Friday, 27 March 2015

Happy Birthday To Me

Would you like to know what my best birthday gift was this morning? The sheer number of people who who wished me Happy Birthday. It is an amazing thing to feel that loved. I am a very lucky person, in so many ways, I have no idea why, but I'm grateful. This is my song.

So, I'm 53 today, which is hysterically funny. I remember, as a teenager, thinking that people of this age (specifically, I don't remember why, but 53 was the number) being over the hill. Not so much old as irrelevant. I didn't think their opinions counted for anything, they were out of touch.

Obviously I don't feel that way now. I feel very relevant. Out of touch? With some pop culture, yes, and I'm not sorry, but with "reality"? No. Sheesh, there was so much I didn't know back then.

Of course 50 is the new 30, I mean really. When I was a kid, people over 50 really were old, they dressed old, they behaved old. They had a very strange attitude. Young people generally didn't mix with them socially. It's different now, our generation saw that and said "OH NO", and most of us have simply not bothered growing up. There are a few fuddy-duddies, bless 'em, but I am not unusual in still being essentially the same person I was at 17.

Except for the bits that really are different. I didn't have grey hair at 17, and I didn't creak as much, but thankfully my health is good, and I am able to do more or less all the same things I did then. I just go to bed earlier.

I'm also rather more tactful. I still speak my mind (if anyone thinks that will ever change, they are sadly mistaken) I just choose my words a bit more carefully. Usually.

In fact, I speak my mind so much, it should be empty, except it keeps coming up with more. It's not deep, but it's busy. I write, therefore I am.

I had a little issue with my phone company this week, I won't bore you with the details, it's fixed anyway, but in the process, I couldn't remember my password (from 10 years ago!) to access their website, and I couldn't answer the memory jogger questions to get in that way. The questions were:

What is your favourite sport's team? Don't have one. Wonder what I said 10 years ago? Possibly Arsenal. I'm not really an Arsenal supporter. I just think that instead of choosing a team because they are good or whatever, you should be loyal to the team closest geographically to where you were born. Not where you live now. So, that would be Arsenal, but I wasn't sure, so I tried the next one.

What is your pet's name? Well, I have a lot of pets, and I had a lot of pets 10 years ago, some of them dead now. So which one did I choose? I don't really have "favourites", so how do you single one out? Gave up there.

It was the third question that really made me smile:

What is your favourite pastime?


Many, many years ago, I briefly had a boyfriend, who had the most boring mother. She was so boring in fact I can't even remember her name. Anyway, one day I was trying hard to make conversation with her (imagine a 16-year-old Melanie trying to talk to a beige woman) and I asked her what she enjoyed doing in her spare time, or words to that effect. What I remember as plain as day was her reply.

"I don't really like doing anything."

Looking back now with mature eyes, that poor lady was probably mildly depressed. Not enough to slow her down but enough for her just to be permanently low-grade miserable.

What do I like to do? What DON'T I like to do? I like so many things there aren't enough hours in the day. I even love my job. And this is why I deem myself above average in the luck department. I enjoy every friggin' waking hour. My favourite pastime is life. I bet that wasn't the answer to my question. I have no idea what I chose, 10 years ago. Maybe whatever I was doing at the time. I tend to live in the moment.

And I laugh. Probably too much. Probably at the wrong times. I tell terrible jokes. I find things funny that I shouldn't. Because life is fucking weird.

But mine's been good so far.

Sunday, 22 March 2015


Melanie, you're a snob.

Am I? Well, let's see.

What is a snob?

The dictionary says:


a person who imitates, cultivates, or slavishly admires social superiors and is 
condescending or overbearing to others.
a person who believes himself or herself an expert or connoisseur in given field 
and is condescending toward or disdainful of those who hold other opinions or have different tastes regarding this field:
a musical snob.

There are some slightly different definitions out there too:

Anyone who thinks they are better than someone else based upon superficial factors.

(Urban dictionary)


snob is a person who believes a correspondence between status and human worth. The term also refers to a person who believes that some people are inherently inferior to him or her for any one of a variety of reasons, including real or supposed intellectwealtheducationancestrypowerphysical strengthclasstastebeautynationalityfame, extreme success of a family member or friend, etc. Often this form of snobbery reflects the snob's personal attributes.For example, a common snobbery of the affluent is the belief that wealth is either the cause or result of superiority, or both. Both definitions are used as a pejorative.


I'm not even impressed by wealth or social status, so that whole area isn't relevant, and a lot of this is bigotry, frankly, so I really don't think I fit in there. I do hope not.

It's more when it comes to matters of taste that I get criticized. But even then, I plead not guilty, because I don't consider my tastes to be better than yours, they are just my tastes. If you don't share them, that's fine.

For example, up there - the musical snob. I enjoy opera, I don't enjoy country music. I am not asking you to listen to my music, and yet I still get called a snob for that preference. Not only that, on occasions, those who enjoy country music go on long, passionate rants about why it's good, or even better, than my tastes in music. Hang on, who's the snob here?

