Monday, September 28, 2009

Being praised for what you do

Some time ago I wrote about the side effects of actions and how we evaluate them. Side effects of actions are one of those intriguing issues of the philosophy of action: We can say a lot about them, but it is difficult to reach a definite conclusion. One problem is, as I discussed: Are we (or to what extent are we) the doers of these side effects if we could not foresee them when we acted? Are we then responsible for them or are we not, or are we partially responsible? And how about the side effects that we did foresee but that we had rather avoided? But maybe we thought: “Okay, this effect is less important than our actual action”. Or we just do not care. Of course, side effects can also be positive. One of the remarkable things is, as we have seen, that we are blamed for the negative side effects of our actions but not praised for the positive ones (see my blogs of February 23, 2009, and later).
Side effects of actions cannot be avoided. Moreover, even when we consider in advance thoroughly what we are going to do, we can foresee only a few consequences of our actions. And among those we do foresee there are often some that we do not desire to happen. The world is too complicated to be able to bring about only what we like. The only “solution” would be doing nothing, and even that is a doing from the point of view of many philosophers.
More than two years ago I started to write my philosophical blogs. Frankly speaking, I did not write them for the readers; I wrote them for myself. But what I had not thought about so much, but what I could have foreseen, of course, is that some people reacted. Even more, I got a group of readers. I do not want to say that it changed my blogs a lot, but in the end, when writing, you take attention to it that you are read and it influences what you are writing, despite that you still write for yourself. And so it happened to me, too.
I think that I can consider having a group of readers as a positive side effect of my writing my blogs, for my main purpose was stimulating my thinking and ordering my thoughts in a less formal way then when you write an article. Writing blogs is excellent for that, and I would have continued writing blogs, also when I would not be read and when I would never receive a reaction. What I did not expect, however, was being praised for my blogs. Hadn’t I written myself that people are blamed for negative side effects of what they do but that they are not praised for positive side effects? However, often it happens that theories are falsified and must be revised.
Now the theory that people are not praised for the positive side effects of what they do has been falsified by at least one instance, for the unexpected thing happened. My blog is not only read by other people, but I am even praised for it. A few days ago I received a message that my readers have submitted and voted for my blog at The Daily Reviewer with the consequence that my blog is in their top 100 philosophy blogs (see the reaction to my blog “What are we voting for?”, published two weeks ago). And I got even an award for it. Therefore, I want to thank from the depth of my heart all those readers who voted for me and brought me in the top 100 philosophy blogs! Thank you very much. It is very nice of all of you.
Of course, I want to try to continue writing blogs of the same quality. I’ll do my best for it, although I cannot promise anything. Sometimes it happened that I had written a blog and later I thought: no, it was not worth publishing it. The only excuse that I have for it is that I definitely want to publish a blog every Monday, unless I have an airtight excuse for not doing it. Then it can happen sometimes that inspiration fails. But now I have a second goal when writing my blogs: not only writing for myself but, as human as human is, trying to reach the top of the list of 100. Who knows, maybe I’ll succeed, maybe not. It is not only in my hands but also in the hands of my readers and maybe in other hands, too. But if I succeed, and if I reach the top, one thing is sure: I can no longer say that it is a side effect of my action of writing blogs.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Every citizen a criminal

The European Union has decided that finger prints have to be taken of every person who wants to have a passport for travelling abroad, a measure that will also be executed by the Netherlands. The reason seems to be that in this way it becomes easier to attack crime. But is it really effective? I doubt it and my opinion has been reinforced by a recent Dutch report that says that placing surveillance cameras in public areas is not very effective, with a few exceptions, like placing them in public garages. And for me there is no fundamental difference between placing cameras in public places, taking finger prints when you want to have a passport, asking your DNA for the simple reason that you happen to live in an area where a murder has taken place, and so on. The essence of all these measures is: they make you a potential criminal while there is not any suspicion on you for any crime. Even more, you are considered to be a potential perpetrator, even when there hasn’t taken place any crime at all. In short, it is Big Brother.Politicians talk about trust and that people must invest more in community relations in order to get a friendlier, less criminal society. But how can they expect that people trust each other, if these politicians do not trust us? And when they do not support programs that invest in personal relations on the community level themselves and in the civil society, but when they see in every citizen a criminal in the making?

