Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Stupid Epidemic

So yesterday I asked you to consider your personal reasons for not challenging statements people make that are completely wrong, and often absurd.

We are in the area of science and history, not opinion. Opinions are valid. Of course, people trying to pass opinions off as facts are included in the problem here. There's a lot of that about.

Expert opinion is a different matter. Maybe you've seen this:

http://www.iflscience.com/environment/epa-barred-getting-advice-scientists

We are in deep trouble if experts are excluded from decision making processes, but already in the United States, certain right-wingers have openly stated their disdain for education because it opens young minds. Watch this doesn't spread.

The problem is obvious. Politicians have agendas, and increasingly today, like it or not, these agendas are often self-serving or even corrupt. Follow the money. Instead of decisions being made because they are the right thing to do, they are being made for expediency, cost, or profit. Lobbyists are powerful here. They don't want facts getting in the way.

The stupid is strong in US politics.

http://boingboing.net/2015/02/23/con.html

WHY? Were these people not given an education?

What happens when administrations, at any level, even local, and possibly especially local, are more interested in agendas or money than in education? I think the answer to that is obvious. We are even seeing it in the local High School, where the French immersion programme is being axed because only a few kids are enrolled in it, and it's not cost effective.

Investment in education should be a priority everywhere.

I have some data for you.

Education as a percentage of national budget (latest year available):

USA 17.1%
UAE 22.5%
Mexico 24.3%
Morocco 26.4%
Philippines 37%

But, all is not what it seems. Germany only spends 9.5%. You don't need me to tell you that the quality of that education is very high, I think that's well known, so how the money is spent matters too.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Literacy rates in Canada are officially 99%, but just yesterday I saw the letter R used as an abbreviation, not for "are" but for "our"! People tell me they used to be able to spell, but sort of lost the ability over time after leaving school.

Oh. So, maybe we can't entirely blame the education system. What's really going on then?

Here's an insight:

http://www.salon.com/2015/02/26/the_rights_fear_of_education_what_i_learned_as_a_former_conservative_military_man


It's no secret that I have no love for the far right. I don't like extremism of any kind, but at its purest, most honest level, in theory, at least the far left are egalitarian. And I just can't do bigotry. I can't do discrimination.

With one exception. The wilfully stupid.

Now, this is tricky. You see, to be stupid - as in ignorant - is not necessarily your fault. If you have a low intellect, then that's how you are made. And if you had a very poor upbringing/education, then you were a child and are not responsible.

When you reach adulthood, you have choices. You can get extra help to learn, and people do. Even young people with Down syndrome are getting college diplomas with assistance. If the only thing holding you back is lack of opportunity, then there are many ways of making up for it.

But you have to want to. And you may need support. And if you've never had anyone encourage you, there's no impetus. You may even think it's hopeless. I speak from experience here, even though I'm not often believed.

Eventually I educated myself because it was the only option I had, and thankfully I was intelligent enough to realise it was necessary. So I had a massive advantage there.

As frustrating as it is, we must have some sympathy for the wilfully ignorant, because they were unlucky. They were not given that spark that encouraged the rest of us to seek knowledge and understanding.

“The acquisition of knowledge is always of use to the intellect, because it may thus drive out useless things and retain the good. For nothing can be loved or hated unless it is first known.” 
― Leonardo da Vinci

BUT. I draw the sympathy line at those who have had the advantage of a college education and remain bloody stupid, because there's no excuse for it WHATSOEVER. They open themselves to scorn, they deserve it, and I don't hold back.

Others? If they are never given an education, or are never told they lack it, how can they ever improve? They may be annoyed when we correct them, their feelings may be hurt, but this is a good thing. If we arouse emotion as a result of pointing out their flawed reasoning or gaps in their knowledge, that may be the catalyst to their own efforts.

If they are actually embarrassed then that's a powerful experience for them. Feeling like an idiot, and caring about that is the perfect motivation to DO SOMETHING. To care.

It's not necessary to be an expert on everything. It's not even possible. But it is possible for everyone to learn how to think, to learn how to question, to learn how to discern, to learn how to learn.

You don't have to be rude. Calling somebody an idiot never helps anything. Suggesting they may be mistaken, guiding them towards reading material that explains things, and offering to explain things you are comfortable with yourself, can be done kindly and gently.

If you leave a person in ignorance you are actually part of the problem.

Now remember, this applies to facts. Not opinions. So, ethics are probably best dealt with differently. And there are those who are a hopeless case anyway. Trying to teach an octogenarian not to be homophobic would take more time and energy than most of us have, and is probably like teaching a pig to dance.

Still, you can correct misinformation even if it's ignored. Sometimes repeating the truth, even if it's thrown back in your face time after time, sometimes does work eventually. People can resist new information because it messes with their entire worldview.

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/02/facebook-conspiracy-theorists-fooled-by-even-the-most-obvious-anti-science-trolling-study/


http://www.psmag.com/health-and-behavior/threaten-my-group-and-ill-belittle-your-science


Remember that ignorance leads to hate.  That's why it matters.

Education, good, flexible, determined, repeated education is needed.

Meanwhile, we'll just keep seeing stuff like this.

http://guff.com/christian-parent-is-sick-of-dinosaurs-being-forced-on-kids

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

More of the Same

You may have heard me go on at length about the lack of critical thinking, and the use of "belief" instead of facts to form decisions. In the world of graphic memes we have two lovely examples.

First here's an example of what "belief" does:


And here's an example of what we should do when we hear opinions like this:

I have been criticized for my insistence of critical thinking, but I'll tell you why it's very precious to me. I had to learn it all by myself.

Like many kids, I went to a school where nobody ever bothered to teach us how to learn. They just taught stuff and hope it stuck. It was an all-girl school, not a very good school, and I think they just expected to turn out housewives, with the occasional clerk or nurse. Well, they succeeded in their aims, most of my old school chums have devoted their lives to clerical or caring professions, and if nothing else we can cook. We had an excellent education in cooking. Better than nothing, I suppose.

But even though we were taught history and sociology, it wasn't exactly deep and it's probably not an exaggeration to say that 95% of what I know, I learned after school.

Specifically, that list of critical questions was never taught, and nothing even similar.

I am assured that today, this sort of thing IS taught, but obviously not everywhere. I don't know if it was taught in my kids' schools or not because I never bothered to wait for somebody else to teach this to them, I did it myself from a very early age.

Kids who are bright ask "why" a lot, but it's usually to do with how things work. My grandson asked me why fish have dorsal fins (I had to look that up!). Kids are naturally curious, and we have a responsibility to answer their questions. And we have to get it RIGHT. If we don't know, we must find out, or admit we don't know. Teaching them nonsense is completely unethical.

Traditionally humans often had to teach kids folklore because they didn't know any better, but today we have books and the internet. We must know ourselves how to differentiate between facts and pumped up opinion, rumour, and sheer bollocks. How can we teach them if we don't know?

When I run into somebody who prefers their beliefs over facts, especially in the area of science, I confess I find it irresistible to put them right. Is that wrong of me? I don't think so. Ask yourself. If somebody told you that cancer is a fungus, for example, would you just say nothing, or would you argue? There is no doubt as to what it actually is, there's not one single expert out there who suspects it's a fungus, so you are on solid ground. What would you say?

(Incidentally, I used this as an example, it's not the topic in hand, but if you want to hear a full rant about it, there's one here: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/08/07/a-fungus-among-us-in-oncology/)

Perhaps you might not argue other weird assertions, because you think they don't matter. A common one is that exercise turns fat into muscle, which is absurd. But you might let that go because this mistake is probably harmless.

So what's your limit? What's your rationale behind disputing or not disputing information you know to be wrong?

That's your homework for today, off you go and think about it. I'm not done on the topic.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

A Load of Old Waffle

So, even yesterday's blog got me into trouble. (This is my really caring deeply about what others think face). But to show willing, to show that I can write without getting into trouble, to show that I care deeply.......today I'm just going to ramble on like an old woman. Oh..........yes, well, I see what you mean. Anyway.......today, for your delectation and delight, I present a load of old waffle.



It's a lovely sunny morning, the sun is coming up through the maple tree, filling my office with a bright light....look, I'll show you:




Yes, that's ice (inside) along the lower edge of the pane. And yes, that's a broken pane underneath. Nobody is willing to come out to such a remote location to fix it. Seriously. Look, isn't it lovely how the real sun shines through my stained glass sun. Well, I like it anyway.

