Let’s NOT stay connected [Part 2]

Some time ago now, I wrote about the hassle of mobile phones and how I cannot stand being contactable at any time no matter where I am. If you missed that angry, anti-social rant then you can read it here. Unfortunately, things have gotten worse since then…much, much worse.

Now I am being hassled to join a work’s WhatsApp group. This is apparently going to be a good idea and allow the department to remain connected (*shudder*) and ditch the slower methods of text messages and those dusty old things from yesteryear that we knew as “phone calls”. For a stubborn, introverted S.O.B like me, the idea of my phone continuously pinging with work chatter or teh funniez isn’t fun at all. It’s absolute HELL and an inconvenient nuisance that I simply do not want to invite into my life. If you’re the kind of person that embraces all of this kind of shit and think Whatsapp is a cool thing then you’re probably thinking, “what the fuck is this weirdo going on about?”

So let me just break this down rather than attempt to form flowy paragraphs of justification:

  1. I hate work. I don’t want to talk about it any more than is necessary and I am confident in betting money on a work’s WhatsApp NOT shutting the fuck up once our shift(s) is over.
  2. I’m really not interested in pointless small talk or sharing humorous gifs or memes.
  3. I don’t want the hassle of being expected to reply to stuff.
  4. I don’t want the intrusion into my personal time/space.
  5. As I said in Part 1, any time somebody calls me while I’m working, it’s usually related to problems, disasters or shit that has gone wrong. I REALLY don’t want more of this when I’m trying to get my job done.

As I said earlier, I am an introverted person. I intend to hopefully make some more posts on this (often misunderstood) personality type sometime in the near future but suffice to say, we don’t enjoy this sort of thing and we certainly don’t find the idea of being connected something to get excited about.

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I would much rather turn my phone off completely and be done with it all as soon as possible. The world aggravates me. People aggravate me. That might sound cold and monstrously anti-social but I simply have a limited amount of energy for socialising and have to expend it all during the day dealing with customers and work colleagues. Anything extra on top of that is genuinely a big ask which is why I have zero interest in joining a Whatsapp group and getting involved in any more chatter than is necessary.

This isn’t me saying that I hate my work colleagues or don’t want to talk to people. It’s actually the opposite. I get on with the people I work with and there’s a part of me that wishes I was more extroverted (because it’s difficult being an introvert in an extrovert’s world) but I’m not and I’ve learnt from experience that fighting your natural personality (as opposed to accepting it) only causes greater despair and misery.

But sometimes it seems that society won’t let you just be you. Resisting the WhatsApp conversion nets you odd looks or probing questions. I understand and expect this of course but I wish that “no” was enough. If I don’t want WhatsApp then I don’t want it. Leave me be.

Please.

My problem with “Hate Crimes”…

Yesterday I wrote about the movie, Blade Runner, a futuristic vision which is just one of many possible futures that we may well face. We can laugh about such movies now and brand them sci-fi fantasy nonsense but the downsides of corporate-controlled, heavily censored, technology-ruled, dystopian futures are very real and will be with us soon depending on how careful we are with our decision-making NOW. After all, self-aware computers such as HAL and Skynet were once “just” sci-fi but here we are, inviting smart technology such as Alexa into our homes and giving it increasing access to the controls. Do a quick search on the internet and you will already find stories of Alexa getting a little too smart. People are laughing about it now but for how much longer?

Anyway – as I said – the avoidance of such futures will be based on intelligent decision-making now but unfortunately, I don’t have any faith in our species to make those calculated choices. Every time I dare to look at the news I see the planet’s sanity slipping away bit by bit as my brothers and sisters persist with their determination to flush common sense down the toilet.

And it’s that key phrase – “Common Sense” – that links my waffling about Terminator-style futures and that bitch, Alexa, to so-called Hate Crimes (we got there in the end). What does any of that have to do with current social issues, I hear you ask? Well, it’s the same lack of common-sense when dealing with today’s social issues that will see us ruled by our washing machines at some point in the future. It’s one of those classic “where does it all end?” questions.

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[image: pearlsofprofundity.wordpress.com]
But first, what exactly IS a hate crime? Well, let me go straight to the top and retrieve the definition from our own Metropolitan Police website here in the UK.

“A hate crime is when someone commits a crime against you because of your disability, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, religion, or any other perceived difference.”

“It doesn’t always include physical violence. Someone using offensive language towards you or harassing you because of who you are, or who they think you are, is also a crime. The same goes for someone posting abusive or offensive messages about you online.”

And it goes further…

“A hate crime is defined as ‘Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.’

A hate incident is any incident which the victim, or anyone else, thinks is based on someone’s prejudice towards them because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or because they are transgender.

Not all hate incidents will amount to criminal offences, but it is equally important that these are reported and recorded by the police.

Evidence of the hate element is not a requirement. You do not need to personally perceive the incident to be hate related. It would be enough if another person, a witness or even a police officer thought that the incident was hate related.”

