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Monthly Archives: March 2006

If you know me, you know that I am the person most unmusical. All through high school, the one person guaranteed to not know the latest hit or have heard the rock classic was me. I never felt that music fit in within my framework, that it worked at a level beyond my understanding, that it wasn’t amiable to be fit into the routine of my life. And so I never felt the urge to listen to it. It was superfluous, a distraction and an unnecessary one, which impeded and added nothing to my daily life. My friends from time to time, suggested things to me and tried to get me interested in it, recommending bits and pieces to me. The only pieces I found some passing and peripheral interest was classical music, but even that could not keep me involved for more then perhaps an afternoon, or a few hours at a time. Music was Odd perhaps, but unnecessary, secondary and ignorable in the great scheme of things.

To a certain extent this is still my view today, but yet I cannot help but admit that as I write this that I’m listening to some. I sit here, and I close my eyes, and I feel seized by it. It has a power that transcends our mere ability to deal with the world. Music seizes the heart, and grasps the soul. It carries it places different and uncertain, it evokes and invokes something primordial in our composition that I think we have no idea how to explain or understand. There is a raw power in it. Power barely modulated by the instruments that contain it. Power transcendent and therefore dangerous. Sheer evocative Power.

I understand why I’m not keen on music. I cannot accept such a seizure on my soul. I have a fetish, that I should and am in control of my life, that I will not relinquish. My life, my control, my decisions. No influence that can do this will be permitted. I chose to bar this because I’m scared of what it does, and of how much power it has. What damage can it do? What power does it have over me and what are its effects? I would know before I would trust Franz Ferdinand, Mozart or anyone in between with so much influence over my life.

The other problem for me and music is that I see music as a mystical magical thing. I have not the intellectual framework to place it into, to dissect, to divide, and thence to analyse it. I have instead to accept: this is the music, this is how it’s put together, it works, shut up and listen. I can’t accept that. I lack the tools to dissect and analyse music, and for me this puts an end to my interest in it. If I can not understand it, then what is the use of attempts to harness it and put it to good use? It is not in my nature to accept things that just are, that are beyond my influence or control. I enjoy them only tangentially and then in brief bursts.

To give my life over to music in the way many of the modern world seem to be inclined, to have it on every day, as if life needed a sound track, does not appeal to me. It gives none of that quiet time that I so enjoy within myself, to hear and perhaps converse with the voice that dwells within my head, that has all the ideas and ties together all the loose ends with insight and verve. That voice does not feel compatible with the sheer transcendent power of music. He, as it were, gets lost in the din. And I like this little voice that keeps me company through so much of my life, that ensures that I am not truly alone, no matter where I am and what I find myself doing.

And in the end, I’m not sure I’ve made the right decision. I give up something transcendently powerful, for the fear of the power that it wields. Simultaneously I prefer to keep the company of the voice in my head. Hardly rational after all.

In my current use of stumbleupon, that most excellent Firefox plug-in, I’ve had it for a while set exclusively on the news setting, in an effort to bounce around from information source to information source to discover what is going on. The selector hasn’t quite worked like I think it would, instead it has been sending me off to op-ed pieces that are much more about analysing the news. This has been instructive and informative, especially in encouraging me to tie together trends that I had not previously connected, discovering new trends, and developing some links of my own between information. It’s piecing together the underlying factors and truths that motivate what happens in the every day world. The long term trends are what explain so much of the short-term world.

In the modern world, what Thomas Friedmann calls “The Flat World” there is no more utility in being an information provider. The internet makes it so easy to find information and facts that there are thousands, probably millions of sources for each fact. Instead what the world needs more of are people who can synthesize these huge reams of information, and to tie them all together to make it coherent and understand the essence of the information. In a way, the news papers and web sites that will get good analystical columnists, who can look at the news day and see a trend, can see a wider picture then the current news story are the ones who will thrive and suceed. Those old papers focused on ‘just the facts ma’am’ will have a hard time in this world.

