Blasphemy Day International 2011

CFI has its campaign for Freedom of Expression, where on the 30th of September, you blaspheme. I don’t intend to say much this year. I’m just going to do it.

Here’s something I scribbled earlier.

I’ve had all I can stands, and I can stands no more!

Fans of Popeye, please restrain yourselves.

~ Bruce

Sauce…

At base there are two things you have to understand about making sauce – good sauce – if you want to create something worthwhile. These being aiming for the right ratio of ingredients in the end product, and combining them in the right way (at the right speed, the right time, and the right heat) so the mix doesn’t split.

But it’s not enough to simply know this; you must have, and must cultivate an instinct for it. Some people just can’t make good sauce.

People who’ve been reading my material for some time, may have expected to read a headlong charge at religion the first moment this website was launched. Aside from a single piece of satire, and mentioning my intended attendance at the Global Atheist Convention next year, I really haven’t addressed the topic.

This has been intentional, and will continue for some time.

At least until I’m a little more grounded in this process, I’ll be focusing on the other ‘ingredients’ I intend to add to the roux at this early stage.

The elements of prose will be bubbling away for a while yet, forming a base for everything that follows. This being the first time I’m experimenting with the recipe, I’ll be checking and double checking, stopping to reflect on the taste and take notes. Feel free to grab a spoon and have a sample yourself. Continue reading “Sauce…”

A stage in the continued emergence of literary sensibilities…

It’s been a colourful few weeks since the quiet start of Rousing Departures. I’m still graduating back into the swing of things, mind you; getting a feel for all the buttons and switches, all while exploring a few new avenues of literary experience.

A good part of the fun has been Embiggen Books’ recent #bookshopsaredead event on Twitter. Essentially a light literary exercise, the gist is to come up with variations on book titles that reflect the changing state of the industry – what with the electronic book taking sales away from flesh, blood and paper booksellers.

‘Schr√∂dinger’s Bookshop by John Gribbin #bookshopsaredead #bookshopsarealive’ was a pet favourite from my own attempts, and Warren’s ‘Do Booksellers Dream of Electric Books by Philip K. Dick’ was particularly apt. Also existentially angst-inducing was Russell Blackford’s apocalyptic ‘The Bookshop At The End of The Universe by Douglas Adams’.

There were of course, a number of other wonderful contributions, no less enjoyable, only I don’t want to repeat myself and I’m running out of the effulgent language I’d need to describe them all. Call me overly sentimental, but I feel from my end as if the experience has been comparable at least to some of what the ‘pussy is bullshit’ episode from Hitch-22 (the one that had Salman Rushdie producing ‘Octobullshit’) had to offer its participants.

Unfortunately for Embiggen, prior, and giving context to this fun, a sewer pipe burst at their new Melbourne location only a few weeks after opening. With a forced temporary closure, the chosen theme is deeply ironic. I hope the black humor has at least been as good for them as it has for the rest of us!

Embiggen Books, demonstrating considerable morale, have taken the product of this spree of words to artfully produce a number of beautiful posters, displaying them across their storefront during the closure. Producing something looking a little like this… (I’m flattered). Continue reading “A stage in the continued emergence of literary sensibilities…”

Ethical vegetarianism and compromise

Early last week, I had a little chat via Twitter with the Spark The Conversation crowd on the matter of choosing between a principled but poor life, and selling out your morals to be wealthy. Notably, I’m a piss-poor lumpenprole.

I’m not sure what the boundary between developed-world poverty, and developed-world getting-by is in monetary terms, but I’m close. I get by on less than the aspirationals, although it helps that I don’t have a housing loan or children to burn money on.

So what would be the upside of my selling out? Well, I’ve been told it’s not too late for me to enter into the world of professional fishing. I could probably still make quite a bit of money this way if I applied myself to it.

There’s the obvious barrier of course. I don’t kill animals if I don’t have to, and I don’t get other people to do it for me; I’ve made an ethical decision not to be a party to inflicting this kind of suffering. Obviously, this rules out fishing.

There are degrees of commitment, and a spectrum of values in relation to the matter. Some people are weekend meat-eaters attempting to lower their environmental footprint, while others are lacto-ovo vegetarian every day of the week because it forms a Diderot unity with their newsboy caps and teashades. Others again won’t drink milk in order to keep the fairies at the bottom of the garden happy, and then of course, there are those who eat meat with an array of motivations for doing so (and those who don’t think about it at all).

Now unless you’re the vegetarian √úbermensch (is that even possible?) or the last human on Earth, you’re going to have to deal with other people holding at least some of these values. You’ll have to treat these values as either rationally non-binding (within practical or definitional boundaries – I’ll spare us all the meta-ethics), or even just practically outside the realm of discussion. You’ll have to compromise at some point (even ending your association is a kind of compromise).

Which brings the discussion up to about last Friday night, when I was out having dinner with a couple of local Humanists. Vegetarians outnumbered meat-eaters two-to-one, and a conversation was sparked!

