Humanism, quo vadis?

Humanism is a complicated category, an umbrella term covering a rather variegated spread of ideas, and drawing a pretty interesting picture, both in terms of its opposition to oppressive religious practices and its not insignificant contributions to the evolution of philosophy and modern schools of thought.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a weird character with weird ideas, not to mention my belligerence and almost compulsive rebellious streak. None of these characteristics are necessary, sufficient or indeed characteristic of Humanists. You may have encountered angry and belligerent Humanists, argumentative and bellicose to the point of apparent religious extremism, but the only reason you consider all of us like this is because the ones like me STAND OUT!

We are loud. We are angry. We are full of logic and reason and exasperation in the face of criticism. One of me takes up all the attention before the hundreds and indeed thousands of Humanists who would simply just get on with their lives and not fight about everything all the time.

It is me. It is me, and the ones like me, that you think of when you are angry about Humanists being so unreasonable and fundamentalist. For this, I wish I could offer my apologies, not to you, but to the Humanists who never asked me to fight their corner in this match. They, like most religious and spiritual people, don’t need the aggravation.

Humanism, if you bothered to click on the link, is a mish-mash of philosophies that in some cases have been codified into various manifestos. These manifestos are simple, elegant and reasonable statements about human rights and the human condition that safeguard the individual and their surroundings from dogma and tyranny.

Of course, many of us are angry because we see oppression, and it’s easy and preferable to join a just and righteous cause for the feeling of righteous indignation, but that’s not why I joined.

I never became a Humanist to wage war on Christians, Jews, Muslims or Zoroastrians. I know. Hard to believe, right? I joined the Humanist association to make common cause with the Humanist one, which is to promote religious freedom, human rights, critical thinking and democratic ideals wherever and whenever I could.

When people criticize Humanists for being belligerent, they have just met too many people like me. One will do, because we stand out. But they seize upon the opportunity we represent, since we are such big targets. It’s OK, though. Let me just say it says a lot about their prejudice when they say we “all just hate God, and are angry with the world.” Basically this means they can’t tell us apart. We all look the same to them.

I once attended a brunch with friends. Someone mentioned my Humanist affiliation, and some other guests levelled a furious barrage against me about how horrible we all were. I hadn’t put together two words about my convictions before they had me pegged as someone who wanted to see society grind to a halt, humanity suffer and everything forced into neat little labelled boxes. Nothing was worse than us. We were like religious people ourselves.

Pot, meet kettle.

I don’t mind. I like a good argument. I just wish the honourable opposition would come up with some better arguments than how angry and Christianity-hating we are. Because although I find most religions a little funny, I find I love Mankind more and more, regardless of what they believe. I have read some pretty decent criticisms of Humanism, and the best ones address the view of morality as founded on unchallenged truisms. These are, in most cases, fairly elaborate and well-wrought, and to my fellow Humanists’ credit, these criticisms are welcomed, debated and thoroughly mined for value.

Although I differ from Humanist ideology in some cases, I find it worthwhile to call myself one and defend this particular conviction when it receives flak in the media. I just wish the decent critics would chip in sometimes, because the loudest critics of Humanism make the loudest Humanists – like yours truly – seem peaceful and conciliatory by comparison.

Rant over. Have a cup of tea and a scone or summat, and we’ll meet for some g&t’s later.


Merit and Worth

“We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”
-R. Buckminster Fuller

Normally, when people are quoted, it is done for the purpose of bolstering their own point of view. Not so in this case.

R. Buckminster Fuller, humanitarian par extraordinaire, genius and visionary: this is one of those occasions where he just stepped in it. Like that time he claimed politics would be extinct by the year 2000. Everyone is allowed their fair share of mistakes, and the inventor of the term “Spaceship Earth” merits a lion’s share, but I just can’t make myself gloss over this one.

I would really like to believe we are an enlightened species. I would really like to believe it is in our nature to work for the betterment of all mankind, rather than just our own lot. Post-scarcity economics just sounds so personally fulfilling; like all our work can be converted into food, shelter, entertainment, health and meaning for the entire planet’s population, and without pollution.

The problem isn’t in the societal model. I’m confident the maths work out for post-scarcity economics. I’m confident it works like a charm in THEORY. The problem is with us. Humanity does not take well to forced, overt altruism.

Have you ever done charity work? Did you do so voluntarily? Or did you do it because you were forced to? Therein lies the rub. The legend of Teutonia, the communist commune in McKean county, should be known to you if you are interested in the history of altruism and/or socialism. German settlers purchased land, sold 660 shares for one hundred dollars a pop and set out to create a utopia where everyone could contribute as much as they could and partake in the fruits of their labours to their hearts’ content.

