Monday, 2 October 2017

I slam Islam - My Problems with the Faith

I’ve tried writing this several times, once about the perils of multiculturalism and once again about the compatibility of Islam and democracy, when truth be told, once I stripped away the meandering introductions all it really boiled down to was an articulation of my distaste for Islam. Now that that’s out in the open, I’m sure the cries of Islamophobe will come rolling in – which is one of the reasons I’m not too keen on this religion of peace. (That would be the same religion of peace that is currently engaged in internal civil war, with Shia and Suuni factions bitterly opposing one another)

This is something that should really go without saying, but I feel the need to preemptively defend myself – I don’t hate or dislike Muslims, it’s the ideology I have a problem with. To coin a phrase, I’m hating the sin and not the sinner. While I’m at it, I should point, in the interests of fairness, I have no great love for Christianity, much less any organised religion. But here I am, talking about Islam and not Christianity, because today Christianity is like a muzzled dog, there’s no bite.

This a difficult topic to discuss because any concern or critique is immediately seized by the twin hands of Islamophobia & Racism, and the life is throttled out of the discussion before it’s began. (Much in the same way any criticism of Israel is immediately anti-Semitic). Strangely, it’s usually those on the left that are quick to toss around labels, the very same people who are normally guardians of ideas like feminism, equality, and gay rights. But there’s a danger to shutting down debate, if valid concerns are ignored, if people are derided as racist or Islamophobic, their views are driven underground, If people are pressured into silence, then in the end it is unsavoury groups on the far right that champion the cause. Do not underestimate how many voters are single issue voters.

If we take a memetic1 approach to religion then its function is to replicate and survive, and in order to do that it must contain a set of processes which allow it to remain intact, or adapt. One of the ways a religion can secure its future is by preventing criticism, in other words, it has defence against environmental threats. This manifests as a belief that holy texts are divine revelation - the true, infallible word of god; it is therefore perfect and to question it would be to criticise god himself. This memetic trick is quite clever, it presents claim and evidence as one entity this knowledge comes straight from god, god has given you this knowledge, therefore it is true. The memetic defence can go a step further by dictating punishments for those who do question or criticise its authority, acting as a deterrent to would be blasphemers and punishing the inquisitive souls who raise uncomfortable questions.

The Abrahamic religions have a rich tradition of punishing those who blaspheme, yet there is only one which continues to do so, both in the United Kingdom and the Middle East. Admittedly, in the UK the punishment is not delivered by the law courts as blasphemy laws were abolished in 2008, instead retribution comes from the public. Take the case of gymnast Louis Smith who drunkenly mocked Islam in a private video which was leaked; he was given a two month suspension and also received death threats for his actions. Imagine if this video had been mocking Christianity, it wouldn’t have made the news. This is how de facto blasphemy laws work, by creating such a social taboo around a subject that there is no need for the courts to intervene. The Church of England is the state church, and it wouldn’t dream of acting in such a manner, it respects the hard won ideals of the enlightenment - that no idea is above criticism, beyond reproach, or immune to mockery.

If practitioners of any faith wish to hold their belief system in such high esteem that they consider it unquestioningly perfect, fine, but do not expect non-believers to hold it to the same standard; nor should us heathens and kuffars be expected to self-censor for fear of offending believers - nor should we be expected to receive censorship for that which may provoke a reaction, e.g. the drawings of a prophet. Again, argue bad taste until you’re blue in the face, but the fact that a simple satirical cartoon can elicit such a violent and quite literally lethal response is unacceptable in the modern world. If you disagree with the violent response but in the very same breath qualify your disdain with “...but you know the reaction you would get”, you are an apologist. Let us not deflect – the real issue is not the drawing (no matter how offensive or in bad taste you declare it to be), but the reactions.

There’s also the small issue of the findings of a fairly recent ICM poll which suggested over half of Muslims think homosexuality should be illegal – which is a far cry from taking umbrage to the notion of same sex marriage. Now, I certainly don’t think a person is homophobic for having religiously based reservations on the topic (I do think their beliefs are homophobic). Wanting to criminalise my lifestyle on the other hand? A touch homophobic. In the interests of fairness, I did hear a Muslim say homosexuals were condemned only when they conducted their affairs in public, but keep it behind closed doors and it was all fine. Ah, yes, nothing like an entire life lived in total secrecy – because as soon as someone were to find out, either by mistake or wilfully, then it was over, time for condemnation and punishment.

