Sunday, 30 June 2013

Silence is a Loud Opinion

If you haven't noticed by now (?) I have some strong opinions, and I'm generally not afraid to share them.

However, here's a nice little contradiction - one of the things I'm very keen on is good manners. I don't mean  some of the sillier aspects of convention or etiquette, but good solid basic manners designed to prevent harm to others.

It goes without saying that sometimes offering one's opinion would involve a breach of manners.

An example of this is the common one where somebody displays a creation of theirs such as a piece of artwork or music, and asks you what you think. They put you on the spot.

Putting somebody on the spot is a breach of manners, but it would be quite wrong to retaliate. On the other hand they just ASKED for your opinion. And it's awful.

The truth can often hurt, so now this is a real conundrum. What DO you say?

I hate that situation. I hate it with a passion.

So, I turn it around. I think, what would I want them to say to me? Well, I'd like them to be honest, but gentle. Constructive criticism. You can be honest without being rude.

I might say simply "It's not my kind of thing." And that is probably as honest as it gets, because tastes are very personal. Just because something does not appeal to MY tastes, doesn't mean it's bad. My tastes are not mainstream, and chances are, what doesn't appeal to me could be huge with the right crowd. Don't forget Decca turned down the Beatles.

But there's one way we can almost avoid offence, and that's saying nothing.

It can't always be done, because in person, in real time, and even sometimes in telephone or text conversations, you are "put on the spot", and will be harrassed until you reply. Depending on the level of harrassment you may forget your manners, of course.

When it is possible, and online it often is, the way to answer is to not answer. This leaves an element of doubt. Did she not see my question? Did she read it and forget to answer? Did she have no answer? that her answer?

There are times, pretty much daily, when any honest answer would be offensive. Especially if it's not a direct question. Is a statement in public a question or isn't it? There's almost a "what do you think?" implied, isn't there? In any case, saying nothing when it's not a direct question is ENTIRELY permitted. There is no responsibility by a casual reader to respond. Good manners requires that you respond to a text message, email, or other electronic communication, just as if it were a handwritten note. But a broadcast public statement? No.

So, you have an out there. In fact, it could be said that good manners requires you to NOT respond, if the only possible response has the potential to offend. See how this works? It's twisty turny, but it's not wrong.

You may not care. You may decide to say your bit anyway, and face the consequences. And we all have days like that. Plus, there are huge differences depending on who it is you are (not) responding to. If it's me? I probably won't notice if you loudly ignore me, plus you can be quite rude before I notice that. Others....well, let's say some are more thin-skinned than others, and some actively seek attention, so you can bear that in mind. Or not.

Saturday, 29 June 2013


Yesterday I got called a racist.

Last week, and not for the first time, I was on a rant about bad English. I was discussing it somewhere else too (it goes like that) and I was accused of being racist. The accusation went like this: the type of bad English you are referring to is common among race X, therefore what you are really saying is that you think race X is bad.

But it wasn't me who associated the two, and I was quick to point this out. So, who is the racist, huh?

OK, so you have decided that the two are connected. Well, that's YOUR experience. Whatever.

If that is the case, then clearly there is certainly racism going on, it's not me, and now you insist it's not you, but somebody somewhere is preventing someone from getting a good education, aren't they? And that my friend is about as racist as it gets. Racism is about deliberate anbd systematic discrimination. It happens before the effects, not after. If we notice that people of a given race (or several, thereof, or any group you choose) have a poorer command of the language than average, it's because they are not getting the educational opportunities that the average person is getting.

There was a time, for example, when generally speaking, and with few exceptions, if you were poor, you were illiterate. And being illiterate meant you stayed poor. When poor people are given the same educational opportunities as everyone else, they have a route out of poverty.

Who are the poorest people in our society today, looking at the broad picture? While not exclusively, it tends to be racial minorities. Those who are poor but are not racial minorities also tend to demonstrate poor use of language.

I maintain therefore that while race is involved, this is largely a poverty issue.

It shouldn't be. In theory everyone in a western nation has equal access to education. But that's not the reality. Kids from homes where there is poor or absent parenting, tend not to do well in school. Kids who move around a lot. Kids who live in areas where the funding is low because, hey why bother putting money into THAT area. Kids who don't get the best teachers because who wants to work in that area? If you believe that education opportunities are equal, then you live in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

And, as I said before, if you are born into poverty, and miss out on vital skills, you stay in poverty. You are not going to succeed in life if you are semi-literate. Period. You can even miss out on jobs where literacy is not a requirement, simply because there are multiple candidates and written applications are the first round. Yours will go in the garbage if it's badly written, even if you could do the work better than the other applicants. Whether that's right or fair is irrelevant, that's how it is. So by not being literate, you're doomed.

Then, if you can get past that, people listen to you speak. If your spoken language is non-standard/slang/dialect, and you can't switch to standard English, chances are, you're screwed.

Again, you can argue until you are blue in the face that this is unfair, but that's how the world works, and either you accept that or you fail.

Immigrants know this. This is why quite often people whose first language is not English work harder and ultimately write and/or speak it better than native speakers. I even have several online friends who have never even set foot inside an English speaking country, and their written English is better than many of those who grew up here. This can only be due to a combination of effort on their part, and opportunitites they've had.

So, if there is anyone reading this, who would like to tell me that I'm wrong, that it doesn't matter about poor English, please do tell me what possible advantage it could be to allow or worse - to encourage - individuals or groups within English-speaking countries to use non-standard English exclusively (how you talk in your leisure time among your peers is your own damn business.) If you do not have the ability to use standard English for the purpose of obtaining employment etc, it is a disadvantage. So don't tell me I'm the racist. Tell those keeping people poor.

Try A Little Kindness

We live in an imperfect world, and there are many issues which crop up that people disagree on vehemently. These arguments are not suddenly going to go away, and in particular they are not going to be ended by shouting or violence.

It has been said - and I believe it to be true - that the best way to run a nation, or a given section of society, is the same as the best way to run a family. In other words, good parents make good leaders. You don't need me to tell you that there are plenty of bad parents out there, and many of them become leaders.

One of the things good parents have to do is deal with arguments among the kids. They have different personalities, and they are not always going to get along. Most of the time all it takes is for a wise parent to watch while they sort it out among themselves, using the skills they've been taught by said parent. The less involvement the better. If Mom steps in too often, how do they learn conflict resolution?

On the other hand, if they are allowed to war constantly, it might be taken as approval.

So it's a delicate balance, as is much parenting, and it requires care and dilgience.

As adults, we don't have that referee all too often. Unless our conflicts get out of hand and the authorities are involved, we are left to our own discretion as to how to handle disgreements, and if we have solid childhood lessons to work with we can use them as a guide. Even people like me, with no siblings, can manage just fine using what we were taught when younger.

But not everyone had those lessons. Some children had parents who sent the wrong messages. Some intervened too much, took sides (often unfairly), made impossible "zero tolerance"  rules, others completely missed the bullying happening, intervening too little.

