Something I thought about a lot when I was living in France for the year was the nature of time. This was probably because it naturally went hand in hand with frequently considering how long I had left until it was time to leave and revert back to my old student life. The year was sort of like a long countdown.
The concept of identity doesn’t usually get much scrutiny, but it’s one we tend to have a lot of assumptions about that often haven’t been properly thought through. The implications of a change in our understanding of what it means to be an individual are enormous – it could affect our criminal justice system, our laws, politics, and our understanding of personal responsibility.
If there’s one habit I’d advocate as being the most important for living a fulfilled life, it would be self-improvement. Self-improvement is so important that for most people I’d even say it was essential. As humans, developing new skills and growing as people is central to our vision of self-worth and sense of achievement, but I think it goes deeper than this.
To those with it, it can seem the most valuable thing in the world, but to those without it, it can often seem completely unnecessary. I’m writing about education. Currently in Britain, statistics record that only 50-60% of students achieve the 5 A*-C grades deemed necessary for continued education or basic employment outside of apprenticeships.1 Is it me, or is this statistic diabolical? How is it that over 40% of all children leaving secondary schools are deemed unfit for basic employment or continued academic achievement – and this in the nation supposedly ranked 6th2 in the world for its quality of education?
The latest figures available were published October 2012 by the Department of Education:
58.6 per cent achieved 5 or more GCSEs at grade A* to C or equivalent including English and mathematics GCSEs or iGCSEs, a decrease of 0.4 percentage points from 2010/11 (Table 1a, Chart 1).
Recently I’ve been learning Esperanto. Esperanto is a man-made, consciously planned language that has no geographical region associated with it, nor a collected populace, and because of this it can rightly be seen as an unusual choice to learn as far as languages go. The usual reasons for learning a language generally don’t apply with Esperanto.
Living ethically has become increasingly important to me over the last few years and I realised some time during early Summer 2011 that eating meat didn’t sit quite rightly with me, once I’d begun to attempt to determine a coherent model for ethical behaviour. I wrote the following excerpt in my diary on January 10th 2012 briefly summarising my reasons, quoted here (with minor amendments) to save covering the same ground twice:
I’ve come to the realisation over the years that I don’t practice aikido for self-defence – at least not in the traditional sense of manoeuvring myself out the way of punches, applying a well-timed kotegaeshi, and otherwise protecting myself during a fight. A friend also observed to me that most people training at our club probably didn’t train for that reason either, which seems to me to be apparently in contradiction with the reasons people tend to join aikido in the first place. This contradiction is reflected on our club website, which describes the club as a “self-defence club.”
Written at a time shortly after I discovered that very few traditional reasons for existence could be rationally justified. Two years on and having built a more robust existential foundation, my thoughts on this subject have evolved somewhat, though this essay continues to represent an important point in the progression of my philosophical views.
I was raised in a Christian background — so much so that my parents used to take me and my family to an annual Christian retreat in the Spring. Consequently when I was growing up, Christianity was a heavy influence on my personal development. It wasn’t until I was 15 or 16 that I began to really comprehend the implications of my beliefs — specifically that if my friends didn’t believe, they would go to Hell. And Hell no less — an unfathomably bad place for even the gravest of criminals, let alone people that simply didn’t know any better. After this I began to have strong reservations about the ethics of a God that would punish my friends just because they didn’t believe in something they had no tangible experience of.