Of course, some would argue this is all down to interpretations of the text, that those who would profess such views are twisting the faith, are not true Muslims, just as those preaching literal (or ‘radical’) interpretations of the texts would level the same charge. It’s a simple logical fallacy, the ‘no true Scotsman’. Open to interpretations or not, the fact is, the texts offer justifications for the actions in the minds of adherents.

And yes dear reader, I’m perfectly aware that ‘Not all Muslims...’ - I’m perfectly aware there are moderate Muslims who do not think or react in the ways mentioned above, but then clearly we’re not talking about that denomination of the faith. (I thought we were supposed to mock Not all x responses? Or is that only when it comes to men and white folk?)

When it’s stripped away, and I’m being honest, I resent the pedestal Islam is put upon – I dislike the social taboo surrounding criticism of the religion, the violent reactions to satirical cartoons, and the apologetic responses from non-believers to those attacks. I dislike the fact non-believers constantly proclaim Islam as ‘a great faith’ - if it’s so great why aren’t you apart of it? These are things afforded to no other section of society, it elevates an imported religion above the church of the state, and we are forced to capitulate to it, to surrender our right to freely criticise and mock in order to keep the peace and not offend anyone. We spent too long winning freedoms from one religion to simply surrender them to another.

A few years ago there was an outcry about Halal meat sold in high-street restaurants and big-name supermarkets without being labelled as such. The idea of the packaging remaining unlabelled is curious – if you are trying to attract faith-conscious shoppers, why skip the label? Unless you think the label will put off more people that it would attract? So then what is the purpose? One can only assume it has something to do with the logistics of the supply chain - buying a Halal meat, selling a portion in unlabelled packages, and marketing the remainder as Halal. As a former vegetarian I never accepted the argument against Halal on animal welfare grounds, most Halal meat is stunned before the blood is drained, just as typically slaughtered animals are stunned (although there still remains a small percentage where this is not the case). What is of concern are those members of the public who hold religious views and are unknowingly eating Halal meat; for some, eating meat that has been blessed in the name of another god is idolatrous – and if we are now in the business of respecting all faiths, then it would be unethical for such meat to remain unlabelled.

We laugh at other traditions, but we’re commanded to revere Islam, which, just as many other religions do, has precepts so fantastic, every rational person should pause for thought – child brides, winged horses, and splitting the moon in two. There’s also the wholly voluntary practice of women not at all being forced to cover their hair, face, or entire body – because they should be modest - lest they stir up (apparently) uncontrollable urges in men, which then...victims blames. (If the woman was modest she wouldn’t have been raped!) I suppose in that sense modern feminism and ancient Islam are compatible, all men are rapists.

The lack of criticism allowed is a problem, it does a huge disservice to the modernisers and reformers within the Islamic community; members who are so very often on the front line of abuse. We need to make it clear that rational debate and criticism is allowed; that concerns about religious practices or extremism are not ‘Islamophobic’, and they’re certainly not hateful.

1Memes are cultural units of expression which are analogous to genes. Ideas and practices which are repeated and replicated, transmitted across a population and down through generations. e.g. ear-rings as decorations

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Don’t Get DUPed

Not much attention is paid to the politics of Northern Ireland, mostly because it’s very confusing and has dark and troubled history, but also because it usually has little impact on the rest of the UK, a UK which is slowly waking up to the fact there’s an incredibly socially conservative right wing group, that isn’t the Conservatives, in power. The DUP make the Conservatives look like the far-left on social issues – there are no casinos, archaic licensing laws (which are impairing our local economy), Sunday trading hours are quite strict (although, form a worker’s perspective, I am quite okay with this), abortion is all but illegal, and it’s the only part of the UK were gays can’t get married (but can be civilly partnered).

