Well, what do you know?

Wanna know what I think? This is what I think…

At some stage, at some time, we need to have the ‘religion’ debate. We need to know what good it has done which could not have been without it. We need to discuss and find out whether morality can exist without it, whether – actually – we can spend our lives not being murderous, raping thieves without believing that there’s some big chap (yes, I know – but it is, though, isn’t it?) looking down and telling us that we’ll go to hell if we don’t curtail those thoughts and feelings. As adults, with reason and sense and intelligence, we need to have that conversation.

Because I’m not convinced that we need the big guy in order to be decent to each other. And believing in the white, middle class, heterosexual, berobed and besandled dude (or what ever version of him prevails in whatever culture people happen to exist in) does not seem, automatically, to make us decent. We have done many appalling things in his name – the list certainly doesn’t need repeating – and we continue to do so. I’m not just talking about strapping bombs to ourselves and walking into large public areas, or equipping ourselves with guns and ammunition and ascending the tallest nearby tower. There are those of us, too, who reward the privileged and punish the unfortunate, who think that a million dollars isn’t a lot of money, who burn cash in front of the homeless, who amass a massive fortune simply to inject our arses with foam rubber, or to buy a second yacht, or who assume that everyone has had the same chances, luck, genetics… and, therefore, if we’re poor, or ill, or incapable – it must be our own fault. Yet they will still call themselves religious, stand up in church and teach their children – hell, even insist that the children of others should be taught – the same ideas, values and rules. Such actions are not, perhaps, as immediate or as vivid as the previous atrocities, but they’re still unutterably atrocious. To say that God endorses and polices our good behaviour is pretty ridiculous when our behaviour is so damn bad.

And if God is about, why the big guessing game? Why leave us with just one book (or lots of little bits of books, like some appalling jigsaw puzzle without even a box lid). If he wanted us to be nice to people, then he could just demonstrate his existence – clear up some minor issues and translation problems – and we’d all be nice to everyone. Why make it just about faith? Faith suggests we know and trust the big guy, and he’ll make good in the end. But we don’t. At all. He’s meant to be the definition of ‘good’. So why not reveal himself to everyone? Yeah – I know. It’s all in the book. But there are hundreds of books. Some written ages ago, some not so long. Some written by lots of people, some just one. Some written by obvious nutters, some by decent sorts in sandals and long robes. Do they all say the same thing? They do not. Are they coherent within themselves. They are not. Are they violently at odd with each other? It would seem so. Do most people who adhere to those faiths read the texts? I suspect not. The ‘book’ strategy doesn’t seem to be working so well, then, frankly.

Christ, apparently, said that all you have to do to go to heaven is believe in him: no one goes to the father except through him. But I can’t make myself believe in something. It’s entirely out of my hands. I can pretend I believe… I can say I believe… I can bloody well hope. But I can’t believe in something for which there seems to be absolutely no proof whatsoever.

But if you’re going around spreading such stuff without knowing, if you’re in charge of children and you’re pedalling the myth as if it’s reality, if you’re deliberately proselytising, as if it’s true, blarney without absolutely being in possession of the facts of the case, then you are absolutely part of the problem. Because such behaviour stops people from being able to reason, actually removes reason from the argument, calls reason part of the problem… because reason renders faith useless, and then there’s no power to be held and no system of control. “Dinosaur bones? Put there to test us… God needs you to accept him without any questions whatsoever.” Forgive me, but that sounds awfully like someone who doesn’t want to be questioned rather than someone who has any answers.

And if you’re in charge of that religion? If you’re the head of that religion? If you’re the person who’s supposed to represent God to us, to decipher the rules, to decide what’s right and what isn’t? And yet… you still don’t know, not absolutely… but, just in case, you’ll corrupt people, ban contraception, prevent people from taking helpful drugs, subjugate genders, kill people, destroy people, agree with mass killings of innocents, capitulate in genocide and, worse, pass all those rules on to the next generation… But you don’t know? Then never turn around and tell me that religion enforces morality.

Let’s say you do know… There are countless others, who believe something completely different, and know just as absolutely as you do.

You know nothing…

What is there to be known? These things. It is empathy which promotes morality, not religion. Passing off as truth that which you do not know to be true is called lying. There are people who woke up today assuming that they were going to bed again tonight, who had plans for the rest of the day, week, month… who loved and laughed and giggled… who were planning surprise parties, holidays, families… who were going to do amazing things with their lives. And they got blown to pieces by murdering bastards who believed, knew, they were right – because someone told them so…

Wheaton’s Law

Alt-right, alt-left and freedom of speech…

TL:DR – everyone can be lovely: try not to be a cock.

