Category Archives: Thought

Just my opinion…

It has been said that opinions are like arseholes. Everyone has one, but it’s not acceptable to go around sticking yours in other people’s faces.

This is all very well, but as far as I’ve noticed no one seems to have a really high regard of their rectum, get it out at parties, and then, when it goes unappreciated say “hey, it’s just my arsehole. You gotta live with it”.  This doesn’t happen to me often, and I’ve never really felt the urge to do it myself. It is, perhaps, a poor analogy, in that sense.

Someone’s views make up an important part on their personality. Many people define themselves by them.  I wish they would be less loud though.

I know I can hardly talk, me with my whole internet waffle stream here, but  people seem to think anybody wants their opinion on anything. Frankly I don’t care that you don’t like my t-shirt, or which book-to-film adaptation was least shit, or what the recent discovery of a new subatomic particle will mean for the financial markets of East Asia. Goddammit. Are you an expert in the field of t-shirt design?! Well are you?!

“It’s just opinion” is one of the most annoying things to hear in a conversation. Seriously.  If the person who said it really believed it, you probably wouldn’t get to a point where they needed to say it.  Them saying it assumes that all opinions are equal and should be heard equally, but that they are all equally irrelevant. No food is better than others. No music. No films. McDonalds is on the same level as Michel Roux. Mozart with Muse. I find that hard to swallow. It’s worse when it is simply, plainly, objectively (and I mean this without the ambiguity I have brought to it in previous discussions) wrong.  You can prove something is wrong scientifically. You can almost prove something is right. With established theories it is not down to personal opinions on the evidence what the conclusion is: It is down to reasoning, and reasons. They might be overturned at any point by new evidence, but the facts aren’t subjective. It is not my opinion that evolution works. There are thousands of reasons to believe it does, and none to believe it doesn’t.  It is not my opinion homeopathy doesn’t work. Many fair clinical trials have shown it does no better than placebo. Why do people think it’s ok just to say, “It’s my opinion”, and think that makes their ridiculous indefensible statement right?

I think the idea that everyone’s opinion is equally valid is ridiculous (and I understand the irony in me making statement like that). I will trust an expert on a subject more than I would trust pretty much anyone else.  On an academic subject, be it science or sociology, they will have spent far more time studying that subject, they will know more interpretations of it, they will probably have done research on it, and they will know the vast set of situations that their knowledge applies to far better than some kid in his room (hi). Personal examples are almost unilaterally irrelevant in an argument (the main situation when they’re not are absolutes. The statement “all French people eat snails and love it” is very easily contradicted by your mate Francois who doesn’t. The statement “most French people eat snails and love it” is far harder to argue against without evidence. Incidentally, I know nothing about French people’s attitudes to snails.).

In terms of the arts, or entertainment, or whatever you want to describe them as, I will trust a critic’s judgement of quality far higher than I would an imdb rating. There are a lot of stupid people in the world. This is well demonstrated by the inexplicable popularity of Transformers and whatever autotuned nonsense is in vogue right now. Of course, you have to form your own opinions rather than just mirroring others, but it makes sense to listen to someone who has a wide experience and knowledge of a subject to get a view on what is “good” or not. Rather than some moron who likes shit blowing up.  Now, I should be clear. I differentiate between people’s personal tastes and how people view the quality of a thing. Something can be good, and you not like it. I enjoyed Highlander, but I know it was a bad film. I didn’t enjoy There Will Be Blood at all, but I could see it was beautifully shot and very well acted (Please don’t use this as a cross-section on my ability to judge films. I like some good films I promise).  Can quality be objective? Can you describe something as objectively better? I’m not sure. But I know that taste and quality are not something to get mixed up in a discussion.

I think my final point links to everything I have already said.  The use of reasoning. You can make unqualified statements if you want, but they will be meaningless to anyone else without justification. Do you believe something?  Do you like something? Why? By explaining yourself there’s a chance of sharing this with others, and of them agreeing with you.  Man, I might even respect your high opinion of  Transformers.  It is your opinion, and it doesn’t need to be justified to anyone, or indeed told to anyone. But if you must get it out, let them know why you think that.

And for God’s sake, don’t have the wrong opinion.

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Don’t give a squat

This is in response to my very own response blogger, and friend, Iwanttheconch:

https://iwanttheconch.wordpress.com/2012/09/02/is-squatting-really-that-bad/
Squatting is symptomatic of a much larger problem, that is, people without decent shelter.  Homeless people.  Most of the time, people on the street have nowhere to go, and to criminalise them for trying to find shelter from the elements (as opposed to exercising their right to get pneumonia) is callous and stupid, unless the government has implemented decent homeless shelters (which they haven’t).

