Love

I’ll admit, I tremble before the subject. So much has been written and said about it, that it seems redundant to make any sort of comment. Well even if what I have to say has been said before, it’s important enough to warrant some repetition.

The old clichés about love, like all clichés, exist because they are true – it has inspired great works of art, toppled great empires, and such and such. One can recall any number of quotable quotes. We have Lord Tennyson to thank for that nugget about it being “better to have loved and lost”, John Lennon for the simple profundity of “all you need is love”, and let’s not forget Socrates for reminding us that “the hottest love has the coldest end”. Our culture is saturated with tidbits of wisdom, from the great artists in our history, on this one subject.

Yet, we find ourselves hopelessly confused about it. For an emotion that has been so closely examined, so thoroughly explored, and so beautifully explicated, it still tends to defy understanding.

Do you know when you’re in love? What does it feel like? What are the signs? Or should I say, what are the symptoms? Is love the initial attraction that one feels? Or does it slowly seep in through the cracks? Is it guaranteed by a wedding band? Or does it wither away like petals on some sad little flower? Can you love two people at the same time? Do we only love what we can’t have? Does love need to be reciprocated to exist? Is all of this just an illusory psychological and social construct produced by our ape-like sex drives?

To confuse matters, we distinguish between different flavors, taking our love a-la-carte, dressing it up in fried onions, relish and bacon bits. We all like to “have it our way”, justifying our decisions by convincing ourselves that love is sometimes “true”, sometimes not. We revise and annotate the mythos of love every day.

Well I can at least say this: I’ve had my own experience with love, and I have my own answers to these questions, but it doesn’t really matter what I have to say, because my life is not your life, and your answers make sense for you just like mine do for me.

But there is one comment on love that I would like to make that I believe applies to us all.

Love is not something that one “finds”. It’s not for sale on any shelf, it’s not up in the sky watching over us, and it doesn’t care how good-looking you are. It’s not going to one day appear in your life, sweep you off your feet, and escort you to the ball. It doesn’t “happen” to you.

Love is something you make. It comes from the wellspring of your own heart and soul. It is an entirely conscious act, one that we must all learn to make. And it is the one thing in this world that your get more of, the more you give.

So don’t let the cloying stench of cheap cinnamon get you down. Let the memories of playground rejection fill your heart, and remember that we all share the same pain. Then love like you want to be loved.

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Christopher Hitchens: Journalist, Polemicist, Drinker

If I had to tell you the most important thing I learned in university, it would be this: most people who call themselves “intellectuals” are so stupid that they don’t know their asses from their faces.

However, while in university I managed to find one author who tickled my pickle with just the right finesse. His name was Christopher Hitchens, and he died on Thursday.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you liked him too, so I won’t bore you by eulogizing him (dozens of world renowned authors have already done the job better than I ever could). But he has been my favorite writer for years, so I would like to take a moment to explain what I liked about the man, and why his legacy matters.

The important thing about him is that he was a dissenter – he hated authority in all its many forms. This is the common thread in all his work, including his critique of religion. At the core of all his writing was a strong feeling of anti-totalitarianism, and a fervent hatred for intolerance and injustice. Yes, I use the word “hatred”, because that’s the word he used.

And he didn’t shy away from saying that some people, and some ideas, were evil. The word “evil” isn’t one that fits comfortably into civilized political discourse – some progressively minded people sneer at the word. But when we’re talking about genocide, mass graves, and murder, why should we avoid it? Would we not do better to call evil by its true name? It may seem minor, but I think the precision with which he chose his words is a big part of the reason Hitchens is important.

These rhetorical subtleties are what set him apart from the masses of public intellectuals who took safety in platitude and prevarication rather than facing up to the reality of “sensitive” issues. For example, whenever the Catholic Church was embroiled in one of it’s many “child abuse” scandals, Hitchens always made a point of calling it “child rape” instead. Many people found this off-putting, even offensive. But think about what an important difference it makes; to use euphemistic language, he argued, was to strip the word of its true gravity. In this way, Hitchens fulfilled the duty of a good journalist; he challenged the status quo, and elevated the discourse.

Interestingly, he described himself not as “atheist” but “anti-theist”, for he was not withoutreligion, but “positively opposed to it.” Again, a subtle yet crucial difference.

I have no doubt that his writing will have a permanent seat in the canon of secular and humanist literature for generations to come. His committed support for the empowerment of Muslim women ranks especially high on his list of causes. Throughout his entire career, he has been a defender of human dignity, a voice for reason, and a paragon of moral integrity.

