Upcoming Post about Homosexuality in the US, Bachmann, FAMiLY Leader, etc.

I’ve sent through a column for 3quarksdaily.com, despite taking an extended hiatus from it (and all forms of social media and online writing); however, the topic in question concerned me enough to put something quickly together. It’s about a pledge that is being signed by a US Presidential Candit (or more) to try have homosexuality viewed as a choice, as a health risk, as bad as second hand smoke, etc. The reason I wrote the post is mostly to gather my thoughts on the subject and to see responses. It is also for others to clarify my views or point out where I’m thinking badly or speaking from the knee. I hope readers will not and accept my disclaimer/apology that I’m simply so busy with reading and writing that if it comes off badly written or sloppy, they will forgive me this.

I’ll post here if/when it comes out.


Pray the Gay Away With Help from Apple

As an iPad user, I’ve found it useful as this amazing and beautiful piece of tech appears to give you access to the legendary iTunes Store. They have ‘an app for everything’ it seems: from document taking to video-watching, from a working guitar to a usable DJ rig. And yes, they even have an app to get rid of your pesky homosexuality.

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“Marry a Muslim or You Die!” and other tales of woe

I’m getting tired of reading reports about thuggish Muslim idiots who, by virtue of having specific chromosomes and genitalia, thrust said properties into their conduct. No doubt some of you remember the Italian Muslim mother and daughter assaulted by their male side of their own family. What was the reason the men attacked their own family? Continue reading

Surfing the Slippery Slope of the Abortion Debate

UPDATE: The irritatingly sober Blaize Kaye, mentor and mitrailleur of all fuzzy thinking has written a brilliant post, which raises points I did not. Look there before. You probably won’t need to read mine anyway.

When people strap on boots of “moralising” and start raging through the territory of ethical debate, many things get crushed in the process. Spurned by emotion, people often overlook arguments that have refuted their own ones or, more importantly, improved on them. I’m an advocate of clarity and openness in the academic world, especially in philosophy; this is not an attempt to tell “laypeople” – for I am also a laypeople – to shut their traps about moral philosophy. Indeed, in many instances it is philosophers making boring noises about moral philosophy that should quiet down. Nevertheless, with that disclaimer out the way, I want to point to an instance where muddled-thinking, combined with the tightly worn boots of moralising, are seen in full display. Columnist Khaya Dlanga, at News24.com, has made some silly noises regarding abortion that deserves scrutiny.

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Why it’s better that life is ultimately meaningless

There is no god

Without god, there is no fairy-tale ending to this life. Life, filled with glory and suffering, heart-filled wonder and atrophied passion, comes to a sudden end with a flat-line: a monotone ending to a symphonic life.

And being human, we can’t help but have rhapsodic variations on the theme of this ‘condition’. Dylan Thomas rightly warned his father to rage, rage against the dying of the light. But his assertions apply to us all and not only toward the end of life – to ‘not go gently into that good night’ is not merely about the end of existence but apathy, too. Indeed, as the French define the moment after sex as ‘the little death’, so giving in to apathetic nihilism is itself a kind of self-destruction – though not one that follows pleasure like la petite more.


Thomas knew all about self-destruction

One difficulty in cleaning the fairy-dust off the collar of maturity, before we straighten it and head out into the world with all its indifference and difficulty, is precisely this: to not give into the apathetic nihilism that calls to many. Of course being a complete nihilist is an almost impossibility, which is something Nietzsche highlighted quite often in his writing. The passion Nietzsche called for – as opposed to what Mel Gibson yelled for – recast in Anglo-Saxon eloquence by Dylan Thomas, is something we need to set straight our sails. Nihilism is not only counter-productive, it is also boring. Life’s ultimate meaninglessness is enough without trudging through it with dreary abandon and the heavy boots of banality, finally caught by a sense of fatigue, only to drop without pause into the grave. This will not do.

