Friday, 30 January 2015

Your Freedom Ends Where It Impacts Mine, Mate

Yesterday I rambled on about lines and limitations with regard to personal eccentricities and taste and how it all affects others. It isn't a big deal until there is power and authority involved. And then it's a very big deal.

Here in the west we have a lot of laws and social norms that focus on the rights and freedoms of the individual. This is how we have reached the point where most people really are free to "be themselves", so long as they don't harm others. Much of the time this limitation, the one I base my own ethical system around, concurs with the law of the land. We say things like "it's a free country". We resist anything that infringes on that.

Outside of the west that isn't always the case. How it plays out ranges from social taboos to severe authoritarian rule of law, but in many countries "being yourself" can get you into a lot of trouble. We're not just talking about hats either. Being homosexual is still punishable by death in a number of countries.

I mentioned yesterday the honour/shame system. You may or may not have come across this before, but it's high time you learn about it if you haven't, because it's a huge and powerful part of our world. It's not bad or wrong, neither is it right or good. It's just a different type of society. Just like our system, it works when it works, and when it doesn't it causes great suffering.

Our system is based on the idea of guilt, which in religious terms has often been framed as sin, even though the concept of sin is theologically far more complex than that. What happens in our society is that this guilt forms the basis of our legal system, so there are obvious consequences, but even if we are not "caught" we are still guilty.

The difference between shame and guilt may seem subtle, but it is significantly different in that the person who is shamed is told that his transgression affects the whole of society. To us this is hard to understand. How can it? They may not even know of his actions, let alone be harmed by them. An example we read about in the media, which baffles us, is when a woman in a shame society is raped, and then then shamed for it. This angers us. We see her rapist as the guilty party. We are horrified by her treatment.

Here we place the guilt on one person, and even then we give him certain rights. Such is our fierce protection of the rights and freedoms of the individual, he may get off. He may get a short sentence. He may get therapy. His victim may go through the wringer to get a prosecution, and then society forgets about her. This angers us too, for reasons I don't need to explain. There is always an "out" with guilt, if you are lucky enough to get it.

In both versions, free thinkers see a problem, see a great injustice, but what we fail to do extra in the west is see how the actions of the guilty party affect the whole of society, even when they literally do. This aspect of it is constantly overlooked.

If you think this means I favour the shame system, then you're doing it again. I've caught you doing this before. Stop it. Think outside the box. This is not an either/or situation. There is a better way.

The problem in the shame society is that an individual is held responsible for the damage to his entire society over things that actually don't harm it.

The problem in our society is that we forget about the damage individuals do to our society.

What's needed is a third way, a middle way perhaps, or a blend, but certainly both systems as they are, are failing, and the misunderstandings of each other are a large part of why east and west are frequently at odds.

When this is mentioned there are usually those who say that the western way is more popular, and that those in the east are eager to get it. Not necessarily. Even democracy, which in theory should appeal to those whose interest is the whole of society and not just an elite few, is not always welcome. One reason is that it isn't understood. But a bigger reason these days is that the flaws in it are seen. The cracks, if you like. In many ways modern western democracy has been the breeding ground for the runaway capitalism that has led to the current dramatic inequality in distribution of wealth in general, and the oligarchy that the United States has become in particular.

Does this mean I oppose democracy? No, you're doing it again. Get a grip. Democracy is the best system we've ever come up with, but it's every bit as open to corruption as any other system, and it is corruption that causes the problems, not the choice of system. Any system ultimately works without corruption.

In fact if you remove the corruption, democracy is a damn fine system. It is based, after all on the concept of equality. The rule of law within a democracy is as close to fair as any rule of law can get. And fair is good. I think we all agree with that.

The question is, how does the idea of the rights and freedom of the individual square with the democratic principles of equality? What happens (at least in theory) is innocence until proven guilty. If you are the accused you'd be very glad of this too. You get your "day in court". We are used to this system, very protective of it, and we fear and oppose anything to the contrary.

Unfortunately what happens all too often is that the rights and freedoms of the accused, in the name of equality, actually become excessive. Unequal. All too often if he is wealthy he can buy his freedom. All too often there is victim blaming. All too often dangerous offenders are set free. All too often the poor and powerless are targeted as criminals and are incarcerated needlessly. All too often there is no justice, the financial crooks, polluters, and serial offenders cause great harm, and the rights and freedoms of many people are negatively affected by the actions of one. That is not democracy at all.

And these people have no shame. They were lucky enough (in my opinion) to have been raised without that shame being put upon them, but they are sociopathic enough to have no natural feelings of remorse, and instead of recognizing that, and dealing with them appropriately, our society allows them to have all the same rights and freedoms as the rest of us. Or more.

I think it's crazy to be flogged for shaming your society by being raped.

I also think it's crazy not to recognize the harm that one individual can inflict on a whole society, and allow him to continue doing it, either because he's wealthy enough to get away with it, or because we are too afraid of being excessive in our treatment of a known offender.

