On the Compulsion to Remove Clothing

I saw recently a tweet from a young Muslim woman comparing Switzerland to Saudi Arabia for dictating the clothing choices of Muslim women. I think that is a mistake. Saudi Arabia has a lot more in common with the USA than it does Switzerland on the clothing front. Sounds ridiculous? Good.

I’m over 99% sure that every single person reading this has been taught to be ashamed of their body since they were young, or at the very least since puberty. Almost every society teaches its citizens that the human body, or at least parts of it are very private and should be hidden from public view by clothing, and it is a source of shame or embarrassment if those parts are accidentally exposed. In most cases, covering those ‘secret parts’ is not optional. In my home country of England (where we are all very proper), a man caught in an improper state of undress at the wrong time will be committing a criminal offence. If he breaks the clothing code – he will be punished by the state. Women too are compelled by law to keep parts of their bodies covered or they will be punished by the state.

Saudi Arabia follows the same principle. Men and women must keep their bodies covered with clothing to an amount determined by the society and the state, and will be punished for breaking this dogma. The only thing that differs in a country like Saudi Arabia is the amount of the body which should be covered.

What countries like France, and now the canton of Ticino in Switzerland have is a very different thing. They have laws compelling women, on threat of state violence NOT to wear certain items of clothing and to keep parts of their bodies visible at all times.

There are many Muslim women who are coerced into wearing the burka. And there are many who have been sufficiently indoctrinated to the point where they WANT to wear it. But let’s be clear on two things:

1. To ensure a patriarchal control system, the Abrahamic faiths are obsessed with controlling the female body and female sexuality, and as a result we have the cults of virginity, purity and modesty. Islamic clothing like the hijab, the niqab and the burka are an extension of this – they are designed to hide the female form, her shape, her hair, her face – all the time trying to make her as asexual as possible.

2. Laws against Islamic clothing are not passed in support of the liberation of Muslim women. They are attempts to use state power to attack Muslims and the visible signs of Islam.

You cannot legislate away bad ideas. Attacking the liberty of adherents of a faith will not serve any purpose other than to cause them to close ranks and become more insulated from the normal pressures of integration.

Muslims face fines up to £8,000 for wearing burkas in Switzerland

A controversial Swiss law prohibiting Islamic dress has been used to fine a Muslim convert and a businessman, who protested the ban. The rule, which came into effect in Ticino on Friday, was voted in by referendum and outlaws face-covering headgear.

On the denial of religious motivation in Orlando

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The killer says:

I pledge myself to ISIS

The corporate media say:

CNN: “He was religious but she said she doesn’t think his religion played in to the attack.”

Al Jazeera: “The father said he was not aware of any plan by his son, adding, “this had nothing to do with religion”.”

Huffington Post: “Not Motivated By Religion”

I sit quietly seething at the toothless commentary on the Orlando attack. It lays bare, quite starkly the depths of dishonesty the media will go to in order not to criticise Islam.

Let’s make this abundantly clear – the attacker personally pledged his allegiance to ISIS. What more does he have to do in order to convince you of his motives? He’s telling you, in plain English.

I ring 911 and say “I’m really tired of being poor, I really want to be rich, so I’m robbing this bank”. If I then go on to rob the bank, wouldn’t it be ludicrous for the media to write “Not motivated by money” or “this had nothing to do with money”?

Orlando Gunman’s Father Says Son Was Upset By Gay Kiss, Not Motivated By Religion

The father of suspected Orlando gunman Omar Mateen says his son was not driven by religious ideology, but did grow upset after seeing two gay men kissing in Miami a few months ago. In a statement to NBC News, Mir Seddique said his family was “in shock” after the shooting at a gay nightclub early Sunday morning.

The NUS and the Holocaust

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I’ve become vaguely aware of this happening at the ‪#‎NUSConference‬ in the UK – where a discussion is being had over whether to formally remember the Holocaust with people arguing for and against – The latter attracting significant vitriol. The arguments for and against the motion have been made clumsily – that much is clear.

