Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Where did all the shame go?

The image of a fat sultan, bathed in swathes of rich fabrics while dining on fabulous meals in some exotic desert tent full of belly dancers, is not a hard one to conjure up. The happy go lucky punter at the races holding the winning ticket, face alight in top hat and tails, likewise comes easily to mind. Now cast your mind to a squalid council estate. An obese mother of three, decked in stained tracksuit, struggles with a Tesco bag laden push chair across a litter strewn courtyard. Amoungst the graffiti marked shutters and closed down shops is a lone betting outfit, fag ends and old racing posts tumble listlessly by the door. Contrast this again with a plump farmers wife baking cakes while her husband toils in the field. Through the window you can spy the farm hands sneaking in a cheeky game of cards, recently paid wages the wager of choice . These are all examples of currently vilified sections of British society, namely fat people and gamblers. The only difference is that some of the imagery makes you smile and some makes you twist your face into a scowl. Why? Context.

The sultan is rich beyond compare. He's allowed to be fat. Plus it fits your image of a sultan. The Farmer's wife would be jolly and plump and an amazing baker of cakes. Of course she's a little large, that's how farmers wives are supposed to be silly (interestingly if she were thin, she'd be mean, controlling and bitter, right?)! The grinning winner in top hat at the races? He can afford to gamble his money away... And a game of cards never hurt anyone.

The obese mother, well, she can afford to spend all her money on cake! What about her kids? All fat too, I bet! Those rotten men, gambling their money away on the horses or dogs, what a waste!

Follow these images in your own mind... How do you imagine the positive and negative world of drink and gambling? In nearly all cases I'll bet your own private imaginings meet this simple rule...

If it's a negative image, it because the cause of the distress in underpinned by a failing in society to deal with a problem. The farmers wife will still die of obesity related disease. The rich toff may still ruin himself with gambling. But somehow that was not societies failing. The mother of three has never been shown how to survive on a budget. She only knows to buy fat and sugar laden foods that take the misery of her situation away for the precious few seconds it takes to stuff the doughnut in her mouth. The all to brief sugar high the cheapest fix she can get.

Whatever the affliction, it's a stark reminder of our own failings. Why can't we overcome this? Why can't these people be made better?

And so we move to the issue of, predominantly, young people getting totally and utterly wreaked. I mean out of their fucking tiny minds, in the city centers up and down the country. The government solution is to put up the cost of booze. They really are the best minds the country has to offer, hu?

My solution is to find out how society has fucked them up so that they think that represents a good time. Then deal with it, no matter how unsavory the cause.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The inevitable Joseph Kony post.

Kony2012. Surely I don't have to tell you what it's about, do I? Really? OK, it's about Jason Russell (a media / film maker type guy) who met a young man by the name of Jacob Acaye in Uganda. Jacob had been abducted by the undoubtably nasty Joseph Kony in 2002. Jason promised to bring Kony to justice and has since meeting Jacob waged a kind of running media battle for action. You can watch the orignal video on YouTube here :
Watched it now? Good. Then let us continue... Well, actually, before I go any further, Let me say I really like that there are people in the world that actually do things about stuff they think needs to be changed. If the world was full of people like me, they would only write about what they think needs to be done. Power to you, Jason. Now - let us press an imaginary fast forward button and zoom forward six months. The campaign has been a tremendous success. Kony is caught and put to justice. The sentence would almost certainly be the death penalty (as I write this, Uganda is considering this measure for being gay, so I can only imagine what they would do to someone who has actually done something wrong). He hangs, fries, chokes, or whatever. Yay! Hooray for justice! But what has actually happened here? Exactly the same thing that always happens to African countries when they get in the shit. Some foreigner swoops in the saves the day. What happened to THEM doing something about it? What happened to the people that are affected by something actually doing something about it?

I don't think they are lazy. I do not underestimate how terrible it must be to live like that. I do not lack the empathy to comprehend what it must be like to watch your brother have his head hacked off for trying to escape. However...

Let me give you a personal example. I'm shit with money. Throughout my twenties I had to go back to my parents a number of times on the beg for some cash. I was earning, sometimes quite a lot. I was a supposedly intelligent guy but I was consistently spending more money than I earned. I was consistently committing the same mistake over and over again. The reason for this is that I was able to see hope of salvation in a third party, namely my parents. 