A prime example of our country’s definition of a hate crime was reported back in March (I meant to post about it sooner but quite honestly, couldn’t be bothered…) when a Catholic journalist made the mistake of referring to a transgender woman as a man on good old Twitter.

From MSN News:

“Caroline Farrow appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain alongside Susie Green, whose daughter Jackie Green is transgender, to discuss Girlguiding’s decision to let children who have changed their gender join the organisation.

On Tuesday Farrow tweeted that she did not “remember said tweets”, adding: “I probably said ‘he’ or ‘son’ or something. All I have been told is that following an appearance on Good Morning Britain I made some tweets misgendering Susie Green’s child and that I need to attend a taped interview.””

“Using the wrong pronoun could be an offence under the Malicious Communications Act, which makes it a crime to send messages that are indecent or grossly offensive, threatening, or contain information which is false or believed to be false, if the purpose for sending it is to cause distress or anxiety. Breaking the law carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.”

The first issue here is that I titled this post “My Problem with Hate Crimes…” when I really should have used the plural, ProblemS. If you’re of a calm, common-sense orientated mindset, as I am, then you will no doubt have picked up on them already after reading the quotes above. I wouldn’t want you to do all the work though so in the interests of not being lazy, here are the glaring faults as I see them:

  1. We are constantly being reminded to respect the faith and religious beliefs of others and I assume that NOT doing that would also be classed as a hate crime. With that in mind, why are Caroline Farrow’s CATHOLIC beliefs on the subject of gender change being criminalised?
  2. What part of this so-called “crime” was motivated by hostility or prejudice? Farrow later stated that she tries “really hard not to misgender people” and that’s despite her Catholic beliefs, let’s not forget. Anybody with a brain (a dying breed it would seem) would realise that she simply made a mistake when choosing her terminology on Twitter. I don’t believe for a second that there was any malice or deliberate attempt to defy the “victim”s transgender lifestyle by selecting the words “him” or “he”.
  3. We need to talk about this Malicious Communications Act because being sentenced for two years in prison for using the wrong pronoun is bonkers. I’ve heard of ACTUAL criminals getting less time for doing far worse. The positive side of the Act is that it deters internet trolls and low-level, neanderthal types from targeting specific people with racial or sexual slurs for the sole purpose of attacking them with words and causing psychological harm. This is GOOD. This is why such legislation was needed in the first place. The problem is that the definition of Hate Crimes becomes far too loose and grey around the edges as a result. In the case of the Caroline Farrow story, the wrong pronoun may have been used but it was an innocent mistake. Unfortunately it seems that even non-malicious errors potentially carry the same consequences as intentionally setting out to spread hate. My big issue here is that if the transgender “victim” still looks and sounds like their original sex then it is highly likely that you are going to accidentally refer to them by their original gender out of pure INSTINCT. It is a MISTAKE, not an intentional attack which brings me to my next point…
  4. When did everybody decide to become so incredibly sensitive? In my mind, the normal reaction to accidentally being referred to by your original sex would be either to calmly point out the mistake or simply accept that people make mistakes and will be doing so for some time to come. As long as that person didn’t purposely set out to offend or ridicule your life decisions then I see no issue. To me it seems that so many people are simply waiting to leap to irrational conclusions and are prepared to see attacks and hatred coming at them from every angle, like a tripped-out stoner having hallucinations of ten copies of the same person sharing a room with them.

I’m also not happy about the constant use of the word “perceived”. Rather than have concrete definitions of a crime, it’s as if the victim gets to make the judgment call on whether something was a crime or not. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t that sort of thing for the police, a jury or a court judge to decide? After all, somebody might say the same thing to two different transgender people and one will shrug it off while the other defines it as a criminal act. You can’t do that with other types of crime such as murder or theft; it either happened or it didn’t. And of course, Perception loves to share a bed with Overreaction.

Oh and let’s not forget this little nugget from the police’s description of hate crime:

“Evidence of the hate element is not a requirement”

So now we have “crimes” that don’t require evidence? Fuck.

Obviously, it isn’t my intention here to play down genuine offences or the struggles that the transgender community face because I know it is happening right now, all over the world, and that some of the legitimate hostility is quite aggressive and foul. But is it so far-fetched to believe that some people are overreacting over simple mistakes when they should be saving their fight for the REAL haters? Is it a case of the overall cause being so important that common-sense and rationale need to be sacrificed at the altar of progression? I think we need to be careful. It’s brilliant that the law here in the UK is offering protection for these relatively new movements but it shouldn’t also offer a blank canvas for people to decide what is and isn’t a crime, making the perpertrators of genuine mistakes out to be bad human beings.

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[image: thewomensuniverse.com]
There’s also another issue here that I think needs to be brought into the light: the difference between accepting something and agreeing with it. I sometimes feel that people think in black-and-white and can’t understand that it’s possible to disagree with something and still accept it. I personally don’t agree with people changing their sex, especially when they are children well below the age where the law classes them as an adult. BUT I accept that this is happening and I wouldn’t dream of insulting a transgender person or taking the piss out of them. As far as I am concerned, it is their life and they can do what they like with it. They aren’t hurting anybody after all and I have always bought into the philosopy of doing what you need to do in order to be happy considering that our lives are short and can end at any time. After all, the haters can spew their bile and waste their energy but if it’s YOU who are happy with your life and the choices that have got you to that point then who really gets the last laugh?

