Wiped off the map by an unnatural disaster

Natural disasters can wipe out towns, even cities and thanks to technology we can view this from a distance and perhaps connect with the deeply distressing images of destruction. Our hearts go out to survivors and our responses can vary from detached and disinterested to sincerely moved heart felt sympathy. Immediate action aims to ensure suffering is minimised and the call to our sense of humanity reaches beyond our ideas of boarders and boundaries. It’s a wonderful thing, no question. Recovering, rebuilding and keeping communities like this together are and should be a priority.

But what if a town was wiped off the map by an unnatural disaster posing as a natural one? No I’m not talking about some form of weather technology creating a super storm (and I’m not saying that’s impossible either). I’m referring to a form of economic euthanasia that is a term used in a variety of ways (veterinary industry for example), but here I am using it to describe the concept of communities being considered no longer ‘viable’ to be ‘put out of their misery’ because they are not as productive, falling dangerously close to the debit side of the ledger. The town I grew up in (Thames) was recently paraded and parodied in the media along this line, so its hard not to feel personally offended as though where I am from has no meaning outside of this.

Let me put it another way. Where did you grow up? What is your turangawaewae. I don’t use that term lightly I use it with intent and respect. Value existed before the invention of money and yet the artificiality of the monetary system has been magically rendered invisible. Could you imagine the media responding to a town or community being devastated by a flood, tsunami or eruption with ‘well – no-one goes there anyway’ I’d like to hope even the most empathically inept would be astute enough to keep quiet although there are one or two I might not be so sure about.

I’m bothered by the trend to couch our lives in financial terminology and frameworks. The measuring of worth this way is so pervasive that we don’t even notice how often we account for our lives almost literally with fiscal language infiltrating almost everything. The weather forecast is preceded or followed by an economic forecast on news channels paralleling and surreptitiously inviting us to consider both as natural phenomenon that we are simply at the mercy of. From pre-conception to the grave our value is carefully calculated according to our contribution to GDP.

So it is not a hard stretch to imagine extending this to a whole community. If it is valued purely for its productivity then the cold rational book balancing mentality can legitimately argue for it being – well – ‘put to sleep’. We seem to want people and communities to function and fit a particular model effectively shrinking and limiting our appreciation of the quirky, small, and unique. Credit where credit is due to fiscal laws rather than genuine appreciation of diversity could be the true cost to society.

I’m no Marilyn Waring but I smell the stench of rotten economic values. Life shouldn’t need to make cents because worth is everyones business.


Making use of the closet

Most people will automatically assume a reference to ‘The Closet’ is about sexuality. However there is another group queuing up for the privilege of ‘coming out’ and I think it’s time we started asking whether the closet has served it’s usefulness. A walk/roll in wardrobe might be more appropriate these days at the very least. Anyway – I am referring to spirituality or probably more accurately, people who have a sense that their spirituality is marginalised by religion or other belief structures.

I’m not sure I want to compare but perhaps there are some parallel experiences of power and notions of normativity and identity that fit. I’d like to explore some of the assumptions that are limiting and what these mean for people experiencing a genuine sense of un-ease.

1: Lets start with language, particularly dualistic structures of language that inform thinking and more importantly understanding. Basically things are either ‘this or that’, you are either religious or Not. Most of the time this is framed in creation versus evolution – people have to pick a side. And it’s more than awkward to try and say ‘neither.’

2: Throwing in ‘other options’ outside the well established dualisms like above is seen as ‘too politically correct’ it sometimes sounds like ‘stop including/pandering/indulging all these minorities!’ We’ve worked so hard to make some things invisible and constructed almost an Orwellian Ministry of Truth like certainty that ‘it always has been this way.’

3: Change and fluidity are definite no-no’s. Identity is assumed to be fixed – whether it be via ‘nature or nurture’ we are supposed to have done all that figuring out by the time we are in our 20’s (more or less) and then it’s locked in!

