Tuesday, May 28, 2013

An open letter to the Expert Advisory Group for Reducing the Alcohol and Drug Toll.

To the members of  the Expert Advisory Group for Reducing the Alcohol and Drug Toll

It’s come to my attention that you want to improve drug and alcohol education in Victorian Schools. Specifically your Victorian Alcohol and Drug Strategy paper states that you want to;
Better promote awareness of drug and alcohol issues in schools through comprehensive, evidence-based alcohol and drug education and health promotion programs that will strengthen well being and resilience among young people.”

That’s a combination of two topics- drugs and education- that are both of interest to me. I’d like to offer you my own thoughts which come from over eight years working in the drug and alcohol field with both adult and youth clients as well as sending my own child off to prep this year.

Firstly the problem; We have school leavers who have a very poor understanding about how drugs and alcohol work. Young people rely on scattered and unauthoritive information about specific substances from the media, friends, dealers and government but lack the skills to evaluate what they are hearing. Consequently they are making uninformed decisions about drugs and alcohol use. They are also unable to give sound advice to friends and family about drugs and alcohol. Lastly they don’t as citizens shape drug and alcohol policy from an informed perspective. This can mean that policy makers can feel that a sensible drug and alcohol policy has to be sheltered from community opinions. This is rightfully understood as an affront to democracy.

This is how I conceptualise the problem; not in terms of the number of drug overdoses or chronic addictions, which I see as the tragic symptoms, but in terms of a lack of people’s individual and collective control over their own lives in relation to drugs and alcohol. When you are looking at education as your solution this is the only way to conceptualise the problem. Education ought to see all problems in terms of peoples control over their lives. This is because belonging to such a democratic project is what gives Education its moral high ground to insist students attend to it. Anything else is propaganda and justifies being ignored.

Politicising drug and alcohol education as propaganda is what we usually do. We usually have political objectives such as the reduced use of illegal substances and we measure our education programs by their impact on this goal. This is sometimes what is called “evidence based”. However evidence based is a term borrowed from drug and alcohol treatment programs which can legitimately use it in this way only because they have explicit goals around reduced use. Evidence based is great – the only way to proceed certainly – but the progress that must be evidenced can’t borrow the goals of treatment which have the consent of patients. 

Instead we should politicize drug and alcohol education in the same way that good teaching will politicize history. That is, not to push a particular patriotic agenda, but to teach kids that with a knowledge of how to do history comes power. The power to make connections between events, to appropriately credit the past and to foresee the future are all derived from the ability to do history. A good teacher capitalizes on the brains evolution as a tool to unmask deception and shows how historical knowledge and skills makes you less of a fool and a tool in the hands of others. Best of all a teacher might be able to encourage a young historian to pit their skills directly against either propaganda or a culture that only knows the recent.

Eg. A Toy company might want to sell kids some version of knucklebones with an added rule or two that requires extra purchasing – like the need to collect randomly packaged special knuckles. Teaching kids the history of children’s games can help them see through the marketing to recognize merely a repackaged idea that they might be able to play much cheaper, or even learn of games they can play with no purchasing required.

The first step then in drug and alcohol education might be to teach kids about who are the other vested interests in the topic. Government, parents, liquor merchants and pharmaceutical companies, cafes and other drug dealers all can be identified as people with their own agendas and thus only partial allies to the democratic agenda of education around drugs and alcohol. Cigarette smoking is an obvious example topic for older kids given the amount of resources that exist mapping the changes over tobacco laws in recent history. However better still is to look at sugar, a ubiquitous substance that serves to elevate energy levels and boost mood, has become synonymous with celebration and self-reward – and lies close to even the youngest kids heart.

Caffeine is another great one for kids to investigate because caffeine dependence is rife amongst adults (and growing amongst teens). This means that many teachers and parents can talk about their own dependence, tolerance, withdrawals and cravings for caffeine. Kids can be encouraged to monitor caffeine usage in their families or to identify where and how caffeine is sold and marketed.

I want to stress that it does not matter that young people are learning about sugar and caffeine when the bigger health risks for them lie in cannabis and alcohol or even methamphetamines. It is a misconception that drug and alcohol education can ever teach kids the right content. Firstly drugs are evolving constantly and what is sold on the street is not what is talked about in textbooks. Cannabis is a hugely different drug today than it was ten years ago primarily due to concentration of THC. The facts about drugs and alcohol can only ever be responsibly taught to kids as the “historical facts”.

