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The Radical Animal

SetWidth592-Pat-Kane-2Humans are both natural and unnatural. It’s time to reunite our two extremes by reconnecting with the evolutionary function of play. By Pat Kane

We are the radical animal. Animal, because we – our bodies and our minds – are the outcome of evolution, of the struggle to propagate our species, and to defend it against predators and rivals. Radical, because that same evolutionary process has given rise to self-consciousness: this is able to turn experiences into concepts, and then return us to the world with the power to reframe and manipulate reality. We are natural, but we are able to go to the roots of everything, and pull it apart with our will – guided by reason, driven by emotion. So we are also unnatural.

How does this radical animal exist with other members of its species? Generally in a state of fitful tension, caught between two poles. At one pole, we deeply embrace the ties of family, tribe, class, nation, or any other more elective affinity – but in any case, we affirm the sociability that took us out of the savannah, and into our ever-more-complex forms of cohabitation.

The other pole is a permanently flickering awareness: that a line of thought followed far enough, or a form of practice intensified beyond the norm, can sunder and then reweave – or leave dangling – those same ties, for the sake of excitement, or novelty, or even mere curiosity. This can go all ways. The science that isolates the elements of matter, the art which rattles the mammalian perceptions, is the radical animal expressing its nature. But what this releases has danger as well as wonder.

In The Craftsman, the sociologist Richard Sennett asks us to compare Hephaestus to Pandora, as we mull over the unintended consequences of our cognitive and behavioural radicalism. Pandora (and her opened box) is the image of innovation, whether technological or artistic, that escapes the bounds of sociability – following its own giddy processes towards the atomic bomb, the potential destroyer of all possibility.

This implies that such innovators must always be subject to a political or ethical force that is external to them, elders who can monitor and brake these runaway combinations. Left, literally, to their own devices, who knows what disasters would ensue?

Sennett presents an alternative image: the steady labours of Hephaestus, forging by dint of expert craft and diligent effort the palaces of the Greek gods. For Sennett – in something of a tussle with his old teacher, Hannah Arendt – there is a kind of politics, a kernel of the good society, to be found inside the practice of the craftsman (and woman), not requiring the guardianship of wise civic elders.

He suggests that the ancient guild – with its explicit solidarities, its relations between apprentice and master, its careful considerations of the materials it works with – could itself be a kind of commensuration between our social and our radical natures. Sennet claims that an ethos of responsibility organically emerges from the practice and persistence of the guild. Perhaps. But were not Oppenheimer, Einstein and their crew a guild? Did their “craft ethic”, their pushback as atomic scientists, prevent the generals from ordering Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

The radical animal in its radicalism, its power to abstract and conceptualise and act with precision, is not so easily commensurated. One currently fashionable, indeed complacent, attempt to do so – known as behavioural economics, “nudge” thinking, or cognitive-limits research – seems to wilfully ignore the full spectrum, even the empirical history, of our evolved human natures.

We can, doubtless, be loss-averse rather than gain-friendly, or wildly over-estimate our chances of success, or succumb to sweet or euphoric addictions. All due, say the nudgers, to the supposed mismatch between a human nature largely evolved under hunter-gatherer conditions, and a blooming, buzzing modernity – recently consumerist and now interactive – which overloads our primitive, savannah-forged equipment, whether perceptually, nutritionally or emotionally.

Poor old Homer (as in Simpson) Economicus, staggering through Dangerfield from one calamity of appetite to another. He needs some “liberal paternalism’, needs to bump into some “choice architecture”, to set him back on the right track. And thus contemporary power elites justify their managerial, mandarin power.

Yet the problem for the nudgers is that we now know what they’re up to. You’ve read it, right here. And if you have enough energy and a normal capacity to respond, conceptualise and initiate, you can isolate these tendencies and “steer” round them, as the RSA’s Jonathan Rowson once put it.

The question is much less whether poor, forked savannah-exiles can stoically adapt to the enervating-meets-stimulating rituals of consumer-capitalist modernity. It is much more whether our radical imaginations can assume the same systemic overview as our elders and supposed betters, yet proceed from the assumption that our creativity is as determining as our inherited limits – and indeed, just as natural (or, naturally unnatural). What kind of modernity could be built from this assumption? We are yet to find out.

Yet it would be pointless to make a pure virtue of the radicalism of the radical animal: that way lies the dreams of singulatarians and tech-boosterists, of post-humanistic net moguls and Russian oligarchs planning the deep-freeze of their noble heads; the “radical innovators” that stalk the business magazines. Rather, I’m interested in how natural this unnaturalness is; how it connects to the same evolved archaeology of mind that the nudge thinkers so narrowly frame; and how we can find a place for our species-radicalism on a planet with ever-more-evident material boundaries.

To me, play – a deep consideration of its adaptive function, not just in mammals, but in some non-mammals too – will help us find that place. Our natural radicalism turns out to have a most familiar, even familial root itself – the simulations, fantasies, narrations and rehearsals of play behaviour; those illusory, unreal zones that safely prepare us for lives with creatures equally as complex, multitudinous and abstracting as ourselves. We begin as radicals, as children in play, enjoying the provisionality of existence, exulting in what Johan Huizinga called “the influx of mind into matter”.

So should we expand our play-zones into adulthood too, and thus expand the opportunities to test – non-fatally, non-destructively – our nature as radical animals? In our world where absolute overall levels of violence are going down historically, as Steven Pinker has noted, but the verisimilitude of our games and fictions of war and contest have never been more powerfully rendered, one might argue this has already begun.