And he did it all while looking sexy, smoking cigarettes, drinking Johnny Walker Black and staying up til four in the morning. In his own elegant words, he “burned the candle at both ends, and found that it gave a lovely light…”

RIP HITCH

290,774 Clicks

I actually remember when we drove her off the lot. When you’re nine years old, the purchase of a new family vehicle is a pretty memorable thing. Especially when it’s a Jeep. It wasn’t your standard four-door family sedan. It had no storage space, it was loud as hell, and it was hard to climb into. It didn’t even have a radio. In other words, it was awesome.

For years, it faithfully transported me to soccer games, piano lessons and sleepovers, connecting the dots of my childhood. It waited for us in parking lots and driveways, content to be alone, just so long as we’d return. Occasionally, she’d be incidentally captured in the background of some family portrait – unassuming, but ever-present.

In a sense, the Jeep and I grew up together, for I was a young boy when she was a new car.  So when, at the age of nineteen, her insurance was put in my name, and her keys were entrusted to me, we entered into adulthood together. By this time she’d had a few dings, a few break-ins, and a few breakdowns. But we had something in common: personality. Sure my hair was scruffy and her carpets smelled like mold, but by god, we were a team.

As the years rolled by, friends and lovers came and went, and just as each of them had some kind of relationship with me, so too did they have a relationship with the Jeep. Whether it was a top-down summer and four-wheel-drive winter, she seemed to charm her way into people’s hearts, just as she did mine. Many of you reading this now will easily be able to recall a fond memory of her.

And she collected her own memories. Once, while riding in the passenger seat, a friend folded a piece of plastic into the shape of a treble-clef and, smiling silently, hung it on the back of my rear-view mirror.  I barely remember her doing it, and I didn’t find it again until years later…

So, gradually, the space inside that vehicle became more familiar, and more personal as I grew older. Some time ago, I began to realize that she might not last much longer. Winters were a little harder – we had to replace more and more parts, and breakdowns became more and more frequent. For the last couple years, I have caught myself gripping the gear knob a little more tightly, and driving a little more gently.

But some things are inevitable, and yesterday she went for her last ride. My final experience with the Jeep was to carefully drive her home from the mechanic’s. As I rested my hand lovingly on her dash, and felt her engine struggling and seizing up, I felt like she was trying to prove her loyalty to the end – she was trying to get me home one last time.  

Some may say that there is no love in lifeless things, and that may be true. But to imbue those things with love, is to give them a life all their own. 

The Yale: A Retrospective

I’ve always found it appropriate that it’s in one of the dark corners of the city. There it hides, tucked away at the farthest end of the Granville strip. In order to get there, you need to walk past every nightclub, every liquor store, and every sex-shop on the drag. There are few who make it all the way down that seedy boulevard, but I’m proud to say that I’ve been one of them.

There’s a lot to love about the Yale. You can read her personality on her face. Her brick walls tell you she’s got stories, her covered windows tell you she’s got secrets, and her wailin’ blue-neon sax tells you she’s got soul. Like any late-night mistress, she’s mysterious, but if you can drink whisky and tap your toes, she’s open for business.

I discovered The Yale on a Sunday night in 2006, and immediately fell in love. I felt strangely comfortable, hiding in its neon-red ambiance, protected from the outside world by its heavy black shutters. The first thing I noticed was the crowd. Safe to say that midnight on Sunday ain’t exactly happy hour, so the room was generally quiet. Here a lonely man solemnly contemplated his drink, there a pair of accidental lovers kissed for the first time – maybe for the last time. I liked these people, and I liked being one of them. In this place, there were no age categories, no class distinctions, no prejudices. It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from. Here the lonely found common cause. It was the real deal – a genuine blues joint.

Yes, The Yale was a magical place. But here’s what needs to be said: it wasn’t the bar that made me come back the next Sunday, and every Sunday for the next five years. It was the band.

You get the impression, watching Brickhouse play, that they understand music completely. Let me explain in more detail what I mean by that. Of course, they are uniquely talented, each having reached a level of skill that few musicians ever reach. Their uncanny musical intuition is nothing short of astonishing, their sensitivity to the slightest musical details is simply baffling. The man at the microphone has a vocal talent that is nothing short of world class. If you’ve seen them, you know what I’m talking about, and you know that no description will do.

But that’s not what I mean. When I say they “understand music”, I don’t just mean that they know how to play music; I mean that they understand its purpose. They play because they love playing – because playing music is way too much fun. And because it brings people together, and that’s the ultimate point of everything.

There is, I think, a bigger lesson here, too. I don’t know about everyone else, but I can tell you that after a full week of TV commercials, traffic jams, photocopiers, microwave dinners, and all the other trappings of this tedious little game of pretend that we all seem to be playing, its nice once a week to remember what it feels like move your body to the beat of a drum. It’s fulfilling, liberating, spiritually cathartic – a reminder of our most basic humanity.