Secondly young people themselves are going to be (if they aren’t already) confronting widely divergent questions about drugs and alcohol. For some the issues will be around a party drug sold as ecstasy, for others it will be the anti-depressants their GP prescribed. In both those situations and no matter how drugs change there is still a process similar to the process of doing history, that is, how to consider drugs and alcohol. It’s this  process of what questions to ask and how to answer them that should be taught and can just as easily be taught about caffeine as about sugar as about heroin. Just as in the teaching of history where what history you cover is less important than how to do history, what drugs a teacher covers is less important that how the class studies them. It may be better to pick substances relevant to most or it might be better to pick substances that are easiest to teach (the Opium War is a spectacularly dramatic event), whatever engages the student.

Regardless of the topical substance, drug and alcohol education should introduce students to the following ideas;
1. That drugs work because our brains have their own chemistry which is how we feel different moods.
2. That our taste buds can begin to identify tastes according to the effect we anticipate on our brain’s chemistry from substances.
3. That we can adapt to regular substances and experience both tolerance and dependence – the substance becomes necessary just to achieve what was normal before without it.
4. That once dependence has occurred, the absence of a substance doesn’t feel normal but instead is experienced as withdrawal.
5. That repeated patterns of experiencing withdrawals trains us on a subconscious level into patterns of addiction.

Key concepts in this process are efficacy, side effects, reliability, tolerance and dependence. The investigation of efficacy and side effects for substances which affect our mood should be broadened to include comparisons with other ways of affecting mood. A sleep-in is an option for treating tiredness instead of caffeine. It has different side-effects such as missing class. A range of other wake-up methods could be investigated. An enterprising young person might even invent an alternative to caffeine such as a scary short movie designed to wake a person up with a quick shot of adrenalin. Figuring out efficacy will introduce mathematical concepts such as statistical significance. The notion of the placebo effect would be interesting to most.

Addiction is a huge idea that is worth talking about in the context of non-chemical addictions as well. Addiction will be a part of many young peoples life’s in regard to computer games or the internet and particularly social media usage. Some of their parents will deal with gambling addictions. Some high school students do too. If young people understand that their brains have the chemistry that produces the effect of drugs and that substances merely trigger them, then the notion of addiction to behaviours that trigger changes in brain chemistry without substances will still make sense to them.

All of this however needs to be located in its democratic and wider civic context. Why not encourage high school kids to set their own individual or even class policy around something like facebook usage for example? Young people can ask the hard questions of whether it is better or fairer to develop a school wide rule or whether individuals should be allowed to set their own limits. What about caffeine usage? Does the school have a policy about energy drinks? 

There are consistent historical relationships between prohibition of substances, the amount of people using those substances and the harms associated with using those substances. Generally when substances are illegal they become both less commonly used and more harmful for those who use them. These would be great relationships for young people to explore. What are the ethical issues about permitting the sale of addictive substances? What are the ethical issues about penalizing people for taking addictive substances?

Note that I don’t think it should be the goal of any education program to finally answer these questions, just pose them. These are after all the questions adults have to ask each other in the formation of society’s rules.

Lastly if you agree with what I’ve said so far you will probably also agree with who should be the people developing and delivering this program. Alcohol and Drug counselors know their stuff but they don’t have the skill set to encourage class room reflection. It’s teachers that need to be recruited. Particularly teachers with a passion for science and social studies and the democractic projects they are a part of who are crucial to this programs success. They should be resourced with oodles of kid-tasty illustrative facts, but putting it together or rather encouraging the kids to put them together is ultimately a skilled teachers job.

I really hope that we wont just see more of the usual educational pushes to come out of this Victorian Alcohol and Drug Strategy – essentially a well-designed pamphlet and poster drop and a visit by a drug and alcohol counselor to share war stories. I care too much about both drug and alcohol issues and education, including my child’s to be satisfied with that. I urge you to at least consider a process focused drug and alcohol education that explicitly aims to give people more control over their lives. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Gay rights for Straights!

