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Manifesto:

Discussions
About
Human
Beings
By Andrew Lloyd

Meaning and Humanity Series, Volume 5


Table of Contents
1. Of Introductory Remarks and Identity Politics (2)

2. Hot Girls Wanted or The Sex Society (8)

3. What The World Needs Now (Larger Loyalty) (21)

4. Andrew and Skoddie Discuss Sex and Gender (29)

5. Authenticity (40)

6. There is Nothing Necessary About The Human Being (44)

7. A Discussion of Human Beings, Their World and Environment


(47)

8. The Gospel of Existence and The Problems of Spirituality (50)

9. Something To Believe In? (58)

10. Who Are You? (63)

11. Life, Existence and Being A Ghost (66)

12. Human Beings, Technology and The Future (71)

13. Thoughts About Human Morality (100)

14. Some Closing Thoughts About Morality (117)

15. Revenge Porn, Personal Responsibility and Society (119)

16. Eastern Promise (128)

17. By Way of Conclusion (133)

1
Of Introductory Remarks and Identity Politics

To want to write a book about the subjects of sex and gender, as I did earlier
this year, is probably a bona fide sign of madness. Luckily, the idea I had
originally developed became broader and turned into what you are reading now.
Both sex and gender are highly controversial subjects and very politicized in
todays world and merely to risk saying anything about them is akin to a First
World War soldier raising his head out of the trenches, a willing target for
enemies to shoot at. Many of the subjects that could be written about under the
twin rubrics I was to take as my subjects are things right at the heart of what in
some places are termed The Culture Wars that are prevalent in many western
societies and, indeed, Western Society writ large. These wars are where people
of differing and vocal opinions clash over the ways they think society and culture
should be and, often, they simply play out as not always very civil, narcissistic,
political battles. I dont particularly find these battles very edifying, regardless of
which perspective you take them from, and, in the project I had formerly
planned, I was aiming to try and avoid them whilst simultaneously realising that
what I was going to write about very much bore upon them. So this probably
meant that I would have annoyed all sides. But I could have lived with that.

How I intended to pursue my inquiry without taking sides, because I dont take
sides here, was to emphasize that the project amounted to a personal one.
Some context may be relevant here. The project was motivated by the fact that
recently I was looking through my comment history in a few online places where
I sometimes contribute. I noticed that quite often I was motivated to comment
on the subject of sex and/or gender and this made me stop and think. The
nature of online commenting means that often you dont really get to say all that
you might want to say. You also have to deal with the commenting policy of the
place where you are commenting which often means that what you regard as
calm and considered is regarded by them as outrageous and delete-worthy. Free
speech online is not always free and often policed to the benefit of those doing
the policing. This, I think, is fair enough. It is boorish to go into a space
someone else is providing and then expect to be able to trash the place,
contravene their rules and cause a scene. You might want to piss in their pool
but why should they let you? So what I noticed from my past comments on sex
and gender articles was that, in a lot of cases, these could have been expanded
by me into more considered and rounded pieces if only Id had the time or the
will to do so. Since I also noticed that this covered quite a few articles it seemed
to me that, should these articles be written and put together, a collection of
articles on cognate topics would have been created. So I thought to myself,
Well why not just write these articles now? So I was going to set off on the
project of doing just that.

Along the way I came to want to write about and discuss human beings in a
more rounded way rather than in just sex and gender contexts though. But
these topics will still appear here. Some of the articles you will find below, now a

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minority since the project changed, will take as their starting point a concrete
text of some kind. All of them are based in interaction with the thoughts of
others. Often these are publicly published articles although in one case it is a
film. I think it is important here that what I will write is about more than a
collection of thoughts that someone might have at the pub, a collection of my
thoughts plucked from the air. So, in this sense, the agenda here is not being set
by me because the things I will write about and comment on were started
elsewhere by other people in other places who regarded them as pressing,
comment-worthy subjects. I just happened to see them and have thoughts
about them subsequently and now I get to write at slightly more length about
them. I dont claim to be any particular expert about the subjects I will discuss
here. I am just one person. The things I write will be the thoughts and questions
and reasonings of that one person and that, if anything, I see that as their
strength. If you want to see them as merely the thoughts of one particular
person in society then so be it. I am fine with that. But I hope you will see them
as interesting and relevant contributions even if you dont agree with them.

So my discussions in this book have vastly expanded from the one I was going
to write before I spread my authorly wings a little further. Sex and gender topics
will still be found here but I will also be writing about human beings more
broadly. I will be discussing the intersection of private and social spheres,
authenticity, our place in the context of the universe and our environment,
spirituality and beliefs, human identity, morality and human beings in the
context of the future and technology. Sometimes these will be set piece articles
or collections of thoughts and other times they will be reflections on something I
wrote earlier or written in an interview style. All I write here is intended to
stimulate thought. If I come to any conclusions or make any suggestions it is
more important that you think about why they are right or wrong than if you
think they are right or wrong. Here I function as the mathematics teacher who
tells you that what counts is not your answer but how and why you reached it.

Those looking for conclusions here will probably be disappointed though and I
hope that those looking to pigeonhole me after reading will be confounded. This
project very much sets out to discuss and question rather than come to
conclusions. It does not exist to say what right and wrong are, to praise one side
and demonise another. It exists to take a look at some subjects and the issues
involved and discuss them. It is more a collection of articles about thinking and
asking how we go about doing it than it is another of the many collections of
articles which exist today merely to say this is bad and you shouldnt do that.
This is not to suggest I dont have beliefs, of course, because naturally I do. But
as a good reader of Nietzsche I am more concerned with excavating under
beliefs than I am in telling you what yours should be. If anything, I only believe
that whatever beliefs you have you should explain them and show their working
out. A common problem in our world today, and maybe it was ever thus, is that
people never explain why they believe what they believe or even make any
effort to imagine where their beliefs might lead to. Thinking for such people is

3
about fixed points rather than processes that lead from one place to another.
This is a recipe for constant conflict and misunderstanding.

Although I wish I didnt have to address this before we begin, in a collection of


articles that used to be about sex and gender (and in some places still is) it is
probably incumbent upon me to say who the author here is. I am a white,
middle-aged male from the UK who has lived both in the UK and Europe
(specifically, Germany) in my lifetime. My sexual orientation I describe as
heterosexual although in the last few years this belief of mine about myself has
become a bit uncertain at the edges as I have come to regard sexual
orientation as a label we give ourselves rather than something innate we
couldnt do anything about. It seems to me that, if I chose to, I could have sex
with absolutely anybody and the only thing stopping me is me. Certainly, no
self-designation is stopping me. For some, of course, white male heterosexual
will in some way discount me from having opinions on the things Im about to
write about or make me easy to dismiss. Yet others will expect me to take up
certain stereotypical positions and expect to be cheering me on. I hope to
disappoint both of these kinds of people and ask that I be judged by what I write
rather than by what category of person you put me in. Categorising people in
stereotypical ways I see as a problem a lot of people have, something which
closes down cooperation and common understanding rather than promoting it.
In a world where, to some extent, we all need to get along, it might be best to
have beliefs which enable rather than hamper such things. And, when it comes
to beliefs, I think that whilst we dont necessarily choose where we start from,
we can certainly educate ourselves about where we end up. This book is part of
that process.

But a problem standing in the way of that will be the identity politics that has
risen to prominence in recent decades. We see this wherever groups defining
themselves by some aspect of their identity (common options are gender, colour
or sexuality aspects) gain a platform. This often leads to vigorous public debate
and semi-political actions as these identity groups jostle for public space and
influence. One panel discussion I watched in the writing of this book described
this as a competition to see who is the most victimised in society. The whole
phenomenon of identity politics was described as narcissism or a culture of
narcissism by this same panel without any dissent from the table (although
there was some from the floor). Australian academic, Bronwyn Winter, for
example, in another discussion I watched, speaks of transgender arguments for
their self-identifications as ideological constructions to fit the political needs of
the moment and surveying many arguments in the field of identity politics the
temptation is often to come to a similar conclusion. Here are a lot of people only
concerned with themselves. This gives rise to the now common phenomenon of
various topics and ideas being claimed by various identity groups as their own
with others designated as outside the fold and being thought unable to
contribute or even dismissed as people with nothing to say. The idea I dont
want to be talked to by X about Y is now common and this is done exclusively

4
on the basis of dropping people into pre-determined and ideologically configured
identity groups and then judging them accordingly.

And yet, as academic Joanna Williams said in that first panel discussion I
watched about identity politics, men as a class and women as a class is just
rubbish. She went on to detail how there were many areas where she might
more readily identify with men than women. This, I think, highlights the first and
most obvious problem when we put on the identity politics goggles and all we
can then see is people as examples of a class or group rather than people with
their own individual circumstances, their gender, colour and sexuality being
mere parts of that whole and not substituting for the whole. Does a lesbian, for
example, really experience the world as a lesbian and do all lesbians
experience the world in the same way? What a preposterous notion! Following
the arguments of Julie Bindel, a noted British feminist (and, incidentally, also a
lesbian) who is often no platformed for her views, if there is no such thing as a
female brain (or a male or a transgender one) then there is no such thing as a
lesbian, gay, or heterosexual one either. So the question, What does sexuality
and gender consist of? then very much becomes a real one with something at
stake. It cannot be as simple as cartoon designations of like with like as if people
designated as similar were all the same or lived remotely the same lives. This is
the fantasy shorthand, the cop out, that exists in some peoples heads that
makes their identity politics more easy to do. In this way individual lives are
compounded and then a collective experience is substituted, illegitimately, for
all the actual individual ones.

Where this comes from, I think, and this is partly confirmed in random panel
discussions and lectures that I watch on this subject from time to time, is a
couple of current crises we have in society. These are a crisis of objectivity and a
crisis of commonality. The first is a simple flight from objectivity as some
describe it. In the panel discussion I watched in which Joanna Williams and Julie
Bindel took part, again and again the idea came up that objectivity was now
regarded as an outmoded notion and, in its place, subjectivity is all. (Bindel
blamed postmodernism whilst, at the same time, happily advocating the notion
of a socially constructed femininity - which is surely a case of having your cake
and eating it.) How I feel is now what counts. One gay member of the
audience stood up and argued that his (and presumably everyone elses)
personal experience was a fact which not all members of the panel were happy
to agree with. The notion was floated that if I feel that I am this or that then I
am and you, who does not experience what I feel, cannot trump my feelings
with any other evidence or argument. This was presented as a problem and the
example of Rachel Dolezal, who argued that she could present herself as African
American even though other factors suggested she was not, was entered as an
example. The point here was simple: objectivity be damned: I am what I say I
am. And theres nothing you can do about it.

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The crisis of commonality, on the other hand, was demonstrated to me in that in
this same panel discussion all those who pursue identity politics were shown up
as people wanting to focus on splitting up human experience and parcelling it out
into splintered, atomised groupings. Feminists experience human life like this,
gays like that, transgender people in another way. The splits went on and on
until you could speak of the unique and non-transferable life experience of
Jewish vegetarian lesbian male to female transgender people. Some, Im sure,
would say such people both exist and that their life experience is a unique thing
which possibly opens them up to prejudice. After all, most identity politics is
about how victimised a certain narrowly defined section of society is or has
become. But virtually nowhere do any of these groups ever focus on what
people, regardless of sex or gender, have in common. It is always a focus on the
difference and whats special about them. Its a defensive, ring-fencing process
and here the narcissistic, self-absorbed aspect reasserts itself again.

But before you think I blame those with identity politics for their own problems,
a phenomenon many of these groups are wise to called victim blaming, thats
not the case. The problem is that all too often people in identity groups and
those in none both together dont take the common view. It seems that we as a
human race have all too often cast the common cause aside and gone off after
the more personal or possibly selfish one. We are all to blame. What we have
substituted for the common good is the life in a bubble, the listening only to
the people we identify with and the blocking and demonising of those we dont.
One interesting comment in that panel discussion I keep referring to (from a
woman, incidentally) was that Feminism philosophically bifurcates the human
experience. I tend to agree with that but I dont just blame Feminism for it
because I think the problem is that all too many people atomise humanity until
its something that they personally can feel comfortable with. Once the people
have been sorted and filtered into the places we designate for them we can then
decide who are the goodies and who are the baddies. It is a fantasy of control
and a falsification of the facts.

But its also, as Bindel pointed out, something that means that actual material
politics doesnt really go on anymore. People become so busy policing their
communities that the body politic as a whole suffers. We are so busy looking
inwardly that we forget the necessity to act outwardly for the political good of
people at large. But then that will be hard to care about if you are too busy
policing your brand of feminism or your sexual orientation club and see it as
more important than the lives of everyone in general. A by-product of such
bifurcation of experience is that you will de-prioritise the lives of those you
designate as the outsiders. So in the end such groups, in a rather perverse way
and without really realising it, seem to ascribe to ideas common to the most
extreme forms of white supremacism which suggest that life is some kind of
fight for resources or survival of the fittest. This is life is a jungle philosophy
writ large in which person is set against person and grouping is set against
grouping. This is not about equality or liberation. (Different kinds of feminists

6
claim to be for one or the other or both of these.) Its more about surviving or
winning. Now surviving and winning are not the same thing of course. But that
does not mean they cannot amount to it in practice. For me the important thing
is it seems that, in the end, such groupings, for all they talk of emancipation,
liberty and seeing things differently, perhaps, in the end, dont see things that
differently at all. Its just a different flavour of the things they would criticise in
their opponents, a flavour which gives them the advantage they feel they were
previously denied. Its the same narrative with the winners and losers changed.

For myself, as I write this book, I want to react against this. I want to at least
try to stand for the common good and the common point of view and this will
mean that personal experience, whilst being the only way we have to understand
the world and our lives, cannot be the primary thing we serve and it cannot be
regarded as the only thing worth listening to (or its echoes that we hear in
people we regard as like us). If I am right then what we need to do is honour
the human in all things first and then, doing that, we can begin to accept and
listen to the human experience, albeit in differently gendered and sexualised
forms, that others have to offer. If we dont or wont do this then what we are
really saying is that only people like me count. That is neither enlightened nor
forward thinking nor, I suggest, something that we should want to preserve in
anybody or any form. If you dont think that only people like you have
something to say and that they have human experience and insight to share
then there is a duty upon you to listen to other points of view. I try to take up
this position but, of course, this does not mean doing so uncritically or
non-positionally. The human condition is one which involves individuals in a
social context and we are most human when we recognise and participate in
that. Similarly, on the problem of the abandonment of objectivity we need to
move away from wallowing in subjectivity with no external brakes and come to
the position of not an impossible objectivity but an intersubjectivity which acts
as a balance and a brake to our own thinking. Other experiences exist and they
are human ones. You are human. My basic point is that we are all humans first.
We ALL have that in common. Dont rush over that, ignoring it as we go, in a
desperate attempt to create a million little inwardly-facing fiefdoms. If we all do
that then we all die and the strongest of them can easily pick off or dominate the
rest. I will have more to say about this larger loyalty in chapter three.

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Hot Girls Wanted or The Sex Society

This chapter is to address the issue of pornography generally. Now I would not
describe myself as a fan of pornography or an enemy of pornography in general
terms. I am a user of pornography but this is not surprising since, today, it
seems that many people are. As we shall discuss, the sexualisation of society in
general is one of the issues some people point to when discussing the rise of
pornography to a place closer to the centre of mainstream society than it
perhaps had in former times. Allied to this, is that often quoted social bad,
violence. For some, pornography in general is awash with violent imagery which
can only send out negative messages about mens relationship to and treatment
of women. As pornography becomes more mainstream, its values and embedded
messages, for no experience can pass us by unscathed, subtly act to normalise
themselves within us. I observe this in my own relationship with pornography in
that the first image I ever saw, a woman lying naked on a bed, legs apart, in a
magazine, is today replaced by things many times more graphic and on video. If
one mixes with men who use pornography, as I have, incognito, over many
years, it cannot be denied that a number of disturbing phenomena become
apparent. So as I end my first paragraph on the subject let me say that I am not
here to say that pornography is an unadulterated good, devoid of problems.

I intend to talk about porn in this chapter in reference to heterosexual porn


featuring men and women. Other kinds of porn such as gay porn or porn made
by and for women are not my interest here. My focus is on the kind of porn
made by men in which men have sex with women. This is, by any measure, the
majority of porn made today. Over a number of years I have come to the
conclusion that the defining characteristic of this porn above all other is that it is
FAKE. What do I mean by this? I mean that what we see on the screen when we
look at this porn is not real. Its fantasy in the sense of not representing a true
life situation. (Of course, it may also be fantasy quite explicitly in the sense of
being a fantasy scenario.) I think this is a vitally important point to make here
for all watchers of this porn. YOU ARE NOT SEEING SOMETHING REAL. Its a set
up. Its pretend. Its not a real life dynamic you are witnessing. This is very
important to address when so much is presented as amateur or real life or
casually occurring. Porn producers as well as everyday people with a camera
have gone after the idea of capturing real sex as they have hooked onto the
notion that people dont want pretend, they want real, they want to believe. And
so they try to manufacture the real to meet this demand. (Compare so-called
snuff movies which replace pretend death with actual death.) But its not real,
its fake. Its a setup. What was going to happen was agreed beforehand. In many
cases the people you are seeing are being paid to do pre-arranged things. All
that happens is happening before a camera and people dont act before a
camera the way they would do if one wasnt there.

So the inherent nature of porn as faking reality is something immediately worth


noting and this should problematise too easily equating porn with real life sex

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you or I might have. This is especially worth noting when porns critics claim that
the nature of porn becomes imprinted in the consciousness of culture and its
values or practices become taken up and copied. One trivial example here is that
in the 1970s women in porn tended to have pubic hair and this was mirrored in
society generally. But once porn began being mass produced on video and the
profile of such product became greater, spread to the public at large via the
Internet, then the fact that the women in these videos were now shaved
(presumably to enable viewers to see the womans private parts during sex) also
became copied in society at large. And this seems to be backed up by
experience. When I go online at a porn site I use under a female pseudonym the
vast majority of male inquirers want to know if I am shaved and prefer it that
way. Having pubic hair puts many men off and women are expected to be
shaved by the majority of men that contact me. Pubic hairstyles aside, however,
there are more serious consequences here if one looks at the kinds of
pornographic material available. It is one (unreasonable) thing to expect a
woman to be shaved between her legs. It is another entirely when the
expectation becomes that she will engage in violent anal sex with multiple
partners and that, if she doesnt want to, there is something wrong with her. The
argument runs that porn has norms and if you want to be seen to be modern or
in step or even cool then doing as they do in porn is a measure of that. Can it be
a coincidence that, in the last decade and a half, there has also been an
explosion of young people getting tattoos as well? You decide. In such ways it is
argued pornography enculturates itself as its ubiquity spreads its values and
practices.

Perhaps at this point we should now address the wider context of porn as a
cultural phenomenon. My interest in writing this chapter was peaked by watching
the 2015 film Hot Girls Wanted which has now also been succeeded by a TV
series called Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On. The film purports to show the life of a
Miami-based porn agent who procures young girls for porn shoots by placing ads
on the website Craigslist. The girls who reply to these ads are shown to be 18-20
years of age, either college dropouts or people who want to avoid becoming like
their parents too quickly now that they have suddenly reached adulthood and
their futures dont seem so bright. The ads the agent places seem to offer them
a get rich quick lifestyle that comes complete with huge popularity from
thousands of online fans. The girls who respond and take up the free plane ticket
to Miami, where much American porn is now shot since it is still legal to shoot
porn there without the necessity for using a condom, are shown in the film
setting up fake Twitter accounts where they can publicise themselves as sexually
available porn starlets and so pimp the dual products of their nubile, sexually
available bodies and, more importantly, the commercial porn theyve been
induced to make. To a perhaps naive 18 year old it seems a heady mix of
popularity, money and sex and I can well understand how to some if not many
such girls it is a hard thing to resist even if you think they should be resisting it
in the first place. It is interesting to note, however, in a revealing clip with one of
the male talent in the film, that he notes that even in extreme cases most of

9
these girls dont even last one year in the business and many are gone after only
six months, some after less than three.

Both the film and TV series referred to here expressly take the angle of wanting
to focus on the intersection of the sex industry and technology. This is a relevant
angle to take when one can go to a seemingly innocent site like Tumblr, used by
hundreds of millions, or Snapchat, a photo sharing site that is more popular than
Twitter, a message sharing service, Periscope, a video sharing site and, of
course, Facebook which in many ways started the social media revolution off in
its current form, and find porn, or references to porn, ALL OVER THEM. To be
clear, these are not porn sites. These are regular common or garden social
media channels, things you or your mom or your grandma might use as regular
ways to keep in touch with the world or communicate with friends and family. All
these forms of social media have made it incredibly easy today to share
pornographic content and, it may be argued, the fact of the social nature and
mass appeal these sites generate has also increased the demand for it and,
simultaneously, enabled us to get more used to its presence being expected or
normalised. Certainly, we could not reasonably expect that porn producers
(widely understood as all those involved in promoting the industry or its
products) would not take advantage of these relatively new free channels for the
pimping of their products. These are also forms of media that young people
today will have grown up with as normal. I first had Internet access to my
current home in 1993, 24 years ago. So this means that for basically anyone
under 30 the Internet is entirely normal and they have never known a life
without it. As technology advances this means that today anyone with a
smartphone, a regular item everyone is assumed to have, is a button press away
from any form of pornography they desire via common media channels. And
they wont even need to endure the embarrassment or inconvenience of
accessing a porn site to obtain it.

What these social media channels, and the porn sites that have copied these
social media sites in setting up their own portals, have done, put simply, is made
it much more easy to participate in sexual exchange and commodification. And
this is before I bring in so-called cam sites, sites on which people can set up an
account and then perform sexual acts to a watching group of people over the
Internet in exchange for tokens they have previously purchased, or services
such as Skype, another messaging service but one in which you can connect via
camera or Kik, yet another messaging service over which pictures and videos
can be shared. Everywhere, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee and his Internet, people
have now come to have access to the real opportunity for sexual exchange,
sometimes but not always for a price, across the globe with complete and total
strangers. I remember how back in the 1990s people would talk, in a way that
now sounds quite twee and naive, of cybering, something that usually meant
talking in a sexual way for mutual gratification by typing on the screen. Today,
in comparison, if you go online as a woman, particularly on a sex or dating site,
it is entirely possible that you might be asked to masturbate or fuck yourself

10
with something on camera for the viewers (or maybe even viewers)
gratification. Getting your tits out should surely be no problem, right? After all,
everybodys doing it. As technology has progressed so the sexual ante has been
upped. Any person in the world can now set up multiple profiles to advertise
themselves sexually and gain a following based on their sexuality. And many do
since popularity, something people might not have in real life, is very easy to
gain online if you know what youre doing. Ive done this myself,
pseudonymously, over many years and so know for a fact that online it is VERY
EASY to gain a following of thousands based on a sexually provocative profile.
Giving people what they think they want works. Pornography and new forms of
media have combined to make sexuality the number one way to attract attention
online. It is arguable that this has been achieved without any reference
whatsoever to the moral or ethical or societal or cultural consequences. We
could, so we did.

It is at this point that we must note that there are, of course, varying responses
both to pornography and to this social media-powered sexualisation of society.
Feminism, for example, comes in noted anti-pornography and pro-pornography
flavours. This applies both in terms of using or viewing but also in terms of
making. For some feminists pornography as a whole is a tainted profession setup
by and for men which uses women as objects for abusive gratification purposes.
As it is sometimes said by people persuaded of this viewpoint, in pornography
women are used as meat for men to masturbate into or over. The violence often
concurrent in this pornography, women being choked during sex, tied up,
humiliated, pissed on, violently penetrated, often by multiple men in multiple
body cavities simultaneously, is a wholly negative spectacle without any
redeeming features. Other kinds of feminist argue, along freedom and liberation
lines, that people should be free to take part in legal activities as they see fit and
that they should not allow others to limit their lifestyle choices. This also extends
to women taking part in the kinds of porn shoots I have just described. These
kinds of feminists advise women to define themselves rather than being defined
by others. We can see this kind of agenda having some impact today in the
many young women and others who are actively getting involved in professional
and amateur porn as well as becoming sex workers or advertising sexual
services online at sites such as Adultwork, a site where sex workers can safely
advertise their sex services, contact potential or current clients or perform
sexual services online via camera link. It is arguable that this latter attitude has
helped promote the idea, if it ever needed promoting, of sex as just another
commodity that a free, liberated individual may choose to swap for the
appropriate return. Such seems to be the attitude of the thousands of women
who regularly perform in front of cameras for male gratification.

But let us not wander too far from the subject at hand, pornography, whilst
sometimes making an aside to associated topics such as sex work. It is
instructive, though, to note the objections of those kinds of feminists who,
perhaps being more old school, are against sex work and pornography. They

11
seem to be against these things not merely for the individual harm that may be
done to those taking part in them but because of the message these things send
out more widely and the attitudes they would argue they enflesh and spread
throughout society. What does it say, for example, if 5 million people have
watched a woman being forcefully throat fucked with two hands around her
neck? And what does it imply? Is she enjoying it? Should all women enjoy a
similar thing because this one appears to? Is this the proper use for women in
sex? Such questions, and the attitudes which problematise such pornography,
have their place in making us uncomfortable and not immediately accepting of
what we watch. Because we shouldnt just be people who say Anything goes.
Anarchy does have casualties and being accepting of anarchy and having a
people can do what they like attitude does seem extremely close to a couldnt
care less mentality which does humanity itself no credit. So I think it is
extremely relevant to judge the pornography that is out there, freely available to
anyone with a phone, and to assess its impact responsibly. All pornography is
not the same. To some this will no doubt seem moralistic and restrictive, maybe
even puritanical. But I just think its about being a responsible human being in a
world where actions have consequences. We could all live in the gutter and fight
over turds but why do so if we can be better than that?

One aspect of pornography that has been actively debated in many places is
consent. Now one aspect of this is so-called revenge porn, pornography in
which at least one of the subjects is not aware that explicit or sexual material
about them has been published to the world or shared with others with malicious
intent. So important is this topic that Ive decided to write about it separately
later in the book. But, more generally, consent in porn has focused on who is in
control of the making of porn, how much power they may or may not have over
the performers, especially the female ones, and how free the decisions of those
taking part really are or if there is a measure of coercion involved. In thinking
about this Ive often imagined some hypothetical man standing off camera on
some cam girls website, forcing her to perform sex acts for the camera so she
can make money for him. Im sure we will all also have heard rumours of girls
being trafficked for sex or forced to do porn. The image generally is of powerful
older men who have power over women in the real world and so use that power
to manipulate or even force women into filmed or photographed sex acts that
they can profit from. Such a scenario is even a trope within porn itself and Ive
seen numerous scenes of girl forced to do porn for cash over the years. Now I
have no doubt at all that most professional porn is owned and controlled by
men. But Im not so sure what this means for the rest of us. When discussing
consent is it really so important who the consent is between or is it more
important that the consent is as genuine and thoroughgoing as it can be, that
pornography is consented to at all?

I ask this because pornography today comes in many forms. There are, of
course, still professional porn companies employing performers for paid scenes.
This is the scenario that Hot Girls Wanted showcased. The girls there were said

12
to shoot 3-5 scenes a week for hundreds of dollars a time. The further you were
prepared to go, the more money you could make. It did not seem, watching the
film, that the girls were unconsenting to the acts they volunteered for but it
didnt always seem as though they would have done it for nothing either. This is
to point out that such a scenario is basically coercion with money. So one of
these girls may not have wanted anal sex or a violent throat fucking but because
they wanted the money it attracted they perhaps went further than they might
have done otherwise. Such coercion, of course, is the oldest trick in the book. Its
a similar idea to the line Lie back and think of England which is sometimes said
in my country about something unpleasant you might rather not do but, you
know, just endure and get over it. In terms of pornography, though, we have to
ask if this is an adequate situation. The problem is that if adults do consent to
legal activities, even with a little inducement to sweeten the deal and even if
said activity may in some way scar or damage them, we cannot go around
stopping people from doing that. It is a sad fact of life that people have to learn
from their mistakes and that includes girls and young women going into porn
who quickly learn its not for them and who are induced, coerced or persuaded to
do things they are unsure about or even actively dislike. People cannot always
be protected from themselves or the situations they put themselves in.

But besides this traditional model of pornography production we now see others
and one we see particularly is people setting up to do it on their own and
pornography becoming a lifestyle choice that people make for themselves and
control themselves. A good example here, and one of the first, is Wifey of
website Wifeys World. Wifey is Sandra Otterson, wife of Kevin Otterson, who
together run a website focused primarily on their sexual activities and especially
on Sandra herself. The site started when Kevin posted pictures of his wife on a
message board in the late 90s. Surprised at the positive response, they started
to post more explicit images before graduating to mail order videos. By 1998
they had set up the Wifeys World website, a commercial website which became
one of the most recognisable and popular pornographic websites in the world,
certainly prior to the rise of free porn websites subsequent to that. Wifeys World
both is and isnt a different model of porn though. Its thoroughly conventional in
that it is a commercial site. You pay to access it. Its different, however, in that
here two people, a married couple, have decided to live porn as their means of
support. Why that is interesting and important is because it surely suggests to
others that you can choose porn as a means of income and, indeed, base your
whole life around it and not just survive but thrive as well. The Ottersons
lifestyle, you will not be surprised to learn, has not suffered as a result of their
choices; its greatly increased. This is surely the idea that is primarily in the
heads of all the girls flying to Miami in Hot Girls Wanted and, perhaps, in the
heads of a million similar women posting naked or near naked selfies to social
media sites every day. But even if its not its not hard to see how such sites
springing up, later popularised by the Internet, social media and the rise of free
porn sites which publicise sites like Wifeys World, popularised the view that porn
could be a choice, that your sexuality could be commodified, your ticket to a

13
great lifestyle. And its at that point that who holds the keys to the kingdom
becomes relevant.

In Hot Girls Wanted one noteworthy point for me is when the Miami agent figure
who is posting the ads to Craigslist states that he will never run out of girls
taking up his offers. This means that he foresees a never-ending stream of
wide-eyed, perhaps wet behind the ears young women falling into the clutches of
the sex industry for a while. I have already noted that these girls dont seem to
hang around very long before they are spat out the other end of the process but
it also occurs to me, in the light of this comment, how exploitative this can
appear to be. It puts all the power in the hands of the producers and raises the
stakes on the girls volunteering themselves in that the producers can always pull
out the card named if you wont do it someone else will. Added to this, we
learn from the film that a number of the girls are living out their porn fantasies
in secret, keeping the knowledge of what they are doing from friends and/or
family. This further puts them in a vulnerable position, even if one of their own
choosing, especially when, as shown in the film, the scenes they have been
shooting start being posted online and someone they know might then recognise
them. Again, we cannot protect such people from their mistakes or their choices.
All in all, we need to realise that within this type of industry, a professional one
based on making money and supplying demand, the relationships are never
equal because when you can be replaced on a whim or for making the wrong
choice or simply because someone else will do what you wont then your
freedom to act in good conscience is consequently reduced accordingly. This may
be one reason why so many young women now choose more autonomous
routes, such as camming, in which they retain a larger measure of control and
privacy. However, even in these lines of work there is a certain vulnerability
which goes with the territory and people doing these jobs speak of the danger of
stalkers, dangerous exes and others. This is allied to the desire to carry out such
practices as a kind of secret life rather than as one carried out in the gaze of
family and friends. The suggestion appears to be that if it becomes widely known
you perform pornographically then all sorts of assumptions are made about you
personally, the most obvious ones being that you are sexually available generally
or that you have a loose moral code.

As it turns out, it may even be true that those making Hot Girls Wanted and its
follow up TV series made such assumptions too. Since the TV series began airing
in mid April 2017 a number of those who featured in the show have claimed they
were shown without their permission or that they were lied to regarding what
the show was about or who was making it. In effect, they claim to have been
exploited. What we can say is that the makers of the film and the TV show had
an agenda and were ostensibly setting out to tell a narrative. The makers
themselves claim to have feminist concerns and to be sex positive and so,
consequently, their documentaries have tended to focus on the exploitation of
women in pornography and how this bleeds through, via technology, into society
in general. This may be exampled in the male demand for sexual play via the

14
Internet that men express in many places and I think this is a valid concern. But
I also think that the documentaries themselves have been parasitic upon and
exploitative of girls in the sex industry they claim to be opening up for scrutiny.
Sex sells is a motto that everyone knows and even feminists can be prey to it.
So the question arises, for everyone of any ideology and of none, if people who
engage in porn are, somehow, regarded as fair game because of their choices?
Oh, youll suck a dick on camera or strip naked on Periscope so you wont mind
if I share this with other people or in some way manipulate what youve chosen
to do for other purposes seems to be the attitude. Being in porn also seems,
to some, to be an anything goes signal with regard to those who perform or
appear, something which can lead to people being intrusive or demanding or
simply not caring so much. Further, the porn industry itself is regularly regarded
by many as a deeply abusive and coercive industry and one that those with a
foothold within it often feel obligated to defend for the sake of their livelihood.
But this very fact itself lends even more vulnerability to the performers
concerned since it hints at the very fragility of the employment available. Being
a porn performer, at least in some scenarios, does not seem a very safe or
secure thing to want to be, at least if you want to stay in it.

But let us move from those who choose to perform in pornography to the nature
of pornography itself. Lets ask what porn is actually available right now on many
of the most popular porn sites in the real world. First of all we must note that at
some point new kinds of porn sites sprung up which were free to access. These
sites were used by porn producers (in corporate and non-corporate senses) to
pimp and advertise their paid content as well as allowing members (which might
just be a matter of choosing a username and providing an email address) to
upload their own material. These sites quickly became hugely popular and are
probably single-handedly responsible for the popularity of porn today. They
contain hundreds of thousands if not millions of videos that are of every legal
sexual practice you can imagine and probably lots you cant. The videos run from
a few seconds to hours in length. Many are clips from larger films accessed via
paid platforms (teasers) but a lot are also provided by users. The porn industry
in general has backed such sites as a means to easy advertisement of their
wares. It reminds me a little of the plot of the James Bond film Live And Let Die
where the bad guy, Kananga, plans to take over the drugs business by providing
free drugs across America. A free product means many more users and so an
expanded business model. These sites are, of course, full of adverts and
inducements to paid content. As a fairly random experiment lets look at the
front page of some of these free sites, accessible by anyone with a mind to, and
see what we find.

The front page of xhamster.com has links to 50 videos, ten of which are at the
top of the page and listed as promoted meaning that the professional
producers have paid for special prominence. Amongst these videos is an
extreme German group sex orgy in which two young women are fucked in all
openings by around 20 men, some in hoods, a video which purports to show

15
what a virgin babe needs for a good evening (which appears to be to
masturbate with a large dildo on camera), a white schoolgirl being fucked by a
black man with a huge penis, a young woman doing yoga who is persuaded to
suck and fuck her male instructor and an old male teacher who gets to fuck not
one but two of his schoolgirl students. Of the other 40 videos on the front page
at least two each included pickup sex of a random person, incest, spying on
people, sex with a person who the male protagonist had some real world
authority over, sex where significant amounts of cash were offered to random
women as an inducement to sex and violent or abusive sex.

The front page of xvideos.com has links to 48 videos, all of them provided by
commercial porn producers. These included videos titled horny milf needs
extreme anal, mother teaches and helps son, schoolgirl experience, british
milf gets 3 cocks and great chick ride on the crazy squirt machine. The latter
video is one where a woman is fucked by a machine. Another video, schoolgirl
caught jerking off her pussy by her teacher, resulted in the teacher punishing
the girl by coercing her to have sex with him so that she wouldnt get into
trouble. A further one, purportedly telling the story of a self-admitted shy girl,
recounts the story of how at a party she somehow lost her shyness and
consented to the male stripper having sex with her in every hole along with two
other female party guests as well. At least ten of the 48 videos included anal sex
and in all of them that featured men the man was the protagonist. Multiple
videos also featured public sex such as in a car or public toilet. The majority of
women featured were young.

The front page of youporn.com features 32 videos arranged in various categories


such as hot videos around the world, recommended to you, recommended
pornstars and a selection of the latest uploads. The first four videos at the top
of the page on this site (the hot videos around the world as it calls them) are a
young woman being fucked by her coach, a flexible blonde Russian teen
being fucked hard in public for money, a submission from website teens love
anal in which a young woman gives up her ass to stay a virgin and a video in
which a university professor seduces a student into a threesome. The videos
recommended to me were a kinky bbw being forcefully anally penetrated as
her ass was smacked, a young woman giving a handjob until cum was shot
across her face, a compilation video of teens having cum shot into their mouths
and across their faces and a video in which Svetlana proves what a good
mother she is by letting her son have sex with her.

The front page of pornhub.com features 40 videos plus recommendations to


categories of porn. The videos available on the front page included tinder date
gets fucked, which was a phone shot video of a purportedly actual date (the girl
had a pillow over her face), how to wake up your girl (the method advised was
by having anal sex with her until she wakes up), Anna Polina gets some rough
DP (DP is double penetration, two penises in the same hole or adjacent holes.
This video showed a girl being picked up at a party and then taken elsewhere for

16
this to happen), Burmese Bait 2 in which an extremely young looking girl from
the site Asian Street Meat is used as a sex object by an older white man, a
video from FakeAgentUK, one of a number of sites which presents itself as
tricking or coercing women into sex under false pretences, and 8 cock hungry
chicks sucking off strangers in a gloryhole which is exactly how it sounds except
with numerous close up shots of the women sucking whilst looking into a camera
with a forced look of enjoyment on their faces.

