“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy…” Proverbs 27:6.
When my paternal grandmother spoke, I listened. Born in 1916 she was a teacher, the only daughter of a one-time mayor of a Cumbrian town. My brothers and I referred to her as ‘Brown Nanna’, owing to her naturally tanned skin emphasised through her penchant for tanning products. Brown Nanna’s words carried an enchanting authority. That authority came from what I now understand to be: logic; consistency; truthfulness; sense; reason; scepticism and openness. No topic was out of bounds and our questions drew answers spawning questions and further answers. Brown Nanna died at the age of eighty four when I was thirty one, having suffered from cancer of the oesophagus. I visited her shortly before her death and also, in the mortuary room of her local hospital in the hours after her death. This was the first close family member I had seen post mortem, alone. I spent less than a minute with a corpse. Brown Nanna wasn’t there anymore, but she continues in her offspring.
My first distinct recollection of what I would regard as a conversation of a philosophical nature was with Brown Nanna when I would have been about 10 or 11 years old. It related to the ’water cycle’, and her small part in it, and my part in it. She described to me how the structures of our bodies change from the moment of our conception to our death. How our body size changes and our bones and muscles grow. How we continually shed skin and grow hair. How we drink and eat and consume and eject gaseous, solid and liquid combinations of chemicals (especially water, which accounts for some 60% of an adult human). She then asked me to recollect an early memory from my childhood, and told me that she guessed the earliest childhood memory of hers was when she was about 4 years old. She then asked me to imagine how many of the atoms and molecules in her body were the same atoms that comprised her body at the age of four. The discussion developed and questions such as ‘what defines ‘I’? Is it my body? My thoughts? My mind? My memories?’… And ‘Do I have a soul?’…and ‘If my body dies, does my soul live on?’. Answers to questions, spawning more questions, more answers. I guess I have always had a thirst to know. A thirst for knowledge. A thirst for the truth.
Whilst a search for truth is the occupation of the (honourable) scientists, engineers and (real) philosophers, it is important to recognise that ‘truth seeking’ is not high on the agenda of the modern day politician. In consuming political talk and conversation, recognising that not all participants have even a cursory interest in ‘truth seeking’ is essential to bear in mind. Politics in modern big government ‘Democracies’ has become a game of vote farming, and emotional manipulation of the voter has proved to be a more successful strategy in obtaining votes than explaining or arguing a case from a moral and honest perspective. Whilst the older generations may recognise this, younger people who are exposed to a very narrow offering of matters political and economical in their schools, do not. It is a sad reflection of our times that the penchant for the methods of Gorgias appear to now be adopted by those in academia, even the natural and applied sciences.
The distinction between the honest participant in politics who wishes to find what are the best policies for the improvement of society, and the dishonest participant whose use of language is designed to ‘farm votes’ is of upmost importance. One is worth listening to, the other is not. Plato’s work ‘Gorgias’ addresses this issue – sophistry vs. philosophy. In the dialogue contained, Socrates argues with Gorgias on the topic of ‘oratory’. Gorgias and Socrates are both tutors. Gorgias proudly proclaims his ideal of oratory: the use of spoken or written word to teach and persuade others to agree with and adopt your opinion. Socrates argues that oratory is: the use of language to determine and define what is correct or truthful and by doing, allowing your opinions to adjust and improve based on the outcome of the process.
One contemporary example of the utterly disingenuous approach to our politics and contempt for honesty came this week from the Labour Party. In their initial defence of their colleague Jared O’Mara following the revelations that Mr O’Mara had engaged in ‘racist’, ‘homophobic’ and ‘misogynistic’ behaviour, Labour representatives argued that he (Mr O’Mara) being in his twenties at the time of the ‘offences’ was young and irresponsible and had matured and moved on – grown up if you will. Within a week, Jim McMahon MP, Labour, Oldham West and Royton, was sponsoring a Bill in our House of Commons to reduce the age of voting from 18 to 16, a cynical move to attempt to improve the vote of the Labour Party whose support is much stronger with young people yet to experience the fiscal realities of life.
In one’s own deliberations on matters political or philosophical, if one is truly interested in adopting the most ethically sustainable positions and supporting proposed policies that will bring the greatest good to the many, recognising the difference between a ‘truth seeker’ such as Socrates from a ‘bullshitter’ such as Gorgias, will assist in determining who has something relevant and constructive to contribute and who merely wants to hold power and authority over others.