O.k., the last post tried to address a question; “Why do Christians receive very little flack for their negative views of sex before marriage, and a much greater and more virulent amount for their disapproval of homosexuality?” 

I never really could get stuck into answering it. The problem was that the question contained too many assumptions and prejudices. I spent the whole post deconstructing the question. It turned out to be the wrong approach to the topic that I want to address, namely that the conversation over whether gay people should have sex (Are you paying close attention gay people? Or are you over it?) is actually a question in which people who aren't gay are attempting to resolve arguments that don’t particularly have anything to do with gay peoples lives. Gay sex is the site over which non-gay specific battles are being fought (hence the title of this post).

Firstly we should recognize that the question as to whether or not gay people should have sex is in fact a transformation of another question; whether or not people should have gay sex. (You may have to read them closely to notice the difference). What has caused this transformation is that we have a concept of gay people not just gay sex now. We have such a concept largely because we have a concept of heterosexual people. Men and women do not generally view their relationships as an obligation to come together and commit the gross indecency of sex for the purposes of procreation according to their parents’ wishes, except perhaps if they’re royals. Instead heterosexual relationships are viewed as consequences of deep attraction by people seeking life partners. That attraction is not just physical. It is a type of love that while different to the love of parent to child is no less love. One aspect that distinguishes that love from others is the appropriateness of its physical expression in sex. The experience of that love for people of the opposite gender is what we understand by heterosexuality.

The Christian bible was written long before any common concept of heterosexuality permeated society. In fact a darn good case can be made for blaming the Bible for our concept of sexuality (particularly Paul) and the whole modern relationship between sex and love – but it’s a complicated one and it took several centuries for it to bear fruit. I won’t go into it here. It’s sufficient to say that in Christendom until relatively recently sexual expression of any kind was not generally treated as the consequence of sexuality. Homosexuality has been historically understood as just the pursuit of a base pleasure that anyone might enjoy, or as an act of deliberate rebellion.

Sexuality and its benefits is the first subtext of the conversation about gay sex. People in sex-less heterosexual marriages (and there are many of them) for example find an expression of their pain in the language of sexuality. These people do not feel that they are just missing out on some pleasure like a good wank, they feel like they are living out a diminished life. They feel like an important part of their self-hood is denied them. This is a new articulation; that sexual expression belongs to a part of our self-hood called sexuality. When people argue over whether gay people can be expected to be celibate, these people in sex-less heterosexual marriages find themselves answering no because it is the answer which respects the concept of sexuality and therefore their own story and suffering.

Now of course it is not just people in sex-less (love-less to use a more common term) marriages who are using gay rights arguments to represent their own sexual situation. Obviously gay people are doing it too. But gay people form a minority of the population and gay rights is increasingly a majority concern. It is for all of us that sexuality has become about much more than just having sex because we ought to. Sexuality is a part of an expectation of quality of life and significance for our feelings that is becoming more and more universal.

Are arranged marriages wrong for example? If your answer to that is generally yes then you are possibly relying on a human right to a sexuality that is going to decide your opinion on gay marriage as well. It is the concept of sexuality as being the good expression of our own attractions that both condemns arranged marriages and supports gay ones. Note that this expression is not limitless. No-one gets to marry whoever they want to – you have to woo them first. There are also matters of consent and cruelty and probably even the carbon footprint of it all will become relevant. It’s not a free for all. However there is still within those limits a right to sexual expression according to this idea called sexuality.

This is why the limits to sexuality can’t just be arbitrarily set. Any limits to sexuality have to take the value of sexuality into account. That’s part and parcel of treating our sexuality with respect. We need to balance respect for our sexuality with other respects (such as for other peoples sexuality)  but there’s a default healthiness and goodness to our desires that ought to see the light of day in some manner. This is the positive personal script for straights that is expressed by supporting gay relationships.

Another subtext to straight peoples support for gay and lesbian relationships is around a redefinition of their own relationships. What does it mean to be distinctly heterosexual – to see your relationship as remarkably different to a gay relationship? One the one hand it is merely noticing the sex category of the partners. It may even be noticing the socially privileged status of your relationship. On the other hand though, to be distinctly heterosexual is to elevate the heterosexual aspect of your relationship to one of primary moral or health importance. It is to say that each person’s gender in the relationship should have significance. Putting that personally it would mean that I as a guy think my own guyness and my partners womanhood ought to be important in how we interact with each other and with others.

