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Annual essay competition

An essay competition might be a good way to get people involved.

There’s a few ways we could do this:

  1. Simply run it internally within the Philosophy Society.
  2. Sponsor a university-wide competition (one of the prizes being free membership to the club, of course).
  3. Align ourselves with a pre-existing, large scale essay competition. I found these so far: the Governor General’s Undergraduate Essay Competition(law and politics focused, open to all undergraduates in Australia, includes a cash prize); the Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay (run by the Australian Book Review, looks literature based); and the Dr Ross Ingram Memorial Prize (recently won by University of Newcastle’s Dr Mark Lock; health based). We could find an appropriate one (still looking…) and promote a satellite event of Newcastle uni students and / or club members.


My preference is for the second one – a uni wide competition run by the Philosophy Society.

We could form a question each year, possibly coinciding with a theme for the annual paperback collection.

I don’t see anything really popping up from the uni website when I search for what might already be out there. There might currently be a void.

This could potentially take off if we open it to the entire uni and select engaging topics.

We would need to decide on a prize, and any “terms and conditions” of entry.

What do you think?

Debating at the GT Bar

In my suggestion to submit a “Big Idea” to UoN Services, I mentioned that debating at the Godfrey Tanner Bar held a strong vote to be implemented by UoN Services in 2013.

I’d need to confirm, but their notice board has already announced debating as a winning candidate for implementation, although their online voting poll is still open.

I’m not sure how it would work, as far as teams and long term competition are concerned. I would confirm with UoN Services.

If you are interested, we could build a team to represent the philosophy society. There must be a few debaters amongst us…

Are you keen?

Let’s come up with a Big Idea and submit it to UoN Services

UoN Services recently launched Think BIG.

Submit ideas to UoN Services, and they’ll implement the best ones. In their own words:

Think BIG (brought to you by the U) is designed to give all of you UoN students the opportunity to make your ideas come to life! Submit your ideas today to improve your student experience. The best ideas will be funded and implemented under coordination of the U.

We could generate ideas in an open forum, then submit them and vote. This is potentially an outlet for making stuff happen, rather than just talking about it.

At the moment, the voting poll has debating at Godfrey Tanner Bar as a leading option (Ping Pong is currently winning). I encourage you all to check it out and vote (especially for the debating).

Submit articles to Opus and / or Yak

There are two student magazines published on campus, Opus and Yak.

Both publish monthly, so would not knock back decent student content. They also seem pretty flexible with the size of articles published.

If a handful of us are up for it, we could come up with something amongst us each month to submit for publication.

The other option would be to pick an important topic, and submit multiple articles at once as a feature.

We could also reprint the articles in our annual paperback collection (granted copyright issues were kept in consideration).

I haven’t spoken to either editor yet, just wanted to put the feelers out there.

Who would be keen to submit at least one short piece this year?

Publish a paperback collection of papers annually

Digital publishing is getting very affordable.

I had a look into it, and Blurb do high quality digital printing for pretty cheap.

If we had enough material collected, from events and forum posts, we could print it and each walk away with a good copy, and even put some in the library.

We could even run an essay competition once a year, and put those submissions in the collection.

If we printed 25 paperback, black and white books of up to 60 pages, they’d cost about $8 each including shipping.

Donate $5 each to a charity we choose as a group

We’ve got 72 members and counting, so even if we only throw in $2 each, it’s an ok result.

Aside from the good will produced, what I’m interested in is the decision process to settle on the charity (and even the amount).

We would all have ready-to-hand opinions about the subjects of charities. Is a group of philosophers able to settle on one that is best? Should we donate at all?

If nothing else, the ideas generated would probably help us each become clearer on our own values, and where we would direct our social efforts as individuals.

$5 * 72 = $360 (a nice round number). Heftier than a coin, but affordable for any student; and enough of a total that we’d care about the decision.

Anyone keen?

Batman: Master or Slave?

Ok, it’s the first post on a forum. How could it not be a geeky subject?

I just finished watching the latest Chris Nolan Batman effort (The Dark Knight Rises).

I’ll admit it now – I see comics as the closest thing modern day has to old school hero myths. They provide cultural meta-narratives, and not just to kids. Grant Morrison (who wrote Supergods, all about this phenomenon, and has also written for all the major superhero comics) put it like this: the creators of these characters are now dead, and other people will be writing stories about them long after the current writers are also dead. They’re bigger than that. Much like the “Homeric question”. The Iliad was written by generations of bards before anyone put stick to papyrus.

Batman has been my personal favourite of these modern myths for a long time. I’ve never bothered with the ongoing stuff with Robin and all that crap – just the quality, finite stories that, up until recently, could have their status upgraded to “graphic novel” and sold in hardcover at Borders for upwards of $50. (Eg Frank Miller and Alan Moore stories).

The key reason he’s my favourite is the sheer determination he has towards self-mastery for a noble cause. Until tonight, I had focused on the “self-mastery” side of that equation, but I’m now thinking of it in a different light.

Nietzsche saw people as belonging to one of two types of morality. Master morality and slave morality.

Master morality is that of the ancient Greeks, with an emphasis on pride of ability and personal power. Good = capable. They’re myths are full of warriors and tricksters that can make sh!t happen for themselves, sometimes at the expense of the Gods.

Slave morality is that of the Christians. Nietzsche’s idea was that common, incapable people make themselves feel better about being plebs by demonising the powerful masters. “The meek shall inherit the earth”. Good = pious; obedient; God-fearing.

Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to us for our own advancement.
Jesus gave us early warning that the boss was planning to downsize, and we should be on our best behaviour.

So, back to Batman.

He’s as feared as Achilles, for good reason. Let’s assume he’s at least black belt in an arbitrarily long list of martial arts styles; owns and can expertly use any weapon under the sun – and even invents his own, better weapons (in the first Nolan film, he even makes his own bat-ninja-stars by hand). And, in his spare time, can continue to amass a fortune to pay for it all, and still be philanthropic with big chunks of cash.

Some of the comics develop his self-mastery even further, with him learning Buddhist meditation techniques to prepare for death and create an alternate personality as a contingency in case he was ever under psychological attack. (Did I mention he was awesome?)

Clearly a master, in Nietzsche’s books, right?

BUT – and this is what I realised tonight – he could also be seen as a slave. A slave to a traumatic childhood experience, a slave to some moral ideal that he can break people’s bones, but not use guns or kill people that are about as evil as Hitler. A slave to an ideal that prevents him from being in love and having a family. A slave to maintaining an alter ego, so he doesn’t even get any credit.

Achilles would not be cool with wearing a mask.

So which one is he? Or is there some hybrid thing going on?

It doesn’t seem as black and white as Nietzsche would have us believe.