And some parents were the worst possible examples. Causing conflicts rather than helping sort them out, fighting among themselves, teaching kids intolerance and even outright hatred.

What chance do these people stand, as adults, in being able to deal with the issues that arise?

They are still learning. Of course, we all are, but if we had a solid foundation of ethics as part of our upbringing, even if it came from outside the home, we are miles ahead of those who were raised in a bad home.

For this reason, if we are ever going to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, it is vital that we use our skills of resolution to help those who have none, rather than show them a brick wall of disapproval.

I keep running into people who think you can fight hate with hate. You can't.

No, I know we can't all be Gandhi. I can't do it and I don't expect anyone else to. But we must have an awareness that those whose behaviour is is BAD have a problem. That's why they do it. QED. If we can remember that their poison comes from a place of pain, it actually helps us deal with them.

For decades now I've been trying to get across in discussions the idea of a difference between an explanation and an excuse. I often feel I get nowhere, but I keep trying because I think it's very important. I'm going to offer an example, but for pity's sake don't assume this is The Topic. It isn't, it's just one area where this lack of understanding of cause and effect vs justice shows itself.

Thousands of years ago, people who behaved in a wild, unpredictable way, and were sometimes violent, were assumed to be possessed by demons. Depending on how their behaviour impacted those around them they might be driven away, caged up, killed, or sometimes tolerated - there were many levels of it, obviously, but also different attitudes. And even back then one option was kindness. They were sometimes pitied.

Today we recognize this as mental illness, and, on the whole we try to get them help, although some fall through the cracks and we still have quite a way to go there.

When the bad behaviour of another person falls within that wide fuzzy range of "normal", that is to say, they raise eyebrows, but have never actually been arrested, diagnosed with an actual mental illness, or otherwise crossed a line that defines them as mad, we tend to have expectations of them that if we snap our fingers, they'll fall into line and behave like everyone else.

What if they can't?

These days we have two situations, the rise of the ever-lengthening list of disorders used to describe behaviours not considered normal, AND a loud objection to this, those who say "soon everything will be a disorder" and have absolutely no patience with the idea that a person's "abnormal" behaviour could possibly be the result of a neurological condition, or from a negative life experience,

So, we have lots of people being diagnosed with "anger management" issues, "oppositional defiance" disorder, and so on. The objective being to try to get a handle on why they misbehave, and maybe then, fix that. At the same time, we have others saying "he just needs to get a grip". Their solution? Shout at them a lot, apparently.

Is stupid a disorder? For every person whose bad behaviour is defined thusly, there's another person who thinks that calling somebody stupid will cure them. Which is....stupid.

No, we get nowhere hurling insults about. Waste of time. Do you feel good getting it off your chest ? Yes? Good. Me too. But what does it solve? Nothing.

If we are going to get along in society we absolutely have to ask "Why?" a lot. OK, we may not get answers, and actually that doesn't always matter. But if we wonder instead of condemn there is hope.

Friday, 28 June 2013

It's Raining, So You Get A Blog!

If you have been reading my waffle for any length of time, you know that while I write about a variety of topics, they can be pretty much be identified. You could actually list them. One way of looking at this is keen areas of interest. Or you could just say I repeat myself. Whatever.

Anyway, one of the keen areas of interest that I have is the question of taste. I am fascinated not so much on what people like, but on the topic of taste itself. This may sound like a rather woolly and shallow thing to be interested in, but you'll see why it isn't.

It came to my attention early on, you see, that my tastes, in so many areas, are not mainstream. They are, shall we say, minority. Or even fringe. In addition, my reasons for this are caused by sincerity, which, sadly, is a rare thing. I'm not saying ner ner ner ner look at me, look how sincere I am. I'm saying that I got lucky. I was born with a good brain, and I was raised to be a free thinker. These two massive advantages, which not everyone has, allowed me the luxury of confidence in my choices.

You see, I am now in my 6th decade, and many of my friends who are around my age, are just coming to a place where they can fearlessly admit (because that is the word) to their tastes and choices. And I think that's sad. I think we should all be able to do that right from the get go.

I was considered a rebel, a maverick, and occasionally a freak my entire life because I had the courage/audacity to state my preferences. Maybe you've read my blog about growing up in England not drinking tea. The fact that I was able to not be a tea-drinker was bloody amazing, I had a good mother. But the effect that had is even more interesting. I won't dwell on that, you can read about it separately, it's on this blog somewhere.

The fact is, within the boundaries of what is legal, what I can afford, and what will do no harm, I do as I please. I do not kowtow to social convention, peer pressure, or any other conscious influence. I question everything and I act accordingly. I decide, carefully but quickly, and rarely change my mind. There are those who think it's great to change your mind. I think it's bollocks. If you decided well in the first place, it should rarely be necessary. In other words, I only change my mind if it's wrong. And I try to avoid that.

So, when it comes to questions of taste or preference, I guard mine rather fiercely, BUT (and this is very, very important), I try very hard not to make it appear that I am insisting others share my tastes or preferences. That is to say, I do not push them. I do not demand them of others. If I am passionate about something, and you find that pushy, that's not my problem. That's your lack of confidence in your own tastes and preferences.

Because I am equally passionate about the right everyone has to his own tastes and preferences. Even if I don't share yours, I will just as fiercely guard your right to them, as to my own. You see, that is what freedom is all all about. At the most basic level.

It's all very well people of a political bent insisting that democracy is the basis of all freedom. But I ask you, what's the point of having free elections and legitimate government, if you can't listen to the music you like?

One of the things we are very politically correct about in our society, even if it's often fake, is the idea that a person should not be persecuted for something they have no control over. This is why we are taught not to ridicule people based on their appearance. This covers a wide area including body shape, skin colour, disabilities etc. Our modern concept is one of isms. Quite rightly we object to racism, ageism, sexism. But long before all of this sensibility, good, wise people simply said "Don't be unkind, it's not his fault".

There was an interesting discussion on one of the feminist pages this morning as to whether sexual preference for lighter skin was racist. The consensus was that it wasn't, even among those with darker skin. There were some who suggested it was "conditioning", however, and all in all it was a very complex and fascinating area.

I remember a similar discussion many years ago, in which I got myself into deep doo doo, when I stated openly and honestly that I find light skin a turn off. One of the reasons I chose my husband, certainly not the first or most important, but definitely a consideration, was that while he is Caucasian, he isn't "white". Like myself he is of a naturally fairly swarthy complexion, and with a tan is generally assumed to be mixed race. My favourite skin colour is that typically found around the Mediterranean.

I have nothing against people white truly white skin, but I find it unattractive. It was fashionable at points in history, and there is still the whole "pale and interesting" appeal to some. Not to me.

If it were racist to find someone unappealing on the basis of skin colour, then my feeling about pale skin is racist. I find that idea silly, but it is the opinion of some.

What, I ask myself, can I do about that? Well, it certainly isn't possible to change my feelings. This much I know. I can no more change my tastes in skin colour than I could change my gender preference. Aha.