But I can’t help but see people searching for injustice and actively seeking it out; twisting even the most minor of things into a full-blown outrage that deserves media coverage and a Twitter-storm so that like-minded self-victimisers can get together in the echo chambers of the internet, their numbers bolstered by hoardes of tag alongs that have nothing to do with the issue but want to look fashionable by liking or commenting on whatever is trending. And once all of that has escalated to Red Alert status and the furious meltdowns begin, the trivial root cause of all the screaming is forgotten and somebody who perhaps said the wrong word by mistake has already been metaphorically tried and executed by social media as the devil incarnate.

If you think I’m making too big of a deal out of it then read the following news excerpts and tell me that these aren’t the signs of a society descending into madness…a society where people are furious about everything and set on turning non-malicious errors of speech into criminal acts.

“In February, a teacher who was accused of misgendering a child was told by police that she had committed a hate crime.

The teacher reportedly refused to acknowledge that the pupil self-identified as a boy and failed to use the pupil’s preferred pronouns of “he” or “him”.

Okay, I can only half give this one because the teacher in question did actively refuse to acknowledge the pupil but even so…how do we know that the student in question hadn’t just decided off their own (non-adult) back to “be” a boy? Is it fair to call this a hate crime? Is it right to force society to agree with it and not give the option to retain an opinion?

“Last year, it was reported that a teacher was suing a school after he faced disciplinary action for referring to a transgender pupil as a girl.

Joshua Sutcliffe, from Oxford, said he was investigated after he said “well done, girls” to a group that included a student who identifies as a boy.”

In this case, this has to have been a simple mistake. Let’s face it, if you were teaching a class of girls, wouldn’t it be easy – understandable, even – to accidentally forget that one of them identified as a boy? Let’s not forget that “identifying” as a boy doesn’t mean that you actually look like one so the mistake would be even easier to make. Finally, did the pupil even tell the teacher/school that they identified as a boy or did they use witheld/private knowledge after the so-called “incident” to retroactively lodge a complaint? This one is ridiculous as far as I’m concerned. Teachers shouldn’t have to go and do their job (difficult enough anyway with budget cuts and lack of discipline amongst school-age children these days) and then have to deal with this bullshit on top. I would ask those who are offended to put themselves in the position of the teacher and look at the situation from a different perspective, their own beliefs set to one side for a moment…

“Last October, a transgender lawyer launched the UK’s first “deadnaming” case in the high court against Father Ted’s screenplay writer after he referred to her using her birth name. The transgender activist Stephanie Hayden is suing Graham Linehan, the co-writer of the comedy TV series, for defamation and harassment after he allegedly published a series of tweets “deliberately misgendering” her by using her previous male name, otherwise known as “deadnaming”.

Hayden said Linehan “caused her distress” and that his actions constituted harassment, a misuse of private information, and were a “gross affront to her dignity as a woman”.

So now we have “deadnaming” too? And our old friend, Perception as well as that amazing word “allegedly”. We don’t know that Linehan intentionally used Hayden’s original name in his tweets. Could it simply be a conclusion that was leapt to without even asking Linehan? There’s no concrete evidence or fact to this one and yet it warranted a court case and the extreme terms of “defamation”, “harassment”, “distress” and a “gross affront”. How about that misuse of private information? The original name of a TV actor that was already out there in the public eye and no-doubt in the end credits of many TV episodes? Come on: get real here. Maybe Linehan DID do it on purpose but if he didn’t, I bet he was sitting there thinking “huh?” and wondering what kind of parallel universe he’d fallen into during his sleep.

And that’s about all I can stomach, I’m afraid. The whole hate crime thing is deeply flawed and far too open to any old rumours and personal perceptions being classified as criminal acts. There is well-meaning there and I am 100% in agreement that unnecessary prejudice and hate is out there and a real obstacle. But how about this: save the energy and passion for taking down the REAL hate-speakers, not the poor guy who saw a woman, didn’t know that ‘she’ identified as a man and ended up having to take a police interview for an honest mistake that anybody would make.

I need to go now anyway. I have to complete the move into my new house:

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[image: stevehamiltonphoto.com]

Desensitisation to violence

I currently have a large list of topics and ideas for posts that I will hopefully be getting around to in the coming weeks (if anybody is interested that is) but I wanted to put them all to the side and talk about this – something serious – for today’s post. The growing desensitisation to violence and cruelty in our society. It’s something I’ve noticed more and more as the years pass and quite honestly, it concerns me. Perhaps it shouldn’t but it does. And I think more people should sit up and take notice of what’s going on because there are many questions that can and should be asked.

