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Archive for May, 2015

Hey, it’s Friday night, the weekend is here, and it’s time to paaaaaar-tay, if by paaaaaar-tay you mean find myself largely agreeing with a Christian voice article.

Seriously, I think their objections to the conviction of a street preacher for “delivering homophobic sermons” last year are basically spot on. And while this guy doesn’t sound like someone I’d generally find myself siding with, having the government take action to curtail your free speech in what seems like a pretty clear-cut case of unjust state censorship is the kind of thing that can quickly bring me on board as your ally.

I’m not going to join Stephen Green in praying that the judge in this case will repent and find Jesus, but I am going to keep looking out for chances to defend my principles at the expense of my personal biases. Threatening someone with jail time for speaking his mind in public should feel no less palatable just because I disagree with his message.

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A year after the first confirmed outbreak, progress is being made in the Ebola crisis in west Africa. The situation’s far from perfect, but the news is tentatively good.

So I hope you’ll all join me in a hearty chorus of “Thank you, Bob Geldof!”

You may have noticed he re-re-recorded that song even he thinks is terrible against last year, with another new crowd of young poptastic faces helping to raise lots of money to fix another foreign country where everything’s terrible. It sold well, probably, and pooled some cash that made some sort of a difference to people trying to fight a horrible disease, I imagine.

But I think I may have figured out what it is about his recurring Band Aid obsession that makes him so irritating:

The whole thing is classic Gryffindor.

The whole purpose of the narrative is to put him on display as the Hero who boldly leaps into action to save someone in distress. And when you’re the Hero, there are certain things the narrative requires you to do, like Stick To Your Guns, and Stand Up For The Victim, and other things that perpetuate an idea of black-and-white morality and can best be achieved through posturing. Little things like critical scientific analysis of your methodology don’t fit with the model at all.

I’m not sure if Geldof’s ever heard of effective altruism, but there’s none of it present in his obsession with re-treading old ground over and over again, and I suspect he’d dismiss it as something for smart-arse tossers to feel high-and-mighty about while people like him are out there actually doing the work and raising the money.

It’s an unfair characterisation, I don’t know the man nearly well enough to guess how he might respond to new ideas, but frankly given how little curiosity he displays for improving or reassessing his methods he deserves no benefit of the doubt.

His narrative requires that buying the song is the way you show that you care about diseased Africans, whether or not you like it, as if buying a single on iTunes for 99p as many times as it takes was a remotely efficient way to contribute financially to an international relief effort.

Being a Gryffindor, Geldof jumps at the chance to be selfless and self-sacrificing in pursuit of the greater good, in a way that just so happens to make him look dashing and noble, and it wouldn’t occur to him that maybe a genuinely selfless path wouldn’t put him at the focal point, or that helping other people might leave his ego bruised or ignored rather than elevated. After all, if he doesn’t get to take a messianic role, how can he be saving everyone?

Meanwhile the Hufflepuffs of the world are buying the single in their hundreds of thousands, because they’re kind and decent people who are presented with an easy way they can make some sort of difference. They were also texting their donations a few months before, to an appeal for funds that would improve the medical infrastructure in countries preparing for an outbreak like this, but before such an outbreak gets out of control, at a point when much more harm reduction can be achieved and lives saved at a much smaller expense.

The Ravenclaws have been working on these improvements to infrastructure for a while, but haven’t really gained much serious traction with the public because the Gryffindors keep distracting their potential supporters with grand heroic gestures that end up hurting the cause more than they help.

I’m not sure what Slytherin are up to. I’ve never had a good grip on how that lot think. Patenting an Ebola vaccine?

But however the hat sorted you, don’t let fucking Bob Geldof lecture you on where your ethical responsibilities lie with regard to charitable giving. Try to give more of a shit about the practical end result of a suggested action than how much feel-good cheerleading you get to do about it. Consider donating directly to organisations you know will do real good. Read some folk who live and work in Africa telling Bob Geldof to fuck off, though far more eloquently than you’ll get from me. Cross your fingers we don’t hear another celebrity chorus later this year asking whether they know it’s Christmas in Nepal.

Happy Christmas. War is over.

Or something.

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I tweeted something of a stream of consciousness the other day, about the recent vote on same-sex marriage in Ireland, and in particular against the response to those who vainly railed against it.

I managed to Storify it over here, and I’m re-creating it below as well, because apparently I’m some sort of multi-platform SEO-conscious content-guru now. Ha. Oh god I hope I’m joking.


Finally watched the video the #VoteNo campaign seemed to think was their trump card, and I’m glad I did.

It’s still quite wrong, and #VoteYes was undoubtedly a triumph for compassion and equality and basic good sense.

But there’s more of a case to argue against than blunt, nuanceless, medieval homophobia fuelled by nothing but hateful bigotry.

Anything that reminds me that my ideological opponents didn’t all just wake up and decide to be evil anti-humanists is worth looking at.

It’s a much more feeble victory to be right about #VoteYes if we can’t sincerely and compassionately consider the arguments against.

Which doesn’t mean agreeing with anything they say or accepting that they have a point. They don’t! They’re still wrong!

But I spent too long doing that instinctive flinch thing against the whole #VoteNo tribe and made their wrongness their defining trait.

You do your own philosophy a disservice if you only let it be challenged by the weakest caricatures of the other side.

There can be nuance and intelligence to what your enemy is saying – and maybe even truth, if you try hard enough to understand them.

It’s a rare but vital skill to be able to do that, without flinching defensively against the feeling that your world(view) is under assault.

I still kinda suck at it. As ever, this is a note to self more than a lecture to others.

This has been “I should figure out how Storify works for this kind of thing. And hey, didn’t I used to have a blog?” with me, @writerJames.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled radio silence while I read Neal Stephenson books on my kindle in the bath.

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Christ, it’s been ages since I last posted about how it’s been ages since I last posted here.

I guess I’ve been too distracted with BUYING A HOUSE and then LIVING IN THAT HOUSE and hiring people to PLASTER AND PAINT THE WALLS OF THAT HOUSE and then waiting for different people to FILL MY HOUSE WITH AWESOME NON-MANKY CARPETS, and I just haven’t had time to think about this place, and also I can’t really set up my computer properly because everything’s been getting repainted and recarpeted and so most of our stuff is still shoved out of the way in the cellar.

The point is holy crap I actually have somewhere to live and it’s starting to look gorgeous and it’s nearly done and after well over a year of being stuck in a weird transition limbo I almost get to just be at home again.

I have been properly twitching for some kind of creative output lately and I really hope this site’s going to be part of it again. My hobbies once my life resumes will include writing, blogging, playing the piano, travelling the world just a little more adventurously than I’m entirely comfortable with, and paying off alllllllll the debt.

Betting is now open on whether the next thing to appear here will be just a regular post about whatever this blog is supposed to be about, rather than another personal update promising regular content soon.

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