When we get onto that hot potato, we arrive at something else, don't we.

Much of the discussions over attitudes towards homosexuality (including, but not limited to the marriage question) is about choice. Opinions are sharply divided over whether a person chooses to be gay or not. The idea of choosing to be a targeted minority seems absurd, on the face of it, but if we compare this "choice" to other choices, the idea becomes sillier, and also irrelevant.

For myself, as I have just said, I feel that my tastes are not choices. I feel that my preference for swarthy men  is just something natural to me. Neither the preference for men nor the preference for swarthy is of any greater import, they are just two aspects of an overall ideal.

If I ask you what your favourite colour is, generally, you probably have an answer. Not everyone does, but most do. If I then asked you to change that, could you? The idea is silly.

Was your decision to prefer, say, blue, a type of conditioning? Was it free choice? Or was it just one of those things? Blue is the commonest most popular colour, statistically, but that doesn't make it the best colour. There are many others to choose from.

Have you ever had anyone tell you to change your favourite colour? I doubt it. It's not seen as relevant.

When it comes down to it, is taste a question of choice, a question of conditioning, or just "one of those things"? I invite you to think about it long and hard, because it would be quite difficult to suggest that the answer varies acccording to the thing being chosen. In fact, if the issue were sexual preference, the chances of it being free choice would be less, due to hormones, a biological driving force.

So that's why this matters, why it's not woolly and shallow. Why the question of taste in general is not only about shoes, or Pepsi vs Coke, or whether you like to watch Doctor Who or not. Those are all matters of preference that nobody cares about (except those standing to make a profit out of it), because nobody gets hurt if your taste differs.

Until it matters. Who's to say that your tastes in something that right now are utterly frivolous and meaningless, won't ever become a matter of life or death. Ask the women of Iran how that goes.

No, the very basis of freedom is choice, and that's choice in EVERYTHING. Choosing one corrupt politician over another is not freedom. Democracy is a great and wonderful thing, but it's so full of holes and faults that if it were a car, you'd scrap it and get a new one. Freedom is on a far more personal and individual level than that, and no amount of legislation can ever give you freedom if:

a) You don't allow it for yourself, and
b) Somebody else persecutes your for your choices.

You may have to fight for both of those.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

I'm Far Nicer Than You Think

I know, I drive some of you quite nuts with my aims to teach people better English. My motivation is misunderstood. No, really it is. I am trying to help.

Currently I'm on a mission to teach people the difference between then and than. They mean different things, and when the wrong one is used it has the same effect on me as if I were running along and came to a patch of mud. Those of you who aren't affected by these sort of errors probably don't understand this, but there it is.

Anyway, I was told yesterday to consider the possibility that it was a pronunciation issue. I hadn't thought of that. I was aware, obviously, that in many cases North American speakers do not differentiate between e and a, for example, the well-known merry, marry, Mary issue. Then and than could fall into the same trap.

There are many errors which result from how we speak. The common "could of" error definitely results from people saying "could have" quickly. The correct written contraction is "could've", but it seems to get missed, and people create their own version.

Despite what is said about us pedants, we are far nicer, far more understanding, and far more forgiving than generally recognized.

Here's an example. The word grammar. I often see it written as grammer by Americans. I never complain, because whoever decided to spell it grammar was really very unhelpful, because in natural speech (in English) the endings er and ar on unstressed syllables sound the same. But, to a rhotic American, with the er ending being more common, that's his default.

To the non-rhotic (most English, plus Boston and Georgia) this word sounds like gramma. So we have no problem spelling it. In fact there are a lot of other words we COULD spell that way, and in fact if you look at slang, mutha is a perfect example.

For this reason, spelling errors vary by location.

Another example. I only see ridiculous spelled as rediculous by Americans. I see that a lot. I never flinch at it, because it follows the ULP rule of spelling errors. Let me tell you about ULP.

U stands for uncommon. Not actually rare words, but something you don't write or read in every few sentences.

L stands for long. It has 4 syllables, and these are tougher words for those with spelling issues.

P stands for phonetic. In its incorrect form, it is spelled phonetically, so there is zero risk of misunderstanding.

Given all three of these situations, I utterly forgive a spelling error. See, I'm FAR nicer than you think.

I forgive for other reasons too. If it is obvious that an error is not actually to do with spelling, but to do with typing (it's the key right next to the correct one) I also overlook it. (Unless it's on a sign, a publication, or a letter from an educational establishment, there is no wiggle room then).

In fact I overlook MANY spelling errors. Names (can be tricky), food words, and "technical" words, for example. Plus, obviously, I overlook differences between Britsh and American spelling. I even use that to my advantage, choosing the alternative I prefer (Canadians do that a lot).

You may be surprised to learn I even overlook switches, when letters are reversed, because I know dyslexics and fast typists (including myself) slip too easily there.

But let's TRY to get then and than right, shall we? They are absolutely not alike. They are just as different as ten and tan, for example. These words are even shorter, but otherwise similar to look at, but I've never once seen anyone confuse them. I've never seen anyone say they were on the beach getting a ten, or that they needed eleven, but only had tan. So, if people can keep those two words organized, what's the issue here?

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Fluent Idiot

Not everyone appreciates my criticism of poor English, and that's OK. We all have different peeves.

But this sort of thing:

Actually happens. I've experienced it in both written and spoken situations. To have been understood I would have had to switch to not just simplified English, but fluent idiot.

In some cases it is teenagers. The ones who aren't quite in special ed classes, but are encouraged to take Hospitality, because their future involves - AT BEST - the service industry.

In other cases it is not teenagers. It is people who've been communicating long enough to have picked up better habits, but have chosen not to. I see you nodding your head. Now I'm going to offend some of you.

Do you know where this all begins?

It begins when baby language* (*so I am told) is still used in adulthood out of "fun". We obviously differ on what fun is, but that won't be the first time either.

Yesterday, I asked the rhetorical question:

"How the hell do you change an N to an M and lose other consonants completely, in the middle of a word?"

I am referring, of course to "sammich".

The person I said this to, told me it was from childhood, and considered cute. I know full well that adults say it in "fun" most of the time. Hence the question being rhetorical. And I agree that if a 2-year-old mispronounces something we all laugh, but don't we teach him the right way to say it? Or are we all learning English from 2-year-olds now? Isn't that a bit backwards?

Here are some other words we could simplify using the same rules:

Walkway becomes "wammy".

English becomes "emmish".

Hardcore becomes "hammer".

Much easier to say, and SO MUCH FUN.

Apparently laziness is involved too. Just how much effort is it to speak? I know...let's just point and grunt instead.

No, I'm not calling you an idiot if you select a few words that you prefer in a non-standard form, we'll call it a quirk. But if it is truly developed from the speech of children, what else are we going to allow from the same source?

What I'm asking is, where do you draw the line?

