Philosophy Abú


Academia has made me no stranger to philosophy, it taught me how to put fancy terms on concepts I’d mulled over all my life. Epistemology, jurisprudence, ontology, metaphysics, logic… and I’m putting myself to sleep. Honestly though philosophy has a prominent history for humanity, from Socrates to Buffy The Vampire Slayer (yes there are philosophical underpinnings to the greatest television show of all time, and I promise to discuss that another day). The wonderful thing is philosophy is not out of your grip because you didn’t have the means to attend university. It cannot be capitalized on, because now more than ever we can create and discuss our own unique perspective on philosophy. How you ask? Through the wonderful (yet terrifying), world of the internet.

Now if you are inclined to read a book that describes philosophy 101 without paying €100 for a textbook, or a philosophy course, I suggest you read the wonderful book ‘Sophie’s World’ by Jostein Gaarder.[i] Or better yet, if you have internet access, visit and #philosophy on Twitter.[ii] Or any social media outlet of your choice.

I happen to love philosophy very dearly. I realised recently that I’ve been philosophizing all my life. When I was young and couldn’t sleep I was either, 1. Reading under the bedcovers with a torch until I heard my parents coming and scrambled to appear asleep or, 2. Lying staring at the ceiling while listening to the same tapes (then CDs) ad nauseam. Thinking about whether or not the universe was sitting in something or was it all there was, ever expanding?

Now I know this sounds like physics or astronomy, but that’s the beauty of philosophy, it is the foundation of every discipline you learn at school. From mathematics to art, philosophy is there to inspire wonder and ideas.

Ok so let’s get to the point of this encomium today, which is how we all view the world. There are many different schools of thought, but one I particularly subscribe to is Subjectivist. This has a history in, “Cogito ergo sum,”[iii] mixed with the unnerving realization that your mind and your mind alone is all you will ever experience. So what am I driving at? That sometimes we are all so in our own head that we forget that everyone’s reality is different. I’m not saying that the world is different, but because we are dynamic creatures, my experience of something will future shape my vision of the universe versus the same experience on you. There is nothing wrong with this, we all need to have our own opinions or we become mindless drones.

However, (and this is a big however), while we have every right to defend our opinions, it is imperative, and I mean IMPERATIVE, that we allow ourselves to see things from the point of view of others. Now I hear you say, surely that’s not subjective if we can only see inside our own mind, and I’ll have to stop you there. If you’ve ever read a book then you’ve been in someone else’s shoes. What did that feel like? Were you sad when they were sad? If the author did their job well, you felt empathy for the character.

I think we are often so ready to rush to anger and defensiveness that we forget to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. If we all did the world, in general,  would be a better place. What does this have to do with philosophy? It has everything to do with philosophy. Philosophy helps us to be less ignorant of the ways of others. It helps us feel what our fellow humans are feeling, so we can change our actions accordingly. It also helps us to think critically. Honestly I feel that is missing from our society today.

I mentioned earlier that the internet was a powerful tool and now anyone can be a philosopher. Well as always there is an antithetical side to this. People spew hatred, alternative facts, and uninformed vitriol like it’s their life blood. We can’t stop people from doing that. What we can stop is our support of them. Critical thinking will help us do that. When you read a tweet that makes you angry, just make sure that person hasn’t made up something or retweeted someone else who also doesn’t know how to fact check. Just before you go to war over something that’s not even real.

We must start from the basic principle that, “the only thing I know, is that I know nothing.”[iv] (Shout out to Plato for documenting his much loved teacher and friend Socrates). Human’s come with a lot of informational baggage. We have predetermined ideas regarding things before we even give something new a chance. It’s like when you’re afraid to try a certain food because you know for sure you won’t like it. Funny thing is it’s, that’s your accumulated experience mixed with your reptile brain who is telling you that. Maybe a little dramatic, but you hopefully are following what I’m saying.

I don’t claim to be an expert on philosophy, but just like anyone who’s questioned the nature of reality, I am a philosopher. We all are philosophers (congratulations! 😊). We all have the ability and responsibility to think about things critically, and not rush to judgement. This will make your daily life better. Before you get antsy and honk your horn at a driver who isn’t moving just quick enough for your liking, pause a moment. Actually more like 10 seconds, and give them a chance. Before you jump to judge someone for having a different opinion from you, let’s say on religion, remember that while a lot of harm may have been caused by religion, a lot of good has come from it as well. It gives people solace in a world that is often cruel and cold. Who’s to say that your daily routine of buying certain products, burning fossil fuels, and wasting precious water isn’t doing the planet more harm than religion might. Prayer isn’t bad for the environment, but war is.