However, it's very cold out so don't be fooled by this sunshine. If you're VERY good I might take some photos outside later. 

I love mornings like this, and it stirs me to work harder and earlier. OK, so we all know I'm a bit of an over-achiever, but I still don't work at full throttle all the time. But if you give me sunshine and a bit of fast music then I crank it up a bit, and as I have a lot to do this is all to the good. 

Cats have arrived on my desk. They are recharging in the sunlight.

Now then, we've set the scene, so what can I write about that won't get me into trouble.

With anyone.

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(That was me thinking)

Oh well, forget that then, let's just dive right in.

That whole thing about faith/belief, and science. Not religion vs. science, you understand, not today, but anybody who thinks their own version of the facts is better or more accurate than the work of dedicated academics who are peer reviewed and have been studying in teams for decades, carefully following the standard scientific method. That lot.

Some of them are very nice people. I mean that. They can be sincere, compassionate, helpful, honest, and all good things. They can make great neighbours, and I wish them no harm at all. It has been said many times that it's better to be kind than right, and there is merit in that. Their beliefs range from misguided to kooky. They'd much rather listen to "some guy on the internet" than an actual expert, and that's fine and dandy for party conversations. At the same time you wouldn't one of these people making up your prescription for you, would you? Aha! See! No, that would be different. THEN you want a licensed, trained, qualified, experienced pharmacist doing it, so they don't poison you.

That's my point. It's fun, and sometimes some people are very defensive about these folk, but when it matters, you don't trust them any more than I do.

So, I'm going to weigh in very briefly on the vaccine thing. This is not my bag (do we still say that? I am a dinosaur and I'm not good at trendy slang), I leave that particular activism to others, but of course I have an opinion on it. I have an opinion on everything, and what's more you are ENTITLED to my opinion.

I had measles when I was a kid and I was very, very ill. It developed into measles meningitis, so I was on the danger list, plus I was delirious out of my tree for three days with hallucinations, and my terrified mother called the doctor out again thinking I'd lost it completely, when I accused her of riding her bicycle on the ceiling. Listen, when I hallucinate I do it creatively. Anyway, it left me with ear problems, and I still have tinnitus from that. I'm so used to it that if it ever went away I'd probably go mad from the silence, but the fact remains, like many people, I was damaged for life.

Shortly after that they introduced a vaccine, and so when I had kids I made sure they got it so they never had to go through that.

When my eldest, now 31, was a baby, there was a different hoo-har about vaccines. There had been a series of reports of severe brain damage from the whooping cough vaccine (since proven to be a coincidence). So when it was time for him to have that it, I had a conversation with my doctor (you know, the expert...). He told me that the same children who were at risk of damage from the vaccine would be at risk from the disease. They had an idea who these kids were in advance (I have no idea) and that he did not consider mine to be at risk at all. It all sounded quite reasonable, so in went the needle.

That's what I do. That's what sensible people do. When they are concerned about something they ask pertinent questions. They choose someone they trust to answer them, someone with real knowledge, not hearsay or woo-woo.

It's no secret that I eschew the flu shot. I have had many doctors support this decision. It wasn't a decision based on hearsay or woo-woo. It's based on the fact that I have never had flu, even despite sleeping beside Martin when he had it, several times. In addition, 4 out of 6 of my kids have never had it, even when the other 2 did. But that's not all.

In 1911, a few years before the big Spanish flu pandemic, my great-grandmother died of flu in my great-grandfather's arms. He had nursed her throughout her illness, but never caught it himself. It was said, in the family, that was a natural immunity in the genetics, that some of us acquired, and some didn't. I believe I have that, and have also passed it on.

The doctors I've spoken to agree that there is a strong likelihood of this. What's more, they agree that getting a flu short could be at best pointless, and at worst, it could damage that natural immunity. It remains possible, of course, that it is a limited immunity, and that if the virus mutated enough it might not hold out. But without becoming a test subject, we don't know. Anyway, my point is, I didn't make this up, and I've had good advice from multiple experts.

Because I support vaccination in principle, and reject one of them personally, I am hated by both sides of the argument so I simply stay right out of it. It's just better that way. I really can't be bothered to explain everything I just said (8 paragraphs) every time the topic comes up.

But I'll say this. People who choose hearsay and woo-woo over solid science are the reason we have a new measles outbreak. OK? It's a perfect example of the effect that "Belief" can have, in a practical way. And those who share "memes" online with fake data are guilty of harm. I saw one just the other day, it said there had been zero deaths from measles in the last ten years. BULLSHIT! No, I know it's not as risky as driving in a car. But car driving is optional. Catching diseases is not.

So, let's move on to other reasons why these dearly held beliefs are dangerous, even when not religious in origin.

The climate. Again, bogus data. I read something recently that said there was no scientific consensus, that some respected scientists disagree about climate change (and speak out about it), while others have been bullied or railroaded into going along with it for fear of their careers. It suggested that many if not most scientists were actually skeptical of any human effect on climate change, and for that reason, we should just ignore it.

It is certainly a fact that scientists do not agree on the severity of the impact. It is certainly true that some models of predicted effects have not happened. It is certainly true, thankfully, that the worst case scenario speed of planetary warming is so far not panning out, and it's moving more slowly. It is undeniably true that polar ice is increasing in some places. None of this changes anything.

Scientists rarely agree on everything. That's normal, and it's good. But never mind that, what is a scientist? Are you a scientist if you say you are? Does one batchelor's degrees make you a scientist? And quite apart from that, if your field is molecular science, or medicine, does that make you an expert on climate?

The leading skeptic of climate change in the UK some years ago was a botanist. A great guy, did TV shows, really entertaining and informative. On botany. Should have stuck to that and not shoot his mouth off because he lost all his credibility. People were surprised, because at first, being a leading environmentalist, he had been on the side of those warning about climate change, then changed his mind.

I wasn't surprised, because I knew he was almost a homeopath. Total, utter woo-woo. Anyone who can believe in homeopathy is not on sturdy footing, as far as I'm concerned. I'm boring like that.

Ah, logic and facts. Two of my bestest friends. Unfortunately, science also tells us there's no such thing as a fact. This is what messes people up, I think. They pick that idea up (either directly, or by being confused at the lack of consensus) and think it means "any idea will do". No. That's not it.

The process of science means that we gather together all the information we have, we study it carefully, we actually try to prove ourselves wrong as a test, and we compare our findings with others who are just as careful. Mistakes get made. We fix those. We missed something. We pick that up later. We find we didn't have all the data. Now we have more. A process. A GOOD process.



Yes, there's a lot of faith out there that isn't religious, but it might as well be. It has the same basis. Some of it is very interesting, fun even, and most of it is complete nonsense. In fact, it's a load of old waffle.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Facebook

I'm in trouble again. Like my teencat Watson, I'm always in trouble. I can't get a break. If I get too serious I get into trouble, and if I'm flippant I get into more trouble. I'm misunderstood (I'm channelling Watson again). So, instead of writing today about something deep and meaningful, I'm writing about Facebook. No effort required.

Yes, a blog post, posted on Facebook, about Facebook.

See, like many people I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. It's my main hangout on social media, and for obvious reasons - most of those near and dear to me are there, so I keep up with everyone's lives. If I were to do this the old-fashioned way I'd never have time to do anything else, so it's very convenient.

Apparently almost 15% of the world use Facebook DAILY. Considering how people are distributed, and ages of non-users, that probably means that among adults who write in English, it's getting closer to half. In other words, if you know someone, there's an even chance they have an account, and a good chance they use it regularly. THAT is why it's important.

It has many problems. Bullying, stalking, porn, and so on. Then there's censorship, and the opposite, the "pushing" of some items over others. But if you pay attention, most of this can be avoided. It's down to the user.

What makes it such an interesting study of human behaviour, is the patterns of what regular people post. No matter how much of an individual you think you are, anything you post can be categorized.

No, it's OK, I've done all the work for you.

1. Sharing of "memes". I have to keep explaining this. A meme is actually any idea that travels from person to person. These neat little squares with a picture and a slogan, are just one way of doing this. But it is a convenient method, and I am not opposed to it in any way. I've created a few myself. When you hit "share" of anything you are transmitting a meme, but the more pithy, the better.

2. Surveys/quizzes, and results thereof. Some of these appear to be just share/like farming, because everyone gets the same results, but we just. Can't. Resist. Them, can we? Well, I can't. Even after I got a virus from one of them.....sheesh.