I read, on a friend's FB page yesterday, an entire thread in which not one single comment was in good English. It wasn't QUITE as bad as the image above, but it wasn't far off. They tell me that people don't bother writing in good English on things such as social media and text. Please don't tell me it's quickness. Abbreviations and not checking typos, are one thing, but this is actual errors of grammar and syntax. Word endings wrong, verbs in the wrong form, or completely missing. This is not speed. This is people writing as they talk.

It is sub-English. You can call it the language of the street and defend it, I'm sure somebody will. But where does it begin, how does it spread, and most importantly WHY? Why do you WANT to sound less intelligent? Did you watch the video I posted earlier in the week:

In this, it is suggested that being stupid, or playing stupid is trendy, sexy, popular, desirable. This is dangerous. I see no benefit to it at all.

Cute? There are times in humour when certain unusual formations serve a purpose. A literary device, I suppose. But cute? How is an adult talking like a child cute? What else do you consider cute in adults? Thumb-sucking, wearing diapers perhaps?

I will not dumb down my speech. I will not accept sub-English as valid. Language is complex because it needs to be precise. Communication, the backbone of human society, requires an ability for ideas to be expressed in a way that they will be understood correctly. It has nothing to do with elitism - some of the most complex and sophisticated languages on this planet today are spoken by small tribal groups far from modern society. (Read: Through The Language Glass by Guy Deutscher). Nor is it too much to expect anyone to speak ONE language fluently. In most parts of the world speaking more than one language is the norm, and speaking 4 or more languages is common.

We're not referring to slang here. Whatever your feelings are about slang, it's a separate issue. Slang words or terms replace standard words or terms. They don't mangle them. Words like "cool" are slang. Terms like "bang to rights" are slang. Within slang itself are rules, grammar, syntax. Phrases such as "I done did it" is non-standard English, not slang. It breaks the rules.

Dialect is another thing altogether. The correct verb ending for the verb "to say" in the first person, is say - "I say". In some dialects this is changed to "I says". This is non-standard English, but it's not WRONG, not if you speak that dialect. It is wrong if you don't speak that dialect, but that isn't usually an issue that arises. People don't normally suddenly pull words from the dialect of others. This is not slang either. Dialect is that grey area where new languages sometimes arise. Many European languages began as dialects of Latin.

Sub-English is not slang, nor is it dialect. It is non-standard English for no valid reason. Laziness? Poor upbringing? Trend? Think it's funny? Whatever. It makes you sound stupid. Why do you want to sound stupid?


I give up.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

And, In the Bigger Picture

I just hammered this out in a torrent:

It goes way beyond food. You saw my blog about gourds the other day. You've seen me rant about this before.

Maybe you saw me post this on Facebook too:

It's all the same thing. No, it IS. Think about it.

It all comes down to an infantile attitude that "my tastes are right, yours are wrong".

It is one of the few things that can make me angry, because this is the home of prejudice. This is where hate grows.

It may sound silly when I am discussing it in reference to food, or music, or something mundane like these, but you see if the attitude is there, it's there. It begins with stamping your foot because not everyone likes your tastes in jazz, and if not checked there, it can lead to other intolerances.

I know, it's tough to listen to your teenager's music sometimes. And it's your house, you have a right to tell him to turn it out down (or off). You have no requirement to like it. What you can stop yourself doing, however, is telling him his tastes are garbage. Not only does this teach him to behave the same way (which is rude), you are, in a way, saying that he is "wrong", by having poor taste. There is nothing good coming from these statements. You may be lucky enough to have a kid with such high self-esteem that he shrugs it off. Or you may do serious harm. Whatever, it won't benefit anyone.

And...kid? Listen to me. If your mother derides your music, get over yourself. Don't use that as a reason to go around poking fun at the tastes of others. Treat others the way you wish to be treated yourself. Part of growing up is understanding that we are all different, and that DIFFERENT IS GOOD.

This sneering at the tastes of others masks a fear. Fear of the different goes back to our distant wild ancestry when "other" meant danger. It's a sort of survival instinct. But so is carrying fire with you wherever you go, and I don't see you doing that. Now, in our modern world, with many generations of the exchange of different ideas, and exposure to other ways of doing things, there is absolutely no excuse for objecting to "different". Today, we have learned to live together, with tolerance.

Except we haven't.

This is not going to be a long discussion, this is just me saying to you CUT IT OUT. I don't care how young or old you are, how poorly or well-educated you are. I don't care how much luck or privilege you've had or haven't had. I absolutely don't give a damn about what some ancient book says, so don't even bother. There are 7 billion of us on a very small planet, and we all have to get along. It is a matter of life or death and nothing less.

You don't have to like everything. Nobody does. This isn't about changing your preferences. They are yours, and you have a right to be different too. No, it's about live and let live. Tolerance, as I have explained until I am blue in the face, is not about lowering your standards, or compromising your morality. It's about accepting that others don't share yours. It's that simple. What's your problem?

Saturday, 15 June 2013

How To Read FSD (Facebook Status Double-Talk)

"I am really excited about......"

"I am really nervous about............"

"Don't judge me."

"I feel guilty about something."

A message justifying a lifestyle choice.

"I have really low self-esteem."

A message attempting to justify an obviously poor lifestyle choice.

"I need vindication from my dysfunctional peers."

A vague, generalized reference to negative behaviour.

"I really want to criticize somebody here, but unfortunately they will read this."

A random line from a song, that suggests (to those unfamiliar with the song) that something awful is happening.

"Ha ha ha. Made you worry about me."

A message full of typos.

"I am drunk."

"I am so happy, everything in my life is great!"

"I am as miserable as sin but I just read up on positive thinking."

"I love my wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend SO much!!!"

"We just had a huge argument. But it's fixed now. Well, for now anyway."

"I love my family SO MUCH!!"

They are normally highly dysfunctional, but they just surprised everyone by doing something good.

"I love my kids/grandchildren so much!!!"

"Actually they are as annoying as hell."

A list of what I achieved today.

"Normally I sit on my lazy arse and do nothing, so I'm showing off."

General negativity about my appearance or character.

"I am fishing for compliments."

A totally cryptic message.

"I am seeking attention."

A truly bizarre message.

"I am seeking attention in a very dysfunctional way."

A hint at suicide ideation.


Eventually, They'll Shoot Me

When I was young I was a bit of a rebel.

Don't you just love understatement?

I behave a lot better now, but in many ways, I am still the same person. But back in those days, I actually had a dream that I was caught by some sort of authoritarian regime and shot. I felt it. Weird.

I have joked ever since that the cause of my death will be "execution by goon" and I'm never really sure if I'm joking.

If the revolution comes, and it just might, we all know I will not suddenly be quiet.

I love this.

There was, of course, a famous singing revolution, ( just in case you were unaware. Where the hell were you?) but the results obtained were only partial. If you know anything at all about how democracy works, you also know that most of the time it doesn't. Not properly, anyway, so there is, in fact, an ongoing struggle, even when things are mostly democratic.

It doesn't have to be violent. We don't have to riot or burn things down to make a point. In fact that sort of thing can be awfully counter-productive. Not much point winning the city back for the people if it's in ruins.