About 28 years ago, I was a hick from the sticks, recovering from too much organised religion and – just – escaping into city mentality (okay, Exeter, but you know what I mean). I’d never been in a room with more than about three people who didn’t share my ethnicity. I thought that sex before marriage was – more often than not – unfair on any children it might produce. I’d never met a lesbian who was open about her sexuality.

I met a chap at university who was involved with the anti-fascist league. I did know that Exeter had a BNP presence. The chap was organising an anti-fascist demonstration where they intended to shout down a BNP rally (or something similar). I told him that I didn’t agree with his actions because he was interfering with their freedom of speech. He replied that, whilst he believed wholeheartedly in freedom of speech, the people he would be protesting against would use that freedom for arguing against those freedoms for others. I suggested that he was doing precisely the same thing: he was all for that freedom except when it belonged to people he disagreed with. He smiled, shook his head and – well – I wasn’t the sort of person who thought he could be wrong that often, I suspect that I was rather smug, and so I carried on beating my head against his argument. There might have been beer. Actually, there might have been a lot of beer. I probably stopped making sense fairly early on.

But I’m fairly sure he had a point. And I didn’t. This is why.

I disagreed violently with the ‘fascists’ who, in their turn, violently disagreed with me. As much as I disagreed, I presumed that this issue was a matter of opinion, pretty much: I thought they were wrong and they thought I was. We could both argue our cases – a lot of the theoretical stuff was the same in both. If I asserted that they were wrong and shouldn’t speak, then they could argue the same back. From a logical point of view, this is an impasse.

But the two stances are not ‘equal but opposite’. One side is primarily inclusive: everyone is valued, everyone can speak, everyone can listen, every one can decide. The other side is primarily exclusive: not everyone is valued (‘white supremacy’, ‘these streets are ours’, ‘faggots go home’ etc), not everyone can speak, not everyone can decide. One side would deny the other a chance to speak because of what they are saying: the other would deny the other a chance to speak because of who they are, and not just deny them a chance to speak, but a chance to do an awful lot of other things, too.

Shouldn’t everyone have a chance to speak so that others can listen and decide what they think and believe? Absolutely! But only if everyone has the facts, those facts are indisputable, the arguments are presented rationally and cogently, everybody listens to everything, nothing is spun by a media with a vested interest, everyone is capable of looking at those facts from an unbiased perspective and so on. Which just isn’t possible, it seems, not even in the late 80s and much less so now.

Surely, though, letting everyone speak would be, at least, the best position out of a lot of poorish alternatives? I suspect not – and this might have been the Exeter chap’s point. The ‘right’ makes the ‘left’ (shorthand here, folks) uncomfortable because of what they think – thoughts are contextual, they can change, they are not dependent on who you are. The argument isn’t personal. The ‘left’ makes the ‘right’ uncomfortable because of who they are, not what they think – and who you are, those broad brush strokes which ‘identify’ us, aren’t contextual, they don’t change: female, male, black, white, straight, LGBTQI+ and so on. Its argument is intensely personal. In other words, the ‘left’ is attacking ideas and the ‘right’ is attacking people. There is a way for everyone to live together happily in the ‘left”s world and there is not a way for everyone to live together happily in the ‘right”s. The ‘left’ wants to challenge ideas. The ‘right’ wants to challenge people in general. No one should be challenged for who they are, and everyone should be allowed to exist peacefully in their world without being challenged for who they are (issues of legality notwithstanding – different can of worms, although the same brand, at least).

The ‘left’ thinks that everyone should be heard regardless of who they are – and the ‘right’ does not (regardless of how much it pretends it does). The ‘left’ thinks that the only people who do not deserve that right are those who will not extend that right to everyone – and yes, there is a cheeky paradox in there. But the ‘right’ thinks that lots of people do not deserve that right, and that they’re relying on those very people’s ideas of freedom to proselytise against them, is much more than a little cheeky and much more of a paradox.

In other news, the weather continues charming.

