Ordeal By Innocence

Presuming one’s innocence means presuming that the plaintiff’s lying. In certain cases.

The presumption of innocence works well when we don’t know who committed the crime. The paradigm breaks down when fighting over whether a crime was committed.

Whoever solves this philosophical puzzle will do a lot for justice. The current rules fail both the victims and the accused. And the bystanders – all the people who worked on “Ordeal by Innocence” whose work will never be recognised.

The BBC said Friday that it will not air upcoming Agatha Christie special “Ordeal by Innocence” while an investigation into actor Ed Westwick on allegations of sexual assault proceeds. Filming has been disrupted as well on another BBC series starring Westwick, “White Gold,” which is available on Netflix outside of the U.K. “Ordeal by Innocence” […]

via BBC Pulls Drama Starring Ed Westwick; Filming Disrupted on His Comedy Series ‘White Gold’ — Variety

Trying to be old

I loved how the sun lit up the windows of the ostentatiously classy restaurant come wine bar on St. Andrew’s Street in Dublin called Stanley’s. The bleached turquoise exterior with golden letters spelled understated chic.

A few doors down from the expensive Trocadero, the location seemed perfect for such a place.

It opened about 2 years ago. Today I found that it’s been replaced with a place called Kathmandu, a gerrish, bright orange Nepalese eatery. Full of people. 

Stanley’s was never full of people.

Why? Where did they go wrong? Where didn’t they go right, more like? The broadly positive Irish Times review and then another even more positive one? The perfect location? The classy interior in modern blues and grays? What more could people want?

Or is it maybe that classy is old-fashioned. Maybe these things don’t sell anymore.

I love old books, films, chandeliers, even houses. Often these things sell at a perplexing yet welcome discount.  Has it always been this way – that old things are cheap?

Writing up my list of the Christmas gifts I want to give, I realised that I strongly prefer older things. I think it’s from reading too many XIX century novels…

Which would you rather get for Christmas, a new iPhone or an antique chandelier? 

It turns out that the iPhone is about five times the price. This raises another point: did old things always go at a discount?

And finally, maybe that’s why Stanley’s closed down. Perhaps their bet was on people’s vanity, a desire for a classy place to shorten the protracted winters nights. But it never caught on.

Trying to be old without actually being old may be a hard sell. 

I am not Atlas, nor was meant to be

The New Year forces us to do a reality check. Accomplishments. Failures. Expectations. Sage books. Bad politics. Mistletoe. The CO2 from sparkling wine hitting you in the nose. Deep breaths and realisations. Shy wishes for the future.

The light and exciting feeling of starting something big pushes me on.

Coming to conclusions reminds me of herding cats. In a big dark room.

Conclusions lead to learning. I want to learn. Learning means order and understanding. Sometimes, stormy randomness prevents linear learning. What was it all for then I wonder? Just to be lived?

A sarky friend of mine calls this “the syndrome of searching for deeper meaning”, a disorder more prevalent in women. One step away from calling me a conspiracy theorist, the sneaky fk!

Why do I want to learn? To feel less pain by stepping on the same rake, as the Russians would say? I prefer the more subtle term, adaptation.

I resolve this by looking for ways to tame uncertainty. Work around it. Turn anxiety into excitement. Think probabilistically. Find people who have the same thoughts and dreams. Remember that I can always rely on myself.

My temptation to justify, to over-explain, to over-plan and catch that finer insight comes from a heightened, unhealthy sense of personal responsibility.

Aged 5, I fell and hurt myself during play. Nothing major. My grandmother came over. I expected her to help me up and console me. Hold me and tell me it’s all ok. She lifted me alright, but then gave out to me for not looking where I was going.

I think I am still running on that software. I always look for ways in which I caused what happened to me.

In some ways, it’s helpful. In others, I am Atlas with the weight of the world on my shoulders. Why haven’t I given up that horrible mentality?

Personal responsibility motivates like nothing else. It’s the fuel of making dreams come true, so it’s hard to give it up.

My learning from this is that feeling like Atlas is frighteningly egocentric. I am not Atlas, nor was meant to be. The world will keep on turning without my help.

What makes me want to bang my head against the wall is the obviousness of it all. Again and again, I arrive at these thoughts. However, it seems that understanding what is within my control is a daily exercise. Thinking about it every day is vital to being productive and at peace.

Meanwhile, I am building up my progress report from September to the end of November. Be ready with yours for 1 December 😉

Mood: T.S. Eliot

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

It’s good to be reminded that the life goes on without me trying to control it

I took the day off yesterday. For the first time in I don’t know how long.

Being a bit of a rebel, I chose the day that bookings start for a course I run.

Contrary to my expectation, my email wasn’t full of people wondering where I was. After all, how dare I not get back to them within 30 minutes?

I did have about 110 unread emails, but nothing unmanageable.

It’s good to be reminded that the life goes on without me trying to control it.

When you put it like that, I can see the appeal of nihilistic thinking. But even if I am a lowly non-flaggelated bacterium living on the eye of a blue-eyed giant, I want to be good at being such a bacterium.

According to my family, interactions with me felt qualitatively different today, now that I was rested. A remark I didn’t specifically seek out.

I also slept much longer than I normally do, suggesting that I was able to break out of fight or flight. (Alternative explanation: Merlot).

The morning was a haze: I dreamt of being with my friends, who travel to places man hasn’t really spent much time in, occasionally interrupted by some more frontal part of my brain reminding me of items from my list, concerning appointments and credit card details.

I also realised just how little time I actually spend producing anything. Instead, I expend a huge amount of energy on being in that anticipatory stressed state. Like Rocky waiting to be punched in the stomach.

