If only we could agree that I will be a mystery to you and that your revealing yourself to me will not mean that I am in turn revealed to you, because you are not asking, are not interested, do not want to know and never have.
I wonder sometimes, when I look at the sullen girls on the bus, what they are dreaming. They frown at their books, their ipods, their kindles, and you wonder what petty spites, what triumphs, what trials entertain them.
Sometimes I think, would there even be anything to say? If we spoke, I would say nothing much. I don't do small talk. I do big talk or no talk at all. With men, I am useless, because I can only talk about football and politics, and they are boring. With women, I am useless, because we cannot talk about anything that means anything to us, because they have a story behind the story, and that is what I want to know, not the story they are telling me.
Mostly they are telling me I am old, ugly and useless, and I want to say I am not, but I hate to lie. Well, I say that but I'll lie. Sometimes because the truth will hurt; sometimes because the truth will not serve me. There, I admit it. Sometimes we all lie because telling the truth will not get what we want.
I have always believed though that if we all told the truth and were unafraid of it, we would all get what we wanted. Because be honest with me, we are getting plenty of what we don't want.
And I still think that if you and I were not afraid... but we are, aren't we? And I fear most of all that the sullen girls on the bus are afraid most of all of what they fear, themselves, their own golden children captured inside their hearts, corralled and they hope tamed, wrapped in iron, caught in a spiral that will never let them feel the happiness they could feel, frowning into kindles because that is easier than saying, I want you to reach inside and find me.
And what I want, all I want, ultimately all I want, is not to be wrapped in iron, to be golden, and girls, I know, I fear it too, that underneath the iron is rust, not gold, and never has been.
I was watching The Devil's Mistress last night, which is a spot of historical fun based in the Civil War (our one, not the war against slavery), and that led me to rummage around a bit on the interwebnetz. I was led to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which expressed what the Presbyterians who were effectively running England believed (and what the Church of Scotland still believes).
It's interesting to me that a person can write:
he is the alone foundation of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom, are all things ... his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature; so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain
yet believe that God not only allows us to sin but can punish it.
As with all Christians, these Calvinists created a god who is too powerful, but were able to see some of the consequences of that power. (Chapter III shows that they were aware, in a way many Christians refuse to be, that an all-knowing god must necessarily know which beings he has created to save, and which to damn. They seem entirely unconcerned, however, by any notion that this also necessarily excludes free will.) However, they were not able, or not willing, to recognise that they had conflated two beings: one that is the fount of all living things, endowed with perfect knowledge of his creation, incapable of error (unless he chooses to make one) and so on; the other a sort of daddy figure who cares whether you bang your neighbour's wife.
Either one is credible and my main problem with Christianity, bar the practicalities of Christians' influence on our societies, is that they want both: a beautiful, inspiring all-encompassing creator and a jealous tribal god who really likes sacrifices. Recast God as an unapproachable, ineffable spirit, and Jesus as a teacher with a bent towards self-negation, and we dispense immediately with the burnings, the hatred, the fear. Of course, it leaves less space for the priests, ministers and gang of other charlatans who profit from religion, whether directly as interpreters of God's will or indirectly as predators on the credulity of believers, but they could always keep their horrible thunder god and punish themselves for being human in his name.
Would I believe in the eternal unknowable figure? Of course not, but it would at least be meaningless to believe in him, rather than unreasonable. Seriously, I recall how painful it was for Bella that anyone could believe that she had evolved from something like an ape and that her life had only that meaning she herself created. Science made her angry. If you had offered her a world without reason, in which faith ruled, she would have been content. If you think the Taliban impose themselves on the people, you do not know the people. You don't hear from the faithful in your documentaries or on their blogs, because their story is not palatable to us and gets no airtime. We like to read what middle-class dissenters, people somewhat like us, however much the minority they are where they live, have to say, not least because it lets us believe that religion is a fraud perpetrated on ordinary people, not something they share and take part in.
I often think about this when I read about how the Taliban do not like music and are somehow stopping the people from dancing in the streets, or that Ahmedinajad is some kind of dictator who forces Iranians not to be modern. Do you really think Ahmedinajad is running a con on the Iranian man in the street? No. He is expressing what they believe in a voice they would echo.