In a way this is going to be more and more true of the world that we all inhabit. Whatever infomation we require to do our job is available from hundreds of sources. I can access most modern cases from five or so different law reports, and almost all of them are available online. There is no difficulty in knowing what is precisely the law on a point, all that it requires is that you go and read it. But tying multiple cases together, understanding what is relevant and what is not, how to pick apart reasoning or to reinforce it, the skills that the reader brings to the facts, is what distinguishes them. I think this is of relevance in the real world of the job market that I’m going to be heading out into as well. A lot of people will have information and some rough idea of what is going on. What will be needed is more and more specialisation, it will become essential that you know everything about something in effect to becomes a really sucessful member of society. It’s about what you know and how to deal with it in its technical context that counts the most. What value you can individually bring will become what is essential, some real traceable value add, that in the context of services must really be unique in some way to make this difference. The days of many anonymous workers are fading, and people who are stuck in that old paradigm are in trouble.

After three years of Law, I think it’s finally starting to manifest its impact on the way I deal with the world. The nature of law as an academic discipline as well as an area of practice develops a certain way of thinking and imprints a trajectory of thought that guides the mind down a certain path of analysing the world that does not translate across into other disciplines, and that this is not only a limitation but also an effective analytical tool that conditions how I engage with the world. In a perverse way, it conditions my whole response.

The nature of legalistic thinking is that it is in a way atomistically logical. It requires you to break things down and piece it together in a small way step by step building up to any conclusion that you wish to argue for. You have to be pedantic, deliberate and slow, writing as well as thinking in a clear and concise manner towards your conclusion. It inculcates a strong culture of deference towards authority arguing by reference to what has gone before, and the decisions and opinions of others who are by their position entitled to special weight. This is especially enshrined when you consider the ranking of opinions of courts, with superior courts such as the House of Lords triumphing over the Court of Appeal and the High Court not on the grounds of their logical virtuosity, but simply because they are superior in their very existence. They precede them in the rankings of worth, and by that measure they are to be deferred to.

Furthermore law has a strong tendency to discourage, or strictly confine at least, any new development and independent directions that the law may head down. There is only a glacial acceptance of change, and a reluctance to accept new directions without a strongly substantiated case. Most lawyers think that policy determinations are made by the legislature, and that the legislature has made its decision either actively by setting the law to a certain standard, or passively by not interfering with long standing practice of the courts, and that therefore such a determination cannot be changed by the courts. They exclude from themselves the power to make such a change. The strong deference to authority stands out.

The other side of legal thinking is a strongly analytical side. You look at cases, you look at decisions, you consider what was similar what was different, how you can change variables to give a different outcome, and therefore what variables are significant. You play around with facts, principles and ideals a lot trying to find a way to apply it to the present situation and to your advantage. It is all about parallel thinking and applying them to the situation you find yourself if you are really thinking about the situation.

The nature of this thinking results in you having to apply very strong analytical thinking to the situation and it transfers into your daily life. It governs your response to all situations. To adapt an analogy, when all you have is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails. And the problem with this is that it doesn’t work very well with the rest of life. You start to over-analyse and think things through in strict and logical terms that don’t work. You need to think in different ways to get through different parts of life and my adoption of my training has not worked well to let me deal with the laid back nature of intellectual rigour that is required in day to day operations. It something I’ve realised is getting problematic because some of my friends have accused me of being far too analytical in my normal time, and its time to dial down the seriousness and to take things a little easier.

Its an odd feeling to realise that you are adopting a mind set. You have a potent new weapon in your grasp, that is sharper and more adept then it has ever been at its task, but the shape of the blade means that it forever is confined in how it can be wielded, which is truly as much a limitation as a liberation from intellectual difficulty. That certain pathways of thinking are being closed to you because you just cannot think in that way anymore, the historical dialectic or the philosophical argument is a form that requires a lot more effort now to get my head around than it did when I had to deal with them previously. It requires a constant effort to realise that the styles of my chosen subject don’t need to be followed and that convention and authority are not so strictly relevant, giving me flexibility that I can use to my advantage. It’s just weird when you realise that educating yourself has actually in a way restricted your options as much as it has enhanced them, your whole thinking being conditioned to give an argument that satisfy an entirely artificial rigour condition.

Is the reward of goodness aught save goodness?
– The Quran, Surah Ar-Rahman, 55:60

I just want to give account of a little gesture that made a difference. Such goodness does it represent, that it evokes an instinctive goodwill on my part to a person who can make such an honest and considerate gesture. Think of this as a way of acknowledging the blessing, and just one of the ways I can do that is to tell about it.

A few days ago I was on MSN pretending to be busy, and in a way I was, it was just that I was busy playing Civilisation IV and trying to conquer the world with the Greeks rather then doing anything actually productive which is the proper meaning of busy, and certainly what it is in my conception. So while my attention was focused on another screen; deeply embroiled in attempts to conquer cities that existed only as pixels on a map, a something remarkable happened.

