Living matters

If black lives mattered, then all lives would matter.

If women’s lives mattered, then all lives would matter.

If Jewish lives mattered, then all lives would matter.


Black in the racialised sense of “not white”. Such that mattering would mean the abandonment of white supremacy.

Women in the gendered sense of “not men”. Such that mattering would mean the abandonment of patriarchy.

Jewish in a sense I don’t understand, but there it is (and I’m working on it). Antisemitism runs deep.

And if life itself mattered, such that human dominion would be abandoned, it would be the end of the world as we know it.

As we know it means governed by dissociation and domination – which is to say, divided and ruled.


To the extent that we are stupid about our own mortality, we are stupid about life entirely.

To the extent that we are stupid about our interrelatedness, which is the basis of ethics, we are stupid about the law and politics entirely.

To the extent that we live in fear of our own death, we are entirely stupid about love.


The political economy of Westernism, which esteems its self in terms of separation, hierarchy and dominion over the earth, runs on blood-and-soil nationalisms and us-and-them identities. It runs on desecration and humiliation. It generates extreme wealth, which is to say, obscene poverty and impoverishment. At any cost. At all costs.

It seems that this order may come to an end. With bangs and whimpers. Which means destruction and life. Life after all. The signs are around us, for anyone to see. May we fall to our knees in grief and wonder. And rise in purpose.

­Right now, consciousness (class or human, take your pick) means knowing which side you are on. And who is with you. And what matters.

“The luxury of isolation”

So I find myself thinking, if there’s this group of people, who are being labelled “essential”, but are being treated as sacrificial, [and] then there’s this other group of people, who are at home – like us, right? – who have the luxury of isolation. So what are we, if we’re not essential? [laugh] Are we superfluous? Are we being kept like pets? For who? What is our role?’ ~ Naomi Klein

(in conversation with Arundhati Roy, A Global Green New Deal: Into the Portal, Leave No one Behind, 19 May 2020, Haymarket Books, 26:15–26:44)

What are we? We are not separate from those others. We are also essential, vulnerable, precarious and sacrificial people. Only not yet or not so much. We are the ones whose number has yet to come up. Perhaps we are essentially the pets of the sacrificial order, tame, domesticated, kept. But let’s not fool ourselves. When any one of us is conscripted to hard labour or treated as dispensable, then every one of us lives under the threat of the same hammer, the same machine logic. We are them and they are us. This is both a natural (I mean ethical and spiritual) and a political truth. We could acknowledge that.

Those of us who do have “the luxury of isolation” and those of us who do not are distinguished only by luck. I ask you, what manner of luck is this? Let’s be clear. Whether one conceives of it as chance or fate or karma, to have been born into the “haves” or the “have-nots” is hardly an achievement that one can take credit (or liability) for. But the existence of such a world to be born into, a world of haves and have-nots – rather, of those who have taken or received and those who have not – this is an ongoing matter of design, of will and consent. Which means choice.





For a post-millenarian philosophy

1. (4 May 2020)

I am so tired of all the posturing. The lines drawn to keep everything in its place and everyone accountable. The absurd insistence that people do not change.

Consider the Anthropocene. A couple of centuries of industrialisation and empire – mere decades, not even a tick in geological time – and boom, our own epoch is etched upon the earth.

So, yes, things change. It was not ever thus and will not be thus forever. People change. May we get on with it. Amen.


The all-in-the-same-boat trope

I am tired of the siren calls of the short-sighted berating the near-sighted on social media. “No, we are NOT all in the same boat!”

Indeed, we do not all occupy the same berth in the global pandemic. Some of us shelter in staterooms, crying into our empty wine-cups; many more of us are below decks, scrambling to survive. Clearly, this is true and clearly indefensible.

Yet the commonplace remains that no one on board is unaffected by the corona monster. The commonplace remains that we are all going to die, sooner or later.

And we are not in the same berth on that score either. Some of us already knew our mortality very well; some of us have been ducking and diving that knowledge all our lives.

Up to now.

So who has the advantage on that scorecard, hmm?


It would be foolish to ignore the effects – or waste the potential – of this sudden surge of unbearable reality. Think of the people with sufficient material wealth to believe that they were living apart from the wretched masses who only suffer and die. These deracinated elites are now abruptly confronted with the failure of their security and the imminent threat of a terrible death. “All that is solid melts into air,” just as Marx manifestoed. But even the air is tainted in this pandemonium.

These poor terrified and angry people. What would they not venture to make their fantasy great again? They could certainly drive all of us, unwitting or not, into fascism and war.

And yet the recognition and affirmation that we are indeed all in the same boat is the best consolation and encouragement one could offer to the people with power (and to each other, as we are all people with power, one way or another). We are not separate and we never were. It was vanity to ever think so. And, my word, look at the cost.