And it ain’t always a party, necessarily. In fact, some of my fondest memories of the band come from sitting back and just listening. Maybe it was the dark lighting, maybe it was the cinnamon whisky, but sometimes I was so captivated by the music that I forgot I was even at the Yale. The band strikes that necessary balance in music – equal parts performance and art.

Well it comes to this; we all know why I’m writing this now. The Yale is closing its doors for over a year, and when it reopens, no matter how hard they try to preserve it, they will have changed it irrevocably; even if the place reopens better than ever, The Yale as we have come to know it will be gone.

I will confess that I feel a very real sadness. Those of you who know me will know what an important place it has been for me. Absolutely every person in my life has been there with me at some point, many of them have joined me as regulars. Those people have enriched the experience in a way that is beyond my power to explain.

However, as sad as I am to see The Yale close, another part of me thinks that it ultimately doesn’t matter, and that’s the real point that I want to make here. My friends are all still around, and our bonds of camaraderie run too deeply to be broken by the renovation of a bar. And Brickhouse doesn’t need The Yale; they’re way too good, and their fans are going to show up whenever and wherever the band feels like playing. Let’s not forget, the Yale is the venue, not the show.

So, as last call approaches, having wiled away the romances of my mid-twenties at The Yale Hotel, I’m reminded of Robbie’s classic line: “Stick around, have a cocktail, fall in love”. I’ve always believed that phrase had a certain poignancy. I don’t know about you, but personally, I’ve never given a damn if it was Monday morning outside; I’ve always been one to stick around for the last set.

Dawkin’s “Middle-World” Theory

Throughout all the long ages of human history, people have tried to make sense of the world, and their place in it. We call this particular intellectual pursuit “philosophy”; it is roughly defined as the contemplative reflection of existence, truth, nature and consciousness. Or at least, that’s my best stab at it.

There have been many philosophers throughout history. Indeed, every one of us a philosopher, regardless of whether we are published authors, famous historical figures, or average Joes. That’s because every one of us contemplates these issues, in his/her own way. 

I’d like to tell you about one particular philosophical theory, posited by a scientist named Richard Dawkins. Some of you may have heard his name; he has become quite famous (or infamous?). He is an evolutionary biologist, and a noted author. His book “The Selfish Gene”, published in 1976, was one of the first popular books to explain, in simple terms, how evolution occurs at a genetic level. His more recent book “The God Delusion”, a staunch polemic about the follies of monotheistic faith, has earned him the nickname “Darwin’s Rottweiler”. 

The theory that I’d like to tell you about is described in the last chapter of “The God Delusion”. Actually, Dawkins himself does not call it a ‘philosophical’ theory; it is actually a biological theory, but one that addresses questions of existence, truth, nature and consciousness. Ever since I read his theory, I’ve looked at the world a little differently, and I think it has enriched my own outlook on things. I’ll try my best to explain it. It’s called the “Middle World” theory.

Let’s start with a simple question. Why can’t you walk through walls? Physicists have proven that walls, and other solid things, are actually full of empty space. If you were able to get a powerful microscope that could see atoms, you would see that they are mostly empty – the nucleus being like “a fly in a baseball stadium”. All physical matter is like this – empty space. So why can’t we walk through walls?

In fact,  there is a simple answer. The atoms in your body never actually touch the atoms in the wall – the particles on both sides repel each other. Go ahead and try it – reach out and touch something. The matter in your body will not technically “touch” it – your hand is actually being repelled by trillions of charged particles. 

Of course, we don’t see the world in that way. To us, a wall is a wall, and it’s just solid. Simple as that.

Now, let’s do a little thought experiment. Let’s pretend there is a lifeform that is SO SMALL that it can fit between the particles in a wall. How do you think IT would see the wall. Would it be as solid? Well… no it probably wouldn’t. To that tiny lifeform, the wall would be no more solid than empty space is to us, right?

You might be wondering why a biologist would ask us to consider these questions. Well the question becomes more interesting when you look at it from an evolutionary perspective. Dawkins makes a simple proposition: our conceptualization of the world, as a matrix of thee-dimensional solid objects, is itself the result of evolution. Our mental construction of the world has been shaped, for billions of years, by natural selection. If you think that sounds outlandish, then consider something this:

Many species of birds see the world much differently than we do. Scientists discovered, only recently, that many birds have ultraviolet patterns on their feathers. Imagine holding a UV light up to a kestral, and seeing glowing patterns magically appear on its wings. Ornithologists have speculated that these patterns are used during courtship. The birds see them just fine – of course, we do not see them at all, without the help of special UV lights.