But remember, we don’t need fairy-dust to fly (we have planes), we don’t need gods to be moral (we have ethics), we don’t need heaven to find meaning (we have reality), and we don’t need myths to position ourselves (we have the ground). This is what it means to straighten the collar of maturity; we have no super best friends by our shoulders guiding us through our life.


Would you want these Super Best Friends following you around?

Our lives are perhaps the ultimate expression of Ecclesiastes 1:18: ‘For in much wisdom is much grief; and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.’ As nonbelievers, we care about what’s true. What the religions teach, or rather, preach, is not true. Our conclusions as to the veracity of religions’ claims might initially sadden some; for others, like myself, it can be ecstatic. Or, as Bertrand Russell said, exhilarating.

So, whilst we might increase our knowledge about the world, finding religions’ claims lacking, we respond in different ways. Ultimately, however, we cannot escape the sorrow that our lives will end – indeed, for some of us, painfully. Others might be glad to see it end (and not for reasons that would legitimise euthanasia), but then, this discussion does not apply to such people.

It is easier to perhaps not think of future non-existence (death) than to truly face his haggard grin. To think on life is itself to think on death. As Cicero put it: ‘To study philosophy is nothing but to prepare one’s self to die.’ We often hear the phrase that death is a part of life, as if that somehow is consoling. Instead, we must learn to not ignore death. But, because of our strong ties to finding out what is true, we cannot let our future corpses force our current passions to stagnate. We are not wormfood yet, we are not ash in the wind today.

So, if life is ultimately meaningless, if death is the end for our individual life, if no tawdry reward awaits us after – which turns us all into a choir-slaves if we’re good and satanic playthings if we’re bad – what are we to do? It seems obvious from this that our brief splutter of life now, our little light of current realisation, should ignite a passion to live fully, greatly, wonderfully – but, most importantly – freely. Enclosing flames puts them out. As we rage, we must rage for good reason. And there are plenty – primarily they should be about others lives, other fires. We should aim at bettering the lives of others, since overall, we benefit ourselves.

Truly it is magnificent that life is ultimately meaningless. Firstly, I would feel enormous responsibility and, therefore, fear if my actions had cosmic repercussions. I don’t know how people who are guided by The Secret and astrology manage to live everyday without going mad from the echoes of their failures and over-indulgence and solipsism. Secondly, it means I am not special to anyone other than those who can directly appreciate my meaningfulness. This is not an ultimate meaningfulness, but a protracted one, in which loved ones come to orbit my tiny life. We need no more than that. We are, indeed, lucky if people know us and appreciate us beyond our immediate circle. But a greater gaze means a greater scrutiny: for this reason, we all are forced into knowing the sexual goings-on of B-list actors. Yet, ultimately, it leads back to my first point: that kind of responsibility is terrifying. Finally, living a life that has no ultimate meaning seems to indicate freedom – I am not tied to ancient scripture into maintaining a cosmic balance, I have no need to consult sexually-repressed, old men about what a deity needs from me, personally, in order that he doesn’t wipe out the species. I am free to be an adult, to face the slings and arrows of this outrageous fortune of living but not asking for it, facing suffering that in the end has no meaning. The price-tag on freedom, in this sense, is high; what we had to go through, as a species, so that I might pen these words, is something too awful and too incredible to at once consider.

Schopenhauer, in his magnificent The World as Will and Representation, asks the following: if you compounded all of a person’s suffering and hardship that he will go through in his life into one long act, an act of suffering bleeding into another, we must ask this person: ‘Do you want to live this life?’ For Schopenhauer, the answer was an obvious no. Schopenhauer does not ask about the opposite: what if we took all the joy and wonder in a person’s life and showed her? It seems obvious the person would then take it. If we showed both, which would we let the person experience first? Pain or happiness? Suffering or security? Schopenhauer was not myopic in leaving out the corollary to his question. He was particularly sensitive to the suffering of the world as a whole; a feeling, he stated, that we could all feel quite sharply. We all could feel the horror of the world, of differing lives; but we rarely could, to the same level, be affected by joy and wonder. No matter how many rainbows or Megan Foxes, for Schopenhauer, nothing can eliminate the universe’s cruel nature in its ‘natural disasters’ nor man compounding such evil with his own innate hate of anything that is different, strange or unknown.

