Archive for February, 2017

Germany hate crime: Nearly 10 attacks a day on migrants in 2016 – BBC News

February 26, 2017

Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media

February 26, 2017

Aide memoire: past 24 hours

February 25, 2017

Olathe shooting: India shocked after national killed in US
Multiple news outlets denied access to White House press briefing (not to be flippant about this one, but considering the quality of the information they would get if they were admitted, they might be spending their time more productively anyway…)

Some more not to talk about

February 24, 2017

Same topic, slightly different angle

The old rugged individualism 

Christianity has sometimes been credited with, or accused of, the rise of The Individual. And as with most of these sweeping historical trends, there are elements both to be lauded (equal rights, voting) and lamented (personal isolation, social Darwinism). It seems to me that much of the polarisation among Christians (and indeed Westerners generally) has to do with these historically evolved notions. The idea that I am solely responsible for my own success and my own happiness, existing in a void of selfhood independent of context, is inspiring to the downtrodden who succeed and to the safe classes who maintain the status quo (that’s me!), but not so much to old Gil and all of the downtrodden who just keep being pushed down.

I think we still find echoes of the Puritans’ idea that monetary or social success is linked to righteousness: work hard, be good and you will be rewarded. Funnily enough, this makes the accumulation of wealth a virtue, the manifestations of which I don’t think the fabled Mayflower passengers would approve. It also means that, if you work hard and be good but are not rewarded, someone is to blame. Maybe you’re being taxed too much, or maybe someone has taken Your job, or maybe your employer has been taxed too much and moved to China. From this perspective, whoever is doing this is not only unfair, but amoral. 

Of course, this narrative is painted in different ways by different people. Going back to my personal experience, I never had this explicitly told me by anyone in a religious context. However, it draws out –rather laterally–another point about individualism.

The lesser good
When I used the phrase ‘be good’, I was being flippant for a reason. In this bubble world of myself, a ‘sin’ is a thing that I mustn’t do because it damages myself. This is an idea found, both implicitly and explicitly, in evangelical thought. Sin creates a gulf between me and God. If I don’t sin, or if I repent of sins, I am reconciled to God. So, while God will always forgive my sins, they will still damage Me.   

Now, as I child, I got the firm idea that the species ‘sin’ was totally determined by divine dictate. If you didn’t understand why something was a sin, it was because God knows an awful lot more than you do. This might have been coupled with the behaviourist tactics frequently used with children (and ‘because God said so’ does pack more of a punch) but I seriously cannot remember anyone saying to me, at any point, ‘some sins are sins because they hurt other people’. And I am strongly of the impression that many conservative religious people are married to the idea that sin is bad because it taints them individually.

If this is the case then, no wonder why so many are obsessed with other people’s personal or private behaviour…things like doing drugs, being homosexual, not saving sex for marriage, etc. Kind of like offering a starving person a Bible rather than a biscuit, addressing personal sins is meant to save others…and thus America!…from themselves. A Bible instead of a biscuit and a discriminatory law instead of the one commandment ‘love one another’. 

Like most fervent believers in anything from religion to coffee (blessed be the name of Peet), the people I’ve chosen to pick on would simply argue that I have no right to second-guess the taxonomy of sin and that Jesus meant us to save the poor people’s souls not their transient bodies (see previous Hell explanation). And you’ll be sorry when the rapture comes, barring once-saved-always-saved or if you’re one of the elect.

What happened next

For me personally, a slow transformation in the way I perceive the world has been incredibly valuable, both in that I can try to understand those from whom I’ve ideologically departed, and because I know my world won’t collapse if I do the unthinkable and change my mind once in a while. I was helped on in this by my parents, who made and are making a similar journey; my first employer in Durham, from whom I learned about liberal and radical theology; a cracking broad and deep education at good old Cal; and everyone who puts up with my rambling.

I Was a Muslim in the Trump White House—and I Lasted Eight Days – The Atlantic

February 23, 2017

The other thing not to talk about

February 22, 2017

I think part of the reason I react so strongly to the thought of people supporting President Business is that I have an inkling of what it’s like to be (some of) them, and there’s no one more horrified than a reformed person looking back at those who aren’t. Although I think I can say that the current situation is a pretty big departure from other unfortunate political developments of the recent past, I don’t flatter myself that, had things been different, I mightn’t have voted for The Team.

To explain this to those who haven’t had to make this journey themselves (but, as with this whole blog, mostly for my own mental flossing), I’m going to have to tell quite a long story. As I can’t be bothered to research anything, it’s going to be personal and anecdotal.

In the beginning

My parents were both brought up in a small, fundamentalist denomination which remains obscure and shrinking, except for its founder’s idea of the Rapture, which somehow spread among many other fundamentalist denominations and became rather lucrative. I won’t dwell on all the other theological or practical peculiarities, but there are two that are important here. They are both based on the same tenet: we’re all going to hell. 