A friend who I hadn’t heard from in a while sent me a message on MSN. They said that they hadn’t heard from me in a while, wondered how I was doing, since there seemed to be no reply and they had to get going, that they hoped I was well and that it would be great to hear from me sometime.

It takes something for me to say that I was strongly touched by such a simple and honest gesture that represented such a good thing to do. It acquired particular poignancy in light of my last post but one, in which I told of the attempts that I had made to get in touch with people and gained nothing but a lukewarm response in return. It was a great gesture. I felt that this person, so busy and like all of us wrapped in their own world, found time to think of me and wonder how I was and to wish me the best. Someone had found the time to think of me, minor, unimportant and utterly forgettable, but they had found the time, and this is a tremendous gesture.

What it boils down to fundamentally is that it’s nice to be remembered. In the struggle and daily grind, that there are others out there who are rooting for us, who are on our side, and that while they can only afford the most tangential of physical support they are thinking about us even once in a while. Its so easy to lose touch with people and then see the obstacles to making contact as being insurmountable to regain what was lost, but if such small trivial gestures can have such power and evoke such a strong response in others as they did in me, then I would have to say that such a gesture is never wasted nor is it ever lost. It is a good thing to do, and there is no recompense for good except more good. This is a definite and paramount thought-good, good that can be done by merely thinking and it has a strong and lasting effect. After all I’m telling you about it 8 days after it happened, and my reaction has not subsided.

Fools rush in, where Angels fear to tread.

I’m beginning to wonder about the relationship between change and knowledge. Specifically I’m wondering how much you need to understand something before it becomes right to change. Many people nowadays come and look at a social convention, a social regulation and conceive it to be ab initio wrong, that by the very nerve of something actually being a social rule – that someone has the gall to impose a convention upon the sovereign soul – is enough that it ought to be ruled wrong. I don’t subscribe to this view.

I think that it is essential that there is a good knowledge of the system before you begin to change it. Systems are dynamic, and functional. They exist for a reason and previously in some social situation they had a useful role in regulating the behaviour of people so that people know what to expect from each other. They also functioned to smooth the wheels of society and to insure that people could interact within safe boundaries with each other. This was needed to reach a common understanding. Rules and conventions exist for a reason and are a representation of the knowledge of old which manifests in a then rational arrangement.

Now this is not a popular view in the modern era. People think that they are somehow empowered by a nascent self-awareness coupled with a false sense of pedagogical certainty that they can start to remake the world in their image. It’s surprising how confident we feel when we make such assertions but it’s not that clear in reality and I don’t understand how they can feel so sure.

I guess this all boils down simply when you think about it. To the wise person there are few opportunities, they see all the difficulties and all the challenges and all the complications. Consequently they can also see the opportunities that are few and meaningful that this knowledge can be exercised for. The ignorant person understands little of what he undertakes and cannot comprehend the true nature of his arguments nor how they are really likely to take effect in the real world. They are blind to what is obvious to the one who sees clearly, because the light of the mind is knowledge and their righteous vision is encapsulated and encouraged by ignorance and so they act precipitously and improperly

What I don’t want it to mean though is that knowledge increases ossification in social structure. It causes change to be resisted with more then the normal force because those who are at the top of the intellectual pyramid see the whole panorama of the reasoning behind the rule and so can see the cogent need to resist change. I suppose this is good though, they see the need for active reasoning to make a change, they presume that the system has inherent value that is at least initially and that the burden for change lies on those who would make the case for it. I’m emboldened that the revolutionary movements of the 18-20th Century have been driven by intellectual movements that have advocated change driven on cogently argued principles. This last condition is what modern change arguments really fail to make out – the lack of real consensus in societal goals and direction means that change grinds to an effective halt.

Change and knowledge are ultimately mutually dependent – only real knowledge ought to drive change; pretensions to knowledge and mere information cannot suffice to make such a switch permissible. Too few people understand that nowadays – they feel the need to do something at all costs even if the action gains no ground, replaces one problem with another or ultimately adds only problems. This thinking is really the power of the fast world we live where results have to be instant but not actually progressive. Clear calculated directional change is no longer appreciated, its fruits take too long to appear and the efforts required of them are too bitter for the reaper to want to take the effort. We all lose by such thinking, yet it persists and persists, and we see no sign of it disappearing.