The people who wrote the Westminster Confession did not like music much either, and certainly felt that dancing was sinful. It's saddening that people should think such a natural expression of humanity so hateful but the notion in their religion that we are disgusting beings who must watch ourselves constantly is common. We are full of impulses that make us uncomfortable.
Sometimes, when I think about us, I think about how we ought to live. I do not mean how we should order ourselves in the world we now inhabit, but how we should live in accordance with our nature.
Our closest relatives are chimpanzees and bonobos. Should we be like them somehow? Bonobos are matriarchal, open and friendly with each other, do not pair bond and use sex as a social tool. However, when kept in captivity, they can be spiteful to each other and start bullying. I think we are like them somewhat. Perhaps we are more like chimpanzees. They do not pair bond for life, but may have temporary consortships. They form elaborate social structures, often with a linear hierarchy among males, which lower-ranking males destabilise by encouraging power struggles and switching support from one alpha to another, which prevents the alphas from the dominance over females that they seek. Females may mate with many males when in season, or choose one, whatever works for them. The males have to scrap it out to get their attention.
Why do we do what we do? Like all animals, we seek to pass on our genes. You might not think that's what you're doing, but it is behind everything, lurking. We could have tried different methods (and who knows, we may well have done "in the wild"). We could simply have fucked anything that moved, and allowed our sperm to fight it out. We could have formed harems. We could have formed small, stable groups, sharing women and providing supportive networks for them so they could have plenty of children and we could have variety, which would increase our chances of fit descendants.
We chose what is on the whole a poor strategy. We invented ownership of women so that we could have one to ourselves. In this way, we seek to diminish competition between our sperm and others', but we have to rely on our own resources to raise children. Men are tied to children, which I do not think really suits us (although you'll find few men willing to admit it), and to a single woman, which definitely does not. We are not good at it, and women do not like it either. Has it ever occurred to you that the reason a woman who has been with you even for a reasonably short while wants to change you is in part because what she wants is a different father for her children, someone with different characteristics, so that she too can have babies that are genetically varied and have more chance of winning the selection lottery?
Some animals do pair bond, and we think them superior for it, but we are not penguins; more to the point, penguins have reasons for it that do not apply to us.
When I read people talking about "traditional marriage", I wonder why any woman would want to support it. We invented it so that we could formalise our exclusive access to them, so that they would remain our property and no one else's. Part of the tradition has been to stigmatise female sexuality. They are chattels, after all, not sexual beings, and we fear enormously that they might choose someone else, given the choice. This is the basis of the Muslim seclusion of women (which is by no means restricted to Muslims, of course). Women are seen as dangerous, not simply because men, who make the rules, know perfectly well that other men will sneakily fuck them if we can, but also because women do not want other women to be allowed to choose from a wide range of men, because that allows the choosing women a better shot at producing fit offspring. (In this sense, women are like gorillas, who, unless related through their mother, may fight over males.)
Of course Bella did not want to be an ape! Accepting you are an ape doesn't just make you not special, not chosen by your god, it also means you're doing it wrong. I think the likeliest is that like chimps, we belong in fission-fusion societies, members of a broader group who form smaller groups. We feel comfortable in families and we yearn, do we not, for the bigger grouping; yet we find it hard, on the whole, to relate ourselves to large entities. Our lack of community hurts us, and replacing it with nations has tended to alienate us further. Because we are quite bad at raising children in pairs, I think we might be better served in larger groups, where women could more easily share childrearing. I think also that women do tend to have more facility for sharing with each other, an ability to bond in ways that are satisfying to them that men tend to lack. They are competitive still, bitchy, willing to undermine each other, particularly when men are involved, so it's not all roses, but they can be comforting for each other. And are you not, ladies, miserable when you feel isolated, with only that prick of a man to try, and all too often fail, to understand, let alone meet, your emotional needs?
Some thoughts on a deist god and the universe he creates
The notion that God does not exist because he is not visible in the universe is ridiculous. God is not bound to be immanent. Indeed, many Christians have believed, and still believe, that God is wholly transcendent. Gnostics in particular tended to believe that God could not personally create the world because he is not immanent, and needed a demiurge to do the actual work. Some believed that Satan was the creator of the world (and has dominion over it). This is clearly the belief behind the temptation of Christ, where he is offered dominion over the Earth and rejects it because he will not surrender a greater spiritual award.
