The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Whatever it’s about, it ain’t about the children

There are a lot of arguments floating around in the continuing marriage equality debate, but there is one argument that just… won’t… die. Which I guess makes it (a) a little bit like Jesus, and (b) a little ironic given that the vast majority of its proponents are big fans (of Jesus, I mean, not marriage equality). It’s a textbook case of post-hoc reasoning, and the religious argument you use when you don’t want to look religious. And it annoys the crap out of me.

In its simplest form, it consists of a middle-aged white man wearing a brown cardigan and corduroy pants, running around in circles screaming “WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!”. The slightly more academic version, however, goes something like this:

    Same-sex1 couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry because:

  1. Every child has a right to be raised by their mother and father; and
  2. Other things being equal, children raised by same-sex couples fare worse than the children of heterosexual parents.

Let’s have a look at these in turn.

1
This statement is obviously predicated on the assumption that the very purpose of marriage is children. And yes, traditionally almost every couple that traditionally walked down the aisle did so because traditionally that’s what you did when you traditionally wanted children. Traditionally that kind of made sense at the time, because traditionally no one really liked bastards. But tradition can take a hike, because not only are most of my good friends absolute bastards, but nowadays lots and lots and lots of couples get married with no intention of ever having children. Some couples even get married knowing that they can’t have children, even if they wanted to (say hello, Fred Nile!). Which is perfectly fine, and in some cases, probably for the best (say hello again, Fred Nile!).

The corollary to this argument is that, because marriage is all about children, any same-sex couple who is allowed to wed will make their marriage about children as well. Because that’s what marred couples do, see? That will of course involve at least three people out of biological necessity (or in the language of the bigot, “Poofs gotta get eggs from somewhere”), and there is a risk that the resultant child will never get to know the owner of the ovary (or nut) from whence they came. The consequences of allowing same-sex marriage, therefore, are very, very bad.

But let’s break that down.

There are, right now in Australia, lots of gay couples that want children. And do you know what they do? They have children. Which makes them a lot like straight couples who want children and then have children, except they can’t get married. There are also lots of gay couples who don’t want children. And do you know what they do? They don’t have children. Which makes them a lot like straight couples who don’t want children and don’t have children, except they don’t get abortions. Straight singles go out and have children, too. So do gay singles. And intersex and trans couples and singles. All of this is going on right now, with or without marriage equality. And there isn’t anything you or I or Fred Nile or the ACL or Bill Meuhlenberg can do about it.

What this argument is basically saying, then, is this: “The purpose of marriage is children, but you can have children without getting married, and you can get married if you don’t want children, and you can get married if you can’t have children, and there are thousands of gay couples out there who want children and could have children if they wanted to but aren’t having children because they can’t get married, because marriage is all about children, apart from all the married couples without children”.

Or, put another way, “I don’t like gays, and, furthermore, I don’t like gays”.

The only way this argument could possibly make sense is if people only get married to have children, and non-hetero couples aren’t having children because they can’t get married. And since neither of those things is true, the argument doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

It makes even less sense if you follow it one step further: If you truly believe that stopping same-sex marriage will prevent non-hetero couples having children, you are essentially saying that, rather than having non-traditional parents, it is better that those children don’t exist at all. Which is odd, given that almost everyone against same-sex marriage also follows that whole “right to life” thing. Think about it.

2
The second half of the “won’t someone think of the children” argument says that the children of gay parents fare worse than the children of hetero parents.

They don’t.

That should be the end of it, of course, but for some reason same-sex marriage opponents aren’t too impressed with “science”. Unless of course it’s bogus, discredited science that supports their established prejudice.

Even if we’re being incredibly generous, and concede that non-traditional families aren’t ideal, no reasonable person should be able to argue that the outcomes of such families are catastrophic enough to warrant their complete abolition. We know this because, if the outcomes were catastrophic, marriage equality opponents would be telling us about that, instead of mindlessly appealing to a specious defense of an outdated tradition.

Besides which, as we’ve already established, the marriage equality debate isn’t about children anyway. If you want to argue against same-sex parenting, go do it someplace else.
_____

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that this argument is a classic case of post-hoc reasoning, and the religious argument you use when you don’t want to look religious.

There’s no denying that there is a strong correlation between religious beliefs and opposition to marriage quality. And there’s no denying that the generally accepted position of all three Abrahamic religions is that marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman. Statistically speaking, the chance that this is due to pure coincidence is infinitesimally small. That alone should be enough to convince you that any time someone says “Won’t someone think of the children”, what they are really saying is “Won’t someone think of Baby Jebus”.

If you happen to be one of those people, however, and you genuinely believe that your opposition to marriage equality isn’t religiously motivated, ask yourself this.

