A Crisis of Identity

Allow me to go all special-snowflake and super-self-indulgent for a bit. Normal service will resume shortly.


I’ve had trouble recently figuring out exactly where I fit in the world.

I feel too weird for ‘normal’ society, but too normal for ‘weird’ society.

I mean, consider: My week isn’t spent counting down to Friday where I go out to get drunk in a packed club; my political opinions go beyond “They’re all crooks!”; I don’t work in an office where my surname has remarkably transformed into ‘from accounts’ or ‘from purchasing’; I can count on one hand the exact number of times I’ve given a shit about sport in the last twenty years; And my main sexual fetish isn’t “phwoar, tits!”.

Meanwhile, at the same time: I hate whimsy; I can’t stand poetry; I’ve committed the ultimate sin in thinking that Doctor Who is just a TV show and, really, just a wee-little-bit shit; I don’t have any ironic hobbies like knitting or collecting tea; I don’t have any mental illnesses or disorders, neither self- nor professionally-diagnosed; And I’m basically cishet scum through-and-through.

So I wonder why either group puts up with me.

I could become a conservative, but I think they’re the Evil Fucking Empire. I’m obviously a liberal, but the liberal-left’s innate talent for self-destruction through its purity culture makes me want to curl into a ball and cry. I could go the South Park route and become apathetic and develop a disdain for any thought that challenges me to care or develop or change but, at the end of the day, I just give too much of a shit about things for that nonsense.

Is my real place with the more-mainstream nerds, fighting for Comic-Con tickets and arguing about X-Box vs the PlayStation 19? Probably not, since I have no idea where I’d find the disposable income for all that bullshit, and I find the casual misogyny and the neckbeardiness that comes with the territory utterly repellent. Does that mean I should join in full-time with the Social Justice Enthusiasts, instead? I suppose so, but I find them to be mostly cloud-cuckoolanders who need to learn to live in reality as it is, first, before they have a hope in hell of changing it because, goat-dammit, guys, perfection is the enemy of good/better, here!

A religious group is a non-starter, obviously. Maybe I could get in with the hardened, out-and-proud Atheists? Well, to be honest, I’d rather join a religious cult that was happy to admit to it, and I like that when I use the word “logic” I mean some bollocks like “(∃x∈X|x=n)⇔n∉Y” and not “Feminism and Islam are the greatest threat to humanity because Logic”.

Metalheads? Frankly, I’d rather be locked in a lift for 24 hours with a Trump fan than a Tool fan, and if I can’t stand the liberal purity culture I’ll last about half a second in the world of “METAAAAAALL!!!!!”. Besides, the broader ‘alternative’ crowd have always looked at me with suspicion for having zero interest in ever getting a piecing or tattoo ever.

So all those sub-cultures and movements are out, and I’ve never felt right nor welcome in any of them.

I’m not, and probably never will be, the great, perfect, stalwart LGBT ally people want me to be, but I’ll never go back to the “eugh, why does it always have to be about the gays!” crowd because fuck that. I know for a damn fact that privilege is very real, but I know there is literally fuck-all I can do about it – which I know because I once asked what I could do about it and had shit slung in my face for it. And, yes, quite, simply not talking about racism won’t make it magically go away but neither will only talking about it.

Or do I just bite the bullet and turn normal – Get a trendy haircut, support the local sports team (Go Sports Team!), share post-memes with Minions on them, comment on a Facebook post that already has 150,000 comments on it, roll back my self-awareness, and start regularly watching Eastenders? Or go full tits-to-the-wall odd – Shave one eyebrow because “that’s so random!”, take up body-painting, change my Facebook profile picture to the flag of whatever country is going through the shit this time, buy some goofy hats, take up barefoot running, and then invent my own sexual orientation because “there isn’t a word that describes me!”?

Or, is this just normal and expected. Are we all like this and all thinking the same thing?