The final free site Ill consider here is xnxx.com. This site has 48 videos available
directly from its front page. The first video available here is hot 18 year old gets
fucked hard. It features said 18 year old having a massage but then she is
persuaded to let more and more happen until the aforementioned hard fucking
occurs. In a neat reversal the very next video is a teen masseuse giving a black
man a blowjob as part of his massage and the very next video after that is a
black thug being forced to submit to sex by two white, female cops for his
crimes. Other videos featured on the front page here included one purportedly of
a mother being force fucked by her own son whilst dad is out, one in which a
fat man fucks a girl while she sleeps, one in which a mother teaches her son
and daughter about sex - by having sex with both of them - and one in which a
huge tits uncomplaining housewife is picked up on the street and then fucked
in public while other men watch on. This page also included more of the fake
video genre, in this case Fake Taxi where the scenario is a man drives around
pretending to be a taxi driver. He picks up female passengers and then forces or
coerces them into sex which is then revealed to be on camera. Also on this page
was a video from roughpickups.com which showed a woman in need on the
street being taken advantage of, sexually assaulted, raped and abused in
general.

Its worth noting here from the off that this was not at all an extensive survey. It
was just a casual look at the front pages of some of the most popular free porn
sites available today to see what viewers would be greeted with. Without trying
we found rape, sexual assault, coercion, the idea that all women seem to be
sexually available (or at least convincible) regardless of circumstance, a number
of kinds of taboo sex, sex in which men use their power over women to obtain
sex, sex in which women are humiliated, sometimes in front of others, the idea
that its ok and maybe even a little bit fun to lie to and deceive women in order
to get sex, the regular suggestion that women like it rough, the idea that
penetrating sleeping women is ok, the idea that every woman has a price, the
suggestion of underage sex and the general idea that women are sex objects.
Again, this is not a comprehensive list but merely scratching the surface. The
question is, is any of this a problem or, as is bound to be said by pornographys
defenders, does it make a difference that it was all shot by responsible,
professional companies using consenting models of legal age and was fantasy
and not reality? A number of the sex scenes I listed here might well be crimes
and even more would be regarded, in real life, as morally dubious. So what does
it say about us, human society, that there is an appetite for such material and

17
that we consume it so readily? (Most of these videos had millions of views.) And
what is the link between material of this kind and teen girls wanting to get into
porn, the ever increasing appetite for sexual exchange online and sexual
expectations between people more generally? Put more bluntly, what are the
societal consequences of such material?

This book is only a set of personal observations on the issues I am addressing


here and so I cannot get into matters of in depth research or footnoted and
referenced answers. I am sure that there are those who have produced reports
on the contents and effects of pornography and Im equally sure they would
make interesting reading. But I would like to make just three concise
observations:

Firstly, Id like to ask about the porn that women make for women. Is this porn
like that that men make? Does it feature the rape and the sexual availability, the
coercion and abuse? I tend to think that it wont because if it did then what
would it be for and why would it be distinguished from that made by men? Most
people who watch porn dont care who made it so wouldnt necessarily watch it
just because of who made it. The only distinguishing feature of porn made by
women would be that they better understand womens needs and can cater for
them in ways that men arent. This is not to say that women do not watch or get
off on porn made by, and ostensibly for, men, made from the mans point of
view. Of course they do. Neither is it to say that women do not like such porn or
derive sexual pleasure from it. I have observed more than one feminist in panel
discussions and debates claiming that women dont like rough sex or some
such statement, statements which I think to be utterly false and probably
puritanical. And, in listing the supposed crimes of male-led porn productions, it is
easy to be dismissive of things because they offend your morals. But that is not
to speak for anyone else much less whole genders. In any case, surely an
agenda of female empowerment would include them choosing their own moral
boundaries or even none at all? My point here is to say that all porn is not the
same. We can and should distinguish between harmful and more benign content.
I myself have done this and, frankly speaking, there are some kinds of porn, the
more harshly violent, aggressive and abusive, which disgust me and clearly
degrade not just women as a class but the performers acting it out and those
watching it. Some porn degrades humanity. Some, to be brutally honest, seems
like filmed actual abuse rather than the acting out of a fantasy version. But,
even here, it is at least arguable this doesnt give me the right to tell others
what they can and cant like or fantasize about.

A second observation is that correlation is not causation or just because you


think something it doesnt make it the case. We are lucky, today, that we have
those who will highlight socio-cultural injustices and imbalances in society and
study the effects of various phenomena to see what effects they may have on
society as a whole. In addition, it is necessary that society itself, and its many
cultures, are studied for their effects on and interactions with each other.

18
Clearly, as I have shown here in even the cursory survey above, pornography
includes many potentially harmful, discriminatory and destructive themes and it
is at least arguable that its pervasiveness and influence in society harms the
whole. It may be that some regard it as an expression of freedom and even of
empowerment but these claims, like those to harm that others make, must not
simply be accepted because they fit our agenda and outlook but must be
minutely studied and researched. It can neither be taken as the case that
pornography causes sexism and harms women nor that it is, from another point
of view, an expression of freedom. Rather, the complicated and probably
unequal and uneven nature of each claim needs to be teased out. What I am
saying here is that assumptions should be few and listening to the whole picture
of experience, which will involve listening to everyone concerned, should more
properly be the case. It seems manifestly obvious to me that some will benefit
and some will not here and that is probably what causes the controversy about
pornography in the first place. As an example, one girl feels deeply offended
when she is remarked upon for her appearance or sexuality, another welcomes
it. Neither was right or wrong, both were choices each made. But what if
exposure to pornography made more men think that more women welcomed it?
What if womens sexual objectification in porn affected how men saw them as a
class? This would show that the influence of pornography was about more than
individual choices or responses. I believe it is and so I believe we should assume
little and work together to study its effects and consequences more and maybe
to even counteract the negative ones.

A third observation is that a lot to do with pornography is about power and even
abuse of power. This involves those who make it, who are under pressure to
perform or get dumped and under pressure to meet the demands of producers
and the audience, as well as the content of pornography too which is often about
tropes of domination, violence, abuse and extremity. When this is going strongly
in one direction - male power over women - we should not be surprised that
many concerned with womens and even simple human rights have become
involved in discussing the subject. There is, at the very least, a case to answer
here. This is more so the case exactly because the usual response will be to
claim that such material has been legally made with the consent of all concerned
whilst the moral message of the material will be regarded as a matter for each
individual watching with the question of societal consequences ignored. Some
will say porn is only fantasy as if that were one answer to rule them all. But can
people not have destructive fantasies? Can ideas not have consequences? In
many respects quite violent, abusive and even simply immoral messages are
being distributed unhindered as, collectively, we are less than conscientious in
asking ourselves if pornography has any effects, individually or socially, and, if
so, what these might be. As it becomes more popular and more mainstream any
effects can only have an ever growing influence, an influence few stop to even
question. When the subject matter here is made within the context of use and
abuse of power and is often about exactly the same thing it would simply be
reckless and uncaring to take the view, as seems to be the case, that its every

19
person for themselves. Every person for themselves is exactly how the strong
get to prey on the weak in the first place.

I am glad that I wrote this chapter. I started it off by writing that I am a porn
user. But, acknowledging that and casting a critical gaze over what that involves,
I am now a little more aware about what it means to say that. I am more aware
about what actually quite a lot of pornography is about and, whether you agree
or not, its not always pleasant. I dont mean to conclude here by saying that
porn is this or that though. We are still left with our own morals and our own
consciences. All I would ask is that if you do use porn you do so questioningly,
with regard for the consequences and with eyes open rather than conveniently
closed. The porn industry does have casualties and the demands those in porn
feel from users for certain kinds of content is not the least of them. Wading
through a porn site looking at the material, what people will accept and the
comments they make about what they have seen, can cast a dark shadow. For
some, it will always be about consent, whether taking part in it as a performer or
a watcher. This is a reasonable point but I dont think it is the only point. People
can choose to do bad or destructive things and these can have consequences for
wider society as well as for people themselves, things which wider society has
the right to address. Even porn producers themselves have morals and are often
fastidious in, for example, rooting out kinds of porn that even they do not want
to be associated with, for example, pedophilia or bestiality. So moral concepts
are not alien to porn makers nor even to porn users who, if you talk to them
privately, will tell you the things that are beyond the pail for them too. This is
not merely a matter of personal taste, a charge often levelled at those with
anti-pornography views. Sometimes such people are merely criticizing other
peoples taste and here we should respectfully agree to disagree. But where
genuine moral concerns are raised these should be faced and answered head on.
Most of all, I think we should ask ourselves if pornography has to include some
of the messages, narratives and materials that it does. Is the abuse, power,
domination and violence necessary to porn as some, both pro and anti, may
claim? Or can there be kinds that exist without it? Can we educate ourselves to
enjoy sexual exchange without it being at someones expense?

What The World Needs Now (Larger Loyalty)

20
Question: When it comes to politics, how do you see the world today?

Answer: In general terms, and as far as I can ascertain as a person who reads
about world events only reluctantly, it seems to me to be fracturing, to be
coming less about the rather bourgeois notion of the social contract and more
about naked self-interest seizing power. Once we people entertained the notion
of benevolent dictators, even democratically elected ones with social
consciences, but I think recent events show the truth of the saying that power
corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When you add to this the
increasing brazenness with which some people act, perhaps expecting apathy in
response, its not a good picture.

Q: So you would describe yourself as pessimistic then?

A: If youre anything but rich, yes. But wasnt that always true?

Q: Can you say why?

A: Well there are a whole load of factors really. The rise of corporate power and
the fact of corporations aggressively seeking to expand their influence without
adequate democratic oversight is one. We can see how, for example, in the USA
commercial interests simply buy the votes of elected politicians which effectively
corrupts them completely. This isnt only happening in the USA but its the
clearest example. In my own country, the UK, in the last few decades much
national infrastructure has been sold off to foreign companies very cheaply so
you might have corporations from other countries supplying your electricity or
water or running your train. A lot of Europes gas, I think, comes from Russia
which seems to be a mafia state. Is this who millions of people want to rely on
for fuel? All these are examples of how supposedly democratic people have even
the little power they might nominally think they have neutralised and removed
from them, taken out of their direct influence. Aggressive corporate power takes
a stranglehold on life in general. It takes charge of the processes which supply
the very things we rely on to live. I think, for instance, of Nestle wanting to
revoke the idea of water as a human right, presumably so they can sell you a
few bottles of a natural resource that should be free to all but that they have
commercialised. Then again there is the notion of private health which wants to
profit from illness from one side but refuses to cover the costs of people with the
wrong kind of illnesses from the other. If we think of the new frontiers in
information and communication, as another example, we see a few huge
companies, Google, Facebook, etc., who literally want to be the portal for
everything.

Q: Why is that a problem? Many would say that their ability to find information
or stay in touch because of such companies has improved their lives.

21
A: Well its a trap, isnt it? If you want to catch some wasps put out a piece of
bread with some jam on it. They will come of their own free will, oblivious to the
dangers of your rolled up newspaper. We need to understand that Facebook is a
vast data-mining site. We need to see through the neat profiles and groups of
friends and family to ask why it exists: to build up profiles of people, to predict
their thoughts and behaviours. Its the most comprehensive surveillance network
in human history. It monitors, collates and makes use of every click you make -
and not just on Facebook either. I learnt recently that Facebook even keeps
profiles on non-members, less detailed of course because it hasnt co-opted you
into willingly providing them with more detailed information. But you cant opt
out from this. Facebook is constantly making inferences about you based on
what you do online, building up a personal profile. Even if this were totally
benign, and many would say it isnt, would you want some strangers holding it?
What are they doing with it? Who has access? Zuckerberg is beholden to no one
but himself and all this information he holds through cleverly inducing people to
take part in his social experiment becomes a tool of personal and social
manipulation. You dont routinely trust total strangers so why trust this one? You
can bet he gives presentations to commercial companies explaining how
Facebook can nail down what people do and dont want to someones commercial
advantage. He has aggressively pursued people across the Internet to make it
very difficult to avoid Facebook if you are on it. He personally gains the more
information about more people that he collects. Why should we think him
benevolent? Facebook is a technological version of the Stasi except instead of
simply informants we volunteer the information ourselves, the perfect cover.

Q: So where, in your mind, does this lead?

A: Well I think we can already see where its leading and its nowhere good.
People seem to know less and less about what is true now for one thing.
Traditional news has broken down, replaced with waves of social
media-communicated fake stories. This acts to make people become more
skeptical in general, believing that everyone is equally a liar, that everything is
opinion and nothing is fact, which is incredibly socially destructive. It also helps
create ultra conservative (small c) groupings who will only ever believe or even
listen to people they judge to be from their side. Partiality, as opposed to
impartiality or balance, loves a world in which you can spread opinions and bond
with like-minded people and then isolate yourself from everyone else by literally
choosing who can be heard. This is not how democracy came about nor does it
promote it. It creates an artificial world in which we become immune to
alternative points of view. It shuts down having to think because your point of
view is simply served up to you 24 hours a day in a hundred stories which
reinforce your position. Its been said by the writer Alan Moore that people seem
to have a precarious grip on reality today and I would agree with him.

But theres more to it than this, although this is bad enough. We are now
starting to learn that very rich and secretive people are actively manipulating

22
elections by technological means. There have been recent reports in both the UK
and USA about how certain shadowy data companies are using data and
algorithms to profile people and sway their votes in actual elections through the
Internet. In the case of the UK this involves exploiting its massively inadequate
electoral laws by simply operating from places outside its jurisdiction. We have
been hearing for years now how Russia is trying to influence the West and we
hear rumours of data farms and black sites full of people employed to create
fake or propagandistic accounts but why should we think they might do this but
nefarious people in our own back yards wouldnt? Of course, the one big problem
in all of this for the ordinary citizen is that they genuinely have no way to know
whats true and whats false. Who do we believe and why? How could the
ordinary citizen even begin to investigate or unravel such things?

Q: So far youve presented a world very much going down a


technologically-enabled black hole, a world of naked political greed and ambition
in which the ordinary citizen is like a bit of driftwood on an ocean that takes the
driftwood where it pleases. Is that accurate?

A: I certainly think that today, more than ever, the ordinary citizen is beholden
to forces they simply cannot control. Power creates inequality and we live in a
very unequal world. And this power is not worth having if you dont use it. Look
at Rupert Murdoch, Steve Bannon, people like this. They openly seek to influence
and control people in service of their own beliefs. The latter has even got himself
into government whereas the former merely has secret meetings with presidents
and prime ministers. Both use mass communication channels to spread their
pernicious beliefs. And these are only the well-known ones. Who knows what
goes on thats more hidden? All they want to do is create groups of people that
will respond to dog whistles to further personal agendas. In todays world they
can do this better than ever.

More than this, as British feminist and rabble rouser Julie Bindel has been
arguing, even the strongest opponents of people like this seem to accept some
of the premises of the modern, technological world. She argues we now have a
lack of actual politics as people retreat into so-called safe spaces. People no
longer want to debate and convince their opponents. Instead, led by social
media developments which teach people to block and silence those we disagree
with, we simply shut them out, cover our ears and say we cant hear you.
People not of the same political stripe as us are people we exclude from our
lives. They are the other, the ones beyond the pail who do not share our
views. Rather than interacting with them to try and understand them and maybe
change their minds, we cut ourselves off from them and retreat into the space
where there are only people like us. Politics thus comes to an end, replaced by
narcissistic preening to a sympathetic audience. In this context the very idea of
society itself, at least as an interactive phenomenon of lots of different people,
gets put in question.

23
Q: So you would argue that the body politic itself is under threat?

A: Very much so. We now have groups for every conceivable self-interest point
and probably lots we couldnt think of too. My question would be to ask if you
serve any group of people merely by talking amongst yourselves or to people
you have declared as safe.

Q: How do we change this?

A: To my mind the problem is we need to go right back to the beginning. We


hear lots of words today bandied about, words like globalism, nationalism,
tribalism, pluralism. For many, being in some identity group is where people feel
safe from the hostile world outside. I can understand the psychology of this but I
dont think its been thought through by many and is quite the opposite in the
case of others who actively want to promote self-interest at the expense of other
people. For this latter grouping nationalism or tribalism is the desired goal. They
have some twisted notion of survival of the fittest and see themselves as lifes
winners by fair means or foul. Ayn Rand is their teacher. These people are in
distinct opposition to the globalists who have some notion that we are all one
people together on the same planet and that artificial lines either on maps or
drawn in notions of society in general are but human inventions and are,
perhaps, impediments to progress. Such an outbreak of common humanity is, of
course, inimical to the self-interest of many groups of people who either feel
their power base being reduced or their over-emphasis on an individual identity
being sidelined. And so they resist. In this way natural enemies actually come to
have common cause. Some try to theorise their way out of this, talking about a
healthy pluralism. But what they refuse to see is that often its a pluralism as
solipsism. A hundred groups of people who only talk to themselves is not a good
thing.

So what of going back to the beginning? I have a lot of time for the now
deceased American philosopher, Richard Rorty. Besides discussing abstract
theories of meaning and language, as philosophers sometimes do, he had a
broad interest in political philosophy too. It is from him that I came across the
notion of larger loyalty. Put simply, Rorty (it wasnt his idea but he took it up in
his work) had the notion that it was the proper political and social task of human
beings to actively seek to expand the notion of who we feel we have loyalty to.
In such a way, he suggested, we might, one far off day, get to a point where we
felt loyalty to everyone. Being in that position we would then act for the good of
everyone and not just for the good of the people like us or even just for me
myself. He explained it as a set of concentric circles that went further out and
further out until everyone was included. I find it a pleasing idea and an
interesting goal to have. Perhaps its even a necessary one if we dont want to
fight over things forever.

24
In his frequent explanations of the history of philosophy (something his
opponents often criticised him for as inaccurate) Rorty would often make a
distinction between philosophical projects which were for private betterment or
for the public good. So, for example, Rorty would criticise Friedrich Nietzsche as
wanting people to perfect themselves with no political consequences and praise
John Dewey (above all others) for being one who wanted to create a better
social and political world. But I think that here Rorty himself got it wrong. For I
sit and think and I ask myself how we can have a good society, in political and
social senses, if we do not have good citizens? It doesnt matter how much you
may want a socially cohesive and beneficial society, one that works for the good
of all, if all the people who make up society are vain and self-serving, dismissive
of the truth and ambivalent about the needs of others. Bad people make a bad
society and always will. So it seems to me that the two agendas Rorty would
sometimes distinguish are not to be distinguished at all. To have a good society
you need good people and without good people there can be no good society.
Larger loyalty will never come from people whose loyalty is only ever to
themselves or people they identify as like them. This, in fact, is the current
world problem in a nutshell. The solution, as unlikely and spiritual as it sounds,
is that we need good people.

Now, of course, those who want to seize power and wealth for themselves would
never benefit from this. Empathy and concern for other people is not about
hoarding either power or wealth for yourself. They want a selfish, every man for
himself, kind of mentality to prevail. And you see it in newspapers published by
billionaires and across traditional and social media every day. In order to be
selfish they need to make us all accepting of selfishness, to accept its normality.
Of course, in such a scenario the strongest will always win and they know thats
not you. But they have become very good at, somehow, persuading people to
act against their own best interests. So we get things like Trump voters who sing
Trumps praises but then find hes cut their healthcare and we get Brexiteers in
the UK brashly crowing over their referendum victory and then realising that the
EU funds that came to their area will suddenly disappear and that, perhaps, the
Europeans who have been their doctors and nurses might leave again, leaving
the health services understaffed. It seems to me, at least, like people happily
punching themselves in the face but then making out thats what they really
wanted. Of course, what is really going on is that they are being manipulated
and corralled in directions that benefit others but under the illusion that this is
really their free choice as they are bombarded with information that stokes their
prejudices. You ask how we change this and the only answer I have is By
changing ourselves. Certainly, I dont think the answer is out there. No one is
going to ride to our or societys rescue. The problem is us and the solution is us
too. Thats why I think that both sorts of philosophical project that Rorty
identifies are relevant. They are intertwined and not separate.

25
Q: So what is your political outlook?

A: To the extent that it is currently unforeseeable as a reality, Id say it was


utopian. And, thus, many would accuse me of being disconnected from the
world, a crackpot, or something similar. But we live in a world where, 2,000
years ago, someone decided that a Jewish carpenter was god and, in the 20
centuries after, millions of people were marshalled behind such an unlikely belief
that even to this day encompasses considerable political and social influence.
World leaders like Trump or Theresa May claim to hold a Christian belief. So big
things are always possible.

But you want me to lay out my beliefs here and so its my duty to do so. I do it
knowing that what I say will seem inadequate because the world in general is
hypnotised by a paradigm of control, humans being in control, and I simply dont
believe that. My political outlook is a statement or two, or a saying or an idea,
not a code or a law. Surely the progress, by which I mean course not necessarily
betterment, of the human species has taught us that we cannot codify good
behaviour or decent society? So my political outlook is something like Try not to
step on other people as you go through life or Have a care for the
consequences of your actions. These ideas imply that others matter, of course,
and that life is not just the solipsistic course of billions of individual people. If
you think it is then I assume you feel free to crush people under foot as
necessary.

Q: Is a society in which there is a larger loyalty or in which we have general


and thorough-going concern for others a realistic possibility?

A: I think both yes and no and I think that must always be the answer. Good
people exist now, have always existed and always will exist. But I dont think our
society encourages them. There is not often conspicuous reward for being good.
Even in the Bible this is noted. In Ecclesiastes its said that the wicked prosper
and the good dont. The feeling of the context of that is that the world doesnt
make sense because this is true. Anybody with eyes and ears would be able to
confirm the truth of this but often few take note of it. Why be good? is a
genuine question as far as Im concerned and if you want to change the world
then you better ask it of yourself and others. Often people answer this in identity
terms. They equate being good with standing up for some identity or other. But
that, to my mind, can never be enough. A good society is about more than you
and those like you being treated well. In fact, in many ways its about those you
dislike being treated just as well. Its only when we think this way that the larger
loyalty even begins to exist as a possibility. Im constantly surprised by those,
such as feminists, for example, who seem to regard their beliefs as self-evident
and simply expect other people to just follow on after them. This is not the world
as I know it. People will always have different values and beliefs. They will
always disagree. A fair and just society is one which doesnt treat them well or

26
badly because of these things. Larger loyalty is about overcoming differences
rather than erasing them.

Q: But how can that ever happen though when people cling so tightly to the
things they believe? People conceive of an identity between themselves and the
things they believe. Isnt this a problem?

A: Thats true but it should be questioned. Is a person less worth feeding or


helping or saving because they believe some things you dont? I cant answer
that question for you but that, in effect, is the question we all answer by our
actions several times a day.

Q: So is our species capable of doing better than it does?

A: I dont know. I suspect not but then we humans carry all sorts of strange
notions in our heads. For example, take all Ive just said. Its quite high-minded
and seemingly moral. But its all theoretical and its thought out in an isolated
theoretical space which, incidentally, is a problem lots of so-called moral thinkers
share. If I go outside my front door I will see my neighbour. Now I dont like my
neighbour. He annoys me. Its not that hes doing anything especially wrong and
I have next to no clue how he lives his life because I keep myself to myself. I
just dont like him. And thats replicated millions of times over around the world
every day. People dont need a reason to do things and often dont even know
why they choose A over B. Human beings are not machines. Their behaviour is
not mathematical or programmable. Its often instinctive, unexplored and deeply
complex. So I have this feeling to avoid my neighbour and I dont have a feeling
of wanting to go out of my way to want to help him particularly. Now thats quite
a mild thing. Imagine all the people whose random dislikes turn into active
hatreds. And then imagine how this all shapes the world we live in.

I also think that our species is a very self-important species. Its very egotistical
for all that public commentators like George Monbiot will tell you how altruistic
we are. Altruism is possible and, all things considered, most creatures, including
us, prefer to avoid conflicts rather than fan the flames of them because they
know that such things risk casualties and bring the unknown into the equation.
Every day is blessed with lots of acts of random kindness. But Im yet to be
convinced that this is our base state from which we have been seduced by dark
forces. Ego I take to be a basic survival state. You survive by preferring yourself.
(I say this not as a moral preference but as an explanation of the human being.)
There is nothing outside the human species that cares whether we as a species
lives or dies and yet we have somehow put ourselves at the top of the pyramid,
at the top of the list of things that have come into being. I just dont see this as
anything more than a base prejudice for ourselves. It manifests itself individually
and in terms of anthropocentrism. The latter is why we destroy the planet; we
think it exists to service us. The former is why we destroy each other; we think
ourselves more important than others. Both are foolish ideas.

27
But how do we solve or repair such things? Part of me finds a human arrogance
in the very idea. It plays once more into this human notion of control. We think
we can control everything, affect our destiny, make everything alright. We think
we know what the ideal state of things is, something environmentalists are
very good at, for example. But do we? Are we part of something much greater
than us or over and above it? We need to remember that to affect our
surroundings and to control our surroundings are not the same thing. Human
beings will always be vulnerable to the unforeseen consequences. We are not
omnipotent. So there is no formula we will have to make things alright. Time
and chance, in Richard Rortys memorable phrase, is what we are about and our
attempts to escape it are doomed to fail. Instead we sit here on earth overseeing
an apocalypse by maladministration as someone memorably remarked to me
recently. Im afraid I dont have any better news for anyone than that.

The basic truth, in the end, is that it all comes down to me, whoever me is in
this instance. Only me and the millions of other mes can change who we are
and how we live. The societal challenge is ultimately very personal. My ability to
educate and develop a larger loyalty in myself and others is ultimately key to
any change in humanitys progress and continued existence on Earth.

28
Andrew and Skoddie Discuss Sex and Gender

Andrew: Hey Skoddie. Got a bit of a curved ball for you. I've decided to write a
book called "Personal Observations On Sex and Gender in Society" which was
first suggested to me in that I was recently reviewing a lot of my past online
comments over the years and a lot of them were on subjects relevant to this but
could have been filled out and worked into more cogent arguments if I'd given
them the time and attention. So as I read them I thought "Why not do it now?"
So here we are and that's what I'm hoping to do. I'll be covering issues like
porn, sex, gender and social media, feminism, revenge porn, everyday sexism,
body shaming, what our attitude to equality should be and if that means, as has
been said "we should all be feminists" and how views on gender affect how we
are in the world. I'm aiming to be personal in what I write which will be a bit like
a personal chronicle and I'm not looking to write an apology for any position or
an attack on any other one )although, of course, I will have and express my own
views sometimes). It will just be one person's thoughts open for perusal by
anyone who reads them. You've seen my blogs so I think you know how I
approach things. My task is to question why people think the things they think
and not to say "you're right, you're wrong." So maybe now you're wondering
why I'm telling you this? Well it hasn't escaped my notice that issues of sex and
gender are probably very relevant to you. So I'm wondering if you'd be willing to
do an interview with me that I could include in the finished book. You could do
so with anonymity if you wanted to. What I'm aiming for doesn't require you to
identify yourself in any way. I'd just like a completely different and honest
perspective on things that I really, in all honesty, can't give myself. Logistically,
it would be as before in that I'd come up with some questions which I'd send you
and then you can answer them as fully and completely as you like. I think I
know you well enough to trust that you would do that anyway because I believe
you have opinions and that they would be read-worthy ones. Of course, you're
also free to say "no thanks!" and if you do I understand. So wadda ya say?

Skoddie: Absolutely I love discussing sex, gender, and queer topics!

Andrew: Well thats just swell as I believe Americans say!

Skoddie: Haha they're topics that are very close to my heart, and the project
sounds like a good opportunity to discuss them in a productive way.

Andrew: Well I hope so. I should say that I approach this as a personal project
though and not as a contribution to any debate. I will put it where people can
read it at the end though. I'm emphasizing the personal because it would be
easy to read what I'm bound to say and then pigeonhole it as this or that. I see
it as one person's thought or, in the case of the chapter with you, maybe two
people's. You will be very aware that even venturing a view on such topics is to
court controversy and someone's outrage.

29
Skoddie: Oh absolutely, that's kind of the point really. I think that's a good
direction to go as well.

Andrew: Certainly at the level of those who live these topics to venture a view to
immediately be typecast. I'm doing this saying everyone can have a view,
everyone can explain how they see things and why without being accused of this
or that. The vast majority of the articles in the book will be directly in
conversation with an extant book, article or, in one case, a film. So it won't just
be my thoughts plucked from the air. And of course the interview will be in
conversation with you so that won't just be my voice which I think is important.

Skoddie: Cool.

Andrew: As we talking Im thinking it might be better if my interview with you


were a discussion like this. The live back and forth adds something. We could
then clarify what we said after if we want to tidy or clarify anything that was
said. But i'll need time to think what I want to ask so there's no rush.

Skoddie: For sure, I think the conversational style will provide a good flow and
add a humanization element.

Andrew: Yes and that's the other motive I have. I've been writing articles about
being human for over 3 years now. Its inevitable that sexuality and gender must
come into that. I'm in a book writing phase so putting several topics together
seems to make sense. Could I ask you one question now though just to help me
orientate myself to you and make sense of where you will be coming from?

Skoddie: Sure!

Andrew: Describe as concisely as you can how you identify yourself in terms of
sexuality and gender.

Skoddie: Pansexual, Feminine leaning, Genderqueer.

Andrew: Now tell me what that means! I know you use feminine pronouns for
yourself, for example.

Skoddie: Sexually I am attracted to any and all genders (though romantically I


identify as a Lesbian). As far as gender, I identify deeply within Non-Binary
space but I prefer to use feminine pronouns.

Andrew: Ok, thank you. I'll have more questions about that I'm sure but I want
you to know that I am conscious of not wanting to be too personal or tread on
your toes about it. But obviously we both know that to many it will need
explaining or will be irrationally received.

30
Skoddie: Oh absolutely, in many ways complex non-binary identities act as a
placeholder designed to start a conversation. Its good stuff.

Andrew: Yes and I can do that but I also want to be mindful as I write of the
"average Joe" who will shrug, go "Huh?" and think there are men, women and
that's it. But I'm saying I want to do that whilst being understanding to you as I
do it because average Joe would be wrong. Its not everyone who is on board
with the idea that sexuality or gender is a spectrum rather than fixed points.

Skoddie: Exactly, so it's important to present it in a way that's easily understood


without directly challenging the average joe's world view.

Andrew: Well thank you for agreeing Skoddie. I'll keep you informed and when I
have a bunch of questions as a stimulus to a discussion (and you could certainly
fire some back at me as they arise because I'm a pretty "straight" guy) maybe
we can arrange a time to chat.

Skoddie: Sounds good. Im looking forward to it.

SOME DAYS LATER..

Andrew: Hi Skoddie. I think I have a bunch of questions we could have a


discussion around. I figure it may take maybe 60-90 minutes to discuss them. If
you can get back to me and let me know when you'd be available I'd be happy
to set a time to talk.

Skoddie: Hey! I actually don't have any plans this weekend, so I'm good to do
any time on either day.

Andrew: Would you prefer to do it in your morning? That would work for me if I
have my time differences right.

Skoddie: Yes, i think that would line up best between our time zones.

Andrew: So like 10am Saturday. For you, that is.

Skoddie: Sure.

Andrew: Coolio. Im spending my days now watching panel discussions on rape


culture and what is gender? sessions. Living the dream

Skoddie: That does sound pretty goddamn awesome. Honestly.

Andrew: I do get the impression some people are obsessed with it.

31
Skoddie: For many it's the pinnacle of liberation, and for others it's confusing.
People are bound to take anything too seriously.

Andrew: Interesting for me as an observer of how people present arguments,


formulate knowledge and get trapped in their own logic. One feminist academic
seemed to have discovered the idea of male entitlement and then literally
everything was because of male entitlement. It was like a little castle she'd built
herself. I usually smell a rat if people's arguments are self-contained and don't
interact with or address others. Its clearly a defensive strategy for a position
already decided.

Skoddie: Well and it's frustrating, because surely there's a middle ground
between existence and causation.

Andrew: Im probably Mr Middle Ground but done as honestly as i can. As I said


in the intro (which is the first article in this book), its predetermined i'll satisfy
no one.

Skoddie: *shrug* that doesn't mean you can't do good.

Andrew: One person's good is another person's evil. Here endeth the lesson.

Skoddie: lol

Andrew: Saturday at 10am then. Looking forward to it.

Skoddie: Same here!

SOME DAYS LATER

Skoddie: OK. Good to go.

Andrew: Q1: What are the factors that decide what gender someone is?

Skoddie: While there are many things that contribute to a person's gender,
self-identification is the most reliable factor. This may sound like a cop-out,
however people who are not cisgendered have a multitude of reasons and
factors for identifying as such. These may range from social structures, to body
dysmorphia, and it's rare to find two people who will answer the same way.

Andrew: Q2: People are individuals that exist in society, personal yet social
beings. When it comes to identity issues this creates a problem in that how you
see yourself may not be how people at large see you. And the problem there is
that people will see you in socialized ways and without the benefit of your

32
personal knowledge of yourself. What do you think about this and that people
will always be designated in common, socialized ways, perhaps ways contrary to
their own thinking, that you can't really do anything about? Even if you wanted
to continually be telling people how you see yourself so that they could see you
the same way you couldn't tell everyone nor could you force them to accept
what you say either. What is the solution?

Skoddie: Our society is in a constant state of change. Not just with regards to
gender, but aspects like technology, economics, and political structure are ever
evolving, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. I personally find it
appropriate to use this constant shifting to try to be the best person I could ever
be, and it seems like society at large is pressing toward an optimistic pinnacle.
Keeping this in mind, I compare my life and culture today to the life and culture
of my youth, and the perception of gender is far more nuanced, not only in my
own mind, but in society and culture at large.

There will always be individuals and groups that will take a prescriptive approach
to identity, however I've found a great number of people who are more open
minded but simply lack the concepts to see topics such as gender with nuance.
So, to answer your question, I don't believe there will ever be a true solution,
but the best approach is to foster an environment where it is less of an issue. A
few years ago I began the mental exercise of not assuming the gender, sexual
orientation, or relationship views of a person until they had the opportunity to
explain it themselves. I expected that most would ultimately fall within the
confines of cisgendered, heteronormative culture, however my experience has
been far more varied and individual. People are far more interesting that
generalizations would make them out to be, and I've spent the time since
encouraging other people to do the same.

Andrew: That seems very sensible but let me give two counter arguments from
two kinds of people broadly opposed to it.

Q3: I recently read an argument to the effect that the noticeable eruption in
recent decades of transgender people coming to prominence was due to people
wanting to be seen as special or to claim victimhood in the context of a society
in general which, it is often said, seeks to play the victim game and to compete,
group for group, with other social groupings for the prize of being most
victimized. Allied to that argument I've also seen radical or liberation feminists
argue that transgender people, especially those transitioning from male to
female, are, in effect, seeking to claim women's ground for themselves,
something they see as hijacking the movement they are part of. This often
entails those making such arguments in simply disbelieving the claims of people
transitioning in this way and discounting their stories as fantasies or lies. My
question is: in a society which now puts so much weight on the value of personal
testimony and a person's right to their own truth how can people, particularly

33
those presenting as gender fluid, genderqueer or as trans, maintain personal
dignity whilst simultaneously desiring a necessary public recognition?

Skoddie: Frankly, it's not possible for any of those peoples to maintain personal
dignity and be recognized for who they truly are at this stage. Modern gender
theory is such a new idea that no matter how much it eases the suffering of
peoples who fall outside of the gender binary, it will be alien to any cisgendered
person. All people are focused on their own lives, at least to a degree, and when
popular culture and mass media is telling them to care about something new, it
can definitely be frustrating.

I've talked to a number of people who have asked me why they need to care
about gender theory when it has a minimal impact on their life. My response is
that generally, they don't need to. My only reasons for wanting them to be
informed is so that when they have a friend, a coworker, a customer, a client, or
even their own child who doesn't identify with their assigned-at-birth gender,
they will be aware of the concept and accepting.

I have such a large degree of sympathy for the groups of trans-exclusionary


feminists. It makes me incredibly sad to see women that have spent so many
years defending against misogynists that they feel the need to reduce their
gender to genitalia. I think, and truly hope, that this phenomenon is temporary,
and only scar tissue from past struggles. I can only speak for those I've
interacted with directly, but many feminists who were initially trans-exclusionary
become accepting when they realize that we're not a threat.

Andrew: Before I move into another area of discussion let me put one more
point in this area.

Q4: What is the role of science and scientists in matters of gender? Do you think
your first answer, which might be summarized as "Trust my views about myself
in matters of gender," needs any further buttressing of a scientific kind? Isn't the
subjectivism you speak of lacking in power to convince when others could simply
be equally as subjective and believe their own truths instead? Does possible
scientific consensus offer a way out of this which would set these often
damaging and destructive arguments aside?

