Thursday, July 29, 2010

These are pictures I've taken from the comments on FSTDT, and they are so wonderfully apt for the internet that I've decided to share them here.

Determined person, free of will

Today's thoughts:

I have a confession. I am a determinist, unflinching and unapologetic.

While determinism (i.e. a belief that every action, decision and happenstance are determined causally by prior events) might seem an excellent excuse to grope people at parties, I've learnt the hard, painful way that this only works on other determinists. Who are drunk.

So rather than keep digging that hole, here is an examination of free will from a determinist perspective. Free will suggests that I am able to do anything with my mind (not telekenisis, you nonce, but think anything or imagine anything). However, this rather broad statement is immediately punctured by some causal truths - such as the fact that I can only act or think based on my surroundings.

Acting based on environment is obvious (I can only sit on a chair if there is a chair to sit on, etc.) but I understand that thinking would be altogether more controversial. Consider this, however: try to imagine a totally new colour. Not a new shade, but a totally new colour. It's not possible, is it? Now imagine a shade of, say, blue that you haven't seen before. Might be hard to remember all the shades of blue you've seen but it's still possible. This is because:

The mind can extrapolate but it cannot be original.

The new colour example might seem a bit off - I mean, colour is reflected light and we perceive that light only in a limited range, so new colours are not physically possible. But that's exactly my point - our environment, our surroundings, have shaped and limited our minds.

Looking slightly closer, even if I don't have the capacity to imagine anything, I at least have the free will to think and act as I wish, albeit limited by my environment. Surely? Well, consider the way in which environment (be it past or present) influences your free will. Examine your thoughts and where they have come from, and you will see that they are all built on the foundations of previous thoughts and experiences. I can trace the lineage of this very essay back to thoughts I had years ago when considering to what extent criminals were a product of their upbringing. Again, this is because:

The mind can extrapolate but it cannot be original.

The thoughts about criminals and upbringing were themselves based on previous thoughts or experiences, and so on. The big debate between nurture and nature is itself wholly subsumed by determinism, since either one has taken place in the past and is therefore irreversible (time travel and associated paradoxes notwithstanding). I cannot begin to imagine all the minute details, flickers of thought and barely noticed experiences that have shaped my mind and this is a very important point in itself: the human relationship between the macro and the micro.

The macro is what each individual sees and comprehends around them. We each have a very good relationship with the macro because it is the world as we see it. It follows, then, that we have an extremely poor relationship with the micro - that is, the world around us that we do not see. It seems very obvious to say that humans use superstition to fill the gaps between the macro - that is what superstition is - but it is far more widespread than you may think and is used to justify belief in just about any logical inconsistency.

Fate and karma are big examples here. You may think that fate and determinism are synonymous, but in fact determinism obliterates the idea of fate. Fate operates under a kind of waypoint system, where a certain event is fated to happen regardless of what transpires up until that point. This "logic" is often used in time-travelling stories, where the protagonists know they must cause *some event* to happen in the future and set about making it happen. It doesn't matter that it's happening differently to how it originally did: as long as it happens, everything will stay the same.

This is completely ridiculous, if one looks even a little bit closer to examine to micro (sorry to beat you over the head with my made-up terminology). Consider every single minute implication of doing things differently. The world you end up in is very different to the world you left behind. Ultimately, fate implies a series of predermined waypoints that will occur regardless of how a person acts. This is examining only the macro - one event that we notice (say, meeting a spouse or winning a lot of money) is deemed to be fated and the rest simply ignored. But to look at the micro, to examine the minutiae of every action and occurrence, will reveal that it only happened due to prior circumstances (you met your spouse because you were in the same place at the same time - what events led you there? What events led them there? Etc ad nauseum).

Karma, you will find, is even more ridiculous. Not only that, it is entirely self-centered. It presupposes that every event is the result of careful planning on the part of the universe especially for you. Every single person is simply a mindless actor whose entire existence hinges around your actions. I mean, look at it - either everyone has free will which justifies karma but makes it impossible to implement (how can karma use someone if they have free will?) or we have no free will (to facilitate karma) which renders karma pointless.