By definition, you cannot squat in an occupied house, so this law protects the privilege of the wealthy to own land they don’t live on at the expense of the most vulnerable.

I agree that squatters can do damage, and they should be dealt with accordingly, and that they should move when asked (by the police or homeowners, I am not going to defend their “right” to live on someone else’s property). Furthermore, the government cannot be seen to encourage trespass.

But giving someone a criminal record, for what can only be described as a crime of desperation, seems extreme.  Move them on, charge them for vandalism if you want, but for crying out loud, get them somewhere to stay!

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Should We Kill People?

Should we kill people who do not follow the law?

This post is not on a topic that I’ve had a lot of controversy discussing before, but I realise that it is actually fiercely fought across the world.  I think I will play devil’s advocate with myself a little, in order to get a feel of internal debate going here!

There are many things to say in favour of the death penalty. With repeat offenders of serious crimes it could be seen as the only solution there is for dealing with them, short of keeping them locked up forever.  It could save significant amounts of money, given that the government would not have to pay the living costs of criminals, and as prisons are getting over-full anyway, it could save space.  What’s more, it is a powerful deterrent (there’s no coming back from being dead), and, for the more scarily vindictive, some people deserve to die.

Apart from the very last point, I am inclined to sympathise with this line of argument, because it makes a handful of decent points (I understand I made them, but work with me here).  However, I personally am vehemently opposed to the death penalty.

I think that punishments should be preventative: in order to discourage people from committing crimes, and to stop people who are likely to commit crimes from committing them again.  I do not think that people should be punished simply for “doing wrong”, as I would struggle to see what would be the ideal end result, if not one of the above.  In that sense, I don’t think some people “deserve” punishment on any inherent level, and thus some people do not, fundamentally, deserve to die.

I believe that killing is wrong. I imagine that this is a view held by a lot of people.  I myself think that there are few things, short of rape and torture, that are worse, morally. If we were to institutionalise killing, then that normalises it to an extent.  If we are to kill people, how can we really take the moral high ground about lesser crimes such as stealing cds or smashing windows?  Would revenge killings count as murder, and how could we justify saying that if it is? A justice system should be trustworthy and respected, and that is hard to achieve if they get their hands dirty in such a way.  It’s a joke going through twitter now: “What’s the death penalty? Killing people that kill people to show people that killing people is wrong.”

However, compared to all the obvious practical advantages, should purely moral objections be given such weight?  I would say yes, as I believe that you shouldn’t put prioritise material gains over (as I see them) such fundamental moral ideas.  But what is more, there are serious practical problems with the death penalty. A significant flaw is one of the advantages I mentioned above: when you kill someone, you can’t just take it back.  The guilty verdict must be absolutely irrefutable. That is rarely the case.  Furthermore, execution rarely acts as a much stronger deterrent than prison, countries and eras with death penalties simply do not have lower crime rates (there are other factors involved, of course, but this shows the effect is small).

So it appears I can’t persuade myself otherwise. I still think the death penalty is pointless and barbaric.  Others are welcome to have their own opinions on the subject. As long as they do not become a member of government. Or vote.  Or speak.

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A Taxing Approach To Breaking The Laws

The constant clashes between tax avoiding millionaires, benefit cheats, and the sanctimonious and often corrupt politicians that condemn them could well go on for centuries, if by then we haven’t come up with a better way of paying for our roads and health service. There has always been a gross disparity between the consequences for those involved, and those with the least, and stealing the least, being dealt with most harshly.

Tax avoidance isn’t illegal, though costing the states billions in potential income. The excuse given to leaving the loopholes open are usually along the lines of “there are too many” and the impending fear of losing all the potential tax from all the rich that would leave as a result. The former can be dismissed with a stern “just deal with it. It’s your job.”, but the latter does provide an interesting idea. Companies in the UK make lots of profit, as we are a country of ravenous consumers. Would they really leave simply because they had to pay some more tax? If instead, the alternative was to operate from a different country (such as…Luxembourg), then that just means we’d have to make regulations regarding that (this also seems like a useful job for the EU). The situation does not appear to be that insurmountable. If instead, it’s conniving individuals who want to leave the country if they have to pay a fair amount of tax, then I don’t think it’s too harsh to say that we’re probably better off without them. However, it’s not just avoidance that is granted amnesty by the government, but also illegal evasion, if you’re rich enough. In 2010, Vodafone was let off £6bn in tax (even after it was declared they had broken laws by not paying it).  It’s true, Cameron did criticise Jimmy Carr for avoiding tax, but he employed Phillip Green, tax avoider extraordinaire, as a Government advisor.  This is largely illustrative of the current government’s attitude towards paying tax.