We still have our nuclear arsenals. But we also have our looming environmental crunch, one cause of which – a heedless, advertising-driven consumer culture, generating a mountain of commodities whose production warms the planet dangerously – could easily be seen as the triumph of Psyche-before-Nudge; before the Chicago professors, the Freud-informed merchants of desire.

Yet we have had decades and waves of counterculture, critical theory and experiments in living, where the production of adult play-zones was an essential component of their political radicalism. Indeed, many have argued that the infrastructure that best promises to commensurate our radical and social natures – the internet – was largely conceived and conditioned by those same playful countercultures.

Can we reconnect our purposes and enterprises to healthy, developmental roots in play? Is this a redefinition of human nature that could have significant institutional and political consequences? Could we identify play-zones that help us live safely – but excitedly – within the planetary boundaries that sustain our very existence?

Questions for a later, more extensive inquiry. But I hope I’ve made you feel like a radical animal. Because, for better or worse, that’s what you are.


Pat Kane | Journalist, musician and activist. Co-director of the human potential consultancy New Integrity and author of The Play Ethic. His new book, Radical Animal, will be published in early 2016.



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  1. Itchybiscuit says:

    I’m showing my complete ignorance here – I have degrees in neither anthropology nor human psychology and the vast bulk of this article went right over my head.

    I’m an SNP voter, an independence supporter and horribly working class with no more than a secondary education. Sure, like a lot of Scots I know, I’m (I thought) well read and able to wrestle successfully with big words but I’m stumped on this occasion.

    Is it just me? :o(

    1. Anton says:

      @ItchyBiscuit: No you’re not alone. I have absolutely no idea what this post is trying to say.

      1. Itchybiscuit says:

        Thanks for that Anton. I feel a little better. :o)

      2. Neil Anderson says:

        Nope, I haven’t got a clue what Pat Kane is on about here either. But then again I never do!

        1. RichardMacKinnon says:

          Neil, I think I can help you here.
          So you don’t understand what Pat Kane is on about with this essay? That is Pat’s point, he doesn’t want you to understand. The article is nothing to do with his perceived differences between humans and other primates. Its about Pat’s self belief in his huge intellect.
          The article is more about Pat Kane ‘Enlightened Philosopher of 21st Century Scotland’ rather than his actual reading.
          If Pat stands by this piece as genuine, that it is not a bit of a wind up, probably associated with a bet, he has, I am afraid to say become a member of a very dodgy, group. There is and there always has been, a few pseudo intellectuals amongst us that prefer to speak in a language, the use of which is for the sole purpose of exclusivity: the subject is not important the purpose is to exclude the rest of us from participating in the debate.
          So in conclusion, I ask Pat to stop taking the piss. Or have you Pat joined up as a full member of ‘Elite’?

          1. I think this is really unfair and if there isn’t a space for thinking and difficult ideas then we’re in a really bad place. Maybe we can get Pat to try and unpack his ideas – it was written for a different forum and re-published here. I think its important and interesting – and we want a real mix in here.

          2. Redgauntlet says:

            Richard, just gie us your email and we will all make sure we run our language by you before printing just so that it meets with your criteria….

          3. Pat Kane says:

            No, I’m not taking the piss, nor have I secretly joined up to some Scottish intellectual elite (if it was like the Avengers, only eating beetroot salad in the CCA, I would join tho). I am however guilty of cutting and pasting here an article I contributed to the website that promotes the Hay-on-Wye philosophy festival http://iainews.iai.tv/articles/radical-animal-auid-492 – on retrospect, I was mibbes writing for a more academic/philosophically-inclined audience than Bella. However, I’ve explained the Radical Animal concept more clearly in other material here http://www.radicalanimal.net – and in particular my lecture to the Govan Free University, at their Centre for Human Ecology, is probably the clearest explanation I’ve given.

    2. Anita says:

      No Sir, not just you at all! I have a Psychology degree and I also have studied Philosophy, but I gave up trying to follow this. At my university, we were taught that if you can’t write something in a way that others can easily follow and understand, then you’ve probably not understood it well enough yourself 😉




  3. barakabe says:

    This is a stunning piece of writing. Why do we play? No one really knows except the usual evolutionary-functionalist reductionism that says young play to mimic the death-hunt-rituals of the adults. Some might argue that sport is a form of play but I’m not so sure: if you’re being payed well over the odds for it, its what you do ‘professionally’ & you cannot play without the thought of winning then is that ‘play’? Personally I don’t think so. Play is a a mode of action that undermines itself at all opportunities: we can play in the game but at all times be aware the game is limiting or we can participate in the game with the consciousness that our play can set us free- free in the sense of being totally aware of the present moment of playing & hence ‘outside’ the neurotic binary of past-future. The sad reality is that most play in the world is of a serious nature- I know many people who can’t play anything at all without it degenerating to a petty testosterone fueled cock-fight. People just take themselves far too seriously, unfortunately. Play ought to be an opportunity to take the piss out of yourself, to undermine your own sense of self-importance & to transcend all those rigid roles that define our social positions- in a word it play ought to be ‘humour’ in action. Play as humour in action can release a whole locked reservoir of creative energy. Society needs to find a way of providing spaces for such play-rituals to be become possible. Everyday life is too stultifying, rigid & fixed for it ever to satisfy human nature- the more we suppress imagination, humour, creativity, laughter, joy, play from our lives the more dehumanized we become. We need these spaces to go beyond the house-food-car-work-shopping matrix of modernist consumerism that restricts the spectrum of human experience so a brutal, largely meaningless reductionism. Once our motor-sensory needs have been met then surely we need to move onto something higher? Consciousness for example has made work & functionality futile & play ought to be about a mutual recognition of he awareness of that futility: play as creative irony, the joy of embodiment, of action for actions sake without a goal, of completely living in the present- so that when all our basic biological needs are met play can be a space to express this evolutionary ‘overspill’.
    How far has our science-technology-instrumental rationalism taken us if majority of the human race are still fixated on a self-limiting & strictly defined house-food-car-work-shopping matrix? Is that human progress?
    Play could have multiple functions: the development-exercising of imagination; facilitating social interaction-integration through co-operation; the development of a empathy-trust schema; a higher function that attunes the group to more advanced levels of harmonization; learning the limits of physical body; the transmission of complex social skills; the alleviation & role-play of fantasy via models of simulation; a spontaneous overcoming of rigid social roles by means of freely expressing the flow of suppressed energies…the list is potentially endless.
    As for ‘Nudge’ theory its just another abstracted form of what we humans have being doing to each other since time immemorial, namely controlling or coercing each other by means of the malleolus, big stick-carrot, gun at your head approach that has reduced human existence to such an undignified condition: how can treating people like children or animals be expected to achieve productive results? The problem for us is that we’ve lost the capacity for modesty-humility. Everything is excess-extreme, greed, more-more-more form of sterilized barbarism. Maybe if we could learn to regulate our appetites/motor-sensory needs through modesty we could be sensitive enough ( excess dulls the senses) & so ‘need’ less need to experience ‘joy’. Joy is not merely pleasure-pleasure is an effect of joy- we need something beyond pleasure ( & we need pleasure due to its therapeutic effects). We need a meaning that is not reliant on measuring value externally, or defined by its relation to something else, or dependent on specialized instrumental rationalism/explanatory conceptual frameworks- what we need is the simple meaning of humans just being. Being what we are meant to be: it is a simple state that is at once difficult to recover.

    1. Pat Kane says:

      Barakabe, some beautiful play theorising in here – honoured by your response. You completely get that play (when it happens) is an indicator of human beings expressing their creativity. Play has to be “adaptive” though, as the evolutionary scientists say, otherwise it wouldn’t exist as an animal behaviour – and it’s realising that creativity and surplus has an active role in human survival (maybe for us it should be human “thrival”) which I think has real political consequences. (Sexual pleasure, and length of sleep/REM state, are equal evolutionary surpluses to play – and worth comparing all three). You start to get into discussions like, “well if it’s natural to play, express, create – and not just in childhood, but throughout the human lifespan – what distortions and illnesses are we generating in our lives if we don’t shape our societies, organisations and institutions to answer that natural need?” Which implies shorter working-week, citizens’ income, amazing public services (both caring and cultural), etc. I think the only line I would dissent from in your comment is “what we need is the simple meaning of humans just being. Being what we are meant to be: it is a simple state that is at once difficult to recover”. Play to me points to the complexity of our being and state, which is what I was trying to do by invoking Sennett on Pandora and Hephaestus – this natural inheritance of dynamism and invention we call human play has unnatural, disruptive consequences – it’s the root of our mental agility that allows us to go to the roots (radical) of phenomena, whether through art, science, politics, whatever. My discussion with the Greens is the degree to which they allow a “zone” for humans to be their disruptive selves, without it being channeled into planet-warming consumer society.

  4. john young says:

    We should be moving on now and getting out a message of what/how we want to see our country develop,the innovators/visionaries/dreamers/entrepreuneurs should all be throwing their ideas into the ring,we want to hear about how we can create lasting employment and looking at ways to help business to employ more workers help to employ dis-abled/handicapped men/women young and old.This would give them respect and confidence and ease the burden on them and possibly the country.


    intelligent people make things very simple

  6. barakabe says:

    Yes but there’s a difference between simplicity & over-simplification. Simplicity is excluding all that is unnecessary in order to communicate something- if we over-simplify we risk excluding sophisticated ideas that can ultimately lead us to simplicity; simplicity can can be as simple as making things clearer. All in all we must never forget that it takes hard work to make things simple but in achieving it we make life no less difficult (simplicity is after all no panacea).

    1. Jones says:

      So what’s he on about then?

  7. Jones says:

    Read this three times now to see if I can make a smidgin of sense out of the overblown, overwraught, pretentious guff and this is my ‘humble interpretation’.

    1) Humans have consciousness, this sets us apart from the rest of nature as we have the ability to shape our lives in ways other species can’t.
    2) Humans both live in societies and can develop ideas and technology.
    3)The two are sometimes in conflict. e.g( the Bomb/ global warming)
    4) We need space to test our ‘ideas and tech’ within a safe framework.
    5) This framework is similar to play in infancy when we ‘test boundaries’ in preparation for the real world with real consequences.

    Add in as much psuedo intellectual posturing as you can, reference as many ‘thinkers’ as you can to give your argument ostensible academic/ intellectual credibility, (by the way Pat, the Chicago Professors weren’t all professors, the Chileans were Phd students.) use obscure metaphors (Russian oligarchs planning the deep-freeze of their noble heads?? lol lol lol) I quite like that although I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean. And you end up with what is a very weak self unreflective argument. Pointless.

