Archive for Philosophy

Different place, different time

Posted in Other, Philosophy with tags , on April 18, 2013 by innothingwetrust

Fork in the Road

3 easy ways to change the future

I wanted to write a note about a very simple concept which just blows my mind. I guess it’s an extension of the idea of ‘cause and effect’ and it says that every single action and decision you make changes the future. It could be called ‘Sliding Doors Syndrome’ after the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow film. What blows my mind is where the initial thought leads you – down a tricky philosophical path of causality, fatalism, determinism and, ultimately, questioning our own free will.

Here are 3 everyday things that you can do which will alter the future – the future which would have happened had you not acted in the way you did.

1. Take a different route home

If you drive, this thought may have occurred to you already. Or not if you’re not weird like me. I drive to work every day and there are a number of routes I could take to get there and back. There is one particular fork in the road at which I could go left or straight on, and it was waiting for the lights to change at that junction that I thought one evening, ‘If today I just went straight on here instead of left, how would it change my life?’ And in a flash I imagined how my life could turn out differently beginning with this first very small and seemingly insignificant change.

If I went straight on, I would see different things on the way home – different cars, different shops, different fields. I would follow different drivers – perhaps much faster or slower than those who took the left fork in the road. I would almost certainly arrive home at a different time. My girlfriend might be in the bathroom instead of the living room at the time that I open the front door meaning that I feed the cats instead of her. Perhaps I cut my hand on the tin whilst doing this and require a plaster. Maybe this plaster is the last one in the box which reminds us to add it to our shopping list. Maybe this addition makes us go shopping that night when we might otherwise have put it off until tomorrow. Whilst in the medical aisle looking for plasters, we bump into an old friend and spend 5 minutes catching up. The friend hears I am looking for a new job and says there is an opening at their place that I’d be perfect for. I go for the interview and get the job, my life changed forever.

Cut back to me sitting in my car at that junction, mind blown.

Now, you might say that it wasn’t the fact that I altered my vehicular course that my life took a different turn, but that I am a clumsy sod who cut their hand on a tin of cat food. Correct, but I will always be clumsy whether I took the left turn or went straight on. The point is that I was being clumsy in a different place at a different time. Look at it the other way round: think about a time when an opportunity has presented itself to you – would it have happened if you hadn’t been in that place at that time? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. And would you have been in that place if you had taken a different route home one day in the past? I’d wager no. Even leaving the house 10 seconds earlier or later would have changed how long it took to get to the supermarket, changed what and who we saw on the way and – critically – changed the point at which we went down the medical aisle.

And after all of this, think about every other driver on the road on the way home whose journeys you altered in some small way by being on that road instead of your usual one (or by not being on your usual road). Then apply all of the above to all of them.

2. Shuffle a deck of cards

I recently received a deck of cards at work. It was one of those gifts from a business affiliate which is branded and has different promotional information about the company on each card. I have taken to shuffling this deck of cards while I am speaking on the phone to people just as a pass-time (plus my ‘riffle’ technique requires a bit of work). It occurred to me that every single time I do so, I am changing my life or the lives of others.

At some point I will probably take this deck of cards home. Despite their annoying corporate messages, they are actually quite nice cards. Plus all my old ones are tattered and smell of all the booze that has ever been spilt on them. Given that every single card game depends in some small or large capacity on ‘the luck of the draw’, every shuffle of the deck I make now re-arranges this order not just for the next game to be played with them, but for every single game ever to be played with them. Imagine that. Go and shuffle a deck of cards with the knowledge that you are invariably altering the course of every pinochle, patience and poker party you will ever host (the first two are admittedly less likely than the third, but I needed them for alliteration). If there is money riding on each poker night then obviously the stakes are raised again.