Now that the DUP are flooding social media, people are suddenly becoming, not ‘woke’, but fearful – scared the DUP are going to somehow impinge upon their civil liberties, or roll back LGBT and women’s rights – calm down, they’re not. For all their bigotry and conservatism, they are not idiots. The DUP are well aware of how unpopular their social conservatism is at home, and they are all too aware their views would not for a second be countenanced on the mainland. More to the point, a social crusade is pointless, it wont play well at home, it wont work (because back benchers wont allow it), and it’ll ruin their chances of securing a better deal for the provence.

This is a time for the DUP to step in a real position of power, to try and extricate from the chaos the best possible deal (knock that one off your bingo sheet) for the people of Northern Ireland. They need to make sure subsidies for farmers are protected when we leave the EU, that there’s no hard border between the North and South (which is a boon to all, as it scuppers May’s Deal or No Deal attitude), help in attracting international business, and a fair share of government contracts – these are all of more concern than rolling back of rights on the mainland – something which wouldn’t happen, regardless of the perilious state of government. How can Theresa May expect to govern in a Confidence and Supply arrangement, while also trying to roll back women’s and LGBT rights? It’s a nonsense, it wont work because she’ll be voted down on all sides of the house.

The DUP are not on some sort of crusade to turn back the clock on LGBT & women’s rights in the UK because they know there’s no point, plus they don’t particularly care what happens there, they are only interested in the people they govern. The DUP may be Kingmakers, but their demands need to be fairly reasonable or else they will not receive the support of the Tory back bench. Back benchers are fully aware of how toxic the DUP are, they will not give in to any and all demands.

If you’re all suddenly so concerned about the lack of rights in Northern Ireland, then speak up and support those who campaign and protest against for change. Join the fight (and don’t try t take it over, you’ve all been pretty silent until it looks like things are going to start affecting you).

Don’t buy in the scaremongering, the DUP aren’t after your rights, they only want your lunch money.  

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Let's Get Political

The Tories are terrible gamblers, both in the colloquial sense of doing it a lot, and in the sense of doing it badly. Yeah, it’s true, Davy ‘the Pie’ Cameron, in an effort to appease the head bangers (or Eurosceptics) in the Con party, promised an EU referendum; but it wasn’t a serious promise. The British public may be a bit dim, but they’d never be so dim they’d leave the EU, not when there’d be a top team, campaigning against such a possibility. At least DC had the decency to abandon ship when he knew his position was untenable. The Maybot’s spine is probably a little more tangible than her predecessors, but she’s still wholly unwonderful, repetitive, and only marginally warmer than absolute zero. She is so uneasy and naturally evasive she even has difficulty answering pre-selected questions, but also so stubborn she’d happily remove the kitten heel from every left shoe, just to prove she wouldn’t wobble when she walked.

Many professional pundits across the length and breadth of this never-so-United Kingdom predicted the outcome of the election with the same accuracy as trying to measure the circumference of the moon using a shoelace and perspective. Despite poll ratings higher than the MSG content of a Chinese takeaway, chief strategist Lynton Crosby warned against calling the snap election May promised she wouldn’t call; obviously Mr Timothy and Ms Hill (the two advisors who have neither stood for, nor held, office) knew better. Crosby’s reasoning was that in times of political uncertainty, despite the poll ratings, a win couldn’t be guaranteed, – or, perhaps, he just realised how utterly fucking useless she’d be in a presidential styled election.

There’s no denying this was a vanity election, the approval ratings and the whispers from colleagues were enough to force May to break the promise she had no intention of keeping – who gives a fuck about a promise when a 100 seat majority is a sure thing? There’s pride before a fall, and this election campaign was nothing but one big exercise in hubristic prancing by the Brexit cliff edge. That’s not to say Theresa May’s achievements should be ignored, in just 6 short years she managed to miss every immigration target ever set, reduce the crime rate by redefining crime, and side-stepped questions like she’s a pro at Dance Dance Revolution.

As election night went on and her thumping majority thinned like Andrew Neil’s hair, it was clear that refusing to engage with the public, repeating the same lines ad infinitum ad nauseam, starving children and freezing pensioners were not great vote winners? Theresa May took Conservative support for granted, she assumed the core vote would always be there, and instead focused on trying to steal as many Labour votes as possible (only for the opposite to happen – every marginal constituency she visited, they lost).