3. Cat photos and videos. And other cute animals. Some people get really upset about these. I watch for that carefully, I do. No, I do. I care. I take this seriously. If anyone gets really upset about cat photos I make sure to post another one.

4. Whining. This is actually one of the main uses of Facebook for some people. (Also: see 19)
You can usually spot a whine (as opposed to a genuine complaint) by the lack of attention it gets.

5. "Selfies". Including those hideous duck face ones. I do not understand the selfie craze. No, I don't think it's vanity (judging by some of the photos, anyway). I think it's just a weird obsession.

6. Funny observations of one's own life/family/surroundings/work. These are some of my favourites. Most of my friends are amusing people, and I get a lot of chuckles from this stuff.

7. RIP messages, including those for celebrities. Sounds reasonable, especially if it's somebody you were fond of, but what it means is that when a famous person dies you get told about it 60 times. Overkill. Also, comments that "it's sad" when this person was in their 90s are bloody weird.

8. Weather reports (and photos). These also annoy some people, but trust me, when you open the door to let the cat out and it's -30C out there, one feels the need to share.

9. What I had for dinner (and photos). This is so annoying to some people they write long, LONG rants ridiculing it. That was why I set up a foodie group where it's actually encouraged. See how good I am to you?

10. Politics and social issues. Believe it or not some folk object to this. Maybe they see too much or it gets them down or something. But actually this stuff matters. I stopped posting on American politics because it's completely insane.

11. Sports commentaries. Not quite sure of the purpose of that, but I don't follow sports, so I guess I wouldn't.

12. Thoughts about current TV broadcasts. Likewise.

13. Thoughts about video games. And again.

14. Prayers, and requests for prayers. I suppose it's a useful vehicle. That's all I'm saying.

15. Coffee. As I'm not personally a caffeine addict I find this repetitive and tedious, but whatever. I tried retaliating once by writing repeatedly about pizza and got ignored. Nobody understands my brand of sarcasm.

16. Lost dogs/found dogs. Very useful service. If you are local.

17. Birth announcements (and photos of newborns). Understandable.

18. Photos of kids being cute. Likewise.

19. Vaguebooking. This one CRACKS ME UP. You know the posts. They are totally meaningless but sort of allude to some drama in the writer's life. Like a teaser trailer. Here's my advice, if it's too personal to come right out with it, then SAY NOTHING. Otherwise it just looks attention-seeking.

20. Jokes. I like these. A lot.

21. Music videos. Some are good, some not so much, but quite often I just skip them for reasons of time and bandwidth.

22. Recipes. (See 9). As a person who enjoys cooking I am happy to see these but I wish people would realise that those posted by pages, especially diet pages, are just share/like farming. Think about it. I also wish people would learn that boxed cake mix isn't an ingredient.

23. What I made. And here I sometimes have to bite my tongue. My grandmother said if you can't say anything nice, say nothing. I really must remember that one (see 9) but when it's a craft, I really find it best to just shut up.

24. FUCKING GAME REQUESTS! I nix these as soon as I see them, so I don't see many these days, but one crept through today. Do I look like a person who plays Facebook games?

I daresay I've forgotten something here, can you think of any others?

Monday, 16 February 2015

Correlation is Not Causality

One of the issues I have with religion is the one-sided nature of how they attribute human behaviour.

So, for example if a man spends his life doing good deeds, that's because of his faith.

But if he does bad things, that's down to him. Nothing do do with his religion.

And we've all heard it, haven't we? Let's face it. I even agree that religion is often simply used as an excuse for bad behaviour, when it was simply a personal choice.

We are constantly being told, for example, that there is no connection between Islam and terrorism, and I agree. The vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, and openly condemn terrorist actions. And when these discussions turn on Christians and expose their terrorism, we are assured that they were not doing it from any Biblical reason. We are told, categorically, it is a perversion of the religion, not a part of it.





Up to a point, I agree. Up to a point. Every human has the choice to be good or bad, to behave kindly and fairly or not. With obvious exceptions such as being kidnapped to fight, or drafted into a war (same thing) we always have the option to say "This is wrong, I won't do it". Even if it's done in a weasel way, such as the pacifist who tells you to move out of the way fast, because he's going to shoot, there are many options even in extreme situations.

Of course it's also alleged that misinterpretation of holy teachings can be to blame, and there remains in any case the impact of suggestion. It's really not hard for a mentally unstable person to be negatively influenced by religion, just as he could be negatively influenced by anything.

But let's accept for the moment the argument that religion has NOTHING to do with bad behaviour, not even from peer pressure, cultural pressure, warped preachers, or sensationalist media. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that every human is fully capable of understanding ancient texts, that they all meant well anyway, that he knows exactly what is expected of him, and that any act of human unkindness was 100% his choice.

Why doesn't it work the other way around?

Why is it that if I devote my life to charity, somebody will ask me about my faith? Why would it be assumed that I can't decide to do that for myself?

Many's the time, in fact, that by way of thank you, when I've helped a stranger, I've been told I'm a good Christian woman. The person saying it isn't trying to be exclusive, they've been taught, and they then assume, that any ethical act is caused by religion.

If you question people on this topic, most of them, at least these days will say that of course they know that people of all religions, and none at all, are capable of being good people. Nevertheless the association prevails.

And the reasoning behind this? Either they, or somebody they know, used to be a bad person, found religion, and became a good person.

I must be honest, this scares me a bit. What is wrong with these people? Are they latent psychopaths? It's not like we don't know right from wrong. Even if they had bad parents there are plenty of other clues along the way.

There was a boy at school who used to bully my son. Right from a very young age this kid was a bad'un. Not surprisingly he's now in jail. I don't know if he's been diagnosed with anything, but clearly he didn't learn from repeated disciplinary action or whatever went on as he grew up and I don't expect being imprisoned will do anything to help either. I have very little faith in the system there. When he comes out, even if he keeps himself out of trouble and stays out, I fully expect him to remain an arsehole for the rest of his life. I know that's pessimistic, but there it is.

If he were to get some sort of help, psychological counselling, whatever is possible, maybe it could make a difference. Or maybe he's just a faulty unit, nothing can be done. If he were a dog we'd put him down. We don't kill people for being faulty, but we do leave them out in society, which is just as bad, because they harm others. In my opinion unrepairable humans should spend their lives locked up, given useful work to do.

If he "found God" and started being a pillar of the community, I wouldn't trust him. Sorry. It wouldn't impress me at all. There are far too many religious people, even clergy, behaving just as badly as him. If he's capable of harming others, then he's capable, and whatever veneer of ethics religion were to give him could be easily chipped.

There are plenty of people who want to be good, try to be good, and just can't keep it up. They backslide. Why? External stimuli? There are many explanations here but it certainly goes to show that the "new you" isn't quite such a fixture.

So, I have discussed this with religious people many times and I always get the same answer. That bad people can be miraculously and permanently changed - cured, in fact - by their new found faith. I've even had people tell me it happened to them. I can't call them liars, so what explanation do I have?

Firstly, in less extreme cases, and in people who were good anyway, I believe, firmly that quite often, if not most of the time, people who have a natural urge to do good deeds, charity or whatever, turn to the church as a convenient vehicle for this. I've met these people. The spiritual aspect of the religion isn't really their objective at all, or they simply see it manifesting as activism or the need to help others.

I can't possibly object to this. These are fine people, and the world needs as many of them as it can get. So long as they don't spoil it by spouting negative doctrine, they have my support, and my admiration.

Did religion make them this way? No. It's who they are. They were born and/or raised ethical people, and they just also happen to be religious, as a separate aspect of their personality, or, in fact, more of a cultural thing quite often. They know nothing of theology, and don't care. That's not what they are in it for.

Then there are those who have a strong sense of duty. They were were raised in a religious environment and were taught that you must be charitable. It's not that they are scared not to do it (although that may apply to a few) it's just habit, normal, and let's be honest....seen by others. There would be talk and shame if it wasn't done. Sometimes they are good people, and sometimes, well, sometimes they are the ones whose bad behaviour is excused as "but she's got a heart of gold really". You know somebody like that, I'm sure. The stereotypical older lady who causes trouble all the time with gossip and attitude, but can always be relied upon to help out in the community when called upon. They may be selfless, or their motives may be otherwise. In the end people leave them to get on with it because "stuff gets done".

