I’m so selfish…and generous

I bought a new TV (television that is – no fetishes involved), and I was left with the choice of what to do with my old one. A few people had inquired about it, including my brother who several months ago asked me for a quote if and when I was selling it. (It’s five years old but still a great TV in perfect condition; my new one is just better!). Instead of selling it on and making some of the money for the new one back, I decided to give my old TV to my bro and his family as a gift. I knew that he wouldn’t be expecting it, which is what made it better. So I drove there (50 minute trip in both directions), for an alleged “flying visit” with my dad. After a cup of coffee I announced I had something for him in the car. I led him out and presented him with my old TV – which is bigger and better than what they currently have. He was speechless at first, then extremely grateful. I explained to him my reasons for giving it to him, as opposed to the other options I had, and he gave me a back-handed compliment. A compliment, because it was intended as such but also because it’s one of the best things someone can say about you whether they intend it kindly or not, and back-handed in the sense that it is often contrasted with generosity. He said it was “very objective” of me. In other words, I reached the decision through pure logic.

It made me smile. You see, my reasons for being generous were purely selfish. The few hundred pounds I would’ve gotten for the TV were irrelevant to me, and paled in comparison to how much this would mean to my brother and his family. Incidentally, it was his wedding anniversary the week previous which I’d forgotten! When my dad said it would make a nice present I was like “oh…yes…the anniversary…” But I was planning to give it to them anyway, occasion or not. It was “objective” of me to make the gift. It was rational, objective, “cold and dispassionate” some might say. I calculated the value of resale versus the selfish pleasure I would get from doing something nice for someone I cared about, and the new value by proxy my old TV would have in my life, through the lives of others. It was precisely because these people are selfish values in my life that made the act generous. If I was to be selfless, by all rights I should’ve given the TV to a bum on a street corner.

Additionally, we could’ve dropped the TV off when he wasn’t around but it was better to see the reaction of receiving a gift, which was another selfish motive in my decision. I wanted him to know that I was doing this for him, and that it was down to my generosity and the value he holds in my life. And I wanted to witness his reaction to affirm that virtue in myself.

So when he said “thank you so much. It’s really appreciated”, I assured him that it was “purely selfish” – and I meant it.

The pleasure I received, the emotion, was the result of my rational actions. Emotion wasn’t the impulse or motive, but the reward. The motive was acting to pursue my values rationally and objectively. Family means more than almost anything else in life, so the decision was easy to make.

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My Top 10 Most Annoying Things

They aren’t my Top ten to be honest, they are just the first ten that sprang to mind. In no particular order:

Parents who blame everyone, except themselves

It’s the teachers. It’s the other kids. It’s the other kids’ parents. It’s the TV. It’s the radio. It’s the footballers. It’s the celebrities. It’s the government. It’s everyone, except you.

Is your child staying out late? Not doing their homework? Has unsavoury friends? Causes trouble? Gets into fights? Takes drugs? Spends too much time behind the TV or computer? You sort it out. You decided to have the child. You brought it into the world. You raised it. You taught it your values. You reap what you sow. Do your job and stop bitching at everyone else for your parenting failures.

Shopping bags that you can’t separate

We’ve split the atom, landed on the moon, established the internet, peered into the origins of the universe itself, created antimatter, and unlocked the human genome. We even invented self-serve checkouts in supermarkets, so why can’t we create a carrier bag whose sides don’t stick together? Yes, I am that post-lobotomy patient standing there for five minutes holding up the queue.

Can’t there be little plastic lips at either ends and opposite sides of the bag to facilitate easy opening? I hate having to waste five minutes of my life picking and scratching and licking the bag all the time hoping no one is watching before I think ‘bollocks, I’ll just carry everything.’

Hip-hop /  R&B

It takes a rather broad and generous definition of music to include these two modern monstrosities of popular culture into the concept of music. If anything 50 Cent does is music then so is my car alarm.

Worse than the bland tuneless repetitive tripe that radios vomit over the airwaves is the semi-criminal underground “gangsta” lifestyle portrayed and glorified to youngsters of lazy parents. No, when you grow up you will realise that being a criminal or part of a gang, or stealing, robbing, shagging around, selling your soul for popularity is not cool or fun. It’s pathetic and parasitic. The best music humanity has to offer will not be found on commercial radio. Until then, it would be great if you just pointed and laughed at the Emperor and switched that trash off. Here’s the thing: no one really likes this “music” – everyone just pretends to because everyone else pretends to like it too!

Animal “Rights” Activists

Some humans will stop at nothing to defend the supposed “Rights” of thoughtless amoral beasts that will continue eating the grass and pooing today and tomorrow and for the next hundred thousand years, as they have done the last hundred thousand years. They’ll even go as far as hurting other humans who actually do have Rights and destroying their property, in the name of animals.

Sure, animals can be killed for a few benefits like: testing drugs, developing medicines, food, clothing, shelter, vermin-control etc. But there’s also the downsides of…wait, oh I can’t think of any.

If animal “rights” activists really care so much about not disturbing animals in any way, shape or form, they should go to a place where their continued existence doesn’t depend on the exploitation of the world around them, i.e. some other planet or reality than this one.

Do you wear leather? Do you eat meat? Do you live in a house? Do you use wood or chemicals? Errrr…stop right there. If animals have rights to all these things then you don’t. Strip naked and head off to the Antarctic (just don’t travel there by bus or plane, of course).

Insects

I know I get in a flap about this a lot, but it really bugs me. My friends know I’m liable to fly off the handle whenever one of these little three-torso’d six-legged bastards enter the room. It doesn’t matter if they crawl or fly or hop, they are all disgusting and should be exterminated. I’ve heard the religious say “ah but they’re part of nature’s balance – they all have a purpose.” Let’s swat this myth right out the sky: insects have NO purpose. If it wasn’t for rotting food and animal poo half of them would be dead – some design flaw there, God, cheers. I can’t wait for the day when we invent waste-atomisers and the insect population starves to death. If I could afford it, I’d have one of those blue electric light thingies at every entrance and exit in my house.

You know how it is: you’re trying to sleep and you hear a whine in the room. You give her a slap and listen for the other noise: some mosquito is whirling around looking to bite you and (this actually happens) when you turn the light on it stops flying and waits. Or one of those big furry bluebottles that just can’t seem to find its way out the window you’ve opened in front of it, the window 6017 times its size. Flies are stupid.

They say your average housefly lives about 20 days – that’s 20 days too long in my opinion. Any insect that violates my property rights dies. They are ugly and intrusive and have no respect. Did you know that insects are responsible for 980 million deaths a year? I can’t back that up but why take the risk?

Chain e-mails

The internet has been around for long enough now for everyone to know that if you forward it on to X number of people, absolutely nothing will appear on your screen. Luck is a metaphorical concept that can’t be transferred, certainly not by browser-based mail clients.

Chain e-mails come in many varieties, whether it be “Microsoft wants to know who is using Hotmail otherwise they’ll delete your account”, or “for every fifty people who forward this picture of a random sick baby plucked off Google Images, [Insert Big Corporation Name here] will donate 10 [enter local currency here] to [enter charity here]”, or “send this on within 5 minutes and have great sex forever” (I happen to know this is definitely false) – they are all deeply stupid. And no, it’s not “a bit of harmless fun”, it’s the perpetuation of irrational and pernicious notions. If you want to support a good cause, say so. If you want to share a joke, send it on. Drop the damn emotional blackmail or insults to our intelligence.

