Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Soap Box 6: How To Controversy Correctly

This one is brief. This one needs no explanation, it just speaks for itself.

I'm going to assume that since you are on the internet, you like controversy. At the very least you like to get shouty and opinionated and tell the world what you think about controversy. I know I do. That's basically what this whole section of my blog is for. Getting shouty and opinionated.

But there's a few super important things you and I need to remember when we're getting shouty and opinionated about controversial and political subjects. These rules apply no matter which side of the debate you're on. For or against same sex marriage? These still apply. Pro life? Pro Choice? Doesn't matter, these rules apply. Campaigner for refugee rights and euthenasia? Against the legalisation of prostitution and drugs? These rules are still for you.

Religious, agnostic, atheist, anti-theist, humanist, communist, anarchist, polygamist, traditionalist, tribalist, journalist, scientist, pianist, lyrcist - does not matter.

So whoever you are and whatever controversy you like to get shouty and opinionated about, you'll find these rules very important for maintaining a reputation for being a DECENT FUCKING HUMAN BEING.

Consider these three rules a handy guide for your day to day life.

1) Language matters. Choose your words carefully and thoughtfully.
2) It's is way more complicated than a snappy quote or headline.
3) More important than ANYTHING else, remember you're not a discussing abstract and intangible ideas and policies. We're talking about real, living humans and the consequences for them are just as real, no matter what.

Soap Box 5 The Clever Movie Refernce: Homosexuality and The Church

A Christian opines on the politics around sexuality... Again.

For the longest time, the issue of sexuality was one of my greatest theological concerns. I've since lost interest. I interpret scripture one way, you interpret another way, he, she and they interpret it their way. We might all be wrong. In the end, God knows how he feels about sexuality and what we think means very little.

It's not a theological discussion I'm interested in anymore.

It doesn't matter.

Because what does matter, and what I am 100% certain of is that the church is wrong.

The church is just wrong.


And by the church I mean the Christian community globally in general and, especially, the leaders of that community.

The loudest voice in the church, right now, on this issue, is one with a political agenda. It's one that is strongly conservative, and one that wants to fight tooth and nail against same sex marriage in particular. Further, it's one that says homosexuality is wrong. Just plain old wrong. It's a sin. You shouldn't do it, you shouldn't be it. If you do and you are, then you are bad. Occasionally the word I hear is "abomination." And it's okay to use that word because it's in the Bible. This loud voice is one that sounds hateful and angry and it's full of condemnation and outrage.

But there's a problem with that.

It's missing something.

Did you see it?

Can you guess?

I'll tell you. This is the important part. This is why the church is wrong. Right now those loud voices are offering a big section of the Earth's population judgment and nothing else. That is NOT the church's job. It has never been the church's job to judge and it never will be the church's job to judge people. Judgment is not in our portfolio.

But Carl - you say, stepping in to hold a hypothetical conversation and explore the issue deeper - But Carl, if it is a sin, shouldn't something be said?

No. Usually the answer is yes, but this time it's no. You're wrong. You, Mr Church, hypothetical question asker, are wrong and you need to shut up about this one for a while and go sit in a corner and think about it. You can come back to the grown up's table when you are going to be responsible and offering something worthy to the discussion.

It's important to talk about sin. Sin is a big deal in Christianity. The church has a responsibility to discuss it and be aware of it. But the church has a much bigger responsibility and that is to lead people to God and encourage people to follow the examples set by Christ for all humanity. Because no sin is beyond God's power to forgive and no heart is outside God's power to change and nobody on this Earth now or ever is beyond God's love and compassion. The church's number one task in this world is to share that with people, and bring people to God.

And guess what?

You don't do that be being a judgmental arse!

If you, Mr Church, are certain beyond doubt that homosexuality is a sin then that's your business. I'm doing trying to argue that point one way or another. But before you open your mouth about it, you need to think, is what's about to come out of your trap going to bring people closer to God or push them away from God? If the answer is not the latter, then it's back to the corner for you. You can do better.

Okay, now, look, I know that you might not be like that. Maybe your little section of Christendom and your part of the community and your church leaders aren't like that. Am I annoyed by you? Well, maybe just a little. But it's not just you, it's me too. You see we're not loud enough. Maybe that angry, political, judgmental voice is coming from just a small few nutjobs or well meaning folks who lost their way. Maybe. Sure. I hope so. But what are you doing about it?

