‘I’m an atheist, but…’, revisited

It’s a bit of a dead horse, the issue of the self-degrading token atheist. Part of this I think is because the discussion has been dominated by the American perspective on token atheists; there is real antipathy towards the godless in the US, so there’s a real incentive for tokens to put up their hands for a few scraps from the table.

I live here in Australia. While I personally know of a few cases of workplace discrimination against atheists (such as by an sportswear manufacturer associated with a local pentecostal church, another example involving your’s truly and a Catholic employer, and others in the social services), and I’m aware that it’s part of a broader context of discrimination by religious employers, I have no objective information that tells me that an Australian atheist is more likely to be discriminated against than a Catholic or Muslim. I’m not willing, on the base of this, to abandon the null-hypothesis – which is that atheists aren’t singled out like this in Australia.

Subjectively, in general, I don’t feel oppressed. My main concern, is Australia’s soft theocracy, and privilege given to religious not-for-profits. The fact that religious organisations can lobby government for exemption from anti-discrimination legislation, and still be taken seriously, and the way S116 of the Australian constitution has been less than robustly enforced by the High Court, is all the justification I need, generally, for these concerns.

(Maybe one day, I’ll try to generalise what my problems with religion and various theocracies are, rather than this occasional piecemeal criticism of this-and-that issue).

This isn’t to say that there aren’t hot-spots of animus against atheists, or other issues of concern to us godless types. This isn’t to say that hostility towards atheists shouldn’t be resisted – especially when considering the roll-call of some of the Australians doing it; Prof. Greg ‘atheist plague’ Craven of Australian Catholic University (which has a mission statement of ‘tolerance’, bah!); George Pell; Dr. Peter Jensen and Prof. Gary ‘secularists are trying to shut down mosques’ Bouma (check some of his appointments to get why this is an issue) to name a few.

It’s just that I’m not going to get worked up about it on a personal level, or feel sorry for myself. Again, I don’t feel oppressed.

But… (meta-but?)

This doesn’t mean that we don’t have token atheists in Australia, especially not in the media. The implications are just a little different, and perhaps interesting if you’re a little jaded about the issue of ‘atheist, but…’ infidels.

John: I’m an atheist, but I respect religious people.

Jane: Why do you feel the need to point that out? Do you think that people will think you’re a bigot if you call yourself an atheist? You sound like you think you’re oppressed.


John: I’m an atheist, but I respect you, my Muslim friends.

Jane: Why do you feel the need to re-assure Muslims? Are you paranoid they’re going to blow you up or something if you admit to being a non-believer? You sound phobic. You do realise that Muslims in Australia are generally pretty moderate?


John: I’m an atheist, but I won’t rock the boat, dear religious employer/manager/editor…

Jane: Geez, I can tell you’re going to be fun to work with. You do realise that if your boss isn’t in the business of prejudice, you’ve just delivered them one whopping great insult? And if they are in the business of prejudice… well… cripes. Yellow stripe…


You really have to wonder why, in a country that’s so tolerant of atheists, there are still atheists willing to sell out their own for a few scraps from the table. Maybe it’s just general back-stabbing, and cowardice. Office politics for dolts.

Maybe some of these ‘but’ atheists have been bullied by religious employers/lecturers/parents in the past, and don’t know any better. I can’t say I’m in a position to sympathise.

Maybe, in context, locally, there is discrimination in practice. Maybe some atheist sod just needs a job, and happened across one of the bad workplaces.

Aside from any concern about the well-being of atheists as a group, there’s the issue, a big issue, in the media, of what exactly the dynamic is when editors are appealed to in this manner.

An editor’s a theist, so their journos start peddling garbage misquotes about atheists and whatnot to appeal to them. This presupposes that a religious editor actually wants this kind of tripe; it’s either an insult to a good editor, or unethical brown-nosing to a bad one.

But more than this, what you have is an up-front commitment by an atheist writer/journalist to negotiate truth in return for presumed career favours. Journalism born of this can only be of dubious ethics, and it’s something for interested atheist and theist readers to take serious umbrage over. It’s contemptuous.

Journalists and writers who do this knowingly regard their readers as fools. Journalists and writers who do this unwittingly are at best, flaky.

(Reflect for a moment on the plight of good editors having to manage this kind of ‘talent’).

This kind of career brown-noser is a class of social commentator I’m really getting quite impatient with; ever increasingly as I encounter repeated instances of such simpering cowardice.

~ Bruce

Medicated #004

Preface: I wrote this post in the first half of February, planning to edit it the next morning when I had assumed I’d be more rested. This was the eve of a new side-effect kicking in: something akin to having reached the point where my head was filled to bursting with wet, cold, concrete. These weird migraines may be an ongoing thing, although they are under control at the moment.

I’ve decided, given the possibility of a change of frame of mind in the past few weeks, to publish this post as-is, rather than edit away what may have been temporary idiosyncrasies. Typos, malapropisms and all, saved for posterity, or whatnot.

Gradually, I’m waking up…

It’s taken longer than I’d expected for the insomnia to wear off as a side effect. It’s been a state of affairs that’s left me awake and idle, yet too fatigued to do much in the way of writing, even when a little spare time has come around.

My taste has definitely changed, in most part for the better, but not always. I’ve now got a younger palette.

If you asked me which I’d prefer, six weeks ago, creaming soda or mineral water, I’d have gone with the latter. I often guzzle down a Foodland, 80c bottle of mineral water when tak-tak-takking at the keyboard.