Blatant spelling mistakes

Ok, no one can always write perfectly, grammaratically or otherwise, but there are some errors that are truly shocking and unforgivable. I’m not talking about typos, I’m talking about the wrong freaking words!

Defiantly” does not mean “definitely”; it doesn’t sound the same, it doesn’t look the same, and it doesn’t even mean the same thing! And it’s “could have” not “could of“. And “you’re” means “you are“; it is not the same word as “your“. Could you bear being attacked by a bare bear? Was it where you expected it, or were you dreaming of wearing no clothes? Maybe there was no one else there and it’s all not their fault.

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I am defiantly not against the nature of advertisements, I’m against the content: it is criminally lame. As the late Bill Hicks said: “if you work in marketing, kill yourself!” Radio jingles, movie ads, TV commercials – only a tiny proportion are actually clever or make sense. 99% of them are just annoying.

I really wonder what goes on in the head of the people who script, cast, act and approve advertisements. It’s like “what were you thinking? How in any way did that promote your product? It didn’t even make sense! What part of you thought ‘yup, we nailed that! Now let’s wait for the sales to flood it!’?” Perhaps they think “if we piss enough people off with this, they might buy our product hoping we’ll go away!

Relativists

Nope, not talking about Einstein here, I’m talking about the subjectivist types who either
a) explicitly think there’s no such thing as objective right and wrong, or
b) implicitly suppose that since everyone’s different, everyone’s opinion is fair and worthy of merit.

They are both wrong. If I say I can fly, or the moon is covered in gravy, or god made the earth in six days, or there are 72 virgins waiting in the afterlife – I am of course welcome to believe it. I might really really believe it. Hell I might be utterly convinced it’s the absolute truth. Does that make me right? If 6 billion people say the sun orbits the earth but I know the earth orbits the sun, who is right? Right and wrong are matters of objective reality. They are facts accepted by consciousness. It doesn’t matter how far removed the fact is from the sensory input, eventually the chain of evidence stops at someone somewhere being able to point at something and say “this is it.”

Just because everyone has a different opinion, doesn’t mean everyone is right. There are an infinite number of ways to be wrong and only one way to be right. I hate it when people are afraid of being wrong. But fear of being right is worse.

The most annoying thing about the subjectivist position is that it’s inherently contradictory. The subjectivist position basically goes like this: “all opinions (or cultures, or beliefs) are equally valid.” Err, there’s one problem with that: what if my opinion is that all opinions are not equally valid. Therefore, for your position to be true it must entail the validity of my opinion which denies your position. Subjectivism is therefore either false or invalid.

“There are no absolutes”. Grrrr. Are you absolutely sure of that??

Football commentators

Being the most popular sport in the world has its drawbacks. It means that every man and his dog has an opinion on it. That’s fine. The problem is when they give any man a microphone on a huge stage to talk about. It’s worse when they let the dog speak too (although quite frankly anything would be more coherent than John Motson). Sport commentary should be a fine skill: a commentator must assess the entire match before his eyes, the atmosphere, the implications, the talents and strategies on show – isolate the relevant concepts and dismiss the irrelevant details, and bring those points home to the audience in an engaging and unique manner. Basically, a commentator should be doing what most of us couldn’t or would find exceptionally hard to do. A commentator should not prattle on endlessly about statistics or the synchronicity of this match on this day with the wind blowing in this direction.

Football commentators are the worst of the lot. With most of them their job consists of having an enormous list of stats on each player to fire off whenever he touches the ball – irrelevant trivia that the mind glosses over and forgets a moment later – this isn’t commentary; it’s someone reading a database out to you. Others simply do “radio commentary” for TV and tell us exactly what we can see with our own eyes:

“Gerrard with the ball. Passes it to Kuyt. Kuyt crosses to Carroll. Carroll mis-controls. Opposition get possession.”

Due to the miracle of light waves impacting on my retina and being interpreted by my brain as images, I was already of that. In fact, I was aware of it in 1/10th of the time it took you to repeat it back to me after it happened.

Almost all of them avoid making firm conclusions or stating a definite opinion of their own:

“Hmm, that looked offside didn’t it?”

What? Are you asking me?? You’re the supposed expert, you tell me!

From bad puns to awful (and mixed) metaphors, to dreary or grating voices – the entire commentary industry needs a makeover in football. Perhaps that’s (yet) another law UEFA could come up with when they’re done with their racist quota systems? Which brings me too…

UEFA

No, I jest. No 11th item. Besides, this monster deserves a post of its own someday.

My Top 10 Fictional Characters

As always, my opinion is limited to what I have experienced, but then how could it be anything else? Ranking my “best” fictional characters isn’t easy – because admittedly I can’t explicitly state the criteria used. But this is just for fun anyway!

Now, oftentimes the protagonist of a story becomes an everyman which all of us can relate to, and through whom we see the other characters and the events unfold. The problem with this sort of character (e.g. Harry Potter) is that there isn’t anything particularly remarkable or interesting about them in-and-of themselves; what is interesting is what they go through and what happens to them – apart from some general sense of courage and honesty. Sometimes the most interesting, frustrating, or funny characters in a story are not at all the hero. Of course the flipside of this is that everyone else apart from the protagonist can become two-dimensional and simply there to give our character someone to interact with. It takes a special kind of character to pull off protagonist/antagonist/ancillary and also capture our imaginations and have us glued to TV screen or book. Not every character listed here is a protagonist but they are some of the most diverse/complex/outrageous/compelling ones you’ll ever encounter.

10. God (Yahweh, Allah,  Christ, take your pick)

Being the most famous fictional character of all time, this guy has to get a mention, albeit rather facetiously. The way his fans so love to revel over competing interpretations of him is fascinating at best and pathetic at worst. You have to be fascinated by his supposed actions though, love or hate him. My personal favourite is the Christian story about him and Noah’s ark. In it, God creates man knowing they’ll fail a test, even though the knowledge required to pass the test wasn’t available to them until after they failed it (!). He then regrets making man, even knowing what would happen in the first place, so promises to destroy them because we’re so evil. He wipes the whole earth out with a flood that takes a varying number of days according to the story, somehow cramming in millions of species and billions of lifeforms into a boat 450 foot long (!!). Afterwards, he doesn’t promise never to destroy the earth again, oh no – he just promises not to use a flood. Oh, well that’s reassuring… Why does he promise not to destroy the earth again? Because he accepts that man is simply evil by nature, even though he knew we’d turn out this way, even though that was his original motive for wiping us out in the first place (!!!). Storytelling at its best!

God is probably the most emotional violent egotistical psychopath ever invented. It takes a special kind of self-hatred, racism and sexism to invent a character with this many conflicting traits. And you’ve got to give him points for that. It’s so bad you have to say “you can’t make this stuff up!” But of course, that’s exactly what happened.

9. Dr. Perry Cox (SCRUBS)

The classic badass with a heart of gold, Cox is hilarious. Sarcastic and condescending, his constant demeaning diatribes actually inspire students to aim ever harder to win his eternally-escapable praise. No doubt he has the best lines of the entire show, and I daresay the whole thing couldn’t have worked without him. His speech, his mannerisms, his banter and his flaws are superbly put together to make him one of the most fascinating and enjoyable characters to watch.