If you're not fighting against that voice, then you are complicit. You are complicit in driving people away from God and that makes you and I just as wrong.

Okay, I'm done with you, Mr Church. Go back to your corner. We'll chat later. There's a lot to discuss. Have a snack while you wait. I'm going to finish up talking to everybody else again.

This is the conclusion I've come to. This is my considered, insider opinion. It makes me kind of sad, too. That's why I've said something. This is me, personally, refusing to be complicit. I'll never be ashamed of my faith, but damn if I'm not sometimes embarrassed by my people.

You'll just have to forgive them.

A lot of them are old.

Old people. Am I right?*

By the way, since I want this blog to be informative and fun first and a place for me to opine at the masses second, I'm going to be making some changes to move these controversial soap boxing entries out of the main feed and into their own section. That way if you want to engage on the controversy, you can, if you just want updates and writing talk, they'll be the first thing you see. I'll still soap box as much as I feel inclined to, it'll just be slightly less visible for people who aren't interested.

Soap Box 4 Soap Box Reloaded: Don't Feed The Trolls

Fair warning, this post is me doing a bit of soap boxing and some thinking out loud. If you're here for writing type stuff, go on and skip this one and I'll see you next time.

I don't like the word troll. Specifically, the way we use the term for 'internet trolls.'

I've been on this here internets for a long time now and, as the man said, "I've seen shit that will turn you white."

Way back when, around the time the term "troll" started being used, a troll was a kind of prankster. They were the people who spent their internet time dicking with others on whatever forum they happened to be a part of. To call them "devil's advocate" is too be far too generous, but they got their jollies winding people up and fanning the flames of controversy. A troll would drop into a conversation, leave a short inflamatory comment about something, and duck out again.

If I had gone onto a Lord of The Rings fan forum in 2001 and said "This movie is basically a rip off of the Dungeons and Dragons movie that came out last year." and then sat back and watched the fans go nuts trying to prove me wrong and give me an enraged historical lesson on Lord of The Rings, we'd call me a troll.

There's an old joke on 4chan known as "The day /b/ went too far." Google this at your own peril. You'll probably be offended. But the idea is that one person posts a specific picture and asks if anybody has seen it. Everybody who is in on the joke responds with messages like "Too soon, OP." and "Oh god, why did you have to remind me?" and everybody who hasn't been around starts asking what the picture is and why everybody is so upset and nobody tells them exactly why, but keeps on making a fuss about how heart broken they are. It's all done to mess with the newbies.

This is trolling. You could call it juvinile, you could call it a lame way to get your kicks. You can criticise it in all kinds of ways but what you could not call it is damaging or illegal.

Somewhere along the way, the word has changed. I'm tempted to blame news media. The word got picked up by some reporter who didn't understand it but used it anyway. It could also be just plain old evolution of language. How it happened doesn't matter.

But I don't like it.

Because lately there has been a lot of talk about trolls, especially in regards to things like Gamers Gate and similar internet controversy. And now, when we hear reports of people getting threatened with rape and murder, when people's home addresses are shared online against their will, when private data and photographs are hacked and spread around, when people are verbally abused and stalked online or campaigns of hate and character assassination are launched against them, we call it trolling. These are internet trolls.

I can think of some better terms. Scum of the earth, assholes and criminals all come to mind.

Make no mistake, many of these things we call "trolling" are actual crimes. If you did this shit offline, you would be arrested.

I can see no reason why troll should become a euphemism. I see no reason why we shouldn't call a stalker a stalker or why the asshole in the YouTube comments is described as "trolling" when what he is doing is "threatening to break into your house and violently rape you." If you said this to somebody in a bar or on the street, nobody would call you a troll, they'd just call the police.

I don't like the way we use the word troll. It's not because I am resistant to the way language changes out of principal and not because trolling used to be something so harmless. It's because when we call this "trolling" we are hiding what it really is and making it sound a lot less damaging than it really is. These kinds of serious and aggressive actions don't need euphemisms, they need stopping.

Soap Box 3 The Revenge: Wealth, Luck and Privilage

There seems to be some confusion, especially in the wake of recent tragedy and internet discussion, about the term privilege. As with many of the world's confusions and arguments, a lot of this seems to come down to poor communication. I think a lot of people are uncertain on the definitions of luck, wealth, and privilege as it applies to us and especially in the context of something like gender relations, social status and global economics.

So I think the best way to talk about this is, for the most part, to talk about myself. This is something I can do with relative certainty. I'm also a good example of somebody who is wealthy, privileged and lucky. But let's begin by defining that.

