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The system is fucked. When it’s working well, it fucks people over with maximal efficiency. We need something wholly different, not just to patch some things over in a way that’ll hopefully suck a bit less.

A caution: While you’re burning the system to the ground, be careful of the people inside it, propping it up. They’re not the enemy. In a way, they’re a victim of it just as much as you are.

Classroom discussion questions

1. In no more than twenty words, what would an acceptable replacement to the current system look like and how can it be achieved?

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Jeremy Paxman:

Russell Brand has never voted, because he finds the process irrelevant. I can understand that: the whole green-bench pantomime in Westminster looks a remote and self-important echo chamber. But it is all we have.


Changing the subject as of tomorrow, much to my wife’s relief.

Edited to add: I only now realise I haven’t once said “Don’t blame me; I voted for Kodos” in my entire aggregated ranting this far. D’oh.

Okay, now I’m done.

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Following on from yesterday

It was general election time in the Hypothetical States of Scenarioville, which looks a lot like modern Britain apart from being fictional. Oh, and the leaders of the two biggest political parties had just announced massive policy changes on the evening before the vote.

“If elected,” said the first guy, “I promise that we will immediately implement a policy of annihilating all the Jews in the country. We’ll just round ’em up and shoot ’em, nice and efficient like.” Several senior staffers subsequently confirmed that yes, this was now official party policy as of today, and would not be affecting the vote tomorrow.

“When we are elected,” said the second guy, “the Jews will be absolutely fine. But we will be assassinating all the gays. Any gay stuff going on, kill ’em all. Bisexuals and transsexuals will not be given the benefit of the doubt.”

When asked about the fate of gay Jews, the second guy offered a careless shrug.

All the other political parties basically gave up in the wake of these announcements, their members deciding almost unanimously that the whole system had just gotten weird, and they’d much rather bow out now and become Hebridean sheep farmers.

Theories abounded over the next twenty-four hours about massive international conspiracies or alien mind control, none of which affected the basic fact that within a couple of days we were going to have a Prime Minister bent on genocide. Both party leaders assured us that these new policies were their top priority, and that programmes to enforce them would be well underway by the end of the month.

There was no way one party or the other wasn’t going to win. There was no time or money with which to get anyone else on the ballot, any sensible, down-to-earth third party nominees, who really understood the British people’s concerns and didn’t want to murder them in the hundreds of thousands. Even if there were, much of the population were stuck in their ways, or hadn’t been paying very close attention to the news lately, and would be voting red or blue just like they always did, in startling numbers, all the same. (Some folk even appreciated the refreshing honesty with which those usually cagey and untrustworthy politicians were finally starting to speak their minds.)

So. Someone was going to be running the country, and they were going to attempt to enact a holocaust of either Jews or homosexuals. The nation faced an unavoidable choice: Hitler, or… also-Hitler, I guess.

When our protagonist, John Everyman, woke up on polling day, he was faced with quite the moral dilemma.

What should he do?

So, this was sparked by this tweet, and Tim’s reply. He arrives easily at the answer of voting for the marginally lesser of two massive evils.

I guess in my example above it’s pretty clear which the lesser of these two evils is. A quick googling of basic UK demographics tells me there must be way more gay people at risk of getting it in the neck than Jews. So the Jews’ll have to go. Sorry, off to the polling booth to vote for Hitler it is. The least worst option has been located.

Um, so… Is anyone else just a teensy bit uncomfortable with this decision?

Does anyone else sorta understand why some people wouldn’t want to do the “ticking a box in support of mass murder, even if it’s significantly smaller mass murder than it could’ve been” part?

Does anyone else imagine that, when you were actually in the booth doing your democratic duty, you might feel, I dunno… kinda nauseous? Like you were actually doing a pretty shitty thing? Like you’d feel a greater responsibility for causing thousands of deaths by ticking that box – even though you’re trying to prevent some of them – than you would if you’d just stayed in bed?