If it needs introduction, Facebook is the service that uses people’s official college email addresses and acts very much like hi5 or myspace. Basically it lets you fill in all your friends and to keep track of them when they disperse into the wide world by virtue of the internet. Its recently begun its roll out in the UK to universities and high schools here after tremendous success in the USA and Canada and it’s currently the gimmick of choice at Kings with many people using it or starting to use it. And so getting the odd few requests that I do, I’ve been spending a little time on the Facebook website after being gotten to start it by one of my other friends when it initially started its Kings roll out, I got to be a bit of a pioneer with it, and so I have the honour to okay all the ‘friends’ requests that come in as people come online with it.
And that’s my problem with facebook.

For starters its the terminology – it terms all these people my friends. Maybe it’s just me but friends is a strong word, its a loaded word and a significant word. They are important people that you trust and that you share a bond with. They are not every Tom Dick and Harry that you spent 5 minutes at with in High School, people who are nodding acquaintances or who you don’t really get on with at all. Half of the people on mine aren’t really my friends and I don’t think they think that of me, so well why are we pretending we like each other on facebook? So many of the people that are on my facebook account are people I will never talk to again, that I have no intention of making the slightest effort to initiate contact with, let alone pretend their friends. Its just stupid. Why did I add them? Why are they adding me? I don’t think we have more then a ‘hi how are you’ kind of relationship in the first place. What a waste of time and effort that you decided to add me. Yours and mine.

Conversely some of my best friends in the world are not on that net, and even if they were I would feel no need to add them. They’re people who made the effort to stay in touch across all the effort and the odds, who felt that we had a bond that translated across thousand of miles that it would be worth making the effort. What’s surprising about that is that they’re so often not who you might expect, but when they do you realise what an impact you’ve had and what strength there is in that bond. All these things Facebook can’t even begin to represent. People and impact far transcend notional lines of allegiance programmed into a computer tracking by email address.

My other gripe with it is that its totally pointless. No one uses it for anything; they just feel that if they connect up all the people they know in some sort of social net that this accomplishes something. Well I unsurprisingly have news for them – it doesn’t. You don’t achieve anything by drawing lines in the sand and pretending connections exist. Connections have to be real and substantial and they cannot be grafted out of pretence in their creation. We’re not going to see each other ever again, nor have a conversation or pretend that we actually care what the other person is up to. At most we use it as a tool to show other people – our ‘friends’ who can see our profile – what wonderfully suave and socially apt people we are, with our tremendous social skills and vast networks. Yeah that’s precisely what it is – a shallow showy pretence of contact that aids no one and wastes all our time.

Even when I’ve made the effort to get in touch with old people that have added me, just to see how they were and what they were up to, they haven’t really made the effort to get back to me, or when they have they’ve been lukewarm borderline reluctant to make actual contact. So what was the point of adding me as a ‘friend’ if you don’t even want any contact with me? If its just to make up the numbers well what is the point of that? The sad thing is that some of these people I thought it would be cool to get in touch with again. We were after all friends once upon a time and had a common understanding of some sort, which was lost through the effluxion of time, but hopefully somewhere rather murkily its there and we’re at least somewhat curious as to what the other person is up to and how they’ve been on the rollercoaster of life. Guess I’m wrong about that as well.

Yet at the same time I can’t reject these people when they request to be added. I have no intention of adding them – but why do them wrong by rejecting their request to be added. Is the pretence better then nothing at all? The feeling that we have reached out at least a little bit into the void great enough to supplant the total futility of our grasp? I don’t understand why these people keep adding me – I just don’t get it. But of course why deny their requests when they don’t cost me anything, don’t restrict me in anyway and seem a salutory guesture in the first place. I might as well in such circumstances for the time being. I’m beggining to think that my attitude is starting to shift, I don’t want to be party to a farce nor have one continue. I’m not claiming friends that wouldn’t lift a finger to help me if I needed it and I would rather have no friends then a thousand of that sort. I can deal with the former – I know myself tolerably well. Fake relations with fake people who I’m temporally as well as mentally done with and will never see again – that I don’t need.

I cherish friendships and I won’t have the word or the concept demeaned in my mind by a faceless company who wishes to profit by it in their desire to use ‘neutral’ language. Call it my acquaintance net and I might be more inclined to keep using it. At least it will then gain a single virtue of honesty.

Mohammed