Narrowing Choices

He that cannot reason is a fool. He that will not is a bigot. He that dare not is a slave.

Andrew Carnegie

I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while. As I have watched the rise of the Tea Party in the US and the schism appearing in Thai politics between the Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts, or any of the political/religious groups that seem to be digging in for a battle to come. I thought to myself ‘Why are we becoming so self-centered, so polarised?’ Finally I found an answer, not the whole answer but at least a place to start trying to dig the answer out from.

The Observer in the UK printed a story last month (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/jun/12/google-personalisation-internet-data-filtering) about how Google now uses the information it collects on each of us to give us answers that more fit what it ‘thinks’ we are looking for. So if you are a Tea Party member searching for information about a politician in the US it will most likely give you a list of pages that fit with the Tea Party opinion of that politician, or if you search for Glenn Beck you will get some pro or anti pages depending on what your previous searches have been. If you are a Red Shirt in Thailand, it will give you a site that is pro-Thaksin, and for the Yellow Shirt an anti-Thaksin page.

This in my opinion is a very dangerous way to conduct business online. After all, are not ideological extremes supposedly ironed out by the will of the majority in Democracies? Yes, all countries have their nut jobs. The loons who think nothing of believing that, say, White Supremacy is the best thing since sliced bread, or the groups who are willing to use any means they feel is necessary to complete the destruction of a group that thinks differently. But the internet is supposed to be neutral on all these issues – anyone can start a blog, saying whatever they want and the whole world can read them. But this giving you what a computer programme thinks you want based on previous search history is a way of stopping individual thought as you can no longer find an alternative.

I was brought up to look at an issue and explore all sides of it before coming to a decision about which side I felt was the more accurate. But now should I use Google to search for varying responses, there will be no page that isn’t already a part of what I think. This reinforcement of ideas prevents the individual from actually learning anything new – just supporting what is already felt. I hesitate to say understood, as so many people seem to misunderstand so many different things. This tailor making of search responses may work if you are looking for say a sewing pattern, or a scientific formula, but when it comes to politics this leads to polarisation and that can be lethal in its effect.

We have seen this lethality in action in a number of places. Now the US is probably the most dangerous for these opinions to be polarised as they are freely allowed to carry arms around with them in certain states. The man who shot Congresswoman Gifford was not actually breaking the law carrying the weapons, the repeal of the requirement of a concealed carry permit had happened in July 2010. But when political opinions become extreme then should the holder of those opinions be incapable of controlling themselves, the end results can be fatal. This has also happened to a political candidate in the middle of Bangkok recently – although from what I have read there are no arrests as yet regarding who committed the shooting.

Try it for yourself, go and search for something that you have a negative opinion of and see what kind of pages you get. Then try the opposite. If you get a fair and balanced split of pages each time, then try searching on Google – their bot will send you the links to pages that they think you want.

I am all for everyone being able to say what they want, within reason would be nice but some people cannot be polite online – the idea of anonymity allows them the freedom to post anything they want. I say bring it on. Lets all scream and shout at each other online – at least here the worst you can do is burn out a keyboard. Unless you believe the plot of the film ‘Live Free or Die Hard’ (although the bombs there had actually been planted), or in a future where sites like Second Life have become more popular and the idea of the kind of mental destruction à la ‘The Lawnmower Man’ can be achieved at the touch of a button. Then maybe the internet will have become truly dangerous.

For now it is the use of ideas and the control of the flow of information that is dangerous. How can a computer programme tell me what I want/need to read? How can it decide what is the best way for me to reason with a subject I know little about? Based on what? What films I search for? What food I search for? Well, just to help Google give me what I want, I am going to start putting in searches for anything and everything so that it cannot pin down what I want and will have no choice but to give me a pro and an anti Glenn Beck site, or a pro White Supremacy and anti White Supremacy page.

I want my internet freedom back. I want to be able to read all of the information available – not just what some 1’s and 0’s want me to read. Give me back my ability to reason and I will give you more of my time.

I am not a bigot and I am not a slave. Well, I try not to be!

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Sorry, did I miss something?

Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.  ~Aesop

The time of Rapture has come, and gone. Well, at least according to Mr Camping it has anyway – but he is not appearing in public anymore to say it has/hasn’t gone. But he does live in the USofA, so maybe someone has found him and raptured him for all the people who destroyed their futures on his prediction. Did he set out to ruin so many people? I doubt it, but then very few people think of the consequences of their actions let alone whether they are right or wrong. His prediction of the end of times, was roundly dismissed by most mainstream Christian groups – or at least in public it was. But he allowed his faith to get in the way of his moral intellect.

I remember when I was a child, bible studies was just an easy subject to get out of doing any hard work for my exams. In fact, my parents allowed me to look at religion and decide for myself what to do, and my religious education teachers thought I showed a lot of aptitude for the subject and felt I should continue studying. I have to say that even at that age I had no desire to hand over my free thought to something that I could not directly know. Okay, that may seem like the choice of a spoilt brat but to be honest as I have aged I have discovered that my choice was the best one for me. I have no problem with all of you having your faith and believing it your way. And I will defend your right to believe anything you want to, but you do not have the right to enforce a thought on me.

I read the bible at that time and found it to be more confusing than your average instruction manual, but that makes sense since so many people claim the bible is an instruction manual to living correctly. What I find most troubling now is that religions feel they have to convert people to their faith, if you need to convert someone – to prove they are wrong – is that not the worst form of arrogance? I once had visitors from a new church that had arrived in my neighbourhood. Their first mistake was to wake me at 9am on a sunday, the second was to ask my opinion of religion. I can still remember their faces as I slurred ‘From all I have read in the papers, news and other sources, until religions start following their own basic maxims like “love thy neighbour” I am not going to join a group that accuses others of being wrong.’ It is not our place to decide who is right and who is wrong when there can be no empirical proof of one argument or the other. Whoever can come up with a machine that can measure the strength or direction of a thought, by this I mean mass produce or you’ll end with another inquisition, will overtake Bill Gates as one of the richest people on Earth.