So what is the context here? The backdrop is two-fold: Firstly, we have anti-Zionism on campuses across the country. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. And, as I’ve pointed out many times, it is absolutely inevitable that within a population of anti-Zionists, anti-Semites will have a disproportionately large representation. This means that we also have antisemitism on campuses across the country. The presence of this antisemitism will naturally blunt attempts by anti-Zionists to be heard.

But it also should be noted that Zionism is the primary engine of antisemitism. Zionist doctrine and Zionist propaganda is, at its core, virulently antisemitic. One example of how Zionism not only causes antisemitism, but also incites violence against Jews goes like this – and this is something we’ve all heard:

Anti-Zionism is antisemitism.

In other words, criticising Israeli policy, criticising it’s treatment of Palestinians is antisemitic. Not only is this false, conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism is itself antisemitic, since to make this argument you have to view Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians as being an essentially Jewish phenomenon. Only yesterday, I criticised an article on IsraellyCool for openly stating that supporting Israeli policy is part of being a Jew. To associate Jewishness with Israeli policy is antisemitic, and is inciting violence against Jews.

So what of the Jewish genocide, what of HaShoah, what of the Holocaust? Zionism has appropriated it, and has appointed itself as its guardian. In this role, Zionists are taught to harness the memory of six million dead Jews to use as a political cricket bat to silence criticism of Israeli policy. It ceased to be an historical event, and became a political one. Even the term “Holocaust”, if you examine where the term comes from, is a deeply political, deeply cynical, Zionist term. It comes from a Greek translation of the Hebrew bible, and refers to animals being consumed entirely by fire – an expiatory offering to the Gods. The message? Six million Jews were sacrificed in fire to God for the creation of Israel.

So we have two parallel frameworks for remembering. We have the Nazi genocide – solemn rememberance of millions of Jews and other ‘undesirables’ whose lights were systematically extinguished by the most murderous regime in history. And we have the Holocaust – an historical-political event inextricably tied to the Zionist conquest of Palestine and the creation of Israel. Sadly, so dominant is the Zionist hegemony over this horror, that “Holocaust” is the only word many of us know.

If we drew up a list of genocides from the last 100 years, which are the NUS proposing to formally remember? And why?

I think much of the opposition to the motion is not opposition to remembering the Holocaust, but opposition to its politicisation. It seems that anti-Zionists on the left are torn between not letting this politicisation happen, and wanting to support the rememberance so they can wear that support as a shield against allegations of antisemitism. It’s all very clumsy.

People Just Argued Against Commemorating The Holocaust At NUS Conference

The National Union of Students conference today heard arguments against the official commemoration of the Holocaust. An amendment to a motion combating anti-Semitism on campuses argued that “education is vital” and the NUS should coordinate events on Holocaust Memorial Day. Yet some attendees sparked controversy by speaking against the move.

What is the Point of Barak Ravid?

Those of us who spend any amount of time criticising the stenographers of the Fawning Corporate Media™ are well aware of the low standards of corporate journalism. For the most part, this is not in any way an attack on the writing skills of the journalists themselves, but more a lament over the structures of corporate content creation and the propensity for acting as a state mouthpiece.

So I’m asking “what is the point of Barak Ravid?” And in this context, I’m asking what is the point of his job position existing at all?

This morning, an article of Ravid’s came across my Twitter feed regarding Bibi’s latest demand for the international community to recognise the spoils of expansionist nationalism. Anyone familiar with the subject knows that the international community is actually prohibited by law from such recognition, but I digress. If ever you wanted to see how so-called journalists are in fact faithful regime stenographers, take a look at Ravid’s article. To be fair, this could have been written by anyone, and there’s nothing particularly remarkable about it. But let me quote bits of the article to show you the problem. I’m going to quote the sourcing of the article:

  • The Prime Minister Says
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said
  • Netanyahu said
  • Netanyahu stated
  • Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office say
  • Netanyahu’s senior aides say
  • the prime minister stated empathically
  • Netanyahu said
  • Netanyahu also said
  • Netanyahu said
  • said Netanyahu
  • Netanyahu said
  • the prime minister said

You see the problem? That’s what you’re being fed. There is absolutely no need for Ravid to have been involved in the production of this article. It could have been emailed directly from the PM’s office and gone straight to production. You could even rename Haaretz to “Netanyahu Said”, sack the journalists and reduce the cost base considerably.