Some believe that Jesus is God Immanent, that he mediates between us and God precisely because becoming incarnate allowed God to exist in a way he did not as a transcendent God. Of course, when I went to Sunday school, we were taught that God was everywhere, because a hazy panentheism is quite standard for Anglicans and nonconformists both.
My understanding, although I'm sketchy on Muslim theology, is that Islam believes Allah to be transcendent, not capable of immanence, although he encompasses all things, and has had a longstanding philosophical problem with explaining how the world came into being.
I find the idea of immanence difficult anyway, because I think it leads inexorably to panentheism, because if God is anywhere, he has to be everywhere (Muslims are surely correct that Allah cannot be encompassed, because this would imply he has limits, which he does not). This leads in turn to difficulties in believing that God has any meaning. If he is everything, then he is nothing because he is not separable. He can have a will, and he can direct what he chooses, of course, but he is always and everywhere
I am content though that God can exist if he is transcendent. I'm yet to be convinced by the arguments, no matter how strident, and man, they can be strident, that are set forward against his existence (particularly those of Richard Carrier, who argues from a multiverse without ever seeming to allow that a multiverse is not a physical reality but an interpretation of mathematics, a human invention), although I'd agree that the theist Christian God is impossible and entirely indefensible on various grounds. In this post, I am discussing a deist God.
How do I think it is possible?
An idea some have of the form of the universe is that it is a three-dimensional projection of a two-dimensional reality. In fact, it is a four-dimensional projection because of course it changes over time. However, time as we understand it is an artefact of perception--nothing says that the projection changes at the rate apparent to us, quite the opposite; time is a dimension of spacetime, not something spaces moves through. It should be true to say that the 2D image that is projected is projected into four dimensions, one of which we interpret as a change in the other three. I couldn't say what this means spacetime is "really" like because we can only conceive of it in terms of what we can perceive. We look at it through the tools available to us: directly, our senses; indirectly, mathematics.
In this conception of the universe, it should be apparent that things that are far apart in the projection need not be in the projected reality. However hard it is to imagine what spacetime is "really" like in the projection, it's infinitely harder to imagine what the projected reality is like. Perhaps it is something simply impossible for us to conceive.
But I do think a 2D universe makes a lot of sense if God is to be transcendent. It seems clear to me that to a deity that is outside space and time, the universe must exist as a block--in fact, I don't think a 4D universe makes sense unless it is conceivable as a block. By this I mean all events, past, present and future coexist. Perhaps in the 2D reality, everything is inscribed?
The projection of a 4D reality from two dimensions does not require a projector, of course. We are not suggesting here that anything illuminates it. It is holographic in a sense, not necessarily in the same way a 3D holograph is.
But isn't it conceptually attractive that God should have created a 2D reality that projects into four dimensions? It makes transcendence readily understandable. I think that it becomes clear that in this case, God creates every event at once, as it has always seemed to me that a transcendent God must. (Surely this anyway is the notion that Muslims have, that everything is willed by Allah, and cannot be resisted?) It clearly makes a lot of sense to believe this for a transcendent deity, and it makes close to none to believe in a deity that is at once transcendent and interventionist.
Of course, one must suppose it is senseless to pray to this god. From his point of view, the events you are praying for him to make happen have "already" happened. They are already written in accordance in his will, because from his point of view, there is no difference between what will come and what has been. It is not that he could not alter events if he chose. It is simply that it is meaningless to ask him to. I think that it is hard for Christians to understand that this is an outcome of being transcendent. They want God to be hobbled by time. But whereas we must perceive time as a flow, our universe as a stream of 3D states that move from one to the other, he surely does not. He sees the universe as it really is (whether it is 4D really or 2D really). They believe their god comprehends the universe. He did not create something without knowing what he had made. That belief notwithstanding, it's perfectly reasonable that he might have programmed something whose outcome he did not know: he is not any less a god if he surprises himself, as some believe he does. As an aside, doesn't this god fit quite well with those in the East who believe that God dances the universe into being: couldn't the 2D reality simply be the impression of his being on a canvas, moving in a way we cannot understand or imagine? Perhaps that god is uninterested that there will be beings who will interpret the patterns his feet make in the dust in one way or another, but simply enjoys dancing, whatever "enjoy" means for a being on that scale?