Fallout

There’s this phrase about being careful what you wish for. If only someone had been around to remind me of it when I said to David Gerard “Aw hell, just drop it on Reddit to make sure that prophecy of it biting me in the ass comes true”. Because, for a blog that ticks over with between 0 and 5 views per day, shooting up to around 20 when I link it to Facebook, I’ve just had it hit with around 17,000 27,000 31,000 35,000. For a day or so, I was surfing through a tempest in a Reddit-shaped teapot. A small blip in grander terms of what gains traction on the internet (and now consigned to a bin of forever-forgotten blog posts), but quite the Black Swan event from my perspective, since I thought it would never gain any traction at all.

What have I learned?

Well, frankly, that most people “liked” the overly-verbose, profanity-ridden, borderline-psychotic rant that came to me after seeing one-too-many Creationist “refutations” of what I was trying to say (the individual post that triggered it wasn’t even a refutation). People mostly grokked the point; that it was wild venting, intentionally and ambitiously offensive, and that the over-the-top ego-boosting was, in fact, an act. This is reassuring. It was written for those people more than the hypothetical recipient(s). Writing like a character from The Thick of It is arduous, I’m pleased the effort wasn’t wasted.

I do like some of the calls of “you’re my new hero”. That’s nice. Though, while I’m sure you’re being rhetorical, please don’t put me up on a pedal stool, I’ll only disappoint like a damp squid.

But there are negatives. About 20% or so, which is not insignificant. I’ll quote or paraphrase them below.

That was a long verbose self-aggrandizing way to just say “creationists are stupid, I’m really smart.”

Yes, yes it was.

This reads as tripe designed to inflate the ego of the writer at the supposed expense of the Creationist. All of the–I can only call it wanking–doesn’t further any logical end, nor does it reveal anything about the ridiculous nature of today’s Creationism.

Complaining that publishing a venomously cathartic rant doesn’t further a logical end is like complaining that J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy does nothing to further our knowledge of the social structure of 16th Century Mongolia. If creationism today is ridiculous, then I merely added to the ridicule. Vehement and rather disgusting, if slightly ad hoc, ridicule, but ridicule nonetheless. This was intentional – and, if I remember rightly, noted as such.

As for the ego-inflating or self-aggrandizing parts, well, that accomplished two things. Firstly, personal catharsis; I suffer the same impostor complex as practically every other grad student in the universe, I have to get it out there that I’ve done something with my life if even just for personal benefit. Secondly, to demonstrate I do have the qualification to know what I’m doing when it comes to science. So many angry rants exist out there just come across as pathetic because at no point do we get a feel for why the author should have a right to feel so superior.

Wow, you really need to get laid…. and for goodness sake, get a girlfriend(or boyfriend, I do not judge).

Argumentum ad cellarium. Usually employed by people who almost certainly have less sex than their targets. Though, quite clearly this person is judging, because their comment is highly bigoted towards asexuals. That’s not very nice, you know.

[from someone who copy-pasted the rant] The internet is public domain… when a person lists their thoughts on that public domain and someone else thinks “Right on” and promotes that thought in some way… well… I’m expanding his audience free of charge.

Actually, copyright infringement is a strict liability offence, meaning that all cases of unlicensed replication of intellectual property is an illegal infringement upon the right of the originator to control the copy and distribution (and modification) of the original work. BUT, as no money is involved and no loss of income (as much as I would love to be paid to rant like an arsehole all day) can be demonstrated, such an infringement would be a civil, rather than criminal act. In short, I’d have to sue for it to mean anything. But I don’t care, I really don’t. Have at it. Translate it, do what you like. I should release this stuff under CC-BY-SA or something, but I’m not sure that’s entirely appropriate for my purposes.

I will point out that “in a public place” is not the same as public domain. That’s a very specific legal term that an author needs to expressly release their work into. People need to stop mixing these up. Please.