Consider the evidence of the evidence.

We are all in this life boat together. We are mortal, you and I, but we are not dead yet. How we live matters, because we each have a choice to make. What shall we do now? Shall we choose life or death, the blessing or the curse?

Here – perhaps – is the opening of the possibility of solidarity and peace in our common world. It is too soon to say how that might take shape in the second coming, if it comes. The world which we are preparing now.

And now.

And now.

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exclamation of kindly greeting, from Old English wilcuma (n.) “welcome guest”, literally “one whose coming suits another’s will or wish” []


Hallo. I’m Helen Douglas, a counselling philosopher in Cape Town, South Africa. This is my blog of everyday philosophy, writing towards understanding and meaning in the lives we live.

I am busy with another writing project and so haven’t been posting much, but there is still plenty good grazing here.

Try a search, go play in the tag forest at the bottom of the page, leave me a comment, say hey…




QA 60. None the wiser (On the obligation and cultivation of wisdom)

Last week, I had the pleasure of addressing a conference of family mediators in Cape Town on the topic of “Wisdom in mediation”.

byzantine philosophy

Two stories

First story. An ethics professor once said to an undergraduate philosophy class, “If you believe that a professor of ethics is an ethical person, you are making a category mistake.” The students recognised that this was true. At the same time, at least one of them thought, “Yes, but you ought to be.”

Second story. Václav Havel, the writer and dissident who became the last president of Czechoslovakia, was hypersensitive to the temptations of political power. In 1991, he spoke about the perks of his office – the chef, the chauffeur, the personal assistants, the special access to medical attention – and the “unassailable logic” of their necessity: “It would be laughable and contemptible for me to miss a meeting that served the interests of my country because I had spent my presidential time in a dentist’s waiting room, or lining up for meat, or nervously battling the decrepit Prague telephone system.” Read more

underdog schmunderdog


Beating the opponent at his own game. The pluck and courage of the underdog to outwit and overcome. Why does this strike everyone (I’m talking to you, Western culture) as a good trope? Underdog becomes top dog, it’s still a dog.

To change our thinking could mean getting out of the game entirely. To withdraw, to pass. To disenchant the field of play.

Sure, sometimes you have to get into it. Some enemies have to be overcome, vanquished, destroyed, no matter the odds against you. We need to think about that and to practice with it, deliberately (doggedly!), in order to act strongly and well at the proper time. And then to bear the consequences and the responsibility for what comes next.

But much better to seek the low places, to overcome like water. To practice both, to know the difference. No need to take advantage.

dirty dog22-e1433091803512

equivocation, ambivalence

These “mixed feelings” of yours.

If you have no reason to feel the way you do, and yet you do, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no reason (you are irrational), or that you’re wrong to feel that way (you are mistaken), or that you should feel otherwise (you are dissolute).

But it might. It’s worth investigating.

As is the relationship between reason and feeling and you. You could think in terms of  equi’vocation and ambi’valence.

Review of Jill Stauffer (2015) Ethical Loneliness: The Injustice of Not Being Heard



My review of Jill Stauffer’s excellent and important book, with a special focus on what it means for counselling.

Ethical Loneliness addresses the “failure of just-minded people to hear well – from those who have suffered – what recovery or reconciliation require” through a fundamentally philosophical question: what does it mean that we could owe something to a suffering stranger, particularly when that suffering has been caused by human evil and injustice, and particularly when the evil was not our doing?  Ethical Loneliness review.Philosophical Practice Volume 12.3

QA 59. To be a comrade


What did it mean: to join the Party? Brecht says it best. I was not an exploiter, so I could grasp it.

To dedicate oneself to a more human society. For justice and peace, bread and roses. Against exploitation and oppression. Against all odds. To understand the indivisibility of freedom. To adopt José Martí’s willingness to share one’s fate con los pobres de la tierra. To know the world again, differently, in many dimensions, ranged along new coordinates. Eyes open, edgy. To become serious, disciplined, responsible. To get over oneself, forsaking singular, private prides and fears. A kind of loving, of deference. Read more

QA 58. “But it doesn’t work like that!”

Annals of philosophical counselling/practice with others

“But it doesn’t work like that!” I say this in response to some proposed scheme or strategy of yours. I mean that, in terms of what you want to achieve, what you are doing seems either futile or malicious because you have a mistaken view about what’s going on. (I could be wrong, of course. We can talk about that.)

My basic theory is that, although there’s no saying how something will turn out, the world generally makes sense and we are basically equipped to take part in that. And  we always are taking part in that. Sometimes we get the wrong end of the stick. We can do better. Philosophical practice is how we learn to do that by our own lights. That is why I call it “emancipatory”.

push the pull

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