Order Out of Chaos: the Rule of Three


As I said, the model can’t be applied holistically; the implementation must be sequential: that is, each component is implemented to address specific issues as they arise, be they metaphysical, spiritual or ethical. The components don’t fit together organically because we live in a post-synthetic age[1], where our thinking about life is informed more by empirical knowledge than by pure, internally consistent, reasoning. This is certainly the basis of my approach which (as I indicated in the personal anecdotes) has been shaped by the loss of my younger self’s religion-based world view and by subsequent attempts to understand life by examining the facts of my existence.

One of the characteristics of the post-synthetic era is a sense of flux and fragmentation

This is probably a good point to acknowledge one of the (no doubt many) shortcomings of my approach. It is, at its core, emotional rather than rational because it’s a response to a specific event—an existential crisis in my youth. No, I’m not playing the victim card; it’s a fact and I need to put it out there as a matter of full disclosure.

That said, I’m hardly alone. One of the characteristics of the post-synthetic era is a sense of flux and fragmentation. That has a basis in historical and cultural fact: it’s there in the modernist movement (think T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”, Joyce’s “Ulysses”, Woolf’s stream of consciousness etc.) and in our own post-modernist, post-fact, post-truth, post-West, culturally relativist era. The coherence in the pluralistic model lies, perhaps paradoxically, in acknowledging its incoherence, arguing that the incoherence is consistent with the flavour of contemporary life, understanding the implications, and applying that understanding systematically in the way we think.


Under the brown fog of a winter dawn….

The way I do this is through the “Rule of Three”, which is my way of rationalising the incoherence of daily life into something manageable. It’s based on the idea that experience breaks down into three categories—change, continuity and crisis—and that the idea applies as much to general history as it does to individual lives. The model is consistent with this, as follows: change corresponds to the active, socially conscientious lives lived by my father’s side of the family, which I wish to emulate (ethics); continuity corresponds to the cultural affiliation to religion and tradition (“spiritual epistemology”) and crisis corresponds to the alienation that I’m trying to escape or overcome. For ease of reference, I commonly refer to change in this triad as “alpha”, continuity as “beta” and crisis (or disruption) as “gamma”.

There is of course a fourth element which is something of a special case—the metaphysical solution or Esse. This is associated with continuity or stability but, because of its theoretical pre-eminence, I assign it the unique status of “super-beta”.

At some stage, I’ll share some examples with you of how the Rule of Three works in practice but, for now, trust me, it does….



[1] I’m thinking of Hans Reisenbach here, in “The Rise of Scientific Philosophy”. But I often wonder about the biggest project in physics today, the attempt to reconcile the general theory of relativity and quantum theory. Isn’t that a form of synthesis?

Pic source here


Lizard Writes: “Please Explain”

“Liz.” Seriously? After I asked you not to?

Anyway, you say that your model for the relationship between metaphysics and practical philosophy is pluralistic, but that it can provide a coherent perspective on life. How? You don’t explain. If this model is supposed to add up to something coherent, then surely all the individual components must fit together somehow—and yet, by your own admission, they don’t.

Maybe spend less time on the silly name calling and more time thinking things through?

The Lizard.

The Stranger Also Replies (at Length) to the Lizard….

Dear Liz (ha!),

If I understand your point correctly, it’s a good one: what is the relationship between metaphysics (or, as I often think of it, psychological theory) and practical philosophy? Let me bounce some ideas off you.

For some people, the big questions about life – Is there a God? Why are we here? – can be a distraction from daily living. In extreme cases the search for answers, and the failure to find them, can lead to anxiety, depression and dysfunction. Browning was being ironic when he wrote, “God’s in his Heaven—all’s right with the world!”, but the words reflect that, for many people, the idea of the existence of a God who has all the answers, even if He doesn’t fully reveal them, can be comforting enough for them to get on with their lives with peace of mind. In this way, the metaphysics—whatever they are, however they work—can be a way of quarantining the quotidian mind from disturbing thoughts.