I am also often called a food snob, because I rarely eat processed food and I like a lot of international foods. I'm also a good cook and fascinated by food history, so I have a head full of interesting little factoids about it, which I'm prone to share. I do NOT claim to be an expert. I don't WANT to be an expert. Experts are often pretty boring, actually. People sometimes fight back by telling me how good X frozen pizza (or whatever) is, and fine. If you like it, you eat it. Just don't feed it to me. But if you get really uptight about it, if you start preaching about it, then I'm not the one with the issue.

But what really gets people riled up, for some reason, is when they find out I don't have TV.

Apparently if you don't have TV you are a cultural snob. Even if you never mention it until the topic comes up. Beat that.

This is complete bollocks. By the same logic I'm an animal snob because I don't have a budgie.

Snobbery involves JUDGING others on their tastes. Surely the snob is the person judging my lack of TV?

There is such a thing as inverted snobbery. This can include judging a person for speaking good English, or dressing conservatively, etc. I think it applies with my tastes in entertainment.Instead of saying "I know that I watch a lot of rubbish on TV, but I like it" they will have a go at me for not liking it.

Quite often people will confess to watching rubbish on TV with the excuse that "mindless" entertainment is relaxing. Fine. Enjoy. I don't find it relaxing, I find it annoying. You do what you want, I'll do something else.

It gets a bit stickier when the programme in question is highly regarded. We won't name names, because it will  distract, but there is a TV show on that is INCREDIBLY popular. My son has some episodes on DVD and I have taken the time to watch it with him. I don't like it. I don't like the story, I don't like the acting, and I don't like the production. It would therefore be quite easy to get into an argument about the quality of this show with those who like it, but to what end? Seriously?

However, if I say I don't like it, they get all snotty about it, quite often to the point of being defensive, and I have been judged for my opinions on it. That doesn't make me the snob, does it?

Oh emotional people, you are allowed to enjoy anything you want. Nobody is going to take it away from you. It isn't necessary to attack in order to defend. Are you that insecure that you need to do that?

I think what you really mean is that you think I'm too highbrow in my tastes, and not only do you not share my tastes (nobody is asking you to) you feel threatened by them (why?). Instead of shrugging and moving on you attack me for an attitude I don't even have. And that's silly.

What's silliest is that I have plenty of lowbrow tastes too. I just like what I like. If I were a food snob do you really think I'd eat Salad Cream? Food is supposed to be enjoyed, not worn like a badge. If I were a music snob would I listen to the Sex Pistols?

Eat what you like, watch what you like, read what you like, listen to what you like. Makes no difference to me. Just don't inflict it on me!

Friday, 20 March 2015


What is it? Is it good or bad?

You remember all those little clichés you were told growing up - "Pride comes before a fall!".

But then in the next breath you'd do something amazing and they'd say "Oh, I'm proud of you!"

They were proud? But I did it? How does that work? Why aren't they going to fall now?

Now we have pride marches. Displays of people saying "This is me!" Well, it's all good fun isn't it, but now pride seems to be a good thing even when you have it yourself.

I keep hearing how people are proud of their children, or take pride in their homes, so I assume it's all self-congratulatory stuff really.

This is weird stuff, and all rather confusing, when you try to analyze it. Luckily, most things most people say are just that. Things they say. They don't think about the deeper meanings of what they say. They just regurgitate things they've heard others say.

I'm a bit of an oddity in that respect, I analyze everything, and I'm careful about what I say, because I think words matter. Even if nobody notices, that's my way.

I don't think pride in oneself is a bad thing. I think we should all stand up and say "This is me!".

At the same time I think we should all try to be better than we are. The most reasonable pride, surely, comes in knowing you are doing your very best.

And I don't use the word "should" lightly.

But this thing of being proud of others, what's that all about? Does it even make sense?

I think it means something else.

I think it means "I totally approve of your behaviour and/or achievement (in this situation, or generally), and that makes me feel really good."

That's not pride. It's admiration, and some warm fuzzies.

I think you can admire people for all sorts of things, they don't have to be things you would do yourself.

There are many virtues to admire, including hard work, honesty, selflessness, or just sheer determination.

And that pride that comes before a fall? That's not the same thing either. If pride in oneself, and one's achievements is a recognition of "I did my very best" then if things go wrong it's hardly causal.

But there is something, isn't there, an attitude that "I'm better than you" that often, in hindsight, looks a bit premature, to say the least.

I'm going to tell you a little story.

Some time ago I knew a man online who opposed socialized medicine. He claimed he didn't need it, because he looked after himself. He ate well and exercised regularly. So, he'd never get sick.

I cut of all connections with him after that, not purely because of that, but it was the final straw. It was such a stupid thing to say, and to believe, that it wasn't worth arguing about, so I didn't, but it told me a lot about his character.

Of course, he's not alone in this attitude. I regularly meet people who say things like "Oh I never get sick". I meet others who tell me they follow this or that strict diet for health reasons. They aren't quite as puffed up as the aforementiond fellow but they are still tempting Murphy.

