The Power of No

The Four Oxford Moral PhilosophersPerhaps more than any other twentieth century philosopher, the late Mary Midgley understood that there were great conceptual misunderstandings emerging out of the deep commitments to the power of scientific thinking that began in the nineteenth century. She remarked that this confusion had permitted bias to be "smuggled in as if it were a technical matter only accessible to experts" - a warning written in 2003 that captures a great deal of what went wrong in 2020.

This extended role for the sciences where they are taken to possess an authority that could in itself never be scientific flows from the mythos of magical science I discussed back in January, and it is an entirely contemporary problem - indeed, I rather suspect it is the essential contemporary problem, of which others such as the environmental crisis (euphemistically concealed by talk of 'climate change') are only shadows and reflections. It is because so many have emotionally invested in the power of science, while so few have intellectually invested in understanding the intricacies of the actual workings of the sciences, that we find ourselves in strange places where nobody can say 'no' to even a ghastly mistake provided it is made in the 'name' of science.

To be responsible in relation to the work of the sciences, then, requires a certain vigilance to ensure that what we are doing when we invoke terms like 'scientific research' or phases like 'the science says' or 'scientists increasingly believe' is accurately reporting the state of research programmes, and not mistaking the findings of scientific research (which are always provisional) with specific doctrines that are neither a requirement for, nor a part of, the work of the sciences. As Midgley warned of such philosophical smuggling, a great deal of so-called 'anti-science' positions are reacting to these imported ideologies rather than the research programmes that are truly the activities central to scientific work. This is not only problematic because of the way it complicates all attempts to share scientific perspectives more widely, but also because these unnoticed doctrines "import irrelevant, inhuman standards into non-scientific aspects of life and lead people to neglect the relevant ones."

No philosopher has had greater influence upon me than Midgley, and this is not only because she was my first (and for a long time, my only) philosophical correspondent. I have always aspired towards - and all too often failed to reach - the clarity of language that Midgley was able to bring to bear on quite complex problems in her always-excellent books. For her, as she said to me in the interview I ran back in 2010, specialist terminology such as can be found in the work of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger "runs counter to my deep identification with everyday speech", and the essence of her work in philosophy was always written in a way that makes her far easier to read than Kant, or Wittgenstein, or any of the other staples of modern philosophy. Since I believe any philosophy excised from a general readership has sealed its own doom, I have always considered Midgley's philosophical methods exemplars for what a philosopher ought to be.

When it comes to my own work in philosophy of science, Midgley is more than just an influence, she is the foundation of my thinking. Again and again, she was able to return to the problems springing from the persistent illusion that a pronouncement made by a scientist carries with it an almost magical power to authorise (or de-authorise) certain actions. Yet this authority is not scientific, but metaphysical (non-testable); it is a faith of a very specific kind, and one that tends towards the same blindness that all human thinking is prone to: of excluding ourselves from consideration when it comes to the errors of thought we can see quite clearly in others. It is the clarity of her understanding of this point, and many others related to it, that makes Midgley the essential guide to the broader philosophical problems of the sciences.

Midgley was part of an exceptional group of four female philosophers who studied at Oxford University during the Second World War - from left to right in the photo above, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley, Elizabeth Anscombe, and Iris Murdoch. Indeed, in my correspondence with Midgley while she was with us, she still could not resist calling one of her former classmates 'P Foot' in a way that felt like an in-joke from decades past. Recently, attention has finally been paid to these four astonishing women philosophers, a recognition that was long overdue - and there is even a certain gathering momentum to recognise them as collectively representing a movement. Rachael Wiseman tentatively suggests 'uncommon sense realism' or 'depictive metaphysics' as names for this philosophical school... I do not think these names will stick, but they are a solid attempt to capture the commonalities of these four astonishing thinkers.

Midgley associated the perspective shared by these four philosophers with the collective issuing of a resounding "No!" to the ethical currents of the early twentieth century. Writing in 2017, she remarked:

Did that make us four into a Philosophical School?

This is a loose term, but the point is worth discussing. We did not at once become a 4-headed unanimous squad of prophets. We each followed our own diverging paths in various directions. But what, for me, makes the unanimity-story still important is a persisting memory of the four of us sitting in Philippa’s front room and doing our collective best to answer the orthodoxies of the day, which we all saw as disastrous. As with many philosophical schools, the starting-point was a joint 'NO!'. No (that is) at once to divorcing Facts from Values, and – after a bit more preparation – also No to splitting mind off from matter. From this, a lot of metaphysical consequences would follow.