Did religion make them "good"? No. You could get exactly the same sort of behaviour, from exactly the same sort of person, outside a religious environment. Sometimes ego makes them do it. Sometimes they need a hobby. But really behind it all is that's just all they know.

But there's also the common causal variable, or third factor. This is the one that trips up even the best scientists.

You cannot possibly have missed the debate on vaccinations and autism. Even when it was conclusively proven scientifically that vaccinations were not the cause of autism, many people still believed they were, based on data. People whose entire scientific understanding was what they learned in school, had this idea that charts couldn't lie.

So when they saw this:


There was no talking them out of it.

It is a pretty compelling chart. Until you see this one:


In fact I've seen charts that by tight correlation can "prove" that autism is caused by a rise in daffodil sales.

Correlation is not causality. Obesity and earlier death correlates well, and there everyone, doctors included, until fairly recently, believed that being obese is the cause of earlier deaths. But it's not. There is a third reason, in this case the same thing that causes people to become obese (sitting on their arses eating junk food) is what kills them. Lack of exercise and poor nutrition.

In the daffodils and autism, there is no link at all, it's a complete coincidence.

In the vaccinations and autism, it's more to do with better health care leading to both more vaccinations and better diagnosis and reporting of autism cases. So the third factor is actually a good thing, but it was misunderstood.

In the organic food chart, it is suspected by some that parents are reacting to children's behavioural issues by offering healthier food. In other words, the rise in autism diagnoses are driving the sales, but it could just as easily be another example of the third factor, or even coincidence.

Those are your choices, coincidence, a third factor, and a reverse causation to that implied.

In what other area of life do we see this? Politics.

I lean to the left politically. Americans call me a liberal, and that's not completely wrong, but it would be more accurate to say socialist. The American Democratic party is not a socialist party, it's actually right of centre.

The reason I lean to the left is that I see socialism as fairer and kinder. That, of course, is a matter of considerable debate, but it is my view.

Does this mean that all socialists are fair and kind? No.

Does it mean kind and fair people naturally gravitate towards socialism? No.

Does it mean socialism makes people fair and kind. NO.

No it doesn't. Because people are who they are. If they discover a new ideology, they may take on board ideas they hadn't previously had, or they may be persuaded by certain arguments. It changes them, certainly, but it isn't the cause of the change. The cause of the change is wisdom, realisation. It's an inside job.

For most of us these realisations come slowly, one at a time. Small epiphanies. They come from meeting people who are different to ourselves, from various life experiences, including bad ones. Sometimes they come from reading books, and not holy ones either. We learn all the time and sometimes light bulbs go on. It's not that we were stupid before, it's that we just never had the opportunity to see things "that way" before.

Life throws things at you. Lessons, in fact. You can ignore them, or you can benefit from them, and if you choose to learn, it does change you. The more you get, the more you change.

I am quite certain that if these new ideas and changes all came from meeting highly intelligent religious teachers it would be construed as religion changing the person, but I think that's a stretch. There is the known phenomenon, after all, of "when the student is ready, the teacher appears". If it really were as easy it's made out to be, that all people have to do is "hear the word", then everyone would be affected by it, and clearly we are not.

People sometimes do wake up and see the error of their ways. Thankfully.

I've said it before, and I'll say it for evermore:

If religion is what stops you from killing people, then go to church. I'll take you there myself if necessary. Tie you to the bloody altar......... Seriously, if religion is what prevents you from being bad, keep it up. If you really need to be reminded every Sunday not to be an arsehole then don't miss a single week. Go twice. What works works.

But before you INSIST that when a person in your religion, who does something very bad, is not being a "True X" (please read the "No True Scotsman" fallacy), or that their religion was in no way responsible for their actions, you might want to consider the possibility that the good behaviour of the followers is more to do with personality/guilt/convenience/habit/duty/aha moments than anything spiritual.
























EDIT: First bloody person to read this saw the autism rise chart and helpfully told me it was wrong. I know. I was curious to see if you were paying attention. I guess you're too clever for me. Here's the actual correlation chart:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/02/25/the-link-between-vaccines-and-autism/

Friday, 13 February 2015

Church and the Young

Look out Paul, it's another long one........

I've decided I won't apologize here for my wordiness. There's just so much to say. I could break it down into several posts, but instead I'll break it up into sections, and you can pour another coffee when you see the sub-headers.

So, I was asked what I thought of this:

http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/48226-can-we-stop-the-70-percent-of-young-adults-who-drop-out-of-church

I had a look at the website and I see it's not a broad Christian site, but a specifically Pentecostal one, but we'll overlook that for now and deal with the article as is. In fact I'm not even really thinking only about the Christian church, but of the concept in general, so please read synagogue, temple, etc, when you see the word church, because much of what I have to say applies to all religions.

I could give you a throwaway answer about why young people are abandoning church, along the lines of  "Good, they can spend the time more usefully" or "Who needs churches anyway?" but that's just too simplistic. I'm not an idiot. I know churches fulfil certain needs. I'll begin by questioning whether maybe those needs could be fulfilled elsewhere. I do remember being a young person, by the way, just in case anyone doubts it, and in answering this question I will be drawing on my feelings about church THEN, as well as looking at it from a mature (and parental) POV.


What does a church do, anyway?


There is the spiritual aspect, and the community aspect. It's a bit confusing really, because much emphasis is placed on the one or the other, but how do they go together?

When I was a child and went to Sunday school we were kept out of the church itself for much of the service. We sat in a different room colouring Bible scene pictures or singing songs. Then we trooped in at the end to join in a prayer and hymn and that was it. Maybe we were too noisy or whatever, but we were excluded from the teaching aspect or whatever the grown-ups were doing.

Looking back this was a glorified daycare, really, it gave the parents a break so they could relax a bit and concentrate on what was being presented. So it was very much in the community area of services provided. There were others - for older kids there was a youth centre, and we had trips, parties, and other special occasions. It was at one of these parties for the kids that I met my future husband for the first time, as a matter of fact.

The church also gave space and support to scouts and guides, and in that way offered quite a bit to young people, and this is often the case. Nobody could possibly object to that, but of course it could just as easily be a school, sports facility, or local community hall that offered this.

What I see as more important is the emphasis on helping others that children are taught, but again, this can be taught at home and in school, and can often become a cultural norm if peers and the media are involved. In the end it's down to personal attitude.

The problem I see in some churches is that they are selective in how they offer help. I don't think that is a good lesson for young people. It's the basis of prejudice.

Sometimes the church itself has to push the message home a bit. You may have seen this:

http://www.godvine.com/read/Homeless-Pastor--557.html

On the other hand, there's this:

http://thehomelessguy.blogspot.ca/2011/09/church-myth.html

Church as sanctuary has a long tradition, but its patchy at best, and sometimes the help offered is the wrong kind, conditional, or, well........

http://bitchspot.jadedragononline.com/2013/04/24/mother-teresa-was-no-humanitarian/

Ask anyone who was taught by nuns in school and you'll hear tales of bullying the like of which other students have never compared.

Young people learn very much by example, and therefore the community aspect of the church they grow up in has a profound effect. Depending on the kid's intellect and other influences this will shape their future self. So it matters. If the experience they have is of selfless, unprejudiced, unconditional acts of kindness and charity there is a good chance that even if they leave the church, that much will stay with them. If they see bigotry, fake charity, even cruelty, it could create monsters....or it could turn them away. Many people are put off church by actually experiencing its "darkside". How many people have you met that describe themselves as "recovering" from whichever religion or denomination they grew up in. Why is it such a surprise that those whose experience was bad wouldn't want to stick around?

We've all heard how it was just one bad priest, or their parents totally didn't get it, people were doing the best they knew how, etc etc etc. It's all bollocks. Cruelty to children is often disguised as doctrine, and often excused as an error or human failing, but IT'S TOO LATE.

Now this is the extreme end, obviously, but there's also the boredom factor, so let's turn to the spiritual aspect.

I went to a Methodist Sunday school, and a standard (for England at the time) Church of England Primary School. We had a "religious" assembly every morning, and - I don't remember how often - walked two by two down to the church for a proper service. The effect this had on me? Sheer, utter boredom. Oh, some of the songs were good, maybe 4 or 5 of them, but most were dirges, and I tuned out of the monologues. What did I learn in all my religious instruction as a child? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Of course other churches made more effort. The Catholic kids, those who went to Catholic schools anyway (not all did) were given really religious education and could quote things. The older ones, if they were interested, could even EXPLAIN a few things. But in my entire adolescence I never met a single person my age who really had any idea about theology. My ignorance, in fact, was almost complete, and in regards to Christianity (i.e the religion of my own culture) it remained that way until I was in my late thirties and got an internet connection.