If we, as a society, could somehow address all your concerns, would you still oppose it?

What if we could guarantee that all children raised by same-sex couples got to know their biological parents? Or if all those useless, horrible same-sex parents undertook a year-long course on how to be as good at parenting as heterosexuals? Or, perhaps better still, all married same-sex couples were forbidden from having any children at all?

Granted, those seem a little far-fetched. What about this, then: what if a multitude of independent scientific studies were published that proved that the children of same-sex couples actually do better than their heterosexual equivalents? If it’s all about the children, surely you wouldn’t object then, would you?

Perhaps I’m being presumptuous, but… yes, yes you would.

And if that’s the case, then you should wait for your cognitive dissonance to subside a little, grab your bible, and see yourself out. Because you’re simply not qualified for meaningful debate.

_____

1. I use “same-sex couple” here, for the sake of brevity, to mean any non-heterosexual couple.

Devine Logic

While waiting for a morning coffee, I decided to open a copy of The Daily Telegraph. Flicking idly through its pages in search of a few moments of diversion, I was surprised to discover that the world in general and this country in particular are in a terrible state. Not only is the progressive left taking over the world through the agency of single mothers and the ALP – things are so bad that even newspapers like the Telegraph have lost the ability to spell. Or reason,

But all this was as nothing compared to the stunning revelation that was in store for me when I turned the page and found myself staring at Miranda Devine’s latest effusion. In it, she makes the startling claim that the two major factors in the radicalisation of an Australian youth who recently performed a suicide attack in Iraq were: divorce and atheism.

This is deeply worrying, and not only because I now have to determine how we ended up back in 1950 again.

My parents were divorced when I was a small child. Also, I am an atheist. So, as if Labor selling us out to the Greens and paedophiles apparently lurking at every street corner weren’t enough, I now have to worry about spontaneously combusting in a Middle Eastern Country in the service of Allah.

What makes it worse is that this process is inevitably going to be completely impossible to predict. If atheism and divorce cause people to become Islamist terrorists, it must happen by a process akin to magic.

Miranda, bless her, did attempt to comfort me by attempting to overlay her revelation with a thin veneer of reason, but I’m not fooled. Her argument, if you can call it that, that the ‘moral vacuum’ of atheism and ‘nihilism’ that goes with it, leave vulnerable adolescents prey to belief systems that advocate violence is thin to the point of being diaphanous. For a start, Atheism does not necessarily predicate a moral vacuum. It is also very different from nihilism – you can tell by the spelling. It’s all very implausible, so I can tell she’s just trying to make me feel better.

Besides, even Miranda can’t expect us to swallow an argument that atheism causes religiously motivated violence. Only a semi-literate reactionary retard could possibly fail to grasp logic on such an elementary level.

So, assuming that she is right, then there can be no possible rhyme or reason to the apparently inevitable metamorphosis into an Islamist terrorist that I am about to undergo. It seems deeply unfair that my parents’ separation, combined with a rational refusal to believe in invisible sky people should have such dire consequences, but I guess that that’s just how the world works.

By magic, that is, and in direct defiance of reason,

I guess I should leave some final message before I go and explode myself thousands of miles away. All I can think of, though, is a request: if any of my friends out there should see me wearing an explosive vest and shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’, please try to steer me as close as possible to wherever Miranda is at the time.

Liberty, Equality and, for Crying Out Loud, Some Humility Please!

Watching our Foreign Minister always makes me feel uncomfortable. Sure, we have a long tradition of drunk, half-witted, boorish, ugly and just plain stupid ministers in general and Foreign Ministers in particular. So what’s the problem? There’s nothing special about this one, is there?

But there is. Deliberately or not, the FM carries herself in a way that suggests that it is her absolute right, as an educated Westerner, to tell the rest of the world how they should live and what they should think. I know, when I look at her, that she is utterly convinced of her mandate to instruct. Her obvious Western Supremacism radiates from her every twinset.

It’s also invalid.

I live in Manly. At this time of year, Manly is lousy with women wandering about the place in bikinis. Personally, I’m in favour of this, but even if I wasn’t, I live in a country where women have the right to wander about in bikinis to their hearts’ content.

It was not always thus. Near the the library, there is a mural made up of historical headlines from The Manly Daily. This being The Daily, they mostly deal with sharks, nudists and the wrong code of rugby. But then there’s this one:

 BATHING TRUNKS WORN IN STREET

Blonde in bikini put off beach

Just a few decades ago – within living memory – religious (ecclesiastic) law required us to cover our bodies in public. Sound familiar? This body of law still exists, but we’ve either stopped enforcing it or changed the way it’s interpreted. So we can all pat ourselves on the back for being an advanced, progressive society.

Really – I mean it.