    1. Jones says:

      Either that or ‘Linda’ has taken out another restraining order…lol.

    2. Pat Kane says:

      You’ve made good sense of it, Jones, thank you. I wonder if you can be as concise about the political and social implications I try (perhaps badly) to explore in my essay? I also don’t understand what’s “pseudo-intellectual” about citing people like Pinker, or Sennet, or the Nudge thinkers in the course of a piece which is about the battle for the truth of human nature in the public realm. How else am I suppose to place my argument in any kind of context? The “Russian oligarchs planning the deep-freeze of their noble heads” comes from here (see “KrioRus” http://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/sep/20/cryonics-death-insurance-policies, http://www.forbes.com/sites/katiedrummond/2012/07/19/dmitry-itskov-avatar/).

      However, we can have a good discussion about “radical” and its definitions. I say in the piece that our radical animality “releases danger as well as wonder”. Casting “play-zones” as “conservative incremental prudence” is kinda half right – if they are play-zones embedded in secure structures (protected by guardians, distant from sheer survival), which is how play develops us in our early years. The increments (or experiments) of play, safely exploring and rehearsing risk, probably do help us to be “prudent” (or at least mindful) in our less-playful lives. This is how life-long education and self-development should work – a solid structure in which we can expand ourselves, try out visions and options and new skills. What I also want to keep in mind is the way that the power of human play – as expressed through science and tech, and to an extent ideology – can turn the rehearsal space into the real space – and then radically transform, for better or ill, that real space: Crick and Francis playing with coloured balls to come up with the DNA Helix, Andre Geim fooling around with sellotape and pencils to create graphene, and of course Einstein’s playfulness in the face of his own awesome (powerful/scary) discovery.

      “We are as Gods and we might as well get good at it”, said the environmentalist Stewart Brand in the 60’s – and getting good at it, or finding a way to deploy and direct our radical natures to ends that enrich than destroy the planet, is what I’m trying to explore in this line of research/theorising.

      1. Jones says:

        OK fair play Pat, apologies for being aggressive and dismissive, and Redgauntlet is right that working classes people should not be afraid of ‘intellectualism’ But but but…..thinking of both Hume and Reid here…common sense or empiricism, both need clarity of argument.

        But i think I get the jist…

        My objection or rather caution, is that the central crux of the argument/ point is very paternalistic/ authoritarian itself and based on assumptions of false inductive logic. It assumes that we can step outside of ourselves and dispassionately watch (Gods as you say) But this is logically problematic. It comes down to Plato’s cave, the removal of the observer as object etc….it’s not what it’s like to be Plato, but what it’s like for Plato to be Plato etc..

        Ergo, the ‘play-zones’ may appear to be independent and removed but are not, they are just a regress, like looking into a mirror with a mirror behind you…on, and on. And, if you take Hume and Popper especially, has been solidly, logically and systemically argued (not proven) leads to totalitarianism. This was one of the more sophisticated arguments against the systemics of Yes. Not that independence is bad but a lack of awareness of the framework and systemics at play. It is dangerous! even if everyone is smiling and the actual circumstance bare no relation ‘ostensibly’ to other more troubling circumstances in history. There was often a glib dismissal of this, which alienated many on an instinctive level (not because they thought Britain was better..)

        And this is not without precedent, the conceptual notion of ‘Play-zones’ have been tried again and again, it is the history of dictatorship. The notion that there is a separate ‘reality’ removed from actual ‘reality’. This is the worst manifestations/ logical conclusion of marxism/ fascism/ nealiberalism. In short ideology.

        I appreciate the sentiment, that we should somehow constrain our worst impulses through a forum or separatenessm, but I fear the logic and systemics are lacking?

        Human nature cannot be anything but human nature. We cannot remove ourselves from it. The best option is not to try and manage it but to keep and ‘open society’ where things can be falsified trust (if it is possible?) and the best ‘unknown’ outcome. It cannot be practiced. It is about systemics.

        Again apologies for being a bell end earlier!

        1. Pat Kane says:

          Great! Final result: Democratic intellect 1, angry trolling 0! Great response, and interesting to see the philosophical basis of your critique.

          I know a bit of Popper & Hume (but evidently not enough). The bits I do know – maybe no surprise – back up my sense of the centrality of play to human development & progress. Popper’s fallibilistic theory of knowledge/science, hypotheses waiting to be proved less wrong, is very much in the experimental play spirit – “fail better”, etc. (Yet if a lab is a play zone, doesn’t it need good design, delimited and structured time/space/resources?) From Hume, the line I always remember is that “reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions” – which a lot of contemporary neuroscience would back up, the emotional drivers of all cognition & intent. But if we see play/creativity as one of those drivers (as Panksepp and many others do), then at least we allow plurality, diversity, experiment & openness to be part of our discussions about how our evolved nature determines our conscious behaviour. Than just “you’re all Homer Simpson’s, too inflexible to cope with your own animal natures. We must govern you!” Sociobiologically – to use EO wilson’s term – the link between play & freedom is pretty intrinsic, I’d say.

          But I do think you set a high bar in seeing the “fictive” & world-framing power of imagination/creativity/play in human experience as leading somehow inevitably to totalitarianism & dictatorship. Surely the ability to “step outside oneself” – which the multiple roles and shifting identities of the play experience gives us – is a powerful antidote to ideological certainty and completeness.