8. Tyrion Lannister (A Song of Fire and Ice)

A complex assortment of traits, physical and mental, coupled with quick words and an even quicker mind make Tyrion Lannister a joy to read (or watch). It’s precisely because he has zero physical presence that makes his dialogue so vital to get right, because anything complimentary or threatening from him must be done through subtext or clever words. He knows his weaknesses so excels at his strengths, and shows great bravery under circumstances where even the strongest man might fail. As he himself says, his sword is his mind – and such a fascinating character is he that whether it be consorting with whores, held hostage by enemies, passing subtle threats to quasi-allies, or interacting with royalty – we love what he has to say and every word has us mesmerised!

 

7. Jack Bauer (24)

Strong, tough, deadly, ruthless, passionate, flawed yet incorruptible – Jack Bauer is all these things. He toughened up so much that there was nothing he couldn’t do – whether it’s expose an entire government conspiracy or take on an immense fortress of bad guys single-handedly.

Jack’s a man who always does what he believes is right. You can take issue whether he *is* right or not, but he doesn’t compromise, doesn’t cheat and doesn’t shy away from doing what needs to be done. He is a patriot, and defending his country is the number one value in his life – a fact his actions consistently demonstrate.

Volunteering himself for a nuclear suicide mission or taking point on the battlefield – Jack won’t ask anyone to do something he isn’t prepared to do himself, which makes him an inspirational leader.

6. Buffy (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer)

Whilst not the first female hero, it’s fair to say Buffy turned the superhero gender idea on its head. She manages to save the boy in distress but also still be feminine. This statement itself has become a cliché: “strong yet feminine” yada-yada, but it’s become so overused because it appears so incredibly hard to get right. (It’s actually not).  Many movie-makers and writers think a woman who acts like a bloke, fires guns, fraks everything that moves, and acts like she doesn’t give a shit, can be redeemed back into femininity by wearing a skin-tight catsuit or holding suggestive poses. What they don’t realise is: She. Just. Looks. Stupid. Femininity isn’t a matter of how much you swear (or don’t) or kick ass (or don’t), the length of your hair, sex appeal or how much you cry (or don’t). Buffy manages to pull off being a sexy attractive badass lady because she doesn’t try too hard to be, because she doesn’t need to try. Sure, she cares about her girlie stuff and has the angst one would expect of a teenager/young woman – but she is a young woman. She doesn’t need to ram her double-Xs down our throats. She can be dirty, ragged, and unkempt, save the world and kick ass – and also be a girl. (And of course, I’m not implying that there should be any natural conflict at all between gender and strength, but since most writers and producers actually do make this assumption and then over-compensate for it, it makes it all the better when a female character comes along who gets it right for all the right reasons.)

Perhaps an easy to overlook feature of Buffy’s is her humour – she is really quite funny, obviously and subtly – and when contrasted against who and what she actually is, makes it all the better.

We like her because we know she’d make a superb friend and ally, and she genuinely cares about the world and doing right. Like I said at the start, it’s hard to make your protagonist a champion for everyone watching, whom we can all relate to, be a vehicle for the story, and also have many distinctive character traits of their own (instead of being “the funny one” or “the sarcastic one”.) For example, whilst we love watching Jack Bauer, I’d argue that we don’t really relate to him or his situations, certainly not like we can with Buffy.

5. Londo Mollari (Babylon 5)

Undoubtedly, a character with a lot of blood on his hands, Londo undeniably always acts in what he perceives is in the best interest of his people, his race, his planet. But how often does “Greater Good” thinking lead to misery and death? (Answer: always).

His decisions and actions lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent lives, but he makes the choices knowingly and willingly, because nothing will get in the way of the Manifest Destiny he sees for the Centuari Republic. And despite all this, we understand him, and why he did the things he did. We feel sorry for him, despite the mistakes, the lies, the murders. He is a tragic character, made so by the curious irony that he actually gets everything he ever wished for, but when his wishes become reality they are never what he thought they’d be, and the result is always misery (and often destruction.) He slowly sinks from jovial and silly to dark and allied to evil itself. He finds his way out again after realising what price his terrible decisions almost cost him and his world. But the road to redemption is never fully completed, after being forced to accept a horrible burden that he must shoulder in silence and which his friends can never know.

In Londo’s own words: “When we first met I had no power and all the choices I could ever want. And now I have all the power I could ever want and no choices at all. No choice at all.”

4. Gaius Baltar (Battlestar Galactica Reimagined Series)

Another character on this list who qualifies as genius, Baltar is brilliant, treacherous and cowardly. He is unfuriating and pathetic yet understandable and pitiful. Sometimes I think ‘well that’s exactly what I’d do in that situation’ and other times I’m shaking my head in disbelief.

There’s no denying that on the rare occasions BSG does comedy, Baltar is the best example of it. Some of his lines are laugh-out-loud funny, as are so many of the awkward unspoken positions he’s placed in.

Gaius has a continuing nack of saving his own neck (or perhaps it’s just God’s Will™), but despite the reproach he often deserves, what is tragic about him is how often he is vilified for the wrong reasons. We feel aggrieved for him, feel vindicated at times when he is, then wish he’d just shut his mouth. Just a few tiny decisions here and there and how different things might have gone. He’s enough to make you shout at the TV “you frakking idiot! Just tell the truth for once!” Despite his intellect, even he doesn’t realise how better things might’ve been if he was just honest all along.

Tagged as an unchosen antagonist for most of the show, the truth is that despite being painted as “villain”, Baltar’s genuinely reprehensible acts pale in comparison to the deliberate and remorseless crimes of the supposed heroes of the story. As the saga progresses, so often I find myself siding with him against our alleged protagonists.

He richly enhances the whole show and is as much a living breathing complex character as anything seen on TV.

3. Captain James T. Kirk (Star Trek TOS)

A more-womanising, futuristic, less hysterical version of Jack Bauer, without the gun – Captain Kirk is an all-round proper good guy. He leads confidently and passionately, is clever but also emotional, and is uncommonly brave to fight for his ship and his crew. He’s the perfect leader to the outside world, but has doubts and vulnerabilities which only his closest friends get to see. The expression “The Man” was invented for James Kirk.

He is, in a great many ways, what a man and a hero should be. But not through super powers or even technology – just by his wits and his courage. He is a regular guy, but an achievable hero; he simply exemplifies the best qualities of heroism and command.

 

2. Dr. Gregory House (House MD)

A character of many shades and levels, nearly always sarcastic and sniping, he says all the things most of us keep in our heads, regardless of who he offends. His honesty and disregard for pretention is refreshing but also cringe-inducing at times. Self-destructive physically and emotionally, he almost goes out of his way to make the wrong choices at times, despite being in all other ways an absolute genius of the highest order. If you needed diagnosing he’d be your first choice at the job, on the condition you never met him – which in itself is an interesting contrast.

He’s fast (not walking), witty, and guaranteed to keep you laughing time and again. He might make you hate him, but you’ll also feel sorry for him. A deeply intriguing character – the perfect blend of humour and tragedy.

 

1. Eric Cartman (South Park)

The perfect comedic characterisation of psychopathic evil. Cartman is truly despicable in every sense of the word. He is irrationally self-concerned, self-destructive, manipulative, racist, sexist and whose ultimate dream is dominating all others with his will. He is also ludicrously clever, but so often short-sighted. And all this is tempered by him still being very much a big child with all the insecurities and weaknesses that brings.