And it’s not just playing cards. I have seen ‘healthy recipe cards’ that you can buy (52 cards in a deck, 52 weeks in a year = 1 recipe per week, clever really). Imagine you use these at home as part of a new year resolution to eat better food. You shuffle them on January 1st – but how many times? Each time you do will completely change how your year – and thus your life – turns out. Depending on the order, you will eat differently each week. You may have a conversation about chicken or lentils or asparagus or trout with a colleague or acquaintance if you had eaten that food that week. You may begin to bond with this person where you might not had you not conducted that initial conversation about the consistency of mashed potato and you may end up with a new friend – as well as their extended circle of friends. You may end up going to social events and places you’ve not been before. Maybe you’ll even meet the love of your life and parent to your future children and be kissing them at midnight on December 31st instead of grappling with the dilemma of ‘Hootenanny or Fireworks?’. All because you ate thrice cooked chips instead of the seafood risotto in week 12. You might also take the cards back to the shop and ask why ‘thrice cooked chips’ are included in a set of healthy eating recipes. Just another way your life could change.

3. Wait to throw the ball

This is one for the sports fans out there and specifically football fans (that’s ‘soccer’ to my American friends) although this could apply to a number of sports. It doesn’t matter much what level of sport you are watching, but for ease of explanation, let’s say it’s the Premier League.

You are watching Stoke vs. Wigan. In today’s climate, that’s a relegation 6-pointer (and for those not au-fait with footy terminology, that means it’s a very important game for both teams as each of them are in danger of relegation and need to win as well as needing their direct rivals to lose). Ryan Shawcross has already splintered Aruna Kone’s pelvis whilst clumsily roundhouse-kicking a bouncing ball clear and Tony Pulis’ incandescent rage at the resulting yellow card results in him telling his thuggish players to ‘snap the ref’. It’s a classic at the Britannia, and it’s 0-0. In the 89th minute, the ball is kicked out of play by Robert Huth (he was aiming for Franco Di Santo’s head but missed). The ball loops into the crowd and into your arms. You should take a second at this point to appreciate the power you hold in your hands.

While Maynor Figueroa is waiting for you to throw the ball to him, the players are getting into position on the pitch. If you throw the ball immediately back to him, he doesn’t see anything on, plays a safe ball back to defence and the two sides attritionally see out a 0-0 draw. Wigan end up relegated with Stoke staying up.

However, you don’t do that. You decide to wait 3 seconds before returning the ball. In those 3 seconds, Charlie Adam trips over his undone bootlaces and Wigan’s Ryo Miyaichi sees an opening. The ball is thrown to the on-running Arsenal loanee who dodges two leg-break attempts, a clothes line and numerous low-value coins thrown by the baying home crowd to slam the ball past Asmir Begovic. Wigan win 1-0 and stay up. The crushing defeat deflates Stoke and they end up being relegated to the Championship.

Fights break out in a few pubs and some fans get hospitalised. Pulis loses his job and never works in football again. Tabloid hacks will write different stories and match reports. The following season, the Stoke City fans  travel to Coventry, Watford and Leicester fortnightly instead of Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. In addition, fans of the other 23 clubs in the Championship will be traveling to Stoke every other week instead of Wigan. All of this greatly affects the roads and trains on match days and consequently everyone else sharing them, applying ‘different road theory’ from the first example.

When you have that ball in your hands, you potentially hold the futures of millions of people. So like I said, take a second to appreciate that. Or 3.

Obviously we have no real control over the future. We can ‘alter’ it, but given that we have no idea whatsoever whether it will have a good or devastating effect, we are still slaves to the unknown. The ‘power’ we hold is like that of being entrusted to a panel of unmarked buttons, half of which send food, water and medication to a thousand starving children and the other half launch a nuclear missile to land on a different kitten sanctuary. Which buttons should you press? Well, you don’t know. You don’t have the power to know. But you do have the power to kick fate in one direction or the other, and it is a blind power that we have and exercise every single day with every single thing we do.

And even if you don’t subscribe to any of the above, my mere contemplation of these scenarios has compelled me to write this piece which you are now kindly taking the time to read. What would you be doing right now if I hadn’t done that?


Some people are censored. Get over it?