Then again, having read the comments on that article… well, I’m kinda pleased it was a copy-paste job, I just couldn’t have dealt with that much derp appearing here.

when steam is coming out of your head, is exactly the time when you should NOT be writing and publishing, unless you want to do severe damage to your own cause

Writing coherent vitriol is actually quite difficult. You need to be in a mood of sorts, sure, but you also need to be focused. I’ve had experience of losing it, and then writing and submitting quickly, and suffering the fallout and regret of it. This was not one of those times. The first draft was, I’ll admit, but that was saved and then worked on. In reality everything was said in a (relatively) calm and deliberate fashion; building up layers, expanding insults further, and challenging the boundaries of my own personal taste. I wasn’t hammering away at a keyboard like a lunatic – I simply can’t keep that sort of thing up for more than a paragraph.

Live and let live provided no one forces their views on you.

Well, I don’t force my “views” on people. A view is like “The Phantom Menace was terrible” – okay, bad example as The Phantom Menace is terrible, but still. So, sure, I can let another view live easily enough. Arguing about opinions, which have no objective basis in reality, is an embarrassment to human intelligence.

What I prefer is for people to honestly appraise evidence for something where it’s presented. If you can present evidence for something, it’s not really an opinion. The universe doesn’t care what we think or believe – we can stop believing in things and it wouldn’t automatically make them untrue, and on the other hand there are other things that would outright disappear if we stopped believing in them. Consider “gravity pulls things towards the Earth at about 9.8 ms-2” and “we should wear clothes because nakedness is shameful”. That’s the difference.

But there are people who flip this around. They conflate fact and opinion, and make it look as if actual facts – the things that “are” regardless of our belief in them – are subject to opinion, or a vote, or are malleable with respect to this bizarre concept of a “worldview”. They pass or try to pass legislation to help them with this. To deny the existence homosexuality and to brainwash kids into thinking it’s objectively wrong; to say that evolutionary biology is “just a theory” and that their personal specific religious story is equally valid in scientific terms; or to put God in schools with no room for other beliefs; or to remove funding from climatologists because they discovered an inconvenient truth. None of those things are opinions that we should “let live”. I won’t apologise for treating such people with the contempt they bring on themselves.

The first post is the one that grabs my attention, and his/her use of the word “atheistists?” In correlation of the word evolutionist. What a dumbass. If you are trying to “prove” a point, use real words you ignoramus.

I’m just adding this one because, pray tell, what is a “real” word? After all, “evolutionist” isn’t a “real” word – there is no -ism behind evolutionary biology so I can’t be an -ist, it’s not an ideology, it’s not an optional personality cult. Clearly, the writer of this particular comment understood this absurdity, otherwise they wouldn’t have spotted the correlation between the unnecessary -ist on the end of evolution and the doubly unnecessary -ist on the end of atheist.

Now, if you want to deride a rich tradition of manipulating arbitrary vowels and consonants in a creative way to demonstrate points in new ways, in favour of a rigorous and unyielding prescriptive use of words in only their arbitrarily decreed “correct” way, then you’re not only reading the wrong blog, you’re using the wrong language – as this is simply how English as we know it today… hmmm, how do I put this… evolved.

Also, the use of “dumbass” here triggers the red squiggly line in my spell checker, so please, use “real” words if you’re going to try making a point!

Oh, and it’s ignorami, obviously…

seems like a sad rant from someone with anger management issues. I begrudge no one their beliefs (lest they hurt others), but to brand all creationists as slack-jawed yokels who deserve to die seems brazenly ignorant and vile.

I can’t see anywhere in the rant where I say people “deserve to die”. In fact, if you really want to know, I don’t think anyone deserves to die. My views on killing and intentionally causing death are based around the necessity of the act, not the apparent worthiness of the victim. If you care (which you almost certainly don’t) you can read a more thorough opinion on the subject here.

 it would actually be more powerful and funny if he went back now and edited it so that less profanity etc.

You’re fucking kidding, right? That was, like, the entire point.

can’t spell mechanics, though

Only really including this to introduce Skitt’s Law. And a rather nice example of Skitt’s Law it is, too, as this particular complaint lacks capital letters and a full stop! (well, it’s funny if you’re me…)

But seriously, I like to make a distinction between “can’t spell” and “typo”. Writing “mechaincs” rather than “mechanics” (corrected with an edit button, just like, you know, science corrects itself) isn’t quite in the same vein as the egregious errors I was thinking of. I’ll mock when people make horrific errors and repeatedly do so, I’m not actually a Grammar Nazi most of the time. I leave that to someone else I know, but I always get my own back on him by intentionally mixing up “clip” and “magazine”.