Skoddie: If we speak specifically of Biology, I've unfortunately found it to be a


red herring. While it could, in theory, offer definitive proof of at least something
regarding a mismatch between a person's biochemistry and their stated gender,
it also seems to open up an opportunity to formally brand people as 'liars'. The
discussion of biological cause ties in with the notion that non-binary and trans
peoples have a desire for special treatment, where the majority of us simply
want to be allowed to exist.

If we talk of science more broadly, I do think that understanding the psychology

34
and sociology of gender more comprehensively can absolutely help the
acceptance and success of non-cisgendered peoples. This approach depends on
intent however. It was only until very recently that identifying as a gender other
than the one commonly associated with your genitalia was defined as a disorder,
implying that it could be 'treated' and 'cured'. I would love to see more written
from a scientific perspective along the lines of 'this is what gender is, this is how
it affects a person as they move through the world', but stay clear of the 'and
this is how we fix it' aspect.

Andrew: I might be able to help you there. I have been binge watching debates
and panel discussions. There was one I watched which was scientists discussing
the subject. After we have finished I will take time, probably in my morning, to
refer back and find that and pass it on to you. It may help or it may not. Now I
want to broaden the questions a little if I may.

Q5: How do you regard the rise, throughout the 20th and into the 21st century,
of gender specific philosophies and cultures? I think, perhaps most notably but
not exclusively, of Feminism which it can be observed has had a large impact on
society in general. Now what some call the Transgender movement seems to be
doing a similar thing. Are these good things or bad things and how do you
respond when some outside them regard them as the mere self-justifications of
political groupings by pseudo-academic means?

Skoddie: It's important to frame these social trends within the context of
Western society. I do apologize as I didn't prepare any sources to cite, however
there have been cultures promoting gender equality as well as trans and
non-binary genders for millennia. I mention these because it demonstrates that
these concepts are not new to humanity, but they are new to our culture. I
spoke earlier about striving for perfection without being able to achieve it, and
with that goal in mind I think it is impossible to do so without the largest amount
of information and data possible. We now have the idea of gender as a
multidimensional spectrum, and gender equality as something that extends to
every person. This seems undeniably good to me, however I could see a person
who is currently advantaged seeing it as a threat. This dives into the
philosophical topic of the value in selflessness, though I think that may be
beyond the scope of this interview.

It's interesting the way you phrased the question, as these movements are the
justifications of political groupings. It is very important to approach the
discussion and research of gender topics with academic rigor to avoid the
accusation of pseudo-science, and I think the best response is to provide well
researched studies. While we may never be able to change a critic's mind this
way, showing due diligence can at least help diminish their argument in the eyes
of an observer.

35
Andrew: One way to achieve the survival you hinted at earlier would be to
present yourself as a group as sane and reasonable in academic terms. I think it
undeniable some feminists have and still do do that. Indeed, academia in
general may be one of the places where feminist philosophies are most
accepted. "The "justifications of political groupings" I spoke of were not my
words but a gloss on some of the comments I've heard in panels and debates
I've watched this week. And now, to move the discussion on again, another
question.

Q6: Whats your view on the ideas of rape culture and everyday sexism? What
do these things mean to you? Have you experienced either?

Skoddie: Rape culture and everyday sexism are both a regular part of my life,
and something I spend a lot of time trying to work against at a grassroots level.
Specifically, I often encounter men who are so desperate for affection they feel
the need to stoop to dishonesty or emotional manipulation, and I try to help
them without insulting them. This is not easy, but I find it rewarding as I've had
friends who have one expressed misogynistic opinions regarding sex go on to
have highly successful and rewarding relationships.

Two of my most passionate hobbies, gaming and electronic music, are rife with
sexism and rape culture. While I could share horror stories, I will simply say that
I make it a point to call these situations out so that the perpetrators know that
they are not acceptable. Being vocal is really the only way to encourage progress
in these spaces, and while it is often met with resistance I'm glad that I've been
ultimately successful more times than not.

Personally, I struggle with transmisogyny on a nearly daily basis as a male


passing non-male. It is difficult to sum these experiences up into words, but the
most challenging aspect is when there are power imbalances involved. My
gender is somewhat of an open secret at my workplace, but in general I am
closeted there, and the results are troubling. The most common instance being
when somebody, usually a man, decides that I'm a 'safe' person to express a
sexist thought to. For my own survival I'm unable to call the person out, but the
degree of internal conflict is painful.

Andrew: I appreciate you sharing such personal and probably painful thoughts.
If I may Id like to end by addressing how people of all kinds see gender and, to
an extent, sexual orientation as whole.

Q7: Gender, and probably also sexual orientation, is posited by many as a thing
all about difference, setting people apart. But this isn't the whole story, is it? For
it is also about those being differentiated being the same. Gender, especially,
distinguishes types or kinds of the same thing rather than talking about
absolute, intractable difference. (When the focus is on difference it can be used

36
as the basis for discrimination.) Do you agree? And is it helpful to emphasize
similarity as well as difference?

Skoddie: Gender and sexuality are two large parts of what combines to make us
individuals, which is truly what we all share in common. It's important to note
that no two people are alike, and when we either group people by their
differences, or try to ignore them entirely we rob every person of who they are.
Rather than emphasize similarity or difference, I'd hope that we could recognize
each person as a unique individual with any number of qualities that describes
who they are. This is not easy, but by assuming we know nothing about a person
we open ourselves up to the possibility of new and exciting experience we may
have been previously blind to.

Andrew: That's an answer I didn't expect... I am delighted to say. If you have


time for one more question I have one left.

Q8: What is the role of the state in dealing with gender and people of different
genders? You may also respond regarding sexual orientation as well if you wish.

Skoddie: We have discussed at length how various people are biased against
those different from themselves, and my general thesis has been to change the
minds you can and disregard those you can't while making your presence
known. These people are, in a sense, free to have these biases in private, but
the state's role is to insure that they're not expressed publicly in a way that
limits basic rights. What those rights are is highly debated, but things like
employment and restroom access are both universal enough, and not currently
protected. Beyond that, the state has a responsibility to help all of its citizens,
and specifically those that are oppressed, be set up for success in life, as it will
only make the specific nation stronger.

Andrew: Is it safe to assume you'd prefer to remain anonymous when I write the
answers into the book?

Skoddie: For strange personal reasons, I am okay with you identifying me as


Skoddie.

Andrew: That's great too as I think anyone reading would at least prefer a name
to hang the words on.

Skoddie: Exactly. I am a real living breathing person who does things haha.

Andrew: Im a real living breathing person who tries not to do things.

Skoddie: You do quite a bit though.

37
Andrew: The person you know on the Internet does.

Skoddie: Meatspace is obsolete. Composing and releasing music, curating and


hosting a successful podcast, writing a book on gender and sexuality, and
founding a strongly productive group of musicians.......I'd say that's doing
things. We haven't really had a 'motivation' discussion on EMP (a music group on
Facebook I used to curate), but I release music because I'm suicidal and it's my
way of having a legacy.

Andrew: My immediate response to that, not always the best kind of response
admittedly, is that your suicide might do that too. And I say that not because I
wish it but just because it seems a pointed and challenging point to think about.
If one is going to be alive, which is a choice every day, one might as well think
about personally meaningful things. But then there is always the problem that
one will seem wrapped up in oneself, especially from the outside.

Skoddie: hah

Andrew: There are all sorts of other questions I could have asked you. For
example, in the past I've written and read quite a lot about post-humanity, what
happens after we escape biology for want of a better term. I wonder how lack of
a body, or a technological one which won't need sexual organs or genitalia will
affect people's understanding of gender and sexuality? It seems to me we regard
both as basic and yet we may outrun them. Thoughts?

Skoddie: I think that when we are no longer constrained by our physical forms
we will be able to experience true individuality, expressing ourselves purely as
beings of concept and idea. Given this limitless context, I can only imagine that
as a race, we will find new ways to experience social bliss that completely eclipse
any modern notion of intellectual or sexual congress.

Andrew: I don't think we are beings of concept and idea. We are beings of flesh
and goo. I think that limits are what define things. And ours are clear to anyone
who gets born and lives long enough. I think that Transhumanists don't want to
preserve us, they want to destroy and surpass us. I also think we won't live that
long anyway. One thing I did find interesting in your answers was the focus on
individuality. The subjectivity of your first answer I admit I anticipated. As
someone who himself very much reserves the right to his own
self-understanding I can't criticize it without being contradictory. But it does
leave the way open to others to do exactly the same and I don't think thats
good enough. The only balance on me thinking what I like (which I regard as a
bad thing ultimately) is that I interact with others who don't. That's what the
introduction was all about.

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Skoddie: Concept and idea is really just a practical application of flesh and goo.
Though your destroy may be my evolve, as leaving our bodies does remove
every definition of what it is to be human.

Thank you to Skoddie for agreeing to this conversation with me.

39
Authenticity

"With authenticity" is the existential answer to the old, old question "What is the
right way to live?" "Existential" here is a term used to denote certain thinkers of
the 19th and 20th centuries who were noted for concentrating on human
subjectivity, the human individual as a subject in the world and the felt absurdity
of the individual as a being who has come into existence. These thinkers by no
means all had the same ideas and existentialism itself is neither a school of
thought nor a doctrine of any kind. It is merely a term to denote these kinds of
thinkers from the given time period and would include people such as
Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Jaspers, Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus as
well as writers like Kafka and Dostoyevsky for those who are familiar with
philosophical literature. All that aside, what I want to do in this chapter is
discuss authenticity as something that matters greatly to me which I think
relevant in general. It is worth noting before I continue, however, that
authenticity is probably regarded as the existentialist's number one virtue. We
might well ask, then, why this is and what is so important about living
authentically that it recommends itself so highly.

It is as well to start by asking what authenticity might be before we go on to


discuss it any further. I've already said in my first paragraph that it is regarded
as a, if not the, existentialist answer to the question "What is the right way to
live?" This is the old question Greeks used to ponder when they were concerned
to find "the good life" and ponder questions of ethics and conduct. So we can see
that this is a question with some history, what we might call a humanist question
since it concerns human life. Authenticity is a quality that those with an
existentialist leaning think brings us nearer to this right way to live. Put simply,
"authenticity" is living true to yourself and in balance with what you know of
yourself, not just post-reflectively but also instinctively. Inasmuch as it is an
answer to that old question I have referred to it is also a moral decision. This is
so for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we take the true to be valuable and so to seek
it is to make a moral choice and, secondly, because in seeking a "good life" or
"right way to live" we are making judgments that can affect ourselves and
potentially be applicable to others as well. This clearly has moral implications.

There is a further thing to note about authenticity though and especially as to


why existentialist thinkers are drawn to it. For Sartre it seems that most things
about existence have some kind of moral dimension. He always thinks that
people should have to acknowledge what they are doing with their lives. This
opens that up to moral judgment. For Nietzsche a person is that being who,
should they have their "why" of life, they can put up with almost any "how". This
opens up vistas of purpose and meaning. Meanwhile for Camus, as I have
commented upon elsewhere, he remarks that "the determined soul will manage"
with life despite its absurdity. You may recall if you have ever read his The Myth
of Sisyphus that he thinks we should roll our metaphorical rock with some moral
purpose. Kierkegaard is one famous for his formula "Subjectivity is truth" and

40
writes at length about human individuals as ones who must make their own
truth.

If we see these varying positions as nodes on a net what we get is a major


junction where all these points (and others not mentioned) meet. Authenticity,
as these thinkers each elucidate in their own ways as they apply to their
particular concerns, is about what Nietzsche terms the "how" of life. This "how"
is a moral thing, a way of life, a manner of existing, subjectively. Each individual
human subject has a way of being in the world and each can reflect on what that
is. We can perhaps better shine a light on authenticity by asking what its
opposite would be. That is to be fake. We all understand what a fake is and most
people would frown on the idea. Authenticity is primarily a matter of not being a
fake to yourself. Its a matter of morality and responsibility to yourself.
Authenticity is your duty not to be a fake, faking your way through life.

But there are a few issues here after what I admit is not necessarily an easily
expressed idea. Lauren Bialystok, an assistant professor at the University of
Toronto, wrote a PhD thesis on the subject of authenticity which I came across
online the other day. She raises a couple of relevant points here when thinking
about authenticity. These are about considering notions of identity and selfhood.
To be authentic to yourself you have to have a self and an identity to be
authentic to. But this is not simply formulated. "Who am I?" is a very basic
question but it seems that often many people are not sure about the details.
Many people go through a crisis of identity where they are not sure where they
fit in with the world. Authenticity should be, as Bialystok says, "a convergence
between how something presents itself and what it actually is". But there is a
second point and that is that the idea of being oneself also requires that it be
possible not to be yourself. But it is not clear that this is even possible. Even
"odd" behavior is still "our" behavior... whatever we take "our" to refer to.
People can be multi-faceted or, more negatively, two-faced. But all facets and
faces are still theirs. Being a human being is not about being a clone or filling out
a mold. We are not undifferentiated members of a species. To lead a human life
requires honoring what it means to be a once-occurring person.

There are further identity issues to consider. Martin Heidegger spoke of three:
our "thrownness" into life as beings with a concrete and individual past, our
ek-sistence, a future that stands out before as possibility that is not yet set, and
our immersion in the flood of our unique every day concerns. These are all
time-based factors constitutive of the fact that we exist in a situation in time,
one unique to us in all its specificity. What is important for authenticity in this
context is that we can always move beyond our "facticity" in the situation, the
unique nexus of past, present and future which we inhabit. It is, as Sartre said,
about "what we do with what's been done to us". Humans are not stable,
timeless identities. We are always a story in the process of being written, a
thought which reminds us of Kierkegaard's saying that we "live forwards but
understand backwards". But we are also always beings in time. Once we realize

41
that we are not necessary and need not have existed, once we realize that to be
alive is to exist and have a time limit on our existence, a past and present and a
future that exists always only as possibility, then we gain some insight into what
it means to exist at all and of our responsibility for ourselves. This all informs our
authenticity.

One aspect of this discussion that may be familiar to you is the concept of "bad
faith". This was talked about a lot by Jean-Paul Sartre who is largely responsible
for its modern familiarity. Acting in "bad faith", in terms of authenticity, is when
you knowingly act contrary to what you know your own stance, values and
beliefs to be. It is ordering your life according to certain principles when you
know you have not been persuaded of their truth or value. On the other hand,
acting in good faith is when you act in accordance with these things or have
been persuaded. But what might cause us to act in bad faith? For Heidegger the
original sin of bad faith is exceeding to the will of others, fitting in in ways you
know are contrary to you yourself. But its not just a matter of other people.
Existentialists know well that we lie and deceive ourselves just as well as others.
You can lie to yourself about who you are or try and tell yourself you are
someone you are not, perhaps because you might want to be. These are issues
of choice and responsibility and are one of the reasons authenticity is such a big
deal in terms of us as individuals. We have what Kierkegaard envisioned as an
anguish because of our freedom to act in such ways. He thought of it like the
woman who is on the edge of the cliff. She fears falling but she also has an
anguish, the knowledge that she could just choose to jump. "Bad faith" is a way
in which we deal with this ambiguous anguish of existence.

And so we come to the meat. One is not born authentic. One becomes it by
conscious choice and practice as one who takes responsibility for their own life,
eschewing a fitting in contrary to what we know of ourselves and learning to
recognize the ways in which we lie to ourselves about who we are, where we
have come from and what we value. In so doing one becomes an individual, a
person responsible for and to themselves. Here we see aspects of Camus'
lucidity, that open-eyed knowing that was so important regarding our response
to the absurdity of life. The person who is happy to be a cog in a machine,
unthinking, not responsible, is inauthentic. Nietzsche has a saying in his book
Human, All Too Human which goes like this:

However far a man may extend himself with his knowledge, however objective he may
appear to himself - ultimately he reaps nothing but his own biography.

I read this as Nietzsche saying that all we are is slugs leaving a trail. The
authentic person takes responsibility for what that trail might tell someone
seeing it about us. To have authenticity is to embrace, to take responsibility, to
make a choice about our life as a whole. Inauthenticity is to let things happen.
Why is this important? Its because having woken up, having seen, you have to
choose to be Neo rather than choosing to be Cypher, to use an analogy from the

42
film The Matrix. You may remember that Neo was told he was "The One" and
finally embraced his calling after some initial doubt. Cypher, on the other hand,
had been woken from his life of servitude to the machines but rejected it and
convinced himself he would be better off being asleep again. Neo was authentic,
Cypher was not. Neo took responsibility, Cypher did not. But why do you have to
do this? Because doing this constitutes your being responsible which is an action
not merely a realization. In this sense we train ourselves to be authentic like
choosing a path or a way. But we must still walk it daily. Nothing here is given or
automatic. Authenticity functions as owning our own individuality and specificity.
We are not generic humans. We are who we are and, as Nietzsche said, should
"become who we are" and find our why of life and then live our manner of life.
Inauthenticity, then, consists in fleeing our individuality (and our responsibility
for it) by diluting being human into an event that happens to everyone. This
neglects the contingency that made us who we are and not just some human
clone. We are not human clones. We are individual beings with personal
identities and senses of self.

Authenticity, its necessity and the fact of it as an issue, is an aspect of the


absurd conditions of life - specifically of our futile pursuit of being consciously
self-identical. Our quest for identity collides with the fact that we can deceive
ourselves and lie to ourselves quite deliberately and yet that be hidden from us.
It is an expression of the nature of a being that can not know what it is and take
(moral) responsibility for itself nevertheless. How and why this is is
unexplainable to date and absurd. We are self-contradictory and inconsistent
beings who knit thoughts, feelings and actions together to make of them some
identity we can live with. This is not always easy and often not possible - which
can result in a personal crisis of selfhood. These things, again, are an aspect of
the absurd conditions of our life and the kinds of freedom of which we are
capable, specifically, the freedom to not identify with our ideas of self. "We are
condemned to be free" as Sartre notes. Here again, as with Camus and the
absurd, we find that the absurd does not liberate but binds. Once again, our
response is the courage and responsibility to live, to embrace our contingency.
This constitutes our authenticity.

This is basically all I wanted to say about this subject and I appreciate that this
has perhaps been somewhat heavy or theoretical. So a pat on the back to
anyone who got this far! It remains only for me to say that the longer I have
lived the more important being authentic has become to me. This constitutes the
core element of my self-identity and my responsibility for myself as a valid
human being. It now remains only to raise a question: if this is meant to be an
existentialist answer to "what is the good life?" and the answer is claimed to be
moral and coming from a moral impulse then how does this fit into a scheme of
social morality? The vast majority of us live as social beings in a society. Are we
all just to live as individuals cultivating our authenticity? How would this work?
Could it even work? Does this answer social moral questions? That's for another
day.

43
There is Nothing Necessary About the Human Being

Once upon a time I wrote a blog about what I called "human exceptionalism". I
could also have referred to "speciesism", it later occurred to me. The term would
have done equally well for the phenomenon I was talking about. But it occurs to
me that I can go further in my thinking than I did on that earlier occasion in a
blog which asked why we find it relatively easy to denominate some beings as
lesser beings than ourselves and then commit atrocities upon them. The
direction that we can go further in is that one which asks us to address human
beings as a species in themselves. We can do this whilst at the same time
recognizing that our species, the human being, is just one of millions that this
planet has produced, the vast majority of which have been and gone again,
vanished from the planet that once gave them birth. Indeed, a wide spectrum
view of life on Earth, if not elsewhere in the universe, seems to suggest that life
forms in general have their time and then they vanish, a cosmic version of Andy
Warhol's "famous for fifteen minutes".

Outside of the pride and ego of the human consciousness there is no reason to
think that we, the humans, will be any different. But due to the way we have
developed, and the higher brain functions that have come along with it, we can
imagine other futures, ones in which the humans survive. Indeed, some imagine
futures in which the humans become the first creatures to leave this planet and
colonise others, heading out into the vastness of space. As time passes by,
should we successful navigate the dangerous path of survival, there will certainly
be an increasing urgency to do that and a scenario somewhat like the plot for
the film Interstellar may arise. This is because space, that still, quiet,
unchanging void, is actually none of these things. Things are changing in space
all the time, constantly. Its moving. Its just that this change occurs over such
unimaginably long periods of time that our tiny species, that lives for a few
decades, never really lives long enough to notice the difference. One of the
changes that will have occurred in what we would call the far future is that our
sun will have grown in luminosity to such an extent that the heat it gives off will
terminally threaten our planets existence.

And this is what the universe is like. Its a dangerous, changing, chaotic place.
From a universal perspective what are human beings but just another form of
life? What are you and I but just individual examples of this "just another form
of life"? You and I are as an individual ant is to us. Or a worm. Or a slug. There
is, from this perspective, nothing special or remarkable about us. There's no
reason to want to treat the humans differently to the worms or the slugs. We
can be sure that the rest of the universe, in all its physical processes, will not
spare us over them either. It would also be quite easy to imagine that other
forms of life on other planets would not share our high regard for ourselves as
well. Indeed, from an alien perspective we might not even be the dominant form
of life on our own planet because who knows what they might see with their
eyes? Perhaps, for them, the insects are king. Or the rats. My point is that our

44
vision is uniquely human-shaped. We are prepped and primed by our human
form of life to value and prefer human things and to weigh things to human
advantage. But no other form of life is.

Imagine, for a moment, that humans had never come to pass. This is a live
scenario because the fact that humans did come to pass is not to say that they
had to. Evolution is a blind process and has no purpose. Neither is any divine
figure guiding it. So our species did not have to be. It is contingent. It just
happened because it could, because earlier versions of us survived that became
us. And, who knows, some contingent event may yet wipe us out in one fell
swoop. If that happened who in this universe of ours would miss us? No one
would. Our planet wouldn't. The universe wouldn't. Both would just carry on. We
are not necessary to everything else that exists in order to give it some meaning
and purpose. Indeed, as far as we know, meaning and purpose are things unique
to our species. When a dog sees a ball we do not imagine it asks itself what a
ball means even though the dog may link the ball with play through memory. We
do not think that the cat that sits purring in front of the fire is asking itself about
its purpose in life as it purrs. We as humans have a tendency to think about
things by analogy to ourselves. This is perhaps understandable. But it can also
be somewhat arrogant and its certainly wrong-headed.

There are those among us who like to accentuate the progress our species
makes. Five hundred years ago, however, there were very powerful bodies who
thought that our planet was the centre of the universe, then thought of as God's
creation, a place he made for human beings, his finest achievement and pinnacle
of his creation. But our growing capabilities shattered such notions and now we
know we are but a pinprick in a vast void. We are not in the centre of anything.
Indeed, there is nothing special or remarkable about us or our solar system. We
just are, one of billions like us, lost in the anonymity of it all. And yet the notion
that we are somehow different, special, persists. Perhaps we may regard this as
but the ego necessary to survive. It can be imagined that if you thought of
yourself as nothing special and had a kind of species-based lack of self-esteem
that this would be to the detriment of our primary evolutionary purpose which is
to exist long enough to multiply. And maybe this is so. But does this mandate
the ideas of some who see us as future lords of the universe and, worse, lords of
our planet right now? On what basis is a human being lord of anything?

So what I have a problem with here is a speciesist egocentrism that we humans


possess. I want to see we humans as but another animal, something as
contingent as bees, sharks and those horrible crawly things that come out from
under rocks. We had as much to do with our existence as they did. We are
largely as powerless in the face of an uncaring universe as they are. We live and
die (so far) as they do. In short, we share very much in common with all other
living things on planet Earth. But I don't think we have the required humility that
that should entail. And that becomes a problem when you start to regard the
planet that birthed you as your own species' bank of resources such as we

45
clearly do. Of course, there is little, at this point, to stop us. "Nature is red in
tooth and claw", "survival of the fittest", "might is right" and all other such
vulgar notions spring to mind and do so because there is a grain of truth in
them. But we can, perhaps, turn the argument of those who think humans are
special and different back on them. For if this is so then maybe, just maybe, we
have a responsibility to use our specialness, our special powers over and above
those the rest of this planet's inhabitants have, for good.

It is not impossible to imagine that our increasing technological knowledge will


bequeath us ways to extend our lives. We even have members of our species,
the Transhumanists and Futurists of which I have spoken before, who are
actively looking at how technology may both extend and transform our lives.
But, if this is so, then surely some of these technologies will be useful for the
rest of our world. It would be a very solipsistic vision of the future if it did not.
We, as humans, have always, up until now, been biological beings that lived in a
biological world. This presents problems to be sure (disease and decay being just
two pressing ones) but it also constitutes the only situation of life we have ever
known. We appreciate the fact of sun and rain on our skin, the feel of the wind,
walking across a grassy field, interaction with other animal species, and these
sensations engender feelings and emotions and constitute part of what it feels
like to be a human being. Any future iteration of the human consciousness,
whether that be as some kind of robot or even as a computer program, must
account for this if we are to retain any link to our past human development. So I
would argue that the human future is not just about preserving a personal
human identity, or even a collection of personal human identities. It is about
preserving our world in all its biological variety.

Another way to say this is that as we destroy our world we destroy ourselves,
piece by piece, tree by tree, hedgerow by hedgerow, field by field, river by river,
sea by sea. Of course, things change over time. But changes have consequences
and there is all the difference in the world between things that happen and
things you cause, perhaps by not thinking it through or even not thinking at all.
We recognize the difference in human thought between an accident, something
unforeseen and something done as a deliberate act of vandalism. My argument
here is that we, as a species, have some humility, recognize our contingency and
how bound up we are with the planet that gave us life and even now sustains us,
and use the advantage our evolution has given us to make the world better for
everything that lives here. Because, in the end, helping others is really just
helping yourself. Its a recognition that you are truly not an island, you're part of
a bio-system, a circle of life, a community of life. A life without everything else
this planet holds would not be a human life at all because we do not and have
never existed in isolation.

We may think we can throw off such notions and that our ingenuity can prosper
us even whilst everything else is sacrificed or fails to survive. Should that
happen then it may yet be, as some say, that the "human beings" were only a

46
phase and the post-humans, beings who once were us, take our place instead. If
that did happen it would be yet another demonstration that the universe doesn't
need us and that all things must pass.

A Discussion of Human Beings, Their World and Environment

Q: What is the preceding article actually about?

A: To me its about the humans view of themselves, their place on this planet
and even in the universe. In one respect, of course, this might be seen as a
religious or spiritual question. Today, under the weight of an atheistic push back,
it is also seen as a scientific one. Its my belief that human beings often deceive
themselves in how they see themselves. This can basically be summed up by
saying that they overplay their own importance. They think they are and, in a
nutshell, they arent.

Q: So given your answer there, what is your view of human beings in the
context of planet Earth? Do you regard human beings as stewards or guardians?

A: No I dont and I find such rhetoric annoyingly overblown and self-important.


This doesnt mean to say that my view of the Earth is that it should be exploited
and trashed until we run out of everything we were using up. Im saying it needs
a whole shift of our point of view. Views such as that we are guardians or
stewards of the Earth are, to me, remnants of former religious beliefs but made
safe for a more atheistic, modern world. Once we were god-appointed stewards
whereas now we are just doing it for ourselves.

Q: So the obvious next question is if we are not guardians or stewards then what
are we?

A: We are just another species of life on a rock in space. But, of course, this is
not to go far enough. It would be disingenuous to ignore how we have developed
and the awareness and other aspects of our makeup that make us human
beings. Because it is true to say that we have the ability to judge between better
and worse outcomes and the feeling to care about what happens to ourselves, to
other species and to our environment generally. I genuinely believe to be fully
human is to be integrated with our surroundings and to preserve them so our
environment is vitally important to that. The more we degrade and destroy it
then the more we degrade and destroy ourselves.

Q: That last answer sounds almost eco-friendly. Do you consider yourself an


environmentalist?

47
A: Not as that term is normally used, no. I think that environmentalists are often
well meaning people and we should certainly at least hear what they have to
say. But I dont associate myself with that term in general, no.

Q: What is wrong with environmentalism then?

A: Thinking about it, I think it boils down to how it views the Earth again. A lot
of the differences I have with various viewpoints humans take up are in the area
of the big picture and such is the case here. In this case it can be condensed
into one word: conservation. Where environmentalism is conservation I ask
myself what the mentality behind it is. I ask what thought process is informing
the idea that conservation is a good idea. The dodo, they tell us, was a
flightless bird on the island of Mauritius that was hunted to extinction around
350 years ago. No doubt this was a very bad day for the dodo. But what about
the rest of the planet? The rest of the planet didnt care. It carried on regardless.
Had there been any conservationists or environmentalists back then no doubt
they would have wept and wailed. But why? Our planet is an engine of
extinction. All by itself it has given birth to and then destroyed thousands and
thousands of different species of things without any human involvement at all.
Scientists even count and measure various past extinction events in which
large parts of our biosphere were subject to changes which wiped out large parts
of the life on Earth. These extinction events have not stopped by the way. They
are a natural and ongoing part of this planets life and the physical world in
general. And to that extent conservation is contrary to nature itself, a kind of
middle class view of the world which is that things should always be the same,
the way we remember, all nice and neat and everything in its place as if the
world was grannys dining table. You might say that conservation is a lot of
things good or bad according to your point of view but one thing it isnt, to my
mind, is fundamentally natural. I think its immature and egotistical, a human
invention.

Q: So what would you have us do? Just let things disappear?

A: The Earth is one big giant system. It is acting upon itself all the time. This can
be good or bad, better or worse, for the things that live there. I believe in the
reality of man-made climate change exactly because I believe that things within
this system can affect the system itself if they become significant enough. This
has to be a basic belief just to be a sensible human being let alone one with any
scientific insight. Where I have a problem is when people abstract human beings
from this system or set them over and above it. Then we get to the guardian or
steward point of view which, I think, puts us in a fundamentally wrong
relationship to the things around us. And then we start thinking we know whats
best and that we know how things should be and so we start making
pontificating environmental pronouncements and meddling with the world. It
might satisfy our egos and make us feel good about the world to know that we
saved some fluffy things here or a nice wood down the road we like to walk in

48
because it has nice views there but in the grand scheme of things that says
more about us than it does about t he world.

Q: So what attitude, in your view, should we have towards the world in an


environmental sense?

A: One of balance I think, but one thats more in tune with how the world
actually is than with how we could use it or imagine it to be. In some ways
environmentalists are as much users of the natural world as polluters. Both want
the world to be a certain way and both use it to their own ends. In fact the
natural world doesnt even need any human input. It is what it is and it works by
itself. Human intervention, from that perspective, is all happening in the same
spectrum of human interference of man-made change of its environment. Yes,
one change may create a lovely nature park and another may create a filthy
polluted industrial landscape but they are both change from a world left alone.
The changes are of degree and not kind and valuations of their worth or value
are ours not the Earths. My own answer, which I agree in a modern context will
seem lame, is simply let things be what they are.

Q: That seems very utopian and not very realistic. In our current environmental
context it seems that big changes may be coming, not least from the climate
change that you have already said you acknowledge. How does letting things be
what they are help with that?

A: Bluntly, it doesnt. But then I dont see human beings as the planets
rescuers. We are, in general, beings who take the ability to do something as the
mandate to do something. Every living thing, animal, vegetable, mineral, fights
a losing battle to survive. But none of it was made to survive. None of it was
made to stay the same. Change and decay are encoded into the very being of
physical things. Ice will melt. Seas will rise. Winds will blow. Volcanoes will
erupt. Tectonic plates will shift. Suns will expand and die. Species will come and
go. Do we understand the natural world at all or are we just interested in
controlling it and using it for ourselves? Im afraid Im increasingly disinterested
in the latter agenda.

Q: What hope do you hold out for our planet?

A: My only hope for our planet is that we can leave it alone as much as possible.
It can be beautiful, abundant, fruitful and our home all by itself. It doesnt need
humans to make it better. Even if, in that arrogant human way, you thought
they could.

49
The Gospel of Existence and The Problems of Spirituality

It so happens that when you read and write about things sometimes someone
might send you an article with the note "You might like this" attached to it. Such
happened to me yesterday. Whilst the precise motivations of the sender are
unclear (but it was gratefully received anyway), I did get to read an article from
the Buddhist magazine Tricycle. "The Tricycle Foundation", so I read, "is
dedicated to making Buddhist teachings and practices broadly available". And so
its fair to say that what I was about to read was written from an insider point of
view. But I am not a Buddhist neither do I particularly wish to be persuaded of
Buddhist truths. Truths that seem true to me will do. Nevertheless, I took the
article that was offered to me in good faith, not least out of respect for the
person who did me the favor of offering it to me to read. Reading what I say
about it below, he may or may not recant of the fact that he ever did so. At this
point let me say that for those who want to read the original article they can do
so HERE and let me reassure any readers that what comes next isn't just about
either Buddhism or religion.

The article is entitled "We Are Not One" and concentrates on a Buddhist
explanation of its doctrine of interdependence. Here the writer, who is a
Buddhist abbot from California called Thanissaro Bhikkhu, writes concerned to
show why this does not mean everything is "one". Of course, as you might
expect, he has reasons for wanting to do this and, it seemed to me when
reading, these seemed to be Buddhist religious reasons that, if you are not a
Buddhist (as I am not), you simply would not share. As I began to read the
article I was set out on the path of regarding the writer as untrustworthy
immediately in an "argument" he supposed was against the idea of there being a
god. This argument boiled down to "If there was a god he would have done a
better job than this". Well he might have and he might not have but I doubt the
creature would get to decide what the creator did or did not do in any case. Such
a viewpoint would also overlook theist explanations for the world we live in, such
as Christianity's suggestion of its fallen nature and its need to be saved. Our
writer glosses all this with his simplistic assertions and this gave me what I
suspect was a fatal first impression. (You should know that, as with the Buddhist
writer, I don't believe in any god either.)

It didn't help me in reading his article that the major concept the writer was
trying to discuss, "Oneness", was never defined. I don't know if this was because
it was assumed the presumably Buddhist readers would know what he was
talking about (although in a subheading to the piece it was suggested the
subject is something many Buddhists get wrong) or simply because he didn't
bother to define it. In any case, this lack of definition was fatal as far as the
piece was concerned and his lack of definition regularly had him arguing against
a shadow foe all the way through it. This didn't endear me to what he was
saying because half the time I didn't have a clue what he was arguing against.
Instead we got what were to me silly arguments that were perhaps of concern to

50
intra-Buddhist debate but of no use to those outside the fold. Bhikkhu is
especially fond of suggesting that the interdependence we biological beings
endure is one of "inter-eating" (i.e. living creatures eat each other to survive)
and this somehow shows that everything is not one but simultaneously that this
inter-eating is no cause for celebration. I must admit that I found this point
lacked force and I'll come to why shortly.

Bhikkhu used what were, to me, a number of non-sequiturs and his argument
came across to me very much as a discussion amongst Buddhists where I
imagine he would have thought he could have assumed the readers shared
certain basic beliefs. Besides talk of casting off "ignorance" in order to progress
to something called "clear knowing" he made what I thought were a number of
mistakes. He argued against those who identify us with the cosmos but I
thought he made a mistake there because the cosmos is not an identity or an
entity in the first place. We are. So its a comparison of like with not like. The
writer seemed to me to not have thought through what he was saying but,
instead, to be locked in his train of Buddhist thought concerned, as he
demonstrated again and again, to vindicate the words of his holy man of choice,
The Buddha (which means "enlightened one"). I thought that he did his cause no
good in making arguments for things that seemed manifestly false to begin with.
Let me give you an example.

Bhikkhu writes:

"The first distinction is between the notions of Oneness and interconnectedness.


That we live in an interconnected system, dependent on one another, doesnt
mean that were One. To be One, in a positive sense, the whole system would
have to be working toward the good of every member in the system. But in
natures grand ecosystem, one member survives only by feedingphysically a nd
mentallyon other members. Its hard, even heartless, to say that nature works
for the common good of all."

Bhikkhu's use of "in a positive sense" is his only get out clause in this paragraph
for I find myself asking "Why does the system have to be for good or bad at all?"
It doesn't. What Bhikkhu imputes into his piece here is a moral impetus given
from a human being. The cosmos as a system is not moral and knows absolutely
nothing of morality. It is without sentience. It is neither an entity or an identity
as Bhikkhu has assumed before already in his piece. Thus, it need not and,
indeed, cannot work for good or bad at all, either for the one, the many or the
all. It just operates - beyond good and evil. And so here interconnectedness and
interdependence, the relatedness of all things, can indeed be seen, casually, as a
Oneness (contrary to Bhikkhu's desires) - although I don't think it means much
to say it. It is, to me, benignly obvious that all things are related,
interconnected, and, thus, One. Only if one has a doctrine to protect would one
even bother to question this casual notion. So we must note that morality is
human and not of a universe invested with an identity it doesn't possess. If a fox

51
eats a rabbit in the woods and no one is there to hear it it doesn't matter a fig.
We do not live on the front cover of The Watchtower magazine and have no need
to dream up lurid moral imperatives concerning all the creatures living happily
together for all of being and time. Bhikkhu, in his desire to escape the
carnivorous nature of life on Earth, seems to want such a thing and to say that
the carnivorousness means we are not One at the same time.