Netanyahu: It’s time the world recognize that the Golan Heights will always remain part of Israel – Israel News

Speaking at the start of a special cabinet session convened in the Golan Heights, the prime minister says he told Kerry the same thing in a phone call the day before.

Teju Cole and the Mangling of Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo is at it again. They are saying the unsayable. And once again, we have to sit back and enjoy the ménagerie of muddled thinking on offer. I was hoping that the recent editorial would go unnoticed by the standard bearers of the regressive left. I should learn to curb my optimism.

The worst of the bunch seems to have been penned by Teju Cole. In his response to the Hebdo editorial, he makes the usual charges that are levelled against Hebdo by the regressive left, but he does so dishonestly – twisting the meaning to suit his regressive agenda.

Like any true orator wanting to frame his readers’ understanding of a piece in terms that will serve his pre-determined conclusion, he opens with the crushing and dishonest accusation that Hebdo states “clearly that Muslims, all of them, no matter how integrated, are the enemy.”

No it doesn’t. At all.

Cole isn’t alone in his dishonest depiction of the editorial. The Independent screams “Charlie Hebdo criticised for calling Brussels attacks tip of Islam ‘iceberg'” – notice the use of the phrase “Islam ‘iceberg'”.

What was actually written? Hebdo wrote that the Brussels “attacks are merely the visible part of a very large iceberg indeed. They are the last phase of a process of cowing and silencing long in motion and on the widest possible scale.” If you actually read the article, it’s not an Islamic iceberg – it’s an iceberg made of fear. It’s the fear felt by the secular, a fear of criticising or offending the religious.

Attacks like the ones in Brussels cannot happen in isolation. They require the existence of a rich spectrum of connecting opinions, norms, customs, interactions and thoughts.

As an example – take the recent summary execution of an injured and prone Palestinian by a Jewish State militant in Palestine. That attack, undoubtably a war crime, is only the visible tip of a much larger iceberg. The support and impunity that the soldier receives requires a wider complimentary framework. The framework touches every part of Israeli society. It requires the conformity of thought, the nationalism, the racism, the impotence and malleability of Israel’s Arab minority. It requires countless small interactions, innocent exchanges. I write this, and only Zionists would accuse me of bigotry. No reasonable person would assume I was being antisemitic.

Hebdo’s article is about connectedness. It is about the thousand inconsequential thoughts and interactions we have and the tapestry they weave. This tapestry has edges. At one edge is the seemingly insignificant. The innocent. And at the other edge is a confused young man carrying explosives.

I don’t like the word ‘Muslim’. I don’t like the word ‘Islam’. I think it makes this tapestry possible, or at least binds together a patchwork that doesn’t need to be bound together. In linguistics, there is a thing called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. It essentially posits that the language we use to describe something frames, guides and alters the way we think about a particular subject. The Inuit, for example, have over 50 different words for snow. And because of this rich linguistic framework, they think differently about snow. The different snows are distinct. Separate. It is inconceivable to the Inuit that we can have any kind of meaningful discussion about snow with such limited vocabulary.

And yet, we take 1.6 billion people, people all over the world, people with such a wide spectrum of beliefs, and use one word to describe them: Muslim. This is a sentence which Muslims impose on themselves. It creates a linguistic and therefore cognitive framework lumping them together. A framework that allows the Muslim baker and the veiled mothers described by Hebdo to be part of the same patchwork tapestry as the young man in the taxi carrying the bomb.

You and I can’t talk to the man carrying explosives. We can’t talk to the man who convinced him to blow up an airport. We can’t talk to the man who supplied the explosives. We can’t pull on that edge of the tapestry – but make no mistake – there *are* people pulling on that edge of the tapestry – and that pull is virtually unopposed, and the effect is that it drags the whole shambolic patchwork that way.

