Archive for July, 2010

Racism

As aforementioned in my article about the meaning of life, this is going to be a piece all about the ignorance of racists.

The common perception of a racist is a person who discriminates against another because of a different skin colour and/or ethnic background. Racism, of course, actually covers a much larger ground than just skin colour: racial discrimination usually derives from highlighting taxonomic differences between persons or groups. This could include weight, religion, sexual orientation and, well, just about anything. In a sense, it’s simply bullying somebody because they’re different.

I’m fairly sure that most of us in our lives can hold our hands up and admit we’ve been racist to someone at some point. Quite usually, though, it’s a harmless jibe and not intended as anything hurtful. Unfortunately, in some cases, the roots to racism are much, much worse, and the results can be sickening.

The worst case of racism we’ve seen in recent years was the culling of the Jewish faith during the second World War. Around an estimated 6 million Jewish people died during Hitler’s regime. If we add in the Polish ethnic, homosexuals, Jehovah’s witnesses, the disabled, soviet civilians and prisoners of war, the actual loss of life could be anywhere from 11-17 million people who died for Hitler’s racism.

Hitler believed he could purify Germany into a master race called the Aryan race. According to Theosophy, the Aryan race was a master race that ruled the world from Atlantis some 12,000 years ago; around 10,000 BC. They were one of seven ‘root’ races that man descended from, the originator having lived some 18 million years ago. They are widely believed to be of northern European decent; the Teutonic knights were thought to be offshoots of the fifth race. What is also widely believed is that they possess a far higher intelligence than any other race. This was undoubtedly Hitler’s, as well as many other Nazis and theosophists, incentive to create this master race once more, believing themselves to be of this sacred blood.

This was the justification for Hitler to implement the Final Solution through Heinrich Himmler. This is the whole essence of why racism is so unimaginably wrong. A select few had opinions that the weaker of the race and the people believed not to be of Aryan descent should be preened from society, and millions upon millions of people lost their lives. The idea of  creating a blonde haired, blue-eyed race is beyond belief. Besides the fact that it’s impossible to trace bloodline back 18 million years to a legendary race, which in all likelihood was a myth, genetics don’t work that way either. This is showing the very worst side of racism, how the ignorance of a few can destroy a world.

In the modern-day world, not much has changed. There are those out there who still believe the Aryan race should separate from the rest of the world and create one super-race. The Jewish faith is still as discriminated against because of age-old stereotypes and cultural hatred. Homosexuals are riddled with abuse for a sexual orientation they are born with. Coloured people are stereotyped as thieves and thugs: in many countries they are still treated no better than farm animals. And vice-versa: white people are discriminated against by coloured people. The latest racism is Islamophobia, because of the extremist few who caused atrocities in the name of religion. It’s never-ending.

To change the views that some individuals and cultures harbour would take generation upon generation upon generation. Yet that would be far too optimistic. Some people are far too set in their hatred of anything different to accept and teach the ways of acceptance and understanding: some cultures often uniting together in the hatred of a shared perceived enemy.

Regardless of where you were born, what religion you follow, what colour you are or what sexual orientation you have, you are you. They way you were born is the way you were meant to be, and nothing in the world should make you feel differently about that, the same way that you should embrace all the different cultures around you, and certainly not discriminate against them.

It’s mindless, ignorant bullying. There is no justification for racism, it’s an abomination which destroys lives and cultures.

The only racism I’d like to see is against the racists themselves.

The Cycle of Life

My inspiration for writing this article is something that I feel strongly about, yet will never be able to physically change. But hopefully, by the end of the piece, I’d like  to have made some people aware of their actions and possibly change your perspective on certain aspects of the life around us.

The cycle of life is, quite simply, amazing. The complexity of our eco-system is truly breath-taking. Each and every animal or plant you see devours something else in order to sustain life and, considering there are an estimated 10 million different species on earth, the cycle of life is immense.