I guess there isn’t really a way around that one.

“We never just hear music”

Music profoundly changes our emotions. Sound has the potential to turn our feelings inside out.

In September, I committed to bringing my mother to the theatre. Local theatres do a lot of film screenings, I found with disappointment. Among them, I spotted The Graduate. I don’t understand why, but I love the film.

The events and characters are grim. The atmosphere is anxious. The ending is certainly filled with angst. But that’s not the aftertaste it leaves.

I rooted out The Graduate in college. Third year of medicine, a year dedicated to learning ginormous amounts of information, weighed heavy on my mind.

It was the weekend. Alone, I had nothing to do other than study and the mood dwindled. Somehow The Graduate lifted me out of melancholy.

I reckon it is down to the soundtrack. Amazing.

In an essay filled to the brim with reference to science, a music cognition scientist (yes, that’s a thing), says:

We never just hear music. Our experience of it is saturated in cultural expectations, personal memory and the need to move.

The revelation reminded me of something a friend said. She shocked me with a simple truth: you start having sex long before you enter the bedroom.

So yeah, our perception runs away from reality at the first chance it gets. I am sitting here imagining: in a film about Macbeth, what soundtrack would I choose? And when you think about it like that, you see that music manipulates emotion like nothing else.

Kids: a moral dilemma

I am aware of the nihilistic tendencies of some of my readers and I think they would enjoy reading this essay entitled Kids? Just say no. A professor of philosophy, David Benatar argues the merits of anti-natalism.

My first objection is that this is fundamentally against nature – and there is no winning against her. Evolution. Selfish genes. It’s obvious and I don’t need to explain it. To be fair, the professor recognises this and establishes his argument as applying to a minority of people.

My second objection is that there is always a way out. I don’t necessarily mean the “happy kind”. One of this professor’s readers wrote to him about his very unhappy life and concluded that he was sentenced to suffering by his parents. I think the author of the letter miscalculated what is within his control and what isn’t. He is no longer the helpless child in his mother’s arms. He has choices. While on a human level, my heart goes out to him, on an intellectual level I feel that blaming your parents on your death bed is denying your own sovereignty.

A man I know well, one of the kindest people I ever met, once expressed his views on sperm donation. He was strongly against it and one of his points was “is this world really that wonderful”, which shocked me at the time. Clearly, this point of view is much more common than I originally thought. I am just hearing Freddie Mercury’s whaling: “Mama, ooh, I don’t want to die I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all”.

My third objection is against the author’s assertion that “life is simply much worse than most people think”. This is just a random, unfalsifiable, unsupported thought. Very relatable of course, as we all have our darker moments, but ultimately how is this a reason? The professor argues that optimism bias is a reason, but there are so many counter reasons! Most cognitive distortions drive our estimations of life down, not up. And if his assertion is true, isn’t the answer to be more in touch with reality, especially in terms of what we tell our kids about the world, than to annihilate your genes from the planet?

The author then goes on to say that “life is a state of continual striving”. I vaguely agree, but our interpretations are entirely different. The author seems to believe that anything other than pure bliss is unpleasant. For sure, if you define it this way. His whole essay seems to be based on disillusionment, from a pretty self-centred point of view.

My last objection is as follows. The author argues that we, humans, cause a lot of damage, “every human (who is not a vegetarian or vegan) is, on average, responsible for the death of 27 animals per year.” Is that his definition of damage? Isn’t it a little arrogant to talk this way about humans when it wouldn’t occur for us to say this about, say, lions?

Of course, we all pick our battles and I don’t at all judge people who don’t want kids. The benefit of the professor’s work would have been obvious 200 years ago as it would have clicked some people out of the mindless default mode that one must have kids, no other options, and highlight the wider responsibilities of parenthood. In today’s world, it’s just another ode to nihilism.

On a personal level, I see so many of my friends who have kids and do you know how I feel? I feel that these people jumped off a cliff and survived. The responsibility of it has been painted as being so humongous to educated people that reading Prof Benatar’s essay is just unhelpful to someone like me. I already know.

P. S. I have also been pointed to this blog. It would still your blood.

The unofficially religious

I’ve recently attended a Catholic funeral. At one stage the priest said that the deceased wasn’t really dead. That was the point at which my suspension of disbelief painfully broke down.

I have respect for both religious people and atheists. The likes of Ricky Gervais with their cutting comments aimed at the religious folk are really cutting at people’s refusal to think critically, not their faith.

If it were any other way, there would be no such thing as fanatical atheists.  Or reasonable religious people. Most of all I think that people who claim that they are atheist do have a religion, they just don’t call it a religion.

Some have turned to science. Science has the answers, they say. Not really. Science is all about questions. “But science has proven…” Science has never proven anything. It has only ever said that within this narrow range of values and under these ten unrealistic assumptions, a relationship between two variables doesn’t break down. That’s science.

And don’t get me started on social science. Anyone who has handled data and statistical packages will know how to ask the right questions to get the right answers. That too is called science these days.

Then there is yoga, fitness, self-help, vitamins and mindfulness and all that other stuff that is basically a pagan pantheon in the context of weakened organised religion. Its importance ebbs and flows and whenever it’s not doing well, people find new unofficial deities. These things answer the same need that religion does: what to do when you don’t know what to do.

I’ve yet to meet a person who has the tolerance of uncertainty strong enough to not have a religion, whether it is officially called one or not.

David Foster Wallace comes to mind yet again:

“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

P.S. I am aware that many of my readers aren’t Irish, so for anyone who has even a remote interest in Ireland/ rural life/ religion/ comedy, you need to watch a few Father Ted episodes. Daily Motion seems to have all of them.