It was a long, hard road. There were riots, demonstrations, some murders, a lot of protests and a hell of a lot of turmoil, but we got there in the end. Point is, though, that, historically speaking, the end of that process was something like five minutes ago. Wind the clock back a tiny amount and our ideals, values and principles are deplorable. Homophobic, militantly religious, racist, sexist – the list goes on. So what changed? Did we become better people? Have we risen to a higher moral plane than the rest of the world? Do we, somehow, deserve the irritating air of self-righteousness worn by Julie when she’s enlightening Johnny Foreigner?

Of course not. The latter half of the 20th Century found us holding the keys to the kingdom. The West was best, even the losers, so cue the welfare state, consumerism, education, urban redevelopment, and so on and so forth. Sure, there was the cold war and the communist domino thingummy, but, by and large, most wars were far away, bellies were full and the money was rolling in. So, like most people who have run out of real problems, the West began to examine its own soul. The result of this turbulent, traumatic process was the enlightened, liberal and more or less progressive thinking prevalent in mainstream Western politics today. But if the latter half of the 20th Century was a period of soul searching and self reflection for us, what was it like for the rest of the world?

In a word – hectic. Every major region of the world outside the West spent the greater part of the post war years in turmoil. Africa’s young nations, having been possessions, then battlefields and finally, orphans of the various dying Empires, have yet to finish recovering from the West’s tender mercies. Asia, convulsed by revolution, incessant warfare and the bumbling intervention of cold war America, is only now beginning to re-emerge as a viable version of its old self. The Balkans, despite the two global wars fought ostensibly with reference to their sovereignty, were far too busy imploding, exploding and committing war crimes to devote much energy to social justice. The Middle East, fragmented by the termination of the caliphate and the secularisation of Turkey, settled down to a few decades of near constant warfare, the politics of outrage, the catastrophic disruption of Israel’s formation and the inevitable crumbling of the ludicrously thoughtless makeup of their ‘nations’ at the hands of, you guessed it, the great Western powers.

So no, our advancements in social justice and political theory are not the product of some inborn Western superiority. The difference lies in opportunity. The only thing that separates us from the rest of the world is that the West spent the last half century angrily questioning its own morality, while the rest of the world spent it scrambling to survive.

How can we sneer at other countries when, less than a generation ago, Western nations were amongst the worst citizens of the world? We’ve produced rulers more fanatical than the Wahhabi, and reformers crazier than the Taliban. The faults we attribute to our enemies – religious fanaticism, tyrannical government, expansionist aggression, ethnic cleansing and persecution, slaving, the maltreatment of women, the disabled, minorities, minority faiths – Western nations of the post Roman era practically invented most of these.

So where the hell do we get off with this pretence of superiority? What right do we have to act as the world’s moral arbiters? Our power, as the West, rests in guns, money and the robust stability afforded by our legal and political systems. And guns. The world doesn’t listen to us because we’re better people. They listen because we have the most stuff. When we lecture foreign powers on democracy, rule of law and all the other nuggets of evolved statehood that we think we invented, there is a small possibility that our power and affluence might prove sufficient arguments to sell these ideas. But if we pitch these concepts from a position of moral superiority, we must rightly be rewarded with the horse’s laugh. We got where we are by theft, force and ruthless acquisitiveness. This is well known. The people we are lecturing are not only keenly aware of our past crimes, they are more than likely to be numbered amongst our past victims.

So please, for the love of reason, Julie, try to remember this simple fact:

We are no better than anyone else out there. We are just better off.

So let’s drop the self-righteous act, okay? Besides – I can’t think of anyone less entitled to it than the nations of the West.

Another open letter to Fred Nile

Dear the Honourable Reverend Mr Fred,

People are always picking on politicians. Take Tony, for example. No please, take him. I think you two would get along great. He thinks women sit around ironing all day dreaming up new ways to withhold sex from the men. There must be tens of bigots who agree with him, but you knight one racist monarch and everyone has a hissy fit. I don’t think that’s fair the Honourable Reverend Mr Fred.

People have been picking on you a bit lately, too. Like when you recently re-married, and everyone went nuts. Sure, you lost your wife, which was bad, but four hours later you found a new wife, which was good. She’s also a lot younger than you, which is good, but she’s too old to have children, which is bad. But it means you won’t have any more children, which is probably good. Now I’m not saying that it was too soon to re-marry, or that she’s too young for you, or that biologically-childless marriages should be illegal, but I found the whole thing repulsive. What a stroke of luck, then, that my opinion on your relationships is completely irrelevant, and you could just do what you wanted. Isn’t that nice?

Then you said that the only man in the Lindt cafe siege was the man with the gun, and everyone went nuts again. Which is just silly. Sure, it hurt a little to know that I wasn’t actually a man. But on the plus side all I need to do is be charged with murdering my partner and sexually assaulting six women and then take a whole bunch of people hostage with a gun, and my manly manliness with be restored. So it’s not all bad.

