Archive for November, 2010

Get Over It

November 30, 2010

There is little less interesting in this world than a cry of offense.

Everyone has their own pet peeves, strongly held beliefs, personal causes, demons, family tragedies, favourite music, and hang ups. One approach to dealing with this rich tapestry of toes, is to be forever on the alert lest one inadvertently make someone else feel bad. The other, is to get over yourself, and insist others do the same.

The Golden Rule, dating back to (at the absolute latest) Confucius, is a simple mandate to treat others as you would be treated. It is core to Christianity and Judaism (though, for the overwhelming balance of their joint history, that rule applied only to other Christians and Jews respectively) and is likely innate to all of us. That said, the Judeo-Christian golden check and balance for poor behavior breaks down for assumptions.

I am not interested in not being offended. There is nothing in my makeup that insists my worldview is in the least bit deserving of respect. I may defend it with vitriolic passion and boundless energy, but in no way am I bruised for someone who might mock it, dismiss it, or demean it. I welcome the criticism when it is intelligent and well argued, and ignore it when it is presented poorly or merely ad hominem. Regardless, my panties will never twist for someone who might think I am full of it.

Be that as it may, offense should never be an end unto itself. Merely saying or doing something purely to cause grief in other humans is rude, or nothing is. However, the flip side of the responsibility of politeness, is to never assume something was said only for the purpose of causing offense. To assume the offender is causing offense for its own sake is to break an important social contract, and smacks of dreary cynicism. Apply the golden rule: would you like someone who has taken something you said poorly to assume you were only doing it to bother them, or would you rather them give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume you had good reason to say what you did?

So, I apply the golden rule, and for doing so I am uninterested in what causes offense. My advice for those easily hurt, get over yourself, it is likely a central tenet of whatever it is you believe in, often termed as “selflessness.”

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

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The Blair Hitch Project

November 29, 2010

Former Prime Minister and Catholic convert Tony Blair exchanged fire with famed scribbler and atheist Christopher Hitchens over: Be it resolved, religion is a force for good in the world.

Before the start of hostilities, an audience poll was taken to determine how the interested public felt about the topic at hand:

PRE-DEBATE
PRO: 22%  CON:57%
UNDECIDED:21%

A further relevant question come statistic also proved enlightening – the percentage of those open to changing their minds based on what they might hear over the next 90 minutes: 75%

I have watched many a religious debate featuring Hitch, and felt going in that Tony Blair was the open question. The PM may have a towering intellect, a fine capacity for public speaking and thinking on his feet, and would obviously come prepared or not at all. However, across from him is the preeminent professional atheist. Yes, Hitchens has his ladle in many broths, from Iraq War apologetics to literary criticism, but nobody argues faith with such style as our ailing child of Portsmouth. Years spent traveling from town to town arguing with the parties of God puts a fine edge on a debaters tongue, so I feared Blair would come off as less than fully committed to the subject.

To a limited degree my fears proved to be reality, as Tony perpetrated a (unintentional) falsehood, one often made by those who wish to make known that atheism is dangerous as well. Tony pointed to the first half of the 20th century and the role Hitler and Stalin played in spreading misery from a fascist and secular helm. Due to time constraints Hitch let that go, so I will do my best to pick up the gauntlet.

Above is the standard issue belt buckle for the German armed forces in WW2. Gott Mit Uns translates to God With Us. Say what you want about perversions of faith or the cynical application of religion for propaganda, but neither the German military nor The Nazi Party were secular.

Further evidence against claims that the Nazis were secular fascists is provided by an Austrian corporal by the name of Adolf Hitler. From Mein Kampf:

“Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

“My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice… And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.”

Again, a perverse and bizarre faith held by a man also aptly characterized by those adjectives, and in no way can one make the claim that religious faith was responsible for the European horror of the 30s and 40s. However, what also must be accepted as plain, is that Adolf Hitler and the doctrine of the Nazi Party were not secular.

So Tony, that’s one.

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

Tony’s second mistake was claiming Einstein for the faithful, so lets see what else our favourite megabrain had to say on the subject.

“… the man who is thoroughly convinced of the universal operation of the law of causation cannot for a moment entertain the idea of a being who interferes in the course of events.”

At most, Einstein can be considered a deist, although even then…

“The miracle is that it all works, that there are no miracles.”

So, that’s two Tony, but we forgive you, ’cause you are a bit new at this, and many a very smart fellow falls into the Nazis were atheists and Einstein believed in God pit.

The result? People changed their minds:

Post-Debate

Pro: 32%  Con: 68%

Watch it

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

I Have the Feeling Few will Agree

November 26, 2010

What is plain to those that reason from a result and then work backward, is the internet was invented for the purposes of porn and email. If porn wins and email places, then outrage is to show, and it is both a hilarious and frustrating phenomena perpetrated by none too few a poster. Sprinkled daily amidst my news feed on the Facebook, are links to news reports about WHAT THE AMERICANS ARE UP TO NOW, or how STEPHEN HARPER IS STEALING YOUR RIGHTS, or how CHEMICAL GAZITRON WILL TURN YOUR NEWBORN INTO A HORSE.