Monday, September 14, 2009

What are we voting for?

Voting in democracies is supposed to be a procedure in which we show which candidate or party represents best our interest. But is that really so? Most people do not read all the programs that the parties have written and that the candidates stand for. They see the candidates in TV broadcasts and they read the political news in the newspapers. Maybe they go even to a political meeting or they happen to meet a candidate somewhere in their town or village during a campaign. In such a way voters seem to build up their opinions and to decide for whom to vote. Anyway, that is the theory. But is that really so? In fact, most people do not vote after a rational weighing of programs and standpoints, but they follow their personal traditions and feelings. It is not a bad strategy. Following your personal tradition, means that you follow where you have always stand for. And as for following your feelings, psychologists have found out that in complex situations it is almost impossible for man to make rational calculations what to do. Then following your feelings will often lead to an acceptable result. And from that point of view it is second best to a rational decision. But what does it mean following your feelings? One would expect that in case of voting it would be a kind of emotional tentative weighing of candidates and parties on ground of what they have done and said in the past and what they promise to do. In fact this kind of weighing appears to be of secondary importance. What comes first is not what a candidate said or says, promised or promises to do and really did or does. What is of primary importance is what he or she looks like. In one word it is his or her face. Whether the candidate looks competent not whether he or she is competent seems to be most important for being elected, even more important than whether a candidate is judged honest or charismatic. And then we do not yet speak of what this competence stands for; what it is about. However, a candidate that looks competent does not need to be competent. He or she can or cannot be competent despite the appearance. But in these days this is what candidates and their parties anticipate in the campaign to come. They make use of stylists and other people who work on how they look and not on what they are. Therefore it is actually so that we do not vote for the most competent candidate in the sense of the person that is most likely to represent our interests well, but we vote for the best stylists and other people who make up the appearance of the candidate. Actually it is what many people know but they follow their feelings and vote for the face.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Reading a book makes me quiet

Somewhere on a website on the Internet I have a photo of my study. What you see there is a room full of books. Since I have uploaded the photo there, I have received many reactions, all positive, for example: “I think this is my favourite room in the entire world”, “This is my dream”, “That's my goal!”, or “As close to paradise as one can get!”. I have “collected” these books already since a long time. Like those who have sent me their reactions, I like reading and I like having books around me. It is handy, when I am writing a blog, an article or occasionally a book, and what is more important, books make me feel at ease. All these books around me give me the right feeling, when I am there, working or doing something else.
But for me books are not a kind of wall paper that has to bring me in the right mood. Books have contents; they are about something. They say something and they are reflections of the minds of their authors, and often a lot more. That’s why I like reading them and want to have them around me. If that weren’t so, I guess that good photos and other decorations would do, too. Books have an intellectual function and because they are the reflections of other minds, they help me to develop my own mind. They give me an indirect way to talk with their authors and to talk with other authors who have read and who discuss the books that I have read. And they stimulate me to read other books.
However, books have also another function for me. When I come home after a tiring day, or when I have been working hard in my study (while writing myself), I can have a tense feeling. Some people go to bed then, but for me that doesn’t help. For me, other ways of coping with it are better. One way is doing physical activity. It certainly helps. But what also helps always for me is taking a book, and then rather not an easy one, but something like philosophy, for example, about a difficult theme which asks for concentration. The only thing that is necessary that it can distract me from what I did before I took the book in my hands. And then I become gradually relaxed again and forget what I did before. Therefore, it is something I always do and I can count the days that I did not read at least some pages in a book. For reading a book is relaxing for me and it makes me quiet.