Things People Should Know

Right. I know I haven't blogged in a while - and I have a very good reason for that; namely, everything in my life is piling up at once and I simply haven't found the time to write anything more than 140 characters long. (My Twitter account, on the other hand, is alive and kicking.)

I decided to write this because, well, there are a couple of things that I've been saying on Twitter over and over again and I think people are getting a bit sick of them. I also have a problem explaining things in 140 characters or less...yes, it really is rather difficult. More than that, they're also things that pretty much underpin me - so this is getting very close to who I am as a person. Have fun ripping it to shreds, guys.

I am pro-truth and anti-bullshit. I have no political position on this - I will call bullshit on anyone, anywhere, if they're spouting it. Why? For various reasons (social conditioning, having an existential crisis when I realised I was living a lie, faith in the truth as a good thing to base one's life on), I care far too much about what's true and what's false. I care about knowing what's real so I can figure out what's going on, so I can know, so I can change things for the better - and I wish to a God that I don't think exists that other people cared about the truth too. (Yeah, atheism - which by the way is not a religion - and rhetorical flourishes don't mix very well.)

The truth is not pretty. It is not nice. It is ugly and brutal and downright depressing at times. But it does a damn better job of setting you free than any lie will do. And that goes for anyone of any political persuasion - the truth is more important than your ideas of what the truth should be. If the truth and your ideology conflict - drop your ideology every single time. You can formulate a better one. You don't need to follow others. You only need the evidence and a rational mind.

This is something else I want to say: You don't need to follow others. You have yourself and that's enough. No single person or organisation has a monopoly on what's right and wrong; you have to source truth and ethics from everywhere you can find them, and you've got to be independent about it. That doesn't make you a bad person, it makes you a rational human being.

The same goes for questioning everything. It's a source of endless misery and draws angry believers - but it is worth it. I don't say this because I'm hopelessly optimistic, I say this because it's true. I've got the anecdata.

Following on from truth and ideology - no belief is worth wrecking a country for. None whatsoever. Actually, if following your ideology will wreck the country, something's gone seriously wrong somewhere and needs fixing...most likely the ideology or its implementation. I don't say this because I have a fixation on countries (I think nationalism and indeed nations are some of the most pointless and divisive things ever implemented), but because I have a fixation on people. In the contest between ideas and people, people have to win out, every time, otherwise the idea really can't be such a good one at all. If it hurts people - abandon it. No amount of ideological purity can make up for the smell of blood in the streets and the sight of people being turfed out of their homes.

One last thing. If it doesn't cause any harm to the innocent or the unwilling, no matter what it is, it is not public business - or indeed anyone's business. It is not the place of a third party to poke their nose into a peaceful affair. Show some basic respect.


  1. I don't disagree with any of this but I've found that in practice it's hard to apply these principles straightforwardly. There's a murky area where ideology seems to be no more than simple truth (those who don't agree are prisoners of "false consciousness" if you're a Marxist, "the wiles of Satan" if you're a Christian, etc. etc.) whence it follows that surrendering your judgment to the possessors of truth (the Church, the Party, the Leader) is a positive duty, and wrecking someone's country or killing them a painful but necessary task.

    Questioning everything is a good first line of defense against the kind of thing I'm thinking of; other hand "de omnibus dubitandum" was Marx's motto, but there was a fatal certainty about his analysis and a dangerous ethical blank check in his model of history (if you were carrying out the historical mission of the proletariat there were no crimes you couldn't justify), so even a self-designated skeptic can go badly wrong.

    I think your principles are sound ones and I'm not suggesting you abandon them, or even that you need to sacrifice one to the others or rank them in order of importance. I'm just putting in a word for the gap between adopting principles and realizing them as action. My lifelong partner likes to say that you have to act (and withdrawal from action is a choice too) in the certainty that sometimes your actions will have unforeseen, undesired, even harmful consequences, and when they do, your original good motives don't relieve you of responsibility for the harm you've caused: "but I meant well" isn't an excuse. A bleak view but I think a clear-sighted one.

  2. I get what you're saying...and the gap between principles and action is always a difficult one to bridge. I try to live by those principles because I've seen a little of what happens if you don't - and that little is too much.

  3. Yes indeed.

    A friend once described me as permanently trying to atone for my years of devotion to what I thought was Marxism-Leninism. It's true, in at least two senses: I'm very wary of certainty, and I'm touchy about good motives. I don't mean bad motives are more trustworthy, and I'm not claiming that everybody's motives are bad (i.e. self-seeking, hostile, etc.) It's just that when I was a Red, I spent a lot of my time making excuses (because the original impulse and the ultimate goal were good) and being dishonest, with other people and myself. I was so remote from anything like real power that I didn't manage to do anyone any damage, but when the Soviets began (in 1956) to admit even part of the horrors of the Stalin years, one US Communist realized that if she had been part of that setup she would have condoned or even taken part in the horror, at least until it reached her doorstep. It's disturbing to think that only being unimportant was all that stood between her--and later, on a smaller scale, me--and culpability.

  4. It is disturbing, yes - and that's why I try to question everything, to hold back. I've often failed; I have been an utterly disgusting human being for most of the past 15 years. I am far too aware that the best of ideas can be the worst of realities. As for being a Red? I'm a pinko, so I can't really speak with any authority, but I care more about independent thinking than where someone lies on the political spectrum. In my experience, the ignorant and the dogmatic - left, right, wherever - are the ones that do the most damage.


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