It doesn't necessarily follow that if a person feels distinctly heterosexual in this way that they have to be opposed to gay relationships. They can simply imagine that different boats float differently. However it is impossible to hold a strong opposition to gay relationships without believing in such a distinct heterosexuality. This is why even the more benign organizations which have problems with same sex attraction believe in the notion of people fundamentally and spiritually divided into men and women. Meanwhile the less subtle an organizations disapproval of homosexuality, the more patriarchal their politics. There is a relationship between calling gay relationships sinful and a belief in such ideas as male-headship and women’s special roles of submission.

The relationship between the two is partly governed by the biblical fundamentalism which supports both. However the rejection of the two isn't anything to do with biblicism. It’s to do with feminism. I would be genuinely offended if someone at the bank or the ballot box for example treated my partner differently to me on the basis of her gender. Although gender might well matter to us erotically our practice of it is a matter for our own selves. It’s a role-play to which nobody else is invited. We don’t want our genders to be political or social categories.

This belief broadly held in Australia by all ages but especially the young, means that politically and socially we are all in gay relationships. That is to say that where gender is understood as a political and social category we want to belong to the same one as our partners. The conservative detractors were right that feminism could ultimately lead to universal lesbianism – they just didn't see that some of those lesbians would be men.

The above is a bit of hyperbole; this is still a pretty straight world. Most people are still presuming opposite-sex attraction of most other people most of the time, certainly in Bendigo where I live. However we are increasingly presuming that gender roles in families have no common definition. This makes it a private matter for a relationship to be gay even in the midst of straight cultures. Consider the following much-tweeted quote from Ellen DeGeneres;
“Asking who's "the man" and who's "the woman" in a same sex relationship is like asking which chopstick is the fork.”Couldn't a similar claim be made for every modern relationship? Who is the fork or knife in your relationship?

These are two ways in which the opposition some have towards homosexuality runs foul of matters important to straight peoples own agendas. We oppose the politicization of our genders in our straight relationships in the way that is necessary to disapprove of gay relationships. We don’t want to be distinctly heterosexual. We also want to live out our own sexuality fully – treating our romantic and sexual feelings with respect. We see our best chance to do that tied to the rights of gay people to do the same.

There is another big battle that is being fought out over gay people’s lives I've yet to mention. It has to do with how we allow morality and God to be defined. It particularly has to do with whether we tolerate inexplicable morals and victim-less crimes as the will of God. I won’t touch it in this post but I may get to this point next. Because it is a battle that especially interests myself and others of a theological bent we possibly overstate it's influence anyway.

Truth is we're not grappling with theology so much as we're just looking for someone to love.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Deconstructing a question about Christian attitudes to sexuality.

Recently a question came up as to why Christians receive very little flack for their negative views of sex before marriage, and a much greater and more virulent amount for their disapproval of  homosexuality. Before answering this question I want to unpack the assumptions in the question.

The first point to make is that a question addressing both sex before marriage and homosexuality can lead us to reduce homosexuality to just sex in order to compare the two as similar moral acts. In fact, I think the question unfairly implies that this can/should be done. No-one is suggesting that heterosexuality before marriage is disapproved of in its entirety by any Christians. Indeed, as the father of a young girl, heterosexuality is something which has been creepily put upon her from infancy by all sorts. People suggested within twenty-four hours of her birth that she will break boys’ hearts. Certainly dating, courtship, enjoying romantic stories, admiring others and enjoying admiration in ways that are consistent with heterosexuality are tolerated, if not celebrated, before marriage by people who still disapprove of (heterosexual) sex before marriage. People who disapprove of homosexuality seldom wait until the pants come off before the disapproval applies.