There is, of course, a logical reason why birds see UV and we do not: their environment must have favoured those individual birds whose eyesight bordered that range of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is likely that any bird able to pick up the UV traces in the urine trails of rodents, for example, would have an advantage in the wild, and would therefore be more likely to propagate his/her genes. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to see how sensitivity to UV could have evolved in birds. 

The implications of this are clear: animals do not evolve only PHYSICALLY. Their sensory world evolves as well. Dawkin’s simply asks us to consider how OUR sensory world may have been influenced by natural selection, and our changing environment.

The more I thought about this theory, the more it seemed obvious. As a child, I was confused when my teacher told me that bats were blind, and that they navigated by hearing alone. However, according to Dawkin’s theory, this makes perfect sense. The bats, by means of echo-location, have simply developed an alternative method by which to construct the world. Bats are not blind – they see with their ears, just as clearly as we see with our eyes. Some have even speculated that bats “hear” colour as arbitrary markers for different kinds of surfaces.

Dawkin’s philosophy, I hope, is becoming clear. Human beings live in a world that is, for the most part, an arbitrary mental construct. We are the “survival mechanisms” of our genes, and part of that survival, of course, entails constructing the world in a way that helps us to survive. We need to be able to distinguish between different categories of physical mutability, for example, so our brains construct concepts of “empty” and “solid”, even though air and rocks are both virtually empty. We cannot conceive the vastness of the cosmos, or the minuteness of the atom because our brains have evolved, in “middle world”, to construct distances and spatial relationships relative only to our order of magnitude. In short, we do not see ultraviolet because we never needed to. 

Ever since I read this theory, it has crossed my mind on an almost daily basis. It’s a funny thing, to look at a rock and KNOW that it is empty space, to KNOW that it is just an arbitrary mental construct. I find myself wondering, what does a rock look like to a bird? What does it sound like to a bat? I suppose Dawkin’s theory doesn’t solve any of the old philosophical riddles. Like any good scientific inquiry, it produces more questions than answers. 

If you found this at all interesting, I recommend reading any of Professor Dawkin’s books. 

A Note On Worship

There is an island in the Pacific ocean that is the most geographically isolated piece of land on planet Earth. The nearest island is over 2000 kilometers away. Around the time that Europe was being ruled by medieval monarchs, a handful of Polynesian sailors discovered the Island, and colonized it. The people called themselves the Rapanui.

They were completely isolated on their island – for centuries, they had no contact with any other culture. Stranded in the great emptiness of the pacific ocean, a microcosm of human civilization evolved independently of any other society of human beings. Their story is surely one of the most remarkable and mysterious in all of human history.

One can imagine that they must have believed their island to be the only land in existence. Perhaps they had legends of ancestors who came from across the ocean, but after generations of storytelling, any knowledge of the outside world must have seemed vague and mystical. For them, the ocean’s horizon was the edge of the Universe. So had it always been.

And just like every human society, they worshiped some sort of God. Interestingly, the Rapanui worshiped the frigate bird. Their reasoning was simple: the frigate caught its food from the ocean, and it didn’t nest on the island, so the Rapanui never saw the birds come down to land; they were always in the sky. It’s easy to see why the islanders believed the birds to be magical – of a higher order than the rest of nature.

The Rapanui also worshiped their chiefs, and erected gigantic statues in their honour. Archaeologists suspect that they cut down the old-growth trees in order to accomplish this. Eventually, they cut down every last tree on the island. One wonders what was going through the minds of the men who cut down the very last tree.

In the 18th century, when European explorers finally arrived on the island on Easter day (they named it “Easter Island”), they did not find a thriving civilization. The population had been ravaged by famine, and their oral culture suggested that their ancestors had resorted to warfare, and cannibalism.

Today, the huge stone heads remain – ominous tombstones of a lost civilization. The inhabitants of the island eventually forgot their meaning. Their God had forsaken them. And while the Rapanui’s civilization degenerated into chaos, war, and famine the frigate birds, ever circling in the skies above as they had for millions of years, looked down on the island and on the Rapanui with uncaring eyes.

On The Danger of Religious Faith

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to debate people. I actually find it a very fulfilling experience, for two reasons: I get to learn about other people’s views and attitudes, and I get a chance to show them mine. It’s a wonderful exchange, and I wish more people enjoyed doing it. 

I suppose two people could debate almost any topic. Politics is particularly popular. And I think that most people would agree that debating politics is not only fun, but it is very important. After all, the best way to raise our moral and ideological consciousness is to learn about alternative perspectives. In politics, as in anything else, there is an inherent danger in being “stuck in your ways.”

I’ve had many heated debates with people whose politics I disagree with. I find, however, that when we’ve made our points and agreed to disagree, neither debater feels personally offended, disrespected, or personally attacked. There is one topic, however, that seems to always have this result. That topic is, of course, religion.