And here is really the first problem I had with this in a more general sense. It is
a point against all religions and forms of organized spirituality (which I regard as
the same). The problem here is that all these notions involve ideas of right and
wrong and often in a "one size fits all" kind of a way. I do not really believe in
this at all and see no reason why one size should fit all. It may be that you could
persuade me that there are contingent versions of these things that will do
service for us for the here and now. But, then again, I might also be persuaded
that morality is a man-made irrelevance that always services some power base
first and foremost and that, in the end, all paths lead to the same place anyway:
the grave, the dark recycling bin of life. What no religion or spirituality ever
convinces me of is that its moral truth is the moral truth and this is because I
find it highly coincidental that this group of religious people just happen to have
got all the truths together where others somehow managed not to. Hence the
regular spiritual concentration on special insight or knowledge. Without it such
religious groupings would have no basis for their teachings. What can be said, as
Nietzsche prophetically saw, is that religion and spirituality can basically be
boiled down to morality, a way of living, judgments based in designations of
good and evil. This, in turn, gives birth to what every spiritual person wants in
the end: some kind of salvation.

Of course, one problem for the moral, as Bhikkhu very much wants to be here, is
freedom of choice. Its hard to preach for morality if people don't have the
freedom to choose the good over the bad. So a belief in morality necessitates a
belief in freedom of choice. Bhikkhu duly notes this and tries to provide one but
it seems to me to be a hodge-podge idea that is utterly unconvincing. Bhikkhu
says:

"If we were really all parts of a larger organic Oneness, how could any of us
determine what role we would play within that Oneness? It would be like a
stomach suddenly deciding to switch jobs with the liver or to go on strike: The
organism would die. At most, the stomach is free simply to act in line with its
inner drives as a stomach. But even then, given the constant back and forth
among all parts of an organic Oneness, no part of a larger whole can lay
independent claim even to its drives. When a stomach starts secreting digestive
juices, the signal comes from somewhere else. So its not really free."

Note the adjective "organic" there which Bhikkhu has sneaked in (for he doesn't
always use it). His analogy is clearly ridiculous. But who says we have "freedom
of choice" anyway? There is much literature and comment to the effect that

52
"freedom of choice" is often illusory and always within set parameters. You have
the freedom to be who you are much like Bhikkhu's stomach. Freedom's not free
(not least from within pragmatist or existentialist readings of existence) and this
dents the argument here for it is assumed and not argued for noting objections.
Any system can have a set of choices within it for various parts of the system
that operate along a sliding scale of "freedom". But, actually, it is better here to
talk of possibilities rather than freedoms not least because the latter term is
frequently misleading and taken to mean "without condition". An example is
Bhikkhu's ridiculous stomach/liver analogy. Freedom, if we must use the term at
all here, is always a matter of possibilities and opportunities otherwise we must
recant our knowledge of the universe and wonder why ducks don't decide to
become mountains or windows decide to talk. They don't because they can't. In
a physical universe all things are defined by their possibilities not their
"freedom". The speaker would have been better to explore his realization that
things aren't really free. Indeed. But that would lead to more system-friendly
conclusions pertinent to Oneness that our writer here certainly does not want to
find much less explicate. His morality mandates an impossible freedom.

And here's the jump: "For the Buddha, any teaching that denies the possibility of
freedom of choice contradicts itself and negates the possibility of an end to
suffering. If people arent free to choose their actions, to develop skillful actions
and abandon unskillful ones, then why teach them?.... How could they choose to
follow a path to the end of suffering?" Are we starting to get the writer's angle
on things now? Now we find out why freedom of choice must be preserved. Its a
doctrine. The Buddha said it therefore we good Buddhists must defend it. The
Buddha apparently sees freedom of choice as a path to the end of suffering
which is surely salvation.

Bhikkhu has argued that Oneness condemns you to no freedom of choice


(freedom of choice being something he has assumed or needed due to his moral
stance in the first place) and to being a part of the carnivorous system of
inter-eating. But what if you or I, his readers, see no problem with inter-eating
or if, as I, see no problem with death, decay or even fighting over resources
(which all living things do in their various ways) in this universe of our's, a
physical, finite universe? Surely these are just ways the universe works? Sure,
they can be seen as problems. We can wish it was another way. We could hope,
in the Christian phrase, that the lion would lie down with the lamb. But that
doesn't make it so. Physical things are always limited things and an abundance
of life will always fight over those things - because it must. Life generally tends
to want to live and does not always have scruples about how. The issue here
seems to be that as a Buddhist the writer wants to escape from the universe he
finds himself in to some other one. It is this spiritual impulse (common to many
spiritual and religious people) which creates the dilemma. It becomes a moral
issue so, again, the problem here is that the spiritual/moral human impulse
interjects. (The mathematics is "suffering is bad so suffering must be escaped".
But compare that critic of Christianity, Nietzsche, who says "that which does not

53
kill me makes me stronger".) Again, I must retort that the universe is not moral
and knows no moral imperative. So where Bhikkhu sees that "each of us is
trapped in the system of interconnectedness by our own actions" I just see the
conditions of life and existence. He sees something to escape from. I say there is
no escape possible, let us make our surroundings as fair and equitable as we can
as we have opportunity since we must all, somehow, get along.

The issue then is that Bhikkhu's spiritual/moral impulse keeps interjecting,


finding problems and seeking (doctrinally acceptable) solutions. Yet the universe
isn't moral: we are. The problem is ours, is existential, not its. But if the
universe isn't moral then suffering cannot be either good or bad except as we
say so for the reasons we give. Morality becomes rhetorical. It changes from a
problem of all Being in general to a local one to do with our form of life or
existence. It becomes not a universal problem but one that we must deal with as
the people we are. It is, as far as I can see, not about enlightenment and escape
to something more real and less illusory but more about recognition and
acceptance of what human being is. This is why I have said before in something
I wrote that the problem for humans is not to cure cancer, it is to be a human
being whether you have cancer or not. Whilst the human being labours under a
moral impulse, one which designates goods and bads and seeks escape from the
bads to a world constructed only of goods, then we as a species condemn
ourselves to never find the very things we seek in any ultimate sense. And we
will always be running. This is true whether you are a Christian seeking cleansing
in Christ, a Buddhist seeking to flee illusion and find enlightenment or a
Transhumanist wanting to escape biology (which must ultimately be the wish to
escape the physical world of decay).

We are back to a theme I've had before. We want to become gods or touch
divinity. This is nothing more than escaping time and chance. Bhikkhu's
Buddhism becomes about salvation (awakening) without a savior. And this is
why any language of essentialism is always wrong and talk of "illusion" and
"real" worlds is misguided. It trades on the idea there is something better
waiting for us if only we could reach it. And that is nothing more or less than the
religious false promise that all religious and spiritual people have offered since
human beings could first look at themselves and wish that things were different,
better. It is nothing more than the human wish to transcend itself, our impulse
to dream. We are never more fully human than when we do this but never less
the gods we wish we were in needing to do it. This is why Bhikkhu seems to
have got it all wrong for me. He has been seduced by Buddhism's narrative of
salvation and I have not. He seeks to overcome all things and register some kind
of win on the cosmic scoreboard whereas I am happy merely to have been if I
must be at all.

I, in contrast, offer no way of salvation or "positive" message (where "positive"


is, once again, a moral denomination). I, in contrast to the mainstream of
humanity under the influence of religion and spirituality, say there is no win for

54
us humans to have whilst simultaneously recognizing that this is what such
thinking is really always about. Humans want some kind of win out of life. I say
that existence is pointless and mundane and this does not sound like a win at all.
It isn't. It turns its back on the very idea of one. This idea of winning, somehow,
is what motivates all the escapes and salvations human beings seek. It can
surely be a reasonable explanation for them. Being human creates the desire to
create a win. Human desire, something identical with us, is the motivating factor
here. But, as Buddhism teaches about other things, this too must be viewed
dispassionately and given up. We must be emptied of it or forever run after it,
seduced by its Siren song. Put away childish desires, become who you are,
creatures of the void in an amoral universe, rhetorical beings responsible for
yourself and your environment. You do not need some moral/spiritual win out of
life and any you did find would be hollow anyway.

SOME LATER REFLECTIONS ON THE ABOVE ARTICLE.

Q: Tell me something about your life from a religious or spiritual perspective.


What experience do you have of it?

A: I have two main types of formal religious or spiritual experience: evangelical


Christian and academic. As a boy I was taken to a Sunday School, which I
started to find boring and would skip without my mother knowing, and then to a
more traditional Anglican church. As a person I am naturally inquisitive and want
to learn about things so I gobbled up the stories and the doctrine, the latter of
which I wasnt always sure those teaching it understood too well themselves. I
would read the Bible myself and as someone who likes learning I had a fairly
naive appreciation of it. Of course, while I was still connected to a church I had a
community of people who wanted to push my beliefs about what I was learning
in a certain direction. However, once I was outside their influence, when I
started to study first the Christian religion and then the biblical texts as history
and literature more academically, I began to find Christian doctrine
unsupportable and its point as a belief system something I could no longer
maintain any semblance of agreement with. There would have been a time in my
early life when I said the Christian god existed and Jesus was his son, to use the
Christian terminology. Now I would say the god doesn't exist and that Jesus, if
he ever existed, was just a man.

Q: So would you say that as a person you are either religious or spiritual?

A: Religious certainly not. In early life it was possible I may have been seduced
by the idea that religion was a security in life and that its forms and doctrines
are supports. Some people seem to have swallowed that idea hook, line and
sinker. But once I decided intellectually that, as it were, the facts of the Christian

55
case were dodgy then the religious aspect could never hold any spell over me
anymore.

When we come to spirituality things become a little more nebulous. For a start,
we need to ask what such a thing even is? Is sitting looking at the sea or
observing the countryside from somewhere up on a mountain in silence
spiritual? If so, then I am. Is taking time to sit in silence and think no thoughts
spiritual? If so, I am. But I dont know what cognitive content you would give
that word. If I was doing those things I would just think I was recharging or
letting myself and my surroundings just be themselves without any burden of
thought or imposition of relationships upon them. I wouldnt necessarily call it
being spiritual.

Q: Where do you stand regarding religion and spirituality in the world today, a
world in which many people fight, maim and kill in the name of a religious
motivation?

A: Some people see religion as a phase in human development. They regard it


as a fairly immature phase. I have a certain amount of sympathy with this but
also acknowledge that human thinking about humanitys place in the world and
in even bigger, more universal terms, is probably something human beings have
done since they could think. I would even go as far as to say that its actually
pretty human to want to set yourself somewhere within an order of things.
Scientists, whatever they say about themselves, are really only going about
answering similar questions in different ways. But, of course, there will always
be more thoughtful and less thoughtful ways of going about that. There will
always be unsophisticated, dangerous people who only grab hold of half the
story, decide they are on this or that team and then, in ways contrary to the
vast majority of those who nominally agree with their affiliations, seek to convert
or kill other people. The error here is not belief but base, crass, visceral,
stupidity. We do the more thinking believers, or simply the benign ones, a
disservice if we lump any believers of any kind all together in my view.

Q: Do you see a place for religion in modern society?

A: I dont think we should rampage the streets seeking to tear down the
churches and the mosques, the prayer halls and the synagogues. Most
religionists are not people who are very convinced of what they believe it seems
to me. It offers them private comfort not motive to conquer the world. There are
exceptions of course but most people most of the time just want to get along. So
it doesnt really matter to me if they believe in the sky god, the river god or any
other god. Believing in a god by itself is rather tame. But when you talk about a
place in modern society this changes the question slightly. Perhaps I am saying
the place for religion in modern society is as a benign force where groups of
private individuals may chose to hold private beliefs and occasionally meet
together in public to do whatever they do together socially for their own benefit.

56
I do not see any official place for any religion in a modern society. States should
not have official religions, for example, or discriminate between one religion or
another. But people themselves can believe what they like.

Q: It sounds like you are happy for people to have their beliefs so long as they
dont interfere in the running of society. Yet in numerous countries religious
motives lead to the formation of political power bases. In the USA, for example,
the religious right is often quoted as a religiously-motivated force wielding
political power. How do you feel about that?

A: I feel uneasy about it. For me it is when religions become beholden to


doctrine, which inevitably leads to politics, that I find them to be at their worst.
The idea of tablets of stone or books written by gods or irrevocable beliefs is
when religions become socially dubious. Yet it doesnt have to be this way. There
are lots of religious or spiritual people who are not doctrinal about it. I have
much more time for people like that than the doctrinal sort of any kind.

Q: You spoke earlier of the sea or mountains. Do you identify spirituality with
nature?

A: If I connect it with anything then it would be that. Spirituality, if it is


anything, is surely connected to our experience as human beings in our world.
This doesnt mean that I think to appreciate nature you have to do it in a
spiritual way but it seems to be a connection human beings have made for
millennia. But I must admit that I dont fixate on the labels. I am happy for any
kind of wisdom wherever I can find it. This is why when I wrote the original
article above I was a bit baffled. Even though I have read a bit about Buddhism
and started studying some of its wisdom I have no use for calling myself a
Buddhist, being seen as a good Buddhist or defending or supporting what others
may regard as Buddhist positions or teaching. I am more interested in
stimulation to thought, things that strike me as personally useful, than anything
like that. To that extent, I appreciate the ideas but use them as I feel necessary.
Some Buddhist sayings, for example, have really been making me think lately.
The same is true of many things in nature. This is what I would call my
spirituality, a kind of thoughtfulness mixed with awareness of my surroundings.
That is what I find as useful in any spiritual or religious context.

Q: What then of the notion that religion is basically morality?

A: In many respects it is. But we dont need doctrines and figureheads for that.
We just need the ability to think and the willingness to talk to others. Everything
carries on in its own time anyway.

57
Something To Believe In?

I've been occasionally writing a blog for a few years now. And where I used to
get a handful of readers I now get about 300% more, on average. That is to say
that I get three times more readers than I did at the start. Thank you very much
for reading. One thing I very rarely get, though, is any comments. That's a bit of
a shame but I understand and its certainly not compulsory. But occasionally I do
get a comment and this chapter is going to be about a comment I got to a blog a
while ago. Since the comment was made publicly (and its still there to see in full
anyway) I will quote the relevant sentences (the highlights in italics are mine) so
that we are all on the same page before I begin:

We all have faith in something. Some have faith in God, some have faith in their
spouse, their government, their employer, their children, their income. W ithout
faith, what is the point of living? If I don't even have enough faith to think I will
see tomorrow, why should I put any effort forth living today?

I read this comment again the other day. Of course, I was very thankful that the
person concerned had made it. It is part of my understanding of the world that
no person is omniscient. No person has all the answers or all the insight. Some
would be extremely skeptical and say that none of us have any at all. I'm not
one of those people but in my appreciation of all things human there is room for
the view that we human beings are bundles of beliefs and those beliefs are
situated and self-interested. One corollary of this situation is that other points of
view can be informative and open our eyes to things we cannot currently see.
This, indeed, is how beliefs ever change at all. Someone or something happens
which opens a chink of light in an area there was no light before. And a pathway
to a new belief is formed. So I was very glad of the comment. It made me think
about the subject of faith and especially the two sentences I highlighted in
italics, above. In many ways these three sentences get to the very heart of my
own worldview. First of all, I asked myself if its really true that "We all have faith
in something".

I must be honest and say that for 48 hours I've racked my brains on this one.
I've been asking myself if my correspondent is right. Do I have faith in
something? The correspondent gave examples - God, spouse, government,
employer, children, income. I don't have most of these. I think that I have faith
in none of them. But, still, there could be something that I do have faith in. My
correspondent, who I respect, seems quite sure that this is the case and I want
to do them the courtesy and give them the respect of thinking it through to see
if they are right. My conclusion is that I don't have faith in anything but I want to
be as bulletproof as I can be in saying it. If you have read any amount of my
previous writings, particularly the more philosophical ones, then you know that I
have an affinity to existentialism, to absurdism, to some extent to nihilism. You

58
know that I have had a great deal of thought about "the void" and the essential
and fundamental problem of meaning that afflicts our species. Meaning is a
problem because it is open-ended and it cannot be fixed. It is always only
rhetorical. No one can force you to accept a certain meaning and it can always
be re-made. Things can always be seen another way.

So what place is there for "faith" in a world that is seen like that? Faith implies
both belief and trust, at least in the understanding of faith I have. I have had
considerable input to my thinking from Christian sources in the past and I am
well used to Christian scholarship. "Faith" is, accordingly, quite a strong word in
that tradition. "Faith", for the biblical Christian, should be something to do with
believing in things that cannot be seen with the eyes. It is, in some respects,
believing in the impossible (that God exists, that he has acted to save creation)
and trusting that, even though from some angles it seems silly and ridiculous, it
is true. I do not think that every human belief comes under the category "faith".
It is very trivially true that every person alive holds beliefs. It is part of our
human make up to take stances and hold beliefs about the world around us.
Quite simply, we cannot function as a human being without doing so. But is this
"faith"? I don't think so. Its simply part of the mechanics of being a human
being. I think that some people do have faith in the strong, positive, "believing
and trusting" sense I use here but I don't think that I am one of them. And so
my correspondent's sentence is explicitly challenged. To challenge it is to say
that we don't all have faith in something. It might be worth asking yourself if
you have faith in anything. And then ask yourself why and if it deserves it.

So what I'm saying here is that, yes, everybody believes things but that isn't
quite faith. Some surprising people do have faith, I'm sure. I've argued many
times that the seemingly anti-faith person Dr Richard Dawkins is, in fact, very
much a person who does have faith. He doesn't believe in God but he is more
than happy to believe in Truth (the capitalized "T" is important for it denotes a
divinized concept) and in what he regards as our human truth-finding abilities.
Dawkins is very much a strong anti-skeptic. He thinks that we can truly know
the way things are unconditioned by our context, our humanity or anything else.
I'd call that a faith and I'm sure he wouldn't like the fact. Which is a bonus as far
as I'm concerned. So I think that people can have faith. But I don't think
everyone does. I don't think I do. I don't even have faith in myself or in the void
as some kind of "nothingness that resolves all things". Some try to make of the
nothingness a mystery and it takes on God-like properties. Its either a
re-imagining of God or a god by the back door. I think that needs to be resisted
too. The natural processes of the physical universe and their apparent lack of
meaning are not a savior nor can they be turned into one. The meaninglessness
and emptiness is real and thorough-going. It can't be sugar-coated.

Now in the context of my correspondent's comment my belief that I don't have


faith in anything (and since I think I don't I must assume that others have this
possibility too) is important. My correspondent has gone on to say that "Without

59
faith, what is the point of living?" So, naturally, this question addresses me
directly now that I have taken up a position towards the first proposition. I can
only think of one answer: there is no point to living. I think its a very great
assumption, one which we then work on filling in retrospectively, to think that
there is a point to living. Why would there be a point? Why should there be a
point, antecedently? Why could or can it not be the case that an uncaring
universe birthed things and there they are, just milling about in a physical
universe of decay? I don't have faith in this because why would you? To describe
things as you see them is not, for me, to have faith. But I believe it for now until
or unless something comes along which opens up an alternative chink of light,
another pathway to follow. To say that something has a point is to ascribe it a
meaning. To create a creation myth, for example, is to put things in some order
and say what they mean and how they mean it. It is simply to relate things one
to another which is all giving meaning to things is. We humans, and this is the
really interesting thing about the universe as we perceive it, are self-aware,
sentient beings. We need to make meaning. But we have no knowledge that
anything else does. We don't know that sharks or elephants or rabbits need
meaning. We don't know that stars or moons or space dust does. We don't know
that the universe itself does - even though some would put up vague arguments
for its sentience. We only know that we do. But how valid is it to go forcing our
own necessary meanings on everything else? This is the very absurd problem of
human meaning re-stated once again, part of the riddle of what it means to be
human.

So I need to admit to my correspondent that I don't "have enough faith" for I


don't think that I have any. And I don't see any "point" to life, save that I might
give it myself. I see a universe of actions and consequences and I keep it that
simple. Things happen and this makes other things happen within the
possibilities of what can happen in any given situation at all. When things
happen there are consequences to the actions. That's about it. I like to keep
things simple and this is a guiding idea behind some approaches towards logic:
the simpler answer is to be preferred. I think this is based on the observation
that life is rarely needlessly complicated for its own sake. Whilst its not true to
say that I think we humans can, given enough time, figure everything out for
ourselves (such people do exist and some of them give this as a reason for not
needing any gods), I do think that things largely are "up to us" to make of what
we can. We are each given a mind and being human we have certain needs and
requirements. You could say that each of us is given the riddle of figuring out
who we are and why we are here and what we are supposed to do with it. This,
to me, is a more meaningful suggestion than saying we all must have faith in
something. I don't think that life is a matter of faith. Faith is the illusion of
meaningfulness and, strictly speaking, life is not a matter of very much at all.
You don't need to care, think, love or even really feel in any rigorous or
meaningful sense to get through life. You are just going to live the years you are
allotted anyway. No one says you have to take life seriously and there's no
punishment for not doing so outside of the circumstances of the life you live

60
(actions and consequences, remember?). Lives both good and bad end up in the
same dowdy funeral parlor with a few people there, some of whom you didn't
like, to see off your physical remains.

So "what is the point of living"? There isn't one if by that you mean something
antecedent and overarching. But such a thing, should it exist, sounds very
permanent and meaningful. But where is it to be found and why wasn't it
signposted very well? If everyone's life has a point I would have expected it to
be more firmly recommended to us human beings rather than being something
we can totally bypass. I notice merely several, sometimes connected, alternative
versions of what life might mean. But, like some flavors of ice cream, I'm not
sure I like the taste. All we have left are any meanings that we ourselves ascribe
to things and I guess that we all, in some way, however loosely, do something
like that. But, for me, life is about getting from point A, birth, to point B, death,
across the arid wastelands of the world we live in. It doesn't really matter very
much which path through the brush you take. Everyone gets to point B in the
end anyway. And then which path you took seems just a little bit beside the
point. (Its worth saying, though, that of course this answer is different while you
are still alive in the world of actions and consequences. For whilst you are still
alive what you think and say and do takes part in that continuum, it has
consequences for you. But dead people don't have any actions and suffer no
consequences. That's the difference.)

This leaves me one question left to answer for my correspondent says "Why
should I put forth any effort living today?" Of course, we need to see what is
being said here as all joined up together. This thought flows from the suggestion
that everyone needs faith in something. For the writer of the comment a life
without faith would be meaningless and empty, I assume. I once, almost, used
to think this way myself. Instead, now, I am a living, breathing example of the
fact that you don't need to worry about this. A life without faith need not be
empty even though to those who think you do need faith it will seem that way.
But how could a person who thinks you must have faith see any other way
anyway? Honest beliefs honestly held do colour how people see things. That is
the point of them. Beliefs denote what can even be seen. That's why we have
them. They are the rails on which we run the trains of our lives. Sometimes we
get pushed off into a siding. Sometimes we are full steam ahead. Sometimes we
are held at a red light. But we are always on the rails of our beliefs.

But to the question. Is life a matter of "effort"? Would a person not putting any
effort into their life be committing a sin? I don't believe in any gods so I literally
have no deity to sin against. But let's push this further to the boundary. What's
so darned special about life and living anyway? There are trillions of things that
have lived and will live. Most of them you wouldn't care less about. But, in our
human way, as things get bigger or fluffier, we start to care. We want to save
the fluffy or cuddly things but the ugly things, the unseen or unremarkable
things, well, not so much. Life is prodigious. Its breaking out all over the place.

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Many would want to say it is special. This is somewhat sentimental and being
sentimental isn't necessarily that smart. 150,000 people die every day and
99.999% of them you never knew. The point of living is to die. When you are
dead how you lived is irrelevant. How you lived only matters while you or
anyone else is alive. No, I'm not sure that life is about "effort". In fact, even
reading the sentence makes me want to be lazy, to put in no effort. To just
exist. I see the idea of effort as some egotistical notion, some notion that
somehow I'm letting the side down because I didn't try. The idea of effort
suggests there is some authority I need to impress with the sweat of my brow.
But I don't see myself as being on any side. I have no one to impress or
disappoint. I'm just me. I have been born, I'm living and I'm going to die. In one
sense these three simple facts are entirely trivial. That's the sense I would bring
to bear on this question. Life, in general, is not about effort. There is no one to
impress and no standard to meet. In the same way it doesn't make any abstract
sense to say it makes a difference if I live 15,000 or 25,000 days either. Life is
in general. Life is not anything else in particular.

I'm listening to my album "The Gospel of Existence" as I write (quite by


coincidence, I might add). This is appropriate for it expresses musically the
thoughts I am writing about here. The track "Joining the Dots" is playing. The
idea behind this track, and the album, was of a vast chaos that has dots in it.
You can really join these dots up any way you like and make whatever picture
you want - just as you can with the books you can buy with join the dots puzzles
in them. Of course, in the books you are meant to join them in a certain way for
there some god-like figure has determined what picture your dots shall make at
the end. But is life really the same as that? I stand with those who say it isn't.
Join the dots any way you like. All that is is really just a "Chaos without
Consequence" in the end - to quote another title from the album.

And in the end, of course, I see things very differently to my correspondent. I


don't think that is a bad thing. I think it is a wonderful, marvelous thing. My
correspondent, in caring enough to write me a reply, made me question and
think about what I believed and helped me to sharpen it up. We all need this and
it bothers me that very many of us don't see it. We sit there always being
informed by the same views or those who we know will explicitly reinforce them.
This is intellectual and personal suicide. Beliefs thrive on being questioned or
opposed. They need to live and breathe and do work to be healthy. Any fool can
sit in a cave and believe something unchallenged. So spare a thought for those
who think differently from you. It turns out you need them, their beliefs and
even their faith too.

62
Who Are You?

The other day I tweeted a blog of mine from a year ago that was built around a
question uttered by the character Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, in the film
Blade Runner. Deckard inquires of his host, Eldon Tyrell, about his employee
Rachael, "How can it not know what it is?" In the story Rachael is a replicant, a
manufactured being, an artificial human. In the blog I turned this seemingly
reasonable question into a matter of personal identity and tried to show that,
actually, knowing who or what you are is, in fact, extremely rare amongst living
creatures, if not impossible. So the more reasonable question is actually how
could one know what one is?

Its this identity question that I want to keep in focus in this chapter. I want each
of you reading to ask yourself the question who and what you are... and to
answer with some measure of responsibility and honesty. Its very easy to lie to
yourself about this question and I'm personally in no doubt that this is the thing
we probably lie to ourselves about the most. I want to focus on this today
because this week I had cause to have to describe myself to someone I'd never
met before and it pulled me up short to actually stand back from all the
narratives I'm daily inhabiting and take a look at myself.

It occurred to me that who I am doesn't actually fit in very well with many
prevailing narratives in the world at large. I would, for example, make a terrible
employee and could not present the blank, robotic, corporate face to an
employer that I assume many of them want. I openly despise corporations, their
ethics and even their very existence. And I'm not overly conscientious in hiding
the fact I feel this way. In a world in which we are told HR departments now
routinely trawl social media for information on their prospective employees I
would not survive very long.

But there are other things besides this. I'm not a family man, something that
some would find suspicious. In current society some would also look down on
middle aged, single men with suspicion. Indeed, only this week former
Conservative Party leadership candidate, Andrea Leadsom, our Environment
Minister in the UK, someone who is in favour of fox hunting and doesn't believe
in man-made climate change, seemed to suggest that men seeking to work with
children could be peadophiles. As a person who myself started a youth club for
children aged 7-11 some years ago, a club which is still running now over 20
years later, this made me feel under suspicion. I was already well aware that
some find it easy to be suspicious about so-called "loners" but when such
thoughts can be uttered openly it makes you just want to hide yourself away.
Which, of course, wouldn't help either. The loner, the person who doesn't join in,
the antisocial person, is someone distrusted too. The free spirit can equally be
typecast as the contrarian or troublemaker.

63
What this reveals is that "who you are" or "who people see you to be" is not
something benign. It has consequences. This is not just true in regard to how
you see yourself which, psychologically speaking, is a vital component of your
own physical and psychological health. Socially speaking, this matters too. It
could very well frame what people these days refer to as your "life chances". We
do not live in a world where points of view don't matter. Everything is
interconnected as I've repeated many times in many of my writings. What
people see when they look at you does matter because, dependent on how they
view it, it will frame their response to you and which pigeon hole they stick you
in. This is what concerned me this week when I was asked by someone to
describe myself. It suddenly occurred to me that if I was nail-bitingly honest in
terms of how I see myself then, I assumed, it might not come across so well to
someone who doesn't have my context of myself to see it in.

Let me be clear that this is not because I see myself as some sort of bad or
disreputable person. I have done my share of bad things but, by my age, I'd
imagine most people have a list of things about them that they'd rather not
share. No, it was more the case that who I see myself to be now has diverted
from "mainstream" ideas and has gone down a more personal and individual
path. Diverting in this way does not come without cost because the more
individual you become the less you fit in elsewhere. My life has been one where
I've either let myself be blown by the winds of circumstance in what I'm sure
some might see as a careless way or in which I have made idiosyncratic choices
for my own personal reasons. I haven't had other people to worry about in doing
this as I've largely been single. So I don't fit the model of many people who have
family and build lives tailored to communal needs. It follows that my goals and
motives are often entirely different to those of many others or from what might
be expected.

If you've read many of my previous writings I would hope that this might have
come through. I am often an anti-conventional person in a very conventional
world. This week I was forced to look at myself in the mirror and ask myself
what that means. I think the answer is in many respects negative. It seemed to
suggest to me that only those who conform can get on in the world. But, of
course, it all depends here what terms you want to use to describe "getting on"
or "achievement" or "progress" in this life. I'm not motivated by having stuff or a
particular job title or various social statuses at all. My aims in life, such as they
are, are more personal and, dare I suggest it, more philosophical or even
spiritual. The most important thing in life, I think, is peace of mind. In the old
"quality versus quantity" debate about life, "Would you rather have a short life of
quality or a long life of quantity?", I've always chosen the quality over the
quantity. I've never seen value in life itself as just an amount of stuff. Not all
lives are equal and not all lives are worth living. This is one reason why I'm not
so hard on those who commit suicide or on those who end their life humanely
when they pass a personal threshold for its enjoyment.

64
It all comes back to this question "Who am I?". I'm sure there are many people
who look in the mirror and see someone they do not want to be. Maybe you
reading this now are one of them. Its often a temptation to get lazy and fall back
on some notion that things have just happened and you can do nothing about it
now. But we all know that is not true. As someone influenced by existentialist
thinking I would have to be the last person who said that we should not take
responsibility for ourselves. That sensibility is largely about doing exactly this
and I feel that urge and desire to do so. This is not the desire to fit in. Its the
desire to be able to look in the mirror and say "Yes, I am taking responsibility for
myself, for who I am, for how I act, for how I interact with others. I want to be
someone who can stand and look at themselves without any shame." This is
basically saying that I want to be the kind of person who can live life without any
bad faith towards myself. This is what I call "peace of mind".

I have been in relationships in the past and this question of "peace of mind" was
an active factor in the relationship. I have felt the need to change myself in
order to fit into something else and this has caused me trouble and personal
turmoil. But at the end of the day the only person you are always in the
presence of is yourself and so doing what promoted this peace of mind has
always won out. You simply cannot live life whilst you are fighting yourself or
acting contrary to your own internal monologue. But this is not a question of
always giving in. Showing good faith towards yourself and promoting your own
peace of mind is often about having courage and disciplining yourself to do
things you know you should do but, for some reason, don't want to. So I do not
see what I'm speaking in favor of as "the easy way out". Far from it. It can often
be the hard way. I am a person who has in the past suffered from severely
disabling panic attacks and yet during the winter of 1997 I forced myself to take
terrifying train journeys to university. That took courage and not a little amount
of balls. I could easily have run away and on four occasions did. But if I had
permanently I wouldn't have academic qualifications now. Both that struggle and
the qualifications are now part of the narrative I tell myself about myself.

I see myself as standing within some narrative about human beings and how
they should be. It is a deeply human narrative and about that mixture of things
that I think make up being a human being. Much of what I write, including this
book, has been about these things in case you haven't read it or noticed as you
read it. I invite you to read as much as you want to read of my thoughts on this.
Now, of course, this, in itself, is quite a philosophical context. But, I wonder, how
do you see yourself? What context do you set yourself in? What kind of person
do you want to be? What would allow you to be at peace with yourself when you
look in the mirror? What is the narrative you tell yourself about yourself?

I think its a question we all need to ask and we can only become better people
by doing so. Just don't e
xpect it to be easy.

65
Life, Existence and Being A Ghost

"Wir sind geboren um zu leben, nicht um zu funktionieren."

"Das Leben ist zu kurz um es mit Warten auf das Wochenende zu verbringen.
Jeder Tag kann schn und der Letzte sein."

"I feel so non-existent.... I feel like I'm dead and a ghost."

What I've quoted above is three quotes from my Twitter timeline. They are all, in
their own ways, related thoughts but, more importantly for this chapter, related
to thoughts and ideas I regularly have or think about. The first two, written in
German, suggest that life is to be "lived" and not merely to be functional. The
similar English thought is to differentiate existence from living. The first is simply
being but the second is thought of as more. And as better. The second German
quote above says that life is too short to wait for the weekend. Every day can be
good and could also be your last. So its recommended that you enjoy and get
the most out of every day by implication. And as for the third quote above...
Well that interests me the most and it has since I first read it. For what exactly
does it mean? Even the person who said it does not seem to know. But it seems
negatively related to my first two quotes.

As far as the first two ideas go my instinct is to critique and reject them. "This
day could be your last," its said, as if that were some kind of motivation to do
something good, worthy or fulfilling. But if I knew that this day was my last I
wouldn't do anything. And knowing it was would be the major motivator in that
fact. The fact I'd have one day left would guarantee I did absolutely nothing on
that day. Because being brutally honest with you I'd be damn happy that it was.
You see I see life differently from very many other people and often I imagine
that these people don't think very deeply. I may be right or wrong about that, of
course. I think they just swallow ideas such as that "life is for living not existing"
without really thinking about them or doing the hard work of asking what they
mean and if it is experientially true. This, I take it, is the most important truth of
all, the truth that you feel.

And so I ask myself why the fact this might be my last day should matter at all.
It would matter to me merely, and with relief, because it would mean for me
that the burden of this fleshly existence is finally being removed from me. Yes,
that's genuinely how I feel overall about life and one can only be honest for
there is no wrong answer here - just your answer. When people say to me that
life is for living and not existing or, in German, um zu leben, nicht um zu
funktionieren, I sort of think I know what they mean but I don't really. Perhaps
I've only ever existed and never lived. And, if that were true, how could I be
expected to know the difference anyway? The difference here is one of
experience not book knowledge. Its not a matter of facts but of having lived.

66
And, whatever you might say, its somewhat arrogant to imagine that everyone's
experience about life, or thoughts upon it, are the same as yours. But, and this
should function as a warning here, its also dangerous to think that you are the
only person feeling like you do or that no one ever has before. We all walk
individual paths. We must for we are individuals. But we are the same species
and can share and have things in common and we need to remember that. "You
are not alone" is both true and not true at the same time.

So you can take it that I'm not buying any feel good horse bollocks about "life is
for living" without a heavy dose of experience-funded cynicism. Life, in many
respects for me, is for getting through and I have earned the right to think that
having struggled through forty eight years of bullshit to get to today. That
individual struggle earns me the right to talk about life as I have lived it and
experienced it. Some of this may be relevant to you and some may not. But, I
repeat, there's no wrong answers here anyway. So be bold enough to think what
you really want to think and say what you really feel.

As I've said before, I have come around to the view that life is less about
external circumstances, which is the obsession of the masses, and more about
internal ones, which seems to me to be either ignored completely by people or
brushed over with lip service. Without going into details, its fair to say that as
the world sees, a world all about possessions and status, that I'm pretty much as
far down the pile as you could get. I am in many respects a hermit. I don't fit in
and rather than struggling to do so I choose to accept my fate and not do so. I
don't own very much. The money I have is inconsequential. I have no friends
and the vast majority of people I speak to in a day are online. If I couldn't get
online I might go for days without talking to anyone at all. And yet, in a way,
none of this really bothers me very much because, as I say, life for me is not
about externals. Its about internals and these internals are things I've struggled
with too ever since I was really even an adult.

I have not known a lot of peace in my life and this is because I've had to deal
with internal trauma for a lot of it. Perhaps now you understand why superficial,
external things mean so little to me? Its because what good is stuff or status
when you are fighting against your own mind and feelings? They are no use and
of no help. Your own mind is literally something you cannot escape and to fight
against yourself is probably the hardest battle of all. There is a history of mental
health issues in my family. My mother and her twin sister suffered from various
maladies and to a certain extent still do to this day. This has for them been a
lifelong battle against themselves. Every day for them can be full of surprises
and not the nice kind. Imagine waking up and immediately you feel afraid. They
don't have to because it has happened to them. Its happened to me many times
too. Both of them suffer from a fear of traveling and my mother recently took a
short break away with a friend. She was as white as a sheet waiting for her
friend's car to arrive. For some people simple things are major, life-altering
hurdles.