Finally, you’ve started your political campaigning. And some genius, who is probably you, since I can’t imagine there is more than one genius in your party, came up with this, and posted it to your Facebook page:

In nature...1

I’m tempted to think there might be more than one genius at your party, however, since someone else has since taken it down. Which is a shame, because reading between the lines, I think it was a really good message:

In nature...2

You are absolutely right, the Honourable Revered Mr Fred – equality is a social construct. Being a genius, you would have also noticed that the society you live in is not only itself a social construct, but is filled with lots and lots of other social constructs. Things like parliaments, and preferential voting, and scamming your way into a lifetime pension with only 2% of the vote, and religion, and marrying a much younger post-menopausal woman four hours after your last wife died. You know, all the things that don’t exist in nature, but have been maliciously thrust upon you against your will. It’s just not fair.

Well that’s all from me, the Honourable Reverend Mr Fred. I have to go and eat someone a lot smaller than me. Not eating people a lot smaller than me is a social construct. And I know how you hate those kind of things.

Yours sincerely,

Tim

The Logic of Hatred

It’s easy to think, given the current happenings in the Middle East and elsewhere, that the world is in uncharted territory, facing a new, historically unique threat.

Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. There is no new thing under the sun, and the recently prominent wave of Islamist terrorism is no exception. Strip away the superficial, incidental factors of faith, ethnicity and geography, and what we are left with are the basic fundamentals common to all violent radicals – something I like to call ‘the logic of hatred’.

The Red Brigade, The Black Hand, every tired old variation of the ‘People’s’ this and the ‘Freedom’ that, right back to the bomb throwing nihilists and anarchists of three centuries ago, have all hated exactly the same thing. Problems arise, however, when we try to determine what that thing actually is. The language of hatred tends to be vague, dealing heavily in symbols whilst being sparing with specifics. The enemy tends to be described in practically meaningless terms such as ‘The Man’, ‘The Military Industrial Complex’, ‘Western Imperialism’ or ‘America’. Chasing down what these things actually mean is a complete waste of time. They are labels of convenience, bandied about merely to provide a focus for the specious reasoning that is the real common identifying factor of all such groups.

Basically, it goes like this:

  1. I don’t have the things that I want
  2. This must mean that the world has been rigged against me
  3. It therefore follows that those who have these things must also be the ones who rigged it.
  4. Given this state of affairs, violence is my only recourse.

Which, if you look at it, is an interesting mix of self-pity, blame culture and zero-sum thinking, none of which are worth a tinker’s damn to anyone interested in the truth.

The problem, however, is the intense appeal of this kind of logic to the disaffected. It is a line of thought that chimes in perfectly with feelings of impotent rage and bitterness, providing the perfect pretext for the angry and the marginalised to follow their own personal inclinations. We are never more ready to believe in the truth of an idea as when it happens to agree entirely with our own personal feelings.

So there we have it – the logic of hatred is not only invalid, it’s not even original. So why bother to understand it? The answer is simple. We need to understand this kind of thinking in order to clarify our own position.

In the case of Islamist extremism, this understanding leads neatly to three conclusions.

  1. As the majority of this kind of ideology is centred on political goals, the fact of their professed faith is little more than a coincidence. Basically, this kind of action has nothing to do with mainstream Islam.
  2. Bearing in mind the narrow stupidity of this kind of world view, it is generally fair to say that these groups are not susceptible to reason, which means that attempting to engage them in dialogue or negotiations of any kind would be pointless.
  3. Given that these groups are violent almost by default, and that they cannot be reasoned with or appeased, the only possible solution is to eliminate them, while at the same time making efforts to prevent the formation of whatever next week’s flavour of violent malcontent is going to be.

When we understand the logic of hatred,the seemingly irreconcilable imperatives of tolerance and the prosecution of the ‘war on terror’ no longer seem quite so contradictory. Which is nice. But the important thing – the vitally important thing – is to be absolutely 100% crystal clear as to who we are fighting and why.

The enemy is emphatically not Islam, even when it takes the form of angry teenagers shouting in the street because they’re sick of being discriminated against. The enemy is actually any individual, ideology or group that uses the logic of hatred as a pretext for violence. Our own use of force cannot – must not – derive from this same mixture of self-pity, self-righteous indignation and fear. Just as we ruthlessly exterminate the personnel and materiel of terror groups overseas, we must fight, with equal ruthlessness, the flawed and vile logic of hatred that exists within ourselves.

 

 

So, you agree with a fückwit…

A curious thing happened to me a few years ago. I found myself agreeing with a bunch of fückwits. Well perhaps that’s unfair. It was more like they were agreeing with me… but they were still definitely fückwits.