You cannot have failed to notice, especially when I mentioned sin, and the "out" of guilt that there is an obvious religious connection here. But it's complicated. Culture still impacts the system, even when the exact same religion exists in two types of societies.

Religion has more impact in how an individual's actions are seen morally. If the law that is broken is "God's Law" and nobody else is harmed, this becomes an ethical issue that makes no sense outside the religious context. I think I'll save that theme for another day.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Lines

I write on a lot of different topics, but here is where several of them meet head on. It's a combination of politics, etiquette, art, psychology, surrealism, and choice. And a few others. Right, I think I have your attention.

So.

I am not a conservative. Or a Conservative. I dabbled in the latter when I was young due to a dear friend running for election, but in hindsight his motivation was.......well, let's leave that alone. As I've explained many times, my politics are my own. I lean to the left - occasionally so far that I fall over - and really, in my heart of hearts, I'm an anarchist. But what I'm definitely not is small c conservative, or any of the characteristics thereof that usually end up making a person big C Conservative.

Last night my husband asked me if I remembered something or other from the days of yore, and indeed I did, but then, remembering he often asks me about "old stuff" I said, "you aren't going to become one of those people who goes on about the old days all the time are you?" And he confessed he just might. I reminded him that I'm not like that. He knows. It's not an issue between us, but it's definitely a difference.

I'm not nostalgic. I occasionally get a bit "mono no aware" (look it up) but I don't believe in "The Good Old Days" AT ALL. It's all bollocks.

Actually, hold on a minute. I want to say something here that's a bit controversial or possibly offensive. I'm choosing this moment to say it because it was my husband who reminded me, and he'll not only forgive me for saying it, but agree with me. It's usually other people who do it though.

Have you noticed that those who show the most tendency to be nostalgic, to remember "The Good Old Days" are actually those for whom that time wasn't actually that good? Are they compensating for something? These people are the ones most likely to say "I love the smell of Christmas, it reminds me of childhood..." or similar. And in every case, these people had shitty childhoods for one reason or another. They aren't actually reminiscing about how it was, but about how they wish it was. You must have noticed this. Maybe you're one of them.

Well, there it is, that's people for you. I had an amazing childhood. I knew nothing but kindness and fun, and I have absolutely zero desire to go back there. This shocks the nostalgics, I guess. But that was then and this is now - move FORWARD people!

OK, back on track.

The trouble with the olden days is that they were filled with problems we have been trying to fix ever since. Racism, gender inequality, disease, poverty, and so on. These were realities. These things are bad things. We are still working on them (!) so the last thing we want to do is go backwards. And I hated black and white TV, and the stupid ideas surrounding fashion. So let's start there.

Old = you must wear THIS. Why? Because we do, that's why.
New = wear what you like.

Personally I prefer the latter. It's just an example, but it's a good example of traditional (conservative), i.e. repetition and sameness for no good reason, and modern (liberal) innovation and freedom of choice. Is it frivolous, or serious? It's only fashion, right?

No, in some instances what you wear can get you killed. 

Is that logical? Is that good? Is that helpful? Does that make any sense at all?

To the ultra conservative mind, it does. Which is a damn good reason to reject conservative thinking. In my not-so-humble opinion. So, I'd like you to see that as one extreme. I can't think of anything more extreme, frankly, so keep that one in mind. Please.

Then there's the other extreme.


Now, before I begin, I want to stress that I don't think this gentleman should be harmed for wearing that. In fact I would uphold his right to walk down the street in that hat free of any sort of negative reaction. Not only that, I would uphold his right to wear it to school, a board meeting, Buckingham Palace, and the Vatican. 

Do I like it? No. That's neither here nor there. It is no more or less silly than anything else we consider to be normal attire.

THIS is considered normal, and treated with great respect:


Tell me why this is treated differently, I dare you.

If you even mention tradition at this point, I'll slap a big "CONSERVATIVE!" sticker on your forehead. 

You cannot rationalize this stuff. It's all about "we've always done it that way" and related bollocks. 

Well, do you know what else we used to do?


Or possibly not. But you get the idea.

Fashion, that's all any of it ever is. It's silly, it's all about time and place and preference. Don't ever take it seriously.

If you don't like what a person is wearing, it's OK. You don't have to.

I really, REALLY don't like this:


But I don't like this either:


And that would be considered "normal". It's not clear why. But it's wrong on so many levels, for me. FOR ME. I'm sure some of you think it's OK, some of you may even like it. I hate it.

Have you ever watched a panel show on TV during the evening? Not always serious topics. Both male and female guests wear coats. OK, it may be a light coat, not an arctic parka, but the definition of a coat is an outer layer. They have other clothes on underneath. The temperature in a TV studio is that of a hot summer's day. Why are they wearing coats? 

I ask questions like this all the time, and I never get any sensible answers. "It looks professional" "It's expected" and all that nonsense. 

It's all bollocks, is what it is. It's almost a uniform. There's no real penalty for not wearing it, and some celebrities fight back, but then they get labelled. There are consequences to sartorial rebellion.

