the new problem of what i will read at 2am

There are three reasons why I started writing a blog. The first was because (as anyone who has read this thing since the start will know) I am a pretty average comedian; but, it turns out, not too bad at writing about it.

The second reason was because I wanted to chart my comedic progress (particularly during Edinburgh). You probably already know how that went.

And the third was because of reading Andrew Watts’ blog. Which he has apparently now decided to pack in.

So I could be writing about anything this evening. I could write about the first ever Sussex University comedy night, which I basically had to organise from scratch and which finally went ahead on Monday to an audience of over a hundred; or about the Beckett project I’m working on; or about the ridiculous fact that some MPs are, without a hint of irony, claiming that it’s a bad thing for museums to exploit interns.

But I’d rather write about how sad I will be if Andrew never blogs again.

For a start, it’s the only way anyone ever seems to get any new material out of him. As a performer he’s quite unashamedly been doing the same first five minutes of stand-up for five years now, which is as long as both as us have been performing. I can’t even remember my first five.

In fairness, it’s a brilliant opening five and it’s got him into the kinds of paid work and competition finals that I’ve never got. (I mean, that might be because I have never really tried competitive stand-up – I loathe competitions on principle and never even bothered to enter So You Think You’re Funny or the Hackney Empire New Act Competition or most of the others, and even when I have entered competitions, I’ve always sabotaged my chances by using them to do totally new material about stupid things like Picasso and the BNP. Not good, solid stuff about women and cricket. But that’s not the point – the point is that one great joy of reading Andrew’s blog has been watching an act that I regard as relatively successful, harping on endlessly about Jack W****hall’s instant fame. I think I just liked knowing that even if I’d entered and been a multiple competition finalist and rising star like Andrew, it still wouldn’t actually make me happy…)

Also, I should say that I have disagreed with Andrew on almost every point of religious, cultural and party political principle that he’s written about. He doesn’t like Beckett and adores Julian Fellowes; he somehow thinks the Liberal Democrats are inherently racist and that if the slave trade were still happening now it would be the Tories leading the campaign against it; and he holds pretty much exactly the same High Anglican church values that I was brought up with, and found impossible to justify under even the tiny weight of my own teenage philosophical questioning, let alone the kind of properly empirical demands I’d try to make now.

And yet…he’s really funny. And smart. And I like the way he writes an awful lot. And his blog has conclusively proved the George Orwell thing about how you shouldn’t spend too much time around conservatives because you’ll only end up getting to like them.

Often, agreeing with the conclusions is kind of irrelevant. As always, the real content is in the style. And if nothing else, Andrew’s blog has taught me (of all people) that public-school-educated Christian Tories can be okay really – perhaps even decent, honest, intelligent people. And because of this, that blog has shifted my distain away from them, and onto the kind of small-minded party tribalists who still think that all Tories/Labour/LibDems/whatevers are stupid and evil.

So if it is true that Andrew is not going to blog any more, then I will miss Andrew’s blog. I will miss regularly learning new things about abolitionism. I will miss being woken up at 2am by email alerts from MySpace – MySpace, of all fucking things! – saying “Andrew Watts has posted a new blog!” And then reading it anyway. I will miss hearing about his successive glorious failures at pulling girls at gigs. I will miss getting day-by-day updates on the long-running narrative arc of how his mother is gradually becoming convinced that stand-up really is the right thing for him to be doing (and if this is true and not merely a literary device, she would be the only person still unconvinced in the country). I will even miss his little rants about how everyone shouldn’t hate Tories, especially now that, however much I hated their last budget or what they’ve done to the Lib Dems, I don’t hate them either…

So. Andrew. If you should read this (which I’m sure you will, because like all good stand-ups you are a terrible narcissist), then I want you to know that if you stop keeping a blog then it will be like The Archers just stopped. Certainly for me, and I have no doubt for a few others besides. And even when it’s boring, nobody wants that.

But if you’re definitely going to stop altogether, then, well…thank you.

And, um…can you like to come and do my Sussex University gig if it runs after Easter?

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the things people call love

So it’s Valentine’s day and I’ve been thinking recently about the philosophy of love and friendship.

Soppy, huh? Not necessarily. Here’s what Nietzsche says:

The things people call love.— Greed and love: what different feelings these two terms evoke!—nevertheless it could be the same instinct that has two names… Our love of our neighbor—is it not a desire for new possessions? And likewise our love of knowledge, truth, and altogether any desire for what is new? Gradually we become tired of the old, of what we safely possess, and we stretch out our hands again; even the most beautiful scenery is no longer assured of our love after we have lived in it for three months, and some distant coast attracts our avarice: possessions are generally diminished by possession. Our pleasure in ourselves tries to maintain itself by again and again changing something new into ourselves,—that is what possession means. To become tired of some possession means: tiring of ourselves…Sexual love betrays itself most clearly as a desire for possession: the lover wants unconditional and sole possession of the person for whom he longs, he wants equally unconditional power over the soul and over the body of the beloved; he alone wants to be loved and desires to live and rule in the other soul as supreme and supremely desirable. If one considers that this means nothing less than excluding the whole world from a precious good, from happiness and enjoyment…then one comes to feel genuine amazement that this wild avarice and injustice of sexual love has been glorified and deified so much in all ages—indeed, that this love has furnished the concept of love as the opposite of egoism while it actually may be the most ingenuous expression of egoism.

