Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Calm Before The Storm

It would be fair to say that I’ve had a reasonably quiet start to the year, something perhaps reflected in my recent web presence or lack thereof. Having spent so much time wanting to be someone who had written a book as opposed to someone who is writing one and trying to achieve that; I hadn’t really thought about the next bit. It hadn’t been necessary. But come just after New Year, and with the initial mass of passion and drive about what I was doing when originally able to take to the streets with my book all but expired, I was then faced with that question again. What am I doing? Or at least what do I want to be doing next that could drive my present now’s?

This was a question to which I didn’t really have an answer, but one I needed to find an answer to. Half of the battle of knowing what to do is knowing what you want to do. I know enough from personal experience that I don’t want to do things such as call centre work or charity street fundraising again, both professions that seem to make up the majority of what’s on offer for people of a certain age at the moment, but what did I actually now want to do? Knowing a few of the things you don’t want to do can be but a small comfort and a poor substitute to such priceless knowledge.

It’s harder to inspire when you’re not being as inspiring and while I wasn’t doing anything uninspiring I felt I needed to sort my next plans to be able to continue mass distribution of ‘The Happiness Manifesto’ sincerely. If you’re not doing something about things you can end up simply complaining about them, and that’s not something I’ve ever wanted to do. As a result of such thought I found I wasn’t so inclined to invite public conversation as frequently, though I did distribute a small number of books in Berlin (where I went for my birthday in the New Year) and perhaps a month later I also took to the streets when I was lucky enough to come into a large amount of cake; though this occasion only seemed to serve to suggest that the British public may actually be more interested in rhetorical questions than free cake.

The next thing I’d wanted to do with ‘The Happiness Manifesto’ was to take it to Manchester, but I no longer felt inspired to do it. I needed to work out what I wanted to do and it needed to be good. To do this I worked out everything that I like doing and tried working out how in any way I could maintain my existence through such activity. What would my dream occupation entail? It took me a while but what I came up with was that I’d like to run a clothes, records and books shop that would also act as a creative lounge, performance space and skills swap shop for young, creative people who want help putting projects together. Further that it’d be called The Crystal Ship and that I’d like to run it with my girlfriend. I always give time to consider multiple possibilities and genuinely spend time trying to think ‘sensibly’ but it never seems to make much sense. No, it may be a tough goal but once one is in mind it is instantly infinitely more achievable than not having one at all, and makes anything that isn’t that more bearable so long as you know you are still working towards it. More than that though it is truly my goal and already since realizing that this is what I want to do I have made sizeable first steps and more towards finding out how this may become achievable.

With renewed energy, enthusiasm and focus  Manchester was once again in my sights. The weather was good, I was going to stay with an old, dear and not recently seen friend and was to have my first hitch of the year to get there. I was up in three and there by 4 and, not including 2 a half hours stood on a roundabout next to a dead dog, it was all round a very pleasant journey. After a good evening’s catch up I went the next day to the Arndale where I decided I wanted to hit Manchester short and sweet and get the 40 books I had on me quickly to receptive people. The way I did this was with a sign simply saying ‘Free books for Smiles’. An hour later and 40 smiles up I was ready to enjoy the rest of my visit and catch up in Manchester knowing I had brought smiles to a few more faces, and got a few more copies of ‘The Happiness Manifesto’ out into the world.
I always wanted to visit certain cities and distribute books on the street, and I’ve done that now with over 300 out there. This leaves me a small number which I will from here be carrying around with me as I do already; just one in the back pocket on occasions whereby it feels right to distribute if it seems appropriate. But this isn’t the end, it’s the beginning and as I suggested in the title; the calm before the storm as I have so much latent energy just hungry to be thrown into something again. I want to create and achieve something for myself that will hopefully benefit other young people who want to achieve their dreams and become who they want to be.

