Thursday, June 13, 2019

In The Mood For Philosophy

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- From our last conversation* I take it you are not a fan of moods in philosophy.
- Moods are general feelings of life we can be certain are not applicable to life in general: moods change, succeed one another unaccountably. If philosophy is the study of life in general, moods are just about the last thing philosophy should be based on.
- What would be the last thing then?
- Power.
- Which is the most common kind of philosophy around!
- Which is enough to put you in a bad mood.
- Philosophy should instead be based on knowledge, knowledge of life in general.
- Yes. Knowledge is the antithesis of power. When you gain power someone else loses power. Power is always power over another. Knowledge given to another increases your ability to act in the world. Another person knowing more helps you to learn more.
- So moods have no place in philosophy?
- Moods reflect the seasonality of our lives, where our individual history and situation require of us to reflect, to rest, to love, to act.
- No philosophy based on moods. But we can have a philosophy of what moods are, we can even be in a mood to philosophize?
- Sure. I'll give you an example. For the second time this year, locking my bike near Jimmies Cafe at the University** and on my way up to the research library I was stopped by two policeman. Being stopped means temporary imprisonment, the disposition of my body and the words I am allowed to say completely under the control of the police: when and how much I can speak, where I am supposed to move to or whether I can move at all - in this case, I'm order to go to a low bench in the glass roofed interior courtyard of Bunch Hall, ominously deserted at this time of the morning. Since this is the second time this year I'm being accused of stealing my own bike by the university police, I'm in the mood to talk, and more importantly, I'm prepared to talk after regretting not saying more last time. Two policeman have become four as two more arrive. They look down upon me crouched on the low bench. I'm told:
- The reason we stopped you is that we've received a report about suspicious activity, possibly a bike theft. Do you have ID?
- I do. But I don't particularly care to show it to you. Do I have to?
- Yes. Why don't you want to if you have nothing to hide? Have you any arrest warrants outstanding?
- No. I don't want to give you what you want because I don't like what you are doing, spreading terror whereever you go, your uniforms broadcasting even from a distance your threat of deadly violence, a very real threat, with the police in this country shooting at least one completely unarmed person every day.
- We have several bicycle thefts every week on campus.
- Obviously then the dozens of university police armed with pistols, rifles, stun guns, gas sprays, and nightsticks that patrol the campus can't stop the drug addicts, alcoholics and schizophrenics sophisticates who sleep on the street from stealing bikes. Even if you could, it would not justify the terror you cause as you repeatedly detain, that is, temporarily imprison people who were trying to go about their ordinary lives. What's so suspicious about me, anyway?
- Nothing. We stopped three other people before we found you.
- So you've imprisoned and made four people fear immediate death from police violence, violence that literally occurs every day, for the reason that you're investigating a possible bike theft, investigating here my suspicious activity, suspicious activity that is the owner of a bike locking his bike at the bike rack.
- You know how this campus is.
- How is it?
- People here are paranoid about security.
- Paranoid meaning irrationally suspicious. The police then go about spreading their terror on the basis of reports that they themselves say are irrational, making themselves knowingly the instrument of mental defect. Even worse.
- Have you ever been in a situation where you get out of your car in your own neighborhood and are surrounded by four menacing armed men? I have.
- I have been in dangerous circumstances, if that is what you mean. But because there is violence occurring in some places doesn't give you the right to place the entire city in a state of war. There is no war going on, on this campus. Do you know the history of the police?
- Started in London by Robert Peel.
- And before that? The police were the private army of the East India company,*** an army for the first time not formed to fight another army but to fight against the people of a colonized state, an army formed to prevent insurrection. The useful functions of the police such as capturing criminals that before the police were handled by agents of the court are completely separate from this historical function of repression. Obviously what's going on here, the second time this year accusing me of, not stealing my own bike, of merely wanting, intending to steal my own bike, with the background of your complete failure to stop bike theft, is not a serious attempt to apprehend criminals.
I reach my hand to my jacket pocket to get my ID, and am immediately ordered, 'Don't move!' 'I'm getting out my ID,' I say, 'as you demanded. Do you want it or not?' While we've been talking more and more police officers are arriving, even a couple of female officers, so many crowded around me now I don't bother to count them. My identification information is radioed in, we wait. I sit, head bowed in thought; I hear the newest police arrivals informed of what's in progress: 'He is obstructing us every step of the way.' ID results come back negative, the police melt away into the background to everyday life they had previously been lurking within. One policeman is going my way. He asks me what I read in the library. 'Sometimes philosophy,' I answer. 'So you know everyone has their own perspective,' he says. 'There are many perspectives on the same world,' I reply, 'some better than others, more accurate than others.' We leave it at that.

Further Reading:
Violence Work: State Power and the Limits of Police
* Philosophy To A Mood Of Political Distress
** University Of California, Los Angeles
*** According to Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz in her 2018 book 'Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment', American police forces have their origin in Indian fighting militias in existence 'since day one' of the colonies, 1607, and then repurposed as slave patrols, dating from around 1680.