There are consequences to everything, of course, but some of these (public reaction) are also a matter of choice. You don't have to make fun of the man in the funny clothes. You could, if you choose, say "hey, whatever floats your boat" and praise him for his innovation or courage or whatever.

My attention was recently drawn to this:




I think this is very silly. I'm not impressed either, because they are just trying too hard, but you know, whatever floats your boat. 

What it did make me think was, where do we draw the line. At which point does silly become not funny any more? At which point do we say "ENOUGH". At which point is it wrong? At which point can we reject it or deride it without fear of the daring telling us we are boring old farts?

Now remember, I only used fashion as an example. This applies to everything. But I suppose fashion influences it, much of the time.

A large part of where the limitation of weirdness is, is personal, individual. I tested my family out a few weeks ago by asking them how they felt about dying underarm hair:


Reactions were not positive. Personally, I wouldn't do it, for purely practical reasons. You'd have to bleach it first, and my underarm skin is far too sensitive, that would burn like a mofo. (Yes, I just said mofo, I'm that hip......). But the more I think about this, the less issues I have with it. I just don't have that personality quirk that makes a person go ewwwww to everything new and different (except some salads, before I'm called out). But I was actually quite surprised that my kids (raised by me, very open minded) rejected the idea out of hand. Maybe they'll change their minds if it becomes widely popular. People are like that.

Still, you have to draw the line somewhere, and I thought this was going a bit too far:


Not that I would make any efforts to stop her. I just feel she crossed a line.

It's MY line. I recognize that. I don't think most people do. I think that they assume these lines are really there. That there really is a scale somewhere of good taste and acceptability that is written in stone, and that it's obvious. Well it's not and there isn't. 

Still there is a line, I think, and that's the one where these choices harm others. The harm line is my general line for all difficult questions, i.e. ethics. If your behaviour, your weirdness harms another person, then ENOUGH. Stop. You've gone too far.

That limit is going to vary.

In some cases with fashion, the limit may be nudity. If I were to show up naked at a funeral, with a few exceptions (I have some truly weird friends) that would cause real embarrasment and therefore genuine suffering for the bereaved, and I wouldn't do it. In fact if I showed up to ANY formal event the same might well apply. There is a fine line between discomfort and harm (which is why my ethical system is not perfect) but in general because nudity is taboo in our society it is best avoided in public unless you WANT to make some sort of statement.

I also happen to think that unless it has been explicitly agreed upon beforehand as OK, that showing up at any formal event in scruffy clothes is rude. Now, what's that about then? 

This is all about etiquette. Do you know what etiquette is for? It's done out of kindness to make others feel wanted, comfortable, and at ease. If it has the opposite effect, it's not etiquette. It may be "expected" but it's not etiquette. I stress this because all too often this happens. 

Now then, if you DID show up at a formal occasion in scruffy clothes because that's all you have, then true etiquette would be everyone else pretending they hadn't noticed. THAT is how it works. 

So, while your sartorial choices could sometimes be inappropriate, so also can the reactions to them be inappropriate. It's all about give and take, which is etiquette, which is kindness, which is tolerance, and so on. 

In some traditional societies it is expected that guests be spoiled to the point of causing real hardship to the hosts. It is frowned upon to do anything else. These are usually honour/shame societies, and due to familiarity with the system, and obviously being affected by it, people don't rush to rebel. This is an example of etiquette being harmful, and therefore that's where I draw the line. That's a line I won't cross. No matter how "polite" something is, on the one hand, if it causes harm on the other hand, then it's not OK. I don't give a shit how traditional it is. And it varies. People have different expectations. This is why you can't say "FUCK" at some dinner parties, but you can at others. But it's never OK to tell racist jokes, even if all the other guests laugh. Some things are just wrong. The line is harm.

OK, briefly returning to funny hats. Do they cause any harm? No. So there's no problem there. The problem is the people who make fun of the funny hats. If the funny hat actually causes harm (scares children, breaks the lights, gives the wearer a headache) then these would be good reasons to advise against it. 

When it comes to weirdness (and hats) I have a great teacher. As many of you know, my second youngest son, Thomas, has Asperger's syndrome, a high functioning form of autism, which has both advantages and disadvantages. In Tom's case (because all Aspies are different) it came with a delightful eccentricity which leads him to have very few inhibitions when it comes to how he looks. When jester hats were all the rage for children a few years ago he was already in High School, but wanted one anyway, and his sister had to be his bodyguard because of the bullies on the bus and that hat. But bless her heart, she did it anyway.

Tom has always loved hats. He has quite a collection, and the more comments he gets, the more he enjoys them.



Again, it's just an example. With Tom there is plenty of other weirdness, and I adore him for it. 

When he was young, and his social skills were really challenging, I often had to explain to him why it was important to follow SOME social norms when it comes to communication. The first thing we had to do, as is often the case with the autism spectrum, is to teach him to make eye contact. Some people on the spectrum never master that. Tom, being Tom, took it to the extreme and he can bore into your soul with those eyes now. It helps that they are the darkest of dark brown, almost black.
The next step was greetings. We were out shopping one day and he ran into another child he knew from school, who saw him and said a very friendly "Hello Tom!". Very nicely brought up child, I thought. Tom's response was a noise something like you may expect if you tried to strangle a turkey. 