Watch this space…

Monday, 2 January 2012

New Years Revolutions

If you can organize yourself for Christmas you can probably organize yourself for revolution; it’s a logistical nightmare but on balance both are almost certainly worth the effort. It has been a period of relative quiet for me and The Happiness Manifesto as I indicated it might be, but that is symptomatic of the other things going on at this time of year and has provided me with the opportunity to touch base with family, catch up with old friends and generally take stock in preparation for this new calendar year. And, having said this; while I haven’t been taking to the streets, I have been continuing to engage in philosophical debate and distributing books to friends, family and more than the odd as yet unknown friend.

The first of these came a little before Christmas shortly after a man challenged me in the supermarket having seen me pick up some average tinned soup. He suggested that I looked like the kind of guy who could probably make his own soup. I countered with a list of the soups that I do regularly make and said that the tins in question were simply for those occasions whereby I don’t have time. He argued that time was no excuse and in all fairness he was right. Why eat average food? If you’re going to do these things you may as well make time to do them properly and take pleasure in doing so. I‘d been had and so put the soups back accordingly before giving him a book. This triggered a further 20 minutes of more philosophical debate in the tinned foods aisle in which the man in question continued to play an excellent devil’s advocate.

This was a happy man, the kind of man who has no fear of strangers and will happily open a discussion with one jokingly on the basis of their would be purchases. I stated recently that I would be giving books to those that on some level may need it, but that does not in any way rule out people who are happy and who are already probably of similar persuasions. We all need encouragement at times and I know from personal experience that these little moments can really give you a boost in how you’re feeling about the world. So it was that I hope the gentleman in question left as buoyed from the experience as I was. He had a book, I was going to make a better soup for my lunch the next day than I would have previously opened and we’d both had an unexpected but rather excellent discussion.

A few similar but briefer encounters were had over following days including my giving a book to a man who served me in a record shop. I explained that each year when Christmas shopping I inevitably, and quite quickly, end up freaking out and buying myself records. The guy laughed and said, ‘As long as it makes you happy’. He couldn’t have been more right and so was obviously getting a book. After that it was when at home that some of the most interesting discussions took place and in familiar surroundings, with some dear old friends.

In a party of 6 at the pub we ended up having something of an impromptu staged debate. Each of us had a chance to pitch the one thing we would change in the world if we had the power to do so, and at the end we would have a secret ballot to determine which idea would hypothetically then get put into practice; obviously you wouldn’t be allowed to vote for yourself. My friend Satish pitched the idea of higher taxes on the rich through such measures as the financial transaction tax so as to attempt to address the clear growing divide between rich and poor. Peter proposed the 4 day working week arguing that it would instantly improve everyone’s quality of life through having that extra day of freedom and further that we could probably still get whatever apparently needs doing done within that time. Daniel argued that he would reform education to try and make it fairer through measures including lowering tuition fees and revising the way UCAS points are calculated so as to take into account people’s backgrounds; thus making it easier for someone economically deprived to have the opportunity to go to university. Jenna said she would go back in time and stop John Lennon from being killed, arguing that his was such an important voice from an unprecedented platform that was calling for peace and change; that this voice is one that has been lost and has been much missed over the past few decades. Laurie stated that he would make the world vegan, suggesting that the kind of caring ethics that veganism promotes would mean a better world and further would stop the systematic oppression of animals. I argued, as might have been guessed and the arguments for which are already loosely documented; that I would remove money.

After the pitch we held the vote and amazingly, but somehow quite fittingly in my mind, the results came back even. Each one of us had one vote from someone else at the table but there was no outright winner. I feel this quite aptly depicts how in many ways there are no right answers though there are very good suggestions and beginning to think about solutions is an important exercise. That we will never have such power is probably a good thing despite the fact that I’d trust any one of them more than the tyrants and sociopaths currently at large.

