The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Why I am an atheist – The third bit

The story so far: Young impressionable boy attends very wacky Catholic school then moves to less wacky Catholic school but ends up deciding that just because something is less wacky doesn’t mean it isn’t wacky.

___

I was walking through Sydney airport. I can’t remember the exact date, and I can’t remember where I was going, but I was definitely walking because my feet were moving alternately in a forwards direction, and it was definitely Sydney airport because it was Sydney and I had paid too much for parking and there were planes everywhere. I also remember that I decided to pop into the book shop, and a book with a bright red and white cover caught my attention. It had “The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins” plastered across the front cover, almost certainly because that was the book’s title and author.

“That looks interesting,” I thought. So I picked up a copy, opened it to a random page, and started reading.

Now, it doesn’t happen very often, but every now and then you discover something so profound, so Earth-shattering, that it shakes you to your very core. One minute you’re sitting there thinking you’ve got it all figured out, and then BAM! A feint breath of knowledge has left you breathless, or a truth has suddenly rendered everything a lie, and all of a sudden you know nothing, Jon Snow. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that feeling you had when you first saw the end of The Sixth Sense (OMG he’s the dead person!), or the opening credits of Renegade (OMG he was a cop and good at his job!), or when your parents told you that Santa Claus isn’t real (OMG they were the ones secretly judging me all year!). And as I was standing there in the airport bookshop reading those random pages, I realised I was right in the middle of one of those moments. Yes, my friends, in that one, single instant, I was struck by an immediate, sublime realisation.

“This book is crap,” I thought.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Don’t judge a book by its cover and a few random pages you read at the airport.” And OK, fine, that’s a well-known and common expression when it comes to books. But then again, I was able to conclude that Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey were crap after reading a few random pages at the airport, and we all know how they turned out. Well I don’t because I concluded they were crap and didn’t read them. But the point is that I’m really good at deciding that a book is crap after reading a few random pages at the airport, and my brief encounter with The God Delusion hadn’t done much to make me doubt the awesomeness of my crap detecting abilities.

Perhaps that surprises you. It definitely surprised me. I mean I expected Twilight and 50 Shades to be crap, since there’s only so much quality you can muster if you’re a barely literate moron writing about emotionally-stunted haemophiles who sparkle outdoors, or nauseatingly bland soulless billionaires with mummy issues. But Dawkins was a well-respected evolutionary biologist with a fancy accent and a dozen best-selling books to his name. And he was writing about one of the oldest and most important questions mankind has ever pondered. Surely he could manage to avoid being crap while I read a few random pages at the airport.

Surely.

___

If you’re going to argue against one of the oldest and most important questions that mankind has ever pondered, you’re probably a little boring and don’t have any friends. But also, you should at least have the decency to consider the best arguments mankind has to offer. For Dawkins, this apparently amounted to something called the “five proofs of Thomas Aquinas”.

For those that don’t know, Aquinas is something of a rock star in the Catholic Church, and would definitely be lead guitarist if Jesus ever started a band, which would obviously be called Nine Inch Nailed and have hit songs like “There’s something about Virgin Mary”, “Judas is a jerk”, and “I died on the cross for you, you selfish bastards”. Anyway, while not writing hit singles with his Lord and Saviour, Thomas apparently liked to spend a bit of time thinking about some of the most important questions mankind has ever pondered. So as well as being a little boring and not having any friends, he also thought about the existence of God, and came up with what he believed were five indisputable facts that proved His existence. I say “His” existence, because if God does exist then he’s obviously a man, since, you know, childbirth. And mansplaining morality on inconveniently phallic stone tablets.

Anyway, this was all news to me while I was standing there in the airport bookshop. In 12 years of Catholic schooling I had never seen or read anyone trying to prove God’s existence before, let alone someone as revered as Thomas Aquinas. After all, what’s the point of proving something so obvious?

Aquinas attempted it anyway, apparently, and concluded that yes, there is a God. This was probably a good thing for Thomas, given the consequences for concluding otherwise at the time, but I digress. The point is that Aquinas’ arguments as presented by Dawkins seemed to be if not outright asinine, then at least very, very silly. Now don’t get me wrong. Aquinas is one of the all-time intellectual titans of the Church, and probably knew Latin and how to spell “transubstantiation” and the difference between the immaculate conception and the Virgin birth. But there was no escaping the fact that his arguments were, in a word, crap. The conclusion for me was obvious. Dawkins was a massive jerk who’d deliberately left out all the good arguments for God’s existence, and just included the crap ones.

“Screw you, Dawkins,” I thought. “I’ll read the in-flight magazine instead.”

And I did. It had an article about two Instagram influencers from the Gold Coast who tried cupping in Canggu. It was called “Two Girls One Cupping”, and it was not crap.

___

Several years later, the red and white book that I had disgustedly discarded in an airport bookshop had sold three million copies, spawned a multitude of books in reply, and kick-started the New Atheist movement. The in-flight magazine I had chosen instead had achieved none of those things. It was time, then, to give “The God Delusion” another go.

Perhaps it was the intervening years of ever-dwindling faith, or the fact that I wasn’t reading a random chapter at the airport, but upon reading it properly for the first time, it didn’t immediately strike me as crap. In fact, it was so not crap that by the time I was a few chapters in I was actually starting to think that maybe Dawkins kind of had a point.

Books being what they are, I was of course destined to eventually reach the bit about the five proofs of Thomas Aquinas. You know, the bit that I had read at the airport and decided was crap. And by turning the pages in a sequential fashion, which is how my mum taught me to read books, I did indeed reach that bit. Here they are, paraphrased by me, in all their glory:

  1. Stuff moves, but can only move if moved by something else. So, like an awkward first date, someone had to make the first move.
  2. Stuff is caused, but nothing can cause itself. So there must be someone to blame for all this shït.
  3. Stuff exists, but nothing can bring about its own existence. So all this shït had to come from somewhere.
  4. Stuff can be good, but goodness is relative, so there must be something reeeeeeeeally supremely good against which we measure stuff’s goodness.
  5. Everything looks designed, including us. So there must be a designer.

So there you go.

The good news is that they appeared to be pretty much as I remembered them, which admittedly doesn’t happen very often, what with my memory being a bit rubbish. The good news, however, was that… oh wait, I’ve said the good news already, dammit. The bad news was that they still appeared to be crap. Proofs 1 to 3 are basically the same, and just scream intellectual laziness. “I can’t think of any other way this might have happened, so… God!”. Proof 4 is one of the most ridiculously see-through non sequiturs in the history of mankind. Goodness is relative so there must be something that is infinitely good? On what planet does that make sense? The only one that maybe had a chance was Proof 5. But that was hardly decisive, especially given the idiocy of the other four.

I read them again, slowly, and then I read them once more. And try as I might I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something had to be missing. Surely the ultimate question of life the universe and everything didn’t boil down to three identical platitudes, a play on words, and ignorance of evolution.

Surely.

Luckily for me, I was at home and had access to Google. So I googled “the fuve proobes of thomas aquians”, and after Google helpfully corrected my typing I soon discovered something incredible. Dawkins had, in fact, fairly and accurately presented the five proofs of Thomas Aquinas, and these were, in fact, the best arguments for God going around. People were still using them today, some 800 years later. Needless to say, this came as quite a shock. And so instead of wondering whether Dawkins was a massive jerk, I found myself wondering something else.

