A Humanist Perspective on Force and Violence

Here’s something from the past that adds to my views on self defence. I wrote this article back in the ’90s and it was published in the NZ Humanist magazine and got some good reviews. Reading it again now I would probably use less abrasive language, but there were some things going on in my life at the time that coloured my perspective somewhat. I have left it as I wrote it, partially because I’d like the ideas to be challenging, but also because I think my readers would like to see how I’ve changed over time. It’s good to see people can change for the better

I should explain the rude view of pacifists. At the time I ran a group at University called Pagan Revivalists. We would have regular meetings and invite people of related paths to come and tell us about their beliefs and values. Given the extremely diverse nature of the attendees (from Dianic witchcraft to the OTO), the discussion and questions at these meetings could be quite lively. We had a New Age guru of some kind come to address us. He looked like the Euro vision of Jesus and was acceptance, love and pacifism personified. I watched his followers: these women (all were women) threw themselves in the way of any potential challenge like they were all attacks. They wore the stress of their protective vigilance on their faces. They were afraid he would get hurt and loose his inner calm, and that made them aggressive and frantic to protect this precious soul. My thought was that this is the price of culpable innocence: other people have to pay dearly to protect his purity. Without them he has two choices in an unpleasant situation – lose the pacifism or suffer.

I do think peace is ideal. I’m sure most of my readers have heard the saying “fighting for peace is like f*cking for virginity”. If one thought that virginity was valuable, if one person sacrificed that valuable thing so that those who would fornicate in spite of the loss of value could do so without affecting all those who wanted to stay unsullied, then that person has acted to increase the overall amount of good. Utilitarian argument, but still worth thinking about, since a decrease in acts and victims of violence is usually what we try to achieve, when we promote peace.

A Humanist Perspective on Force and Violence

By Anna Cruse

What is the right stance for a Humanist to take on issues of force and violence? Is ANY such behaviour acceptable to our principles? If yes, in what circumstances? Are there times when a Humanist ought to take such a stance – when it is right and good, necessary and sufficient – or is the proper expression of Humanism to be the ultimate pacifist? Should we accept that “human nature” will never be civilized enough to make such resort unnecessary, or is our rejection of such means the only way to stop the use of force and violence in our society? Is the use of force and violence a) always evil b) a necessary evil c) sometimes right, sometimes wrong d) the last resort e) a tool Humanists have to learn to use appropriately?

I should perhaps start with some real life examples of times when people have to make the choice to use or not use force and violence. As you read these examples, think about what you would do.

  1. Two kids get into a fight in the schoolyard, and force is necessary to separate them

  2. A young adult snatches a purse and runs your way

  3. You catch a stranger in your house

  4. Two men get into a fight outside a pub, and if someone doesn’t drag the bigger off the smaller will be badly hurt, probably hospitalized, maybe killed (it only takes one punch to kill, if it lands just so, and this happens by accident too many times)

  5. Two policemen are beating a cowering student

  6. A 42 year old man with the mental capacity of an 8 year old throws a tanty and starts pummelling his 80 year old mother

  7. Your teenager starts pushing you and your partner around

  8. You are surrounded by a gang of youths. It could even include your teenager. You believe that they intend to hurt you

  9. A 14 year old pulls a gun at the highschool

  10. A neighbour wants to run into a burning building to rescue her beloved poodle

  11. The secret police are dragging off a neighbour in the middle of the night

  12. A man is kidnapping his own child. The mother is screaming for help.

  13. You have a friend trapped in one of those brainwash cults. She has not asked you for help

  14. Your 17 year old offspring is about to get into a car with his / her obviously inebriated girl / boyfriend driving

  15. A load of pipes has come loose and is about to roll over someone. You could tackle them out of the way

  16. Someone is about to take a suicide jump. You could stop them

  17. Someone is trapped in a burning car begging to be killed. You have a gun

  18. Your cancer riddled grandma asks you to help her die. You have a pillow

  19. A colleague is about to destroy the evidence of company complicity in an ecological poisoning issue

That’s probably enough. What would a Humanist do? What levels of force and/or violence are right (if any)?