I suppose it makes sense – when you debate a religious person, you’re not just challenging their opinion; you’re challenging their entire system of beliefs. Religious people are, by and large, raised to think in a certain way. As children, they are indoctrinated by religious authorities into perceiving the world as if it were designed by a supernatural being (himself, apparently without a designer). Children are also told that beleiving in this being will eventually grant them access to an eternal paradise, and that failure to believe will result in never ending torture. It is, therefore, easy to see why even some grown adults are reluctant to concede that they may have doubts about the existence of their particular god.

Religion has been with us since the dawn of civilization. Human beings are inquisitive by nature, and every human society has found a need to explain the unexplainable. Why do some people get sick while others do not? In ages past, this question would have puzzled the entire human race. So, as is our fashion, we invented stories to explain it. Our concept of “curses” and “plagues” were born out of this lack of knowledge; sickness was thought of as punishments from god or some other mystical creature. This would have appeared perfectly reasonable at the time, but only because people didn’t know about micro-organisms. It would be thousands of years before the microscopic world would become visible to us – before we would see the truth. 

It is interesting to me that people accept some truths, but not others. Today everyone accepts that micro-organisms cause sickness and disease, just as everyone accepts that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Science has been confounding the claims of mystical and religious teachers ever since the Age of Reason, and people seem to recognize that. One of the most elegant and brilliant scientific proposition of all time, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, even explained how complex life, which seems designed, can come about by processes inherent to the physical world.

And yet, there are a few people in the world who have been convinced by religious authorities that it is a lie – a colossal scientific conspiracy against god. I think it is sad that so many people alive today do not accept the theory of evolution. Those who deny evolution do so only because they do not understand evolution, for that is the only way one can deny it. Contrary to the claims of some dubious religious authorities, evolution is an observable reality, not a hypothesis. Here it is explained in full detail by eminent evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (if you actually do want to know how it works):

Despite the overwhelming proof that mankind evolved by natural selection, many people maintain their belief in the Bronze Age myth that humanity was conceived by one pair of individuals in a magic garden. This is an important point, because it is only by the inculcation of religious faith that a sane person could suspend their faculties of reason enough to believe in magic. 

If you think I’m being unfair and picking on a particular religion, I implore you to consider a religion called “Scientology”. It is considered to be a legitimate religion by several countries, including Australia and New Zealand. According to this faith, human beings are actually the trapped spirits of alien lifeforms from the other side of a super-galactic empire ruled by the evil Lord Xenu. Here is an artists depiction:

Most free-thinking people consider the Church of Scientology to be a ridiculous and downright dangerous cult. Of course most people would consider this a ridiculous proposition. However, it is no more ridiculous than the proposition that a woman was created from a man’s rib, or that the Earth was created by a rainbow serpent in the sky, or that people can come back to life by magic, right? All reasonably thinking people know that these things are false. Thus we are ALL atheists. The thing that distinguishes a religious person from a non-religious person is their belief in just one of these myths, and their insistence that theirs is the only “true” myth. It is not fair to say that the metaphysical claims of one religion are crazy, and the others are “normal.” They all make equally absurd claims.

And it is important to keep in mind that there ARE many religions, ranging the full history and geography of this planet, and not one of them makes claims compatible with any other. Consider the wise words of Britain’s most honoured man, the great naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough:

This brings me to the most important point about religion. Whenever debating religious people, their argument inevitably ends up postulating that “People get their morals from religion.” I would like to take on that statement. Using simple logic, let us examine the claim that people derive morality from religion. In my own words:

If morality comes from the Bible, that means that I, as an atheist person, CANNOT have those morals. Therefore, religious people have certain morals that I cannot have, and can perform moral acts that I cannot.

Ask yourself: is this the case? Of course the answer is “no.” I can do any moral act that a religious person can. Morality therefore MUST be more to do with human nature. Just as some atheists do bad things, so do religious people. So can both do good things. The connection between faith and morality is contrived and superficial – a last ditch attempt to associate religion with something positive. Furthermore, it does nothing to support the metaphysical claims of religion, does it?

As a matter of fact, I would turn the argument on its head; I believe that religious faith is inherently IMMORAL. The reason for that is very simple: religious faith, by definition, is a suspension of reason. Religious faith is therefore perfectly suited to justifying acts of evil. Throughout all of human history – all the torture, genocide, misogyny, human sacrifice, witch hunting, oppression, and war – the ‘rationale’ behind evil acts is invariably religious. And to say that this constitutes an “abuse” of religion is wrong; one need look no further than scripture for the justification of profound evils. Its right there in the text:

From Deuteronomy 20:

However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.
Completely destroy them – the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusite – as the LORD your God has commanded you.

