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An outbreak of common sense

November 29, 2012

Referring to my previous rant: https://ageofspreadingmiddle.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/jehovah-jehovah/

 

I was delighted to see today that the Dutch government is proposing to abolish/repeal/throw into the garbage, the offence of blasphemy. Clearly somebody in high places has been reading this little blog and has seen sense!

 

Yes, I know; I don’t mean it. It’s still very pleasing though!

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The Internet – Big or Very, Very Small world?

November 21, 2012

“Grrrr”

This post comes to you fresh from facebook – where I keep in touch with family and friends, and occasionally have to deal with some surprising issues.

Yesterday I posted a link to a news item from the UK, wherein the Anglican Church had just voted to not allow women to be ordained as bishops. In posting the link, I asked the question: do the people who voted ‘no’ believe that God would want it so.

A friend commented upon the relativity of gender to Christian faith. I responded that I felt that it was unconscionable for the church to discriminate against women and spoke in general terms about how religions (specifically mentioning the catholic church) seem to be granted special protection from the law around the world.

Today a long time facebook friend and colleague from years gone by (who shall remain nameless) asked if, since he is a catholic, I believed him to be evil. Aside from his missing the point of my…um…point, I explained that I hadn’t used the word evil to describe the catholic church or followers, but that I did feel that the institutional abuse of children by members of the clergy and the church’s protection of those people was evil. I looked forward to a robust exchange of views.

What happened next? He removed his question from the thread and then blocked me!!!

This kind of reaction aggravates me immensely. I can only assume one or more of the following took place (because, like a sulking toddler, he is no longer talking to me);

  • My response was – as in the case of my original statement – not properly read.
  • My response was not understood and taken to be offensive.
  • My mention of documented and historical child abuse at the hands of the clergy was deemed unacceptable (although factual).
  • Any questioning of ‘the church’ cannot be countenanced.

I could continue making assumptions, but the most important thing for me is that this person is clearly unwilling to take part in a  civilized discussion about the issues. To me, that attitude is very frustrating and deeply troubling…the refusal to even listen to another person’s point of view represents a very narrow way of experiencing the world.

My view of the internet is that it is a window onto different ways of experiencing the world, for some people, however, it seems that the internet is instead a tool to shut out anything different…

Jehovah, Jehovah…

November 18, 2012

Flicking idly through the virtual pages of my favourite news website yesterday, my attention was caught by one particular headline. It seems that a group of people face prosecution over their production of a play which implies that Jesus (insert the initial ‘H’ here if you so desire) Christ and his disciples were in fact gay. A prosecution under blasphemy laws is apparently being considered.

I have a couple of initial reactions;

First: The idea itself; I wonder what on earth is the motivation behind a play with this kind of story? It seems to me like a rather lazy way to write a story  – one could, after all, simply pluck any figure or group from history and make the same implication, basing a story around the shift of perspective. It seems like a one-joke (and a not particularly funny one at that) project to me, much the same as a grown man wearing a dress, wig and make up is a ‘joke’ that is both very old, has been kicked around for centuries, and as such is intrinsically not funny. In other words, I understand that it takes all kinds of humour to keep society satisfied, but isn’t this really just the rehashing of an old schoolyard joke with old (new) names? I guess what we find funny is a question of taste. So be it. While I question the story itself, I actually admire the accused for having the courage to go up against church and state.

Second: I find it hard to accept that there still exists in a supposedly modern and ‘enlightened’ democracy, a law of blasphemy. While I don’t agree with promoting free speech to the point of allowing threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour (which seems to be the case in the USA), I am aghast that in a European democracy, someone could be prosecuted for being allegedly disrespectful of someone’s god. Taking Christianity as an example, since there exist so many – indeed perhaps countless – interpretations of the stories and teachings within the bible, which Christian could legitimately put themselves on a pedestal high enough to pass judgment? In other words, who has the final say? And if it’s wrong to disrespect the Christian god, is it OK to disrespect different beliefs? Former enactments within the UK, for example, would suggest, perhaps unsurprisingly,  that it was.

Making law is such a difficult thing to do properly, delving into protecting and/or legislating against behaviour around religious beliefs is, to say the least, a minefield. One person’s blasphemy is, after all, another person’s bit of fun (Monty Python’s ‘The Life of Brian’ anyone?). Flipping the coin, however, reveals that there exists a double standard here; an attack on non-belief is not (to the best of my knowledge), and has never been specifically legislated against in criminal law – in fact I would suggest that such attacks would fall under the strange protection that the law seems to afford to religious bigotry..