It’s time for homophobes to shut up…

Surely there are only three real reasons anyone can have for not thinking that it’s okay to be gay. The first is that it doesn’t make babies; the second is that it’s bad for people; and the third is that it’s against God, religion or some religious text. The argument that ‘it’s against nature’ is so clearly ridiculous that it’s not worth considering…

No. A man having sex with a man, and a woman having sex with a woman don’t make babies. But then, lots of things don’t: celibacy, for a start, but people don’t seem to have a problem with that. There are people who can’t have children, and many who don’t want them, either. And yet they’re not deplored as being wrong for ‘not making babies’. I have heard the argument that it can’t possibly be right to be gay because ‘if everyone was that way, then the race would die out’. Again, this isn’t really an argument… Everyone isn’t gay and therefore the race isn’t going to die out. More to the point, if everyone was, then I’m fairly sure that gay men and lesbian women, being as intelligent as straight men and women, would find ways of keeping population numbers viable. (Gay men and lesbian women could make babies if they really wanted to, and frequently do.) The world is, actually, very far from being depopulated… Who cares if some couples don’t have kids?

Gays don’t make babies? So what…?

Is being gay or lesbian bad for you? To be brutally frank, the only thing that seems to me to be bad for gay men and lesbian women (and which is related to their sexuality) is living in a homophobic world which dehumanises, demeans, threatens, bullies, patronises and hurts them because of that sexuality. What else could possibly be bad for them? There are sexually transmitted diseases out there, sure, but none which targets gays and lesbians without also targeting straights. And yes, there are types of behaviour which are more risky than others, but again, none which are about sexual preference: not a single one.

Does being close to gays and lesbians make others gay and lesbian? Well, does being close to straight men and women make gays and lesbians straight? No. It seriously doesn’t.

Does being raised by gay and lesbian parents make kids gay and lesbian? Again, does being raised by straight parents make gay and lesbian kids less gay and lesbian?

Mind you, straight kids being raised to believe that being gay or lesbian is ‘wrong’, and that to be straight is to be ‘right’ does, I think, propagate a problematic society in which gay and lesbian kids are dehumanised, demeaned, threatened, bullied, patronised and hurt: this does, just as much, in fact, as raising gay and lesbian kids to believe that to be so is ‘wrong’.

Is being gay or lesbian bad for you? Find certain types of behaviour challenging and dangerous, if you wish, but sexuality? No.

Is it against religion, God or a sacred text? It might be against someone’s religion, someone’s God or someone’s sacred text. But those things aren’t absolutes as much as anyone might desperately want them to be. There are seven billion (ish) people on the planet, and there’s no religious consensus at all. What might be rules to one set of people can be (and are, in certain circumstances) anathema to another set. We all live according to our own beliefs and systems, but we do allow others to live in other ways. And if the babies thing doesn’t matter, and it isn’t harmful, then – seriously – what’s the problem?

My own background is a mixture of Protestant (Baptist) and Catholic. I can’t quote chapter and verse, and don’t want to. Again, it’s someone’s God, religion or sacred text, but it’s not mine. And people have no right to make their world view mine, which is as much right as I have to make mine theirs. None. But that applies to everyone. If homosexuality is not dangerous, or damaging, why does anyone feel they have a right to castigate in any way those who are homosexual, or to overbalance society to legitimise one sexuality at the expense of illegitmising the other?

So, why does society seem at times to be so deeply unhappy about gays and lesbians? It can’t be the babies thing – it doesn’t matter. It can’t be the harmful and damaging thing – because it isn’t. It can’t be the religious thing – one person’s right to religious freedom, so long as it isn’t dangerous and damaging, should enable and legitimise someone else’s right to be whatever they are, with the same caveats. And hey – I may not know much about the Bible, but I do know that Leviticus names many more things that people just shouldn’t do but which are now freely done and without any religious person saying anything. Nothing. Not a word… And that it’s harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Do you see rich, religious people trying to give all their money away? Do you see religious people berating rich people for having lots of money? Or for bringing up their kids with lots of money? Or leaving their kids lots of money when they die? You do not.

I guess it’s fear. Not fear of the unfamiliar but fear that – deep down – we’re not all the same after all. Some men love women, but some love men. Some women love men, but some love women. And that ‘love’, that powerful, all encompassing passion that drives us so much seems so vital, important and essential to who we are that anyone who doesn’t feel the same as we do must be wrong. Must be sick. Must be dangerous. Must be damaging.

We are so selfish that anything that doesn’t look and feel like us on such a primitive level damages our worldview and our conception of ourselves. And it is selfishness…

Because it’s still love, the same love.

It’s not murder, torture, genocide. It’s love.

Just love.

Please explain why you gave that rating.

Who was your sales advisor?

Er – Katy something.

How would you rate your sales advisor? (Where 0 is very disappointing and 10 is highly satisfactory.)

10

Please explain why you have rated him or her ‘highly satisfactory’.