I want to meet this guy and give him a big, sloppy kiss straight on the mouth… He’ll probably run away, severely disturbed, but it would be worth it.

I’d only feel disturbed if I felt that, at the time (I can’t guarantee anything in advance), I felt my personal space was disturbed without my informed consent. I’m fairly open and liberated, so I wouldn’t be necessarily disturbed by the thought nor action of hot, sweaty, saliva-drenched, sloppy, stubble-on-stubble, man-on-man snogging. I’m straight, though, so it just wouldn’t mean anything. Sorry.

I’m sure it was therapeutic to write, but regarding ignorance vs. stupidity he’s wrong – almost always, creationists are ignorant of evolution and some of them would accept it if they were introduced to it correctly…

I contest this heavily. No matter how many times we try to say “no one says evolution works like that” and post either a correction or a link to a correction, the same thing will crop up again later. Often immediately in response. The fact that “ducks don’t give birth to zebras” doesn’t disprove evolution – and, in fact, is an actual demonstration of it – hasn’t percolated down at all. There are countless people who have ventured into Ray Comfort territory to correct him on basic facts. The sheer weight of numbers suggests at least one person will have phrased it in such a way for him to understand. He clearly doesn’t understand, or, as I would argue, doesn’t want to understand. As I said in the original rant, there’s a difference between ignorance and wilful ignorance. I only take issue with the latter. Once you’re actually keen to learn why there are still monkeys, you’re fine. This is emphatically not something we see coming from the top brass of creationism.

Interestingly enough, religious people generally don’t score lower on measures of intelligence from the population average. Somehow even intelligent people can believe wrong, strange, unlikely or superstitious things.

This is true. Though I wasn’t really aiming it at religious people. I was aiming it specifically at creationists, and creationists that use long refuted arguments or intentionally misrepresent evolutionary biology to further their cause.

I can bring this briefly back to the IQ test; this is a test that is designed as a statistical proxy to measure the general intelligence of a population. Every single qualifier in that last sentence is very important, and once you step outside that, the test fails. Scoring highly doesn’t indicate much (everyone on the internet seems to have an IQ of 135). You still need to do a lot of reading to get to grips with complex ideas – they don’t just magically come to you for scoring highly on the IQ test. You need more than just that “raw brain power” associated with a high IQ, if the IQ test even means just “raw brain power”.

Consider as an analogy the reasons why the Ariel Atom (500 bhp) went around the Top Gear test track faster than the Bugatti Veyron (987 bhp). You’ve got to get that power and apply it to the road. With good handling, a good weight-to-power ration, a good transmission and so on. Now, enough petrolhead metaphors. In this case, if you think the planet is 6,000 years old because cats don’t give birth to zebras despite scoring highly on a thinking test, then solving the nine-dot-problem clearly hasn’t helped your thinking skills.

Heh, I get it….sigh Even though I agree with them entirely I still feel like they’d look down on me too because I’m not all that smart either, religion or no religion. ._.

I don’t actually.

Ugh. I hated this. Just mean for the sake of mean. If you consider that religions have been around for a very long time and that most people have been followers of one or another, then you realize that plenty of religious people have been very smart, intelligent, and capable.

What part of this being aimed at creationist – and young earth,  Biblically literalist ones at that – have some people out there been incapable of understanding? I really don’t understand this. Seriously, go to that rant, use “ctrl-F” for the find function and look up all the instances of “god”, or “atheism”, or “religion”. There is nothing there bashing the merely religious. I should know, I wrote it.

