Posts Tagged ‘New Statesman’

What would Aristotle do?

Monday, July 9th, 2007

Just in case you thought it was all worthy hard slog over here at YRTK – I’ve decided to post an off-topic article I wrote on Facebook, Aristotle and friendship. Yes, I know – the world has heard too much about Facebook in recent weeks but can you honestly say you’ve seen it done like this before? And besides, I have to find some way of paying for all the time I’ve spent socially networking.

This is the full version of an article that appeared in the New Statesman (you’ll note they added a lot more about comedian Stephen Fry).

Poking Aristotle
By Heather Brooke

What would Aristotle make of Facebook? The great thinker had a lot to say about friendship that is newly relevant with the rise of social networking sites. The founding father of the scientific method, western philosophy and logic would likely have hundreds clamouring to join his Facebook friend list. Perhaps he might even rival comedian Stephen Fry’s reported 20+ friend requests an hour or be forced to hire an assistant to manage his online social networks as some busy execs do.

But Aristotle was no Lindsay Lohan, a US-starlet renowned for her mega-friend list. Not for him the craven popularity contest – though he saw its necessity – but rather the pinnacle of friendship based on moral goodness.

Friendship, as defined by Aristotle, is “mutual reciprocity of affection and purpose.” Liking someone from afar is not enough: “Being a friend of many people at once is prevented even by the factor of affection, for it is not possible for affection to be active in relation to many at once.” Hence when numbers get into the thousands we’re talking stalkers and/or admirers not friends. Barack Obama has it right – he’s changed his 91,495 Facebook ‘friends’ to ‘supporters’. Fry has decided to set up a separate friendship group for strangers who would like to be his friend.

Aristotle studied biology as a youth and brought the same techniques he used to analyse the plant kingdom to human behaviour. His findings on friendship outlined in Eudemian Ethics would make a useful FAQ for those coming to Facebook for the first time. He began his analysis with close observation, which led him to conclude there were three types of friendship: those based on utility, pleasure and goodness.

Utility is the most common basis of friendship he observed and exists between two people who are mutually useful to each other. Indeed, Aristotle thought the primary goal of political science was to make citizens useful to each other and so plant the seeds of friendship and goodwill: “While the moral friendship is more noble, utility is more necessary.” So he would have loved the way social networking sites make people useful to one another.

Tell us about the mould and rats

Monday, November 22nd, 2004

New Statesman: Observations
Monday 22nd November 2004

Observations on food by Heather Brooke

As a curry often follows a night on the beers, so a dodgy tummy often follows the next morning. Nobody knows precisely how many people suffer from food poisoning in Britain or which restaurants, takeaways and shops are the likely culprits; a secretive inspection regime leaves the public in complete ignorance about the quality of the places where they eat and shop.

Now let’s see their tax returns

Friday, November 5th, 2004

New Statesman
London: Nov 1, 2004.Vol. 17, Iss. 831; pg. 14, 1 pgs

One of my first reporting jobs, back in 1992, was covering the Washington state legislature. I was eager to make a name for myself with an investigative scoop. My editor recommended that I dig around to find out all the travel expenses for the state senators and representative: there were bound to be some politicians going on exotic junkets at public expense.

Yet there was no investigation to be done. The clerks of the House of Representatives and Senate cheerily handed over all the records, where every single expense was detailed, as mandated (so I learned) under state public disclosure rules. I even got the receipts, though these were handed over with less enthusiasm.

British MPs, now grumbling about having to disclose their expenses would do well to look at their United States counterparts and count themselves lucky. Here, politicians need reveal only their annual totals under generic categories such as “staff” or “housing allowance”.

Because the names of staff can still be kept secret, there is no way of telling whether the money is going to relatives. Members of the US Congress have to disclose not only payments to spouses but the spouses’ interests as well.

From my “investigations”, I could tell whether legislators travelled first class or economy, stayed at the Sheraton or the Quality Inn, ordered lobster and steak or pasta. Most US states require political candidates not only to file detailed public disclosure forms, but also to public their entire tax returns. Such levels of public accountability would send Westminster into collective meltdown.