Esse…provides a metaphysical answer that takes us beyond the traditional idea of God

So, to my way of thinking, the relationship between metaphysics and practical philosophy is that they are separate but symbiotic (it’s a two-way street: people need a metaphysical construct to help them get on with their daily lives, and the search for meaning gives effect to metaphysics).

Esse, to me, provides a metaphysical answer that takes us beyond the traditional idea of God to one that is secular (and, strictly speaking, atheistic—i.e., non-theistic), rational and humane. It’s something that I think the modern mind can accept, and then get on about applying itself to life.

But this is really looking at the relationship between Esse and day-to-day life from a theoretical perspective; what are the practical implications?

God and the World

I’m going to try to answer this by referencing Christianity, as it’s the religion we both know. In Christianity, God and the practical world are intimately connected. God is the metaphysical solution (creator of heaven and earth, with a plan for humankind) who is also involved in human affairs (showing the Hebrews the way to the promised land, making a gift of his son to the world). The West repaid the compliment by adopting Christianity as the religion of empires and nation states. The relationship between God and Man was engaged via the Church which, in turn, had an ambivalent but usually mutually supportive relationship with the State. That changed over time with the Protestant Reformation and the rise of non-conformism, both of which put more emphasis on the relationship between God and the individual. Christian Puritanism appears to have given particularly robust expression to the idea of God’s will working through the day-to-day lives of ordinary people.


Christian Puritans: a robust expression

That’s the potted history, as I understand it. Now let me share with you how I see this relationship in terms of my own experience, beginning with a brief look at my childhood and later years (sorry to bore you, but please stay with me…).

God and the Individual: a Personal View

I was brought up as a Wesleyan Methodist, in which the sincerity of one’s relationship with God was front and centre—even more so (I would argue) than God or Jesus Christ themselves. The temptation to egoism was obvious. When I lost my faith, as one does, at the age of seventeen, the shallowness of my relationship with God was revealed to me in the most shocking way. It was easy for me from that point onwards to believe, aggressively, in nothing.

So that relationship failed, to be replaced in later life by a less personal, more institutionalised, brand of Christianity in the form of Anglicanism. The terms in which it expressed the relationship between God and the congregation—through pre- and post-Reformation traditions, the historic role of the Church of England in building the nation state and subsequent empire, the centrality of Christ the Redeemer, the effect of ritual in enhancing the sense of communion, and the practical and symbolic functionality of the Book of Common Prayer—were much more congenial to me.

What really attracted me to Anglicanism, however, was the way it presented the psychologically powerful idea that, through God’s unconditional love for humanity and Christ’s sacrifice, the “penitent” (receptive) spirit[1] can be rescued from alienation into a feeling of belonging. That worked for me: the beauty and the power of the idea—quite independently of any consideration of the existence of God, or whether the interpretation of Christ’s death was historically accurate, or whether Christ really rose from the dead—helped me to see beyond my own alienation to a relationship in which I was accepted, warts and all.[2]


Escape from prison/release from alienation

It is the idea, which for all I know might be entirely human in origin, that works for me, and not the supernatural apparatus associated with it. It remains, for me, affective and therapeutic, and is the reason why I continue to identify as Christian.

This acceptance of the psychological benefits of Christianity minus the supernatural trappings might properly be regarded as “cultural Christianity”—and that’s where I think I’m heading in describing the relationship between metaphysics and life at a practical day-to-day level.

The Individual and the Good Life

In this theoretical model, Esse is a self-contained metaphysical solution with no affiliation to any religion, and Christianity is regarded as a strictly cultural phenomenon with powerful and humane psychological benefits.[3] The two are quite separate. Both impinge on the life of a thinking individual, however, and I believe they can do so positively, with Esse satisfying the intellectual curiosity about first causes and destiny, and a cultural version of religion (Christianity, in my case) providing the spiritual richness and moral grounding necessary for a good life.