Here’s a hypothetical question: if, in the country concerned (and it’s Greece by the way) I went on TV or held a public meeting  to say that there is of course no god, and that surely the idea of an invisible  man living in the sky with all the dead people he approves of seems clearly delusional,  would I be under threat of prosecution for blasphemy? I would assume that, since questioning and/or denying the very existence of God could be seen as an attack (perhaps the most serious kind) upon God, there might be room somewhere in the system for me to be hauled before a court. Perhaps, perhaps not – certainly a lot of people would be very, very upset.  I’m pretty sure, however,  that  if a priest or bishop or pope tells me – or indeed everyone – that anyone who doesn’t believe what he or she (priests, etc.) believes is bound to spend eternity in suffering , such a statement is protected as a legitimate religious belief. I’m sure of this because that sort of protection of religious ‘positions’ happens every day, all over the world, with the overt support of the state.

Statements based in religious belief around the world are usually protected – although often just as long as it’s the majority view – and is by no means limited to Christianity. The elephant-in-the-room question, therefore, is this: WHY? Why are religious leaders and protagonists allowed to hide behind some kind of (ironically, invisible) shield which allows them to say pretty much whatever they want, whether it is blatant lies, offensive, hate-inspiring or fear-mongering? How is it that, in contrast, non believers can without any recourse, be castigated and extolled to convert in order to save themselves, or that a lack of belief is the wrong way to live? In many western countries it is fair to say that the laws of the land were laid down upon a religious template. But that was, in most cases,  followed by an evolution of law which took place over many hundreds of years. Why does established religion apparently still deserve a special place in law (for example, in the USA, where churches are tax exempt)?

Where, within a modern system of justice, does a blasphemy law belong? My contention is that such laws are mediaeval and have no place in a modern society.

We’re stuck with it for now, of course, mainly because the believers have history (i.e. the formation of countries and their legal systems) on their side. Tackling religion and all the (historically evidenced) harmful consequences of rival beliefs is doubtless a much hotter political issue for anyone to want to address.

As long as people want to believe in the afterlife to stave off fears of death and anoint their lives with some kind of mystical or spiritual purpose, I suppose the status quo will remain.

Internet Heroes – a bad sign.

October 11, 2012

Today I read about a small – even a little – matter which arose yesterday as an indirect result of the rather famous Justin Bieber visiting Vancouver on his concert tour. Whether we will still be discussing the merits of his impact upon the music industry in a couple of years is irrelevant (NO, by the way) because it is the actions of one of his fans which has stirred up a hornet’s nest of reaction.

Perhaps I should use the term ‘rat’s nest’ because the matter has brought to light some pretty ugly and unpleasant human behaviour. Let me set the scene;

Not very long ago a professional Ice Hockey player who had until a short time before played for the local Vancouver team, committed suicide. It was a tragedy, as are all instances when a young person feels that life has nothing positive in store for them to the extent that they end their existence. At the time there was a local outpouring of sympathy and visible (if a little disproportionate at times) grief over this young sportsman’s untimely death. The story was carried for several days on the TV with diminishing detail until, within a week, it was all but forgotten by the media.

It seems now, however, that die-hard local hockey fans had at the time begun an impromptu and informal memorial to the player in question – it would appear to be a series of messages attached to or written upon one small part of the exterior fabric of the hockey arena. From photographs I have seen, it looked rather scruffy and certainly did not have an air of a monument – but it meant something to the people who left their messages upon it. Since then it would seem to have fallen quietly into gentle decay.

Yesterday, however, a young girl seems to have angered the hockey gods. Photographs of the monument have illustrated a message scrawled across the faded piece of concrete – a message not to the fallen hockey hero, but to young Mr. Bieber himself. Gasp! Sacrilege! The online reaction has been instant and ferocious. Because the young girl made the mistake of signing her full name, it seems that she has been hunted down and attacked online for her cardinal ‘sin’.