Listen, I buy red meat. I drive a diesel car often 100kms a day if I need to get to and from my office. Sometimes I stay in the shower a little longer than I need to. Nobody is perfect, but we are all accountable. If we are more empathic to each other, then we will start a revolution of the mind. A smile can make all the difference in the world. As a very wise woman once said, “The hardest thing in this world, is to live in it, be brave.”[v]

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[i] Gaarder, J. (2010). Sophie’s world. Hachette UK.


[iii] Descartes, René. (1641). Meditations on First Philosophy.

[iv]This happened in like the 5th century BC, how am I supposed to cite that correctly?

[v]Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The WB & UPN. Season 5, Episode 22. Joss Whedon.

Shadow Self

Story: Shadow Self

“Most people delude themselves into believing they’re not malicious. They don’t consider their shadow self.” She pointed at an older woman pushing a stroller. “See that grandmother walking in the park with her grandkids? She’s thought about what it would be like to drown one of them. It was a fleeting thought. A residual instinct of a by-gone era when one may kill their young to avoid a suffering painful death from starvation. The thought disturbed her, so she pushed it into the recesses of her mind.” Her arm then extended to a middle-aged gentleman, dressed in grey trousers, a shirt, and tightly knit jumper. “Here comes the local primary school teacher. He’s often thought what it would be like if those under a certain IQ were eliminated from the gene pool. Would this lead to a race of superhumans or amount to world peace? This passes through his mind while he corrects the children’s spelling tests during class as they make their way through their maths problems. Some of the children will have no difficulty, others will struggle with mathematical concepts. Would the gene pool benefit from their removal?” I shudder and ask tentatively, “how do you know what they are thinking?”

I don’t receive an answer, and she continues, “that lady running to catch the bus to work. She’s often considered rapists. How women are expected to be responsible for their own safety against them. What if you were proven unequivocally to have raped someone? Should you be castrated? If you’ve been castrated it’s impossible for you to do it again.” I shake my head at her. I thought she was in her right mind when I picked her up from St. Monica’s. “Please Ms Caffrey, why are you telling me these things? Are you feeling ill? Should I bring you back to the nursing home?”

Again, I was not met with an answer, but a continuation of her soliloquy, “of course these people never put serious conjuncture into these horrific concepts. Granny there would never drown any of her grandchildren. She loves them as dearly as she did her own children.” Her brown eyes gleamed, with tears though, not with glee. “Of course, Teacher would never wish the slower children removed as he enjoys the interaction of all his pupils. He is a well-loved and highly praised educator.”

“The Lady trying to get to work doesn’t actually believe that violence towards others solves anything. Surely the bibles ‘eye for an eye’ is as archaic as it is obsolete. What is the interesting part of all this, my dear?” I wasn’t sure why I was still listening to the old woman. Come to think of it my Mother had always emphasised the value of the elderly. That probably explained my volunteerism in the old folk’s home.

“They have all considered these notions. Usually, no sooner as the thoughts enter their head, they have pushed them out again. However, these people are not unusual. They are every human who has walked the Earth. Mostly they are merely invasive thoughts and are dismissed, by those like Granny. Some are like Teacher, who had always shown interest in philosophical avenues, and only wished to consider theories as intellectual simulations, in a harsh dangerous world.” Suddenly I understood, Ms Caffrey was a retired philosophy lecturer. Hence her monologue on the ‘shadow self’ as she called it. I relaxed now, understanding that she was not having an episode of some kind, she was just theorising. “Lady getting to work lives in constant fear of her body being invaded, although her reality of the thoughts generated by her shadow self may be more visceral and lingered upon, she would never be able to carry out the castration herself.”

She looked at me with intelligent eyes. Her neatly styled white hair shone in the morning sunshine. “We sit on the precipice of the cerebral and the savage. Living our daily lives, unconsciously considering actions and thoughts we would never bring to fruition. Well, most of us wouldn’t.” She laughed, “the killer and the writer often have a lot in common. Their imaginations bring them closer to their shadow selves then most others tend to feel comfortable with. Why doesn’t Teacher propose a system wherein those deemed below average intelligence are euthanized?  Of course, he wouldn’t because these people he is talking about are his fellow human beings. With feelings and inner worlds all their own. Don’t forget that everyone has the right to life…”

“…however, if everyone has the right to life, why are some people’s lives taken away from them? Let’s work under the premise that everyone deserves to live.” She smiles at me and I genuinely smile back, she is surprising me increasingly as the moments passed.

“Let’s talk about the thousands of children starving to death every day. They have a right to life, yet their basic human right of nourishment is negated. Now consider this. Those who have become rich through capitalistic means are in some way responsible for the uneven distribution of wealth throughout the world. However, the organisations feeding off the masses protest at any proposal to change the status quo of the neoliberal market, which by the way is only a concept, not a tangible natural law. Therefore, the right to life is void in favour of capitalistic gain.” My head is spinning, but I follow her rationale. I now understand the logic the home had in pairing me with her.