But let’s drill deeper: how does the model play out for the individual who is looking to create a life for himself/herself, and wondering how to fill the hours in each day in a way that will help, eventually, to achieve that goal?

As an existentialist, I’m reluctant to be prescriptive about this: we all must decide who or what we want to “be” (hence the deliberate vagueness with which I wrote about “life” and “goal” in the preceding paragraph). For this reason, I’m going to refer again to my own experience as I try to formulate an answer (still awake?).

As I think about it, I realise that I need to go back beyond my own experience to that of the people who shaped me—my family. The two sides of my family were quite different: Methodist and quietist on my mother’s side, Baptist (or was it Congregationalist? Or Presbyterian, even?) and socially active on my father’s. When I think of them as models for my own choices and behaviour, I lean towards my father’s side, because the people on it were more dynamic and outgoing and had a real, positive impact on those who knew them.

My father’s aunt and uncle were teachers who worked during the 1930s Depression in a particularly disadvantaged area of Britain[4], where children would turn up to school each day unwashed and in the same clothes minus shoes (their parents couldn’t afford them) and hungry (their parents couldn’t afford food). My great aunt and her sister (my paternal grandmother) started a soup kitchen and joined the Labour Party. My great uncle joined too, and nearly became a Member of Parliament. Perhaps his greatest political achievement was to prevent the Communist Party from establishing a foothold in that part of the country.


Only Hollywood would ever think of building a coal mine at the top of a hill

The sense of justice that motivated them owed at least as much to their religious beliefs as to their political ideology (as well as their own personal decency). They were boots-and-all believers for whom God was a moral, driving force. I don’t share their idea of God but I admire them and what they did and I share a lot of their values. I aspire to be like them, although there’s nothing religious in my motivation, just a sense that doing good with integrity and conviction is a worthy way to live.

Pluralistic, but Coherent

In summary, I see the relationship between metaphysics and practical philosophy as pluralistic, consisting of three separate and independent elements—God-as-existence/Esse (metaphysics), a “cultural” version of a religion (a form of spiritual epistemology) and behaviour modelled on exemplars from one’s personal background or tradition (ethics). Because of their separateness these various elements must be applied sequentially rather than holistically, but I think they can still add up to a coherent perspective on life.




[1] The penitence being symbolised by, and enacted on behalf of all people through, Christ’s sacrifice.

[2] In my state of mind at the time, the idea—which I assume to be human in origin and the work of a genius—restored my faith in humanity.

[3] The role of creativity in the individual’s engagement with religion and pursuit and attainment of grace is an important concept in Esse which merits separate consideration rather than a partial discussion here.

[4] The Rhondda Valley, South Wales—an important coal mining centre at the time.


  • American Gothic, by Grant Wood
  • St Peter Released from Prison, by Gerrit von Honthorst (1592-1656)
  • Still from How Green Was My Valley (1941), 20th Century Fox

Rody replies….

Hi, DLL – you’re right, it was different from our usual posts. As you know, Esse and the ideas behind it are works in progress, and this piece was an attempt to pin down some of the metaphysics involved (it was clearly labelled “first draft”). The style was abstract and the tone was stilted and the whole thing was rather jejune but, as we’ve agreed, we’ll have more fun using the blog as a way of openly sharing our ideas in the raw so that we can all try to thrash some sense out of them. As the S said to me the other day, it’s a bit like a Socratic dialogue or symposium (no false modesty there!).

Personally, I’m feeling more confident about the idea that Esse could serve as a bridge between religions and the secular public space, Esse being the “god of reason” while the God of Abraham etc. is the god of creativity. The offending post, for all its faults, has been helpful to me in that respect. I’m thinking of working up this theme for a future post of my own but I have no idea when I’m going to find the time to do it.

Meanwhile, why don’t you think of posting something in response to the “Genesis” piece? I was intrigued by what you were saying at Anne’s the other day about the Old Testament account of creation and The Fall reflecting ancestral memory of the Neolithic revolution. I’d be interested in reading something about that.