How brave these knights of the internet must feel. It is a feature of the internet which frankly appalls me – the apparent sense of entitlement to bully others which some people seem to possess. In this case, some people posting on facebook and other sites have encouraged the young girl to kill herself over this really rather meaningless mistake. Since we know of highly publicized instances where vulnerable kids have done exactly this as a result of online bullying, I believe that this kind of vitriol passes beyond disgusting and becomes criminal.

The internet seems to have created an arena for two groups of bullies:

  1. A tiny minority of pathological individuals who prey upon the vulnerable and who would be prepared to enact threats of violence, and;
  2. A vast majority of keyboard warriors who, from the safety of their homes seem to feel empowered to frighten, bully and demean others just for the fun of it. they haunt social media sites and pages waiting to unleash their feeble intellects upon anyone they identify as vulnerable.

There seems to be a definite masturbatory quality to much of the abuse I have found online. I have been subjected to some of this nonsense on one social media page, and while I was able to deal with it as the drivel of powerless and otherwise puny individuals, the ferocity and depth of the abuse was frankly alarming in the sense of “Why is this person so demonstrably angry?”. It is, in my opinion, a function of zero accountability. Having worked for many years on the streets as a police officer, I have some insight into what society can and cannot tolerate. This kind of objectionable behaviour would not be tolerated face-to-face. I have a feeling that physical violence would break out if the brave boys and girls who spout this kind of verbal excrement had the courage to say such things face to face in a room together with their intended victims. But of course they don’t ever wish to be held accountable, because they are cowards.

With no audience, with no gang of supporters behind them, these internet bullies are nothing – they are pathetic excuses for human beings who shout their vile, disgusting abuse and hide behind their anonymity. It is high time that such behaviour is recognized for what it is – an assault – and more frequently investigated by the authorities. Unless this kind of thing is managed, I fear that society’s rules will become more and more elastic, stretching to the point where acceptable behaviour is defined by what the bullies can get away with and leaving vulnerable people with little choice but to be alone with their fears. We risk losing almost everything by allowing behaviour like this to go unpunished. It may already be too late.

Equality? Not seeing it here…

September 27, 2012

Recently two young police officers were murdered in cold blood in Manchester, England. They were simply going about their regular duties – based upon my own experience, by the looks of things it was a call of the nature of a possible intruder in an empty property. Certainly the officers seemingly had no reason to suspect that a famously wanted man with a huge reward on his head was inside the property, heavily armed and ready to kill.

Unarmed, they were ruthlessly killed by a piece of human scum already believed responsible for at least two prior deaths. They could not have harmed him – they were not equipped to do so. But he killed them anyway, one assumes because of their roles and the uniforms they wore. This will have to be proved for justice to take its course, but from my own experience of policing and reading between the lines of what has been released to the public, this piece of human crap is guilty as hell – and he needs removing from society for ever.

The investigation will be long and detailed. Hopefully the lowlife will never see freedom again. Hopefully any calls for the UK police to routinely carry firearms will be argued away. But…

These officers were young women, and sadly the media focus has been upon how awful it is that two WOMEN have been killed. This is troubling; firstly because it presupposes that the violent loss of a female life is somehow ‘worse’ than that of a male. It also indicates that the UK media do not treat female police officers as equals to their male colleagues. It is an attitude which I find unpleasant on both counts.

Why would a male life be worth less than a female? In my opinion that is an outrageous assumption to work from and would not be countenanced if the opposite were suggested.

Why are females patronised with this ‘we must protect them more than their male colleagues’ attitude?

Two questions I would enjoy debating with anyone holding an opposing opinion to my own. I remain, however, disappointed that society seems to be stuck in the very early twentieth century, after all the  work (some good, some bad, some really over top) which has been done to foster equality in our society. We are, of course not there yet – inequalities still exist and in some ways the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, but this kind of approach demonstrates that some in the media at least are backward-thinking.

I have worked many times alongside female colleagues and have been supervised by females in a huge variety of situations. Gender was never an issue – why would it be?

Do we say enough?

September 4, 2012

Should we have to guess?

Recently I received news of a former colleague having passed away. I must be very clear and say that I didn’t know him except to say ‘hello’ or exchange a nod of recognition. We first met more than twenty five years ago as young police officers and only a few times after that. He made an impression upon me as a quiet and decent kind of man, someone with whom I would have enjoyed working. I never actually worked alongside him but those who did tell me that they were lucky to do so. He died at the age of 52 while enjoying the great outdoors, one of his life’s passions. His family’s personal tragedy needs no explanation.