I was far more interested in other spiritual matters, and I read absolutely everything esoteric my local library had to offer. Three full shelves. I think I read some of them multiple times. And this was what we discussed as teens. Firstly, we became aware that there were alternatives. Then we learned that there were respectable people who were agnostic or atheist. Some kids simply had no interest in spiritual matters whatsoever, and those of us who did divided it more or less into metaphysical highbrow stuff and more the more available - art, music, and nature. I liked both, being a bit of an intellectual but also Pagan right down to my toes.

No church, no institution, other than the library, offered me anything spiritual at all. On the community side, ah well, I was thrown out of the Girl Guides for being drunk at a meeting, and found a much more interesting extra-curricular in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, where the community service I opted for was at the police station. I was never very good at the more nurturing stuff, but I did my bit.

I wasn't an exception, there were plenty of kids my age who were reading highbrow stuff and also doing good deeds, and there were those who chose one or the other, but I would say most kids were too busy being kids to bother with any of it, quite frankly. In fact the kids who seemed to take it the least seriously were those dragged to church every Sunday by religious parents. So it clearly wasn't doing any good.

I certainly did not see a nice clean cut distinction, whereby the church-going kids were good and the non-church-going kids were bad. It just didn't work like that, and it doesn't work like that in the bigger picture either. What I DID see was that the nicest church-going kids tended to stick with church long after childhood as a convenient place to do their niceness. They could have done it elsewhere.

Were they getting a secondary spiritual advantage too? I really have no idea. We never talked about it.

What WAS talked about, a lot, in those days, was superstition. This is the third aspect offered by churches. The one they won't admit. Kids caught onto the superstition easily, quickly. Not surprisingly either. It's a very primitive thing. I'll come back to that aspect later.

Does a church help parents raising kids in these difficult times? There may be something in that, but mostly on a practical level. If they offer things for kids to do of an evening, to keep them off the street, even if it's only games, or just a safe place to meet one another, that would be a huge help.

And if a parent is having a hard time fighting the wave of negative peer pressure and looking for mentors to stop the kid going off the rails, and the church provides that then all power to them. Parents (especially poor or single parents in the inner cities) really do need some sort of support if they are dealing with issues like gangs, drugs etc.

But it doesn't have to be a church doing that. Many local projects, even local authorities, are tackling these issues without the religious slant, and they may be far more attractive to kids, who are suspicious of "churchy stuff".

Anyway, to sum up this first section, in my own experience - which was in a theocracy - the church offered little, if anything to kids that couldn't be offered elsewhere, and possibly better. Now I'll turn to the highlighted items this article talks of offering in its tour.

  • Emboldened in their faith
What faith? Children generally believe anything you tell them. They believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy if you want them to. It is only later as they develop critical thinking skills that they are able to think about faith at all. Religious instruction done "properly" in children usually amounts to ideological brainwashing, and there are several approaches. The immersion approach is done in locations where the majority are believers. This is the easiest method, because everybody talks about God all the time, in in the same way. It's a cultural norm. It's habit-forming, and comfortable, for the most part. It gets deeply ingrained, but it may not be well understood at a theological level. Is it faith?

Another way children can be raised in a religion is with threats and superstition. The fear of God or of Hell. They will comply, they won't dare do otherwise. But is it faith?

But even those who are raised with love, and kindness, careful age appropriate theology, and a "teach by example" approach to the good stuff don't necessarily have religious faith. They may simply have faith in their family, community, and the benevolence of mankind. All of this can happen without religious belief of any kind. 

I think faith itself is a personal journey, and is not something done as a child. So these young adults the church is targeting are at, or close to the beginning of, that journey, so they are very vulnerable to the wrong sort of input. I only hope this church is doing it well. Judging by the emphasis on this tour...I think not.
  • Equipped with a biblical worldview

I'm not really sure what that means, but it sounds a bit dodgy and a bit exclusive. I get that the church wants its kids to follow their own doctrine, but I don't think this is a good approach at all. Anything that doesn't equip kids with a fully rounded worldview is just more ideological brainwashing, and that's a huge negative for me. I think churches would attract more kids (or keep them) if it skipped that part for now, frankly. But of course they won't because the younger you train them, the better it sticks. Is this an attractive thing for young people? I doubt it. This is probably one of the things putting them off. They may want to rethink it.

  • Engaged in winning their sphere of influence for Christ.
Now we get closer to the truth. The reason the churches want to keep (or acquire) young people is so they can recruit even more. There are two ways of looking at this of course. They think they are sharing something (it's never quite clear what). This is the basis of evangelism - spreading the word. But anyway, they think they are doing The Right Thing. They must - it's The Great Commission. (NEWSFLASH: We've all already heard it!)

I have always opposed proselytizing and it was a major problem at MSN Religion Forums, back in the day, because we had two contradictory rules. One was NO PROSELYTIZING, and that was rigorously enforced. But the other was RESPECT FOR THE BELIEFS OF OTHERS, which is all very well, except that some are required by their beliefs to proselytize  (see Great Commission, above). In ecumenical and interfaith situations this is always an area of compromise, and proselytizing is done in a sneaky way instead. Yes, I said sneaky. A local church (and it's not alone in this) offers an "alternative" to Halloween trick or treating - a party for local kids of all religions and none. When mine were young they heard about it at school and were interested in going...until a friend tipped me off that part of the evening's entertainment was going to be hardcore proselytization. Of children. UGH.

So, more ideological brainwashing. Yeah, that's a real pull guys.

The Tough Questions


  • How can I know the Bible is true?
Well that one's easy, you use circular logic.


That really isn't going to work on intelligent young people, and those it does work on, well..............maybe the superstition has already got to them and they are too scared to argue or question it.

I'll confess, this one would drag ME in, because I'd love to hear how they explain it. But I'm old and well-read and all that. I can't see this one being much of a selling point for the young.

In actual fact I've studied this enough to know that "true" isn't even relevant, but that's a level of study you aren't going to do in soundbytes on a speaker's tour. Good luck with that one.

  • Where is God in the midst of pain and suffering?
Where indeed. I touched on theodicy in a recent blog post and it's one of my favourite areas of discussion. Again, this can't be answered in a single presentation, and it's very naive to think it can, but I'd go just to hear that.

I think this might attract some young people. It's a question they often ask, especially as they become aware of the horrors out there. Depending on the kid, this may be too late though. My grandson has already started asking why we have things like wars, and he's only 7. He's smart, and I'm quite sure if he were in a Christian family he'd have asked what God was doing about it. I think most kids who are allowed to ask such questions would have done so long before they reached the age targeted by this tour, and they may already be long lost if the answer didn't satisfy them. In fact, an unsatisfactory answer to this question is probably responsible for a considerable number of kids "lost" to the church.

There is no satisfactory answer, and in fact this is one of the reasons so many of us will never be part of any organized religion.

  • How do I deal with my doubts?
Doubts? So you don't have faith? Well, maybe this isn't for you then. Do you mean questions? Or do you really mean DOUBTS? You have some serious thinking to do. May I recommend critical thinking? Don't be scared. If you're scared maybe the superstition got to you.

I have been told that it's normal to have doubts. If you need a church to come along at that point and top up the brainwashing, then something's not right there. I think we're back to cultural norms and the fear of being an outsider.

No, doubts are often what leads many a young person away from church. It's the uncomfortable realisation that it may not actually be true, so I see why this particular effort focuses on it. Round 'em back up quick before they stray. Ask ex-believers where the rot set in and they'll often tell you, at University. At that age, and in a place where other ideas are discussed. This is why some of the far right-wing disapprove of higher education (see article), and some have even admitted as much. "They get non-Christian ideas in college". Yes, they do. Away from the immersion, away from parents, and eyes wide open to alternatives.

Yes, you'd better step in there.

Of course a lot depends here on where the kid is on the progressive-literal scale. Literalists/fundamentalists are particularly keen on keeping kids on their end of the scale, they don't want them getting into liberal versions of the religion because that's just a slippery slope to none at all. Well, they think so. It's not true. You stand a better chance of your kid staying a believer if he's introduced to a more liberal version of your beliefs, but fundies don't want to hear that. It's too complicated. That's a discussion for another day.