4: When it comes to declaring you are of a different ‘persuasion’ there can be intense scrutiny and general sense of ‘fair game’ for others inquisitive questioning. Some people have a sense of entitlement and see ‘curiosity’ as a form of inclusion or acceptance. However – questions that start with ‘Do all…’ should be met with an equal ‘Do all…’ and wait for the eyebrows to raise.

5: Linking in with 2 is the quintessential ‘it’s a phase!’ You just need ‘convincing’ – or an exorcism. Panic and freaking out with references to cults, mental illness or some level coercion are implied.

6: A sense of ‘betrayal’ from others who think they ‘know the person better than anyone’ often (but not always) family and friends or close associates. The idea of the ‘essential true self’ affords people the right to ‘know someone’ so the change is assumed to be about ‘hiding’ or ‘pretending to be someone’ an ‘imposter’ – “I don’t know who you are anymore” hurts because it supports this unhelpful view of self.

7: Catastrophising the future sometimes follows 6. Fear tactics are employed via creative exaggerations of how bad/hard/unfulfilling etc life will be for you if are going to be ‘this.’ Large doses of guilt and shame are sometimes included by referring to people or connections that might be lost, broken. If that doesn’t work then full scale ‘interventions’ could be next.

For those who have never been on the margins this might seem a little perplexing. So another way to look at it is through the lens of loss and grief. It doesn’t have to be about death. But any radical change in life suddenly exposes a lot of things we might have taken for granted and the vulnerability while working through ‘what it all means’ might require some form refuge or sense of security.

Human beings need to belong or more accurately to feel, experience and believe they are accepted, valued and respected. Ostracism, exclusion, rejection and isolation undermine all of this. I think The Closet is a realm of consciousness that allows for risk assessment or discerning in the moment what will work best for providing for those important needs. So perhaps The Closet is more like a Green Room, where we see through the curtain at the audience and decide who to put out on the stage.

Spirituality is a deeply personal, intimate experience and is as unique to people as sexuality. Our relationship with life is infused with the delights of both aspects but isn’t always simple. Having a ‘place’ that serves as a form of protection is wise, not weakness. It’s nice to be able to step out of the ‘lime light or spot light’ and while in ‘The Green Room’ embrace, integrate and become comfortable with ourselves.

So get out there and ‘break a leg.’

Same puzzle – different pieces

Dinner party conversations can go from cacophonous to complete quiet in the blink of an eye (that could also be a disparaging wink in disguise). While people are processing what to say or how to respond – a loud voice booms out in a mocking tone “so you’re a conspiracy theorist” followed by rocking back in their chair and eyeballing the innocent participant who has just realised they have met a skeptic.

Chances are the conversation will slip back something more mundane, but if the awkward pause continues it could be that dessert will be served with a cup of hot posturing. Time to volunteer to do the dishes? Or place bets on who will win. But what might appear on the surface as a ‘healthy debate’ or ‘robust arguing’ in actuality represents ‘drunken boxing with a cobra’. Or something like this:

Not everyone is comfortable sharing their thoughts, ideas, views about sensitive or controversial themes. It’s kind of like stripping in front of your grandmother. But others find it a bit of a sport to toy with those daring to step outside the usual or more commonly accepted ‘truths’ of the world. I grew up with a few in my family and learned very quickly when to exit the scene before getting bitten. It left me questioning my beliefs and it wasn’t until I stumbled upon this little gem on skeptics linguistic ‘slight of hand’ that creates the illusion of knowing what they are talking about:
That I finally felt confident to become a ‘snake charmer’ – although I would still rather avoid them if possible.