If you think that I am being choosy about my biblical passages, I beg of you to answer the obvious question: why is there a passage clearly condoning murder, warfare and genocide in the Bible…. AT ALL!?!?

And there is no shortage of examples on this point. According to the Qur’an it is “morally wrong” to execute a virgin. So, fundamentalists do their Islamic duty before they kill her, by raping her first. There is only one way that a human being can be convinced that this kind of evil is actually moral – it must be condoned by the supernatural – there must be license from god. Period.

It’s interesting here to note what the word “fundamentalist” actually means. Technically, fundamentalists are those who follow scripture. Fundamentalists are those who actually believe what their texts say. Fundamentalists are those who carry out the commandments of their lord, and take holy writ as fact.

I can hear the counterargument already: “But these people are crazy. I’m a moderate religious person.” One wonders what point there is in being only “moderately” obliging to an immoral philosophy! One wonders what point there is in “picking and choosing” the warm and fuzzy bits from a text that openly condones murder, rape and genocide in other parts. One wonders where the fundamentalists would be without those of moderate faith – without the great ocean of credulity that lies in eager anticipation of the Apocalypse and the return of their Messiah. Did you know that there is an entire branch of theology called “eschatology” that is concerned only with the coming of the rapture, and the glorious end of days? For all the claims of “moderate” religion, faith ITSELF is what validates irrationality. It is unstable, and has incredible potential to explode. As usual, Christopher Hitchens says it best:

In summation: modern religion is a socially and culturally inhereted tradition of deceit. It systematically exploits the worst human attributes – our gullibility, fear, and hatred – under the false guises of forgivness, tolerance, and love. It organizes the credulous masses into divisive institutions and into the service of morally backwards agendas. It denies children the opportunity to know the beauty and intricacy of the natural world, and reduces all of the life on Earth into a cheap and tawdry magic trick. It succeeds in convincing innocent people that they are dirt, that they are slime, that they are filth, and that without their church and without their god they would be unforgivable sinners deserving eternal torture. It convinces young children that they are born imperfect, that they must seek salvation and redemption from crooked and perverted clergymen. Religion makes young children think that I am not one of them because I don’t believe in their particular supernatural being, and that I am already lost. THAT is profoundly dangerous, and if you can’t see why, then it’s probably because you are religious.

So if you must pray, then pray that Iran doesn’t get the bomb.

On Bullying, and the Inclination to Cheat

There are many families living in my apartment complex, and my balcony overlooks the concrete courtyard where children usually play. Some of them are a little older, around 14 or 15. There are two boys in particular that I often see hanging around. One of them lives in the suite next to me, the other across the courtyard.

These boys are quite different from each other. One of them is skinny, mild-mannered, and altogether harmless. The other is overweight, obnoxious, and aggressive – a quintessential bully. Over the past year I’ve occasionally watched them, and I find that these two boys have a very interesting relationship with one another.

As is often the case, the bigger kid dominates the skinny one. For example, the skinny kid has an iPod that the bully usually takes (we’re all familiar with the game “keep-away”). The skinny kid is obviously distraught, but he goes along with the idea that it is a ‘game’ anyway. In reality, he wants the object back, and the bully is merely withholding to assert that the fact that he can. The idea of it being a ‘game’ is a necessary social pretense for the enactment of what is in reality a blatant act of domination.

Interestingly, the bully will always return the iPod once the taunting is complete. This is because the bully does not want to alienate himself completely from his subject – quite the contrary. In fact, he needs the skinny kid. Without him, of course, he would have nobody to dominate. He can keep the skinny kid around  by satisfying the minimum requirements of friendship.

I don’t really understand why, but it seems as though the skinny kid needs the bully too. Maybe he is his only friend. Or maybe he likes being around someone who is tougher than him. Either way, I can confidently say that these two boys are, in a bizarre way, mutually dependent.

Here is another curious observation: whenever they play hide-and-seek, the bully cheats and lies while the skinny kid plays by the rules. From my balcony view, I have observed the bully hiding beyond the designated limits of the game (playing out of bounds), counting under the allotted duration when he is “it”, and peeking when he is supposed to have his eyes closed. The skinny kid, perhaps out of fear (or dare I say out of honesty), never cheats. When conflicts and disagreements arise in the game, as they inevitably do, they each react differently. The skinny kid tries to reach a consensus or a compromise, and the bully lies and reinvents the rules until he gets what he wants.

Such behaviour is common among young boys. I know this from experience, having been one myself. Now, I believe that such behaviour is intrinsically human, hardwired into our instincts. Why some boys are inclined to servility and others to domination, I’m not sure.

