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A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

Rational Self-Defence

A Legacy

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) My regular readers probably know that I am, to all intents and purposes, a single father of a seven-year-old boy. As such, I spend virtually my entire waking life trying to make sure that my son has a safe and happy childhood. Under our unique circumstances, that proposition is even more challenging than it is for most parents. For one thing, I am 60 and JJ is 7; as well, I am fighting a 128cancer that keeps popping up in unexpected places; JJ also has a classic case of ADHD and is being assessed for placement on the autism spectrum; JJ is of a visible minority and as such is bully bait; our financial situation is precarious as a result of my having had to withdraw from the world of full employment for several years. and because of the over $250,000.00 I spent (mostly on bribes) to acquire the paperwork necessary to get him out of Indonesia and to confirm his status as my son. Nevertheless, my main concern every single day is that I am providing JJ with a good role model and a safe and happy life.

            All that having been said, I am starting to develop a counterintuitive hypothesis: that a happy childhood can have a negative impact on one’s adult life.

mental-health            Having offered that hypothesis, it’s only fair to state at the outset that I cannot claim to have had a particularly happy childhood. My mother was, for most of my childhood, an undiagnosed and untreated manic depressive, and my father, being a narcissist, was a  a control freak. I loved them both very much and acknowledge that they both heroically struggled with their mental illnesses, and that they did the very best they could as parents. I was their sole caregiver in their final years and watched them both succumb to Alzheimer’s; I was there when they each breathed their last. I learned during that stressful period just how tough their own lives had been. Nevertheless, my childhood was not exactly idyllic.

My soon-to-be ex-wife, Yolanda, on the other hand, had a very happy childhood. Her parents are extraordinarily kind people and devoted parents. She has two brothers and a sister who all love one another and consider each other to be their best friends. She was tropical-villagebrought up in a village in a tropical paradise where childhood activities included swimming in the Indian Ocean, a pristine beach being just a short walk from their home, playing in the clove and nutmeg orchards, coaxing monkeys to eat from their hands, and visiting extended family and neighbours who populated the village. Moreover, the Indonesian child rearing paradigm is extremely attentive to the desires and autonomy of children; their wishes and desires are taken into consideration in every decision that might have an impact on them.

But here’s the thing. Adults with memories of nothing but happy times and positive relationships when they were growing up seem to have no reason to question what they accepted as truth when they were children. For those people, lessons learned in lessonschildhood are eternal truths. What their parents did or said while bringing them up is rarely contested, as there is rarely a sense that they may have been less than perfect.

On the other hand, I have said many times, only half jokingly, that my surest guideline for parenting is to ask myself what my parents would have done in a similar situation, then do the exact opposite. Because, even from a very early age, I was aware that my parents were simply wrong about many things, I was never tempted to believe that simply because they asserted or believed something, it must be true. The result of that was that I was always sceptical when I was asked to accept something simply upon someone’s authority. I learned early on to look for evidence in support of claims. I learned to recognise that an expert’s opinion on a matter within his field is evidence but an uninformed and unsupported opinion is just that. I went so far as to major in and then to do graduate work in philosophy because it is founded upon critical thinking and rational analysis of propositions.

I contrast that with those people who had perfect childhoods and would never think of old-wives-talesrejecting their parents’ wisdom. Yolanda, for example, is convinced that the worst thing you can do if you have the flu or even a cold is to drink any cold or iced drink. Her parents taught her that and other Indonesian old wives’ tales as fact when she was a child. Why they did, or where that idea came from is a mystery to me, but it is unquestionably true to her. I often self-prescribe ice cold lemonade when I have a flu; my thinking is that I need liquids, the cold will keep my temperature down, and the vitamin C can’t hurt. Yolanda’s mum tells me that cold would be a shock to the afflicted throat. And that’s the end of it.

There are countless examples of other more or less harmless beliefs that Yolanda and her siblings accept unquestioningly; from their marvellously kind and decent parents, for instance, they learned that eating beer-and-duriandurian (my favourite fruit in the world) with beer is sure to kill you. Having consumed the two in great quantities on many occasions, I’m happy to report that it’s all bullshit. The problem is that some of the well-meant but utterly false notions that children pick up from their parents are not entirely harmless. And the inclination to accept those notions isn’t balanced by any inclination to apply critical thinking to them.

In Indonesia, everyone has a religion; 90% of the people are Muslims and the majority of the rest are Christians, Buddhists, or Hindus. If an Indonesian were to ask you what your religion is, answering that religious_map_of_indonesiayou have none would make no sense. It would be like telling them you have no name, or that you were not born anywhere; one’s religion is a defining characteristic of every person. Consequently, people from wonderful childhoods generally accept their parents’ religion completely uncritically. And that acceptance of the religious beliefs of good parents is not only an Indonesian phenomenon; most people here in the West who claim to have a religion, have the religion of their parents. And among those who share their parents’ religion and feel comfortable enough with it not to spend a lot of time agonising over their faith, my observation is that most will cop to having had great childhoods and to having great respect for their parents.

There are lots of things I would like my son to accept unquestioningly. I’d like him to believe, for one-raceexample, that violence is wrong, that being kind to others should be at the very foundation of his character, that there is only one race, the human race, and all members should be accorded the same respect, that knowledge, understanding, and curiosity are preferable to ignorance and intellectual complacency. However, most of all, I want him to learn to apply critical thinking skills to anything he is asked to accept as dogma.

It seems to me that the things I want him to weave into the fabric of his personality, the decency, kindness, and tolerance, are more attitudes than factual propositions; they can be modelled rather than taught. I therefore have the responsibility of living my life with those ideals in mind, and I must be in a position to articulate them without hypocrisy if their suitability as values ever needs to be discussed. But critical thinking can be taught.

conspiracy-theoristsI need to teach JJ to respect people even if he can’t accept their beliefs. He doesn’t need to respect erroneous claims of fact, but he has to understand that people have a right to be wrong. I also need to ensure that, if people try to proselytise some crackpot notion like young earth creationism, or a denial of anthropogenic climate change, or chemtrails, or Barrack Obama’s Kenyan citizenship, he has the critical skills to see through the bullshit. He needs to know that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, not just extraordinary conviction.

In short, I’m hoping that I can give JJ both a happy childhood and the intellectual ammunition even to dispute my claims when I am in error. And crucially, I want my son to have the intellectual firepower trump-fibscombined with the strength of character to survive in a post-truth world in the event that Donald Trump’s message of evil and hatred prevails this November. Since Donald Trump announced his intention of running for the presidency, truth, facts, reason, and human decency have been under assault; everyone is going to need the skills of intellectual self-defence. Being able to separate the truth from hyperbolic fact-free statements will be more important than it has ever been. I will not have the person I love the most in the world succumb to the coarsening and dumbing down that Trump spearheads.

ENDITEM…

Speaking What’s on His Mind

Political Correctness: Where it Comes From and Why it is So Despised

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Since the Trump ascendancy only started in earnest some six months ago, reliable statistics aren’t yet available, but I think simple observation will tell us that there has been a coarsening of rhetoric regarding race relations in North America and a corresponding increase in hate America greatcrimes and violence committed out of racially motivated hostility. The tone and content of Donald Trump’s campaign has been breathtakingly, unapologetically, hostile to pretty much any group that isn’t white, male, and poorly educated. Hell, let’s not be politically correct here. That last bit should read: “ignorant white trash rednecks”.

