Brand Identity

Brand Identity

I awoke last night from a deep dream of peace, and saw, within the moonlight in my room, making it rich, and like a lily in bloom, an angel writing in a book of gold. Bit odd, I thought, but that’s Germany for you.

Hello, Angel, I said. Wotcha doin’?

I’ve come, she said, to watch your flowers growing.

Nice, I said. But ain’t you got no rhymes for me?

And, you know what, she did. She actually bloody did. This is what she told me.


The new philosophy, she said, is a little bit schizophrenic. Just take your last two emails. The last one was about personal change, about Iris Murdoch and Carl Rogers. And the one before that was a little lament about your creativity drying up. Where’s the brand consistency in that?

You’re an angel, I said. What do you know about brand consistency?

On the one hand, she continued, you write about Bernard Williams and one thought too many. On the other, you write about the eternal silence and fighting with your wife.

I am vast, I said. I contain multitudes.

Yeah, but what does your brand stand for? When people sign up for the new philosophy, do they know what they’re getting?

It’s 3 a.m., I said. Your gold notebook isn’t just ostentatious, it’s also blinding me. If you’ve got something useful to say, say it. Otherwise, piss off.

Being an angel, that is, composed purely of spirit and an eternal light, she had no eyebrow to raise. I could see that she really regretted this.

I’ve already told you something useful, she said. Goodbye.


I don’t like angels. Glorified little pixies, really. And that book of gold! What was that all about? If a black man in a music video had a book of gold, everyone would sneer politely about bling and rap culture and so on. But put it on an angel and it’s all like, ooooh, wow, gold.

But. But, but, but. I endeavour to be a philosopher. One thing that means, often the most important thing, sometimes the only thing I’ve got, is this - I try to be sincere in my search for truth. And this means accepting it even when I hear it from angels.

All of which was a very scenic route to saying: I am dividing the new philosophy into two parts, dear reader. Instead of one newsletter, there are two. Mental!


Newsletter 1 will consist, to quote Wodehouse, ‘of assorted chunks looted from the literature of the past, when foreheads were bulgy and thoughts profound.’

In this newsletter, which I'm calling for now Beautiful Ideas, I’ll share beautiful thoughts, mostly but not always from other minds, often but not always from philosophy. I’ll present them as simply as I can. I’ll also try, without straining, to situate them in ordinary life - to show how the beautiful thought might speak in our lives.

Newsletter 2 will consist of, well, I don’t know what it will consist of. But not knowing has never stopped me from writing, so here are a few words about this potentially mystical Nothingness.


I believe the form in which philosophy is currently practiced - academic philosophy - is dead. It no longer expresses or responds to the impulses, perceptions and needs that led human beings to invent philosophising in the first place.

I believe that philosophy needs to be revitalised. What does this mean? Well, the word “vital” comes from the Latin for “life” (vita). And that is one central sense in which philosophy needs to be revitalised - it needs to be given life again. It needs to be reanimated.

How to do this? What would a truly vital philosophy and philosophising look like?


The great director and practical mystic Peter Brook spent an entire life searching for a theatre that was alive. He was searching for the true gesture, for the theatrical moment that’s alive, for a theatre and a way of life that springs up from some elemental, vital source, that is not deadened by convention but is fresh, is a true experience of and response to the present moment.

But how do you search for such a thing?

In the 1960s, Brook was invited by Peter Hall to help direct the Royal Shakespeare Company. He accepted, but on condition that he could have ‘an independent unit of research’. What did he want it for? Let Brook try to explain.

Certain questions had to be asked. First of all, why play theatre at all? The usual answer - because there are great texts and an audience wants to hear them - seemed insufficient. The real inquiry had to begin very far back indeed …
The exercises that we devised, whether for the voice or the body, were designed to lead us into areas about which we knew nothing, of which we had no firsthand experience. And with them came an absolute renunciation of the director’s privilege to decide what he is seeking …
Friends would ask us what we were aiming at, but since we were groping in the dark, we had to discover our aims as we went along.

And that’s what this other bit of the new philosophy is, dear reader. It’s me stumbling, following instinct, failing, succeeding, planting a thousand seeds and wondering which one flowers. It’s me not having a fucking clue but knowing that I must plunge on, that there is an inner necessity that must either work itself out or suffer.

Initially, at this point I wrote: This newsletter is where I will be completely free. But I realise now that's not true.

I am searching for the same thing Peter Brook was, just his medium was theatre and mine is philosophy. I am searching, as he was, for something alive - some genuine expression of and response to life, to being alive, to being human in this specific way at this specific place and time. (Through this, and only through this, can we even begin to approach the universal and the timeless.) And the search for truth conditions and constrains me. It limits my freedom.

So no. This newsletter isn't where I will be perfectly free. But it is where I make no contract of any kind with you or your time or your attention. This newsletter is where I channel Bob Dylan playing at that concert in Wembley.

This newsletter isn't about you, dear reader. Neither is it about me. It's about something else altogether.


The sharing beautiful thoughts part I’ve called “Beautiful Ideas” and the one where I go mental I've called “Experiments“.

Because of things I vaguely remember from when nudging was fashionable, I’ve automatically opted you into both (the effectiveness of opt-out nudging, and nudging in general, is now debated - fascinating stuff, if it’s the sort of thing you find fascinating). Give it a go, see which prefer, or if you like / hate both, and let's go from there.