It is the job of secularism to pull back, unafraid.

I’m a devout atheist. I reject religion. I reject the worship of invisible sky gods. I don’t like any of the Abrahamic faiths – and Islam is the worst of the bunch. By far. It is embodies the worst of regressive misogyny. It embodies the worst of individual subjugation. It embodies the worst of violence.

I’m unafraid to offend people and lose friends. I’m unafraid to pull on my side of the tapestry.

If you think Hebdo’s article is racist – you’re part of the iceberg.

Teju Cole – Charlie Hebdo was given last year’s PEN/James… | Facebook

Charlie Hebdo was given last year’s PEN/James and Toni C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award, despite the objections of hundreds of members of PEN.

On The Progressive Case for Israel

The Progressive Case For Israel

Zionism is a broad and diverse movement, encompassing a wide array of philosophies and solutions to the ongoing conflict. Included under the vast constituency of Zionist thought are progressives and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, war hawks and peace activists, Christians and Muslims, Naftali Bennett and David Ben-Gurion.

In the spirit of good natured discourse, I thought I’d go over this article, show what’s wrong with it, and what’s missing from it. The idea of there being a progressive case for Israel might seem a tad oxymoronic, but anyway…

Let’s start with the opening gambit:

The nucleus of Zionism, the underlying ideology that binds all of these disparate groups together, is the simple acknowledgement that Jews are a people, and the recognition of their inalienable right to self-governance in at least part of their homeland.

There are a few things going on here. Firstly, it’s not an acknowledgement, it’s an assertion, and an assertion that was vehemently opposed by the majority of European Jewry 100 years ago. Further, at the beginning of the 20th century, the only people wanting to describe Jews as a separate people were the antisemites, and the tiny number of Zionist Jews. European Jews, for the most part, viewed Zionism as a tool of the antisemite.

And the question of homeland is also problematic. It only became the homeland after Herzl had considered and dismissed alternative locations for his Judenstaat. Doubly problematic since European Jews, of course, were indigenous to Europe, and Arab Jews were indigenous to the Arab countries they lived in. There were of course a tiny number of Jews indigenous to Palestine, but the vast majority were not.

This inimical typecasting of the Jewish liberation project as an extremist credo denoting fascism and religious fundamentalism has caused great harm to Zionism and, in a less direct sense, to Jews worldwide.

Its not the typecasting that has caused harm. The most dominant Zionist doctrine sets Israel up as the engine of antisemitic bigotry. This is the thinking:

  1. There is but one Jewish people, and Jews all over the world, regardless of their views, their ethnicity or nationality, are part of this people.
  2. There is but one Jewish State, and Israel is the home of all Jews everywhere.

So when King Bibi declares this, when he dares to speak for Jews who aren’t Israeli, he is tainting all Jews across the world with the crimes of Israel’s ultranationalist regime and its brand of Zionism. And when this predictably results in generalisations and antisemitism, this feeds back into the the Zionist psyche as a justification for their thinking.

There’s a simple cure for this. Stop referring to Jews as a single people. Jews aren’t a single people. Jews are followers of a faith. Many share an ethnicity, many do not. A Nigerian Jew would not share an ethnicity with a Russian Jew, for instance. And let’s also stop referring to Israel as The Jewish State™, let’s call it the state of Israel, democratic home to all its citizens. It is fundamentally anti-democratic to define the ethnic characteristics of a state independent of its constituency. But Israel’s supporters can’t argue for this until they have recovered from nationalism.

Israel is the first (and probably only) nation state built by a historically dispossessed native people on their ancestral soil.

Except that’s not exactly true. Very few Jews were actually expelled from the region, contrary to Jewish mythology. Mass expulsions simply were not possible at that time. Yes, some Jews will have left the region, but the vast majority did not. The problem with the author’s argument is that many of the ancient Hebrews of course were culturally Arabised over the centuries, and Islamised following the Islamic conquest – so the Zionist conquest of Palestine would undoubtedly have dislodged many people descended from the very bloodline he claims to speak for.