It all failed badly, although this one story should not in itself be taken as evidence that altruism doesn’t work. My contention is this: man is neither purely selfish nor purely altruistic, but establishing a society based upon either extreme is a losing proposition. Simple evolution by natural selection sees to this: in every established order there is room for a certain number of deviants who do not contribute according to the norm. They either provide less or in excess of expectations. When the number or degree of divergence grows too great, that society suffers upheaval and must either change or excise the deviants.

“Excise the deviants” – a marvellous obfuscation and euphemism for putting people against a wall and shooting them. Yet it is something mankind has done for thousands of years, changing our societies to better accomodate greater numbers of citizens, or the better to please the greatest power base.

This does not mean that mankind is inherently evil or mean, just that the way we work together has a stress limit. We do not like to be exploited beyond a certain level. Others taking advantage of our efforts make our bile rise, especially if we did not offer them these boons freely.

We could feed the entire world, put an end to crime, illness, strife and explore outer and inner space to our hearts’ content, but we won’t do it this way. This way leads to resentment, envy, distrust, schisms and withdrawal. It’s the way we are. What makes us great is our ability to excel, to push beyond boundaries, to strive for that which lies just beyond our reach, and never in the history of the world have we successfully entered into a social contract based on excellence for the common good, with one possible exception: the military. Militaristic hegemonies like Rome or Sparta excelled due to their meritocratic nature, but they would inevitably fail. Rome outgrew their structural design, and Sparta failed to replenish their warrior caste as they expanded. Today, militaries remain meritocratic societies-within-societies, yet unable to ever change.

So how to make a perfect world? I have my ideas, which are closely linked to my own philosophical, religious and ideological convictions. They are based on my apprehension of human nature, which may or may not be the same as yours. What I can tell you is that the way forward is THROUGH the self, not away from it. That sounds suitably cryptic.

Our Nation

As may be apparent to those who know me, I’m a patriot. For all its weird kinks and hangups, I love my country with a passion that is more than a little embarrassing to those who have to listen to me wax poetic about its qualities.

I’m freakishly large and fair-skinned, bright-eyed and, I’m told, rather a scary sight. Were it not for my wardrobe and lack of body ink, I could easily be confused with a skinhead. And that’s when love of country picks up strange bedfellows, like ultranationalism, racism, violent activism and xenophobia. Being a patriot while looking like me is a high-risk endeavour.

But it is not my skin that makes me Norwegian. Neither is it my love of country. Nor my anti-racism.

What makes me Norwegian is that I like to fight.

When I learned martial arts, I realised that I really enjoyed fighting. It was exhilirating. I didn’t fight people in the streets or bully the weak for fun, but I enjoyed the exchange of grips, kicks and punches. Of course it hurt, and I frequently had my ass handed to me, but no more than I can explain love can I explain how I feel about fighting.

I don’t even have to fight physically. A good argument or a heated debate are good too. It gets the blood pumping and reminds you that this is the life you get. Make it count.

With our national day around the corner, I feel good about knowing I have friends from a range of political and religious factions, most of which I don’t agree with. But it’s OK, because they’re cool people who like to fight.

I like to think, in my romantic myopia, that this is an integral part of being Norwegian; the irrational urge to get into a fight and make the gods take notice of our efforts. Right or wrong, we do our best to make the world a little better than it was with our fighting.

And if you disagree, we can always fight over it.

Happy May 17.

The Man-Cold

Many is the time you will surely have heard the whispers of its existence. Tall tales have been told by drunken sots at the local serving house. Fallen women claim to have seen it unfold before their very eyes, and it left their minds broken and splintered, incapable of returning to a “normal” life.

I speak, of course, of the Man-Cold (thunder peals, someone closes their shutters and pulls their chair closer to the fire).

Mendacious women and bought men will naturally claim there is no such beast, in a desperate attempt to suppress certain knowledge of its existence. Fools! Charlatans! Snake oil salesmen! Put not your trust in these merchants of lies and subjugation!

Trust me when I say that the Man-Cold exists (peal of thunder, an old woman pulls her stole closer and mutters a prayer to the elder gods) and I am among those who have seen it, nay felt it!

(Incredulous whispers and ritual gestures to ward off evil)

I awoke one morning in early May of the year of our Fnord 2013, knowing that my respiratory processes were summarily consigned to my mouth, my nasal passages being both sore and clogged. A deep and abiding sense of despair and existential dread began to settle. My eyes felt several sizes too large for my ocular cavities and my entire body was covered in a pungent sheen of perspiration accrued during a feverish, fretful sleep. My cerebellum felt like it had been extracted through my ears and forced to perform exotic dances for lascivious freaks, thereupon to be abused in manners most heinous by same.

