m not. Honest. See Pants on Fire post!).

 

Question 2: If you haven’t already done so please provide your country of origin, whether you are male or female, an age would be nice, and where you currently live if that differs from the country of origin.

I live in one of the Home Counties, a short train journey out of London.  It is picture postcard English countryside: steeds galloping along country lanes, fields of dandelions and rapeseed (they should really rename that!), cricket on Sundays on the village green, mansion house chockfull of aristos complete with deer-roaming estate grounds in my back garden (or as good as).

We used to be red. We a blue now, after the last election (switched from Labour to Conservative that is), although I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t our village that made the change. This one is so blue, people don’t bother with ink. Just slash a wrist open and dab in. Because, of course, we still use quills over here.

 

Question 3: Recount the first time you remember having a differing opinion from someone significantly older than you. Do you remember what the topic was about? Did you voice your opinion or hold it to yourself?

When I was a child, I noticed something that unsettled me in the relationship between my father’s parents. He would tell her to shut up in public, suggesting that what she had to say was stupid. I do not recall any occasion when she said anything to deserve it, even if she was no Plato. What was even worse: she submitted. Every time.

I could not correct him. I’d been brought up to respect my elders. But, I knew from that moment on that I would not allow him, or any other man for that matter, to ever dare tell me to shut up. Well: can’t stop anyone saying it, but I’ve got twenty-five solid years of near-continuous education under my belt, which primarily focused on honing my argumentative skills. (Thank you, grandpa)

My friends always comment on how sweet I am to everyone, too sweet. Well. Manners cost nothing, and I’m sure everyone has sufficient irritants in their everyday life without me adding to them.  But! if you tell anyone to shut up: I’m on you like Dumbledore on You-know-Who. Yeah! I said it. Watch out Tom Riddles of the world. (Thought you’d enjoy a little thematic continuity here :))

 

Question 4: What levels of respect were practiced around you when you were a child?

Alright there, comrades? High levels of respect certainly. We were all equals. Some more equal than others, but equal nonetheless. Everyone had the Name-Patronymic or Name-Surname combos added to that.

Comrades turned to the equivalent of Ma’am and Sir post-revolution and USSR breakdown. Incidentally, in my mother-tongue their meaning is closer to Master and Mistress, so that Wild-East-Capitalism and Schizoid-Aliberal-Democracy came with a convenient hierarchy-minded vernacular to fill in the void left by the Soviet corpse. Although sadly, nothing could suppress the stink of its decomposition.

Politeness of address has been something that I have not been able to shake off. But, then again, I don’t think I want to. One does like to be civil, and to make oneself gracious in company.

 

Question 5: How travelled are you and to what degree do you keep up with international news?

I’m a gluttonous traveller.  I don’t think I’ll ever have time or money enough to do as much of it as I’d like to.

I took a gap year in South America, my first experience of non-European culture. Although at that point my experience of European culture was itself very limited. Romania is as good as my country, the differences culture-wise are few and far between. And the UK is not Europe. I know what you’ll say: ‘course it’s Europe – check the map. Technically it is, but it has struggled with its European identity since time immemorial. In a ‘who’s more European’ competition, Argentina would nudge ahead.

I fell in love with Latin America, yet simultaneously my heart went blue and gold-starred. It was the first time that, when asked where I’m from, I’d answer directly, no second thoughts: Europe.

Before the end of my third decade on this Earth, I’ve had a chance to explore twenty-one of Europe’s many states; I would say cultures, but within each state identities are so fragmented, that you’d have to at least double that number (re culture, ethnicity, and language).

I loved the US too, both East and West coast (no experience of mid-America as yet, although Hawaii was lovely – great scuba). Loved the chirpy attitude and the confidence, even if I can’t take the portions: How much can you people eat?

Japan was by far the strangest experience: A moon landing for me. It was a surprise stopover on the way to New Zealand (courtesy of my thoughtful husband – I’d taken up beginner Japanese – here was a chance for me to practice).

I am a citizen of the world.

 

Question 6: If you could share an opinion on a single international incident or topic that you either feel strongly about or that might not be known to the rest of the world what would it be? You have our attention.

It is very tough to pick just one, but I will attempt it. I hope that if you disagree with me to start with, you’ll at least take some time to think it over before rebuffing.

If you are a democrat (i.e. a believer in the norms and values of democracy) then you are a feminist.

How could anyone possibly justify their democratic credentials whilst simultaneously treating 51% of the population as second class citizens?!

So, I will repeat myself ad nauseam if need be:

If you are a democrat, you are a feminist.

Don’t be scared by the label. You don’t have to be a Feminist to be a feminist. In the same way in which you can hold conservative views, without being a Conservative, or behave liberally, without claiming to be a Liberal.

So. Put a full stop to misogyny. Get the t-shirt. Show some respect to your mothers, sisters, daughters and yourselves.

 

Question 7: What does the right to an opinion mean to you? Is it essential to freedom to have this right? How far would you go to protect that ability?

Opinionated Man: “I value the right to opinion as one of the most important forms of self expression that we have a born right to.”

Yes. It is an important form of self-expression, but further than that… I’m afraid I disagree.

We have no born rights to anything.

“All truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Second it is violently opposed. Third it is accepted as self-evident.”  A.S. This is the case for rights too.

Whatever rights we have, are the result of years (sometimes hundreds of them) of real struggle and even bloodshed; advances for humanity gained through political action by countless movements: feminist and civil rights movements, to point the finger at a couple of the culprits.

Do not become complaisant. Be in no doubt about this: You have no born right.

What you have, has been painstakingly built for you, and there will be those who will try to demolish it. Not perhaps with a big loud bang, but in time, like water: patiently, slowly hollowing out your freedom, one drop at a time.

So prepare your mortar, and get ready to patch it back up. It’s a constant back and forth and there is only one way to deal with it:

“Constant Vigilance!”  

Question 8: Is it ever right for you to be allowed an opinion while someone else is denied that same right on the same topic?

I cherish my right to an opinion and that of others too. I’ve lived in a time and place when you couldn’t use your voice for fear of reprisal, so I know how much it means being able to speak your mind.

I keep an open mind about… pretty much everything.  There is a line however: I don’t tolerate sexism, racism or homophobia (SRH). Cross that line at your own peril.

Liberalism preaches tolerance. Yes. I’ll go with that. But I also reserve the right to stand up for the norms and values that I treasure most.

In a democracy, SRH is not acceptable. If you subscribe to any of the three, then you need to grow up and get over yourself. What makes you so damned better than anyone else?

Question 9: The last question, upon completing this template and hopefully contemplating the issue what does this project mean to you? How can Project O potentially enlighten or help the world?

I will add my hopes to those of Opinionated Man, that this project allows the world a voice. Can’t wait to read everyone else’s entries! I feel compelled to quote Garai here once again, but there’s been enough swearing for one day so…

Here I come instead: You have a voice too. Use it.