If you are reading this blog on a computer, on the internet, in your own home, on an internet connection you have paid for, then you are wealthy. If you are reading this on a mobile phone, you are wealthy. Congratulations. Welcome to the wealthy club. Here's your membership card, let me show you where the toilets are and I'll introduce you.

I'm wealthy. I make less than the median yearly income for New South Wales. I make just over half of it, in fact, and that has not always been the case. Not by a long shot. Together with my wife's income, we about make average. This also hasn't always been the case. According to some definitions, this is Relative Poverty. I have lived in this "relative poverty". But at no point did this "relative poverty" stop me from eating, going to bed with a pillow and a blanket or waking up in the morning and not having breakfast. I have always been wealthy. Even in my hardest struggles and least paid weeks, I have gotten by with only a little sweat.

Wealth does not mean you own three cars, have your parents pay for your University degree, go on holidays every six months, flying first class, living in the best part of town in an eight bedroom home. Those people are wealthy, yes. Some of those people are obscenely wealthy and far better off than most of us. But if you can afford to eat regularly, if you're buying new clothes when the old ones wear out and if you're reading this blog on your own device, in a home your own or rent, on an internet connection you've paid for, then you are wealthy. End of story.

And if you're wealthy, there's a good chance that you are lucky. If you come from a family that has always lived in those conditions of wealth, then you are lucky. If you were born in a country that has running water, then you are lucky. If you are born in a country that lets you vote for more than one government party, then you are lucky. If you can get a job that lets you sit at a desk and where a white collar and push buttons on a keyboard all day, then you're pretty lucky. Your wealth depends a lot on luck.

If you are white, you are lucky. If you are heterosexual, you are lucky. If you are male, you are lucky. If you are all of those, you are lucky. If you are just one or two of those things and not the other, you are lucky.

I am all three of them and, as I said, I am also wealthy. I also live in a country where I can vote, where I can opine about religion and politics and the taste of canned tuna and feel assured that I'm not going to be executed or imprisoned for it. I can disagree with my country and my government, hell, I can and often do come right out and say that I don't like my country or my government and nobody can do a thing about it. I have running water, stable electricity, public schooling and a white collar job. I am lucky.

I am not proud or ashamed of my luck. Neither should you be. You did nothing to earn it. It was not something you chose or something you can control. You were just lucky.

Finally we come to that bastard of a word, privilege. Again, if you are lucky and wealthy, then you are privileged. See how all these things sort of got together? You are lucky to be privileged and privileged to be lucky.

The Oxford Dictionary describes Privilege thusly:
A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group:

So now we ask, what special right, advantage or immunity I am granted by being me?

When I've finished writing this blog about how I and all the people who look like me are privileged, I might be called a nasty name. I might be viciously disagreed with. But nobody is going to threaten to rape me. And if they did, the chances of it happening are really, REALLY small. If someone threatens to rape me, I can walk out of my house, go about my life and generally not worry that it will happen to me. Sure it might, but it probably won't. It certainly doesn't happen with enough statistic significance for me to worry about it.

Likewise I might get murdered, mugged or assaulted. I might enter into a domestic relationship with a violent alcoholic who routinely beats me. But it's not likely. It's just as unlikely that I will ever see it happen or know somebody like me who has one through it. This is a privilege I have by being male.

There's also a good chance that I will earn more in any job I take, be hired over somebody else of equal capabilities and if I have a child, nobody will care if I choose to continue working a job or become a stay at home parent. Whatever I choose will be my business and nobody will scrutinise it or comment on how it reflects on me and my gender identity.

As a white heterosexual, I will never be called "evil" because of who I love. I will probably reach the end of my life without suffering abuse because of how I look. Nobody will say, "He talks really well, for a white guy." or "It's good to see a white person breaking out of that culture."

This is privilege. These are privileges you get by being lucky. It is nothing to do with you or the choices you made. You don't need to defend being privileged, because you didn't do anything to get these privileges. All you need to do is acknowledge that you are privileged and accept that not everybody is as lucky as you, and we should probably see about changing that.

Okay, listen, I've spoken about me and I've explained what these terms mean. Now I want to speak directly to all you other straight white males in the first world. Listening?

It's been popular, lately, to say that we're playing life on easy. That's catchy and all, but there is that kind of uncomfortable undertone that makes it sound insulting. So let's get clear of that idea. Nobody is playing life on easy. Life is not easy. Life is a bitch. It is a bigger bitch for some people and less of a bitch for others.