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But unless you know someone like this I imagine that it would never even occur
to you. We all have a tendency to think that everyone else thinks like us and I've
written about this before. The truth is that some people do and some people
don't. We are all a strange mixture of shared thoughts, feelings and emotions.
We each have our areas of experience and areas of lack of experience. I
remember once having a panic attack in the street near where I was living. My
first impulse was to speak to someone and I saw a neighbour from across the
street who I had seen many times before. I still remember the look of complete
fear on her face and I can only imagine that I must have looked like some
crazed axe murderer walking towards her from that look on her face! I just
wanted human contact as a means to get control over how I was feeling but for
her it seemed to look like something terrible.

We hear a lot today about people with mental health problems but it is not
usually in a positive connection. Maybe its because someone has been killed or
there was "a crazy person" on the bus or in the shop or in the street. Very few of
these people are in any way dangerous and, of those that are, most are more
likely to be dangerous to themselves much more than anyone else. But, for
those who don't understand about the many forms of mental health issues that
abound today, it can all just seem dangerous and threatening - as the unknown
usually feels to most of us. It is striking that it is in the most developed nations
of the earth that mental health is the biggest issue, as if modern society had
created its own casualties. And I must be honest in saying that I think it does.
I'm probably one of them for I find a so-called modern way of living to be utterly
crazy and contrary to more natural means almost to the point of total frustration
sometimes. This is not just as a matter of its physical circumstances but also in
relation to its guiding philosophies. How can it be promoting of good mental
health, for example, that we are all in theory competing with each other for
wealth and prosperity? It seems to me that if you wanted to make some people
sick that's the first thing you would do.

"Life is to be lived not just experienced" we are told though by the prophets of
superficiality. I'm not sure they would say that if their "experience" was as dark
as it is for some people. Life, for them, might be more something to be escaped.
"Living", whatever positive spin that is being given, seems more like a fabled
Never Never Land, a thing which some people say they have but which, for those
with dark personal experiences, seems false and unreal. And, indeed, if "living"
is merely about having stuff and earning money to buy the stuff and maybe
having a status which gets you the money to buy the stuff then isn't it false and
unreal? I would argue that the real riches such people have are never waking up
soaked in sweat or never being worried about feeling deathly afraid as they
board a train or carrying a feeling of dread just about the fact that you are you
and being you is like an uncomfortable coat that you can never take off. For
some people being who you are does not come easily.

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And this is the sense I get from the quote "I feel so non-existent.... I feel like
I'm dead and a ghost." For what must it mean to feel like you don't exist? It
implies an absence of feeling, an inability to inhabit or enjoy things, as if
everything is only observed but without being able to take part. It doesn't sound
very pleasant to me but it does sound very genuine and I value that fact for I
value those who speak truthfully and not in the words of conventions or cliches.
But from my own experience I think it must also be somewhat contradictory for
the more I have felt an outsider to my own species the more personally aware
I've become just how much that makes me one of them. My entire desire to
write started with a search to discover humanity and what "being human" is all
about. A few years later its still ongoing but its only a subsection of my so far
forty eight year investigation. I have been exploring it in words, thoughts and
music. Sometimes I feel like I touch something meaningful and at others it feels
like none of it matters anyway because "all things must pass".

The recently deceased Italian genius, Umberto Eco, wrote in his book, Foucault's
Pendulum, that life was a meaningless enigma made worse by us because we
had a desperate craving to infuse it with meaning and have it all add up to
something. The plot twist was that it does not. We are just left with the feeling
and idea that it must. I very much go along with this thought and my life seems
to be a sort of validation of this idea up to this point. This is one reason I've felt
the need to cast off very many human conventions which, ultimately, buy into
the idea that things MUST mean something, something overarching and over all.
But the truth is they mustn't and that they can mean whatever we want them to
mean. And that can include nothing at all. But, be warned, what you think and
feel must have consequences for you if you do it genuinely and authentically.
Life is not a game and you cannot fool yourself. That is to say you can fool
yourself but it leads nowhere good.

For me, life is about being at peace with myself. I've said this before. If you are
at peace with yourself I think this means you are stronger, more able to deal
with things in general and more able to set things in context. I think its partly a
spiritual thing, whatever that means, and partly philosophical. I have found that
in life I've had to do a lot of reading and much thinking to achieve this peace. It
is not won cheaply and it is not bound to happen. You have to work for it and
earn it. But I genuinely believe its the greatest prize a human being can have.
But then maybe that's because I have to fight for it every day. I do not know
what it would be like to not struggle in my existence. I've hardly lived a day
where I didn't. But, in a way, I'm not remotely sorry about that because when I
look out and see people living what I regard as empty, pointless lives acquiring
stuff I feel glad that my struggle grounds me. Existence itself is not a small topic
but at least I'm connected to that in my existential struggles as maybe you are
in yours. It is good to step back and situate yourself in some greater context. If
life is for living and living is a daily argument over who has what then I find that
nihilistic beyond imagining. And much of human society is. Life may not be
merely functioning but living isn't mere selfish acquisition either. It must be

69
about sharing, understanding, situating yourself in something more than
yourself. It must be about everything of which a human being is capable and can
experience.

70
Human Beings, Technology and The Future

What follows next is a selection of articles which address the nature of humanity
in the context of the future and its technology. This is something that many
people in our world are thinking about and some are actively working on it. This
has profound implications for the survival of humanity itself and so is a very
relevant topic of thought and discussion in this book.

one
Today I have watched the film Chappie from Neill Blomkamp, the South African
director who also gave us District 9 and Elysium. Without going into too much
detail about the film and avoiding too many spoilers, its a film about a military
robot which gets damaged and is sent to be destroyed but is saved at the last
moment when its whizzkid inventor saves it to try out his new AI program on it
(consciousness.dat). What we get is a robot that becomes self-aware and
develops a sense of personhood. For example, it realises that things, and it, can
die (in its case when its battery runs out).

Of course, the idea of robot beings is not new. It is liberally salted throughout
the history of the science fiction canon. So whether you want to talk about
Terminators (The Terminator), Daleks (Doctor Who), Replicants (Blade Runner)
or Transformers (Transformers), the idea that things that are mechanical or
technological can think and feel like us (and sometimes not like us or "better"
than us) is not a new one. Within six weeks of Chappie we got another similar
film as the last Avengers film was based around fighting the powerful AI robot,
Ultron.

Watching Chappie raised a lot of issues for me as someone who questions what
it is to be human or to have "being". Chappie is a film which deliberately
interweaves such questions into its narrative and we are expressly meant to ask
ourselves how we should regard this character as we watch the film, especially
as various things happen to him or as he has various decisions to make. Is he a
machine or is he becoming a person? What's the difference between those two?
The ending to the film, which I won't give away here, leads to lots more
questions about what it is that makes a being alive and what makes beings
worthy of respect. These are very important questions which lead into all sorts of
other areas such as human and animal rights and more philosophical questions
such as "what is it to be a person"? Can something made entirely of metal be a
person? If not, then are we saying that only things made of flesh and bone can
have personhood?

I can't but be fascinated by these things. For example, the film raises the
question of if a consciousness could be transferred from one place to another.
Would you still be the same "person" in that case? That, in turn, leads you to ask
what a person is. Is it reducible to a "consciousness"? Aren't beings more than
brain or energy patterns? Aren't beings actually physical things too (even a

71
singular unity of components) and doesn't it matter which physical thing you are
as to whether you are you or not? Aren't you, as a person, tied to your particular
body as well? The mind or consciousness is not an independent thing free of all
physical restraints. Each one is unique to its physical host. This idea comes to
the fore once we start comparing robots, deliberately created and programmed
entities, usually on a common template, with people. The analogy is often made
in both directions so that people are seen as highly complicated computer
programs and robots are seen as things striving to be something like us -
especially when AI enters the equation. But could a robot powered by AI ever
actually be "like a human"? Are robots and humans just less and more
complicated versions of the same thing or is the analogy only good at the
linguistic level, something not to be pushed further than this?

Besides raising philosophical questions of this kind its also a minefield of


language. Chappie would be a him - indicating a person. Characters like
Bumblebee in Transformers or Roy Batty in Blade Runner are also regarded as
living beings worthy of dignity, life and respect. And yet these are all just more
or less complicated forms of machine. They are metal and circuitry. Their
emotions are programs. They are responding, albeit in very complicated ways,
as they are programmed to respond. And yet we use human language of them
and the filmmakers try to trick us into having human emotions about them and
seeing them "as people". But none of these things are people. Its a machine.
What does it matter if we destroy it? We can't "kill" it because it was never really
"alive", right? An "on/off" switch is not the same thing as being dead, surely?
When Chappie talks about "dying" in the film it is because the military robot he
is has a battery life of 5 days. He equates running out of power with being dead.
If you were a self-aware machine I suppose this would very much be an
existential issue for you. (Roy Batty, of course, is doing what he does in Blade
Runner because replicants have a hard-wired lifespan of 4 years.) But then turn
it the other way. Aren't human beings biological machines that need fuel to turn
into energy so that they can function? Isn't that really just the same thing?

There are just so many questions here. Here's one: What is a person? The
question matters because we treat things we regard as like us differently to
things that we don't. Animal Rights people think that we should protect animals
from harm and abuse because in a number of cases we suggest they can think
and feel in ways analogous to ours. Some would say that if something can feel
pain then it should be protected from having to suffer it. That seems to be
"programmed into us. We have an impulse against letting things be hurt and a
protecting instinct. And yet there is something here that we are forgetting about
human beings that sets them apart from both animals and most intelligent
robots as science fiction portrays them. This is that human beings can
deliberately do things that will harm them. Human beings can set out to do
things that are dangerous to themselves. Now animals, most would say, are not
capable of doing either good or bad because we do not judge them self-aware
enough to have a conscience and so be capable of moral judgment or of

72
weighing up good and bad choices. We do not credit them with the intelligence
to make intelligent, reasoned decisions. Most robots or AI's that have been
thought of always have protocols about not only protecting themselves from
harm but (usually) humans too as well. Thus, we often get the "programming
gone wrong" stories where robots become killing machines. But the point there
is that that was never the intention when these things were made.

So human beings are not like either animals or artificial lifeforms in this respect
because, to be blunt, human beings can be stupid. They can harm themselves,
they can make bad choices. And that seems to be an irreducible part of being a
human being: the capacity for stupidity. But humans are also individuals. We
differentiate ourselves one from another and value greatly that separation. How
different would one robot with AI be from another, identical, robot with an
identical AI? Its a question to think about. How about if you could collect up all
that you are in your mind, your consciousness, thoughts, feelings, memories,
and transfer them to a new body, one that would be much more long lasting.
Would you still be you or would something irreducible about you have been
taken away? Would you actually have been changed and, if so, so what? This
question is very pertinent to me as I suffer from mental illness which, more and
more as it is studied, is coming to be seen as having hereditary components. My
mother, too, suffers from a similar thing as does her twin sister. It also seems as
if my brother's son might be developing a similar thing too. So the body I have,
and the DNA that makes it up, is something very personal to me. It makes me
who I am and has quite literally shaped my experience of life and my sense of
identity. Changing my body would quite literally make me a different person, one
without certain genetic or biological components. Wouldn't it?

So many questions. But this is only my initial thoughts on the subject and I'm
sure they will be on-going. So you can expect that I will return to this theme
again soon.

two
Its perhaps a scary thought, a very scary thought: an intelligent robot with free
will, one making up the rules for itself as it goes along. Think Terminator, right?
Or maybe the gunfighter character Yul Brynner plays in Westworld, a defective
robot that turns from being a fairground attraction into a super intelligent robot
on a mission to kill you? But, if you think about it, is it really as scary as it
seems? After all, you live in a world full of 7 billion humans and they (mostly)
have free will as well. Are you huddled in a corner, scared to go outside, because
of that? Then why would intelligent robots with free will be any more
frightening? What are your unspoken assumptions here that drive your decision
to regard such robots as either terrifying or no worse than the current situation
we find ourselves in? I suggest our thinking here is guided by our general
thinking about robots and about free will. It may be that, in both cases, a little
reflection clarifies our thinking once you dig a little under the surface.

73
Take "free will" for example. It is customary to regard free will as the freedom to
act on your own recognisance without coercion or pressure from outside sources
in any sense. But, when you think about it, free will is not free in any absolute
sense at all. Besides the everyday circumstances of your life, which directly
affect the choices you can make, there is also your genetic makeup to consider.
This affects the choices you can make too because it is responsible not just for
who you are but who you can be. In short, there is both nature and nurture
acting upon you at all times. What's more, you are one tiny piece of a chain of
events, a stream of consciousness if you will, that you don't control. Some
people would even suggest that things happen the way they do because they
have to. Others, who believe in a multiverse, suggest that everything that can
possibly happen is happening right now in a billion different versions of all
possible worlds. Whether you believe that or not, the point is made that so much
more happens in the world every day that you don't control than the tiny
amount of things that you do.

And then we turn to robots. Robots are artificial creations. I've recently watched
a number of films which toy with the fantasy that robots could become alive. As
Number 5 in the film Short Circuit says, "I'm alive!". As creations, robots have a
creator. They rely on the creator's programming to function. This programming
delimits all the possibilities for the robot concerned. But there is a stumbling
block. This stumbling block is called "artificial intelligence". Artificial Intelligence,
or AI, is like putting a brain inside a robot (a computer in effect) which can learn
and adapt in ways analogous to the human mind. This, it is hoped, allows the
robot to begin making its own choices, developing its own thought patterns and
ways of choosing. It gives the robot the ability to reason. It is a very moot point,
for me at least, whether this would constitute the robot as being alive, as having
a consciousness or as being self-aware. And would a robot that could reason
through AI therefore have free will? Would that depend on the programmer or
could such a robot "transcend its programming"?

Well, as I've already suggested, human free will it not really free. Human free
will is constrained by many factors. But we can still call it free because it is the
only sort of free will we could ever have anyway. Human beings are fallible and
contingent beings. They are not gods and cannot stand outside the stream of
events to get a view that wasn't a result of them or that will not have
consequences further on down the line for them. So, in this respect, we could
not say that a robot couldn't have free will because it would be reliant on
programming or constrained by outside things - because all free will is
constrained anyway. Discussing the various types of constraint and their impact
is another discussion though. Here it is enough to point out that free will isn't
free whether you are a human or an intelligent robot. Being programmed could
act as the very constraint which makes robot free will possible, in fact.

It occurs to me as I write this that one difference between humans and robots is
culture. Humans have culture and even many micro-cultures and these greatly

74
influence human thinking and action. Robots, on the other hand, have no culture
because these things rely on sociability and being able to think and feel for
yourself. Being able to reason, compare and pass imaginative, artistic
judgments are part of this too. Again, in the film Short Circuit, the scientist
portrayed by actor Steve Guttenberg refuses to believe that Number 5 is alive
and so he tries to trick him. He gives him a piece of paper with writing on it and
a red smudge along the fold of the paper. He asks the robot to describe it.
Number 5 begins by being very unimaginative and precise, describing the
paper's chemical composition and things like this. The scientist laughs, thinking
he has caught the robot out. But then Number 5 begins to describe the red
smudge, saying it looks like a butterfly or a flower and flights of artistic fancy
take over. The scientist becomes convinced that Number 5 is alive. I do not
know if robots will ever be created that can think artistically or judge which of
two things looks more beautiful than the other but I know that human beings
can. And this common bond with other people that forms into culture is yet
another background which free will needs in order to develop.

I do not think that there is any more reason to worry about a robot that would
have free will than there is to worry about a person that has free will. It is not
freedom to do anything that is scary anyway because that freedom never really
exists. All choices are made against the backgrounds that make us and shape us
in endless connections we could never count or quantify. And, what's more, our
thinking is not so much done by us in a deliberative way as it is simply a part of
our make up anyway. In this respect we act, perhaps, more like a computer in
that we think and calculate just because that is what, once "switched on" with
life, we will do. "More input!" as Number 5 said in Short Circuit. This is why we
talk of thought occurring to us rather than us having to sit down and deliberate
to produce thoughts in the first place. Indeed, it is still a mystery exactly how
these things happen at all but we can say that thoughts just occur to us (without
us seemingly doing anything but being a normal, living human being) as much, if
not more, than that we sit down and deliberately create them. We breathe
without thinking "I need to breathe" and we think without thinking "I need to
think".

So, all my thinking these past few days about robots has, with nearly every
thought I've had, forced me into thinking ever more closely about what it is to
be human. I imagine the robot Chappie, from the film of the same name, going
from a machine made to look vaguely human to having that consciousness.dat
program loaded into its memory for the first time. I imagine consciousness
flooding the circuitry and I imagine that as a human. One minute you are
nothing and the next this massive rush of awareness floods your consciousness,
a thing you didn't even have a second before. To be honest, I am not sure how
anything could survive that rush of consciousness. It is just such an
overwhelmingly profound thing. I try to imagine my first moments as a baby
emerging into the world. Of course, I can't remember what it was like. But I
understand most babies cry and that makes sense to me. In Chappie the robot is

75
played as a child on the basis, I suppose, of human analogy. But imagine you
had just been given consciousness for the first time, and assume you manage to
get over that hurdle of being able to deal with the initial rush: how would you
grow and develop then? What would your experience be like? Would the
self-awareness be overpowering? (As someone who suffers from mental illness
my self-awareness at times can be totally debilitating.) We traditionally protect
children and educate them, recognising that they need time to grow into their
skins, as it were. Would a robot be any different?

My thinking about robots has led to lots of questions and few answers. Yet I
write here not as any kind of expert but merely as a thoughtful person. I think
one conclusion I have reached is that what separates humans from all other
beings, natural or artificial, at this point is SELF AWARENESS. Maybe you would
also call this consciousness too. I'm not yet sure how we could meaningfully talk
of an artificially intelligent robot having self-awareness. That's one that will
require more thought. But we know, or at least assume, that we are the only
natural animal on this planet, or even in the universe that we are aware of, that
knows it is alive. Dogs don't know they are alive. Neither do whales, flies, fish,
etc. But we do. And being self-aware and having a consciousness, being
reasoning beings, is a lot of what makes us human. In the film AI, directed by
Steven Spielberg, the opening scene shows the holy grail of robot builders to be
a robot that can love. I wonder about this though. I like dogs and I've been
privileged to own a few. I've cuddled and snuggled with them and that feels very
like love. But, of course, our problem in all these things is that we are human.
We are anthropocentric. We see with human eyes. This, indeed, is our limitation.
And so we interpret the actions of animals in human ways. Can animals love? I
don't know. But it looks a bit like it. In some of the robot films I have watched
the characters develop affection for variously convincing humanoid-shaped
lumps of metal. I found that more difficult to swallow. But we are primed to
recognise and respond to cuteness. Why do you think the Internet is full of cat
pictures? So the question remains: could we build an intelligent robot that could
mimic all the triggers in our very human minds, that could convince us it was
alive, self-aware, conscious? After all, it wouldn't need to actually BE any of
these things. It would just need to get us to respond AS IF IT WAS!

three
So here we are thinking about robots and artificial intelligence. It seems there
are quite a few people who are interested in this subject too. But my mind has
wandered, as it is apt to do. (Question: do we control our minds or do our minds
control us? Its not as easy to answer as you might think.) I found myself reading
about cosmology and evolution to satiate a wide-ranging interest in humanity
and what makes us, us. So now Im going to kind of straddle the two stools of
robots and the universe and probably do neither any justice at all. This is just
me thinking out loud, ok?

76
Last night I watched both the original Tron (which I had never seen aside from
snippets) and Tron: Legacy (which I had seen once before). Both films are
ostensibly about intelligent computer programs. 1982's original Tron was
strangely compelling as a film. Its terribly out of date graphics and style was
appealing and in a way that the sequel's weren't. Better does not always mean
better it seems. There was something about the way the light cycle races in the
original were better than the newer version. And the sound design in the original
was much better (and it was Oscar nominated). But I digress into film criticism.

Both films, as I say, are set in computer worlds. It doesn't seem that there was
much thought behind the setup though. Its simply a way to make a film about
computers and programs. I have found, as I've watched films about computers
and robots this week, that there is usually some throw away line somewhere
about a robot or computer being "just a computer" or "just a robot" and "it can't
think". It seems that at the conscious level "thinking" is taken to be a marker
that shows how intelligent computers or robots are not like we humans. But this
seems strange to me. Reasoning is surely a marker of something that makes us
stand out in the animal kingdom. However, if anything could calculate then
surely that's exactly the one thing that a computer or intelligent robot would be
good at? But are thinking and reasoning and calculating all the same thing?
Thinking clearly occurs in a number of different ways. There is not just logical
reasoning or solving a problem. These kinds of things you could surely teach a
computer to do very well at. (I recall to mind that a computer did beat
Grandmaster Gary Kasparov at chess. Since then computers have beaten human
champions of other games too.) But there is also imaginative thinking and how
good might an artificial intelligence be at that?

In thinking about this I come back to biology. Human beings are biological
organisms. A computer or robot will never have to worry about feeling sick,
needing to go to the toilet or having a toothache. It will never feel hot and need
to take its jumper off. It will never need to tie shoes to its feet so that it can
travel somewhere. This matters because these trivialities are the conditions of
human life. Of course, you can say that computers may overheat or malfunction
or a part may wear out. But are these merely analogous things or direct
comparisons? I think it matters if something is biological or not and I think that
makes a difference. Human beings feel things. They have intuitions that are only
loosely connected to reasoning ability. They can be happy and they can be
afraid. These things have physical, biological consequences. I think of
Commander Data from Star Trek who was given an "emotion chip" that his
creator, Dr Soong, made for him. When it was first put in Data briefly went nuts
and it overloaded his neural net. Quite. But more than that, it melded to his
circuits so that it couldn't be removed. By design. It seems the inventor in this
fictional story rightly saw that emotions cannot be added and taken away at
someone's discretion. If you have them, you have them. And you have to learn
to live with them. That is our human condition and that is what the character
Commander Data had to learn. So human beings cannot be reduced to

77
intelligent functions or reasoning power. These things are as much human as the
fact that every once in awhile you w
ill need to cut your toenails.

In addition to all this thinking about intelligent robots in the past few days I was
also thinking about the universe, a fascinating subject I have spent far too little
of my 48 years thinking about. I have never really been a "science" person. If
we must have a divide then I have definitely been on the side of "art". But that's
not to say that scientific things couldn't interest me. They have just never so far
been presented in a way as to make them palatable for me. All too often science
has been presented as "scientism", offering a one-size-fits-all approach to
everything that matters. Basically, scientism is the belief that science is all that
matters, the highest form of human thinking. Not surprisingly, being an artistic
character, I found this an arrogant assumption and rejected it outright. Science
and scientists can get stuffed!

But its also true that the things you find out for yourself are the things that stick
with you for longer. I am a curious person and am able to do research. So one
day recently I was looking at articles about the Earth and the universe. I read
things about our sun and how long it was going to last for (a billion years or so
yet) and then migrated to grand narratives about how our planet had been
formed and what it was thought would happen to it in the future. Its fascinating
to read the myriad ways in which bad things will happen to the planet you are
living on. I came away from this reading with the sense that human beings are a
speck in the universe or, as George Carlin once put it in one of his acts, a
"surface nuisance". The show to which I refer was notable for a skit he did on
environmentalists who, says Carlin, are "trying to save the planet for their
Volvos". He ran through a list of things that have already happened to the Earth
long before our species arrived and the upshot of his skit was that nothing we do
makes any real difference to this planet in the grand scheme of things. Its
human arrogance to think that we have that kind of ability. I have some
sympathy with this view which is a view only a human being could have.

Put simply, most human beings hold to what is called by the British
paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, Henry Gee, "Human Exceptionalism".
This is the view that human beings are essentially different to all other animals,
if not all other living things in the universe. Its often accompanied by the belief
that we are somehow the pinnacle of nature - as if evolution was always aiming
to get to us, the zenith of the process. Put simply, humans are better. But as
Gee, also a senior editor at the science journal, Nature, points out, to even think
such a thing is to completely misunderstand the theory of evolution, a process
which retrospectively describes human observations about the development of
life rather than some force working in the universe with a predisposition or
purpose to create human beings. The problem is that we are people. We see
through human eyes and we cannot put those eyes aside to see in any other
way. The forces that created us equipped us with egos for the purposes of
self-preservation and even those of us with low self-esteem (such as myself) still

78
regard ourselves as important. But imagine looking at yourself through an
impossibly powerful telescope from somewhere a billion galaxies away. How
important would you be then? You wouldn't even register. Even our planet would
be a speck, one of billions. You wouldn't catch an intelligent robot having such
ideas above its station - except in a film where it was basically standing in for a
human being! (Compare the character David in the two recent continuations of
the Alien mythology made by Sir Ridley Scott.) Skynet and the revolt of the
machines is a uniquely human kind of story. All we think and imagine is. We are,
after all, only human. But what kind of stories would intelligent robots tell
themselves?

So I learn that I am just another human, one of a species of puffed up


individuals that happened to evolve on a meaningless planet located at
Nowheresville, The Universe. I'm on the third planet of a solar system that in a
few billion years will be thrown into chaos when it's star has burnt up all its
hydrogen and begins to change from a bright burning star into a Red Giant. At
that point it will expand to such a degree that Mercury, Venus, and likely Earth
as well, will be consumed. Long before that our planet will have become too hot
to support life (the sun's luminosity is, and has been, increasing for millions of
years) and will likely have been hit by several asteroids of considerable size that
cause extinction events on Earth. Scientists already tell us that there have been
at least 5 "great extinction events" on Earth before now. In 50 million years the
Canadian Rockies will have worn away and become a plain. In only 50,000 years
the Niagara Falls will no longer exist, having worn away the river bed right back
the 32 kilometers to Lake Erie. Not that that will matter as by the time those
50,000 years have past we will be due for another glacial period on Earth. Seas
will freeze and whole countries will be under metres of ice. In 250 million years
plate tectonics dictate that all the continents will have fused together into a
supercontinent, something that has likely happened before. In less than 1 billion
years it is likely that carbon dioxide levels will fall so low that photosynthesis
becomes impossible leading to extinctions of most forms of life. These things are
not the scare-mongering of those with environmental concerns. They are not
based on a humanistic concern with how our tiny species is affecting this planet.
They are the science of our planet. You see, when you choose not to look with
egotistical human eyes, eyes that are always focused on the here and now, on
the pitifully short time span that each of us has, you see that everything around
us is always moving and always changing. Change, indeed, is the constant of the
universe. But you need different eyes to see it.

The year 1816 (only 201 years ago as I write) was known as "The Year Without
A Summer". It was called that because there were icy lakes and rivers in August
and snow in June. Crops failed. People starved. This was in the Northern
Hemisphere (Europe and North America). It was caused by a volcanic eruption
not in the Northern Hemisphere but in the Southern Hemisphere, specifically at
Mount Tambora in what is now Indonesia in 1815. It caused what is called a
"volcanic winter". The eruption has been estimated to be the worst in at least

79
the last 1,300 years. What strikes me about this, in my "trying to see without
human eyes" way of thinking, is that 1,300 years is not very long. Indeed, time
lasts a lot longer in the natural world than we humans have been given the
ability to credit. We zone out when the numbers get too big. We are
programmed to concentrate on us and what will affect us and ours (like a
robot?!). The good news, though, is that because all of us live such pathetically
small lives its likely stuff like this won't happen to us. But on the logic of the
universe these things surely will happen. Far from us humans being the masters
of our destiny, we are are helpless ants in the ant hill just waiting for the next
disaster to strike. Like those ants, we are powerless to stop it, slaves to forces
we can neither comprehend nor control. As Henry Gee puts it in terms of
scientific discovery, "every time we learn something, we also learn that there is
even more we now know we don't know".

So maybe there is a way in which we are like robots. We are dumb before the
things that created us, powerless to affect or control what happens to us (in the
grand scheme of things). It makes you think.

four
So here I am thinking about consciousness again after some time away from it
and, inevitably, the idea of robots with human consciousness came back to
haunt me. I was also pointed in the direction of some interesting videos put on
You Tube by the Dalai Lama in which he and some scientists educated more in
the western, scientific tradition had a conference around the areas of mind and
consciousness.

But it really all started a couple of days ago with a thought I had. I was sitting
there, minding my own business, when suddenly I thought "Once we can create
consciousness procreation will be obsolete." (This thought assumes that
"consciousness" is something that can be deliberately created. That is technically
an assumption and maybe a very big one.) My point in having this thought was
that if we could replicate consciousness, which we might call our awareness that
we exist and that there is a world around us, then we could put it (upload it?)
into much better robot bodies than our frail fleshly ones which come with so
many problems simply due to their sheer physical form. One can easily imagine
that a carbon fibre or titanium (or carbotanium) body would last much longer
and without any of the many downsides of being a human being. (Imagine being
a person but not needing to eat, or go to the toilet. Imagine not feeling tired or
sick.)

So the advantages immediately become apparent. Of course the thought also


expressly encompasses the idea that if you can create consciousness then you
can create replacements for people. Imagine you own a factory. Instead of
employing 500 real people you employ 500 robots with consciousness. Why
wouldn't you do that? At this point you may reply with views about what
consciousness is. You might say, for example, that consciousness implies

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awareness of your surroundings which implies having opinions about those
surroundings. That implies feelings and the formation of attitudes and opinions
about things. Maybe the robots don't like working at the factory like its very
likely some of the people don't. Maybe, to come from another angle, we should
regard robots with consciousness as beings with rights in this case. If we could
establish that robots, or other creatures, did have a form of consciousness,
would that not mean we should give them rights? And what would it mean for
human beings if we could deliberately create "better people"?

At this point it becomes critical what we think consciousness actually is. It was
suggested to me that, in human beings, electrochemical actions in the brain can
"explain" the processing of sense data (which consciousness surely does).
Personally, I wonder if this does "explain" it as opposed to merely describing it
as a process within a brain. One way that some scientists have often found to
discuss the mind or consciousness is to reduce it to the activities of the brain. So
conscious thoughts become brain states, etc. This is not entirely convincing. It is
thought that the mind is related to the brain but no one knows how even though
some are happy to say that they regard minds as physical attributes like
reproduction or breathing. That is, they would say minds are functions of brains.
Others, however, aren't so sure about that. However a mind comes to be, it
seems quite safe to say that consciousness is a machine for generating data (as
one of its functions). That is, to be conscious is to have awareness of the world
around you and to start thinking about it and coming to conclusions or working
hypotheses about things. Ironically, this is often "unconsciously" done!

So consciousness, as far as we know, requires a brain. I would ask anyone who


doesn't agree with this to point to a consciousness that exists where there isn't a
brain in evidence. But consciousness cannot be reduced to things like data or
energy. In this respect I think the recent film Chappie, which I mentioned
previously, gets things wrong. I don't understand how a consciousness could be
"recorded" or saved to a hard disk. It doesn't, to me, seem very convincing,
whilst I understand perfectly how it makes a good fictional story. I think that on
this point thinkers get seduced by the power of the computer metaphor. For me
consciousness is more than both energy or data, a brain is not simply hardware
nor is consciousness simply (or even) software. If you captured the
electrochemical energy in the brain or had a way to capture all the data your
mind possesses you wouldn't, I think, have captured a consciousness. And this is
a question that scientist Christof Koch poses when he asks if consciousness is
something fundamental in itself or is rather simply an emergent property of
systems that are suitably complex. In other words, he asks if complex enough
machine networks could BECOME conscious if they became complex enough. Or
would we need to add some X to make it so? Is consciousness an emergent
property of something suitably complex or a fundamental X that comes from we
don't know where?

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This complexity about the nature of consciousness is a major barrier to the very
idea of robot consciousness of course and it is a moot point to ask when we
might reach the level of consciousness in our human experiments with robotics
and AI. For, one thing can be sure, if we decided that robots or other animals did
have an awareness of the world around them, even of their own existence or, as
Christof Koch always seems to describe consciousness, "what it feels like to be
me" (or, I add, to even have an awareness of yourself as a subject) then that
makes all the difference in the world. We regard a person, a dog, a whale or a
even an insect as different to a table, a chair, a computer or a smartphone
because they are ALIVE and being alive, we think, makes a difference.
Consciousness plays a role in this "being aliveness". It changes the way we think
about things.

Consciousness, if you reflect on it for even a moment, is a very strange thing.


This morning when I woke up I was having a dream. It was a strange dream.
But, I ask myself, what was my state of consciousness at the time? Was I aware
that I was alive? That I was a human being? That I was me? I don't think I can
say that I was. What about in deep sleep where scientists tell us that brain
activity slows right down? Who, in deep sleep, has consciousness of anything?
So consciousness, it seems, is not simply on or off. We can have different states
of consciousness and change from one to the other and, here's another
important point, not always do this by overt decision. Basically, this just makes
me wonder a lot and I ask why I have this awareness and where it comes from.
Perhaps the robots of the future will have the same issues to deal with.
Consciousness grows and changes and is fitted to a form of life. Our experience
of the world is different even from person to person, let alone from species to
species. We do not see the world as a dog does. A conscious robot would not see
the world as we, its makers, do either.

In closing this section, I want to remind people that this subject is not merely
technological. There are other issues in play too. Clearly the step to create such
beings would be a major one on many fronts. For one thing, I would regard a
conscious being as an individual with rights and maybe others would too. At this
point there seems to be some deep-seated human empathy in play. There is a
scene in the film Chappie where the newly conscious robot (chronologically
regarded as a child since awareness of your surroundings is learned and not
simply given) is left to fend for himself and is attacked. I, for one, winced and
felt sympathy for the character in the film - even though it was a collection of
metal and circuitry. And this makes me ask what humanity is and what beings
are worthy of respect. What if a fly had some level of consciousness? (In a
lecture I watched Christof Koch speculated that bees might have some kind of
consciousness and explained that it certainly couldn't be ruled out.) Clearly, we
need to think thoroughly and deeply about what makes a person a person and I
think consciousness plays a large part in the answer. Besides the scientific and
technical challenges of discovering more about and attempting to re-create

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consciousness, there are equally tough moral and philosophical challenges to be
faced as well.

five
As anyone who has been following my music or writing would know, I have been
focusing my thinking and my art for a while now on asking what a human being
is. I have produced both music and books about it and often random comments I
make on social media are about it too. Who the fuck are we? is a very pressing
question for me. And then I thought that I should at least try to collate or collect
my thoughts about us in various ways. This is not because I think I have
anything startlingly original to say. Neither is it because I think there is not
plenty that has already been written about it. Philosophers, as only one group of
people, have been thinking and writing about being and being human for as long
as they have been thinking and writing. It's a subject that has always been there
and we as a species have always needed to come back to it again and again.
Why else has this subject struck me as so important?

But in thinking about human being and human beings there are clearly a number
of issues to overcome. For a start, I take the word "human" as both an adjective
and as a noun. That is to say that I am concerned with what a "human being" is
as an individual creature and with what "human" being is as a specific type of
being in the world. Here, immediately, we can see that this subject could
become very dense and complicated and I hope not to make my writing about it
appear that way. I hope to elucidate my thoughts clearly and concisely. This is a
roundabout way of saying that I'm writing informally here rather than a paper
for a peer-reviewed academic journal, something I have done. (Although I would
point out that my thinking and writing has been guided by an interest in
academic philosophy stretching back more than 20 years now.) So I will try to
keep my language as perspicuous as possible. I will do that, of course, at the
risk of being misunderstood or not being as precise as I might be if I were
writing in another context. So maybe now I should say what I'm setting out to
do before then going on to make some observations about the subject here.

Let me say straight away that I can't make any claim to be comprehensive. I live
a very specific (and unique) life that is not and will not be replicated by anyone
else. (I thank the non-existent gods for that!) All our lives are individual in their
particularity and this is something we value about our species. So the things I
write here will be animated by my own life experience and the concerns that it
has thrown up for me. I would more than welcome it, though, if you read this
and feel that I have missed something vital out and feel the need to tell me what
that is. I am certainly no oracle and am more than aware of my many
thoroughgoing limitations. So I will be writing a very personal and situated
answer to the questions that arise for me. (I could, of course, do no other.) My
aim is to put into words issues and questions that I think bear on the subject
and that are important to address. Each one could, I have no doubt, be subject

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to several book-length treatments in itself. I will, on the contrary, attempt to be
brief and concise for the sake of my readers.

And so the first thing to say now is that we, as human beings, are beings for
whom "Being" is an issue. We ask questions such as "Why am I here?" and "Who
am I?" and "Why is there something rather than nothing?". This is to say that it
occurs to us to be aware of our existence and our surroundings. And these are
not just questions about ourselves as individual people who exist. They are also
the greater questions about existence as a whole. "Where did everything come
from?" is a question of great import that doesn't, we think, occur to every living
thing to ask. So it is this consciousness, this inquisitiveness, this awareness of
self and surroundings, that becomes a constituent part of our makeup as human
beings. To be a human being is to experience the world as one. It is neither a
gift nor a curse. It just is. And we can reflect on what that means because, as
human beings, the meaning of things is important to us too.