The Common Objections

  • There is no evidence God exists.
Well of course there isn't. If there was, there'd be no need for belief or faith. Everyone would know it instead, and half of this waffle would be unnecessary. I daresay people would still argue and fight over God's requirements, but it would be a game changer.

As it is, nobody can prove it one way or the other, it's moot but why bother.

  • The Bible is a flawed book.
Very. They all are. They were written a long, long time ago by men doing their best to answer difficult questions. I think they deserve points for effort. The fact that it's flawed is one of the reasons it's obviously not authored by God. Well, one hopes so, or God made a few huge mistakes. And we are told God is omniscient so QED. Either God isn't omniscient or he DIDN'T write the book, you can't have it both ways. And don't bother with "men were inspired...." - it's still full of errors.

(If any apologist really wants to waste their time arguing these errors with me, have at it, but I guarantee I'm better at it than you, I've been doing it for almost 20 years now.)

If you like the book, GREAT! If you benefit from some of its stories, WONDERFUL! No problem. It's nice to include any good stuff from any book in one's influences. No harm there.

But it isn't science, it isn't history, and it certainly isn't ethics. It teaches us a lot about people >2000 years ago, and that's useful. In my house it would go on the same shelf as these:


But I don't actually have a printed copy, I have it on CD, along with every other holy book available. I've read them all.

Is this an argument that the young are interested in? YES. I would say it is. Quite how you deal with that, I don't know, I would say you'd have to go the non-literal route or risk rejection. Unless they'd already been sufficiently brainwashed...but then they wouldn't be questioning it.

Well good luck with this one.

  • Jesus never rose from the dead.
  • Miracles are impossible.

I've lumped these together because it's all just more superstition. Magic. I'm not anti-magic, obviously, but I don't think it's central to religion. It has nothing to do with feeding the poor, or tending the sick, or whatever. It has nothing to do with appreciating the magnificence of creation. It's just mythology and superstition, and these have their place, but I see no use for them in our religious lives, frankly. Again, a discussion for another day. But to confine it to the current topic, I don't think these are going to appeal to the average young person unless they are credulous, and that may not be what you want. Or maybe you do.

  • There is no one way to God.
This is huge. One of the first things kids notice when they go out in the world (non-church schools/work/internet/social lives) is that they meet people who belong to different religions and who are devout. I mean really good examples of their religions. It's a bit of an eye opener, for example, for young fundie Americans who heard all about evil Muslims at home, to meet some in college who are fun, honest, hard-working, kind, charitable, law-abiding, and above all not terrorists. Peaceniks even.

It can mess with their heads a bit.

I grew up with Muslims in my class, as they had no other option for school. One of my friends was from a medium strict Muslim family. They dressed modestly, without head coverings, but no short skirts, and she wasn't allowed out with us, because she could only meet boys with a chaperone. (It was an all-girl school so it was easy there). One day in our final year, she brought a photo in on a Monday morning, of a man she'd been introduced to - and engaged to - over the weekend. He was 8 years older than her, and a 3rd cousin or something.

We were absolutely horrified. We were ready to kidnap her, to save her from this terrible fate. But she was perfectly happy. Excited. Keen. We conceded that he was very handsome, and as he owned his own home already she would be well set up financially, but we couldn't take it in. She was a lovely girl, always smiling, always kind, a good student, but also a lot of fun. And a jolly good Muslim. She'd found God without any difficulty whatsoever.

Of course these days we all know lots of people of different religions, and we take it in our stride.

How can we possibly insist that any one of them has more of a handle on it than any other?

I watched a bit of Muslim magic last Fall. Two Moroccan gentlemen were buying lambs from me and Tom was trying to hold the first one still while we caught another one. Our Jacob sheep are half wild and very feisty but they have horns so you can hang on. The other guy laughed and said to Tom "Watch this". And he started praying over the lamb. It calmed down immediately, almost hypnotized. Sheep whisperer? Anyway, it worked.

But the question really is why would there be only one way to God? Wouldn't that be a rotten trick to play on people who never came in contact with the "right" way? Why would God do that?

It's one of many rotten tricks that turn me off organized religion, literalism, and much of its dogma, but it's also totally illogical.

Maybe some young people would delight in the exclusivity (elitism?) of it. I would hope not. It would mean they'd been taught wrong hitherto.

From the church's POV, obviously, this could be a big plus. "You must come to US. US you hear! Nowhere else! They won't do! Not just us Christians, but THIS denomination. Catholics are all Pagans!" If you need numbers, you need a reason they should choose you, and not the church down the road. And definitely no DIY spirituality. Can't have people staying home and believing in God, that won't buy the bishop's new car.


What should the church be doing instead?


First of all decide what their purpose is. Not just for the young, but for everyone (even the non-believers).

Are they there to teach metaphysics and/or theology, or is that best left for places of education and personal study?

Are they there to offer community support, and if so, does that include everyone or just the faithful or "deserving".

Are they there to proliferate superstition, or is it time they joined the rational age?

Having done that, they could then prioritize. Add a large portion of humility, lack of hypocrisy, and be actually welcoming, and then maybe they at least wouldn't lose so many.

Or......ask.

Ask people why they don't go to church. Address that. Adapt. Grow.

If the answer is "We don't need you", then downsize. Sell the megachurch. Give the money to charity. Fire the bishop. Use lay preachers. Accept the inevitable. Evolve.

Friday, 6 February 2015

50 Shades of Abuse

This post is not suitable for minors.

To recap: on Facebook I shared an article suggesting that the novel 50 Shades of Grey had the potential to mislead young people into thinking that abusive relationships were erotic.

Here's the article:

http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2015-02-talk-kids-50-shades-grey/

And here's the gist of it:

The book and movie perpetuate the idea that the abuse and sexual control of women is sexy.

Not for the first time, the topic of BDSM arose in the conversation. I personally think that's a red herring, and I'll explain why in a bit.

First, if we're going to talk about this, then we have to look at what consent is.

The dictionary says it is permission given to do something. Tacitly, I believe, this implies permission given freely with all available information. So, if I give you permission to walk on my lawn, I do so without any pressure or coercion on your part, and with an understanding that "walk on" does not mean drive on it, or dig it up, or pour salt on it. Plus, that permission was only given to you, not 200 others, that it applies only for the time we have agreed upon, and that I can withdraw that permission at whim.

One of the things that is so wonderful about humans is that out of politeness, respect, and good upbringing, most of us cope just fine with this sort of thing. We tend not to overstep the mark. When invited into somebody's home we don't rummage through their cupboards or jump on the beds, despite not being told how to behave. We know what's acceptable and what isn't.

But before any of that, we have a few other understandings. Normally, you don't just walk into somebody's home without invitation, even if the door is wide open. And you don't invite yourself to dinner, you wait to be asked.

My dog Sirius has no boundaries like that. If your door was open, he'd wander in, help himself to any food that wasn't being watched over, tip out your garbage, and try to have sex with your cat.

So, when humans have no boundaries we tend to call them animals, and this distinction comes from the rules we have come up with in human society to get along peacefully.

Boundaries and consent are particularly important in matters of sexual activity, and even in the simplest concepts of personal space. You may have heard of the girl who shamed a man who touched her on an airplane by putting his photo on the internet. He said it was a mistake. It sure was. But it wasn't an accident.

He overstepped boundaries, and he did not have her consent. 

The boundaries are not marked. They are not mapped. This is something we have to learn as we grow up. It's part of our culture, and it does vary a bit, but generally speaking in modern society people know when and where they can touch another person. Without consent to go beyond that, there will be objection, and it's a totally justified objection.

Now, I'm famous among those who know me well for saying that in my opinion sexual acts of any kind between any two consenting parties are entirely their business, and you won't hear a word of objection from me. This statement is considered quite shocking by some people, and I have even been called immoral for it. But think about it for a moment. Unless there is betrayal of a third party, which is a whole other matter, this mutual consent harms nobody. It doesn't matter what this couple do, it's between them and it's nobody else's business.

My husband and I (OH GOD I SOUND LIKE THE QUEEN!) have a running joke about ear sex. We don't actually DO IT, because neither of us actually gets anything out of it. We are just very silly people, and quite often very inappropriate, and probably not the best people to invite to dinner when your church lady aunt comes over. But the reason we joke about ear sex is that some people have tried it. And while I don't have any data here (maybe you do?) I guarantee that some of them liked it. Because humans vary enormously in what turns them on.

