Nevertheless, I now live in a much less idealistic period of my life. When I was younger, I was a good deal more fanatical about certain topics and also a good deal more right wing and conservative. As I have grown in experience and knowledge, I have naturally modified and enhanced many of my views - and indeed I have also thrown away a good bit of the crap I used to spout. As one memorable comment from a friend put it, I am a lot less uptight nowadays and much more bearable to be around!
However, living in more realistic times also brings with it a realisation that one simply cannot offer up ones opinions in whichever form and expect everyone to react appropriately. The contents of this page have caused some people who I believe thought highly of me to completely disavow me after reading it - mainly because of the articles about illegal drugs. While being forthright at university works better because everyone who knew me was under thirty (and hence a lot more liberal), working life automatically brings with it a need for a more subtle approach. The reality of my life now necessitates a more diplomatic approach. Certainly, a lot of employers simply refuse point-blank to have anything to do with a self-confessed supporter of complete drug legalisation and while I used to say "to hell with all of them", nowadays I have to be more flexible.
Nevertheless, I never want to hide my convictions nor pretend to be someone I am not. I did not come to edit this page with a view to censorship but merely to rework existing content to be less offensive to certain people. I hope that I have achieved that.
Niall's book list
First off, I'd like to start with my recommended reading list which is taken from the library I built during 2001. This library arose from my time in Madrid in Spain where I knew almost nobody and had just graduated from university. Upon entering university, I took the traditional view that those years were for self-improvement and maturation rather than the modern view of academic success. Hence I spent as much time as I could going to parties, being politically active and having long discussions into the night. For me, university is about encountering new ideas whereas the rest of your life is investigating and learning those new ideas. In other words, university is merely the source for the learning you will spend the rest of your life performing. To that end, I formed a book list of the ideas I wanted to know more about, and began early 2001. From those readings, I have summarised the following recommendations:
- Anything by Fritjof Capra
The two I have are The Web of Life and his original which started him off internationally The Tao of Physics (I have others by him on my future "to read" list). What I really really like about his books are that they represent what I think all of society will come to commonly accept and hold in the future. Each book tackles an application of his central philosophy to a particular subject eg; The Web of Life is about biology, Guide to Ecoliteracy is about education and Steering Business Toward Sustainability is about business and so on. His central philosophy, which I believe will become the future philosophy of the whole planet until it gets displaced by something better, is essentially a unification of traditional western mechanism with traditional eastern holism. Europe, the United States, Australia, much of South America, Russia and the Middle East follow the Judeo-Christian tradition of approaching problems with a subdivide into simpler components and solve each of them to solve the overall problem. India, Asia, Japan and much of the Far East use a completely different approach which is best described as approaching problems by considering the whole unit as a system of interconnecting and interdependent items. This fundamental difference is also reflected in religious terms - despite traditional problems between Christians, Jews and Muslims, they in fact all think very similarly (and of course all believe in the same fundamental holy scripture) whereas in the east, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Zen also all think very similarly (and of course all believe in the same fundamental indivisibility of anything at all).
Now my wording of the above has failed to make the absolute opposite nature of these two philosophies clear (for that, please read the books). However, as evidenced by the fringes of western scientific advancement, nature does not work mechanistically except when you are talking about large groups of energy all doing the same thing. In fact, fundamentally, all of nature works in a form much more like the eastern tradition. What Capra does in all his books is to unify these two methods to derive what he (and I) feel is an overall improved approach to many problems. Too often in western societies, we tend to view problems are isolatable individual things that can be solved by considering them exclusively. However, a notable change has been occurring over the last few decades as more and more systemic thinking has been introduced ie; not just the problem and its solution but how both the problem and the proposed solution will interact and effect other processes around them. This new trend in western thought has its greatest advocates in continental Europe, and I believe that they hold the foreseeable future. As western and eastern traditions continue to unite, it shall be very interesting to see what will happen: Capra's books I believe give one of the best early-bird views available.
- The History of Western Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell
Well this book is one of the most famous of the past century, and quite rightly so. One cannot understand ones culture without knowing its history, and this book will certainly get you off to an excellent start. From the origins of formalised western thought in Greece right up through the Dark Ages to the second world war, Russell takes you through every important advance which has affected modern thought and more importantly, links it all together to show how one thread led to another very distinct thread - for example how the liberal trend led to both communism and capitalism at the same time.