The list of groups at which Trump has hurled abuse, or has simply demeaned by his casual bigotry, is virtually endless but includes (without being restricted to) blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, women, the poor, the handicapped, immigrants, veterans, and the Chinese. The individuals who have made his contempt list is even more extensive and includes pretty hate speechmuch anyone who has not expressed full throated adulation. Politics has always been a punishing scramble for votes and for power; it has frequently been ruthless, and occasionally really down in-the-dirt vicious. But in modern American history, there has never been a less admirable or more contemptible political campaign, or candidate, or political base. Notable for its open bigotry, the Trump campaign manages to find ways to explore new frontiers in hatred in every 24-hour news cycle. Trump’s astonishingly in-your-face bellicosity has attracted so much media attention that the value of the coverage has been estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

Donald Trump’s devoted followers, when asked what on earth they see in such a human being, usually respond with some variation on the theme of: “He tells it like it is”. And Trump has frequently said things like, “I don’t have time for political correctness” or “Okay, I’m not going to be politically correct, here”. That disdain for political correctness has been one of the things that his followers love about him. And that disdain is effective because people from either side of the political spectrum have been somewhat contemptuous of the PC rules for a long time now.hate

So what exactly is political correctness and how did it become a meme and, recently, a political football?

At one time, say thirty of forty years ago, the phrase was used ironically as a short way of referring to speech or actions that were intended to express an adherence to what society generally accepted as appropriate and non-offensive. As the word “negro”, for instance, made some people uncomfortable, the word “black” came to replace it in respectful conversation; later still, “African American” became the preferred way of referring respectfully to those who had been called “coloured” and far more insulting epithets. To call someone a negro wasn’t like using the “N word”, but it came to be heard as carrying Trump mockingsome unpleasant baggage; it had become politically correct to use the preferred nomenclature. So at first, political correctness was just an effort to avoid hurting feelings and to remove hate speech and even casual bigotry from daily discourse.

Political correctness was a good thing. By adhering to political correctness, one could be fairly certain that one wouldn’t inadvertently use a word or phrase that would cause offense; the near universality of political correctness was eliminating hurtful speech from the media, from normal conversation; it caused people to consider the impact of their words on others. You don’t hear normal people calling women “broads”, or Italians “wops” in conversation or the media any more, and that is a good thing. The hope and expectation has been that as goes the language, so goes people’s thinking. If we were to eliminate the use of epithets entirely from the vocabulary through simple attrition, one could reasonably expect that new generations wouldn’t carry the sense of apartness and otherness from people with different religions, skin tones, or accents that those hurtful words emphasise.

Of course, in time, the pendulum swung and political correctness came to be a socially authoritarian bludgeon to use as a “gotcha” if anyone slipped and used a word that hadn’t been deemed acceptable. People were accused of political incorrectness if they addressed or referred to women as “ladies”, or if one said “Merry Christmas” in a situation of diversity of beliefs. Political correctness came to mean blind adherence to a dogmatic liberalism in speech and action; even liberals became annoyed trump racistwith political correctness pushed to an extreme. They don’t come any more liberal than Bill Maher, and he titled his talk show “Politically Incorrect” and set out to demonstrate the aptness of the name.

But now Donald Trump has seized upon a justification for his overt expressions of racism and other forms of unabashed bigotry. He simply blurts out whatever hateful, cruel stereotype pops into his vicious and disturbed mind and tells his people that he refuses to be politically correct. They eat it up, because, at this point in history, PC is virtually universally seen as needlessly confining. Trump has succeeded in this way to remove any inhibitions regarding hate speech and persuading his followers that their inherent hatred of minorities and “others” of all types can and should be expressed freely, even jubilantly, under the excuse of possessing sufficient integrity as not to be politically correct.

Already American society is regressing to a time when it was socially acceptable to call fellow citizens by racial or ethnic epithets that most people thought had undergone mass extinction. Casual bigotry has returned to everyday speech and to political discourse. Trump refers to Senator Elizabeth Warren who has some Native American ancestry as “Pocahontas”; when told by a Native American journalist that she found it offensive, Trump said: “Oh really? I’m sorry. Anyway, about Pocahontas….”

make america hate again  The Klan and other hate groups have begun to be more overtly outspoken than they have been in recent years; in their newly acceptable outspoken viciousness, they are testing the limits of society’s intolerance. When David Duke, a Trump supporter and former Klan leader was speaking at a rally, he repeatedly referred to President Obama as “Sambo”. Even Fox, a year ago, would have edited that; now Fox doesn’t even remark on it in their report. By claiming that they are simply courageously disdaining political correctness, bigots are implying that they are saying what everybody feels but are to cowardly to say out loud. They are well on their way to making racially and ethnically motivated hatred mainstream. And they have been given permission and their marching orders from the Republican candidate for the presidency of the Untied States of America.

Yes, Mr. Trump, let’s make America great again, shall we?

ENDITEM…

 

Exercises in Hypocrisy

True Colours

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) When the dust settles after the November presidential election in the United States, no matter who assumes the office, one significant and positive thing will have been accomplished.teaparty The Tea Party faction of the Republican Party will have been exposed for what they really are.

The Tea Party was formed in the wake of and in response to the election of the US’s first black president, Barack Obama. The Tea Party was ostensibly in favour of limited government, they wanted to reduce or even eliminate taxes, while at the same time eliminating the deficit, and reducing the debt. They also supported social legislation guided by the moral principles they found in the Christian bible, they were for prayer in schools and against Roe v. Wade, against sex education (except abstinence only as a birth control measure). At its peak, about 10% of the US public self-identified as belonging to the faction, virtually every single one of whom was an evangelical Christian. Although the Tea Party had little direct effect on the nation, their radical stance and refusal to compromise or        even negotiate persuaded enough Republicans that they were the only true conservatives to allow them to gain control of the GOP. Very quickly the Republicans found themselves in a race to the right, each elected legislator vying with the rest to see who could occupy the most extreme niche on the radical right hand side of the political spectrum.

bertrand-russell

By the end of Obama’s first term, the Republican Party had become an echo chamber in which only their own pollsters were listened to and in which dissenting voices were never heard. The GOP became a self-described “party of stupid”; their political stance being one of unadulterated obstructionism dedicated to denying Obama any victories by the simple expedient of refusing to do anything at all.

The party that had argued that the country needed smaller government had followed its own reductio ad absurdum: if less government is better, than surely no government is best. Their strategy for getting their point across was simple: declare repeatedly that government is inept and inefficient, unable to accomplish anything; then put a stick in the government’s spokes, grind it to a halt, and shut it down, then smugly point out that their thesis was correct.