I was the overzealous new guy on the vegetarian block (it’s been about two years now), being a bit of a know-it-all (not that it got me into trouble), when I had the issue of compromise raised smack bang in front of my face. I managed to swerve at the last-minute, only clipping the corner of my ego.

I was feeling pretty happy with myself, having been able to say (to Spark The Conversation) that I’d chosen not to compromise myself, that this had saved me having to engage in all sorts of mental gymnastics, and that I had no regrets. But at what juncture can you practically compromise with the rest of the world, without compromising your values?

I have for example, let someone eat a hamburger in my house – months ago, mind you. Just how much then, has my moral agency contributed towards the demand for beef? What percent (if any) of a dead cow am I responsible for on account of this tolerance?

What if I did have kids? What if they refused vegetarian meals?

What happens if in the workplace, I become part of the chain-of-custody of an animal-product that involved suffering?

The rule I think, in preventing compromise from becoming moral bankruptcy, is down to how much agency you’re allowed by other people. That without allowing yourself to become too small, you make sure undesired moral choices are reasonably outside your control, and that within the scope of your agency, you consistently make decisions in-line with your values.

Then the question then becomes one of how to get on with other people in a way that either increases your agency, or at least doesn’t see it sidelined, in addition to challenging other people to think critically about ethics. Welcome to politics (and confusion).

~Bruce

Note: Spark The Conversation will be holding an event at the Melbourne Fringe Festival on the 1st and 2nd of October, where ‘Eloise Maree facilitates the participant’s engagement with their own personal truths and subjective opinions’. The event will be live streamed, and involve online participation via social media.

(Photo source: Davide Vizzini)

A short mention – Neil on debate versus dialogue

Last week, Neil posted a brief little gem on the difference between dialogue and debate. I’d just like to expand on this a little, because it’s something that’s been going through my mind a bit of late, what with what this Rousing Departures thing is all about…

Neil ponders a few distinctions surrounding the adversarial nature of debate versus the cooperative nature of dialogue, and the idea that debate can stimulate dialogue. At the risk of being adversarial (or am I being cooperative?), I’m not so sure it’s entirely that clear-cut. It can be clear-cut if you want; you can have debate-and-that’s-that, or debate I think, can be far more integral to dialogue than in just the role of stimulating it. I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘stimulate’.

All I’d like to say at this point, is that at base, I think debate is best viewed as being a bit like a particle collider. You have two cases wound-up and fired into a direct collision with each other, the various statements, assumptions and arguments being broken down into their base components according to their respective strengths. What you are then left with is the job of interpreting the results of the collision, which requires some kind of team.

I think I’m going to use this analogy again sometime in the near future.

~ Bruce

The virtue of paying attention (to theological ethicists)…

Sometimes us Gnu Atheists, secular fundamentalists, and religious fifth columnists can be dismissive, even totalitarian when the need arises.

Not that we’ve come to power quite yet, or that we’re necessarily restricted to anti-theistic dictatorship when we do (the dwindling Christian minority can still spout its nonsense in public, and we can allow this to continue), it’s possibly time for a change in the mode of engagement. The Enemy is beaten.

Before the First Atheist International secures its first English-speaking nation at the Global Atheist Convention in 2012, it’d probably be worth considering the baby we risk throwing out with the bath water. It’s time – the first time – for us to truly consider what sophisticated theologians have been saying, without our snickering, and without ridicule.

It’s time, now that we have the time, and that victory is already assured, that we consider these things in a scholarly manner.

Consider gay marriage. We’ve been shutting down that particular discussion for decades now, by calling opponents ‘homophobes’ without any consideration of their actual position. Terrible for sure, but necessary for the revolution, at least up until now.

We’ve won the debate. Public sympathy is now irreversibly against the church in this matter. It’s now safe for us to consider the more sophisticated ethical arguments against gay marriage without fear of a loss of hegemony.

“It is significant that everywhere the issue has been debated it begins on the issue of fairness and justice and with majority support but that soon changes when people realise that there are deeper issues involved. After their legislature experimented with same-sex marriage, the people of California voted against the revisionist concept of marriage.” – Emphasis added.

(Rod Benson et. al., 2011)

There are deeper issues involved, and the revisionist concept of marriage, our revisionist concept of marriage, doesn’t account for them. You don’t have to be religious to note that if we assume power, and follow through by riding roughshod over these deeper issues, it could mean disaster! It could turn out to be just another facet, in possibly yet another failed secular revolution! We don’t want that.

“Changing the law so that marriage includes same-sex unions would be a change to what marriage means. Currently marriage involves a comprehensive union between a man and a woman, and norms of permanence and exclusivity. Marriage has a place in the law because a relationship between a man and a woman is the kind of relationship that may produce children. Marriage is linked to children, for the sake of children, protecting their identity and their nurture by a mother and a father.”

(Rod Benson et. al., 2011)

Think of the children! You’d never had heard of it, or come across the idea during the past two decades of discussions of revisionist marriage, if you hadn’t bothered to take down your blinkers – to pay attention to what sophisticated, scholarly, religious ethicists had been telling you all along.

Think of the children! You’d never had heard of it!