Just find the line you won't cross, and don't cross it.

People like me like to remind you of all of this to shake you out of your complacency, because if you are not trying to make things better in your own small way, then you are part of the problem.

If nothing else, you can stay aware, and help others be aware - you can educate. You can pass on facts. You can call them out on their nonsense. There is a huge advantage to the modern network of information. Use it to your advantage. Yes, it's a good idea to object to them spying on you, and trying to stop that, but at the same time, just remember, we can use the same network to keep an eye on THEM.

That "Share" button is a powerful revolutionary tool, so use it.

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Censorship Blog

Censor ME and regret it, fuckwads.

I shared a photo that had been removed from its original page.

It was a family, together, at the birth of a new baby, which appeared to be in a birthing pool, can't be certain. There were ZERO "iffy" body parts visible. Only faces and arms.. Nothing dodgy. The child was not covered in blood either. It was the sort of thing you could show your grandmother.

It was controversial only BECAUSE it had already been removed from another page. So I posted it. And my comment was "I dare to share this".

Today, a friend sent me a private message alerting me that it had been removed. That is, she tried to. But the message was censored. So, she found a way to alert me to this.

While we were discussing it, another item of mine was censored. I referred to Rick Perry as a fuckwad on a friend's post. The whole post vanished.

Strike 3.

Whether or not you object to Rick Perry, or photos of newborns is neither here nor there. While somebody is being PAID to remove such things, pages allowing JOKES ABOUT RAPE, etc, are still up. Despite Facebook assuring the public they weren't allowed.

Breastfeeding photos are REGULARLY removed from Facebook. Because feeding a child is disgusting.

Photos of women in poses designed to titilate are allowed.

Priorities folks. It's all about priorities.

I don't really blame Facebook, they just reflect the society we live in.

DON'T JUST SIT THERE. Do something.

You may post that if you wish.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

TV Free - By Choice

We've been without a TV service for over 5 years now, but obviously I continually have to tell people this, because they ask "have you seen?" or just assume you have, and the shock I get in response is really very interesting.

The idea that you could live without this mass medium just baffles people.

We have a TV, a nice flat screen, of medium size. We used to have one of the giant ones, but it took up too much space. We watch DVDs, of which we have a large collection. Movies and boxed sets of TV series. Two new series were added to the collection last week, the complete Jonathan Creek, and the complete Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, both from Britain. I also bought a movie "Persepolis", which you'll have to look up, it's not mainstream.

For what these cost, I could have paid for a month's satellite TV twice over. It's not about cost.

It is about value for money, however. Because when I had satellite TV, I was still buying endless movies, to watch INSTEAD of the crap I was paying almost $100 a month for.

I would sit there flipping through hundreds of channels to find something worth watching, and find nothing. Ridiculous.

Obviously, I am picky about what I watch. 

I refuse to sit in front of a screen and watch rubbish. Life is too short. And then, I refused to pay for the pleasure of having nothing to watch. So we told them to shove their TV service where the sun doesn't shine.

First of course I did ask, can I just have the movie channels and the educational channels? No. You have to buy the networks first. Which is bollocks. So, Bell TV was "Let go".

Michael, therefore, has spent his teens without TV. His friend are just goggle-eyed at how he copes. He copes. He has never missed it, and never complains. He has a DVD player in his room, he watches movies and boxed sets if he needs to. Tom has discovered, since we had high-speed Wifi, that there are "broadcasts" on You Tube. He finds things to watch on his laptop. Michael can access it with his XBox. Tyler can access it either way. They get plenty of teen fodder that way, and are selective about it. They don't suffer.

No, it is perfectly possible to live without a TV service. It means sometimes I'm out of touch with pop culture, and that's OK. I rarely share majority tastes.

We don't buy newspapers or magazines either. For similar reasons.

"But, but but," they say, "How do you keep up on current affairs?" I have the internet. If something important happens, trust me, I hear about it. And instead of hearing bias or sensationalism thrown at me from a news desk, by a clone anchor with a bad hairstyle and boring clothes, I have an endless variety of sources to parse and make my opinions from. Far deeper, far more reliable, and far easier to sort the wheat from the chaff.

I dropped out of mainstream society a long time ago. Just a little over 51 years ago, really. I have lived my entire life asking Why?" and being extremely skeptical. I'm just not suited to broadcast TV.

Ha Ha Ha

I think it probably goes without saying that I love writing. I have to write. My head fills with ideas and they have to come out. It has been pointed out to me, by those who love me, bless 'em, that I tend to write down mostly the serious stuff, whereas when I'm doing an impromtu spoken presentation of my thoughts, it's the far less serious stuff, and that, therefore, I'm funnier in person than in writing.

I have been known to deliberately write humour, and I'm not bad at it, but I don't make a habit of it, because it's very random. So it comes out here and there in comments and odd places, and isn't really part of my main efforts when blogging. It comes out in stories about my everyday life, because my everyday life is funny. My family are funny. Sometimes I forget not everyone is surrounded by humour. Some people are very serious.

And, because some people are accustomed to a severe lack of humour in their lives (i.e. they may be funny themselves, but they don't hear it in people around them so much) I sometimes get taken wrongly. I get read as serious, when I'm not. As I said, this is not helped by the fact that I tend to write blogs about serious issues, so I can't really complain, but it is a bit strange sometimes.

When you think about it, using humour is a common, and very effective way to get opinions about serious issues across. Many comedians make really deep ethical statements while being funny. Their "act" is really a lecture on their observations on the ridiculousness of civilization. The humour in it is often irony.

It's not that they are making light of problems in society, far from it. Consider Eddie Izzard's thoughts on Hitler.

Some people find this sort of thing in poor taste. It's not that they disagree with it, but they want it said in a serious manner. I'm not altogether sure why. I think humour gets the points across very well - even if it's completely weird. And I think this is why surreal humour is not understood or appreciated by some people. They are expecting one liners, this is too complicated.

When it's written, it's harder to tell the funny from the serious, and if it's very subtle it can get missed or misunderstood. You almost need to offer a warning ahead of time.

Yesterday I watched a discussion go right off the rails on an internet forum because somebody was being funny (and very clever, actually) and it was taken seriously. No amount of explanation seemed to sort it out, and I watched amazed as somebody melted down in public, taking offence where it was obvious to anyone with half a brain that it was humour, pure humour. Two people trying to help break up the "fight" even had English as a second language, and they'd had no difficulty seeing the humour.

It would be easy to assume that the offended party just wasn't very bright, but this was on a forum associated with an online college course, for which you actually need a certain level of intellect. There's no testing, but quite simply, people of low intellect just don't attempt these things. So this is a reasonably (at least) intelligent person with poor awareness of humour.

And THAT is funny. Obviously, I know better than to wade in there and make things worse, so I stayed out of it. Sometimes these things are best as a spectator sport.

But it reminded me, because I need reminding, that there is a lack of humour out there, and I think it's a problem. When people don't automatically see the silliness in a situation, when they can't see the funny side of things, what happens? They get angry. We don't need anger, there's too much of that already.