But meanwhile, the evangelicals were doubling down on their religiosity; you couldn’t be a true conservative unless you wore your born-again credentials on your sleeve. Now the rhetoric that was coming from the far right was all about how the increasingly preposterous conservative stances taken by the Republicans were ordained by God and founded upon biblical principles. It became necessary for a true conservative to claim to believe more and more absurdities. One couldn’t even think about getting re-elected unless one believed in creationism, even young earth creationism. One had to insist that religious persecutionglobal warming was a hoax until it became patently obvious. Then they had to believe that climate change is not caused by human action. One had to hold that human life begins at the instant of conception. Prayer in schools and pretty much anywhere people gathered was a necessity, the First Amendment notwithstanding.

By halfway through Obama’s second term, evangelical Christianity was a prerequisite for any Republican to hold office. It was all about religion.

But here we are in 2016. Donald J Trump is about to be crowned the standard bearer for the GOP. He easily beat out Ted Cruz for the nomination and is collecting the last few holdouts of the Republican old guard into his orbit. Even Paul Ryan is preparing the way to cave and kiss Trump’s…ring. What’s curious about that is that Donald Trump is probably the least religious of all the contenders on the Republican side. Ted Cruz was very much like Trump except for two things. One, he was fractionally less extreme in his outspoken bigotry and bellicosity than Trump. And two, he was by far the most in-your-face, holier-than-thou religious fanatic who ever ran for the highest office. So what gives? Where was the Tea Part when their perfect candidate needed all the support he could get?

They were lining up behind Trump, that’s where. And the reason is simple: the religious justification and the biblical authority for their extreme positions on social and other issues has nothing to do with their politics. They’ll pay it lip service when it is expedient, but they’ll abandon it to get their way politically. The mean-spirited, fuck the hindmost, sharp elbowed positions they occupy are the real drivers behind their political views; the piousness they claim is protective colouration. What’s really important to these hypocrites is not their expectation of the end times and the rapture and all that Revelation nuttiness; their narrow-minded, anti-intellectual worship of ignorance, and indifference, even cruelty to their neighbours is their motivator. It is crystal clear that they are not motivated by the conservative JCteachings of the bible’s Jesus, who focused his ministry on the disenfranchised, the suspect minorities, and the marginalised. On the contrary, they wish to have laws that specifically allow persecution and discrimination against those very groups. Since the mid-sixties, civil rights have never been under assault like they are now from the god-botherers. They have a candidate who is as hate-filled and bigoted as they are, a candidate who has a gift for mirroring hatred and amplifying it. Who needs a bible when you have The Art of the Deal or Mein Kampf?

The fact that the Tea Party eschewed their perfect candidate for Trump indicates just how tenuous their religious convictions are in comparison to their commitment to social nastiness. That the Tea Party was founded on hypocrisy about the better functioning of government was evident in their repeated attempts to shut down their own government. Now their hypocrisy about religion has become manifest. The parasites have in all likelihood destroyed their host, The Party of Lincoln; if, after this debacle, the Tea Party becomes its own party while the GOP tries to rebuild, their true natures will have been exposed. The sad thing is, judging by the vein of hatred Donald Trump has tapped, they will find many supporters.

ENDITEM…

 

 

Not All Ideas are Created Equal

There are none so blind

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) A question that outspoken atheists are often asked is why MYOBwe are so concerned with religious matters: if we don’t believe in god, all well and good, but why engage in constant criticism of the belief systems of others? And frankly, that’s a reasonable question. I can’t, of course, speak for every vocal non-believer, but I would have to say that a large part of the answer is that it offends me to have absurdity thrust upon me and to be treated as though I am an aberration if I fail to join in lockstep with those who make ludicrous claims. Moreover, to have those nonsensical propositions treated as though they are the norm and self-evident statements of fact is particularly galling to anyone with the slightest experience in critical thinking. But when laws are being written that seek to enforce magical thinking on the people as a whole, that’s when all good men have to come to the aid of the party and voice their objections.

As we watch the United States try to pretend that what is masquerading as the run-up to a general election, some of us will occasionally take our eyes off the centre ring for a moment to take in a sideshow. The sideshow that is drawing a lot of attention in this election cycle is the religious right and its decision to choose this moment in history to push the legislative envelope on the state level and to enact a series of draconian and ridiculous discriminatory laws that are justified by their proponents’ Christian belief system.

Some Christians are upset because groups like the FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) are religious penisconstantly filing lawsuits in US courts over things like civic monuments depicting the biblical 10 Commandments or teachers leading prayers in public schools. How can any of those things harm us? What possible objection could reasonable people have? And why are we Christians being persecuted? The simple answers are these: 1) By tacitly suggesting that a list of rules of behaviour written by and for some nomadic, late stone age, Middle Eastern goat herders is relevant to our lives today & 2) Those rules are not acknowledged as valid by a significant portion of the population and many reject them outright as just, well, stupid & 3) Oh, please!

christians & lions

There actually was persecution at one time.

But it’s that last one that seems to have become part of the coordinated effort to reverse centuries of progress in the sciences and to undo the separation of church and state that was so central to the intent of the founding fathers of the United States. For everyone out there who had missed it, according to televangelists and some state governors, we are in a period of time where the persecution of Christians has returned with a malevolence not seen since the time of Nero and this time it’s taking place in the USA. And just look at the form that persecution takes!

According to some of the persecuted, not being allowed to require non-Christians to repeat Christian prayers publicly is discriminatory against Christians and therefore amounts to persecution. Persecution of poor, beleaguered Christians also includes their not being permitted to discriminate against groups of their choosing (they seem to like to choose members of the LGBT community but also choose atheists and agnostics and other groups as welLGBT persecutionl), since they have fervent religious beliefs that requires them to discriminate. That too, is apparently persecution.

These ludicrous claims actually manage to gain some traction, particularly in the southern states, perhaps because those legislatures can pull out and dust off a few of their old Jim Crow laws and rewrite them, substituting the word “gay” wherever it used to say ‘Negro”. However they come up with these genuinely discriminatory anti-discrimination bills, their philosophical justifications virtually always come down to some cherry-picked biblical injunction. |Oh, they’ll argue that these laws are urgently needed to protect children from perverts or some such nonsense, but when it’s pointed out that theirs is a solution without a problem, and when pressed even a little bit for some honest explanation, they’ll come back with a biblical quote.

And while this is going on some truly bizarre efforts are being made to persuade the persuadable that profoundly stupid notions need to be promulgated. Enter Ken Ham. Ham is young earth creationist and biblical literalist. While those credentials sound serious, the content of his claims is anything but. He preaches that the Earth is about 6000 years old and that it was created in 6 twenty-four hour days; he tells us that every word of the bible, New Testament and Old, is literally, factually true. To that end he built and operates “The Creation Museum” in Petersburg, Kentucky and founded “Answers in Genesis”, a Christian ministry that denies evolution and claims that all the science we need is contained right there in the first book of the Old Testament. Set to open on July 7 of this year is his latest exhibition at he museum: a life size replica of Noah’s Ark. Apparently it will be able to contain representative breeding pairs of every one of the 7 million plus species alive today as well as all the identified prehistoric species including dinosaurs – which Ham claims once co-existed with man on planet Earth just a few thousand years ago.Fred & Bill debate

That the foregoing is simply harmless eccentricity on the part of a man and a few isolated nutjobs is what we ought to expect; unfortunately, it is far, far more than that. You see, the museum itself is largely government subsidised and the construction of the 14-million-dollar Ark was completed with state and federal grants as “educational” endeavours. And to add insult to injury, Ham and his AiG are allowed to discriminate in their hiring practices. Applicants to work in the museum or its associated parking lot and gift shops must sign a form asserting that they believe in the young earth proposition and that they renounce any belief in evolution; atheists or anyone other than Ham’s brand of Christian need not apply.