…a comprehensive look at the history behind the conflict paints a…picture…of Arab/Muslim subjugation of indigenous minorities, antisemitic pogroms, Nazi-inspired incitement, collaboration with Hitler, Arab waged wars of genocide (including Israel’s War of Independence), and the resulting refugee crisis on both sides.

Let’s tackle these in order:

Arab/Muslim subjugation of indigenous minorities – Yes, without a doubt. In pre-Zionist Palestine, non-Muslims had dhimmi status, which was essentially a ‘protected non-Muslim’, and paid a tax. Yes, with 21st century eyes it certainly seems a little odd, but considering what else was going on in the world in the eve of empire, it’s pretty tame.

antisemitic pogroms –  Not in pre-Zionist Palestine.

Nazi-inspired incitement – Not that I can think of.

collaboration with Hitler – Anti-Palestinian blood libel. Zionists often parade the discredited Grand Mufti to back this point up, who represented no one but himself. The vast majority of Arabs were opposed to both Zionism AND Nazism.

Arab waged wars of genocide (including Israel’s War of Independence) – Based on nothing but air. Even in 1948, surrounding Arab armies tried to intervene in the ethnic cleansing that Zionist terror groups had been conducting for months. If you look closely at the historical record, you will see that Israel has started every single war it has been involved in.

It is equally important to consider how the existence of an autonomous Jewish state ensures us sanctuary in times of need. As a globally oppressed, dominated ethnic minority, the State of Israel is essential to our survival.

A nonsense point. Are Jews safer in Israel than in the US, where they are the most privileged demographic? That’s not an argument, it’s nationalistic wishful thinking.

It stands to reason that if the State of Israel existed just 10 years prior to 1948, the Holocaust would never have happened.

Possibly, but not for the reason the author thinks. Even as late as 1939, Zionism had failed to convince Jews they were part of a single people whose home was in Palestine. The vast majority of Jews fleeing Europe were heading to the Americas, not to Palestine.

Furthermore, antisemites like Lord Balfour were acutely aware that his famous declaration of 1917 had the potential to inflame antisemitic sentiment because it echoed the message of the antisemites; namely Jews are alien, Jews are other, Jews are a separate people who belong somewhere else. That’s why added into the Balfour Declaration was a line about negatively affecting the “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”. Considering what happened in 1948 to Jews in other countries, his caution was prescient.

Further, Jewish self-determination is a legally recognized right and a fact of international law.

No, it isn’t. At all. All individuals have an undeniable right to self determination. International law has nothing to say on the subject of religious groupings and collective rights in this regard. Doubly rich since Israel is systematically denying the Palestinians the same right he claims for Israel, or specifically for Jews. The very essence of racism.

International law also strictly prohibits the acquisition of territory by war. Any word from the author on this?

International law strictly prohibits the colonisation of occupied territory. Any word from the author on this?

No. Pseudo legal arguments are deployed only to ease the cognitive dissonance of Israel’s so-called progressive supporters. The actual, uncontroversial positions of every single institution of international law are seldom mentioned, sadly.

 

Nock on the Nature of the Human

498917_398490741These two passages from Nock’s Memoirs of a Superfluous Man mirror my own views on humanity down to the punctuation. 2015 was a year that really took away all but the fumes of my faith in our species. I think it’s time for a new outlook, one which accepts the nature of our species, and seeks to maximise the being of any one capable of overcoming their humanity, in spite of the sleeping masses.

According to my observations, mankind are among the most easily tamable and domesticable of all creatures in the animal world. They are readily reducible to submission, so readily conditionable (to coin a word) as to exhibit an almost incredibly enduring patience under restraint and oppression of the most flagrant character. So far are they from displaying any overweening love of freedom that they show a singular contentment with a condition of servitorship, often showing a curious canine pride in it, and again often simply unaware that they are existing in that condition….

