THE HUMAN CRISIS

Awkward truths matter.

What is worth living and dying for?

The question seems so big that most of us instantly distance ourselves from it with rolling eyes or a tired disinterest. In other words, like a night in alone with a scary movie, we shove a metaphorical pillow in the way. It’s the same thing we do when we watch news reports on terror attacks, or pass a homeless person who gently pleads for our change.

Albert Camus describes this effect as abstraction; when people put barriers between themselves and the things about the world that are difficult to fight or understand. Through politics, the words we use, through mountains of bureaucracy and now increasingly through technology we put a shield between ourselves and other people. Deliberate or not, the effects can be severe.

Camus was born in the early twentieth century and his thoughts on the world were coated in the shared experience of the things that people do and justify to each other. And what a generation learned from the horrors of two world wars and the injustice of a market crash is eerily reminiscent of the inner struggle we all face about the world today.

In a speech the French philosopher gave just over 70 years ago in New York, he explained the devastating effect of this tendency to numb ourselves to the terror and indignity that goes on all around us in a lecture called ‘The Human Crisis’.

I came across a video on open culture of Viggo Mortensen (of all people) retelling his lecture in the same spot, 70 years later to the day.

If you have the time or inclination to be reminded why honesty matters and why the freedom we allow each other; to speak from the heart without the threat of repression or violence, even and especially when we disagree, is so important then I can highly recommend a watch.

Note: the footage is shaky and Viggo doesn’t rock up until about 11 minutes 30 but the words and delivery are powerful.

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My New Year’s Unresolution

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New Year: Different Solution…

The Freedom of Deliberately Not Knowing What You’re Doing

At this time of year a lot of us end up, in one way or another, trying to refresh out lives. Several lazy days of sofa-ridden turkey-eating sloth give us just enough time to refill our energy supplies from the previous year. We set goals, make plans and try to turn over a new leaf. And, when we do, we tend to make even greater demands on the structured, disciplined use of our time than we have before. Read More

Killing Sacred Cows

Why Sometimes ‘Cultures’ Must Change or Die so That We Don’t Have To

Some metaphorical cows have got to go...

Some metaphorical cows have got to go…

My post today is about a more liberating definition of culture. It’s quite thorough and it will probably take you about ten minutes to read. In the wake of recent events though, I think it’s something different that might shed new perspective on problems that are with us now more than ever in probably the most confusing time to be alive: the 21st Century. Read More

Where Are You Local?

Where you’re really from and who you really are

The places we've been alive in leave their mark on who we are...

The places we’ve been alive in leave their mark on who we are…

People always ask: ‘where are you from?’ as if the brief answer you give were shorthand for the greater part of who you really were.

Yet nations are artificial concepts that disguise and obscure the true connections or divisions between their citizens.

If I say I am from Britain, this conjures images of cricket, good manners, cups of tea and green fields. Yet many people here never visit the countryside, prefer coffee, find cricket insufferably dull and have no respect for others whatsoever.

It is a false label that weakly serves the purpose of defining an individual relative to others. Often it makes some people seem exotic and others seem boring, some seem important and others seem lowly. Perhaps this is why it persists: as a kind of social weapon wielded by those that have most to gain from slapping beneficial labels on themselves whilst branding derogatory ones on to others.

“I’m from Paris. You’re from Grimsby.” I guarantee that the automatic comparison in your head between these two people is not an equal one. Yet the person from Paris could be the most boorish idiot you ever met and the one from Grimsby the sexiest, most exciting person that you will ever encounter.

So what can we use instead?

Well, writer Taiye Selasi suggests in her TED talk that by boiling things down to the communities we spend our lives in rather than the nations, regions or cities we define ourselves with, we are likely to get a truer picture.

There are three things she believes better define a person than ‘where they are from’:

  • Rituals: the habits, activities and patterns of our behaviour
  • Relationships: the people (no matter how far away they live) who make up the larger part of our weekly emotional lives
  • Restrictions: the ways in which our lives are limited (by money, by prejudice, by misfortune etc)

She suggests that we should think in terms of where we are ‘local’ rather than the name of the town or country we are from.

The idea of being local to a place brings out the true meaning of who we are: the collection of our experiences.

I am not from ‘Britain’, ‘England’ or ‘Warrington’. I am from ‘Woolston’, a small part of Warrington where I lived during the 80’s and 90’s’. I went to high school there, I competed at sport there and, for roughly 19 years, for good or ill, it formed the basis of most of my life experiences.