What seems not to occur to those members of the cult of Christianity is that atheism, not evangelical or any kind of Christianity, is the default position. The evidence for that is simple; Christians require bible studies, Sunday school, worship services, and Ken Ham’s teachings to churn out cult members, atheists need none of that. Just leave people alone and they won’t become Christian; if they are given any real education at all they’ll become atheists.

So the question of why atheists are so preoccupied with religion is answered by the observation that religion seems to be preoccupied with replacing science with fantasy, empiricism with doctrine, observation with “revelation”. We don’t want our legislatures relying on their individual members’ “faiths” to make laws for all of us. We don’t want our children taught in schools that the outrageous and the ignorant are true and science is all wrong; hell, we don’t even want them to be taught that fairy tales and science are alternatives to be chosen between as equally likely to be true.

Make it so

Are atheists obsessed with religion? Perhaps. Obsessed to precisely the same degree that theists are obsessed with imposing their ridiculous and untestable assertions on those who don’t follow their brand of devotion.

ENDITEM…

A Discussion With Penn Jillette

Why I’m not a Libertarian

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) I’m a big fan of Penn and Teller. And I’m a particularly big fan of Penn (the one who talks. A lot) Jillette. He has spoken frequently and written at length about his atheistic worldview and about his version of libertarianism; one I often come near to embracing, but ultimately cannot.

CA-penn-jillette

Penn (if I may be bold enough to presume a first handle basis: if you read this, Mr. Jillette, please call me Pagun), is very persuasive and admirable in his explication of his brand of libertarianism. He explains, for example, his adoption of that position by describing how he and his parents once looked at a government subsidised art exhibit and had two distinct reactions to what was on display. Penn liked it very much but his parents saw it as blasphemous; he then realised how unfair it was that his parents had to contribute to the support of something with which they totally disagreed. That is a very reasonable reaction to governmental expenditures with which a taxpayer may disagree; who wouldn’t agree that something is amiss when one has to pay for something that directly contravenes one’s deeply held beliefs?

Who would disagree? Well, me, for one.

You see, libertarians of every stripe hold the view that we are better off with minimal government intrusion into our lives. And as a corollary to that, we would be better off if we reduced current levels of government participation, and especially oversight in our day-to-day lives. But as positive as this all sounds, I must respectfully disagree with Penn and other libertarians who come at it (as he puts it) through a hippie point of view.

The problem with eliminating government sponsorship of the arts, for example, is that without such sponsorship, the arts would sputter and ultimately fizzle out in the current zeitgeist. Removing government sponsorship and requiring that the arts be entirely self-financed would create a cultural milieu in which the most popular would be all that is available for even the most counterculture and avant-garde art aficionados. Allowing the radical democratisation of the arts would simply eliminate what is now cutting edge and what just might be a breakthrough in the way that Van Gogh’s work was. Much of art, including literature, was wildly unpopular at its time and didn’t sell worth a damn until long after the death of the artist. What would survive, of course, would be, almost by definition, the mediocre.

There would be no highbrow art at all. There would be nothing but the homogenised mainstream literature and if we are to judge by viewership figures, by far the most successful of the visual arts would be pornography. Now pornography is great, but I would love to see the government support arts that aren’t quite so popular and mainstream.

In times past there were patrons of the arts. There were the Medicis and the Borgias and thblack-velvet-painting-of-matador-bull-fighter-at-ki-huic-market-cancun-BF0Y19e Popes and Royal families of Europe, Tsars of Russia, and private wealth holders like the Rothschild family to ensure that their favourite artists were paid a living wage, freeing them up to create works that would only be recognised in the fullness of time. Without the aforementioned patrons, the work of Michelangelo, Raphael, and the rest of the Ninja Turtles would never have seen the light of day. Even Vincent Van Gogh couldn’t have created his miraculous body of work without the patronage of his brother and friends; he didn’t sell a single piece in his lifetime. But those days are gone; there are virtually no patrons left.

The only system left to patronise the arts is society’s contribution even to art that individual taxpayers don’t understand, aren’t fond of, or even actively despise. To cut off funding for those arts is condemn a country to artistic mediocrity in the name of some misunderstood notion of democracy.

While I too abhor government overreach, I also take the view that the majority isn’t always right and I subscribe to the views of the United States’ founding fathers in their fear of a “Tyranny of the Majority”. It is, in my view, crucial that there is room for the creation of art that might go against the grain, art whose merit my not be appreciated for another generation or more. I view with horror the possibility of a cultural milieu in which art that is immensely popular is our only option. I hope I’m not alone in wishing not to usher in a world in which pornography, toreadors on black velvet, and giant-eyed waifs clutching kittens are our only options. And if there is no public patronage for the arts, that’s what we’ll get.

ENDITEM……

Pass it on….

And I think to myself….
Pagun

We live in a shitty world because, by and large, we make it shitty; so shitty, in fact, that the Pagun Principle (The Pagun Principle: 90% of everything is crap) is probably wide-eyed optimistic naiveté. That’s reflected in the only aphorism to which I can claim original authorship; a companion piece to the Pagun Principle. Write this down: “A cynic is only what an idealist calls a realist”. That having been said, this realist would like to look at some of the things that fall into that scarce and endangered 10% excluded by the Principle.

As my more devoted readers will already know, I am currently fighting a recurrence of the cancer that we had hoped had been surgically eliminated last fall. After months of chemo, I have now started my course of 33 radiation treatments. These treatments are only available in Victoria, British Columbia’s capital city. That happens to be about 250 kilometres away at the southernmost end of Vancouver Island, about a three-hour drive if the traffic is good. There is a lodge in which I could stay for the entire six and a half weeks this treatment is expected to take but, because of my responsibilities as JJ’s primary caregiver, it isn’t an option for me.

So far, one will have undoubtedly noted, the Pagun Principle is holding up; the foregoing all falls into the crap category.

IMG_0075

JJ…One lady called him `The Spirit of Joy`.

So let’s look at the ten percent that’s left. I get an up-close and personal view of that every day; for all of the crap, the side effects…the pain, the weakness, the nausea, the exhaustion, the inability to work, the anxiety over failing to provide for my family, the depression, the declining overall health from enforced sedentary living, the uncertainty…for all of that, there are nevertheless some truly uplifting elements associated with this adventure I’m embarked upon. The medical infrastructure, despite the current government’s crusade to hamstring and undermine it, is at times breathtakingly compassionate, efficient, and patient-centred. And it’s more than simply our universal healthcare; it’s the non-governmental, grassroots input from the community that often astonishes a realist like me.

