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Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Question I Don't Ask Anymore

Something has just occurred to me. Once upon a time, whenever faced with a terrorist atrocity I would find myself asking “Where is God?”
I've just realised that I haven't done that. And I'm delighted. It means I've shed the poisonous delusion in its entirety. I've come to realise that it's a non question, a sub standard question. It doesn't help to combat delusion with delusion. And whilst religion was clearly foremost in the minds of the Paris attackers, along with its promises of fast tracking to Paradise and more Virgins than they can shake their proverbial sticks at, I can't say I've heard a great deal of people ask the “Where was God?” question. For me this is a positive. It's the kind of question that takes up intellectual space. All I know is that if I was God, and if the people of Earth were my children and meant anything to me, I wouldn't be relying on the infamous free will defence to explain away my inaction. If I saw evil descending upon my children I would intervene. I would intervene because I exist. God does not intervene because he does not exist. And if he did, what should we make of such a creature that sits back in his celestial armchair and watches as armed goons unleash heavy weaponry upon terrified crowds? I don't doubt that there are a great many persons of religious persuasion that have been trying to square this circle, but I can save you the trouble. That belief that's so foundational to you, the thing that gets you through the rough stuff and gives you peace. A fabrication, I'm afraid. One you've spent years invested in, but one that is empty. Now it's not too late for most of you. You don't have to keep up the pretense, and let's face it you've wasted more than enough time already. As painful as it is to accept you have wasted years on a myth, on a zero, on the greatest lie of them all. This must be painful, perhaps terrifying to contemplate, but it is what it is. And in 2007 I walked the road myself, and it was a hard one. But my goodness, looking back now, jumping ship from religion to reality was the best leap I have ever taken. It meant turning away from friends, from a way of life and of being. And it took a very long time to fully extricate myself. But I have. And I survived. And the air is clearer because I don't have to defend the absurd anymore. Life is an incredible tapestry of experience, a rich banquet from which you can taste freely. You don't need religion to do your thinking for you. You never did. And as I write this, and as saddened as I am by the recent atrocities, I take comfort in the knowledge that there is one question I do not have to ask anymore.

Monday, 16 November 2015

A Letter To My Younger Self

Now there's a question. Instruction one would be to simply tell the arrogant and verbose younger me to be less of a cunt. I probably could have used a slightly less colourful word but none would capture the reality of what I was back then. Instruction two is predictable and would have been simply to value education, because I treated my entire school life as an inconvenience to be endured before I could find fame and fortune as a writer. As things turned out I made enough from writing to feed a couple of hamsters for a couple of weeks on the assumption that they ate conservatively. I should have listened more. End of. Instruction three, try to live your life without doing so at the expense of other people. I think I've apologised to most of the people I wronged during my school years as I felt genuinely bad about my behaviour. All but one were incredibly gracious and mature, and the one who was unable to forgive had good reason. Instruction four, try not to live your life as an apology, and don't get hung up over how others perceive you. I've mentioned before that the wait for universal popularity is a long one, so you might as well shed that skin before it makes you paranoid. Five, don't be afraid of who you are, unless the things that define you are likely to cause others harm, in which case get help. If you pose no such risk then experiment and enjoy learning about those shadowy corners of who you really are. Six, never be afraid to change your mind if that's where the evidence leads. You're probably not the genius you think you are so have a little humility and be prepared to think differently, even about the things you'd prefer not to. Seven; in this life you are going to be wrong about a great many things. Deal with it. Don't be proud and arrogant and oblivious to your own fallibility. That's a one way ticket to Stupidville. Eight; try curry. Curry’s great. This one requires no further exposition. Nine; don't worry about changing the world. You're doing that already by simple virtue of the fact you exist in it. You change the world every day. Ten; all that money you pissed up the wall from the age of 17-20 could have been spent doing any number of amazing things. Travel, or save; just don't let it all wash away. Eleven; don't get in that van with Craig Dawkins. He’s hammered and that van is going to end up on its side on a ditch with glass and sparks popping all around you. Twelve, just because you were a chubby kid doesn't mean you have to lack confidence with girls. They actually quite liked you once you stopped trying too hard. They like your sense of humour, and your big brown eyes. What you were doesn't equal what you are. Thirteen; value your relationship with your dad because he's going to be gone long before you hit 40. And realise sooner that he survived perfectly well without your advice before you began sharing your dubious teenage wisdom with him. Fourteen; stand up to bullies. You may win some and you might lose some, but the thing about bullies is that they love a soft target. So don't be soft target. Fifteen; those karate lessons you take once you've left school; when you fight the bigger guys get close to them. It's far more painful talking a full punch from a 17st lump and if you can get inside them you can cause all kinds of problems. Sixteen; learn that you're naturally a pleaser, and that it's OK to take pleasure in giving pleasure to others. And yes, I am talking about sex. You're already battling with this one ; give up buddy. It ain't going anywhere and somebody you'll meet this incredible lady who knows exactly what to do with what you are. It doesn't make you less of a man to want to put your lady first. Quite the opposite. Seventeen; that ability you have to laugh at yourself is going to be one of your defining qualifies. Never lose it. Eighteen; just because you never managed to earn a living as a writer doesn't mean you're not a really good one. Have confidence in your ability to communicate your thoughts, because someday you're going to have a blog that's read by people in over 135 countries, which when you think about it is really kinda cool.