But when these people fall flat on their faces, do I say "Well, serves you right", or "Well, you were rather full of it....."? No, of course not. I suppose I could, plenty would. I have learned that nothing good comes from that attitude. In fact it's just another version of that attitude that looks very foolish after you've been knocked down a few pegs.

Humility isn't easy, especially if you really are doing rather well, but it's honest. Nobody knows what the future will bring, nobody knows if they are "right", and nobody can prevent random events.

A little attitude change can, at the very least, prevent you looking an arse when things go awry, but far more importantly can help you deal with life when shit happens, which it does. Think positive, definitely, but be aware that you are not in control.

Never say never.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

I Have A Confession To Make

It's good for the soul you know.

This is a long-running issue for me, this one. A dilemma.

It's better to be kind than right, and one should not mock the afflicted.  That is to say, if a person is suffering from some sort of disorder, they can't help it, and making fun of them is cruel, and also rather pointless. It makes you look a complete arse anyway, because only other arses would laugh. We are all above that, I hope.

And yet, and yet.......

We break it down by category, don't we.

The vast majority of people are kind to and supportive of those with physical impairments. There are exceptions to this, I'm sure by now you've all seen this:

But generally speaking, we disapprove of such unkindness, and specifically don't make fun.

When it's a mental impairment we break it down still further. Most people are kind and supportive to those suffering from mental illnesses, such as PTSD, or to those with neurological differences such as Down syndrome.

Not enough perhaps, as anyone with autism can tell you about being bullied, and many people with neurological disorders have to "cover" for fear of discrimination. We've a way to go before true understanding and tolerance arrive in our society.

But there are two areas left where even the most politically correct struggle to find the right words to describe what we see.

1. The stupid.

I have spoken about this before, and nothing has changed. I am fortunate (and that's all it is, it's luck) to have been born with a high functioning intellect. It doesn't mean I get things right all the time, but it enables me to make rational decisions. It also makes it really hard to deal with people who don't think at the same level. I'm quite serious here. On the one hand my intellect tells me they can't help it, I should be kind and patient. On the other hand I get easily frustrated trying to explain things to people who just don't get it.

It's all relative, of course, if you have been diagnosed with an intellectual impairment, and some people actually have IQs so low they can't live alone, for example, that tends to fall into the area where we don't make fun. We are kind, we make allowances.

No, it's those who we feel ought to be able to understand that frustrate us. To all intents and purposes they are "average" or "normal". They can hold down a job, drive a car, read and write. They may even have a post-secondary education. But they make no effort to stop and think. They are credulous. And moreover they don't care. There is an element of willfulness here.

We actually say "Don't be stupid!" to people because somewhere deep down we think they can do better. Can they? I don't know.

This is a huge area for me in my efforts at being a kinder person, an effort I believe we all should make (and I very rarely "should" people) but it's hard. It's really, really hard. It's also a very interesting area of discussion, and one that I'm sure I'll come back to. It's not today's.

2. The gaga.

I suppose these are people who could be described in two ways. One would be very, very eccentric. I freely admit to being quite eccentric myself, but I do keep my feet on the ground.

The other way is "harmlessly insane."

Sanity, is of course, a scale. And very few people, if any, are at 100%. Every time you lose your temper, for example, you slip down a bit.

Just having a sense of humour takes you below 100, so there's no shame in being a bit off the wall. It makes you interesting, and creative. All creative people are a bit crazy.

But then there is this:

And the website:

Here's my confession, I want to laugh. I want to poke fun at those involved. I just called them gaga, after all. Beyond that I'm looking for a motive. Money? Attention? Maybe it's just a joke? If it were just one person it would be easy to say "she's mad, poor thing" but this is a group of people.

It's so easy to laugh, but as others commented where I found you laugh? Or cry?

Do these people breed? Vote?

What does one say?

Should I be kind or should I call bullshit where I see it?

I have been criticized more than once for not being open-minded on some topics, and while I'd be the first to agree that an open mind is necessary, there does come a point where that door is so wide open, the mind falls right out.

Remember, before you decide where you stand, sanity is a scale. Credulousness is a scale. Open mindedness is a scale. No matter where you are on that scale, somebody is above and below you.

That's why discussions on religion get so heated. Think about that.

Anything that cannot be proven by science that YOU believe will put you lower down the scale than a person who doesn't believe it, in their eyes.

This is an extreme example, and it's probably harmless. It may even be an elaborate hoax for all I know. But things like this, but not quite as way out, crop up all the time. ALL THE TIME.

And I have to decide how to approach them. I can dismiss it as crazy. I can specifically use the word "pseudoscience" but often it doesn't even qualify, it's just too......what IS the word?

No, it's easy to laugh, it's easy to dismiss, it's easy to throw demeaning words around, and I do. I confess, I do. BECAUSE IT'S NUTS.

And then I think I must be kinder.

That is my dilemma.

Carry on.