          And we obviously read the Yes movement differently in this light. What enabled its power (tho not enough power, as it turned out) was a proper diversity of opinion – around not an ideology, but a core principle of self-determination (“the best people to run Scotland are the people who live there”). Within that principle – call the aspiration to a nation-state a “play-zone”, if you like – much healthy, fruitful and diverse experimentation and prototyping can occur.

          But did – & does – the Yes movement want to say that independence makes everyday experience deeper & richer, because a new nation-state gives you a deeper and richer mode of acting and being in the systems of the world, as a Scots citizen? Yes, it did make that strong claim (using all the playful powers of arts & culture to express that). No doubt too strong for the majority – tho strong enough, as an intense memory of feeling empowered and fully alive, to carry over into the YeSNP landslide. But is a claim about a people’s right to entirely decide the course and quality of your nation an ideological claim? And if it is a constitutional claim instead, then isn’t it about wanting to set our own rules for the games we want to play?


          The “systemic” term you use here is interesting – I used it in this Scotsman piece to describe what I thought was the nature of the No vote. http://m.scotsman.com/news/pat-kane-that-s-no-way-to-win-a-referendum-1-3739217. You’ve made me realise why I didn’t just use “conservatism” (small-c). I think indy’s claim to be a better system is what could only ever win them over. But I don’t get the sense that’s how you’re using the term. I’d appreciate a clarification.

          1. Jones says:

            Sorry Pat I can’t agree. If you’re simply talking about ‘think tanks’ that explore ideas or ‘Innovation centers’ that explore science and tech, University ethics and other departments that hypothesize and contribute to understanding and development then fine. We already have that? But if what you are proposing (given a glance at the links) are forums that assume and jurisdiction/ prediction/ modelling of the future, then is frankly worrying and exactly the systemics I was talking about. (This is modernism at it’s worst, this is historicism rebooted. The point to falsification is that it necessarily can’t and should not be managed and the parameters must be constructed of entirely of it’s own rationale, and internal logical process. Not false inductive logic)

            What you’re proposing ‘presupposes an agenda’ (however benign that may be) and an outcome (just as Yes did). And that is route of all totalitarianism. Everything is excused by the future. In fact it was the very plurality of the Yes campaign that made it instinctively worrisome (for some of a more liberal bent). It promised everything to everyone at all times and any ‘rational’ argument could be endlessly deflected by saying ‘it’ll be different after’ or deflecting to the neutral ‘less projectionist’ No position as a false binary/ opposite. ‘What about British nationalism’ etc. The notion that you may not hold a fundamental position at all but fall on the no side due to a preference for open cosmopolitan, travelling in the other direction ‘beyond Britain’ was dismissed. It was Marxism becoming Leninism becoming Maoism becoming fascism etc etc. Within it’s internal logic it had ‘utopian’ systemics. (and before I get abuse hurled at me, I’m not saying that Yes people are fascists or that they are motivated by malign interests. I’m talking about hidden processes and the limits of inductive logic in the social sciences. And also, this doesn’t mean that there ‘ought not’ be an indy Scotland, but that within the bubble there was a worrying blindness to the systemics of the bubble itself.

            ‘…around not an ideology, but a core principle of self-determination.’ The only difference is semantics.

            “the best people to run Scotland are the people who live there”

            But this is a fundamental ideological underpinning! It creates a false binary, between mutli-level governance and a singular outcome.

            It should be ‘the best way to run Scotland is through the most open process.’

            …..whether that result be ‘an indy Scotland’ or ‘Scotland in the UK’ or ‘Scotland in the EU’ or ‘regional devolution in an entirely new state construct’ or…etc etc…why presuppose the certainty of any construct? Why is Scotland/ the nation, sacred when it comes to social and political and econ constructs? Why is it different to the sacredness of other ‘utopian’ constructs. It is no different ‘systemically speaking’ than presupposing the primacy of the ‘volk’ or the perhaps more accurately the ‘dictatorship of the prolatariat.’

            And the second objection is very Popperian in that what you are suggesting is Holism – Society is not the sum of all parts, we are not subject to everyone else, but individuals must be taken as entities in their own right. ‘Yes’ was very Holistic. It assumes all people to be ‘the people’ and that ‘the people’ have primacy, that there was an organic process over and above the individual, namely the nation. Scotland.

            We are both individual yet embedded with our own process.


            The notion that you can step back from reality/ society and observe society as a whole. That there is a separate frame of reference outwith the everyday process, that acts upon individuals. As I said before, this is regressive ‘Hegelian’ tosh – there is no ‘Owl of Minerva’ etc, there are no dialectics. You cannot experiment in living outside of the life you have. Therefore the safest way for all is to maintain an ‘open society’ – For example, who decides the parameters of the ‘play-zone’? Who get’s to play ‘god?’ You? Me? those who think primarily in terms of nationhood for identity? Those who don’t? Those who think of class, or gender, or….a the international society of bell ringer’ lol? How doe we decide who make the rules and whose frame of identity is most important? Isn’t the whole point that you can’t without being authoritarian? that the rules are not dictated but are arrived at not through, predictive false logic, but through accident of process!Through falisfication? How can you abstract from that?

            “….But is a claim about a people’s right to entirely decide the course and quality of your nation an ideological claim? And if it is a constitutional claim instead, then isn’t it about wanting to set our own rules for the games we want to play?”