Sure, intelligent people have been religious, and more intelligent people than me have been religious (Copleston comes to mind).  But this is not even remotely related to the deceitful and willfully ignorant nature of modern creationism. Was Isaac Newton (I’ll straw man a typical example) a believer and a creationist? Yes, sure. But Isaac Newton died in 1727. I would no more lambast him for being ignorant of modern geology and evolutionary biology than I’d lambast him for being ignorant of quantum mechanics. I’d lambast him for his crackpot alchemy days, but that would be because even by Newton’s time alchemy was pretty much the discredited hokum we know it as today.

If you want to find me ranting at the religious in general, it’s probably out there somewhere for you to froth over. But please, cite those examples and be specific to them, rather than make up an entirely imaginary slight against religion that has nothing to do with what I wrote in the piece that gained all the attention.

Well, at some point back in time the entire human species came from a single male and female at one point, somehow the inbreeding didn’t kill us.

This was in response to the fact that Adam + Eve = inevitable incest. The thing is, the Biblical story states that only two humans were alive at the time, and so the breeding population must, if not line-bred back with the mother, be all brother-sister relationships. This is not the same thing as being able to trace ancestry back to the same two individuals in an evolutionary system. I don’t even want to take the time out to correct it, but here it is: Imagine a single person has two children; each of those two kids pairs off and has two kids, each of those does too… and so on. Eventually a single person will have 4, 8, 16, 32… descendants until this number explodes exponentially to be greater than the whole population. In short, statistically speaking that original person is an ancestor of every living human (in fact, this only takes just under two millennia or so). BUT, we do not instantly conclude that the original person was part of the only couple on the planet and that all of their offspring took part in direct brother-sister incest. In fact, because we worked forward in the example, we know it isn’t.

There should be more dicks. I would love to stand at the door of every church in my town and hand this rant out as leaflets to all who enter…

I don’t think this is a good idea. A big sweary rant from me is a rare thing. In the countless pages of tripe I’ve submitted to the world, big sweary rants have happened 3 or 4 times. And not without good reason; it would get stale and boring if everything I wrote was “fuck this” and “fuck that”. At best, people would just learn to ignore it and no matter what you said you’d slide into irrelevance pretty quick. Such things don’t convince, they alienate.

I’d like to, sure. But I’d like to do a lot of things. I would like to have a week-long S&M orgy with Anne Hathaway, Mila Kunis, Emilia Clarke, Samantha Barks and Eva Green, but that’s neither realistic nor am I taking any steps to make it realistic. So while I’d like to just stop thinking and just viciously call out creationists for the moronic bullshitters that they are, the simple fact is that I am not doing that. I’m not posting this rant on multiple creationist Facebook pages, or emailing it to them at every opportunity. That wouldn’t accomplish anything, and I hope no one attempts to do this in my name.

If I were

The sources I can find say that the were/was distinction is more a case of being formal/informal, than absolutely incorrect. “Was” seems to be considered a colloquialism used mostly in speech, whereas “were” should be used formally in writing where off-the-cuff colloquial speech patterns don’t limit what you tend to say and how you pronounce it (such as how people pronounce “then” but mean “than”, although at least was/were is the same verb rather than a different thing entirely). Further, the distinction doesn’t damage the semantics in the transfer of an idea from one brain to another; meaning is preserved through either variation and so the linguistic prescription isn’t necessary. See also the distinction between prescriptivist and descriptivist linguistics.

But frankly, in a blog post with that much swearing and psychotic piss-taking, this should be the very least of your worries. If this is the one problem you find so weighty as to bring it up, then you have some Issues that need addressed.

But you ARE a dick … you have issues … you’re full of hate…

I’ve saved this one for last because it’s a general paraphrasing of multiple things and is something I’m about to sermonise about.

That was one post. It was 3,000+ words (I feel bad…) but it was one post. Trying to use that one post to infer anything about me is, well, being a bit silly at best, and being a fundamentally hypocritical, judgemental moron at worst. The majority of people saying this sort of thing fall well between those extremes, though.