PS I’ve started a correspondence section so we can keep these exchanges a bit separate from actual posts.

An Open Letter to Rody and The Stranger, from the Lizard….

Dear R and S, I’ve been scratching my head over that last post. What’s going on? It’s a bit artsy-fartsy to say the least, and I notice the About page has gone the same way. I know we’re trying to draw Esse into public debate but I’m not sure this is the right way to do it. One of the things I like about this blog is that it’s usually pretty down to earth, but you blokes are beginning to sound as though you’re feeling yourselves up. Keep it real (or, as we used to say, fair dinkum)! We’re supposed to be bush philosophers, not woosey left-bank intellectuals.

Yours disappointedly,

The Lizard


PS Please don’t address me as “Liz” in future correspondence.


In the Beginning: Genesis according to Esse (first draft)

Reality begins with consciousness, which may be analogous to a cosmic singularity. Within consciousness there are two perspectives. The first, in order of development, is subjectivity, in which consciousness is spontaneously aware of its singularity.

The second is objectivity, which begins to develop as external objects and events present themselves. The consciousness becomes curious about what might lie outside itself. It seeks to know, and gradually becomes aware of the possibility of The Other.

In pursuit of The Other, the consciousness must address a contradiction: the inspiration for its pursuit is subjective and spontaneous while the execution is objective, deliberate and proactive.

The consciousness contains the contradiction in a synthesis which, like the pursuit itself, is an act of primal creativity (a “big bang”, to labour the cosmic analogy). This creativity leads to the idea of the relationship between Self and Other, which is itself a synthesis of the subjective and the objective.


Suspect ideology. Great pic, though…

But this synthesis comes under pressure as it transpires that the relationship between Self and Other is asymmetrical: there is only one Self, but there are many Others.

The asymmetry can be oppressive and may lead to a breakdown in the relationship between Self and Other with the result that the consciousness becomes alienated.

One way to address this is through another creative act, by conceiving the notion that relationships can be ordered or classified by a range of values or hierarchy. There are not only many Others and different Others, but different kinds of Others.

From the idea of kinds and categories comes the idea of distinguishing between the general and particular. Generalities appear to offer simplicity, coherence and understanding, which may be equated with truth. Particularities by comparison appear to offer complexity and confusion.

Generalities may be extrapolated from the real to the imaginative and, ultimately, to the metaphysical. The biggest of such generalities is, of course, God.

For many cultures, the idea of God is the building block for a model of reality that can address questions about existence and provide a template for social order. The Esse idea of God is a contribution to this tradition, but disavows any pretence to authority. It is purely a lay theory.

The Esse Existential Model of Reality

In Esse, God = existence. Existence (aka Esse) is the first, greatest and last dimension which encompasses all others including space, time and cosmic singularities. It is an infinite constant.

Line, plane and depth are respectively the second, third and fourth dimensions of the universe under Esse, and time is the fifth. According to (my understanding of) Big Bang theory, the universe is expanding and is therefore finite, destined one day to collapse back into a cosmic singularity.

Spirit is the sixth dimension under Esse. In the same way that consciousness seeks to know and relate to The Other, so Spirit seeks to know and relate to Esse. In another similarity, Spirit’s pursuit is a creative act in which the subjective and objective (the human and “divine” spirits) are synthesised.

Through this synthesis, Spirit seeks to transcend, if only momentarily, the finiteness of the universe.

Consciousness, Spirit and all dimensions are finite. Only existence (Esse) is eternal, because nothing can come before or after it without itself existing, existence being the essential precondition for anything to exist.

Welsh punk folkie Nigel Philip Davies to play for Donald Trump’s inauguration


You read it here first: this media release has just been finalised and approved by Universal Stranger’s public relations office:

Neath Port Talbot, Wales, UK, January, 12 2016—Welsh punk folk legend Nigel Philip Davies has confirmed that he will play for Donald Trump’s inauguration as US President on January 20.