Cartman is the perfect plot device through which our likes and dislikes, loves, passions, hates and fears are seen or reflected. He is a foil to the story itself which allows a fantastically rich web of allegories and contrasts to be displayed. Like much of South Park, he is nothing wrong of writing genius. In real life, such a character would be universally despised and unloved – yet in this form, he is just brilliant and hilarious to watch. We can’t get enough of him! No doubt South Park is at its best when Eric Cartman is at his worst.

Music is memories

I sit here listening to a song that was released 12 years ago. It feels like yesterday. It can still feel the emotions it originally evoked in me. I smile as I wryly observe to myself that it reminds me of the dingy youth-charming jail-bait frequenting Bank Chambers – despite it never being played there. It reminds me of that time.

Another song: I am out with my two of my friends, one of which I don’t know anymore – the other one I suspect will be my friend ‘til our death(s) – whichever comes first (his, since I still only look 23; check our www.sellyoursoultosatan.com for great deals, act fast!).  We are always the first ones on the dance floor, and we are surrounded by people we know who flock to us. This song is playing, and it’s flippant, carefree pop. It captures the isolated joy of the moment – nothing else matters. Our improvised quasi-jokish dance routine catches on with the rest of the dance floor in no time!

I change to another song. I am walking to the Castle. It’s summer – I am with my friends. We are sat in the pub (don’t worry, not all my music memories are alcohol-related). It’s a weeknight, but that doesn’t stop us having too many pints of Stella (no, seriously!) and listening to this song and its album on the jukebox. We’re all wearing our England football shirts; it isn’t long since the 5-1 thrashing of Germany.

If there is a song that lifts the spirit and contrasts the melancholy with the capricious, it is this. I often kidded myself that this was a song about someone – or something. But perhaps it’s not really about anything. The beauty of this song is that it seems to fire the imagination – but the direction the mind takes is your choice. There is a sense of finality and conclusion that I’ve never encountered in any other song. It is like, if this song were played at the end of your life – nothing could follow it up. It’s like “ok, that’s the end of the show folks – thanks for coming.” This song doesn’t remind me of any particular time, but I first heard it during one of the most important phases of my life; when I was exploring the world and expanding my mind to unprecedented levels. This year was the year after I moved house and the year I deconverted from strong Christian to atheist.

If I am moving chronologically, I’d have to pick a song for 2004. But as hard as I try, I can’t. This was a tough year. It was the hardest of my life, up until then. I came close to wanting to end it all this year. The reasons are too deep to explain, and as anyone who’s felt this way can testify, it’s not so much about how things are, but the total inability to envisage a resolution or, in Tolkien’s words, a eucatastrophe. Those things belong to movies. In real life, most of the time – when Hope Fails, it’s a long boring struggle to stand up again. But it can happen. It doesn’t always, and there’s no rule why it should. But it can. It did.

I listen to this song, and although it originally belongs to my teenage years, Windows ‘95 – summer holidays, high school and all – it now reminds me of the Spring of 2005. I am at home, sat at my computer. I stand up and look out the window. I just got home. I previously spent a few hours after work with a girl; it was our last real time together, and the last time we kissed. It was cloudy, with sunny intervals (and a 30% chance of precipitation, Michael Fish eat your heart out!). I listened to this song, and whether I confabulated to make the mood fit the song or whether this song captured the atmosphere, who can say. But it’s there, the waxing summer, the smell of heat noticeable in the air – and a sinking feeling in my heart. But this was the year that would bring many great memories, once in a lifetime events, and, quite literally, after the horrid years past, a new dawn.

I am walking down a path. It’s warm, even though I’ve only been walking for five minutes. My sister has dropped me off on the road and I put my iPod on. This song is playing. Cars whizz by, in a hurry. I’m in no hurry. It’s still early and work doesn’t start for a while, so I stroll as the morning summer sun warms me. I despise the sun – it makes me feel uncomfortable and fucks up my skin. But I feel good. I am over my past crush and nothing weighs me down. I feel young and timeless. I will get to know someone special this year, who will confound and stun me. I time my pace to fit in the songs I’m listening to.

Such a wonderful fun song. It reminds me of being in my room, with my older sister, and my auntie singing along to this. She isn’t here anymore – but such a cheerful and enthusiastic soul. I should feel so sad that she is not here, but I remember she liked his – and somehow the silly joviality is suiting for her. It’s a classic frivolous weekend song.

Years pass. I am lying on a bed in a hotel room. It’s thousands of miles from home. I am listening to this. I see an orchestra playing grand themes in a huge stadium – the violins sing and cry in my ears; I hear an audience lapping it up as spotlights illuminate the corresponding instrumentalists. I am on a boat in the middle of the Med, sailing by islands and small pockets of civilisation. The sun hates me. But then it’s cloudy. I’m indiscernibly hit by sea air, and these rather cool-looking shades I bought at Luton airport will end up making me look like a panda – ironically a creature that everyone wants to get laid though it chooses not to…

But I can enjoy the music. I can enjoy the moments. I am going through the motions, though I don’t really know where I am going, or if I’m on the right track; I suspect not. I can kid myself that I can enjoy it all, or forget everything – because ignorance is bliss. No it’s not. Yes, it is.

The sun is sleeping quietly. I know this song – but only after this night does it carry its weight. If I’ve never known what it means to want a night-time to last a lifetime, I do now. I look at her. We laugh – we always laugh. She always makes me laugh. I always make her laugh. Can she surely feel the same way? It’s bitterly cold. We sit and talk for hours, and hours. The music is deafening but all I hear is her. We admit there’s something there. In the taxi home, I tell her about this song – and how it is this night.

And it’s many other nights. It’s a cold night with stars; it’s a warm summer night on the grass. If ignorance is bliss then I’ll live in agony, because this is exactly how it should be. I love the sun. The sun loves me. What do I have to care about or be insecure about? If love is the reflection of your values and ideals then I must be beautiful and wonderful. I am young and timeless.

Music fills my soul like breath fills the lungs, and it’s carried with each movement. It all comes together, and the discordant lines of the past seem to plot a path on the map, and the destination happens to be you! What are the odds?! And it makes sense. I understand now. Each step is a skip, every run is a flight. Every moment is anticipation, and the world revolves around us.

But perhaps it was spinning too fast. You can’t beat reality. Every day overtaking the world was another day it was catching up. And it can run faster – and it doesn’t get tired. And each day it spins it took you away, like the outgoing tide. Each rise and fall you can barely detect, but eventually… That moon that lit up our sky took the tide away. Hey, if salt water is all it takes I’ll have you beat.

Hope Fails. Where is my eucatastrophe? The music that is the Flying DeLorean in my mind is symphonic anguish and belittling torture. Do you know what you’re doing to me? I used to like to listen to you. You told my favourite stories, and here you are dragging me back? Who do you think you are? I am old and dying.

It’s a long boring struggle to stand up again. It can happen. It doesn’t always, and there’s no rule why it should.

Would it be bliss to die with you? To die by your side wouldn’t be the worst way to go. In fact, if I were to die with you, I can handle that – who else would need to affirm my life? Who else could? Maybe you’re the only one who can.

Music is the food of the soul; the emotion it inspires is the response to your values in the context of your life and its circumstances. As concepts are mental integrations of identified existents, so musical meaning is a personal concept created in your mind by music tied to an event; ties like space-time geodesics that curve into the past, and all you have to do is flick a switch. What kind of being deserves such majesty and encumbrance?

