Saturday, 30 May 2015

One Step Forward, Two Back

As it's Saturday I won't make you brain hurt too much with philosophy, I'm just going to go on a rant.

Ready?

http://www.upworthy.com/after-cannes-turned-away-women-wearing-flats-actress-rashida-jones-responded-with-her-own-rule

WTF?


Never mind older women, or people with medical conditions, it's par for the course they have to explain themselves. What about ordinary, healthy women who prefer not to walk on stilts?

You could argue, I suppose, as actresses they are probably trained/used to doing so. Still doesn't matter. Stephen Fry's comment was perfect. Men aren't asked to do this so ....yeah

OK, Cannes apologized and mumble mumble mumble. That changes nothing either. This is obviously still deep in our culture. In fact heels are getting higher.

The damage done to feet, legs, spines, etc. due to years of wearing high heels is well established. I don't need to tell you about that. Our bodies are not designed to walk on our toes. But even that isn't the issue. 

It's about choice. Again. As always. About people, in this case women (as usual), being told what to do, for what? For appearances. 

I have nothing against formal clothing for special occasions. I think some of the details need updating/adjusting, but that's fashion for you. Load of nonsense. 

But when you ask people to do something very uncomfortable, possibly actually painful, and potentially dangerous, that's a detail too far.

Yes, it's torture. Women who object to heels are not whiny babies (yep, I've been called that, and many other things). Personally, I can't walk in the damn things, I haven't had the practice and I risk injury. They also hurt, and I'm not into pain. But even THAT is not the point.

Who the hell has the right to tell me what I have on my feet? You might as well prescribe hairstyles, or dress colour, or fabric. Why not just have a bloody uniform and be done with it? 

I wore a uniform for a job once. I went into it with my eyes wide open, I accepted the job knowing I'd have to wear, every day, a red skirt and a red and white striped shirt, with a red jacket in cooler weather. It was actually quite snazzy, but the point was, we had an agreement in advance, plus they provided it. This is reasonable.

We were expected to provide our own red shoes. I bought flats. Heels were not part of the agreement. The general manager made a comment about my shoes being unsuitable. I stood my ground. There was a bit of a thing there for a bit. A few memos, some discussion at upper levels. Lots of veiled threats but nothing that could give me ammunition to go to the labour people. Just nasty little comments. And a very stubborn Melanie. I did my job well, this did not affect it, and they knew that. 

As a compromise I was asked to buy a "small" heel. I asked why. Nobody had a good answer. I was young, pretty, slim, and graceful, what difference did it make? I wasn't stomping around in work boots, I was wearing the leather equivalent of ballet slippers. What was the problem? Nobody could tell me what the problem was. Oh, there were various remarks about how I should "just know" and the usual rubbish about femininity, but not one single sensible reason why I should wear a "small" heel. Not one.

I won. In these matters I find that staying strong and simply ignoring stupid sexist remarks is the best way. I have no idea what happened after I left there, if dress codes were changed/more detailed, but in fashion nothing has changed, in fact recently heels have got higher. Some women like them. Power to them! That's choice. What if they were told "no heels"? That would be wrong too. 

It has occurred to me while writing this, that while I thought today's piece was not connected to the current ongoing topic of harm, it is. It really is. In fact it's a perfect example. It could even easily be argued that heels are harmful. To some, at least.

But the important fact is that flats are harmless. Or maybe, just maybe, they give women too much power.


Friday, 29 May 2015

What Would Jesus Do?

I beg your pardon? What's that doing on a blog by a confessed Pagan agnostic? Don't worry, it's very brief, just a bit of FYI.

I can read. This stuff is not difficult. Teach an alien from another planet to read English and he could do this. I can quote Socrates too. I can also look things up online.

Let's take this in steps.

1. The Bible is not my source of morality, but it is for a lot of people, so if we are ever to understand why there is an anti-gay attitude we need to look there.

2. Christians consider the NT to be more important than the OT, and that Jesus is the key there, so that's where we start.

3. Christians trust the writers of the NT to have quoted Jesus correctly. So when we say "Jesus said" we are assuming this.

4. What did Jesus say about homosexuality? Nothing. Not a thing.

So, this is an important step. Ask yourself, if Jesus is the most important "voice" in Christianity, and he didn't mention this, why is it such a big deal for Christians?

Well, first they come at this from two other angles. What Paul said, and what Jesus DID refer to that's connected.

They were both down on adultery and fornication, among other things.

Jesus said:

(Mark 7:20-23)

20 And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.
21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:
23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
Paul said:

(1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
Both of them have a list there that include other transgressions, which we assume are all of equal importance. Read those carefully. Clearly those people who rant and rave against homosexuality are placing a different emphasis according to their own priorities. 
(If we were to go to the OT for advice the list would be longer and include even more "everyday" things. I'm not even bothering with that.)
Paul talks of abusers of themselves with mankind, and the effeminate, and more modern versions have this as "No one who is immoral or worships idols or is unfaithful in marriage or is a pervert or behaves like a homosexual....." so we know what he's saying. What isn't clear is why he said it and Jesus didn't, or why Christians are more interested in Paul's words, but for me, the idea that these are all equivalent transgressions is a bit odd. Draw your own conclusions there. 

My conclusion is that those who rage against homosexuality are being selective. VERY selective. 

Here's a modern version of Jesus's list:

Then Jesus said:
What comes from your heart is what makes you unclean. 21 Out of your heart come evil thoughts, vulgar deeds, stealing, murder, 22 unfaithfulness in marriage, greed, meanness, deceit, indecency, envy, insults, pride, and foolishness. 23 All of these come from your heart, and they are what make you unfit to worship God.



I think I can agree with him on those things being bad.






Thursday, 28 May 2015

Gravel In The Heart

If we're going to cover the topic of harm properly, then we obviously have to tackle the anti-gay crusade. I have done this before, but for completeness I'll cover it again, and I'll try to make it even simpler and yet more thorough.

10% of human beings are homosexual. That is to say they are exclusively sexually attracted to the same sex.

This does not mean 90% of people are exclusively heterosexual.

People are allsortsofsexual. In case you don't know (most don't) in addition to homosexual and bisexual there are more varieties of attraction. You can look it up if you like, but the point is that on a scale from asexual to pansexual, people are attracted to whoever they are attracted to.

Really this shouldn't be anybody else's business, but as we all know, many people either worry, stare, comment, ridicule, denigrate, or actively interfere with other people's sexuality.

Why?

Well, there are 5 basic reasons, some of which go together.

1. Commonly known as the "ick" factor, this is where a person thinks about other people having sex (why?) and is revolted by what they imagine. It's immature. Then there's this.


(Please click on the image to enlarge it)

Despite reading this, men often still don't get it. They don't want to. There is a huge amount of denial here. But it's one aspect of the problem that I continue to push, because nothing explains it better.

This, BTW, is true homophobia. Actual fear of homosexuals. It's an irrational fear, but it's quite common.

2. The idea that it's "not natural". Although this is in fact the silliest objection of all, it's the one you tend to hear from people who pride themselves that they are being logical and practical about it. Well, they aren't. Apart from the fact that homosexuality exists in many animals other than humans, and is therefore perfectly natural, all humans do things that are not natural all of the time, and nobody bats an eyelid. To single out something you just don't like for that is absurd, prejudiced, and simply doesn't fly.

3. Good old fashioned bigotry. That person is different to me, therefore I'm better, therefore I can disparage him and tell myself I'm right to do so. Otherwise known as the arsehole excuse.

4. Religion. Within all major religions there is a conservative section, to a greater or lesser extent, who believe that homosexual activity is sin. They can't overlook this, but how they deal with it varies. This ranges from "love the sinner, hate the sin" to "God hates fags". In some places where religious law prevails it can mean execution of the gay person.

When I list those four, I am often asked about Russia and Uganda, where they stop just short of execution, but where the reason for their harsh anti-gay stance is not obviously religious. It's quite complicated and largely cultural. For a good look at Africa in general, this article is a primer:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/23/africa-homophobia-uganda-anti-gay-law

And for Russia:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/06/why-is-russia-so-homophobic/276817/

5. Deeply repressed homosexual desires.

http://www.ranker.com/list/top-10-anti-gay-activists-caught-being-gay/joanne

I left this until last but it's huge. We regularly hear about these folk who are caught with a gay lover after vociferously opposing homosexuality, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more people who are hiding their true nature, which is tragic enough, but as a cover, they speak out against people like themselves. It's easy to call them hypocrites, but it fact it's very sad. There's a lot of pain there.