Certainly it is cruel and hard; and you might disagree with Schopenhauer. But we have to begin a new conversation, because answering with gods and fairies will not change that the world really does not care about us being here and that our brief flash of life will be smaller than dust in a cosmic gas cloud. As we, even now, swirl around, let us not be tempted by the sirens of apathy or the barks of dogma. Because, as Plato reminds us, ‘Death is not the worst thing that can happen to a man.’

Burning Closets – Why we must defend my LGBTI comrades at UCT

NOTE (31/10/11): Looking back on this post, I see numerous grammar and typos. I apologise for that, but considering how many there are, I’m not going to try change it. I also find it too flowery and it overuses the metaphor of flames and ash. It’s also too naive in its defence of human rights and individual freedom.

My alma mater, the University of Cape Town, has recently been the centre for an act of barbarism, against its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons (LGBT) community. UCT was recently (and deservedly) patting itself on the back for its107th place, in the Times Higher Education World University Ranking. But as soon as the patting hand was down, it is now putting out fires – literally.

The Pink Week Campaign, to celebrate a week of openness and solidarity with – you know – the rest of humanity,  has turned to ash. The irony should strike hot and hard: a pink closet, a symbol the Rainbow Society at UCT set up to promote Pink Week, was found a smoldering wreck on Monday night. Some individual or, more likely, persons had decided that a way to show our views catching up with the twenty-first century – and indeed our constitution – was to burn the symbol preaching integration. A poster on campus put it eloquently: ‘This closet was supposed to highlight the homoprejudice that still burns through the fabric of our society. Apparently, it also burns through our own campus.’

I remember, even in 2007, the closet was defaced with graffiti. Of course, some used the opportunity to write back to the poets of piety, pointing out the flaws in their aggravated ‘reasoning’. We can still do this, but not through flames.  This kind of barbaric act is not to worth a response, except with handcuffs, a slap of reality, and a dosage of being adult. However, what it speaks to, indeed, what it ignited is worth pursuing, defending and promoting: that is, my gay and lesbian comrades, in their defence of autonomy to live peaceably, are persons worthy of dignity, respect; they are not ‘unnatural’ ‘ungodly’ or ‘unworthy’ of anyone’s compassion, love, or attention. Consider which group in this country these terms applied to before 1994. It is obvious why racism and homophobia are exhaled in the same last gasp of reason, as rationality dies on the homophobe’s lips, as it withers into ash in the racist’s hands – it is unreasonable, bigoted, stupid and unfounded.

The authorities will look into the matter of vandalism, but we have to protect something even more scarred: our rights as free individuals. South Africa may have one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, but it mainly serves to highlight the distance between what we should be doing and what we are doing: we may be the first in the world to not discriminate legally against gays, we may be the first in Africa to legalise same-sex marriage, but the chasm between many of us accepting these things as normal, as banal, is so wide the echoes of Bronze Aged morality can be heard.

There are two fronts to be concerned about: the first is the oldest homophobe of all – the Christian god. More importantly, his self-proclaimed mindreaders who know his desires, his wishes and his utter contempt for two consensual adults engaging in sexual or romantic affairs. Fanatics are all too quick to claim to know god’s will in the most convenient areas that back up their own prejudice: what about a deity that loves all his creatures, equally? What about peace, love, solidarity? This gives the lie to the belief that god makes you moral, as evidenced by the volume of relidiocy sprouted in the comments section in the IOL link above. As one commentator claimed: ‘Who says Gays are accepted, it will never be accepted, if GOD won’t accept GAYS why should we! Stop the Filth STOP the GAYS!.’