But the beauty of music, as all art – is not only that every song is a memory, but a glimpse of a possible future. Not always a description, but a prescription. Not always a glass for looking, but for scrying. Not how things are or were, but what might be.

I don’t know what that will be. Music will always be there, like time; something that goes with us along the way. The threads it creates are those your mind confects to the past and a possible future. But the music accompanies the events, not predicts them. So, as with everything else – our future is up to us, inasmuch as we can make a difference. We can only hope that music is our friend for the ride.

(Here are the songs I referenced: Savage Garden – You can Still be Free, Five – Keep on Moving, U2 – Walk On, Tsar – The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, Howard Shore – Hope Fails (LOTR OST), Mike Oldfield – The Sentinel, Cheap Trick – Surrender, The Cure – Friday I’m in Love, Coldplay – Viva La Vida, The Smiths – There is a Light That Never Goes Out, Amy MacDonald – My Only One.)

Posted in Life, Me, Music. 1 Comment »

Who is good enough to be your friend?

I think I have fewer friends now than at any point in my adult life. I think this is common to most people as they go throughout their 20s. When you’re a teenager, it’s all about your social life. It’s about fitting in, having friends, being in with the crowd, being out and about – and doing so as much as possible! I think when you’re growing up you’re trying to find your own identity, and most often your only reference is those around you. So in a way, young people define themselves more in terms of their likes and dislikes and those of the ones they associate with. I think other people are so important during this time because they complete you; they “top up” the missing parts of your own character. These missing parts are totally natural; no one is born a complete person, in fact it would be wrong if we were. The process of establishing your own identity must be a rational conscious process that takes time, experience, and judgement.

As a result, as one forms concrete opinions on the world, one necessarily starts to select those who are harmonious with those opinions. In youth, before one has strong opinions on anything, the range of personalities one can select from is limitless. A best friend might be one who is a fan of the same football club, or has the same taste in music or fashion. But as we start to pursue our educational and career paths, the “acid test” of friendship begins. It is here that we set our priorities and realise that the choices we make now will affect the rest of our lives – and we either commit to these, do what’s necessary to achieve our goals, or we don’t, or we fail. I think this is the stage of life that starts to separate the “egg heads” from the “dead heads”.

After this, as adults, we necessarily have to form opinions on the world around us; what is right or wrong. Now, I’ve put these choices – which I’ll call philosophical ones – after the ones of career and education, because for me that’s how it went. I also think that when growing up we take many positions for granted – like morality – because we are fed canned forms of philosophy from our parents, school, religion, society etc. The “bigger picture” issues require more maturity to examine and digest which is why I think they come in the late teens and 20s, and because they aren’t forced upon us we find ourselves actively looking for answers, almost as if we are discovering the world all over again. (Incidentally, I think this is why many young adults discover a real joy in learning once the monotony and anguish of progressive state-enforced education is over.)

As we look for answers, we find ourselves assembling something, a foundation, from which we assess the world, our relationships, in short – how we view the world and those values we choose to pursue in it.

This something is what we all need but it often remains unspoken. It’s one’s philosophy. The more specific and objective it is, the more exclusive it becomes – and therefore the more exclusive one’s opinions and relationships become. This is why I think as we get older, we naturally reduce our circle of friends; what we find acceptable becomes more and more restrictive – and what we demand from potential partners becomes more specific. We look for a smaller more intimate group of friends that most closely share our values, as opposed to the vast sea of friends of any kind we desire in teenage years. Essentially, you cannot be friends with someone who has fundamental values that conflict with your own.

Speaking for myself, I find my requirements for friendship so high and my standards for association so exact – that I have (only semi-consciously) limited my choice of friendships (and more) to a very small pool. As one example, I prize honesty above all other virtues (on par with rationality); I cannot tolerate dishonesty in another person, whether they are being dishonest to me or being intellectually dishonest with themselves (which is worse). I also find irrationality extremely off-putting and ugly. Contrastingly, I find intelligence and rationality the most attractive qualities for any relationship. When it comes to intimate ones, no beauty in the world is a substitute for rationality. Of course, if you can find a potential partner who is beautiful and rational, you are very lucky indeed.

But the point I’m trying to make is that having high standards is good. It’s the expression of the fact that what you have to offer as a person is so valuable that you’re not going to share it with just anyone; that being friends with you is a mutual privilege that is based on something real and serious; that you don’t just let anyone into your mind and life. It’s also the highest honour you can do to those whom you call friends, or lovers; it’s the highest compliment you can pay someone – that you want to be around that person and you know they want to be around you, because you share fundamental values and ideals; that of all the people you’ve met, you’ve chosen your friends and partner specially because of what is special about them.

The “downside” (it’s not really a downside) of this is that, like I said above, the number of available associates grows increasingly limited as you become more demanding of what you want in other people. But these demands are an expression of self-esteem; that you hold yourself in such high regard that you believe you deserve the best friends and best partner; that you don’t dish out your friendship like candy, or offer your soul and body up to whoever waltzes by. It means that those you do invest your life in are all the more significant and honoured.

Of course, there are no guarantees that you will have lots of friends, or any. Or that you will get with the person of your dreams, or anyone. But it does mean that the relationships you do have will be genuine and honest, and any other kind is not worth having anyway.

That’s why my friends should be very grateful they have me – precisely because I feel the same way about them.

My Top 10 TV Shows of all Time II

It’s been over 3 years since I last considered this topic, so I thought an update was in order.

When judging a TV show, I can only try to do it as objectively as possibly from what I have seen, which means establishing some criteria coupled with my own tastes and preferences. For one, a show should primarily achieve what it intends, whether it be drama or comedy. Further to this, if it is trying to achieve something, for example a particular message or thought, does it? If so, how well? Most importantly, is that message positive and meaningful? Then HOW it achieves that must be considered, in other words, quality of writing and structure. Other factors, such as acting and use of music are also important. Then it should get bonus points for how long it keeps this quality up. Also worth considering is the context of the show in culture and time. I added this little specification to avoid judging older shows too unfairly, considering how TV styles and attitudes have changed, especially in the last 10 years.

10. Spaced

A short-lived but really clever and funny sitcom. That it was so short-lived is definitely in its favour. It never got stale. Every episode is a treat, full of little gems that can be spotted for the first time with each re-watch.

9. Battlestar Galactica

A very intense, very raw drama. Lots of fantastic action scenes, lots of excitement. Some absolutely superb stories, and a truly mindblowing set of actors. This is dirty on-the-edge sci-fi at its best. Having said that, it loses points for me for a few reasons: I am not convinced the writers knew where they were going from the start. Secondly, the “heroes” of the show are despicable. They are mostly foul obnoxious back-stabbing unprincipled parasites you could hope to meet. I can only think of one character who stays mostly true to himself for the whole show. You might say that humans on the edge lose all friendship and rules and honour. If that’s true, I say I’d rather the Cylons have killed me. Fighting for survival on its own isn’t enough, and this major philosophical point is totally lost on the writers, hence the lower score. (Not to mention the statism/socialism/collectivism/mysticism that is often applauded in the series).