Are there other reasons? Well, yes, culture (see Russia and Africa above as extreme examples) because 50 years ago it was common to be anti-gay. The world has changed but many people, especially the elderly, haven't caught up. This is one reason why you see more anti-gay attitude in conservative circles. And there may be reasons I haven't even considered, because people are people.

How do we soften the hearts of these people?

We can't force people to approve of something of which they have a phobia or other irrational loathing. We can try to allay their fears, but that can backfire. The bizarre idea that there is some kind of gay recruitment drive sometimes stems from the reaction to education! Still, we must continue to educate, because ignorance is what is behind most fear and hatred. So what we seek in the meantime is tolerance. Tolerance is when you don't like something, but you let it be.

What we need to achieve is less oppression. The world is a better place that way. Anyone who supports oppression is part of the problem, no matter what oppression we are talking about, but if I say that, then sooner or later the intolerant will say they are being oppressed. I covered this in a recent post, but let's recap.

Intolerance of something harmful is not oppression, it's perfectly reasonable.
Intolerance of something harmless is simply prejudice. Bigotry.
Intolerance of bigots is therefore quite reasonable. You don't have to behave as badly as they do, but you don't have to allow their shenanigans.

So, it all comes down to the question of harm. And who gets to decide what's harmful and what isn't?

On this blog, I do.

In the world it tends to be a majority thing, and it sometimes changes. We are pretty close to getting it right now, on many issues, I see more fairness and reasonableness than at any point in history, but we aren't there yet. The bigots are still holding us back. So, those of us who care continue to try to educate. Given enough time (a whole book, possibly a large one) it would be possible to demonstrate logically that the tolerant are right. That doesn't mean everyone would believe it, because not everyone is logical.

So to convince the world at large that homosexual people are harmless is going to take a lot longer.

We used to think that Step 1 was proving it was innate, that is to say not a choice. I believe this, simply because I know how I feel myself. That should be enough for anyone. Most of all it really should help the bigots! Think about it, if they are solidly convinced of their own sexuality, that it's unbendable, then it should be obvious that the same applies to those who are gay. But as I said, they are not logical. Some scientists feel they have conclusively demonstrated that homosexuality is innate, but others disagree. While they continue to work on that I contend it doesn't matter.

No, it really doesn't matter. It would be a great help to a lot of people, I'm sure, but at the end of the day, what if it WAS a choice?

People choose things all the time. In particular they choose to be cruel and unfair.

Being a bigot is a choice.

People protect their choices jealously. So, if being gay really was a choice, especially in those places where it's punishable by death, it must be a humdinger of a choice.

I prefer Step 1 to be:

Where's the harm?

Got anything? How does it affect you or me if two people are gay lovers?

Now....the religious angle of this, which speaks of sin, says that harm=sin. I disagree but let's leave that for the moment. I'd like to look at at why they think it's sin.

Some of them will tell you it's simply because it's a form of adultery, i.e. sex without marriage.

Yet these same people oppose gay marriage. Way to go!

I am not convinced that is their real objection, or there would be massive anti-adultery campaigns, and I'm not seeing them.

What I am seeing is hypocrisy, whereby many others sins are completely ignored, but nothing new there. Cherry picking sins has been going on ever since the list was compiled.

I'll save the remainder of the religious objection to homosexuality itself for another occasion, as there is a solid theological argument for tolerance.

But we must return to the issue of gay marriage, which Ireland recently voted for democratically and pissed off the Vatican. Not the first time Ireland has pissed off the Vatican, Irish Catholicism has always marched to the beat of its own drum.

The objection to gay marriage seems to be that it affects non-gay marriage. Nobody has ever explained how. Despite this complete absence of reasoning to back it up, the objection remains.

Where's the love?

In the end, it all comes down to love. Those who object to the union of a loving couple obviously have no concept of love. Isn't that sad? How much gravel must be in their hearts, how cold is that?

I can't educate that away. But I can point it out, and I do.

Don't tell me that this is about sex, because it's not. Don't tell me homosexuals are the same as pedophiles, because they aren't. Don't tell me they are recruiting, because they aren't. Don't tell me that gay marriage affects non-gay marriage because it doesn't.

You're not left with much, are you?

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

There are two assumptions, or stereotypes, if you like. One is that self-absorbed westerners talk much more about their feelings - their emotions -  than the rest of the world, and the other is that women do so far more than men. I could cite so many examples to contradict this, but I agree that there is a tendency here, so we'll let it go. As a woman I'm expected to have dozens of different emotions....ah......

I am generally considered to be a person who is not very emotional. I am aware of this, and I'm neither proud nor ashamed of it. I don't believe it's anything to be either proud or ashamed of. Got that? We're all just different.

However, if I say "I am not a very emotional person" all sorts of assumptions are made. That I'm cold. That I'm shallow. That, therefore, I have no feelings. That I must be insensitive. That I'm proud or ashamed of it. That I don't give a shit.

At the risk of getting very me, me, me here, I'm going to dwell on this for a bit, because I'd like to speak for all people like me. The movers and shakers. So that you understand. Please pay attention.

We are not "emotionally repressed". That is a different thing. That is being an emotional person and - somehow - getting a control of it. Rightly or wrongly, for good or ill. I don't actually think I could do that. When I am emotional, believe me, I have very little control over it. It just doesn't happen that often. Not because of any effort on my part, it's just the way I'm made.

I'm made solutions oriented, achievement oriented, and analytical. Aries. Londoner. Only child. High IQ. Individual genetics. Upbringing. Combination. I dunno. I have no effing clue. But this is me.

So, when you read a tragic story, and you cry, I don't. It's not that I don't care deeply, it's not that I see it as any less tragic than you, but my mind has acknowledged the tragedy, and has already moved onto "WHY?" and "How do we fix this?" or "How do we stop this happening again?"

People who don't know me well or aren't used to this, or whatever, can take it the wrong way. Additionally I fail to sympathize enough. I know, intellectually, that when people tell me their troubles, often all they really want is a sympathetic response. All too often what I offer instead is a solution. I know (I don't understand, but I know) that often people don't want solutions.

I'm going to get really personal now, because it may help, I don't know. Last time I had an argument with my husband (which is going back a few years) I did something they tell you never to do. I pushed away his hugs and kisses. And  I told him, I don't want your comfort, I want this never to happen again. I wanted a solution.

It's not that I don't care. I care very much. I believe I care more than average, in fact, because I'm a doer not a dreamer. But I forget that people would rather hear "Awwwwww" than "I can give you $50." I forget that they'd rather hear "Tsk." than "Well, tell her this...." And so on. I forget. I try really hard to remember, but I forget. My instincts are to solve problems. They say you should treat others the way you want to be treated, and that's where it all goes wrong.

Anyway, a few years ago, you all remember the scene in Harry Potter Order of the Phoenix, where Ron suggests to Hermione that:

" One person can't feel all that at once, they'd explode.” 

And he is told that he has the emotional range of a teaspoon.

Well, I relate to this. I have had "mixed" feelings before now, maybe two, but when some people list the different emotions they've had, all at once.....well, some of them I've never experienced in my entire life, let alone in combination.

You see, I'm not actually any good at feelings. To me they rank as a sort of disorder. No, I'm quite serious. I'm famous for having three emotions. Cheerful (99%+ of the time), sad, and angry. How many are there? Well, hundreds apparently. I think I've managed maybe 5 in my life.

If I were to start having more, or more often, or deeper, they'd have to medicate me. I couldn't deal with it. I'm just not used to being anything other than essentially cheerful, and have no coping skills for the other stuff. If I started having the emotions I see around me, I'd be in a rubber room.

Anyway, enough about me, and my lack of complex emotions (but remember, I'm not alone, and we are NICE people!) what exactly are these emotions and they do they afflict people?

Yes, I said afflict. Not just affect. I see suffering, great suffering. I see suffering in both the person with the emotion, and those they spew it on.

In fact I see many of the ills of the world caused by this.

Ah, you say, yes. Anger. That'd be the biggest one.



Weeeeell.......I think anger is a range of emotions, really. Not just one. At least, different levels, and different causes of anger. I'm not even absolutely sure that I do pure anger, or not properly, anyway. Or am I making that classic mistake of equating anger with rage?

I may be wrong here, but I think anger (or, at least, one form of it, I'll come back to that) is the feeling, and rage is the expression of it. Or maybe people feel rage. I don't know. I never have.