Sunday, 8 March 2015


Anyone arriving here this morning from Facebook will notice a running theme to my posts there.

International Women's Day? Yeah right.

Around the world women are still second class in most places. We still don't even have equality in the "enlightened" west.

In the oh so modern United States: The median annual earnings of women 15 or older who worked year-round, full time in 2013 was $39,157. 
In comparison, the median annual earnings of men were $50,033.

Read more: Women by the Numbers

But never forget that John was a shithead to women too.

I am one of the lucky ones. My life is exactly what I want it to be. I have a good man and we are equals in our relationship, and the situation here in Canada suits me. As I am self-employed the impact of unequal pay doesn't affect me. My sons are respectful but they don't treat me as a delicate object. I have achieved, in my own life, exactly what every woman deserves.

I am in a minority.

What can be done about this?

Well, it's a human rights issue. It is fair to say that men aren't always treated well either, and we must never forget that. But all the time they make up anything over 50% of any power structure, there will never be equality.

Some people criticize the focus on women's rights, due to this. The fact is, if women's rights are met, everyone benefits. It's as simple as that. There is no downside to giving women equality. The only group who stand to lose out are the men in power. And they have no plans on giving up that power, you see.

What the hell is going on? Are we not past this?


It isn't always violence and workplace slavery. Most of it is more subtle, but that's why it's so insidious.

“When a man gives his opinion, he's a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she's a bitch.” 
― Bette Davis

It was noticed a long time ago.

“Do you really believe ... that everything historians tell us about men – or about women – is actually true? You ought to consider the fact that these histories have been written by men, who never tell the truth except by accident.” 
― Moderata FonteThe Worth of Women: Wherein Is Clearly Revealed Their Nobility and Their Superiority to Men

I have very little hope of it ending anytime soon. I try to do my bit, to educate, even to shock. I still, regularly, run into educated women who are surprised at how they are perpetuating the inequality. They are horrified when they realise it. I've been there.

We have much left to do, please do everything you can to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Ya Gotta Have Faith

Faith. I've written about this a number of times, in fact I'm pretty sure that on one occasion I called it the F word, because it's about as popular as the other one, in mixed company. I'm also going to capitalize it to make it stand out. In fact I'm going to talk about Faith and faith. :)

Faith is one of those words, like Beauty, that we abuse. I mean, we really kick it around. So I'll capitalize that too. (Ich denke, dass die Verwendung von Großbuchstaben auf Substantive eine gute Idee ist!)

I think the mistreatment of the concept of Beauty is getting out of hand. We are all oh so determined these days not to be shallow, that we even say a seriously deformed person is beautiful. Oh, don't get me wrong, I understand the reason behind this. We want them to be treated as equals, we want them to feel included, we want them to feel loved and wanted. If pressed, we'll say the person is beautiful on the inside, or they have a beautiful spirit, or whatever. Yes, I get that.

But by using the word beautiful to describe people who, by all usual definitions, actually are not, we devalue the word.

Do we do this with anything else? Do we say that a car that's been wrecked, or a building that's been blown up is beautiful? Of course we don't. So our reasoning is well-meaning but rather odd at the same time.

I am not beautiful. I was once, then I got older. That's OK. I don't need to be beautiful. I don't need flattery either. I don't need the bollocks. I have above average self-esteem and it's NOT based on my looks. I'd much rather be called quirky or interesting, as a matter of fact, and I work towards that.

But I have the experience of having once been beautiful. I gotta tell ya, it's overrated. OK, it opens a few doors. I know for a fact that one job I got was solely on my appearance. I had a lot of fun doing that, and I'm grateful for the experience. I also gave my genes to my kids, which makes their lives easier too, especially my youngest who has movie star looks. So...I've spent years ensuring they don't grow up conceited, and whaddya know. He's all about humanity and stuff, and he just wants to teach. Good. Really, being beautiful doesn't actually serve much of a purpose.

Tell you what beautiful people are useful for? Looking at. Yep. That's about it. Like a sunset, or a running horse, or a magnolia tree in full bloom. We get a kick out of things that our eyes find agreeable, and that's a good thing. It makes us happy. Happy is good. I will now make some of you very happy.

Others, not so much. 

Funny thing, there's another human who'd rather be thought of as interesting or quirky than beautiful, but he doesn't get a choice. And YET, some of you are now going "EWWWWW". Not to your tastes. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? 

Wait a minute, maybe we're not talking about beauty at all! If only SOME people think he's beautiful, maybe this isn't that simple. Maybe this is more about personal taste. Hmm.

OK, try this one.

Now, some of you don't know what to say, do you? Some of you think he's very beautiful, but in different ways. That is, some of you are thinking "Cwor, he's a bit of alright!", which is really quite inappropriate (but no different to ogling Mr Depp, who at least is used to it, and poses), others are leaning more towards how exotic and interesting he is, and finding that to be beautiful, while others, if pressed don't like the way he looks, not really, but would be PC about it in a National Geographic sort of way. And, there are those who think he looks daft or actually, not appealing AT ALL, but may be afraid to say so, because race. And all that.