A typical day for me starts at about 5.30 am. I get up and make breakfast for me, Yolanda and JJ. Shower and then send Yolanda off to VIU for her last few classes, and then get JJ ready for the day`s jaunt to Victoria. Pack up his backpack with toys, snacks and books. Sometime after 6, the Wheels for Wellness van arrives to pick us up. Wheels for Wellness is charitable organisation that was formed for the specific purpose of IMG_0059providing transportation to and from medical appointments. The society uses volunteer drivers to pick up patients all over Vancouver Island and take them to Victoria for kidney dialysis, their ophthalmologists for injections for macular degeneration, or in my case, the most common appointment, cancer radiation treatments. There are no means tests, there are no questions asked; if one calls their hotline, arrangements are made and the van is dispatched. Most people require transportation for a weekly trip to stay in the Cancer Society`s lodge for Monday to Friday treatments and a trip home for the weekend; for others, it`s a one-time return trip for a single treatment; for some, like me and the dialysis patients, it`s a daily round trip. Although envelopes are provided for donations, the service is free and no requests are ever made. The volunteer drivers are retirees from all walks of life who donate their time, their compassion, and their patience for absolutely no financial compensation. Without exception, the drivers are kind, decent, friendly, and self-effacing; they make the patients feel as though they are special and very welcome guests.

The road trip from up-island to Victoria is pleasant, even (or perhaps especially) with five or six people with serious illnesses. The people in the van are as wildly eclectic a mix as are the drivers although, just as the drivers all have their kindness in common, the passengers all share the fact of their ill health. Nevertheless, contrary to my expectations, the conversation very rarely centres on cancer or the other diseases for which the patients are being treated.

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A quick game of Simon Says before I get nuked

The BC Cancer Centre itself ought to be a model for similar places everywhere. It is bright, sunny and peaceful. It is, oddly enough, a cheerful place with conversation pits scattered throughout the building and volunteers everywhere; some carrying out specific tasks and others seemingly unassigned and simply stopping by to offer to fetch, carry, provide a magazine, or just chat. Some volunteers push tea and coffee trolleys around and give out hot drinks and offer candies from a bowl. Others are walking around with volunteer therapeutic dogs; their function is simply to bring the dogs to patients and permit some canine-human interaction. JJ has his particular favourite – Bosun, a very gentle Golden Lab.
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The radiation technicians are, without exception, kind, friendly and sensitive to the patients. They ensure that nobody has to wait more than a few minutes for their treatments and provide full information as to what is happening and what to expect. Their sensitivity and kindness is demonstrated every day by their treatment of JJ. They are all charmed rather than annoyed by a very energetic five-year-old who has just spent more than three hours confined in a car. They bring him into the treatment room and let him watch from behind the radiation screen; they even let him operate the controls that align the bed and the nuclear radiation apparatus; when I`m done and getting up, there are high fives all around and one of the technicians has developed a habit of giving him a sticker each day.

The one thing regarding all of these extraordinary people – volunteers and employees alike – that really stands out in my mind is how happy they all are. Far from being withdrawn, sullen, or depressed as the result of working in an environment that exists for the specific purpose of treating people with an often fatal disease for which we have treatments but still haven`t a real cure, they will candidly acknowledge that they derive as great rewards from their efforts as do the patients. The Cancer Centre is the most cheerful place I know.

So, in this attempt to make life just a little less shitty, it seems to me that we might have tripped over a piece of the puzzle. Just watching the genuine joy that exudes from pretty much everyone at the Cancer Centre makes it evident that there is a tangible correlation between doing acts of kindness for others and personal contentment. Of course correlation isn`t necessarily causation; I`m perfectly willing to concede that performing acts of kindness doesn`t necessarily make that person happy; it could be that happy people are more inclined to act kindly. We could be committing the fallacy of confusing cause and effect.

There is, however, a way to find out.Be kind by Plato

Of course it would be unrealistic to suggest that everyone ought to dedicate as many hours and as much compassion as displayed by the many volunteers I encounter every day. Nevertheless, I can offer this suggestion: run a little experiment. Random acts of kindness. Try consciously to seek out opportunities to perform small acts of generosity for one day. Wave someone ahead of you in traffic. Smile at a stranger. Help someone with their groceries. Then try it for a week. What the hell. Make it a way of life.

At the very least others will be a little happier; and there`s nothing wrong with that.

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This Mortal Coil

Life’s a bitch. And then you die.
Pagun

As I sweat out the last few weeks of my chemotherapy and anticipate, with something less than unbridled enthusiasm, my two months of daily radiation treatments which follow, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about life and some of the philosophical questions that have been mulled over since mankind first came down from the trees and walked on two legs. Or, as Douglas Adams so succinctly put it, Life, the Universe, and Everything.

For the overwhelming majority of people alive today, life sucks. Despite Thomas Thomas_Hobbes_(portrait)Hobbes’ rather sunny view of man’s condition after he has invented “civilisation”, most people still endure lives that are solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and all too short. Billions of our fellow passengers on spaceship Earth will go to bed tonight without the certainty of a meal tomorrow. For countless others, clean water is only a pipe dream. In the “developed” world, the gap between the rich and the poor has become a chasm; there is an enormous underclass that holds little or no hope that the next generation will rise above the cycle of poverty in which they are being brought up.

Those members of the underclass who are fortunate enough to be employed are often all too employed; many work two or even three soul-destroying jobs and are still below the poverty line. And to add insult to injury, the prevailing views of the overclass include the mantra that those who access an utterly inadequate social safety net are parasites and choose their miserable lot in life out of laziness. Until fairly recently that viewpoint was, by and large, an unspoken prejudice. However, the last US presidential election legitimised that contemptible meme. mittromney_47When one party’s presidential candidate has his fellow citizens divided into “makers and takers” and opines that the latter are a lost cause, ignorance and hatred have gone mainstream.

The close examination of a snapshot of the condition of humanity today would reveal a pretty bleak existence for most humans, and a life of relative opulence for a minority. Meanwhile, that privileged minority complains constantly about the fact that a miniscule portion of their enormous wealth goes to attempt to alleviate some of the suffering of their neighbours. None of this is to suggest, however, that the equitable distribution of the necessities of life in the world is in worse shape now than previously; on the contrary; in earlier times the lines were even more clearly drawn and the suffering was virtually universal except for a tiny class of aristocrats.

Life, for the average human being on this planet, as noted above, sucks.

“There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide” acamusasserts Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus . Of course Shakespeare had anticipated Camus by over three centuries and put that philosophical quandary into sharp relief when articulated by his depressed Dane: “To be or not to be; that is the question”. Not a question, but the question. And frequently, not to be is the answer for those unable to suffer any further slings and arrows of their outrageous fortunes.

So what is wrong with us as a species? We’re pretty smart guys and girls, aren’t we? We know, at least in shakespearetheory, that happiness is attainable; we have occasionally seen people who are genuinely happy. And even after you discount the profoundly deranged majority of happy people, there are probably still a few people who are both happy and rational. We even know what it takes to help people become, if not happy, at least not among that “mass of men (who) lead lives of quiet desperation”. Thoreau, from whom that quote is taken, found his way; he opted out and went to live on Walden Pond where he enjoyed life without any human company.