There is an argument that if one wants to stop the use of force and violence in society, then one should never use it oneself. Indeed, if a Humanist believes that the use of force or violence is wrong it would be hypocrisy if they resorted to its use. But some of the examples above, whilst all suggesting levels of force and violence, have been upheld as human rights or responsibilities. That is what Humanism is about, after all.

John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty argues that the only time that a person can legitimately impose their will upon another is in self-defence, and this includes the defence of one’s society (aka the Liberty Principle). But is it self-defence if you throw the first punch? Would you clobber the purse-snatcher, tackle the home invader, or snatch the evidence from the eco-poisoner? I’ve known of people set upon by gangs. Letting them throw the first punch is stupidity bordering on suicide (or is it martyrdom, for pacifists?) The law allows you to defend yourself to the limit necessary to stop the attack, and to make sure it doesn’t restart. Your response is deemed appropriate or not according to your belief about what was necessary at the time. There is no reason why this should be different if the attackers are your children. A law against “reasonable” anything is an unreasonable law, by definition. If teachers can’t use reasonable force, school brawlers can’t be separated.

This doesn’t mean the Law is necessarily right, either. There are several examples above where doing the right thing could easily involve breaking the law.

We are comfortable with the idea of imposing our will on those not capable of making good decisions for themselves (children and the mentally impaired). But what about the 17 year old about to get into a car with a drunk driver. Does it make a difference if they’re not our offspring? What about brainwashed (psychologically dependent) friends? Should neighbours be allowed to throw themselves to their deaths, deliberately or for reasons we don’t accept or understand? And where does suicide become euthanasia? Euthanasia is a hot topic in Humanist discussion. Many argue that active euthanasia can sometimes be the only humane option. Would you be that humane?

There are three hurdles a person has to cross before they act in these circumstances.

  1. They have to know something is wrong. People won’t resist a police state if they believe it to be the way things are supposed to be. Ignorance and naivety can make people think they don’t have to do something. Humanists acting according to the way things “should” be with no regard to how things ARE are guilty of this.

  2. They have to know they can do something. The best way to keep a captive is to make them believe they can’t escape. The subset of people in history who haven’t had a right to defend themselves against another group were called slaves. Take away a person’s choices, and that’s where it leads. People without recourse are the victims to those with no conscience. Those of us who are suitably fit can use force and violence: we have no excuses, here.

  3. They have to choose to act. If we know something is wrong and we can do something about it and we don’t it could be “bystander apathy” (in the case of us watching other people) but I think better words are cowardice, irresponsibility, and laziness. These are not Humanist traits.

I never want to be the kind of Humanist who sits around whining about how bad things are, but never acting to fix it. I don’t want to be so concerned with my own security, social or self-image that I allow myself or others to suffer when I can do something about it, even if it involves force, violence, risk, or legal issues (even for pacifists, who require others to do the dirty work for them, if they’re not to become victims). When the world becomes a perfect place where force and violence are no longer necessary for right ends to come about, I won’t use it. Until then, as a Humanist, I am not going to relinquish that tool.

Anarchy for Beginners

Anarchy: absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal. (Google definition)

I do not use the word anarchy to describe chaos. That’s a different thing.

I am an anarchist. In other words, I am a romantic, a political idealist, and I believe in liberty, as defined in J.S Mill’s On Liberty, when the only time a person has the right to infringe another’s liberty is in their self defence, or the defence of their community, and only then if the interference is not worse than the offence they are trying to stop.

In my idealistic dreams, we have free speech, and we all respect that, because we know that, even if someone says something that is wrong, misleading or offensive, we need to hear it so we can keep alive the proofs, and not rely on unsupported dogma and fashionable ideas to stop the misinformation and rhetoric. When I was about 20 I met someone who claimed he believed the world was flat. All the trite “proofs” I had that it was, in fact, spherical, he countered happily – no doubt he had heard them before. Because I didn’t know how to prove the Earth was spherical, all I had was the insufficient dogma of my education.