The other problem, aside from a manifesto worth more as kindling, was the offer of nothing new. It was more of the same 25p cup of piss from the coffee machine. The Labour manifesto provided something different, it provided hope – and it was a campaign that stayed positive, even while the Conservatives went into over-drive with smears and lies. That good old fashioned sense of British fair-play started to kick in – and while it all may be have been too little too late, there were no winners of this election, only those who lost less than others.

Theresa May’s authority and credibility have vanished, she’s pissed away her lead faster than a tramp finding a fiver. Instead of considering her position, May has tried to save what little face was left, leaving her in government, but not in power.

The only arrangement to be had is then a confidence and supply government with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which is the BNP meets fundamental Christianity. They are a party of climate change deniers, dinosaur deniers, equality deniers, and, young-earth creationists. They believe gays can influence the weather, that breastfeeding is exhibitionism (said, without a hint of irony, by the MP snapped walking in the nude). One DUPer even tried to ban beer at an Oktoberfest event.

I am embarrassed and ashamed to be represented by these swamp-dwelling cretins, the image they present to the world is not a good one – but, if there is one silver cloud to this whole thing, they will finally receive a level of scrutiny long over due. The rest of the UK will wake-up to what we have been living with, a party founded in fire and brimstone, that while so socially conservative and derided by the population, still returned to power each year.

How can the UK government hope to remain impartial in Northern Ireland (as per the Good Friday Agreement), when they are reliant on the support of the DUP?

The DUP will bang tables and thump their chests, cooperating only until such a time that it no longer suits them, or until the knives are firmly in May’s back, whichever comes first. It is naive to believe May can continue, she has all the authority of a substitute teacher asleep at the table. The Tories don’t like losers, and while she may be rehabilitated further down the line, her days as leader are numbered.

As Gideon said, she’s a dead woman walking; the only question remaining, how long is the plank?

Friday, 26 May 2017

Bombing for Peace : Manchester & The Middle East

It’s sad that I need to open this with a disclaimer, but unfortunately we seem to have lost the art of nuance in discourse; that being said, I am in no way condoning what happened in Manchester. If by the end of the piece you fail to see that, then I have failed in conveying my message, or you’re thick as fuck.(I’m also open to the idea that they may not be mutually exclusive categories)

I’ve tried to avoid adding another ‘Manchester hot take’ to the pile, but after catching a couple of quotes from an article in the DailyMirror, I couldn’t help myself. The piece in question was an incredibly brief bit on the motivations of the recent Manchester bombing as told by Jomana Abedi, the suicide bomber’s sister.

Ms. Abedi’s described her brother as ‘kind’ and ‘loving’, descriptors not taken well by Mark Session who dismissed the comments, claiming there was no place for them. It’s not an easy thing to hear those gentle labels attached to someone many see as a monster, it’s incongruous; how can someone capable of such evil be described in such a complimentary way? The reality is we have a simple ‘good versus evil’ narrative, with everyone the hero of their own story. While the suicide bomber’s final act was one of a malevolence unfortunately becoming all too common, we need to remember that before the bomber, there was a boy – a brother and son, one who doubt expressed the same love and devotion to his family, that we do ours.

There was also offence at the suggestion the attack was carried as retribution for the children killed in Allied air strikes. While Session claims there is no justification for the taking of a child’s life, the entire quote makes it clear that while it may not be justified, it’s different for Allied air strikes, because those kids weren’t purposefully targated. It’s the curse of the simplistic narrative striking again – look guys, there’s no justification for targeting children, I know we’ve maybe hit one or two in our air strikes, but we’re trying to wipe out ISIS. So...maybe cut us some slack? You should just accept that we might accidentally kill a kid or two, but that’s no reason to retaliate, it not like we done it on purpose! We’re bombing for peace in the Middle East!

To outright dismiss Jomana Abedi’s comments regarding her brother is irresponsible and myopic, if we continue to accept the same simple narrative we’re going to go round in ever exploding circles. We need to understand the motivations of those who carry out such barbaric acts if we are to ever have any hope of changing the course of future retaliation. We must also accept, as we were warned, our actions in the Middle East would have repercussions. We are reaping what was sown. Responding with more violence only plays into the hands of ISIS recruiters; the sight of civilians, especially children, getting caught in the crossfire is one of the key tools used to recruit potential violent and suicidal extremists, you don’t wake up one day and suddenly decide you want to blow yourself up, monsters aren’t born, they’re made -and we need to stop shipping the materials required.