            Who is ‘we’ and what are ‘our own rules’? Because it isn’t me and it isn’t a lot of people I know. Many aren’t down with the project! What happens to us if ‘we’ don’t want to join in? Do we get purged like so many non utopians before us?

            If the best outcome of a non holistic/ historicist process is for an independent Scotland, then that is fine. But it is wrong to presuppose it is the best or that it must be the fundamental outcome.

          2. Pat Kane says:

            Really fascinating, and a proper challenge to deeper thinking. A “Popperian critique of the Yes movement” sounds like something very much worth attempting (& reading). Again, in terms of the optimism and simulation/projection implied in play – and thus literally wired into our adaptive capacities – I’m not sure there actually CAN be such a prohibition against utopian hope in human behaviour as you suggest. And it would be hard to think of any political project which didn’t have an implicit vision of the good society in it. (Even an “open cosmopolitanism” implies a “cosmopolis”, a city on a hill/in a valley…) My favourite moderm political philosopher is Roberto Unger, who would describe himself as a “historicist” right down to the sub-atomic level (his recent work with Lee Smolin opposing the many-universes model of physics – which they oppose on “Popperian falsification” grounds!). Yet Unger’s advocacy of a “high-energy democracy” – in which experimentation in institutions and forms of society/economy are urged at every level – doesn’t seem to preclude him from affirming the Brazilian nation-state as the theatre/rule-set/playground in which those experiments can have most effect (http://today.law.harvard.edu/professor-roberto-unger-appointed-brazilian-minister-strategic-affairs/). Yes, as the FM profoundly says, only another indyref if the people want it – and I’m sure the gradualists in the SNP will know whether they’ll have to settle for one of the various constitutional options you outline, according to polls/mandates/etc. I can see that your objection to Yes/Indy is part of a wider objection to politics that is too system-transformative in its ambitions – and I wonder what kind of grand political project you would ever support, and whether (say) the establishment of human-rights-based polities and legislatures could EVER come about, if your acute sensitivity to any grand narrative of emancipation or progress ever took hold in a polity or community. Do we drop the chance of collectively mobilsing in order to “get to Denmark/Norway”, because others want to use the same collective mobilisation to get to “the dictatorship of the proletariat” – or of the market?

            But thanks for taking discussion to a next level – Popperians for No is a group I’d be delighted to joust with in a few years time!

          3. Jones says:

            Actually something needs correcting.

            ‘The best way to run Scotland is through the most open process’.

            Should actually be,

            ‘The best way to manage society is what ever construct results from the most open and continuous process, without presupposition of form or imposed singularity ‘end state’ form’

          4. Jones says:

            I wonder what Unger makes of the Republica Riograndense/ Pampa libre? haha? Is ‘Yes’ not aligned with them?

            I don’t think it’s a question of not having hope in the future or progressing, on the contrary Popper merely points out that progress and social engineering should be piecemeal and incremental, small scale as a scientist would go about testing a theory, with the minimum of presuppositions (in our case the primacy of Scotland or the nation as the most appropriate unit of societal organziation. (Neither the UK for that matter) Although it may transpire that this is thee case. I suppose this is small c conservatism in a sense, and a cosmopolitan incremental breaking down of borders and the forging of post/ extra national identities (mainly due to increased interdependence economically. Seems to be the most sensible way forward?

            And Popper, given that he was an exiled assimilated Austrian Jew influenced (in a similar way to Orwell) by his experiences during the 30s and the revolutionary, utopian certainty of both fascism and Marxism and their inherent structural failing, came up with his critique, because of humanitarian grounds. The open society is the ‘only’ way human right’s institutions can come about. One presupposes the other. e.g) you can’t have individual rights in a holistic ‘utopian’ society. It is logically inconsistent.

            But so long as we keep it democratic and open then who knows and Indy Scot may be (for a while) the best option? Although it’s hard to see that being the case rather than some form of federalism, given the 50/50 split in opinion and economic realities.

  8. KMulhern says:

    Well, that was like wading through syrup. Is it challenging when we involve ourselves with radical play. We are exposed to all kinds of new experiences and concepts, what play gives us is the space to discover and expand our ability/knowledge/proficiency.

    Reading an article like this will probably do a lot of that, we are playing, just like most people here I am no expert on any of this, and to me, this is a little like learning to play chess by challenging someone who proclaims to be a grandmaster, I am not sure what just happened but whatever I write here will likely be wrong.

    That is where play comes into it’s own, the acceptance of losing, although I am not a fan of any of the rhetoric used here, This is a call for us all to take what is written here and fail to understand it, bend it, hack it. That is where new radical ideas will come from, some will fail, this may fail, but it really doesn’t matter.

    A note to people before commenting, read -> https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2015/06/01/stepping-off-the-schadenfreude-express/ <- and if this article does nothing for you, just carry on about your day.

    1. Jones says:

      I’ve never understood why those on the left (and some on the right) unquestioningly assume ‘radical’ to be positive. Most ‘radical’ ideas (a better term is extreme), have resulted in unimaginably horrible consequences, and made bad situations worse. (Thatcherism as opposed to slower necessary social and economic reform for example).

      What’s wrong with conservative incremental prudence? Or as Pat would put it ‘play-zones’.

      I fear there is some systemic logic going awry here.

      1. Redgauntlet says:

        Jones, the word “radical” means of, or from the root, it has no politics attached to it…

        …Pat, where does Bilel Mohsni fit into your play theory?