Transpose this situation. Imagine I was Uganda. Uganda is historically used to foreign powers walking in and "helping". They have lost the power of self determination. They have lost the self confidence of a country that decides what happens and to whom. Let them work it out, however long it takes. In the long run, it will produce a country with identity. A country that will not take shit. A country that would not have allowed Kony to thrive. Who knows, maybe even a country that wouldn't have produced him in the first place.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Self abuse...

We're pretty odd, us humans. We do all sorts of things that other species (even other lifeforms on other planets) would think pretty odd. We make the things we all have in common rude and use them as swearwords. We call one set of people that talk to imaginary people in their head mad, and others who do exactly the same pious. We take great pains to measure and objectify our environment and then celebreate the ciclical nature of our universe in odd and strange ways. Been a multiple of 364 days since you were born? Have a party and eat cake! Excited that the star we orbit around will today give us the longest strtch of uninturrpted light? Gather in a field and dance round some old stones. Overjoyed that the self imposed dark / light measurement system is resetting itself to allow for accurate measurement of extended time periods? Decide that you life needs to change and cause yourself massive upset and pain!

Welcome to my new year resolution, I've decided to get a six pack. Not get fit. Not workout more. Get. A. Sixpack.

Oh dear god.

To make matters far worse I'm doing it with six work colleagues. So far this has actually been a help, rather that a a hindrance. We're agreed that the best result after six months gets a free meal on the rest of the "six packers". To be fair, my workmates are a great bunch are we're helping each other on, for the most part. Occasionally someone will saunter in with some cakes and casually leave then on the side to tempt the others with some calorific disaster munching but general we're all being supportive of each other.

So, this is what I've got to work with...

Check back in on July the 1st for an update!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Smacking the round peg in into the square hole...

OK, last atheist post for a while, I swear.

I've listened to about 30 debates, many with Christopher Hitchens, in the last month. More than anything they have given me a thirst for understanding the Socratic method. Like all good thirsts I've taken a few massive gulps and cannot stomach any more until I've digested what I've taken on board. On an aside, please take a moment to look at this effort, which I totally support.

The best debates seem to have an opposing theist who starts off by saying that they won't be debating from scripture. That is to say, they'll be using argument based on reason to explain the existence of God. The most commonly used argument seems to be the intelligent design argument of "The universe is so finely balanced, one tiny change to the strong force or gravity would have caused us to not exist. It is designed for life. Ergo, god made the universe". Dinesh D'Souza uses this argument often.

If you found a round hole with a round peg which nicely fits into the hole it would to fair to say "it looks like that peg was designed to fit into that hole". It is also fair to say "It is the only peg that will fit into that hole". It is then you look around and notice millions of square, triangle and octagional pegs littered around, with scuff marks around the edges where someone has tried to jam them into the round hole. Guess what, they didn't fit.

The universe is a round hole, and we are a round peg. We are the only sodding shape that fits. It does not mean we were designed to fit - we just couldn't be any other way. There are trillions of possible pegs (think silicon lifeforms or life made of pure energy) that cannot fit into our universe because of it's physical properties.

I bet the god of silicon lifeforms is pretty pissed off about that one. Now he's going to have to wait around for infinity to create a new universe that allows silicon life (or maybe multiverses really do exist and they're crunching their way through some other universe with a irrational belief in a silicon god?).

Just because we fit, does not mean it was designed just for us.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

An atheistic state of mind...

In the last post I mentioned that I'd been listening to some fascinating debates by atheists and monotheists (up to this point, mostly Christians). There are some pretty switched on people talking with a great deal of understating and knowledge. There also seems to be quite a lot of respect, within reason.

Often the format of the debate seems to actually hinder free discussion, in favor of monologues. These can be very interesting but often lead to very broken and fragmented answers from one side or the other. There were a couple of points I don't really feel get answered to "my satisfaction". A couple of times I heard arguments or points made and they seem to get glossed over. Here is an example :

In the intelligence squared debate, Peter Jensen said
 "I have an atheistic mind and an atheistic heart. First, I am sceptical of the existence of all gods ... but one. Many concepts of God are human beings on super-steroids, dismissed by atheists and Christians alike.Thank you atheists."
Um, what? So you don't believe in Zeus or Apollo. Borvo or Brighid.  Xochicalco or Cacaxtla. But you're fine with God. And Jesus. Oh and don't forget the holy ghost. This would because what? The other gods are just SO obviously fakes? It's just made up mumbo jumbo! Clearly the only REAL God is, well, God. I really do not get how a monotheist can trot this one out and expect everyone to say "oh well done, good point".

