If I can’t laugh, I want no part in your revolution

It’s been another odd sort of week.

One in which The Unpleasantness has been – mostly – pleasant, stress free and productive. One in which people I never expect to be helpful, agreeable and like-minded have been and the people I used to automatically assume will be, well… haven’t.

Perhaps more importantly, the major emergency I was caught up in is gradually being resolved, with good long term solutions falling into place, all of which is leaving me free to get back to something like normality.

Then today, tucked into an article about someone else, I found the following quote from Robert Green Ingersoll, a 19th century American humanist thinker.

Happiness is the only good.
The time to be happy is now.
The place to be happy is here.
The way to be happy is to make others so.

Oddly similar to the way I’ve been thinking recently, and about as far removed as it could be from the party line others expect me to toe.

The thing is, I keep spotting signs of empire building in the nearest thing to a worldview I follow, and of rampant careerism amongst key figures who actually make a living expounding it. I suppose I should not be surprised. I have this naïve idea that people should do stuff because they enjoy it or it spreads happiness about.

The idea that they can make a safe living from it, for life, instead of holding down a proper job? Well, guess that always held if what you love is writing, making music or art etc., but making moral arguments, encouraging people to be good citizens?

Isn’t that just what any decent person does? So why expect a fat salary and a good pension just for doing it? Only a politician or a priest thinks like that.

Which is (sort of) my problem. Maybe more noticeable from living in a small community on a small island which one of our bigger neighbours – who used to have an empire – still automatically regards as part of that empire. And the odder thing is, even so-called progressive Brits seem to think like that.

So, an empire of people who supposedly share a non-religious moral philosophy. And where, it is increasingly obvious, the people who push that view from a country which used to run an empire think they should also run this movement. Rather like, say, Lambeth Palace and the Church of England does.

Well, sorry and all that, but I want no part in it. I’m nobody’s foot soldier. I only got into this because it was something that engaged and amused me, and it is no longer doing either of those things.

I have no interest in mass movements or mass anything else, and am definitely not interested in preaching or moralising. I’m an individualist, an oddbod, a libertarian. I like the term Freethinker because thinking for yourself, making your own judgement, finding your own path , even if you stumble about and get a lot of it wrong … to me that’s the whole point of the thing.

I don’t follow, and I don’t look up to anyone. I leave that to religionists and clergy, and/or political activists and politicians. Two species of outright chancers preserving worthless worldviews because they are the only ones in which they can feel important or be taken seriously instead of being laughed at. Long and often.

I don’t do religion. I don’t ape religion. I no more need a substitute for religion than I do a substitute for haemorrhoids.

Religion is the problem. It is a bad mindset, a mistaken way of being and of interacting with the world. So the more I see humanism (or at least its British and American variants) turning into a substitute for religion, increasingly complete with ersatz clergy, the more I think it’s time to walk away and try something else.

Or maybe I’ll just stop taking that seriously too. Because not taking things seriously seems to be all I’m seriously good at these days.

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Choose Happy

A while since I’ve posted, so time to get back in the saddle.

Unfortunately, all my time outside of that portion of the day I should devote to my employers has been spent dealing with an emergency that blew up out of nowhere. To be honest, it also ate into work time, and until last Friday my lunch hour actually lacked the lunch.

Somewhere in all that I had a significant birthday, for which I had long ago booked a two day break (and which I had planned to spend home away from everyday stresses and strains). Well, that didn’t happen either due to the emergency.

But the compensation was that other – equally unexpected and far more pleasant – things happened. People who I didn’t know cared (or even noticed me) demonstrated great kindness. Much of the major stress I had to deal with has been reduced, or even removed entirely. And this was done by people who I had written off as anal careerists.

It may just be that my problems were a blockage to “business as usual” or their career plans that had to be dealt with, though there is plenty of evidence that it happened simply because they were worried about me. I really don’t know, but whyever it happened it made the difference, and I am grateful.

All of which means that these days I can wake up feeling full of love for my odd, unique but beautiful family – all of them. To steal the title of a surrealist classic I am reading, a mad love.

Love with no expectance of fair or equal response or reward – the only kind worth practicing. And I intend to do just that.

And to add to all that, a friend who, just before Christmas, had warned us that he didn’t expect to live beyond February now has a better diagnosis. One of those folk whose glass is permanently half-full, and who spreads nothing but good cheer, he met both his original death sentence and his new medical verdict with jokes. He seemed more worried that we would worry than he was of his own mortality.