Hmm. Hmmmmm. Actually, I’m not sure. What makes anything satisfactory these days? I needed carpet. She supplied carpet. She satisfied that need. She didn’t produce any obstacles in her supplying of carpet. She facilitated my carpet buying.

Was it ‘high’ satisfaction? I don’t know. I didn’t leave elated. She didn’t solve world hunger. But she also didn’t invade a country. I’m not sure, though, that I needed those things (in my purchasing of carpet, you understand. Had she offered them as extras, I’d’ve certainly accepted them – but they wouldn’t necessarily have facilitated the purchasing of the carpet).

She was extremely pleasant, friendly and cheerful. She smiled a lot. She bantered. All these things are good. Mind you, it was clear that she had been instructed to point out where on the receipt her name was so that when the inevitable email arrived and I was asked to rate her customer service ‘in an effort to improve [y]our standards’, I could identify her – and that kind of defeated us both.

It defeated her because it made it look as if her – I don’t know – her humanity(?), which had been so effortless and light, was actually just something which a large corporation could ‘train for’ and ‘reward’, something which could be turned on and off, or something which she did just so that a customer wouldn’t give her a scathing report. It also defeated her because it clearly went against her *excellent* customer service skills to remind me that I would be asked to fill out a form on her dealings with me.

It defeated me because it actually pretty much ruined the – up until that point – very enjoyable process of that most mundane of tasks: buying stuff.

Why am I rating her so highly? Because she was bloody excellent at her job despite having to ask me to fill in an online form about her serving of me. You should pay her more. Actually, I think you should probably pay everyone more – because, actually, you probably pay them a pittance or, worse, commission. And paying people more, and not asking them to get people to rate their performance, might be the best way, really, of getting them to be the best salespeople they can be. Rather than not giving them bonuses if they fail to ‘deliver the magic’ or sending them on courses entitled ‘being highly satisfactory’ or similar drivel.

Please don’t send her on a course about ‘ascending to middle management’. And please, please don’t make her lead a training session on how to be highly satisfactory. Please don’t award her a ‘salesperson of the month’ award. Or give her a piece of parchment entitled such.

Just pay people more. And stop assuming that you can get feedback on every bloody transaction that your staff make with their customers to either improve service or tell off the shirkers. Because every time I have to fill in one of these forms, a little part of me dies: and that’s not good for my brand recognition.

(Secretly, of course, I rated her that because, deep down, I fear I won’t get into the prize draw unless I give everything top marks… but I’m not going to spoil a good rant by ‘fessing that up.)