An exception to the above might be found in the celibate orders of the Catholic church. There and only there have I ever encountered a general acceptance of heterosexual or homosexual attraction equally and a separate and distinct objection to the practical rubbing of genitals together or heavy petting. (I am deliberately avoiding making any reference to sexual abuse by Catholic clergy here. It’s too serious to overlook or to glibly joke about.) In fact the Catholic Church officially considers homosexual sex to be wrong in common with oral sex, anal sex or mutual masturbation in a heterosexual married relationship. All are non-procreative. That rather rarified view of sexual sin is not a generally held one even among Catholic laity.
The second point to make is that Christian views on sex before marriage and homosexuality are diverse (as the above distinction drawn between Catholic clergy and laity shows). Definitely in regard to homosexuality there is vocal support for loving and committed homosexual relationships among a growing number of Christians. I would suggest that Christian opinion on homosexuality is about as pluralistic as Christian positions on birth-control or euthanasia. (I would appreciate any links to research on Christian attitudes to homosexuality if readers can suggest some).

Similarly there are many non-Christians who share a disapproval of both sex before marriage and homosexual expression, married or not. Christians don’t own the conflation of these disapprovals which the original question might suggest. However this blog’s bias is that I know Christianity far better than any other faith or even ethical system. Therefore when I answer this question I’m going to be thinking foremost of the Christians who hold both views, rather than the Muslims or Buddhists. I’d be happy to receive comments from others with different experiences.

Before attempting to answer it I’d like to tidy up this question to account for the above problematic points. At first it seems easy to just clarify who we are discussing by referring to “those Christians who disapprove of homosexuality and sex-before marriage” rather than just to Christians. However when we consider people who hold both views in question we are really just drawing a convenient category. Some people who disapprove of homosexuality and sex-before marriage are going to disapprove of them in the context of also disapproving of divorce and contraception, others are not. It’s somewhat arbitrary to treat homosexuality and sex-before marriage in isolation. For some people we will have missed the point of their views by doing so.

There are also some people who would disagree with sex-outside of marriage who might only disapprove of homosexuality on that basis too. I think my mother might well fit that space. My mother is not inclined to view homosexuality as immoral itself despite that being the attitude of her upbringing. She holds now, I think, that God makes some people that way. She has a problem with promiscuity however and she would encourage people to make a marriage commitment to be together for ever before shacking up. (Mum, please comment if I have your views wrong by the way). Now she is in a position of feeling like homosexual sex is somewhat wrong for occurring outside of marriage but she would say that this is hardly gay people’s fault seeing as we (wider society) are not allowing them to get married. I’m also arbitrarily excluding such views as these when answering this question.

It’s even harder to adjust definitions in the question for the difference between the moral acts being discussed. One is about the act of having sex and the other about a whole range of romantic and sexual expressions.  One way to resolve that difference is to consider a point at which people who disapprove of sex-before marriage and homosexuality would encounter a more similar test of their approval. That’s the point when people in some form of solid unmarried straight or gay relationship might want recognition. Now we are comparing a bit more apples and apples.

Even there can we really say that any community, other than the exclusive aforementioned catholic ordained, has a common disapproval of de facto heterosexual relationships and homosexual relationships? Hypothetically it’s possible but practically does it exist? I live in a de facto opposite sex relationship and in circles where that is frowned upon I still feel I have to additionally and dramatically come out as someone who doesn’t disapprove of homosexuality. By comparison my de facto status is barely ever an issue.

I think that despite my lack of directly experiencing it, there are people who do have a kind of sameness to their attitude towards sex-outside of marriage and homosexuality. You can see something of it in such writing as by Vaughan Roberts. Practically they may not express it in the same way however. That’s about power and privilege as much as anything. Gay people are a minority and, living in a regional town as I do, it is often just presumed by people that they are nowhere around. Statistically speaking more often they aren’t - just ask any gay rural people trying to find partners. That makes it less confrontational to condemn them than the obviously in-the-room pre-maritally fornicating heterosexuals. It’s a case of politeness… sort of.

Note: I am reflecting here on my own repeated personal experience. Evangelical Christians are regularly inviting me to events were homosexuality is presumed to be absent. Evangelical Christians are regularly holding discussions about gay relationships and “the homosexual question” with me but are much more muted about the unmarried nature of my own heterosexual relationship. I am giving them the benefit of the doubt that this is borne of some kind of politeness.