I use this example simply because on a scale of 0-100 in erotic appeal, ear sex scores a zero, as far as I'm concerned. I imagine that's a fairly common score. Probably ranking around the same as sex with the Eiffel tower (oh yes, somebody did).

On the other hand foot fetishes are quite common, and China even had a long-standing fetish over deformed feet. Still a zero for me, but in this example there are many people who'd rate it higher, some much higher.

Now I'm going to say something that will cause a wide variety of reactions. What is 100% for me? Bet you've often wondered! Well, I'll be honest, it's how my husband smells, and I'm not talking about his cologne (although some of those rank quite high). I am, in this respect, a bit of an animal. He's a clean man, showers a lot, but he has a warm musky smell that goes straight to my hormones.

For some people THAT would be a zero. I can see their "ewwwwww" faces from here. But that's the thing you see, we're all different, and it's all OK.

Moreover, he is not offended by being sniffed. Well, not by me anyway. If the sheep do it he's not so keen.

So that's the first part of this, the turn on. It's different for everyone and it's absolutely nobody else's business, and it can't be helped anyway. Even if you have some sort of disorder where you are turned on by watching a beheading, so long as you don't act it out, it doesn't matter. (I would recommend therapy though, seriously). What goes on in our heads is private and harmless. It is a fantasy.

Where do these fantasies come from? They have to come from somewhere. Hold that thought.

So, what if you have a fantasy that you want to act out? Well, you find somebody willing to join in. This is where the problems start. These days it's probably easier, I daresay there's a website where you fill out a questionnaire, checking off your own list of kinks, and the system matches you with someone with the same kinks. Perfect. You arrange a meet. Etc etc. But otherwise you have to find a partner who is attracted to you, and THEN drop the bombshell that you want to do X. It could be the end of the relationship right there and then. The horrified look on their face, the slamming door, the refusal to return calls. The restraining order. Well, let's hope it doesn't go that far.

As I mentioned earlier, one popular bit of sex play, to the point of becoming a lifestyle in some couples, is BDSM. It's so popular in fact that I don't need to explain it to you. I've spoken to many people who engage in this, and I think I get the picture. I do understand that it's quite safe, and totally consensual. Which makes it perfectly OK. It doesn't appeal to me, but I don't disapprove, because I don't see the harm in it. Simple as that.

If you two enjoy it, my friends, anything goes.

Let's go back to consent. The law of the land says that there are limits to consent, and one of these is age. The age of consent differs quite dramatically around the world, but here are the ages in the countries my main blog readers live:

Canada - 16
USA - 16 to 18, depending on state
UK - 16
France - 15
India - 18
Australia - 16 (17 in Tasmania)
Ireland -17

There are provisos with this age around the world, for example, in Italy it's 14, but 16 if the older person is in a position of trust, such as a teacher or priest. Other provisos depend on the age of the older party, and the type of sex. For example in countries where homosexual acts are permitted by law they often require a higher age of consent.

While we're here I may as well give the extremes:

Angola - 12
Bahrain - 21

Why do we have a legal age of consent? Well, because it is considered that under that age the consent cannot be freely given. In fact while the high ages in some countries looks like it's protecting young people, and this is the reason given, if you look closely the real reason behind it is different. These are countries where homosexuality is forbidden (so these are only ages of consent for WOMEN), and in some cases so is any sex outside marriage. So, in fact, this is more to do with control over women's choices than protection.

Nevertheless there has to be protection of the young and vulnerable, the question is what is the appropriate age for consent? The variation suggests there's no real consensus here. Clearly it is going to vary from individual to individual, and the law cannot possibly deal with that in advance, so most countries err on the side of caution. While many 14 or 15 year old women are ready to make an informed choice, having 16 as the line in the sand covers those who are not. (Some are not ready at 35, but that's another matter.)

Can young people be persuaded to perform sexual acts against their will? Certainly. In fact this is not restricted to the young. "Grooming", which is normally a speciality of pedophiles, can be achieved with any person who is naive enough not to see what's happening.

Grooming is only a malicious extension of customary behaviour, and this is why these things are so difficult to deal with. A harmless version of grooming is called social norms. Think about it. In a culture where the age of consent is 12, those involved see this as normal. There may be physical problems associated with it (a 12-year-old body is really NOT equipped to deal with pregnancy) but culturally there would be no shame, and no repercussions.

But in a culture where 12 is considered OK, 11 is not. They still have limits. There is always a limit, even when we think the limit is way off.

As I mentioned earlier, some countries have limits regarding the type of sex. If you live in a culture where homosexual activity is forbidden by law, as it was once in most of the world, it changes the attitudes of the masses. In the 1950s if you asked the average person what they thought about gay sex, they would say they disapproved. If you asked why, they'd simply tell you it was wrong. They probably hadn't given it a lot of thought. It was just not the done thing. The broader minded would have giggled about it. They may disapprove less, but still "feel" it was wrong, it was "naughty", hence the humour. Only those who took part would approve, and even many of those felt very ashamed of it, not just because it was illegal, but because it felt wrong.

And these average people who just dismissed it as wrong, were not bigots. This was not hate. This was normal, cultural attitudes, based on very little information and lots of peer pressure to disapprove. They can be forgiven for not knowing any better.

These days it's a bit different. In the liberal parts of the western world, where homosexuality is legal, in some cases gay marriage is legal, and where we are all used to having openly gay friends, it becomes an informed choice to disapprove. It's now a controversial issue, and you can be looked down upon if you say it's wrong. Older people who remember how it used to be, have a much harder time adjusting to this new cultural norm, and some never will. Young people with no memory of the days of illegality and disapproval tend to be far more tolerant, because they just see it as normal. That's how cultural norms work.

Essentially, if you want to change how society feels about something, it takes a generation or two.

I want you to think about our attitudes towards how we dress. I've talked about this many time before, but I always think it's a good example about our attitudes and how they can be manipulated. Everyone wears clothes, so we can all relate to it.

If you grow up in a culture where the majority of people think you should cover as much of your body as possible, you will likely think that too. There will be rebels, there are always freethinkers, but they are the minority. To make change you need secondary rebels. These are the people who are influenced by the freethinkers, they are effectively imitators. If you are trying to bring about social change you need to influence others, you need support. And your first supporters will come to you willingly. They are very keen, they just aren't quite as innovative. They needed that catalyst.

So, in our example, the rebels refuse to wear the all-over covering. They may show an ankle here or there, and chances are they'll be ridiculed, or in certain places, punished by law. They will be frowned upon by the majority, regardless. When there are enough secondary rebels supporting the cause, it becomes easier for more to join, until there's a critical mass effect. This is done by a very subtle persuasion, not force, but peer pressure. Fashion.

What happens at some point is that even those who aren't too sure about covering themselves less, get swept along by the tide. If you've ever been on a topless beach you'll have seen the phenomenon. First day out some girls are shy, but eventually wearing a top feels awkward, and off it comes.

In the 1880s in the western world it was daring to show an ankle. In the 1960s mini skirts caused a stir. Now the limit of controversy in most circles is whether nipples should show through a top. Nudity itself is acceptable in some situations, and we have gone to an extreme. I guarantee that the pendulum will slowly swing back the other way at some point, hopefully not too far.

It has already swung to the other extreme in other parts of the world. In some cultures women even cover their eyes and hands. This is linked to Islam, but it's not actually a religious requirement. It is a political and cultural phenomenon.

Strangely enough, in the 1960s in some of these places, women were wearing mini skirts. How did they get from that to the burqa? It wasn't rebellion within their own ranks. It wasn't their choice. It came from male authority. BUT, once that was established and some time passed a strange thing happened. Young women started wearing this garment in places where it wasn't compulsory. In fact, even in places where it is disapproved of or actually banned, some fight for the right to wear it. There are several reasons for this, in some cases it's an identity statement, a feminist statement, or a political statement. In some cases it is ideological brainwashing, and it can come from other women.

(On that topic, read this: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/02/05/384058724/all-female-jihadi-group-delivers-guide-to-life-under-islamic-state)

But the vast majority of women who wear the burqa where it is not new, do so simply because they are accustomed to it. It feels normal and comfortable. They would no more feel themselves if forced to walk down the street in jeans and a t-shirt, than most western women would fel if forced to walk down the street naked. So, do they want to wear a burqa? Yes, they do. But not by free, informed choice. It's consent and yet........it's not. This is fashion in extremis.