We had a long conversation about that. He thought his squalks and other random noises were funny. But I tried to impress upon him that getting such a "greeting" could hurt the other boy's feelings, because it seems like you were making fun of him, or that his presence or greeting was unwanted. Tom knew about being made fun of, and being unwanted around peers, as it's always been part of his life. 

In fact most of the conversations we've had about social skills over the years have been in this pattern. I explain that the things we do, or the things we say to others affect them. So etiquette comes into play. Sometimes weirdness just isn't the right thing, even if you enjoy it very much. Even if you have to work hard to overcome natural weirdness. In return, I hope people forgive Tom his eccentricities. It has to work both ways, and then we can all get along. 

This is a very long winded way of saying that there IS a limitation to weirdness, a line in the sand, and it is the same limitation as there is to all choices we make. It's all fine until it causes harm, and then it isn't. Defining harm is harder, but I hope we continue, as we go forward, to be more tolerant of weirdness, rather than less, because however extreme it gets, the other extreme is worse. 

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A Little Honesty?

You may prefer this one as it's a bit more "downhome", or, on the other hand you may not like it because it hits a bit too close to home. Either way, best ask yourself why.

Right. So I waffled on about making assumptions about people, and about getting offended.

You know what pisses me right off? People who, when taking offence, come back with "You don't know me." It often goes along with a whiny tone, and can be followed by some long list of tragic things in their life that have caused them to take offence easily.

I have met far too many people whose lives really are a story of a series of unfortunate events, with no hope of it improving either, and yet are cheerful and positive and kind and funny, for this "poor me" and "I'm misunderstood" rubbish to have any effect on me whatsoever.

If somebody starts with the "You don't know what it's like to be me..." or similar I am turned off. I can be very sympathetic to people in all sorts of sutuations, even if their bad luck is their own damn fault, but I can't be done with the "nobody understands me" thing. So there's that.

We all get misunderstood, this is normal. No, nobody understands you. They are not you. This applies to absolutely everyone. What's more, no matter how hard we try, we will never really understand one another, because we can't get inside each other's heads. So live with it.

What we can do is care. That's all that really matters. You don't have to understand to care.

I'm sure you've heard "I don't understand his lifestyle." Well, it's not your lifestyle so it's none of your business anyway.

Anyway, I confess to being mischievous. I'm not even asahmed of it, how about that, tsk. People often misunderstand me and I love it. I suppose it's a bit perverse, but there it is. I love it when I meet people and they totally get me wrong.

I turn 53 soon (gawd, how did that happen) and depending on which way the wind is blowing and other variables, sometimes I come across as a regular 53-year-old woman, (whatever that is) and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I comes across as gentle and harmless, and sometimes I come across as feisty and edgy. Sometimes people think I'm very dull, and sometimes they think I'm dangerous. Sometimes they think I'm wise and sometimes they think I'm an idiot. And none of them are wrong.

It's not that I'm complex, far from it. That's another one I can't stand "I'm very complex". Oh, get you, trying to make yourself sound fascinating. I am incredibly, boringly, not complex, and that's a fact. I've been called inscrutable, which is bollocks. People are just looking for something more, something deeper, that isn't there. This is it. This is all there is.

And nobody understands me. You won't hear any "BOOHOO" added to that because it's funny being misunderstood.

There's a running joke around here, which I use while batting my eyelids and feigning innocence, that I'm a sweet little old knitting granny. And it's the truth, so it is.

The problem is stereotypes, that's what fucks the whole thing up. So I play with them.

There are women my age who desperately try to pretend they are younger, or even try to look younger, and they usually end up quite miserable in the attempt. I think it's sad. There are also women my age who have decided that they are OLD, so they do nothing, learn nothing, seek nothing, and ultimately have nothing. They are waiting for the reaper.

It really isn't necessary to dress like a teenager and go dancing in clubs to prove you're not aging. Nor is it wrong to do if you want to. There are no rules.

Everyone seems to think it's all about appearance, and it's not. It's all in the mind. And you know, it takes longer to figure that out, so there's some major laziness involved here (another pet peeve of mine is people who are proud of being lazy).

So people make the excuse that they have to create an image, I suppose it's to warn people.

"I dress like this to feel confident."

My dear, if you need special clothes to do that, then it's fake. When you can feel confident stark naked, then we'll call you confident.

"I like to give a professional impression."

You'll do that when you speak. No, really.

It's tribal, all of this. If I were an alien I'd assume men in suits and ties all belonged to a cult. Yes, I know they can look very nice, that's not the point. It's still really weird.

I think my favourite tribe are hipsters. No, I'm not going to be unkind. They are people too and if they want to be that pretentious they can be. I just think somebody should tell them they're not fooling anyone. They spend so much time trying to be different they end up all being the same. If you can recognize a hipster at a glance......well, there's your clue. Oh, and by the way, it's not attractive. (I assume it's not meant to be?)

