First and last words…

Last year, I quietly resigned from the Humanist Society of South Australia (HSSA). After subsequently having my departure “explained” by a member of the HSSA, last month I came clean by writing a piece for Butterflies and Wheels, explaining a number of my issues with the way the HSSA is run (i.e. the actual reasons why I left).

You can read that over here

As you’d expect, this was met with indignation. A few points;

  • No, my list of complaints was not a full, rounded account of people’s characters, but given that it wasn’t an attempt at biography – an entirely different genre – that’s not an issue.
  • Yes, inferences were made. I complained about the smoke, but didn’t demonstrate the existence of the fire. This isn’t however, an issue if I left on account of the smoke. I can leave an organisation on whatever basis I choose and yes, those reasons can infer other things. This is largely unavoidable and does not obligate me to silence.
  • It should occur to some people, especially those in leadership roles, that we’re all forced to communicate within given limits, and rely in good faith upon our audiences to pick apart and analyse things according to their ability and what they’re given to work with. You can’t reasonably expect people to just trust you, or to agree with you in all things, or to come to a given issue with an approved set of interests.

As you’d expect, (with the exception of one HSSA member) none of this was demonstrated to have been appreciated.

The kind of story telling that only convinces those who’ve opted to believe in advance, ensued. I’ve recently pulled some of this fabulist rubbish apart, again over at Butterflies and Wheels.

You can read that here.

~ Bruce

A decade and more of people coming and going in orbit…

StartrailsI first felt the tidal forces wrought by being flung out of social orbit two or three years ago, when silently, both other persons and myself, went our own ways. Their trajectory sent them in professional directions I can’t say I’d endorse 100%, while I may or may not have been relegated to the status of ‘crazy guy they knew on the Internet’.

For my own part in this, I was getting tired. Tired of passive-aggression, of in-jokes (some poorly veiled), and tired of a few people being too egocentric to realise that no, they weren’t dealing with someone who was gullible, they were dealing with someone who was being charitable; someone who was humouring them, not the other way around.

If I regret anything from this particular period, it’s my lame participation in what passed for some of the humour – which often involved my riffing off of someone else’s bad joke.

All the same, while we were friends, I did get something out of some of them, during what was a difficult time for me, mentally. I don’t know if this admission would injure their egos, or comfort them, and I can’t say I’m particularly worried either way.

If there’s anything I’d be concerned about with them, if I hadn’t put them behind me, it’d be the prejudicial assumptions and leading questions; annoying for me, worse for them if it insinuates its way into their journalism.

The greatest imposture in all of this though, comes from my own faculties – particularly my relative inability to forget things, even small things I don’t much care about. Inevitably something comes along to remind me… like goings on over the past few weeks.

At the very least I wouldn’t be recalling all of these details if I hadn’t been reminded.

***

Continue reading

Guest Post over at B&W: The Good Juror Pose

It’s been almost two weeks since I mailed this essay off to Ophelia Benson, but I’ve been on holiday in Melbourne sans notebook and passwords for most of the time. You’ll have to forgive me for my tardiness.

There seems to be a trend of late, of people lecturing jurisprudence at people who it is reasonable to assume, have been victims of rape or sexual assault. Notably, it’s often not just “Skeptics”, but “Skeptics” with friends accused of acting up and pestering people sexually (or worse), who engage in this practice.

It’s not that the presumption of innocence is to be suspended, it’s just that the presumption of innocence is often irrelevant to the context these discussions are taking place in, with potentially harmful consequences. I spend 2600 words (including quotes) on the matter over here

~ Bruce

Medicated #04: If you can’t come out swinging…

Contra this time last year, I can sleep quite well, actually. Thanks for asking. Too well, in fact.

An appointment with the doctor has it that the source of a persistent narcolescence is likely something other than my medication. Apparently my SSRI of choice doesn’t do that.

To test the hypothesis, my dosage is being dropped by half.

Gym has been suspended, and then given the green light, owning to the need for an opinion on an umbilical hernia I likely first obtained when body surfing across Gawler Place. It was either that or a taxi would have ground me into road pizza. I’ll take the hernia, thanks.