But people will continue to believe in these things, both from an unerring human aura of self-entitlement and self-centredness as well as from only examining the macro, the readily and unthinkingly observable in the world around them. A short exercise in logic, to examine one's presuppositions and consider that which is not immediately apparent, shows these to be false. As it does for nearly every other superstition out there. Humanity can only benefit, and benefit hugely, from the widespread adoption of micro-examination. Let's get to it, people!

Just to finish on a lighter note, here is a thought I had a few days ago but didn't get around to posting:
If you hold in a fart too long, can it become hiccoughs? Cos.. cos that happened to me.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Today's thoughts:

Ok, this is a quick distillation of the THREE HOUR DISCUSSION I've just had with a couple of girly friends when I crashed their girls' night. We'd argued, loudly and drunkenly, for hours about whether ultimately "religion poisons everything".

In the end, everyone except me and Grace bailed on the discussion (only sheer bloody-mindedness kept me going) but we managed to boil down our cases to a basic two-premise logical argument. At that point, we realised we pretty much agreed.

My argument:
P1. There is an aspect of the human psyche which means that invariably people will inflict/proselytise their beliefs onto others
P2. The infliction of belief on others is a fundamental cause of human suffering
C. The holding of belief is a fundamental cause of human suffering (ie. poisons everything)

It turned out that Grace only disagreed with my first premise, in that she didn't believe INVARIABLY beliefs are inflicted on others. I could have kept arguing but I think it was a time for hugs and reconciliation.

I'm happy :)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Heart of Darkness

Today's Thoughts: (has my formatting changed? Like, did it used to be a lower-case T in "thoughts"?)(Is it retarded to say "lower-case T" but make the T upper-case? These are the thoughts that keep me awake at night)

First of all, I thought I'd write a bit about my prose style. Despite the fact that it makes perfect sense to me, I can entirely understand that it would read to most people as a garbled, convoluted mess with clauses being inserted where has no clause has ever been designed, or desired, to go. Also, the sentences are really long.

The reason for this, mes amis, is once again the way my brain works. I simply write the way I would speak, and that entails a lot of pausing and inserting in bits of information that I feel are relevant to that exact part of the sentence. For this reason, my favourite bits of punctuation are hyphens, brackets and ellipses... as I'm sure has become obvious.

A measure of deeper introspection that I undertook yesterday revealed that the reason I insist on adding these clauses is because I have an almost paralysing fear of being misunderstood. When I'm talking to someone about something important I'm crippled by the fear that should they misinterpret what I'm saying, regardless of whether I later clarify it, the damage is already done. For this reason I'm constantly trying to erase variables in my words and provide a solid foundation of understanding in what I'm saying, as I'm saying it, as it occurs to me. Needless to say, my speech gets very stilted and frankly I think writing is a better medium for me since it allows me to consider my words.

Now, on to today's topic. This one gets extra spacing to separate it from the above paragraphs because it's super important. Or, well, super grave. Last night I finished a detective novel I had been reading on and off for some time. It was a combination of life in Venice and the usual gritty cop stuff - this time prostitution, human trafficking and sex slavery. Feel-good stuff that might have stirred anger and revulsion in me, but is what you expect in thrillers these days (jaded Western consumer that you are).

What I didn't expect, could never have anticipated, is the sheer horror to which the last few chapters were devoted. Without going into the greatest detail (the book is called A Venetian Reckoning by Donna Leon, if you want to read it)(don't) the plot was revealed to concern the creation and distribution of snuff films, including a soul-defiling description of the filming process. I was so revolted I literally threw up - nothing spectacular, just a reacquaintance with dinner in the back of my throat, but the anecdote still stands.