“Hang on… is this all we’ve got?”

And so began a big personal voyage of discovery. But you’ll have to wait for Part 4, so there.

– Tim

Why I am an atheist – The second bit

The story so far: Young impressionable boy attends wacky Opus Dei school until he and his parents start to think Opus Dei might be a bunch of weirdos so they decide to try the Jesuits instead.

___

After renouncing the flagellating wackiness of the Opus Dei guilt machine, my parents and I packed up our rosary beads and set out for the wild west of Catholic schooling – the Jesuits. Mr Mullins, the Opus Dei assistant principle, made it clear that he thought this was a terrible decision, telling my mother that my soul was in great danger, and that he would pray for me. Mum told Mr Mullins to go fück himself. Not out loud, of course, because she’s a lovely young lady and would never speak to anyone like that, unless they reeeally deserved it. Which he did. But she still didn’t say it because, as I said, she’s a lovely young lady. And so off to the Jesuits I went.

The most remarkable thing about the Jesuits was that they weren’t really that remarkable. Sure, they were all monumentally overweight (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and they all had terrible haircuts (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and one of them was eventually sent to prison for being a kiddy-fiddler (not that the Church thinks there’s anything wrong with that), but I was generally just amazed at how normal everything seemed.

For starters, there was no talk about it being a sin to kiss girls, which allowed me to carry on not kissing girls, but with the added bonus of not being able to claim it was for religious reasons. Popularity seemed to be determined by more normal things, too, like sporting ability or what suburb you lived in or sometimes even personality, rather than naff reasons like knowing the Catechism off by heart or going to confession. Speaking of confession, my new school showed an exceptional lack of enthusiasm for guilting us all into going to confession. Or to Mass, for that matter. They didn’t even guilt us into going to confession before Mass to confess that we hadn’t been to the previous Mass. In fact, the only confession I really remember is Brother Healy confessing that humans actually evolved from apes, and not two functional idiots wearing fig leaves in the Middle East.

This was, I admit, a little bit strange at first. But it didn’t take long to get on board with the Jesuit’s refreshingly non-judgey vibe. Free from the Sauron-like gaze of the Opus Dei Fasholics (a brilliant portmanteau of “Fascist” and “Catholic” that I just invented), I decided to stop going to Mass every Sunday. I also stopped going to confession to confess that I wasn’t going to Mass every Sunday. And by the time an authority figure with poor judgement asked me to give the farewell speech at the end of Year 12 dinner, I didn’t mention God or Jesus at all. Not deliberately, mind you, but because I was too busy being outrageously funny and it just didn’t occur to me.

Continuing my trend of attending increasingly secular educational institutions, I then trotted off to university where, for the first time ever, I wouldn’t have to take an exam about God or Jesus. I probably should have, given my first year results, but I digress. The main thing to note was that, for the first time in my life, I wasn’t subjected to daily reminders that there is a God and a Jesus and they need to be worshipped. The void was filled by other things like beer and maths and statistics and beer, and conversations with my new classmates became less “How good is Jesus” and more “OMG like what’s the eigenvalue of that case of beer”. Before I knew it, I had become the sort of Catholic that Opus Dei had warned my mother about, and I started only going to Mass at Christmas and Easter. On the one hand, this kind of meant I was definitely going to hell, but on the other hand, Mr Mullins had said he would pray for me, and mum hadn’t told him to go fück himself so he was definitely still praying for me, so I was sure it would be fine. And it was fine, until two things happened that made me stop going to Mass for good.

The first was that, like every other cool idea I’ve had (e.g. jet engines and socialism), this one had been invented already, and pretty much every normal Catholic already only went to Mass at Christmas and Easter. This meant the church was packed on those days, and a packed church seemed to make this particular priest very, very grumpy. To wit, instead of dedicating his sermon to the birth or resurrection of Baby Jebus as the occasion required, he dedicated it to telling us all we were annoying, ungrateful little shïts for only coming at Christmas and Easter. Somehow it failed to occur to him that he was basically wishing for the church to be that packed every week, which was odd, since we knew from what he had just told us that a packed church made him very, very grumpy. In any event, it didn’t take long to realise that the best way to avoid a lecture on diligence from someone who drew his salary from a collection plate was to just not go to Mass. Ever.

The second thing that happened was that I went back to Mass.

Yes, I had already decided that I would just stop going, but a friend of mine asked me to go one day, coincidentally to the same church as the above, and I thought that since it wasn’t Christmas or Easter, maybe the grumpy priest would talk about something interesting rather than being grumpy. And he didn’t disappoint, spending a good 25 minutes reinforcing traditional gender roles in heteronormative family units. Men do the jobs, you see, and women do the kids, and that’s how God wants it. I should add that this was about 20 years ago, and I had never even heard the words “traditional gender roles” or “heteronormative family units”. But even then, listening to a religious justification for entrenched sexism from an unemployed celibate man in a bright green muumuu struck me as odd, and it turned out to be the final straw. When it came to Mass, I was done.

___

Questions are an interesting thing. You grow up believing something without question, and then one day, a lone, innocent little question presents itself. In my case, I was told that if I accepted communion in my hands, there was a chance Jesus would end up in the washing machine, and that would be bad. And the question I had was, if Jesus was God and God was all-powerful, why would he allow himself to be put through the washing machine? And even if he did allow it, why on earth would he care? Surely an omnipotent being that conquered death could conquer a Fisher & Paykel 8kg WashSmart front loading wachine machine with SmartDrive™ technology for a quiet and reliable wash. And that’s the thing about questions. If the answers prove unsatisfactory, they invariably lead to more questions.

My next question was around how Jesus came to be inside the communion wafer in the first place. For those who are unaware, it happens through the power of transubstantiation – a very silly word for the very silly belief that a grumpy celibate man in a bright green muumuu is imbued with the power to turn a small flavourless cracker into the actual flesh of Jesus Christ. For an extra ten points, he is also able to turn a shït Hunter Valley shiraz into Jesus’ actual blood. And no, I am not joking. This is what practising Catholics actually believe. And while it does shed some light on why you might be careful not to put some of the wafer through the washing machine, it doesn’t really explain why it’s apparently OK to chew Jesus up and subject him to our digestive process. I mean, if Jesus knows how to exit the wafer before he encounters the wonders of the lower intestine, surely he can figure out how to avoid the much more hygienic process of a spin and rinse.

While such questions led to the gradual waning of my Catholic belief system, there remained some things that, to me, were still obvious and irrefutable. In other words, I came to realise that while the Catholic version of God may not exist, surely there is some being that created everything and transcends us all. That seemed like a reasonable position to take.

That was until I read a little known book called The God Delusion. And that’s when things got even more interesting. But you’ll have to wait for Part 3, so there.

– Tim

Why I am an atheist – The first bit

It’s a sin to kiss girls for pleasure.