Be yourself, and if that is really, honestly awful, then change.

Monday, 19 January 2015

BUT!

In all the discussions recently on free speech there is an unprecedented amount of use of the word "BUT".

So you have people concentrating on the idea that people should be careful what they say, then just in case they sound like they are supporting terrorism or whatever, they will quickly add "BUT, there's no justification for violence".

Then you have people concentrating on the idea that violence is totally unacceptable, but just in case you think they approve of racism they'll quickly add "BUT, people shouldn't deliberately offend".

BUT BUT BUT BUT

Relax. It is perfectly possible, and perfectly OK to believe two things at once. You don't need the disclaimers. Your problem began when you chose just one aspect to stand up for, and assumers read more into that than was there. So it's really their problem.

Assumers are very silly and very annoying. I like to mess with their heads a lot, because it's so easy. I will deliberately leave something out so that they think they see a plothole, and they jump right in. Then they look very foolish later on. That's very mischievous and naughty of me, I know. I've been called out on it, being accused of leading people on. Did no such thing. If YOU assume something, then you are committing a great intellectual faux pas. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

If you need help understanding what I mean, try this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence_of_absence

This sort of thing happens all the time in debates, and the usual reaction is "I never said anything of the sort!" Tabloid journalists thrive on it. "He never denied that he was drunk". Well, that doesn't mean he was. But they'll make a front page headline out of it, just the same.

Believe it or not, I'm actually very careful with what I say. It probably doesn't look that way, but I can edit myself so fast that I can even do this in normal informal conversation. Years of practice. I wasn't born tactful. I spent most of my young years getting myself into trouble every single time I opened my mouth. It wasn't malicious, just a rather gauche honesty.

I learned that most people don't want to hear the bare truth, even when they say they do. Over time I have carefully developed a way of saying what needs to be said without hurting feelings (with the exception of those who seek offence, there's nothing you can do with them). I will sometimes say nothing, or VERY carefully phrase things to avoid verbal harm.

I don't expect you to. This is a unilateral decision. I chose it for myself, I think it's a good idea, but I don't demand it of others. You have to find your own way through life.

I balance this out well, because I'm very hard to offend. That came first actually. If you are going to be outspoken, you'd better be thick-skinned too, because people often give as good as they get. I think being offended is a waste of time and energy and on the rare occasions that it happens, I give myself a bloody quick reality check. It's all ego anyway.

The important point here is that it's all choice. I choose not to take offence, and I choose not to cause it, if I can help it. I choose to speak/write with care, AND I choose to read carefully, so that I don't make an arse of myself.

As we all know, some people take offence easily. We all also know that certain things are hot buttons, such as religion. When the pope said that freedom of speech doesn't extend to religion, he was wrong, but he is the pope so he's going to say that.

There must be equality in the deal. Either we are free to speak our minds or we're not. After that we can choose whether or not we'll say what we're thinking. We can't make that choice if that choice is not available to us.


This isn't right. We can't have it all going one way. Either we criticize all or none.

I've been accused of being anti-semitic for opposing Zionism. I was told that criticism of Zionism is just anti-semitism in disguise. This isn't true. Zionism is extremism. I oppose all forms of extremism. I believe in balance.

Balance is very important. I cannot emphasize that enough, and I know not everyone agrees with me, and that's OK too. Sometimes it takes two extreme POVs to create balance. But until we end up with balance we'll continue to argue and fight.

And accuse.

And assume.

I could explain this until the cows come home, and there will be those nodding at some of my comments and not others. They may draw the line at my view that religion can be criticized like anything else. They'll say BUT. I will nevertheless continue to explain, continue to criticize, and continue to try and find the right words to use to cause as little offence as possible. I will continue to be criticized by those who seek offence, and whose limit, whose hot button is religion. Sometimes, occasionally we'll see eye to eye, and sometimes we won't.

If the BUTs stop, we'll start to understand one another.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Where Angels Fear To Tread 2

Yesterday I waffled on about extremism, and I hope I made my point. To recap, extremism is the result of all or nothing thinking. There are no ifs or buts or exceptions. If a certain governments in a certain sector of the world commits certain unethical acts towards certain people at certain times - THEN THE WEST IS EVIL.

Huh?

I'm a westerner, and I'm not evil, and neither are you. But exceptions to the rule make no odds. You are guilty and so am I. We should both be killed. Right?

No, of course not, and the same applies everywhere.

We have more in common with those strange brown foreign people than you might think.

One of these things is a belief by the common man that they're all out to get you. This is a special type of paranoia, because let's face it, sometimes they are. But it's not actually rational, it's all based on rumours and conspiracy theories.

I want to discuss this because I'm hearing it more and more, especially on the topic of false flag operations. This is the idea that a government, or several governments colluding together, create a situation designed to cause fear (terrorism) to control the people and/or get support from the people for reprisals against The Enemy.