You and me, though, we are social vanilla. We are the baseline. Everything else is compared to us and right now, the world makes a lot of judgments as to how different groups of people add to or subtract from vanilla. We are the majority. We are the uninteresting, safe, catch all group. When you don't want to offend someone or make a loud statement, or you don't want to risk serving a flavour nobody likes, you serve vanilla. That's you and me, my straight white male in the developed world brother.

And being vanilla is the biggest privilege of all. Congratulations.

Now that you understand what being wealthy, privileged or lucky means, you can enter into the discourse like an educated adult. Now it's time to start thinking about whether or not a select few being wealthy, privileged and lucky is fair. Some people are suggesting that you and I share our privelege around. Some people are suggesting that even if we don't get down and pull them up to our fortune, we at least recognise the hand they've been dealt in life is not as good as ours.

They don't want to bring you down. They don't want to take something away from you. They're not criticising you. Right now there's this big discussion going on about misogyny and violence against women. Before you start to get defensive and deny your privilege, before you say something stupid like "I'm not that guy.", "I would never..." or "Not all of us..." you need to understand that this conversation is not about you. This is a conversation about big problems in society. The only reason you're being invited into this conversation is because you might have the wealth, luck and privilege to lend a hand and share that wealth, luck and privilege around.

But if you're not interested, don't be a dick and try and invalidate the discussion. If you don't want to get involved, then just shut up and go find a conversation you are interested in. Nobody wants you here if you don't want to be. It's not about you.

Okay. I think we've got everything cleared up. You can not go on with your life, acting like an informed adult. Best of luck to you.

Soap Box 2 Electric Boogaloo: Climate Change

Alright, so you and I are in a room. A small, empty room. It's a room with only one way in and out but to get out you have to pay a toll. It's not cheap so you really have to want to get out.

So you're standing there at one corner of the room, beside the toll booth and the door and I'm over here in the opposite corner. And I have a machete. A big machete I'm going to use to hack your leg off. It's going to be painful. You're going to be crippled. There's nothing you can do to stop me or slow me down. I'm coming and your leg is mine. The only thing you can do is pay to leave the room.

But then you start to think maybe I don't have a machete after all. Sure it looks like I have one and I've told you I have one but maybe it's an illusion. Or worse, maybe it's a scam between me and the toll booth guy. Or maybe the machete is blunt. It looks a bit rusty, after all. Yeah, that must be it. It's a real machete and I am coming for you but at most it'll be a little inconvenient or leave a small bruise.

On the other hand you might be wrong. And if you are wrong, you save some money but you've lost your leg. Your leg is gone and you are never getting it back. Assuming you don't die a painful and agonising death from having your leg hacked off, you've got to drag yourself to the hospital. Bad news is, as I said, this is an empty room. There's a hospital that might be able to save you outside the room but you've got to pay to get through that toll booth.

Oh yeah, and it's not a free medical service, either. You want to live, you've got to pay. So now you're not just paying the toll to get out of the room, you're paying a whole lot more for life saving treatment because I just hacked your leg off. And there's no guarantee you live. It could well be all over for you even when you get to the hospital, no matter how much you spend.

Alright. But as we've said, it might not come to that. Maybe you feel lucky. Maybe you want to play the odds. I'm afraid I got some bad news for you. Remember how I said the room was small? Well it used to be bigger. Seventy years ago it was a pretty big room but it's been getting small. It's going to keep shrinking, too. Even if I don't actually hurt you, you are going to have to pay to get out of this room eventually because it's only a matter of time before you don't fit in here, anyway.

You're going to have to leave the room eventually. You're going to have to pay the toll. Not paying that toll isn't an option. You do it now or you do it later. So do you want to pay it now or is this room really worth wagering your money on? How about your life?

Soap Box: A Christian in Support of Gay Marriage

I'm going to do something I almost never do. I'm going to talk about Religion. More specifically, I am going to talk about my religious beliefs.

I am a Christian. I am an all believing, all praying, church going, God worshipping 100% pure Angus Beef Christian.

And I support gay marriage.

I'm doing this because I feel like I'm in something of a minority and this pro-gay marriage Christian view isn't being heard as loud as it should be.