8. Scrubs

A sitcom. Does it make you laugh? Very much so. This is one of those shows that, assuming it’s up your street, will definitely make you laugh out loud so many times. It is also very well written, and has just enough realism when necessary to still make you care about the characters. It has tears-in-your-eyes LOL moments, and shivers-down-the-spine WOW moments (My Screw Up, anyone?). Problems: after season 4 it got too big for its own good and fell away from the originality that made it special. Recurring guest stars became main stars; the regular cast ran out of stories; the interaction between them just didn’t work anymore; and most importantly, it simply stopped being funny. I think it’s because the story was about young doctors growing up and finding their place in the world, the hospital, and amongst each other. But this was achieved by season 4. The story was told. After that I think it just stopped working. Give me 8 seasons like 1 and 2 and this would be higher.

7. Prison Break

Addictive TV at its best. Again I have to say, very well thought out stories and stuff that really makes you think “oh crap! How is he going to get out of this mess??” There are so many twists and turns you’ll never know what to expect, and I can’t think of any dumb ones thrown in just for dramatic effect. It also has its touching moments too, especially the finale. There is an element of it being dragged out a tiny bit and every single event being slightly embellished, but that’s high-paced modern TV drama for you. The only downside of a great show like this is that re-watchability suffers. But I’d strongly recommend everyone give this a try.

6. 24

Most of what I said about Prison Break could apply to 24. I scored 24 slightly higher because I think it’s more re-watchable and there are more of those special moments. 24 is exciting, and grabs you straight away, keeps building up the tension, and intrigues you. It combines all the best sci-fi/drama/cops-and-robbers moments with brilliant characters. The problem with 24 is that it went on too long, and became formulaic. There are only so many times you can re-use a plot idea before it loses its impact. There is only so “big” you can make a terrorist attack before it becomes ridiculous. There are only so many times you can “save the day” in the last second before the tension is lost. And ultimately, they didn’t end the show how they should have.

5. Firefly

With only 14 episodes, it must take something special for a cancelled TV show to come in this highly. Firefly is that special. It is probably the most unique sci-fi show you will ever see, and that will ever be made. No aliens, no kids, no silly costumes. This is a story about a very diverse bunch of people, some friends – some not, making their way in an unfriendly galaxy. The dialogue is totally brilliant. The actors are superb. There are enough funny moments to make you think it was written as a comedy. The characters are so deep the show could run for years and we’d still want to know more. THIS is how a television show should be done. Unfortunately, because FOX are retards and the show never caught on right away, it was cancelled, never to return, save in film form (Serenity). Do yourself a favour, buy the boxset, watch the 14 episodes, and weep that that’s all there was.

4. Babylon 5

In some ways, I wish B5 was more like Firefly. B5 is a very unique show – and was a big divergence from sci-fi at a time when Star Trek had the monopoly. All the things that Star Trek TNG did bad, this did well. Characters that are actually believable, stories that go somewhere, issues that really matter, consequences that aren’t forgotten in 40 minutes. The use of special effects and music is also far superior than any other sci-fi show too (Battlestar Galactica had the right idea). The way the story arc builds, with little hints dropped in every now and then, is just fantastic. The battle scenes are exciting. The Shadows are just, well, awesome. The attention to detail in how the races look and talk and interact, and how the universe “works” with space-stations and jump-gates – all builds a very believable and realistic view of the future. And yet, despite the gritty realism of it, this Tolkien-esque dramatic background of ancient races, spirituality, epic issues and fights beyond our imagination – was definitely a first for popular sci-fi.

The problem with B5 is that it does have some rather corny, cheesy, and cringing episodes, especially in its first season. I think it takes a while to get going, and I can’t promise it will grab anyone, even half-way through season 1. However, this is like much 90s TV. The episodes are generally more self-contained and you don’t have to invest too much to begin with. From season 2 though, it’s non-stop fun and the arc intensifies to the point each episode is more like a chapter in a book.

3. House

Talk about superb writing. I have never seen a TV show where every single episode was jam-packed of so much good dialogue, humour, and drama. I still notice new jokes re-watching it. Obviously, this show is clever and fascinating. It’s a “who-done-it” every week with the culprit being some rare condition. How we get to find out is much more important that what it is. Every scene with House’s sarcasm is a joy. And the sad moments are certainly not contrived to make us think “oh this is a serious show too” – the humour and despair in the show work off each other so well because the source is the same. I can’t work out if House is uplifting or depressing; it’s probably both, with the lean towards the former, eventually. The episodes are admittedly, and almost deliberately, formulaic – because it’s hard to tell them another way. What’s important is what happens around it.

The only downside of House is that from a philosophical perspective, the character is praise-worthy and despicable at the same time, due to the misguided notions in pop culture and writing of selfishness and value. If a drug addict is selfish, then what is a fitness-focused personal trainer? Selfless?? This is a finger I can’t point just at the House writers, but at the “intellectuals” in philosophy who are nihilistic and Kantian.

Everyone must watch “House.”

2. Star Trek

I was cheating here somewhat at first because I was going to lump them all together and pick out the parts I like. But to be fair, I’ll stick with the original series and those films. You have to remember, it’s the 1960s – and NOTHING like this has been before. There is no template, nothing to compare, no words or phrases like “tractor beam” to nick off other shows. This is what started it all off. The best part of the original Star Trek, which was lost on so many future audiences, is that it’s NOT a geek show. It’s not about tachyon particles and warp-core breaches or whatever other nonsense the TNG writers thought their fans wanted to be impressed by. It’s not.

Gene Roddenberry wanted a “wagon train to the stars”; a story about HUMANS and the human condition, but set in space. Amidst a real world that was on the brink of nuclear war, with so much racial and social unrest, he imagined a world where people working together overcame those differences and reached out into space, building a great federation and making friends of aliens. The villains in ST are BAD and must be destroyed. The good guys are GOOD and try to do the right thing. The three main characters, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy – interact wonderfully. The show also gets the comedy right when it tries to as well. Kirk is perhaps the greatest fictional Captain and leader of all time. He is what a true hero should be. This believable and engaging universe sparked imaginations across the world, and directly influenced pop culture, fashion, technology, and inspired dozens of other sci-fi shows. The first US aircraft carrier and the prototype NASA shuttle were christened Enterprise in honour of the fictional starship.

Star Trek lost its way in my opinion even as early as The Next Generation. Picard and Data aside, show me another character in that stale miserable lot who were different from season 7 to season 1 and I’ll eat my hat. DS9 was a better show, but it wasn’t Star Trek. Voyager is the best one of the lot for being true to Star Trek, and Janeway the best captain since Kirk.

Don’t let the geeks and the Klingon speakers and the conventions put you off – Star Trek the original series was a revolution and changed the world. Even almost 50 years on, those episodes and films are timeless. There are negative points, but more cultural and time-specific ones that I won’t mention.

1. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer

When I started, I said let’s consider what a show tries to be and how well it does at that. BtVS INTENDS to be dramatic, comedic, theatrical, outrageous, and metaphorical. It succeeds. Despite some of its more outrageous notions (and demons) it takes itself seriously and it asks you to do the same. If you do, you will love it, and if you don’t you’ve missed the point. Created by the same genius as Firefly, this has the same brilliant dialogue and character interaction. It is superbly funny. The characters are real and deep, and they change and grow up. The ability of the show’s mood to reflect the characters’ mood is staggering. It can feel so light-hearted and fun a show to watch, and also dark and dangerous and depressing. It accomplished feats never seen before (26 odd minutes with NO dialogue) or those rarely seen and even more rarely done well (the Sleepless dream sequences; or the Once More With Feeling musical).