I've felt frustrated. I've felt impatient. I've felt annoyed. I've shouted, I've thrown things, and I've slammed a few doors. In other words, I "lost" my temper. But it always came back fast, and I wasn't really out of control. I've never wanted to kill anyone. Not really. I've said it enough times, but I wouldn't do it. How angry to you have to be to kill. How long can you stay angry?

Whatever it was for me it was fleeting. Very fleeting. I returned to the regular scheduled Melanie quickly.

And in fact when I'm really, really annoyed I go very calm and quiet, ask my kids (it terrifies them).

I am baffled and fascinated by people who get really angry over trivial things. As a people watcher I find myself spending a lot of time trying to analyze this. It's not just the short fuse, it's the big bomb. It's the lack of discernment between the small and the big problem.

I've had people get so angry at me that the ground shook, and my response (if it's safe to do so) is often "Did I burn down your village?" Because THAT is the level of rage they are showing. Out of all proportion to the "crime". Quite bizarre.

But what really fascinates me are those who get angry in text online. I mean really, really angry. Not just excited. Pure venom oozing from every word, absolute hatred, and deep, deep anger. With a person they never met, over a few words. WOW.

My reaction to a slew of things that others get angry over is "Hey ho". But that's a problem because I tend to expect others to do the same, and when they don't I'm just lost.

When you are not an angry person, and you keep witnessing anger, it becomes fascinating. I find all people-watching fascinating, but this one baffles me the most.

When I was 11 years old I had a music teacher called Mr Ascot. He was short and wide, with flowing locks of curly white hair. I think he was possibly quite mad, he was certainly eccentric, but what fascinated me was his anger. He would go red in the face and jump up and down. You've seen it on cartoons, but he really did it. And it was over such tiny things too. I kept expecting his head to explode. I bet he had blood pressure problems.

But if you'd told him to calm down, it would have made him worse.

And I can relate to that.

I am so rarely angry that it catches people unaware. But the last thing I need is someone telling me to calm down. Especially if it's coming from a person who I know to be an angry person. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

So, I try not to tell people to calm down because I think it's the wrong way to go about it. In person I tend to just give a look. I'm good at "The Look". In text, I often just ignore them, and carry on, sometimes I ask why they are so angry over something so trivial. It's usually trivial. The things we ought to be angry about (suffering, injustice, cruelty, war, poverty, etc) are rarely the things we do get angry about. We shrug those off (because we have no solutions) and get bent out of shape over minor things instead. Weird, weird species.

What came first, my laid-back approach to life, or my philosophy of harm? I don't know. They go together well though. Because when people are getting angry and I see minimal or sometimes no harm at all, then I ponder on why they are like that. I don't always have an answer, but sometimes I do, and it helps to understand why they are behaving like that. That, and only that, allows me to be sympathetic.

People who find themselves angry can often work this out for themselves if they analyze it. If they "count to ten" and ask themselves "Where's the harm." "Who is being harmed?" "How much harm is there?". Obviously the answers have to be sincere.

Is anger just a feeling? Is there more than one kind? Can you overcome it without repression?

I believe that anyone can make the choice to analyze their anger and by doing so diminish it. While emotions themselves may not be something we have control over, I do believe we can choose how we react. Even if it takes a bit of practice. I believe that one of the reasons I'm not an angry person is choice. Takes thought.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Harm

You've read all the media hoopla about Josh Duggar, I'm sure. Just in case you missed it, or don't understand exactly what went down, this reality TV "celebrity" admitted to molesting his sisters when he was a teenager. His parents covered it up.

The details are available just about anywhere online, so I won't bother with links just yet, and besides he is only an example. Please let me repeat that for emphasis, while I write about this case, it is only an example.

It's making more news than it otherwise would because of that fact that this family are famous Christians. Not just any old Christian, but extremists. So the hypocrisy angle has been noted, because this family are loud in their anti-gay opinions, and openly accuse homosexuals of being pedophiles.

That's not the only reason their religion became a big issue here, and it's where my emphasis is.

According to supporters of the family, Duggar has been punished and forgiven. As far as they are concerned, that's the end of it. Now isn't that interesting?

What is this obsession with punishment?

Humans have been punishing one another since before we could write, and who knows how long before that. If it worked, we'd all be good. We're not. Punishment doesn't work as a solution or as a deterrent. In countries that still have the death penalty, even that is not enough of a deterrent. In fact crimes rates are HIGHER where there is a risk of execution. Go check for yourself. This is a fact, it's not a secret, and yet it continues.

Are people "cured" by punishment? No. You've all heard the story (maybe it was you) - "the child was repeatedly beaten for transgressions", "I was forever being sent to the headmaster to be caned", "He's in and out of prison". My son spent most of Grade 3 in the principal's office. It doesn't matter what the punishment is, is doesn't solve anything.

And yet we keep on doing it. This is madness.

I hear some of you say "But we can't let it go unpunished! We need justice".

Have you ever actually "felt" justice? What does it feel like? Does it feel good? That's not justice my friend, that's vengeance. When we see the bad guy get his come uppance in the movie we cheer. We love that stuff. Does it turn back history? Does it bring back the dead? Does it unburn the village? Does it unrape the women? That delicious feeling of vengeance is short-lived, because the damge remains done.

Justice works quite well with monetary fines. He stole $10,000? He's pays back $10,000. So long as nobody was hurt in the process, that's good enough.

But with violence and loss, hanging a man serves no purpose.

In the example I began with Duggar did some "hard labour". Rubbish. He did some construction work. That's not hard labour. Breaking rocks in the hot sun, dum dum de dum, that's hard labour. Still, it bears no relation to what happened. That's not justice either. That's plain ridiculous. And if he had been given real hard labour, how would that help the victims? How would that cure him? How would that solve anything.

We are so used to hearing how X treatment is punishment, that we've lost track of the bigger picture.

Without realising it, the pro-punishment contingent know that he caused harm, and they think that causing harm to him balances things out. It does not.

Please understand, I'm not opposed to hard labour as a way of making a statement. I think we should do it more, but that's not justice. It is, at best, a way of saying "look, you are doing something useful now". Trust me, I've done it. My boys have found themselves digging trenches more than once. But this is for "crimes" that make hard labour logical. If one of mine molested their sister the only trench they'd need would be the one their brothers laid them in. We don't tolerate that sort of thing in this family.

Ah, you say. Melanie isn't as soft as she makes out to be, she's suggesting the Duggars kill Josh.

No. Actually. That was hyperbole. But I'm very surprised his brothers didn't at least rough him up a bit. I'd have had to step in and hold my family back. What is wrong with that mother? Where's her anger?

She has no power. Her husband has all the power, and so he arranged this "punishment". He also arranged some counselling. That's a laugh too. Perhaps you've seen it. It disgusted me. But we'll come back to that, let's look at this forgiveness.

It's no secret that I'm not big on forgiveness, and it's quite possible that I don't actually understand what it is. But it's a major part of the Christian belief system and so it is very important in this case.

Because western culture has a lot of of Christian influence, the whole idea of forgiveness it deeply ingrained in our minds and social norms, but I think that's a terrible mistake. I think we are going about this wholly the wrong way.

This may be a new idea to you, so bear with me.

To need forgiveness, first you have to commit a transgression. We'll use that word, because the idea of sin is too complex. And not a crime because something is only a crime if it's first of all deemed to be one. A transgression. Something done that another person believes you shouldn't have done. May be illegal, may not. It's a transgression to them. Their feelings may even be really silly. Let's look at a silly example. This is a true story.

Let's say you went to a wedding, and the bridge got upset at your choice of attire. As a guest there was no guide given as to what should be worn, so you went with fashion and what is currently considered appropriate for the occasion. You selected something you thought suitable, it looked nice on you, and you wore it. On the day, the bride looked at you as if you just crawled out of an apple, and later you heard on the grapevine that she was very disapproving of what you wore.

Well, that was me. The guest, not the bride. What I wore was too "bright". I believe the word garish was used, but don't quote me on that, it was a long time ago. Anyway, it was mentioned afterwards, long afterwards, because it messed up her photos, doncha know.

We still speak, and it hasn't been mentioned recently. Maybe she's over it. Maybe she's forgotten. As I said, it was a LONG time ago. But I betcha, if we discussed it today, she wouldn't be amused.

But she wouldn't have had to forgive me if she hadn't got so bent out of shape over it.

