Informal interview with Merlin in the woods

On a sunny April afternoon Albion walked and talked with Merlin in the forest, asking him questions about himself. These are the questions and answers.merlin forest 075

1. What do you call your philosophy or approach to life?
I don’t call it. It’s just what comes natural. Why should that need a name? It’s me. If you see me you see this philosophy. If I see you I see your philosophy. Names just confuse things. Like if you go around saying you’re Christian when your name isn’t ‘Christian’ (Chris) then I don’t know whether I’m talking to you or your minister. Or some guy who wrote a bit of the Bible. Or Aquinas, Augustine, Bill of Ockam and so on. Then if you say atheist I don’t know whether I’m talking to a GCSE science textbook or a person. Of course it all helps me to work out who you are. I’m not saying your philosophy or mine has to be entirely separate from these things. But at the end of the day, you will never be quite the same as them. You will always be you. So why pretend otherwise?

2. What are your main tenets?
There’s only one view I can see myself holding till the end of my days. It’s a simple one, so people usually get angry at that. Doesn’t sound like it solves anything but when I apply it to other people it tells a lot. And I can’t not apply it to me. Just that people will always seek the best. Always. That’s it. So, forget about right and wrong as broader ideals for a moment and just think of right as what you actually do or want to do and wrong as what you don’t. You will never do wrong. Except retrospectively you can decide something you did in your past is abhorrent to your future (now present) self, but who cares? The past tends to stay where it is: in the past. It’s happened. Learn from it and move on.
Apart from that I believe everyone is completely free. Well, completely free to do whatever is within their physical and mental means. So I don’t believe in ‘rights’ as moral precepts, only as laws. We don’t have a right to anything. No-one owns anyone else. We’re all just free. And if, panicking with all that freedom and lack of direction, we choose to set up societies with laws and tell ourselves that the laws aren’t woefully inefficient and probably morally flawed…well, then that’s what we do. Freedom to do good and freedom to do bad. It’s just the way things are. All you can do is try to enact more good than bad. On that scale, it makes sense that one group of people, afraid of another group or three, should want some overarching authority to make sure nothing really bad happens. Like Hobbes says. But then they’re forgetting that the overarching authority can still do some fairly bad things. Better just to get to know the people you’re afraid of and start being friends. Though obviously that’s a lot harder than it sounds.
I also have a child’s belief in love.

3. Why do you feel that mainstream education is inadequate?
I realised that I’d spent all of my life being taught to live someone else’s. Everyone and everything was asking “so what are you going to do, what are you going to be?” and I just ended up thinking…can’t I be myself?
University was supposed to change all that and start letting you – the student – explore with greater independence and more depth. I was always told “this essay is a bit too long” or “this isn’t quite right” followed by “you’ll get the sort of thing you’re after at A-level”. And whenever I got there it’d be gone. At A-level “you want to be doing a degree” and then, at uni, I get the horrifying words “what you need is postgrad”. Fuck it. I’m not wading through shit to reach the bit that smells slightly less, only to find it always smells worse. But what uni did give me was that final topping on the cake of me: deciding to leave, I had enough of a sense that I could survive outside of a system which had schooled me for pretty much my entire life. I knew enough about my own beliefs, at last, to be able to follow them where they’re taking me, and not just moan at everyone that I’m unsatisfied and unfulfilled.
A big part in the final push out though was learning about anarchism, and then stumbling across a bloke called Ivan Illich – initially just a name the brilliant head of Econ had come across whilst chatting development [you know, MEDCs, LEDCs, neo-colonialism, three worlds, all that good stuff]. I was convinced that there was something wrong with university, and school generally. Something it was utterly failing to provide, because it was failing me. And, as a minimum, all the people who never made it there. Then I find that Illich (not Russian btw) had written a book called “Deschooling Society” so I bought a copy from Foyles. Whilst it’s a bit fire and brimstone in places, the essential content of that book saved or changed or inspired me. It was starting to give voice to my angers and fears, to specify the problems I was only dancing around, and to propose at least some workable solutions. But then uni had to go. There was no real turning back after reading and believing and knowing that it was all wrong. I don’t want to become a big lawyer, banker, civil servant, doctor – the noble money-making professions – so intensive schooling is no-where near for me. Not by a long shot. Round about 14 years of servitude was more than enough. Too much in fact.merlin forest 044

4. What do you call your style?
My own.
I draw from a lot of good sources though. Some very obvious influences are two TV series: Deadwood, a Western about a frontier town set in the late 19th century; and Peaky Blinders, about a Birmingham razor gang. But these are both just expressing a love I’ve developed of the Geovictwardian Era in fashion. By that I mean the Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian styles, and the current movement of Geovictwardianism that moulds, regenerates and recreates all three in one lifestyle. The only thing that stops me from going full Geovictwardian is what I’ll call Ryan Gosling. Everything he wears in film. That’s my contemporary preference. Also a few noteables roundabout. I pick up little things like Cool Hand Luke’s bottle opener necklace. Or un-jewellery I made out of a pair of glasses I drunkenly chucked into the road and rediscovered in bits next morning. They seem to say a lot to those willing to look.

