28 November 2008

A tragic courage

Critics of religion have got guts. Forget about stereotypical (often masculine) ideas of courage; the reckless disregard for physical danger and the courting of death by maniacally enthusiastic yahoos. No, real courage is demonstrated each time an atheist, secularist, humanist or naturalist speaks frankly against the phenomenon of uncritical belief and blind faith.

21 November 2008

Religion and its conceits

I’ll say it: religious believers tend not to be sophisticated thinkers. I say ‘sophisticated’ rather than ‘knowledgeable’ because, to be fair, few people possess all the relevant information on the (religiously contentious) issues like evolutionary theory, euthanasia, abortion and the human right to individual liberty. But sophisticated thinkers are at least open to the facts presented by experts on the subject and will exercise their reason to the best of their ability in processing those facts. A religious believer on the other hand is only prepared to consider the facts so long as they do not contradict the doctrine he already subscribes to. His consideration of any kind of knowledge is strictly conditional, and these conditions include – but are not limited to – agreement with the accepted orthodoxy of his faith, absolute certainty on the part of the experts (any normal scientific doubt is immediately seized upon as proof that the facts are just plain wrong or inadmissible), and a willingness to ignore inconvenient truths that contradict or refute the established dogma. This prioritizing of revealed truth over discovered facts is the cause of much woeful attempts by religious scientists – an oxymoron surely – to try and square the circles they encounter in the real world. After all, their sacred text insists on the squares.

18 November 2008

An epistle from the shardani Lo'Quai to her friend Ja'Arkan

My dear Ja’Arkan,

I am writing to thank you for the stimulating conversation we had a few days ago. I understand that any doubt I may have planted in you regarding your Memnorite faith will cause you two griefs. Firstly, if there is no Authority, then do concepts like good and evil have any meaning? Secondly, why be good if there is no Authority to reward goodness or punish wickedness?

With the first question, good and evil do have meaning, and their meaning derives from our biological and psychological imperatives. Any act that causes a shardan to flourish, physically and psychologically, can be considered good. And the act that causes suffering and harm can be construed as evil. Nowhere in this definition is there a need for an Authority to give meaning to ‘good’ and ‘evil’ independent of the biological and psychological reasons.

11 November 2008

Culture as constraint

To be the psychological product of a specific culture is to be limited in one’s way of being in the world. For every language you do not speak, read or write, an entire universe of meaning is closed to you. For every system of semiotics and catalogue of symbols you cannot decipher, a whole realm of comprehension is denied to you. For every collection of human gestures, relational forms and social dynamics alien to you, a complete dimension of existence repels you as the stranger, the outsider, that you are. The less culture badges you wear, the more susceptible you become to delusions of your culture’s superiority and exceptionalism. A monoculture grows ignorant bigots.

The end of plain-vanilla history

The future will be eclectic. To expand on American political writer Francis Fukuyama’s declaration, the history of mono-styles, of singular visions, of discernibly unified movements, is at an end. Postmodernity is the final word, despite the actual term’s vanity and irony. After all, both ‘modern’ and ‘postmodern’ are relative terms. To a person living at any point of human history, his contemporary age would be modern and anything succeeding it would be, naturally, postmodern. In the excitement of concept promotion, it is easy to forget that the terms we contrive are simply for the sake of convenient reference and categorization. Order imposed on Chaos. Humanity administering a dose of reassurance and psychic comfort to itself.

No doubt in the future some intellectual with conceptual gas to burn will concoct a new (and equally ridiculous) label as postmodernity’s replacement. Let us hope that it will be more imaginative than current flaccid examples like ‘post-postmodern’ (those demonstrating such repugnant conceptual laziness are perpetrators of an intellectual crime and should be punished with a lobotomy, sans anesthesia). Still, the characteristics of postmodernity (and postmodernism), both the good and the regrettable, will outlast any succession of strutting pretenders. Human civilization from now on will always be a mixed bag of thoughts and their materialization, a hyper-pastiche of ideas, an oceanic collage of forms. Variety will proliferate and with it the potency of Chaos will forever test the limits of Order trying to contain it.


The Titan that raises humanity's mountains

Newtonian icon. Euclidean totem. Herald of a coming monumentality. Midwife in the birthing of a new child of the skyline. Sentinel of change.

There is no decoration on a tower crane, logos and ads aside. Each bar, beam, truss, rope, jib, joint and sheave asserts its necessity. Its form is integrity made manifest. Its lines are a study in formal, elegant purity. No superfluity is allowed in its design. No compromise is permitted to its structural strength. Nothing less is expected of a Titan that raises humanity’s mountains, a giant under the command of the human mind, its tremendous power harnessed by that lore the physicists name ‘mechanical advantage’.

Where there are tower cranes, there progress hums its energy and promise. Ignored, derided, even cursed for its supposed ugliness, the crane stoically bears the insults and indifference. It suffers the slings of the vicious, whining rabble as it builds a safe shelter for them and their gross ingratitude. The sensitive soul will recognise and honour such magnanimity.

When the building’s completion approaches the final hours, down the crane comes, a felled Jurassic sauropod whose massive steel bones are taken apart in a climactic feast by scavengers in hard hats and fluorescent jackets. In a ritual enacted over and over again ever since the ancient Greeks, inventors of the crane, began edifiying the land, when its task is completed the crane is sacrificed.

Yet it will rise once more, an undying symbol of architectural creation, an immortal instrument of Man the builder.


Nay Mammon

Nay Mammon, this I reply
Not for all the earth's riches
Nor the awe and high regard
Attendant to such
Not for status or prestige
That humbles others
As it makes their envy
Shall I ever be a cunt
Cruel, callous and vain
For I choose Virtue
And all her lovers
Are never wretched men


05 November 2008

The secret

'Tell me, what’s your secret?'

'What do you mean?' She did not turn to face him. Standing at the floor-to-ceiling glass window, her outward gaze level, she looked like she was addressing her reflection on that flawless surface.

Practice and its rewards

Consider the champion gymnast: her entire body a testament to the vigorous exercise regime and iron discipline required for it to move – to somersault, pivot, spin and soar – as it does. Our admiration for the gymnast in motion is partly for aesthetic reasons and partly because we recognise the unseen dedication implicit in the flawless execution of the maneuvers. We do not envy or begrudge her grace and power because we understand that she has paid a price for such goods. We see justice done in the incredible control of her physicality; we witness the law of causality obeyed in the focused output of her mind.