The year I was born, 1962, was a scary year for Americans and potentially the whole world. No, not because I arrived. It was the Cuban missile crisis. Many people, even those old enough to remember, are not aware just how close things came to the third world war. If you need to familiarise yourself with these events, please do. The hero of the hour, strangely, was on the Cuban side. He averted......the mind boggles as to what he averted....but anyway, he averted it by refusing to follow out an order. This stalled things. Great story. Go on, go look it up if you don't know it. But I'm assuming here that you know roughly what it was about.

What nobody knew at the time was that the US military were planning a false flag operation. It was called Operation Northwoods and it would have involved killing US civilians and blaming Cuba, as an excuse to "start something". Not familiar with this? Then you REALLY need to look this up.

Kennedy said no. Bless him.

Below is a list of all the other false flag operations known to have been carried out by the US since then.
























I'm well aware that some of you are now shouting at the screen. Don't bother. You can't prove anything. Yes, I know how long it was before Northwoods was admitted. Yes, I know I said "known about". It is quite possible there have been others, but right now they remain possibilities and without solid evidence they remain rumours and conspiracy theories. Just like those which drive the hatred of the west (beyond what it really HAS done).

There's also the same good reason for people in the west to be as obsessed with this stuff as it is for "them". Governments do, routinely, tell lies and hide things from the people. That doesn't mean that the Illuminati are spraying you with overhead chemicals though. Just because you can't always believe your elected representatives doesn't mean you should instead believe a bunch of crackpots on the internet.

If we didn't find some of these conspiracy theories quite compelling literature and movies wouldn't be anywhere near as much fun. And let's face it, in a world where 64% of the population are religious, then people are willing to believe incredible things simply because somebody said so. So it's really no surprise at all that we have all these rumours circulating. Fact is, nobody really knows the truth about everything.

Except......somebody always does.

Many years ago on USENET (ah, those were the days) I got into a debate about just this, and the usual example was given, that I've never been to Australia but I believe it exists because I've seen so many photos and movies, and met so many Australians, and can think of no reason why anyone would bother to create such a vast hoax, that I think it's a safe belief. I was being slightly tongue in cheek, but some of those in the debate were not. I was told:

"Next thing you'll be telling me the Queen of England is real."

Blink.

I assured them that she was. I was then treated to a long rant about why she wasn't, how it was obvious, considering the evidence, which was cut & pasted into the discussion for my pleasure, and when it was all over I said:

"But I've met her."

OK, that's a slight exaggeration, but she did walk past me. Still, you get the idea.

I was told I was lying. Flat out. No wiggle room.

And this is how these debates go.

1. I offer an opinion, based on something I'm actually quite well up on. Not expecting trouble.
2. Somebody challenges me for proof.
3. I provide it.
4. The proof is dismissed as fictitious.

How the hell do you get anywhere like that?

So, for example, argumentative Andy demands data on, say, prison inmates in the US. I find an article online, and he rubbishes it as being a left-wing biased site. So I send him to the official FBI statistics page. And he ridicules that, because OBVIOUSLY they tell lies, tsk. It's the bloody government! Well, what would he like me to do? Drive around and count them? If I did he'd call me a liar, so really what would be the point?

And what does HE offer in return? A conspiracy website run by a middle-aged man who still lives in his parents' basement. You know, an international security expert.

Maybe you've heard about the conspiracy theory that HIV doesn't exist, and/or doesn't cause AIDS. It's surprisingly huge, but I only found out about it when doing an online course about HIV/AIDS run by Emory University. Emory is one of the the leaders in AIDS knowledge worldwide. Experts par none. Has been right from the beginning. Imagine how frustrating this conspiracy theory is for them. Now imagine you are up against a government that believes it. Well that was the case with the South African president who followed Mandela, Thabo Mbeki. During his presidency it is estimated that well over 300,000 people died directly as a result of his beliefs being official policy.

Consider that when you ask yourself if rumours are a problem.

And yet when I found myself in a discussion about this, I was told that you couldn't believe the experts at Emory (and decades of work done there) because they were "all paid off by the government to cover up the real cause". Which is? Sorry, I didn't hear you? Well, frhtslfhgetmkfg. Ah, yes, that's right. You have a good SOLID alternative explanation.

The other version is that AIDS was created by the government in the first place, and deliberately released.

OK, so, the government wants AIDS to wipe out people at random. Just thinning the herd perhaps?

Like all of these theories that "The Government" (or possibly "The New World Order") is trying to kill us off arbitrarily (not the stupid ones, not the "difficult" ones, not the old or the weak, or even the poor) but also SECRETLY, I'm bound to ask why? What is the benefit of a smaller population? Less trouble come the revolution? Less cost of bullets to mow us all down? Less gas required to get rid of us all quickly? Couldn't you just release a really INFECTIOUS disease, not one so bloody difficult to catch?