        1. Jones says:

          In one sense yes, it does mean going to the root, but the other sense (as commonly understood in the social and political) it means:

          thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms,


          favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms. OED.

          1. Jones says:

            Haha…very good, missed the Mohsni bit!

          2. Redgauntlet says:

            Jones, I’m talking about the etymological root of the word, radical is a word with a Latin origin…probably related to a number of other words like radius and radiant…

            …Pat, indeed, he who raises his fists has entered a different terrain. Nietzche said the artist must aspire to be like “a child at play” so I understand your piece (only in Scotland do people brag about not understanding and being ignorant, because any kind of sophistication is taken as a kind of Englishness, that is the root of the matter I fear).

            As for those “working class” posters, those people who use being working class as a kind of bye-word for not aspiring to know more, a kind of “love me , love me, I’m stupid”, well, all the geniuses in world history started off as ignoramuses, remember that, and Rabbie Burns was much poorer than any of you shower of shirkers, wallowing in your ignorance like it was a badge of honour, and you all have a public library round the corner which you are paying for with your community charge, so why not fucking use it instead of bleating on?

            If you want to change Scotland, stop thinking that being working class debars you from being sophisticated thinkers and writers, because that is exactly what the class system wants you to think.

            Look at the art of somebody like James Kelman, a man who has made Glaswegian Scots into an art form and who has recorded for posterity about half of male Scotland ‘s childhood in “Kieran Smith, Boy”.

        2. Pat Kane says:

          RedGauntlet, sport/games are a very delimited zone of play – you all accept the rules, you try to bend them without breaking them (diving, superskills, pre-post-match mind games), but if you actually do thump someone in real anger then you’ve immediately moved out of the play-zone, into the power-zone. I’m going to maybe write about football in National on Saturday on these lines.

          I bet you’re glad you asked that…

          1. Jones says:

            So in a nut shell, it’s a convoluted defence of small C conservatism. Keeping to the rules of the game and keeping malign revolutionary power in check, through the agreed framework.

    2. Pat Kane says:

      KMulhern, there’s much written in the blogosphere (and sometimes on Bella) whose language I don’t agree with – but I very much appreciate your grappling. And what you’ve taken away from the piece – that to think about play is to argue for the space and time in which new ideas and skills can be entertained; and that failing to do something can be instructive, if you have (or are given) the confidence to keep trying and prototyping – are positions I would happily agree with.

      1. KMulhern says:

        There could be lot of reasons why I am not a fan of the rhetoric, not least among them probably fear of misunderstanding and failure, heh.

        Nice that you use ‘Prototype’ here as a term, most of my familiarity of this comes from the hacker/maker communities, which I would assume you are familiar with.

        I am not really sure of the purpose of the natural/unnatural dichotomy when analysing this, I generally think more along the lines of how people understand the world and what models/paradigms they use, and consequences of them. I know it may be going off topic but I would be interested in your views on Albert Hirschman’s book “The Passions and the Interests”.

  9. John says:

    Looking forward to the ‘later, more extensive inquiry’ with bated breath.

  10. Jones says:

    Pat, out of interest can you give us an example of a ‘real world’ play zone, or how one might be manifest a reconection with our ‘playful’ roots?

    Oh and how do you redefine/ reshape human nature? Isn’t it logically inconsistent as one presupposes the other?

    1. Pat Kane says:

      Festivals/carnivals are examples of ‘real-world’ adult playzones – I tried to create one about the future when I was curator of “FutureFest” (www.futurefest.org). But music, book, food, city festivals also fit here. Workshops/hackdays/makershops/city labs are examples of these – two close to home are MakLab http://www.maklab.co.uk and The Whisky Bond http://www.thewhiskybond.co.uk. See this for the worldwide movement of citylabs http://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/world-labs.

      On human nature – I think there is a politics in people trying to *redefine* human nature – this is my beef with the Nudge people (explored at length here http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/nudge-nudge-pat-kanes-big-ideas-for-busy-readers-864477.html), in that they overemphasize the importance of our cognitive biases and limits (we are all Homer Simpsons at heart), and underemphasize the importance of our cognitive surplus and creativity (the evolutionary role of play in human nature). And they do so in order to justify their (and politicians/bureaucrats’) right to manage our behaviour (or “architect our choices” to use their language), poor limited creatures that we are.

      1. Pat Kane says:

        So it’s not so much about me *redefining* human nature, as it is me arguing against a narrowing down of what counts as human nature by the behavioural economists/Nudge thinkers. To their mechanistic vision of humans responding to stimuli through the fog of their own confused thoughts, I prefer psychologies that value our intention, creativity and imagination much more – say, Human Givens, or Self-Determination Theory, or Jaak Panksepp’s Affective Neuroscience model (which has a huge role for both “Seeking” and “Play” as part of our “emotional operating system”) http://brainworldmagazine.com/dr-jaak-panksepp-the-importance-of-play/, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181986/)

        1. Jones says:

          But the psychologies you prefer, the values you prefer are just another paternalistic ‘nudge’. The only difference is the construct of the ‘nudge’. I prefer no nudge at all but an open forum as much as is humanly possible. History is littered with the crappy results of ‘grand ideas’/ nudges/ solutions.

          I’m with John Gray, but not quite so pessimistic!

      2. RichardMacKinnon says:

        “Overemphasize, underemphasise” in the same sentence? Pat I am begging you: stop it.
        Bella, please be careful, Scotland, laughs (quietly) at Tracy Emin and Damien Hurst. Don’t become. The Tartan Saatchi Brothers.