Clearly revising the definition of marriage opens up all sorts of terrible possibilities. First we’d let the gays marry – couples who can’t produce their own offspring naturally – and then we’d have to grant the right of marriage to barren heterosexuals as well. Why it’s a slippery slope!

And you just know that secular fundamentalist ethicists have never considered the ramifications of giving IVF and adoption in combination with marriage, to straight couples. I really feel like we’ve dodged a bullet here. We really weren’t prepared for this!

“If children happen to be in a same-sex household they will always have come from outside that relationship, either through an earlier relationship or through the use of some other biological parent and technology.”

(Rod Benson et. al., 2011)

You see, it is just the same as with all of the heterosexual couples with reproductive problems the state has conscientiously been barring from marriage all along!

“If the law were to be changed so that marriage included same-sex relationships [or heterosexual couples with reproductive problems], then marriage would no longer be about children. It would be about adults only.”

(Rod Benson et. al., 2011)

The state wouldn’t be thinking about the children anymore! Fellow ultra-secularists, I implore you to reconsider, whichever future your goodwill for gays and the infertile may lead you to, do you want it to be one where the state isn’t looking out for our precious, vulnerable younglings?

“Given the marital relationship’s natural orientation to children, it is not surprising that, according to the best available sociological evidence, children fare best on virtually every indicator of wellbeing when reared by their wedded biological parents. “

(Rod Benson et. al., 2011)

Never mind that the first study Benson et. al. cite in support of this, is a largely interpretative meta-analysis by the ‘independent’ Witherspoon Institute, isn’t peer-reviewed, is funded by the Templeton Foundation, and when statistical, is purely correlatory; worrying about such matters would be both prejudicial and reductionist. How often in the past have we secular fundamentalists stonewalled discussion by being prejudicial and reductionist, in addition to our use of ridicule and ad hominem? As necessary as it was then, it’s no longer a useful strategy. We need to change.

Never mind that the second study cited by Benson et. al., in as far as it addresses the issue of non-biological parents, concerns non-biological parents married to, or in defacto relationships with, biological parents, not at all considering married adoptive parents, or the use of IVF; such nitpicking would be missing the spirit of the concern. Sampling the population be damned, it takes only a little imagination to see these concerns as applying to gay (and infertile) couples as well. Don’t let statistical scientism prejudice your imagination!

Again, we’ve already won. Religion is an endangered species in Australian politics. We can finally afford to listen, and listen we should; we were all heading for disaster!

“In a liberal democracy, others can form other types of relationships; but ‘marriage’ is a term reserved for a particular kind of relationship that brings with it obligations to others beyond the two parties. Marriage is shared obligation for children.”

(Rod Benson et. al., 2011)

In other words, dear gay marriage advocates; think of the children because gay and reproductively challenged parents won’t, and nor will the state if we change the definition of marriage!

Finally, it all seems so… clear!

Honestly, I’m glad I took the time to delve through the cited material and the expressed argument, because in twenty odd years of watching this discussion unfurl, I’ve never seen anyone present a case quite like this. Think of the children! It never sprung to mind!

Never again will I write off an instance of theological ethics as unscholarly from such a piddling detail as the drawing of conclusions not supported by the cited research – this prejudices imagination! Why those pesky, unimaginative sceptics often marginalise alternative medicine in precisely the same way!

Never again will I dismiss the accumulated wisdom of tradition, like the long-established practice of barring non-reproductive heterosexual couples from the institution of marriage. There are rational reasons why traditions become entrenched, and change doesn’t occur in a vacuum.

The major difficulty I have in all of this, is how in light of my own secular totalitarianism, and that of my peers in the movement, I’m going to justify all of this while we send the theological ethicists off to the gulag political margins. I guess it’ll have to be a carefully crafted plagiarism that hides the original source, and the hypocrisy of using it.

We just can’t get by without this wisdom!

~ Bruce

Lumpentour #3

Sorry to keep you waiting for so long since the last leg. People kept asking me for a light. Long story.

You didn’t get mugged or nuthin’, did you? Good. Let’s get moving then.

***

It’s slicker than I remember (2011)

Elizabeth Shopping Centre! I can remember when it was John Martin’s instead of Myer, but alas, John Martin’s went belly up at the end of the 1990s. They were one of the better employers in retail, too.

Of course, they’re all up against the wall now, about to be shot to bits by online sales.

(Dear upper management; it’s service provision that’s the issue, not the employees, nor the things you’ve been obsessively tweak-and-squeezing for the last decade).

How this place has changed… It’s all so shiny.

I can remember an episode here once after work, in ’97 or ’98, when public smoking restrictions were first being implemented. In the thickest, most nasally affected Strine, Miss Bogan announced to all and sundry, ‘The Sissem wun stomme frumm smokin’ wereawanna [fark fark fark!]’. And it didn’t, or at least it didn’t for as long as I watched her light up and puff her fumes indoors.

Who says you can’t fight The Sissem?

Never saw her again, mind you. Maybe she’s hidden in an abandoned bank somewhere, pickled in a barrel. Continue reading “Lumpentour #3”