These two elements of the prevailing dogma that Midgley singled out are important because they do indeed frame both the significance of these four philosophers and the disastrous trajectory of the twentieth century, from which we are still reaping ever more grotesque fruit.

The split of mind from matter is taken as rejection of Descartes' philosophy, but as I've discussed many times previously, it is actually a perverse commitment to it. Whereas Descartes sought to demonstrate the necessity of treating mind as distinct from matter, today we are committed to the same framework yet inverted, such that we now agree wholeheartedly with Descartes' cleaving of existence - but only in so much as it allows us to make 'matter' (and not mind) the important side of the equation. The power of No had to be placed against this because in reducing who we are as beings to merely the action of molecules, we simultaneously created an illusion of humanity (indeed, of all animals) as merely mechanistic machines, and fatally undermined the conditions for understanding what a good life might be.

Relatedly, and perhaps more importantly, the attempt to divorce facts from values - a mistake that the Scottish philosopher David Hulme made in 1740 and then unsuccessfully retracted in 1758 - is perhaps the pivotal error of the twentieth century, from which so many other philosophical disasters have flowed. This is a mistake imported from moral philosophy, but the consequences of making it have bled out into everything, and especially into philosophy of science. Indeed, as the opening piece to this current philosophical 'campaign' already observed, the confused idea that the sciences can be 'value-free', from which the wilfully ignorant state of pseudoscience flows, emanates precisely from this horrible misunderstanding of both facts and values, to which the power of No had to stand up in opposition.

It is worth reflecting upon the contributions of Midgley's three friends at Oxford, and how they relate to this resistance against the orthodox philosophy of mid-twentieth century Europe. Elizabeth Anscombe is sadly most famous for being Wittgenstein's student, and although that connection with Wittgenstein is important (as Midgley attests) it is worth noting that the four philosophers rarely saw him, even though his ground-breaking philosophical work was instrumental to developing their ways of thinking about the world. Midgley speaks of how Anscombe handed out loose-leaf bundles of papers containing Wittgenstein's notes (what are now called 'the Blue and Brown Books', and would go on to become Philosophical Investigations and On Certainty)... it is hard not to be slightly envious of this chance to be personally connected to what would prove to be the most influential work of twentieth century philosophy. (Heidegger's Being and Time - the likely contender to this dubious crown - is read solely by philosophers; Wittgenstein, on the other hand, was also taken up by psychologists, a rare honour for any philosopher!)

Anscombe, alas, had the misfortune of being too overtly influenced by her Catholicism, and thus was too easily dismissed by the philosophical establishment. Academic philosophy has tended to treat religious commitments as something that can be overlooked as an indulgence in men (it is routinely overlooked for Wittgenstein, for instance, despite its central place in his work as a philosopher), yet it is almost always perceived as a fatal flaw in women, for whom the path to being taken seriously was (and perhaps still is) to act and think as much like a man as possible. Nonetheless, Anscombe's paper "Modern Moral Philosophy" is perhaps the single most important critique of consequentialism ever written. This term 'consequentialism' marks the belief that what matters beyond everything else in our ethics are outcomes, and this specific name was invented by Anscombe and is still widely used by philosophers today - generally without even a passing reference to her work! She remarks of this narrow focus upon outcomes that this approach...

...leads to its being quite impossible to estimate the badness of an action except in the light of expected consequences. But if so, then you must estimate the badness in the light of the consequences you expect; and so it will follow that you can exculpate yourself from the actual consequences of the most disgraceful actions, as long as you can make out a case for not having foreseen them.

A more apposite summary of the disaster that was 2020 I have not seen.

Philippa Foot is known for being the creator of so-called 'trolley problems', and in an irony that is now so common that it will not raise any eyebrows whatsoever, her purposes in using these thought experiments was diametrically opposed to how they are now used today. As I have written about in Chaos Ethics and elsewhere, trolley problems have come to be deployed as a convenient way of fooling people into accepting consequentialist thinking as necessary by making the truths of mathematics seem to possess moral rather than merely logical truth, and thus a means of luring people into acting and thinking atrociously (as Anscombe clearly warned would happen, and as was already happening in the early years of the twentieth century). Foot could not possibly be blamed for this absurd misuse of her toolbox, and the lack of attention to her work in moral philosophy is unfortunate, since she insightfully engaged with the attempt to divorce facts from values in ways that are still well worth reading. I have been particularly struck by her concept that injustice can be understood as a kind of injury, and therefore we have rational reasons to avoid injustice - another idea that bears gainfully upon many of the grim events of 2020.