Now, we have a similar phenomenon that occurs here in the west with make-up. Yes, really. Most men do not wear make-up (more's the pity, I love a man in eyeliner). They used to, long ago, but currently, outside of TV/stage/movies men don't. Women frequently do wear make-up, especially for work or formal occasions, and some just put it on when they get up in the morning even if they are not going out. And this is considered normal. A single gender habit. What's more, most of the women who do so, will tell you they do it not just willingly, but with relish. If you took away their right to wear make-up they'd feel naked or cheated. They'd fight for it. As a result of understanding this, some women refuse to wear make-up. They go to the other extreme. Some won't even wear it on TV, and look quite sick under those lights, but it's a statement. Some women have fun with make-up and wear it "wrong". On purpose. Because there are unwritten fashion rules here.

My view to make-up is that if you enjoy it, ENJOY IT! If you don't, then don't wear it. But if you don't enjoy it, and wear it because you feel a pressure to do so, even if it's only female peer pressure, or you feel naked or ugly without it, then you know why women wear burqas.

Basically ladies, you've been tricked.

Female peer pressure, fashion, and the pressure to look "right" (attractive or following the rules) are powerful in all sorts of other ways. How we present ourselves to the rest of society takes up our time, our money, and our energy. There is a lot of stress involved. Some employers insist on women wearing make-up, or heels, or skirts, or whatever, even if they don't meet the public, and despite this being an infringement of personal rights, they find ways to justify it. It is an expectation, part of the dress code (which is usually already ridiculous) with dire consequences for rebellion. It's bollocks, but it's a reality.

And frankly, most people think about it very little. Men hardly at all. We are so used to these sort of norms that unless a stirrer like me mentions them, we forget we even have choices.

I'll never forget the occasion when I said much of this to a girl on a forum, and she told me sharply "you make it sound as if it's wrong to want to look pretty". I told her to define pretty, and she couldn't. Which upset her, confused her, bothered her. I couldn't see her face obviously, but I think I can guess how it looked. I challenged her to actually give this some thought, and when she was ready to discuss it (took a while) she said she had had some sort of personal epiphany which dragged up all sorts of baggage about criticism by her sister and so on. I think...maybe...I changed her life a little. I am that primary rebel, and I do influence people, but I don't pressure them. I just make them think.

Now I want you to think about propaganda, and how it works. It's very similar.

Propaganda is a deliberate attempt to convince people (plural) that something is good or bad, true or false, just or unjust, in order to reach your own aims. It is not just a lie, but a whole system of lying. It works in the same way fashion works, but with a real agenda. Governments do it to their own people, and also to the people in "enemy" nations. Employers do it to the workforce. The wealthy and powerful do it to increase their wealth and power, via politicians or media. Advertising is part of the arsenal, but nowadays propaganda can spread though social media faster, and for free, if you get the right starting point. It's powerful stuff. You can win wars with the right propaganda.

Goes without saying, it's sometimes also a false accusation. The whole vaccination thing comes to mind. Apparently vaccinations are the government trying to kill us all, and the diseases don't really exist, it's just propaganda. And variations on that. This is conspiracy theory stuff, and really quite "out there". But lots of people believe it. Because people are easy to trick, easy to convince, easy to manipulate.

At that level, be it advertising, or viral propaganda, or a religious cult, or whatever, we have help. We are not alone. We have wise people around us to point out the flaws, and pull us back from the brink. Even if we are hopelessly credulous ourselves, we can usually be saved from falling for this stuff by people who care about us. I spend a lot of time pointing out the ridiculousness of the latest woo-woo on the net. Whether I bother or not often depends on the age of the credulous person, and I worry most about the young. They just don't have the life experience to recognize bullshit.

My kids have been raised to be very questioning, very suspicious really. I'm huge on critical thinking, largely because I was never taught it and had to figure it out by myself, so I've given them every weapon I could. And yet occasionally, they get caught. All my efforts, and all their subsequent efforts with one another, sometimes fail. Tom is especially vulnerable and we all work even harder on him, but he got screwed over online once from being too naive (just once mind, nobody tricks a Boxall twice). They are young. They are innocent. It takes time and a few mistakes, and none of us are ever con-proof, but gradually we learn to smell when something isn't right.

When I was young I made a lot of mistakes from being young. Things nobody told me. Warnings I never had. Thankfully none of them did any lasting damage, but that was sheer luck. I wasn't stupid either, I was considered one of the brightest in my grade at school, so that helped, but I made young person mistakes because I was a young person.

What didn't happen, also thankfully, was that I didn't get led into anything by others. I devised all my trouble by myself. I was a leader, not a follower. I saw it happen enough though. Bright kids from good homes would go off the rails to try to fit in. They sought acceptance, they wanted to be "in". It led them to very bad mistakes, some of which had permanent results. So, inevitably, there were some girls who had babies at 14.

It's easy to look down on those girls. Call them names. Assume they are "bad" girls. Some of them really don't know any better, their mother was also very young when they were born. But most are just normal girls whose brains and bodies are growing fast. She's a good girl really. He's not a bad boy either. Her parents probably TOLD her not to get pregnant at that age, but they weren't present at the time, when the boy she was crazy about suggested sex. Her support system weren't around to remind her it was risky. There was nobody there to say "it's a bad idea". No, she had to make that decision all by herself, and she was probably every bit as keen as he was at that moment. As much as we like to pretend teenage girls don't have raging hormones too, they do.

This is why there were, and often still are, chaperones. Never give them the chance to make that mistake, right? The idea is sound, but as with so many of these arrangements, it is used, again, to control the lives of women. Chaperoning always goes right along with interfering in many other choices.

Until such time as we perfect the art of educating young people in the ways of the world without controlling them, mistakes will happen, and such is life. As in all other ways we can never give up all freedom for a false sense of security, because that way lies madness (see burqa, above).

But that education is important. All education is important. This type of education is every bit as important as the three Rs.

So let's go right back to the beginning, to that book. No, not the first or last book of its kind, but an excellent example. Twilight was another example. The difference being that in Twilight the damage was purely emotional control. Edward never hurt Bella physically. Nevertheless, many mothers shared with me their concern that girls reading this could be carried away by the romance, and completely miss the dysfunctional relationship, yes, even in a supernatural setting. There are plenty of young men who behave like Edward without being vampires.

This book is different because the control is both mental and physical. It extends to rape and other physical abuse. And this is promoted as romance.

If you are 40 years old, and that floats your boat it's none of my business. I think you need counselling, frankly, but that's your problem and not mine.

No, there are several problems here.

1. Young people are reading this. We don't know how young. Imagine if that is the FIRST book they read on the subject of relationships, or the subject of sex. Think about the damage that could do.

2. Men who behave in this way have just been vindicated. They'll point to the success of this book as proof that women really like it rough, really want to be controlled. They'll tell women who object to their preferences that they are misguided/frigid/faulty/unfair, you name it. They will see Christian Grey as a hero, they will admire him, quote him, and copy him. Some young ones who've not thought of it before will be inspired by him.

3. People will associate this abuse with BDSM. That may demonize BDSM in some critical eyes, but that's not my concern. My concern is that this abuse will masquerade as BDSM. That women will be tricked into thinking they are getting classic safe BDSM, and get abuse instead. As has been stated by many people, this isn't BDSM, this is abuse, pure and simple.

I oppose censorship. There are far, far worse things being written, but there are also many others which are just as enjoyable without the abuse angle. Plenty of other things to read. Leave this one for those who are experienced enough in life to understand what it is. Think of it in the same category as a psychological thriller, or a horror story. Because that's what it is. If you enjoy it, hey, none of my business. But for pity's sake, try to get a clue on why some of us are concerned about it.

OK, at this point you may well be saying "But Melanie, you haven't read it how, so do you know?" Thankfully others have done that for me. I don't want to read it because once you've read something disturbing you can't unread it. I am willing to do that for historical or sociological purposes. I'll pass on this one.

And you don't have to go through that either. This spells it out just fine. 50 examples of abuse from the book.

http://theramblingcurl.blogspot.ca/2014/02/fifty-abusive-moments-in-fifty-shades.html

This book is not an introduction to BDSM, it is a glorification of abusive relationships dressed up as erotica. I would not want this getting into the hands of an impressionable teenage girl. This was the reason for my original post - essentially, mothers, teach your daughters this is not a normal relationship. This is not romance. Use it as an opportunity to explain about manipulation, coercion, and so on. Go through the list of abuses I just posted. Explain, explain, explain.

Oh, and finally.