Considering mankind’s indifference to freedom, their easy gullibility and their facile response to conditioning, one might very plausibly argue that collectivism is the political mode best suited to their disposition and their capacities. Under its regime, the citizen, like the soldier, is relieved of the burden of initiative and is divested of all responsibility, save for doing as he is told.

 

On Ethno-Centric Body-Shaming

lena-headey-body-doubleIf a woman wants to wear a long dress, because she doesn’t like showing a lot of leg, is that OK?

If she wants to go topless on the beach, is that OK? What if the wants to go to Ikea topless, is that OK? Why? Or why not?

If she wants to wear a hat, is that OK? If she wants to show her hair, is that OK? Why? Or why not?

Shame. It’s a funny thing. What determines which parts of our bodies we can show at which times and in which places? We all know the answer – society. Societal norms. Our culture. Our peers. And we all do it, and we largely all conform.

If a woman (or a man for that matter) walks down an English street, in an English town, on an English Sunday afternoon, and did so bereft of all clothing, what do you think would happen?

The state would dispatch its enforcers, who would assault the woman, grab her, bundle her into a car and drive off with her. What we call an “arrest”. And this is the point I want to get across.

Most societies, not just conservative societies, not just Middle Eastern societies, not just “Muslim” societies – most societies are perfectly OK with physical coercion being used to force people to cover parts of their bodies. All that differs is which parts, and in which situations.

So why all the commotion about the hijab, the niqab, the burqa? Yes, many women are coerced into covering their hair, or their face who would rather not do so, but peer shaming and sometimes physical coercion compel them to do so. All us westerners who are chanting #weareallmuslims are overlooking the fact that we too are coerced into covering our bodies.

To illustrate how odd the hijab-solidarity is, can you imagine places in Africa where women would cover their breasts in solidarity with Western women who are coerced into doing so? It would be weird, right?

So what’s really going on?

The hijab, rightly or wrongly is associated with a religion. All of the Abrahamic faiths have their own body-shaming or ‘modesty’ requirements and garments, used to varying degrees – but yes, it is Muslims who suffer the most from religiously-driven body-shaming, this ‘modesty’ – and suffer most visibly.

We have Muslim women (not usually men) attacked by other Muslims for not being ‘Muslim enough’ – by people who want them to cover more of their bodies. This can range from gossip and scolding, to capital punishment.

We have Muslim women who are attacked in the West because they cover parts of their bodies we wished they wouldn’t cover, and do so for reasons we don’t agree with.

I have to say that this is faulty thinking. We are ALL coerced into covering parts of our bodies. We are conditioned to feel shame from very early on. And very few of us realise it.

Why are ‘our’ requirements for body-shaming and body-covering intrinsically superior and preferable to ‘their’ requirements for body-shaming and body-covering?

And there’s an obvious answer – they aren’t. If you think that it’s OK to criticise women for wearing the hijab, to criticise men for shaming women into wearing the hijab, but think it’s OK to shame a woman into covering her breasts, you’re being a tad myopic and ethno-centric.

Do I think that a woman should be shamed into wearing the hijab? No. Should she be assaulted if she doesn’t? No.

Do I think that a woman should be shamed into covering her breasts? No. Should she be assaulted if she doesn’t? No.

I think until you’re prepared to walk down the street naked, you shouldn’t be criticising people for covering any part of their body. And until you’re prepared to don a burqa, you shouldn’t be criticising anyone for showing parts of their body.

It’s perfectly fine to criticise people who coerce others, who shame others, but I suggest that to do so is largley hypocritical unless you realise that you too are being coerced into covering parts of your body.

I guess the take-away question is this:

If religiously motivated body-shaming and coerced body-covering is a bad thing, why are we OK with secular body-shaming and coerced body-covering?

On the insanity of bombing a shadow

Right, some thoughts. First of all, Corbyn was absolutely right to allow a free vote. ALL votes should be free. The MP’s are not elected to serve their party or the government, they are there to serve their constituents.