This god, I think, is the deist god. My understanding of deists is that they believe in a god that created the universe and set it in motion, but is not part of it, and does not interfere in it. He is apparent in his creation, but cannot be approached. It should go without saying that the god I am discussing cannot be approached because approaching involves not being near, then being near. From his point of view, the nearness and farness occur together, there is no transition between them.
You could worship this god if you chose to, but it wouldn't make any difference. It seems to me to make sense to be thankful, if you feel thankful (and understanding that in any case, he made your thankfulness just as he did everything else) but not much use singing hymns at him, except that it's enjoyable to gather and sing.
Can this god love you? The problem I have with ascribing anything like our emotions to him is that we are cosmically tiny. We believed, in our infancy, that humans were central to the universe because we are humans, and we did not know how insignificant a thing that is. Once you know that the sun does not revolve around the Earth, there really isn't much way to defend the notion that we are special creations (although you can take comfort, if you like, that we believe all parts of the universe to be equally its centre, and I suppose there is no reason God could not have created special beings and put them anywhere he chose).
Does it make sense to say he has a plan for you? Yes, it does. If we distinguish a god who controlled the process of creation from one who simply danced, then yes, he may have a plan (plan is of course not the right word, because it implies a notion of change, motion from the time of planning to the time planned, that is not appropriate; however, it's readily understandable what we mean by it here). But how could you begin to comprehend it? How can the "plan" of a deity who has created a 2D universe that you perceive in four dimensions be comprehensible to you when you are yourself part of the projection, entirely unable to perceive "reality"? When you tell me what you plan, I understand what you are planning because I might make a plan like yours, or at least, it is the product of a mind like mine. I cannot understand what a being that made a 2D universe wanted. It's hard to believe that he has any notion of process, of motion, of achievement, of anything bound, anything limited.
What I am saying is that here we have been thinking about what and to a lesser extent how. Why is entirely unapproachable? You can no more approach that than you can know what it's like to be a bat.
Does this God exist? Here's the thing. He's entirely outside the universe. It looks the same whether he does it doesn't. (I mean, on one level that's the case; on another, he necessarily exists because there can be no universe without he created because he created it, but that's immaterial--the universe looks the same in case he does and in case he doesn't exist.) If I haven't lost you in a maze of bad philosophy, it should be apparent that it doesn't matter. Believe he exists, nothing changes. You are almost at Chinese odds of being right because we have two identical states from our point of view and you could equally choose either with nothing affected.
You might ask, why would I believe in a pointless god? And I'd answer, simply, why wouldn't you?
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
This is my political philosophy. It is the wellspring of every belief I have about society and our place in it.
Liberty, equality, fraternity. I strongly believe we should build our world on those three words: axioms for a decent world that we can be proud we live in.
Each is meaningless without the other two. It is no use to tell us that each has the same freedom and the same restriction: there's a deep truth in the old joke that both lord and tramp are equally barred from sleeping under bridges. It is no use to tell us that we are all equals when we insist that some perform labour that is worth more than others', when there is no connection between the value produced and the work done, and even were it clear, it is not clear that we measure value in the right way. It is no use saying we are brothers, fellow beloved, if we have no care for each other, and cannot tolerate each other's difference. It is no use to say you must be a person exactly like me before I will allow you fraternity: where then is the liberty I promised you?
I do not want free markets that are not fair. I do not want free markets that are not open to all but prefer some over others. I do want exchange that creates value for all, that enriches all, that ensures that I am not warmed while my brother is left out in the cold.
I do not want equality that means slavery. I do not want a government that thinks that it best defends me by becoming a stern father. I do want an association of brothers and sisters. I do want you to be safe, to be nurtured.