This was a defining moment for me. If we care about the truth of something, we have to know that truth for ourselves, and if it is something that someone else would argue against, we had better know their arguments and the answer for them in advance, or how could we discredit their arguments to our own satisfaction? How could we not allow ourselves to be rationally swayed by their more compelling arguments? There’s a big difference between wanting to believe something is true, and knowing it is true. As Michael Freedman used to say: “Believe nothing, question everything. Discover the truth for yourself.” I studied ethics to know what really made an action right or wrong, and I’m employed as a professional sceptic: a test analyst. (If you don’t believe that’s what a tester is, watch their faces when a dev says “it should work like this…”)

Of course, in reality, this is not how free speech works. Humans tend to be:

  • gullible or lazy – we’ll let others tell us how the world works. This is the legacy of a spoon-fed “education”
  • biased, prejudiced, and disinclined to question things we want to believe
  • emotional and easily stirred to irrational responses
  • attuned to sensationalism, self-interest and scaremongering

So anything said could be believed without question or not properly debated in an equal and open forum.

Anarchy is also about freedom of action, with the qualifier above that people can rightly stop you if your actions interfere with their actions enough. No-one has any right to say what you can and can’t do with your adult self past that. I’ll dress how I like, have sex and form relationships with whomever I want (assuming they want to, as well). I will choose what I read or watch. I’ll imbibe what I want and take my own risks, and from there, I will accept the consequences of these actions. These consequences might include the risk of illness or injury, isolating myself from other people, failure and ruin, but if that’s the risk I’m willing to take, it’s my choice to make. There are complications, of course, like if you have dependants, and when exactly someone is considered adult enough to take those risks, but I dare say that by now I might be considered enough in command of my own faculties to make those decisions.

The consequences of enforcing safety through laws and standards is a vicious cycle of a blithely careless population who do not take responsibility for their own injuries, and a more and more restrictive set of laws to protect them from their carelessness, since no-one else wants to be responsible for them, either. These laws are called “patronising”, but I generally call them “matronising”, as they are far more like how mothers treat their children, keeping them anxious, fearful and dependant for as long as possible. Another term I use is “smother love”. You do not show you care by disenfranchising another of their personal responsibility. You instead make them dependent, needy, and define, reinforce and validate their weaknesses.

Once again, in real life this gets complicated. We live in groups with various rules and laws against our personal autonomy, and some ability to hurt us in the enforcement, and about the most choice we have is which groups we allow to tell us what to do, and whether we obey them or not. I choose to subject myself to the laws of NZ, for instance, and because I don’t want to spend time in prison I don’t get caught breaking them. I have a t-shirt that says “No-one rules, if no-one obeys” and that is always an option. Conscientious objectors have existed throughout human history, and paid the price for their disobedience, but they have also been the ones that have brought about change in the rules.

To me, the strongest weapon of the anarchist is not freedom of speech or action, but the freedom to NOT do what someone expects or orders. I recommend reading And Then There Were None by Eric Frank Russell. It changed my life. The anarchist community of the story had an unbeatable weapon: each had a plaque with the words “I won’t” pressed into it. We, in our Western communities at least, are very good at imposing our will on others. We will order, ask or expect people to do things with no right to do so, no contract or agreement, and no thought that they might say “no”, and we commonly take offence, or are at least surprised if they actually refuse. We also commonly don’t even acknowledge when they do comply with our illegitimate requests. We task each other to establish dominance, we take each other for granted all the time, we assume that they will want what we want and do what we want. Our society accepts this pervasive coerciveness as normal, without comment. We expect polite compliance to our impolite impositions. There are several breeds of people who can’t say “no”, all with their own pathology, and these come about because we want to please and be appreciated by others, and to avoid awkwardness and confrontation.