I’m talking about indifference to the latest terrorist attack wherever it happens. A bomb obliterates a marketplace of innocent people in some far off Middle Eastern country? Shrug of the shoulders. No surprise there. Carry on watching Netflix.

An unhinged teenager brings a machine gun to show-and-tell day and fills his classmates with bullets just because “nobody liked him” or a girl turned him down for prom. Yawn. Seen it all before. Show me something new.

A woman is raped and brutally murdered on parkland simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whatever; it happens all the time. Push it down to the minor news items so that we can focus on the real news. Who is illicitly shagging who in showbiz for instance or how Kim K’s butt looked in public this week.

I get it. There’s nothing that getting upset or overthinking on stories like these will achieve. We are constantly bombarded with terrible news on a daily basis and so it is probably only natural that we can only be shocked by so much before the shocking gradually loses its ability to deliver a gut punch. Further, it’s easy to look at awful things happening in faraway locales and not feel threatened by it because of all that space between us and them. It’s a luxury of the western world that shouldn’t be forgotten.

But often I am seeing fun being made of atrocities and savage violence; horrific, needless losses of life being trivialised and accepted as ‘normal’. Don’t get me wrong: I can take a joke and see the logic in laughing so that you don’t cry but I see this desensitisation being taken too far, too often. Nowhere is this more prevalant than with school shootings in the US. These are some of the worst things I have ever seen reported on TV: innocent children being shot to pieces for no crime other than attending school. Young lives cut short for no good reason and families/friends destroyed. I see these events unfold on the news here in the UK and it genuinely breaks my heart…and I’m far from a weepy, emotional sap – believe me.

Others clearly don’t feel the same though. I recently watched the video for Foster The People’s Pumped Up Kicks on Youtube (a song that alludes to school shootings) and the comments section was interesting to say the least.

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I don’t believe that any of these people mean malice or are necessarily “bad” people. Also, this is a music video and not a political/social battleground so I wouldn’t EXPECT serious discussion. However, do these comments reflect a general lack of respect to the results of school shootings? Are these people US citizens poking fun at these horrible tragedies that are occuring in their own country? It’s one thing to be unable to react emotionally to attacks in foreign countries but in your own? Obviously this is Youtube and the internet so we can’t assume contributers’ locations.

But why is it that we – as a society – are able to make fun of apalling acts of murder and act so indifferent to them? I personally believe that it’s down to the “it won’t happen to me” mindset that too many of us have. We feel safe in the west even though we know that murders and shootings are happening in our midst. There’s also the fact that we are “drugged up” on entertainment and non-important life content. It is all too easy for us to shut out life’s horrors and bury our heads in videogames, movies and the internet. Sometimes, it’s the real world that feels like the fiction while the fluff and materialistic things have a greater power to offend or anger us.

Even so, try explaining your latest school shooting joke as “harmless fun” to somebody whose daughter was shot dead at high school. Inform the friends of a dead highschooler that they can’t “take a joke” after they get upset at the latest fatal shooting spawning “witty” humour. To me, it’s wrong. People are only able to come out with this stuff because they personally haven’t been the victim of a similar attack. I really hope they don’t ever have to experience it for themselves but if they did, I imagine that the laughing and clever jokes would stop.

Sometimes I look around and wonder how we got to this point so quickly. I don’t doubt that bad taste humour has always been around (because it has) but the millennial generation have taken to it like a duck to water and continually push the boundaries. Then I wonder to myself: how much worse will it get? How much are we prepared to laugh about? Children are growing up with shootings, stabbings and brutal killings being the norm thanks to a media that is determined to broadcast them to us on a rolling twenty four hour news feed. If it’s no longer out of the ordinary then how will it shock?

In my mind, it all comes back to our lives being too easy with no real hardships. Yes, we all experience suffering to different degrees for various, personal reasons but we are all fortunate nonetheless. If we lived in war-torn countries then I doubt we would be posting amusing memes about death on social media. Was WWII funny for the generation who being called up and sent to their probable deaths in trenches? I doubt it.

I’m not really sure where I intended to finish up with this post. All I can say in conclusion is that this desensitisation to violence is disheartening and unhealthy. I hope that attitudes might change but I think that the indifference is only set to grow.

 

Car Talk: (non) Electric Dreams

The future of motoring is electrification as they keep telling us. Divorcing fossil fuels and driving off into the sunset with a younger, hotter model by the name of Electricity is inevitable. It’s a snowball that has been gathering pace and growing in size for many years now and there will be no stopping it’s progress. Change and progress are inevitable after all and with environmental and health-related concerns in the driving seat(s), it is going to happen.

But if you are like me and a petrolhead in love with cars and the art of driving, then this change isn’t just disheartening; it’s distressing. A future of humming about in washing machines with automatic transmissions and self-driving systems is an awful one in my opinion. If you’re the type of person who views a car as an A-B appliance in the same category as your dishwasher or fridge then you won’t see the big deal. If you’re the kind of person who wants cars gone right now in order to save the planet then you may be tutting at my ignorant, selfish viewpoint in disgust. However, I’m not here to please either of you or try to make you see my viewpoint.