Iris Murdoch had the fortune or misfortune (depending upon how you wish to view the matter) of having succeeded in writing excellent novels, and therefore of enjoying critical and indeed commercial success - she even scored a 'Dame' in the Queen's 1987 honours list, something no other philosopher has ever achieved. This has allowed Murdoch's philosophical thinking to be roundly ignored, since novels are deemed too frivolous a form for philosophising; even Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus are only grudgingly accepted as philosophers these days, having chosen novels over treatises. The idea that a contemporary academic philosopher would choose a novel as their preferred medium is one that doesn't even need scoffing at - despite the self-evident fact that writing a novel allows philosophical concepts to propagate far more effectively than writing a series of impenetrable arguments for echo chamber journals.

Since she never developed any explicit moral theory, attempts to summarise her position will always be a simplification - although as the case of Philippa Foot demonstrates, explicit theorising is in fact no defence against this either. However, her collection of essays, The Sovereignty of Good, does provide an outstanding skeleton key for understanding Murdoch's moral philosophy:

The self, the place where we live, is a place of illusion. Goodness is connected with the attempt to see the unself, to see and to respond to the real world in the light of a virtuous consciousness. This is the non-metaphysical meaning of the idea of transcendence to which philosophers have so constantly resorted in their explanations of goodness. 'Good is a transcendent reality' means that virtue is the attempt to pierce the veil of selfish consciousness and join the world as it really is. It is an empirical fact about human nature that this attempt cannot be entirely successful.

Murdoch's intuition that there was an irreducible plurality to the moral 'fields of force' hinged upon the idea that there is a sense of unity haunting our thinking about ethics, and followed Plato in naming this unity 'good'. She too used the power of No that the four philosophers unleashed to tackle the crises they jointly perceived. But she did so through the methods of the arts because she believed, with good reason, that this was an approach with the capacity to wield the greatest influence. I hope and trust that through her novels she did in fact attain precisely what she set out to achieve.

As the twentieth century ended, the power of No has been increasingly taken up as a feminine power. The phrase "No means no" has become a commonplace, the meaning of which is that consent must necessarily be explicit because the risks of implying consent are too terrible to permit. Sadly, this is often meant to apply solely in the context of rape, since in truth the confused idea that we can consent to that which we are vocally objecting to has equal application in politics, whereby consent is all too often assumed to have been implied merely by election, and therefore that democracy is solely about choosing who should wield power and not about perpetually solving the recurring problem of how we should all live together.

But if I leave this discussion of the power of No and the four extraordinary women who choose to wield their philosophy under this unstated banner at this point, it will only further the feminist stereotype that women want to undermine and destroy. And this is a terrible misrepresentation not only of women and feminists, but also of what Midgley, Anscombe, Foot, and Murdoch strove towards. It will foreground their opposition to philosophical orthodoxy and not what they were seeking to defend. For the true power of No is not in denial but in resistance, and all effective resistance is grounded in defence of the good, however that needs to be construed.

The four Oxford moral philosophers represented a defence of the good life as it had been articulated by the ghosts of philosophy past, and as it had yet to be articulated in the spirit of philosophy yet to come. They unleashed the power of No in order to resist attempts to simplify, obfuscate, and distort the nature of human existence and the moral decisions consequent upon it. Of the four, only Midgley took on this vital struggle upon the battleground of philosophy of science, and if I have tended to favour her work it is almost certainly because my own conflicted and tortured relationship with the sciences - which I love and therefore recoil in horror when they are distorted, yet also fear because the vision we have unthinkingly chosen for them flirts so blatantly with catastrophe.