“I admit I had some reservations,” said Davies, who was trolled by Trump supporters when, during the election campaign, he released Mr Tangerine Man, an anti-Trump protest song based on Bob Dylan’s classic Mr Tambourine Man.

“But when I saw the impressive line-up of musicians, movie stars and other celebrities who won’t be performing at the inauguration, or even watching it on TV, I thought ‘Chwarae teg[1], it’s his first day on the job, I’ll cut him some slack.’”

Because of his other commitments, Davies will limit his set to just one song, Unfinished Business, from his most recent solo album, Songs from a River.

“It’s kind of appropriate, as it can be interpreted as making the point that now that Trump actually is President, he’d better start delivering for all the people who put him there.”

The point is underlined by the video, in which footage of Davies playing and singing is interspersed with harrowing photographs of poverty in modern-day America.

“It cuts both ways—as a reminder to Trump to pull his finger out and do something for the people who voted for him, and as a reminder to the Democrats that the social evils they claim to be fighting still very much exist.”

Clearly Davies’ anti-Trump position hasn’t softened, so how does he think his performance will be received by the President?

“Well, it’s not like I’m actually going to be there,” said Davies. “I’ll be at home in Wales watching the inauguration on the telly and at some point in the proceedings—probably when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir start singing Oh Happy Day!—I’ll turn the volume down.

“Then I’ll play Unfinished Business on the stereo, with the sound all the way up to eleven.”

[1] Welsh for “fair play”.

Welsh punk folk band Moongazer incites Mexican anti-Trump riot

Well, sort of. Ever since Nigel Philip Davies and I signally failed in our attempt to prevent the Donald adding the White House to his property portfolio, we’ve been looking at other ways of getting up his nose. Nigel is working on a follow-up to Mr Tangerine Man which he aims to release before the inauguration. Meanwhile, here’s a note he sent a few days ago to fans of his band Moongazer, which might give you a taste of things to come.

Happy new year (despite everything).


Happy New Year to you all. Hope you had a great New Year’s Eve. I saw the New Year in on the M4 just outside Cardiff with a handshake with Craig, the bass player in Moongazer.

We’d been playing in a Brain’s pub in Cwmbran. We’d been booked in by an agent and had never played there before. The pub management had done their homework, looked at our site and focused on “Pirates”. When we got there, they’d decorated the pub with canvas sails, billowed out by balloons. All the staff were resplendent in pirate outfits. It got even more surreal when the customers started to arrive and they too were dressed as pirates. In fact everyone was dressed as pirates except us …..and a party of nine who turned up as eight Mexicans and a Donald Trump, complete with their own cardboard wall.

The night got even more surreal as Pirates mixed with Mexicans trying to dance Irish jigs and reels.

In the interval we got into a huddle and put together a quick version of “The Mexican Hat Dance”.


Source: Hollywood Toys and Costumes

We started the second half with this and the Mexican party went nuts, the wall got trampled underfoot and Donald Trump was knocked over. Somehow all seemed right with the world….



Nigel and Rody’s Excellent Adventure in Trumpland


Just a few days ago my friend and creative collaborator, Welsh punk folkie Nigel Phillip Davies, uploaded a reworked version of the early Bob Dylan classic, Mr Tambourine Man, to YouTube. Rechristened Mr Tangerine Man with lyrics reworked by yours truly, it’s a fairly pointed satire directed at a certain florid, male contender for President of the United States.

We’ve scored more than 3,000 hits on YT, a combined 200-plus likes on YT and Facebook, 133 shares and 160 comments. Not exactly viral, but enough to bring home to this non-US resident a sense of what certain sections of that country’s electorate are thinking.

By certain sections I mean, of course, Donald Trump supporters.


Making America great again  Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“Get your head out of your ass,” said Marie Upthegrove (sic) from Florida, one of the first to comment on the Universal Stranger FB page.

