I recently posted about how an obsession with rationality, philosophy and politics can change you, and that I have become someone who more often than not now hankers after serious conversation and debate in social situations than perhaps my former, more jovial self would have.
Epicurus, regular commenter here, stated this:
I don’t mean this as an insult, even though it will probably sound that way, but do you have a deep need for attention and admiration that manifests itself by being a jokester, life of the party, being right, showing other people where and how they are wrong? Philosophy may feed into this need by being about, as Lord Russell said, “The analysis of ideas.”
Amateur psychology session over. 5 cents please.
And this comment made me sit and properly question why I do what I do. Here is my attempt at honestly answering this. Let me know if you think I am wrong here.
Firstly, what is it that I do? Outside of my day job, the things under consideration here would be:
- Writing books
- Public speaking
There are three areas of causation here:
- a) Money
- b) Narcissism and other psychology
- c) To test my ideas in order to refine or change them
I make very little money from blogging indeed. I am not, alas, The Friendly Atheist or some such similar blogger with a huge readership and following and a viral capacity for sharing articles. I am a little more niche. I have some wonderful contributors who do it for free as I am simply unable to share meagre blogging income. And it is meagre. Friends have advised me to start a Patreon account, but there aren’t enough hours in the day.
My books and publishing company (with a number of contracted authors) sell only nominal amounts. Its the nature of the business and you have to spend big (marketing) to make it big. The world buys the same amount of books; no book really goes out of print (especially in the digital age); many thousands more books are published each year to add to the existing catalogue; and the conclusion is that each book, if not a blockbuster, will sell fewer copies than in yesteryear. The per title sales figures are nowhere near what they used to be.
I had a pretty good three months around Christmas where I am thinking, moving forward, this could stretch to sustaining me out of work more than the one day it presently just about does. I work four days a week and write/edit/publish on Fridays. It’s not enough time to do these things, so I snatch time where I can (as well as managing my twins’ football/soccer team, coaching their rugby team, marking and planning for teaching, fulfilling senior leadership for that job, and being a partner and father!). It’s why I often struggle to get content up regularly – apologies.
Thus blogging does to some extent become about being a platform for the books and branding myself. That’s simply part of the deal. I will link to my books, talk about reviews and relay excerpts to my audience. I thank those readers who do shell out for some of my books. Blogging is mainly a labour of love, but I will certainly also try to use it as a platform to brand myself.
The same applies to public speaking to a large degree. Getting out there and getting known on the circuit is partly about branding and selling books, both at the events and in response online etc.
There is a triangulation of the three elements here.
Where I think Epicurus mentions something that bears a little all further analysis is with regard to the psychology of it all.
I love thinking about everything. I simply love it. Playing around with ideas gives me pleasure. This cannot be overstated. But the pleasure of thought and the puzzles of philosophy are not the only psychological ramifications to what I do.
You cannot get away from the fact that we are all a little bit narcissistic. Blogging and public speaking most certainly fall into being outlets that can feed this. This isn’t something that drives what I do, but is more likely to be a collateral that helps to sustain the output. There is obvious pleasure when someone appreciates what you do, whether this is a blog article, an essay or an entire book. If everyone slated what you did, you wouldn’t continue to do it. Appreciation and validation is an integral part of the writing, thinking and publishing process. We are, at the end of the day, and by and large, psychological creatures.
When I public speak, there is certainly an element of being on show and having to deliver a performance of sorts. Perhaps this is why I succeed at being a teacher.
I gave a talk to Bournemouth Skeptics in the pub only last night and I absolutely loved doing it, and hope they loved being there. I tend to crack a number of jokes so that it often feels like there is an element of a stand-up routine in my public talks. But if you don’t get the audience onside, people aren’t going to want to come and see you again. Being a teacher feeds in really well to being able to engage the audience – no one likes a speaker who just chalks and talks.
I think the real core raison d’être to public speaking events is relating philosophy to a group of people who want to listen to philosophy. So although there will be elements of performance and perhaps an underlying wish for validation, I think the real pleasure of talking at events is in divulging and discussing and disseminating philosophy with other people. It is what drives me to public speaking – I bloody love it. Sitting down the pub with my friends in The Tippling Philosophers, drinking an ale, talking about philosophy and politics and psychology is perhaps my idea of heaven – or at least a large part of what heaven could be.
If it existed.
Which it doesn’t.
So, heaven is a place on earth, as a great philosopher once sang.
The Scientific Method as Applied to Philosophy
I have often claimed that writing blog articles (and by extension, writing books) is about putting my ideas out there to be attacked by people so that they can be changed or refined as necessary. This means that I don’t inoculate myself from contrary ideas and beliefs and I do open myself up to criticism in a good way. This is rather like the scientific method, which, when working well, can be seen to be an inexorable journey towards some approximation of truth through constant refining. Performance, feedback, revision.
I have a real problem with holding onto any belief that cannot be justified. I know that sounds rather trite and an obvious thing to say and is the sort of thing that everyone would surely claim. However, I really genuinely do believe this. I can’t sleep at night if there is an element or part of my argument or belief or claim that has been shown to be weak or false if this is shown to be the case. I have to do something about it – I cannot plaster over the cracks in a psychological manoeuvre. Luckily, this is rarely or ever the case because I’m always right (winky face emoji).
The whole point about doing philosophy is to investigate the world and get the best understanding of how everything in existence works. There’s no point doing this if you’re just going to pull the wool over your own eyes. That kind of approach is pointless. It’s absolutely vital to be honest with yourself. And I really bloody hope I do this.
As Richard Feynman said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
I think, then, that it is worth doing this sort of appraisal with everything you do. Understanding why you do something is key to improving how you do it and to changing if necessary.
If I give public talks to predominantly Christian audiences, for example, then I always tell them that I’m unlikely to change their minds even if I give them some of the best rational evidence that philosophy can throw at them. This is because people believe and do things for primarily psychological reasons. It is always hugely important to understand why people believe things and why people do things in order to change behaviours or beliefs.
I don’t want to change what I do because: a) it brings in a tiny bit of income; b) I enjoy it; c) and it is useful for me in my journey towards something like a truth.
The question then becomes about how I improve what I do.
Thanks, as ever, for reading and for being a part of my life.
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