Midgley saw with immense clarity the way that non-scientific dogmas and orthodoxies could corrupt and undermine the work of the sciences, and sited that discussion directly in the alleged conflict between science and religion because she understood, with an insight that far outstrips any of her contemporaries, the immense danger of this artificial split, which mirrors the misguided split between facts and values or between mind and matter. To claim facts and matter 'for science' is to attempt to subjugate values and mind, and therefore to gut democracy, freedom, and indeed truth. It reduces the sciences to dogmatic caricatures of their true beauty and worth, and affords to anyone willing to wield this tainted sceptre of "following the science" an authority they neither truly possess nor justly deserve. Tied up in this mistake is the demonisation of religion as 'anti-science' - rather than, as history shows us, giving birth to every science as we now understand this term. It is perhaps the quintessential mistake made by those who claim to love science, yet who deceive themselves by falling prey of what Murdoch warns we are all deceived by: ourselves.

Against any and all such attempts to flatten and oppress the beauty of human existence we can and must join together in raising up the power of No, again, again, and ever again, unceasingly, if we are to have any hope of defending what is good in this world. When we stop, when we decide that we should let injustice that has been misrepresented as necessity, or bias that has been misrepresented as unchallengeable truth, happen without resistance - whatever good reason we may claim for doing so - we betray the efforts of all those who came before us and cleared the way for us all to try to make a good life together. In this neverending project, these four women will be our invaluable allies, if only we are willing to listen to the immense and incalculable wisdom they have bequeathed to us.

Unattributed Mary Midgley quotes in this piece are from her 2003 book, The Myths we Live By.


Coming Up

Frankenstein LabA week from today, Act II of the Philosophy of Science 'campaign' will resume... I've realised at this point that the name of this particular adventure is The Magical Science Campaign, since its theme is precisely the disparity between people's feelings about the sciences and the actual practices of scientists. I started out thinking this was a mini-campaign, but it's clear at this point that it is a fully-fledged epic like the Metaphysics Campaign and the Ethics Campaign before it.

In this second Act, we will begin by exploring the greatest philosophical resistance movement of our time, the Four Oxford Moral Philosophers, then we'll venture forth to explore relationships between the sciences and other aspects of the human experience - specifically religion, journalism, and ultimately, death. From providing a framework of the problem (the state of pseudoscience, and the way magical science can trigger that collapse of scientific practice), these pieces confront some of the symptoms of the current epistemic crisis and perhaps also illuminate some of its causes too.

The Game resumes in earnest next Tuesday.


Coming Out

Contains confessions that some people might find confusing, insulting, or misconstrue as a joke, as well as the implication of a strong swear word.

I Want To Break Free"I want to break free" exclaimed Freddie Mercury in 1984, as his band mates nervously play along with his cross-dressing music video extravaganza. Don't we all, dear Freddie! And it feels like it might indeed be time for me to break free and come out... but come out as what? Christian, Discordian, drug-user, autistic, trans, bisexual, straight - so many options! Let's consider my choices.

It always felt like a big deal for me to come out as a drug-user - it was one of the reasons I was most nervous about publishing Chaos Ethics. Friends told me I was worrying unduly, I suppose because from their perspective this was no biggie. After all, a huge volume of entertainment media originating from the United States glorifies and revels in drug-taking, and has done for decades. Not to mention that the US exports vast quantities of mind-altering drugs like methylphenidate/Ritalin and fluoxetine/Prozac that have been conveniently labelled 'medicinal', and therefore legitimate for taxation. Still, of all the things I've already come out about, this one was the hardest for me, the one that most felt like 'coming out' in the way that gay people coming out in the late twentieth century meant the term - as confessing something intimate about myself that others would judge, or even persecute me for. Of all the things I've come out about over the years, this one was by far the most difficult for me, and in part because of my Christian childhood.

I suppose that's another option - come out as Christian - but there's not much point in this any more, since it's quite well-known that I identify as a Zen Sufi Hindu Christian Discordian, and of those five religions that I practice (often badly) coming out as Christian is the only thing that would have any impact, and I've been that all my life. Indeed, I already had to come out as a Christian when I was in my early teens, one of only three children in my rural Middle School in the backwaters of Great Britain to identify openly as Christian, to sing hymns in assembly loudly and proudly while the entirety of the rest of the school children flatly refused and giggled into their hands about me, singing alone...

Perhaps it is hard for folks in the United States to appreciate how difficult it was for me to stand up and be counted for what was in my heart while in middle school and high school, because they are so used to the relationship between Christian and atheist being the reverse of what it was for me in a provincial school in England in the early 1980s. After all, my future wife's high school experiences in Tennessee were the inverse of mine, taking flak from her classmates for not being Christian enough, as if that sentence were not in itself utterly self-contradictory! But nobody these days thinks Christians rational, which is ironic since our entire concept of what it means to be rational is grounded in Christian thought.