This New Year we have woken up to another massive hike in train and bus fares, massive cuts to housing benefits which will price many out of their homes and leave in many cases 2 claimants to every one property available within the new bounds for what can be claimed for; as there are simply not properties available at the prices the government are now to back. This will surely create a further increase in homelessness and leave more young people having to leave the cities for places where rent is cheaper and where inevitably there are even less jobs, thus further limiting chances for employment. Talk about an own goal. I can only hope that more people will realise that they will not stop. While the fight for progressive increased social justice should be constant, there are times in history when balances quite clearly and simply need to be redressed. This is one of them.

May you have an incredibly happy and revolutionary 2012.

Time to pick sides…       

After this relatively quiet festive period I will be getting back out on the streets soon.

Post birthday in Berlin, the next city in my sights is Manchester.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Rediscovering the Personal

It is a difficult thing keeping on top of your own self when there is no routine. While in some instances you may be turning yourself off to true raw feeling, a routine at least is simple in the sense that you know what you have to do and so long as you keep it up, too much thought is simply not required. You don’t have to deal with the agony and ecstasy of raw existence and human emotion; you just have to keep doing. Defining yourself by any one role is dangerous and can be seen as one of the things that stands in the way of our being human in that we simply forget that we are, and forget to think about what this may mean. A human could do anything, and as such is infinite possibility. It is foolish to make yourself anything else and to deny yourself this possibility.
So what am I talking about here and how is this relating to the distribution of The Happiness Manifesto? Well, in the past week since London I have personally been struggling with feeling like I should be getting back out onto the streets and giving more books away, but in truth I haven’t particularly felt like it. This was hard for the first few days because I couldn’t help but wonder why, and couldn’t help but question myself and my passion. I found myself saying no to a few evening opportunities with friends on the basis that I felt like I needed to be heading out into town the next day, but then on waking would find that I didn’t feel like it and so would simply end up missing out doubly.
This isn’t a job and so equally as it would be foolish to allow myself to be defined by selling conservatories or something of that ilk, it would be foolish to principally define myself by being a philosopher. I am that already but part of that is remembering that that is but one part of being a human, as is anything else that you could be or indeed are, and further that there is no one way to do it. Sometimes it is easy to get so wrapped up in the project so as to forget what it is that I have actually written; messages such as not allowing yourself to be too militant in anything other than your continued happiness and openness to others and that of doing what you want and letting things fall into place.
The signs were great and I needed to get it out of me. I had achieved something and having spent so long trying to achieve something, it was only natural that I wanted to get it out there. I was inspired to do it and I wanted to do it, but to continue for the sake of it would be to allow that to become as much a job as anything else. I made a scene but I’m done with that for the moment; lest I forget that I don’t want to be an attention seeker, I want to be a difference maker. Also lest I forget that what I’ve written is actually a reasonable piece of work. It can sometimes be hard giving something away for free as you get the impression people may be inclined to assume it’s probably not very good. However, after further thought I remembered that not only is it a reasonable piece of work, but I give it away because I want to, not because I have to.

Now that there are over 200 books in circulation it is easier to take a small step back and remember that not only is it about getting the books out there, but it is about getting them to the right people. After the impersonal but necessary approach taken in London I am now keen to get back to making those genuinely personal connections with individuals and getting the remaining books to people who would not only want a book, but may in some way almost need it. I feel this will be best achieved through getting on with being Samuel Francis Rogers, seeing who I meet and through reclaiming my care-free self. How funny that it was getting a bit messy at a feel-good reggae gig at a Caribbean restaurant that would remind me of all this. At the same time it is probably not surprising at all, I needed to let go and enjoy myself.
I had a great time with friends that night but I did also take one book out with me that I ended up giving to someone who may in fact on some level need it. Beautiful but crushed, intelligent but bored, trapped; I met a guy who struggles extensively with OCD (obsessive, compulsive disorder). OCD, ADHD, asperges syndrome; all these things in my mind are simply labels given to people of active mind who have struggled to cope with the boredom on offer at present from that which we call society. A friend recently put this better than I could:

‘People that are deemed unfit to function in society are only proof that the rest of us are only pretending we can.’ Stephen O’Neill