As it turns out, it’s not so serious, and it would have been better (with the benefit of hindsight) had I stayed at gym. Gym helps with my depression. It also makes me sleepy.

Now I’ve been away from the blogosphere quite a bit this year, but don’t you think that means I’ve been doing nothing.

In my spare time, when not twiddling my thumbs, I’ve been trying to organise the drafting of a harassment policy for the Humanist Society of South Australia (HSSA). We’re going to do this democratically, or not at all, so that takes a little more time, work, and patience than if we were to opt the route of executive power. I like to think that discussion both makes for a better policy, and keeps the membership aware of why the policy is there.

In dribs and drabs of I’ve-got-to-get-it-finished-soon (although it really leads into an event in May), I’ve been working on an article I started in December of last year. Suffice to say, the fact checking, verification and investigation took longer than I thought, and I now know a bunch of stuff related both tangentially and directly to the subject, than I ever knew before.

Some of it I wish I didn’t. Some of it agitates my clinical depression.

I’m forced to ask myself; which is more depressing, the knowledge that a problem exists, or inaction on said problem? Because if inaction is more depressing, then being depressed into inaction is going to cause feedback.

Problem; Inaction; Depression; Inaction; More depression; More inaction.

It’d be a lie to say that I’ve been inactive, generally, but by fuck (which is sacred around here), I can’t half feel the blanket pressing down on me.

Which I guess is an improvement over the last twenty years. The blanket always did press down on me to some extent, only for the most part, I wasn’t aware of it. I guess the meds have been doing their work.

I guess the crux of it is that the blanket doesn’t give me room for a good swing and hit. The alternative is struggling?

I’ll labour on. I mean, you do that when you’re depressed anyway, as best you can. The trick though, is to find the things that motivate you, which contrary to the cliché, are not necessarily the things you love.

Burning moral outrage doesn’t burn in me like it used to, which has had the twin effect of helping me see things clearer, and investigate further instead of getting my jocks in a twist. But a little more impulsiveness along these lines would at least help me get my volume of writing up.

Of course, I don’t burn out, either, being as I am at the moment.

I can’t even act out anger for the rhetoric of the rant anymore. Or at least, not for an extended period.

Poetry, or at least poetic prose is starting to flow more freely, and with humanistic intents. One of the themes emerging the HSSA has been religion’s monopoly on hope, and it seems to me that a godless literary tradition could offer competition.

Short of the suspended critical thinking of some of the transhumanists, the selfishness (and self-serving readings) of the Randroids, or the totalitarianism of some of the worst of the 20th century’s godless dogmas, that is. A literary tradition that speaks to what good humans can do, without getting all bleary-eyed about it.

The thing is, human folly notwithstanding, there’s still reason for hope without recourse to divine intervention, or secular fictions. Denmark does it pretty well, and largely without recourse to deities.

I have selfish reasons for wanting to see these hopes recognised in my own time, and my own circle, if only to motivate me through my own depression. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t this side to it.

That being said, I’d like to think that this would be a good way to get out there, if not quite swinging. I’d like to think that it’d be a good way to help others, and to fulfil an ethos of contribution.

But more on that, hopefully soon enough.

I have things planned and in the works. We’ll touch base again, and hopefully (I’m not ashamed to use the word) I’ll have a little more to show for my efforts.

~ Bruce

Upgraded…

Just a short bit of news…

The Humanist Society of South Australia Inc, has now been officially incorporated (nice work, Pres and Secretary!) We now await the decision of the national council to see if we’ll be accepted into the national and global fold.

Also, I’ve been up-voted to treasurer. Uncontested. It is treasury after all.

In semi-related news, I’m considering adapting Keatingisms into my everyday language. Desiccated coconuts and spivs beware.

~ Bruce

…The Expert of Everything

Years of preparation have gone into breeding The Perfect Expert of Everything. Unfettered and unimpaired by having had to have read anything, but adept at entering into every domain and every conversation, the Expert of Everything threatens to make everyone else redundant, in their relentless quest to have things their own way.

Why do readings at University, when they’d only be re-inventing the wheel – they already know what it’s about, which is why they dominate discussion in tutorials.