  11. Itchybiscuit says:

    “As for those “working class” posters, those people who use being working class as a kind of bye-word for not aspiring to know more, a kind of “love me , love me, I’m stupid”, well, all the geniuses in world history started off as ignoramuses, remember that, and Rabbie Burns was much poorer than any of you shower of shirkers, wallowing in your ignorance like it was a badge of honour, and you all have a public library round the corner which you are paying for with your community charge, so why not fucking use it instead of bleating on?
    If you want to change Scotland, stop thinking that being working class debars you from being sophisticated thinkers and writers, because that is exactly what the class system wants you to think.”

    Elder Park is my local library and when I pay it a visit I ensure I don’t leave my reading comprehension skills at home. When I CBA’d going to the library, I delve into my own wee library of 1,000+ books of mostly non-fiction with a huge nod towards Scottish authors like Kelman, Gray or Banks. For some light relief I’ll turn to Solzhenitsyn or Orwell. I have more than enough of their books too amongst many others. As for being working class, I am. Can’t help it. If I were a doctor, I’d be middle class. Each to their own though, eh?

    1. Redgauntlet says:

      Exactly man, fight the pòwer!!! As for being “working class and can’t help it”….the class system in Scotland stinks!!! It’s social apartheid and we are all victims in a different way. Fight it, don’t apologize for it, why would you do that? I know so many middle class people who are embarrassed about being middle class, the ones on the Left I mean. The fact of the matter is that the class divide exists and you have to resist those total categories….they create barriers…slainte!

  12. Jones says:

    Actually Pat, that’s quite and interesting question. You mentioned Unger who is very much a ‘unionist’ with regards to Brazlian territorial integrity. What is, or what would be an independent Scotland’s foreign policy on seccesionist movements. nations but not states, elsewhere? And what do you/ the SNP think the effect would this have on Scotland and her position, integration into the global community?

    It would follow that Scotland should support Pampas Libre and other movements like Chiapas, Farc, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Orange free state?, Catalonia of course, Quebec, Kabyles, Cabinas, Brazzaville, Western Sahara, Biafra, Niger Delta republic, Somaliland, Darfur, Tibet, Metebeleland, Nagorno karaback, Arakan, South Ossetia, Assam, Manipur, Kashmir, West Papua, Kurdistan of course and Palestine, Hokaido, Sarawak, Sakha republic, Siberian Republic, Tamil, Champa, South Yemen, those dodgy Flemmish nationalists that were everywhere during the Indy ref, Moravia, Bohemia, Bavaria, Prussian Republic, Aland Swedes, Basques of course, Brittany, Sardinia, Savoy, Alsace, Schleswig-Holstein ( been watching the excellent 1864), The Veneto ( older than Scotland by a good few centuries and lasted longer, Transnistra, Frisia, Silesia, Transylvania (Dracula want the right to self determination!) Crimea (let’s not go there), Tartanstan, Kallingrad Oblast/ Prussian Republic, Canary Islands,…..and that’s just a few, all with legitimate claims.

    Would Scotland support them despite the fact that it would be detrimental to Scotland in terms of international influence, trade and economics. Scotland would be frozen out of Brazil, China, Spain and other European states, Nigeria, South Africa, etc..

    1. Pat Kane says:

      Incidentally, Unger is a very strong Brazilian federalist – did a lot of work in the Rondonia state there http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roberto_Mangabeira_Unger#Current_engagement And of course, one could hardly not support a British federalism, were it not for the hamfisted attempts to implement it for about a century coming from Westminster (not an inspiring track record).

      On the issue of general self-determination, I am in favour of the process if it stays legal/non-violent/democratic/civil, no matter the size and scale of the entity involved. Tom Nairn is usually my guide in all of this http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n09/tom-nairn/make-for-the-boondocks – especially passages like this: “Is it not reasonable to think that such [national-liberation] struggles may, after the disappearance of Cold War shackles, result in attempts at new kinds of democracy, better forms of representation, closer links between societies and states? And that the smaller scale of such resolutions may be more favourable to experiments than the mastodons of earlier times? Or that armour-plated nationalism might, in these circumstances, give way to a more sustainable, outward-looking version?” I don’t know much about many of those movements/claims you cite, but I’d subject them to both my and Nairn’s test.

      1. Jones says:

        Good consistent answer. But I suspect an independent Scotland’s policy would have to be different, simply on the basis of reality and constraints. And you’re right about the ineptitude of Westminster over federalism.

        I can’t see Scotland realistically openly supporting many of the above?

        1. Jones says:

          I mean could an indy Scot government really support the Northern Leagues in Italy or Sami autonomy in Norway/ Faroe and Denmark given the closeness of ties?

          Some are no Brainers like Palestine, that can be openly supported.

          1. Pat Kane says:

            I don’t see why not. But we might have to keep reminding ourselves of our own achievements. Our indy referendum was a ‘gold-standard’ exercise because it was legitimated by the original dominant state, conducted with absolute probity and transparency, explicitly committed to a mutual constructiveness following the result, and (if it had been a Yes) would have had global credibility as an exercise in establishing a new national sovereignty. If the right to self-determination means anything, how could we not support any other region or polity who sought to establish their sovereignty on the same basis?

          2. WILL CASEY PURVIS says:


          3. WILL CASEY PURVIS says:



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