If we escalate our actions in response to what has happened we can expect more of same, if we go down the route of internment, we can expect the same. It’s easy to call for internment when you know you have no fear of being detained, (i.e. you’re not Muslim), but it doesn’t work. It’s a sticking plaster solution, it hasn’t worked in the past, and it won’t work now; the injustice suffered by those innocently interned will only drive more recruits into the arms of the enemy.

Our ‘War on Terror’ isn’t working, you can’t fight an abstract concept, or at least, you can’t bomb it out of existence - and if we continue air strikes which kill innocent civilians, we will only move further towards more attacks on home soil. Violence only begets more violence, it’s a never ending downward spiral, there are no exceptions to the rule – the particulars may be different, but the generalities are the same. We need a new plan.

Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster...

         - Nietzsche 

Monday, 22 May 2017

Homophobia Did Not End With Marriage Equality

Just the other day it was the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, a piece of legislation decriminalising sex between consenting men aged 21 or over. Just for a moment, especially if you’re straight and happen to be reading this, think about that. The state went from criminalising all sex acts between men at any age, to only criminalising sex acts to those under 21. This what is meant when someone throws about the phrase ‘policing our sex lives’. And yes, while you can make the case of state policing in all sex lives, it was not the heterosexual population which were held to a different standard, or discriminated against.

We’ve come quite a way since being judged criminals in the eyes of the law, but let’s not forget how we got here; those responsible for the rule of law did not have miraculous Damascene moments throughout their lives...It was only through the brave efforts of those who came before us, the drag queens, the people of colour, the camp queens, and the muscle Marys, all taking a stand, and a great risk, in demanding equality. The next time you scoff at the idea of a pride parade, pause and consider the riots and beatings of those who came before us, and have a little respect. We all know the parades of today are a different beast to those of the past, that happens, things change, and while it’s a commercialised day of drinking – the point is, for all the leather and boxer-briefs, 8 inch heels, and toned torsos contorting to Kylie, we are visible and we’re not going away.

The south of Ireland can get married, as can the rest of the UK, but the gays of Northern Ireland cannot – we’re forgotten by the Republic, and ignored by Westminster. This isn’t to say marriage equality is a panacea, far from it – if you can get married, that’s great, get down on one knee, but try falling asleep on a train while holding your husband’s hand, or resting your head on his shoulder. ( LGB people are twice as likely to attempt suicide as heterosexual people, a quarter of homeless people are LGBT, and 80% of us have experienced bullying in school because of something we have no control over. The word ‘gay’ is still used as a pejorative. Nazi symbols are still spray painted on our bars. Marriage equality has not fixed that.

Those fortunate enough to live in bustling big cities can forget what it’s like, a cruel irony, given that most of us flock to those big cities to escape the everyday homophobia or ‘micro-aggressions’ that small town living can bring.

Let’s not forget that winning the right to marry was only one more milestone, another battle won, not the end of the war. We must continue to fight for the little things - being able to walk hand-in-hand without fear of abuse or embarrassment, to part ways with a kiss free from retribution, and for what we are to not be used as a playground insult. I am thankful we are in a position that these are the troubles we face, and I am saddened that our brothers are still being rounded up by states, tortured, and even killed.

We must continue to speak out and fight for equality, to exist as we are without conforming to what others deem acceptable, whether that’s from within or without. It is bad enough when the rest of the world rally against our existence, we do not need it from our own. That internalised homophobia only serves your oppressors, you can be as masculine as you like, but at the end of the day you still like dick. I’ve seen gay people say camp queens and effeminate men ‘give the rest of us a bad name’ - no, they don’t – you do. It was those queens that took a stand so that we may take for granted all that we’re afforded today. The effeminate guys have bigger balls than all those bro-for-bro fellas put together, they aren’t trying to blend in, they live their life as they like, with not an ounce of fear.

We must continue our fight for equality, and we must make sure that it is equality, not assimilation.  

