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October 27, 2008

Mr. Darcy

I've currently forgotten to do my laundry three weeks on the trot, and am now wearing a little ensemble I like to call "best clothes with pyjamas for underwear", a look a believe is well on its way this winter. As such, I'm currently wearing a waistcoat and tie, with a suit jacket and a dress shirt. My attempt to make it seem 'just thrown on' nonchantly really rather more makes me look like a mad Victorian scientist. This is also accentuated by the fact I still have white dye in my hair from Thursday night, and on the best of days my hair looks like a ball of chaos unpicked by an adventurous kitten.

This led to my favourite line of today being uttered by a dinner lady, the conversation went as such:

Her: "Oh, you look dressed up interesting"

Me: "Well, you see, the thing is I hadn't planned..."

Her, noticing my accent: "OHHHHH, You're ENGLISH. I see"


Being English (actually from Jersey, but never mind) is an odd participating factor in my dealings with Canadians, which causes them to forgive me for a lot -- but expect a rather lot too. This is good when Police on the street attempt to give me a drinking ticket, which I can get out of by being clumsy and comedic; but bad when it's assumed that I will hold views by virtue of ethnicity.

To the rest of the world, the Englishman comes in two forms. Rom-com or Drama. Your choice is to be oddly attractive but incredibly misdirected and stuffy, or to build a volcano-base and try to kill James Bond. In attempting to break this delusion, I'm going for the both simultaneously option. Bond is a smug cunt anyway.

Another example of this:

Helen: "Can you be an Atheist Kantian?"

Sierra: "Alex, you're English, can you be an Atheist Kanitan?"

Me: "Hang on, I'm not... Well alright I am I guess but... I mean, that doesn't have much to do with it"

Oh yes, I forgot to mention, the third type of Englishman is the Atheist Bastard, as represented so well by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. These are the English who know a lot, and can offer answers to most things, but don't like y'know, appreciate the love man. There's a very real perceived failing in the Logical kind of Intellectuals, in that there must be something robotic and inhuman within them to account for the fact that they don't see God in the world. They, and I up to a point, are regarded with a kind of angry pity. They deny the existence of Homoeopathy despite the fact that I once totally heard of when it worked on this guy, and he was like completely cured and grew a new arm. They deny the existence of ghosts but I've got this picture on my computer where there's like a smudge except if you draw a face on it it kind of looks like a face. They deny the existence of God, even though they know that we really, REALLY want to believe in him.

I'm occasionally, though not always, that guy. I suppose it must be just as frustrating for those who attempt to explain their point of view to me as it is for me to try and explain the benefits of logic to them. Many Canadians have been trying to encapsulate the movie 'The Secret' for me, so I may better my life. Essentially, it's the belief that when you have a thought, it gets sent out to the centre of the universe, and if it's desired highly enough it can attract events to you. If I think: "I wish I could meet a hot redhead", hard enough - a hot redhead will I meet.

I can see why people would think this, really. I can see why if you concentrate hard enough on something you'll be more aware of occasions where it seems you could fulfill that thought. I can see that if you express a thought so clearly it may motivate you to fulfill it. I can see why perception alters reality, as perception IS reality. However, I can also see why the whole thing is bullshit.

And you, dear reader, can too, even if you wrote the damn book itself. You can see all the reasons why it could easily seem true if it weren't. The point is, though, that you may also be able to see why it is true; as do thousands of adherents to this film.

This makes me seem almost unimaginably English. There is something about the world that I am unable to perceive that apparently everyone else can. This was okay in England, where there was only a small distribution of people claiming to see something beyond the physical world, of being party to a cosmic secret; but here in Canada I'm very much in the minority. The minority is so small, in fact, it appears to be me; and all the Canadians are so eager to pity my lack of ability, my cold soullessness.

Well the hell with them, and the hell with the Dinner Lady too. Perhaps I am predisposed to be more critical and more cynical of things, but that's not going to affect me. I can still see beauty in stars, complexity in life, magnificence in nature. Some of the most mesmerising things I've ever seen are photos from the Hubble Space Telescope. I admit to not being able to see farther than the edges of our universe, but that's plenty far enough for me. As far as it is, my smell has probably already reached there. I really should so some laundry.

You'll almost certainly have this week's album, but I'm now reminded how fantastic it is through having listened to it non-stop on repeat for about four days in a row. If you have it, I want you to bring one hand up in the air, and hi-five yourself. If you do not have it, bring one hand up in the air and slap yourself in the face. It's 'The Dark Side of the Moon' by Pink Floyd

October 13, 2008

Prometheus Unbound

I was recently listening to a debate on whether England should introduce blasphemy laws to stop the propagation of religious hatred. This was shown to me by John Nunn about two months ago, and is consequently slightly out of date regarding the laws of England concerning blasphemy at the moment; however I bring it to your attention because of two reasons. Firstly, Sarah Palin has stated in the past that she is for "keeping America Christian", which amounts to limiting the separation between Church and State and also propounding equal education of Creationism and Evolution in schools. This is a woman who thought that Dinosaurs were alive five thousand years ago, and there is a very good chance she may become president of the largest current superpower in the world.