To this day when asked what religion I am, my more sober answer will always be ‘the idea of following an external body does not make sense to me, I prefer Buddhism because it demands specific actions by me based on my own faith in myself’. This to me makes sense. I know what I want for myself, and as long as the single aphorism of ‘do no harm’ is followed, then the decision making process is actually very easy. I have made mistakes and harm has been caused, everyone has, but never by me without an emotional reaction. To abdicate the constraint of judgement by others, to me, is the height of disrespect for my fellow people. I can only be judged by my peers.

Think about this. You find yourself in a situation where what you have done is correct by your moral code – but according to the moral code of where you are it was wrong. Whose code is correct? Only you can guide your own actions and only so far as you deep down actually want to. How many times have people in the papers who profess to be religious, been caught either literally or figuratively with their pants down? Those actions were theirs and theirs alone to put themselves in that position. To put yourself through rehab or to train to be the best you can be, is not the action of God – but the action of your own thoughts, wants and loves. Your faith is what gave you the strength to complete the task, but that faith was powered by your own ego, your own love of what you wanted, and your belief that you would definitely be rewarded for your actions.

Mr Camping managed, over the course of the last few decades, to convince people that his knowledge of Christianity, based on decades of bible study, was one that could prove beyond a doubt that he knows what God is thinking. Why does he believe he can prove something that, according to the bible itself, is unknowable to any but God alone? Then when his prediction does not have the worldwide effect he thought it would, other than to make a lot of people spend money they had worked hard for, he disappears (well he was not around at the time of writing this). As one comedian said in a comment I read – ‘Maybe he was the only true believer and he is the only one to be raptured. Must be pretty lonely where he is.’

This to me is the biggest failure of religion. Nowadays it is all based on interpretation, one person can sit and proclaim the meaning behind a passage in a way that will cause harm to another. If I were to sit down with a bible and read through, and yes I have read it once, I am sure I could find a justification for doing pretty much anything and many people make exactly that decision because of they have lost their moral intellect and feel they are the only correct interpretor. Many people, some smarter and some not as smart, spend a lot of their time studying documents that are hundreds of years old and trying desperately to decode the ‘hidden’ message these religious tracts contain.

I think the one thing that has been lost is the key to all of the holy books out there. I think the key is simple – they are all guidance. Not specific ‘thou shalt do blah blah blah’, but ‘if thou behave thus then thou will feel thus’. We all need guidance but to blindly follow another to get it is beyond irresponsible. I hesitate to say stupidity, because one man’s faith is another man’s fantasy, but please do abdicate your faith just not your conscience.

Thinking Politics

What is it about Politicians. Do they have no conscience or are they just so thick skinned that any lie they tell is deemed less damaging than actually admitting the truth? Or is it all point scoring?

I refer to the way leading up to elections politicians will promise the earth and then end up ensuring that only they and their cronies actually get that. I live in Thailand and right now the country is gearing up to a general election. One of the parties has said that every child should have an iPad so that they can study properly. This follows on from a promise from their ‘benefactor’ that when he is in power again no one in Thailand will be poor anymore. Neither of these promises is sustainable or even possible. In a country of 60+ million people how can a government afford to buy every child an iPad, and if it was that easy to eradicate poverty would we not all be able to watch our 7million pound yacht burn in the harbour?

Or is this just a marketing trick? Of the politicians or iPad? After all, if you know anything about kids and computers there are only a few things that they do together. The first choice for the more innocent out there are the game sites where they can sit and play the same game over and over and over and ……….. you get the idea. Then there are the slightly less innocent ones who will be more interested in the social networking sites or the video sites that allow them to see their friends and the world outside Thailand. Then you have the least innocent who will probably spend their time sitting at the back of the classroom viewing the porn categories that their mates down the soi told them about. Any which way, kids do not want to study unless their parents ensure that they do. And in Thailand frequently that is fixed with a present to the teacher.

There was the case a few weeks ago where an 11 year old boy sent suggestive texts to a girl in his class that caused a bit of a stir here. It was only when the girl informed her parents that the story went national, was blown out of all proportion and the boy was tarred with every brush from pervert to sad demented little boy. Given that in the UK there was the front page tabloid story of the 12 year old who became a father with his girlfriend who was 2 years older than him, how can I as a Brit living here, be surprised at the reaction. And yet I am surprised. Not by the hue and cry but more by the lack of awareness that politicians and people in power have of the people they ‘oversee’.

I know they all are driven around by chauffeurs. I know they dine in the best restaurants. I know they have all that money can give them. But I wish they would come back down to planet earth where the rest of us live and see what it is like to have a real life. To not have the maid, or the chauffeur or the mistress (although plenty of people at all levels have mistresses!) or even the gardener. Back in the UK the excuse given when Home Secretary Jack Straw was whisked along a bus lane to get past a traffic jam was that as Home Secretary his safety couldn’t be risked by sitting still in his car. This is not the way of showing the proles what to want in life, this showing them that there is no way they will ever get there – but keep voting for Got Talent and one day you just might be famous.

That is enough venting for me today, but next time I will try and be a little calmer about some of the other things that annoy me about the world today.

In that respect – please all have a great day and don’t forget “We can all be the most important person in our own little world”.

Hello world!

Welome to the weird and wonderful world that is me.

Blogging is a very new idea to me and I guess it will take me a little while to get used to the idea of actually putting my thoughts down so the world can read them, so please bear with me.

Since this is my first post I will leave it here but please expect the next one to be a bit longer, with a bit more thought.

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