I do not want meaningless platitudes, talk of brotherhood with no intention to make it real. I do not care that it is Human Rights Day. I care that we strive, in whatever way we can, to make this truth our reality:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
You know, there is a serious contradiction between creating transactional models of how other people relate to you and each other, which I'm compelled to do because I lack empathy but have a surfeit of sympathy, and believe you me, that's a combination that is guaranteed to bring you a world of pain, and ultimately just not caring what other people think or do. I am simply not able ever to say "that's how it is". I must always ask "why". That's bad enough generally, but it's even worse when you either don't care about what it is or you want it to be some other way. (I'm suddenly reminded of this video:
What I mean is, there is so little value in thinking "why is she like this to me?" when you simply want her to be a different way. Learning why helps you not at all. It's not as though you can comprehend the transaction, change some parameter, and make it what you want. Instead, what you get is frustration, bitter frustration, because you understand but the person you understand not only does not understand but denies your understanding is real.
I am not talking about anything in particular, so the people who read this and think "well, but..." can chill out. It's not about you in particular. The thing is, us autistic boys feel this shit a lot, so it's about you but also about some other person, heaps of people, everybody.
Did you ever think about those scientists who learn about, I don't know, nematodes? And not because they are trying to fill in some bigger picture, just because there are nematodes to learn about. They enumerate nematodes; they find out what there is to know about them, what they do, where they live, how they live.
For no reason but to know.
Well, for me, lots of the world is like that. I know it's pointless but that's not the point. I suppose the world divides somewhat into people who think everything has to have a point and people who don't.
You can be each kind of person on different days.
I cannot describe an anatomy of love. I cannot delve into it, I've tried. I cannot know you, understand you, unravel you. I can enumerate you, like a nematode, but knowing what you do, how you live, where you go, even if I understood what compelled or impelled every piece of that, what would I know?
Nothing. We believe, I believe, in the spirit because we cannot understand the world by knowing its motions. I have examined the person I am, the things I've done, the smallest piece and still, I have not found the answer to even the simplest question. Today. Tomorrow I may know more.
Throughout the ceremony, I could not stop thinking of all the ways I have failed her. I have allowed myself to be one of those people who use words seemingly in the belief that the form of words is as meaningful as the substance. How can I say I have loved her when I have not loved her enough?
It is a central fact in her life that she has a broken home. I do not know in what ways that has affected her; I mean, in what ways that are not visible to me. Sometimes she deals with emotional upset by sitting and cuddling her teddy bear. She was presented by him when she went to grief counselling, after I left Mrs Zen. I do not know what he means to her, what he symbolises, because I do not have any way to elicit the symbols. I can ask, but she will shrug and likely will not say anything at all.
I can say I want everything for her, but I have to remind myself that I have not given everything. I did not maintain my marriage. The price, it seemed to me, was too high, but I cannot help feeling it was not too high for the sake of my children. All I needed to do was surrender to Mrs Zen, to allow her the fiction that she was entitled to take without giving, to allow her to believe that her fairy tale could be real, that there even is a world in which it could be real, that you can be loved without being at all loveable, that you deserve it just because... well, I don't even know, just because you are you? But I am not, all said and done, Mrs Zen's father, and having a fourth child that I must love unconditionally was too much to ask. Relationships are, they must be, transactional.
Should I have simply abandoned all my insight into relationships, my understanding of how we are together, for the sake of my children, for my hope of a life that could bring me happiness? But how would it bring me happiness? That was, it seemed to me, the crux of it. I could not know that I would come to believe that I should have been strong enough not only to bear unhappiness, but to be able to hide it. Now I could. The tragedy for me is that now I am again strong enough, but then I was not.
I do not have anything to give Zenella, because I am morally such a poor example. All I can do is love her hopelessly and still hope that will be enough. But it doesn't seem to be. She is so complex and difficult to read that engaging with her emotionally is like setting out onto the ocean without a map, without a compass, without a sextant, so that all you can do is disappear into a wide blue without direction or hope of figuring out where in it you are.
She was such a happy child. She was a funster, a trickster, but sunny, not mean spirited, not seeking advantage. That burned away. A year of neglect from her mother, whose love she wanted more than mine, I think because mine never faded, burned it away; she retreated, became dependent on her own small resources, and consequently shrank the boundaries of her emotional world.
But she thought better of me, didn't she? She thought I could give her what she wanted: a family, a home, the world of love she had had when she was younger. Instead, she had to live like a child orphaned by war, a refugee from an emotional landscape she could not understand, perhaps felt she had no place in. I know she did not blame me when I was all she had, but afterwards, I feel she knows as well as I do that I failed her.