It is important to remember that there is no one way of doing this and to steer clear of formulas or systems or else risk moving away from that which I am trying to achieve. That night I only gave away one book but it went where it was needed. I’m not saying I won’t sign again and I’m not saying that that method hasn’t seen me getting books to the right people as I’m sure it has, and it definitely was important to get a good volume out there. However, it is also important to maintain my own happiness, make sure I am always doing these things for the right reasons; doing them because I genuinely want to, and getting the books to people who need them. It is only through putting yourself out there that you meet people, so having found myself saying ‘no’ to opportunities, it is time to say ‘yes’ once more.

I hope to meet you soon.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Underground Philosophy- Cracking the Capital

30th November

I’d been looking forward to having my London adventure for a while and had specifically chosen to start my four day stay by heading up on November 30th so that I could check out the day’s industrial action. While I was armed with both my sleeping bag and 70 books (as many as I could fit in my rucksack whilst also having room for an extra jumper); as much as anything I wanted to spend that first day listening, learning and finding out exactly how ordinary, working people and public servants feel at this time.

My Megabus got in to Victoria at 1 and I quickly headed to Westminster sure that on such a day, this was the place to be. Sure enough when I got out I didn’t have to look far before seeing many a flag and banner representative of the unions’ cause. I followed them down by the river to where a stage was set up and where, having not waited too long, a series of marches and crowds amassed and conjoined to listen to a series of speakers representative of various unions.

And what passion and feeling was coming from that stage and right back from the massed throngs. The main thrust of this seemingly being embodied in the injustice felt at subsidizing debt caused by the bankers and the slogan relating to this issue of pensions and the ‘deal’ being offered at present that I was to see and hear a lot that day, ‘Work longer, pay more & get less?’ It was great to see the understandable well directed fury, but also the resolve and solidarity, from these public sector workers who devote their lives to public service and quite simply deserve better.

Strangely I always thought that a conservative government may actually be a good thing in the sense that I knew how awful they would be and figured that through their ruthless program of austerity, and in hitting the previously unaffected, they may hurt enough people so as to cause a backlash. Further that in their shameless pursuit of twisted priorities, which fly in the face of popular opinion, they may create greater solidarity between members of the general public. This is beginning to be reflected in the very language of our times as we begin to hear these new phrases which reflect this with the ‘squeezed middle’ recognizing that they are part of ‘the 99%’. I can only hope that this is the beginning of greater solidarity and social realization however as this is not one issue and is in fact simply one endemic of everything that is wrong with society at large.

Just as there is not one issue there is not one solution; save for those that will eventually come from the mass realization that total upheaval is necessary. Otherwise this will only continue and that is not an option. Even if the government were to back down on pensions they will only be back for more later, through some other means. Why should we work ‘til we die to almost own the corner of the world in which we’d collapsed at the end of each long day so as to continue to allow our own oppression, to pay for the excesses of others and so as to not even begin to tackle the problems that face out world? It is a fair question and one that will surely be asked more, if not exactly in those words, over the coming months.

When the speakers finished and the rally dispersed I figured it was time to head to Occupy and see how they were getting along. It had been over a month since my previous stay at St Paul’s and the subsequent declaration of the Finsbury Square site and I was keen to see how things were going there and also maybe check out the newly opened ‘bank of ideas’. I’ve enjoyed speaking with people at various occupations, I love what they’re doing and enjoy linking up with them and spending time listening to people approaching the same problems from different angles and disciplines and from different life experiences. It helps me better understand more aspects of everything I find frustrating about modern life and helps me remember that I’m not alone and more than that; that there are many people genuinely beginning to try and create positive change.