Another Day In Paradise

Despite recent events in Paris, I'm still of the opinion that most denizens of planet Earth are basically good. I'm equally convinced that idiots come in all shapes, sizes, and skin tones. I don't heap all the religious people into the same group, but I do hold the view that that none say anything that secular voices haven't already said better. It would be easy for me to rip into the concept of jihad or Islamic extremism, but frankly if you're not clued up on the dangers these pose then there's simply no waking you up. So instead I'm going to reflect on the goodness of humanity, the better angels of our nature, and try to make the case that despite the existence of evil and delusion and barbarity, most of us actually want to leave the world in a better state. As such, when faced with terrorist atrocity the only thing to do is, well, exactly what we were doing before. We live out our lives, live by our shared values and seek to deepen the Well of human kindness. We alleviate suffering, comfort the stricken, and show sufficient courage when faced with the savagery of terrorism. I for one do not intend to let the bearded fools of IS prevent me from loving my wife, protecting my children, and making for ourselves lives that are rich and deep and satisfying. To change how we are would be to acknowledge that such evil has the power to do so, which I do not think we can allow. I cannot imagine what possesses a fellow human to seek the harm of another; the whole idea is alien to me. What I do know is that I want no part of it. Their violence is their violence; their delusion their own unique delusion. Nor will I let rage and bile get the better of me, for to do that is to take a tiny step towards mirroring the obscene hatred the extremists have of us. I do not hate them. I pity them. I find them tedious examples of what happens when people cease to see others as human. And at the end of day are we really so different? Aren't we just hairless apes bumbling through? And what makes certain people so committed to making the whole world dance to their tune? As if that's even possible. Give me diversity, give me opposites, give me an expansive banquet of colour and variety, and I'll give you world that's worth living in. And that's what we already have isn’t it? And you don't need to cross oceans to figure this out. Walk down any street and see divergence, variety, eclecticism and oddity. God forbid we ever find ourselves in world where we are required to think and act the same. Ultimately, the battles of today might look as though they are waged on the ground, but the truth is far simpler. These wars are battles of ideas, and they rage in the hornet’s nest more commonly referred to as the human mind. This is where tomorrow's world is forged, in the white hot furnace of today's intellectual discourse. So we better ensure our narrative is a good one, and that we back it up with courageous acts, because if we do not create the mood music then other’s will, and if it's all the same to you I'd like this world to remain a diverse and intoxicating place. Contrast this with the dreary monotone dirge of extremism with its edicts and instructions and prohibitions. What a horrible world it would be should it ever come to pass. What a small world. What a turd of a world. Put me on the next boat out.