Let's just time out for a second here, because I want the ridiculousness of that last statement to fully sink in. Hell, the surreality of the entire situation should be enough to make everyone gawp like wide eyed fish inhabiting the body of a deer caught in the headlights of a particularly surprising truck. This stupid, contemptible, grotesque, rash, racist, violent women may well be the one holding the keys to the biggest nuclear arsenal in the world. Are we really doing this, humanity? I understand it was funny at the time, but seriously it's looking as though there may actually be a chance that her and McCain win; and if they do, McCain won't last long. The man is around 70, a loud noise or a particularly buttery potato could kill him. This leaves the Hockey Mom in charge of a country.

It's like an especially terrible Disney movie, except that instead of the end where the inexperienced but cheerful hockey mom wins the country over with her dogged determination and back-country thinking, we get the end where she's put on the spot almost immediately by a Chinese ambassador, and we get to wave goodbye to the civilised world in a cloud of regret and radioactive vapour. The woman has spent barely two years governing Alaska, which has a population of around four separate people, and we take this to be enough experience to run a country? This crosses the boundaries of the astonishingly stupid into the downright suicidal, so we can only hope that the Americans find a less harmful way to collectively top themselves.

Anyway, secondly, Stephen Fry brings up the distinction between the Greek creation myths, and the current Western ones - specifically in the format of Genesis vs. Prometheus. In Genesis, Humanity is in some senses literally finding its feet. God has just made us (essentially as decoration, as we would introduce petunias to a bare patch of garden) and pushed us into Eden; without very much knowledge of our capability. As Hitchens says in the article: the first ever joke was Adam saying to Eve "you'd best stand back, I don't know how big this thing is going to get".

Being so introduced to this new and confusing world, Humans are given very little in the way of direction, other than "Don't eat that fruit over there". I call this direction, but this is misleading, because no sooner are we told not to eat certain types of fruit a snake wanders up and goes "It's cool guys, you can eat the fruit. It's super delicious". Being given such conflicting advice, we err on the side of the adventurous - and of course we eat the fruit. Turns out, not only was it super-delicious, but it gave us knowledge of good and evil, so it was a good thing then.

God, however, has other ideas. Being apparently otherwise occupied whilst all this was going on, he comes back to find us quivering and gleaming in the new sun, now complete with fig-leaf underwear. Long story short: God flips out, original sin is born, child-bearing becomes unbearable, working becomes hard work. Because of this misdemeanour at the beginning of time, every human being is created sick and commanded to be well.

For this tiny and meaningless slight, every human being is meant to feel shame. I remember being told this story in Sunday school, and the optimistic God-fearing volunteer teacher would almost scowl at us at this point, willing us to feel guilt for these actions. We are humans, we are dirty, we are unworthy to have the Grace of God thrust upon us.

Well I'm sorry optimistic God-fearing volunteer teacher, but I couldn't then and I won't now. I refuse to be servile to the point of emancipation, and I refuse to feel any mote of emotion for any action I hadn't the slightest bearing on, nor could have. This, then, is original sin - for what we are all ostensibly to go to hell for? I will not take responsibility for what two strangers did six-thousand years ago, no matter how apparently bad it may be. If I am to share responsibility as a human, am I meant to feel shame for the atrocities of Hitler, or the Khmer Rouge? Of course not, judgement can only be given on actions that require some form of participation from the person, be it action or inaction. If neither is possible, then we do not judge. Consider five people dying in a car crash, and then a man who lived five hundred miles away being taken to prison for it. Would we consider this action a correct one? Of course not, it's morally condemnable to punish someone for something they could not have prevented; so why are we to believe that a Benevolent and Omniscient God would take joy in it?

Contrast this, then, with the Creation story from the Greeks of Prometheus Stealing the Fire from the Heavens. The story is somewhat shorter and less complicated than that of Genesis, but nonetheless impressive. Prometheus, a Titan, looks down at the breeds of mortal inhabiting the earth - and focuses on one particular forlorn species huddling around for warmth. They have everything it needs to be successful, reasons Prometheus, all they need is a way to keep warm. So, Prometheus forms a bond with us, the humans, and our resourcefulness and verve; with our kinship and endurance, and eventually decides that he will do the unthinkable for us. He will steal the sacred fire, held only for the immortals, and bring some down from Olympus to earth -- for us humans.

Prometheus is succesful in doing so, and humans flourish into the dominant species that we are now, with all our flaws and with all our successes. As reward, Prometheus is chained to a rock for the rest of eternity, to have an eagle rip out and devour his liver daily, only to have it grow back the next day. However, us humans remember our beneficiaries and the Hero Heracles returns to the site of the Titan's chains so slay the eagle, and free Prometheus. Heracles returns triumphant, and humans rule supreme.

I guess the important point I'm trying to make here, laboured though it may be, is that the main thing I don't like about modern religion is the idea that Humans are somehow unworthy. That we are to be pitied, offered help, laughed upon like idiot children running riot by a vaguely condescending God. If there is one things that the Greeks taught  us, it is that humans can be brilliant, vibrant, intelligent, inspired beings. Why on earth would we want to claim servility to a perfect dictator? The Gods of Greece were certainly no better than humans, often mean, inconsiderate, incestuous, rapine, base, animalistic, capricious beings. The Greeks understood that humans were the Paragon of greatness, and that anything else remotely interesting must be in some way human.

