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Guest Interview: Stephen Riley

Well I am pleased to be bringing you the first guest interview for Xenos, from an old and good friend of mine Steve. Enjoy, and let us know what you think.

[My questions are in italics]

Hi Steve, how you doing?
Just fine and dandy JR. Happy New Year.

How do you know Jonathan?
We were in a student band together in Lancaster. Called Glass Half Full, we were a pretty funky outfit with some great songs and C-razy instrumental workouts. Not quite as tight as the Berlin Philharmonic, not quite as cool and the Jimi Hendrix, we always guaranteed a good time and positive vibes.

How would you describe the essence of your existence in less than ten words?
All being is becoming, unfortunately without a goal or purpose.

What do you do for a living?
I’m a Senior Lecturer in Law. I lecture and write on legal philosophy.

How would you describe your religious/spiritual/political/worldview convictions?
Contradictory.

On the one hand, I try to keep utopia in mind. There are many reasons why we don’t have a perfect world, some necessary (death) some contingent (scarcity / disorganization). Nonetheless utopia is the only real yardstick for measuring politics and history and the best stick for beating people with when they dismiss greed and inertia as ‘human nature’.

On the other hand, I’m reluctant to think that there is anything ‘necessary’ or ‘obvious’ in ethics and morality. In other words, in many cases you can’t and won’t argue people into acting in a more ethical way, they have to learn to ‘see it’ themselves, which has very little to do with philosophical arguments.

Make of that what you will!

What are the most significant ways in which your studies have changed the way you view the world?
My studies have made me confident to trust my own thinking and judgement. Admittedly, I generally trust my thinking and judgement to tell me what’s wrong with things rather than what’s right with them, but I’m resigned to the fact that that’s as close to Enlightenment as I’m going to get.

If there was one book you could get everyone to read what would it be?
Plato’s Republic. Every conclusion is wrong: justice is not internal harmony / the perfect state is not one run by mathematician-philosophers / art is not so dangerous that it has to be controlled by the state. Nonetheless it is simultaneously a beautiful utopian vision and the most ambitious attempt ever to unify knowledge, ethics and psychology. One for megalomaniacs I think.

If there was one piece of music you could get everyone to sit down and listen to what would it be?
This is possibly the most difficult question of the lot.

I can and do make people listen to the opening of Mozart’s Requiem (and ruin it for them) by pointing out why it is so good, i.e. because the music (particularly the dynamics, when they’re done right) is heart wrenching in itself but, at the same time, it’s also a dialogue between Man and God.

However, I think when push comes to shove the soul of this man can be found in the Fugue from JS Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E Minor (BWV 548). I like extreme music and this is it: it’s actually so intense that the only way to describe it is hardcore. Listen to it unzip from one note to full frontal attack. Obscenely good.

Name your three biggest heroes and a sentence why.
Socrates: the importance of Socrates lies in the fact that there is something valuable in having a completely negative philosophy. We need people who make it their business to lay into accepted ideas and received notions. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have an all-encompassing, many-coloured theory, to replace them with.

Wittgenstein: for the same reasons as Socrates.

Frank Zappa: for similar reasons again. He wasn’t afraid of taking the piss out of anyone or anything. He also combined biting satire with being the second best electric guitarist to have walked the planet. That’s quite a combination.

Thanks for your time :)
No Johann Sebastian Robinson: thank you.

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