How about this one:

I don't find him beautiful. I know he's supposed to be, he's a model. But I find very fair men unattractive. I just do. Sorry. I'm allowed to say that with no fallout because he's white, you see. Sometimes it's OK to reject a person's looks based on colour. So, if you do, is it racist? Maybe it isn't.

Isn't this complicated? There are sort of official standards, and there are expectations, and there's personal preference, and there are even taboos. Are we talking about Beauty AT ALL, or are we talking about something else? Or several something elses, maybe.

My point here is that what a word means, what it represents, which is semantics, is only the start of the problem. You and I can look at the same thing and not only disagree on its quality but on what that quality means. How do we even communicate?

Back to Faith then. Before we can discuss it we might need to pin down a meaning. I'll refer you to this to save a bit of time:

(Richard and I go back a way and most of the time we understand one another really well, and then every so often we don't. I consider it to be a sold friendship, because it can withstand the misunderstandings. It is also more interesting to disagree sometimes. I'd never learn anything if I only ever spoke to people who had all the same opinions as me. Anyway, this topic is one where we agree on some bits and not others, so here's my version.)

If we actually look at the idea of having faith in a thing, this is more in the sense of trust. Trust is usually something gained over time (I've done it before, and it didn't kill me), or at the insistence of others. "Go on, it's quite safe...."

It took me a while to trust microwaves, but once I did I found they were really useful. One of the ways I gained this trust was by using one (my mother-in-law encouraged me), and then by necessity (new immigrant, basement apartment, no stove). Having found it didn't ruin food (except eggs, BLEARGH) I then bought myself one and haven't been without one since. I also trust that it's not harmful because I read the science involved.

Can we say I have faith in microwaves? I suppose we can, but I'm not sure if this really is the same thing as the type of faith we are talking about in religious debates.

Now then, I am of the Pagan persuasion, as well as being scientifically oriented. Atheists tend to find this a bit odd, maybe even hypocritical. But I see modern pantheism as where those two adversaries (science and the metaphysical) meet head on. And get along fine.

Think about it. Science tells us that we are on a globe turning towards the east, and that as we do so we face away from the sun at night, which makes it dark, and then we turn towards it in the morning, and get daylight. Because it LOOKS like the sun rises, we call it sunrise. It's all a matter of perspective. Do we have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow? Yes, of course we do. Is that religious faith? No, silly. And yet it was a faith that existed long before we understood why it happened. At that point it was at least a superstitious faith, fear that it wouldn't happen if the Gods were angry was all part of the origin of religious dogma (rituals, prayers, taboos, etc) so there's a link there. The Egyptians believed (or did they?) that Ra sailed his boat across the sky.

The more modern pantheist says "Yep, that's God, right there". Not Ra, but something bigger, something more intangible. I won't dwell on that because it's a bit deep for a Friday morning, suffice to say that the reason the monotheists don't LIKE pantheists is that we don't differentiate creator and creation.

The next step then, is accusations of having faith in science. I suppose it's reasonable. Maybe not even a bad thing to have. But it gets silly when it's likened to religious Faith. I think the reasons are obvious, but I spend a lot of time explaining them, mainly because (here we go, semantics again) the definitions of words like science and theory are not understood. It's for this reason, at least in part, that I reject the idea that the trust we have in the microwave, or the power behind it is actually faith in the same way that we discuss religious Faith. OK. Next bit.

I have Faith that the Universe is unfolding as it should. Do I trust it? Not a bit of it. It's very unpredictable and Nature could kill me without warning. Meteor strike, boom. Or just something within my own body like an aneurysm. Poof, gone. No choice, no pleading possible. Random. Shit happens AND I LIKE THAT. I like that when I cease to exist, the Universe will carry on just fine without me. I like that I am just dust in the wind. It's how it should be. So where does Faith come in there? Well, it is reliably unreliable. Change is the only constant and all that.

Does that sound silly to you? Does it sound like I'm excusing the utter randomness of an uncaring Universe? OK, so what's different between that and "God moves in mysterious ways?". At least I admit we are powerless. I'm used to that powerlessness, and I'm good with it. I don't expect the Universe to change for me.

Maybe you can see where I'm going with this, but let's step aside for a moment and look at that other definition of faith.

We use it, wrongly in my opinion, as a synonym for "denomination". "Which faith are you?" I used to be heavily involved in the religion section at MSN, I moderated the "Earth-Based Faiths" forums and chat room (FREE INTERNET AS PAYMENT!!), and was also a regular contributor to "All-Faiths". There was "all-faith" discussion. Curious use of the word, but common enough.

Well, they say ya gotta have faith. In something.