I tried to speak. “Oh dear! I seem to have come down with a spot of the common cold,” I narrated hopefully to my wife. Unfortunately, this was broadcast as “Wuorghfcacksnurfle, umbit?”

I sat up and immediately regretted it. Clearly, someone had criminally removed several of my major muscle groups surgically overnight, only to lose heart and replace them haphazardly before leaving my chambers. I tried to clear my vision of the maddening apparitions that impinged upon my sanity.

“What manner of succubus are you, foul beast?” I declaimed fearfully, wondering if I had not taken my hobbies a tad too far. Alas, ’twas no fiend of the abyss before me, but only my youngest daughter, dripping with mucus and jumping energetically on my bed. Thankfully, what came out was something along the lines of “Wurghnlemumblepackswelck”.

This was an unmitigated disaster. I had an extended weekend coming up, and needed to be fit to enjoy it. However, this was not to be. I sat by the kitchen table and prepared to break my fast in a manner befitting a gentleman. With a massive tankard of near-toxic coffee and a handful of physician’s pain remedies, I set about ingesting the heady mixture with as much decorum as I could muster.

I made a bang-up job of it all, managing to consume most of my magical concoction. The rest I had to lick up off the floor. Sated, I settled in to look forlornly into the metaphysical distance. I could see my dotage. I could see the birth of my grandchildren. I could see my own funeral. Shaking myself, I realised that none of these fateful events had come to pass, and it was a desperate measure by my limbic system to rouse my conscious mind from its moribund state.

“I must live!” I pronounced defiantly, soiling my shirtfront with copious amounts of mucus and saliva. I observed this through red-rimmed eyes that wept uncontrollably.

I realised my family had abandoned me to my fate, selfishly choosing to attend work, school and day care whilst I – their paterfamilias – suffered and passed beyond the mortal ken. A terrible frost crept over me, burrowing into my very bones and summoning the metaphysical certitude that Hell is not hot, but freezing. I set out haltingly in search of blankets and duvets, anything to stall this dreadful living death.

Ensconced in my fortress of warmth, I realised my body was buffeted by forces quite outside what ordinary men and women were subjected to. I was ripped from the very firmament of existence and stole away through the universe as a gossamer thread on the solar winds. Challenged so by the sidereal forces, I screamed and cursed my wretched fate, swearing defiance against the horrible forces arrayed against me.

I have a memory of drinking despicable amounts of water and staring intently at bathroom tiles in the vain hope that they held some hidden clue, some solution to my present predicament. I suffered as men upon a medieval torturer’s rack had suffered, the pain borne solidly and stolidly by my slowly cooking flesh.

Women talk of childbirth, and men of blunt trauma to their groins, but neither of these experiences could be remotely compared to the terror that was riding my soul, in equal amounts refusing me both life and death. I was somehow cursed to wander Limbo, there to suffer both worldly pain and the uncertainty of my eventual fate.

Stretched before me was the desert of my life, chilling in its enormity and featureless landscape. Everything was hot and cold, everything unending. I swallowed broken glass blown by infernal glassblowers and stomped by sadistic imps with every breath. My very life was an act of defiance against the gods, both the elder and the younger pantheons.

And thus I slept, and awoke, and slept again. Now I have regained the mental composure to tell you, gentle reader, of my hardships and trials in the grip of that fearful affliction…

The Man-Cold.

Blasphemy: Reloaded

Eight months ago, I wrote this about blasphemy, and I felt pretty good about it:

Why I blaspheme

In these times of being so deeply offended by the statements of non-believers pertaining to your particular deity, everyone seems perfectly convinced we should treat each other with respect, tolerance and good will. This is, of course, an admirable goal, yet one which is extended to some ludicrous, relativistic extreme, in that its purported goal of peaceful coexistence means that no one is allowed to say anything even remotely offensive to anyone. “It’s against my religion,” they say. “It’s offensive to my interpretation of the (insert holy scripture of choice here)”.

The people who react in such a way are always quick to denounce whoever transgresses in the slightest. To exacerbate matters, the extremists follow suit by lighting things on fire; buildings, vehicles, people, flags, and so on. As though this horrendous act of blasphemy were only a trigger for hateful, violent, inhuman behavior.

Over the years, I have become gradually more lenient and tolerant towards those of a different spiritual conviction than I, until I finally understood the crucial role tolerance and mutual respect played in creating a better, more humane society in which people were truly free.

I have learned to appreciate and admire, even befriend people of different faiths, which I would once have thought impossible. I am glad of their acquaintance, and wouldn’t want to offend them, or by omission of observance, jeopardize our relationship. Their relationships with their deities are theirs.