That tells you far more about where I am from because it immediately links any conversation to my actual experiences rather than leaving generic assumptions hanging in the air.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk

Where the hell is that?!

At first the idea seems daft; what is the value of saying you are from a small part of a town I may not have heard of? But it forces you to explain (and me to listen to) what it meant for you to go about your daily life in such a place through the language of ritual, relationship with others and the restrictions that defined your day to day experiences.

Two people from opposite ends of the globe could have far more in common than vast numbers in their own country if judged by this idea of locality. A Doctor in Las Vegas probably has more in common with another Doctor in Mumbai than they do with a street sweeper in their own city.

It also explains why sport bonds people together (ritual), why films can reach billions with emotional tales of family, forgiveness and redemption (relationships) and why a common cause can cross cultural and national divides when it speaks to a shared experience of conquering adversity (restrictions).

Most importantly, it frames a simple getting-to-know-you question in a way that highlights what really connects us together instead of what makes us different and separate.

Have Your Say

So: where are you local?

What are the places and communities that made you who you are?

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Or you can email your view to Foolosophy@peteburnett.net

Oktoberfest – Part One: Fürst Impressions

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I’ll spare you dear reader the plummeting to earth that accompanies any sky-high experience of alcohol-fuelled fun. That will come later. But let’s take a minute just to savour what it is like to let yourself go and to truly experience all the pleasures and the joys of a good time well-lived.

The first thing you notice about Oktoberfest is the atmosphere. Excited crowds of dressed-up party-goers fill the trams, line the streets and smile from ear to ear. There is an all-encompassing mood of celebration and almost everyone I met, be they man or dog or woman, was in their happy place. The feel is of a kind of autumnal Christmas and far from being narrowed into youthful revelry, there are families, children, people young and old all sharing in the sense of local pageantry.

Yes, there are tourists and it is touristy, but in the main the friendly sense of welcoming wins over from the odd brief glimpse of Antipodean loutishness or German grumpiness.

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Outside, you get a vague sense of the scale of the festival. On the opening weekend its about as busy as it gets and tens of thousands of us wander in through the entrance lined on both sides by a dozen giant tents.

But inside those tents is where the magic really happens. Inside those tents you are transported to a different time and place; to another world where beer and salty snacks appear and refill from nowhere. Where waiters and waitresses juggle twenty pints in both hands. Where the men strut around proudly in tight shorts and braces and the women share their cleavage with the world. From time to time a table floats by, with a dozen roasted chickens riding on top. Every fifteen minutes or so, someone calls a toast and sings a German toasting song and strangers crash their steins together. And all the while the oompah band plays on, just in case you were in danger of forgetting that this is Germany, and without a drum and a trombone playing you might have mistaken this magical scene for somewhere else.

Festivals evolve over time. They take us to places long gone and times long passed. It is miraculous they survive, yet wonderful if they can survive intact. Of all the places I have been to and great events that I have witnessed Oktoberfest stands alone in it’s achievements. Somehow the German engineering of structure and efficiency has been utilised without allowing it to crush the graphic chaos and friendly abandon that the spirit of such an event demands.

It was a special novelty, in an age where popular events are commercialised in the name of ‘safety’ and ‘marketability’, to see a great celebration done well without feeling the need to drain it’s soul for a few extra pounds and pence. Festivals should be about protecting the purity of the experience for everyone, forever. And though I can’t say I was around to toast the actual wedding of Ludwig the 1st, back in the Autumn of 1810, I certainly got to feel the echo of that tradition; that two hundred years of getting drunk in tents has left the Germans with mastery an art form, one that any other nation would be proud of.

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Photo Credit: Gareth Womble

Have Your Say

What’s the best festival you’ve ever been to?

What made it so special?

Comments are welcomed below or you can email your experiences to Foolosophy@peteburnett.net

Foolosophy Fieldwork: Oktoberfest

The atmosphere was in tents...

The atmosphere was in tents…

The sights, smells, tastes and sounds of Oktoberfest still fill my senses. I can taste the beer, smell the pretzels and hear the sound of the oompah band parping away in the background. I can even feel the touch of lederhosen against my legs….and to be honest, wearing them to work this week might have seemed to some like overkill. But despite my hangover and the strange looks from colleagues, I have still managed to remember a surprising amount about my time at the world’s most famous beer festival. Read More