So, there I am trying to figure this out, you know how I am. People taking themselves too seriously, people taking life too seriously, and the end result of anything that messes with their seriousness being anger...what's going on here?

I don't like the idea of telling somebody to "lighten up". That's really very dismissive of a person's feelings, because they may have a reason for being in the mood they are in. We never know what darkness lurks behind the doors of another's life. Sometimes, if you know somebody well, you can get away with it, but I don't advise it. When people tell me to lighten up and I have a good reason not to, I bite. Because not everything is funny. It's a balance. Still, I think it helps to try to see the funny side, even if the humour lies in its absurdity.

Thursday, 6 June 2013


No, it's not a gardening blog.

Every year, for several years now, I have grown gourds.

They take up a lot of space, they are a nightmare to weed, and so far I have not actually done anything with the few, small gourds that our short summer has produced. I did intend to use them as craft items, but I haven't. I can make all sorts of excuses why not, but the fact remains, I grow gourds and do nothing useful with them.

You can't eat them. The flowers are pretty but not really exciting. I don't take gourds to shows. Why do I grow gourds?

No real reason at all. I just like growing gourds. The plants grow big and fast and I find that fascinating. So really, all I can say is that I grow gourds for fun. The growing part is the real objective, not the obtaining gourds part.

It is a luxury task. That is to say, I put time and money into it, rather than getting time or money out of it. What I get out of it not only cannot be measured, but is hard to define. And yet in August, I will spend some time every day with my gourds.

Why am I justifying this? Doesn't everyone have something like that? Some people spend far more - money and time - on things they do, with nothing to show for it.

Pretty much everyone does, yes. But it's a curiosity of human nature that while we understand it (because we all do it), we often pour scorn on what others choose to do as their own waste of time.

Well, it's a funny thing, but in our society there is a list of things that it's generally accepted OK to waste large sums of money, and large chunks of time on, and then there are those things that are not on that list. Growing gourds is not on that list. Growing flowers IS. Growing vegetables is on the useful list, so is exempt. Not a waste of time at all.

But it isn't the lack of usefulness that keeps gourds off the SAWOT (Socially Approved Waste Of Time) list. Because people whose garden have no plants at all, just a couple of really big lumps of rock, call it landscaping, and that's on the list. And rocks cost more than gourd seeds, so it's not that either. It's not to do with money.

It's not that it's such a weird thing, There are many weird things on the SAWOT list anyway. Some of them are even harmful to your health. Television being the perfect example for both of these. Watching Duck Dynasty is on the SAWOT list. If anyone can tell me how that is preferable to growing gourds, I'd love to know*.

No, I'll tell you why growing gourds is not on the SAWOT list. It's because that list is created by mob rule.


It's that whole "we are majority, so we say what is and what isn't socially approved". Bully tactics by dint of a twisted sort of democracy.

Gentle friends will say "Hey, you do whatever makes you happy". And they really really mean it. But if you really really interrogated them, they'd confess they don't get it. What's the point? Never mind that in their (created) spare time they collect bugs** or even if they collect bread bag tags.

So here's the definition of understanding.

It's not saying "Whatever makes you happy".
Nor is it even also enjoying a non-SAWOT task, but a different one.
You can only understand, when you share the same  non-SAWOT passion.

That's how we are. Let's stop pretending otherwise.

Let's confess that we all think the hobbies of others are nuts. Let's move on past the need to be maintstream, or to care if we aren't. But let's not pretend we get it. We don't. The whole POINT of "each to his own" is that we don't get it, and that it's OK to not get it.

*I confess I haven't watched it, but the synopsis is enough.

** Entomology. Yes, I know. It was already on the geekier end of the SAWOT list anyway, but will probably become roaringly popular after this:


I got into trouble the other day. Yeah ME! Of all people. I can tell you're shocked.

You see, I posted a thing on Facebook, about how people toss around terms like OCD and Bipolar as insults:

It was applauded by my friends who work in the areas of mental health care, and those who have suffered from (or know anyone who does) any of these real disorders.

People do have this way of latching onto this sort of thing, and showing no respect. It's thoughtless.

But then in a blog I referred to "Crazy People" and somebody objected. In fact they called me a hypocrite.

Since when was "crazy" a medical diagnosis? No, no, no. It may be many things, including judgemental and unfair but it is not a medical diagnosis. Indeed, I am not qualified to diagnose.

There is a line, and we each have to find our own, that we do not cross when we speak our minds. Some people would object to the objection of the graphic above, in fact. They would say it was politically correct, and a whole bunch of other reasons why they would dismiss it. They don't care if they are offensive to people in pain, and their line is in a different place to mine.

My line is probably not set as far forward as those who oppose any form of judgement on the behaviour of others. So there we have it.

I do use the term "crazy" and will continue to do so. It's a word that says so much in just 5 letters. Yes, it's an insult. I have decided that the behaviour of some people (a lot of people) is so erratic and inexplicable, that it requires a quick flippant term to express my feelings. None of these people (as far as I know) have been diagnosed with anything. In addition everyone, without exception, is sometimes crazy.

I suppose I could get away with it if I described the behaviour as crazy, and not the person. But that's just a cop out. That reminds me of "Hate the sin, love the sinner" which is bollocks. If your behaviour is crazy, then you are crazy to behave that way, otherwise, why are you doing it?

I am told that calling somebody crazy is dismissive of their emotional needs. OK, let's look at that. Let's consider what this means.

If I was to come to your house and dig up all your flowers, because I said the sight of them upset me, would you be sympathetic to my emotional needs? I don't think so.

You see, we ALL have emotional needs. We all need to be happy, to feel safe, to feel useful in some way, and ideally to feel loved. Nobody has more right to any of these than anyone else. So, you cannot justify upsetting somebody, by claiming you did it because you were upset. Maybe read that a few times.

I like peace and harmony. But I am aware that it is not possible all the time. I dislike drama. But there has to be some, occasionally, just to get things done. It's all about how much drama, and how often it occurs, that decides whether it's acceptable or not, and your definition of too much may allow for far more. As that's your life and not mine, it's none of my business.

Here's another little  "meme" that does the rounds regularly:

I don't like this. I find this quite disturbing, actually. I find it particularly disturbing because some of the people I have seen post it, are crazy. The sort of mothers who harm their kids by their behaviour, actually. People who leave me speechless sometimes with how they can't seem to see the cause and effect between their crazy parenting and their kids' reactions to it. Kids who are messed up, actually. By this shit.

It's none of my business if you freak out at your kids, until it impacts me, and then, yeah, funnily enough, I will   offer my opinion. I'll tell you things, for example, like how much they remind me of you. How I'm not a bit surprised they behave badly, because it's learned behaviour. And I still won't let them off the hook, anymore than I let you off the hook for telling me you can't help it because your mother was crazy too.

Somewhere along the way these cycles have to be broken. Otherwise we'll all go fucking crazy.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Religious Extremism

If there's one thing I view as a major problem in our world, right up there in the top ten of the most dangerous things we have to face, it's religious extremism.