Learning to say “I won’t” was one of the best things I have done for myself. For instance, unless I choose to for my own reasons, I won’t:

  • Take responsibility for another person’s mistakes
  • Tolerate being treated rudely, unfairly, with disregard or contempt
  • Allow myself to be coerced into a decision or action just because someone has acted in a nice or helpful manner to me in the past. This is a biggie: our ideas of reciprocity don’t apparently allow us to choose how we reciprocate, if it’s not negotiated in advance. Nowadays, unless I know someone very well, and can trust they won’t expect me to do something I don’t want to do, I will ask someone if their contribution is a gift, in which case I will accept it as such, with nothing owed, or I will make explicit my intention to pay them and negotiate the terms to nullify the debt
  • Allow myself to be puppetted by or bullied through my emotional tendencies, for example, desire to be accepted, polite or kind, or by my principles, such as honesty, generosity, friendship or integrity. If someone is using these things to get me to do something that I don’t want to do I will drop it, and pick it up again later, when it’s not longer poisonous. We only keep these things for our self respect, and if they cost our self respect to keep, they are no longer useful. A simple example is when the sleazy Uncle wants to give you a friendly shoulder massage. Are you polite, or do you say no?

Anarchists can have leaders, but they don’t have rulers. We can accept that someone is an authority on some topic, but deny that it gives them authority over us. We choose to cooperate because it is in our own best interests, as social creatures, but we don’t have to. Anarchists should not give orders where they have no right to do so, or dictate how a person should live. They should say “please” when they make a request, and “thank you” after, to show it is a request, and they should accept “no” to a request with no displeasure. They should not coerce, impose or assume compliance. I like being an anarchist – it makes me both free, and a better person to other people.

Martial Arts and Self Defence

I have done martial arts of one form or another since about 1981, with only short breaks for having children and moving between styles. My current love is Systema – Russian style close quarter combat – which I’ve done for about 4.5 years. I taught people to fight with broadswords and other Medieval weapons for years. I’ve trained and patrolled with the Guardian Angels (in NZ, which is pretty mild) and taught self defence classes to people of a wide range of ages and mixed abilities. I’ve only had to defend myself for real twice  (people in their right mind usually choose not to fight me), and I’ve got into a few tense situations, but I know I am a capable combatant.

Martial arts is a big part of who I am, and I’m really glad I fell into it. When people ask me why I started, I say that I can’t run for sh*t, so I knew if it came to fight or flight I was stuffed, unless I learnt to fight. I really am a terrible runner: people can run backwards faster than I run forwards. I have proved this on the battlefield, trying to chase down people with spears… Anyway, how it really happened is even less likely. I was the fat kid in school. I hated PE (Physical Education). I hated wearing shorts and t-shirts next to the slim and pretty girls, being picked last, being unable to catch a ball, and the competition. Being a clever negotiator I arranged to usually take that time doing clarinet lessons instead. At the end of the school year the junior classes would do a week of different elective interests while the seniors did exams. Being disorganised I failed to get my preferred electives and instead got Variety Sports. Me! To say I was disappointed would be the understatement of the year, but it actually wasn’t too bad, except for the squash, which I still recall with a shudder. Boating I was as bad as the rest, archery and shooting I quite liked, and then there was AiKiDo. I was good at that, and I wanted to do it more.

I learned to use my body – it really hurt the first few weeks. My muscles got so sore. I learnt personal discipline – I had to keep going, or else, when I got back to it, it would hurt again. I learned to deal with pain – I actually had a good pain tolerance. I gained endurance, strength, self respect, self confidence and friends. I remember at a school PE class, learning gymnastics, doing a breakfall instead of a forward roll and being scolded. A good example of bad teaching. I still can’t forward roll; I still can breakfall, on concrete, at high speed.

When I came to Auckland to go to University the AiKiDo dojo just wasn’t the same. In Levin our teacher was a large NZ Euro cop with a laid back attitude and an appreciation for fun. The Uni dojo was far more Japanese in the concept of discipline, and everyone took themselves far too seriously. Around that time a friend turned up at uni with a bandaged finger. I asked him what happened and he said it had been hit with a sword. I said “Fencing?”. He said “Nope, Medieval broadsword.” As a person into fantasy roleplaying, I said “Cool! I want to try!” And got my finger mashed the first time I went, too. After that I learnt to swordfight with my left hand, so I could still write lecture notes.