Moving on to figures of government, where there does seem to be a “protect yer own” attitude prevailing, notably with the issue of David Laws, which has been circulating social networks recently:

It’s true, looking deeper into the situation makes him look a bit less like greedy scum, as there is the personal matter of him wanting to keep his sexuality private, and as soon as discovered he started to pay the over-claimed amount back.  The subsequent loss of outrage isn’t helped by the group complaining about him being so homophobic (It’s not that he’s gay, but…) However, it doesn’t change the fact that his actions were no less deliberately misleading than that of Carol Irving, and he has had very little consequences for his actions. Even feeling all sympathetic and liberal (as I am often prone to do), this sort of comparison does not look favourable at all, and that fact that he is returning to government is quite ridiculous.  Surely, for society to run smoothly, we need consistent punishments for crimes?

What this country, and indeed the whole world, needs more equality. Not only in the level of income people receive (which is my usual harping point), but in their punishments, criticism and consequences.
Bit more to read on this subject:

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-1704527/Taxman-let-Vodafone-off-6bn-bill.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/expenses-cheat-david-laws-to-return-to-government-8081390.html?origin=internalSearch?afid=af

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/7780642/MPs-Expenses-Treasury-chief-David-Laws-his-secret-lover-and-a-40000-claim.html

http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk/Plymouth-single-mother-jailed-pound-44k-benefit/story-16385837-detail/story.html

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Child playing with a remote. And that remote is the nature of morality.

I had an interesting discussion with some friends recently on the subject of morality. At the core of it was the question: could morality be described as objective?

There are of course arguments in the affirmative, provided by religion.  If God creates a moral code, then what is right and wrong is forever arbitrated by that code, regardless of the apparent societal norms of the people.  Without the existence of a God, would people just run around stabbing each other? Frankly though, for someone who doesn’t believe in such a thing, it’s kind of a non-argument. One way to develop this idea, for a secular perspective, is to look at whether or not the morality of a culture is determined by its religion.  They are of course fundamentally linked, but seeing how members of all religions reinterpret their respective teachings then it is tempting to say that a religion’s moral code, in respect to the things that matter, mirrors that of the culture it is in.  For example, most Catholics I know are ok with gays and contraception.  Regardless, this does not address the nature of morality itself.

The natural way to turn then, is that as morality has no meaning outside of human interaction, then it must be a completely human construct.  Completely subjective, and completely a result of society.  However this ignores two key points: where the morals came from in the first place; and why there is an apparent consistency in the moral codes around the world (that is, most cultures look after the weak and are against theft, and I would defy you to find one that thinks of murder as a good thing).

The view I took here was that morality was a useful product of evolution, a mechanism that allows society to live and work together.  This makes it no less real, and makes good acts no less good for preserving the society that they take place in, rather they act as an explanation for why moral acts can be almost instinctual.  Whether or not this makes them objective is a matter of semantics. They do depend on the mind of the individual, but they are a product of biological effects on the mind that are as fundamental as our need to reproduce. However, this would only be true for some fundamental moral points, and as the only way to observe what these were would be to see consistency across cultures.  In this sense, rather than objectivity, we would be looking for consistency, which might operate similarly in this context, but is a fundamentally different philosophical concept.  Orwell famously said “sanity is not a statistic” and that should be observed here.  Just because the majority believe something does not make it correct, and certainly does not help define the full nature of morality.

It should be noted here that I consider morality a real, tangible thing that affects my everyday actions.  In viewing morality as subjective in nature, if not in practice, I do not devalue it. Rather, I am inexpertly attempting to explore what it is, and how it works.  I am a child pulling apart a remote control to see what makes it do what it does.

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What the Hell?

I was brought up in a lovely, Christian fashion, with a Methodist set of Grandparents on one side and an Anglican set on the other, but it was pretty soon when I started to question the existence of God.  I simply could not see how an all loving, all powerful, all knowing god could inflict hurricanes, mosquitoes and adolescence on his wonderful creations.

