No us and them

There is no us and them, only us. The white supremacy thing, the patriarchy thing, the class thing: binary structures of inequality and violence. The antidote? Affirming equality already here and getting ourselves together, mixing it up, messing with it. Laugh at it, blow kisses. These structures depend on division, difference. They need walls. They’re not news, but they are fake. They are a joke, but not funny. How to get out of this simulation, this Matrix? Not by casting around for a better simulation of real life, a better hack. Not the blue pill but the red.

It’s becoming clearer that a lot of how we live is based on false premises. This is good news. That revelation will change everything. As will technology. As will the climate disaster. There is a lot of change coming our way, a lot of uncertainty: we are already in it. And it is going to hurt. (Learning always hurts.) No avoiding it, no way out – only through.

And here you are – already in place, already in motion. Finding your way. (Which may not mean getting your way. Sorry!) Here is something I read last week and I thought of you:

What is right, what is wrong? In this situation?
What a small question!
What is great? That is what my heart longs to ask. What is lush? What is bold, what is daring? In which direction lies maximum richness, abundance, delight?

~ George Saunders, Liberation Day, 25

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? An important question. Not-knowing is your friend, doubt is your friend. “When nothing will work, anything might. Now is the time for lots and lots of experiments.” (Clay Shirky)

Don’t take what isn’t given to you. Always move in the direction of your freedom, in the direction of more life, more love. Hold your seat. Hold onto your hat. Take part, take care. Take courage. Be of good cheer and be of good hope.

And have a really, really good time.

I wrote this for Fish Hoek High School’s annual two-day “Amazing Race” camp where Grade 11 learners go to think together about race, identity and community. Rob and I told them about our experience in the anti-apartheid underground in the late 1980s. It was a great evening.

Otherwise philosophy, Philosophy otherwise

Levinasian philosophical practices

Friday 26 November 2021, 1:00pm–6pm EST. Live-streaming on MS Teams

1:00pm: Welcome and Introduction

1:15pm (8:15 pm in South Africa): Helen Douglas, Philosophical Counsellor, Cape Town, South Africa, “Otherwise Philosophy or Philosophy Otherwise: Levinasian Philosophical Practices”. I’ll be talking about my counselling work as an interpersonal Levinasian practice of ethics and emancipation as well as the possibilities his work opens towards a new mode of thinking in troubled times.

Poster. Transcendence & Ethics: A one-day workshop on Emmanuel Levinas, Bishop's University, 26 November 2021

3:00pm: Deborah Achtenberg, University of Nevada, Reno, “Shestov, Levinas and Plato on the Human Good”

4:00pm: Bruce Gilbert, Bishop’s University, “The ‘Institution’ of the Good in Levinas”.

4:45pm: Bettina Bergo, Université de Montréal, “Women and Revolution in the Talmud”

QA 22 (Mar-Apr 10). Three book reviews (2)

Nurtureshock: Why everything we think about raising our children is wrong
Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman
Ebury Press

nurtureshock ebury uk1

Reviewed by Helen Douglas (Cape Times, 12 February 2010)

It’s a close call to say whether Nurtureshock manages to be more informative than it is annoying. The first irritant has to be the subtitle. To whom is this meant to appeal? Insecure parents who are ready to think the worst of themselves? Shame on you!

Once safely past the cover, the book’s premise is straightforward. Parents naturally want to nurture and protect their children, but much of their thinking is “polluted by a hodgepodge of wishful thinking, moralistic biases, contagious fads, personal history and old (disproven) psychology”. Bronson and Merryman, regular contributors to New York Magazine, want to set us straight with this survey of the latest research from the “fascinating new science of children”.

Continue reading QA 22 (Mar-Apr 10). Three book reviews (2)

QA 19. (Nov 09) What’s fundamental?

From the Cape Times, 1 December 2009, in their series on “The Next Economy”

No wonder they can’t fix it: it doesn’t exist

Helen Douglas


It’s another day in the global financial crisis and I’m looking at the front page of Business Report: “Worse still to come, says economist”. The article offers three expert opinions. One says that the global economy could face a second dip as a result of recent massive injections of liquidity. Another sees a threat in South Africa’s reliance on exports. The third is hopeful the current recovery will be sustained.

On SAfm’s Market Update, they speak confidently of corrections, profit taking, sideways adjustments and – my favourite – the dead cat bounce. Yesterday the analyst said that prices had fallen because “traders were nervous”. Why were they nervous? “No, it’s a herd thing,” he laughs. “They’ll sell first and make up a reason later.” He’s equally frank today why the market has rallied. He doesn’t know – but he’ll “take it”.

Continue reading QA 19. (Nov 09) What’s fundamental?