So, first, think about what this means for compassion. In a quote often and more often used out of context, Jesus mentioned that poverty won’t go away. So if poverty won’t go away, what should we do with a hungry person? Should we feed them today and just prolong the inevitable? Or should we put all our effort into saving them from an eternity of  misery and torture? Should we spend years befriending convicts, or should we make sure that they’re Saved before they’re out on the streets again? From this perspective, the answer is clear.

Of course, this belief permeates much of evangelical Christianity and is responsible for a hell of a lot (pardon the pun) of good and bad things that people do. The good things, like building hospitals and orphanages, are justified by the hope that the locals will see how nice we are and get Saved. The bad things…well, they include ignoring the majority of Bloom’s taxonomy (not to mention Biblical dictates about aliens and the poor), the concern that damnation begins at conception and (I am proposing) a suspicion that non-believers actually know that they’re wrong, and are too hedonistic to care.

I am associating this last point with the doctrine of hell because I think this might help people to justify why God, who ‘is love’, would allow the eternal suffering of his (using the fundamentalist terminology) children. There are plenty of other explanations floating around, and I think this is an implicit justification rather than explicit. But wouldn’t it help you sleep a little better at night to think that all those people destined for Hades actually believed the same things you did, and were just to immoral to care?

And here, in my theory, is where we get to the Moral Majority. It is also here that we depart from the teachings (although not always the individual practice) of my parents’ childhood church (but don’t call it a church). Because they maintained that, as life is so transient and the world so…worldly…that we shouldn’t bother with politics. Inconsequential waste of time that draws you away from God. This is the long-awaited second point, and at this point I would like to point out that I think this tenet was very valuable in this particular situation. It meant that, even after they left the church (not church), my parents passed on to me the idea that politics and religion were not intrinsically connected–especially as far as political parties were concerned. 

This was at a time when social politics was moving the other way, which is one bit I’m not researching, but as everyone knows politics was slowly being redrawn along religious lines (and the working class somehow convinced that big business would work for them…but anyway). The church (that was a ‘church’) that we attended when I was growing up tended to avoid this kind of thing, but I remember numerous occasions when it crept in from one front or another. And by the time I reached my early teenage years, I let myself fall into the camp that seemed to be the ‘right’ one. Had my family all been waving the flag I’m sure I wold have fallen earlier and deeper.

Oh no, I’m not finished yet! But I am going to bed. Part Two will, I’m sure, be eagerly awaited.

In an age of robots, schools are teaching our children to be redundant

February 15, 2017

Audience and other disconcerting things

February 10, 2017

A few notes about this blog…


Since beginning to blog at the end of last century, I have tried to make a conscious and vigilant effort to assume anyone in the world was reading what I wrote, and thus tried to avoid language like ‘we’ versus ‘they’ or generally third-person speech altogether. I don’t know how successful I’ve been–probably not half as much as I think, especially considering all the micro- or macro-culturally specific references that I don’t notice. Still, that has been my goal in blogging and any other public-ish writing pursuit.

But here I’ve completely abandoned this. I’m writing to a specific audience, and I’ve even limited who sees my blog post updates on Facebook to a group called My Bubble (I can still manage a little self-parody). I’m picturing you all and projecting a lot of my thoughts and feelings onto you, while somehow also acknowledging that this is in a totally public space…not to mention that none of you are legally required or morally obligated to share my thoughts and feelings. Moreover, I’m putting you all in the box I put myself in–privileged in some way or another, liberal-minded (to some degree), and in a position of wanting to help vulnerable people rather than being immediately threatened (although many of us have characteristics that could make us more vulnerable than others). This is why I’m using language like ‘our neighbours’ and that sort of thing.

As you can tell, I’m not totally comfortable with this, not least because it’s playing into the narrative of separation, hostility, and, yes, bubbles. And because anyone in the world could read this blog.

But I’m doing this for two reasons. First, this is a space for me to think and, as far as my dear Bubble is concerned, I want like-minded people to think with me, with their own unique experiences and thoughts…and without deep offence occurring in either direction. Secondly, I want to acknowledge that my experience is substantially different from that of people different from me: that, in this context, what I’m thinking is not universal and transcultural, and to make my occasional sweeping statements about what ‘we’ should do ‘inclusive’ is catastrophically missing the point.

Other information

I’m trying to finish up an article based on my master’s dissertation.

I’ve had a painful verruca on my foot since November. It wasn’t diagnosed until 20 January. (That’s not an allegory.)

Here is what the predictive keyboard wanted me to say just now: ‘That’s not an American hero and the one who had the best present to be a lasting impact is a gift of love.’

Heretofore I’ve been using this blog to post anything interesting (to me) that I read, so apologies if random stuff appears in your Facebook feed.

I find unrealistic murder mysteries very soothing.

The other night I needed something a bit stronger and had a random thought that I’d look at some art online. So I went to the National Gallery site and looked at art. The next day the Met made their public domain art freely downloadable and the ‘post art on Facebook’ meme took off.

I Spent 5 Years With Some of Trump’s Biggest Fans. Here’s What They Won’t Tell You. | Mother Jones

February 8, 2017

Sarah Churchwell: why the humanities matter | Times Higher Education (THE)

February 7, 2017