It should also be noted that an unmarried heterosexual relationship just isn’t the same kind of upset to heterosexually organized churches as a gay relationship is. My partner has been invited to attend conservative Christian mothers’ groups. Realistically the lack of a ring on her finger just doesn’t have to come up that much, unlike if any invite had to go to her and her partner as well. So there is a pragmatic basis for the different expression of moral disdain for my relationship and for a gay relationship. It’s less of a challenge to people’s own relationships.

Honestly based on my experience the only time someone who disapproves of homosexuality and sex before marriage reaches some point of convergence in expressing those views is in the appointment of a church leader or role model. Until that point the two views are expressed so differently it’s not fair to compare them. Maybe they just are receiving different flack because of the difference in their expression; maybe people receive more hostility for saying homosexuality is wrong because they actually say it more often and more insensitively than they make statements about defacto heterosexuality.

Hence I think if we want to properly investigate the question of “why Christians in particular receive very little flack for their views on sex-before marriage and a much greater and more virulent amount for their views on homosexuality” then we have to reserve that for asking about appointing people to Christian leadership positions. I think it’s a fairer question to ask.

Unfortunately it’s also a much narrower question and less interesting question. My first response is that I don’t really care what a church does with its own ministers. So no flack will be received from me regarding views on homosexuality and sex-before marriage that impacts on those appointments. That’s not entirely true as I feel sad and angry when churches exclude women from leadership but so long as belonging to those churches is voluntary I accept a level of it being none of my business.

However I have a problem with schools and hospitals that get public funding discriminating against people based on their relationship status. In fact I think I would be just as appalled at a publicly subsidized school firing an unmarried mother as I would them firing a gay man or lesbian. So in those situations it is equal flack from me in response to views on homosexuality and sex-before marriage that impacts on those appointments.

I’d really appreciate other people’s thoughts on this. I got really excited by the question at the start of this piece because I thought it might finally be the right way to approach something I've wanted to say for a while; that the morality of homosexuality is an issue in which a great many other battles over the nature of sin and god are being fought by all sides. I do think gay people and their lives are being used symbolically for other causes, like biblical literalism for example. I had hoped to come at those points from this question. However I think once I've unpacked the assumptions in this question it ceases to be a very good approach at all.

What do you reckon?

Monday, May 6, 2013

An interested love of Wisdom.

It’s a reasonably well known piece of trivia that the word philosopher means “lover of wisdom”. Less well known is that the word was coined in ancient Greece to recognise one group of public intellectuals who did not make money directly from their arguing skills, as distinct from others who did. Philosophy’s original meaning can, therefore, be read as someone who particularly loves wisdom, above its commercial applications.

The exact nature of those historical other “non-philosophers” who plied their arguing skills for money is hard to determine. They were called “Sophists” and we mostly know about them from their detractors. They have been characterized as people for whom “reasoning” was essentially the art of “rationalizing” and from them we have the modern word “sophistry” - the practice of deceptive argument. In one interesting charge the Sophists were dismissed as rhetoricians – masters of speech but not logic, as if the two were ever so different. The philosopher by contrast was supposedly a man or woman for whom reasoning alone was the way to reach decisions – a sort of proto-scientist in pursuit of the truth – a submissive devotee of wisdom herself.

This definition of philosophy is one I’m suspicious of. It promotes such an obedient “love of wisdom” that the lover is also able to disavow the conclusions of their love. Any results of such a philosophers’ reasoning belong to reason itself, with the philosopher who advocates them merely the messenger. All this springs from a distinction from “non-philosophers” that is merely that no cash pays for their view. I find that a disingenuous claim.

A good illustration of what I mean by this can be found with one of the earliest “philosophers”, Aristotle, pupil of Plato and one of the most influential philosophers to bother Western civilization with their ideas. Aristotle claimed that women could not be philosophers. As a “lover of wisdom” he could claim a protection for his views as the product of that love. Supposedly his misogyny was not personal but simply how Aristotle saw the facts.

However Aristotle was a contemporary of Hipparchia, and even more closely connected to Lasthenea of Mantinea, and Axiothea ofPhlius who were also students of Pluto and members of the academy alongside Aristotle. Their scholarship would have had to have been obvious, to have attained such astonishingly rare recognition. Aristotle’s belief that “women should not leave the female quarters of the house” served his interests by damning these female rivals for Plato’s legacy. He became Plato’s only legitimate successor, part of a very limited pantheon of well known Ancient Greek philosophers to this day. 