Or at least, that’s what the Catholic religious studies teacher said to his class of impressionable 13-year-old boys, on an otherwise uneventful day, at an otherwise unremarkable school, in Sydney’s north west. While most of the boys nodded their heads in solemn approval, and a few struggled to stifle their sniggers, one of the boys did neither. For that boy, something about the teacher’s pronouncement just didn’t make sense. So he sat for a moment in ponderous silence, until he was struck by a sudden realisation.

“Oh my god!” he blasphemed internally. “That means it’s OK to kiss them as punishment! And it’s OK to kiss boys for pleasure.”

Needless to say, Thomas went on to become a Catholic priest, and an expert in Canon Law. Funnily enough, I also happened to be in that class, but I was struck by a different thought.

Why else would you kiss girls?
_____

Now that I am an atheist, it’s easy to look back at events like that and say, in a Wonder Years voice, that that’s when I knew. That was the moment. That was the first, small tug on the thread of my religious belief, that led to the unraveling of my entire Catholic cardigan. It’s also easy to say that it was the reason I didn’t kiss a girl until I was 19, but if I’m being honest, it had little to do with either at the time. The truth is that I was an insufferable little holy child, up to my holy little eyeballs in Jesus. And my teacher’s idiotic pronouncement on kissing, while slightly puzzling when I was 13, didn’t announce itself as completely idiotic until much later.

Until that happy thought dawned on me, however, I had a religion to immerse myself in. So after being born, somewhat ironically, in the City of Churches (now known as Radelaide), I set about Catholic-ing the absolute shït out of it. I prayed. I learned my Catechism. I gave up lollies for Lent (well, sort of). I had my Reconciliation, First Communion and Confirmation. I went to confession and told a celibate old man that I was a really shït 13-year-old. I had that same celibate old man tell me that if I said three Hail Marys I’d be turned back into a not-quite-as-shït 13-year-old. I asked for, and was given, a missal for my birthday. I went to Mass. I capitalised the word “Mass”. I accepted the absolute, mind-mashing lunacy of transubstantiation. I went to Mass and believed that I was eating a thin, tasteless wafer made of actual Baby Jesus. And when I ate Baby Jesus, I made sure to have the priest put Him straight on my tongue, lest I get some Baby Jesus on my hands, and then put my hand in my pocket, and then put my pants in the washing machine, and end up drowning poor Baby Jesus in warm water and OMO (no, I’m not joking). I wore a scapula. I said the Regina Coeli every midday during Lent, and the Angelus every midday otherwise. I had a guardian angel, who I named Raphael. And when I went to bed, I prayed for my elder brother’s immortal soul – out loud – while he was trying to sleep on the bunk above me (he was very grateful for the help, and didn’t think I was an annoying, pious little shït at all).

You might wonder why I felt the need to pray for my brother’s immortal soul. I mean, let’s face it, Sydney’s North West is a long way from Sodom, even before Hillsong moved in. But chief amongst our Catholic duties was going to Mass every Sunday, so we went to Mass every Sunday, until one day my brother decided not to go to Mass every Sunday. This was, embarrassingly, quite big news at the time. “But… but… we have to go to Mass on Sunday!”, I protested. Now, you might think that, being a child, my protestations were of the “it’s not fair that I have to go and he doesn’t” variety. Looking back now, I wish they were, but the truth is much more naff.

You see, one of the Ten Commandments is to honour the Sabbath. And according to the particular brand of Catholicism that I was exposed to (Opus Dei), that meant going to Mass on Sunday. Not going to Mass on Sunday therefore constituted a mortal sin – a sin considered so heinous that, if left unforgiven, warrants an eternity in Hell. So, essentially, if my brother skipped Mass and then got hit by a bus before going to confession, he’d end up in Hell all because he hadn’t gone and pretended to listen to a celibate old man turn a cracker into a miscreant Jewish tradie. I’d then be sad because I wouldn’t get to see him for all eternity because I was definitely going to heaven on account of my weekly consumption of the aforementioned tradie. This was a problem. So I did what any little brother would do and told one of my teachers. He then suggested the one course of action that was absolutely guaranteed to not accomplish anything – prayer – and I thus found myself annoying the living shït out of my brother, by praying for his soul from the bottom bunk. He of course told me to shut the hell up. And I of course prayed that god would forgive him for telling me to shut the hell up. And if I could wish for anything right now, I would wish that none of this actually happened.

In any event, my prayers had little effect. My brother did not start going to Mass, and he did not start going to confession to confess the fact that he wasn’t going to mass. I, meanwhile, began to wonder why god would send a perfectly nice human to hell for all eternity, for the perfectly understandable crime of not spending an hour listening to a celibate old man turn a wafer into Baby Jebus and then not going to confession to pretend to be sorry about it. The whole thing seemed a little… well… silly. Not to mention mean.

It was at that point that my parents and I decided that perhaps Opus Dei wasn’t the most sensible version of Catholicism, and we thought it might be a good time to throw our luck in with the Jesuits.

So we did.

And that’s when shït got interesting. But you’ll have to wait for Part 2. So there.

Let’s talk about… Quotas

No, not quokkas. That conversation has been had already, and everyone agrees that quokkas are the cutest marsupial-rat-type-thing going. I’m talking about quotas – the idea that equality can be achieved via the implementation of mandatory levels of representation in proportionally under-represented groups. In other words… more chicks, less dïcks. Not that it’s all about chicks and dïcks, but more on that later.

So, why talk about quotas now? Well, there’s a federal election just around the corner. And here in the previously-not-too-bad state of NSW, an election has just been had. I say “election”, but there wasn’t even a democracy sausage at my polling station, so it was more like “standing in line without food”. But it wasn’t just the polling station that was short on sausages – according to the Sydney Morning Herald, only 34% of lower house candidates were women. The statistic was even worse for the incumbent Liberal party, where less than one in four were women. And if we head to Canberra, which everyone loves to do, we can see a similar picture in the hallowed and very manly halls of Federal Parliament, where more than three-quarters of government seats are occupied by the pasty blue-suited bums of Liberal men. In fact, the situation is so bad that one analysis suggests the Liberal Party could soon have more Andrews than women. And if that doesn’t scare you, nothing will.

To everyone’s credit, it seems that both sides of politics recognise that this is a problem. The Labor party has had a quota in place since 1994, when it was set at 30%. Meanwhile, some guy in the government, who’s not even called called Andrew, said that “parliament is better when there is more diversity, and there is a challenge on our side to make that happen”. Good on ya, Daz… change your name to Andrew and you could really go places. But Daz isn’t the only one. Even the current temporary Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, conceded that “we are, I think, under-represented here in our parliamentary ranks”. Sure, given the statistics, his use of the “I think” qualifier is a little bit like saying “we are, I think, on a planet”. But he at least seems to be trying.

So… we can all see that it’s a problem. The issue, then, is what to do about it.

As I said above, the Labor party has already done something about it, by introducing a quota of 30% in 1994, and raising it steadily to a solid 50% as of right now. The Liberal party, on the other hand, has so far held off on an actual quota, preferring to… well… I’ll let ScoMo fill you in.

I am a merit person… Of course I want to see more women in the Federal Parliament. We have not done as well in that area as I would like us to do but the party members are the ones who have to take on that responsibility and they are the ones who have to make those decisions.