I quickly found two people who were heading to the bank of ideas and enjoyed a tube ride over with them. On arrival I was struck by the resourcefulness, creativity and obvious co-operation across various skill sets that had that had gone into creating a ragtag yet incredible community centre like environment, and as ever by the sheer friendliness of the occupants; everyone interested to know each other’s story, reason and belief. Understandably though as the occupation has been going a while now, and increasingly into harsher conditions, there is at times an ever so slightly competitive attitude in terms of your commitment to and involvement with the occupy movement. As an occasional occupant this can sometimes be an ever so slightly awkward position but in truth I know that occupy is not an answer but is part of beginning to find answers. I also know that the best way for me to pursue my path towards finding answers lies in encouraging people to pursue theirs and that I wouldn’t be much use as a fulltime occupant but can achieve more good elsewhere.

Because of this Occupy is where I take a backseat. I’ll do some washing up and help keep the place tidy but my skills are limited and in truth I feel like an amateur among pro’s. That night I enjoyed good food, good company, good music and good poetry but it was because of these aforementioned reasons that that night, as I curled up to sleep on the floor of a small abandoned office room; I looked forward to now going out and doing what I’m good at and speaking with more of the general public; hopefully strengthened by all that I had seen and learnt and in part by my own humbling.

1st December

London has provided me with many an incredible memory but at the same time it can on occasion seem so vast, so daunting, unconquerable and impenetrable you wonder how to best attack it, how to master it. So it proved on the 1st. I went out with the idea of doing what I had previously done in Bristol and Cardiff, initially thinking that it would surely be similar but if anything better. In more iconic surroundings and with higher volumes of people it was hard to see how it could be anything else.

With this in mind I first headed to Trafalgar Square with the idea of standing outside the National Portrait Gallery with one of my signs. In an hour only 5 people spoke to me and only 2 books were handed out. One of these, my first encounter, was a lovely elderly lady who insisted on giving me 2 pounds; thus taking the loss based disorganization that is The Happiness Manifesto to a reclaimed revenue of 9 pounds and a banana. Despite this it seemed like whatever I was doing wasn’t quite working, so when a unicyclist asked me if I wouldn’t mind moving so as to not pull focus from his act I thought I’d take him up on his offer and handing him a book went to grab some lunch.

After a rethink I thought I may head towards the houses of parliament and maybe stand somewhere near there, but on arrival I simply couldn’t see a spot that I thought would be appropriate. I was struck with the same feeling as I walked along Embankment by the London Eye. I didn’t know what to do and instead of feeling inspired and empowered by my surroundings, I felt small and insignificant. Instead of being juxtaposed with boring shops and not much unusual going on, there was almost too much going on, everything was too grand.

I’d given away a few books at, in and around Occupy the day before but was quite literally weighed down by the best part of 60 books that I was carrying around on my back, along with my sleeping bag and extra clothes. I wanted to get rid of my books and was beginning to think I’d have to change my methods for London, but couldn’t think how. As I walked down to check out the original St Paul’s occupation site for a bit I was racking my brains, but the best I could come up with was the idea that maybe the next day, instead of going to attractions where there’s mainly tourists, I’d go to shopping areas like the one’s I’d done well in previously. I thought maybe I’d go to Oxford Street, Covent Garden or Camden but was struggling to feel inspired and enthused by the prospect of such action.

What I needed to do was get distracted and regroup. Luckily I’d found out, while using someone’s laptop at ‘the bank of ideas’ the previous day, that one of my oldest and best friends happened to be over from Ireland and indeed in London for the same period of time as myself. This was previously unknown to me and represented a massive personal boost for my little jaunt. After a few good conversations and a few more books shed at St Paul’s I headed to meet him and his girlfriend over in Liverpool Street from where we were then going to go to see his play being performed as part of an Edgar Allen Poe night in which we would see 5 modern adaptations of classic pieces in a small gothic church in Stoke Newington.

It was a great evening and a very welcome distraction though I couldn’t escape the day’s failings entirely and found myself perhaps a little over eager to lighten my load and hand books to people at the pub after the show. In truth they were received well though as I lay down to sleep once more at the end of the night, this time on the floor of my friend’s rented apartment for the week, I was aware that I still had 40 books I wanted to get rid of the next day. Only question was how?