OK, let's look at this the other way around. Was I hurt by her attack on my dress? No. Did I need to forgive her for this pettiness? No. I thought it was funny.

Why have I remembered? I remember everything. It's not intentional. It's not to store grudges. I write a lot and I can dredge up all sorts of examples at will, great filing system my brain has.

So, maybe she's forgotten, but I bet she hasn't forgiven me.

I haven't forgotten, but I didn't need to forgive her, because I wasn't damaged in the first place. It would be too silly.

But people DO take umbrage for things like that.

So, first lesson, forgiving and forgetting are two very different things.

OK.

Before I met my husband I had a boyfriend who cheated on me, and took one of my friends to a dance. We weren't engaged or anything, but we were an item, and I thought it was a pretty dirty trick. And that was the end of that relationship. He thought we could still be friends afterwards, what a goof. Shortly after, I met my husband and never looked back. Did I ever forgive that goof? No. Does it matter? That was a long time ago, almost four decades ago. Changes nothing. He did a bad thing. What possible purpose could there be in saying "I forgive you"? So, when he requested my friending him on Facebook he got X'd.

Seems a bit harsh? It has saved me so much heartache over the years. One transgression and we are done. I won't hurt you, I won't suffer myself as a result, but that's your lot.

Was I harmed by his transgression? No. Did me a favour really. But he still doesn't deserve forgiveness. To forgive is to say that the behaviour is not such a big deal.

But what if he HAD harmed me? What if instead of cheating on me, he had stolen from me, or hit me, or sexually assaulted me? I think you know the answer. If I don't forgive a breach of trust, I'm certainly not going to forgive actual harm.

As I understand it, the Duggar family have forgiven Josh, because their religion teaches them to. I think that's wrong. They say "God forgives", OK fine. You know, I am very fond of that saying "And may God forgive you, because we won't". This same God they refer to apparently thinks that consensual loving homosexual relationships can't be forgiven, but pedophilia can. I'm jolly glad I don't worship their God. Their God is an arsehole.

But of course, there's more to it than just erroneous forgiveness, and meaningless punishment. There's something much darker. I don't think we've heard the end of this case.

I'm going to leave you with thoughts from someone who knows far more about this than any of us. This may help explain it.

Vyckie Garrison is a former adherent of the Quiverfull movement. She tells her story at her blog, “No Longer Quivering,” and has created the Spiritual Abuse Survivior Blog Network

http://www.alternet.org/culture/five-fcked-evangelical-christian-teachings-which-set-jimbob-michelles-family-josh-duggar

Each To Their Own



On the topic of choices, there is a common, and well-intentioned way of dismissing choices, and that is to say "each to their own" or "whatever floats your boat" or similar. We are saying in effect, "your choice is not my choice, but it does no harm, so you have my permission to carry on". Like they need it!

I say well-intentioned, because most people are sincere when they say it. Some are being sarcastic. What they really mean is "I think you are quite mad, but I'm avoiding conflict".

Either way, it is actually dismissive. It would be far more honest to admit you disagree.

It is OK to disagree. We forget this. In our efforts to be polite OR politically correct (which are not the same thing) or just to avoid argument, we often shrug off differences. Sometimes it does more harm than good. Resentments can build up if you let them.

In my circles what you commonly hear is "it wouldn't be my choice, but I can see it's just right for you". My mother was very good at that one. She would hardly ever criticize anyone, but she wasn't a person to pretend she approved when she didn't. Her reasoning? "If you pretend you like something that you don't, you run the risk of people remembering that, and then using that information to select gifts, and it would waste their money and cause more harm than being honest about it in the first place."

Yep. And that stuck with me. It has led me to vociferously state the things I REALLY don't like when a neutral occasion arises, to make sure people around me know. Doesn't always work. People forget. Why should they remember? Interestingly if you say it enough so that they can't forget you will get into trouble for "going on and on about that again". We are funny beings.

The point is, that if you can find a way to express distaste tactfully, it's not only perfectly good etiquette, but a solid idea.

I hate hostas. Hate them. HATE THEM. I call them space lettuces. They look like something from Planet Zarg. They have tiny insignificant flowers and otherwise just sit there being green.

Some people love them, collect them, etc. There are hosta fans.

If I say "I hate hostas" to a hosta fan, I get some really weird reactions. It's the full range of classic reactions to just about any expression of distate, so it makes a great example. Here are some typical ones.

"Why?" (Genuine bewilderment)

"What have they ever done to you?!" (Make particular note of that one. It means "they are harmless", proof that even people who don't know they have harm as a guiding light, still do.)

"Oh, I do, I want more." (Not bothered, just stating their case in return. No hard feelings.)

"Well, they fill space, saves me a lot of work. Seems a shame to pull them up." (Being practical.)

"They were here when I moved in, I've never really liked them much, mumble, mumble...." (Insecure/intimated by strong opinions.)

HURT LOOK. (Taking it personally, as if I was referring to their children)

And so on. But I don't think we'd ever fall out over it. It's just a plant, FFS.

Now, if instead I were to say:

"I hate chihuahas."

There would be added bad feeling due to it being an animal. Not quite like insulting their children......... or maybe worse in some cases, thinking about it, but certainly more intense reaction than a plant. You can lose friends that way.

If I said:

"I hate Boy Scouts"

Then I'd be on really dodgy ground. That's almost smear campaign material.

Not only are some people more sensitive than others, some things are more sacred than others. An awareness here can save a lot of pain.

My husband, whose tact is limited to avoiding racist remarks right in front of people of colour, and is known and loved (or hated) for his frankness and honestly (he should have been a Yorkshireman really "By 'eck you know where you stand wi' me!") is pretty famous for hating hockey. It has got him into trouble a few times. "And more fool you" I think to myself. Cause and effect. He's a big boy and comes to no harm when he opens his mouth and gets told to shut it again. So I leave him to it.

But based on what I see happening there, I tried an experiment. In an online group I belong to which is overwhelmingly male, I uttered the words "I hate hockey".

I got told I simply didn't understand it, that it was very popular, that the teamwork and self-discipline, not to mention the physical workout was good for kids, and that it was incredibly skilled, and I shouldn't dismiss that. Basically I got set upon. And the NICER ones said "Hey, to each his own". The upshot was that I was told, in no uncertain terms, that  my opinion was not valid. Well, it really isn't.

We moved on.

I let some time pass. I uttered the words "I love ballet". They scoffed. They made fun of the male dancers. They claimed it was a waste of money. Did I KNOW about the damage to the feet? They said it was old-fashioned, pointless, and boring.

I said  they simply didn't understand it, that it was very popular, that the teamwork and self-discipline, not to mention the physical workout was good for kids, and that it was incredibly skilled, and they shouldn't dismiss that.

Nobody said "to each his own". Do you know why? Majority rules, that's why.

(I don't really like ballet, BTW, but I think it deserves equal respect to hockey. Personally I'd rather watch paint dry than watch either of them, but that's not even relevant.)

But I have to say, all things considered, if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that opinions have less to do with what's said, than the way it's said. And either way, some opinions are just not popular. You could actually start a war over the colour green if enough people held it sacred, because the thing that is sacred is not the thing, if you see what I mean. The thing is that when the majority (or the loudest person) has a preference, that wins.

The world would be a better place if those with an opinion stated it politely, and those who didn't share that opinion accepted it gracefully, which is of course what etiquette is all about. So why doesn't this happen?

From my observations, people confuse their opinions and choices with their own value. They hear something negative about one of their choices or opinions, but they hear something different to what is being said. They effectively feel persecuted.

So, when somebody says "I really don't like cowboy boots", a person hearing or reading that who wears cowboy boots is suddenly offended. The words were clear enough "I really don't like cowboy boots", but what they "hear" is "I really don't like people who wear cowboy boots." It wasn't said, and it wasn't intended. But now somebody's feelings are hurt.

If you love and wear cowboy boots, do you need everyone else to like them? Why? Are you not secure in your own choices? Would you prefer we PRETEND to like cowboy boots? Is that what you want? No? You want to convert us to cowboy boots?

Somewhere behind all this is an unspoken, possibly even unaware, desire for others to think like us, choose like us, be like us. It leads to a cycle of dishonesty, disappointment, and hurt. All it takes to break that cycle is an awareness of what's going on.

I won't judge you if you grow hostas. Promise.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Politics and Photos of Cats

Just to annoy everyone :)

To completely misquote a common "meme"......