This is a show that excels at virtually every quality you would want in a TV show, and on a very modest budget too. It’s a show about young people growing up, and how the monsters they face are metaphors for personal and social problems that we all do. Pain, friendship, unpopularity, social awkwardness, the first crush, the first love, the first loss, heartbreak, depression, death, grief, fear – these aren’t words I am just rattling off – this is what the show is about fundamentally. That the tools used to drive the story, fantastic demons and epic life-or-death end-of-the-world battles, are also brilliantly done is just a bonus.

It is so addictive, especially when it gets going – and ALSO so re-watchable that it gets bonus marks for that alone. As with all 90s TV, especially those set in “sunny” teen American high schools, there are some cheesy moments. I also think the title itself puts people off. But this isn’t a story about vampire-teen-angst though (like some of the shit swirling around today). This is a story about YOU. This is the story of YOUR life, if you were in Sunnydale and had the weight of the world on your shoulders. And yet, who of you hasn’t felt that way at some time in your lives? Can you pick yourself up when there is seemingly nothing to fight for, and battle on one more time against your own demons and the other horrors in life? Our heroes can. That is why they are heroes. But they are just normal people who are friends, and in that respect that are what each of us can and should be. BtVS is a show that glorifies good and positive values, and slays the bad. Evil is something to be defeated, in every tiny way, every day. 

And if you are positive and fight for the good against the demons in your mind and the real world – you can succeed. Now, give me a TV show that exemplifies this spirit, with amazing funny and likeable characters, with wonderful music and a barrage of laughs, with heart-sinking moments and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dialogue, and a plethora of other “female-lead-hero” inspired TV shows that followed, – and I’ll show you the best TV show of all time. Oh hang on, just did…

What is Objectivism?

It’s October 2008, and that is significant for two reasons.  Firstly, it marks exactly 12 months since this time last year, and secondly, it marks almost one year on from when I first started to study Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

 

Objectivism has many critics.  Why?  I will offer my personal opinions on that later.

 

Firstly, why Objectivism?  How did I come across it and why did I bother to learn more?

 

Many years ago, I used to be a moderator on IIDB, and encountered my first Christian Presuppositionalist.  I am not ashamed to say I was out of my depth arguing with him (Theophilus, I believe his handle was).  The only poster who I saw debate and destroy (in my opinion) his arguments was an Objectivist (I can’t remember their handle but I distinctly remember the words “existence exists” – something only an Objectivist would say).

 

Up until 2007 I wouldn’t come across any memorable mention of Objectivism or even the name Ayn Rand.  Last year I would spend hours on YouTube watching lectures by my favourite atheist intellectuals Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins; Hitchens is not a fan of Rand at all and mentioned Objectivism from time to time.  But again, I thought nothing of it.

 

Something was bothering me though.  My interests have never been confined to just atheism and science, which for me involved criticising religion and espousing the wonders of evolution.  I’ve always been very opinionated politically, but as I paid more attention to politics, I realised how incredibly ignorant I was.  Where did I stand politically, left, centre, or right?  And why?  What was the difference between communism and capitalism?  Was I right to think of myself as a socialist?  During this spell of questioning myself, I wondered which political party I should align myself with.  The idea of partial state-ownership of land seemed reasonable, and making the world a more unified and collective state meant I favoured joining the EU.  However I also strongly agreed with Christopher Hitchens and supported the war in the Iraq (something many internet atheists do not).  I favoured the war in Iraq because I thought it was a noble ideal because 1. it was intended to remove the threat of terrorism and 2. more importantly, freed the Iraqi people and promised to bring democracy.  Needless to say, I was also a strong proponent of democracy.  (Also needless to say, the two reasons given for the war in Iraq I have cited here are fundamentally flawed, because 1. the war was NEVER intended to remove the threat of terrorism despite the claims of our leaders and 2. spreading unlimited majority rule is neither noble nor moral, but I digress…)

 

And then in September 2007 a good friend of mine (you know who you are) sent me a link to another WordPress blog, to an article entitled Richard Dawkins is NOT an Atheist, which happened to be written by an Objectivist, Ergo.  My very first words were “I disagree.”  (My comment is number 35 on this post).  You will notice Yours Truly having, to put it in scientific terms, his arse handed to him.  Fortunately, I pride myself on intellectual honesty, and I like to think I always have (otherwise I would never have deconverted in the first place) – which means if I am shown to be wrong by objective rational standards, I will admit it and change my opinion.

 

In the coming weeks, I exchanged e-mails with the blog-owner, Ergo, initially just concerning moral dilemmas.  I remember asking his opinion on the Prisoner Dilemma, and his response was to my mind, unprecedented!  Rather than get bogged down by which is the best percentage game to play to ensure the best for all concerned, he simply explained the following: “where force is present, morality is impossible”.  Which basically means that the Prisoner Dilemma is in fact a false dilemma, and an absurd situation in which to formulate a moral code.

 

Sometime prior to this (last year), I had gotten myself into a debate with several theists also regarding moral dilemmas.  I was rude and impolite from the start of this debate and not wishing to promote a fundamentalist blog is the only reason I haven’t linked to that discussion either.  I was responded to with equal and abrupt rudeness by a fundamentalist, but most importantly I was unable to justify my position philosophically, which was also quite embarrassing.  The problem is that atheism itself is not a philosophy, and none of the New Atheists (like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris etc) had an objective basis for their positions.  Modern philosophy, like science, is rooted on the empiricists’ notion that certainty is impossible and degrees of probability are all we can hope for.  I knew this wasn’t good enough.  Just as I knew politically I was weak, I saw a philosophical weakness in myself.  Just as we all do, I needed objectivity.  Of course, many atheists claim to have it and virtually everybody recognises the NEED for it, but no one and nothing I had read provided it.  The best I could hope for was Ebonmuse’s Universal Utilitarianism, which for a time, provided an “objective morality” for me.

 

Then I started to ask Ergo about Objectivism itself – what it meant, what was different about it, and its consequences.  I am very appreciative of the time and patience he took to exchange long e-mails with me.

 

The discussions got onto politics.  Politics is the social extension of one’s morality.  That is to say: only when one understands what is right or wrong, can one begin to ask what should be allowed in society, when force should be used, and the proper role of government.  (This post is about my learning Objectivism; I will not be explaining the philosophy here).  Objectivism necessitates laissez-faire capitalism, which for me led to the immediate question: without taxes, who pays for all the things that taxes do?  And who cares for the disabled.  After fruitful discussions, Ergo even posted the following:  http://ergosum.wordpress.com/2007/11/12/who-cares-for-the-disabled/.

 

Rather than spoon-feed Objectivism to me, Ergo helped me understand the principles and suggest I apply my reasoning process to take me further.  I ordered several of Rand’s books immediately, the first of which I read was The Virtue of Selfishness (TVOS, incidentally I would always recommend this book to any beginner with Objectivism).  Next I read “Philosophy – Who Needs It?”  I now own nine of her books and I still haven’t finished reading them all!  The point I wish to make is this: I was committed to having a rational and objective philosophy, and I took the honest steps necessary to arrive at it.  I looked to the scientists, to the empiricists, to the physicalists, to New Atheists, and even to the fundamentalists, and none of them had it.  Ayn Rand did.