Indeed, on the very day of his early diagnosis (which none of us then knew about) he sent me an e-mail congratulating me on some random bit of sweetness and light I had just attempted to throw around. It wouldn’t have helped him, but his only concern was to make sure I kept at it.

If I learn anything from all this, it’s that every time there is a choice (and there always is) we can choose to be happy, and choose to make someone else happy.

I don’t care if that isn’t rational. I’ve had enough of common sense and rationality for a while. This year, I take a sabbatical from all that.

Career campaigners? No…. just no

Today, I received a link to a worthy enough online human rights petition to a UK government minister by an organisation whose aims I generally support. I was about to sign it, then noticed a small statement just before the ‘Click and Send’ button. It said:

By signing this petition, I consent for my contact details to be stored by …………… in line with the Privacy Policy and for me to be contacted by …………… in future, knowing I can opt out or change my communications preferences at any time (by logging into the …………… website, or unsubscribing from an email that is sent to me).

So, in essence, any reversal of a human rights abuse would be nice, but the major aim of the petition is to harvest e-mail addresses of folk who might be persuaded to contribute money, thus keeping this organisation’s staff in a cosy, feel-good job.

What a cheap stunt.

This is hardly the first time I’ve noticed such statements in the small print of petitions on human rights issues. That they appear at all is due to recent data protection law, and suggests that the tactic was being widely used before such legislation was toughened up.

You kind of expect that from unscrupulous companies trying to flog you things. But most of us might expect that major charities and non-profits engaged in nominally good works would have higher standards.

Personally, I don’t. I’ve said for some years now that the charity industry is as ruthless as the business sector or professional political outfits. Executives and marketing staff move freely between the three apparently unconnected sectors, and well paid employment, rather than the public interest, is pretty clearly their main (if not only) concern.

That said, you can tell the ethical standards of such organisations from their way of dealing with this required statement. Good ones have a tick box, and by un-ticking it you tell them not to add you to their mailing list. The best ones also have a tick box, but unless you tick it they cannot contact you again.

This particular one did neither. In order for me to support someone being abused, it tried to blackmail me into agreeing they can harvest my contact details for future projects and, from what I see, just allow their marketing guys to hit targets and retain a job longer.

This is an organisation of which I’ve heard other bad reports about empire building and job preservation. In particular, they have a quaint colonial attitude to groups running well targeted, locally appropriate, campaigns on their own turf rather than leaving it to London professionals to run ‘one size fits all’ PR disasters which mean nothing outside of Hampstead.

So, now I’ve finally blacklisted them. I’m a serious human rights activist, but why would I condone invasion of privacy in order to nominally fight other human rights abuses?

If they’re serious, they could always do what most activists do. Get a job to get the bills paid, then campaign in their spare time in their own back yards.

Small groups of people doing this is the way most serious change happens. In fact, as a famous saying goes, it may be the only way it does.

It was 20 years ago today….

Exactly 20 years ago yesterday, my wife and I arrived here with little more than a couple of suitcases and the clothes we stood up in. We had never been happier.

A year and a half later and we were in our own home. No furniture or much else, but we had it, and achieved it without help from anyone. Certainly not from the “government initiatives” which give local panhandlers social and economic advantages over anyone who actually works for a living.

It’s been ….interesting!

I was returning almost a decade later to a place which had a certain charm – despite being a racist, sexist, homophobic backwater. The thing is, (unlike, say, the US) it doesn’t matter if Manx politicians have double digit IQs because nobody has enough power to do serious damage. Far from moving forward, in 1998 things seemed to have gone backwards, to my astonishment and delight.

My wife also quickly learnt to love Manx idiocies. Take, for example, the evangelicals who run “mercy missions” to East Europe or Africa, where their victims fall about laughing at Westerners who barely know how to flush a toilet, yet seriously expect to run schools and hospitals.

But then, if you grew up in a place run by goons like Ceaucescu, you would be amused rather than alarmed by a place where illiterate peasants still run things, but lack the guns or gulags to keep the literate in line. Even funnier, our mighty finance sector now depends on clients in post-Stalinist countries it once mocked for failing to adopt free market principles. Oh dear, how quaint.

So have things changed in 20 years?

Well, yes and no.

The island has had to adapt to the realities of 21st civilisation. So much so that we – briefly – even had an openly gay Chief Minister before yet another fat farmer inherited the job.