Think about the number of animals and plants we consume during our lifespan as humans. Say an average person lives for seventy years, the amount of life we consume to stay alive ourselves is phenomenal. This is just one cycle of life, the world as a whole has hundreds of thousands.

Death is integral to life. Without death, life wouldn’t (feasibly) be possible. Though I couldn’t be the one to shoot a cow or catch a fish, I accept that killing animals is part of the lives we have to live.

Vegetarians may well have a different view upon this: a natural argument being that we could physically survive eating only plants. This is a very interesting topic on morality in my view.

Where does plant-life come into it? Surely plant-life should have as many rights as an animal. Plants use the exact same cycles as any animal, though obviously the ingredients to sustain life are different. So shouldn’t the same respect be given to plants as is shown to animals, or does life have to have a brain to become worthy of consideration?

That is simply a thought for your own morality. I really don’t think there will be convictions for a person picking a daffodil in the future

What I find quite distressing is that size really does matter in terms of respect given to animals. It’s confusing to understand why. A person picks a flower in a forest, no-one minds. A person cuts down a tree in a forest, they are condemned. Animals are similarly afforded respect out of their simple uses to humans as well as their size. Why does a dog carry a higher right to life than an ant?

All too often I see people killing animals out of mere annoyance, savagery or even pleasure. Killing a fly for buzzing too loudly, a spider for being a spider, an ant because it’s small. You wouldn’t kill a dog for eating the last sausage roll you dropped. What possible right does anyone have to wipe out a life through annoyance. I truly abhor this notion.

Gamekeeper’s rearing pheasants, nurturing them through childhood, then letting them loose to hunt them down with guns. Fox-hunting and deer-hunting for social and sporting pleasure. Bullfighting for public entertainment. The list goes on and on for the unnecessary killing of animals.

That’s a list of things I’ll never be able to change, and no doubt the government will never effectively ban either.

But I implore you, the next time you see a fly buzzing around that annoys you, or an ant that strays into your path, think twice about needlessly destroying life which is so precious.

I, Robot

Unfortunately, if you’ve read this title and thought, “Wow, after 6 years, someone is finally going to do a decent critique of Will Smith’s I, Robot!” I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you. Though I will put in my two pence and say I think that Will Smith is deservedly the biggest film star in the world.  I think ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’, ‘I am Legend’, and ‘Seven Pounds’ are three of the best emotionally provocative movies ever released.

I am actually going to talk about artificial intelligence. This is, ethically, a fascinating subject to look into. I’ve spent the last few days mulling this subject over in my head. Now this piece isn’t factual at all, I’m no expert in nano-technology or the development of robotics, but I’m just raising a few points which I find quite interesting to explore – please leave your thoughts on the subject, I’d be interested to hear.

The most powerful computer in the world (discounting George Bush Jr.) is undoubtedly the human brain – either singularly or as a collection. A computer can no doubt work out sums and probability at a much faster rate but, after all, they can only do this through the complex programming designed by humans.

I, Robot highlights the relationship of the character played by Will Smith (Del Spooner), and a robot (Sonny). This could well be something we may face in the future. Robots are being constantly developed to serve humans; such as the computer I’m using to write with now. Each of these computers are designed to respond in certain ways. I press the key ‘3’ and sure enough ‘3’ appears here. This is simple though. Robot design now has moved onto computer interfaces responding to speech and movement. In fact I’ve no doubt, before too long, there will be a robot designed which will be able to respond to humans as if you’re talking to a person themselves (though maybe not in appearance and movement) .

Now, surely the biggest moral question we must ask ourselves is: should the created become the creator? Effectively, we have the capability of creating life. To the created, we could be seen as Gods. After all, isn’t the human brain a computer itself? We respond to situations (though on a far more complex level, to date) exactly the same way. If someone jabs a pen in your knee, your natural reaction is to yelp in pain. If a self-learning computer interface is designed, then really we are designing something which could potentially be perceived as a personality. That is quite a worrying thought.