I have to admit, there is a certain logic to ScoMo’s reasoning, even if it is self-defeating. But we’ll get to that later. For now, we just need to ask ourselves one question – are quotas a good idea?

Through a purely outcomes-focused lens, we can see that, yes, they are a good idea. That is to say, if your aim is to increase the number of women in parliament, then making everyone increase the number of women in parliament will increase the number of women in parliament. And given that both sides of politics seem to be agreed that representative diversity is a great destination, quotas would be a quick and easy way to get there.

But is it the best way?

To answer that question, we need to look at why we’re having this discussion in the first place. Why are there so fewer women in our parliament, and in the parliaments of just about every other country on the planet?

Let’s go through the possible options.

1 – Chance

If we’re going to include all possible explanations, I guess we need to consider whether women and men are equally likely to be elected, but we just happen to be living in that one universe where a billion leadership coin tosses all came up males.

Thankfully, this explanation is ridiculously easy to dismiss. The plain truth is that for most of human history, if you were to randomly cast your gaze to one of the world’s cold thrones of power, you would almost always have found a couple of balls and a healthy sense of entitlement keeping it warm. And given the history of succession and property inheritance rules; rates of female employment; divorce law; attitudes to contraception, marital rape and abortion; and the need for a long and arduous universal suffrage movement, I think we can all agree that the current situation is less about chance, and more about the fact that kicking a four- or five- thousand-year-old habit can hurt like hell. Especially if you’re kicking it in the dïck.

In conclusion, I think we can safely ignore this one.

2 – Willingness

Given it’s not due to pure chance, another possible explanation is that despite being equally capable as men, women simply don’t want to be elected to parliament, so they don’t put themselves forward as candidates.

Historically, I think it’s difficult to argue otherwise. A woman’s place was in the home, you see. Men were perfectly suited to rule because they love to argue and yell and make laws about other people, and women were not suited because not only were they not even wearing suits but they were too busy looking after the kids and making doilies and being told what to do by men. Who on earth would take them seriously? It’s hardly surprising, then, that for a good long while women were a little reluctant to put themselves forward for public office.

And yet… quite a few of them did, and a story from my own family illustrates this quite nicely.

You may not be aware, but the first woman to be elected to the Federal House of Representatives (and Cabinet) was one Dame Enid Lyons, who was married to Joseph Lyons, the tenth Prime Minister of Australia, and also my great-grandmother on my father’s side. The first thing to note is that this means I’m kind of a big deal. The second thing to note is that, despite women being granted the right to be elected in 1902, Dame Enid’s trailblazing feat wasn’t accomplished until more than 40 years later, in 1943. But that’s not the family story.

In addition to being the first woman elected to the House of Representatives, and doing so while also raising 12 children, and being Commissioner of the ABC (created by her husband’s government), and living to a very respectable 84 years old, she was also kicked in the shins by my brother Daniel when he was three. But that’s not the family story.

The family story is that, when she first arrived at Parliament House, there were no female toilets. Yes, you read that right. Even more remarkable is that it’s not just a family story, it’s an actual fact, and even more amazing than that is that the first female toilet wasn’t installed until 1974. Given what I know about my family, I assume Dame Enid used to just go in Menzies’ filing cabinet, but that’s a story for another time. The main thing to take away is that it took us 50 years to give women the vote, 40 years to actually elect one, and 30 years to give them a toilet. And they still put themselves forward.

So, no, I don’t think a lack of willingness is the problem.

3 – People don’t vote for women

Of course, there’s always the possibility that no matter how many female candidates there are, people just won’t vote for a woman, because reasons.

In response, I would only suggest that if a bunch of 1940s Tasmanians managed to elect a ridiculously-named woman called “Enid”, who was a prolific baby-maker and married a man twice her age, then I don’t think the problem is with the voters.

4 – Ability

So… if it’s not due to chance, and it’s not due to a lack of willingness, and people have shown that they’re perfectly happy to elect a woman named Enid, could it just be that men are simply better at politician-ing than women?

This brings us back to our current temporary Prime Minister, who, as you will recall, is a “merit man”. Apart from having the worst super hero name of all time, Merit Man also has as his super-power the ability to always seek out and employ the best person for any job you care to mention. So when a Liberal party branch is trying their darndest to figure out who they should put forward for election, they just have to get Chief Wiggum to send up the Merit Signal (basically a Cronulla Sharks logo), and Merit Man will be there in a jiffy to pick the absolute bestest candidate for the job.

It’s a fine ideal. Who wouldn’t want to employ the best person for the job? It does, however, create an interesting perspective on the lack of female representation.

Just think about it for a second. You set up a system where you are absolutely determined to pick the best person for every job. But you end up in a situation where around four in five of your positions are filled by men. What could that possibly mean? Merit Man is never wrong… so… that must mean that… wait a minute… OMG! It obviously means that men are better than women! Right?

Well as far as I can tell, no one from either side of politics has tried to claim that men are inherently better at yelling in Parliament or going on taxpayer funded junkets or lying to their constituents or knocking down stadiums or stopping boats, which is apparently what being a politician is all about. So if no one is suggesting that men are actually better politicians than women, what, for the love of all that is holy, is the reason for so few women in parliament?

5 – Something else

We’ve ruled out chance. We’ve ruled out a lack of willingness. We’ve shown that people are perfectly willing to vote for women, even if they’re called Enid. And we’ve shown that no one is even considering the possibility that men are simply better politicians than women.

So, it has to be something else. And there is literally only one option left.

It goes by a few names. Systemic prejudice. Unconscious bias. Rampant misogyny. But at the root of it all, is something so simple and so ingrained in our collective conscious that we are apparently only just realising its full effect and extent. Good old fashioned sexism.

As I said, it’s the only option left.

_____

So what do we do about it?

To my mind, there are only two options. We can either reverse four or five thousand years of ingrained bias, or we can enact a simple fix that will guarantee the right result.

I think we should go with the latter. Because, as I said, kicking a four- or five-thousand-year-old habit can be tough. Especially when you’re kicking it in the dïck.

– Tim

Why you should vote “Yes”, even if you don’t want to

Well, the day is finally here. The High Court challenges have been struck down, the campaigns have been run, and now here I am, walking up the street to cast my vote, in the warming sun of spring-time Sydney.

As I approach the polling place, I cannot help but smile that the vote should take place in a church. How satisfying, to imagine god looking down upon me as I vote. I must remember to look up and wink at him, right when I mark my ballot paper. Not in a sexy way, mind. That would be a little hypocritical, given why I’m here. Just in a completely platonic “Hey buddy, I got this” kind of way. But anyway… what a sweet irony, that the democratic process of this lucky, prosperous, fair-go-for-all country should call on me to vote in god’s own house. And how fortunate, that that same democratic process is giving me an opportunity to have a say in how other people live their lives.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it. It’s not just a say in how they live their lives. It’s about how their lives affect me. Even they admit there aren’t many of them. What is it, like 8% at most? And yet they already affect every aspect of our lives, and, more importantly, the lives of our children. That’s what this is really about – a battle. A battle for the minds of the young. Because the future is forged in the minds of the young. And fart jokes. Fart jokes are also forged in the minds of the young. Their side has always known that. Probably not the bit about fart jokes, because they never appear to have a sense of humour. But definitely the bit about the future. And that’s what they’re trying to do here.