Er, our constitution says they’re accepted. More specifically Section 9 (3) of the constitution, gives my gay and lesbian comrades the freedom to marry – surprisingly without the sky shattering. Christian groups that have a problem with it – of course they will – must lobby that. They have, they will. Also, stop the gays doing what? Homophobes in these instances can never tell us what exactly the gays are going to do? Infect them? Make them uncomfortable?

The point being, to answer the most important claims, we thankfully have the actual law of the land on our side. Christians are welcome to go to another country that does legalise hatred toward gays, like Saudi Arabia. Of course, that’s also if you are not interested in being discriminated against yourself, and not living in a democracy. Instead of asserting that gays are bad, let’s see evidence, let’s see some reasoning instead of shouting the same nonsense that was said against non-whites for centuries.

The second are those who have some vague understanding of free expression, claiming that gays should ‘be gay in silence’ (as one commentator put it), should stop thrusting their views on to us straights. Commentators appear to say, we straights don’t put out displays of our straightness. It’s not like we have thousands upon thousands of displays of cars, weights and other ‘straight’ things (read straight as butch or macho) with scantily-clad women, dancing provocatively on millions of television-screens around the world – we don’t do that!

Um, yes we do. When was the last time we saw an ad for, say, coffee or kitchen appliances that showed a gay or lesbian couple, happily raising their children? Our entire world is filled to the nauseating brim with images of straightness: its ubiquity is its camouflage. People who think we don’t thrust straight-life into the lives of gay and lesbians have simply become numb to the sheer volume of products that automatically think a family has a mom and dad and two kids. (The irony being that gay andlesbian parents are often slightly better parents, in some regards, than the supposed ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ counterparts. Does that mean straight people should not be parents? Of course not, but it deflates the arrogance of assuming they’re by definition better.)

Another commentator said: ‘Helloooo, To all LGBTI’s, Muslims, Jews, Palestinians, Gjihadists and every other minority group we know you are different from US. We don’t need your symbols thrust in our faces in the public domain. Please be different on your own and amongst your own and leave everyone that is “different” from you in peace. If you don’t, don’t be surprised if people dislike you and your “ornaments”.’

And another: ‘When last did you see a heterosexual group say “Look at me, look at me. I’m hetro”? If gay people want to be treated with the same dignity and respect as heterosexual people, why not just get on with life and not draw so much attention to your differences? It is the constant “Look at me” attitude that is forced on the rest of us, that makes you so controversial. It just makes everyone who is normal just want to mock and make fun of you.’

Over and over again: ‘I agree with [commentator above]. Sure gay people should have the same rights as everyone else. But gay activist groups are such a bunch of prima donnas. Just get over yourselves already. Your making spectacles of yourselves in public, such as gay pride marches etc, would also want to make me burn down your stupid pink closet.’

Why the tacky approach? Why the half-lie caked in the mud-slinging of dogma: sure gays should have same rights but they must stop whining when those rights are rescinded. Utter nonsense. The very reactions we see above is exactly why our comrades need to keep pushing for Pink Week, why they even need a society for LGBT – the fact that people either deem my comrades ungodly for wanting to just be equal as persons, or as whining, indicates most of us still don’t get it. Until such time as homosexuality is as ubiquitous as heterosexuality, we need to keep defending and promoting their equality. (I would also ask what a heterosexual group is?)

Consider: the fact that most women did not vote is now something almost forgotten. Now that women in democratic countries can vote, there is no need for suffragette movements. Similarly, if you want gays to ‘stop shoving their gayness’ into your face, then stop treating them as lesser people. They are doing nothing except celebrating their own security within themselves; by these stupid, bigoted reactions, their supposedly straight males are showing us that what our gay comrades have in abundance, they themselves lack completely: security, adulthood and a sense of solidarity.

And by the way: burning someone’s property is no more an exercise of free-speech than slapping someone’s child. Both will land you in jail because someone can be physically harmed – unlike a stationery closet, which is not going to attack anybody.