(Two things that I happen to know really annoy SOME of my FB friends)

Here's the politics.

http://www.rawstory.com/2015/05/jeb-bush-a-tolerant-country-should-allow-discrimination-based-upon-religious-beliefs/

This is just another variation on the complete and utter bollocks that you hear all the damn time:

"If you are intolerant of intolerant people, that makes you intolerant."

First time I faced it in person was on the same topic, the whole anti-gay thing. It was from a person who claimed she had gay friends, but she couldn't possibly condone their homosexuality. She didn't say if was because of her religion or the "ick" factor, could have been a bit of both, but I'll be perfectly honest, I was at a loss for words. I mean what can you say at that point that will really achieve anything?

Thankfully it's somebody I don't see very often, and I usually just avoid the topic.

But it also crops up from time to time in other discussions, and I've given it some thought when I've had time, so that if I need to, I can explain it.

As we're on harm this week, let's get this one out of the way.

Prejudice tends to be harmful. If you don't understand why, we need to talk. I'm assuming you understand that it is.

Therefore, intolerance, which tends to manifest as prejudice, is potentially harmful.

Does that matter?

Depends. I am prejudiced against serial killers, strangely enough, don't know about you. I don't want them near me or my family. I want them locked up. Forever. I want them kept apart from society. I want them treated as faulty, and I want them treated as ill. Incurable. (I do not want them dead, but that's a separate topic).

Intolerance against serial killers is sensible. Prejudice against serial killers is sensible. They are harmful people. They've killed many times and would probably do so again, because they are psychopaths.

Prejudice doesn't mean you have to spit on them, torture them, fail to give them basic human rights and dignity, etc etc. That makes you no better than them, actually, and it is unnecessary harm. But you can be intolerant of them to the extant that you EXCLUDE them from the fun we have out here. They lost that privilege.

I am not prejudiced against Native people. They are just a different culture and/or ethnicity, no better or worse than mine, they are fellow human beings living their lives the same as everyone else. I could say I'm tolerant of them, but that's not correct. Tolerance is only required of something you don't really LIKE. I either like or dislike these people individually, not as a group, same as all people.

If you are are intolerant (and therefore potentially prejudiced) to Native people, you can cause them considerable harm. And this is exactly what has happened over the years. They have suffered the most disgusting treatment at the hands of prejudiced people of European heritage for no good reason whatsoever. They have been and are still being harmed by intolerance and prejudice. I see no end in sight.

If I am intolerant of those who are intolerant of Native people, where's the harm exactly? What am I doing to prevent their health and welfare? While I try to prevent harm of one group, how am I damaging the other?

"I live near a Res, and they're all on welfare, and they're all drunks....."

Have you ever taken the trouble to find out why? If you did.....but that takes too much effort. You'd like them to just "snap out" of centuries of abuse, and be fine upstanding citizens. Just like you. Well, if you are intolerant and prejudiced, guess what? You're not a fine upstanding citizen. You sir, are a bigot and an arsehole.

In any example, of any group, anywhere, big or small, who are the victims of intolerance or its brother, prejudice, the harm is coming from the perpetrators of that intolerance and prejudice. The harm is not being done to them. If they are scolded for being bigots and they want that scolding to stop, they need to stop the bigotry. Get help. Help is available. Get counselling. Go to a mental health professional, and say "HELP! I'm a bigot and I can't stop!"

And if, as in the link above, the excuse given is religious, then check that religion. Does that religion ask you to hate thy neighbour?


But don't worry. If all of that is too heavy for you. If it upsets your groove. If it is painful to think about, if it hits too close to home, well......






An Example of Harm

The topic this week is harm. It's the basis of my ethics, and it makes it very simple, and yet we still have to analyze harm.

I'd like you to take a look at this article.


This may well be the most difficult thing we do when it comes to human behaviour. 

What we have here is a person being harmed, because of his choices. These choices are harmless. 

When you read that article, whether or not you have sympathy for the boy, you may also have considered the idea that doing what the school suggests is a compromise, that is to say, not the real solution, but a solution. 

No.

If you think that a compromise includes effectively agreeing with the people doing the harm, then the harm continues.

If you think that, in this example, by leaving it at home, it will end the bullying, you're mistaken. The lunchbox is not the problem. 

Our society simply has not addressed the real problem, and we don't teach the real solution.

I consider myself to be qualified to teach this because at that age, I know I would have teased him too. That would have been wrong, but I had not been taught well. Despite being taught generally to be kind to other people, I was getting mixed messages. All around me were people criticizing the choices of others. Children are very influenced by what they hear, and they hear far more than you think. So I didn't understand. 

Around me were other children who were nicer than me, and who would not have teased him. And yet, now, when they are supposed to be old and wise, and with all those years behind them of knowing "it's not nice to tease", I witness them being extremely judgemental about people's choices. Have they forgotten? Have they changed? No, they never really understood it in the first place. They were just following what they were taught. Instead of maturity bringing realisation, it brought bad habits, because they weren't really paying attention.

I was a slow learner, and it took me a long time to understand all of this, but once I did, I became quite passionate about it, because I could see how important it was. 

So, while the article is a perfect example of the problem, it's only one tiny example. The problem itself is enormous.

When was the last time you ridiculed the choice of another person? Be honest with yourself. We all do it, all of us. No exceptions. We do it often, and we do it over and over. I've done it once today, and I know I'll do it again before the day is out. None of this makes it right. Just because we all do it, just because it's "human nature", that doesn't excuse it. OK?

If you insist it was only in your head, and never shared, it's still wrong. If you insist it was shared with others, but not the person concerned, it's still wrong. If you came right out and ridiculed the person to his or her face (or in text) then it's even more wrong. But let's go back to your private thoughts. 

You saw this person's choice. It would not have been your choice. That much is not a problem. We are allowed to have different choices. But in some way, you think your choice is better than theirs. That's very arrogant. 

Ah, but you say, their choice makes no sense! That may be true, but who said you had any right to understand it? 

BUT RELAX. The ability to find absurdity in observation of the world around us, and not understanding it, is the basis of humour. If we take that away, we have no humour, and we must have humour. But like everything else, there is a limit. That limit is the all-important aspect of what constitutes harm. And this isn't so simple.

I'm going to show you a few funny "memes".


This is considered "dark" humour. It may offend people for its tastelessness, or because they are animal lovers. It may be upsetting to somebody who sees it who just lost a loved one. Imagine if that loved one had been hit by a car! But we can't cover all possibilities when we share humour, or there would be none. We can't always avoid offending people, because there will ALWAYS be somebody, somewhere who takes offence. Is this a harmless joke? If it was voted on it would probably get about 50%. One thing is certain, the joke does not harm the raccoon. He's past caring.


This could be considered potentially offensive to those who don't speak English, but my guess is that most of them, seeing it translated, would be amused. I don't think any offence was meant here, and in a vote my guess is that this would be seen around 90% harmless, possibly higher.


This is a sort of pun. Probably 95% harmless or more. Would not be funniy if a loved one had recently died from a burst appenfix, but again, you can't really allow for all possibilities. However if you deliberately showed it to somebody in that situation, it would be cruel. Still it's not the joke that's the problem, it's the intent.


Ah. Anyone like to shuffle their feet? Ever told one? Ever laughed at one? 40 years ago it might have been acceptable, because we hadn't clued in. A rape victim would not have laughed though. Are they the only ones to be offended? No. Rape jokes are not offensive because any given person is offended, they are simply offensive. How to combat rape jokes? Don't laugh. When you are asked why you don't laugh, ask them why they do.


Another pun. Totally harmless. Is this offensive? Of course not. Except that when I saw it posted, it was done specifically to have a dig at a person known to be "into" videos of UFOs etc. This person has been teased a bit, quite gently, but this image was meant to poke fun at him. I don't think he was offended, nevertheless an otherwise 100% harmless joke was aimed at a person. I don't think any harm was done, but I offer it as an example that this stuff is a bit complex sometimes. 

The harm therefore, is not always in the joke, but in the intent. Harm is frequently in the intent. Sometimes it's in the neglect, but rarely is it truly accidental.

When we riducule others, however we do it, it's not accidental. It is based on our belief that our choices are better than theirs. Even when it's in pure fun, if we analyze it, that's what's going on.

Nobody, least of all me, is suggesting that we never do this. Teasing is a part of human interaction, and to a greater or lesser extent it's actually quite important (whole other topic). The important part, and the difficult part, is stopping before it's harmful.

When that limit is reached, it is reached because the victim chooses it to be so. It is never the joker's right to decide.