I imagine you wouldn’t feel too great about trying to persuade other people to do the right thing, either. There’s no glory in rocking the Hitler vote.

And you’d probably try to do a bit more than just voting for the least terrible option, then simply lamenting the limited choice available to you. You might try to do something else, to change the political system somehow so that you never had to vote for Hitler again. Maybe you’d get involved in some grass-roots efforts for people to stand together and not let the government get genocidal on them, and start finding other ways to organise things, without relying on some elected officials who’ve clearly gone murder-crazy.

Of course, you might do all that as well as voting for the lesser evil; trying to slightly mitigate the effects that way might still seem worthwhile. But at the very least, I hope that a vote for Hitler would make you feel extremely uncomfortable, and be a much less important part of your political life than all the other stuff you go and do, in direct contradiction of the policies of the candidate for whom you cast your vote.

I hope that voting for Hitler would feel like some small, deeply uncomfortable obligation, while the real work of making things better and not letting anyone do any genocide, is where you’re really politically engaged, out in the real world, away from the arbitrary limitations of the polling booth. I hope you’d decide that a political system in which voting for Hitler becomes a moral necessity is utterly inadequate, and that you and your countrymen deserve better than to be cornered into making that choice.

Or, you could just not vote for Hitler.

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Cheesecake is the answer

In another attempted online discussion recently, I realised that not only was the theistic argument I was addressing familiar, but it also wasn’t the first time I’d used cheesecake to make my point.

The question was the usual one of what atheists have to live for if there’s “no purpose” to our creation, and we’re all here “by accident”. Personally, I still don’t understand why this confuses people so much; but, since it evidently does, trying to encourage them to understand is more likely to get us all somewhere than just being sarcastically infuriated about it (even if the latter is a more natural inclination).

In listing the things that I, as an atheist, live for, I threw cheesecake into the mix. And the fact that it’s something which might many people might (wrongly) label a relative triviality is what makes it such a useful comparison.

Cheesecake is so good, you guys. Really good cheesecake is just one of the greatest things. It’s not quite as good as love, maybe. But it’s better than most other stuff. Kittens can wait till I’m done eating. Sunsets can fuck off. There is so much joy to be found in a good slice of cheesecake.

And how, exactly, does any of that joy depend on the “purpose” to our existence? Why should it matter if my delicious dessert and I have come together “by accident”?

So there was no ultimate design behind it, no intelligent driving force which wanted this cheesecake to be in my mouth? I couldn’t give less of a fuck, just so long as it is in my mouth, because it tastes so good and I’m making myself hungry typing all this.

Never in my life have I ever thought: “This is so frustrating, if only God really existed, then this delicious cheesecake would have meaning and I could really enjoy it”. My tongue’s delight in sugary creamy goodness on a crumbly biscuit base are not the slightest bit diminished by such abstract philosophical concerns.

It just seems a weird thing to get distracted by.

I mean, yeah, I’m going to die someday. The heat death of the universe will eventually end all variation in the cosmos. Every emotion we experience is transient and fleeting and mortal.

But way more important than all that is that this cheesecake is so fucking delicious, you guys, seriously, you have to try this.

On a related note, if you love your child, but think to yourself “Just as well I believe God exists, because if I were an atheist there’d be no point to any of this and I would be completely indifferent to the concerns of my offspring,” you are doing it very, very wrong.

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Thinking again

I may have been wrong yesterday. I saw the actual footage of Clarkson on The One Show, and it made me wonder whether his initial comment wasn’t a contrived “balance” joke before moving on to let everyone know what he really thinks. Maybe I had things backwards.

I’m a little less sure of myself now than I was. Fortunately, it’s not remotely important for me to make any kind of decision as to whether Jeremy Clarkson is an unutterable bell-end or just a bit of a tit. I’m perfectly free to give absolutely zero percent of a toss one way or the other, which is a very liberating thing to realise.

Also, thanks to everyone who left kind messages here and elsewhere about the cat. We’re doing okay, and contemplating the possibility of future guinea pigs.

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