2nd December

Put simply, London is not a personal place. It is a busy place where everyone is always going somewhere and is also usually late. I myself woke up late and was struggling to energize myself for a session on Oxford Street; my as yet unchanged plan. I shared my concerns with my friend and after consideration, and but minutes before we were all due to leave to get the tube, he had something of a brainwave.

Having lived in London for 2 years previously it’s fair to say he knows London better and also its psyche. He suggested that I give books out on the tube and this plan, once conceived, developed rapidly. I’d get on the tube at one end of the platform and once in the carriage make a brief but loud and clear announcement offering free books to anyone interested. I could work a carriage between tube stops and then on stopping, hop off and hop straight back on the next carriage repeating and so working my way down the train. A quite brilliant plan which would allow me to catch masses of people in one of the few times they are still, when there isn’t much going on and where it’d be easy to arrest attention and offer a quite simple take it or leave it proposal.

This approach would be important to get right but potentially fantastic. Shouting at people is not my style and neither is preaching to those who don’t want to listen. It is because of how I perceive Christians or indeed anyone else who chooses to shout, rant and rave in city centres at members of the general public that I came up with my preferred method of standing and not talking but evoking thought and allowing conversation to find me. I knew that London clearly required something different but wanted to be careful to maintain something about my whole approach; namely not preaching but being as direct yet unintrusive as possible.

I could not deny that I was a little nervous when the tube pulled into Queensway, but I was excited too. I hopped on, waited for the doors to close and for the train to start moving before quickly, clearly and loudly declaring:

‘Hello everyone. Not going to keep you too long and don’t want any money or anything but I’ve written a book of philosophy and poetry and its free to anyone who wants it.’

I handed a few out, moved along the carriage repeating ‘free poetry and philosophy’ whilst holding books out, and having handed away a few more, jumped off the carriage as it pulled to a stop when I’d reached the other end. I then repeated the process. In the four stops and 10 minutes between Queensway and Tottenham Court Road I handed out all 40 books that I had left, handing the last one out as I hopped off to change.

In that moment and with empty bag over my shoulder I felt like I had cracked London and in every sense a weight had been lifted. The people who took my books wanted them and there was many a smile and a thank you, but as busy Londoners they did not want a lengthy philosophical debate, they wanted something to read on the tube. Understanding of this had been reached and I was now free to enjoy the rest of my weekend safe in the knowledge that a little bit more happiness had been spread.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Cross Examined in Cardiff

Cardiff’s a very special place to me as it is partially responsible for four of the best years of my life; or at least it provided the backdrop to that time and place we call University. That all I learnt was that I probably didn’t need a degree is little to no matter; an expensive lesson but one that can only really be learnt by indeed doing it and one that pales into insignificance when you consider the friends you make, the experiences you share and that last period of almost freedom that you have before the reality of the adult world. As such returning to Cardiff to do some book distribution was always going to be one of my first moves after getting them published, and the idea that I could give a little something back to a place that had given me so much was a pleasant one which had me smiling all the way to Queen Street. Indeed from the moment I got off the train and stepped out I felt both care-free and yet in control, which is how I’ve become accustomed to feeling in Wales’ fine capital and my adopted second home. I knew that I was in for a good two days and was very much looking forward to getting out among the people of the bustling high street and having some interesting conversations.

Both afternoons on Queen Street panned out much as my time in Bristol had which is unsurprising as I was essentially doing the same thing in a different location. This meant a fair amount of confused expressions, quite a bit of intrigue and many a pleasant and positive resultant conversation within which at some point I hand over a copy of ‘The Happiness Manifesto’ before parting ways, usually mutually satisfied by the encounter. In this sense, at times what I’m doing is really easy. The people who are willing to strike up a conversation with a stranger and ask them what they’re up to are usually positive people who are quick to be on board with what you are doing anyway, provided you are going about it in the right manner. As such there are inevitably multiple encounters that I have in a day which play out quite similarly, and at times quite casually, as if merely with friends I had not yet met. This is a most pleasant series of experiences but makes it all the more important to stay sharp for those encounters which require a little more work.