Yet for all his pitiful victories, the bully ultimately does not win. The propensity to cheat and lie may serve him well in games of hide and seek, but one day he will find himself with nobody to play with. Hopefully, this young boy will learn to treat his friends with respect before that happens, and hopefully the skinny kid will have the hardiness to forgive him.

And this is ultimately the choice we all face. Every temptation to tell untruths and cheat our way forward is a calling from our bully instincts. Sometimes we would all like to lie or cheat our way to where we would like to be, but such deceitful manoeuvres are often at the expense of others, sometimes even our best friends. And I’ve always said that the game is more fun, anyway, if you don’t peek.

Five More Things That Piss Me Off

I realize I haven’t ranted on this blog for a while. Well you know what, I’ve been saving a few things that piss me off. So let’s have at ‘er! Here are 5 things that piss me off!! YEEHAW!!

1) Gas Station Computer Terminals

Today you can go down to future shop and buy a cell phone with a full colour touch screen. It will play music, take pictures, receive calls, and do many other things. Yet for all the glorious advances in computer technology, it still takes 3 whole seconds for the computers at gas pumps to process the fact that you’ve pushed a fucking button. They still have that monochromatic palette that reminds one of the MS-DOS days. Even the beeps come late – by the time the beep comes, I’ve already pushed the next button! And NO I DON’T WANT A GODDAM CARWASH TODAY. IF I DID I WOULD ASK FOR ONE YOU BUTTHOLE!

It’s bad enough that I’m losing an arm and a leg to pay for gas, I shouldn’t have to lose my time and patience as well. So gas stations, get better computers with sweet colour screens. Or at least install Number Munchers or Oregon Trail onto those things so that I can have the full experience of using a shitty obsolete computer.

2) Creationism In School

Holy shit, why are we having this debate? Why are we even talking to these people? How did CREATIONISM become a political issue?! These people think that Jesus walked with the goddam dinosaurs! Was ancient Rome terrorized by lumbering T-Rex’s? Maybe the Egyptians got giant Sauropods to carry the bricks to the pyramids. Oh wait a second… the bones were PLANTED there… yes… planted there by Jesus just to FUCK with us…. OF COURSE! THANK YOU CREATIONISTS! IT ALL MAKES PERFECT SENSE NOW!

How did these crooks and liars get their fingers into the school system? Don’t get me wrong; if you wanna send your poor kids to some backwards institution of religious indoctrination and fill their heads with apocryphal lies and half-baked pseudo-science, then I won’t try and stop you. But ENOUGH with the assertion that it’s fair to teach “both sides of the argument”. THERE IS NO FUCKING ARGUMENT! An argument needs to actually SAY something, and there is not a single creationist out there that can explain life on Earth without falling back on laughable platitudes and blatant factual distortions. To all the naive religious youngsters out there, ask yourself: do I actually believe this bullshit? Just look into it A BIT. Please, for the sake of your own self-respect, open at least one legitimate science book in your lifetime.

C’mon guys. The Church obviously has to assert that evolution is wrong because if they accept it they admit their mythical tales never happened. And if their mythical tales never happened, they can’t skim your wages,  intervene in your sex life, or send you to war. They’re just trying to trick you!

And as Christopher Hitchens poignantly noted, if we teach both sides of the argument, that means you teach Darwin in sunday school too. How’s that you bastards?

3) Bosses Who Use The Word “Workshopping”

What the hell does that even mean? The last thing this world needs is another patronizing neologism. I don’t want to “workshop” my ideas you snivelling toad. Keep your bureaucratic doublespeak to yourself, and don’t insult my intelligence by using evasive language to hide the fact that you’re trying to micro-manage me. We all see through it, because we are the smart ones, not you. You can go back to your cubicle and develop your administrative tactics all you like, but unless you learn how to talk to people directly, you will never get the corner office.

4) Chicks Who Post Clubbing Pictures On Facebook Every Weekend

Okay. We get it. You’re really really cool. You’re super hot, and you party all the time. You’re the most awesome person I’ve ever met, and I want to hang out with you but I’m too scared to talk to you because you are so popular. And gee, look at how cool your guyfriends are. Look how snappily their do-rags match their flipped collars.

The pictures you took are really cool. Wow… 60 of them!? It must have been a wild night if you could have taken so many pictures. I see you took many on the dance floor. Only the really COOL people take pictures of themselves on the dance floor. I see you’re sticking your tounge between your fingers in many of these pictures. How clever! And very scandalous! Do you know anybody in Hollywood?

News flash babe: your photo albums go straight into the spank-banks of all the creepy guys you knew in high-school. The rest of us stopped looking a long time ago. Give it a rest.