Or I could come out as the Acting Omnibenevolent Polyfather of the Virginity in Gold, and thus the worldwide head of the Discordian Society. But I already came out as this during my years living in London, a time when I rejected my Christianity as foolish nonsense and so embraced a religion that was foolish nonsense by design. But honestly, nobody cares about this, and they'd care even less about my Zen Buddhism that bridged the gap between the two, my Hindu theology that finally resolved all my problems with Christian theology, or my acceptance of the Sufi teachings as to the underlying unity of all authentic religious practice. And if no-one is shocked or (equivalently) proud of me for coming out as Discordian, if I can't inspire somebody else to have the courage to stand up as a Discordian, is there really any point in doing so...?

I suppose I could come out over some mental health issue. But I'm pretty sure I've already discussed my cyclothymia (a mild form of bipolar disorder) here on this blog, and that's the only diagnosis I have, and you can't come out on mental health if you don't have a diagnosis, such is the power of doctors in the eyes of my contemporaries. What I really ought to do if I was going to come out over mental health issues is to come out as autistic, since clearly the state of that diagnostic category is now sufficiently broad to accept me. Yet I don't have a diagnosis for any such condition and, worse, I actively resist attaining that diagnosis - and not because I'm ashamed of the obvious fact that I could indeed be placed on the autistic spectrum. On the contrary, I have such love and respect for the autistic people in my life I could never possibly feel any shame for being like them. It's just that I cannot truly understand or appreciate this situation where a doctor is a requirement for admitting or discovering who you are. It's why I did not pursue the process of diagnosis any further, even though the doctor who diagnosed my cyclothymia wanted me to do so. I don't want to give doctors anything like that power over my life.

Which brings me to coming out as trans. Like autistic, I could do this... I feel my feminine side extremely strongly, I'm very comfortable wearing a dress (I did so at my Discordian wedding at Alderly Edge in 2000, amongst other times), and I have great love and respect for my trans friends. But the trans identity as it is currently being practised depends upon a gender metaphysics (i.e. a set of non-testable beliefs) that I don't entirely share. Furthermore, since I am comfortable with both my masculinity and my femininity, and consider the fact of my having a penis to be one of the more incidental aspects of who I am, it doesn't feel like I should come out as trans. Indeed, I feel that it would be disrespectful to those in the trans community who struggle over gender identity issues for me to do so.

Funny, really, because I also feel like that particular political community is constantly trying to 'out' me as trans by insisting that if I am not going to do so I must come out as 'cis'. But cis has been defined as a position in which a doctor I never truly met had power over me by virtue of assigning me my gender or my sex, according to which set of gender metaphysics you've chosen to wield. For the very same reason I cannot in good conscience 'come out as autistic' I can't 'come out as cis', nor even really think that the concept of 'cis' is advancing the cause of trans liberty in the way it was intended to. I rather fear it has set it back, and precipitated the uncivil war between lesbian feminists and trans activists by bringing two rival concepts of gender metaphysics into vicious conflict.

At the very least, ought I not to state what my pronouns are, to show solidarity with the trans community? Well, on this I suppose I really could come out, as the most coherent statement I can make about 'my pronouns' would be "make your best guess, I won't be offended", which I feel confident some trans supporters would find deeply offensive. But I'm not going to come out as something just to offend people - that really would be a betrayal of who I am. And I seriously don't care if you call me he, she, che, or beep boop beep as long as you respect me and my ideas. If you feel its meaningful to share your pronouns, knock yourself out, but please don't force me into identifying as something that really doesn't describe me very well, whether its trans or cis, or anything else. I can respect your meaningful categories of existence without having to live in them.

There again, I could come out as bisexual in that I am capable of having sexual feelings for people irrespective of whether they possess a vagina while I quite evidently have a penis. Indeed, all my earliest stumbling steps towards sexuality were obviously gay, for all that the great love affairs of my life have been with women (and mostly unrequited at that, my wonderful wife notwithstanding). But bisexual is another of those terms that just doesn't quite ring true to who I am, and at best it has been a term of convenience to use while hanging out with the LGBT crowd at University of Manchester in the early 90s. And even then, I never really pushed any aspect of that as part of my identity. I wasn't hanging out with those wonderful people to find a lover, it was just that I adored performing karaoke with a community that sings with almost as much passion as black Christians.