I rather suspect the definition of philosophy that Aristotle himself promoted doesn’t accidentally conceal the politics of Aristotle’s male interests. Instead I think the notion that philosophy is a “love of wisdom” untainted by grubby commercialism is itself a rotten act of “sophistry”. It worked in Aristotle’s case because the money exchange became the sole definition of corruption (and the definition of a non-philosopher). People failed to notice the other ways in which power can be stored and shared and advanced, in particular, Aristotle’s patriarchal power.

What is the point in describing all this – other than putting the boot to an iconic philosopher like Aristotle? The point is that it describes a continuing situation. We readily recognize that commercial interests indicate a bias. No-one ought to expect the concept of “Zero Harm” in corporate workplace safety to be much more than corporate hype. When a company like BHP uses Zero Harm (in capitals no less) to promote their corporate mission then hopefully we are not paying too much attention to this as a meaningful direction for environmental philosophy. We tend to be reasonably savvy at following the money trail to discredit paid-for spokespeople and positions.

However, just as when the word philosophy was coined, we still struggle to assert how non-commercial interests also distort the “love of wisdom”. So long as no money changes hands for a specific outcome (ie. no fee for service), we can sometimes believe that statements about obvious matters of power are not self-interested, or that we must assume them to be as such.  For example consider Doug Phillips’ (of the arch-conservative patriarchal Vision Forum) claims that “Daughters aren’t to be independent. They’re not to act outside the scope of their father.” Doug makes this claim regarding even adult unmarried daughters as part of a “commitment to affirming the historic faith of Biblical Christianity.” We might feel obliged to accept that Doug is simply reading and responding to his Bible. We might feel that without the clear evidence of a cash receipt Doug may be reasoning his way to his conclusion rather than rationalizing his interests and must be assumed to be doing so.

To that I think it’s appropriate to call bullshit. I don’t just say that because it seems culturally obvious in this case that Vision Forums’ Doug Phillips is being self-interested; his are not mainstream views even amongst most religious conservatives. Instead I want to make the far more contentious claim that no philosophy can ever disavow its interests and claim to come from an objective position. I believe that all philosophy originates from us taking an interested position rather than an objective one.

The idea that all philosophy proceeds from interests first rather than some objective place of pure reason is best illustrated by what we think about the environment and environmental politics. There is simply no objective way to say that one environment is better than another. There are microbes that live in lava vents that would vote (if they could) for a seismically unstable world. Our disagreement with them indicates we have different interests.

We can only think about our environment and how best to interact with it from a prior assumption of interests. The most obvious of these is to take an individual interest or a special interest (for all humanity). However it is not irrational to take the interests of very different living creatures into account or the ideal of a diverse and colourful planet.

I don’t believe that rationalism can be expected to shift us from a position of complete neutrality in which the concept of any environment’s value is nonsense, to the right interested position in which we can properly conceive environmental concerns. Nor do I think that rationalism can provide us with reasons to shift from one interested position to another alternative. This is why I say that all positions of interest on the environment, even one in which destruction is the goal, are equally rational or irrational.

I think if we want to call some position on the environment right or better than another we have to return to the sort of sophist arguments that philosophy in the greek tradition tried to distance itself from. I don’t mean sophist in the modern sense of dishonest. I think we simply need to use the full range of language and not just logic. In doing this we practice what the classic Greek philosophers and some "moderns" would not call proper philosophy.

Only via story, evocative rhetoric and even intuition can we be obliged to value interests other than our own.  I would also credit compassion to developmental factors such as the experience of reliable and honest relationships. I don’t believe it can be based in argument alone. For some people this is potentially paralyzing. If one position of interest cannot be verified as the true or right one with any finality in scientific fashion, and if we must take a position of interest before we engage in any philosophy, then for some people this is the end of the philosophical enterprise all together, as a valid search for truth.

It isn’t, in my opinion; it is merely the end of absolute certainty. The love of Wisdom has been mistakenly believed to be the same thing as the disinterested pursuit of certainty for so long but it's not. It's something that involves much more of ourselves than that - all of our interests. Unlike Aristotle we should be prepared to admit them.