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Against all of my expectations, Ford has shifted loads of Mustangs here in the UK since offering official right-hand drive models and most of them are the full-fat 5.0 V8. It makes me happy. [image: autoweek.com]
I am going to miss the combustion engine and my unwavering admiration for how it works. I am going to miss the sheer pleasure of hooning around in the Sunday afternoon sunshine with bends to master and straights to abuse. I’m going to miss the satisfaction of working a manual gearbox and getting those shifts spot-on. But I think we will have these pleasures for some time to come yet. Here in the UK for example, the infrastructure and capacity to generate enough electricity to charge all of these cars is woefully lacking so I cannot see a complete shift to electric in the timeframe that the government and eco warriors are pushing for. We can’t even maintain the road surfaces due to budget cuts for fuck’s sake. The idea of charging cables snaking across the pavement on streets of terraced houses without off-road parking is also ludicrous.

Then there is the question of what will happen to the big fuel companies and how the global economy will be impacted by their falling profts. Sure, they can charge us for electricity but there won’t be the same profit available to them as with dino-juice unless they try to get away with making electricity as expensive as petrol currently is. If that happens then we will charge at home as much as possible…until smart electric meters start charging us a higher rate to charge cars despite that electricity being the same energy which powers your kettle and costs you far less to do so.

There’s a lot to think about and a lot of unaddressed issues in a field that is over-reaching and pushing for too much, too quickly. Climate change experts say that we need to hit this as hard as possible but I think it’s more of a case of us being behind in pursuing green technology. After all, we could have had hydrogen cars on the road a long time ago if not for the fuel barons paying to make inventions disappear.

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Faster than the previous FN2 model and beastly to behold but the FK2 Type-R was arguably castrated by being forced to go turbo and thus losing a lot of the drama. [image: wardsauto.com]
But none of this concerns me as much as the fact that when all of this does happen, we will lose the very soul of motoring and those special elements that make cars more than just transport for some of us. The engine and exhaust sounds that differentiate different cars for example. I’m talking about…

  • The raw, metallic growl of an BMW E46 M3
  • The burbling, two fingers to sublety that is the boxer engine in a Subaru Impreza
  • The building shriek of Honda’s naturally-aspirated V-TEC equipped engines as the revs head to silly 9k redlines
  • The angry, pissed-off snarly, crackly-bangy Mercedes C63 AMG
  • Bulging, steroidal American muscle power and the roar of an honest V8
  • The scream of a highly-strung V10 in the back of fighter jet-like supercar exotica

So, as I have already said, change is inevitable but in this case, I feel that it’s change well worth resisting for as long as possible. I’m talking the kind of iron wall resistance that embodies the essence of a Spartan warrior…or Robert Mugabe (too soon?). I get the reasons for the change and I genuinely can’t put together a credible counter-case but even so, I am reserving my right to burn fuel and enjoy REAL cars, not dishwater-dull washing machines on wheels.

I even find myself appreciating dodgy modified rides and the underground street racing scene these days. Don’t get me wrong, I’m firmly against the roadmen and their dangerous driving that can kill others but this shady corner of motoring is at least enjoying real cars and car culture.

The next generation of motoring however will have no soul so let’s make sure we enjoy what we have to the max before the do-gooders take away our hobby.

 

Book Talk: The Kind Worth Killing (Peter Swanson, 2015)

worth1Upon finishing The Kind Worth Killing, all I could think was “wow”. Granted, my buzzing response to this book could well be down to the fact that my fiction intake has been 90% Stephen King over the past few years. Am I perhaps overreacting and viewing Peter Swanson’s thriller as ‘fresh’ just because it’s something different written in a different author’s style? I won’t rule out the possibility but the fact is that I seriously enjoyed this book and couldn’t put it down. I devoured it like a starving man presented with a McDonalds.

The Kind Worth Killing was first published in 2015 and it has been on my radar ever since I read a magazine recommendation (FHM of all places…). It’s taken me four years to get around to picking up a copy but it was well worth it. The basic premise sold to me by that magazine recommendation is that Ted Beaumont is on his way back to the US when his flight is delayed. He meets a beautiful stranger – Lily Kintner – in the airport bar and they agree to play a game. Since they agree that they will never see each other again, they decide to take it in turns to reveal absolute truths about themselves, no matter how personal. Ted reveals that he knows his wife has been cheating on him and jokes that he wants to kill her.

After hearing his story, Lily takes Ted aback by revealing her view that the death of a person such as Ted’s wife is no loss to the world and she even offers to help him do the dirty work. What begins as a random airport meeting and a flippant musing about Ted’s wife’s adultery rapidly escalates into plotting an actual murder. Ted is initially on the fence and inwardly concerned at how easily he agrees to murder his wife but his misgivings don’t last long. After all, Miranda has suckered him in with calm lies and expert manipulation to get at his wealth. For Lily’s part, she has killed before – several times in fact. Ted doesn’t know this but suspects it and continues to go along with her anyway. The fact that Lily is described as being incredibly beautiful in a delicate, waif-like way probably helps. It’s clear that Ted is fascinated by Lily and falling in love with her even as they plan a murder.