As a mother, and in fact as a woman in a house full of men, I watch this constantly, the interaction and joking around between them, and I watch how they choose how to bring a stop to it. It's very interesting. This grey area between fun and bad behaviour fascinates me because it's a key aspect of self-control and recognizing the good guys from the arseholes.

Sometimes otherwise good guys cross a line. In the heat of the moment they fail to stop when signals have been given that it's time to stop. Some fail more than others. Especially if any drinking has been going on.

So, there can be no hard and fast rules, you have to learn, over time, from experience when enough is enough.

What the world does NOT need, is people in authority giving permission for the jokers to win. 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

More Than a Feeling

That word belief. What does it mean? I've given it a lot of thought over the years, and I've had a lot of objection to my thoughts, but I am very comfortable in them

First, I contend that belief is an opinion. It may be an opinion picked up from somewhere, maybe from upbringing or early cultural experiences, or it may be arrived at after a lot of research and deliberation. Nevertheless, it remains an opinion. While many can share a belief, they are never universal. Beliefs can always be argued, but never proven. That's how you know they are not facts.

I also contend that they are not a choice. To choose a belief would be phony. People do try to do this, and some end up genuinely believing things, but choosing a belief is self-deception. I'll explain that a bit more in a while, but I want to make it quite clear. A belief is a sincere thing, which is why, I think, we sometimes give it more respect than it truly deserves. We see that sincerity, and we like sincerity.

We also use the word belief in different ways. This suggests perhaps that we are actually using one word to cover several different concepts, which are related but not quite the same.

The first of these then, is the simple opinion.

Opinion

An opinion is an idea that is held dear on the basis that we think it is right. We all have these. We are also able to change these, and we do when it seems appropriate. "I've changed my mind". It can be as mundane a thing as what we want to order in a restaurant. That makes it no less sincere. At first, I really thought I wanted beef, but then I smelled the chicken, and discovered I wanted that. When I was opting for beef, it was a genuine feeling. A true desire. I really believed I wanted beef. If you had questioned that, I'd have insisted. "Are you sure?" "Yes, quite sure." But then along came this delicious waft, and everything changed. "Are you sure you want chicken now?" "Yes, quite sure." And both of these are true.

It can be much deeper.

"I, Fred Smith, take you, Mary Jones, for my lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part."
But 7 years later, they are signing divorce papers. What happened? On the day they said those vows, they meant it. It wasn't on a whim. They were deeply in love and they truly believed what they were saying there. Then it changed.

If you had asked Fred, on his wedding day, if his unending love for Mary was "an opinion" he'd have been horrified. He'd have said it was a fact. But it wasn't - it was his belief, and beliefs can change. It was a sincere belief, nevertheless, it was only a belief. Beliefs can be wrong.

Conclusion

Sometimes the belief is evidence based. This is still an opinion, and it may also be a fact. But it may just as easily still be wrong.

"Scientists believe......."

Based on all available data, the latest findings, and the carefully checked and peer reviewed work of many, this is a belief that has some solidity to it. It can still change.

These beliefs are often taught as facts, but they are really expert opinions. My grandfather was taught in school that there were canals on Mars. It seems laughable now, but he believed it. Why wouldn't he? He couldn't exactly go to Mars and check for himself, and besides, when educated people all agree on something and it finds its way into the textbooks, there's no reason to doubt it.

After a detective has collected all the reports, statements, photos, DNA samples, and other evidence he needs to make a conviction, it is all presented and the defendant is tried. Certain parts of this are indeed facts (the bloodstain matched) others are opinions ("I saw") but it's put together as a case. It all looks good, the detective believes he is right, and yet, there is still a jury to decide on that. Because there may be wrong assumptions along the way. He reached a conclusion, very carefully. It's still only a belief. He may be wrong.

Trust

Quite often when we believe something will happen it is based on previous experience. We trust that the sun will rise tomorrow because it always has. We trust the alarm clock to wake us, or the car to start, as it's always been reliable.

But most of all we trust people. We feel safe because we trust the police (no comments at the back there, different topic!). A child feels safe because he trusts his parents and teachers.  Some people even trust the government, to a certain degree. Sometimes trust gets broken, a spouse cheats, a colleague lies, but sometimes we manage to trust them again. Some are more trusting than others, of course.

We believe what they say. We even believe politicians, despite their track record. We can be very credulous sometimes. Foolishly perhaps, we seem to need to believe our fellow humans.

When it comes to what we believe that we hear or read, we are easily fooled. If it's a trusted source we may not even question it.

OK.

I saw this as a meme on Facebook on several people's walls this week.


Nobody questioned it. Why would they? It's what we suspect! We all know how this goes. Bloody oil companies.

Now, I'm not much for math but something didn't look right there. That is a LOT of money. So I made the effort and did some research too. Multiply $5737 by the number of US taxpayers and you get a figure of almost $700 billion. I found differing estimates for the subsidies, but an independent (and definitely not sympathetic) entity, Oil Change International, says "as of July 2014, U.S. fossil fuel subsidies were estimated at $37.5 billion annually". So that could even be on the high side.

Sure, it's still a lot, but it's 20x less. So where did the $700 billion figure come from?

The citation is a Guardian article, which in turn cites the IMF. Why is there such a huge difference? Not double, not even ten times, but 20 times greater than the other source?

Which is correct? Well, let's look at this:

https://www.nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-budget-101/spending/

This shows us that 3% of the $1.16 trillion budget goes on energy in total. Not over half of it. Somebody read something wrong somewhere.

As I said. I suck at math, but you don't need to be a mathematician to see something's not right there.

Yet how many people balked at that figure? I found a grand total of one. One comment said "That's more than the defence budget". And he was right.

I'm sorry for the sudden leap from philosophy to math there, but it's a perfect example of trusting a total stranger to give us information, and just accepting it as is. And that's my next observation.

When we believe something, whether it's an opinion, a conclusion, or trust, it remains an unproven fact, and yet we accept it. WHY?

Unless you are truly delusional (it came to me in a dream), you do have a reason for believing what you believe. Not what you want to believe, or pretend to believe, but what you actually believe. That reason is the centre of all of this. No reason? No belief.

Reason #1: It just makes sense. This is perfectly reasonable. When early astronomers believed the Sun went around the earth, they made a mistake but it's unfair to criticize them. That is exactly what it appears to do. If you spent you whole life watching it do that, you'd still never have any reason to doubt it. So how did Aristarchus of Samos (q.v) decide it was wrong? The easy answer is that he thought outside the box. Perhaps he was also a genius. We don't know much about him, but we do know Copernicus read him. Without people like these we wouldn't have got far, that's for sure.

Reason #2: I read it/ I was told. This is most of us, really. We are not genius scientists, but if we can read we can find the work done by others. We choose who we read of course, and that can sometimes be a problem. As you know, I am especially frustrated by those who reject the work of teams of qualified academics over a long time, and defer instead to a random self-published, self-proclaimed "expert". "Some guy on the internet" has replaced "some guy in a bar" as the source of all knowledge. Not only does he know more about it than all the PhDs, he has secrets that are hidden from everyone else. Except him. Impressive, huh.

Reason #3: I've spent years studying this, and this is the only logical answer. This is better. It doesn't guarantee anything, especially if you studied "some guy on the internet". But if you read respected writers, for example those widely accepted by accredited universities, and kept up to date on new discoveries, you should do quite well here.

Reason #4: I just do, leave me alone, I'm entitled to my beliefs. No. Not good enough. Don't expect to be taken seriously. And for pity's sake don't spread it around. There are credulous people out there who might believe you. Spare them! We'll leave you alone if you promise to shut up and keep your thoughts to yourself, because without something to back them up, they are meaningless. And.......potentially harmful.

And so, Monday we'll look at harm, shall we?

Friday, 22 May 2015

Chicken and Egg

I feel a need to explain something very carefully.

I am often told that I'm critical of religion, in some way or other, and there is some truth there, but when it happens there's a reason why.

I am pro love and anti harm. That is my basic attitude/mindset/way of thinking/whatever you like to call it. Ethics R Us. That does not mean that I claim to be all love and zero harm, it means that's what I seek. Nobody's perfect and nobody is expected to be. To err is human. But that's my thing. That's my priority.

Where did I get that from? Where did I develop this? Life, I guess. Upbringing, experience, preferences, observations, etc etc. No single person or book. Just an awareness, a mindfulness.

Love = good.
Harm = bad.

More love, less harm.