But even if they weren’t trying to convert our kids, I’d still vote “No”, because they’re wrong. As simple as that. They’re wrong and they want to drag the rest of us down with them. I can’t stand the thought of all the things they do and say behind those closed doors. It’s gross. And ridiculous. It’s… it’s… dammit. I was trying to combine “gross” and “ridiculous” into a word but I can’t, because I’m so angry and grodiculous.

These are the thoughts that consume me as I shuffle along in the queue, smiling at my own righteousness, and breathing in the delicious smell of sausage. In fact, all I can smell is sausage. Far out, now all I want to do is eat a sausage. Not in a sexy way, mind. That would be a little hypocritical, given why I’m here. It’s just a democracy sausage. I’m allowed to eat a democracy sausage.

Eventually I find myself completely alone in a small cardboard cubicle next to 30 other people completely alone in their own cardboard cubicles. I try and stifle the similarities with that weird night out in Hong Kong, and I look down to see a piece of paper, and a crappy pencil, and a simple question. But no sausages.

And the question is beautiful. And just what I wanted. And I will vote “No”, because that’s what I believe, and that’s what they deserve. So I grab my crappy pencil, which is way too short and digs into my palm. And as I look down at my hand, and at the pencil digging into my palm, I am struck with both the simplicity and the power of it all. There’s no fighting in the streets, no storming of the palace gates. All it takes is me, armed with a simple pencil, and answering a simple question, and the lives of many are changed forever. And I imagine the hand of a “Yes” voter poised above the same ballot, possibly right next to me, and I grin as I imagine what she must be thinking. She’s also thinking about the simple question, and the simple pencil, and about how right now millions of her fellow citizens are grinning, just like me, at being able to have their say in how she lives her life. Her hand is probably shaking… with rage, or fear, or embarrassment, that something so dear to her, something so innate and precious, is being subjected to the whims of a bunch of complete strangers.

Wait, what? Where did those thoughts come from?

This isn’t about her! It’s about me, and my children, and what’s right. Right?

My pencil hovers above the “No” box. Now it’s my hand that is shaking. What am I doing? I look once more at the question before me, the question previously so simple and beautiful:

“Should we continue to allow the public practice of Christianity?”

I read it again, and again, and again. And suddenly everything is not as simple as I thought. Their faith is misplaced, and it does affect my life, and they do try and influence our children.

But it is precious to them. And sincere. And their right.

We’re all different, but we’re all in this together. And a part of our democracy would die if we were to take it away from them.

So I vote “Yes”. Not because I agree.

But because it’s right.

The hardest words to say

No, it’s not “I was wrong”, or “I’m sorry”, or “You have something in your teeth” (which I do actually struggle with, by the way). It’s not even “I’m sorry I was wrong about you having something in your teeth”. The hardest words for me to say to you, are also the words that I find hardest to say to myself.

Before we go on, though, a warning. I rarely write about anything serious, and even when I do, I can’t help but make light of things. This is, however, a serious post, and has the potential to make some of you feel awkward. It may even be triggering. For that, I am sorry, and can only say that if the thought of me being serious is a little too weird for you, now might be a good time to stop reading.

And if you’re one of those people, that’s OK, I promise.
_____

For the rest of you, the hardest words for me to say are these.

I have depression. And also no, I’m not joking.

I won’t go into any great detail about the whys and wherefores. I’ve had it once before, and managed to come through (mostly) unscathed. But the last year or so has been a little hard, and over the last six weeks things have finally seemed to catch up to me. At first I told myself I was just having an off day. I’ve had off days before (who hasn’t?). Then, yeah nah, it’s been a bit of a tough week, eh. I’m just tired, I reckon, and a bit stressed at work. I need some sleep. I’ll feel better tomorrow. I can get through this. I wish I was a Windows Phone, so everyone will leave me alone, and any minute now I’ll randomly reboot and everything will be OK again. But before you know it, it’s six weeks later and you’re starting to realise that, if not outright lying to yourself, you’re at least making some pretty flimsy excuses. A black dog ate my homework, as it were. And then, one day, even you can’t believe the excuses you’re peddling, and you start to worry that maybe you’re not as strong as you think you are. For me, that point was about two weeks ago, when I lost my last, treasured place of refuge. Sleep was no longer the inevitable end of a long day, but a blessing, something to look forward to, the one place I could hide from the multitude of pressures and disquieting thoughts. But after getting six hours of sleep in three days, I could run from the truth no longer. Much like Churchill himself, his black dog can be a relentless little bugger, and he’d finally chased me down.

And so, as of about 10 days ago, I am getting the help I need, and am extremely fortunate to have a good support network. The last three days, however, have been particularly hard, and if I’m not leaning against my lounge room wall crying uncontrollably, you can find me lying in bed, hoping against all hope to find a reason to get up. So, for some reason, I’ve decided to write about it.

Unfortunately, like many things associated with depression, this presents somewhat of a contradictory challenge. Because this is simultaneously the best and the worst time for me to be writing about it.

It’s the best time, in that it’s the only time you can truly describe it. When I have previously described my first encounter with depression to friends, I tended to say things like “Yeah it wasn’t fun. But, you know, it didn’t last very long” – which is kind of like Churchill cursing a visit from the aforementioned dog, but later admitting that, hey, at least it wasn’t a cat. I don’t think this is a feature unique to depression. Time heals all wounds, it would seem, and even if it doesn’t heal, it certainly dulls the memory. Those four hours that you spent literally staring at a wall seem almost funny many years later. Staring at a wall for four hours…? Outrageous! So I think it’s important to write about it now, before the meds (hopefully) kick in.

But it’s also the worst time to write about it. Writing it down makes it real. It compels you to think about everything that’s wrong, until you realise that you’re actually not sure what’s wrong, which of course makes you feel even worse. Not only that, but writing requires a plan. Structure. A mind with ordered thoughts. And right now I feel like I have none of those things. Sure, you might read this and think, “Well your thoughts seem fine to me, that Windows Phone reference was awesome”, and I would actually like for you think that. But that’s not the truth. You haven’t seen me rewrite that previous sentence six times, and still doubt if it makes sense. You’re not here to see me stare blankly at the screen for ten minutes. You’re not aware of the tears welling even as I type this, a fact rendered all the more difficult because I am in a public bar and the Backstreet Boys’ “Bye Bye Bye” is playing on the sound system. Your assessment is based only on the thoughts making it to the keyboard, and not the million others that are all fighting each other for my very limited attention. And I’m sure that none of you know the shame of finding yourself wishing you were a Windows Phone.

None of which is your fault, of course, because it turns out that not only does no one else have a Windows Phone, but pretending to be OK can be surprisingly easy. Which is one of the reasons why telling people you’re depressed is so hard, because you know it’s almost certainly going to come as a shock. I don’t really know what people tend to think of me, but I know enough about myself to know that I probably come across as a bit of a clown, always ready with a (most likely shït) joke. I probably look like I don’t take life too seriously. I post stupid shït on Facebook. I can take the pïss out of myself. I find it easy to go out and have a good time with my family, friends and colleagues. So I fully understand that a lot of the people who know me, and who are bothering to read this, will be a little surprised by my admission.