Often the science Vs religion debate comes down to the creation of the universe. The atheist will bring out the scientific argument of cosmology and the Christian brings out, wait for it, the fact that god is eternal. Now, this would be a pretty good argument where it not for the source. Which is of course, the Bible.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
So, you're going to fall back on to the very book which the atheist is currently saying is claptrap, and use it as "fact" to back up your point, eh? That's just not on. You can't make up a book and then just use it casually as fact! What if I bring out the "Atheist bible" which denies the existence of a God, and use that? Of course the monotheist would say "Hey, that's not fair!". Well guess what, I'm going to say the same.

At some point the debate will move on to ethics. The standard Christian position seems to be :
"The only objective moral value is one that comes from God. Science cannot provide a definition of, or measure, good or evil"
What is moral, or immoral, is largely (if not wholly) a product of context within the time and society we are talking about. I'm not going to drum up a load of examples but it's clear that the following is true :

  • Non religious societies have objective moral codes. They are simply created by, and objective to, the group rather that to a deity. Anyone who does not follow this code is seen to be "wrong". Therefore it does not take a God for morals to exist.
  • Moral structures change over time. Truly objective moral codes would not change.
  • Many religions have moral imperatives that contradict each other, making in effectively impossible to be 100% moral.
For any one group to claim that they have moral superiority based on a supernatural force that they cannot, in fact, prove strikes me as shaky ground.

I cannot overstate my respect, appreciation and thanks for Christopher Hitchens, for his massivly intellegent input into the field of philosophy. 

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Makes you wonder, eh?

Was forced to go to London on work recently. Having not been up in the town for a few years, it was with some trepidation that I smacked the off button on the alarm at 5:30, in time to get the 8:00am train from, the ever charming, Temple Meads station.

Moaning about public transport aside (but really, how much do I have to pay for a ticket on the "not run by tards" service?), it all went, well, it went OK. OK if you discount the taxi driver who when asked "Can you take me to Paddington" said "Yeah Mate, I'll just do a U turn" and then promptly drove off. Tosser. Hopefully he won't read this blog.

Long and inactive travel by public transport aroused my attention to a new and disturbing problem. What the hell to do for one and a half hours when you can't, legally at least, play with yourself? A bit of poking about led me here. A neatly packaged collection of atheist Vs monotheist debates. Some really good meaty debates that can largely be downloaded onto your device for free.
Get cracking on listening to that lot, as my next post will be based on some of what's in there!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The ongoing "Humanitarian Crisis" in East Africa.

The TV is quite clear. There is a full blown famine decimating Sudan and neighbouring Ethiopia. The local population are dying of hunger, thirst and disease. As fast as aid can be flown in, it is being distributed to aid camps. At the gates of these camps emaciated carcass' queue, hugging new borns to their bosoms, waiting patiently with the swarming flies around their eye to be admitted. Could the picture of human suffering be any clearer? Could human suffering be any more crystallized into a single event?

Yes. There could be twice as many people in the queue and half as much food to go round.

Picture that. A queue as far as the eye can see snaking into the scorching desert. But that couldn't happen, could it? The aid agency's would see to that, no?

Sadly the opposite. It is the aid agencies that are currently engaged in killing millions of, as yet unborn, babies. They bring 'em in, patch 'em up, send 'em out and give their blessing to the next generation of starving locals. Don't believe me? The current disaster is apparently the worst for twenty (or thirty depending on who you listen to) years.  Amazingly, given the scale of this clearly desperate situation (two major humanitarian disasters, not counting the constant background wars and tribal tit-for-tats) the population of Sudan has grown from 11 million in 1960 to 45 million today. But that's at the cost of Ethiopia in the form of refugees, right?

Nope. The population of Ethiopia has grown from 22 million to 86 million in the same period. In the last thirty years the population has doubled. That's despite natures best efforts to keep the population of both nations in line with the amount of natural resources available.

As quick as nature takes food away, we fly it back in (I know, from an engorged west). As quickly as we clear paths to the smaller villages and settlements, they replace the land mines that mame and kill not just those that live there, but also those who come to help. As fast as we educate that HIV can be stopped by condoms, the witchdoctors advocate sex with virgins (Again, I know, the Vatican doesn't help, and the witchdoctors are dying out).

All in, their fucked. The more we try to help them the worse it will get. We're just propping up an already untenable situation. Fast forward twenty years to when the US and China are fighting over oil and Europe is tearing itself apart over immigration and the aid dries up totally.

Now that would be a true Humanatarian Crisis. Hell, the population might even level out.