Coffee Shop Sermon (Perceptions)
Recommended listening: Dmitri Shostakovich
We all create a universe every day that is highly personal and shared to different degrees. Our perceptions create the world we inhabit and influence the world of others. Why do we have generally accepted theories for most things, but kill or legislate against our fellow pack animals for other things, like the freedom to have no gender? Let's have an ill-informed debate!
How we perceive the world around us is a fascinating topic and is being thrown into a new focus by the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI)- as we train Large Language Models based on an internet full of different viewpoints, how does the AI decide what is appropriate, and what is complete and utter bullshit? Say a delusional billionaire, with their head wedged near their colon, was to develop an AI based on their view of what was or was not accurate information. That billionaire then made it their mission to stifle the development of all other competing models, so they were the go-to controller of AI which then became the basis for how we worked, educated and entertained ourselves? Don't know about you, but that paragraph just made me shudder. Unleashing a zero-shot model linked to the internet could be equally...interesting. Good grief.
The internet is a powerful, fascinating and terrifying tool. Let's ignore the dark net (and I hope you, dear reader, do exactly that) and focus on the 'light' side which is, quite honestly, bat-shit crazy enough to be going on with. You can find arguments ranging from asserting the Earth is flat to believing Paul McCartney was decapitated in a car accident in 1966 (the Beatles covered it up with a look/soundalike, by the way), and it has never been easier to question each other's reality and the theories we have taken for granted for so long. Far from being lone shouters at clouds, anyone can claim to have undergone a revelation and find enough people round the world to support their lightning-rod moment. If that cloud-shouter is clever enough, they can take that support, run with it and soon have a compound/online organisation chock-full of paying members/believers. The cult of personality has never been in a stronger position, from the humble Twitch streamer right up to the rancid, pussy-grabbing ex-POTUS.
As I started to write this, I got distracted, listening to an anxious member of a Christian organisation receiving legal advice around the equalities act in Scotland. The person giving their advice on the act was genuinely citing the devil within that conversation, which momentarily turned me into the blinking, wtf meme. To me, this kind of talk is limited to Netflix documentaries, not a Friday afternoon in my local coffee shop, but that's me selectively forgetting the knife-edge Scotland balances on between being socially progressive and rabidly Presbyterian. All human history and, therefore, progress is a sine wave and I worry about where we are on the curve between liberalism and authoritarianism. I will always fight for the right for anyone to believe in a religion - whatever gets you from cradle to fertiliser is your own business - but anything beyond what is proven through scientific method has no business in shaping education or the running of states. We are all, however, entitled to our harmless hobbies.
Which leads me to what they seemed mostly concerned about, other than briefly discussing whether someone who states they are of the Jedi faith can be refused use of Church property - I kid you not - which was sexuality. Ohhhhh my goodness. Don't followers of mythical, non-corporeal, occasionally-alien-but-mostly-bearded-blokes-from-over-2000-years-ago like to get their proverbial (and sometimes actual) knickers in a twist over whose undercracker contents we take an interest in! Their conversation often involved the word 'homosexuality' being spoken in that hushed "don't let the kids hear you say fuck" kind of way that made me laugh and scream internally at the same time. It got me thinking about what lies in wait for the current generation and that sine wave progression.
The UK is the only country in the world, alongside Iran, that guarantees unelected positions for clerics within government. In the case of the UK Parliament, that is twenty-six bishops of the Church of England who automatically sit in the House of Lords, known as the Lords Spiritual. They have the same rights and privileges as other members of the House of Lords, including the right to vote on legislation. However, they cannot introduce their own bills or amendments. The automatic access to power within the state for religion is a curious and potentially dangerous historical hangover from the transition of power over people from Church to Monarch. Although the devolved Scottish parliament doesn't have the same setup, it is subservient to the UK Parliament in many important ways (as demonstrated by the current refusal to grant another Independence referendum despite the re-election of another Independence backing Scottish parliament) and came perilously close to having a devout First Minister. The recent run-off for leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland (sparked by the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon) included Kate Forbes, a member of the evangelical Calvinist Free Church of Scotland , whose religious views seem curiously incompatible with the modern laws of Scotland, opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. You could argue that a position of power does not exist in a vaccum, with plenty of competing opinions and governmental positions to stop any wild changes in moral and social direction but I would argue recent populism in the UK with the likes of Boris Johnson are possibly just the start of their ludicrous push into the mainstream - the bedding in of the weeds of their ideology, ready to emerge through any societal stress fracture.