Believe me, though, no one is more surprised than myself.

Life really isn’t that bad. Hell, life is pretty damned good. I was lucky enough to be born into a beautiful, loving family, in one of the safest, most prosperous nations on Earth. I have a shït load of awesome friends, some of whom may even like me. I have a good job at a really great, friendly, inclusive workplace. I am in otherwise good health. On any given day, I am free to indulge in a wide range of interests and hobbies, like playing sport for an absolutely amazing club, taking sometimes OK photos, or writing this cräppy blog, all of which give me great joy, even if I don’t really think I’m that good at any of them. I have never owned a pair of suede loafers, nor have I ever tied a Ralph Lauren jumper around my neck, which is awesome, right? And, best of all, I have an absolutely beautiful, kind, and thoughtful four-year-old boy, who I love so much that it aches.

And that my friends, is, for me anyway, the worst thing about it. It goes without saying that no one wants to feel like this. But even worse than the feeling itself, is knowing that you don’t have a right to it.

And yet here I am.

Here I am in a place where the simplest tasks suddenly become Sisyphean, if Sisyphus could be bothered to get out of bed in the first place. A place where concentration is in short supply, but the demand for it seems to be endless. A place where, instead of running to all those interests and hobbies that bring you such joy, you have to drag yourself to kicking and screaming, only to find that the joy isn’t there anyway. A place where you have to make yourself leave the house and see your friends, because you’re worried they’ll think less of you for not going, and because you’re desperate for any respite, no matter how temporary. A place where you feel disconnected, detached, alone, unloved and useless. A place where you tell yourself that none of that is true, but you don’t have the energy to make yourself believe it. A place where you have to force yourself to eat, but also feel guilty about having a problem that others would love to be able to solve so easily. A place where you feel like life is something you’re watching happen around you, rather than something you’re living. And, worst of all, a place where seeing your beloved son requires a monumental effort, of which you are sometimes just not capable.

And you hate yourself for it.
_____

So why am I telling you all this?

Well, to be honest, I’m not really sure.

I know it’s not a cry for help. And I’m not looking for sympathy. I don’t need or expect anyone to rush to my aid, or start sending me schnitzels and whiskey. I don’t even want anyone to know that I’m depressed. In fact, I’m actually terrified of people finding out. Telling a trusted friend that you had it is one thing. Telling everyone you know that you have it is something else entirely. I’m scared that people will think I’m weak. That I don’t deserve to feel this way. People will look at me differently, or they’ll look at me the same, and I don’t know which would be worse. I don’t want anyone to treat me differently, or constantly ask if I’m OK, lest I burst into tears at an awkward moment. Like, oh I don’t know, at the urinals at work.

But maybe it’s important that people know. Maybe by hiding it I’m doing a disservice to all the other people who battle it alone, and in silence. Maybe I need to give myself permission to feel this way. Maybe I want to reach out to anyone else who feels the same, and give them permission, too. Maybe I want my son to read this one day, so he knows that there is no shame in being sad, he doesn’t have to pretend to be otherwise, and most importantly, that no matter how bad things seem, everything will be OK in the end. Or maybe I just ran out of things to write about.

That’s the thing about depression. It can be hard to get your thoughts in order, and decide how you feel, or why.

I know one thing, though. I will be able to tell you. One day. When I am well again.

And by dog, black or otherwise, I will be.

The real problem with “gender theory”

Remember when life was simple? When men were men, and women were women, and men loved women, and women loved men, but only after marriage, and then after marriage men were still men, and women were still women, but the women cooked and had sex with the man whenever he wanted? Ahh, those were the days… everyone just lived their lives according to the way I wanted. There were no gays, just straight-as-an-arrow legends like Rock Hudson, Peter Allen, and the dad from the Brady Bunch. And if anyone was gay, they had the decency to live miserably by internalising it so I wouldn’t get upset. It was a different time. People were thoughtful back then – because I made them think about me.

But my, how times change. Now everyone thinks they can be true to themselves. Oh, you’re a man, attracted to men? Sure, go ahead, do the bum sex! Never mind that it makes me feel icky. Or perhaps you’re a woman, who likes the boobies? Well muff-dive right in, the waters fine! Don’t even think about the fact that I don’t want to see lesbians on the street because I only like to watch fake lesbians on the internet in the comfort of my basement. It’s selfish, that’s what it is. Everyone thinks they can just be with the person they love. But what about what I love? I love people to conform to my ideals. Why can’t you just love who I want you to love? Why don’t I get a say? Doesn’t my view count anymore?
___

And that, my friends, pretty much sums up every conservative’s objections to LGBTI rights. Since the dawn of humanity, apparently, something about gays and lesbians has made people uncomfortable, and you have all had to fight tooth and nail to gain what few rights you now enjoy. We have, of course, made some progress – but it’s clear that, as a society, we still have a long way to go.

The latest (public) battle in the LGBTI war, of course, is trans* rights. And while you and I know that each of the letters in the LGBTI acronym represents a distinct and diverse sub-set of queer-folk, to conservatives you’re all the same. To them, you’re all just people who refuse to accept their version of your reality.

The latest blow is the apparent banning of the teaching of “gender theory” in NSW schools. As ACL’s NSW State Director, Mark Makowiecki, said:

Parents will now no longer have to worry if their children are being taught harmful gender theory at school after the NSW Government today banned it.

The NSW government, you see, has apparently conducted a review of the teaching of “gender theory” in NSW schools. The review “was tasked with evaluating the scientific merit of the research underpinning the materials in question, [and] appears to have made a negative determination in relation to the validity of the research.”

Well, well, well. Interesting. Apparently the science is not as settled as the intellectual elites on the Left believe.

That will of course come as a shock to the scientists who actually study such things, but, happily, for the purpose of making people like Mark Makowiecki look like jerks, the scientific research doesn’t actually matter.

Yes, you heard right. I could sit here and list hundreds of studies and articles, and I could quote all kinds of social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, in support of “gender theory”. But I don’t need to. Because people like Mark Makowiecki are quite happy to defeat their own argument without any science at all.

You heard what he said. “Parents will now no longer have to worry if their children are being taught harmful gender theory.” It’s harmful, apparently. But what makes it harmful? Why, people like Mark Makowiecki, of course. Isn’t that neat? People like Mark Makowiecki not only get to claim that “gender theory” is harmful, they also get to create the conditions that make it so. People like Mark Makowiecki get to demonise gender diverse and trans* folk to the point where 41% of them attempt suicide, but – it’s a miracle! – they also have the luxury of claiming that it’s harmful to be trans* or gender diverse. And then claim it’s science.

And that, my friends, is the real problem with “gender theory”. People like Mark Makowiecki will always be around to pull out one of the few studies that goes against the established scientific view, so he can place “gender theory” in inverted commas. But this is one issue in which I’m OK to say that the science doesn’t even matter.

You know what does matter? People.

You see, regardless of what the science says, people don’t tend to randomly choose lifestyles that bring about a lifetime of misery and collective scorn. But that’s what people like Mark Makowiecki apparently believe. “Gender theory” has to be a myth, right? People are just choosing to be like that for the fun of it, aren’t they? It’s trendy, or a fad, or a mental illness. And if we teach “gender theory” to our children then they’ll want to be like that too. Because people love living a life of internal conflict, public shame and discrimination. Right?