Now mineral water tastes like it used to, which is not to say bad, but still clearly less preferable to a good vanilla creaming soda. Even Jolt vanilla creamy soda, properly chilled, is considerably more pleasurable, even with all that sugar.

If only Tarax was still around (Woodroofe’s ‘Sno Top’ just isn’t creamy enough)… Kirk’s?

Increased physicality, particularly with my gait and reflexes, has seen the occasional muscle twinge from quarters left unused for some time. No cramps, or pulls mind you, just the occasional polite reminder.

And along the way, I’ve re-discovered, or re-affirmed a few observations… (Things get heavier from this point onward).

I blame Epicurus (and failing that, Alain de Botton)

I can’t be a hedonist of the traditional variety. While I share similar attitudes to the alleviation of suffering held by Epicureans, and certainly, the prospect of reflection in my own Garden is desirable, the principal of lathe biōsas isn’t.

While I don’t desire fame, nor harbour urges to dictate the ins and outs of other people’s lives, I still most definitely intend to live politically, and loudly at that! The life unseen indeed!

If I’d wanted to live some kind of ultra-libertarian, hippy commune lifestyle, I’d have moved to Nimbin and tuned-out, or something, maaaaaaaan.

I can’t honestly say that the spirit of hedonism in which I take my meds, is anything more than semi-Epicurean. I care too much about other people to lock myself away like that.

(Call it a kind of Pharisees paradox: while I don’t want to live like a Pharisee, or make myself a hypocrite, I don’t see meek silence as practically compatible with achieving the goals of anything like a universalist hedonism, especially in as far as anything foreshadowing modern utilitarianism).

And no matter how long I take escitalopram, nor how often he cherry picks Epicurus (and other philosophers), I don’t see Alain de Botton’s proposed temples to atheism as any kind of curative, to anything serious at least. AdB takes the problem of human flourishing to venal, and unproductive new lows.

(It seems he’s done away with lathe biōsas as well).

Dawkins is on the money

There are better things to spend this kind of money on. A bit stuffy-classicist perhaps, next to AdB, Dawkins comes off looking like a working class hero.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Alain de Botton should end all his tweets in ‘#firstworldproblems’.

Do you see how apathetic anti-depressants make me?

Huxley doesn’t do SSRIs

I’m sick of the Brave New World dystopian take on antidepressants, now more than I’ve ever been. I used to humour the idea back in the 1990s when the available medications of the time were less precise than they are now. I was told, during the latter years of the recession, that public funding of anti-depressants was a way of suppressing dissent and keeping the populace docile.

(This charge being levelled at the then Howard government, incidentally).

This was little more than a paranoid, overwrought amplification of the ‘happy pill’ rhetoric used by people who don’t use ‘happy pills’. SSRIs don’t make you happy, they treat biological shortcomings that are impediments to happiness*, much in the way insulin injections treat a shortcoming in diabetics (that is also an impediment to happiness).

If your unhappiness is entirely psychological, SSRIs won’t fix it. SSRIs don’t just pave over difficulties the way recreational drugs sometimes appear to.

Perhaps you need to be a doctor, or to experience these things first hand, or perhaps you just need to be a bit empathic and understanding, to fully understand how antidepressants are not narcotics.

Of course, it’s easy for us to criticise Huxley’s take on psychoactive drugs, given what he had to work with at the time – primarily psychedelics, which Huxley experimented with, early tricyclic antidepressants only being around for less than a decade before his death (over two decades after Brave New World).

Still, there’s Brave New World in context, and then there’s the snobbish pontificating about drugs taking away all the life problems you can’t and won’t deal with.

No, I don’t take it back

There’s a tendency amongst some of the people I’ve had run-ins with, in real life, to attribute our disagreements to my depression. Oh, you were just depressed, that’s okay, I understand…

Right… so now that I’m on medication, that’s altered reality or history? Suddenly by fiat, whoever was disagreeing with me is correct, simply because I’m on medication?

It should occur to people that even if I was wrong, my antagonists could still be wrong as well; we could both have been wrong. That this gets overlooked exposes all-too convenient dismissal for what it is.

Now that I’m taking Lexapro, Mr/Mrs Condescending, history has altered so that you; never said ‘Hitler should have finished the job’; never uttered ‘Asians can’t drive in traffic because of their squinty eyes’; never blamed women for inciting men by showing a bit of cleavage; never racially vilified your Indian co-workers behind their backs; never postulated about the supposed potential problems caused by future racial-mixing between white Australians and Sudanese refugees; never accused me of being a threat to you, despite only ever protecting you from real, actual threats, at great personal expense; never fabricated the story, telling mutual friends just to show how progressive you are, that I don’t like lesbians; never… etc.

None of this history goes away just because I’m taking a medication. I don’t suddenly become apathetic to any of this because I’m on SSRIs.

Fighting on

Subjectively, frustration takes on a whole new meaning in the context of dysthymia. Already I’m noticing that the usual bugbears, while still unhealthy to engage with at any great length (much less humour), don’t feel as corrosive.

This isn’t a comment on morality or subjective revulsion – I still find the same things morally repugnant for the same reasons. It’s just that these things, even at this early stage, don’t seem to wear me down the same way as they used to (although they still can).

I suspect my motivations will change with time – I’m only human and hence still subject to my passions.

But still, the ‘happy pills’ aren’t making my conflicts just up and disappear, and I’m becoming a whole lot more enervated about fighting the fight.

~ Bruce

* Amongst other things, such as the ability to concentrate, which is a big-ticket issue for me.