She pushed on, “capitalism, therefore, is a mass projection of humanity’s shadow self. Those of us which are comfortable enough to enjoy cheap clothes, food, and objects, feed the shadow self. We are aware when we buy a product from an unethical organisation, that an unknown someone, suffers as consequence.” I thought of the branded tennis shoes I was all too fond of. “We are feeding the mass sore of capitalism. The sore that is starving so many of our fellow human beings, and stealing their basic human right to life.” She paused, took out a lunchbox and offered the contents to me. “Apple slice?”

In a daze, I took one. “Ms. Caffrey.”

“Please dear, call me Rita.”

“Ok Rita, you call me Celine.”

“Can do.”

“Ok Rita, this is all very interesting, but what do you suggest we do?”

She smiled at me knowingly. “We all know what we should do. No human is separate from the others, what we do affects those we’ve never met. I believe we have two options. Option one consists of changing our ways, every day. Take the difficult route. Buy local unpackaged foods instead of imported heavily packaged goods. Buy second hand or ethically sourced clothing, although the latter may be more expensive. Try more walking, cycling and public transport, stop using a car. Eat less red meat or none at all, change your waste disposal habits, have one child less or no children. Spend more time involved in your community rather than activities that are selfish and pointless. Take one less trans-oceanic flight every year. These changes may cause small indignities in the short term, but our long-term safety must be considered. Recycle. Reuse,” She paused, sipped some water, and continued, “do you turn the light off in a room when you are not in it? Or are you the kind of person that finds life too short for these trifling details? If you are the latter, I think you are wrong. Our abuse of the Earth has reached a very important moment in history and there is no easy way to say this, it may already be too late.” She popped some peeled apple slices into her mouth, and slowly chewed them. As if she were discerning the flavour of the apple.

“That’s option one Celine, and let’s be honest, option one is really tough. Option one involves giving up the vanity of our lives. Option two, however, makes option one look like a delicious cup of tea. Like the idyllic life, all the Climate Justice activists dream and fight for. Option two is letting Earth decide our fate because that is the inevitable conclusion of humanity’s era on this planet. We can continue to hurt the Earth, and our fellow Earthlings through simple inaction. Let the Earth slowly fill with water through melting ice caps. Let the land be reclaimed by the seas and the oceans. Let the wildlife die, the bees, and the coral; The tigers, and the elephants; The grains and the trees. Be selfish. You and I will probably be dead before the real trouble starts, but who knows? The climate is changing, the weather is becoming increasingly frantic, draughts are more common. We are experiencing the beginning of environmental issues scientists have warned us of for decades. While most of us in our cosy positions in the Western world can deny it, there are those who cannot. A quality inherent in humanity is our inability to act before problems escalate. Soon there will be no Earth left for any of us, and at that stage, all you will need to be either rich, powerful or both to save your skin. If you’re not, you will perish with the rest of humankind. While I understand this is a pessimistic view of the future, it’s also a logical one. If life has proven anything to humanity over and over, it can be horribly unfair. We can still look away because our own families are not suffering, but if our leaders don’t agree to changes that are more permanent soon, we may be the ones starving to death. There will come a day the world leaders will be hiding out on higher ground while those they are sworn to protect are washed away by rising sea levels. If you’d like some advice, become someone important. That’ll be the only way you’ll have a chance of surviving the rising sea levels and weather anomalies if this inaction continues.” She paused, it appeared these considerations weighed heavily on her.

“If you think you are a good person, you’re probably right. I am just like you, but I am frightened. We can all do better, we can fight our selfish shadow selves, left over from a primordial Earth where survival was the only goal. We have a new goal now, the safety of life for all, and I don’t just mean human beings. We have a collective responsibility to one another, every Earthling. Save Earth, by changing one thing, then another, then another. You say you’re tired. So am I, life is exhausting. However, aren’t we lucky to have the opportunity to be exhausted by life? I sit here, dismayed by what is to come. The wars, the famines, the deaths, without failing to remember those that have happened already. We are in imminent danger. Those in authority and positions of power cannot maintain acting like petulant children. Real change is needed, comfortable people need to be inconvenienced, we cannot continue forging this path or it will bury us all.”

I pondered for a moment, then asked, “why are you telling me this Rita?”

She took my hand, it was boney but warm, “probably because I have been starved of the joy lecturing brought me.” She laughed, “but mostly because I was told you are a writer, and you may put this in a story someday.”

I laughed with her, and we spoke no more of our shadows selves but of topics more pleasant. We enjoyed the sunshine of the park, and the sounds of nature it brought, but in the back of my mind, creativity had been sparked.

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