The biggest obstacle any Christian faces is that some scripture reads a lot like it is forbidding gay marriage. Some scripture seems to come out in plane and simple English and say that homosexuality, or at the very narrowest interpretation homosexual sex between men, is a sin. That is to say it is against the law of God. But there's a problem with that. The bible wasn't written in English, it's been translated that way. And where SOME bibles have been translated to name homosexuality, others have not. Now I won't go too much into this because I am not a bible scholar by any stretch of the imagination. Still, obviously if we've got different translations then the original scripture wasn't so cut and dry and one has to start thinking. I certainly did.

And I did what all Christians should do if they're not sure what to do with the scripture in front of them. I did some research, I did some reading and I did some praying. And in all that time, nothing convinced me that an anti-homosexual interpretation of the bible is the only valid interpretation. The truth just isn't so black and white.

But that's not what I want to talk about. Because “I'm just not sure” isn't a helpful answer. There's also the possibility that I'm wrong. What I'm talking about here is two directly opposed readings of the Bible and in circumstances like this, somebody has to be wrong.

It's important things to remember here that marriage existed before the Church. Marriage exists outside the Church. Christianity in all its forms does not hold either a copyright or a monopoly on marriage. I can't imagine many homosexuals want to get married in a Church that doesn't approve of them, anyway. What they want is legal recognition of their relationship, just like all the heterosexual relationships want. They want the same rights and privileges we get.

But that's not what I want to talk about. The politics of this debate are lengthy and mostly very stupid. So I won't go into that now.

What I do want to do is talk about what I am sure about. This is what I think Christian scripture makes undeniably clear again and again and again.

It is not my place, my duty or even my right to judge. I have no business telling homosexuals that they are sinning and going to hell. I have no authority to tell them that they are in the wrong and that their way of life is damaging to the world.

If God does not want to recognise a gay marriage, He won't. Just because a gay couple have a legal marriage or even if they got married in a church God is under no obligation to accept their marriage as valid. God can do that because He's God. God is a big boy and as much as He appreciates your efforts, in the end, He'll do what He wants and He can take care of Himself.

If I am standing in the way of two people expressing their love then I am at fault. How much more obvious could Christ have made it to us that we must be loving and compassionate? How is the hatred and anger Christians have shown to the LGBT community in line with what Christ taught? How do you love someone while condemning them? How is telling them they are an abomination showing compassion? That's not even tough love. That's just being an ass hole.

Christians are called upon to make more Christians. Sometimes it seems like we forgot that we don't need to breed to make more Christians. There are plenty of people out there who are not Christians. Some of them never will be. Some of them once were and stopped. Some haven't had the chance yet. Some of them want to be but don't know how. God has told us to try and save them. Now I could write a whole extra entry on how being an obnoxious, pushy, holier-than-thou fuckwit is poor witnessing in the modern world. But I'm not going to do that. The point I want to make here is: God wants everyone to be saved and that includes the homosexual community. Do you really think any of them are going to come to God if you keep abusing them? Do you think any of them will want anything to do with God if you can't be nice to them? Or would they much rather hear about Christ if you're an open, friendly, accepting and generous person because of your faith? We must not just believe, we must practice.

I don't believe homosexuality is a sin. Nobody has convinced me that this is God's teaching. But even if I'm wrong, it doesn't matter. Because the treatment of the gay community and denying them the right to a marriage is not what Christ has taught us. I have gay friends in a relationship and I can see, just looking at them, that they understand love more than some Christians seem to. It would be tragic if it wasn't so beautiful.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have something far less controversial to write.

EDIT: I felt that this needed a conclusion. It's a tricky topic and I think it's too important to leave it without being 100% clear. A Christian's first and foremost duty is serving God. God has made it clear how we serve him and what he expects us to do. We have guides for our behaviour.

Marriage equality is not a threat to you, it is not a threat to God, it is not a threat to Christianity. Nobody is trying to change the Christian definition of marriage (we're still assuming the traditional, conservative reading is the only valid reading) and nobody is trying to force Christianity to be something it is not or do something it does not want. We are not under attack by people who want the freedom to express love for each other.

By standing in the way of marriage equality, you are hurting people. Even if hurting people achieved a righteous end, morality is not subjective. If you do wrong to achieve good, you have still done wrong and that goes on your record. But hurting people by stopping marriage equality does not serve any righteous end. Even if homosexuality is a sin, by not allowing homosexuals to have legally recognised marriages, you are not stopping them from being homosexual. By hurting them you drive them away from Christ. You are Christ's ambassadors and don't ever forget it.