“Now give me a MISOGYNIST any day, I will love him, respect him and cook for him, but don’t give me a woman who is KILLING my little sisters and brothers, the children of my innocent country,” said Federico, apparently a former head of the mathematics department at a rather posh private school in Blackheath, London (the rest of what he wrote is unprintable).

“This is just ridiculous…out of hand completely. You people who believe in evolution are nuts,” said Betty Christen who, judging by the beautiful landscape and equestrian shots on her FB page, lives on a ranch somewhere in the Mid West. (Evolution? Where did that come from? There’s nothing in Mr Tangerine Man about evolution!)

“Better this guy than a lying crooked c***t with the blood of the Benghazi dead on her hands…here’s yer (sic) sign, you moron!” (picture, possibly manipulated, of Donald Trump flippin-the-bird). Thank you, Rebel Dawson.

And so on.

Nothing surprising here, perhaps—especially for the Clinton supporters who characterise their opposite numbers as “deplorables”, or poorly educated white trash who are barely capable of seeing the bigger picture, let alone articulating it.

But I found it interesting that, while the number of Likes on the FB page exceeded Dislikes by several mutliples, the comments were overwhelmingly from Trump supporters (and therefore overwhelmingly negative and violently anti-Clinton).

For the record, my own view of US politics right now is that Clinton is the rotting corpse of the post-war liberal consensus and Trump is the vulture feeding off it.

As a marketing consultant might put it, the positive responses were nearly all quantitative while the negative ones were qualitative.

What does this mean, if anything? Perhaps comfortingly for the Clinton camp, it suggests that the numbers are with the liberally-minded. And perhaps the fewer but more vocal responses from Trump supporters simply reflect the pent-up rage and frustration that America’s white working- and lower-middle classes have felt for so long toward a political system that no longer works for them.

Or does it signal more than that? Could it, perhaps, imply something about potential voter turnout? Does the numerically superior but otherwise largely mute response from the liberal constituency hint at a certain complacency? After all, it’s quicker and easier to click Like and move on to the next FB post than comment about the political issues raised by the one you’ve just read.

Anti-Trumpers like myself, though undoubtedly on the right side of the truth, may yet end up on the wrong side of history.

And does that translate to an assumption that Trump is so obviously unsuited to be President that the election result is already a done deal? Does it suggest a lack of any sense of urgency about the importance of voting on November 8?

By the same token, does it imply that Trump supporters are so impassioned that their turnout will be higher on the day and might just swing the election Trump’s way? Especially in those open-carry states where, rumour has it, Trump supporters will be turning up at election booths on the day, while exercising their right to open carry, to ensure that no “irregularities” occur?

Too many questions; too much hypothesis and speculation.

For the record, my own view of US politics right now is that Clinton is the rotting corpse of the post-war liberal consensus and Trump is the vulture feeding off it. Rather than Clinton win, I would prefer the Republicans to disendorse Trump and field a credible candidate so that at least the electoral process can be salvaged (it may be too late to save the country).

Meanwhile, while I can’t draw any hard and fast conclusions from the FB responses to Mr Tangerine Man, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that anti-Trumpers like myself, though undoubtedly on the right side of the truth, may yet end up on the wrong side of history.

Old Wave dumps on the New World Order: new release by Nigel Philip Davies

It wasn’t that long ago that I reviewed Nigel Philip Davies’ album Songs from a River and here we are, writing about him again already. The reason: his new video release, “Mr Tangerine Man”, which lampoons the aspirations of one clearly unsuitable candidate for the most powerful political position in the world.

It’s not the only such parody on YouTube – we’ve found two others – but it’s the hardest-hitting, in our view, although we might be a bit biased: the lyrics for this version were written (or, more accurately, re-crafted) by our very own songwriter-in-residence, Rody.

At least it supports my thesis, elaborated at some length in the album review, that there’s an “Old Wave” of 60-something singer-songwriters out there who are drawing on the influences of their youth to create songs that pack a punch and reflect the reality of these times, as seen through the lens of age and experience.

Judge for yourself.