Why Nothing Works

I’m going out on a limb here. I’m going to say something totally radical and see who tells me I’m a complete moron. I’m also going to see who agrees with me and who says ‘Yes, you have a point, but…’

Because all of those points of view are valid.

So this is what I’m going to say: No one is right.

That’s right. No one is right. Right?

As we grow up, various people tell us what is right and what is wrong. Most of the time, at least during our early years, these people are relations. Parents, uncles and aunts, well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) brothers and sisters and cousins unto the fourth and fifth generations. Later on, these people are teachers, and friends, and then celebrities and even later on, they are our own children and then grand-children and basically the rest of society telling us do it this way or get out of town.

But in the end, the only person you should listen to is yourself.

And here’s the rider on that last statement that completely throws caution to the wind: not even you are right.

You’re wrong, ok? And so am I. And so is my mother, and your mother, and Kanye West and your favourite teacher in primary school and that man up on the pulpit telling you what you have to believe, and your favourite song and that inspirational meme you found on Facebook this morning.

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None of them (us). Because none of them (us) has the slightest idea what they’re (we’re) talking about. And they (we) never have.

You see, life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Every single one of the 108 billion people who have ever lived has had to wing it. That isn’t to say we haven’t looked for guidance, or embraced life lessons with a fervour that has often led to misunderstanding. Religion has brought comfort to billions of those billions, and yet has also caused divisiveness on a global and catastrophic scale. Worldly wisdom is both comforting and self-contradictory. Science strives to give us answers and yet produces more questions. Even your mother (sorry to bring her up, but she is important) has changed her mind about how best to raise you. But none of them, I venture to say, has the slightest idea what they’re talking about.

And this is perfectly natural. Because every one of those 108 billion people has been an individual. Unique. As a teacher, I try to instil the art of critical thinking in my students. ‘Question everything!’ I demand. ‘Even what I’m saying to you now!’ The ability to ask questions is the single greatest ability of the human mind, which is the single greatest and most complex organ in the known universe. ‘The worst reason for believing something,’ I continue, foam often frothing in the corners of my mouth, ‘is that someone told you it was so!’

I have no idea if any of my students have ever done what I have implored. It may well be a good thing if they haven’t. Because knowing that life is basically a make-it-up-as-you-go scenario and nothing anyone has ever said actually means squat is not the most comforting way to live one’s life.

Let me give you an example. Maybe more than one.

I’m a writer. I’ve had books and short stories published. This makes me feel good. I enjoy knowing that people are reading what I’ve written. I have so far made a bit of money from my writing. Not much, but making money isn’t why I write.  If I was slaving over a hot computer in order to make money I’d be in the IT industry or something to do with computers that actually made money. That’s my conscious decision and I’m fine with that. But I’ve read a lot about how to write books, and how to promote what I’ve written and how to make sales and I’ve also read a lot about how what I read about promotion actually doesn’t work and even the Big Five publishers have no idea what they’re doing and if I listened to both sides of the argument my head would explode. So nobody knows what they’re doing.

Take elections. Any elections. Nothing divides people more completely than politics. Except maybe religion. Both politics and religion have been responsible for an immense amount of human suffering, possibly to the same degree. But let’s take politics, because if you started me on religion my head would explode, and it’s already done that once so far since you started reading this. It doesn’t actually matter what politics a particular candidate wants to follow. Because all politicians are united in one way: a politician is utterly useless unless he or she is in power. So a politician’s whole agenda is geared towards getting into power, by whatever means possible. Once in power, he or she has the sole agenda of staying in power as long as possible, because otherwise they have no meaning. So politics is pointless, because ultimately nothing they do makes any point, because their whole agenda is self-centred.

Take science. I love science. Science has put people on the Moon and created this computer I’m typing on now and even saved my life when I was nine years old and was very, very sick. I have nothing against science personally. But it really does make life difficult. It’s got hard mathematics and big words and forces people to think and let’s face it, most people don’t want to think. They want answers, and all science does is provide ones they don’t want to know about. Global warming? Way inconvenient! Vaccines are safe? But that means the ‘research’ I did on the internet about how it causes autism is wrong! Evolution? But that means God may not actually exist! Excuse me, but I’m not sure I want to know that! And then you get scientists who don’t agree with each other. Where is that going?