It was 2010, and a big year for Australia. Not only did we have our first female prime minister, we also had our first dead Catholic wizard. Meanwhile, over in nice, friendly Belgium, they already had 66 dead Catholic wizards, but they also had something that we didn’t – a nationwide ban on the burqa.

It was, at the time, an issue I hadn’t really thought about much before. I mean, like all good atheists, I had read The God Delusion, God is not Great, and The End of Faith, so obviously I was really smart and more than capable of thinking about it and coming to a sensible opinion. So I thought about it for a bit, and my opinion was that maybe, just maybe, banning the burqa could be a good thing.

My reasons were noble. Burqas are, after all, disgusting tools of misogynistic oppression, and perpetuate the idea that women are evil temptresses and men are slobbering sex-crazed idiots. They also can get pretty hot in summer, and don’t have enough pockets. And, I thought, maybe banning the burqa would send a message that those kinds of ideas are not OK. I was on their side, you see. It was for their own good.

Then I stumbled across a Facebook page, called “Ban the Burka in Australia“. And what I saw there kind of horrified me. Did you know, for example, that a burqa could be hiding Alan Jones?

Ban the Burka 1

Or that sometimes burqas walk around with no one in them at all?

Ban the Burka 2

Or that Australia is the last place on earth that allows them?

Ban the Burka 3

Or that soldiers died under our anthem to protect Christmas at school assemblies or something?

Ban the Burka 4

Then I started reading some of the comments. Comments from ordinary Australians, like me, who had genuine, ostensibly noble reasons for thinking that banning the burqa might be a good idea. Like these guys:

Ban the Burka 5

Cause “their” stupid. That says it all, really. Well, almost. Say hello, Andrew Moose:

Ban the Burka 6

Needless to say, views such as Andrew’s are repellent, and bring to mind the wise words of Ricky Gervais – ignorance may be bliss for the ignorant, but for the rest of us it’s a right fucking pain in the arse. The more comments I read, the angrier I became. How could people think this way? But then something started to slowly dawn on me, something almost as repellent as Andrew Moose – “I kind of think this way.” Sure, I didn’t want to ban the burqa because I wanted to wave my uncircumcised penis on the streets of Islamabad, but there was no escaping the fact that Andrew Moose and I were both in favour of banning the burqa. We may have been reading from a different book, but we had somehow found ourselves on the same page. And that wasn’t a nice feeling at all.

So I started thinking about it again. And I realised a few things that, in my initial haste to strike a blow against religious oppression, I hadn’t really considered before. Like people are able to make their own decisions, for example. And further ostracising an already repressed minority by locking them in their own homes perhaps isn’t the nicest thing we could do. And there are better ways to try and educate people about religious oppression. I very quickly moved from cautious, in-theory endorsement, to full-blown rejection – banning the burqa would be a colossally stupid idea. It would be like banning girls from school because you don’t want the boys to pick on them. Oh, and you’re worried that they’re bank-robbing terrorists.

In the few years since, I’ve occasionally found myself in a similar situation. For example, I used to think we should be able to burn Korans or flush consecrated Communion wafers down the toilet if we wanted to. I’ve crapped on enough already (not literally), so I won’t go into the details – suffice to say I had high-minded reasons at the time, but I no longer think we should do either of those things. Most recently, I learned that the Victorian Labor party was going to repeal a certain section of the Crimes Act that criminalised the deliberate transmission of a serious disease. That sounded to me like a reasonable thing to criminalise, so repealing it sounded like a rather silly thing to do. Then I read Bill Meuhlenberg. He also thought it was a silly thing to do, because… well… because gays. This worried me. But a little help from a friend led me to Michael Kirby’s thoughts on the matter. Guess who had the better insights on the issue – the bigoted, hypocritical, fundamentalist Christian, or the respected former High Court judge?

So what did I learn from all of this? Well, for starters, I learned that good intentions are lovely, but they don’t always compensate for shitty opinions. And that sometimes people’s feelings are more important than my noble ideals. The one thing that really struck home, however, was this.

Agreeing with a fückwit doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong, but it should at least make you think.

Because chances are, the fückwit hasn’t.

Sleaze On Our Beaches and Rocks in Our Heads

Today I want to talk about something quite big and complex. In order keep it light and easy, I plan to take a leaf out of the conservative playbook.

Basically, take any big idea and say it’s just like something else. So, when talking social policy, ethics and the law, I can say something like: “The nation: it’s like a family, right? We all just have to get along.”

This way I can not only complete two whole sentences (no mean feat for some of our public figures); I can also avoid having to discuss anything at all to do with social policy, ethics or the law. “The economy – it’s like chip-shop, yeah? And our relations with the rest of the world – well, they basically boil down to [insert sporting metaphor].”