It is a very useful set of observations about the tactics skeptics use to create the illusion of skilled debate without actually offering any of their own thoughts or ideas. It’s also a balanced view. To be fair most people who are skeptical are also open minded, but the closed minded skeptic is definitely not EVER going to agree that the pieces of the puzzle might fit together differently. There is a list of 10 tactics but my favourites are:

1: Continually ‘raising the bar’ on the evidence needed. They ask for the evidence – you give it – they require more – and no matter what – it’s never good enough…like drunken boxing, you know you are swinging but the punches never connect.
2: Defaulting everything to ‘Occam’s Razor’ – that the simplest explanation – that fits all the ‘facts’ is preferred. But that requires the facts to be agreed on.
3: Proof – ‘I don’t need to prove it – I’m not claiming XYZ’ – They assume they can win by default – that doubting the other side is enough. Carl Sagan put it best when he said “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

The other 7 are variations on the above as well as, character attacks and the use of body language (sneering). I have a couple of my own to add:

1: The personal is proof – or the ‘I know I’ve been there’ argument. A classic example I have encountered is someone who is absolutely certain (closed minded skeptic) that life ends when you die because when they had a heart attack and they had to be defibrillated – they didn’t see a white light. There is the proof ‘I’ve experienced that – and that’s not how it is’.

2: Shoot the messenger and you shoot the believer – if you discredit the person or the source of the view point (David Ike is a good example) – then the target is also anyone who subscribes to what the messenger espouses. The more radical, extreme and unusual the idea helps here and if that is combined with someone who ‘seems’ a bit weird then to follow that person means that ridicule is as contagious as herpes. Going back to Mr Ike – he was media fodder in the early 1990’s

He has not backed down and never diluted his theories no matter how obscure or ‘bizarre’ they seem to the general public. I respect people who think for themselves and brave the cold social outskirts of respected ideas. We could do well to remember other visionaries, extremists and revolutionaries who were imprisoned and outcast only in later centuries to be revered.

But if we can all find the balance of the skeptic and conspiracy theorist within we might all have richer lives. I suppose it is another form of adventure and some might feel able to travel within their country, others might seek wider experiences – but one doesn’t have to mean the other is less valid. The advent of the world wide web means we can explore all sorts of radical ideas and possibilities. Discerning ‘fact from fiction’ can be tiring and is perhaps the reason why people ‘throw out the alien baby with the bathwater’.

One technique I have found useful is ‘triangulating information’ – that is I wait a few years and see what sources and themes are strongest and how other forms of knowledge might support this. I’ve also realised something can be located in multiple paradigms and this doesn’t need to be resolved. The intersection of spiritual and scientific ideas is a curious place that is worthy of anyone with an esoteric adventurous streak.

So if anyone is looking to spice up their next social occasion – don’t bust out the 1000 piece jigsaw, try throwing in a wild card such as ‘what about the illuminati, and the Queen being a reptilian shape shifter?’ and let the fun begin.

Would you like your burger ‘genderised’?

Could someone please tell me when food started to develop a gender identity. I did a double take buying a burger last night. There was a sign advertising a ‘his and hers’ combo. I stood there gazing at the beautiful coloured poster – burgers looking delicious, quietly salivating but also wrestling with an uneasy awareness that they were very different burgers. ‘His’ burger – the ‘manly’? burger – had BEEF – yes in capitals. ‘Hers’ (hey that’s me! – as I quickly located myself genderly) was CHICKEN – with Cesar Salad. I tried not to laugh hysterically but it occurred to me that this is considered completely acceptable advertising. Sure there is nothing directly offensive – unlike certain other burger advertising that…well…lets just say exploits female sexuality in ways that are about as subtle as …just take a look – its easier than explaining: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1krJqn3smbI

But I have seen this pattern before. Fast food advertising does this almost magician like ‘slight of awareness’ where the option for the woman is obviously LOW FAT! BECAUSE SHE IS WATCHING HER WEIGHT, OR SHOULD BE…THINKING ABOUT WHAT SHE IS EATING. Again shouting because I am over the food guilt propaganda masquerading as targeting tastes. Lets call it what it is; the clever creation of subtle self surveillance by pervasive normalisation of ideas of what men and woman put in their mouths.

Yes – that was an intentional sexual innuendo because female sexuality is quite clearly captured by this process. I want to be able to happily masticate in public without some lascivious dude attaching my enjoyment of food with a certain act that rhymes with mastication. I am also worried about the vegetarians of this world – are they some other gender? Do they fall into some androgynous burger zone.