This is what I seek.
This is what I choose.
This is what I teach.
This is what I expect.

You can call it my personal philosophy if you like.

I would be at a loss if anyone objected to it, how can you object to it?

So. When I see a lack of love, I am saddened, and I protest.

When I see harm, I am saddened and I protest.

IF I see that lack of love, or that harm in a religious example, I protest. If I complain about a religious example, it's because of this. If I avoid a religious example it's because of this. If I speak out against a religious example it's because of this.

I do not dislike religious examples just because they are "different", or foreign, or whatever. They have to have caused harm, or shown a lack of love.

If you, personally, feel offended, because I have said something negative about your religion, then think again. It's not about you.

If you think your religion as a whole has been insulted because I said something negative about it, think again. Look at the specifics.

There is a lot of talk about respect. I respect people.

I am told I should respect beliefs. What, automatically? Just because they are beliefs? Not likely!

If it's a belief that leads to love, and prevents or avoids harm, I'll respect it.

If it's a belief that leads to a lack of love, or causes harm, I do not respect it. I reject it.

Beliefs are opinions. Nothing more or less. I do not have to respect your opinion. I can listen to it, consider it, and give you the time to explain it. But if it's an opinion that I not only do not share, but see as harmful, I shall say so. I shall explain why. I shall still respect you, as a human being, but I shall not, and SHOULD NOT respect your harmful opinion.

We can argue over what is harmful, and I'm sure we shall.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Truth? You Can't Handle The Truth

Initially this post was going to be about Richard Dawkins. I'm still going to include him, and what brought him up, but I'm going to broaden it out to a phenomenon that's not new, but has become so easy these days, thanks to the internet.

Back in the olden days if one wanted to spread information it was quite the challenge. You could just talk to people, to save time you could build a podium in the park, or even rent a hall or something and talk to a lot at once. Or you could have leaflets printed, and if you had the right contacts, a whole book. There was no self-publishing unless you were very rich, and therefore far less people had the opportunity to share their views. Those that did could have tomatoes thrown at them but rarely did they get rebuttals apart from the occasional letter to the editor in the local rag.

Ah, but now it's so easy. Anyone can create a Facebook page, blog, or website and share any opinion they want with the entire world, completely free of charge, and better yet, their readers can argue with them. Freedom of information, the information highway, and all that.

No rules.

But plenty of peer reviews and fact checks. FREE SPEECH! Isn't it wonderful?

I have enjoyed the internet more than I can express. I first came online in early 1997 and I've never looked back. Learning? Right from the get go. People with different lives, different experiences, different views, all ready and willing to share.

And argue.


No sooner did we have the internet, we had trolls. What is a troll? It is a person who, often hiding behind the anonymity of the medium, engages in fights and name-calling for entertainment purposes.

Because my first social media experience was the religion forums at MSN, I discovered this very quickly, more on that in a bit, but it wasn't restricted to it. There was as much if not more controversy and spitefulness on the food, heath, gardening, and parenting forums. People can argue over anything.

One of the rules of debate is "no ad hominems". You can look that up if you're not familiar with it, as well as the other no-nos (slippery slope arguments, Godwin's Law, etc) but in a nutshell the ad hom, as it's widely known, is an insult. Instead of arguing your opponent's point you call him names.

It's common to the point of normal. I try with every fibre of my being to avoid it, but even I'm guilty of it when pushed. But it's a bad thing. It derails the debate. You see, a debate has to stay on topic or it degenerates. First it degenerates from a debate into an argument. And eventually it becomes:

"You're a troll"
"No, you're the troll"
"No, you are"
"No, you are"

And at this point, but for geography, they'd be throwing tomatoes at each other.

Anyway, time marches on and despite all the opportunities people have had to educate themselves online, today I was alerted to this:


It would be easy to ad hom all over this, and I confess to referring to it as psychotic dribble on Facebook. But let's be academic here.

This post contradicts itself. Early on it says "no such...active virus...has ever been found in rabid animals". Later it names the virus responsible. 

Here is a photo of said virus.


So, we are forced to accept somebody found it somewhere, presumably in a rabid animal.

The advice given to take Vitamin C for rabies is wrong, and obviously extremely dangerous.

We could return to ad homs very easily, because the writer really doesn't deserve to be taken seriously, but we must take this seriously, because this advice could be fatal. I can't think of anything more serious than an opinion that could kill.

To sum up, this post is not the truth. It is fiction, and it is dangerous fiction. How many people would believe it? Hard to say, but they are out there, because I've met them. The original post was on a site dedicated to showing the dark side of the anti-vaccination movement, but that's just one part of this sub-section of the population who distrust modern medicine, doctors, and pharmaceutical, and prefer instead to place their lives in the hands of a stranger on the internet.

How often does this happen?

Back at MSN I met a lady who did not believe in germs. Presumably she thought photos of such organisms were hoaxes, I really don't know, but for whatever reason in her mind there were no such things. All illnesses were caused, not by pathogens, but by what Jerry Coyne (we'll be seeing him later too) refers to as woo. I love that term and have stolen it. The original term was woo-woo, but the shorter version works well in compound words such as "woomeister". And yes, that's an ad hom.

Other people, famous people, people who make a lot of money out of it, dislike being told they are woomeisters, and refer to anyone who dismisses their woo a "bully".

So, it goes like this. If I publish a book that states that all humans could fly if they follow a few simple dietary rules, that would make me a woomeister. And if you said the entire idea was ridiculous, I could call you a bully, and go wah wah wah on TV somewhere.

But that's a very simple version. It is obvious to even most wooists that no amount of wholefoods will allow us to fly, and the book would not be a bestseller in the first place as a result.

What if I published a book of woo saying that vaccinations caused Autism? Despite the fact that the vast majority of vaccinated children were not autistic? Despite the fact that there are autistic children, in places where vaccinations are not available? Despite the fact that a genetic link in autism has been talked about for 50 years? And so on. Well, somebody did. And it did sell. And parents stopped vaccinating their children. Is that dangerous? Yes, of course it is. Should we allow it? We have to, free speech and all that.

What if I published a book of woo saying that when you have a tumour you should just pray, and not see a doctor? According to some sources, Val Kilmer, who is a Christian Scientist, ended up in hospital bleeding from the throat earlier this year for this reason.

What if I published a textbook of woo for schools saying that Earth is 6000 years old, and that evolution is not true? Does that do any harm?

So let's get to Dawkins.

This was the article that started all of this....please read it.

http://www.salon.com/2015/05/16/richard_dawkins_doesnt_give_a_damn_the_huge_mistake_hes_making_about_religion/

“I DON’T give a damn if people find religious belief comfortable or meaningful. I only care whether it’s true.”

Dawkins is not my cup of tea. He's a very serious man. I'm sure he smiles sometimes, maybe he even laughs, but I've never seen him really let his hair down, if you know what I mean. The word here is dour. I can't deal with dour people. I'm sure they are perfectly happy in their own way, but there's something missing there, that I need to be able to relate to people.

Dawkins is about the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He has no time for anything else. And to a greater or lesser degree, there is a whole group of that type of atheist who share that attitude. These are usually learned men, often scientists, so I respect them on that level, and I too am a bit of a stickler for truth.

On the other hand, Sean Illing reminds us of an important point, that religion is not science. You can't argue the one using the other, they are too different. When science and religion are both seeking the truth regarding cosmology for example, the approaches used are opposite.

I'm not keen on religion. It's full of dogma and woo. I am very keen on love, beauty, kindness, art, creativity, music, and the human mind. And I find they are expressed best in philosophic and spiritual language rather than scientific, even if there is an altruism gene.

I have managed to find my own balance here, as I am wont to do, by sticking to truth where truth is available, and enjoying the mystery of the rest.

In some ways I agree with the writer of this article. These very strict atheists are missing the point. I wonder if it's a personality trait. When they listen to music, do they analyse it mathematically or just enjoy it?

One thing I have noticed is that they really can throw the ad homs around. That arrogance that geniuses tend to have seems to affect their manners. They justify this, or sometimes don't even bother, but it's still rude. And they don't care.

Maybe I'm just too soft. I just can't bring myself to hurt people's feelings over such an issue.

So where do we draw the line? Where is it OK to leave people to whatever they believe, just let them get on with it, share it, publish it, and argue it?

May I suggest a Pagan solution? If there's no harm in it, then leave them to it.

If your neighbour leaves little meals out for the pixies, who she has named, but she's otherwise a good person, there's no harm done. Leave her to it.