Brilliant! It doesn’t matter that, say, a chip-shop bears about as much resemblance to the economy of a medium-sized Nation State as a cap pistol to a thermonuclear warhead, despite the fact that they can be said to do roughly the same thing. What’s important is that people know what a chip-shop is. That way, when I stop talking, they’ve understood all the words I’ve used, and therefore believe I’ve said something which sensible.

So today I want to talk about our relationship with mass media, its effect on our perception of what we know, and, more importantly, what we actually end up knowing as a result of engaging with it.

Right. Here goes.

The Entirety of the Mass Media can now be understood if we say: “It’s like the Manly Daily, isn’t it? That’s a newspaper, right?”

The People (all of them) of the Commonwealth of Australia are reducible to whoever it is that gets the Manly Daily on a regular basis. People are all the same, basically, right?

Happy? Okay, neither am I – but let’s go ahead anyway.

For those of you who ended up in the wrong parts of Sydney, The Manly Daily is the organ of communication for ‘the beaches’. Whilst it rarely goes so far as to run an actual news item, it does do an excellent job of keeping us all informed about various happenings within our community. Council meetings, house prices, art shows, gigs, locals who have done well – all of it prompt, accurate and cheerful. This is seasoned with a bare minimum of court news and the occasional opinion piece. As a means of staying connected with the wider community, it really is a publication of considerable merit (no, really – I mean it).

There are however, some things at which the Daily has always been utterly crap. Like news, for example. Or social commentary.

Case in point – yesterday’s paper carried the front page headline “Sleaze on our beaches (videos of sunbathers uploaded to social media website)”.*

What’s basically happened is that somebody’s been recording and posting videos of women on the beach. Just like those blokes in Cancun, Ibiza, Ipanema, Miami – you get the idea. The videos go up under the tag line “Sexy Girls”. Mr Kay, the man behind the copy (or at least with his name above it), is outraged. He states that it is unacceptable to ‘secretly’ film people in a state of undress and then publish that footage without their knowledge or consent. In support of this contention, he even went so far as to consult an academic specialist in the area of social ethics. Unfortunately, all that he seems to have got out of her was a quote containing the words ‘creepy’ and ‘pervy’. Equally unfortunate is this person’s apparent lack of authoritative knowledge in the areas of ICT, philosophy of technology, media law, copyright law or privacy law.

Which I guess is just as well as, for some reason, the decision was made to print three screenshots from the actual video right next to an article complaining loudly about the existence and publication of these images. Sure, the Daily has made some effort to hide faces but, considering how much else of them I can see, this makes no sense either. As far as I can tell, this journalist has ‘secretly’ surfed the net to find these images and then published them without the knowledge or consent of the people who are in them. Which is an outrage, right?

Now, Mr Kay knows his stuff. He’s put in legwork and done his diligence, researching Youtube and looking at women in bikinis in a spirit of outrage. He spoke to a lawyer, who informed him that taking pictures of people in a public space and then publishing them online is probably not illegal. He also spoke to the Department of Justice, who pointed out that there are laws against filming people’s private parts and private acts. He also pointed out that it’s difficult to call voluntarily stripping half naked in order to loll about in a public place a ‘private act’.

So the more we think about this issue, the less it seems to deserve the name. This, in fact, is exactly why asking me how I ‘feel’ about an issue will get you a five minute rant. Issues are too important – they should be thought about first.

In this instance, thinking and proper research would have raised the following three points.

  • Every famous beach in the world has similar videos associated with them (and their women) on Youtube. In a twisted way, we could perhaps see it as a positive that we have joined a club that includes Cancun, Ibiza and Ipanema.
  • The article suggests we should ‘demand’ the removal of the material in question. This would indicate a lack of awareness with regard to what Youtube actually is. They will generally remove content on the basis of a single, pro-forma complaint. If there is to be a fight with anyone, it won’t be with them.
  • Most critically, he seems to fail to understand that the Youtuber is doing, albeit more crudely, what he himself has presumably been doing for a significant portion of his life. Getting pictures of stuff people like to look at and putting some words next to them in the hope of generating some interest.

These failures in understanding lead me to my point.

We talk airily about having ‘discussions’ and ‘conversations’ based on issues that are highlighted in the media. I contend that this simply isn’t likely, or perhaps even possible. So often, issues that arise in the media are being written about by people who don’t actually understand any more about them than you or I. And then, in order to generate interest, the tendency is to frame the entire issue, whatever it may be, in the strongest emotion possible.