But there are also a whole slew of issues that are important to us as human
beings just by simple virtue of being alive. I refer to these myself as "the issues
of the living". I use this term in distinction to being dead when, of course, these
things would not matter at all. For me these things are the things of everyday
life, of survival and of daily procedure, the questions that we deal with as almost
background issues and that are rarely overtly thought about or noticed as
important. "What's for dinner today?", "Do my teeth need brushing?" "Am I late
for an appointment?" and "I wonder what my colleague at work thinks of me?"
would be examples of things like this but there could be a billion other such
things. They are the things you think about and process because you are alive. If
we wanted to put it more simply we might just say that being alive entails caring
about things.

Being alive as a human being also entails caring, or not caring, about other
members of our species. It is not unique to human beings to be social as we can
see from our observations of the wider natural world. But we also know, as
human beings, that we are infused with a strong sense of self. We value and
cherish the fact we have individuality and are not, instead, part of some
Borg-like hive mind in which everyone else's thoughts are constantly present
too. So, as humans, our form of being is shaped by a kind of dual nature as
beings who are individual yet also part of wider social groupings, be they familial
or otherwise. Most of us have experienced some great communal event together
and shared in a kind of group euphoria and we experience that as a group, as
beings together in a way that is not merely individual. And yet we retain a foot
in both camps and we can be psychologically affected if either our sense of self
or our sense of belonging, or not belonging, to groups is called into question.

A very basic way in which our human being is shaped is by our form. Human
beings are physical beings of a very specific kind in a physical world. We breathe
air. We pump blood. We can see thanks to our optic nerve and the

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electromagnetic radiation that exists as photons of light. We can hear, touch,
taste and smell. We reproduce in a specifically physical way. We walk on two
legs in an upright fashion. We have active brains which can learn and adapt,
often overcoming some of these limitations or finding ways around them if some
of them are taken away in an accident or due to illness. We can talk. We have
organs which stop us from being poisoned by the waste products produced in
sustaining ourselves. We can feel pain. We decay. We die. All of these physical
things are very specific and I want to make the point very strongly that they are
inherent to what makes us human. For me, a human brain in a vat or a mind
uploaded to a computer would not be a human being. To lose our physicality is,
for me, to lose something vital to our humanity, something that has shaped who
we have become and what we are. It may be that one day we evolve our species
into beings not made of flesh thanks to scientific advances. For me that would
entail a possible gain but certainly also a loss and definitely a change in
circumstances. Physical things eventually wear out. As human beings that is
always before us in very specific ways. I ask you to consider the question: "If all
my body parts were replaced with artificial ones, would I still be me?" My answer
to this is that I think being a human being, living a human form of being, is
intimately bound up with the specific physical form of our nature.

Another way we can talk of human being is in terms of time. I have addressed
this in a number of musical pieces before and philosophers have remarked on
our inherent temporality for centuries. The fact is that we are beings who exist
within time and who are always conscious of it. This is not merely in terms of
appointments or notable dates but also in things like consciousness of death and
the cycles of life. (Mid-life crisis? Becoming an adult? Retiring?) But we are also
aware of the infinity of time which exists in such large amounts that we literally
cannot conceive of the age of the Universe or of even our own planet within it.
So, as with the social and the individual, there is a dual focus here as human
beings have an awareness of both finitude and infinity and that affects our form
of life here on Earth. A way to imagine this is to think of the future and the past.
One, the future, stretches out before us as an infinite possibility whilst, on the
other hand, the past lies behind us as something insubstantial that has slipped
through our fingers. Time, in some senses, leaves us completely powerless. We
try to grasp it and hold on to it, but it is gone. Only the photograph or the
memory manages to hold some traces and time even fades those too.

An important aspect of our humanity is to be found in our fallibility. Put bluntly


and rather obviously, we are not omniscient. We are, indeed, quite limited
beings. We see more than through a glass darkly. It is easy to fool the senses of
human beings, which are our means of gathering information about the world,
and there are many parlour tricks which are capable of doing so such as the
never ending staircase or the duck/rabbit made famous by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

We have also developed our own patterns and habits of thinking which, whilst
useful for certain purposes, are by no means to be regarded as the best possible

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or unsurpassable. Human beings have developed by evolution and their powers
of thought and means of gathering information have been shaped by their
environment and become useful for the form of life they lead. It is conceivable
that beings from elsewhere might be nothing like us because their development
would be suited to their environment and form of life too. One simple truth is
that, if we are honest, we, as human beings, don't even know what it is we don't
know. We are working in the dark in the only ways evolution has equipped us to
do so. We also need to remember that human beings are not passive robots
whose job is merely to be carried out passively as a response to commands. But
this is my next point.

Human beings have intentions, attitudes, feelings and emotions. And often we
act not simply with intellectual goals in sight but simply because we feel a
certain way or because we have a certain attitude towards something. Its also
worth pointing out that to have a goal is to be human too. Can you imagine a fly
or a table deciding that it purposely wants to do something? Probably not. But
you can imagine that a person decides to do something. You can imagine they
do this for a number of reasons from it being something they want to achieve to
because some other factor motivates them to do it. Human beings, then, are not
simply calculators or computers or machines. They can get angry and make bad
choices and harm themselves and others and then feel sorry for it. And I think it
is important to say this since the machine or computer metaphor is very often
used casually and lazily to describe human beings. I think its wrong and
misleading. Human beings are not machines. They are, instead, animals,
organisms, and they are imbued with animalistic attributes such as intuition. I
recall to mind here a scene from Star Trek in which Spock, who does not have all
the information he needs to hand to make a calculation, is advised by the very
human McCoy to "make his best guess". And that, indeed, is something that
humans often do. They guess. Now when a human being feels cold you might
want to describe it as a programmed (or learned) response to sensory
stimulation. But is it really that simple? I don't think so. When you cry do you
think that a machine could do that? When you feel fear, or anxiety or love you
are acting as a living being would not as any machine we have ever yet
conceived. I don't regard these things as mere developments based on
increasingly complex networks. I think it something fundamentally different that
we don't yet, and maybe never will, understand. It is something human. It is
something to do with being.

So, for the purposes of this chapter, this is my list of attributes when thinking
about human being:

1. Ontological
2. Alive
3. Individual and Social
4. Physical
5. Temporal

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6. F
allible
7. A nimal

There is one more that I finally want to add at this point. And that is that we are
incomplete. We are not finished but are always in a process of continuing to
become something else. We are like this book. No matter how much I say, there
is always more that could be said. There will always be new occasions or
contexts in which it could be said again with new force or in new and probably
better ways. The understanding and the searching never stops. And so it is with
us as people and as a people. We are never complete, we are never finished.
Human being and human beings never reach a point at which they can stop and
say they are done and there is no more to do. A constant process of becoming
as people "condemned to be free" (as Jean-Paul Sartre put it) is the only game
in town.

8. Incomplete

six

"Stoic absence of passion, Zen absence of will, Heideggerian gelassenheit and


physics-as-the-absolute-conception-of-reality are just so many variations on a
single project - the project of escaping from time and chance." (Richard Rorty)

It is our human nature to rage against the dying of the light, to fill the
nothingness with somethingness, to give meaning where there is none, truth
where there is none, knowledge where there is none, to make reason where
none exists, to be rational where irrationality reigns. At least, this is my
observation. I turn now to write something about this at this current time and
lay out a more comprehensive set of thoughts after my last few musings on
being and consciousness. As you will know, these things mean something to me
and I want to try and give a slightly more comprehensive account of them from
my own understanding. It will at least help me to do this and, maybe, one or two
others as well.

It is my intuition that the time has come to acknowledge the gaping hole that
exists at the centre of Being, to acknowledge that our human powers and
perceptions fail, to acknowledge that truth is insubstantial, knowledge is merely
what is useful, that our seeing is partial and mostly blind, that we are contingent
and merely fitted for a form of life, a very narrow form of life, evolved to live and
die on an inconsequential speck in the vastness of space. I do not see that there
is any Whole or Unity or Truth or amount of Knowledge or Privileged Insight or
Enlightenment or Meaning that we can work our way towards or find. There is no
Deity or Spirituality, no Body of Privileged Information or Holy Being which is
going to allow us to see behind the veil of our limitations and glimpse the Holy of
Holies of "how-things-really-are" or "what-life-is-all-about". There is no

87
"our-true-place-in-the-universe". These things are a mirage, and we are victims
of their illusion.

It should be noted, then, that I am hardly the first person to diagnose


nothingness at the centre of all that is. "Nihilism" has been a problem for
European philosophy for 200-300 years. In other traditions, emptiness has been
held as a value in itself. 2,300 years ago there was at least one Jewish teacher
(a person named Qoheleth, the speaker in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes to
which I will return below) teaching that life is "breath" and a chasing after the
wind. And he was continually asking "What does it profit...?" So we can be sure
that we are not the first to have the thought that at the centre of Being is.
nothing and that life itself is insubstantial. It may be, like the Ego, that certain
illusory goals and beliefs (the aforementioned list of gods and pseudo-gods such
as Meaning, Truth and Knowledge) were necessary and that evolution fitted us
with them to best enable our survival. But we make a terrible mistake in taking
them too seriously, petrifying them and making deities of them. But, then again,
maybe we are only living out the life that we were meant to lead in doing so?

Nevertheless, I want to suggest now that the claim that something "is" (in any
essentialist or foundational sense) is the most meaningless claim any human
being could ever make, in my opinion. We have neither the insight nor the
means to make any such claim. We live in a constant stream of existence, of
consciousness, and randomly pluck things from the torrent as it rushes past and
then make connections between one and another. If it has the utility of working
or being, so it seems, repeatable, then we deify it as something that is. but
have no genuine right to do so. We can only ever speak properly of a constant
becoming, a changing as one day turns into the next. We are part of a stream
and we observe a small stretch of the journey before we blink and cease to
exist.

I think the key insight here, which I hope to flesh out below, is that it's not in
spite of the nothingness that we make meaning, truth and knowledge: it's
because of it. It might have been thought, pre-reflectively, that these things
arise as we have an awareness of a greater thing that is out there, some god or
truth or insight into being that is currently beyond us. And so we yearn to reach
it guided by our belief that there is "a-way-things-are". But this is not so.
Instead, we experience the void of nothing and experience the edge of chaos
and cannot bear it. And so we become (or, in evolutionary terms, became)
machines for the creation of meaning, truth and knowledge to give us something
that can allow us to live. No one could survive the chaos, it would make our lives
unlivable. Instead, we find a form of life through which we can survive, endure
and prosper. Because at the heart of Being there is a void, we find things plastic
to our touch and begin to create. This is to say that our "reality" is not nearly so
fixed as some might have you believe. Or, at least, not nearly as restrictive.

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It's worth noting at this point that I am not here making any claims to universal
knowledge. That would be both arrogant and entirely contradictory to my point. I
am simply emptying out onto the page my understanding such as it is at this
current time as it has been educated by the thoughts, and the thought, that I
have encountered on my journey down the stream. I regard "right and wrong" in
this connection as to be strictly missing the point. I don't regard the journey as
about right or wrong. I regard it as about the experience of the journey. I regard
philosophy, which is nominally what I am doing here, as about utilization of the
mind and as about, as it originally was, a love of wisdom and not as a means to
some fabled special insight, much less some technical or hidden knowledge. As
such, I believe that questions are more fundamental than answers and that
thinking is the most important activity, one that can lead us to find the questions
at the heart of our existence and our being. This, I see as I look back, is what I
have really been doing throughout my life since I was 8 or 9 years old.

For myself, I see myself at a crossover of Philosophy and Spirituality, two things
which can, indeed, be compatible. There have been many spiritual and
philosophical thinkers. The belief in god is a logical outworking of one way of
doing these things but not a necessary one and not one I have found myself
coming to be convinced by in the end. Indeed, I think back 20 years to when I
would have said I believed in a god and cringe at how naive I was at that time.
However, I don't think that spirituality, in itself and in all its forms, is to be
pilloried or violently attacked as some like Richard Dawkins do. Both Philosophy
and Spirituality are searching for things to fill the nothingness at the heart of
being (things like meaning, truth, knowledge or god) and, as such, are entirely
understandable in that context. The attacks of those like Dawkins merely show
an arrogant and boorish lack of humble understanding. Humility, we should
remember, is perhaps the quality human beings need most in the face of the
all-encompassing nothingness that surrounds us. Perhaps those who are least
humble are the ones who are most desperately running away in a futile attempt
to escape it? I would argue that where Dawkins sees "god" and rages he actually
only sees "Truth" instead - which functions in much the same way for him as god
does for his opponents. He is more like those he despises than he would ever
want to admit.

My approach in this book has been based on a firm belief that all the connections
human beings make in their thinking are fictions. They are merely either useful
or not useful. (It is to be noted that fiction is not an opposite of truth. We
habitually share fictions that, whilst not true in themselves, elucidate some truth
or beliefs we would hold dear.) All syntheses are at least fictional and tell a story
that works at a certain time and place. We know that nothing stands for all time
and so in place of models of accuracy and truth, models which have their very
failure inscribed within them from the start, I use models of honesty and
authenticity which have a validity of time and place. What follows will be my
attempt to describe the nothingness at the heart of not just human being, but all
Being, and how I came to find it. I will do so in my own words (believing that

89
this is the most authentic way I can do it in a book for general readers) and I will
also try to point up some issues this raises and some of the options before us. I
take it that I don't need to point out again that this is merely my own partial
account (in at least two senses).

So why would anyone think that at the heart of Being there is a gaping chasm of
nothingness, a black hole at the centre of all that is? For me this realisation
came by thinking and reading in addition to the lived experience of my life. I
read philosophers like William James who said that "truth" was those things that
were merely "good in the way of belief" and Richard Rorty who wrote papers and
books extolling the idea that beliefs are not true or false in the sense of
corresponding to an antecedent world, but only in the sense that they are useful
beliefs and that it pays to believe them. Where James, a man of his philosophical
time, talked about the world of experience, Rorty, in keeping with the linguistic
turn and focus in more modern philosophy, talks about language. Indeed, Martin
Heidegger, a German philosopher obsessed with thinking about Being, called
language "the house of Being". But it is when thinking about language that we
begin to realise that language is not a perspicuous tool for penetrating to the
heart of Being but, instead, a collection of "tools for coping with objects rather
than representations of objects, and as providing different sets of tools for
different purposes" (Richard Rorty). Another very famous philosopher of the
20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein, described language as like a game in which
we, as various different communities, need to know the rules of the game we are
playing in order to take part in using the language. This makes language sound
very much like a social practice as opposed to the innate logic of the universe,
something that, at first, Wittgenstein himself had tried to find. But, on his later
thinking, no language gets us closer to reality because that is not what language
is for. Language is there to help us deal with things not represent them,
correspond to them or describe them in their essence. All this is to say that
language is in no way foundational to Being like a code for how things really are.
Rather, it is descriptive of it in as many ways as there are human purposes.

There were for me other philosophical indicators that traditional god substitutes
such as Knowledge, Truth or Meaning had ideas above their station. About 18
years ago, as I prepared to start my PhD studies, I chanced upon a book by
Friedrich Nietzsche. I knew next to nothing about him save that I knew his work
had been co-opted (and corrupted) by the Nazis. I began to read the book
(which, soon after, grew to become all his books) and found it very reader
friendly but in no way simplistic. I have learned many things in those 18 years
since by reading Nietzsche. One of those things is the "will to system" that
human beings have. Another is that human beings are excellent at deceiving
themselves. Nietzsche, at times, is a very astute and insightful observer of his
kind and of their intellectual habits and failings. Thus, he describes truth as "a
mobile army of metaphors" and says that "We believe when we speak of trees,
colours, snow, and flowers, we have knowledge of the things themselves, and
yet we possess only metaphors of things which in no way correspond to the

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original entities." In the same piece of writing he will argue that our concepts are
a "making equivalent of that which is non-equivalent" and that "The
thing-in-itself (which would be, precisely, pure truth, truth without
consequences) is impossible even for the user of language to grasp". Perhaps
my favourite Nietzschean thought, though, is this one:

Life as the product of life. However far man may extend himself with his
knowledge, however objective he may appear to himself - ultimately he reaps
nothing but his own biography.

I find in this perfectly crafted thought (and Nietzsche's books are full of hundreds
of such thoughts as well as more lengthy arguments) a perfect summary of all of
our lives. Life, so it says to me, is not about knowledge or truth or meaning.
Language does not get to the heart of anything. We do not perceive past some
intellectual or spiritual barrier to something that is more real than real. Life is
just a time period and all we do when we live is create our history.

And so I took up and ran with this theme as I continued my studies. I entered
the world of French 20th century philosophy where Camus tells us that the only
genuine philosophical question is to ask if life's worth living at all. In that same
environment Sartre proclaims that we are all "condemned to be free", an
expression of our individual existential freedom, Foucault delineates how our
human knowledge is shaped by the operations of power and Jacques Derrida
builds a whole philosophy around the idea that human language, and human
meaning with it, corrupts and deconstructs itself even as it goes about its
business.

My final philosophical insights came not from a Frenchman, but from the very
American literary and legal academic, Stanley Fish. His work on meaning as
constructed, on human communities as always situated and contextualised and,
thus, on just "anything" never having the possibility to be the case, ("anything
that can be made to go, goes" is his insightful gloss on the more traditional
"anything goes" that people who "don't believe in reality" are often accused of
believing) convinced me that there can be no "real world" in the highly
philosophical sense that some people often mean it. There is the world that is
available to us, the world that we sense and describe and brush up against every
day. It is a world that constricts and constrains us. But we cannot penetrate it in
the way that some deceptive dualisms such as those like reality and appearance
or intrinsic and extrinsic would have us believe. There is no inner reality to find.
There is, for example, no inherent morality of the universe (there is merely
prudent or considerate behaviour). Instead, all we have is a world of relations
and descriptions, some more useful than others, a world that constrains but that
is also material for the constructive and creative engines of our minds and
language and purposes.

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It is at this point that it would be reasonable to feel loss. We want to think that
what we have in our hands is solid and, well, real. I say that the world I am
describing, the one with nothingness at its heart, is and that I certainly have no
problem believing that we live on an amazing planet in an amazing universe full
of everything from planets, stars and galaxies to electrons and electromagnetic
radiation. It's just that there is no god figure for us to bow down before, nothing
really real that we can feel appropriately supplicant before or in touch with, no
divinity of any kind that we can share in, no "real-way-things-are" unconnected
from some human purpose or description. There is only the world of experience
and our means of describing it and making use of it. Perhaps, then, we might
want to share in the conclusion of one of the biblical writers, Qoheleth (to give
him his Jewish name), when he says "Sheer futility, sheer futility, everything is
futile!" (Qoheleth 1:2). I myself often translate the Hebrew word "Hebel" that is
behind the word "futile" there (I did study biblical Hebrew at university with
some success and so feel able to make such comments) as "absurd". Everything
is absurd. It is absurd not in the sense of funny or amusing but in the sense of
being pitched into a game you must play but can't win or where, as Camus
discusses in The Myth of Sisyphus, we must forever push a rock up a hill only to
have it roll down. And thus the cycle begins again.

Qoheleth looks out upon a world in which human beings die like beasts and the
good suffer whilst the evil prosper. No path seems to lead to any meaningful
conclusion. There seems to be no point, no target to aim for. In lieu of a better
conclusion we might almost say that stuff just seems random, a matter of time
and chance. "Why be wise when the wise and the fool both die?" he asks. "All is
futility (or absurd) and chasing after the wind" (Qoheleth 1:17). In a later
section, Qoheleth muses on that fact that we humans can grasp no overarching
meaning or knowledge or truth about our existence or about existence in
general. (Today we would call this the death of the metanarrative.) His
conclusion is that the only pleasure to be found is in "pleasure and enjoyment
through life" (Qoheleth 3:12-13). And that sounds very like Nietzsche's
biography comment to me. If you look for meaning in something greater than
yourself, or something greater than you within, you will not find it. It's not there.
All you have is the life you actually live - and to enjoy it.

Of course, the charge may be raised that there are, indeed, many people who do
find meaning and truth and knowledge in things greater than themselves. The
world does not lack for believers in gods of many kinds - from the little old lady
who goes to church to the evolutionary biologist who worships at the altar of
"truth" (the aforementioned Dawkins). "So what is going on here?" you may
rightly ask. One answer to this, I think, might lie in the thought of French
postmodern thinker, Jean Baudrillard. Baudrillard is famous for saying that
things like the first Gulf War "never happened". He did not mean to suggest that
there was no war. He means to suggest that the war we saw through newspaper
headlines and 24 hour rolling news coverage was empty and devoid of referent.
It was an act of creation in which the reporting came to replace and represent as

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true something that wasn't really there. This rolling news then became "The
Truth" but had no actual referent behind it. Baudrillard's most famous work,
Simulacra and Simulation, fleshes out this idea more fully. A simulacra is, for
Baudrillard, "never that which conceals the truthit is the truth which conceals
that there is none. The simulacrum is true". As Baudrillard notes in a section
dealing with the media in this book:

We live in a world where there is more and more information and less and less
meaning.

So what am I saying here? I'm saying that people can be deceived. I'm saying
that much "information" today is shallow and useless and refers to nothing
beyond itself in a very reflexive way but, nevertheless, becomes the truth that
conceals there is no truth. I'm saying that people can believe anything for the
purposes that they have that the world of our experience allows. This may, for
some, include gods whilst, for others, it won't. I would remind readers here of
the quote I used as the heading to this section and it's focus on human beings
wanting to escape the "time and chance" that they have, with complete
disregard for their will, been pitched into. It has, to date, been a project of
some, if not all, humans to try and escape the stream of consciousness, the time
and chance which is all they have, to find a solid, firm foundation on which to
stand. I doubt that this purpose will go away anytime soon. But given a wider
perspective, we have every right to doubt the privileged access or insight some
people claim. Better, then, to see it as just one more human attempt to shoot at
the moon, one more self-referential news report about gods and rumours of
gods with nothing behind it, one more go at the oldest human project of all -
finding solid ground when, as Nietzsche says, all we have now is the vicissitudes
of "the infinite sea".

But if at the heart of all Being there is merely nothingness, a reaching for
something forever out of reach, as I claim, then what are we to do? I can think
immediately of two things but I think that we are already doing both of them.
The first thing we can do is hope. We can hope for a better life in a better world
full of better people - whatever we take better in these cases to mean. We can
hope to have a better life personally and we can work towards it. We can hope
and so allow the seeds of imagination to flourish within us and make use of the
opportunity that time and chance has afforded us in our being born. Of course,
you can sit in a corner and wait to die too. It's up to you. You might even muse
that in the end it doesn't make much difference and I couldn't really argue
against you. Not in the end, at least. But there is always the here and now for
the living to concern themselves with even if eternity is forever and life is short.

The second thing we can do in the nothingness is create. This certainly applies in
the personal area. I was reminded by a friend's tweet the other day that there is
no "inner self". Sometimes various kinds of guru try to claim there is an inner
self and that you need to find it. But there is no inner self. Just like all the other

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attempts at grasping something really real, it has an imaginary target. But, in
the absence of an inner self, there is just you in all your particularity with all
your history, thoughts and feelings. And there is no one version of you for you
are always becoming, always changing. You don't even know yourself better
than other people. You just have your own thoughts about you, your own
descriptions and your own reasons for preferring one over another, albeit that
you have more information to go on because you have always been there!

This world of experience that we live in yields to our descriptions. It is plastic to


our touch. We can make use of it and manipulate it and make it useful for our
many purposes. And we can do that with ourselves too. We have the opportunity
to create something beautiful, if that's not too naively poetic. It may not be that
it lasts for a long time for we know that meaning is as temporary as human
beings and their projects but, as Nietzsche and Qoheleth both saw, all we have is
the lives we are creating day by day. That is where we will find our being and
the world of our possibilities: in our world of Nothingness.

I thank you for reading if you got this far!

Yours,
A Nihilist.

seven
Let's engage in a thought experiment. I want you to imagine that instead of
being a physical person in a physical world you actually do not exist like that at
all. You are, in varying ways we will get to shortly, a simulation of a person. This
means that nothing you do and no one you interact with in your daily life is
physical. It is, if I can put it like this, all just a game and your experience of life
is just data that you experience a certain way. And its not just a game in your
head. You yourself are part of the game. This final section on humans and
technology is going to ask what follows from that and come to the conclusion,
after taking the scenic route, that, actually, not much follows from that. At this
point it would probably be a good idea to mention that the journey is still
worthwhile, nevertheless! So let's begin.

The idea that we we cannot prove that anything, including ourselves, actually
exists as we think it does is as old as our race's ability to think. Indeed, I would
argue that such questions arise from being able to think at all, part of our
species' existential angst. In more recent times this type of question has been
asked in ways more fitting to our times, ways more technological, in an era
when the computing power necessary to simulate a life seems to be over the
next horizon. Indeed, I am shortly going to argue that simulating the lives of
people is something that we have been doing increasingly since the rise of the
Internet in the early 1990s. Let's take a walk along my "continuum of
simulation".

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We start, at one end, with social media. Here people can create accounts and
interact with friends but also complete strangers. Many people create these
accounts without using their real names or giving out too many personal details.
They are, it is often said, anonymous. In fact what they are doing is playing
characters. Both on Google and on Twitter I have accounts but do not use my
real name. There I play a version of myself. But it's not the person you would
meet in the flesh. The online version of me is both more confident and more
harsh and this is likely because the scenario is not "real life" - where there are
real life consequences for speech and action - but a mitigated form of the same.
Sometimes real life impinges upon these characters using social media accounts,
as when you insult someone you shouldn't and they take you to court. But,
within certain parameters, everyone is basically happy to let you create who you
want to be online and they play along.

Now we move along the continuum. There are other websites, porn sites perhaps
or messaging sites, where some people take this creation of a character a bit
further. They actually pretend to be people they are not. This is a real world
form of role play and the thrill, in my case at least, is in convincing the person
on the other end that you are who you say you are. (For the purposes of this
example the ethics of this is irrelevant.) This means that for the duration of the
contact you are actually pretending to be someone you are not. Perhaps this is
not even someone of the same gender as you. You can, I am sure, start to work
out some of the possibilities for yourself. This is a step up from the social media
persona that was sort of a version of you. We have moved to you playing at
being someone else but whilst still being you.

And we move along the continuum again. Now we are playing role playing
games (the computer kind), be it World of Warcraft, The Sims or Second Life, a
website where people can go expressly to create themselves anew and interact
with other people who are doing the same thing. The point at this stage of the
continuum is that you are not you at all anymore in the fantasy worlds created.
And we are slightly further along the continuum because, although everyone
knows this is pretend, everyone acts and reacts in accordance with the rules of
the virtual setting. One step down my continuum those pretending to be others
could be found out at any time and then the reality dissolves. Here that isn't
going to happen. Everyone accepts the situation they are in.

And along we move again. The next stage is that as is shown in the 1998 film,
The Truman Show. This film, starring Jim Carrey, was about a guy whose whole
life was being filmed and shown on TV. He thought he was living in the "real
world" but, actually, he was living inside a bubble and being put on display for
entertainment purposes. In the narrative of the film he starts to experience
strange things and wonders what is going on. Reality finally hits him when he
gets on a boat and literally bumps into the edges of the reality that has been
created for him and where he has lived his whole life. The point at this stage is

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that he thought what was real was one thing but it wasn't. It was something
else.

On we go to the next stage which is the world created in the film The Matrix.
This film is very well known. The scenario here is that the whole human race is
enslaved to machines who use their bio-energy as a fuel source. In order to keep
them alive they are in essence fed a false life by direct neural connection. To
those inside The Matrix everything seems completely real and they are
completely shielded from what lies outside this experience. Only the fact that
others have "woken up" and are able to disconnect others from this program
stops every human being alive from being part of the great machine network. So
good is this illusion, if illusion it be, that Cypher, one of the characters who has
been freed from The Matrix, would rather be put back inside the virtual reality
than face what is outside of it. This raises an interesting question in that life
outside The Matrix is bleak and puts you into immediate conflict with the
machines. Inside The Matrix you will live, to all intents and purposes, a normal
life and your death will come when your usefulness has been served. But from
your subjective perspective everything will be fine.

We have two more stages left as we head to the far side of my continuum. The
next is one step up from The Matrix for, so far, we have been real physical
people put into differing circumstances. But now we leave our mortal physicality
behind. Imagine that you are no longer a physical being and that consciousness
does not need carbon based life forms to exist (if, indeed, it does anyway).
Imagine that consciousness, mind, can be a computer simulation, essentially a
program, that runs on a supercomputer, the superest computer you can
imagine. For the purposes of this stage of my continuum you also need to
imagine that this computer simulates our whole universe and that NONE of it
physically exists except as mathematical processes inside this computer. So you,
your world, your friends, your experience, your thoughts and everything else are
just someone else's simulation. There are no "laws of nature" for there is no
nature to find. There is no "waking up" because you don't exist physically. You,
your world and everything is governed by lines of code and you are, perhaps,
part of the simulation of some more advanced version of ourselves or of some
being we cannot yet imagine.

And so we reach the far side. The final stage in my continuum does away even
with the computer and the program. Now I want you to imagine that all there is
is just a great consciousness, a mind. That mind is reality and we, our world and
our universe are the thoughts of this great mind. Again, in this scenario we are
not physical things. Nothing we do or experience is physical either. We exist only
as thoughts in this unimaginably great mind. There is nothing physical in
existence either inside or outside of this mind. This is the opposite thesis to most
of the prevailing thought in human science which regards all phenomena as
material. The scientifically-minded philosopher, Daniel Dennett, for example,
thinks that consciousness (which seems incorporeal) does not exist at all but is

96
merely an illusion. Here I am completely turning this around and saying it's the
physical that doesn't exist and the consciousness, a thing we all experience,
which does. For all we know this mind imagines numerous other universes and
people and things too. But, for our purposes here, it is enough to know that we
are just thoughts in this mind. Perhaps this mind likes to think things to learn
about itself and we are the means it uses to do so? Who knows?

So that is my continuum. We go from being characters on social media to being


the thoughts in some great mind. We go from being us in our physical universe
with its scientists looking for the hardwired laws that make it work, to being
thoughts in an incorporeal existence. Now one problem we get as we come
nearer to the end of my continuum is that people think they would instinctively
know if the world and the life they experienced was not real. And they thus
dismiss it without really filling out why. I imagine this is because they don't
really know why. But let's ask why. Perhaps they think of The Truman Show
where there are hidden cameras to be found or The Matrix where there are
glitches that point to something else?

The thing is, these are just films and those things are just plot points. Much
more pertinent to the point here is the millions of people in The Matrix who
never wake up and who Morpheus doesn't care about finding because he doesn't
think they are The One. They have their reality and are presumably more than
happy with it. They don't know of anything else outside it. The reality they have
wasn't designed to let them know there was more. How do we know that our
reality isn't a similar thing? How could we find out? How could you yourself prove
that there was nothing more to find? Is it impossible that we are someone's or
something's "Life On Earth 2.0" program running on their future computer or
even that we are a character being played by someone else? Do The Sims know
that they aren't real? Or do The Sims only know and do as they are required to
do by the program that brings them into existence?

It does not seem too outlandish to imagine a future computer simulation that
could completely fool simulated human beings into thinking that they were
independent life forms in a genuine universe. After all, it is easy to show that
actual human beings are easy to fool. Even at the early stages of my continuum
you can very easily fool people that things are not as they seem. There are
several people right now, for example, that I'm sure are completely convinced
that the person they talk to online is a 25 year old busty German girl called
Sabine. But this isn't correct. They are talking to me who is neither busty nor
German nor a girl. So if people can be so easily convinced of things that are so
obviously not true then how much easier might it be to convince them from birth
that everything they experience is real and a certain way when the
circumstances are quite different? If you had lived 40 years in just one world
with one form of life I expect that everyone would be certainly convinced of its
reality. Such would be very normal indeed. It would be expected to be regarded
as sane in that world. You are regarded as sane right now because you think the

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world we share now is real. But is it? Surely if it were a simulation thinking this
was real would be exactly what we were programmed and expected to think? We
get no further forward in discerning its reality simply by being completely sure
that it is. In fact, that's just a function of our being in it. Here something that the
20th century's greatest philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, said strikes home:

The difficulty is to realise the groundlessness of our believing

For if you can concede that a simulation might be possible then, logically, you
have to concede that it might be possible now and that you are (in) a simulation.
After all, you must admit you do not know all of life's circumstances. Everyone
concedes that our knowledge is both fallible and limited. So it is a logical
possibility that we are ourselves living in a simulation and this thought cannot be
escaped. Indeed, there are genuine philosophers and scientists who study this
issue as part of their daily professional lives. Entrepreneur and Futurist Elon
Musk has said he believes it is true. And what of the concept of the great mind
that thinks everything that "is"? Well, we cannot logically discount that
possibility either. Descartes said that he thought and therefore he was. But
maybe he was the thought of something greater than he could imagine. And so
was his thought too!

So there is no way to escape the possibility of these things. They could be true.
We just don't know. And so it behooves us to ask what, if anything, follows from
this. It seems to me that many things follow from this but none of them are
really of any great consequence and, as a philosophical pragmatist, I have been
taught that truths that don't make that much difference to anything aren't really
worth much time or effort. But, nevertheless, let's think it through a little more.

If we are a simulation of a person, if all our world is simulation, then so what?


Pain still hurts if its the physical consequences of a physical cause or the result
of a line of code telling us to feel something when certain things happen.
Injustice is still injustice in the context of the system in which it takes place. Life,
death, disease, happiness, everything we experience, still has the same
functions and meanings in terms of ourselves and our social and cultural
networks. Of course, you may say that there is something beyond that we don't
know and this is true. But what, if anything, could we do about it? In both the
computer simulation and the pure consciousness scenario there is practically
nothing to be gained by becoming aware that you are a simulation - save that
the great mind or whoever might be running the simulation finds something
worthwhile in that fact. But there is nothing to suggest this changes the context
or circumstances of your life in any way at all. And, crucially, you can never
become physical because you weren't physical to begin with. So what do I say to
this? I say, don't worry about it. Even if it's true, it's of little consequence.
Whether you are a physical being in a physical universe or the thought of a mind
you are in both cases not in control of anything really and, in each case, only in

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the terms of the system you are a part of. Whatever your universe is, you are at
it's mercy.

PS There is a postscript to my thought on this subject. As I was thinking about it


I took, for a moment, the position of the being running the computer simulation
or of the great mind. I asked myself what their relationship was to their
simulation and to those of us in it, convinced of our reality. I came to thinking of
it in terms of what is called "The Problem of Evil". This is a
philosophical/theological question related to the existence of god. Briefly, it goes
like this: if there is a god who made and runs everything that is then why is it
that he allows terrible suffering and death? Why are children abused by
peadophiles and others tortured or raped? Why do people die of painful diseases
and starvation? Why do others suffer terribly with mental illness for decades
without relief? In short, if there is a god why does he allow bad things to
happen?

And then the answer hit me. Its because god is like you or I playing Grand Theft
Auto. If we drive down the street and blow away some street prostitutes with
machine guns we feel no sorrow or moral consequence for that. It's just a game.
It's not real. So why wouldn't god or the computer simulation player or the great
mind feel the same way about us? And who could blame them if they did?

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Thoughts About Human Morality

A.
Let me get straight to the point: there is little point in being good. It can be
observed that the person who spends their life working for various forms of
social justice, helping others or being a generally all round good egg lives the
same life (and receives the same death) as the habitual criminal, the parasite
and the fool. It may be that the second type of person actually lives a better life
than the first. Indeed, this has been observed many times before. I, personally,
as one example, am aware of this very thought in the biblical book of
Ecclesiastes. Its just one reason given there for why life is futile or absurd.
The book makes no attempt to say that this idea isnt true. It even ends by
saying, in so many words, but obey god and keep his commandments anyway.
I wonder, then, if you accept the premise and the conclusion that I take from it?
There is little point in being good.

Examine yourself honestly and you will see that each one of us, every day,
commits some act, positive or of omission, that is in some sense immoral,
self-serving or unprincipled. We rationalize it and explain it away as small or
inconsequential but each one acts as a chip in a pane of glass. That pane of
glass is us, our character. It matters not how small the chips are. If left for long
enough such chips will shatter and destroy the whole pane of glass much as they
do in a cars windscreen. Who of us can stand up and say we are flawless panes
of glass? Surely, we all know that we are at least many times chipped?

And so such thoughts lead me to think about morality as a whole. Such a


problem was morality for some (I mean here Nietzsche) that for them nothing
less than a complete revaluation of all values was required. This is far-reaching
stuff. Our societies are meant to operate on moral lines but does anyone actually
believe this ludicrous notion in practice? We could all, I am sure, roll off lists of
immoralities committed daily from the trivial to the criminal to the horrific. There
seems a somewhat disingenuous relationship with morality on offer within
human societies and cultures. Its never pure and thus always (often
considerably) flawed. Humanity as the flawed species could very much be our
defining characteristic.

But what is morality anyway and why, so we are told, is it so good to be good?
Morality is more than the behaviour patterns or social codes we witness in
animals. Morality is not an autonomic response like breathing or having a heart
that beats without thinking about it. We, although we are definitely still animal,
are the only animal that gives, and can give, reasons for things. Morality is
making choices for principled reasons and acting upon those reasons. We do this
because we can do this, because we developed in ways that made this possible.
And, thus, I cant help thinking that there is something about morality and a
moral way of thinking that is intended, somehow, to grease our evolutionary
wheels. But is an evolutionary impetus itself moral? I would say not.