A recent article in the feminist blog Jezebel accused The Daily Show of being a boys club, something long standing Daily Show presenter, Samantha Bee, dismissed. Emily Gould at Slate accused blogs like Jezebel of exploiting the worst tendencies of women, and introduced me to a new term: feminist outrage porn. If I understand this neologism correctly, I take it to mean that some women “get off” on pointing out injustices to the world. That much like a charitable contribution makes the giver feel good, so does the keen feminist also experience a similar rush of satisfaction when she uncovers a hereto unknown nugget of sexism.

But let’s not pick on women or feminists, for the phenomenon of outrage porn is not unique to the fairer gender. We all have our pet causes, and when worldview reinforcement presents itself in the press we cannot help but perk up and take notice. Not only will certain news items be of more than common interest, but will confirm our rightness, and that what we are so very right about is also important.

But back to Facebook. I have a few rules for myself about that never neverland of narcissism. The first is that it is not to be taken seriously, and what must follow from that rule is that anything serious that might show on Facebook is therefore verboten. For that reason, I never join groups about politics or causes, and have some reservations about those that do. Yes, consciousness raising. However, then there is fooling oneself into thinking that clicking a button is doing your bit.

So, while I am thankful in some senses there are those keeping me up to date on the latest monstrous inequity perpetrated by the man in the name of greed and shallow caprice, I find myself caring a bit less about it for the effort of cutting and paste.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

Touchy, Touchy

November 25, 2010

I call her Ipodie

Never having been one to swoon over gadgetry or gear, my relationship with technology was until recently limited to master and servant. I order my tools to function, and when they fail I replace or fix, and without the slightest pangs. I have owned guitars and amplifiers, recording equipment, computers, cell phones, cameras, bicycles – all manner of technology that elicit genuine giddiness in some, but fail to make an impression on me such that I adore.

But now I own a Touch. Soft clarity, ease, instant gratification, and in your pocket. The functionality, while impressive and indispensable, is not our hero. No, the protagonist is the operating of the device, the joy of interacting with lovely, and not austere or rigid and without being cartoonish. Such is the delight that the act of deleting spam is one of pleasure and not nuissance.

But there is the danger. To find yourself craving the company of $200 worth of plastic is worrisome. Not to sound dramatic about such slight distractions, but rather obnoxious habits loom, most notably the slope that leads one to become the arse that taps away when someone else is speaking, or at a party, or when one should otherwise be fully engaged with a person. The temptation most often occurs during the least pause, when conversation arrests for only a moment, and the urge to fill that space with something manifests into searching your pocket. At least with smoking one could remain charming and attentive.

But minor concerns are these, as rudeness is easily combated by self awareness, and as the ubiquity of the technology becomes a reality, more easily forgiven. Now to get to work on the next best-selling feature of the Apple App Store: Are You Being a Dick?

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

Whoa says me Dude

November 23, 2010

Mere literacy is far from sufficient.

Reading, writing, speaking, and listening are all subsets of a parent ability; clarity of thought. George Orwell wrote about the marriage of clear thinking and clear writing, and while the observation may seem obvious today, the jargon ridden and confusing political and academic writing of the first half of the 20th century stand as muddled and dense testimony for the time Orwell lived.

To a point, reading is the easiest skill to master. Not in the rote sense, as speech always precedes comprehension of the written word, but once most of us hit our teens we are able to largely absorb a great Russian classic (who doesn’t lovingly possess a dog eared copy of The Master and Margarita?). However, the sad truth for most everyone living or lived, is our ability to effectively communicate anything beyond the most remedial concepts remains retarded for the balance of our lives.

Despite the ability to garner the plot points and major metaphorical allusions in a novel, humans have an alarming tendency to ignore or imbue the words of others to the point of twisting them utterly and completely out of shape. A sojourn at an online message board should prove that point well enough if you don’t wish to take my word for it, as the norm is points addressing points not made, straw men, ad hominem attacks, and general confusion. Note, despite general clarity on the part of the participants, it is in the comprehension of each other’s points where people are failing.

If you can read you can write, and if you can listen you can speak, and if you can speak you can write, which means you can read. However, before we revel in the inclusive warmth (gemuetlichkeit) of mutually supporting skills, as Hitch points out: “how many people do you enjoy hearing speak?” It is a most ancient problem for almost all of us; what we have to say is boring and unoriginal and takes forever.

Lest I leave you with the bitter paste of cynicism stuck to the roof of your mouth, there is still hope. There is a bright light of burning poetry refusing to be snuffed by those content with semi-functional literacy, and the very best communicators can still overcome the failings of the mob without resorting to ugly repetition or talking down.

Uncle Stephen. Brother David. Ailing Hitch.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com


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