So feel the divine spark of being within yourself! You're as much a God as anything else can claim to be. Every success in literature and the arts, in science, in human understanding is made by and for other humans. The fact that we can talk across ends of the globe, the fact that the hubble telescope can take magnificent, awe-inspiring pictures of the boundaries of space, 'The Well Tempered Clavier', 'Catch 22' and everything fantastic about society is human built. We share in all of these monumentous occasions, they show the capability of people. They show the capability of you. Remember that the greatest of human beings is no greater than you, and that there is, in fact, no such thing as anything greater than you. Not only is it bizarre to suggest some kind of divine influence for these things, but it's also slightly insulting to us as a species. Every action to praise God is an action to degrade humans. God is dead, long live man.

So what is the point of today's post? Be proud as a human, I suppose; and certainly don't share any of that pride with anything unconsidered. Remember that Pride is one of the deadly sins for a strategic reason: anyone truly proud in themselves is without the need for a God. Certainly -- don't feel shame for actions it is not possible for you to have a say in; though if Sarah Palin does end up getting into power I admit that I truly understand where you are coming from.

I realise that such a controversial post is bound to attract criticism, which I entirely welcome. Today's comments were more to illicit emotion than to deconstruct arguments. If you think I've gone wrong on anything feel free to let me know, and remember caps lock is cruise control for awesome.

Also: the album for the week is 'CARTOOOM!' by 'Plus Tech Squeezebox'. I thought I'd get all the obscure Japanese bands out the way in one swell foop, so here you are.

October 06, 2008

No it's not an eye–doctor

Sometimes people ask me where I get ideas for my articles. In reply, I generally patiently explain about how I do painstaking research on a given topic, and then weigh the various viewpoints to form a coherent conclusion. Then, when people patiently explain to me how they know that this is bollocks, I break down and cry.

I have absolutely no clue from where I get my ideas.

This sometimes manifests itself as a problem because sometimes, like now, my ideas don't arrive from the place they are usually so prompt in originating in. When this happens in conversation, I'm forced to trail away into a mumbling non-committal slump. When this happens in writing, I'm forced to moan about how I don't know where I get my ideas from. Douglas Adams' advice to aspiring writers on this topic was simply to drink too much coffee and buy a desk that is sturdy enough to withstand several repeated heavy blows from the head. I've been at Queen's for four weeks now, and mine has already developed a crevice.

I'd call it writers block were I to consider myself a writer. As it is, it's more like a relative you don't know and have never really met occasionally forgetting to send you a birthday present. I don't really feel as though I've done anything to deserve it in the first place. When the presents don't come, I have to just wait. Or in this particular case, talk about my deficiency of presents.

People often call me grumpy or angry; and I suppose in many ways I come across as it. However, as Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw puts it, I criticise things because I'm a critic. If people criticise me for being critical then we'll be trapped in an endless well of recursion. The worst thing about it is, though, I'm a critical optimist.

Critical pessimists have everything easy, they assume everything will be bad and then are unsuprised when it does. Open minded optimists have much the same lack of issue. Being a critical optimist is much like being a pacifist pirate: you're pretty useless, although people often wonder about how you got to that position in the first place.

I'm unswayable too. No matter what evidence is presented to the contrary I always assume the best of something. When we go to a restaurant which is little more than a hole in the wall, the waiter spits at me instead of taking my order and I can hear the chef singing "let the bodies hit the floor" from the kitchen; I still expect a good meal. I will order a pint of Guinness at a pub, then be served slightly cold mud; come back to the same pub the next day and receive a similar pint of mud, but this time with a shamrock drawn on top of it -- and then turn up in the pub a third time warmly hoping that the first two times were misled mistakes.

In short, I'm a very specific kind of idiot.

What I will say, though, is this. No matter how much people are expecting the new Watchmen movie to suck, I bear a single torch in the ocean of darkness. I'm almost certain that I'm going to be wrong, but I'm still full of so much hope that I won't be. If this movie is good, it will be so good.

I guess that it could be said that I get most of my ideas from misdirection. It could be the still beating heart of teenage rebel within me, but I tend to like to hold ideas opposed to the general populace, just to see where they lead me. More often than not, they'll lead me to the realisation that the general population was entirely correct; but I sometimes surprise myself. So if the Watchmen movie is crap, what did you expect? I'm a ridiculous optimist. If it's one of the best experiences you'll have in a cinema this side of Lord of The Rings then I want you to know that I fucking called it.

Also: as an addendum I'd like to introduce a new type of service, almost entirely designed for my own satisfaction. I'll be listing albums that I think you, the public, won't already own -- but that you should. It's liable to be obscure pico-pop / rock stuff, so feel free to ignore my suggestions if your taste in music is more mainstream. This week's album is 'Captain Vapour Athletes by Buffalo Daughter. It was made in the 90s, but it hasn't dated at all, and it probably some of the best calm electronic stuff I've ever heard. Grab it if you can!

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