In business it's very necessary. My particular business ideology is "if you build it they will come" which translates pretty much as "if you sell it they will buy it" and that takes CONSIDERABLE faith. If you've never run your own business, you may not understand, but it's a game. You have to guess what people want, and if you're wrong you lose. And people are weird. And fickle. Trends come and go, and you can never relax. It's not for the cowardly. You absolutely must have faith, and it's not just faith in your own ability as a retailer or whatever. It's a nebulous thing, which is about as close to religious faith as it gets, in my opinion. You may as well wish on a 4 leaf clover.

But without it, you'll never succeed because you will dither and dally, and you can't. Yet with all the faith in the world, sometimes you'll fail anyway. Shit happens. So you rush forward knowing at any time you could be running right over a cliff. I sleep well at night because I accept this. If it all goes tits up tomorrow, I'll do something else. I have the same fatalistic attitude as I have to my own demise.

So, this whole idea of religious faith then, of the standard type, the type known to most of the world, especially the Christians and Muslims. What of that?

I don't have it. Despite everything. Despite Church of England schooling, a culturally "Christian" upbringing, a positive attitude, and indeed sharing many of the values that Christians have. I don't share their faith. By any definition.

I don't share it out of fear. I don't believe that lacking that faith will doom me to hell. I don't believe in hell. I don't believe I need "saving". I could go on at length (oh trust me, a whole book, a long book) as to why, but you don't need that right now. I'm leaving out a whole lot here I could say, in an effort not to tear down anyone else's Faith. That's really not my objective, but it can happen easily if we start explaining our differences. Let's stick to the positive.


But there's one final thing. 

“Most witches don’t believe in gods. They know that the gods exist, of course. They even deal with them occasionally. But they don’t believe in them. They know them too well. It would be like believing in the postman.” Terry PratchettWitches Abroad

Faith is not required.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Fear Is The Key

I was so happy - and surprised - to see this, this morning:

Generally speaking clergy tend to be very protective, and if if they confess there are rogues in their numbers, they won't usually go this far.

Most intelligent people know that it is extremism that is the problem, be it religion, politics, guns, or whatever, but we still have to contend with the apologists.

Many people object to this comparison, which is fine. I see it as valid, but then I'm coming at it from a different perspective.

Clearly it's not an EXACT comparison, and it's simply disingenuous to seek that. I'm sorry, but it is. It's a comparison of intent and potential.

But on top of that is another objection, that religion is even involved in such things. Well, it's there, it's quoted, and it's used to justify opinions. When it's convenient, anyway.

I think the problem lies in how people see cause and effect.

Here's how I see it.

A person finds the world he lives in frightening and confusing. Not unusual. He has several options as to how to deal with this.

1. He can complain about it to anyone who'll listen, then escape from the reality of it immersing himself in distractions (see yesterday's post, and Bill's comment on it too).

2. He can escape using drugs or drink. Doesn't care any more.

3. He can become an activist. There are many ways to do that, writing, art, music, politics, marching, protesting, etc.

4. He can lash out. Blame anyone who he sees as responsible, argue, or even fight with those who don't share his purview.

5. He can rationalize it, study it, philosophize, and find ways that as a lay person, he can simply cope with it all.

6. He can turn to the comfort of an ideology that provides answers.

Most people combine two or more of these.

Depending on which he chooses his fear can grow or diminish. What can fear become? Hatred. We don't need Yoda to explain this to us. Lucas didn't pull this idea out of his arse. Philosophers have been discussing this link for hundreds of years, and it's pretty obvious when you think about it.

Hate inevitably leads to extremism, because hate is extreme. You will hear people say that hate is the opposite of love, but I see it differently. I see both love and hate as potential opposites of apathy, and you can go down either of those paths as far as you like, but you can't go down both of them. Just as black isn't a colour, it's the complete absence of light, I see hate as the complete absence of love.

People say to me that if you love something passionately you can feel hate for whatever destroys it. We're not talking about people here, but things like power, culture, systems, nations etc. I really don't have any experience of that, I may change my mind if I did. I strongly suspect that the passionate love in question was more about ownership, but I'll reserve judgement on that one.

For now it's enough to say that we see a cause and effect chain from fear to extremism.

So what is it that the extremists fear, initially?

The same things that the rest of us fear. Loss. Powerlessness. Hunger. Poverty. Change. They don't all start out as thugs.

I got myself into terrible trouble a few weeks back when I (half-joking) suggested that instead of killing the grunt level of ISIL, we gave them cookies and a hug. But surely Melanie, don't you understand these are are all dangerous extremists?

Were they born that way? Or, until a few weeks, months, years ago, were they just regular people?

The leaders are another matter, quite separate. The recruits are mostly young, disaffected, angry, confused, and frightened.

I liken it to a dog that bites. The first time it happens it was him lashing out from fear or pain. Perhaps he was teased to breaking point. Whatever the reason he loses control and his instincts are to attack. What happens after that depends entirely on how he is punished. If he is beaten, he may submit, temporarily, but this is often the fast track to an aggressive dog.

We see this in children too. When a child is "bad", if he is beaten (abused) he may become submissive, and this could go three ways. He's timid forever. He becomes aggressive. He's like a coiled spring, and one day...boom.