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Why You Can't Vote Corbyn

We all know there’s an election coming up, and it’s the most important election since Theresa May can remember. With Brexit coming up, we need a strong and stable government, not a coalition of chaos. A thumping Tory victory will give Theresa May the mandate she needs to strengthen her negotiating hand (not sure what’s going to happen to her other hand) during Brexit negotiations; if Theresa May wins, we’ll get whatever we want, if Corbyn wins, Brexit will be a disaster. This election is about choice, the choice of who you want to see at the negotiating table – Theresa May, a woman received by the EU with the same warmth as a call from a telemarketer, or Jeremy Corbyn the man without a tie? Make no mistake, if Corbyn is at that negotiating table he will be fighting for best deal available for ordinary working folk, which is a total mistake. If it’s the ordinary person on the street getting the best deal, then who the fuck is going to look after the banks and big businesses? No one, that’s who. Then who’s going to donate to the Tory coffers? No one, that’s who. We need big business, without their unpaid tax we’d have nothing to chase them for.

The Labour party wants you to think they have the NHS’ best interest at heart. Well they don’t. All this talk of bringing back bursaries for student nurses, and giving them a long over due pay rise is all a bunch of nonsense. If we have enough nurses at home then the NHS wouldn’t be in a crisis, and we need that crisis. If the NHS isn’t in the papers then people will forget it’s there. We also need those foreign nurses (that are paid agency rate and cost the NHS more money) because without them we’ll have no one to deport when we’re trying to reach those unrealistic immigration targets. A vote for Labour is a vote for well funded NHS and Social Care, and frankly, who wants to be seen in A&E in under 4 hours anyway? Half the fun is wondering if you’re going to bleed out or get better before you’ve been called. If you wanted a bed in a ward, you should have phoned ahead. (Or be foreign, they get everything, right?)

We could talk about the loony left all night – rent caps and making sure homes are fit for human habitation (come on guys, let it go, the Tories already voted that down in Parliament). Again, just more short-sightedness – if MP landlords have to spend money to do up their properties and make them ‘fit for humans’ (PC gone mad), then they’re going to have less money, and those poor MPs are just about managing as it is.

Not to mention abolishing tuition fees, providing free school meals, and and this really fruity hesitation at nuking the fuck out of people (bet he’s a friend of Dorothy). No, we can’t be having any of that. What we really need is a strong and stable woman who can dodge the fuck out of real people and real questions. A woman who wont shy away from avoiding a national debate, a woman who puts in the hours, often holding rallies in factories long after they’re shut and the workers have gone home. A woman who refuses to look stupid and will only accept pre-approved questions. We need a PM so health and safety conscious she’ll only enter and exit a building through the fire doors.

We need a strong and stable woman, one who appreciates there are lots of complex reasons for why nurses and others are using food banks. It’s all too easy to throw about phrases like “pay freeze” and “benefits sanctions” and “stagnating wages”, we really need someone willing too look at all the other causes of poverty, besides not having enough money.

At this election there’s a choice to be made, Remain/Leave May, or the Labour Party. It’s a vote for strong and stable U-Turns, or the weird vegetarian who wont wear tie, and wont just drop nukes willy nilly.

Remembering the Past, Seeing the Present, Imagining the Future

What time is it?
Time, what is it?

It’s amazing the difference word order can make; from a simple spare-no-thought response, to an existential wankfest. Thankfully I’m not trying to answer that particular question, so you can put your emotional jizz rag back where it belongs.

Before we had tools to measure discrete units of time, it was all pretty simple stuff – if the sun was up, it was day, if it had set, it was night. There were of course other methods depending on what you wanted to know – the phases of the moon, the tracking of the stars, and the procession of the seasons to name a few; but the thing they all have in common is change. Time is change by another name.

12PM isn’t just lunch time, it’s also the relative positions of the Sun and Earth (the seasons are the same thing only on a bigger scale). Time is great conceptual tool, it lets us measure and more importantly, categorise, the world around us - two things we really love doing.