“What I really want to do is kill her” I smiled with my gin-numbed mouth and attempted a little wink just to give her an opportunity to not believe me, but her face stayed serious. She lifted her reddish eyebrows.

“I think you should” she said, and I waited for some indication that she was joking, but nothing came. Her stare was unwavering.

I can’t go into much more of the plot without spoiling it and it really is a story that doesn’t deserve to be spoilt. Each chapter switches between the different perspectives of the characters, initially limited to Ted’s present and Lily’s recollection of her past. These perspectives are from a first-person standpoint so the reader becomes a guest of the characters’ headspace and privy to their true motivations and views of the other main characters. The book is broken into three main acts with each act climaxing in some big twists. The end of the first act for example turns the entire book on its head and leaves you wondering just what else is going to happen. Plenty of surprises, double-crosses and didn’t-see-that-coming developments follow. As a result, I found it incredibly hard to put The Kind Worth Killing down and regardless of any other reason(s) for why I enjoyed it so much, that is a cast-iron sign of a good read in my opinion.

Swanson does a great job of making you like bad people. This book has several unsavoury characters and rotten personalities and even though I wanted some of them to get their just desserts, I was no less fascinated by them. Lily in particular was the star of the book for me. Calm, calculated, somewhat aloof and with a very different regard for life, she would probably be described as psychotic by our society. The fact that she has already killed several people and isn’t particularly perturbed by her actions would cement this. However, through Lily’s own perspectives in the book, you get to know her and even sympathise with her motives. She is dangerous and clinical but at the same time, I couldn’t help rooting for her to the end. It also made me ponder on the subject of beautiful psychos in fiction and cinema and why we – men – are so attracted to them despite what they are capable of. That’s a topic for another post though.

There were only a few criticisms that I levelled at The Kind Worth Killing but it wouldn’t be a review if I gushed over the book without mentioning them. The first is that it’s difficult to relate to the characters because most seem to be incredibly wealthy with little of the surface level hardship in their lives that us ‘normal’ folk battle against day-to-day. This didn’t detract from my liking for the book’s cast but it also felt very convenient and and a little unrealistic. Speaking of unrealistic, a lot of the events that happen in the book are incredibly far-fetched and people get away with so much, so easily. Obviously this is fiction so realism has to take a backseat to a degree but when the book is set in the real world and dealing with crime and murder, then the ease at which plans are made and successfully followed through does stick out a bit.

Those minor gripes aside, The Kind Worth Killing is a genuine page-turner that I can’t recommend enough. If you love thrillers and villainous characters that you can’t help but love then this is for you. If you want to be kept guessing and unable to predict what happens next then this is also for you. I will definitely be looking for Peter Swanson’s other books after this.

Why I don’t believe in religion

Well, this might be a thorny subject but here goes anyway. Blame it on the fact that I’m currently still sponsored by ibuprofen and Deep Heat pain relief for my screaming back. That and a lack of sleep last night as a result of said back.

Anyway, if you’ve read any of my previous content work word vomit on this blog, you will know the score. I don’t like to pander or apologise. Maybe I come off as being tactless and bullish but as far as I’m concerned, it’s far better to be honest. It’s also a luxury that we have here in the West and I’m well aware of that. HOWEVER…in the case of this specific post, I feel that I must open by saying that what follows is not an attack on any religion or indeed anybody who believes in a god. Your views and your beliefs are yours and regardless of what you might believe about me, I would certainly not ridicule or insult somebody else for holding those beliefs. We would still get along in real life because people aren’t just opinions and beliefs on legs, as difficult as that is for the militant and zealous amongst us to accept.

I do believe that everything should be open to challenge or analysis however. Denying that points to insecurity or the fear of having something disproven. In my (unfiltered) opinion of course.

I’m not going to make a meal out of this or attempt to forge an in-depth thesis so I will simply list off the reasons I have for not believing in a religion. I also want to take a quick second to say that this post was inspired by a post on belief systems written by Black Sheep over at Not Sheep Minded. Check his blog out if you have a moment as I’m really enjoying his content right now. Anyway, my reasons.