So why blaspheme? What purpose could it possibly serve, other than to make a whole lot of people furiously angry, and make everybody else think you an idiot for consciously offending those to whom blasphemy is anathema?

I blaspheme because without blasphemy, faith has nothing against which to pit itself. Without blasphemy, we are living in constant fear of the unspoken. Without blasphemy, there is a constant elephant in your room, regularly voiding his bowels on your head. Without blasphemy, we are sliding ever so slowly back into the proverbial Dark Ages.

I respect and care for my religious friends. I do not for one second think that any one faith should be given respect equal to that given to a human being. If your god has a value greater than a human, that human is yourself, and I will endeavor to respect anyone who subjugates him- or herself before his or her god in this way. But the moment they demand the same for others, they are dictating terms. Commanding respect for their own god.

I won’t have it. Never.

Do any of you realize that your idea of god is just that – your idea of god? Do you, in your hubris, pretend that your idea of god IS god? If god exists, he probably doesn’t look like an old, bearded guy in the sky, or any other similar affectations.

It is your IDEAS of god I blaspheme. Your ideas of a god that only you have a direct hotline to. And you DARE call blasphemers arrogant? Were it not for us, you wouldn’t have anything to make the fires of your faith burn brightly against the backdrop of the void.

So fuck your god.

Love, me.

Only God Forgives

In Hinduism, there is a branch of yoga studies called Vamachara, or Vamamarga. Popular misconceptions have it that this branch is the “evil” kind, in that it encourages the practitioner to dabble in the forbidden, namely the five M’s, roughly translated as meat, fish, cereal, sex and certain ritual gestures.

With me so far? Good.

All faiths and all cultures have certain tropes and mores that are considered evil or taboo, in the sense that they are at right angles to what is permissible. The Aghori of India train themselves to reach beyond what is taboo, to what is hidden on the other side, not of the taboos, but of their own perceptions.

When I first watched “Valhalla Rising” by Nicolas Winding Refn, I fell badly in love. I say badly, since everyone knows the feeling of falling in love with the wrong girl or the wrong boy. You are bound for heartbreak and hurt, but you press forward regardless. It is what you need to do. You can almost taste the heartbreak, and it doesn’t matter.

It was everything I hoped it would be. It hurt. It burned. It made me profoundly melancholy. It made me wish for a better world, made up of people who were more free.

Then I watched “Bronson” and went through it all again. This movie was a slightly more cheerful event, though, featuring a fulfilled protagonist in spite of his incarceration.

Then came “Drive“. Didn’t much care for it, really. It was OK. It featured many of the same ideas Refn stuck in the other two movies, but nowhere near as boldly. It had a wider appeal, but didn’t really strike me as subversive or radical in the way Refn does better than anybody else.

And now, Refn has returned with what promises to be an elegant return to form, if the production notes, movie trailers and interviews are anything to go by. It is called “Only God Forgives” and is definitely making my limbic system act all funny.

Some people might argue that living vicariously, at a remove from reality, the way you do when watching a movie, is anything BUT subversive, edgy, transgressive and taboo-breaking. But all great revolutions start as the spark of an idea, as an inspired train of thought. Without that first Promethean spark, no revolution.

If you want to experience something unusual, something outside your comfort zone, something that lurks deep inside your mind, you could do far worse than set aside your preconceptions and watch Refn’s previous films. Still your mind. Listen.

If, after the viewing, you find you need to look further into what lurks beneath the person you show the world every day, you may just have seen the same film I did.

Go on.

Time to meet the Devil.

Dapper Dresser

I’ve been in my cave for a while now, and I’ve come to the realization that everything goes better in a three-piece suit.

Work goes more smoothly, people listen to you and your colleagues wonder what’s wrong with you.


My pupils thought I looked like the guy from “Hitman”, seen above. I remember watching the film and wanting my money back. The best part of it was the suits.

With that in mind, please read the following, stolen from a dear friend of mine:

“Style is the answer to everything.
A fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous thing
To do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without it
To do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art

Bullfighting can be an art
Boxing can be an art
Loving can be an art
Opening a can of sardines can be an art

Not many have style
Not many can keep style
I have seen dogs with more style than men,
although not many dogs have style.
Cats have it with abundance.

When Hemingway put his brains to the wall with a shotgun,
that was style.
Or sometimes people give you style
Joan of Arc had style
John the Baptist
García Lorca.

I have met men in jail with style.
I have met more men in jail with style than men out of jail.
Style is the difference, a way of doing, a way of being done.
Six herons standing quietly in a pool of water,
or you, naked, walking out of the bathroom without seeing me.”


Try it.