Any form of extremism is dangerous. When thinking gets "locked" with no wiggle room, no exceptions, no tolerance, and above all no compassion, it never goes well. Never.

When it's based in religion, i.e. justified by having a big scary God as its authority and cheerleader, it's at its most dangerous, because of the fear factor. If the authority is a human, no matter how much of a tyrant he is, there is always a chance of escape, of him being overthrown, of him simply not noticing dissidence. But a God? Not only does he know all, see all, but his punishments aren't restricted to torturing you to death. Oh no. He can even punish you you after you're dead. And keep going!

So, his thugs, aka "True Believers" often get themselves into positions of power.

Although....I'm never really sure, to be perfectly honest, whether these tyrants are ultra religious, or just using the faith of others to get to the top. It's impossible to tell. But it doesn't really make any difference to those suffering under their command.

What is clear is that regular people, who commit atrocities when they catch the extremist bug, have been influenced by something. One assumes it's belief, because it defies explanation otherwise. A suicide bomber has to be sincere, he just has to be.

If we are going to talk about religious extremism it's important to know what it is we're talking about. It's very important, right at the start to specify that it makes absolutely no difference which religion we are referring to. All religions have laws about basic ethics such as not killing one another. And any one of them seems to find a loophole in that when it suits them. There are no exceptions here. Great harm done to its own believers (randomly, or because they break rules), or non-believers (followers of other beliefs, or none at all) has been done by every religion, at some point.

This has led, quite understandably, to a complete rejection of religion by many. Others choose to simply convince themselves that their own is not guilty, or at least less guilty. While others acknowledge harm in the past, or "only by extremists", and concentrate on not being that way themselves.

Some are so disgusted by the oppression of religion, that they seek a new oppression, one that prevents religion, thereby denying believers the opportunity to practice their religion the way they want to. While I confess to not having a quick solution to it all myself, I fail to see how competing oppressions solve anything, and if you were to successfully do away with religion, other tyrannies would rise.

No, what we must do, as a species, is learn tolerance, somehow. We have to just keep chipping away at that. It isn't going to happen overnight.

So, what is religious extremism?

It is a madness. It begins with the belief that your chosen religion is the right one, and that the others are wrong, false, heresy, or whatever. It then requires that something is done about non-believers. They cannot be ignored. What is to be done with them? Well, there's a sort of sliding scale there.

Consider the different levels of religious attutude:

1. Believes all religions serve the same purpose, can't therefore choose one, follows none, and has simply a spiritual sensibility.

2. Believes all religions serve the same purpose, chooses one for himself, but dabbles in others.

3. Believes all religions serve the same purpose, chooses one for himself, and enjoys interfaith dialogue.

4. Believes his religion is the right one for him, is interested in others, and enjoys interfaith dialogue.

5. Believes his religion is the right one for him, and is respectful of other beliefs, but avoids them.

6. Believes his religion is The Right One, but keeps his opinions to himself.

7.  Believes his religion is The Right One, and never shuts up about it.

8.  Believes his religion is The Right One, and tries to convince everyone to join it.

9. Believes his religion is The Right One, and pushes hard to convert others, using any non-violent means possible.

10.  Believes his religion is The Right One, and is willing to kill others to convert them.

Where is the danger line?


As soon as people stop talking to one another, the problems begin. Lack of communication causes two things, ignorance and distance. And by distance I don't mean miles. It could be somebody who lives next-door to you. If you don't get to know them - talk to the kids, invite them to your barbecue, compare petunias - regular neighbour stuff, then that distance can allow you to see them as different, as "not like me". You can read all the books you like and think you've covered the ignorance, but unless you recognize them as fellow travellers, it becomes easy not to care, not to see harm done to them, not to want to stand up to injustices against them. It makes them invisible.

And if you squirm at the idea of being neighbourly towards those who are different to you, I think you need to ask yourself why. Take a good hard look at your rationalizations here.

Because religious extremism at level #10 doesn't just arise suddenly. It is either sometimes you are taught from birth, or something that you lower yourself into, gradually. And it is optional.

We are always taught that the slippery slope is a fallacy, and it often is, but in this instance it can often be very real indeed. It is very, very easy to slip down this list, and the way to stop it is open communication. You don't have to agree. Sometimes you just can't. That's just how it is.

But you can always find commonalities. Basic human values. Concentrate on those.

Then of course, there's this:

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

"Debating" Online

Why the quotation marks round the word debate? Simply because so few people who enter into them online follow rules of debate, assuming they even know what they are. A debate without rules is an argument.

It's going to happen, especially in certain areas, politics and religion especially. There are people who get all bent out of shape if somebody "starts being political". I've seen some very good comebacks to that, but the thing is, if you have a place online that is yours, be it a blog or a Facebook page, or whatever, you have the right to put whatever you like on it. Even if it is deliberately offensive. That's your place.

On the other hand, if you publish (because that's what it is) something provocative, then you are essentially inviting comment. If you don't want comments on what you publish, don't publish. 

If you desire a respectful audience, then select who sees it. Choose your "friends" wisely.

So, having published to whomever, be it a tight little group, or whatever random people Google search engines bring to you, what can you expect?

The truth is: anything. Not only will your readers have a wide variety of opinions, they will have a wide variety of attitudes too, which is a different thing altogether. What we often forget, among those who read your thoughts will be:

1. Stupid people. It is possible to be able to read and write, even write correctly, and still be stupid. Stupid is not a simple lack of intellect or academic skills. No, no, no. There are stupid people out there with PhDs. Stupid is a deliberate attitude, it involves a closed mind. This unwillingness to learn often leads not only to them saying things that display their lack of knowledge, but to them not caring that they are talking out of their bottoms. Stupidity is a cycle, downwards.When stupid people respond, not only do they get facts wrong, they generally have a bad attitude too.

2. Crazy people. Not everyone who is crazy is diagnosed. Some forms of crazy are such that the person is able to lead a life within the broad range we call normal, get an education, hold down a job, have a bank account, pay bills, etc, which allows them to have internet access. But the crazy comes out very quickly in this perfect arrangement of anonymity online. It gives them an opportunity to share their delusions. Conspiracy theories are just the start of it.

3. Liars. I forget this one all too often. If you are an honest person it's very easy to overlook the fact that some people simply make stuff up. If I tell a lie there's a good reason for it ("No officer, I wasn't there....."). These folk tell lies just for something to do, I think. I'm not really sure. Anyway, whatever their motivation is, they spew complete rubbish all over the internet, on purpose.

4. Trolls. Sometimes known as "devil's advocates", in specific circumstances, but more broadly just as "shit-stirrers" these folk are not sharing their own opinions, they simply offer the most controversial comments they can think of, so they can watch the fight that follows. Like liars, they are presumably bored, and this is a form of entertainment for them.