5. How are you different to the Libertarians, Fabians, general anarchists?
I feel a great affinity for anarchism in what feels like the proper sense: that is, having no single influence. Learning from everything, being able to accept and understand everything, yet still give some definition, love and security to your life. It’s like the primordial soup idea, only improved. Soup Mark II. It lets you examine everything possible, literally everything, when you’re making a decision and then create a new world all of your own. I don’t want to regurgitate someone else’s answers and claim that’s everything. If I’m asked a question I want my answer to be current. I want it to be tailored back to the question, fresh. I don’t want it to be recited. I don’t want it to mostly answer this but fully answer something else. Which is why at the end of the day I don’t really even want to call myself an anarchist. Labelling your beliefs as something solid immediately gives them a death date, after which they’ll slowly rot, get infected by bacteria, and become something else vaguely similar. Communism is a good example of that: it didn’t have the inherent flexibility and self-confidence to survive that people do. Instead, it was hijacked by authoritarians and transformed into a vision of Hell. I could never create something like that. I can only have my beliefs, try to explain them, and hope that others learn something beneficial from them.
Which, incidentally, is why I like the UK Constitution a lot more than most others. It’s unashamedly fluid. Difficult to work out, difficult to get hold of, but always capable of moving. It can’t be chiselled from a David into a gargoyle, but it can form both of their shapes and lose them again. Maybe it doesn’t seem as fantastic as all that, but that is at its heart: the statement that the people are sovereign and the UK government can only do what they allow, not what the Constitution says is allowed. Here, nothing is higher than the people. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be bribed, scammed, blagged and hypnotised into submission.
merlin forest 030
6. What music do you like? Favourite bands?
I’m one of those arseholes who just say “I have an eclectic taste in music”. In other words, I like all sorts. I’m also one of the arseholes who say everything is or can be art. My favourites for general listening tend to vary depending on time of day and mood. Daytime is usually White Stripes and Black Keys. Also Ska mixes, maybe a bit of Ian Dury. Then as evening gets closer I’ll normally shift to Nirvana, the Eels, Neighbourhood. Happy music is Vampire Weekend, Of Monsters and Men and Alt-J. Sad music is the Echo Friendly, maybe Royal Blood, then Nirvana: Bleach and In Utero on repeat.
Right now I’m just getting into Joy Division and the Smiths. And having a part-time affair with the Modern Lovers.
I guess my preferences fit three ways: garage; romantic crap; and dark. As you’d probably expect. And they all tend to blur together. With occasional room for the happy-go-lucky somewhere under “romantic crap”. Music expresses large parts of my humanity in a better way than words alone sometimes can. So I love music, all of it.

7. What do you see as the purpose of life?
Just to do your best really. What do you think is the purpose of life? Because to be honest I’m not sure. I’m sure that there is one, and it relates to learning a lot and achieving, making, creating. Creating seems pretty important. And not only babies. My purpose is probably expressed in my everyday desires. To think good thoughts and express them in words readers and listeners will understand. [I think that might be a paraphrase of Sylvia Plath.] To love, with all my heart. To spend some time in the sun when it’s there. To keep pretty happy. To learn something new. To find out “why?”
Anything as grand as a purpose to it all, won’t be human. Cynics will say there isn’t one. I suspect it’s out there where consciousness lives, or maybe further than that. I don’t know. Sometimes it’s enough just to have it shine through in everything you do. Not in a religious way as such, but just seeing that we make our own purposes and seem to like doing it.