I agree with the current generation who appear increasingly ambivalent about the aspirations and concepts around living your life that were the bedrock of my and previous generations. My first-born could not be less bothered about learning to drive or cars inn general, my second-born couldn't give two hoots about procreation and while these are both points of view that can easily change over time, it's quite different from the main drivers of many of my generation. Another view that is markedly different is gender recognition - the rise of non-binary and gender-fluid awareness in younger generations means there is an increasing rejection of the status-quo on gender definition. While the concept of 'non-binary' is very wide (and historically present in many cultures as a matter of fact), in the west it's twenty-first century resurgence is delightful in its disruption and expression.
Admittedly I need to constantly re-read the differences between gender and sex when studying the different identities covered by the 'non-binary' umbrella but my most basic position is that I whole-heartedly embrace the rejection of the male and female pronouns, the placing of people into pink and blue boxes or dictating what clothes you are expected to wear in 'polite' society based on what congregation of cells and flesh you have as the bonnet and engine of your reproductive space. I will happily give my pronouns as 'He/They' in solidarity with those who are younger and much more challenged with being who they want to be and because I genuinely believe the allocation of 'mr' 'master' 'miss' 'mrs' 'madam' 'ms' to people is a complete fucking nonsense (interesting how those of the female sex are branded with so many different titles based on their 'availability' to men.. *boak*) but everything in life is stacked against you if you try to apply for anything without one. Even as a non-binary person, you need to be branded as Mx, it's enraging. Hopefully one day, having a name will be enough.
This doesn't mean I am insensitive to the debate around shared spaces and the fears (genuine and unfounded) that those of both sexes have around encroachment into spaces ring-fenced for those of the same biological sex. At one end of the spectrum you have sport that at recreational and competitive levels is based on biological sex for social and genetic reasons respectively. At the other end of the spectrum you have single sex prisons where, we are led to believe, the introduction of biologically male transgender rapists into a biologically female only prison is akin to throwing a starving lion into a coliseum full of Christians - the Isla Bryson case is a touchstone for frothing, swivel-eyed conservatives to rail against anyone that deviates from the gender norm. Ignore the fact that the person is a bad bastard - let's legislate against everyone as if they are bad people too and, while we are at it, encourage and enable people to beat up and abuse anyone for being 'different' to legitimise and support our lazy legislation. There are undoubtedly some people that want to have spaces where they only associate with those of the same biological sex, though I struggle to understand why other than, perhaps, due to their own insecurity or desire to be misogynistic in safety, or, conversely, safe from daily misogyny. The requirements for both need to be dismantled and perhaps, in the future, the need to separate sport along gender lines will disappear too - keep believing!
I would assert that the lazy spiral down into legislating against extreme minority harm rather than for the well-meaning majority is a product of our always-on, inter-connected world. When we, as pack animals, have a default tendency to follow strong leaders, particularly in times of stress, the stressful, click-bait maelstrom currently only appears to have ability to get stronger as generational dependency on social media increases. With opinion, factuals, counter-factuals and beautifully created bullshit generated at astnoishing rates, it's litle wonder legislation and political policy is generated to appeal to the loudest, most clicked outcry that threatens a party political future. Perhaps the argument here is that more moderates need to be engaged in social media and weathering the abuse, bots and trolls to balance it all out? I am not sure what the answer is and find it hard to put that argument when I am consciously uncoupling myself from many aspects of social media. Playing to the crowd, being ruled by the baying mob, flattering ton deceive - these phrases have emerged through our pack-animal human history but the communication age we are now living in is taking this behaviour to a new level, with wide-ranging consequences.
Which brings us back to those Christians, discussing the Equality Act and how they can operate in such a way as to discriminate against those who do not fit within their narrow view of how people should 'be' in the world, without the inconvenience of disobeying the law of the land. My fear for the younger generation, and those that follow, is that they have become so obsessed and distracted by outrages all over the world against 'their tribe' that they are failing to pay attention to the creeping swing of the pendulum in the UK. My youngest was railing (rightly) against De Santis and the horrific fiefdom he is creating in Florida. Thanks to their addiction to TikTok, they are well versed on injustices around the world, but have little knowledge of the quiet re-emergence of the religious right as a political force in the UK. Despite what the Daily (hate) Mail might tell you, it's never been more important to be woke in the UK. As a famous poet once said, You gotta fight, for your right, to non-biiinnaarryyy.