And this critical approach to these theories needs to be applied every time. Ask why? Why would the evil government do these things. Money is always at the bottom of everything, so look for the financial benefit, the profit. If you can't find one, the theory is bollocks.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again...the readiness people have to believe really far-fetched conspiracy theories is the modern version of supersitition. In the middle ages there were devils and demons behind everything, now it's secret government agents. Same deal.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Where Angels Fear To Tread

I was asked to give my explanation of extremism. Apparently it's not the dictionary definition. Well, yes it is. On the other hand.....well, you won't like this one.

Extremism is what it sounds like it is. It's an extreme pattern of thinking, and extreme words and actions that follow on from that. Extremes are concepts that exist on two ends of a scale. Extremes of colour are seen as black and white, but that's not quite it. In fact at one end is total colour (all colours mixed together, in light, not paint, creating a blinding whiteness) and at the other end is ABSENCE of colour. Black isn't really a colour at all (again, this is light, not paint). Black is nothingness.

For the sake of argument, however, we'll discuss it as black and white being at two ends of a scale.

Extremism happens when people think in black and white. All or nothing. This or that. No shades of grey, and definitely no colour.

So, for example if a leader (religious or otherwise) states that people of a certain other nation or religion are The Enemy, and his followers do everything they can to harm any of those people just because they are part of that religion or nation, this is quite obviously extremism.

This can happen during conventional war. Soldiers or civilians, it doesn't matter. You've been told to fear and thwart the aims of people X, so you either capture or kill them.

In some ways this is necessary, because you really don't know what they are doing, who they are in contact with, and so on.

And during conventional war, it works both ways.

People X, on the discovery of a member of people Y will do the exact same.

In the situations we find ourselves in today, extremism tends to happen more outside the realm of conventional war. Some people involved still see it as war (justifying the persecution of ALL members of the enemy group) while others are more selective.

What we have today as our extremists are organizations, large or small, that don't represent the whole of a religion or nation, but a subset thereof. Wise people are aware of this.

But it's difficult to fight back against a scattered organization.

Look at crime organizations, for example. They may originate from a specific location. The Mafia come from Sicily, historically. Everybody knows that. But it would be be appalling overkill to treat every Sicilian as a potential criminal. If you simply wiped out the population of Sicily it would be a disgusting act, killing thousands of totally innocent people, AND it wouldn't solve the problem anyway, because there are plenty of members outside of Sicily. These days there are more Mafia in the US than in Sicily. So, all you can do now is catch them individually. Police have been working on that for 200 years.

Extremist organizations are the same. They arise in one place, and spread out, making it hard to "get rid of them". And just like the Mafia, they also recruit locally wherever they go, so they increase in number, plus the new recruits are hard to recognize. So even though they come from city X, or region X, or nation X, you can't end their existence by wiping X off the map. The stable door was left wide open. Conventional war just won't work.

You'd think all of this would be obvious. But how many times have you heard talk of "collateral damage", meaning innocent people being killed in an attempt to get at some of the bad guys. Again and again we see this happen, and what does it achieve? Well, it increases the determination of the bad guys to get those attacking them. That should be obvious too, but for some reason, apparently, it isn't. What should also be obvious is that if you wipe out a village to get at one bad guy, relatives of the innocent, who had previously shown no interest in extremism at all, might suddenly find themselves very keen indeed.

This should be obvious because of the way it works on the other end.

I'm sure you have met extremists among your friends and family, or at least people you are acquainted with. What? Yes, the people who profess exactly the same aims the other way around. They think the solution is to "get rid of" everyone who is of the same race, nationality or religion as those foreign extremists. They may not go so far as to advocate killing them, but they at least want them deported. This is extremism. It sees a whole people as The Enemy, not just the bad guys.

Not only that, the extremists among us are far less tolerant. It takes far less to tip them over the edge into the "kill 'em all!" mentality.

Let's look at the figures. On that famous day in 2001, almost 3000 people died as a result of extremist terrorism. In the history of the US, from the shooting of Lincoln to the execution of two police officers in NYC just before Christmas, there have been the same number again, in incidents that could be described as terrorism (depending on your POV). A total of 6000 dead in 150 years.

But it's that day in 2001 that created the extremist Americans, wasn't it? That was the day that ordinary people who think in black and white, not necessarily bigots, decided that perhaps something should be done about these terrible evil people. And that was the day some of them decided that all of them were guilty, leading to various hate crimes.

The US government said they'd fight back, and they did.

"According to Jonathan Steele of The Guardian, up to 20,000 Afghans may have died as a consequence of the first four months of U.S. airstrikes on Afghanistan"

But that pales into insignificance compared to this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Iraq_War

(If you are interested in data, the following articles have lots for you)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/h-a-goodman/of-the-17891-deaths-from_b_5818082.html

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/06/americans-are-as-likely-to-be-killed-by-their-own-furniture-as-by-terrorism/258156/

I think the figures speak for themselves. 1 person dead is too many, but the simple fact is that there is simply no comparison whatsoever between Americans killed by terrorists, and civilians killed in the countries targeted for revenge.

You wonder why there are extremists in those countries? REALLY?

And yet.....not everyone is!