Unfortunately and slightly ironically – if you point this out to people they generally say ‘its just a bit of fun’, ‘don’t take it too seriously’. So again there is the shut down of any critical analysis because advertisers do not want a critically thinking public – that would be a disaster.

So enough chewing the fat – time to swallow the cold hard truth. Food needs to be freed from its new role as a definer of gender and sexuality. I’m not sure how – but we could all start with a bit of naval gazing AND NOT TO DO A BODY FAT CHECK! Thinking about our own responses to advertising and noticing our own conversations about food is a good place to start.

Easy as pie.

All that glitters isn’t glass…wait…it is!

I’m back to commuting to work by bike. So this is probably my version of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (another classic but probably missed by most under the age of 50) http://www.amazon.com/Zen-Art-Motorcycle-Maintenance-Inquiry/dp/0060589469

Anyway! The road conceals many treasures including ‘shiny things’. Few people would stop and notice these glittering offerings – particularly motorists – not that they need to – because from their perspective they don’t exist. But they do notice me – weaving – for no apparent ‘obvious’ reason and probably blast their horn, swear under their breath – or occasionally slow down – roll down the window and serve me a lecture…fair enough – erratic behaviour by any road user is risky and unnerving.

But broken glass on a road to a cyclist is the metaphorical equivalent of 8cm/3 inch road spikes. Think you might notice those in your car – especially if they are shiny. Imagine the chaos if those were strewn about randomly – it would make the headlines. Garage owners and the AA would be rubbing their hands with glee, but that’s not the point.

A perspective is neither right or wrong – it is simply a ‘view-point’. I’m not ‘wrong’ for seeing glass as a threat to my tyre integrity – and similarly the motorist freaking out at my wild movements isn’t ‘wrong’ for wondering ‘WTF is that lycra clad road parasite doing’! But one of these view points is probably more common and collectively accepted as a valid explanation of the situation – and here is where there is a missed opportunity.

You see – if you experience the world from a different position – the things that matter to you and are very real – but do not even enter the consciousness or awareness of others. And if you try and validate your position it can be met with fierce opposition. Why? because most people are more interested in being ‘right’ than they are in the ‘truth’. These are NOT THE SAME THING.

My truth – road glitter – AKA smashed bottles = shredded tyres (after a month of riding they look like they have been through a cheese grater!).

The glass could be half full or empty – so long as its not broken on the road thanks.

Fish on bike, runs red light

There are a few things that polarise people. Cyclists seem to invoke some primal (there might be a possible evolutionary benefit? bring on the Darwinism!) anger in motorists.

Today I was reminded that there is a whole other ‘species’ of road user that is cerebrally challenged, possibly suffering from Entitled-isis. When stopping for a red light in Mt Eden another cyclist – adequately decked out in ‘can you see me’ gear looks at the red light and calmly rides through the intersection. Yes – calmly and like he is supposed to do this as his right on two wheels.

Me still sitting at the lights shaking my head wanted to yell out expletives and call him names. Petty? Childish…maybe. What came to me is that as a minority on the road ANY deviation or behaviour that doesn’t conform to expected rules and running red lights ranks highly – then the automatic default is to see all of that group as behaving like this. It reminded me of all stereotypes and attempts to generalise people.

There is a chance that this ‘fish on a bike’ suffered short term memory loss – being a fish – and forgot that red lights mean stop. The alternative is that he hoped his high vis gear made him blend into the background. Or the final possibility is his ego was so big it would have cushioned him should he have met with a vehicle running a green light.

Individuality has its place but rules and restrictions can be about safety. We need to distinguish this and watch out for out of control sense of self-importance and entitlement that justifies recklessness and disregard for the needs and well-being of others.

The laws of physics will get you in the end if you are on a bike – high vis gear wont protect you when you meet with a larger vehicle. Survival of the smartest.