Secondly, what in the name of God were they thinking? This isn’t WWII. This isn’t the Western Front. You cannot fight a conventional air campaign against a non-conventional enemy that has no geographical ties. It’s why we failed to defeat the Taliban, it’s why we failed to beat Al Qaeda, and it’s while we will fail to achieve our goals against Daesh.

All we could possibly achieve is to secure the oil fields. But for whom? Who is going to hold them? Assad? He’s not going to weaken his grip on the western provinces by stretching to the East. So who will hold them? Will we be deploying ground forces to hold them?

Bombing Daesh is like bombing smoke, a ghost, a shadow. It’s insanity.

Thirdly, I will bet all the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets that Daesh’s leaders were high-fiving each other after the vote. An enemy that relies on Western slaughter in Muslim countries for recruitment just got an early Christmas present. Well done. Another double Scotch please.

Be under no illusion. This is Sykes-Picot round 2. This is the neo-imperial states vying for influence over a strategically important patch of dirt, and what lies under it. Every single MP should take today off and go read a history book.

How did your MP vote on bombing Syria? See the full results with our search tool

The results of tonight’s crunch Syria vote could cast a shadow over our future. So where was your MP – and will they be on the right side of history? Mirror Online has compiled a full list of how all 650 members voted and condensed it into the searchable widget below.

On Death and Irrationality

Mourning-a-soldier-killed-in-the-civil-war-Bosnia-©-1993-by-James-Nachtwey

As a species, we’re really bad at certain things. Our brains just aren’t kitted out for it.

For example, numbers. Specifically big numbers. I’m an astrophysicist by education and a software engineer by profession, and have dealt with absurdly large numbers my entire adult life. But big numbers are hard for people to think about. Let’s look at an example.

Let’s take a big number: 2^256

This is a 256 bit or 32 byte binary number. It basically means 2x2x2x2x2x2x2…. and so on 256 times. How big does it sound? Written in standard form it is approximately a 1 with 77 zeroes after it. So how big is that number? Any ideas?

It wouldn’t be much of a post if I didn’t tell you. It’s big. Very big.

In fact, if you were somehow able to harness all of the energy in the entire solar system, the sun and all its planets, you still wouldn’t have enough energy to power a computer long enough to count that high. That’s how big.

Let’s take a much smaller number. Half of 256 is 128. 128 is a 7 bit number. Let’s go with that.

128. Sounds like a small number doesn’t it? 128 people died in Paris at the hands of armed cowards. Now suddenly it’s a big number. But why? What’s big about it? What is it about 128 victims of terror in one country that makes it so big?

4,400. That’s still a small number in the grand scheme of things. What if I told you that’s how many people will die today in China due to air pollution. 4,400. Every. Single. Day. Unfathomable isn’t it?

2,996. A bit smaller. This is how many people died in the attacks in the US on September 11 2001. The world changed on that day. The War on Terror™ began.

2,996. It’s a lot of dead people isn’t it? Isn’t it? 6,639. That’s how many Americans have died thus far fighting the War on Terror™, in addition to 50,000 injured.

Why don’t these numbers and our reactions make any sense?

I’m not trying to grief shame or guilt trip anyone. I’m as guilty as anyone else. I won’t post about the 4,400 Chinese people who will die tomorrow due to pollution. I won’t post them the day after either. Or the day after that – I’ll ignore their deaths.

The bottom line is that in order to care about people dying, we need an irrational, emotional kick. Those are two important words – irrational and emotional. There’s nothing wrong with an emotional response at all. Emotions are not something we can control easily. They come up, and we react.

But when you look at the numbers, not now, not tomorrow, but in the weeks ahead – when you look at the numbers, ask yourself the hard question – what makes me react to 128 dead in France when I don’t care that 4,400 are being killed every day in China by pollution.

Where does that emotional kick come from?

If 4,400 Chinese people were killed tomorrow in a terrorist attack, you can believe that we would all hear about it and all care about it. Why has dying at the hands of a terrorist been elevated in such a way? Who benefits?