But we still have to get by in private sector workplaces dominated by small town bores. It’s just that these days they are as likely to be descended from white-flighters as home-grown dimwits. Yes, I know, there’s always the bloated public sector, but people tend to inherit those jobs rather than actually applying, being recommended or getting asked.

Which does bring me to the worrying emphasis on “Manx culture”. George Bernard Shaw famously said that you should try everything once except folk-dancing and incest. On the Isle of Man they are the same thing, though – luckily – you never get asked if you aren’t part of the family.

I suppose, as a respectable tax payer, I should be worried by the increase in state-sponsored sibling sex. Curiously perhaps, I am not. After all, if they only procreate with themselves they are no threat to anyone else. Logically, there also has to be a point where, like the Neanderthal, they just vanish.

It may just be that I’m over-optimistic. That, in turn, may be because a week or so ago I started re-reading the wickedly funny, massively offensive (at least to the intellectually lazy) Auberon Waugh, so have developed false optimism that unrelenting humour can overcome unrelenting puritanism and stupidity.

But, in brief, in 2018 I intend to laugh more, mock more and worry less. And if that annoys anyone, it will cause further amusement and mockery.

Some new year nonsense

Well, new year starts today, so traditionally the time when you resolve to join a gym, drink less, give up smoking or something – only to weaken within a week.

Nothing like that for me, but I have had enough of accountancy-based lifestyles. Time to stop this relentless obsession with balancing the books. Why not give because you love, or do because you want to?

Capitalism doesn’t make sense, though, to be honest, neither do all the other political or moral creeds based, ultimately, on who owns what. In the end, it’s the obsession with things that ruins everything.

There’s enough to go round, so not being greedy would be a start. But don’t moralise either. Don’t preach.

There will always be childish, anal numpties. Sad, bean-counting intellectual pygmies without a shred of humour. Obsessives, but of a thoroughly dull type.

Ignore them: stop obsessing about them. Stop feeding over-privileged, self-obsessed halfwits with the publicity which allows them to think they’re important.

They’re not. They’re village idiots: just rich ones.

Talk about interesting people instead. If you don’t know many, maybe that’s a reflection on you. Start seeking some out. You might be surprised how many there are quite close to you.

The surrealists were right.

Stop counting. Stop making sense. Make war on it. Go beyond it.

Oh, and we could all learn to laugh more.

Twelve steps to insanity

The following are the original twelve steps of Unthinkers Unanimous, a fictional entity with more than a passing resemblance to faith-based “self-help” cults:

1. We admitted we were worried that reality and rational behaviour make our continued petty self-deceptions less possible.
2. Came to believe that individuals bossier but even more deluded than us could restore us to insanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of such prodnoses.
4. Made a superficial, poorly informed moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Based on such delusions, made a false confession to prodnoses, to ourselves, and to another mug of our supposed inadequacies.
6. Were entirely ready to have prodnoses multiply all these supposed defects of character.
7. Humbly asked prodnoses to remove our reason.
8. Made a long, entirely arbitrary, list of all persons we might have harmed, and vague promises to ourselves to somehow compensate them all.
9. Made random, unfocussed attempts to beg forgiveness from such supposed victims where easily possible, but never when to do so might put us out or actually be appropriate.
10. Continued to take personal inventory, but when genuinely and obviously wrong, despite our deluded method of determination, promptly dismissed it or blamed someone else.
11. Sought through talking uselessly to imaginary friends to further negate our conscious contact with the world as we secretly fear it really might be, wishing only for even less knowledge of it or ability to function usefully within it.
12. Having practically self-lobotomised as the result of these steps, we tried to spread the delusions to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The Twelve Traditions accompany the Twelve Steps. The Traditions provide guidelines for group governance. They were developed in UU in order to help evade accountability in the areas of publicity, politics, religion and finances.