All of the surreal films we used to watch all those years ago, such as ‘The Terminator’, don’t actually seem so far-fetched to me anymore. Military forces will no doubt be replaced by robots in the near future, something talked about as recently as February of this year. Although the point was stressed that these robots would always be controlled by humans, and not independently, whose to say that this won’t happen. With robots capable of learning, Arnie’s terminator ripping through a police station, killing all in sight isn’t actually far-fetched at all, is it?

Technology is reaching unprecedented levels of complexity. The technological revolution is moving at such an incredible rate, the sky is no longer the limit – that is now the never-ending edges of the universe.

Maybe I’m getting far too ahead of myself mulling over these thoughts but, as a race, one day we’re going to have to ask that question to ourselves.

Do we have the right to become Gods?

The Meaning of Life

I haven’t written for a few days now and this article is why – naturally a lot to think about. I appreciate that this, like any of my other articles, is completely subjective but here are my insights – I hope you enjoy.

Now here’s an interesting topic to write about. Not many, such as the brilliant Monty Python crew, can pull it off successfully, but here goes. The meaning of life is a subject that just about every human will think about at some point in their lives. What is the purpose of us being here? Are we simply a complex mixture of chemicals, reacting to the probabilities of our genetic code? Or maybe we are something more.

Now there are several common paths which are widely accredited as possible truths. The most commonly known is procreation; the simple purpose of being born to produce offspring and carry on the cycle of life.

Now, personally, this isn’t a path I find credible. If we are simply created to create others, what of those males that are born, who would have much preferred to suckle on their fathers teat? Homosexuality as a whole could cover around 5% of the world’s population. Of course, it could be a lot more or less, but with certain societies incredibly closed-minded to such practices, it’s hard to know the actual number. (I won’t go into such bigotry here as I could, and will, do a whole article on the stupidity of certain racists.) Now that would be a rather crass mistake if procreation was our sole purpose. No doubt procreation is essential for life, but is it a sole meaning to our lives? I don’t think so, that would render possibly 30 million lives without purpose.

Religion is the next obvious path. The number of religions in this world are infinite. As the interpretation of everyone’s brain to either the teachings they follow or the philosophies they themselves believe, essentially every single person alive follows their own unique path – or ‘religion’. That’s what brings so much conflict to the inner parts of every religious organisation, which is why I find myself despising large amounts of religion. If everyone could accept the subjectivity of reading texts and interpretation, there would be a lot less conflict in the arrogance of individuals trying to convince everyone that only one word is truth – often by means of violence and threats. As an example, look at the leader of the Catholic church – the pope. Last year he claimed that condoms would help the spread of HIV and AIDs in Africa. I don’t think I need to highlight my view on that, as I assume everybody reading this has been to primary school and could make a more intelligent assessment.

That said, religion does bring such meaning to so many lives that, in fact, a lot of followers dedicate their whole life to the teachings of a few. What I find quite incredulous to my mind is that I see religion quite like a hereditary disease. Depending on whereabouts in the world you are brought up, and the parents you have bringing you into the world, you seem to be assigned a religion. I find that quite hard to get my head around this. I find it’s almost like tribal traditions. Some tribes slaughtered lambs in sacrifice, some slaughtered pigs. Depending on which tribe you were brought up in, that was the ‘word’ you believed. I could never personally base my life’s purpose on this concept. Especially as tribes kill each other because they chose the lamb, not the pig.

Next up – life. The meaning of life is life? Sounds a little surreal when put like that, yet isn’t it the path which makes the most sense? With each breath we take in, we move one step closer to the grim reaper. That’s quite a contradictory thought, potentially both morbid and inspirational. It can be taken either way: sit down and be depressed by the thought that death awaits or make the most of the time the reaper allows. This is a path many, many individuals follow. Live fa(s)t, die young: take in the full force of life, live it to its potential and disregard the consequences. This path can go in many directions depending on the nature of the individual. It could be drinking themselves stupid every night, taking every drug under the Sun. It could be trying that aforementioned procreation – except without the creation.