My only quibble would be that it is excellent up until the second world war (and has some very good points to make about both communism and nationalism which hold equally true today). Of course, it can't cover the last fifty years or so and that is a great shame. Sartre has had a big influence in Europe especially and the increasing integration of eastern philosophies since the early 1960's has already played a big role which I feel will surely greatly increase in the years ahead. Indeed, the European Union would not exist had not Europeans thought outside the box - and I am sure this trend will continue.
- Hilgard's Introduction to Psychology, by Atkinson et al.
This is a first year text book for many psychology degrees which I have found to be very approachable and informative just as general reading. I liked the way it broadly scopes out all the areas of psychology and how they interrelate. I also liked how very up to date it is (which has been this particular book's traditional strength) and how it shows that there are many opinions about the same topic with little essays from the advocates of each side.
Downsides include a very American way of looking at everything. Well okay, it is an American book and a very liberal American book at that, but what is liberal to an American is conservative to a European and many times during the book I kept thinking "what utter crap that is" regarding certain "truths" held as inviable by American society. Another downside was that it is very theory based with much less on practical applications, but then it is a first year text book. Me personally, I want a very practical applying of methods of psychoanalysis instruction manual, but there appears to not be one! Nevertheless, if you want to learn a basic overview of psychology, this is a good place to start.
- Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, by R. H. Tawney
My father informs me that this book was spoon-fed to everyone who went to his school in the 1950's and furthermore it had been so for decades previously. I found it to be a very interesting study of exactly why European culture emerged from the Dark Ages to become world superpower which of course is still in progress - the American culture is fundamentally a European one. Certainly, having witnessed the collapse of the Roman empire and the resulting incursions of Islam and Mongolians into Western Europe, it is very hard to see how we weren't assimilated into some other new dominant culture. In fact, we somehow struggled through, and a large part of that success was due to two things: our religion and our system of economics, capitalism.
Against this book is that it is seriously not easy reading, or at least I didn't find it so. Some books I can pick up and read easily, but this one required serious funnelling of effort to complete it. Certainly worthwhile though.
- World Orders, Old and New, by Noam Chomsky
Chomsky is much better known for his research into human speech and you'll find him mentioned in Hilgard's Introduction to Psychology. However, he also possesses a ranting streak which you'll find nicely expressed in this book, among others. Essentially he feels western capitalistic society and culture is one of an oligarchy which spends its time repressing and manipulating others in order to increase both its power and wealth like any good oligarchy. To this end, this book among others of his delve into the sordid details of how the populace is routinely deceived and fed garbage in order to advance certain aims. The central plank of this particular book is how the Cold War was managed to provide convenient mass control and now with its end other forms of convenient mass control (such as threats of terrorism and illegal drugs to replace the red menace, eg; "the war on terrorism" or "the war on drugs" etc) have been employed to continue the obfuscation of the real Western agenda - that of domination, control and stripping of resources from poor countries in order to maintain the economic imbalance between first and third worlds. A particular focus is upon the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as American hegemony of the world's major oil reserves.
What I liked about this book is that it summarises in one place what you will find tucked away in page 20 European newspaper articles and occasionally in heavyweight television or radio documentaries. In fact, I had come across this book as a result of reading various articles on www.cryptome.org, a site I recommend to anyone wanting to find out things the mainstream press can't or won't print.
At the time when I first began reading material like this, I was really shocked because the mainstream press never report how we use our military, economic and cultural dominance to force others to do what we want - or at least, they very certainly do not make this stuff front page headlines. It also greatly annoyed me how the vast majority of people in society have no idea what our governments get up to internationally in our name. But then, the more history I learned the more I realised how the situation today is identical to how it has always been for the last 2000 years at least. Just because people 1000 years ago didn't have television nor newspapers doesn't affect that most people really prefer not to think about why we have such variety of food in our shops, why millions of immigrants flood into our countries nor why extremists spend a lot of their time planning outrages on America. They prefer to believe a simple story of good vs. evil or have vs. have not or whatever. In the end, I don't agree with Chomsky that we are being lied to and manipulated - the evidence is there, in the mainstream, to anyone who thinks through the consistency of what they hear. The reality, in fact, is that the vast majority of people prefer to view the world in rose-tinted comfortable terms and that even if you did print front page headlines about these problems and their real causes, most people would switch off and refuse to accept their culpability in the mass repression and death of millions of others every year in order to ensure we live in warm cheap homes with plenty of cheap healthy food.