5. Bigots. While these can also fit into any of the categories above, specifically these folk have an unmovable attitude that they are right, and everyone else is wrong. They, of course, are NEVER wrong. What is more, most bigots take this to the next step of spewing hate all over anyone who behaves or thinks differently to themselves. All racists, by definition, are bigots. Most religious extremists are bigots. The stubbornness of the bigoted mind is very powerful.

6. The Grossly Misinformed. These people can be forgiven if you wish, as they just don't know any better. They may be young. They may have lived inside a closed society, be very insular out of fear, or simply haven't had a good education. Generally these people are polite but can repeat themselves, believing they are right. As humans have feelings, despite everything, they can get very upset when told they are wrong. On the bright side, however, they can learn. This is often your best audience, if you are patient.

7. Ditherers. Really don't have a solid opinion, and will sometimes take sides in a debate, depending on who is winning. As their inconsistency becomes obvious, they tend to get ignored by everyone,  but they can still be a nuisance by echoing comments they read elsewhere, and not knowing when to shut up. Most importantly, when corrected, they don't know how to back down and can become extremely difficult, especially if they feel "ganged up on".

8. Bullies. Completely lacking the ability to take part in a reasonable debate, instead they hurl ad hominems at those they disagree with. They may start an argument, but soon realize they are out of their depth, and so go completely off-topic, to detract from their nescience. Using attack as a form of defence, they insult people, accuse them (wrongly) of the crimes listed above, and will use brute force to end a discussion. They never actually win anything.

9. Cry babies. Self-proclaimed victims and emotional vampires. As soon as they start to lose an argument, these will whine about being treated unfairly, and often utter those most pathetic of words "You don't know me!" Frequently these people start arguments, but can't keep up, and rather than back out discreetly, seek to change the focus by getting all the attention.

10. Believers. Found mostly in religious arguments, but oddly enough, not exclusively. Can be very loud in their opinions, but have nothing to back them up with. If asked for citations they often use biased  or very unreliable sources, and are easily taken in by #3, as they are so credulous. When their back is up against the wall they will use "Well, that's what I believe" as their get-out clause, which others must accept, or they turn into #9.

Any, or all of these people will comment on your deepest held opinions. They won't show you any respect, nor will they ever understand what they are doing wrong. For this reason, never take any of it personally, because it's not about you, or even about what you are saying, it's all about their egos, their twisted personalities, and their ignorance.

Monday, 3 June 2013

You've Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two, Boys - Part 5 - The Desire To Acquire

Last week I spoke out against poverty, and the idea (among the rich) that it's the fault of the poor that they are poor. I wanted to get that point across first, because it's not true.


However, you know, and I know, that sometimes it is true. There are people who couldn't manage their money no matter how much they had coming in. They'd still be broke, because they would spend it all. Most importantly, they'd spend it on things they really don't need, and not even want particularly badly. Things they lose interest in quickly. A sort of hoarding.

Experts noticed long ago that people spend money to make themselves feel better. You even hear people openly admit they do this, they talk about "retail therapy". They are spending because they are bored, or miserable. There's no real harm in it if it's an occasional thing, obviously, but if it bankrupts a family, then it's no different to a gambling addiction.

I have had times in my life where things were a bit easier, and I was able to spend money more freely, and it is certainly far more enjoyable than being restricted. Having more money than you need is FUN, and you are a liar if you say otherwise. Even if you spend it on other people, or give it away to charity, there is pleasure in that.

There is no pleasure in being short of money. Of having insufficient income to cover your needs. That is why we rail against poverty, so why do it to yourself? Makes no sense. Clearly some sort of short-term pleasure clogs the thinking processes, so that an otherwise intelligent person suddenly forgets there are bills to pay later in the month.

We're not talking about sudden unexpected expenses here. We're talking about people who know full well that their disposable income is actually $20, but spend $200. They spend it on luxury items, not basic necessities, and then, when the rent is due, they go EEK!

So, the question is why?

Well, apart from the psychological aspect described above, some think it's a twisted natural instinct. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers. Somewhere deep in our DNA, from the habit of millennia, there is a desire to gather. Shopping is the modern version of it. This theory makes quite a bit of sense.

Then there's the idea of keeping up with others. Everyone around you has certain things, and you feel left out by not having them. There is pressure to be seen as "normal", and "normal" people have these things. That is a pretty strong motivation. It even causes people to get into debt, or to steal, so as to have what others have. Regardless of how necessary it is. In some cultures there are rules of hospitality that are expected, and to break those rules is a big deal, but hospitality can be expensive. Gifts can be "expected". So some of this overspending is caused by outside demands.

I also see something I call the "Magpie Eye". It could be any corvid. These birds (crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, magpies, jays, and more) are known to find pretty things appealing, and to want to take them home. So there are stories of them picking up jewellery and it being found in their nests. They have no use for it, they are not mistaking it for food, it is simply that they are attracted to colourful, shiny things, and the desire to keep it causes them to become "robber" birds. Humans, of all species, have this trait, and believe me, as person who sells jewellery for a living, I'm glad of it.

I've had a few customers over the years that I know were buying far too much, it was for their own collection too. As a seller it's not for me to say anything, and I'd be a damn fool to turn away business, but I direct my love of colourful, shiny things INTO my business. I don't need a huge collection myself, working with it satisfies all my needs there.

Then there's simple wastefulness, buying things for quickness, or out of laziness, or bad planning.

So there are many aspects to this, and we've all done it from time to time. That doesn't make it right. There are no excuses here. Still, it's the overspender who suffers, not the rest of us (unless we're called upon to bail them out).

Should the rest of us even care? It all helps the economy after all. These are the consumers that advertisers want. People who can be manipulated into buying stuff they don't need. Easy targets. Bleed 'em dry.

And those of us who are bit more careful, are we just being judgemental about how others run their lives? None of our business really. Not our money, not our problem.

It becomes our problem when we have to listen to it. How many times have you had to bite your tongue, when somebody pours out their heart about their financial woes, when you know they've been spending money on things they don't need? If you do say anything, they twist it to make you the bad person, so it's not even worth bothering. They will be quick to call you judgemental if you list the purchases you know about. In fact social etiquette requires that we keep our thoughts to ourselves and show sympathy. It's all back to front, but that's how it is.

So why does it bother me so much? Is it because there is REAL need out there, real hardship, that wasn't caused by foolishness, but by bad luck, by the acts of others, by genuine lack, by injustice, by cruelty, and by the rich and powerful.  Money gets wasted while people go hungry. Society as a whole ends up being "short" due to the actions of some.

It makes no difference, in fact, whether you can afford it or not, if you waste resources. It doesn't matter that it's your money. It doesn't matter if you are apparently the only one who suffers, it's still waste. I hate waste.  If you do away with waste, you do away with poverty. There IS enough to go around. Is that why I get so frustrated by what I see as wasteful spending?

Or am I just frustated that I can't speak my mind? That we have created a society where wastefulness is applauded. Where nobody thinks anymore. Where justification for one's actions has become more important  than admitting one's faults. Possibly all of this.

Maybe I just don't understand it.