I prefer the Western martial arts style of teaching. The idea is to make you a competent combatant in as short as time as possible, using little to no standard forms (since people aren’t made to one size, shape and skill set), and then take the time to fine-tune your abilities, to make you kick-ass against anyone. Your teachers earn your respect, by being demonstrably competent at fighting and teaching. It’s not highly stratified – you know when you spar against someone if you’re better of not, though some teachers do some gradings. We make jokes, gently prank people and laugh during training. Proponents of Eastern traditions would say we have no discipline, but our discipline is personal: turning up, getting our hits, and  sticking to the task at hand. The Eastern style is to demand your respect, enforce behaviour, condition your responses, grade according to a schedule and withhold the kick-ass until you have invested large chunks of your life and money into the art – the time when they think you won’t want to believe you made a bad choice, after all. Most Eastern martial arts don’t introduce you to weapons until you’re quite experienced – brown or black belt – and even then they are presented as almost sacred objects. A knife is a king-maker! Whatever. Hit the b*stard with a chair.

A Systema seminar teacher I had put it quite well. He described how he was quite good at some other art (unspecified), at high competition level, and then discovered Systema, and trained in that as well. He said his original instructors rebuked him: “Remember your priorities!” He replied “As a martial artist, my first priority is to myself!”

Something to remember about all martial arts: training is a lie. Unless people are being regularly carted out on stretchers it is not real combat, and no civilised government would allow such a fight club to legally exist. There are rules or constraints in place which mean you can engage in simulated violence with another person and not commonly get injured. There are only so many real injuries you can take before you cannot safely fight or train any more – take punch-drunk boxers, for example. Also, if your martial art has rules about how or where you can hit, and/or will only put you up against someone of the same weight, then it is a sport. It may help you in your defence, but the first time you fight someone who outweighs you by 20+kg you had better be very good, and know how to break the rules.

I’m not interested in competitions: I don’t like how people will push the limits of the rules you have both accepted to ensure your safety in their efforts to win. I train to defend myself, my community, and complete strangers against people who would do them harm. This is more than just physical harm. People also need protection against things like frauds, emotional manipulation and abuse, cybercrimes, and exploitation. Being aware of these things is as much as I can do, commonly, but I try to be informed, and use that to inform others of risk and options. If you know someone is informed and they choose to put themselves at risk anyway you have to accept that that is their right, as an adult, and stand by with the emergency services on speed dial.

Most people will accept, as paraphrased from J.S.Mill’s Liberty Principle (On Liberty), that one can act in their own defence, and the defence of others, so long as that action does not do more damage than the original offence itself. For example, one could punch a would-be mugger in the nose, but not someone who shop-lifts an apple. But many don’t understand what it means if you can’t defend yourself. The first result of this is that where there are potential victims one finds predators. If people don’t know what a threat looks like, and how to avoid or neutralise that threat, they are perfect targets. This is why, for example, young Asian ladies get their purses snatched: they carry lots of cash, they’re too small and timid to put up a fight, and they yell for help in the wrong language. It’s the fastest growing crime on Auckland streets, and people have died as a result. Predators don’t do so well when people know how to deal with them.

Most people would hope that there would be someone out there who will help them, if things go bad. Isn’t that what the Police are for? Unfortunately, the Police are seldom there at the time of the attack – they are usually left with trying to catch the attacker after the fact. And, unless you have some contract with a person (like we do with the Police) you do not have the right to expect other people to save you, and this is why:

  1. When a person steps in to defend you they put themselves at risk: people die in combat, and not all would-be defenders have any reason to believe that they can handle the situation. They just thoughtlessly react. There have been several cases in Auckland where a defender has died or gotten seriously injured trying to save someone. These people had young families, who suffered as a result. The one they defended would probably feel worse about the incident for what happened to their would-be protector, and the one attacking progresses from, in one example, a purse-snatcher to nearly manslaughter with a single push.
  2. Defenders don’t have a cut-and-dried case of self-defence, especially when they step in for another. The attacker could be seriously hurt or killed (this happens, in combat), and the then the defender will have to prove to society that they are not a dangerous, out-of-control offender themselves. Defenders are often enough arrested, charged and have to go through an expensive legal process for their defence of another.
  3. Defenders, if they are successful, also have to live with what they have done. For most normal people, hurting others is not a nice thing.
  4. Defenders can’t always rely on the “victim” to stand in their legal defence. In fact, in the case of defending someone against a “domestic” attack, the “victim” will sometimes even attack the defender themselves, because of their attachment to the attacker. Even if they don’t attack, if it happens within their own community they usually have to continue to live with the attacker’s friends, family and maybe even the attacker themselves, and if they stand as a witness against the attacker this could be very problematic. Defenders are often enough incarcerated for their defence of another without the person they defended lifting a finger to stop it, or worse, having the “victim” testify against them.

This is why I argue that learning self defence is not just a right: it’s a duty, so people do not need to take these risks for another. One does not have to be kick-ass. One just has to be aware of potential threats, and know what to do or how to get the help they need to neutralise that threat. Some examples:

  • The threat might just be ignorance. Get informed about the risks you take
  • There is a dark alley on your way home, known to be a mugging hotspot. Don’t walk down it. If you have to walk down it, don’t wear your headphones, for a start…
  • Someone has their purse stolen in front of you, and the attacker looks tougher than you. Take a picture or video on your phone and call the cops. Purses are not worth anyone’s life! (Learn to take pictures on your phone without being obvious – they can be VERY useful)
  • Take photos of everyone who turns up for a party, “for the memory”. People behave better when they can be identified
  • Learn about your help options: Women’s Refuge, Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Neighbourhood Watch, immigrant help groups, friends and family…

I hope I will always have the courage to defend when I can, and the wisdom to know when I can’t, and I’ll take the risks I listed above to save a life (not a purse), but I hope this argument convinces you that you should also take some responsibility for yourself: you learn what your threats are, and how you can avoid becoming a “victim” to them, for my sake.

Why I Love Couchsurfing

What is couchsurfing, you might ask? It is when someone who doesn’t usually live with you sleeps on your couch, usually for free. This can be formalised, using a website where you can arrange to surf the couches of people in other cities and countries, for free: www.couchsurfing.com. The idea of this usually freaks people out, at first. What if the surfer or host is a psycho? What if they steal your stuff? There is a reference system, whereby people can say if a surfer or host is good or not. It’s not fool-proof but it helps. There is also the argument that a person is not going to travel halfway around the world to steal your TV. The thing that really keeps people safe is that most people in the world are not bad people! I think we forget that, after being bombarded with constant media scaremongering.

Anyway, I have hosted something like 900 surfers (I don’t count), and I’m not dead yet. I’ve lost some small stuff, but I don’t know if that’s carelessness, surfers, flatmates, drinking buddies or the cat. There are occasional surfers who don’t fit in so well, but they’re gone usually within 4 days, and the next awesome surfer helps you forget. I have never left a negative reference.

But this story is not about the dud surfers – it’s about the awesome ones. The ones that have changed my life, and the way I think about things, and given me memories and stories that will last a lifetime, even though I commonly forget their names and faces as soon as they leave the house 🙂

Couchsurfing is almost impossible to fail. To do couchsurfing, you have to be:

  • Honest, else you will get a negative reference for stealing, and no longer be part of the community
  • Brave – more so for surfers, who approach a stranger and ask for a couch, then come into my territory, where I have all the benefits of familiarity, assets and support structures (and, in my house, actual weapons and combat training) and trust that I’m not going to use it against them
  • Generous – more so for hosts, as there are always some small costs of utilities and consumables like toilet paper. We don’t have to feed the surfers, but sometimes we will share anyway. Surfers are expected to share some time with their hosts, and though they don’t have to they will commonly enough cook meals to share or leave small gifts or help around the house
  • Social – you have to be, to want to share time and stories together, to get to know each other and enjoy the variety of people you will meet.