This time has been better spent, by The Expert, honing their skills, lawyering Dungeons and Dragons games to their own advantage, and chairing debates on who would win out of Superman and The Hulk.

These skills, they then bring to every meeting, of every kind, for these skills are infinitely transferable. The Expert, can be identified through their use of earthy, common phrases, used to keep ‘in-touch’ with the laity.

***

‘Political correctness’: This phrase lets you know just what a dissident, and critical thinker you’re dealing with.

‘It stands to reason’, or ‘it just stands to reason’: The Expert, is reasonable in all things, including their most hastily adopted assumptions.

‘I’d argue that…’: The Expert doesn’t need to read, to keep up with the discussion (see ‘re-inventing the wheel’).

‘Aha!’: The Expert has encountered something like this before, and it was silly.

‘Haha!’: You have reminded The Expert of one of their past intellectual conquests, friend!

‘Hmmm…’: The Expert could say something, but doesn’t want to embarrass you.

‘Yes, but…’: This is how The Expert lets you know, mid-sentence, the you’re argument is going to go awry. The Expert already knows what you are thinking, and doesn’t want you to embarrass yourself.

‘X is often misunderstood’: Misunderstood by laypersons like you, not by The Expert, who doesn’t even need to read about these things (again, see ‘re-inventing the wheel’).

‘It seems like…’: The Expert is charitably allowing you to join the dots.

‘I can’t imagine…’: Logically impossible, despite what you may think you can reasonably imagine.

‘Hah hah haaa! [wink]’ (that’s three ‘haa’s with a key change in the middle, and a wink at the end): The Expert knows that you think they are charming, but are too modest to let you know.

Never under any circumstances, allow the commonality of this language lead you to believe that The Expert has nothing new to teach you, nor assume that any of their wisdom is borrowed…

***

Other, less definitive signs that you have an Expert of Everything in front of you are; possible beard ownership; likely penis ownership (even if diminutive), and an almost universal penchant for exaggerated or grandiose hand gestures.

(In rare cases, ‘tosser’s wrist’ – a symptom of compulsive twenty-sided dice rolling, often resembling a masturbatory gesture – may present itself to the observer).

***

The ecology of The Expert of Everything is that they often gravitate towards rationalist social groups; atheists, ‘Skeptics’, humanists, and so on. Intellectual and organisational resources are monopolised as competing minds are made redundant by The Expert’s sheer charisma, wit and genius.

While this may give mere mortal members a reprieve, such monocultures are inherently unstable.

The Expert may through a sheer act of will and self-approval, achieve ‘Mission Accomplished’ status for their social group, rendering the group purposeless. The Expert may see beyond the horizons of the group, and bring new purposes beyond the ken of ordinary members, thus unavoidably excluding them (this process may involve peanuts, imported Cherry Coke, and ‘character sheets’.)

Most likely though, is that the normal means of operation will atrophy while the group is dependent on The Expert, for everything. At some point when The Expert is needed elsewhere (which they always are), their dedication to a group will have to wane, leaving an unprepared people to fend for themselves.

You would be selfish and keep The Expert all to yourself?

***

If you don’t want to destabilise you Expert-friendly group, or you wish to attract an Expert of Everything to your existing, expertise-devoid, group, there are realities to observe.

By all means question The Expert (they’ll tell you all about that), but don’t undermine them, or waste their time with contrarian clap-trap. They have finite time on this Earth, and they are used of their opponents being self-evidently wrong, as this is always the case.

Make sure peanuts and beer are at hand, and if not that, then cheesy-puffy-things, and cola. The mind of an Expert of Everything doesn’t run on nothing – that would defy the Laws of Thermodynamics (which they’ll tell you about)!

Remember to disregard all evolutionary psychology as just-so-stories, unless they allow The Expert to justify their sexual proclivities, or their need for cheesy-puffy-things, or to explain the inherent attractiveness of their non-deodorized body. These things are self-evident, and hence need no empirical substantiation, ergo evolutionary psychology is true in these respects, Q.E.D.

In all other respects, if in doubt, don’t ask – you’ll be told. Unless you’re told to ask, in which case I’m wrong – I’m not an Expert of Everything.

~ Bruce

See also: Neckbeard.

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 Übermensch (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)