Think about it – how many of us are experts on Middle Eastern power politics and history? Very few. So think about the last conversation you had about Israel. I’m willing to bet it ended in a flurry of ad-hominem insults, some very dodgy history factlets and some even dodgier statistics. And, most importantly, lots of angry shouting. Every conversation seems to end up emulating, on a very small scale, the conflict. Why?

It’s simple – the data that is coming in to us is many things: brilliant, rubbish, insightful, idiotic, accurate and ludicrous. Which means we can’t really trust it. Problem is, though, that the sheer amount of it also means we’re generally disinclined to check it. So the end result of all this information input is that we are no longer certain very much at all. What we do know, however, is exactly how we felt about stuff. In the case of Israel, the emotion that sells is generally outrage, and that’s what we end up retaining.

Is this the media’s fault? Hell no. At no point in the history of the written word has a journalist’s role been to do our thinking for us. They record and interpret, and that’s that. Is it the government then? Once again, that would be an emphatic no. They’re supposed to speak for us – enact our will, so to speak. This doesn’t really work if they’re also telling us what that will actually is. So who, in fact, is responsible for keeping us informed? Whose job is it to ensure that we actually understand the world that we live in?

Or, to put it differently, who is ultimately responsible for the shape and contents of your mind? Obviously, it’s you. Mr Bryn Kay, fearless hack for the Cumberland group, is responsible for his own failure to view his story intelligently prior to publishing it and it is my responsibility – mine alone – if I decide to react as stupidly as he did.

* http://newslocal.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx

 

 

Atheism, Interwebs Style

So, I’ve decided to be an atheist. What should I do now?

I guess the best way to find out is to head on over to internetland.

I see. Hmmm…

It appears that now, having freed myself of the trappings and dogma of religion, I’m now expected to talk  constantly about God and religion, to the exclusion of almost everything else.

It would also appear that I have acquired a mission of sorts. It seems that, having received a revelation of the true nature of the universe, it is now my duty to attempt to convert the rest of the world to my way of thinking, presumably because I want to share the joy of no longer being told what to think. Sounds vaguely familiar, but okay – whatever’s clever.

And of course, having rejected the idea of ‘divine right’ and the implied heirarchies that go along with it, I am now free to look down on the faithful, dismissing them as emotionally crippled fantasists with defective minds.

You know what? I might just give all that stuff a miss. If you don’t mind, I shall content myself with not believing in God and applying research and evidence based reasoning in an attempt to understand the world around me. I get that a great many people appear to derive a great deal of satisfaction from separating into warring camps, shouting past their opponents and calling this a ‘discussion’. I sincerely hope that they are enjoying this as much as they seem to be – everyone, after all, deserves to find happiness in their own way.

I, however, have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in behaviour that makes me look as stupid and irrational as the people I am shouting at for being stupid and irrational.

Come on, atheists of the internet – we can do better than this. We are, after all, supposed to be the smart ones, aren’t we?

 

Let’s discuss Islam. Or Islamism. No, Sorry – Racism. No, Wait – Liberalism. Whatever. It’s a discussion, Right?

Ben Affleck had a spat with Bill Maher and Sam Harris and Reza Aslan have taken sides and meme, cat picture, outrage, racism. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but neither does paying any attention whatsoever to an argument about politics between an actor and a comedian.

The fact is, though, that most of us have, which means that an international humanitarian crisis has been reframed as a series of questions about ourselves. This being as embarrassing as it is pointless, I would like to dispose of some of these questions in order to clear the way for the discussion we should actually be having. And also to stop the constant stream of Ben Affleck memes inundating my social media feeds. Seriously, people – letting an actor frame a discussion on these issues makes about as much sense as letting a salmon fold napkins.

 

So, some of the questions we are currently asking include:

 

“How can we separate anti-Islamic bigotry  from opposition to Islamism?”

  • By understanding the difference between Islam and Islamism. One is a religion, practiced with varying degrees of liberalism around the world. The other is an ideology committed to using force to achieve political objectives.
  • By learning something about a culture other than our own.
  • By the spelling.

“Does Islamophobia exist?”

  • Yes
  • No
  • Who really gives a fuck?
  • Since when does the existence or non-existence of the inchoate concept behind a poorly defined buzzword actually matter?

“What kind of relationship should the religious have with a secular state?”

  • A normal one.
  • Like the one they all already have.
  • Which is, broadly speaking, the one they’ve always had.

“What moral grounds do we have for intervention against Radical Islamism?”

  • Our share of culpability in the creation of the current situation.
  • The threat to regional stability, life and freedom represented by IS.
  • Not, of course, to be confused with self defence against an existential threat to ourselves.
  • Isn’t that right, Mr Abbott?

 

Now, some of the questions we should be asking are:

 

Who are the key stakeholders in the conflict we are engaged in?

What are their aims and objectives?

What our ours? And how will we measure their achievement?