And when you have all these excellent qualities of humanity, and add to that the excitement of meeting a new person, where you put on your best face (this is not a manipulation, it’s just how people are – we want people to like us) and share the things and people you love, you get to experience humanity at it’s best so often you don’t want to miss an opportunity to meet another.

Back in Jan 2008 I was rather detached from my world. I had just had to move from my apartment, my long term relationship was on it’s last legs, my kids were in their teens, gaining their independence of me, I had lost my passion for medieval re-enactment and was only just starting in circus, and my job was boring. I realised I could drop it all and travel. Thinking that I would never be rich, I thought I’d aim for a point somewhere around Turkey and walk out in a spiral, sleeping under bridges, since 20 year olds can do it, and I’m tougher than that. That’s when I remembered seeing something about couchsurfing, and I looked up the website. I was instantly hooked – what an amazing and perfect way to travel! I asked the Ruski if we could host, and he accepted (I don’t think he even checked anything I sent him). We both still remember our first surfer: a professional beat-boxer from California, who did a private performance for us and our friends in my living room. He’s still in touch, when he comes to NZ. We have hosted ever since.

Couchsurfers saved me. When I finally told the boyfriend to move all his stuff out they gave me the distraction and reason I needed to not become distressed or lonely. I moved on quickly with my multiple instant interesting light friends. They are mostly light, unless they stick around for a while (some have, and become closer friends), but that’s OK. It’s nice to see a friendly face at such times. I know there are many people in the world who couchsurf so they have company and companionship. Everyone wins.

I have so many stories involving couchsurfers! I’ll follow up this intro blog with philosophy, funnies, ideas and inspirations all of the category “things I have learnt from couchsurfers”.

Have a look at this related post https://anacrusisblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/life-is-a-journey-not-a-competition/ – I got my appreciation for the difference between travellers and tourists from couchsurfers. Some come tearing into a country with 2-3 weeks to tick off a list of must sees and must dos, stay in hostels or hotels with people who speak the same language as themselves, jump on a bus with a bunch of other tourists, spend the time with a camera in front of their face separate and protected from the threats and challenges of unfamiliarity and uncertainty. My parents travel like this. My Dad doesn’t like Russia because his pocket was picked in St Petersburg.

Some enter a country with the idea of meeting the people who live there, staying for an extended time and commonly getting a job and homebase to explore from so they can really get an appreciation for what it is like to be a part of this community. They deliberately put themselves into situations where they are not in full control, and do not have familiarity, taking side trips following promising signs, staying or travelling with people of different cultures and languages, trying things (activities, foods, challenges) that have not previously been vetted by a professional guide. They may see the tourist spots, but they commonly find the best moments are when they let the locals share what they like about their home. These are travellers, and they understand the journey is about quality, not quantity. I have met some amazing travellers through couchsurfing.

Life is a Journey, Not a Competition

I started writing this as a Facebook post, but it turned into an article, so rather than wasting it, these are my initial thoughts…

Be a traveller, not a tourist, on your journey:

  • Try to carry your own baggage: people may offer to lighten the load, but it’s a gift to you, not a right. Other people are not your servants, even if they serve. Better to leave some of the baggage behind so you don’t need help.
  • Experience what you’re going through, don’t just dream of the destination, don’t just take selfies to show off to others.
  • Remember that everyone else is on a journey, too. They are not just the quaint locals that provide atmosphere for your story. You are as much an encounter for them as they are for you. What will they take away from the encounter? Are you a predator, a parasite or a symbiote?
  • No-one owes you a living, or special treatment. You are not superior or untouchable. No-one is going to give you a prize at the end – what you take from life is your reward. Do you have love, happiness, self-respect?
  • Thank the people that help you.

I’ll write more about what I’ve learnt from couchsurfers soon – watch for the category

Inconsistencies , Hypocrisy and Change

via Society of the Guardians – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

I was looking at this site to see if I could find links to the articles of the Magic Pentacle, which were produced before the internet. No luck, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that I wrote the article described below 🙂 I’ll just say here that Michael Freedman was a wonderful, intelligent, generous, free-thinking friend, who is missed, 19 years after his death.

