Confessions of a PPE* Mind: What have you done, EU?
* Pretentious, Posh and Egoistic
As a second year PPE student, choosing Economics and Philosophy as my pathway, I often come across the question: ‘Aren’t you afraid that the knowledge they are teaching you is irrelevant?’ Often, I’m asking this question from myself too; how can it be relevant when I’m trying to explain a real-life economic phenomena to my friend, mentioning what seems like the hundredth assumption, thinking if I explain this model thoroughly it would help - but in the end, it just confuses the shit out of both of us. Not even mentioning my friends’ many rants about the 15th assumption/imaginary world they would have to construct in their Ethics or Applied Ethics Essay in order to make it a sound argument.
So, how is all this knowledge relevant to real world issues?
Has Academia and the grade-driven system taken away our sense of reality? If we do not systematically read articles or listen to podcasts online, are we just a bunch of students with irrelevant knowledge, living in a bubble? Are universities producing a ‘knowledge elite’ out of us, just to be later criticised to be elitist when moving to the public/private sector?
I wish to explore these questions, look around in all three perspectives of our degree, asking whether or not this is true: is our knowledge relevant to “real world situations”?
Adding to my list of characteristics, I am also Hungarian, and whether you have heard of it or not, the Hungarian government has just passed an act that our prime minister, Viktor Orbán, can rule by decree- indefinitely. This gives him an unprecedented amount of power. Nonetheless, it also authorises him to put people in jail up to 5 years for spreading “misinformation” about the virus - but misinformation according only to Mr. King (wait what, I meant Prime Minister). This act has started to build up a sense of distrust within me concerning the European Union and the values it stands for. Many criticised the EU’s response —or lack thereof—to Orbán’s actions. This supranational organisation, often criticised by elitism, is now at a defining moment. Hard times are approaching, and to be a leader is a very challenging role right now, I give the credit to that. We live during the pandemic of our times, and economists are forecasting a massive economic crisis during which clear guidance and substantial action will be needed. However, whether this should be coming from the EU as a whole or from our national governments only, is a big question. For me, there is a clear solution: unity and cooperation. When, if not at times of emergency, should nations work together so we can end this? Concerning this question, as it is with every topic in this world, there are many contending views. Some say the EU should not have an impact on pressing global issues; some say its actions today already do not have enough of an impact, or that its influence is concentrated purely towards the benefit of the political elite. Some argue that an average citizen who is trying to save the world whilst sitting in their homes during lockdown has little, if not zero, knowledge of how the EU might have an impact on their lives; perhaps feeling abandoned in their time of need, when these fundamental European values are tossed away. Thus, many critics propose that national governments are better-off solving their problems individually.
I started to think about the same question that I initially proposed just above, but in connection with the European Union; are they guilty of being good in theory but failing in practice? What is the future of our generation after we leave higher education, and what is the future of the European Union? Are we just as detached from reality as EU’s leaders from their citizens?
These are big questions. I invite the reader to follow me, as I discuss my questions surrounding the nature of the EU with respect to our three disciplines - because let's face it, the EU was built up by political, philosophical and economic values. (I’ll give a minute silence for not covering legislation. Sorry legal-side, you are out of my “professional” capacities but I admit that is also an essential perspective.)
I’ll start with a philosophical discussion, then I will move onto the economics and politics of the EU’s past and future in later articles. Our PPE knowledge might turn out to be useful and relevant after all, but we must not forget that words and actions often diverge; what we plan and conclude on paper might work in just the opposite way in practice. For now, I have more questions than answers, and it might remain like this. But one mind can’t solve it all. My sources are my knowledge, my opinion, and a collection of insights from talks and discussions I have participated in. So stick with me.
I start right away with the toughest one of the three, when the question is theory versus reality. Thinking is a luxury. Everytime we are sitting in front of our laptops, I absolutely believe people can hear our brains ticking while we try to tackle philosophical problems. One harsh criticism that we, as students who study philosophy, always get is the question of how thinking will ever solve real-life problems. The analogies, which we are using to achieve a first in our essay, represent rare occasions that have a very low - if not zero - probability of happening. Getting lost in Kant’s (or feel free to replace it with any other author) text can often get students to ask themselves why the f* they are even reading it. In what ways can philosophy offer solutions to real-life problems and growth to our society? I do not wish (even though I would love) to get lost in the world of philosophy in this section. There are very interesting topics to dive into about the statements I’ve already written down above. Some would say that I fail to identify what I mean by ‘real’ and that I switch between different definitions.
Instead, I intend to explore what philosophy can and has already offered to society.
I believe that it offers raw theory behind intentions and actions. You might call it confirmation bias, that everyone will justify their actions with whatever theory explains it better. But I think it is much more. Philosophers were on this planet before economists or politicians. Find me an 18th century scientist or leader who wasn’t a philosopher amongst many other occupations, or wasn’t part of the Freemasonry (or not a man, apart from Catherine the Great). If there are things that have been present throughout history, it must be theories in human minds. From these theories we create values and morals. These offer us (clean-cut?) directions to rights and wrongs in one’s life. Just as there are official values of the European Union, which are an “integral part of our European way of life”. The values, as follows are:
Rule of Law
These six values originate from theories that have been evolving and changing since ancient times. Philosophy offers us grounding for theories; setting their limits, stepping outside the possible. It discusses scenarios with low, if not impossible, probability of occurrence, and with that, gives a new perspective to what we can perceive as real. The European values are guidelines; even rules; for politicians, national leaders and citizens. However, it is not so simple. Values might outline directions for the European way of life, but some actions and intentions “in the name of the European values” highly contradict themselves. Is this life attainable? Have we already achieved it? As it seems for me, we haven’t. The EU values were created in the framework of an imagined (but hopefully possible) ideal world. Plato’s Socrates believed in the bifurcated way of reality; in the realm of perfect forms, and that the world that appears to us is imperfect, filled with errors (The Allegory of the Cave). However, here is a thought - if we do not have a grasp of the ideal, how do we know we are in the right direction to achieve it? If we consider that our European life could be just a copy of the ideal, there are two scenarios coming to my mind: 1) our EU reality is just filled up with errors but, according to the values, on the way of improvement, or 2) there is a possibility that our reality is greatly detached from the ideal world and the EU as it is, a whole, is an error in the system, diverging from ideal. The European leaders* might have created an imaginary world which is impossible to achieve, thus national governments let go of these unified but “unrealistic” goals. I also find sometimes the ideal world approach to be exhausting in practice.
So here we are, questioning the theory behind the creation of the EU, which resulted in a sceptical view of the reality we live in today. However, I believe economics and politics (and legislation) are vital constraints in stipulating realistic and attainable goals. Thus, I will move onto the next discipline, to discuss the EU further.
*To evaluate what extent the values and morals of politicians today actually align with these (idealistic?) European values, you will have to wait a little. I will continue my investigations by moving on to the next section, economics. But let me ask you this before finishing, is the European life a part of your own?
As I said many times, I cannot solve it all. I am very interested in opposing and agreeing opinions too. Do not leave me hanging here all alone. Leave a comment if you wish.