Take human relations. I’m divorced. I got married and it lasted less than a year before my wife and I separated. I’m not casting blame here; it was the fault of both of us. We applied for a joint dissolution of marriage and were quite amicable about it. I even remember that after the divorce we both went to lunch together to celebrate. Human relations (love, romance, sex) are so unbelievably difficult that people like me just have no idea what is going on. There are a million how-to books and websites on obtaining a mate, and dating services and copious amounts of advice from friends and relations. And in the end we end up (or don’t) with someone. They may be the person of our dreams, Most often they aren’t. But most of us end up pretty much more or less happy. Usually. Or not. Because in the end, no one has the slightest idea about how to go about finding the right person to wake up next to forever.

Take diets. No, actually, don’t. Literally.

Look, I could go on. But basically, the point I’m making is that in every field of human endeavour there is a large number of people who spout all sorts of wisdom and how-to suggestions and tell us what it’s all about and what works and what doesn’t and what we must do in order to succeed or at least not fail or avoid fiery pits of eternity and in the end none of them actually have something that necessarily applies to us. We are all individuals.

What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for you. Or me. Or anyone else. In the end, we’re all just making it up as we go.

I’m sorry if that’s depressing. But there’s nothing I – or you – can do about it.

Just do your best. That’s all anyone can ask of you.

 

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

 

 

 

 

Lisa Works Hard for the Money

Let me tell you about Lisa.
Lisa isn’t her real name, by the way. It isn’t even her professional name. It’s just a name I chose for her, to protect her identity.
Lisa is a fun girl. She’s caring, forthright, independent, and hard-working. I love spending time with her. She makes me feel good and I get a genuine sense that she enjoys my company, too. If she doesn’t, she at least gives me the feeling that she does. Since I have been a professional actor in my time, I can usually tell when someone is acting. She doesn’t give me that impression, so if she is just pretending, that makes her a great actor, too.
Lisa is a prostitute.

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There are other names for her type of worker, but I won’t put them here. She doesn’t deserve it. Lisa prefers the term “sex worker”. She takes her job seriously, and doesn’t like the negative image some people have about her line of work.
Lisa works hard. She has to put up with all sorts of stupid people, demanding people, crazy people, obnoxious people, angry people, scared people…

“Lisa”, as I said, isn’t her name. That’s because Lisa is an amalgam of sex workers. She is representative of the vast majority of them. I never met a sex worker I didn’t like. I know there are some desperate girls out there, hooked on drugs or whatever, selling themselves because they have no other choice. But I haven’t met them.
And I can tell you why I haven’t. Because I live in a society (Australia) where brothels are legal and registered. There may be streetwalkers out there, but I haven’t seen them. I’ve seen them overseas, but have avoided them.
Most of the girls working in the brothels here are young, intelligent ladies earning a bit of extra cash. Ones I have met have been nurses, teachers, university students, housewives and mothers. They know what they are doing and have chosen to do it. Most of them have high sex drives (a benefit in their job) and genuinely enjoy their work. That must be hard, given some of the clients they must have met.
They have regular health check-ups and insist on safe sex always. So do I. That’s just logical.
I would hazard a guess that it’s the places where sex for sale is illegal, where their services are frowned upon, that have the problems usually associated with the sex industry.
So legalised prostitution is a good idea.
There are restrictions, of course. A girl (or guy) can work from home or a hotel room, as long as they work solo. One can see the sense behind that, but it does limit the services that can be provided, such as when a client wants more than one girl or guy at a time. Still, the situation is much better than in some countries.

And of course, the illegal sex trade, where workers are exploited and abused, is not good. But the prostitution laws are designed to discourage that sort of activity.
So, why the stigma? The usual objections, I guess, arise from people concerned about morals, family values, religious edicts and so forth. None of these are really convincing. There is some evidence to suggest that having a sexual outlet allows people to experiment with other partners in a safe, discreet way. Sure, a partner cheating on their spouse with a sex worker is still cheating, but that’s something for individual couples to sort out. The sex worker isn’t going to say anything, or expect the cheating spouse to get a divorce or give them gifts or hold them to blackmail.
Lisa deserves more praise than she gets. She works hard and fulfils a vital service. She won’t do it forever. She has other things to be getting on with. It’s just a job.
So cut her some slack. And pay her a visit. Or her, friend, Jim. He’s available too, ladies. Or guys.

– Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

The Bisexual Atheist

atheism symbols and richard dawkins and out campaign

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I am a bisexual atheist.

It’s a very liberating combination, actually. Let’s consider them separately.

Bisexualism allows you to form a relationship with anyone completely unfettered by expectations. There is no need to act in a particular way because you are friends with a man or a woman. People are equal in your eyes, at least as far as gender issues are concerned. And let’s face it, there are a lot of those still hanging about.

When I was younger, and still went to parties, I noticed the men congregated with the other men, and the women with the women. I liked to mix with both equally. In fact, I confess to feeling rather left out of a lot of male conversations. I would end up with the girls, talking to them. But it’s an interesting phenomenon which I am sure you have noticed, too. The sexes seem to feel safer or more comfortable with their own sex. Bisexualism allows you to feel comfortable with both. I guess it’s about those expectations I mentioned: we feel the need to behave in a certain way, so we gather with those who feel the same need.  It’s natural.

Bisexuality allows me to be comfortable with anyone I like.

Now, atheism. Again, liberating. I don’t feel I need to conform to any set guidelines of behaviour, nor do I have any burden of guilt hanging about me. I am a moral person because that is the intelligent, proper way to behave, not because long ago some men laid down rules for their society (which might have been fine at the time) and pretended they came from a god.

Atheism lets you breathe. I don’t believe in a god because there is no proof of one. Faith is an excuse invented by people because they couldn’t explain the lack of evidence for their god, so they pretended they didn’t have to.

I am happy for people to believe if they wish. I just ask that they don’t hurt anyone, including themselves, with their belief. I don’t believe, that’s all. There is still freedom to do that in this world. If god wanted us to believe in him he would make his presence known in an overt way rather than through the intercession of people. The mere fact that there are a variety of religions shows that god isn’t doing a very good job at being specific.

I have the freedom, too, to be bisexual. I have made the choice to follow both of those freedoms.

Fortunately for me, when I have announced to someone I am bisexual, only occasionally have I met someone put off by the idea. Most accept it unconditionally. Some have even been jealous. When I announce I am an atheist, again, almost everyone has been amenable to that. Only occasionally has some religious person taken offence. But the world is full of people waiting to be offended.

So that’s me. Middle of the road, uncommitted, average. The best of both worlds.

Enjoy life. Mine is great.

 

Garfunkel and Oates v The Stupid

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of stupidity in the world. But I’m comforted by the knowledge that Garfunkel and Oates are there to point out exactly where it is.

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Garfunkel and Oates are the musical personas of singer/songwriters Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci. I’ve listened to their album All Over Your Face (http://www.amazon.com/Over-Your-Face-Garfunkel-Oates/dp/B004VMXA46) a lot since I received it only yesterday. Ten songs about what is stupid about a lot of things, from sexual expectations to cannabis licences to sex with ducks. Yes, that’s right, ducks. Although, it’s not actually sex with ducks they claim is stupid, just the belief that it has anything to do with gay marriage.

Some people no doubt have complained about their explicit language. Even the song titles contain profanity, such as one charming number called simply Fuck You. But pointing out stupidity often requires profanity. As the American philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett commented: “…there is a time for politeness and there is a time when you are obliged to be rude, as rude as you have to be.”

These girls know about being rude, and there isn’t anyone, apparently, they are afraid to take on. This is a healthy thing, and made healthier by the insertion (they would find a great rhyme for that word) of a good deal of humour into their otherwise bitter comments.

Far removed from the angst-ridden excesses and self-guilt of someone like Alanis Morrisette, Garfunkel and Oates lay the blame for failings in the world squarely on other people’s shoulders where they belong. Morrisette might sing deep-and-meaningfully about love and relationships and connection; Garfunkel and Oates climb out of the bed and try to sneak out of the room while putting their bras on. They don’t sing about love, they sing about lust and one night stands and, well, fucking. Even pregnant women get told where to go. And it’s about time.

I pride myself on being a grumpy old man. I treat people the way they ask to be treated. As my father used to say, “Act like a mug, you get treated like a mug.” So if someone treats me like an idiot, I treat them the same way back. But I have been put in the shade by these two young women, who dare to say things that would attract more criticism were they not so fucking hilarious.

I look forward to lots more G&O.

As for the sex with ducks…just listen to the song.