Of course, even Thoreau opted back in. Idyllic though his solitary life might have been, he eventually reintroduced himself to that mass of the quietly Henry David Thoreau; Artist unknown; No datedesperate and, presumably, joined the club. What seems to be the greatest contributor to the misery of human beings is other human beings. And yet social psychologists will tell you that human beings will melt down if deprived of the company of others of our species. In a maximum security prison, where one will encounter a selection of the most virulently anti-social misfits our society can produce, the most effective disciplinary measure is universally acknowledged to be solitary confinement; the deprivation of human contact.

Let’s face it; we have to live among other human beings. We can reduce our societal intercourse but we can’t eliminate it. That means we have to live with our tormentors and they have to live with us tormenting them. The question then (after we have decided that the answer to Hamlet’s question is “to be”) is how reasonably to minimise the mutual torment that we have voluntarily chosen to inflict and to endure.

The real mystery is how, after millennia of civilisation, a species that congratulates itself on its intelligence can have failed so resoundingly to have devised a simple solution to man’s cruelty to his fellows. The notion that we ought to look to the animal kingdom for answers is a non-starter. It’s a jungle out there. Dolphins ostracise pod-mates who have a deformity. Chimpanzees, our cousins who share 98% or more of our genes, practice wars of aggression, infanticide, and cannibalism. Lions will eat the young of a female they wish to mate. But we’re smart, right?

Those critters operate on genetic pre-programming and simple survival skills. We, on the other hand, are smart. We know that happiness is attainable. We know what can make us happy. And yet we continue to behave in ways which are certain to bring more misery and wretchedness to the world in which we must live.

The human race has a remarkable penchant for self-inflicted injury. But recognising our inclination to self-immolation is a necessary first step in our quest for some degree of happiness and serenity in our lives. So, for now, let us simply recognise that we are the source of our own unhappiness.

Let’s explore some possible ways to make ourselves less quietly desperate in further posts.

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Meditating

The prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully. (Samuel Johnson).

PAGUN

Content Warning

VANCOUVER ISLAND CANADA – All the indications are that my cancer surgery wasn’t successful. In the first place, there was more of it: the tumour wasn’t confined to the prostate itself; the seminal vesicles which (used to) be behind it were cancerous as well, as was some of the surrounding tissue. My doctor, who is young –almost Doogie Howser young – except VERY highly thought of and extremely good, and far better looking, did what he could. He took everything out that might be compromised or even at threat.

In a perfect world that would have resulted in my next PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) blood test showing a value of zero as there ought to be nothing the produce that particular antigen.thinker

Three months after the surgery (and 2 months after the sacred day of my catheter removal) such, unfortunately was not to be to the case. My blood test showed a PSA level of .15 Two days later it was at .16. Worrisome, but .2 is considered a definitive diagnosis of recurrence.

One month later my PSA tested out at .31

Cancer. Or as the sanitary language of medical euphemisms would have it….BCR. Biochemical Recurrence.

So if I’m going to have any chance of living long enough to see my wife graduate from culinary school (where she is at the top of her class) or my four year-old graduate from elementary school, I’ve got to figure out some way that I can undergo a minimum of six weeks of radiotherapy in another city. And then survive the chemotherapy I might have to do for the rest of my earthly days. Thank goodness for the focus that immanent death brings or the logistics would be impossible to manage.

But as the logistics of treatment have to be among the least interesting subjects I could imagine…this post will be more of a meditation on life and death.

It probably doesn’t mean very much to most people, but the very fact that you were even born is probably the most astonishing coincidence you are even capable of imagining. Here’s what I mean.

Your dadLet’s face it. Your Dad whacked off. If he’s around to own up to it, he might even admit that he did it a lot. But the fact that your father was around to whack off during the last few decades of all the decades of human occupation of this planet by beings with the human genome is flat out amazing. Now his whacking off isn’t amazing; it’s anything but. But think for a moment how many spermatozoa that particular male in that particular generation wasted; on his palm, the ceiling, sheets, socks, watermelons, or beloved pets. Trillions would Human_semen_in_handsbe a conservative estimate. YOU could have been any one of those. But you weren’t…you were the lucky one. And it gets even more unlikely that you won the sweepstakes. Somehow he met your mother…the possessor of the rest of the genetic material that will ultimately define you.

Then came all the social miracles that led to them having sex in a manner that permitted conception; whether it was rape, consensual, a prophylactic failure or anything beyond wishful thinking, somehow millions and millions of spermatozoa found themselves in your mother’s vagina heading for that month’s egg in a greatly expanded but microscopic scene from It’s a Mad. itsamadworld-completeMad, Mad, Mad World. And one of those obsessed fortune hunters, Phil Silvers or Mickey Rooney perhaps; maybe Buddy Hackett, got there first and breached the citadel, slamming the door after him.

And then came nine months of sheer luck. Most pregnancies are not even noticed and end spontaneously, many are aborted or end in miscarriage; yours was one of the unimaginably unlikely few that ended in a birth. You defied all the odds and made it to that wretched state we call “life”.

Like ‘em or loath ‘em, you’ve got to look in awe at your fellow humans (and yourself) with something akin to awe just for being here. They can be stupid, venal, brutal, tiresome, or mohandas_gandhivicsecretthey can be Albert Schweitzer rolled up in Ghandi and Einstein with the sexual appeal of a collage of Victoria Secret models crossbred with Rita Hayworth, and their individual characteristics would be only microscopically more amazing than the simple fact of their sheer existence. That’s life.

And then there’s death.

death

That, we don’t know shit about; except that in a few unsubstantiated cases, once the threshold’s been crossed, there ain’t no comin’ back. Hamlet was wrong in the first part of his big soliloquy: “To be or not to be?” Really short term thinking, for the Great Dane. NOT to be is where we’ll all end up. He had it right, though, when later he referred to “The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn no traveller returns”. And we are all travellers with a one way ticket to that bourn.

twain censorship

THIS IMAGE WAS SPECIFICALLY CHOSEN FOR ALL OF YOU WHO GOT UPSET AT THE PICTURE OF MY DICK

Mark Twain occasionally spoke of death. (There was very little he didn’t occasionally speak of. More than writing, that’s what he did for a living.) Although his correction of mistaken news reports of his death (actually, it was his brother who was very ill, but alive in London at the time) he is often misquoted. What he actually wrote: ‘The report of my death was an exaggeration’ was every bit as witty. He was somewhat more philosophical but no less witty when he also said “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

Twain was making an implicitly atheistic observation. The one quip dismissed the nonsense of the promised Christian afterlife, either the glory and eternal boredom of sitting at the right hand of god, the greatest underachiever and mass murderer the universe has ever spawned, or the sick theories concerning the conditions of eternal damnation. And speaking as one who can’t lower (despite years of trying) his intellectual standards to accept one jot, let alone a tittle, of the religious dogma force-fed to him by a succession of nuns, priests, and other bullies, anything resembling an afterlife holds no fear whatsoever…for much the same reason as expressed by Mark Twain.