Funnily enough, no, they don’t.

What people want is to be themselves, and to live out their lives in a way that will ensure the best chance for their own happiness. What they don’t want is for people like Mark Makowiecki to deny their own reality, dictate who they should be, and place inverted commas around a “gender theory” which they know to be true.

Because everyone has the right to be who they are.

Even if “people” like Mark Makowiecki are too callous to admit it.

The Safe Schools Program Part 2, or, these are not the numbers you’re looking for

One of the earliest problems I encountered during my actuarial degree was being surrounded by nerds. Oh, and also, the Birthday Problem.

There are a few different ways to formulate the problem, but at the time, it was presented to us as:

If you’re at a party, how many people need to be there for there to be a 50% chance that two guests will have the same birthday?

The first answer that might spring to mind is that, since there are 365 days in a year (well, most years), you would need about half that many people to have a 50% chance of two people having the same birthday – so, around 182 people. That is wrong. By a lot.

The correct answer is actually 23. That’s right, you only need 23 people at a party to have a 50% chance that two of the guests have the same birthday. I won’t go through the calculation, because this post is boring enough already, but it basically comes down to combinatorics. Each time someone arrives at the party, there is a chance that they have the same birthday as someone already there. Thus, the second person who arrives has lots of alcohol to choose from, but also has only one other person to compare birthdays to. By the time the 10th person arrives, however, all the good alcohol is gone, and there are nine people who could have the same birthday. In short, the higher the number of people already there, the greater the chance that the next person who arrives won’t find a drink, but will find a matching birthday.

Keep this in mind for later.

Another interesting fact is that any party where this birthday-checking thing happens has a zero percent chance of being fun. I assume I don’t need to explain that one… suffice to say we all learned a valuable lesson at our first end of exams party.
___

In my last post, we learned that over-stating the proportion of LGBTIQ people can make some people a little upset. The official Safe Schools Introductory Guide tells us that:

  • 10% of students are same-sex attracted;
  • 4% of students are gender diverse or trans; and
  • 1.7% of students are intersex.

Some people really hate that 10% figure. Like renowned statistical phenomenon Bill Meuhlenberg, who tells us that “the ten per cent figure has always been a big lie” and “homosexual activists have confirmed [it] to be a case of deliberate deception”. But why does it matter? Well, as Bill points out:

If the homosexual lobby is willing to use faulty statistics to support its cause, just how reliable is it in other areas?

Bill doesn’t provide an answer, but Murray Campbell has similar concerns about the proportion of intersex people. Apparently, “gauging accurate numbers for sexuality and gender is near impossible”. Even so, Safe Schools claims the proportion is around 1 in 60, while “the American Psychological Association suggests the figure to be about 1 in 1,500”. Ouch. Murray suggests that this is like “a political party taking 10 polls, publishing the one that is favourable and deleting the 9 which are less supportive”. The cynic in me says that a better analogy would be that it’s like ignoring countless free polls showing that 70% of Australians support marriage equality and asking to hold another poll that will give the same result but cost $160m and then ignoring that poll too. But the cynic in me also seems to be trying to derail my own post, so I’m going to ignore him.

In any event, Murray informs us that:

This kind of misrepresentation of facts and science straight away raises questions about the legitimacy of [the] program.

Indeed.

Keep this in mind for later, too.
___

And by later I mean now.

Apparently, much like never seeing your parents having sex, getting the proportion right is not only near impossible, but also impossibly important. Because if those LGBTIQ people can’t even tell us how many of them there are, how can we trust them enough to believe anything they tell us? They could tell us that we need to, oh I don’t know, run an anti-LGBTIQ bullying program in schools, and we might end up spending millions of dollars saving fewer people from suicide than we thought we could. Let’s be honest, no one wants that.

But if we can’t trust the LGBTIQ community to give us the true state of affairs, who can we trust? Who can we turn to, to assess the legitimacy of the Safe Schools program? Happily, Bill and Murray, but definitely not Bill Murray, show us the way – if we can’t trust the people who don’t give us the true statistics, all we need to do is trust the people who do. You know, like the people who told Murray the proportion of intersex people.

The American Psychological Association.

Let’s ask them about the legitimacy of the Safe Schools program.

Tim: “Tell me, APA, do LGBTIQ people get bullied?”
APA: “Well, Tim, I’m glad you asked. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people encounter extensive prejudice, discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation.”
Tim: “Trans people have it pretty easy though eh? Just look at Caitlin. She was in a magazine!”
APA: “No Tim, many transgender people are the targets of hate crimes. They are also the victims of subtle discrimination—which includes everything from glances or glares of disapproval or discomfort to invasive questions about their body parts.”
Tim: “So what you’re telling me is that LGBTIQ people are just a bit precious?”
APA: “No, Tim. The widespread prejudice, discrimination, and violence to which LGBTIQ people are often subjected are significant mental health concerns. Sexual prejudice, sexual orientation discrimination and antigay violence are major sources of stress. Although social support is crucial in coping with stress, antigay attitudes and discrimination may make it difficult for LGBTIQ people to find such support.”
Tim: “Yeah OK, but it’s all a mental disorder anyway, isn’t it?”
APA: “No, LGBTIQ orientations are not disorders. Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality.”
Tim: “All right, fine! But they make shït parents, and shouldn’t be allowed to have a family.”
APA: “Studies of personality, self-concept, and behavior problems show few differences between children of LGBTIQ parents and children of heterosexual parents.”

Damn you, APA, damn you to hell. I can still use your statistics on LGBTIQ incidence, though… right? Please?
___

Turning to the proportions themselves, there are obviously a wide range of studies that show a wide range of values. Conveniently, people like Bill and Murray, but definitely not Bill Murray, only ever manage to stumble across the studies that confirm the view they already hold. Surprise, surprise, they also like to use measures that distort the picture to suit their needs. Statistics like “only 1% of people achieved orgasm with a member of the same sex in the last year”, or “only 0.002% of people named Sarah have müff-dived with someone named Nancy”.

I can do that, too. Manipulate statistics to suit my agenda I mean, not müff-dive with Nancy. For example, a quick look at Wikipedia will tell you that:

  • A 2011 survey of 7,725 Italians found that only 77% of people identified as heterosexual;
  • A similar study in Britain in 2009 found that 9% of people identified as non-heterosexual.
  • In an update to this study in 2015, only 72% of all adults identified as totally heterosexual.

Who to believe?

In terms of the Safe Schools program itself, however, there is one aspect of the debate on which people like Bill and Murray (and probably Bill Murray) are suspiciously silent. All the studies they quote attempt to determine the proportion of LGBTIQ people in society as a whole. A society in which the vast majority of people were raised to believe that being anything other than a gender-normative heterosexual was a very, very bad idea. A society in which people might be a little reluctant to admit their sexuality and gender identity to themselves, much less to a stranger conducting a telephone survey. A society in which each generation is a little more liberal than the last. And, returning to the 2015 study above, a society in which 72% of all adults identify as totally heterosexual, but when you look at the 18-24 age bracket, only 46% do.