Having not slept, there are various lines of thought that have visited me, and it seemed relevant to bring them up here like so much veal schnitzel. I can't completely remember the minutiae of my thoughts, but the broad topics are as follows

Censorship: Should I have not read the book? Was it better for me to remain ignorant and unthinking of this horror (there really is no other word for it) than to have the knowledge of the world but also the sickening feeling of despair and impotence? And given that the book was from my old high school's library, are there places where such literature should not be made available to the general populace?

Armed with hindsight, I think reading the book was the right thing to do. While I would rather not have done so, if I had been actively given the choice it would have been nothing short of cowardice to refuse. A cowardice born of the futile, ineffectual and self-destructive - but entirely human - desire to view the world as we would want it to be rather than how it is. As for the school censorship, I honestly believe that the book should be included and even promoted. Nothing shakes a private schoolboy's smug sense of self-entitlement like graphic depictions of third-world living, gang rape and the grotesque desecration of the human spirit for profit. Or maybe it wouldn't... that is even more horrifying.

Action: The investigation of the book is centred around the murder of three prestigious businessmen, who it later turns out are the ones who place the orders for and distribute the snuff films. The murderer, when she is apprehended, reveals that she was an entirely complicit member of their people-smuggling/prostitution business. However, upon seeing one of the films she realised that these three people must die. Change through the system is ineffectual and as a result success is far from guaranteed. So the question is: is violence permitted in order to serve the cause of humanity?

FUCK YES IT IS. Jesus, it's more than permitted - it should be expected. We can sit around - all any country does is sit around - and talk about how awful it is that Congos or Bosnias exist, and (to paraphrase the game Far Cry 2) cluck our tongues and send our next tax-deductible donation. Sometimes, we'll even take action. We'll impose sanctions, as we did in Iraq, or allow peacekeepers to protect foreign nationals, as we did in Rwanda. But it is a fallacy that you can always achieve change through the system. Perhaps in some cases you really can, eventually, but the suffering we are tolerating in attempting to reach this wet and idealised belief in pacifism is simply beyond what is humanly and humanely acceptable. There is a difference between those two, incidentally.

Voltaire said "All men are guilty of the good things they did not do".

Muse best summed up this feeling with their two songs
Butterflies and Hurricanes - this is directed at the individual. It is up to them to "be the best" and "change the world".
Take a Bow - this is directed at the perpatrators of any crime against humanity. Put simply, "you will burn in hell for your sins".
Also, Hysteria provides some good additional material, since the film clip is pretty much a snuff film it itself.

Finally, Anna has just turned up and declared that "Heart of Darkness" is an excessively melodramatic title for a blog post. So! a justification of that. Upon completing the book last night, all I could think of was Kurtz's dying words from Heart of Darkness - "The horror, the horror". I thought I understood what he had seen in humanity's heart of darkness. If that sounds melodramatic (and it kind of does to me, now) then maybe you should read A Venetian Reckoning after all. You'll... you'll understand.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Sex, for better or worse (usually worse), is objectifying. I remember reading that and feeling offended by the sentiment, but I've come to realise that it's quite true. Sex is a physical pursuit and it is not intellectual stimulus that you are seeking. You can be attracted to someone's mind - pretty much what relationships should be based on - but for sex itself the mind is not an overly important feature. More of a hindrance, if anything.

I've just then come to the conclusion that this is probably because we were having sex before we'd invented higher reasoning. The two simply aren't connected, at least at a conscious level.

Back to the ad, I think the real issue here is that "objectifying" and "misogynist" are considered to be synonymous. Jane Caro again picked up on this, pointing out that this ad was clearly a fantasy and that almost everyone would see it as such. Sexy women being sexually attractive do not hurt the cause of feminism; they're simply a fact of life and frankly they make it rather pleasant. What is truly insidious in the media is the portrayal of women's minds, or at least their behaviour.

Take porn magazines, for example (I've only ever read Anna's - I went from zero to internet porn pretty much instantaneously). Pictures of boobies and vulvas (although vaginas get a good look-in too. These things are pretty much gynaecological periodicals) by themselves are not misogynist or unfeminist. However, the text that surrounds the picture is a grotesque mockery of male/female interaction and it is this that is so damaging to gender equality.