To the Muslims insulted by depictions of their Prophet

I greet you as someone who was once involved in your faith. I studied it adamantly for many years of my life, under as many Islamic scholars as my city had to offer. My parents, in an attempt at conveying a sense of morality and meaning, believed that drowning me in faith would force me to swallow some watered down version of religion. Parents continue to force religion on their children – often not in an attempt at maliciousness but in an attempt at cosmic protection, in an attempt of sublimating metaphysical casuistry, some certainty that the child’s ‘soul’ will be safe. Parents’ duties often are about protecting their child. To those terrified of a godless life – which probably rests more in the fear of life being meaningless rather than the soul condemned to hellfire – dunking children’s heads in water, whispering Arabic phrases in their ear, and severing parts of their genitalia could be equivocated to strapping on their seatbelt or holding their hand across the road.

You might think I am mocking your beliefs but I do not doubt a parent’s sincerity in protecting his or her child. It is no fault that our society views the so-called ‘great questions’ – what is my purpose? Who am I? How am I to live? What is good? – as falling strictly within the domain of the religious, when it should be for all and any who care to participate, using rational arguments and an open approach to dialogue. I received engagement with these ideas only after my secular schooling day ended, as the sun passed into dusk, with the haunting melodies of the imams as their long shadows stretched before me in the afternoon sun. I learnt about my life’s meaning in the words of the Prophet; I learnt about right and wrong from what Allah said to the Prophet through the angel Gibreel (Gabriel to the Christians); I was moved to tears by the beauty of the Prophet’s visions and his attempt at making the world a better place.

But I no longer see Islam that way. I see only flaws in answering any moral questions with religion. Many continue to talk about how beautiful Islam is or, more insultingly, that Islam is about peace. From my first days of Islamic scholarship, its history whispers its blood-trail as often as it does its conquest. Muslims will tell you with pride that Islam grew at an unprecedented rate, as great armies fell to the Muslims. But, like a boxer, they quickly switch feet and eloquently reprise the history of Islam’s peaceful blooming. Islam is premised on war, on conquering. The world is bifurcated between the lands of Islam and lands yet to be conquered. And, now, in these places the Muslims would consider yet to be conquered, the inhabitants have begun expressing their opinions about the Prophet, using monochromatic exclamations marks of deliberate offense.

You, my Muslim friends, see this as those of us who ‘worship manmade’ world-views tracing deep borders. You see us, like ballerinas with one foot deep in the sand, encircling you. You see us as we separate ourselves and you, as we give in to the war-mongering of ‘us and them’. You imagine that this border creation is exactly what to expect from us lovers of ‘freedom’ above ‘god’s laws’, idolisers of manmade values over ‘god’s word’, fornicators, masturbators, child molesters, Satanists, feminists, womanisers, prostitutes, homosexuals. I have been called some of these terms by Muslims before – many of them blatantly not true (homosexual, Satanist, child molester, etc.) and some which I am not ashamed though would not call myself (feminist, womaniser, fornicator, etc.).

To think that those cartoonists who depict caricatures of Muhammad, that writers who depict their version of the Prophet’s early life, are doing so to deliberately incite violence is to miss the point. Many of these people – some are my colleagues – are beyond bullying, beyond name-calling. Most of them are against violence of any kind, instead trying for peace in a world that rejects it. Some of us, like myself, have given up fighting for peace or a good world, realising that this will never happen; instead opting for amelioration over utopianism. Why even attempt this letter? For two reasons: firstly, if it can help push one person over the precipice of dogma into reason, then my job would be complete. Secondly, it serves to raise consciousness for this very important matter concerning a free, open world, in which we are able engage with our most important ability: freedom of expression. Freedom of expression, not violence, not bullying, not ‘incitement of religious hatred’ (what a horrific, arrogant notion) – but the ability to express our thoughts and minds without being killed for it.