5) Birds That Chirp At 3:30 AM

Dammit you assholes! It’s not morning yet! I’m just going to bed, and you’re already trumpeting the arrival of dawn? I’m pretty sure that sun ain’t over the horizon yet, so just chill out for a few more hours would ya?

There you have it. Take care everyone.

Change We Can Believe In? The Problem With “Mass” Society

For as long as there have been political leaders, there have been impassioned speeches promising social change. And for as long as such promises have been made, so too have they been broken. I believe we are right to be skeptical of politicians, for it is plainly clear that they are, by and large, incompetent and corrupt.

However, I do not think that blaming individual politicians will ever amount to any qualitative social change. Sure, it’s very easy to blame President Bush for mismanaging the war in Iraq, or damaging the environment, but surely it is not only his fault. Nor do I think that blaming any single political groupis productive; it is clear that Bush’s administration is not the sole cause of social injustice. Instead, we must look for problems within the entire system of social organization – we must get a handle on the totality of complex relations that comprise our society before we can begin to lay blame.

Let us consider North American society. How does it work as a ‘system’? Let’s forget about the agency of individuals for just a moment, and think about the structurality of our little experiment in liberal democracy. By what kind of structure is our society organized? I can think of two big ones: capitalism and democracy.

Capitalism is a set of economic principles that governs our lives in a number of ways. For example, under capitalism, people are entitled to the ownership of private property. One person can own a thing, and trade it with another person for an agreed-upon price. In it’s very essence, capitalism provides a simple and fair economic model. Democracy is, like capitalism, simple in its most basic form. It says that decision makers in society should be chosen by, and be responsible to, the people. That is why we have elections. Both democracy and capitalism are, in principle, fair and reasonable models for government and economy. Thus, North American society has fairness and equability built into its very organizational structure.

So then, why are things such a mess?

The blame, I would argue does not necessarily lay with politicians, CEOs, or other corrupt agents within the system. Rather, the problem is one of scale – our society is simply too big, and too complex.

Capitalism in Mass Society

As a system of trade, capitalism seems to work just fine. But, as a society grows in population, the economy becomes much more complex. A hundred years ago, for example, a farmer grew his crops, sold them at the farmers market at practical price, and kept the profits for himself. But over several generations of steady population growth, producers have gradually become centralized – administered through top-down organizational bureaucracies which apply rational scientific management techniques in order to maximize profitability. This is all in congruence with the logic of market capital, and a natural outcome of market competition. The ultimate realization of such centralizing tendencies is the conglomeration of businesses into what we now call corporations, the pinnacles of institutionalized capitalism.  

Corporations obviously get a lot of flak, and are often damned for having some inherently evil character. This is clearly not a fair criticism – corporations have no character. They are, by their very nature, dispassionate legal entities. The point is that, in the context of growing population and mass society, capitalism tends to produce institutions which incorporate, into their very ethos, a policy of unmitigated growth, and above all, the privatization of increasingly sparse natural resources. Herein lies the danger, and the connection to overpopulation. But what about democracy?

Democracy in Mass Society

Democracy demands transparent interaction between policy makers and the public. In mass society, this is increasingly impossible. Because there are more people being governed, there is need for more levels of representation. Representation is a simple idea; your congressman represents your vote, your will, your input. Ultimately, through a complex system of political representation, your vote eventually informs national policy. At least, this is how it ought to work.

In fact, the more levels of representation there are, the more room there is for distortion, corruption, and ultimately misrepresentation.

Invisible Connections

So far we have treated economy and government as separate fields. In fact, this is increasingly not the case. Take for example Kenneth Lay, former CEO of an energy company called Enron. He also served on a number of governmental bodies which regulated (or rather, de –regulated) energy. Thus, an agent withing the system acted on behalf of both government and economy. This is a dangerous overlap of capitalist and democratic principles. Was the deregulation of natural gas markets really in the best interest of the public? Or was it in the best interest of Enron? Perhaps a more salient question: was it simply in the best interest of Kenneth Lay?

That’s ultimately the point I want to make; mass society creates overlapping economic and political structures, and within this overlap, there are opportunities for all new levels of corruption – new avenues for greed. So next time you hear a politician preaching”change”, ask yourself how they plan on solving this problem of overlapping structurality. How can we keep the overarching logic of capitalism in check? How do we ensure that policy makers won’t be bribed into forfeiting what remains of our dwindling natural resources to the unstoppable machinery of capitalism? I’m not sure if there is a solution. I’m sorry for sounding bleak, but I think the reason for all of it is painfully simple – our society is too big.

The corruption and complicity of government officials with the pressures of corporate power is generally symptomatic of mass society. It will persist for as long as our society is regarded as a mass. All of the problems facing the world today are problems of human scale.