If she accuses you of poisoning her pixies, call social services.

The problem remains of course in defining harm. That has been a running discussion in my circles forever, and probably always will be.

I suspect that in fact, Dawkins, et al, use it as a yardstick themselves, they just have a different definition of harm. So, later in the week, I'll go into that aspect of it all in more detail.

Meanwhile, tomorrow we examine the word Belief. Again. More so.

The truth is, I have work to do, so off I go.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Won't You Join Me?

You know, there are two kinds of good people in this world. There are those who are all about peace and love, and there are those who are all about activism and fighting the good fight.

There's also this whackadoodle idea that you can't be both. Of course you can.

It's no different to those who think you can't be a friend and a parent to your child. Bollocks. I've managed it with all of mine. You just have to be a good friend, not an enabler. It's actually quite simple.

Then there's this nonsense that if a person isn't perfect then they are bad or wrong. But nobody is perfect, not me, not you, not anyone. So if you only vote for/marry/employ/socialize with perfect people, you're going to be out of luck.

We live in a both/and world, not an either/or world. You can be two things at once in all sorts of ways, and it's perfectly OK to take a middle line. That doesn't make you weak, or conflicted, it makes you balanced.

In so many arguments, I watch people paint themselves into a corner because they forget about compromise, and they just end up looking like idiots.

If you don't mind looking like an idiot, then by all means, carry on. If you prefer to sound reasonable here are a few words you might want to think about really carefully before using:

Always
Never
Can't
Certain
Impossible
Totally

Because there are always randoms thrown into the mix.

And as I've pointed out many times (ad nauseum, in fact) you can be a jolly, even silly person (raises hand), and also take important things seriously. Even switch from one to the other and back with ease. Even use humour to point out great injustice. Comedians are frequently modern philosophers.

It's all about balance, people. Not extremes. Balance is both healthy and useful. It's a sign of paying attention, because it means you've seen both sides of an issue. There always are two sides.

We have a situation all too frequently in social media where the opposite view is ridiculed and dismissed instead of being considered and discussed.

Ridicule and dismissal are easy. Children can do it. Dogs can do it actually (piss on it and walk away). It's the lazy way.

Listening and offering a thoughtful response takes more time and effort. So people don't bother, and as a result they don't learn, and they also do a great deal of harm.

I am trying my hardest not to go the ridicule and dismissal route, but to listen and offer a thoughtful response. I consider it the mature way. Sometimes it's difficult, sometimes it's really, really difficult. But I think it's worth it. I invite you to give it a shot.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Pragmatic Pagan Agnostic

About six months ago, I was asked pointedly about my beliefs.

"Melanie, you are always talking about what you don't believe, what you don't do, but you never say what you do believe in. You are critical of the beliefs of others, but you never talk about yours. This is sheer cowardice."

I dithered. I procrastinated. I balked.

I'll write about anything, and I'm not a particularly private person, but I didn't want to write this one. Unlike some people who declare their beliefs, loud and proud. I mean, you know the ones.





ETC



But I caved in. After too many assumptions and misrepresentations, I'm going to talk about my beliefs.

So.

I believe in love. I do not believe in sentimentality. Sentimentality is needy. Love is not needy. Love gives. I believe in kindness.

I believe in humankind. We have many faults, but they are overwhelmed by the incredible feats of selfless love we show over and over.

I believe in going with the flow, which some consider a "weak" approach to life. But I consider it a sensible one. Saves a lot of angst.

I believe in peace. In calmness, in tolerance, in give and take, live and let live.



There you go.

You wanted more? So, what more is there?

Oh stop rolling your eyes.

Yes, I know. Let's face the elephant.

It's no secret that I'm Pagan, by all current definitions, and it's also no secret that I don't follow any "tradition", such as Wicca or anything that has a name. I have no need for actual religion.

Ah, they say, but a collection of beliefs IS a religion. Well, if you insist. I have no book, no deity, no prayers, no ritual, and no statement of faith. Not much of a religion really is it?

Oh Melanie, you are cheating again. We're talking about spirituality.

Are you? Really? Because the last conversation I had with a devoutly religious person was about the homosexual "issue" and there wasn't much spitituality in it. And the last nice thing a devoutly religious person that I know did, was donate money to Nepal. And that was about as non-spiritual as it gets.

So many bits to the whole topic, aren't there?

God.

Let's tackle this one HEAD ON.

When I'm asked if I believe in God I never know what to say. Usually the person asking is Christian, and therefore what they are asking me is if I believe in THEIR God. The answer is no.

But if I say no to that question, it gives the impression that I'm an atheist. Which I'm not. So there. I just don't subscribe to the Abrahamic belief systems. They fascinate me, I study them, but I treat them as I do any other mythologies. The difference being, believers in Odin or Jupiter are not trying to run the bloody country...or tell me what to do.

I am not Buddhist, either, despite what some people assume. But I think I possibly approach the concept of God rather like Buddhists do. Or possibly not.

Which is to say I acknowledge something greater than the sum of the parts in the Universe. But not outside it. Or separate from it.

Or is a bit more Hindu? It's certainly Pantheistic. Whatever it is, it's everywhere. No, not IN everything, that's PanENtheism, (look it up) and it has limits. Pantheism has no limits.

What this means is that I totally oppose the idea of a Creator being separate from the Creation. For me it's the same thing. That means God didn't make the bunny rabbits, God IS the bunny rabbits.

Don't think I haven't explored this concept fully either. It's not a new idea, it's not new to me, and it's not.......new.

Or I am I totally deluded and this is all in my head? Who knows? Nobody knows. NOBODY. For that reason I'm also a dedicated agnostic. It's not that I don't know.....it's that I categorically insist it cannot be known. And I rather like that.

So, you either believe it or you don't, based on nothing more than feelings. No proof, no dogma, no nothing. Take it or leave it.

Works for me, and I don't expect anyone else to share it.


DEATH

Seems to me the reason many people cling to religious beliefs is that they fear death. I do not fear death. I fear dying. It can be slow, or painful, or both. It means you miss out on stuff you were looking forward to. But afterwards? Well, no problem then. Whether death is oblivion or something else, makes no difference, it will be whatever it is, nothing I can do about it, so I don't bother myself with it. Far worse than death is not living. I enjoy life. I believe the purpose of life is to live.

Do I believe in an afterlife? No idea frankly. This is where my strict agnosticism plays a key role. I don't know what happens after death and neither does anyone else, so I'll tackle that when the time comes.

Do I believe in hell? No. The idea is ridiculous, see my previous post.

Do I believe in heaven? As decribed by Christians etc, no. And if such a place exists, COUNT ME OUT. I don't want to go there. Eternal bliss? What is the point of that? How boring! Give me some excitement, puleeeze. Give me challenges, give me things to learn. Give me experience. Otherwise, forget it. Summerland? Yeah, if that's available, it sounds good. So long as there is plenty to do.......

Therefore if I get a choice, I'll take Box 3 thank you Bob. Reincarnation, another crack at life. That would work for me. Probably. If I'm as lucky next time around (got lucky this time).

I think I might enjoy being some sort of helpful spirit too, at least they have a job.

But none of this matters NOW. Now is for living. Now is for experience. Now is for love, and music, and people, and flowers, and cats, and butterflies. And hopefully I don't do any harm while I'm here. I try not to. On that topic.....

Morality

I contend that it's not connected to religion. Nope.

There are people who do better, morally, when under threat from religion, but that's quite another matter. That just shows they have no bloody self-discipline.

But the fact is, that if you studied every human on Earth and graded his morality, and counted it all up by religion, I guarantee you'd find that it makes no difference whether a person is religious, a bit, or a lot, or not at all as to how "good" they are. Priests and imams can be very, very bad. Atheists can be very, very good.

Not only that, the very definition of morality is wobbly and is often daft. A sin to show your hair? What bollocks is that?

No. If there's no harm, then there's no harm.

(Refer to my forthcoming book "Behave Yourself" for more details..)

In fact, a lot of things defined as "religious" in the area of "right and wrong and what happens next" is actually superstition, and I've discussed this before too so I won't repeat myself. I'm not interested in such nonsense. I have a high IQ and I use it.

So.....

The best quote I've EVER seen on this topic is as follows:

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but...will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."

And now you know. That's where I'm coming from. Lots of shrugging, lots of dismissal of silly things, but yes, I'll still continue to argue over fine points of theology with anyone, the moment I see anybody being harmed by religion. You can count on that.