  1. There is no proof. As far as I can see, there is no proof or hard evidence of any religion’s deities or figures of importance actually ever having existed. True, we can look back at historical evidence and sometimes tie religious events down to a likely date. We can also safely assume that some of the figures described in religious texts may have lived in some capacity. But as for the miracles, magical events and omnipotent beings? There is no hard evidence at all. Further, we have to ask the question of why the appearances of and interactions with deities no longer occur. Where are the unbelievable miracles and incredible acts such as Moses parting the ocean?
  2. A lot of believers (not ALL I must stress) believe what they believe because they were told to. Maybe they grew up in a traditionally religious family and religion was drilled into them from a young, impressionable age. Maybe they live in a country where religion is as commonplace and widely accepted as breathing air. Regardless, there are millions of believers who probably didn’t actively choose to follow their religion but were raised to believe in it without ever questioning the authenticity or facts. In my mind, this is the same as voting for a particular political party just because your parents or the majority of your neighbours always have done. It’s the same as harbouring a hatred towards a neighbouring country for no rational reason other than because your ancestors did so. It’s like only buying Nike trainers because all of your friends do. In all cases, there are gaping flaws in such behaviour and an ignorance towards alternatives. There is no willingness to ask questions or challenge what you have been told is correct.
  3. Blind belief. Tying in with the above two points, I simply cannot accept that it is healthy to believe so strongly in something and re-order your life around said belief without any evidence. In one way, I genuinely admire people who can do this but for me, I just think of all the other things in this world that I would put zero stock in without any proof or at least prior experience that it works. Perhaps this last point can be countered by those who believe they have had certain experiences that simply aren’t explicable by scientific or earthly means. That much, I will concede.
  4. Contradictions. We are told to respect the beliefs of others and different religions attempt to co-exist in peace. However, the teachings and lifestyles of different belief systems often contradict one another. So if we are all to accept the beliefs of others, how can we accept that multiple religions have conflicting endgames? Does this mean that only one religion is right? THAT is a path of questioning that nobody wants to venture down.
  5. Wars. Religion – alongside power, greed and lust – has been one of the standout motivators for bloody, senseless wars. From Islamic terrorism to the Christian Crusades, countless wars have been fought due to the other “side” holding separate beliefs or because one side wants to force their teachings onto others. Considering that peace and love is often preached, this strikes me as highly ironic. Those with a deep convinction in their chosen religion are prepared to put that above all else and go much further than non-believers. It’s a scary and cold-blooded notion.
  6. It is a form of control. Don’t do X because you will be denied heaven. Don’t do Y because you will be punished for it. DO keep doing Z because it will be thought well of in the next life. Order is necessary in society and while nobody enjoys being ruled over by office managers, politicians or the police, there are at least usually legitimate reasons for this form of control. You have to get the work done at the office to keep your job and to keep the gears of your company greased for example. You have to obey the law because murder, theft et al are wrong and bring suffering to others. But spending your life submitting to another form of control because you are taught to on the basis of no hard evidence (see Point 1) is not for me. It is all done on the promise that you will be rewarded later on but there is no proof of that and no way of knowing what will happen when you die. So again, it goes back to believing something simply because somebody else tells you that it is so.

Now I do realise that I have probably hammered all of that out in a crude and ignorant-sounding fashion but those points are simply how I see the situation. Obviously, I am open to having my points challenged and having a reasonable discussion. What I’m not open to are those who relentlessly push, push, push their beliefs without showing me some hard facts as to why I should make a decision to believe in what I cannot see. A discussion cannot exist in that format.

It isn’t just religion either. I don’t believe in ghosts, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster or anything else that has no concrete evidence. With all of these things (religion included) I like to think that I keep the door open just a crack i.e. I am open to new evidence and open to the fact that someday, I might witness something that will change my views. I am not closed-minded. I just don’t see the reasoning in accepting anything without sound argument or proof. And it’s too easy to play the “well if your mind isn’t open then you won’t see it” card because that’s the cheapest trick in the book as far as I’m concerned. It takes us down a dangerous path where anything at all is possible if it can’t be solidly disproved. It’s a way for anybody to promote anything as the truth and while I do enjoy looking at out-there theories and possibilities, it is still with an sceptical and analytical mindset.

As I have said before though, one thing I do believe in is remembering that we can always be wrong about anything. It keeps us questioning things and prevents us from becoming too ignorant or sheep-like.

We live in a dishonest society

I’ve reviewed and referenced Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, before on this blog and today I want to tackle another topic inspired by the contents of said book. It’s a discussion about honesty and how I have to agree with Manson that here in the western world, we live in a dishonest society. I feel that this is important to recognise and be aware of on a conscious level because while I hear people constantly acknowledging deceit and distrust, these same people are still consistently shocked when they are on the receiving end of it or hear some shocking news about a scandal involving lies.

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On a brief side note, I’m one of those people that doesn’t believe the blurb about living in a “free country” or “free society”. We do but we don’t. It’s duality. We are free in that we aren’t ruled by violence, oppression or religion and we must never forget our freedom to do a great many things that we take for granted, things that people living in harsher environments beneath hardline governments could only dream of. At the same time, we are also sublety controlled through advertising, poisonous propaganda, social expectations and the media. In this respect, we are not as free as others with the biggest tragedy being that we simply cannot see it staring us in the face.

In the book, Manson reflects on time spent in Russia and how the bluntness off the Russian people initially shocked him and came across as rude. In time however, he came to realise that what he was witnessing was frankness and unadulterated expression.