Many people cling to emotionalism and their preconceived beliefs.  This is true for atheists as much as theists.  The idea that the redistribution of wealth is evil and animal Rights are non-existence is RADICAL in today’s culture.  I know from experience that a person who is very emotional when it comes to animals WILL NOT listen to reason.  A person whose family member is living off state hand-outs doesn’t want to hear why the welfare state is a gross moral crime.  But as I have said, an intellectually honest person accepts reason.  Objectivism starts with necessary axioms of existence and (then) consciousness, and proceeds from there.  I was totally won over by Rand’s rational logical approach from start to end, and once one accepts the next chain in the link through the flow of the argument, one must accept a conclusion.  To put this in literal terms with an example: I COULD NOT accept that animals have Rights once I understood the correct nature of Rights, which are an extension of  MORALITY, with morality being a guide to man’s actions, based on his IDENTITY and relationship to REALITY.  And Reality is Existence, Existence is Identity, A = A. 

Another example: if one accepts that man’s property is his own, then NO circumstances EVER violate this principle.  That means that the welfare state is wrong; taxation is wrong; the redistribution of wealth is wrong.  No amount of “what if?” scenarios change this.  Because I understood this, it was not very difficult for me to “get” where Ayn Rand was coming from.

 

Have you ever read a book and found yourself smiling and nodding and saying to yourself, even out loud: “yes!”; “of course!”; “that makes so much sense!”?  Such was my reaction to TVOS.  And I maintain that John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged is the finest passage of text I have ever and will ever read.  For a long time as I was studying Objectivism and challenging it, I found myself unable to disagree or disprove any of its conclusions, because they logically follow from its foundation, which is reality itself.  And who can argue with reality?

 

I refrained from calling myself an Objectivist for many months because I wanted to be totally sure that I could reasonably understand and defend the philosophy to myself before I spoke from that position.

 

When I did finally call myself an Objectivist I was embracing a philosophy.  We all need a philosophy.  We all have one, whether we realise it or not.  The question is: is my philosophy logical, rational, self-consistent, complete, and founded upon reality?  If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, the philosophy is useless.  Objectivism explains epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, politics, and aesthetics.  As an Objectivist, I can justify my knowledge base and I can account for my metaphysics.  I have an objective rational morality.  I have a precise and consistent ethical political ideology.  I know what is right or wrong, and I know how to decide this for myself.  I know where I stand politically, and why.  These are the things everybody needs and most people crave, myself included.  Objectivism fulfils them.

 

So the obvious question I asked others including myself is: why aren’t more people Objectivists and why do many people object to it?  I won’t attempt to answer the first question but I will attempt the second: why do many people object to it?

 

Obviously the religious would object to Objectivism because Objectivism is a rational reality-based philosophy that rejects anything supernatural.  But many of the people I used to identify with, atheists, and those who follow Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Dennett etc (The Big Four, like I used to) that I shall refer to as the New Atheists, are not Objectivists and disagree with Rand.  Disagree is a weak word.  I have encountered positive bile and venom towards Objectivism from the same people who accuse theists of it.  The same people who would applaud me for criticising religion and theism would spit hatred when I criticised THEIR cherished political beliefs, such as the welfare state.

 

This is why I do not identify myself as just an atheist or think of myself in the same group as other blog-writing secular atheists or Humanists.  For me, there are far too many of these New Atheists out there who’ve read the works of the Big Four, understand a bit of evolution, and fancy themselves intellectuals.  Unfortunately, they are totally philosophically ignorant.  Some of them are even explicit subjectivists, a position I hope I don’t need to explain the ridiculous stupidity of.

 

The problem with these atheists is that they think calling themselves an atheist makes them rational; as if they have left the irrationality of religion behind and are now free rational beings.  Some of them then become so sure of their new-found “rationality” that they become obstinate to change and develop an emotional commitment to their new beliefs: do you think there is a difference in rationality between a fundamentalist Christian and a mixed-economist?  There isn’t.  Are Muslim terrorists more irrational than socialists?  Not necessarily.  All these positions are fundamentally irrational and immoral.

 

And that is the fact that many people do not want to admit.  And that is why they don’t like Objectivism.  The problem is that most people hold their beliefs in a vacuum with no reference to reality.  They have no philosophical basis on which to draw conclusions so they hold a mass of opinions and notions together without noticing that most of them contradict the others: they want all the benefits of capitalism as long as everything is subject to state control.  They want to give animals the Right to not suffer but take away their Right to NOT be eaten for food.  They want the government to moderate food, drink, speech, decency, until it conflicts with their notions of acceptable food, drink, speech, and decency.  They want people to freely help other people, but then hold a gun to your head and demand your money for the welfare state when you “freely” choose not to.  They want to make as much money as possible for themselves, but take money away from those who have “too much”.

 

We live in a culture that refrains from moral judgment, where anything goes, where multiculturalism is encouraged, where the wealthy are the object of envy, where firm definite statements are laughed upon, and ‘objective reality’ is said tongue-in-cheek.  Objectivism is the antithesis of all these positions, and that is why some people will not accept it.

 

We live in a culture which tells us that morality is a “grey” issue.  With Objectivism, there is no grey issue.  Because morality is based on objective fact, there is always a right and wrong thing to do, although that doesn’t mean it’s always EASY to tell which is which.  But if you want to believe morality is grey, and someone tells you that there are definite objective moral truths, you will most likely be hostile.  It’s the same with Objectivism.

 

Now, there is only one other philosophy that tries to offer a complete self-consistent objective worldview: religion.  Religion fails (spectacularly).  But unfortunately, when the New Atheists see something that claims to be a complete self-consistent objective worldview, in a world that says that such a thing is impossible, what do they think?  Cult.  Objectivism has been called a cult before.  Anyone who understands Objectivism can appreciate how divorced from the truth this accusation is.  A cult is precisely what Ayn Rand would NEVER approve of, despite how some misguided fanatical “followers” of her have acted.  Just as all religions claim that only their religion is the right way to live your life, I would also claim that Objectivism is the only right philosophy by which to live.  That is the sort of claim that would make many Atheists dubious, and even aggressive, to Objectivism.  But is that fair?

 

So the truth is, I can see why some people might see Objectivism the way they do.  I do understand why some people don’t like it.  And I definitely understand why some people don’t understand it.  But this is not the failing of Objectivism.  In my opinion it is the failing of others to be honest with themselves and rational; in short, it is the failing of those who put emotion over reason.

 

In a society where emotionalism and “doing whatever you feel like” is the norm, this is hardly surprising.  In a society where objectivity is avoided, Objectivism is like a silver stake to a vampire.  In a society where altruism is the moral ideal, rational egoism is the epitome of evil.

 

*

 

It was early this year that I decided I could honestly call myself an Objectivist.  And although my articles have dried up of late, I am still very passionate about philosophy and politics.  I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on the past year that has probably been the biggest intellectual progression for me since I deconverted.  And I also wanted to express a few thoughts I’ve been having for a while about other atheists, Ayn Rand, and why I think her work evokes some of the reactions it does.

 

If you’re curious about Ayn Rand’s philosophy, by all means read the blogs of Objectivists (see my blogroll for suggestions), but the best thing I can recommend is to buy and read her books yourself.  Although I can’t predict your reaction I can guarantee that if you are honest and rational, what she has to say might just change the way you see the whole world.