Our government is almost non-existent. Except not.

So three EDIT: several, major UK cabinet ministers have resigned: yes, the government is flailing and weak, and will almost certainly lose the next election, we know.

An interesting comment was made, apparently, by Nick Clegg, who said that at the moment “we don’t have a government, we have a void”.

What he means of course is that our government isn’t pushing forward with any very effective ‘changes’ and doesn’t have a clear ‘plan’ of what it will do to ‘save’ us from whatever. Clearly the police, civil service, NHS, etc. are all operating the same as before without being held up and inconvenienced by the lack of sufficient cabinet ministers.

And if they were, it would still be odd to say there was simply a ‘void’: being incompetently ruled and not being are hardly the same thing (we don’t tell a very bad hairdresser: ‘you’re not cutting my hair, you’re doing nothing!’).

What significance does it really have if the government isn’t governing very much? The endless laws and iniatives and new ideas often gives a political commentator the sense that if the government isn’t doing something new, introducing a new law or changing an old one, then things will break down and we’ll all be doomed (it also conversely helps us to suppose that when they are doing so, they have a significant effect on how society fares, which they often don’t).

Of course it’s not surprising for politicians overestimate how important their job is. But it reminded me of something Heidegger said, in pointing out part of what distinguishes a person from any other object: as soon as a person is nothing more, they are nothing at all. That is, the only time when we are ‘finished’, without more plans, future intentions, a whole array of ‘more’, stretching out busily into the future, is when we are nothing at all, i.e. dead. To not reach out into the future is, for a person, equivalent to not even occupying the present.

So is it that, as well as politicians thinking their jobs are simply more important than they maybe are, they’re also influenced by a sense of ‘shared personhood’, that ‘the government’ should resemble a person, which implies that to exist at all it must be planning, executing, acting – for it to be at all it must be something more to come?

Perhaps. But as I said, the laws are still being upheld, applied, and interpreted even without the government. But then, would laws exist if they were not? That is, do we sometimes suppose that they sort of ‘sit there’, imputing a static solidity to them, and to the whole state apparatus, which obscures the fact that they are by nature people doing something? Is this the same point as the one in the last paragraph, or a different one?

Solipsism and Capitalism, Part 1 of 2

Reading modern epistemology often feels slightly claustrophobic. In Descartes, or Hume, say, there’s a sense of being confined, ‘shut up’ in our own heads, trying to get out. The best expression of this is the fear of solipsism: the (never really accepted but always present) fear that there might be nothing in the universe except us.

The way this gets set up in such writers goes like this: all I can really be sure of is my own perceptions – I know that I seem to see and hear certain things, but no more. Now I ask myself how I am to infer that there are also real objects out there that ‘correspond to’ or ‘lie behind’ my perceptions of them. But no argument to that conclusion seems very good. Oh dear. I will have to try harder, because if no such argument can be found, then I will have to conclude that there is nothing ‘out there’.

A major supporting argument for this anxious approach is the ‘argument from illusion’. It’s quite simple: sometimes I think I perceive a real object, but it turns out that I was wrong (hallucinating, dreaming, etc.) and there was no object. But my perception was just the same as when I (supposedly) perceive real objects. So how am I to tell the difference?

Now I want to point out how, in quite a simple way, this fear and this ‘claustrophobic’ tone are mistaken. But I should be clear that I’m concerned with solipsism (the possibility that there is no world and no existence apart from me) rather than scepticism (the possibility that I don’t know anything). Responding to scepticism means providing a comprehensive account of knowledge, what it is, how we get it, etc., which is heavy work. So I’ll shy away from that.

Why is the fear of solipsism mistaken? Philosophers are usually good at drawing out the implications of their starting points, so their mistakes usually reside in the starting point itself. Here, I would suggest, the mistake is that the basic ‘data’ of consciousness, the initial form of perception, can be understood through the two terms ‘self’ and ‘object’. Rather, I think, a proper understanding must involve three terms: ‘self’, ‘object’, and ‘world’.

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