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What is clear to me is that morality can only ever be a social thing. Just as there
can be no private language so can there also never be a private morality.
Morality is, as Nietzsche called it, a thing of the herd, a matter of nodes in the
context of a network. It is not a matter negotiated individually - even though
individuals can make choices to ignore, change or influence it. Morality applies to
everyone or it applies to no one and begins to break down. A morality is stronger
the more people accept it and increasingly useless the less people do. If it is true
that this moral impulse is an evolutionary one, and that that impulse is thus
itself contingent upon our evolution which is not itself at all moral, then where
does this lead us?

For some it leads us into human exceptionalism, the idea that we are, somehow,
in ways not always well explained, over and above the rest of the life that has
come to be on our planet. But it is not clear to me why an increasing brain
function and the ability to instrumentalize and put to use the things around us,
that which Stanley Kubrick in his seminal film 2001: A Space Odyssey indicated
by the apes learning to use bones as weapons, means that we are now,
somehow, set in some kind of (usually benevolent) opposition to the rest of our
environment. This is the mentality which claims that we are now (presumably
self-appointed) guardians of our planet as opposed to merely contingent forms
of life gaining our perilous and almost certainly temporary existence from it.

I wonder, though, what grounds human exceptionalists really have for claiming
their exceptionalism for our species? I wonder too, if the animals could talk, if
they would want a species around that pollutes, rapes, pillages and generally
devours the rest of this worlds resources as we do. Rather than the guardians
are we not actually the destroyers? Rather than the saviours are we not merely,
at the very best, those seeking to try and save ourselves from the immorality of
our past and present? Humans seem very exceptional in every bad way you can
think of. Do other species murder, rape, kill and make war? Do other species do
down their own for merely financial gain? It may be that analogues can be found
for these in more animalistic terms but surely ours are the most exceptional? It
seems to me that we are just like animals but ones with more brain power and
so with more capacity to actualise and instantiate our animalistic urges in
cleverer ways. And this is, in fact, exactly what we are.

So whilst it may be said that human beings have developed an evolutionary


taste for the moral it cannot be said that they are themselves the best example
of morality. All those chipped panes of glass can be seen as a large glass tower,
the edifice of a shattered humanitys morality. But we still to answer the
question Why is it good to be good? In specifics, of course, there is the kick
that one gets from a good deed done and seeing the gratefulness of the recipient
of the deed. But, if we are being honest, we can also say we have got a kick
from doing bad too. Does anyone not know what it feels like to get one over on
someone or to profit at anothers expense? We may have a need to be moral but

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we have an inability to follow through on it consistently and, as I began by
showing, the actual pay off for us in terms of our own lives is dubious at best
anyway.

So what do we have left? A world of actions and consequences, the world our
mothers forced us into with their painful contractions. We should have taken a
warning from such an entry that the world was going to be a messy, painful
place. A place of actions and consequences. In the end, thats all there is, and
thats what you have to negotiate on your way to the death we all alike face.
Actions and consequences. You may want to try and codify how to do that and
respond overtly to your evolutionary moral impulse but it wont really matter for
you will be very humanistically flawed in your consistency regarding it anyway.
You will, just like the rest of us, take ad-hoc decisions with little discernible
consistency at all. You may call yourself moral but, in the end, is morality
anymore than rhetoric anyway, just one more tale about how to be a good
human?

Actions and consequences.

B.
During a very recent discussion it came to light that there are allegations of
sexual misconduct against Gandhi, the man who brought freedom from the
British Empire to India and set it on a path of democracy. I admit that these
allegations were news to me and I was directed, during my conversation, to a
webpage that detailed the allegations. Now I don't know the truth of the
allegations, what the evidence is for them, who the accusers are or anything like
that. But for my purposes here none of this really matters. My subject is to be
the intersection of politics and morality which might raise a belly laugh in some
as they ask what morality has to do with politics. Our politicians all seem to have
feet of clay, overactive dicks and lots of friends happy to look the other way, you
will probably say to me. If they are not abusers themselves then they are people
who know things but say and do nothing. They are "enablers" in the parlance of
our times. And its certainly not restricted to Gandhi. Martin Luther King was at
least accused (some would say smeared) of sexual misconduct. In Britain
numerous past and present political figures are mired in variously disgusting
sexual accusations. Most famously, the two recent presidential nominees, Donald
Trump and Hillary Clinton, are completely mired in sexual allegations. Trump
boasts that he can just grab any woman he wants "by the pussy" and, what's
more, they will let him because he's famous whereas Clinton, it has been
alleged, has actively covered for her husband Bill's many indiscretions and even
taken action against those he's accused of being involved with to shut them up.

Now, hearing all this, some people despair. I understand that reaction. There are
those who think we need standards, moral standards, and that these things
should not be voluntary and left to the whims of individuals. For these people
standards are not things you abandon when it suits you. Morals, for such people,

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are not things you forget when its the person who is on your political side that's
being accused. Take Trump, for example. There has been widespread
condemnation of tape where he boasts of forcing himself on women and his
fame meaning they won't stop him. And yet tens of millions of Americans and
many high profile Republicans still support him. They either deflect criticism by
saying "But look what Bill did!" or they try to dismiss it as just "locker room
talk". Neither of these excuses works though. Trump also has active court cases
in progress against him alleging sexual assault and worse and has, or had,
friends who are now convicted pedophiles. Can we be sure it is "just talk" in his
case? Trump is a man who has a history of sexual misconduct accusations
against him and his "locker room talk" does nothing to discourage outsiders or
casual observers from believing them. But my point here is this: what if it were
Obama who had been caught on tape? What if Obama was accused in court
documents of sexual assault and even rape? The same people who sit on their
hands or defend Trump now would have been demanding impeachment and
incarceration! Their morality is not absolute: it shifts with the circumstances.

For some people this is wrong: morality should be absolute. But is it ever?
Really? Is it really so beyond your experience that you might give a little leeway
to someone you know or support, leeway you might not give to someone else? I
submit to you that you recognize this possibility and may even have done it
yourself. Of course, you may argue that rape and a casual attitude to sexual
assault are so serious that we cannot allow personal preferences to come into
play. Whilst in no way wanting to excuse either crime here (and they are both
crimes) I would say its easy to pronounce from the outside. But its altogether
more difficult when you might be the one with consequences. Some of you might
read this as me trying to excuse or explain away sex crimes. I'm not. I'm saying
the stakes are very different when it is you in the firing line and that morality,
like it or not, is changed by the relationships between those involved. I'm saying
that if your husband, wife, son, daughter, mother, father, were accused of such
things you wouldn't see it as you do when its some political hate figure you only
know from the TV or the media. There has been recent criticism of so-called
"situational" morality but I'm afraid that I have to speak here about why I
cannot but see that morality is exactly that.

Morals are a personal choice inasmuch as we can say that anything is a choice at
all. You and I, we would like to think, both get to decide what is right and wrong,
acceptable and unacceptable. This encompasses both a set of general beliefs
about these things but also an ability to triangulate cases on the fly as the
general principles are applied to specific cases. It is integral to this
understanding that you and I need not agree on these rights and wrongs either
in general or in any specific case. It can be said that we would even value this
ability to think differently and come to differing points of view. This is because if
I am forced to agree with you, or you with me, then morals and values are not
volitional anymore, they are not free. And we hold it as possibly in the highest
esteem that we must all be free to come to our own conclusions without

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coercion. This, of course, risks the possibility that I may hold a set of moral
values I judge much higher than yours. It also risks the possibility that I may
choose to hold values much lower than yours or even have very few values at
all. But, it seems, we judge the freedom to choose as more important than the
consequences of the freedom of choice we esteem so highly. This freedom allows
Donald Trump to think its in order to grab women by the pussy and it allows
many other politicians throughout history to justify a litany of sexual
misdemeanors. It also allows their supporters and opponents to take sides
accordingly.

Now I am certain that I make moral choices every day, and have values that, if
you knew about them, you would think less of me. In the political sphere this is
obviously true as well because we have case after case, year after year, where
people resign or are forced out of various offices due to the public perception of
their choices. (This is to ignore those who try to "tough it out" regardless.) But
what can we do about it? I've already pointed out that we hold freedom of choice
in the highest esteem. Can we, somehow, make people more moral? Can we, as
was recently suggested to me, expect more from people in public office? I don't
honestly see why. People in office are just people. They are prey to the same
temptations and vices as anyone, potentially, could be. They are members of the
same moral or immoral societies as we are. "But I am not a person who wants to
commit sexual assault" you may, correctly, reply to me. I accept that and it is
not my argument here that we could all be horrible people if we really wanted
to. What I am saying is that our standards don't bind anyone else. Our choices
are not mandatory for others. We could impose absolutes on public office. We
could say no one with any allegation against them could be eligible. We could
suggest that only candidates who are whiter than white could stand. But could
we say that every candidate's thoughts, beliefs and values must pass some
quality threshold? Could we hold their morality to account? And, if we could,
what then has happened to that freedom of choice we formerly held in such high
esteem? We may want to stop Donald Trump from actually grabbing women by
the pussy but do we also want to stop him thinking, in his private thoughts, that
he thinks its ok? Do we want to start living in the world of Minority Report?

In action, morality is basically a belief or a value we can justify with reasons. Its
nothing more than this. When speaking about a moral choice or a value all we do
is say why the choice was a good or bad one or the value is a value worth
having, what makes it important. This is all rhetorical. Some would want to
argue that morals and values can be absolute. I'm not one of those people. For
me, this is just rhetoric too. I am not a moral absolutist for I can find no way to
ground morals in anything other than people's views about them or their
consequences. Morality for me is always a matter of consequences, of perceived
goods and bads and of the reasons given for seeing things in certain ways. So,
to give a concrete example, I cannot say that grabbing a woman by the pussy is
an absolute bad. I do not believe in absolutes. But I can give a reason why
grabbing a certain woman's pussy might be bad, and, I think, it would be hard to

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imagine a case in which it wasn't bad. The important thing here is that I can give
reasons for my choices. Morality is a matter of choices that can be justified even
if that is only to yourself. (It will often, if not usually, be to some social grouping,
however.) In politics this is much more public. You routinely have to justify your
choices and values publicly for your electorate will want to know if they share
your views or not. And its because of this that I cannot see how there can be
any higher standard for the practitioners of politics, the politicians. Let me
explain.

I wrote last year on my blog about "the shit sandwich conundrum". Basically this
is when you have two political choices and they are both, well, shit. Trump and
Clinton were, in my estimation, such a choice. Both are equally shitty without
redeeming features. Both, in addition, are immoral figures as I judge them. Both
are venal, mendacious and self-serving amongst a litany of other "sins". Should
we have some kind of morality test for these people? I say no. Let them be
whoever they want to be, holding whatever filthy, degrading and disgusting
values they choose. But let them be exposed to the voting public so that these
views not be hidden away only to be revealed in secret. Let us really know who
these people are. Let us know they lie and cheat. Let us know they cover things
up. Let us know they regard women as things to fuck and discard or as
embarrassments to be covered up. My argument is that you cannot impose a
moral test upon politicians but you can submit them to other people's morals.
And it may be that this is what they fear most. Of course, only in a world where
people stopped caring at all, stopped having morals, would this test not work.
But then, I suggest we'd all have a much bigger problem than Trump's out of
control libido or Clinton's desire for corruption. Indeed, it may be argued that
this is the case right now. The problem is not that Trump is a "mutt", as Robert
de Niro so eloquently put it, or that Clinton wants to turn the world into a
corrupt, corporate hell, its that our world itself is a self-serving, immoral chaos
of unjustified beliefs, base urges and gut feelings.

When talking about both politics and morality it is as well to remember that
there is no perfect answer or universally acclaimed choice. We should also
remember that one person's justice is another's injustice. At any one time there
will be people free others say should not be free and those pronounced guilty
who others swear are innocent. This is all to re-emphasize, yet again, that this is
all rhetorical, a matter of reasons and persuasion. We should be consistent in
our judgments, people say. But this is only true until we reach a point where
making an exception seems to be supported with better reasons than the
consistency we formerly found holding the best of the arguments. If morality is
about reasons and reasons are a matter of persuasion then there can be no
absolute value, only the most persuasive one supported by the best reasons and
providing the most sought after consequences. In that context the most I think
we can ask for is exposure, light shone upon our public representatives. We
cannot invade their minds and bend them to our will. Whose will would that be
anyway? Mine? Yours? But we can force them to be as open as possible. Then, if

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the public choose a pervert or a sex pest, at least we will know. Democracy
means a free public choice not the tyranny of the public.

C.
It seems, in a way, particularly trivial. A nursery worker (that's a kindergarten
worker for you Americans) gets fired for telling her gay colleague that "god is
not alright with her". It's pretty clear to see what is going on here. The Christian
worker has let her personal beliefs come out whilst at work and her gay
colleague has felt insulted and discriminated against by it. So those who employ
them both decided to fire the Christian one. However, at a later employment
tribunal it was ruled that she was discriminated against on the basis of her
religious beliefs.

Now what are we to make of this? There will be those who think that the
Christian is a bigot pure and simple. And bigotry is wrong so she should have
been fired. She is clearly a terrible person. And we have other cases too. There
was, for example, a Christian couple who ran a guest house. They refused to
allow gay men to share a room. They were taken to court for discrimination and
lost. Because they were being discriminating.

So far, so good. It all seems fairly straightforward. But then I think about it for a
while and I read some of the online comments concerning the case. And some of
them seem a bit confused. We are told by some that "religion should be kept out
of the workplace". But that Christian nursery worker wasn't threatening to set up
a church at the nursery. She wasn't insisting that her colleague face Jerusalem
and pray before lunch. So I don't see what commenting about "religion" has to
do with it. Another comment I read stated "When will these people realise that
religion doesn't trump real life?"

I expect that the answer to that last question is something along the lines of "At
that point, if they ever get to it, when an imaginary friend in the sky who is in
charge of everything seems to be no longer a justifiable belief". For what we are
talking about here, at the end of the day, is personal beliefs. Things that people
hold dear. Things that they could no more stop believing than they could
willingly cut off their own arm. It is not for this Christian nursery worker a trivial
thing that there is, according to her, a god. She does not, I am sure, believe it
lightly. Beliefs, indeed, are those things that you cannot help believing. Do any
of us have a choice about the things that we honestly hold to be true? "But she
is a bigot," you will say. I wouldn't disagree with you. But she cannot be blamed
for acting in accordance with something she holds to be true anymore than you
can. And I don't understand why anyone would think she should be. Are the
trueness of her beliefs to her any less true than the beliefs you hold true are true
to you? There are other grounds to condemn her. But this is not one.

People in general seem to have an issue with personal beliefs - as well as with its
brother in arms, free speech. They try to delineate areas where only certain

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things can be said and certain beliefs held. This, it seems to me, is largely
because they have a negative view of the beliefs concerned and, often, the
worldview of those holding the belief. Free speech, it seems, is only free if you
agree with me, for some at least. Unlike in the USA, where there is supposedly
some constitutional protection of these things, I grew up in the UK where there
is not even a general bill of rights. So expressing beliefs in public or uttering
certain kinds of speech can be a dangerous thing and you never really know
where the line is. So if I utter my unacceptable personal belief in public am I to
be judged harshly for that? How can a person who believes in an all-powerful
super being be expected to "keep it private"? How can they judge that this belief
is not a matter of "real life"? What, indeed, could be more real, or more
important, than a belief that you have a personal relationship with the being who
made everything?

People are always trying to privatize religion. One problem is that religion takes
no prisoners (if you'll pardon the pun). Religions generally tend to make
universal claims. The god believed in is not usually the god of one or two people.
It's the god of everyone and, whether you believe or not, this god makes claim
over you. Over everything, in fact. Is this not why, according to the Westboro
Baptist Church, "God hates fags"? But why, in a suburban nursery, should we
fear the woman who believes that her imaginary friend is "not ok" with gay
people? And what should we do about it? Should we ban her expressing any
personal opinions? What personal opinions, in that case, are allowable? And what
of freedom of speech?

I think we need to take some time to get things straight in our heads here.
Religions are always going to make universal claims. Because that is what
religions do. Asking religions, or religious believers, to keep their religion to
themselves is asking any honest, upstanding, practicing religionist to do the
impossible. It is consequent on their genuine belief in their imaginary friend that
they act in accordance with their honestly held beliefs about him. (It is usually a
him.) The request that they become a hypocrite by believing one thing and doing
another is not going to find any favour with a genuine believer. How, indeed, can
it? If you believe that a super being is in charge of everything and holds certain
attitudes regarding people of certain sexual orientations it would be a
remarkable feat of self-discipline (and inauthenticity) to keep quiet about it. And
so I find the oft heard request that people "keep their beliefs to themselves" to
be somewhat incoherent and lacking in insight. Surely whether you can or
should keep your personal beliefs quiet depends exactly on what those personal
beliefs are? At least, it will to you.

But, nevertheless, the argument extends to the public sphere too. We are told
by some that personal beliefs should play no part in public life, places like
politics, work and schools. But how can that be? To be a human being is
precisely to hold personal beliefs -and to be held by them. These, so we think,
inform our intentions, our decisions and our choices. To act in the public sphere,

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to live life in public, is to have personal beliefs (maybe even terrible ones) and to
act upon them. Unless it is thought that what is best is a society in which no one
acts according to the things they genuinely hold to be true then I am not sure
what is being asked for. Are we looking for a two-faced society?

But this, of course, is not what is being asked for. What is being asked for is that
the people concerned, the people with the personal beliefs we don't like, stop
acting according to their beliefs and start acting according to our better ones
instead. The problem is that you don't believe the same things as I do. And you
are wrong. For your views are "bigotry hiding behind belief". And my views are
just a perfectly good set of personal beliefs. Does anybody see the problem
here?

And so we try to filter out all the nasty beliefs, the ones that involve telling gay
people that god is not alright with them. But the people who believe that god is
not alright with gay people still exist. And they haven't stopped believing it.
Now, perhaps, they feel victimized for their belief, a belief they honestly hold
and maybe even could justify in their own way. But we would not accept their
justification, more than likely, especially if it maybe relies on holy books and the
dogmas of their church and private messages received in prayer. For we do not
accept these sources of authority. We have other, different, better ones. But let's
be honest. It's not just about theists and their crazy beliefs here. Homophobes,
sexists and racists alike have no need to believe in gods in order to share and
act on beliefs that we don't like. White supremacists have ugly beliefs and they
are not always based on theistic much less religious supports.

So what are we to do? We believe in free speech but we are always trying to
curtail speech that we don't like. We believe that people should be free. But we
are always censoring people who use their freedom in ways we don't approve of.
We believe that people are allowed to form their own opinions but then fire them
if they share their opinions with other people at work. If only there was some
way to adjudicate between all these beliefs in a world in which we seemingly all
act contrary to the things that we say we all want.

The fact is that there is and there isn't such a way to adjudicate. There isn't a
way because there is no central point about which we can gather, no "library of
true facts" to which we can go and check out which of the beliefs are true and
false. There is, ironically, no god who can tell us who to believe and allow and
who to disbelieve and sanction or ignore. There is no language that we will ever
be able to speak that could fully express an unarguable truth. And yet it is also
true that there is a way. For we each have the networks of belief and contacts
with which we have grown up that have formed us as human beings and given
us the beliefs that we hold today. These beliefs, the beliefs that were formed in
exactly the same way as the person that you don't agree with, the one who
should not be allowed to utter their beliefs in public, are, in fact, the only
platform that we will ever have for deciding which beliefs are ok to utter and

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which beliefs should, in our humble opinion, never be uttered. We will never be
able to get past these socially situated and rhetorically justified beliefs to
something more solid, more permanent, more able to shut up all those other
beliefs that we think shouldn't ever get an airing in public. All we can ever do is
keep justifying the things we believe to be true along with the moral or other
basis for holding these things as beliefs in the first place in the hope that this
might convince more and more people that what we hold to be right and true is
more worthy of belief than what our bigoted neighbour does.

In short, we are all in the same boat and the issue is how to sail without the
boat rocking too much or without the need to throw anyone overboard. And
that's really all there is to it.

D.
I now turn to writing something which is, without doubt, most likely to be a
mistake. As I write this now I have no idea what is going to come out below but
I do know that my next subject is one that is often akin to lighting the blue
touch paper. What I want to talk about cannot be clearly defined as one thing in
my mind but I suppose you could in some way describe it as my attempting to
understand online examples of Feminist discourse. It will be very easy, I don't
doubt, for readers of this book from a certain point of view to find offence in
what appears below. But this is not because I am looking to cause offence. I'm
not. I'm writing from a personal perspective in which, as with all my other
writing, I unpack my often incomplete thoughts onto the page and others get to
read it too. If you've ever read any of my blogs you will know they are never the
complete article. They are thoughts in the process of being formed, a work in
progress. Nothing below is aimed at a particular individual and no one need feel
targeted. For this reason there will be no names. Please take this under
advisement.

If you go to the website of the Everyday Sexism project you will find what I think
is a very curious phenomenon. For those who don't know, and I'm sure there are
lots, this website basically "does what it says on the tin". It lists submitted (and
unvetted) examples of what the writer regards as examples of "everyday
sexism". This is assumed to be, I suppose, the kind of sexism that just happens
and is either expected to be shrugged off or otherwise disregarded. But no, the
creators of, and submitters to, this website think. These things should not be
accepted whether they be a slap on the bum, an unwanted arm around the
shoulder or an innocent but unrequested comment regarding your appearance.
The website is there, so I understand, as a form of "raising awareness". "Raising
awareness" is one of a number of buzz phrases in use today. And this website is
there to do that. As far as this goes, I don't really have much of a problem with
it.

You might think we could leave it there then. But we can't. For Everyday Sexism
does not exist in a vacuum. Far from it. It exists as part of a discourse that has

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quite strong roots, particularly in some online spaces and with certain
demographics. I'm going to call this Feminist Discourse. You can usually spot
Feminist Discourse anywhere you spot the use of concepts such as
"victim-blaming", "checking your privilege" or "misogyny". (God forbid anyone
mentions "mansplaining" or "manspreading".) It seems that today almost
everything is an example of at least one of these things and some are examples
of all of them. Now this is not to say that these things don't exist in the real
world. Of course they do. And where they do they are often to be deplored. But
my subject here in this piece is not what we do about these things. It's about the
Feminist Discourse that discusses, portrays and campaigns about them.

Let me be to the point. It is my observation that Feminist Discourse is many


things. Amongst them, it is shouty, aggressive and a cartoon version of what
actual serious discussion should be. Now I'm aware that critics of this position
will immediately jump to conclusions. Of course, since it turns out I'm a
middle-aged, white man that is probably already tweaking the over-sensitive
nipples of my potential critics. But this is to be one of my points. What kind of
discourse is it that assigns people identities and personalities and condemns
them before they even speak? Didn't this used to be called an "ad-hominem"
and regarded as playing the (wo)man and not the ball? Feminist Discourse,
certainly populist Feminist Discourse such as you might find on social media or in
The Guardian or various Internet magazines aimed at young women, doesn't
play by these rules though. It's not so much a case of what you say, what it
means and how it might triangulate to the discussion at hand as it is about who
you are, who you are thought to represent and what you are looking to gain.
And that, to me, ruins the possibility of any serious or genuinely meaningful
discussion ever taking place.

Now I'm also aware that there are strands of Feminism (and in case you didn't
realise it, all that Feminist stuff that gets pumped out on a daily basis is visible
to the general populace, not just the Feminists) in which the concept of
"shouting back" is encouraged. I can understand how if you have experienced
oppression or feel oppressed that this might feel psychologically beneficial or
cathartic. But my question is "Does it actually forward any cause or prosper any
debate?" Rather strangely, I regard these things as the point of discussion. I
have read many Feminist articles online. There are, like articles from anyone
about anything, good, bad and indifferent ones. But I do wonder how many
Feminist ones are actually very effective. Is it a good rhetorical strategy to
swagger around demonstrating your expensive education and that you can mix it
with the big bad world out there, accusing people (I mean men) to the left and
right of you of all manner of crimes and perceived crimes? Perhaps I'm missing
the point. Perhaps the point is, as I've read on the Everyday Sexism website a
number of times, that "men can't tell women what to do". (In this respect I
guess some reading this might regard my comments here as an unwelcome
intrusion into a subject they "own". But can you own a subject?)

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Most often when I have read the latest dazzling example of expressly Feminist
rhetoric (I'm speaking of The Guardian or New Statesman kind since you ask) I
ask myself what it was meant to achieve. Of course, the faults of this discourse
are not unique to it alone and, in that, maybe there is something to be said.
"Feminists" like to see themselves as different but, you know, I'm just not sure
how true that is. I'm fond of criticising the lazy and arbitrary dissection of every
single issue, no matter what it is, into an issue of gender politics. The thing is, it
seems to me that any Feminist is a human being first, prey to all the faults that
human beings have. They are not some other species. So when I see the latest
tribalist ramblings of a Feminist it is, to me, no different to the latest tribalist
ramblings of some other, definitely not Feminist ramblings. If an alien looked
down from space and saw Feminists on one side shouting and cheering and
some non-Feminists on the other shouting and cheering back, wouldn't they just
conclude that human beings as whole like shouting and cheering?

And so, yes, tribalism it certainly is. If I were a sociologist I'm sure I could now
back that assertion up with a clever analysis. But I'm not and so I can't. I hope
that you will take the point on board regardless. For what else is it when we
have a group of people (and, yes, I know they aren't all women) who rush to the
ramparts at every opportunity to defend a rhetorical point of view against any
perceived dissenters, bandying around buzz phrases and pseudo-intellectual
theories, imposing their judgments and delineations on others at will as if they
were fact? Does that not seem to you like the actions of a tribe? When high
profile college campus rape stories are splashed across the comment pages of
newspapers and online magazines and the apparent victim is defended by the
same old faces, even when the original story falls to pieces under the regular
scrutiny that we would expect any story to face, what do we call that? I call it
tribalism and I note that tribalism is mostly about the identity of the tribe. I
might even say it's a bit narcissistic.

This brings me to a basic question: are Feminism and Equality two ways of
discussing the same thing? My own view is that they aren't and Feminism, which
in the words of feminist, Julie Bindel, has many ways of being and most of them
are wrong, is split on this question. I know that many Feminists will tell you that
gender equality is their animus and their goal but, at least in the case of the
famous media ones who come to more public attention, I have trouble drinking
that particular koolaid. (Of course, I believe that there are without doubt many
good, well-intentioned and genuinely empowering feminists who do actually help
to bring equality and social justice about.) I regard myself as someone in favour
of and supportive of gender equality. But who could not be? I do not think that
men can squeeze a girl's bum, encourage her to display her breasts "for the
lads" or use the way a woman dresses or acts as a licence for something. I do
not think that if I help a woman I deserve a fondle in return. These are just
sensible, compassionate beliefs that any sensible, compassionate human being
would hold, in my view.

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So I do not regard myself as a Feminist - and I do not regard that as in any way
saying I'm anti-equality either. I've discussed this with some (male) feminists
and they don't seem to get the distinction. I am not a Feminist because the
Feminism I see displayed in the places I visit in my online and offline life do not
seem to be about equality at all. Feminist Discourse, for me, is a form of power
(often, if not usually, practiced by exclusively well-educated, middle class 20 or
30 something women and their male sidekicks), and power likes to be in control
of things no matter who wields it - even something as basic as "the discussion".
Can there be such a thing as a good-hearted dictator? Can a discourse that
wants to control exercise benevolent control? Shouldn't Oxford or Cambridge
educated people with prominent media exposure be looking at the power they
wield and critiquing that before they criticize the chump of a fat, unemployed,
middle-aged, white male who writes his thoughts in crayon below a newspaper's
comments section, thoughts that might dare to critique their privileged, above
the line, position?

So here is the problem. Feminists, in my opinion, are people just like anyone
else. They want power and influence, they form tribes and and they create
ecosystems in which they live and move and have their being. (Sometimes these
are actually more like echo chambers and no interest in discussion or agreement
with anyone outside the tribe is sought after or required. This doesn't scream
"social progress" to me.) But imagine if, instead of Everyday Sexism, it was
Everyday Human Existence. You write in every time something bad or shitty
happens to you. Bad manners, immorality, social faux pas, potential criminality,
the lot. That website would be a very full place and I'm sure we could all
sympathize in many, but not all, of the cases documented. But, I ask you, what
does the documenting of all these events of daily life actually achieve? There is a
sense for me in which it cheapens existence and degrades the human spirit. Do
we really need a 24 hour scrolling record of one person's shittiness to another?
Shittiness, it should be remembered, is not an exclusively male to female
phenomenon. We may also want to address the question of whether people
should be judged on the basis of discrete snippets of their lives. We all, even
Feminists, make mistakes. How would you fare if your life was documented,
disjointed incident by disjointed incident, online? What view of the world would
you get reading all the others?

And do we really need cartoon discourse beneath cartoon articles in national and
international newspapers, magazines and journals? What purpose does it serve
to accuse a faceless avatar of a person in a comment section or on social media
of being a victim-blaming, misogynistic, non-privilege checking troll? In truth,
most online discussion of Feminist issues, issues which should actually be
important if you take the gender equality claims seriously, are prime examples
of preaching to the converted and talking past each other respectively. Genuine
discussion is a debate and requires interacting with points with which you do not
initially agree. It involves, dare I say it, accommodation to other points of view.
All too many online discussions of this subject matter end up being "nothing to

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see here". There is no persuading going on and there should be. Feminists,
especially of the radical variety, are those of us who are most inclined to no
platform people or to refuse to debate with others. Instead, we get all too much
action (drama) and not enough interaction. They seem to prefer fulminating
amongst themselves.

But I want to finish this section with what some might find to be an
embarrassing admission. But nevertheless....

For a number of years now I have used the Internet using a number of fake
identities, female identities. (I'm not alone in this. In the few discussions I have
had about it with people I've found surprising numbers of others who do exactly
the same thing, pretending to be lots of other people, people who share their
gender and who dont.) Why do I do this? Well, for the fun of it and for the
intellectual challenge of it. I have, I am sure, convinced several thousand people
in that time that I am actually a woman. (I'm not an amateur at this. I come
complete with photographs and a believable backstory or six.) How do I know
this? Because I have in that time received a torrent of misogynistic rhetoric and
everything from requests for marriage to unsolicited pictures of the
correspondent's penis right up to pictures of the correspondent involved in sex
acts he would like to involve me in too. Men have tried to blackmail me with
pictures I sent them. I have been threatened with stalking. I have, in other
words, received what I am sure is but a tiny fraction of the experience of what it
is like to be a woman online. And, yes, it is ugly. Very ugly. It seems at times
that to be a woman online is to be regarded as someone who is making
themselves available for sex just because they dare to show their face in a public
online space. Are there men who assume, overstep the mark and take liberties?
I could point you in the direction of THOUSANDS of actual cases just from my
direct personal experience.

But what are we to do about this? Feminist answers I have read on the subject
include banning men from the Internet (I wasn't sure if this was "bad" men or all
men), requiring an identity scheme for Internet use that ties online identity to
actual identity (governments would love that one. Genuine workers for human
liberty not so much) and taking people to court for sending messages that were
not solicited or in some way beyond the pail. That is, the "feminist" response
seems to be to censor people, take away their rights (yes, I know, "rights" is a
dubious notion but, for now, it serves my argument) or criminalise them. Now
you may well be aware of a few high profile cases in which women received
messages online that were less than welcome. The women concerned weren't
happy to put up with or ignore this and informed the authorities. That was, I
suppose, their prerogative. In many cases it is understandable.

But, taking everything as a whole and in conclusion, what I want to ask is this:
Where is the Feminist Discourse leading us? What is the endgame? When will the
cheerleaders of this particular discourse have their power satiated? What are

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their aims and goals? Must we wait until every "troll," every dissenter, is silenced
(or imprisoned)? Must all dissent be eradicated, every criticism silenced, before
the victory blast on the trumpet can be sounded? Ultimately, I think that
Feminist Discourse is good intentions gone rogue. It has reached a point at
which it has become self-defining and self-fulfilling. It needs fuel to feed itself
and looks around to find it in the events of everyday life in the realization that
the appetite grows stronger every day. Feminist Discourse cannot be allowed to
die. It is now an end in itself, aided by modern technology and the shallow
appetites of modern life which value impact over substance. And being as it
shouts into the void, there will never be enough shouting to be done for that
void can never be filled. Commercial enterprises tap into it and parasitically
strum it to ecstasy for a few dollars more as they harness the feminist dollar.

I just wish it would ask itself from time to time what it's for and concentrate on
making social progress rather than simply making a noise.

E.
The following piece that you are about to read might confound or upset your own
personal beliefs. But before you decide that I am an anarchist who wishes to see
wanton and random destruction I want you to read the full piece, attempt to
understand it on my terms and give me a fair hearing. You will then have the
task of taking on board what I've said and bringing it into critical interaction with
the beliefs you already have. This, as I understand it, is something like how our
belief systems progress anyway. And so I ask for a hearing.

My piece starts from one of my own beliefs. This belief is that conservation, not
just ecological conservation but pretty much all forms of conservation, are
contrary to nature. What do I mean by saying this? I mean that the nature of
the universe, the way it works, the way things are ordered, the way this
universe progresses, is not based on the conservation of individual specific
things. The universe, for example, does not have as one of its guiding principles
that you or I must be saved. It does not think that lions or elephants or rhinos or
whales or planet Earth or our sun or our galaxy should exist forever. Indeed, it
doesn't think that anything should. It just is. Conservation is not a part of its
make up. The universe is a big engine of change.

So what is a part of its make up? From observation it seems that constant,
radical, permanent change is a part of its make up. The universe, left to its own
devices, is merely the living history of forms of energy if you break it down to
basics. These forms of energy interact with one another to produce the things
we see, hear, and experience. More importantly, they interact to produce things
that we will never see, hear, experience or even imagine. Existence, in this
sense, is just energy doing what energy does. There are no overarching rules for
it and nothing is mandated to exist or not exist because the universe is
impassive and uninterested in what is - or is not. Its just random, chaotic
energy. Out of this random chaos came us - quite inexplicably to my mind but

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that's another discussion. We human beings are not impassive or uninterested.
Indeed, we need to be concerned and interested in order to survive. And so from
this universe of chaotic energy we interested beings were produced.

I have observed the interest in ecological conservation as a phenomenon with


my own growing interest for many years. Its one debate which can get some
human beings very hot under the collar. When I hear people saying that we
need to "save the planet" I often ask myself "What for?" For me its never really
good enough to assume the rightness of an agenda merely because it seems to
be either moral or, in some sense, on the side of good. I know both morality and
goodness as interested ideas which are in no sense neutral but always serving
some interest. You might think that the interests of saving the planet are very
good ones but I would always seek to undermine the foundations of a belief to
ask what presuppositions it stands on. Our beliefs always have these groundings
and they are often very revealing and easily toppled. Such are human belief
systems.

Of course, conservation is about more than wanting to save the planet or some
species upon it (whether that is a rare kind of insect, a cuddly mammal or even
us). I had a think and I reasoned that you could connect capitalists (who want to
preserve their economic status in society as well as the value of capital), theists
(who want a god to be the guarantor of everything that is as it is right now),
Greens (who want to preserve the planet and species of life as we have them
now) and Transhumanists (who want human beings to outlive our current
surroundings and even our planet) all as types of people interested in
conservation broadly understood. You may be able to think of others.
Conservation is, of course, most commonly associated with the Greens but, as
we can see, the drive to conserve things is actually apparent wherever people
want things to stay roughly as they are right now (or in an idealized, utopian
form of right now). My point, as I've said above, is quite simple: this is contrary
to the way things are, contrary to nature, against the organizing principles of an
indifferent universe.

You may argue that this is to misunderstand the way things are and that's a fair
point to challenge me on. You may say that I am right and the universe doesn't
care what stays or goes. It will just keep rolling on until the energy all dissipates
in the eventual heat death of the universe in some trillions of years. In that
context you may say that what is is then up to those species who can make
something of it and that if the universe allows us to make and manufacture
things a certain way, guided by our principles, then we should. I don't actually
find this position all that wrong. My concern here, I suppose, is with those who
reason that there is some form of rightness or naturalness or in-built goodness
with this drive to conserve. To me it is entirely manufactured and interested as a
phenomenon. It is the activity of self-interested and self-important beings. To
want to save the whale because you have an impulse to save whales is one
thing. To say that we have a responsibility to save whales is to use rhetoric in

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the service of an agenda. The universe doesn't care if whales live or die. It
follows that there is no imperative for me to care either - a
lthough I may choose
to and may give reasons for so doing. But these reasons will always be
interested and (merely) rhetorical.