L&K

The whereabouts of carpark E

When I left the trailer where the big machine was, I had no idea where I was. I’d been inside a metal tube for forty minutes. I asked the nice woman how to get back to the carpark, and she just directed me back to the waiting area. Which wasn’t helpful, really. From there, I retraced my steps as far as I could remember – not very far, as it turned out. After five minutes, I was back in the main entrance – not where I’d come in from at all. I stood there, looking at a fire escape map on the wall. After five minutes of squinting, I realised that there were no carparks displayed, and so – utterly lost – I had no idea what to do other than strike out down a corridor and hope. Mercifully, hidden behind a glass screen, there was a sweet, grey-haired old woman guarding a desk which said ‘enquiries’.
“Hello!”
“Hello?” she asked, either indicating geriatric helpfulness or shock. She had Mrs Slocombe hair and glasses restrained around her neck on a little chain, presumably so no-one could nick them when she wasn’t looking.
“I’m sorry, but I have no idea where I am. I’ve got no sense of direction. I’m trying to find carpark E.”
She looked at me as if one of us must have escaped from the Alzheimer’s ward but she couldn’t work out which of us it was.
“I’ve walked through a blue section where everything was painted blue, and an orange section, where – you know – orange, in order to find the yellow section which is where Physio is. So – I’m guessing that it’s somewhere past the blue section? The carpark, I mean. The colours aren’t marked on the map, though, the fire escape one,” (I waved at the wall for assistance), “and so I’m a bit lost.”
“Oh.” There was a lengthy pause. “Sorry. Where is it you’re trying to get to?”
“Carpark E.”
“Oh. I’ve never heard of it.” She looked sad, and a little helpless. “Which road did you come in on? The main one?”
“I have no idea – it was… er… ” The realisation that I was about to describe the road I came in on as made out of tarmac and having cars on it made me stumble a little.
“Was it this one?” She waved, this time, vaguely to her right. “Or this one?” She waved to her left.
“Er. Gosh. I don’t know. I’m a stranger here.” (Oh, God. Did I really say that? I must have sounded like an over-polite Englishman from a really bad western.) Her tone became firm, as if she was talking to a four year old who was being deliberately awkward.
“Have you come from Nantwich or Middlewich?”
“Middlewich!” Finally! We had some common ground.
“Well, that would be the main road. So you’ll have parked by Accident and Emergency. What you need to do, is go straight up that corridor – ” she pointed to a wall covered with notices, ” – turn right, and keep on walking right to the end.”
“That corridor?” I said, pointing to the same wall. She nodded. “This one here?” I repeated, indicating the notices explaining what Osgood Shlatter’s disease is. “This one?”
“Walk to the end, turn right, Accident and Emergency.” She said it with such conviction, that I ended up walking over to the wall, almost expecting it to open up in some sort of Labyrinth (the film) kind of way. I looked back to the woman. She was still smiling. So, I turned right, and carried on walking: it led, almost immediately, actually, to the Fracture Clinic. When I was sure that she could no longer see me, I called her a ‘stupid, daft, old bint’ a little louder than I had intended to, and got tutted at by a nurse.
I ended up taking the first door to the outside that I could find, determined just to walk round the place until I found the bloody carpark – which, knowing my luck, would be on the other side of the entire site. I walked past carparks A, B, C, D, F, and G. Then, the pavement left the hospital, and carried on up – what I assume was – the main road. I passed A&E. There were ambulances. Then the pavement gave out altogether, and became mud. There was much swearing. But – so long as I kept the hospital on my right, I’d have to find my fucking car eventually. The hospital vanished and became what looked like houses. There was a pub. The muddy verge turned into a hedge – and so I ended up walking up a really very busy road, inches away from massive trucks doing sixty, and with a face like thunder. My car wasn’t on the other side of the site – it was actually quite a bit further round. If I’d turned the other way, I’d’ve got to it much more quickly.
Forty minutes in the metal tube: about an hour trying to find my car again.

Life is not a roller coaster.

In a queue for the best roller coaster I’ve ever seen. The coaster station is high up in the air, and to get to it, you have to climb lots of stairs and escalators. I have a bag of gadgety stuff with me, but that’s okay. There’s a left luggage thing in the queue. Loads of kids join the line. I know them all. We get on well. We queue together: it’s very long. There are lots of places to stop and buy food and souvenirs. There are many gates to go through and tickets to buy. Generally, though, I’m going up.

I ditch the bag on a conveyer belt and feel lighter, but a bit lost. The kids have gone. They know exactly who to show the tickets to and which gates to go through. I follow a couple of guys instead. They’re pointing at a gate, which I go through – but they realise that it’s a down gate and not an up one. No worries. I find a marshal and explain. I’ve not got up to the ride yet, but – like an idiot – I’ve found myself on the down path. I can still see the up queue: I just can’t get to it any more. She looks at me and asks me where I work. She’s a little surprised that I’ve been so daft. The gates are clearly marked, after all.

She signs my hand to confirm that she’s seen me and sends me off to another marshal who should let me back into the up queue. This lady, though, suggests I’ve scribbled on my own hand and waves me away. She thinks I’m trying to take the ride twice. The ride is integrated into the queue: I can see it rushing around me as well as seeing it in the distance. It looks so much fun. The original marshal resigns my hand – a little more carefully this time – and sends me back. This time, though, I can’t find the second lady. I take a few experimental down gates to see if I can see her. But no.

The queue is now packed. Everyone’s going up to ride the roller coaster. I’m lower down than I was. No one else seems to be leaving. Perhaps you can take the ride numerous times before you start coming down. It looks, now, as if there are no more places where the two lines meet. No more marshals. No place to reclaim all my stuff either. I guess the bag is lost. If anyone asks where it’s all gone, I’ll say I didn’t bring it and just make do without it all. It doesn’t matter.

The roller coaster seems further off. The down line doesn’t come out near the entrance to the ride. I could go round, I guess, to the entrance but the queue is very long now. And I’m very tired. The second woman took my ticket off me, and I don’t have enough money to buy another. Actually, I think I put my wallet in my bag.

As I leave the line and head off back to the park gates, I check that I’ve still got my keys. They’re in my pocket. At least I can go home. Perhaps I didn’t want to go on the ride at all. If anyone asks, that’s what I’ll tell them. I didn’t really fancy it when I got up close. I had a headache. I felt a bit sick. It doesn’t matter.