Sure, it’s a fair accusation that I acted in the manner of a total douchebag by writing a rant (I recommend E-Prime for these kinds of problems). I’ll throw my hands up and admit it, because it was mostly the point – the point being that this is precisely what I do not do at every opportunity. You have an entire blog to peruse to find out more (I know from the WordPress stats that people haven’t, nor do I blame them), or a substantial number of contributions to RationalWiki to judge me on. For all you know, I could have been writing in character (many people do that; the Nostalgia Critic, the Pub Landlord, Stewart Lee, Miranda Sings, just to name a few off the top of my head) and you would have still extrapolated an accusation from a single data point and made a generalised assumption based on it.

Anyway, I hope you got something out of it.

Who am I?

A while back, someone down the pub asked me if I had figured out who I was before I got married – the silent implication, of course, being that they had a particular cynicism towards long-term relationships and so viewed it as something I clearly rushed into and will inevitably regret (or maybe that’s projection, I dunno, but it’s a reasonable inference when you meet a twenty-something divorcee). I made a fairly wry reply along the lines of “yes, I did”, something about the internet, and moved on. I’d never really given much thought to the question of “who I am” up to that point.

More recently, I have given it some thought. And that thought has lead me to the conclusion that it is a totally bullshit question.

Really, what is it even asking? If you don’t know this, you can’t really generate an answer. At least give me a sample paper with some relevant answers here. Who am I? Is it my name – no, that’s just a label. Is it my occupation – no, because you’re not your job (unless you are, or whatever). It’s not my gender, sex, race, sexuality – those are just random attributes associated with yourself, they’re not “yourself”. It’s not my hobbies, clubs I’m involved with, political opinions – those are things I “do”, not “am”. Scratch those off the list of reasonable answers and you’re not left with much.

Now, at this point I could just say “E-Prime” and have done with it, but really that’s something else entirely. After all, we’d still want to figure out what the question is asking by phrasing it in E-Prime. As pointed out above, the question certainly isn’t asking for a list of attributes. E-Prime could help us tell when a casual “Who are you?” can easily be answered with “Agents Mulder and Scully, FBI”, but that oh-so-deep-and-meaningful version renders out less well in it.

So what could it mean? Does it ask you to describe your “essence”? Perhaps, but even then you’ve replaced bullshit with more bullshit. What the hell does “essence” even mean? It’s like some form of dualism, but more abstract and more full of itself. It’s asking for something more detailed than just a list of attributes and more qualitative than quantitative, requiring some thought and discussion rather than some box ticking, and yet it has to be simple and fundamental to you, and you alone. It’s supposed to capture the thing that makes you “you”, and not someone else. In this respect, the question is more like “who are you?”, not “who are you?”. Still, this doesn’t help us answer it.

In truth, there is no one right answer to it and there’s no one right interpretation of the question. The best we can do is say that who I “am” is really a big detailed description of my attitudes, behaviours, thoughts, opinions, all across a range of subjects, that aren’t just regurgitating what someone else has told you to think, that describes how I act and react and what I will think at any given moment for any given situation because that’s certainly going to be at least consistent. This is what people are asking for; and answering this is the only response that makes sense because all of that sort of stuff satisfactorily describes who you are.

This brings me back to the original point of someone hoping that I “discovered who I am” before a fairly arbitrary marker in my life – and it brings up why the question is full of even more bullshit than it appears at first sight.

Nothing in that list of opinions, ideas, attitudes or behaviours is fixed any more than the atoms in my body are fixed and unchanging. I “am” not the same person I was when I got married. I “am” not the same person I was when I was asked that by some randomer in a bar somewhere a year and a bit later. I hardly consider an opinion or attitude of mine valid if it was written more than a few months ago. I’m happy with this constant change. If I was going to have the same opinion of myself a year from now, there would be absolutely no point in living. I may as well consider myself at the peak of personal development and throw myself under a train because there’d be literally nothing else to do.

So why would I ever need to figure out “who I am” at any one point in time? Why would I even consider that even a valid thing to attempt? Who I am is whatever is sitting in front of you right now. It’s what I do, it’s what I think, it’s how I behave and how I react. Check back in five minutes to see if there’s been any improvement.