Iain Cameron's Diary
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2006-11-16 - 6:03 a.m.

Another hectic week so far. Richard Dawkin , the celebrated biologist, gave a Guildford audience some samples from his book, the God Delusion, on Monday night. Not very sophisticated metaphysics in my view just popular polemics – then back to Leantown in the late evening. Tuesday morning I met someone from the Australian National University to discuss some possible macroeconomic measures of competitiveness for their automotive sector and then I set off on the road from Coventry via Banbury and Woodstock, past Great Tew, to Oxford just in time to get to the seminar in Pembroke College. The weather was rough but the landscape was intriguing – Ben and Jason’s last CD, Goodbye, on the CD.

It was a new line of enquiry for SKOPE – the research programme that I have been tagging onto for a couple of years – which was kicked off by some US research into very low wage employment. The Americans were so alarmed that they got together a bunch of European countries to dig into the phenomemon. The UK results on the food, hotel and call centre sectors was presented and provoked a lively debate. There was some material which was new to me about the impact of the minimum wage in these sectors. One of the great things about these events is the dinner afterwards and this one was no exception. I sat next to Matthew who used to be involved in IASA at a very dramatic time – he is currently working on a project for the European Commission.

After dinner I dropped in on James for a quick chat. He is over his cold and had earlier in the day made a presentation on the question of whether the soviet process of destalinisation was Stalinist. He has to argue that it wasn’t which is apparently the harder case.

There were some issues about the presentation on the food industry from the seminar that got under my skin and so at the first available opportunity I hauled some data of the National Statistics website and started digging around. During the course of the day I got a basic data set and ratios sorted out and a commentary and I took a risk and sent the stuff off to SKOPE HQ to see if this helped the study. I don’t consider myself an economist at all – I would admit to having shared an office with one once. But I seem to have drifted into having a point of view on some issues in applied economics – maybe I will get some work from Australia out of this eccentric quirk.

A new piece of paid business turned up out of the blue – another redrafting job, taking a piece of writing and attempting to polish it up so that it might achieve its objective – releasing some funding from some donor. In this instance the funding is for a big project which is teetering towards inception having been given its official launch a couple of weeks back. There is a general sinking of morale around the venture. I have been awarded the grumpyoldsod of the year award for never ever believing that it would come out right.

I have rather lost touch with the music that I threw together in the last fortnight. I played one of the tracks yesterday which emerged last week and really enjoyed its strange atmosphere. I couldn’t imagine how it had come to be.

I have been reaching back into some of the philosophy of technology that I wrestled with in the earlier part of the year and this has resulted in a surprising discovery – a short dialogue by Plato on the art of writing and performing songs. This started when I was trying to get hold of Heidegger’s philosophy of technology – again. As far as I can make out the claim is that we lost contact with a basic way of being connected to our situation probably somewhere around the time that Greek philosophy first appeared. To understand this more one has to appreciate the connection between various ancient Greek words.

Here’s a useful paragraph from wikipedia:

‘Against the revealing power of poetry, Heidegger sets the force of technology. The essence of technology is the conversion of the whole universe of beings into an undifferentiated "standing reserve" (Bestand) of energy available for any use to which humans choose to put it. The standing reserve represents the most extreme nihilism, since the being of beings is totally subordinated to the will of the human subject. Indeed, Heidegger described the essence of technology as Gestell, or "enframing." Heidegger does not unequivocally condemn technology; he believes that its increasing dominance might make it possible for humanity to return to its authentic task of the stewardship of being. ‘

To engage with some of these distinctions I started to pull some threads and ended up with:

Soc. Not all, Ion, surely. Have you already forgotten what you were saying? A rhapsode ought to have a better memory.

Ion. Why, what am I forgetting?

Soc. Do you not remember that you declared the art of the rhapsode to be different from the art of the charioteer?

Ion. Yes, I remember.

Soc. And you admitted that being different they would have different subjects of knowledge?

Ion. Yes.

Soc. Then upon your own showing the rhapsode, and the art of the rhapsode, will not know everything?

Ion. I should exclude certain things, Socrates.

Soc. You mean to say that you would exclude pretty much the subjects of the other arts. As he does not know all of them, which of them will he know?

Ion. He will know what a man and what a woman ought to say, and what a freeman and what a slave ought to say, and what a ruler and what a subject.

Soc. Do you mean that a rhapsode will know better than the pilot what the ruler of a sea-tossed vessel ought to say?

Ion. No; the pilot will know best.

Soc. Or will the rhapsode know better than the physician what the ruler of a sick man ought to say?

Ion. He will not.

Soc. But he will know what a slave ought to say?

Ion. Yes.

Socrates concludes that the singer-songwriter is fuelled by inspiration rather than knowledge.

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