I suppose I could come out as straight (are we allowed to do this yet...?), but again, since I have and can have sexual feelings for non-female people that feels like the wrong label. And now we have 'pansexual' as an option, but it's hard for me to read that word and not think it means "I'll f___ anything", which simply isn't true about me in any sense. I always strived to have sex with few people, not many, and my proudest sexual achievement was choosing not to have sex with a woman who wanted me but whom I did not respect, even though as a horny undergraduate I really wanted to get laid. Basically, I don't quite understand the concept of sexual 'conquest', since what I was seeking while I was dating was solace rather than gratification, a kindred spirit rather than a throwaway sexual partner. I love sex, but not enough to engage in it indiscriminately. Honestly, if there's a word in circulation that describes my sexuality other than 'human' I don't know what it would be.

Maybe I could come out with my trigger warnings. But I think I only have one, and its people talking about trigger warnings as if their prior trauma was a weapon to beat others over the head with, and not something to be approached with sensitivity. And I worry greatly about this shift from respect being something that exists between us as our natural state of being, as the Enlightenment philosophers once saw the matter, to becoming an excuse to turn to the law of nations towards enforcing behavioural norms that then inevitably become anything but respectful. I will be as respectful of your prior traumas as I can be, and I hope you can afford the same courtesy to me... but please don't try to order me about and claim it's a question of respect. There is enough of a shortage of respect these days without undermining it yet further.

So I guess there's only one thing left that I can come out about, something that I'm embarrassed by, something that others might identify with but would also never consider coming out as, because none of us have ever come out as this before, and there's a tangible shame attached to being this way. Something that I have been derided for, and that I might take further derision from coming out about. But it's the only thing left in my bucket of identities that I can hope to come out about, and it feels about time to break free and come out as something...

I am a person who pronounces 'melee' as 'muh-lee', not 'may-lay'.

What the hell, you may be thinking, you cannot possibly be serious! But I am. Thanks in part to Nintendo's Smash Brothers franchise, almost nobody today is mistaken about how 'melee' is supposed to be pronounced, yet I still say 'muh-lee', and I do so because I learned 99% of my vocabulary from reading books, and when I read Tom Moldvay's Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons in 1981 my French was too rudimentary to recognise the expected pronunciation of the word. So I said 'muh-lee', and still do. And this is embarrassing, of course, because it's not the done thing, it's not what everyone else does. But it is also who I am. I am a person who says 'muh-lee'.

And saying this, bringing this out into the open, I feel a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders, and I hope that I live to see that others have the courage to come out as a person who says 'muh-lee'. I hope and pray that some day the lexicographers who maintain the Oxford English Dictionary (a colossal two volume 'Shorter' version of which has pride of place on one of my bookshelves) will include this pronunciation as an accepted alternative, and recognise the thousands of us tabletop role-players who say 'muh-lee'... But it probably won't happen, since we are an endangered species now that reading books has been replaced with watching videos, and tables have been replaced with mandatory screens. This vital aspect of who I am is perhaps already incomprehensible to a great many people.

Although I write these words in jest, I do so in utter seriousness - as a Discordian, I understand that jokes can be serious, that serious things can be funny, and that humanity has a giant stick up its butt that we not only cannot remove we don't want to. And that's hilarious, and tragic, and wonderful, and terrible, and much more besides. Because to be human is not to be just one kind of thing, and any attempt to reduce the immense diversity of human experience to preconceived boxes to check or uncheck is either vile or naïve, and every set of prescribed labels we make is ultimately just a means of excluding yet another way of being human, indeed, all those other ways of being we have not even begun to think about.

I deeply and wholly desire we could just respect one another as fellow equal beings and not as some preset political identity above and beyond 'human', not because political identities aren't important - they surely are! - but because replacing our diversity of experience with preset political identities is damaging to the human experience. Perhaps worse is exporting those preset identities around the world as gospel truth, and even asking those in other countries to pay for the privilege of being exposed to our narrow view of how things must be via entertainment media. This is a terrible way of building political communities that can negotiate between the conflicting conceptions of a good life that inevitably collide when we assert our own truths as necessary categories that others must adopt in their thinking.