The article came about because, at the time, I co-ordinated a group called Pagan Revivalists at the University of Auckland. We hosted a small Pagan gathering out at Awhitu, with people from various paths giving talks and workshops of Pagan interest. I gave a talk about what makes someone a Pagan. It can be quite hard to define. I argued that, in the end, if you call yourself a Pagan you probably are. The discussion then drifted to other topics, including Satanists. I said that some Satanists say they follow Pagan paths, but I thought they were mistaken. Someone who had been paying attention then piped up: “Isn’t that inconsistent? You say a Pagan is someone who says they are a Pagan, but deny Satanists who say they’re Pagans?”

He was completely correct, which I admitted at the time, and said I had to think about it. After we got home I wrote an article for the Magic Pentacle titled Inconsistencies. I don’t remember my focus, but I do remember admitting my mistake, and arguing that Satanists that called themselves Pagans probably are, after all. Nowadays I wear a two-points-up pentacle myself, for a variety of reasons (but not that I am a Satanist). I do not like to be inconsistent in my beliefs. It shows dogma, failure in cognition, possibly due to bias, it’s illogical and commonly irrational, and, if defended, shows personal cowardice or laziness.

These are strong words to use for a minor inconsistency in ones opinion, but consider this: the reason why it is hard for a person to change their beliefs, and the behaviour that comes from that belief, is because we invest pride, self-worth, integrity in the rightness of our actions. If we admit that a personal belief is wrong, we have to admit that all the behaviour that originated from that belief could have been wrong, too. Imagine we were raised to believe a certain group of people are inferior. We will treat them as inferior usually from childhood. By the time we are young adults we are trying to convince other people around us of the rightness of our personal beliefs. If we admit now that we’re wrong, we have to admit that we’ve probably been treating others unfairly all our lives, and that people would have suffered for this. Imagine that realisation comes 10 years later, when we’ve been instilling the idea into our children, or in middle age… It’s far easier to say you’re too old to change than to face the certain knowledge that you have not been the paragon of virtue you thought you were.

So it takes courage to admit your mistake, a willingness to both accept your investments in self-worth through that belief were bad investments, and need to be stopped, and that you will change your behaviour from there. This is not easy – some beliefs are hard-wired through culture and community. They may always return when the guard is down. You may also need to think about reparations, to recover your self-esteem, however they can be given to people you injured.

And then there is a social stigma of being labelled hypocritical: “You used to say that, but now you do this”. In a world of permanent record, anything you publicly say or write can be taken as your defining moment, and any deviation from that is suspect. This may seem a significantly unfair criteria, but I hear it all the time in political news, liberal and conservative, and it is commonly used in communities. From Wikipedia: “Hypocrisy is the claim or pretence of holding beliefs, standards, behaviours, or virtues that one does not truly hold.” Deciding that someone is hypocritical is all about making a subjective judgement in our own favour: someone claims to have some standard that we judge to be noble or ideal (not everyone would) and then they act in a way that we judge someone with that standard would not. Calling someone a hypocrite is just a way of saying you are upset that they no longer seem to support your personal world view. We don’t call them hypocrites if they hold a belief we don’t consider noble, then act in a way we like. We hope, then, that they are changing.

We should recognise that everyone around us, including our public figures, can change, without necessarily being inconsistent or hypocritical. If someone seems incapable of change I would personally be very suspicious – does this person believe they know everything? Do they not challenge themselves to learn new things about the world, which would affect how they respond to it? Are they so dogmatic that no new ideas can seep through? Or are they just acting the part they think others want them to play? How can such a person help make the changes the world needs for us all to escape poverty, or stop global warming, or deal with any new threats, if they always act in the same way? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result (attributed to Einstein, but probably not him). When I was challenged about being inconsistent after making some fundamental belief changes I replied that I will always, consistently, change myself if I come to believe that I can be a better person with that change. That is something that can be relied on. We should hope that our public figures can also be so responsive to the changing world.