On my second afternoon in Cardiff, having spent a few hours out on the street, I was approached by a man who similarly to many other people that day wanted to know what I was up to. What was clear very quickly however, was that this man was not particularly predisposed to like me and that he would be prepared to let me speak but did not want to hear whimsical positive thinking and would be quite quick to cut me short if he felt I wasn’t answering his questions properly. Why is it exactly that I’m doing what I’m doing? Why’s that any better than what anyone else is doing and what exactly am I proposing? I almost lost him early on when I admitted that I wasn’t so much concerned with answers but encouraging people to ask the questions necessary to begin to generate answers. This clearly wasn’t good enough, so when pushed further I said that the answers I implied revolved around the overcoming of both money and government. He agreed that the gap between rich and poor had become too great but didn’t see how what I was suggesting could provide any sort of solution and further highlighted the futile nature of what I was actually doing, suggesting that as a clearly intelligent, articulate young man he was surprised I couldn’t find, what in his mind, would be a more positive and constructive outlet for my personal feelings of wanting to do some sort of social good.

This whole discussion went on for the best part of forty minutes and meandered all over the place going from politics to religion to at times me answering quite personal questions about my own background in relation to both of those subjects and a fair few more but in the end, having not wanted to take a copy of my book when first offered, this gentleman not only took my book but complimented me highly and wished me luck. This was a real turn around but had taken full concentration for the best part of an hour to achieve, and left me feeling totally exhausted. I was done for the day but elated from the intensity of the discussion and the extent to which it had taken quite a lot of mental agility to get through it. When people are being openly friendly to myself, who has chosen to be a stranger standing out, it is a beautiful thing but it is easy to forget the position I choose to put myself in. If someone asks you what are you doing and you say that you are promoting the pursuit of happiness it is, if you think about it, fair enough to then ask what I mean by that, how exactly and why. That I managed to successfully navigate through the lines of questioning that resulted from every answer I gave served to sharpen my dialectic powers of argument but also served to remind me exactly what it is I’m doing and why I’m doing it through forcing me to consider both carefully.

Last night I ordered 125 more books.

Tomorrow I’ll be going to London to show my support for anyone who’s striking over pensions or indeed amassing for a public show of frustration.

In the days after that I’ll be distributing books across landmarks in the capital.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Taking Philosophy To The Streets

For me philosophy is, or at least should be, a practical discipline openly evoking thought, encouraging debate and engaging discussion. As such my current activities were always the end goal but my performing them has only been allowed through my transition from a man who has been writing a book, to a man who has written a book. It is difficult to convey the sheer magnitude of this transformation on a personal level. The sense of achievement you feel when you finish a University essay, successfully construct a cabinet from Ikea using only their shoddy pictures as guidance or just do an old fashioned hard day’s work is usually enough to warrant a beer or two. The completion of ‘The Happiness Manifesto’ was almost overwhelming. For the first time I was able to hold in my hands the physical embodiment of what had previously only existed in my head as an idea and in it I could see the justification for everything I had been working towards over the past year and a half. Further and most simply however; its completion is the axis which has allowed me to move from being the man writing philosophy, to being the philosopher.

It was an odd feeling heading into Bristol to stand outside Natwest for the first time holding a sign saying ‘another way?’ While I knew that it was me asking the question I also knew that it was me who’d be subject to further questions and who would be called upon to defend himself. What was pleasing was that while I  knew that I didn’t have the answers to society’s problems, I knew I had my answer and that that would involve encouraging more people to consider in turn what there’s would be. I also knew I now had this tool to aid me; I wasn’t just another man in the street whose ideas are no better than your own. Indeed they are no better but for the moment they are by nature more considered as they have been considered to the point of taking a physical form which may yet not stand up to dissection, but at least requires such action. That I may support it if I choose but that the book supports itself and requires no further justification was something that buoyed me. So was the knowledge that if someone wanted a book, all they need do is ask.