Now, I am sure that having a pretty cruel (but undoubtedly funny) sense of humour is not the widely accepted answer to this, so I have pursued answers from assorted Christians. I have been told that humanity falling to sin has unbalanced the world (causing earthquakes), that everything has good aspects (like mosquitoes), that God feels the need to test or punish us (hence adolescence) and most of all he’s big and powerful and always right. Basically, don’t question too hard, because it’s impossible that our puny human minds could comprehend the majesty of the Lord’s ineffable plan (praise be!).

However, arguments that require you to believe in them in the first place aren’t entirely convincing.Why would God create a world that was so easily messed up? Why would God create us with such a potential for disaster (free will or no)? Why would God, who is meant to be all loving and all forgiving, want to test or punish us? Is he a massive sicko? It’s difficult to simply persuade me that God’s ineffable by telling me that God’s ineffable.

What’s more, the foundation of faith itself is fundamentally flawed: why believe at all?  I have been told time and time again (by evangelists) that there is firm evidence for God, but they don’t seem to understand that if it was firm enough to be fact they wouldn’t have to believe in a God. It would be a universally accepted scientific fact. Then there is the argument that faith is worthless if the believers know that God exists. Now, apart from the obvious point on how depressingly needy that makes our Heavenly Father sound, there is the small matter of “why believe in the first place”. Because of a book? Because your parents did? I know this sounds awful but I honestly cannot find Christianity or Islam any more logical or convincing than Ancient Greek Mythology or Unicorns. I’m sure with concerted effort they too can be justified in a pseudo-scientific sense, the most inconvenient stories described as metaphors.

I’m not saying religion is necessarily a bad thing. Far from it, it can make many people very happy, give people a reason to live, and justify morality in a way pure logic sometimes can not.  I’m not saying that religious people are stupid. Like humanity as a whole, many are exceptionally clever (though like humanity as a whole most are exceptionally stupid). However, the way people’s beliefs are treated as sacred (apologies), as somehow separate to standard philosophy and science is wrong. The matter of religion is fought on a very different field to any other source of debate, and that needs to be changed.  By all means believe what you like, Jedi or Judaism, but if you’re going to try to convince someone else you’re right and they’re wrong, make damn sure that your argument is irrefutable.

I think it is that sort of attitude that really throws me off on religion.  The arguments can be made for and against, and no one really gets anywhere because religion is seen as a subjective thing. In my eyes I don’t see how that is possible. It is not an opinion that gravity works, it is an observation. It is not an opinion that evolution happens, it is an almost universally accepted, peer-reviewed theory with enormous evidence and scientific backing.  However, if more evidence or observations came that countered them, new theories would need to be written. That is the scientific process. If religion had a basis in fact, it would be observed under a scientific process, and a conclusion could be brought.

Probably not going to happen though. Here’s hoping I don’t burst into flames soon.

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Panic on the streets of London, Panic on the streets of Birmingham…

The London Riots, eh?

I think what most people think when posed with such situations is “Why?”.  My first thought was a sense of disbelief.  Not because of the disastrous scale of it, that came later, but because there didn’t seem to be any clear cause, motivation or reason behind it.  This wasn’t a protest that got out of hand, not really. Protesters would try to make their message clear wouldn’t they? Rather, than just breaking things in a cryptic and completely unhelpful way, akin to babies’ crying or the riddles left to ‘help’ heroes find the MacGuffin in lazily plotted adventure films (I mean, why?).  Last time I looked, we weren’t in a socially motivated Indiana Jones film. As was widely stated, Footlocker hadn’t stopped EMA.

The next thought that the Telegraph, our Prime Minister (the Right Honourable David Cameron), and every outraged old person within earshot had was that it was motivated by greed.  It’s probably very likely that this was a factor in the riots, you don’t steal a laptop just because you’re cross, or as a grand political statement. However, if these people had the attitude that if they wanted something, they’d steal it, wouldn’t they have done this earlier? In a subtler manner? As in, not in broad daylight, in front of CCTV cameras?  It jars somewhat, and I think it’s skirting the issue to place it simply on personal self interest, even if they thought they could get away with it.

It has to be more complicated than that.  A combination of desperation from poverty, undirected anger at the government and those around them, and mob mentality.  I am not saying that people should not be dealt with, rather that the roots of the problems are faced.  These riots that weren’t thought out at all. Trumped up charges (16 months for stealing some doughnuts!) will not prevent future problems.

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