“Honesty in the truest sense of the word. Communication with no conditions, no strings attached, no ulterior motive, no sales job, no desperate attempt to be liked”

“In this case, Russia had me reexamining the bullshitty fake-nice communication that is so common in Anglo culture, and asking myself if this wasn’t somehow making us more insecure around each other and worse at intimacy”

We can all relate to this. Grinning and bearing a shitty situation. Pretending to like co-workers when in fact you cannot stand them or the shit they come out with. Lying to your partner and saying she looks great or that her jeans don’t make her arse look fat. We’re constantly lying to each other and maintaining false frontages and these are only small, everyday examples that we aren’t even aware that we are partaking in. This shit goes all the way to the top and filters down into all levels of society like poison.

In a sense, it is understandable. After all, you can read this post (or any other far superior takes on the subject) but changing your attitude overnight is another thing altogether. Society won’t change with you. The reactions of others won’t be what you need/want to hear. For a full-on shift towards pure honesty to occur, society as a whole needs knocking over and re-building and that isn’t going to happen so the only other way forward is to commit to honesty and be willing to take the hits as everybody and everything resists you, despite an existence of honesty and openness being what everybody vocally cries out for. It’s fucked up isn’t it.

After all, standing up in the office and telling your co-workers that they are talking bullshit or telling them what you really think of them might end your career or – at the least – make your working environment too uncomfortable to continue with. Deciding to give the finger to the ‘grin and bear it’ approach could land you in similar trouble. And telling your girlfriend that her outfit looks terrible or that her backside does look fat in those jeans might put you in the doghouse or make you a newly single man. All of this despite society begging for honesty and the truth.

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The positive in this is that there are people who will appreciate honesty, even if they don’t say so. It’s a start at least. Trouble is, they are an elusive bunch. Some people do appreciate that being called out on their bullshit helps them to remain humble and continue to improve themselves or learn from criticism rather than be offended by it and fly into a rage. There are women who will listen to your unfiltered opinion (pun totally intended) on their outfit and tell you to “get fucked” but secretly appreciate your honesty. After all, what is the point in asking how you look if you are only after one answer? Men despair over these situations all the time: tell her she looks great and she says you’re lying or telling her what she wants to hear. Tell her she looks terrible and she gets pissed off. There’s no winning! At least if you have been honest then you have been true.

If she gets upset about your critique then it’s not her fault but the way that society has conditioned us over generations. She’s not upset at your criticism, more likely upset as a result of society’s pressures to be beautiful all of the time and to be extraordinary. If you really care then yes, some dishonesty and tact may sometimes be necessary – if you know that telling a brutal truth will flare up an existing condition such as anxiety or an eating disorder for example. On the flipside, your significant other may decide that she’s wearing what she wants to wear and that you’ll just have to deal with it. That’s something else to be admired and promoted by the way. That’s a woman not necessarily agonising over every detail or being totally controlled by the fashion industry or the expectation of others.

But I’m going off track here. Back to quoting the book:

“But in the “free” West, my Russian teacher continued, there existed an abundance of economic opportunity – so much economic opportunity that it became far more valuable to present yourself in a certain way, even if it was false, than to actually BE that way. Trust lost its value. Appearances and salesmanship became more advantageous forms of expression. Knowing a lot of people superficially was more beneficial than knowing a few people closely”

“This is why it became the norm in Western cultures to smile and say polite things even if you don’t feel like it, to tell little white lies and agree with someone whom you don’t actually agree with. This is why people learn to pretend to be friends with people they don’t actually like, to buy things they don’t actually want. The economic system promotes such deception”

“The downside of this is that you never know, in the West, if you can completely trust the person you’re talking to. Sometimes this is the case even amongst good friends or family members. There is such pressure in the West to be likable that people often reconfigure their entire personality depending on the person they are dealing with”

All of this genuinely hit me quite hard. On the surface, it’s basic knowledge that we are all aware of. We all know that this is going and we are all guilty of it. So why do we allow it to continue? For the reasons I already mentioned mostly, namely reprocussions from a society that has been conditioned to be false and ignore the beauty of raw honesty. Another reason is that people seem to get upset and offended ridiculously easy these days and so it is sometimes viewed as “safer” to either say nothing or to simply agree rather than poking the hornet’s nest with a stick. Also, resolving to be honest is a commitment: a commitment to a new life where you are likely to be ostracised or branded an outcast, a “bad” person even.

Look at how anybody daring to raise their head above the parapet and challenge popular opinion with some honest views is roasted on social media and branded a racist, sexist, homophobic, mysogynist or outdated personality. The world won’t appreciate your honesty BUT it will rip public figures to shreds, starved dog-style, if said figures have been caught lying or being dishonest. This here is a prime example of the dishonesty and blatant hypocrisy in our society. It’s right there on the surface but we can’t see it.

On the other hand, if you can find like-minded people to surround yourself with or a partner who appreciates your honesty (and is equally as honest with you) then you can have a much more fulfilling life. It isn’t easy but you have to ask yourself if you want to continue to be a part of the machine. Does the prospect of living in a superficial, hollow society drowning in falseness for many more years sound like an appealing future for you?

At the very least, it’s food for thought.