The Unthinkers Unanimous Twelve Traditions are:

1. Our common ignorance should come first; personal stupidity depends upon UU unity.
2. For our group purpose there are endless layers of displacement and authority — two-faced, manipulative con-artists all, however they may choose to mislead in the practice of our group conscience. Our leaders are to be regarded only as trusted servants; we fool ourselves they do not govern.
3. The only requirement for group membership is a desire to stop thinking.
4. Each group should only be autonomous when there is no chance of being conned by other groups or UU as a whole.
5. Each group has but one primary purpose — to spread its damage to the deluded who are still harmless.
6. An UU group should never endorse, finance, or lend the UU name to any related facility or outside enterprise; that’s the job of professional con-artists higher up the food chain.
7. Every UU group should aim for total subsidy from outside agencies, preferably governmental and nominally secular in order not to drain income from other faith-based scams.
8. Unthinkers Unanimous should remain forever unqualified, while seizing every weak excuse to employ faith-addled numpties as “special workers” at public expense.
9. UU, as such, should never be organised in an accountable way; but should create as many toothless boards or committees as possible to deflect attention from prying eyes.
10. Unthinkers Unanimous officially has no opinion on outside issues; this need not prevent the UU name being used by faith groups whenever useful to add false weight to spurious moral arguments or applications for public funding.
11. Our public relations policy is based on apparent attraction rather than promotion; always insist on personal anonymity when using press, radio, and TV to panhandle.
12. Asininity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place weak excuses before personal or communal responsibility.

Accidental altruism

How do you practice charity without turning into a Rotarian?

No, strike that. Because the word “charity” may be the problem, in that it triggers so many kneejerk reactions to what we think it means.

So, try again. How do we manage to be spontaneously open and giving as a part of our everyday life without behaving like a TV personality you want to punch or some sanctimonious trustafarian from the development charity industry?

Now we’re getting closer to the roots of the problem.

I’m sure you and I both like to think of ourselves as nice, giving people. Yet we keep reading reports in the “serious” press that people are giving less to charity than they used to. Even when times were harder most people on average incomes gave more, while the Victorian practice of entrepreneurs making their fortune then devoting their time to endowments and “good works” like Andrew Carnegie (or Henry Noble if you want a Manx example) – well, what happened to that?

OK, as 90% of the “factual” matter in “serious” press reports comes from time-saving PR blurbs written by the shadiest charities (in order to shame us into further subsidising them) we can safely discount it. In truth, the public probably regards the staff of major charities as freeloading hypocrites who you’d trust about as far as some random drunk who taps you for a fiver.

Some of that belief may be wilful self-deception, but most of it is quite fair. The charity industry stinks as much as the banking and accounting industry with whom it trades most staff. It even uses the same PR spin merchants as the worst dictators.

At a more basic level, once you’ve seen some “pillar of the community” lying in a bath of baked beans “fur charidee” how do you ever take the concept seriously again? You know that the other 364 days of the year this shameless scrote pulls every scam going to fill his pockets and avoid shelling out to anyone.

So, what to do?

Until it inevitably developed Rotarianism, one hopeful idea was Danny Wallace’s “Random Acts of Kindness” phenomena. RAK devotees practiced “Good Fridays” and “Happy Mondays” on which they – yes – set out to be spontaneously and randomly kind to strangers.

The RAK ethos appeals to me hugely. The lack of “depth” or “logic”, the happy-go-lucky acceptance that we are – all of us – a little clueless and will probably fall flat on our faces but wouldn’t it at least be a good idea to spread a little sweetness and light around, reminds me of orphaned Woodstock era books I rescued in adolescent charity shop forays. For example, Richard Neville’s Play Power and Abbie Hoffman’s Revolution For The Hell Of It.

If this isn’t too oxymoronic, where RAK falls down is that it isn’t random enough, and to overcome that what you need is a tighter format. Setting aside particular times to be altruistic is a start. The bigger problem is how to bypass learned and generally unconscious concepts of the deserving subject.

In particular, the brief era when organised charity chose the subject through a process that involved objective study informed by political and economic analysis is over. We are rapidly reverting to an older era when charity was dispensed by the church to the “deserving poor”, and that is a massive problem.

I think surrealism and 1960’s concepts of aleatoric (chance) art might have an answer. The surrealists, more than any other movement in history, developed art games with absolutely binding rules in order to increase chance, bizarre and beautiful connections or put the artist into unexpected places. On similar lines, you could, for example, decide to be kind to the 10th person you met on a chosen day, or the one you pass in the street at exactly 11 AM. The times, numbers and other deciding factors have absolutely no significance, except to prevent you making a so-called rational choice which is almost inevitably based on an unconscious prejudice.

In following them, you should start to find yourself wondering (often) why you haven’t noticed a need or a type of person before. Hopefully, you should also fall into the habit of automatically being nice to more people more of the time, and not just selected people at authorised times – after which you go back to being asleep to the world.

But mostly you just enjoy yourself, and spread that around.