As throughout all of history, there are an educated elite who know the real story and the rest who believe what they want to (for example, read George Orwell's books about the British Empire, see below). For those who know the uncomfortable and unpalatable truth, there is an increasing trend trying to change this system (for example, the anti-globalisation movement is mostly against the excesses of capitalism now they no longer exploit sections within our countries, instead they exploit just other countries) and certainly with the internet, there is now a historically unparalleled ease of acquisition of information which can only bode well for the future. Also, of course, mass information delivery is spreading to third countries and en mass, they are beginning to realise how much they are being taken advantage of, and quite rightly they aren't happy with it. Hence I believe the situation will right itself in the end, especially as more immigrants arrive by the day.
While this book summarises and cross-references the situation, there is nothing in it you couldn't find on the internet with a bit of looking. Furthermore, it is not a timeless book like the four previously in that in twenty years, most of its content will be useless except as historical detail. Nevertheless, despite me again having to really put in effort to read all of it (again, wasn't an easy flowing read for me), it puts you in a good reference point for the happenings of geopolitics today.
- Fear And Loathing books, by Hunter S. Thompson
The two in particular are Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1973 and Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas, but there are quite a few more. The latter is famous as one of the alternative culture books of the past century and for those of you who don't know, it about Thompson when he went to take lots and lots of illegal drugs during coverage of a bike race in Las Vegas. The descriptions of the effects and what happens to people on strong hallucinogens is excellent - unlike most authors of books featuring drugs, they have never actually tried them themselves sufficiently and hence their descriptions are full of inconsistencies and inaccuracies. This is not a problem in the Las Vegas book.
The on the campaign trail book is about Thompson covering Nixon's re-election as president. It delves into the particularly unpleasant internals of how democracy really works, between the fakery, back-stabbing, outright lies and duplicity of the elective process. It is a much more substantive book than in Las Vegas, and also drug use is merely a sideline to his real expose of the US democratic process. Certainly, after reading this book, the infamous Gore/Bush election will become a lot clearer and logical, and I believe probably anywhere there is competition for power these sorts of unprincipled antics will occur.
Both books read extremely well and although on the campaign trail book starts slowly, soon you will be well involved. Unlike traditional fiction, these books are both strongly based in reality plus they are seriously thought-provoking. A definite recommendation.
- Books by George Orwell
I originally bought a compendium book of Orwell's novels because it was cheaper than buying 1984 and Animal Farm separately. I am very glad that I did, because it came with a number of other equally excellent novels. 1984 and Animal Farm are two of the most influential books this past century in the English language, and quite rightly so. The first is about a totalitarian state based on the use of improved technology to better control and dominate the population. The second is about how popular revolutions can so easily be corrupted into a new worse form of government that they replaced (eg; the Russian revolution). 1984 in particular is excellent, especially given that he wrote it during the last years of the second world war at a time when most of its vision would not be possible for another forty years. This is especially clear when compared against Aldous Huxley's Brave New World for example, which has aged much worse than 1984.
Other notable novels include Burmese Days (about the machinations within the British Empire), Coming Up for Air (excellent book about the effects of the end of the British Empire after Queen Victoria's death on the average Englishman, something which at when he wrote it no one agreed that the empire was over) and A Clergyman's Daughter (about how individual perceptions of society and one's perceived view of how society views them can greatly impinge upon the individual's happiness ie; how the influence of mass opinion on individualism is completely controlled by the individual). I personally find Orwell very easy to read, so each of his books were a treat whilst providing a great deal of material for thought about past and modern human issues.