8. Do you dress to please others or to please yourself?
Both. I don’t think they can be separated. Like being selfish or selfless: there’s no such thing. No-one cares nothing for others. No-one cares nothing for themselves. Everything called selfish still requires an understanding of and input from others, and is always trying to impress them in some way. Everything we call selfless still makes the doo-gooder feel happy or fulfilled in their own semi-private world. Selfishness and selflessness, they’re just lies and propaganda put out to make us hate each other.
merlin forest 013
9. What is the role of women?
Whatever they want it to be. Same with men. We’re all people. They’re no more different than another man who looks different to me. He’ll still have many small but apparent differences in how he experiences the world to how I experience it, and still many large but subtle similarities. Each person lives a different and similar life like that.
If you want to ask what role does our society currently have for women? I’d say it has them being oversexualised and angry. Like they’ve just left uni at 20, they haven’t finished a degree, and they’re not as sure on their feet anymore, now that they’re standing in their own new world. I can empathise with that.

10. Where did you buy the clothes you are wearing today?
Boots were from Jones the Bootmaker, branches everywhere. Maybe in sale, maybe a present. Henley shirt from American Apparel. Waistcoat from Marks, and a gift from my Granny. Black Jeans from Next. Belt I don’t even know having had it so long. Probably Marks. Skull and crossbones with red roses socks my father gave to me. Jacket from Marks. Specs from Specsavers. Cap from Thomas Farthing where I used to work. Wouldn’t know where else to find one this big. Pocket watch and chain (cheap as chips) from Spitalfields Market. Cane loaned from an old school teacher. I think that’s everything. The cheeky grin I wear appeared at Christmas like magic.
Sometimes you want stuff from a shop that has a story. Or you want an item of clothing that has a story, so you buy it from a vintage shop or inherit it. Sometimes, you just buy cheap shit that looks good and give it your own story.

11. Are you in a relationship at the moment?
Like I said I have a child’s view of love. I’m probably more in a relationship with that than anything else. But no. I just spend a lot of time thinking about my last girlfriend and the rest prowling on 4chan like any decent freak would. Or reading sad poetry and watching The Notebook over and over again. I might be falling in love with Dylan Thomas but it’s hard to tell. Too early. Give it a few months and if you hear someone tried to find and exhume his last remains you’ll know who to blame.

12. What are your plans for your philosophy?
I want to develop it. I want to find a few important things like a comprehensive critique of the school system and a decent plan for inverting it. Not making people stupid but making them much better able, and much freer to learn on their own. Also the big questions that bother me. Purpose. Death. Other dimensions. I think I’ll need to learn a lot of physics at some point, but maybe that’ll be in my thirties if I make it that far.
You know what, I’m actually thinking we need a proper Students’ Union. All the ones we have now aren’t Unions, they’re mini versions of Westminster: a few people talk shit and in return for having an audience they help everyone to get pissed from time to time.
I want a proper Students’ Union. Open to people of all ages. An entity that just defends our freedom to learn as much as possible within the society we have. This is the sort of thing that could actually replace schools. That’s what the workers’ unions were supposed to do, if they ever managed to get efficient enough, which they didn’t: have the management join them and run the whole operation super-productive. A grand idea to be sure.

13. Where can your ideas be read?
I have a blog which really doesn’t get enough attention from me. It’s thesitethatjackbuilt.org a play on the Political House that Jack Built in an old protest poem/song. I read it as part of the British History module of my degree. The sort of thing I wanted to read but supposedly didn’t need to. Not that anyone would complain at my extra reading as long as work made it in on time. Which it didn’t.

14. Where will your next gathering of like minds be held?
A Church. Because, hey, they’re massively underrated as gathering spaces today. The old moth-eaten ghosts mumbling carols at a wild-eyed young preacher panicking down from near the pulpit. Don’t always seem that appealing. I’m going to find one that’ll hire or let me hang around in exchange for something. As long as it’s not my eternal soul I probably don’t mind [I’m a great one for parsimony, even trying to encourage it in others]. Details will be on the blog, and it’ll be open to all on the day.
merlin forest 004
15. How do you like the tag “anarcho-dandyist”?
It’s mighty fine. I mean I really just want to say “hey, I’m Merlin” and leave it at that, but sure tags can help to express a bit more to people in the first minute you have with them. The other one I like is rakeosoph. It’s a bit of a mouthful and a bit weird. Less cumbersome than philosophical rake though. That’s another thing I find useful: creating new words that force people to think a bit more about what you’re saying. Or just laugh. Either way is good. I’m not going to complain about giggles.
Anarcho-dandyist is a bit like Geovictwardian to me. It says something beautiful and fantastic about your chosen lifestyle, at least in terms of clothing and hair. Then hopefully more depending on what sort of folk you are. I mean who wouldn’t secretly want to be their own anarcho-dandyist, if just for a little while?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Informal interview with Merlin in the woods

  1. Reblogged this on The Site That Jack Built and commented:
    Me’ Dad interviewed me.

    Mostly unedited responses.

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