A hot naked chick by herself is only going to leave the "reader" sexually satisfied, whereas a paragraph on how manly it is to fuck all the chicks you can as roughly as possible with no considersation to their physical/emotional wellbeing, with a supposed woman affirming this, is going to massively shape someone's understanding of gender relations. Even a well-adjusted adult would find it hard to resist being lured into the magazine's persuasive (read: macho) tone, and female agreement renders the damage almost irreversible.

This is probably the main reason I love the film clip for "Destination Calabria" (apart from the fact that it's AWESOME). Other film clips, particularly rap videos, depict gender relations and they are almost invariably misogynist, depicting women as entirely under the thumb of men. Moreover, the more women a man has the more man he is. However, Destination Calabria doesn't do that. It just so unashamedly shows sexy women being sexy and it doesn't make me feel like subjugating women at all.. it makes me feel really good and just that little bit more appreciative to the whole female gender.

So there's the problem, in summary. It is not the sexual objectification of women that is damaging, but the affirmation that there is nothing more to a woman than sexual objectification. This extends to nearly every portrayal of gender in the media - it's not the portrayal itself but the implication that there is nothing more to that gender.



Oh, and today's thoughts: (I'm too frustrated to get my post in the right order)

Having watched an excellent episode of the Gruen Transfer tonight, I learned that they were doing a special report online regarding portrayal of women in the advertising industry and with little else to do at 3 in the morning I went and watched it. I'm currently... (checking) ... 10 minutes in and already I've been moved to type out a new post due simply to the comments of the guest panel member, Melinda Tankard Reist.

I can't remember how they pitched her, but she's essentially your run-of-the-mill feminist - nothing too crazy, though they did presciently sit her next to Todd rather than Russel. For those who may take offense at my apparently casual linking of "crazy" and "feminist", you know what I mean. Anyway, all they've done is play an ad with sexualising content and then discussed whether it's ultimately sexist or simply an undeniable facet of the advertising industry (the two are far from mutually exclusive).

However, Melinda keeps bringing the conversation down with unconsidered and self-absorbed comments. For example, the first ad they've played is a rather crass affair from Lynx (should we expect anything less?) in which seemingly endless numbers of bikini-ed women fight tooth and nail to get to a man who has recently sprayed himself with Lynx deodorant. I'll discuss my own impressions of this ad later on, but for now a run-through of what she has said.

Firstly, she believes the ad portrays women as "mindless, hyper-sexualised robots" with no consideration for their "inner beauty", and secondly she derides the ad as misogynist because it only portrays sexy women. Interestingly, the best refutation of this came from the other woman on the panel, Jane Caro. She pointed out, quite rightly, that all this ad is is a sexual fantasy. However, she didn't particuarly elaborate on this so I'll take that up myself:

People are attracted to attractive people. That is the point of attractive people. Every single person finds different things attractive but ultimately most people have a very similar idea of what is attractive. The reason for this is that there are a number of biological responses to physical attractiveness (here's a full article) that exert a powerful influence on the mind. Humans are biologically wired to want sex, and they are biologically wired to want sex with an attractive mate (to bring about healthy babies!).

On a more psychological (don't let that term fool you into thinking that any scientific psychology will be applied here) level, everyone wants to be attractive. We desperately, desperately want our gender of preference to find us physically attractive and go to great lengths to achieve this. Speaking as a man, women seem to have a supreme advantage in the fact that they can actively be attractive, whereas if a bloke is deemed attractive it seems to be an accidental or passive affair and anyone who actually tries is a "sleaze". Maybe I'm just bitter about my mediocre looks...

But that is all this ad is setting out to achieve (and it does achieve it) - presenting a product to a man that will make him physically attractive to women. Sexy women, too. So the sales pitch is twofold

1. Buying this product will get you sex with biologically attractive women and
2. Buying this product will make you physically attractive, just as so many men wish they could be.

That is damned good advertising and I can only commend Russel for having the balls to admit that he really liked this ad.

Part II