That, of course says nothing about the other religions and their versions of the afterlife; but that means nothing either. Not one of their “theories” has the slightest evidence to support its contentions and there is no reason whatsoever for accepting their bald statements as anything more than delusion and wishful thinking. No, the truth is, the truth has to be that death is exactly like the other billions upon billions of years we spent NOT being alive. Oblivion. Nada. Niente. Rien. Kosong. And that is not to be feared.

For me, death, especially if it comes soon, is to be regretted. I have a four your old boy I love to distraction, and oblivion will rob me of the opportunity to see him grow; to graduate from school; to have his first girl or boyfriend; to marry and have a family and be successful. Moreover it will rob him of a father; a father’s support and guidance and love. I won’t be aware of this while its happening, of course, but as I shuffle off this mortal coil, you can be sure that it is those thoughts that will be the source of any tears I shed.

But before I leave this meditation having definitively concluded that oblivion, blessed nothingness, is the inevitable end of life, I should point out where my doubts lie. I have had a classic “near death experience”.

On a canoe trip, when I was about fourteen years old, I was turned over and caught in some rather treacherous rapids. Being a strong swimmer, I was at no time afraid. I even recall enjoying the underwater ride, looking through the surface and at the dim and filtered sunlight above as I followed the river at breakneck speed. Eventually I felt myself in need of a breath and calmly turned and swam steadily toward the surface. A little surprised, but not frightened to find that my efforts to climb to the surface produced absolutely no upward progression, I redoubled my efforts. Still nothing. I recall making one effort after another and continuing to find myself pulled inexorably downstream, several feet below the river’s surface. Oddly, I felt no fear at any time. Nevertheless, there came a definitive moment. I realised all at once that I was not going to survive. I knew, I knew with certainty that reaching the surface and life was no longer possible. With a more profound conviction than normal life is capable of providing, I knew and accepted that my life as I knew it was over. And I was right.

It was at the moment of acceptance of what appeared to be inevitable, that life as I knew it ended and I began my short-lived journey into another realm. I experienced all the characteristics of a near death experience; I left my body and could see my former shell sweeping downstream, I began to dissociate from common reality; I felt my second or astral body hurtling upwards; I saw the intense light and was just about to enter it. But this is the important aspect: it was the most joyful, peaceful, total happiness I can even imagine. The bliss included an absolute sense of certainty and anticipation of what was to come and that what was to come was good, positive beyond any possibility of description. Thus when my (physical) feet hit a rock and I stood up and inhaled earth’s atmosphere my first reaction was: “SHIT!” For several moments I experienced a wrenching, profound sense of unbearable loss. Friends tell me they held me up but had the sense that I was actually trying to dive back into the river. Then the fear hit. I realised how close I had come to dying and suffered the usual shock; in a few hours I was back to normal. But that other realm never left me…it’s still there and it’s always with me.light

I have experienced that precise sense of otherworldliness, certainty, joy, and anticipation at other times at a somewhat more diluted level; this has almost always been under the influence of hallucinogens. Part of me insists that there’s something to this, and that there is a realm beyond this one, and that realm is characterised by spiritual beauty and joy.

BUT

That is anecdotal evidence. Others have experienced it and described it similarly. Still anecdotal. I have unquestionably experienced it and I can testify to it. Still anecdotal.

So let me leave this meditation at this….I will die. So will you. But I see my inevitable death as a rest, a dreamless sleep in which nothing happens. It is not specifically a good thing unless it relieves suffering. But it cannot be described as bad for the person who is dead.

On the other hand, there is the off chance that the anecdotal evidence is accurate (and I lean toward my anecdotal experience rather than that of others, only because I trust my memory of the experience more than other’s memories and then their descriptions). In which case: JACKPOT! Off chance, but who knows? Either way….no harm.

But before I go, let me offer the following: If there is such a thing as infinity, and we can expect to confront infinity when we die, let us remember that a working definition of infinity is “that amount of time during which everything that can possibly happen will happen”.

That means that in what will seem like the blink of an eye, you will be born as Casanova, Cleopatra, Marilyn Monroe, or Mick Jagger. It’s just a question of a near infinite number of atoms randomly achieving that configuration. And in an infinite span of time that’s inevitably going to happen. With my luck I’ll be born as Stuart Sutcliffe.

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This is civilisation….not a corporate board

A society is judged b y how it treats its members….not its deficit
Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND CANADA – The following can be taken as a large, thought-out and extended FUCK YOU to those of a conservative bent who insist that government is fuck youintrinsically wrong. You already know that I and most thoughtful people think you’re ignorant, narrow minded, unthinking and, frankly hypocritical, if you’re not hopelessly stupid. Government is what separates us from a state of nature; and before you start romanticising that condition, remember, were not talking about some Arcadian or even some well-articulated but equally mythical Jean Jacques Rousseau masturbatory fantasy, but rather about that very real condition that would exist without the institution of government; that condition of human beings so clearly expressed by Thomas Hobbes some four hundred and fifty years ago: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

We need government. Government is civilisation. So let’s stop the bullshit and stop arguing with the moronic Ted Cruz, Grover Norquist, and Fred Flintstone and their ilk about whether government ought to exist and discuss a real issue: the form that government should take.fuck-you

For the purposes of this FUCK YOU, I’m not even going to go into the macro detail: republic or parliament? Dictatorship or monarchy? Instead I’m going straight to the kind of issue that makes the less intelligent question the need for government at all: the efficacy with which its necessary services are delivered.

A case in point is the Canadian model; or in this case, specifically the British Columbian provincial government model. It ain’t great, but it is unquestionably better than most despite the tireless attempts of the elected people and the permanent employees to undermine it and make it less representative of and responsive to the people, the fact is that it at least pays lip service to its function of serving the needs of the citizens.

We do have a social safety net and it even works after a fashion. And contrary to those who have it made, the social safety net is the primary purpose for the existence of government. In its simplest explanation, the purpose of government is to harness the purchasing power of the total number of citizens to provide for all with an efficiency that can’t be matched by all individuals.

That’s it. Whether it’s building a bridge or providing medical care, civilised people have decided to pool their resources and ensure that all their neighbours enjoy the benefits of civilisation.

So if you are among those imbeciles who somehow has ferreted away enough money to cover your immediate and likely future needs and therefore sees anyone who actually still has needs that exceed yours as “takers” or parasites…..FUCK YOU. The rest of us are better than that. We’re better than YOU.

Where government fails is in the tricky little details of the provision of those services…..not in whether they ought to be provided at all. Of FUCKING COURSE THEY SHOULD! That is the very function of civilisation.

Are there ways to improve the fairness of the distribution of society’s goods and services? Certainly! The first thing that comes to mind is to eliminate redundancy and that can be accomplished to some extent by making efforts to ensure that departments share information. Do we eliminate compassion and caring programmes completely? To save money?

jesus-says-fuck-you-

 

I have cancer. Life threatening and possibly fatal cancer. As a result, I am entitled to a raft of government benefits. But a cynical person might make the assumption that those benefits are managed in such a way as to make them difficult to obtain. Just as an example, because I have been unable to work for months due to my condition, I am entitled to stay at no cost in a residential lodge in Victoria while I undergo six weeks of radiation treatment. Before I can do that, I have to show that I have been drawing employment insurance or show my termination papers from my employer that I ought to have received when I was no longer able to work.