She says she loves me and I do not feel she does.
Some part of it must be that Zenita loves me so much, and even Naughtyman, who has blossomed into someone with much broader emotional needs than he had previously, has discovered that he wants me to love him and love me in return; I do not know.
This is almost forbidden to think, let alone write, but I think it: it seems to me that she first knew that Mrs Zen did not merit her love because she did not try; then came to believe that I did not merit it either because I was not worth trying for.
If you say, Are you happy? she will say, yes. If you say, Is there anything that makes you unhappy? all she will ever tell you is some trivial thing that showed that Zenita didn't love her enough, or Naughtyman slighted her, or L had something she didn't, or M wouldn't let her do something with him she wanted. Never anything beyond the ephemeral, the easily resolved, the meaningless unless she really does find meaning moment to moment. And perhaps she does. Perhaps the way she has chosen to deal with how her life has been is to cut it finer, and deal with it in small portions. I do not know because there is no way to ask her.
I am left with the feeling that there is more I could do, but I don't know what it is. I don't know where even to start thinking about what it is. I am only who and what I am. I have only the resources I have at this point. I cannot, however much I want to, be more in any meaningful way. In so many ways, I accept, or have tried to accept, that I am limited, that even where I feel I can breach those limits, it is not something that I can do overnight, or that it would be wise to try to.
Maybe I have the wrong idea of wisdom, and it is simply a way to make cowardice seem noble. I have no doubt I am a coward.
I want to tell you something fundamentally wrong with me. I say, and I do, I do, I believe in love, I believe it is worthwhile, that it is all that is worthwhile in an absurd world, that it is our salvation if you must, yet I would not sacrifice enough to give it to someone when it was all they wanted. Sometimes I say to myself, well, she does not even care, does not have any remorse for her part in it, does not even have any conception that she did anything wrong -- and it is infuriating because she is so quick to feel bad about doing wrong to others, even if in fact she never rectifies any of it; it is infuriating because were we to weigh our lives with a balance of payments, she owes me far more than she was ever willing to pay me, and can only think she doesn't by heavily discounting how much I paid for her; it is infuriating because I have above all else a sense of justice and justice has not been served: I have reaped so much pain and unhappiness that she could easily have resolved at very little cost -- after all, she needed only to live in the UK, to spend her time with my sisters, who love her, rather than hers, who don't love anyone at all but themselves -- well, I say that to myself, yet I am left, when honest with myself, with the bottom line: you could have lied.
I could have, but what is fundamentally wrong with me is that I am afflicted with pride. It is absurd: I know the world is meaningless, rather that its meaning exists in diminishing amounts in concentric circles, because we live, essentially, within ourselves, then within a world that is as small as the house we live in, our family, the day to day, diminishing rapidly as we move away from ourselves. Yet I am proud, and why, I have nothing to be proud of. Whatever material I consist in, I have done nothing much with it. I could not even be successful at marriage and I am not successful at fatherhood either. I am not successful at anything.
It is pride, only pride, that drives me to believe that I will one day wake up and become a man. It is absurd, yet it could be tomorrow. Truly, it could. I know it is only pride talking, but I cannot stop believing that it could be tomorrow that I will wake up and be the man that finally Zenella can love because I know that that pride is all I consist in, there is no more to me, however unmerited, yet here's the thing, that man would not be proud.
Have you ever felt a fear like I feel? That to become the thing that your pride tells you you are is to surrender that pride? That you might decide, yes, I can cast off my self and become renewed and shout, love me, without any guarantee that there will be anything loveable about you at all?
You have not. You believe you are loveable. You believe you should be loved just for who you are. You believe you are someone. You have not tried not being anyone at all. I have. I am. It is bewildering. I cannot ask you to join me. I cannot ask Zenella to join me.
And I have tears streaming down my face when I watch Zenella, dead centre in the crowd of her school year, that shy child, that child who would sit on the edge of every group, that has no clique, no gang, and never will, yet she is in the centre, she believes she is someone. And she is someone. She is the person I love the most in this world. Now how can I make that be something?