So what am I arguing against? I'm arguing against those who want to find or
impose imperatives. I'm arguing against those who think that something put us
here to "save the world". I'm arguing against those who see us as over and
above nature as opposed to merely an interested and self-interested and
self-important part of it, a species and individuals with a will to survive. I'm
arguing against those who see us as anything other than a rather pathetic
bug-like species on a nothing ball of rock in a nowhere solar system in an
anonymous galaxy floating in a space so big you cannot begin to quantify it. I'm
arguing against those who regard life as nothing to do with power and its
operations and how those dynamics play out in human societies. Human beings
are very conscious of their station in life and will seek to preserve or increase it.
This, amongst other things, is why there are differing sides of the Green
conservation argument. People have empires to protect. But seen from that
angle life just becomes a power struggle between forms of energy marshalled to
power differing agendas. We, instead of being the savior of our world, the
universe and everything, are merely just more energy acting in the vastness of
space until we dissipate.

So yes when I hear the slogans of Greens I chuckle. I wonder what we are
saving and why. I smile at the naivety, if that's what it is, that just assumes this
is the right thing to do. I wonder at the hubris that thinks we and our planet in
some sense deserve to live. I wonder how these people have factored in the
assumptions of our eventual destruction. I wonder how they explain away the
fact that well over 90% of things that ever lived on Earth are gone forever
without any human action whatsoever. Because that's what things just do - have
their time and then cease to exist. I wonder where they reason the meaning
they ascribe to things fits in. For nothing exists in a vacuum. (Feel free to ponder
on the vacuum of space here and how that affects my last sentence.) The
reasons we give for things, the beliefs we hold, are supported by other things
and it is they, when articulated, that support our actions and drives. Life is
wonderful and random. But it is not permanent. And, as far as I can see, it was
never meant to be nor can it be. The drive to conserve is an interested human
drive, just one contingent outworking of the energy that drives a form of life.
This doesn't mean we shouldn't care or should ravage and destroy. Its just a
context for something humans want to do for their own, personal reasons. It is,
in the end, just one more example of the universe doing its thing, its the energy
that exists exhausting itself until there's no more left.

Its an example of the kind "Anything the universe allows is allowed". Now you
may feel free to think about this and decide who is right or wrong and, just as
importantly, why.

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Some Closing Thoughts About Morality

Q: In the previous chapter you take up what, to some, might seem as very
strange positions. For example, you seem to be against both feminism and
environmental conservation. Why?

A: Its interesting that you assume these are strange positions when I would
have hoped to have presented them as reasoned ones. Is it thought that those
on the side of right would automatically be on the side of feminists and
conservationists? I think in many ways thats actually the problem that I
sometimes inarticulately try to describe. Im not here to join in the modern,
social media-led charge to join team this or team that. I think that each human
individual is charged by their very existence with thinking about things for
themselves and scrutinising things in general. To be sure, both feminism and
environmentalism address issues that are very important in the modern world,
things which address the lives we live, the societies we create and the future
direction of our species. But, as such, I think that they too need to be subjected
to our scrutiny and thought. We need to ask where they come from, why they
exist and what their goals and effects are. Its not just a case of Yeah, they
seem to be generally good. Im on that team. Although, unfortunately, in our
modern world thats all most things often are. You can count me out from such
tribalism though. I will support them where they promote things I agree with
and not where they dont.

Q: What does it mean to be good?

A: I can only think of it in terms of balance or harmony as opposed to obeying a


law or following rules. So in that sense, if everything were good a perfectly
balanced and peaceful world would exist. Let me be clear that I think this
utopian but I think that we can try to partake in such a world by doing things to
promote it, to imagine that it could exist if we all behaved in certain ways that
promoted it and led towards it. So then good is not a judgment on an individual
action or thought so much as an aim my life now aims towards. The ancient
Greeks used to discuss what the good life is and had differing answers. This is
the approach to philosophy I have followed in my interest in the subject. My
answer to the question is that the good life is the balanced, harmonious,
peaceful life.

Q: But you still believe in good and bad actions right? You still think people can
be moral or immoral?

A: I am a 20th and now 21st century man so I have been socialised into the
notions of morality and immorality that the societies Ive been a part of use. I
cant avoid that. But I cannot say I like them very much. I find human
conventions are often stupid or pointless or followed for their own sake. I find
that hard and fast rules or laws are inadequate to human living. Do not kill is a

117
popular human belief but humans still find many ways around it to justify their
killing. And thats before you even realise that to break human rules or moral
laws often has little penalty. We all do it every day. Humans often use fear of
punishment in order to enforce their morals but doesnt this just show up the
morals themselves as weak and unconvincing? It seems to ignore the insight
Jesus shows in The Gospels that what someone thinks in their heart cannot be
chased away by rules. In the UK right now we have a problem with random
terrorists using everyday items such as vans and knives to kill people. The
problem is the morals these terrorists have not the tools they use or how they
communicate with each other. They cannot be legislated away. Their minds, and
so their morals, must be changed instead and the moral arguments must be
won. So yes I think people can be moral or immoral and yes I agree we
denominate people as such all the time based on the consequences of thoughts
they have and actions they take and how we see those things. But as in many
other things I think that society as a whole is not exactly viewing things in the
best way to begin with. I ask myself why such a deep thinker as Friedrich
Nietzsche would say that we need to go beyond good and evil and what that
might mean?

Q: Whether discussing religion, social justice, conservation or politics you always


seem to take the view that right and wrong are not fixed things. Can you say a
bit more about this?

A: Yes. I view right and wrong as always contextual things. I believe them to be
judgments resulting from a relating of what you think are the relevant details
and when you relate them a resulting valuation or judgment about them is born.
Killing is not simply bad because if you kill the person attempting to harm your
child you can give reasons why it wasnt wrong. So things are never simple and
always about relating the facts one to another to arrive at a conclusion. As Ive
said before in other areas, Im not a doctrinal kind of person. It just doesnt fit
the life or world I know. Thats why earlier on in this book I have laid out larger
loyalty as the human change we need to see to make a genuine moral
difference in the world. Its not about rules or prohibitions. Its about a change in
individual people, seeing others as like them, which transforms society from
within each individual outwards. Its only by changing ourselves, each one of us,
that we change the world.

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Revenge Porn, Personal Responsibility and Society

On the 18th February 2016 I was reading The Guardian newspaper online when I
came across what was basically the cursory reporting of a comment some
high-ranking Australian police officer had made about revenge porn. Revenge
porn, for the three people who dont know, is the sharing of explicit photographs
(sometimes video), either including nudity or sexual activity, with the intention
to shame or embarrass the person in the photographs. It is called revenge
porn because it is usually carried out after the break up of a relationship and
this is regarded as a way of one party getting back at the other. It is presented
in the media as mostly carried out by men in order to oppress women and I have
no problem accepting this is basically true. The Australian police officers
comments about this crime were to the effect that people could not be arrested
out of posting such material online and that people needed to take personal
responsibility for what pictures they had taken of them and who they shared
them with. (He did say that they should Grow up during this speech which
annoyed some people.) It was suggested in the report that the police officer
might be victim-blaming, which is blaming the victim of something for
something that has happened to them, but he replied by pointing out that if you
go outside naked in winter then you get cold. He seemed to me to be making the
very unarguable point that if you never allowed such material to be created in
the first place then you need never fear its being revealed to the public at large,
an action and consequences point of view that makes a lot of sense to me.

But it wasnt the fairly bland article that really caught my eye here for in The
Guardian the main wit and wisdom is always to be found in the comments. Its
readers are far more insightful than its opinion writers and reporters who are
often no more than above the line trollers of the readership. So I dipped below
the line and began to read the comments and it got much more interesting. It
became interesting because immediately revealed were numerous sides in the
modern culture wars with their stereotypical positions and ready-made
arguments. So this report functioned as a magnet to all those who go around
commenting in public about social and political issues. It was instructive, to an
observer of people and what they say, just for that very reason and I
thoughtfully read through the comments digesting the various positions outlined
and what they might mean. What I want to do in this chapter is not so much to
speak about revenge porn, something which I regard as always wrong and which
is already illegal in many places, including in England and Wales which is the
legal system covering where I live, but to investigate and discuss some of the
arguments people use in these comments and to open them up to scrutiny.
These will be looked at through the immediate context of the revenge porn they
are nominally about to shine a light on human society and how we imagine it
should function.

The first thing to note about the comments was that quite a lot of commenters
immediately went off into tangents, talking about either teens, who in many

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places would be guilty of distributing child pornography of themselves if they
shared a self-portrait of a sexual nature, or selfies more generally. Such people
either misunderstood revenge porn or saw all three subjects as subsets of the
same issue. The basic point common to these three subjects in the minds of
such people seemed to be that a picture, in the context of the Internet, is
forever. This, indeed, was an understanding basic to pretty much every
commenter and is relevant to an informed understanding of our current society
as a whole. Things may be forgotten in our minds as life is always moving on but
somewhere, out there, in who knows how many hidden places, there is just lots
of stuff, some of it maybe embarrassing or incriminating in some way, just
waiting to be found. How many of us, I wonder, still have pictures of
ex-partners? I know I do. Thus, there were comments such as Taking naked
photos of yourself and expecting them not to end up online is stupid or ones
along the lines of The whole selfie culture just screams narcissistic personality
disorders, mental paucity and massive social immaturity. It was suggested that
current behaviour, aided by a cultural change which has put high quality
recording and communications devices into the hands of even those not yet
legally adults, has become self-centred and disregarding of consequences. We
are, perhaps, the dont think things through generation.

But this leads us to address why people might take naked pictures of
themselves, or of themselves performing sex acts, in the first place. Reason
number one, in contemporary context, has to be Because they can. A number
of commenters, as already noted, suggested this was tying in with current social
media-led motives which revolve around us becoming more shallow and
narcissistic as a whole. One person remarked that the whole point of social
media is self-promotion and it doesnt seem unreasonable to suggest that,
today, we are influenced by this and wanting to look how the supposed cool
people look in their many social media accounts. Here my earlier chapter on
pornography becomes relevant in which I spoke about the advancing currency of
sexual exchange and sharing nakedness which has been made very much easier
by having a high quality camera in every pocket or handbag. When we pair this
up with lots of ways to save and share such material the implications should be
clear. The gap today between wanting to take a naughty picture and being able
to do it is very much smaller than it once was. And its often the press of a
button to upload it somewhere. But this is to suggest that the material used in
revenge porn is normally consensual yet it seems that this is far from always the
case. There is also the phenomenon of photoshopped material where someones
perfectly innocent face pic is photoshopped into hardcore pornography. One
commenter, who seemed to have experience of revenge porn herself, also
pointed out that pictures can also be taken without consent (for example, with a
hidden camera) or can be taken as a means of control or abuse or coerced from
people with emotional and/or financial ties. We also have the very modern
phenomenon of stolen pictures from online places or electronic devices. I myself
used to fix computers and more than once my customers, who Id told to clean
their computers before giving them to me to repair, left on there, in some

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forgotten folder, compromising pictures of themselves. A person more dishonest
than I would have had the ability to share such things exponentially. So whilst
the revenge porn itself might often be pictures originally consented to we should
not assume this always to be the case either simply or further down the line.

This leads us to consider the circumstances in which such pictures we take of


ourselves might be shared at all. Usually this will be between romantic partners
and I understand fully why that is. To my mind this is a matter of trust and of
consequences. More accurately stated, its a matter of the fallibility of trusting
someone and possibilities that follow as a consequence of giving anyone some
trust. The original context of the article about revenge porn was the Australian
police officer advising people to take personal responsibility for themselves as
just one means to protecting themselves. When I first read the article I wrote
the following:

You cant trust other people and things change seem to be common wisdom
lost on many people these days. Bring them up and youre called names as if
you think its the victims fault. Well, yes, partly it is and people are right to say
so. If you lock your front door or your car then you are au fait with the notions
of taking precautions and personal responsibility. I suggest people investigate
further areas of their lives and follow their own self-preservational instincts there
too.

What I was responding to in my hasty first thoughts was the notion, expressed
by someone else in the comments, that Too many people today act as if they
should be immune to outside influences or consequences. I agree with that and
Ill talk more about it in a moment. For now, though, we need to recognise that
consenting to a private photograph might become a very public decision with a
change of circumstances. Now virtually no one in the whole comments section of
several hundred comments had a problem with people taking nude or sexual
pictures of each other or themselves. The overwhelming majority view was that
this was something adults in private could choose to do. It was also true that a
simple majority wanted to point out that there was basically no one you could
say you could trust forever. Others, in equal measure, pointed out that once
taken, and certainly once shared, the possible consequences were much
different to never having done it at all. One comment that stood out for me here
was this one (italics mine):

Once you publish an image, and by publish I mean share, you no longer have
any control over it. So by sharing it you give consent, unless you specifically say
not to, and even then it involves taking someone at their word w hich is still
idiotic.

It really struck home to me that this person was saying that trusting someone,
even an intimate partner, perhaps of many years standing, was IDIOTIC, a very
strong term. I do have some evidence from my own life to back up his claim

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though since on pornography sites, if you delve into the community of users and
communicate with them, it is very easy to find people sharing pictures of wives
and girlfriends. Who knows if they have consented to being shared or not?
Certainly, this thriving trade in picture sharing feeds the market of trade in
sexual images and, as remarked in my pornography chapter, people seem to
want whats real as opposed to what's staged. We are back to the currency of
sexual exchange again. Here you will also find those willing to photoshop a photo
of your wife or girlfriends face into hardcore pornography or to masturbate over
their picture and send it back to you, if they havent done it live on video for
you, that is. All of these people will happily leave salacious, vile and nasty
comments by any pictures provided for anyone to read. At this point I need to
say that you really wouldnt know who would be capable of this. I think a lot of
people in the wider world would be surprised to learn that a picture of them is
doing the rounds and that its their partner or close friend they cannot trust.
Trust itself becomes a very dubious quality, one often undeserved. And this is
before we even consider relationships gone wrong and revenge being sought.
Yes, there are lots of This is my ex, use and abuse her pictures out there in the
world too. Some of the nastiest are posted with personal details attached.

So who do we blame for this culture and this desire to share sexual pictures of
each other? (If there was no demand then no one would care about you in the
nude or your ex in the act of giving you a blowjob.) One commenter wanted to
blame feminists, people he saw as having a Do whatever you like, take zero
responsibility attitude to life. I have come across this kind of person in The
Guardian myself numerous times, both above and below the line. These are the
type of people who want to exonerate any victim of anything from any blame,
guilt or responsibility for things at all and usually regardless of any facts of the
case. In other words, a priori. Often you will find them around discussions of
crimes that disproportionately affect women such as sex crimes or revenge porn,
as in this case. I find a problem with the attitude in general because it is so
wilfully one-eyed, acting as if self-responsibility and criminality were mutually
exclusive. But, of course, they arent and never will be. People can be
responsible and victims and irresponsible and victims. In general terms,
however, I am wary of the blame game and I have my suspicions about those
who seem more interested in blaming someone specifically as opposed to trying
to reduce the crime involved. For some people, sadly, social events are always
grist for an ideological mill.

In going beyond discussing these people, though, perhaps you missed the
question I had originally asked: who do we blame for this culture and desire to
share sexual pictures of each other? Why should we blame anyone at all? you
might be asking. After all, in most societies consenting adults taking pictures of
themselves and sharing them around is not illegal. This is why vast websites full
of billions of pictures of naked people performing sexual acts on each other exist
in the first place. This is very true but, as Ive tried to argue elsewhere in this
book, our technological and cultural moment has accelerated this development.

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If you follow the news you will periodically hear stories about teens swapping
indelicate pictures of themselves, for example, or of them accessing porn sites
which, even though they all have age declarations that need to be consented to,
have basically no way of keeping out underage viewers. Sex and technology
combined has released a glut of sexual imagery upon the public. One often
quoted figure (I have no idea if its true) is that 80% of all pictures on the
Internet are of naked women. A Cosmopolitan survey of Millennial women in
2014, around the time of the so-called Fappening event (when lots of celebrity
online accounts were hacked and their naked pictures distributed on the
Internet), suggested that 9 out of 10 such women take naked photos of
themselves. It seems to be becoming almost a normal thing to do. Look on any
social media site and even a cursory search will find any number of nude or
topless bathroom selfies. None of this is strictly relevant to a discussion of
revenge porn by itself yet it all plays into a wider cultural context in which the
sexual exchange of real people is a thriving currency. If, for example, that
currency wasnt there and such things were socially frowned upon, then its
arguable there would simply be no market for revenge porn pictures in the first
place.

You will say that is naive and you are probably right. Sexuality is part of
humanity for the overwhelming majority of people. And so interest in people and
their sexuality will continue to be evident in human society. But where does the
personal responsibility this Australian police officer was advocating really come
into the discussion? First, we should note that advising people on wise behaviour
doesnt excuse criminality or justify crime. Some people in the comments here
did try to argue that the officer was putting all the onus onto the victim. But in
my view he wasnt. He was saying that if, by your own choices, you can protect
yourself and make yourself safer then why wouldnt you? Risky behaviour has
risky consequences. This is not an agenda that sits well with those who feel
people should be able to behave how they like though, unconstrained by the
existence of others. But even these people must admit that the concept is not
foreign to society. For instance, we have insurance companies who wont pay out
on their policies if it emerges you were negligent in protecting your own
interests. It is at the very least expected you wont be reckless or stupid and will
take some measures to protect yourself. What we need to do here is separate
out personal responsibility before the fact (what can I do to live my life safely?)
from blame after the fact (who has attacked or abused me?). I see this police
officer as saying that its better a problem never occurs at all in the first place if
you can help it. Often we can help it - but dont. And then the fingers point. We
need to remember it is possible to be both stupid and a victim.

It seems that in many conversations of this sort personal responsibility becomes


a very hot topic and its certainly the case here. At the far opposite sides of a
debate like this we get the extremes. For one, personal responsibility is all. Its
your responsibility what you allow and on you to prevent bad things. For the
other, as I will show now from a case I found online at xojane.com, it is always

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the perpetrators fault and women exposed in this way should feel no shame,
guilt, blame or, and heres the rub, responsibility for being treated this way at
all. In It Happened To Me: I Found Naked Pictures of Myself On The Internet
an anonymous twenty-something tells the story of how a friend of hers found
naked pictures of her online (pictures the friend thought made her look sexy
and which included her legs apart) and let her know about it. The pictures,
which she had consented to a friend taking, had been stolen by another male
friend from her computer and shared online. Having checked the link her friend
had provided, this shocked young woman was able to read violent and
cinematic descriptions of rape and abuse juxtaposed against my open mouth and
thigh-highs and undone bra.

In the course of writing her story this woman admits that she was old enough
to comprehend the consequences of having taken intimate pictures (some of
which she had also shared with a few people I trusted) but not old enough to
accept my part in avoiding them. She was 22 when they were taken. At this
point in the story she becomes quite strident. This woman refuses to accept that
she was even remotely at fault for what happened to her. She also wants to
highly contextualise the things she witnessed as she does not want to come
across as any kind of prude or puritan. She, like the online magazine she is
being published in, wants to be, in the words of xojane.com itself, her
unabashed self. She doesnt think she should have to apologise for
photographing her body, enjoying it or sharing it with select others of her
choosing. She doesnt think the language she found associated with her images
is necessarily bad if used in the right context. But these pictures were stolen and
the comments unrequested and unwelcome. From what she writes its clear that,
for her, this makes all the difference in the world. She talks of being sick to her
stomach. Further on in the story she recounts that these comments randomly
come back to her as she goes about her daily life, a recurring punishment. The
woman shared her experiences with some close friends and even her mother.
She expected judgment but was relieved to find a lot of sympathy and support
instead. And she should have. She took no pictures for anyone else. She took
them for herself, shared them only with those of her choosing and then had
them stolen by a person she felt safe with. Eventually, the link she had used to
view the pictures went dead. But she was wise enough to realise that the
pictures were still out there, shared innumerable times in innumerable dark
corners of the Internet. As she chillingly says, This will never not have
happened.

Towards the end of the piece the woman says that she cant find it in her to
regret having the pictures taken and, thinking about it myself, I dont think she
should. This wasnt a reckless person. What she did was done with every
expectation of privacy. She also refuses to feel ashamed for the pictures
themselves and again I agree. People should not be ashamed of their own bodies
or pictures they may take of them. And then she says this:

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I will not tell my female friends, my little sister, my nieces or my daughters
never to smile for the camera without their clothes on. I wont tell them never to
take a selfie. I wont tell them that enjoying your own body and the attention
that you get for it makes you dirty, stupid, slutty, classless or pathetic. I wont
tell them never to trust the boys they like. I wont tell them that every
compliment comes at a price. I wont tell them that its possible to police their
image online, and that if their photos are shared without their consent, its their
own fault.

Ten years from now, I hope that well talk about that point of view as
dismissively as the way weve begun to talk about abstinence-only sex education
and victim-blaming as applied to rape. Well recognize that online, as in the
physical world, the responsibility of safety must lie on the person doing the
threatening. Well stop scolding 16- and 17-year-old girls for sending pictures to
their boyfriends, who disseminate them or use them for blackmail years later.
Well stop using euphemisms like scandal and leak to describe a violation, a
crime with a defined victim, an act of violence. Well place the blame where it
belongs.

Now this is a whole heap of commentary on what has happened to her and, as
she notes since, many others too. I quite understand blaming the thief and
person who shared them to an explicitly revenge porn website (she doesnt say
which but porn sites explicitly targeted at men who want to get back at women,
who may or may not have done some perceived or imagined wrong, do exist).
But some of the rest of what she says I find it hard to go along with. For to me it
seems as if the demand is that people should be able to live whatever life they
want without there being any consequences. It amounts to saying people should
be able to live their lives as if other people, bad people, untrustworthy people,
cheating people, filthy people, nasty people, didnt exist. As a utopian goal this
idea might find its place but in the world we live in its simply an empty wish, a
refusal to face reality. Im not saying people cant make such a choice or take
such a stance. Im saying the world wont operate like that regardless of how
much they wish it. Im saying the attitude of acting without regard to the world
you live in is a dangerous and risky one. This is a world full of men waiting to
prey upon any woman, even fake ones such as I sometimes play online. It might
very well always be the fault of the perpetrator of a crime but that doesnt mean
the victim couldnt have taken precautions in the first place. To act as if
perpetrators dont exist or to be in denial about the possible consequences of our
lives is to risk a reckless attitude which makes bad outcomes less avoidable.
That is what primarily concerns me, not anyones ideological notions of
womanhood or feminism or their freedom to act as they please. Anyone can act
as they please but they are blind if they divorce actions completely from
consequences.

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The harsh truth is that the state of society relies on people taking a measure of
personal responsibility. It is surely not that difficult to imagine a society in which
people didnt and suffered as a result. I have already argued above that in many
areas of life we all already accept the need to take protective courses of action
to reduce the risks we face in life. Almost no one at all has a problem with this.
Yet mention this in the context of a discussion such as this one and suddenly its
as if acting in the knowledge that other people exist too is crazy or ideologically
suspect. Leave your ideology at the door here as far as Im concerned. I believe
that people should be educated about the possible consequences of their actions
and the dangers that exist in the world. If they then want to take certain courses
of action anyway, well, at least they are better informed. This is not to say that
people are at fault for the things that happen to them. It is merely to educate
them about the contexts of their actions and the possibilities that exist in
society. It is to say quite firmly that there is nothing wrong with saying Be
careful. It is to say that pointing out bad people exist is not wrong. It is to say
that, yes, some people do do stupid things, things that they might not have
done if they took a different attitude or thought about things differently. It is to
say we are not gods and can make mistakes, sometimes ones which affect us
badly. It is NOT to say something is your own fault because it remains true that
crime is always the fault of the criminal, and often the very opportunistic
criminal. However we behave there will always be opportunistic people looking to
exploit others. Thats just another reason why we should act fully aware of this
knowledge in the first place.

So I seek to hold the concept of personal responsibility very much in tension


with ideas of personal freedom to act as one chooses and with notions of actions
and consequences in a world we do not control. It would be wonderful, perhaps,
if the world we lived in was the solipsistic one in some peoples heads, the one
where I can do what I like free of other peoples interventions, judgments and
actions but it just isnt true. I dont apologise for pointing this out. It would be
great if people didnt try to shame other people by exposing them in ways they
dont want. But we dont live in that world either. The truth is that some people
are untrustworthy and others will let you down. The victim in the case I mention
says that she wont tell the women and girls she knows not to trust the boys
they like. Maybe she shouldnt but surely she should make them aware we
never really know who to trust? Is that really such a bad piece of advice? I find it
very hard to believe so. In the end we do not live in a private world but a social
one. Things we do and choices we make can come back to haunt us. This is
probably all the more difficult if you are female as society projects images and
expectations onto women, what they should be and how they should be seen. In
the comments section of the original article a few male commenters suggested
women just shrug off any shame or embarrassment as if it was nothing. In the
abstract it may be and this is something we could discuss another time but in
the specific, concrete circumstances of a womans life it is more likely to be the
exact opposite. So I applaud the female commenter who pointed out this was a
deeply male point of view, a luxury many ordinary women simply didnt have.

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So in the end my own, unrequested advice goes along the lines of Some people
are dicks. So live your life on this basis. This doesnt tell anyone what to do. It
doesnt moralise about nudity or doing with your body and sexuality whatever
you want. It says Be aware. And surely in any society this is exactly what we
all should be?

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Eastern Promise

If you wonder what Buddhism has to offer you, the answer is nothing is a
Buddhist saying, one of a continuous stream of such sayings that come regularly
through my Twitter feed. I followed one particular account tweeting such sayings
because, having seen one and being puzzled by it, I decided that being puzzled
by sayings that come from a completely different thought world to the one Im
used to was going to be a very beneficial thing. And so it has proved to be. As
the weeks and months have passed I have collected and saved numerous
sayings that stood out, puzzled me or just made me wonder What the hell can
that possibly mean? The saying that I started this chapter off with is
representative of those kinds of Buddhist sayings. Part riddle and part fitting into
a bigger context of thought which may or may not help you to triangulate its
meaning, the idea of this saying is to push you to go beyond the safe boundaries
of what you think you know, to make you forget what you know, to suggest that
life is not even about knowing.

But this chapter is not to be about Buddhism even if the inspiration for it is a lot
of Buddhist sayings. It is to be about thinking and about being people who think.
Why might this be important? Because Becoming awake involves seeing our
confusion more clearly. This saying is an example of the wise behaviour type
of saying common not just to Buddhist wisdom traditions but traditions with both
religious and philosophical roots across the millennia of human thought. There
was a time I studied this kind of literature at university where I trained as a
scholar in such things. No career came from this but I have always retained a
personal interest in such material nevertheless. I find pondering such thoughts a
restorative and invigorating break from the simple noise of modern commentary
on things in general. As you have read through this book you may have
discerned that one of my own core beliefs is that you get the society you get
dependent upon the people who make it up. My question here is are we going to
be thoughtful, peaceful people who weigh and consider things or are we going to
be unthinking people who react to everything with unthought through kneejerk
responses? What type of society do we want and what type of people do we
want making it up?

I have made my own choice and given my own answer to this question. I want
to be a thoughtful person who contemplates things and thinks things through. I
think if more people were like this then society might be a little better but I
could be wrong about that too. And so I came to Buddhism as a source of wise
and not always perspicuous thoughts. Let me be clear that I have no interest in
being seen as a Buddhist or adhering to any doctrine that this path has or
recommends. I find doctrine in general to be the dead hand of any religious or
spiritual path. I seek only to consider the sayings and strands of thought that
have come from its practitioners. If you were to do this yourself, as I have, I can
only believe that you would find yourself challenged to think, perhaps in entirely
new ways, and that is no bad thing at all. Of course, in todays world,

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particularly in the western world, there are many who tar any path called
spiritual or religious with the same brush and that would be a very negative
brush indeed. For some, it seems, to even be associated with such things is to
be useless and outdated, a curse on human thinking even. To those people I
would offer the following thought: Change how you see and see how you
change. What have you got to fear?

One thing to note about ancient wisdom traditions is that they are not modern
systems of thought. Today, in modern western philosophical tradition, things like
consistency and logic are praised if not being used as strict measures of truth
and falsity. Ancient wisdom from multiple sources doesnt really work like that. It
is more wise advice for a contextual situation or a riddle or a challenge or simply
something you have to try and make fit into the world of experience that you
have. It is not so much telling you what to think as challenging you to think at
all. So in what follows if some sayings seem to contradict others then, yes, they
probably do. So what? The puzzle there will be to expand your thinking, to try
and make them co-exist. And perhaps if you think about the world we live in you
will realise that contradictory things exist there too. For contradiction is normal
and nature has no bias against it. Friedrich Nietzsche, who in a number of his
books gave complimentary remarks towards Buddhist thinking, has a saying of
his own in his Twilight of the Idols from 1888. In the introduction he writes that
I mistrust all systematizers and avoid them. The will to a system is a lack of
integrity. In writing this he seems to suggest that the idea that everything fits
within some system is false. Things are more complicated than that. My
wrestling with the world of Buddhist thought only seems to confirm this. Dont
think of any system. Think of thoughts that you can connect up in any ways that
are felt necessary.

one
Be like water. Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?
We shape the clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever
we want. What is malleable is always superior to that which is immovable. This
is mastery through adaptation. The moment we desire to be something we are
no longer free. Renunciation is not getting rid of the things of this world but
accepting that they pass away. The truth you believe and cling to makes you
unavailable to hear anything new. It takes a wise man to learn from his
mistakes, but an even wiser man to learn from others. The wise man is one who
knows what he does not know. All that we are arises with our thoughts. Where
ignorance is your master there is no possibility of real peace. Empty yourself of
everything. Let the mind rest at peace. If your mind is empty, it is always ready
for anything; it is open to everything. All conditioned things are impermanent.
Zen teaches nothing; it merely enables us to wake up and become aware. It
does not teach, it points. You need not do anything but be yourself. The soft and
supple will prevail. You may say, "I must do something this afternoon" but
actually there is no "this afternoon". We do things one after the other. That is
all. Those who know don't talk. Those who talk don't know.

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two
Be happy without reason.Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world. The
infinite is the finite of every instant. When I let go of what I am, I become what I
might be. As long as you seek for something you will get the shadow of reality
and not reality itself. This is the time. This is the place. This is the vastness.
Right here is paradise. Always. Always. When you realise there is nothing lacking
the whole world belongs to you. To understand nothing takes time. All
wrongdoing arises because of mind. The only thing we really have control over is
our own experience. Life is like stepping into a boat that is about to sail out to
sea and sink. Whether a man dispassionately sees to the core of life or
passionately sees the surface, they are essentially the same. Nature does not
hurry, yet everything is accomplished. A fool sees himself as another, but a wise
man sees others as himself. What you possess, you lose. Everything changes.
There is nothing to stick to. Flow with whatever happens and let your mind be
free. From my own limited experience I have found that the greatest degree of
inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. Step into
the fire of self-discovery. This fire will not burn you, it will only burn what you
are not.

three
No self is true self. How you live today is how you live your life. If you realise
that all things change there is nothing you will try to hold on to. Ordinary mind is
the way. If you seek it you cannot find it. The way is not a matter of knowing or
not knowing. We may idolize freedom but when it comes to our habits we are
completely enslaved. Your suffering is my suffering and your happiness is my
happiness. Be mindful of intention. Intention is the seed that creates our future.
The sacred lies in the ordinary. Stop measuring days by degree of productivity
and start experiencing them by degree of presence. When you seek it, you
cannot find it. The brush must draw by itself. If you are not happy here and now
you never will be. Practice non-action. Work without doing. You are one with
everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities but in the
expert's mind there are few. What you do right now is what matters. By plucking
the petals, you do not gather the beauty of the flower. Before enlightenment,
chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. The world
is won by those who let it go.

four
Everything will come. Exactly as it does. The problem is that ego can convert
anything to its own use, even spirituality. The mad mind does not halt. If it
halts, that is enlightenment. You have a treasure within you that is infinitely
greater than anything the world can offer. If right were really right it would differ
so clearly from not right that there would be no argument. Die in your thoughts
every morning and you will no longer fear death. True happiness is based on
peace. Relearn everything. Let every moment be a new beginning. To give up
yourself without regret is the greatest charity. Composure is the ruler of
instability. The man of Tao remains unknown. In the confrontation between the

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stream and the rock the stream always wins; not through strength but
perseverance. However many holy words you read, however many you speak,
what good will they do you if you do not act upon them? The only Zen you find
at the top of a mountain is the Zen you bring with you. The stories you tell
yourself create a "you" that is not true. When your inner commentary finally
ends, your happiness can finally begin. It is the child that sees the primordial
secret of nature and it is the child of ourselves we return to. The beginner sees
many possibilities, the expert few. Be a beginner every day. Ask a cloud "What is
your date of birth? Before you were born, where were you?"

five
When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. An
ant on the move does more than a dozing ox. In the pursuit of knowledge: every
day something is added. In the pursuit of enlightenment: every day something is
dropped. Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it is dark. Hope and
fear are phantoms that arise from thinking of the self. When we don't see the
self as self, what do we have to fear? Whatever you do, you do to yourself. Best
be still; best be empty. In stillness and emptiness we find where to abide.
Talking and moving we lose this place. Our life is shaped by our mind. We
become what we think. The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that
I am here and you are out there. Can you see time? No. Then you should stop
looking for it. For all things difficult to acquire, the intelligent man works with
perseverance. High understanding comes from not understanding at all. We
must realise that nothing is as it seems. The mind of non-mind, the thought of
non-thought. Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for
something else. There is only your perception of time. Every morning we are
born again. What we do today is what matters most. The quieter you become,
the more you can hear. Time is not a line but a series of now-points.

six
When you get to the top of the mountain, keep climbing. A man who knows how
little he knows is well. A man who knows how much he knows is sick. There is no
connection between I myself yesterday and I myself in this moment. The
no-mind thinks no-thoughts about no-things. Abandon learning and you will be
free from trouble and distress. Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish your
opinions. Do everything with a mind that let's go. Understand yourself and then
you will understand everything. The entire teaching of Buddhism can be summed
up in this way: Nothing is worth holding on to. Loss is not as bad as wanting
more. True peace cannot be achieved by force it can only be attained by
training the mind and learning to cultivate. All teachings are mere references.
The true experience is living your own life. In difference there is completeness.
In completeness there is difference. The truth knocks on the door and you say,
"Go away! I'm looking for truth," and so it goes away. If your mind isn't clouded
by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life. Experience this
moment to its fullest. Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the
present experience. Know nothing. Meditation is a skillful letting go.

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I did not write the previous six paragraphs. They were not composed. I
numbered 114 Buddhist sayings I had collected, asked a random number
generator to assemble six random columns of nineteen numbers and then wrote
out the paragraphs as directed. They stand as written for you to think about,
puzzle over and consider. They are no sort of canon. By all means go in, dissect
them and rearrange them. See what other configurations emerge and what
connections of thought are presented to you. My idea to write these six
paragraphs this way came from the musician, artist and thinker, John Cage,
himself influenced by an acquaintance with Buddhist thinking, and his creative
idea to emulate nature in her mode of operation. The idea here, then, was a
Cagian purposeless play or a purposeful purposelessness, something that is
an affirmation of life - not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest
improvements to creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life were
living which is so excellent once one gets ones mind and ones desires out of its
way and lets it act of its own accord.

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By Way of Conclusion

I was out walking this morning on what is, for me here in the UK, the day of a
General Election. I had just voted, not something I have always done (current
record: voted for the winner once and the loser twice), and I thought that rather
than go home, where I would almost certainly then stay for the rest of the day
since I never go out more than once a day, I would engage in my usual exercise
walk first. It was whilst taking this walk in the wet, humid weather that it
occurred to me that, actually, this book is some kind of manifesto. It is a
collection of 48 years of thoughts Ive had and where they leave me today. Ive
addressed a few different subjects in the text above and Ive done so as honestly
as Im capable of. This is what serious people do. Its a basic requirement that
you dont just write anything or make a joke of the whole process. I havent
done this. Ive been very straight (apart from the chapter Eastern Promise,
which operates with a different logic) and with an attitude of one who cares
about the answers and realises different answers will make a difference.

So the book above isnt a piece of nihilism or anarchy. Its well meaning and
genuine. I was thinking about this as I walked, considering what casting my vote
really meant. It seemed to me that, actually, I didnt really vote for me. The
outcome will probably not affect me that greatly here in my room where Im
writing now. But it will affect others and, it occurred to me, I actually cast my
vote more for them than me. I even felt a whiff of togetherness and common
interest in my nostrils as I was in the polling station. That is where the larger
loyalty I spoke of earlier starts, I think. In writing about it I didnt mean to
suggest I had it. In fact, one great big kick in the balls for everything Ive
written here is that even though Ive written it I dont necessarily do it myself. I
go outside or I read things or I hear of things and I think that people are a
bunch of despicable ***** just the same as any of you reading this do as well.

But there was something else I thought on my walk and its that the words
human and perfect should never be associated because humans arent
perfect. In fact, if there is any species which models imperfection it is us. So if
you demand of your humans perfection then you set the bar higher than they
will ever reach. We are the compromised species, the hobbled species, the
species always aiming higher but never making it and often letting ourselves
down. We humans are a contradiction, often complete opposites all at the same
time. We are not noble and there is nothing special about us. But we are and
because we are we seek to carry on. This book has been sometimes about how
we carry on and often about who we even are. I think that examining the latter
informs us about the former. And having read this book I hope you do too.

Ciao,
Andrew Lloyd
8th June 2017

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