Unlike other measurements, our perception of time is easily influenced by our emotional state. If someone appears to be roughly 6’ tall, they will look that way whether you’re bored or having the time of your life. Now, if you happen to be talking to this 6’ fella, and he just so happens to be quite the conversationalist, chances are the encounter is going to be over in the blink of an eye. But, if he’s duller than Theresa May’s lifeless eyes, it can feel like you’re chatting for an eternity, or is more likely the case, being chatted at for an eternity. This is of course time experienced at the level we’re all familiar with, what Richard Dawkins called, 'the middle world'. It’s the perceptual space we inhabit – it’s measuring lengths in centimetres and distances in kilometres, it’s weighing by the ounce and moving by the mile; it’s having a solid grasp on a crowd of 100 people, but not really comprehending the weight of an atom or the distance between planets. We’ve adapted to become good at dealing with sizes in the middle, but anything on the micro- and macro- scales, well, they really become meaningless outside of being very very big or very very small.

Our perception of time is something else entirely; it’s a figment of our imagination. Without getting all Downward Dog, when it comes to time, the only thing we really have is ‘the moment’, the second just gone exists only as ghost in the mind, while the second to come is phantasm of the future. Our memories are ghost stories of the past, tales passed on like a game of Telephone – minor details changed on reach repetition. Ask two people to recount the same experience and you’ll get two different version of events. Our memories are retellings, but not of the original day in question – they’re a repeat of the retelling, so when I tell the story of the time I was banned from appearing on the BBC, I’m actually telling the last version of the story I told – the real story is gone, vanishing the instant it moved from happening to happened.

It’s easy to think of memories as being analogous to a file on a computer, ready to be clicked open at a moment’s notice, but it’s not quite the same – in computing terms a memory is really a collection of symbolic links, and in reality it is a story, one that is pulled into active memory when you’ve been given enough cues to remember it. The story you’re hearing sets off all sorts of neural connections, until eventually there’s a connection to a story that you simply must tell. Oh, that reminds me of the time I...

The more we tell our stories and share our memories, the stronger they become, and so the easier they are to recall – there are all sorts of bits and pieces of a memory floating about our heads at any one time, some will hide for years before they surface, they’re the stories you never really tell, never replay in your minds eye, but, ten years down the line, someone will say something, and like a magician pulling an 18-wheeler from the hat, you’ll be floored by something you thought you’d forgotten. Not that we ever really forget, we just don’t always remember.

How many times have you recanted a tale only to be told you’re telling it wrong? It didn’t happen that way! I didn’t say that! No two people will have the same version of events – it’s impossible, not only because two people can never have the same vantage point of the same event (can’t occupy the same space as someone else), but our vision is a precellular mix of top-down and bottom-up processing; all of which is a fancy way of saying your learned experiences play a role in how you perceive things - just as much as the physical stimuli streaming in through your eye. How you see and what you remember are two life-long processes, starting way back before your eyes were even open.

We use assumptions all the time – where shadows fall, how edges meet, these are short cuts in visual processing, and they’re the reason why we’re so easily fooled by optical illusions, and continue to be fooled by them despite knowing their true nature. More often than not the assumptions are right, and the trade off between accuracy and efficiency is usually worth it. These assumptions are called heuristics, they’re ‘rules of thumb’ - quick and dirty brain cheats that allow for rapid data calculation, calculations which may not always be correct, but may not always matter if it’s wrong.

We use heuristics when we try and imagine the future, we take a frame of reference and extrapolate. Today and tomorrow and yesterday, all pretty similar with only small differences between them, but over the course of years, those tiny deviations can lead to massive change. The other things that can lead to huge changes are the big life events – no, not your wedding, or birthday, or graduation – they are expected, it might feel like a big event, but it’s one we are aware of, it is planned. The real big events are the unexpected – the proposal, the letter of acceptance, the unexpected death, the car accident, the lottery win. Trying to imagine the future is like trying to forecast the weather, the further from today you venture, the less sure you are of the results.

 And while imagining the future is unreliable, remembering the past is no better. I can tell you what I was doing five minutes ago, but 5 years ago? Not a chance. You’d have to settle for the vague story of where I was in life – a location and an aim. The only difference is those who keep a record of the past – a daily journal, but for the rest of us, it’s guess work.  

I slam Islam - My Problems with the Faith

I’ve tried writing this several times, once about the perils of multiculturalism and once again about the compatibility of Islam and democr...