Here in the west we have no idea of the lives of the majority of these young people, and those who join from outside have problems of their own. Once part of the organization, their experiences change them. Can they be "cured"? Maybe. Do we try? No, silly. We imprison and torture them.

Here's one theory:

Now then, opinion is divided on just where Islam itself comes into this. There are those who say there is no connection, it's pretty much coincidence. The problem is occurring in the middle east, QED those involved are Muslim. There are those in other religions that think Islam is a lesser religion than their own. That it is by definition more violent, and they quote passages, and cite examples, blah blah. "We'd never do this". There are those of no religion that see all religions as equally dangerous, and that's the end of it. Then there are those who want to look a bit deeper.

This could not happen without SOME sort of ideology. It didn't have to be religious, it could have been political. Something has to act as a framework, a reasoning (however distorted). It needed to already exist too. You can't get that level of support for a brand new ideology, it needs time to garner respect, admiration, and trust.

And when disaffected people seek answers, be they leaders or foot soldiers, they look for something solid. Something black and white. No wiggle room. No board meetings. They look for rules and "solutions". That's why fearful people vote for authoritarian leaders. That's why people follow them. It saves a lot of decisions.

There's a lot of fear in a fast changing world, and it's a very uneven world. Despite all the scientific advancements of the last 200+ years that could have every human on the planet living in comfort, what we have instead are billionaires who hoard and/or waste money while children die of cold, disease, or hunger quite unnecessarily, and if you are on the low end of that scale but are feisty enough to try and change the balance, you may see extremism as your only solution.

That doesn't make it right, and anyone who thinks I mean that is an idiot, frankly. There's no right and wrong in extremism. Cause and effect isn't necessarily justified, it's just how it is. There is a whole shitload of unfairness involved.

Unfairness due to cause and effect occurs in nature. When your house is razed by a tornado, it's nobody's fault (not even the Romans) and it's jolly unfair. The one next door is still standing. You can scream at the sky, at the weather office, at the government, at the builders, it won't change anything. It was random. You were unlucky. The cause of the tornado? Climate/weather. The effect? Destruction. For some reason this house has been singled out, is that right or fair? No. Can we do anything about it. No.

Nobody can do anything about tornadoes, or where they go, and building houses to withstand them may be possible, maybe not, but considering the likelihood of yours being hit, it's simply not cost effective anyway. We have to just live with stuff like that.

Solution? If you have fear of tornadoes the only solution (from the list above) is escape, only this is real escape. Move somewhere they don't have them. Done. End of problem. If you say "But it's not fair, I want to live here, make the tornado go away" you're being ridiculous, it's not possible.

Unfairness due to cause and effect exists in society. If a kid is bullied in school, that can be difficult to deal with, but it's not impossible. The cause of the bullying? The kid isn't like everyone else. The effect of the bullying? Destruction. Yes. The kid gets hurt, humiliated, and lives in fear of it happening again. This is very destructive to young psyches. For some reason he's been single out. Is that right or fair? No. Can we do anything about it? YES. This situation is not the same as the tornado at all.

We are helpless against tornadoes, but we can deal with bullying. How? Well, at the very least we can chastise the bully, maybe remove privileges. Maybe let's try to stop this happening again. Some schools deal with it better than others, and some bully targets do too. How fast can you run? Can you fight back? We can remove the bully from the school, prevent him getting an opportunity to bully that kid again, and if he persists in being a bully we can remove him from society, put him in a secure place. That's how we deal with those who don't play nice. If all else fails we lock him away. Hopefully in the meantime we try to cure him, but if we can't we have a responsibility to prevent him being able to harm anyone.

I know of situations where schools have blamed the victim. They behaved, in fact, as if the bully were a tornado. Nothing we can do. Move away or suck it up. Bullies are not the same as tornadoes, there are things we can do. It's not the responsibility of the target, it's the responsibility of the bully to behave, and for the system to ensure that happens, and to protect the target. Because it is possible, and that is the right and fair thing.

Unfairness due to cause and effect occurs in the world. When your village is hit by a drone, you might just ask yourself WTF did I do to deserve that? Maybe you lost your home, maybe your family. The cause of the drone? US foreign policy. The effect? Destruction. Is that right or fair? No. Can we do anything about it? Well, duh.

But we don't, do we. Instead we blame the victim. Well, you shouldn't be related to a terrorist, should you? Silly! We pretend this is the only solution, which is bollocks.

Can the victim do anything about it?

Victims aren't stupid. Victims of bullying know they weren't at fault, and one day, if it's not handled well, they may get a gun and go shoot up a school. Stranger things have happened. Cause and effect. Is it fair? No. Is it right? No. What's the cause? Just told you. What's the effect? Destruction. And so on, and so on.