As writer, I have no employer, hence no termination papers. And since I lived on my savings, I never drew employment insurance; it seems that because I chose not to access one of my benefits (employment insurance) I may not be able to access another (lodging during treatment). As I am disabled at the moment, my son’s preschool is subsidised; a letter from my doctor certifying my inability to work was apparently sufficient to access some of my benefits but the same criteria for one benefit seem to be insufficient for me to access another benefit that is required for the same reason and as a result of the same cause. For each of the benefits to which I am entitled. I am required to jump through a different set of hoops to demonstrate my eligibility; a redundant exercise, since the disability is the same, the requirements are the same, and the information each department collects is the same.

Minor griping, of course, since the benefits are there, they are real, and they are generous in this society’s compassion. They are simply in need of some radical administrative revamping. Occasionally, though, during the labyrinthine exercise in acquiring those benefits upon which one has always known they can rely and for which one has paid taxes their entire lives, one encounters a Cro-Magnon asshole who makes it clear that in his or her view we need to cut these programmes as they encourage people to rely upon them rather than being self-reliant. It almost makes one want to wish a fatal disease on that person; at the very least it encourages one to kick that insensitive schmuck in the genitals.Give a fuck These people are rarely civil servants; there are some, of course, who resent those citizens whom they are paid to serve, but by and large that attitude is encountered in letters to the editor, Internet news forum commentators, conservative voters, right wing politicians, and cops. Police officers, although civil servants and paid by the public tend to see themselves as a superior life form and generally despise those whom they are paid to protect and serve. Go figure.

Despite the difficulty in accessing some of the services available to Canadian citizens, I’m constantly being surprised at some of the benefits available. We are indeed a society of compassionate and caring people. As long as one doesn’t make the mistake (as I have) that the brain damaged hate-ridden simpletons who spend their time commenting on Yahoo News stories are representative of the average Canadian, one can’t help but be aware of the decency and generosity of Canadians.

We have to fight for it; we can’t let the reactionaries force us to backslide from our progressive lifestyle; we need to ensure that the programmes remain viable and effective. It will be a struggle against the forces of backwardness and greed; it will require constant tinkering and improvement, but the notion and the reality that Canada is a country that cares about people is a precious commodity, and one well worth struggling for.

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Evangelism, not debate: my mistake

house on religionReligious debate
Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – Having recently been involved in a number of debates and having given several seminars on the topic of critical thinking – debates and seminars which inevitably drifted toward religious questions – I am now beginning to rethink some of my previously held positions. Oh, don’t worry, I haven’t been persuaded of the existence of an imaginary superfriend or anything like that; I heard nothing new, persuasive, or even any arguments worth much more than a few moment’s consideration. It’s just that I am rethinking my views with respect to those who actually find the arguments or exhortations for the existence of a particular god to be persuasive.

I have always approached discussions of religion (or virtually anything else, for that matter) from the perspective that the subject is only worth discussing if both sides are open to the possibility of being persuaded by the reasoning or rhetoric of the other. I don’t mean that neither side ought to have firm views or strongly held positions; on the contrary, such logic 4discussions are only interesting if people are motivated to provide a robust defense of their views and to advance their position vigorously. That, however, is not the same as knowing beyond any possibility of error that one is one hundred percent right and there doesn’t even exist the slightest possibility of being mistaken. That degree of certainty is reserved for the religious and for giving first year lectures to classes of a hundred or more students. But to engage in open discussion with that mindset is intellectual fraud, unless it’s disclosed at the outset.

logic 1

What if our religious leaders told the truth?

Intellectual fraud is a salient characteristic of virtually all discussions with the religiously inclined. The very fact that the unpersuadable are willing, even anxious to engage in discussions of the validity of their beliefs is hypocritical to begin with. Lecture us on their beliefs? Sure. If they can find an audience outside of the captive one in front of the pulpit. But to engage in a pretend-rational exchange of ideas, when they take pride in not being capable of accepting a differing view? That is clearly dishonest.

Examples of that sort of dishonesty are legion in what passes for religious discussion today. Take the question of scientific proof for any of the assertions commonly made by theists. The devout leap on any report of a new observation that questions previously accepted scientific consensus. “See?” they gleefully cry. “Proof that science doesn’t know what it’s talking about!” This display of a clear misunderstanding of science and the scientific epistemology is not necessarily dishonest; it may be merely ignorant. What is certainly dishonest is when they leap with equal enthusiasm on any scientific observation that they can interpret as supporting in any way some fragment of their doctrine.

Remember the Shroud of Turin debates from a decade and more ago? For true believers in the logic 3authenticity of the shroud as the burial cloth of the biblical Jesus, the reports that pollen from plants indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean ca. 2000 years ago were seized upon and trumpeted as validation of that which they already believed. But when Carbon 14 tests were permitted by the Vatican and they demonstrated that the organic material in the shroud was alive at some time in the early Renaissance, suddenly science was not to be trusted and science was once again an inappropriate tool to use to investigate religious claims.

Another example of the characteristic dishonesty of religious apologists is seen in the linguistic sophistry commonly employed. This isn`t just ignorance either; this is dishonesty. Take the deliberate misuse of the word “theory” as one of the most pervasive and deceptive techniques used by the devout. That is especially evident in discussions of their pet peeve, the scientific theory of evolution. Evolution, they say, being only a theory, should be taught alongside other theories like creationism or its uptown cousin, “intelligent design”.

This is the logical fallacy of false equivalence. The truth (if the devout were to be interested in truth as opposed to “Truth”) is that evolution is a scientific theory because it meets the criteria required to describe it as such; the notion of creationism doesn’t.

Evolution is experimentally verifiable. It is logically possible to disprove it. It has survived science-religioncountless challenges. It is consistent with laws of science as currently understood. It rises to the level of theory. It is a theory like gravity is. Not one of those things can be said of creationism. It is not a theory under any scientific definition of the term. There is no equivalence despite the vocal assertions of science deniers. And that fact exposes yet another layer of the deceit that is at the centre of religious apologetics: theists like to employ scientific “proofs” and scientific language, and claim that their unfounded assertions are “scientific”, while in the next breath they are perfectly willing to dismiss science itself as man-made and profane.

But while we can resent the duplicity and hypocrisy of the argumentation employed by the devout, we ought not be surprised.

logic 2

 

They are not discussing anything with any intent of expanding our understanding, or of considering other possibilities; they know, you see. They are not the slightest bit interested in analysing your points, in thinking about your reservations, in considering your views. They are interested in repeating their beliefs in various different words and persuading you to accept them, or at least to persuade you stop expressing your own views. They are there to evangelise, not to seek understanding or to grow intellectually. When you are right, and any contradictory view is not only wrong but inspired by Satan, then any kind of intellectual dishonesty is justified.

So, as the devout gird themselves to do intellectual battle with atheists, they are not preparing for an intellectual discussion; they are only preparing to lie, cheat, mislead, and obfuscate. It is their duty, you see. They are right, so whatever it takes to get their point across is valid. Logic doesn’t matter. Reason is irrelevant. Truth doesn’t count. Because they have Truth.

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