Posted in Homophobia, Human Rights, Philosophy, Politics, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2012 by innothingwetrust

I’m really unsure how I feel about this.

If you are a Londoner, you have probably seen the recent bus advertising campaign by Stonewall, the lesbian, gay and bisexual equality charity. It is pictured below:

As an ardent supporter of LGBT rights and equality, I welcome the simple fact that such a slogan can be emblazoned so publicly. For one, it shows how far gay rights have come in terms of acceptance and accessibility to resources. But secondly, it shows off Britain’s championing of freedom of speech, something which makes me very proud to live here, especially when you see the cost of withholding such a freedom in countries such as Russia (see my post ‘St. Petersburg: Don’t Go There‘), China and Syria.

The adverts are aimed at the opposition in the ongoing row over homosexual marriage, namely homophobics, and much more pointedly, religious homophobics. As such, a reposte has been designed by the Core Issues Trust who describe themselves as “a non-profit Christian initiative seeking to support men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression. It respects the rights of individuals who identify as gay who do not seek change.” Their advert looks like this:

The controversy arises because these adverts have been blocked from publication. This is controversial because it denies the other side of the debate the right to a reply which – whether you think they have a point or if you think they are a bunch of batshit crazy loons wasting their lives on totally unnecessary, unfounded and harmful pursuits – is a contravention of the freedom of speech I feel so proud to uphold.

Although there is obviously a line to be drawn between ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘inciting hatred’, I don’t think the CORE advert does that. If anything, the most fervent response is likely to be from people who oppose the message of the advert than neutrals converting to CORE’s philosophy or the already-converted strengthening their beliefs. Indeed, when I see things like this I boil inside with indignation at the unthinking and selfish prejudice behind such views. I don’t know if such a strong reaction is elicited from those sympathetic to these views themselves. ‘Inciting hatred’ is the stirring of people to rally round and act upon a cause based on (usually ill-informed and prejudiced) hatred of another type of person. Quite opposite to inciting hatred, it seems this advert is inviting hatred.

And then there is the issue of what the advert itself is promoting, namely therapies for people who wish to change their sexual orientation. Whether or not you agree with studies which suggest that sexual orientation for some (heterosexuals as well as homosexuals) can be changed (and it is possible that some people can change their orientation if they so wished – again, studies vary greatly) is somewhat irrelevant. The debate over whether or not such a change is possible misses the point entirely, the point being whether or not it is necessary. And the answer, to any compassionate and sensible thinking person, is no, it is absolutely not necessary. Most homosexuals undertaking Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) are highly religious which should tell you a lot. Most exist in an environment where the pressure to be straight is intense and are convinced that something which is completely harmless and natural is somehow a personal defect and a sinful act. It is the brainwashed brainwashing the brainwashed. Rather than promoting ‘cures’ for the benignity of homosexuality, humanity should grow up and promote cures for the malignant cancer of the social ostracization of homosexuals. The cure, unfortunately for the general good, is intelligence.

It is also particularly telling that CORE offers no therapies for people of a heterosexual persuasion who wish to become homosexual. I wonder if there was a demand for this whether they would provide such a service…

Anyway, this is teetering on the precipice of a full-blown, meandering rant, so I must rein it in. The reason I am torn in this issue is that although I fully support the message of the Stonewall campaign and fully reject the implications of the CORE one, I also fully support their right to voice this opinion, especially as the opposite side has been given this right already. Freedom of speech does not take sides, yet here we are denying one its freedom.

This echoes the furore over Nick Griffin’s participation in Question Time in 2009. Griffin is clearly a horrible human being. His views are horrendously misinformed and uncompassionate and his values of human worth are economical and not intrinsic. However, he heads a party which, at the time, had over a million people supporting it. Whatever his views, he represented a significant enough proportion of the British population to be afforded a voice. We would not be a Democracy if we denied this right. That he was hounded for a whole hour gave me a certain amount of satisfaction, but he should have been allowed more time to speak. I mean, what are we afraid of? That given this opportunity he will amass enough votes to take power? Trust me, if that day came, I would elope, possibly to a remote island where I wouldn’t have to live around such idiocy and hate. I would like to think that if he was allowed to spout his nonsense over the airwaves, most of the British people would rightly reject his policies and he might well in fact lose popularity. But while we bully those with unpopular views into silence, they will only use such injustice as a badge of honour to attract more attention and will fire double standards back at the right side of the debate. Let the good speak, and let stupidity speak for itself.