Sounds fun, does it not? Well, probably not to a Shoalin monk. Although this path no doubt fulfils some of the wildest dreams in a life with no regret, it can often lead to a person being spiritually and mentally unfulfilled. Look at the plights of many former rock stars: a life of unlimited money, sex and drugs often leads to deep depression. So, personally, this isn’t a credible path for me either.

Now the last meaning I’ll bring up: is that there’s no meaning at all. Some people may come to the conclusion that we are simply an anomaly. The whole universe is simply just a chemical reaction and we are a minuscule part of the result. There is no God, there is no meaning to our lives, we simply are born and then we die – nothing we do has the remotest effect on anything.

To counter this kind of argument, I find quite impossible – not because I believe it, but because it’s hard to prove that this isn’t true. For thousands of years philosophers and scientists have asked these questions, and none can give you a definitive answer. Perhaps, in years to come, they may discover the mathematical purpose of our being here, but I can’t see that happening. Life has an aura of mystery, one I’d love to discover, yet I along with many others doubt that I’ll ever find it.

So what is the meaning to life? I could answer you, but to be honest that’s personal.

Yet if you asked me what the meaning was to your life, well, that’s simple. It’s whatever YOU want it to be.

Escapism

Since I was a teenager, I’ve always harboured an ambition to have my own book published. After reading the truly masterful works of the late great John Tolkien and my personal favourite author Stephen Donaldson, I ventured into the world of fantasy. Now, as a perfectionist when it comes to writing a book, I set myself a precedent as high as they come following in the footsteps of these two. We can all dream!

Tolkien’s most famous works were undoubtedly ‘The Hobbit’ along with ‘The Lord of the Rings Trilogy’. In fact this masterpiece had been labelled the father of ‘high fantasy’, brought a resurgence to the genre and gathered  considerable acclaim. What fascinates me about Tolkien, is the level of depth in the descriptive content of anything he wrote, even to the extent of writing his own elvish language. This is where escapism comes to mind to me. Tolkien spent years writing about the episodes of middle-earth. How many of the years of his life did he spend in a world created by his own mind?

Stephen Donaldson on the other hand, has created several series which have become best sellers, the most notable of which is, ‘The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant’. Now as I’m sat here patiently waiting the 100 days left until the penultimate book in the Thomas Covenant series, I appreciate how authors such as these two truly capture the minds of the reader.

Donaldson’s use of description and character building, in my opinion, actually outstrips Tolkien. He is a true master of capturing the reader’s imagination, to the point where when reading his novels, you almost feel as if you’re there.

Of course escapism has many other forms, such as internet forums, alcohol and drug use to name a few. I was simply illustrating two masters at elevating us from the real world.

Life has many, many stresses: getting a new job, children, education, personal loss, inner battles, addiction, poverty. The list is endless. Many forms of escapism are seen as life necessities for many to live their lives. In fact, I doubt there are many people alive who don’t need to escape their day-to-day life in some way – myself included.

But the path of reading fantasy fascinates me. As children we learn tall tales of orcs, goblins, unicorns, centaurs, wizards, and so on. I used to love them. The idea of going on an adventure, retrieving treasure and slaying the evil wizard. What a great way to spend a few days of your life, imagining things that’ll never be.

As a second thought though, isn’t the greatest fantasy story that we could ever read, actually our own life story?

Maybe it be the mind-boggling statistic of actually being conceived. 1 in around 400 million if we’re talking about competing sperm. Take into account the problems of conceiving and troubled pregnancies, the actual statistic of your personal creation is as near a statistical impossibility as you’ll ever find (unless of course, you’re counting a cow actually jumping over the moon).

It could be the surreal notion of a piece of metal flying through the air carrying 100 passengers, or how that tin of beans managed to get to your plate. Each would be a fantasy story in itself a few centuries ago.

So maybe instead of escaping into a fantasy world or having a beer to escape that nagging wife, you could just take a couple of moments to appreciate the truly amazing feat of simply being here.