What role do we intend to play in the eventual reconstitution of the Area of Operations?

What factors drive radicalisation and how can they be eliminated?

Why is so much of the Moslem world in a constant state of outrage and to what extent is this our fault?

Why is our government wasting taxpayers’ money drafting legislation aimed at a tiny minority of a tiny minority group?

 

Please, by all means, feel free to answer these ones for yourelves.

Shorty Wanna be a Thug

Let’s say my name is Abder Mohammed Moussa. Let’s say that I was born in this country, in the fine city of Sydney, some time in the late seventies. Let’s say that my parents were refugees from Iran – my dad was an atheist and my mum a civil rights activist: two categories that guaranteed death in the homeland and refugee status in this land, the country of my birth. Let’s say that the government at the time persuaded my parents that a Moslem services hub existed in Lakemba, and that this was therefore the very best place for us to stay.

Let’s say that I went to school in my local neighbourhood, surrounded by local boys and girls, laughing, brassing, making a nuisance of myself in fast food outlets and shopping malls, all in the great Australian tradition of larrikinism.

So years pass by. I marry someone, have some children and start working on becoming a pillar of the community. I go to RSL raffles. I join Rotary and the Lion’s Club. My wheel alignment business becomes one of the major employment options in my neighbourhood. I spend about as much time as the average Christian does actually thinking about God – which is practically none at all.

Then all hell breaks loose.

9/11. Gulf 2. Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq. Bali, 7/7 and Boston. All of a sudden, my name produces difficult questions. The young lads I hung out with are inevitably contacts of interest from ASIO’s point of view. My faith – never something I thought all that much about – becomes a major concern. It seems that every hand is turned against me. People who I’ve known for years are suddenly forensically interested in every detail of my faith and upbringing. They ask me questions I’ve never actually known the answers to. The news is full of not-so-veiled inferences about crazy Moslems and people look at me suspiciously on public transport. Especially if I’m carrying a bag. The only people who seem to have anything nice to say to me are on Youtube wearing balaclavas and holding RPG launchers. Then, to cap it all off, one very early morning my front door gets kicked in and a bunch of officers who refuse to identify themselves are taking all my computers, asking me questions about my local Imam, the people I go to prayers with on Fridays. They seem to find it impossible to believe that my attendance is mainly about community – about making friends in my neighbourhood and keeping my devout wife happy.

After a fun-filled few days in a white room with no windows, I’m turned loose. Everyone on my street looks at me like I’m Osama himself. The busted door and remains of police tape don’t help. Nor the plain van parked across the road day and night.

Obviously, all this makes me feel like an accepted and valued part of a community. Not, however, the one I grew up in. My completely understandable reaction to this kind of thing is clearly going to be along the lines of knuckling down and loudly proclaiming that I’m part of ‘Team Australia’. Mainly because I don’t want to be dragged to a paddy wagon in my underpants again. And possibly booking a flight to Syria, where there are people who really understand me.

This hypothetical is not all that far fetched. Okay, so the name I made up is ridiculous, but the circumstances are drawn directly from the experiences of people I’ve met, drank with (yes, alcohol) and worked with. From the Morroccan I knew who disappeared off the face of the Earth after announcing his intention to join Hamas to the Indonesian family who appear to have been raided on the strength of a lone anonymous call to a hotline and membership of an iffy mosque. Ordinary, hard-working people who spoke with Aussie accents and tried desperately to take more than ten years of suspicion, marginalisation and abuse with a sense of humour.

If any or all of these people become a threat to Australia, I know exactly who and what I’ll be blaming. Here’s a clue – it won’t start with ‘Is’ and end with ‘lam’. The real culprit starts with an ‘H’ and ends in ‘ysteria’. For as long as we are unable and/or unwilling to distinguish between radicalised and non-radicalised Moslems, we will continue to largely create the threat that we are currently most afraid of. Just as grinding poverty and police brutality creates gang culture, marginalisation borne of hysterical ignorance creates radicalism.

Shorty wanna be a thug in Compton. In Sydney, Moussa wanna be a Jihadi – in much the same proportions and for much the same reasons.

 

 

 

 

The Good Tweets

SamHarrisOrg

SamHarrisOrg: RT @karl_altmann: Matt Miller on Snowden in the WashPost- "Edward Snowdenâ

SamHarrisOrg

SamHarrisOrg: RT @karl_altmann: Matt Miller on Snowden in the WashPost- "Edward Snowdenâ

SamHarrisOrg

SamHarrisOrg: RT @karl_altmann: Matt Miller on Snowden in the WashPost- "Edward Snowdenâ

SamHarrisOrg

SamHarrisOrg: RT @karl_altmann: Matt Miller on Snowden in the WashPost- "Edward Snowdenâ