We fight battles of every kind – individual and societal, subjective and global, familial and governmental. In order to bring light to those areas canvassed by the shadow of oppression, we must and can only use our free expression, our opinion and our passion. This ability has helped not millions but billions of people; since freedom of expression is the cornerstone of science, our longer and healthier lives are a result of it. And how many lives have changed, because enough expressed their dissent at being marginalised as a result of their sex, sexual orientation and ethnicity? And not just biological well-being but philosophical, too: how do we view the world, what are our opinions on the good life? The conversation of humanity is temporal as well as spatial, as we reach back in time to Plato for answers just as we would like to reach across the veils to our Muslim sisters. You are human. The circle you imagine we draw is not to separate you but to include you; as we come to realise the shortness and horror of life, the vivid transience that occurs with a subtle reflection on what it means to be human, we all wonder what can be done to at least make this little life better for all. The circle is an attempt at enclosing all of humanity in a single conversation, using free expression, without threats of violence. In a pluralised, adult world, there will be things we do not want to hear. But that is the cost of being in the adult circle, the adult world.

The conversation of humanity is also a tapestry, filled with vivid colours from multiple minds. You are part of that tapestry. By drawing your Prophet we confirm that you are grown up enough to realise you live with other fallible humans. Sure, we might be wrong. But by virtue of being human, this is the chance we take and why we must be allowed to offend. There is always the chance that what you hold to be sacred will in fact come to be considered absurd. Humanity is known as much for its brilliant ideas as for its very stupid ones, and both have probably been held with equally strong convictions. But by not being able to express our opinions on them – whether right or wrong – we will not discover our faults, our failures and our inconsistencies; we might all burn (especially people like me, who should be hunted and murdered according to your hadith, which also is mainly where the directives to oppose blasphemous depictions come from). But right now we are all struggling. We want you to laugh with us at the absurdity of stupid drawings, we want you to draw our leading thinkers with giant noses and turban-bombs. We want you to tell us about your secretive lives, your thoughts, your beliefs. I am interested as I am interested in this species as a whole. I do not have to like you – I do not like most people – and you do not have to like me. But liking does not preclude tolerance. We tolerate many things. And toleration leads to information as we glean much from the things we encounter every day.

Many Muslims say it is insulting and offensive to draw Muhammad. What point does it serve? As I have said, if we cannot express ourselves – within limits – we have nothing to show for freedom. Freedom is not licence; but your offense and hurt feelings are no reasons to limit the expression. This ability is not restricted to us: it involves your participation too. Freedom is not freedom if it is only the hands of one group; it is not freedom if it is not being defended; it is not freedom if it is not being displayed. People might get hurt, innocents might suffer because some cartoonists wanted to have a laugh. But many would risk their lives for freedom rather than sit as silent robots tuned to the dictates of religious bullying.

A cartoonist should not have to apologise because Muslims are not grown up enough to be insulted. Everyone deserves to be insulted. Muslims are not special, they do not deserve kid-gloves. More insulting to Muslims are those who believe they cannot act as adults and ignore books and cartoons that insult their Prophet, or laugh it off as heathen ignorance. And those who deeply insult you are yourselves, as you abdicate your moral resolve to stupid councils and ignorant imams, whose talk is bloodthirsty and pumped for fighting. Who are these fools who tell you what to eat and take offense with? Decide for yourselves, you are adults and you should be proud of your rational abilities.

Remember, above all else, you are not special. If you mess up, if you believe silly things, if you create theological mazes which justify violence, the oppression of women but also somehow world-peace – if you do these things, don’t expect us to nod and smile and pat your heads. Others might treat you like children, passing you the candy-cane of patronising indulgence, but I will not. Your religion is not special, your beliefs are silly to me, but you are human. I am not perfect, I am not special. Scorn me with words, draw pictures of my giant nose. I have not raised a weapon to you, save my words. I only ask one thing: can you be adult enough to do the same?