People ask me what I’m up to and seldom consider that I may very well ask them the same question. This is no matter however as it is clear that I am being asked because what I’m doing is so obviously not what everyone else is doing. This alone lets me know I’m probably doing something right as society is the sum of its parts and the collective world we have at present is indeed something I want to contribute towards as little as possible. Having said this it would be false to suggest I do not want to contribute towards society and each time another person, intrigued by what I’m doing, asks me what I’m doing I gain hope that one day I may see one.

So what kinds of people have I been meeting? To say there are kinds of people is all kinds of wrong and it is partially through this labeling of people that we have allowed ourselves to be divided. However, if I had to generalize, I would say I have been speaking with good people. People who are open to others and people who themselves are beginning to ask the questions necessary to begin to generate answers. If we are looking for labels however we see that these are people from a wide cross section of society and people representative of a wide range of demographics. Old people, young people, Christians, Muslims, lecturers, students, retailers, the homeless, artists, single mothers, ex servicemen and a newly released ex prisoner all with one thing in common: that they DO feel let down by government.

This confirms many suspicions I had already and leaves me asking further questions. If a government can’t provide good living standards for its citizens then what is it there for? Even if government are trying to help us they are clearly doing such a bad job that we shouldn’t let them continue so as we may help ourselves. But in truth every news story I see every day makes me think that they are not and if this is the case then all the more so we should remove them. This week alone I see more economic turmoil and youth unemployment and yet the policies I see coming from government to tackle these problems are thus; using public money to fund an independent panel to assess sick leave so as to save a few quid for business and giving unemployed people involuntary, unpaid work experience at Tesco’s.

Politicians know nothing of the way we live and the needs we have and they don’t speak to the people so as to try and find out. They know nothing of us and as such of course they can’t help. They are masters of nothing but spin and the art of seeming but unfortunately their mastery of this ill discipline upholds the general level of ignorance that we are up against. So far my experiences on the street have been nothing short of phenomenal; I have been told multiple times that I have made someone’s day, I have had someone I had previously given a book to stuff a fiver in my hand and tell me that he loves what I’m doing and to grab a coffee and keep going and someone personally e-mail me to tell me I had profoundly touched their life. The one real piece of negativity that came my way was from a group of males in their late 20’s/early 30’s wh,o in response to my sign saying ‘Dare to Imagine’, actually provided me a positive in reminding me of this level of general level of ignorance we’re up against:

‘Dare to imagine what mate?’

‘Dare to imagine I could look like you? No fucking thanks.’

‘Dare to imagine I could actually get a job and pay my taxes.’

In response to the first question, the point of the sign has been missed entirely i.e use your imagination.

In response to the second point I’m proud to not look like the kind of man who hurls abuse at strangers and never suggested or asked that anyone would try and look like myself.

And finally in response to the third and somewhat more political point but one which will round off this first blog quite nicely indeed:

In the absence of suitable paid occupations which would well utilise my skills I have created my own unpaid work. I’m sorry if you don’t see value in what I’m doing because it doesn’t make money but the idea that an involuntary action which specifically helps no-one is somehow the moral gold standard to which we must aspire to and that nothing has value outside of that is, if nothing else, just depressing.

I would like to do more good in the world but at present am not sure entirely how. However, for the moment I will have no shame in not contributing to that which would kill and steal on my behalf and will take what small actions I can on my own behalf for the benefit of all; evoking thought, encouraging debate, engaging discussion, asking people to consider what small part they would like to play in creating the world they want to see and giving free books to those who show an interest.

Over the past 10 days I have between 4 separate outings distributed around 100 books on the streets of Bristol.

Next week I will be spending some time in Cardiff.

See you on the streets.