So, in short, I think these adverts should have been allowed to run. In 2008 a similar atheist bus campaign ran which looked like this:

And in similar fashion, a Christian response was formulated, but in this case, was allowed to run:

Again, I completely agree with the first and certainly disagree with the second, but why was this exchange allowed to run, but the latest one nipped in the bud? This debate could rage on and on, but fundamentally I would hope that people are smart enough to pick what is right in the long run, despite what the opposition wish to thrust upon them. True knowledge can not exist in a dictated society – it has to be informed by all sides and weeded out. So people should be exposed to falsehood, otherwise they are scarcely better off than the brainwashed.

Make Bradford human

Posted in Advertising & Television, Other, Philosophy, Racism, Religion with tags , , , , , , on March 2, 2012 by innothingwetrust

A response to Channel 4’s provocative documentary, ‘Make Bradford British’ (Thursday 1st March, 21.00 – 22.00, C4)

What does it mean to be British? Speaking English? The ability to queue? Knowing the words to our national anthem? Or does such a sense of ‘belonging’ simply mean caring about the country in which you live? My grandmother once said that ‘Britishness’ was about ‘law and order’. If this is simply the case then Britons are far more widespread than our own fair Isles and in fact include inhabitants of any civilised, developed country. The answer, of course, is a mixture of the above and a lot, lot more. But why is it so important?

We humans seem to be obsessed with making sure that everything fits into some definition. It’s as if we just can’t sleep at night knowing that there is something or someone avoiding categorisation, that any item dwelling outside these parameters will instantly cause total chaos. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person watching Channel 4’s documentary ‘Make Bradford British’ with mixed feelings.

The setup of the program is that 8 Bradfordians of differing races, religions, ages and backgrounds are brought together under the same premise: they have all failed the government’s ludicrous ‘Citizenship Test’ (I took a version of the test and got 11/24, which would qualify as a ‘fail’). The inhabitants of Britain’s most segregated city are forced to live together in a house (at least this week) and discuss/ discover what it means to be ‘British’ today. My knee-jerk reaction, and what is still my overriding feeling regarding the topic, was ‘bloody hell, who cares what it means to be British?’. Now obviously, a lot of people would respond to this question claiming that they care, thank you very much, and that it is an important issue! Well, you’re going to have to convince this sceptic.

The focus of the first part of the program fell on Rashid, an incredibly devout Muslim who must not only pray 5 times a day, but must go all the way over to his Mosque to do it. All 5 times. Every day. I felt that Rashid came over actually as a really nice guy. At no point was he confrontational or even defensive in the face of the annoyance and total disbelief of his peers in the house, and he retained good humour and an endearing personality throughout. However, as nice as he seems, he appears also to be as thick as two cleveland steamers. This is exemplified in his assertion that praying at the Mosque as opposed to just at home will assure you of “25 to 28 times more reward from God”. Like the statistics have somehow been published from the 2006 Census of Paradise. His response to Sabbiyah – a female Muslim housemate who can’t believe that he will not let her pray with him because she is a woman – is that she should ‘ask her scholars’ and that they will tell her that it is not right. People ingrained in a belief to this extent, I fear, will never actually think for themelves. If your response to a problem is to consult only the thoughts of others then you will never have any of your own. A waste of a human mind. This isn’t a religion thing, it’s just being stupid.