Following his passing I’ve observed nothing but praise being heaped upon this quiet and clearly popular man. Many people have described his strengths and endearing qualities, and all have shared their sorrow at his sudden and unexpected death. From what I can glean from the tributes, I wish I had known him. And I have started thinking – did he know how many people thought so highly of him? Not just him, of course, but do any of us know how many people hold us in high regard? Do we express our admiration, respect and liking for others as freely as we might? I think that I for one probably do not – although the opposite would be the case where my relationship with immediate family is concerned.

Recently I was re-reading some old online correspondence and I came across a brief 2011 conversation I had held with one of my oldest friends on the subject of my father’s failing health. Within that brief exchange of online posts my old friend had described me in a way which not only surprised, but genuinely shocked me. I was quietly astonished that he thought of me in the way that he clearly did – and I wondered why, and I wonder if this is something peculiar to me?

Ever since I undertook some training in Neuro-Linguistic programming in 2000 I have tried to make a habit of providing clear and honest feedback, especially when the feedback is positive. I can`t lay claim to having any special skills in this area, but I hope that the occasional puzzled and sometimes startled expressions on people`s faces indicates that the message has been meaningful and useful. There is, however, a big `however`. There have been many people in my life whom I have called friends, and but a few whom I have called lovers. Those I love know it; I make a point of reinforcing that message – in particular with my wife and children. But do I say enough to my friends?

I doubt it. I doubt that many of us do. My experience has been that we barely touch one another`s lives as we complete our personal journeys. That could be different, and there are a multitude of gifts to be given.To find a lifelong male friend describing me as ‘a lovely person’ was a shock (a very pleasant one) and a wake-up call. I haven’t habitually told my friends how I feel – and when I have it has often been at the point of saying a farewell or at a point of crisis. I’m thinking now that such messages belong in the everyday, in the humdrum patterns of our daily lives, when they probably have more meaning and effect. I need to tell my friends how much I like them.

I shall begin doing so, and because I am intrinsically, privately, very shy (how many of my friends would laugh out loud at that thought, I wonder?), I shall offer my gifts first using the web….Why? Because this may be new for them as well as for me. Because I fear rejection and ridicule. But the sacrifice and the perceived risk is worth the potential result. I know I haven’t yet said enough to my friends about my feelings. I’d dearly like to know how they feel about me – and therefore about the person I tell the world I am. Perhaps their gifts will be very eye-opening and very useful. Look out!

Food security hijacked?

July 22, 2012

For some time now, mostly at the behest of my lovely wife who opened my eyes on the subject, I have subscribed to the idea of food security and food sovereignty. I’m no expert – just a normal person living in a normal neighbourhood who has observed the rather alarming demise of the small farmer in North America in particular, and noticed the even more alarming increase of influence over our food supplies by massive corporations. I’m not a nut (not even an organically grown nut) – I’d describe myself as a concerned observer. The main result of my/our observations is that each year we try to grow more of our own vegetables and fruit (on an average sized and steeply-sloped plot) and hope to one day have the facility to effectively store our crops so that we can enjoy them throughout the year. To me – to us – it makes a lot of sense, and while we watch the growth of companies like Monsanto with trepidation, we are not fortifying our house or digging a bunker. Which brings me to my issue.

Using social media on a daily basis, I frequently receive posts from websites and facebook pages which reflect my own ideas about the development (or decline) of our culture in the west, many of which refer to the global issues rather than taking a parochial view from my own back yard. Many posts are accompanied by images of breathtaking ingenuity on the themes of recycling or sensible and sustainable consumption. I like the idea of sustainable consumption in particular – it’s as common sense as it gets, and for me reflects the fundamental idea of nature always seeking balance – if a secies of animal eats too much of their preferred food (through population explosion) for example, through starvation their numbers will wither until the food supply and their numbers once again reach sustainable balance. But there is a problem with ideas such as this. The principles are being hijacked by those with extreme views.