Victims of drone strikes know they weren't at fault, but what do you expect them to do about it? Rebuild and move on? Or is there a chance that they look for a solution? Revenge? Or maybe let's try to stop this happening again. How? Ask yourself, if you were that survivor, what would you do? Remember, you are afraid, you are looking for a solution, and nobody is looking out for you...including your own government. Well, where do you go? Your religion. The only safe and reliable thing left to you. If what you find is an extreme, vengeful version of that, so be it. Serves the purpose. You draw upon its lessons, take comfort in its familiarity, and look for leadership in its clergy. People need leaders and they get them where they can. Is religion involved? Of course it is.

If you have been paying attention, you'll see I am attempting to explain extremism and terrorism. I'm not justifying it. It's wrong. But those who chose that route do so for reasons that make sense to them. They don't do it on a whim. They don't do it because they are evil. They do it because they are damaged, hurt, and they don't see any other solution.

I spoke to a young man just yesterday who sees the future of his middle-eastern country as very grim. It's not as bad as Iraq or Syria, but there is considerable poverty, corruption, foreign exploitation, and an inert government. If the trouble spills over the border into his country, could he be radicalized? To talk to him, I feel not, but you never know. People respond to difficult circumstances with expediency, and the worse the circumstances, the more so. 

If you don't understand this then you don't understand people. At all.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015


This meme has received criticism, can you guess why?

The objection is that it's a huge assumption that just because you care about one thing enough to talk about it ad nauseum, it doesn't mean you don't care about other things. And quite so. Those who were derided for being shallow for the interest they took in the colours of a dress last week fought back too. We can't always be serious, or talk about serious things. There's more to it than that obviously, there's the fear of getting into "deep water" on sensitive topics, so some people deliberately choose to avoid them. There's also a feeling of helplessness.

Or maybe they really don't care.

I've heard many times how somebody is always on the same topic or topics. Recently a friend whose serious posts are invariably about racism was told she sounded like a broken record.

Think about it for a moment, if it is tedious to you to hear about racism, or whatever form of bigotry, day in day out, imagine how much more tedious it is to actually experience that, day in and day out. If you are troubled by hearing about it, again, perhaps you are part of the problem.

Before we can change anything in this world we need an awareness of it. We must talk about it. If we become bored by it, this is actually a sign that there is still a problem to be fixed.

I love social media. I get up every morning, do my immediate essential tasks, and then settle in for an hour or so of pure social media indulgence, maybe with a couple of slices of egg and toast. As I see what people are talking about I see things I agree with, things I don't agree with, and things that are of no interest to me whatsoever. What I do next is entirely up to me. I can argue, sympathize, ignore, and go off of tangents. I'm completely free to do all of this. So I engage in what interests me and ignore the rest.

Some of it is serious, some is most definitely not. I can handle both at once, it's really not hard. It just takes a bit of maturity and sincerity. Sometimes I decide that kindness is the most important thing of all and I show support to people who wouldn't miss it if I didn't, but it may brighten their day and costs me nothing.

Sometimes I see a bit of nonsense that the pedant inside me cannot resist. I am fully responsible for the consequences of deciding to respond, so I'm careful how I word things, and I pick my battles.

Sometimes I see things like this:

I feel very strongly about marriage equality and LGBT rights. I don't need to, I could ignore it. But I feel strongly about equality and fairness generally, and here's an area where I see a lot of harm being done, for no good reason, so I tend to speak up. 

On the other hand, I get myself into trouble anytime I discuss anything to do with the Bible. Not my book. So, it might not be prudent to share or support this particular meme. It doesn't mean I won't discuss this, but there's a better time and way to do it. 

It could begin an interesting discussion, or it could lead to "OH NO NOT AGAIN".

Would anything new get said? I doubt it. Would anyone learn anything? I doubt it. Is there anything positive to be gained from sharing it at all. Probably not. 

But you see, if you care about something, whether it's world peace, human rights or just KNITTING, then if it matters to you, it matters to you.

Now I freely admit there are things that I roll my eyes and yawn at when I see them being written about. Sports and coffee spring to mind. If I was to react negatively to every coffee meme or comment I came across, I'd be friendless. Nobody would tolerate that level of negativity to harmless, personal thoughts. I'd be such an arse to even mention it. And unlike those who suffer racism, it does me no harm. So, as tedious as it is, I let it go. 

Same with sports. Yawn, snore, zzzzzzz. I have zero interest and when there's a big game and everyone is talking about it, I could be really obnoxious about it. But where would that get me? It wouldn't win me any awards, so I just let it be.

These are not important things. One way OR the other. 

But some things are important. Unnecessary starvation due to war, corruption, exploitation, etc. The loss of endangered species due to hunting and habitat loss. Pollution. The ineffective legal system. And all of the various forms of bigotry. These are things we should be talking about.

We can apply ourselves to fluffy topics too, without any harm. We need downtime and we need joy in our lives. We need silliness. 

It's only a problem when ALL anyone ever cares about is the fluff. When their only serious thoughts are the whining and melodrama in their own lives. These people are shallow. 

If on the other hand you simply fear controversy, then you're just a coward. You won't always be right, you certainly won't always be popular, but instead of being part of the problem, you could be part of the solution. It's all a choice.