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

Annals of philosophical counselling/practice with others, or Things I find myself saying to someone like you*

* you |juː|
pronoun [ second person singular or plural ]
1. used to refer to the person or people that the speaker is addressing: are you listening? | I love you.
~ Oxford Dictionary
Who is this “you”? Do you know who you are speaking to? Well no, actually. I don’t. I am responding to a question that someone raised about something I said. It is also a question for me, so “you” also means “I”. (Who, me? Yes, you!) Plus any other Cinderella for whom the shoe fits, vous tous, y’all, second persons plural: all us first-person-singulars who feel correctly addressed when I write to myself as to another and say “you”. Which is to say, it’s an open call. Your call.

“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

I say “futile or malicious” because it seems like a) you are not going to achieve what you want and/or b) you are going to do some damage. I say it when I know you’ve done this same thing enough times that the result is predictable. Your wife is not going to take you back if you send another threatening or pleading text. Re-accessorising your life will not make you happy. “It doesn’t work like that.”

Your efforts will be futile as long as you are mistaken about how it does work and how to work with it. Yes, you are frustrated when things don’t work out for you. Beyond the injury to your vanity, what does that tell you? The pursuit of futility isn’t sensible (is it?) – but look, the scene is full of information that has been created especially for you. What can you learn? Stop and pay attention. You could learn to re-align yourself, your desires and your actions with the world as it is. Things will go better, even if not in the way you imagine now. That’s my bet anyway. (P.S. I’m actually much kinder in person, given a particular you and your particular misery.)

Your efforts become malicious when you forge ahead anyway until you break something, or “repurpose” it to your own designs. Don’t talk to me about unintended consequences! Let’s talk about hidden intentions. Pride and stubbornness won’t serve you well in the long run. Do you imagine you won’t have to answer for yourself? Malice isn’t sensible. Please stop and think.

When I suggest that the world makes sense and can be worked with, it does include the kinds of suffering we can’t do anything about, because that’s just “the way it works”. We get sick, we get hurt, people we love leave us, death awaits. Working with these involves some acceptance or resignation.

But we also find ourselves in unacceptable situations that were messed up before we ever came on the scene. Things that are not the way they are supposed to be. Lies, injustice, callous indifference, unnecessary suffering. We can feel the wrongness in our bellies and bones – that this is “not the way it works”. Maybe it’s a political scene that calls for resistance. Or maybe you should get yourself the hell out of Dodge. Or maybe you have to bide your time so long.

Risky times like these call for us to be even more careful and attentive, to avoid futility and malice. How do you align yourself in this situation? Like we practiced. (Aren’t you glad we practiced?) By working with it and learning its truth, testing it, catching the scent of possiblities. Turn and return. Reach out. Move in the direction of your freedom. Step lively.

QA 57. “Need I remind anyone, again?”

armedstrugglefistBetween 1987 and 1990, my husband Rob and I ran a safe house for the liberation movement in apartheid South Africa. We were part of what we would later learn was named Operation Vula, short for Vul’indlela (“Open the road” in Zulu). Its aim was to infiltrate exiled leaders of the African National Congress/Umkhonto we Sizwe back into the country to help co-ordinate the different streams of popular resistance within the country – trade unions, civics, students, armed units and others – and to open a secure channel of communication between the leadership inside the country, in prison and in exile.

This was the time of State President PW Botha, he of the wagging finger and brutal states of emergency. With the townships locked down by the military, Vula operatives would need access to hideaways in the white suburbs, but any white South African who was trustworthy enough would already be known to the regime. The operation thus required white internationals who could come into the country, set themselves up as immigrants, rent a house and blend into the neighbourhood to provide camouflage for underground activists. With a couple of twists of fate, a couple of fairly low-key anti-apartheid activists in Vancouver got the call. We said yes. Continue reading

New article: TO CHANGE OUR THINKING: PHILOSOPHICAL PRACTICE FOR DIFFICULT TIMES

South African Journal of Philosophy, 35 (2), 2016, pp 123–131.

You can find it here or there.

The self-confidence of the human being, freedom, has first of all to be aroused again in the hearts of these people. Karl Marx

ABSTRACT: sajp-coverIf a time of crisis calls for a new mode of thinking, philosophical practice offers the means to answer that call. Contemporary philosophical practice revitalises the ancient Greek understanding of philosophy as a way of life that cultivates personal transformation and new ways of seeing the world. This article describes the development of the author’s philosophical counselling practice as a practice of emancipation, in concert with the writings of Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Rancière. It considers the significance of personal engagement and companionship for the cultivation of practical wisdom, and suggests that the intransigence of our global social and economic crises ultimately indicates an incorrect view of human nature and an ossified or unbalanced relationship between practical and theoretical ways of knowing and wisdom.

QA 56. Four touchstones for thinking about peace

mandelaFor Nelson Mandela’s birthday, and because I’m reading Thula Simpson’s Umkhonto We Sizwe: The ANC’s Armed Struggle, thinking about and respecting the lives of everyone who stood against apartheid, those whose names are known or unknown, remembered or forgotten. Thinking that the aim of the struggle was peace, and how we’re not there yet. Thinking that peace without justice isn’t good enough, but neither would be justice without peace. Continue reading

hiatus

I’m still here philosophising, counselling, writing… just tending other fields so long…

Taishun tending the fields

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) 24 Paragons of Filial Piety: Taishun Tending the Fields Assisted by Elephants, 1840. Oban yoko-e.

 

QA 55. Tenebrae

tenebrae
Tenebrae (L. darkness) is the only Christian service I ever trusted. It’s made up of psalms of grief and lamentations of the lost and forsaken. The evening of Holy Saturday. The messiah is crucified, god has abandoned his people to their enemies. Why God? There are no signs for us to see; there is no prophet left; there is not one among us who knows how long. Continue reading

QA 54. #What rises?

oldstruggle

The student movement that flashed into life this year in South Africa, from #Rhodesmustfall at the University of Cape Town to the extraordinary #Feesmustfall protests last week in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Stellenbosch, Grahamstown and Pretoria, is a complex and dynamic phenomenon. Lots going on there. But there are two things I’ve been trying to think about. Two things that they are “getting right” (that’s the phrase in my head). Two elements that have held us in thrall, enthralled even as we participate here on the outside, that make it feel so momentous.

One element has been their use of disruption to open up space, to interfere with the old game with its rigged and futile moves, their refusal to play along anymore. And then to occupy the space and not let any new game begin. Standing vigil, wide awake. Holding open the space where we could imagine something new. This manner of disruption and occupation gives them (and the rest of us) a chance to think differently, to breathe, to find their/our bearings with each other, to be quick and bold and lively. Continue reading