However, the documentary – and Rashid’s housemates – try to imply that his constant back and forth between the house and the Mosque is somehow a barrier to his integration into society. No it’s not. It is no more a barrier to social integration than a workaholic’s long hours at the office or a soldier’s 2 year tour of duty. The real barrier is that people define Rashid immediately by his harmless – if questionable – religious activity, and that this definition does not constitute ‘Britishness’. It is absolutely the case that the surface judgements of others who see only his ethnicity, faith, clothes or beard block his integration, not his faith itself. If, to be British, one has to be a certain religion, then count me right out. Not just because I am an atheist, but because I would not want to be a part of such a country.

It is also the case that for whatever reason, people of all ethnicities can’t seem to see the wood for the trees when assessing their neighbours. If we’re not willing to mingle because we can’t fathom how people of differing skin tones could ever find any sort of common ground, then the question of what ‘British’ means pales in comparison to what is clearly a far greater problem of simple racism – from all sides, not just the ‘natives”. People must not just be ‘willing’ to interact: there must be no question over interaction in the first place.

Then there is Jens, a 71 year old white man living in an exclusively white area of Bradford. Some might excuse his shocking language by using that ridiculous and never justifiable adage, ‘he’s from that generation’. However, his casual references to ‘Paki-bashing’ and calling fellow housemate and Mr.T lookalike Desmond a ‘black bastard’ could easily have come from a member of the younger generation who might also try and explain away such comments as ‘banter’ in a similar fashion to Jens. The meaning of these phrases is lost on such people – at no point does Jens question why such a phrase as ‘Paki-bashing’ even exists and the obviously abhorrent connotations of that idea, he simply argues that the useage was innocent. Even if this were true, of all the innocent phrases out there to drop into conversation… I don’t buy it Jens.

All of these characters claim to be British through and through and display the tired old signs of pointless patriotism which people love to wear on their sleeves and red-tops love to pin to their front pages as a badge of honour. Patriotism is, ultimately, a pledge of allegiance to a plot of land – a plot which has been settled upon by certain people who have developed a certain set of laws, values and idiosyncrasies. However, since abstract ideas such as ‘values’ do not exist tangibly, they can be taken with you wherever you go. If patriotism was defined simply as an affinity with these ideas, it would be merely a philosophical issue and not also a socio-political one. The one constant with patriotism is a locality – a plot of land. The question is not ‘what does it mean to be British?’, but ‘why is it so important for everyone residing in Britain to share some common characteristic?’.

This isn’t necessarily the rhetoric that it appears to be (and mostly is). I actually think that it is key for people to share certain characteristics, but that these have absolutely nothing to do with what nationality a person considers themself to be, what religion they follow, whether they or their parents were born inside some imaginary line or whether they know a country’s history. The things all humans should share are adherance to the law, an open, logical mind, tolerance of others (or, even better, the sheer absence of the idea of tolerance in the first place – you should ‘tolerate’ without it even being a thought), to believe and do what you want as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else and – most importantly – just don’t be a criminally useless neanderthal thug. You might have to read between the lines with that last one. Those should be the ground rules for any society. Anything on top of that (drinking tea, fish & chips, street parties, Hugh Grant, Hugh Laurie, QI, the Monarchy, architecture) is optional.

In constantly asking what constitutes ‘Britishness’, we are ramming people into labelled boxes and dividing them. What people fail to step back and see is that all of these boxes – Asian, African, Tall, Female, Muslim, Bald, Jew, Pensioner, British, Youth, Male, Polish, Chinese, Fat – all reside in one larger box labelled ‘Doesn’t Really Matter’. So perhaps I am as guilty of pigeon-holing as anyone else – I just think the fewer ‘holes’, the better. Maybe if people got up out of their confines and mingled together in the communal trough – much like Bradford’s ridiculous segregated communities should – they would discover that it is far more productive to forget all the differences and misunderstandings and realise the one thing that we have in common  – we are all human. Once we have all gotten over ourselves and established that fact, maybe then we can begin to indulge in a national identity.

But that’s just too simple I guess.

Episode 2 of ‘Make Bradford British’ will be shown on Thursday 8th March, 21.00 – 22.00, C4.

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