Philosophy for change: the next three classes

I’ve completed six of the eight classes in my Philosophy For Change evening course. I summarised the first three here.

Class 4 was about Nietzsche and empowerment. Nietzsche said that empowerment is about one’s capacity for life, action and experience; the more you think, feel, do and be the more fulfilled a life you’ll lead (and this is how we avoid being gripped by nihilism). Nietzsche’s lessons can therefore be seen as:

  1. When confronted with change, ask, “How can I draw on my own strengths to make this an opportunity?”
  2. To maximise our chances at doing 1. we need to cultivate a diverse range of personal powers, not just focus on one set.

The practical exercise in this class was based on Nietzsche’s notion of the eternal return: first recall some good things that have happened to you, then think whether you’d still find those things good if they happened to you over and over for eternity. If you don’t want them to happen forever then maybe they’re not the very best experiences.

Class 5 was about friendship and empowerment. It used ideas from Spinoza : that everything is either empowered or disempowered through interactions with other things, and that you can tell when the interaction is empowering by how the thing is affected (i.e., if you’re always grumpy after talking to a person, then they are not an empowering interaction for you). It went on to postulate that in your interactions with other people you discover new things – new capabilities – in yourself. The more diverse your social contacts, the more you find out and develop about yourself, and the more competent you’ll be at handling change. The exercise made you consider social groups that made you uncomfortable, but then reflect on what strengths those social groups have, and whether they’re strengths you’d also like to have.

Class 6 got into political philosophy, and concepts of leadership and social change. Another Spinozan idea: that leadership is bottom-up, and comes from the consensus and goodwill of the multitude. The class discussed whether communication tools like the internet are making this more possible than ever: Wikipedia, Linux, flickr, Twitter, YouTube, and WikiLeaks were given as examples. The exercise had the class break into groups, identify diverse strengths we thought we each had, and then brainstorm a new idea that used all those strengths in a collaborative way.

It’s starting to get a little preachy. I really liked class 5, though, about how important it is not to stick with just one social context of people.


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