- Books by Joseph Conrad
I personally find Conrad very hard to read - his style of writing seriously interferes with my ability to pick it up fluidly. However, this said, he has a lot of good stuff in his books - I have read only Heart of Darkness and The Secret Agent and of these two, the former is especially good. I strongly suggest if you ever read Heart of Darkness, you do so all in one go - as in, in one sitting. The effect of those last five pages if you do it all in one sitting is incredible. I remember not being able to sleep half the night, tossing and turning as I realised the innate darkness present in all mankind - suddenly, all those acts of despicable evil throughout the last century became crystal clear and almost understandable in their raw, undigested form. If I still read it all at once, I get a similar though less marked effect - but doing it in pieces just doesn't work at all. It's like David Lynch's Mulholland Drive which is a weird movie - to fully appreciate it, you must watch it all from start to finish at once.
- Books by J.G. Ballard
The one I have is Super-Cannes, although I have read others by him (one about children murdering their parents, another about a whole pile of people trapped in a high-rise). Ballard's typical theme is the dehumanising effect of technology, although Super-Cannes (one of his most recent) is much more about the obscuring of human nature by modern conventions (it implies technology and modern society repress more the beast within us all, hence it escapes Freudian style all the more violently in other forms). I don't agree with 90% of what Ballard ever says, but it's still very useful as an exercise in thought. Certainly, a lot of people are scared stiff of technology, and a lot of their fears are based (as usual) on utter ignorance. Ballard's books will give you plenty of material to think about.
- Other notable mentions
Other books which I don't have but which stand out in memory are The Beach by Alex Garland (about some western kids who seek nirvana in Thailand only to find the exposure of the darkness that pervades every human heart and mind), Flash Gordon by unknown because I lost the book (about Flash Gordon yes, but what surprised me a lot was how heavyweight it was, with lots of philosophical questions combined with more dark hearts of both humans and androids, and certainly anything other than the saccharin-sweet image of Flash Gordon typically portrayed) and the Harry Potter series (my favourite is the third with the Death-Eaters).
Most people think that I'm mad for writing some of the stuff I do publicly on this website. They say that I should keep all these personal details private - don't wash dirty linen in public as the old adage goes. Well me, I suppose I'm just a little bit strange, but I have lots of private and personal reasons to make much of what goes on inside my head and inside my life public. Some may have a problem with it and may discriminate against me for doing so - I certainly know I have lost scholarships, money and work because of being open about who I am, what I think and what I do.
Because of this, if you are easily offended or would prefer just not to know, I suggest you hit the back button on your web browser. Remember that like any traditional diary, it is something which contains both intimate life detail and the random going ons inside anyone's head. What I may speak of one day I may speak the complete opposite on another. It depends what I'm thinking, extreme thoughts included.
As I mentioned above, I have a policy of never retroactively changing old diary entries. There are quite a few entries I'd really prefer not to be public anymore, but that for me is half the reason to keep them public. Certainly there is plenty of cringeworthy material, and if you feel offended by an item remember that I can hold one view four years ago which has since changed. On the other hand, if it's a view spouted in a recent entry, please feel free to send me an email.
- Niall gets angry with the world and decides to change it! (May 1998)
- Niall's theory of cainers (May 1998) (a cainer is a person who regularly smokes cannabis BTW)
- Niall's thoughts on why cannabis should be legalised (May 1998)
- Niall's view of future social evolution (May 1998)
- Niall's theory of the creation of relevents and subsequent social evolution (part 2) (May 1998) (my term for something similar to mystics or true philosophers if you're familiar with Plato - see Phaedo and Republic by him for further details)
- Niall's theory of women (June 1998) (this has generated more email than all other theories of mine together to date!)
- Niall contemplates the difference between existing and living (July 1998)
- Proposal of Niall's theory of relationships (with why I should bother here). Formalised version of the same here. (July 1998)
- Niall gets busted for possessing cannabis (August 1998)
- Niall compares his vision of society against that of Plato's (August 1998)
- Niall takes LSD (August 1998)
- Elli (the girlfriend of the time) makes an entry (October 1998)
- Niall's attempt at defining love (December 1998)
- Niall think of the death of the Acorn dream (November 1998)
- Niall warns of big nasty government authorities (January 1999)
- Niall becomes twenty-one years old and features same-time entries from his diary in years gone by (January 1999)
- To be completed after I eat some food ...