Archive for November 2006
I’m back from London, a trip that finally allowed me to finish The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Airport lounges and the flights themselves were enough for me to put a major dent in it, with only a little left to finish this morning.
The book got a little heavy-going around the middle, but opened up nicely after that, and far more of it is positive and practical than the iconoclastic title would have you believe. It is more of a personal statement by the author than his previous scientific books, but I knew that going in, so the occasional lump of loaded langauge was to be expected.
The heading on this post is my attempt to summarise my position on religion in to a pithy soundbite – a take on “Think Global – Act Local”. I found myself fully in agreement the Isaac Asimov quote that I used here before, which says what I have been saying for years, but more effectively. Prof. Dawkins touches on this in the GD book, under “The Poverty of Agnosticism”: the way I see it, Agnosticism is acceptable as a philosophical proposition, but it just doesn’t cut the mustard in today’s world, where taking a neutral position is seen as passivity, a sign of weakness, a chink in the armour to be exploited by those with strong theocratic agendas they can enact without opposition.
The metaphorical door that could lead to belief in a God or Gods is closed, but not locked. It won’t be falling open by itself, no matter how hard the wind blows. If some agent is intelligent enough to figure out the handle, I will welcome it in for a cup of tea and a chat, but I’m not going to hang around waiting. I have things to do, and I’m going to get on with them.
However, there are dogs at the door: their howling is annoying, they are crapping on my doorstep, attacking my cats and stealing my chickens. I would like to be left alone, but I’m not being allowed to do my work. So: they should not be surprised when I open the door with a shotgun in my hand, and pepper them with rock salt.
I’ve seen some highly complex epistemological arguments about all the relationship between the concepts of Agnosticism and Atheism, but if we’re going to make any impact on the general population, the ones who don’t read Newsweek or The Grauniad, we need a Tabloid headline. I concede that Think Agnostic – Act Atheist might be a bit much, since it assumes people understand those respective concepts, but it’s something..? 😕
This morning, not long in to a two week holiday, I was idly wondering if I could justify a visit to London this weekend. I saw hotel prices weren’t too bad, and I could get a flight direct to London City Airport at a fair price, but I still needed a reason. A little browsing on the Time Out site for concerts showed an unusual number of Jazz gigs, tagged with the letters LJF: it’s the London Jazz Festival this weekend. That’ll do.
I plan to take in one major concert, and two or three smaller free gigs, starting at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday evening, when Lol Coxhill does some “Commuter Jazz”. The major concert is Dave Holland’s 60th birthday bash at the Barbican. Before that, a day out in the country, or at least Ascot, with my camera and a raincoat. Throw in some shopping at markets and in the West End, and that will pretty much take care of the weekend.
The India trip is confirmed from the business standpoint, all but the last flight from Bangalore back to Dubai. Oddly, the visa isn’t ready yet, or at least they haven’t called me, so I’ll go an chase it up on Friday, before I head for the airport. If they find a reason to refuse me one, well, that will get me out of going. I’m not particularly against going, just not enthusiastic about it. Still, I can’t reasonably refuse, so I guess I’m going. Could be worse.
Before I talk about some recent news reports, let me relate a story from my past that came to mind.
I spent my last two school years in a town different from where I had grown up, having left behind the kids I grew up with, and making a bunch of new friends. We were the nerds, the unpopular crowd; not because we had done anything particularly antisocial, more because we had other interests than working to acquire popularity. We were a motley bunch, with different attitudes, and guys coming and going.
One Monday morning, halfway through the last year, one of the “irregulars” called us together during the first break to relate some important news: he had gotten laid on the previous weekend. Details followed.
The reaction from the rest of us was hardly what he was expecting. Perhaps he had seen one or more “frat house” movies such as Porky’s, where horny students swapped war stories and made complicated plans to further their exploits, and thought that was reality. Most of the guys were indifferent, but I remember getting rather annoyed, asking “why are you telling us this” and “isn’t that supposed to be private”?
This was dismissed as jealousy on my part, but the experience he described hardly inspired envy. I considered telling the guys about my own experiences, from before I moved to that town, before I met them, but that would have been lowering myself to that level. It’s enough to say that I was cured of any romantic expectations by that time.
I did wonder about my reaction, though, and why I wasn’t happier for the other guy, regardless. I think family had something to do with it, having seen, first-hand, the damage caused by indulging in sex too young. By that time I was either an uncle already, or soon to be; I had also seen how passion led to rash decisions, and chronic problems that ruined whole families. At the time, however, I did not know what was wrong in such detail, and experienced only an acute unease. “What is wrong with me? Why don’t I get this. Why do people act so stupidly out of lust? Am I low on testosterone?”
The hormones explanation was the best I could come up with, and while I didn’t believe it fully, I could use it to laugh off questions such as “why don’t you have a girlfriend?” or “are you queer?” (No.) By the time I finished that final school year I had seen a few more unwanted pregnancies, and heard of some abuse: the “cherry on top” was doing some informal counselling for a female friend of ours who was pregnant with an additional complication: the father was a teacher at our school.
After that I just went to work, and by the time my parents got divorced, just over a year later, I had really had enough of dysfunctional families, horny teenagers, and irrational decisions, so I concentrated on my work, living in my company’s bachelor quarters. On my rare visits to bars and other social gatherings, I watched women responding to the guys who wouldn’t take no for an answer, who would chase them, cajole them, do everything short of clubbing them over the head and dragging them out by their hair. I didn’t care: I was the guy you always find “in the kitchen at parties”, cleaner-upper of the mess, the good listener, the shoulder to cry on. I was “sitting out the game”, since I had seen the prize and didn’t want it, and was happy to have avoided a “trophy”.
It wasn’t until much later, after more education, experience and observation, that I could put my concerns in to words. A throwaway remark I made, in the pub, somehow stuck with me: “guys who chase women aggressively are aggressive in general”. That was my problem: I wasn’t “aggressive” enough. Hormones again, or do I just think too much before I act? The correlation is positive, in my observations: I wish women were more discriminating, and less susceptible to aggressive approaches, because I have come away with the strong opinion that the guys who are more forceful in “hitting on you” – a worrying term on its own – are the guys more likely to use force against you.
This brings me to the news, about some disgraceful behaviour last week, see BBC News: crowds of horny men in Cairo, chasing women in the streets and ripping their clothes off. There is no suggestion that these were women were scantily-clad Westerners, so the Muslim clerics can’t use that excuse, like the Australian Imam who described women as “uncovered meat” last week.
This ties in to a wider theme I have touched on here before; in societies that value sons over daughters, the result is a a harder life for men, because of the competition for women. According to the article, many Egyptian men can not afford to marry, such is the effect of population pressures in Egypt’s limited arable land and urban area. Their demographic problems pale in comparison with those in China or India, but aggression is one result.
It’s Evolution, Baby: aggression gets you laid, you get to be a father, and pass your genes on to posterity. The most effective procreators are the most aggressive, the men not content to father a few children with a single woman, but who are pushy enough to spread their seed far and wide. The pointless violence and thrill-seeking seem to be mere side effects in the long term. In a recent article by “Fred” this tendency is bemoaned, but that is missing the point: sex is the overriding concern of young men and old Mother Nature alike.
Me? I’m not prepared to accept the side effects of sexual aggression on my part, so I expect to remain a childless bachelor. Just as well: if the likely futures of this world are overcrowding and violence, idiocracy and devolution, I wouldn’t wish them on any child of mine.