At this point linguistic usage has evidently been formed by those who did not possess but desired,—probably, there have always been too many of these. Those to whom much possession and satiety were granted in this area have occasionally made some casual remark about “the raging demon,” as that most gracious and beloved of all Athenians, Sophocles, did: but Eros has always laughed at such blasphemers,—they were invariably his greatest favorites.

Here and there on earth we may encounter a kind of continuation of love in which this possessive craving of two people for each other gives way to a new desire and lust for possession, a shared higher thirst for an ideal above them: but who knows such love? Who has experienced it? Its right name is friendship.

Gay Science Aph.14

Good, huh?

Happy Valentines day, everybody! And extra-special love if I consider you my friend…

some rhetoric

I know I haven’t posted much here recently (mainly because I’ve been a bit busy with research that is far too dull to post here), but thought I’d upload this exerpt from a debate paper I wrote. It was originally in response to a lame question like, ‘Is religion the cause of the worlds problems?’  but it provoked some quite neat expressions of my position on some other issues. For the record, I was writing for the opposition (No) side.

…With the Middle East conflict, as with all conflicts, there are two conflicting sides. But the real divide between sides is not between Jewish Israelis and Muslim Arabs. Which of those sides one might take is, to a large extent, irrelevant. The religious divide is not the real divide. The real divide is, as always, between those who think it is possible to justify violence against innocent people; and those who do not.

The first side – which has held the balance of power for too long – believe that there are circumstances under which there are sufficient reasons for innocent people to be violently harmed. ‘Harm’, in this case, might involve blowing people up or shooting at them; but it can also be taking their homes, throwing rocks at them, kidnapping them, stealing from them, refusing them medical supplies. (It’s important to note, as John Stuart Mill does, that ‘causing offence’, unless there is good reason to believe that offence will provoke violence, does not constitute actual harm. If it did, then we would have to put health warnings on debate chambers, comedy clubs and anywhere else where people are free to voice their opinions).

Those who lie on this first side of the divide use many means to justify violent harm (or to explain it away). Generally such justification means invoking past events, tribal differences, or, admittedly, religious metaphysical claims – for example, the will of a God or Gods. And, it is true, those who base justification for harm on such metaphysical claims often do the most terrible harm of all, because there is nothing in the physical world that can disprove their reasoning.

But that is not the same as saying that religion is the dividing factor, let alone the cause of harm. Many people hold metaphysical beliefs without ever feeling the need to cause harm as a result; and so we must conclude that religion does not always divide people. However substantial the specific differences of their metaphysical beliefs are, how real that divide feels to many people, it is in fact only a superficial dividing line; far from being divided by religion, those on the side of violent harm are in fact united by their mutual taste for, or tolerance of, tribalist inhumanity.

Now, on the other side of this divide are those us for whom nothing in this world, or beyond it, can justify violent harm to an innocent person.

We do not attempt to defend any military action which harms non-militants.

We do not consider any past event to be a justification for killing in the present or future.

We stubbornly refuse to lay blame along tribal lines, and we firmly believe that one must publicly condemn the violence of one’s own tribe just as vocally as one condemns the violence of another: failure to do this is equal to justifying the violence of one’s own tribe.

In the Middle East, We are not crudely ‘pro-Israel’ or ‘pro-Palestine’. We are, in fact, pro-Israel because we are pro-Palestine, and we are pro-Palestine because we are pro-Israel: we recognise that neither will have security, economic development and a good quality of life until both do, and every act of harm committed against a non-combatant from either tribe can only further endanger those on the other.

And certainly, we seek to explain and understand the psychology of violence, but we never do so in order to justify it. We will not be held responsible, as those on the other side of this divide are, for violent harm to innocents of any religion or tribe – except in our failure to condemn and hold to account those who have caused that harm.

Now, many of us, too, hold religious convictions. I am not one of them. But  for those of us who do, these convictions frequently confirm their belief that the innocent must be protected. Religious and political ideologies can only support this belief; they do not harm it.

Nor, for the record, is it either a left-wing nor a right-wing belief. It is a belief in the value of life, the rule of law, and decency towards our fellow humans, which unites both side of the left/right divide, as well as uniting religions.

Still: a divide exists – and all of us are either on one side or the other. But the divide is more significant than mere politics, and more urgent than religion. Religious and political affiliations are used as a tool used by those on the side of cruelty in order to drive a wedge between us. But we must recognise that while innocent lives are at stake, these supposed divisions are not what really divides us.

It is for all of us – religious and secular – to recognise what really divides us, and which side we really want to be on.