Which is why Safe Schools based their 10% figure on a survey of Australian secondary students by La Trobe University.

All this leads us to two very obvious, and very important, observations:

  1. More and more young people are identifying as LGBTIQ; and
  2. There are still a shïtload of people out there who are going to hate them for it.

___

The best part of all this talk of proportions is that it doesn’t even matter. I love it when that happens.

Because even if we accept the figures provided by people like Bill and Murray (but definitely not Bill Murray), it in no way invalidates the Safe Schools program.

If society is a party, and we are the guests, and instead of comparing birthdays, we compare our various levels of male- and femaleness, and hetero- and homosexuality, and acceptance and bigotry, there is an extraordinarily high probability that someone who is just trying to be themselves will encounter someone who wants to make them feel shït about it. And if that happens often enough, there is a very good chance that the person who is just trying to be themselves won’t want to be themselves anymore, and will think suicide is a good way to make that happen.

And it doesn’t matter if the proportion is 1 in 10, or 1 in 365. Given the number of people at the party, there’s a very good chance it will happen eventually.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a risk that’s just not worth taking.

So You Want To Be A Starving Artist…

artist

Last week, I met a good friend for a couple of beers. We talked, we laughed, we declared undying friendship to various groups of complete strangers and, all things considered, I think a good night was had by all. The following morning I did the usual two litres of water, three rashers of bacon and eighteen metric tonnes of remorse. I also did a check on my bank balance.

I discovered that the night had cost me a grand total of $58. At first glance, it would seem that I got off very lightly indeed. And I did, really, but there’s no changing the fact that this sum of money represents 89% of my fortnightly food budget. Couple this with the fact that my rent is roughly 75% of my income and that most of the rest of my cash goes to Sydney’s hideously expensive and frequently eccentric public transport network, and I think we might begin to appreciate the reality of being a starving artist in one of the most costly cities in the world.

You might ask how I can expect to earn a decent income when, as a novelist and hack reporter, I must spend most of my day either contemplating my navel or arguing about the impact of new formalism on post-modern thought in smoky bohemian cafes. My answer to this would begin with a long stream of profanity. I would then point out that I work an average of between 70 and 80 hours per week. My time is divided between pretending to be a journalist on a US news aggregation site, plugging away at the sisyphean task of writing a novel and working on various creative projects that have absolutely no chance of earning a single cent at any time within the next six months. In order to be able to eat and sleep in a location that has walls and a ceiling, I spend time on top of this workload tutoring HSC kids in English literature. I average four hours sleep a night, and generally not all in one go.

So kids, before you decide to really chase your dreams, you should be aware that this mainly involves constant labour, a Mee Goreng diet and turning down social invitations. And it’s not just the poverty. Creative work comes with many potential rewards, but the only guaranteed returns are criticism and abuse. In some industries, jobs which involve dealing with constant abuse are remunerated on an astronomical scale. In the creative field, you literally get your kicks for free. Sometimes it’s because people don’t understand your work. Other times it’s because you’re too far ahead of your time, or too highbrow, or too unconventional. But mostly (read ‘always’) it’s because creating on a full time basis means that a portion of your work is always going to be embarrassingly crap. And it’s those times that the criticism hurts the most.

Of course, having decided to do what I’m doing, I have absolutely no right to complain about it. One thing that I have over a lot of other people is near absolute job satisfaction. I will never again have to look in the mirror and see a person who has sold all the years of his adult life for a mortgage and the ability to eat overpriced brunches in streetside cafes. This provides a kind of smug satisfaction that cannot be bought.

Thing is, though – my poverty is a considered choice. I don’t really have to be poor – I could go and do something else, but I’ve met many people who can’t. People who are poor not because of their vocation, but in spite of their best efforts. Men and women who are stuck in labouring, service or process jobs that eat up all their time and pay only infinitesimally more than the dole. People who are attempting to raise children on incomes similar to my own. People who have to save up for four weeks in order to buy a ninety dollar pair of shoes and who are expected, by bootstrap trickle-down economists, to somehow improve their situations in life by working even harder than they already do.

It’s this more than anything that makes it worthwhile. A world in which the working poor exist is a world that needs changing. And I don’t care what they say in all those hippie internet memes: there’s really only a few ways to change the world, and one of them is through the creative arts. As long as there are people out there who are as poor as me, and don’t want to be, I have absolutely no problem with living on plain flour and promises. I’ll take a pure mission in life over a salary package any day of the week and twice on Sundays. In fact, I already have.

GBAV – Genesis 9

In which we learn that it’s apparently OK to have sex with your family, but don’t ever, ever accidentally see your dad naked.

Gn 9:1-3And God blessed Noah and his sons, and he said to them “Go and re-populate the earth. And because I killed everyone, that means you have to have sex with your family. Sorry about that. But on the plus side, all the animals will now be terrified of you, probably because you just killed a lot of them in that tasty, tasty BBQ from Chapter 8. So you can kill and eat anything that lives and moves about, except your family of course, because you have to have sex with them. Sorry about that.

Gn 9:4-5“Actually, now that I’m thinking about this a bit more, best not to eat anything that still has blood in it.

Gn 9:6-7“Also, whoever sheds human blood, then by humans shall their blood be shed. I think this is a good, unambiguous rule, and I can’t see any loopholes – periods. But anyway, go and have sex with your family. Sorry about that.

Gn 9:8-11“And I will make you a deal. Never again will I kill everyone in a worldwide flood. But I reserve the right to kill most of you with a flood, or kill all of you by some other means, like making Donald Trump president.

Gn 9:12-17And lo, I will use rainbows as a symbol of my promise. Every time I see a rainbow, I will remember not to kill you all with a worldwide flood, because I will probably forget otherwise. And every time you see a rainbow, you will remember that I love you so much that I won’t kill you all with a worldwide flood. Again.”

Gn 9:18-19The sons of Noah were Shem, Ham and Japheth (Ham was a shifty bugger). And after a bit of adultery and incest, they populated the whole earth.

Gn 9:20-22Noah needed some beer goggles for incest, however, so as soon as he got off the ark he went and planted some pinot noir. And then he got blind drunk, and passed out naked in his tent, which makes Noah the most awesome 600-year-old in history. And then Ham the shifty bugger walked in to Noah’s tent, and saw his father naked, which can’t be a good experience for anyone (no offence, Dad). So he did what most of us would have done, and ran outside to tell everyone.

Gn 9:23-24But Shem and Ham weren’t really interested in seeing their father naked, so they walked into his tent backwards and covered his naughty bits. And then Noah woke up in a really bad mood, probably because he had a raging hangover, and he realised he had to have sex with his family, but mostly because Ham had seen his naughty bits.

Gn 9:25-27“Screw you, Ham!” he said “You will be a slave to your brothers! And I will make Japheth fat, and he can live in Shem’s tent!”. And Shem said “But Japheth has his own tent”. And Noah told him to be quiet.

Gn 9:28And Noah spent the next 350 years getting drunk and passing out naked and cursing anyone who accidentally saw his naughty bits. And then he died. Probably because he had liver failure, and skin cancer on his naughty bits.

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