In a world (wide web) where the most aggressive “be like me or f*ck off” approach seems to be growing in popularity among the bullied-at-school-and really-pathetic-socially-inadequate keyboard warriors of the world, simple, balanced ways of living seem to be increasingly the domain of extremist ‘preppers’ – people for whom the end of the world is nigh (AGAIN) and ‘survival’ seems to involve shooting everyone else first and asking questions afterwards. It seems like I can’t receive a post about roof gardens or interesting garden innovations without comments containing a heavy sprinkling of dark warnings of doom and advice to own as many and as large calibre weapons as I can lay my hands on. And there always seems to be someone with the North American obsession with ‘The Apocalypse’ on their mind. I’m beginning to think that ‘the rapture’ (and what a mind-bendingly ridiculous notion THAT is!) actually refers to people pleasuring themselves at the thought of the world ending.

Here’s an interesting clip I found on the BBC which reflects some of what I have noticed; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18877449

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard of the world being about to end during my lifetime. The only thing I AM sure of is that whenever I die, my personal world will end, and that will be that. In the meantime I’d like to live a balanced life as far as possible, remove corn products (not corn on the cob – just processed corn products) from my diet as far as possible – it’s in almost everything – and live as long as I can, enjoying as much as I can. Let’s be blunt; there is no 2012 apocalypse, there is no global disaster on the horizon (unless Jupiter hurls an errant asteroid at us of course but I’ll accept the scientific odds that it isn’t actually very likely at all), and I don’t need to build a bunker to survive a three year nuclear winter.

What I DO need to do is live a sustainable life so that I leave behind as little mess as possible and rely on ultra capitalist corporations as little as possible. So for example we grow food, even in our front yard (gasp! maybe I AM a revolutionary extremist?), we’ll be getting some (illegal – oh boy I’m living life on the edge!) chickens one day in the near future, and tomorrow I’m taking my son fishing – which I love – for trout which usually provide enough for one person each meal. Not really radical stuff is it – instead a few things that would have been recognised as sensible a hundred years ago?

Unfortunately, however, the ideas of balance with which I agree are increasingly being taken hold of and bastardized and distorted into extreme notions of impending danger, and it’s getting tiring listening to such rubbish shouted at us across the airwaves. Over here in North America the TV has apocalyptic ‘documentaries’ available for viewing several times every single day. It is, in itself, almost a religion – and that’s without the evangelists preaching the same stuff on a number of their own goofy TV channels! And by the way, how do you get away with making a career out of preaching imminent doom? Doesn’t anyone ever notice that it never seems to happen?

I wish the extremist survivalists in particular would bugger off to their own camouflaged gun – totin’ websites where they can show photos of their gun collections and videos of their whole family shooting water barrels to pieces with assault rifles, to their hearts’ content. It’s all utter bollocks and evidence of how screwed up America really is. I recently heard that there is something like three million of these nut cases out in the United States (i.e. not in institutions for the permanently paranoid) – three million scared people and their guns can do an awful lot of damage if they get scared enough.

The real fight is, for me, not one of weapons and blood – it’s the fight against buying all our food in one place – buying food we are convinced is easy to find and cheap to pay for. Real food rarely comes in cubed packaging or out of a squeezable tube. Real food is the stuff you DON’T see advertised on TV these days – perhaps something to think about and, dare I say it – digest?

I love gadgets and I have a passing but not very deep interest in technology – some modern technology is patently favouring balance. Solar and wind power are two accessible technologies which I can see myself embracing in the not too distant future – I only have a couple of small portable battery charging solar panels and I’d love to have some for the house one day soon. So I am not an extremist – I’m trying to get there in a way which is itself supportable and sustainable, and I understand that many folks are much further down the road than I. I just happen to believe in finite resources – hence I believe that peak oil is a reality, but because we have the technology to create and exploit cleaner alternatives (Hydrogen anyone?) I don’t believe we will fall into a cataclysmic post-oil kind of hell. The technology will follow the money, and vice-versa. A kind of balance in its own right, I suppose?

In the meantime I’d like to live that balanced lifestyle, moving closer to sustainability and staying away from the bunker life which so many fantasists seem to embrace, and which is so consistently supported by the Hollywood film industry in particular. Because I live in an active volcanic/earthquake zone I have stores of drinking water and shelter and non-perishable food available in the case of a local emergency – I think that’s sensible, and I will take measures to protect the family and our stores in the event of a week – long (or more) regional crisis, but – the world ending? Nope.

I’ll leave that kind of hysterical planning (to kill anyone who sets foot on my property) for people who are off their medication, or who have yet to be diagnosed and prescribed their anti – psychotics. Three million (with lots of guns) and counting.