Spare some time please, for this article, and the video that is included.

http://www.alternet.org/world/watch-yemeni-activist-tells-senators-drone-strike-his-village-empowers-militants

The short version. If you believe, even briefly, in your darkest moments, that all of any race, religion, or nation are The Enemy, then congratulations. You are an extremist.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Nigeria

A lot of people are asking why the appalling massacre in Nigeria isn't getting equal media attention to the Paris attacks.

Well, the first 3 reasons are obvious, surely.

1. These are brown people.
2. These are poor people.
3. The west has no financial interest in the area.

The fourth reason is that everyone is confused about why it is happening. Unlike Paris, there's no obvious reason for it. Unlike attacks on the west the historical aspect doesn't seem to apply. These people are killing "their own". It's an internal matter. Maybe "we" even feel it's none of our business. "We" certainly don't feel "we" can do anything. See all those troops pouring in to help, from western countries? No, me neither.

There is a history here, but it's complex. The Nigerian president has blood on his hands, but I don't know enough about it to explain that to you, so you can look it up. It's easy to find.

But there's something else. Boku Haram did not pop up suddenly one day out of nowhere. Its founder was a charismatic man named Mohammed Yusuf. If you don't know anything about him, you have a shock coming.

He was a flat-earther.

I have joked about these people in the past, and called them harmless nuts. Well, this one wasn't harmless, but he was a nut. His other beliefs would make the most hardcore American creationist twitch. He rejected science completely, even rain, he claimed, was nothing to do with the water cycle, but poured down by God. These are prehistoric beliefs.

Anyway, that nut is dead.

Sadly, he was replaced by another nut, Abubakar Shekau, who thinks he's immortal.

You can do your own research, I'm not making this up. This one is actually more dangerous than the first one. He's completely mad.

But what is scarier is that these people recruit so easily. Who do they recruit? Spare me the "radicalized" talk. Of course these are marginalized people. But they are only a small percentage of the marginalized people. Which ones?

They are the thugs.

This is not Islam. I don't care what they are shouting. This is absolute thuggery. This is a perfect example of people using religion to justify base actions. Islam has existed in Nigeria for 1000 years. Boko Haram have existed for 13 years.

The leaders are twisted, but clever. Their soldiers are poor, uneducated, and nasty. It's a terrible combination and it never leads to anything less than horror.

In this instance it is justified by an extremist version of Islam, but it could be anything. Any religion could be warped to create a violent sect, and we've seen it in all of them.

But the moment you mention the religious aspect here, any debate goes off the rails. You'll get people defending religion in general. You'll get people defending Islam. You'll get people criticizing religion in general. You'll get people criticizing Islam in particular. You'll get people blaming it all on the west. You'll get people blaming it all on the race of the people involved. You'll get people suggesting "we" go in and kill 'em all. You'll get people saying that western intervention always causes more harm than good. And so on. Not two sides but about 42. And not a debate so much as a rabid argument.

No, the problem here is psychopathic leaders and young men who in another place and time might be football hooligans, or skinheads, or gang members. That percentage of young men you can find anywhere whose morality is contradictory and tends to change according to expediency. Some of them are actual sociopaths, most are just disaffected, uneducated, and are used to violence from an early age. Throw in some sort of justification for it and watch them go.

Never make the mistake of thinking the foot soldiers understand the ideology. The odd one who is clever enough will rise to the top, but most of them are just grunts. THAT is what you're up against.

Leaders on their own are just mouthpieces. Yobbos on their own are dangerous, but disorganized. It's the combination that makes it all work.

Try fitting all that into a headline. It's too difficult to make into the sort of sound bytes that people need to stay interested, and the media know this. There is news coverage, there are good editorials, but it's heavy going and only the interested read it.

Finally, we feel helpless. So...move on. We feel we can "do something" with more obvious, straightforward threats. But as been said by many people, you can't wage war on an idea. If you kill leaders, they get replaced. And their replacement seeks revenge too. We will never solve this with more war. We'll just make it worse.

So what exactly are Boku Haram's aims?

In theory at least, they oppose the modern western scientific world. They oppose the west as an entity, specifically its cultural influences, more so than the obvious. They oppose education, science, and technology. The fact that they use it, in their weaponry and communications, and have all their money in western banks, seems to elude them.

It is tempting to think that this is actually all just a ploy by the leaders anyway, because uneducated people are, as I've stated, easily drawn to the cause. Maybe the cause isn't the cause at all. Maybe the leaders' real aims are just power and glory for themselves. There may be at least a bit of that.

But on the whole I'm inclined to think that the leaders are just insane, like so many before them. That in their own way they believe in what they are doing. That somehow they justify the violence in their own distorted way. And somehow they convince others to do the dirty work for them. There is no possible reason or benefit in killing thousands of people, it does not help them achieve their stated aims. It's just thuggery.

So, to answer your next question, this is nothing to do with Islam, and yet it has everything to do with Islam, or at least one version of it. What it ISN'T is the responsibility of the ordinary Muslim who is just trying to lead a life, get up in the morning, feed his family, and do right by his God. We must never forget that.