The truth is, I am many things, probably many more than the things I have chosen to talk about in this piece. And you are too. Yes, you may need to come out, especially if you have found some truth about yourself that is painful to admit, but even more painful to deny. That, after all, is why in the late twentieth century those who knew that homosexuality was an essential part of who they were had to come out, they had to do it in order to be true to themselves, and to encourage others to do the same, so that they could show solidarity with one another. But please don't come out just to draw attention to yourself, and try not to come out in a way that fails to respect the diversity of those around you. Come out because you must, not because you don't know what else you can do to get noticed.

I remember being utterly disgusted in 1991 by the fuss that was being made about Freddie Mercury when he came out in his dying weeks as gay... I think it annoyed me at the time (it does not now), because he was hailed as heroic even though the stakes were so low at that point in his life it seemed to dilute any viable concept of heroism to do so. But more than that, I came to realise he didn't in fact come out as gay at all. Indeed, he never adopted any such identity in his lifetime. He came out as having HIV and of dying of AIDS, and the press drew their own conclusions, especially since he was in a long-term relationship with a man. They had to fit him into a box. But they could have instead put him in the box marked 'Parsi' or 'Zoroastrian' (another persecuted minority, and one with far less political power than the gay community), or the box marked 'South Asian' or 'Non-White' (he was born on the island of Zanzibar as Farrokh Bulsara) and no doubt much more beside. But the press, or the public, should never be the ones to try to assign someone their identity. The process of establishing who we are is personal to ourselves, and always must be.

Be who you must be. Testify as to who you are if you need to - and especially if you know there are others who need the inspiration of your courage so that they too can be who they must be. But please, stop wielding identities as weapons to beat your neighbours with, and please try to curtail the extent that national law intrudes upon what has always been - what always must be - a deeply personal matter. I am a person who says 'muh-lee'. But that is not all of who I am or could be. Respect me, first and foremost, the way I respect you: as a fellow human being. If we can do that, perhaps we might yet find a way of living together.

Are you a person who says 'muh-lee'? Consider coming out! At time of writing, there is only one person in the world to whom this identity applies to.


Intermission and Ice Cream

IntermissionAre you old enough to remember when movies stopped after the first few reels and a person came down the aisles to sell ice cream...? I think this was all over by the end of the 1980s. The last movie I recall with an intermission was David Lynch's sumptuous adaptation of Dune, which he apparently hated - a view shared, I think, by most of the audience at the screening I was at in 1984! I am a fan of intermission as a concept, and grateful that it survives in the theatre if not in the movie theatre.

And in the spirit of Intermission, please take this opportunity to get your own metaphorical ice creams, as I'm not ready to resume my musings on our tortured relationship with the sciences just yet. The new pieces for the Philosophy of Science mini-campaign are coming along quite robustly, but they're fighting among themselves as some things want to come out that I hadn't originally intended and I'm having to give them space to breath. As a result, I don't think I'll be running the second act until April.

In the meantime, I shall leave you with an intermezzo piece on personal identity that actually connects to a forthcoming Philosophy of Science piece but stands better on its own. It turned out to be about Freddie Mercury. But it was always also about me. And I suspect it's also about a few other people as well... maybe everyone. We'll see. It's called 'Coming Out'. You can read it tomorrow.

Please return to your seats before the next reel commences.


Introducing... Twilight Tunnels

The incredible new project from ihobo games: Twilight Tunnels. Coming from the far future soon!Twilight Tunnels Logo

Wield powers of Time, Space, Mass and Energy in the first ever Ultratech FPS Dungeon Crawler, set against the final days of Planet Earth in the year 7,600,000,000 AD

  • Quantum Elements: manipulate Time to see the past and slow foes, or use Space to hover, lift, and bend light, Mass to apply incredible shattering force, or Energy to vaporise steel!
  • Unleash Weaponry Forged at the End of Time: choose two weapon patterns from anywhen in history before each Raid, then seek Elemental power sources to weave them into your hands!
  • 10 minute Survival Raids: you begin each Raid with nothing, but with one advantage - a choice of which Quantum Element power source you appear next to… Choose wisely!

High risk, 10 minute, ultratech dungeon raids – can you survive?

Elemental Lighting v2bc.Composite + transparencyThese four screenshots show how the world looks when wielding each of the four Quantum Elements - the tunnels beneath the Dying Earth look completely different depending upon which power source you choose to nanoweave your weapons. Four Quantum Elements, infinite tactical variations!