NZ Election: Repeal HSW, Revive ACC

Our country and people benefit from our fearless active and adventurous nature. As examples, we invented flying before the Wright brothers, we invented bungy jumping, a Kiwi scaled Mt Everest, the All Blacks are the greatest rugby team on Earth, and our country income and image thrives on adventure tourism. We cycle, hike, hunt, climb, play silly games, swim, explore, DIY, dance and consequently combat issues such as a greater risk of obesity and other such diseases, CO2 emissions, and institutionalised helplessness. Kiwis have always been, are, and should be brave, active, mobile, inventive, and adventurous by nature.

This is all at risk. There are two parts to this story: ACC and the Health and Safety in the Workplace Act.

ACC is (literally) a brilliant idea. Rather than having to find someone to blame and sue to cover expensive medical bills, Kiwis and visitors to NZ can live their lives and have adventures and know that the government will get them back onto their feet and into life again (as much as possible) if they get hurt in an accident. No-one wants to get injured – we don’t go out looking for it – but accidents can happen when you get off your couch, and even sometimes when you don’t, and facing your fears to accomplish something awesome is easier when it does not include both the fear of personal pain and injury and crippling financial debt that could drag down your community as well.

It all comes down to who is going to take responsibility for someone’s injury and rehab costs. If you can’t work because of an injury you can’t make the money you need to pay for it, so you have to look for someone else to foot the bill. If the government isn’t going to do it, people then have to think about who will? Insurance has exclusions for physical or perceived risky pursuits: it is not in their interest to pay out for a possible injury in an activity that has a certain level of risk. While they might pay out if someone drives into you, they most certainly would not be covering you for stock-car racing, unless you pay stupid amounts of premiums.

That leaves litigation. The consequence of America’s system is that people will not give someone CPR when they need it, because if they cause any injury (eg like a broken rib, which can happen) they fear they will be sued for the medical costs. This is a reasonable fear: given the costs of medicine in the US (because doctors have to pay so much in personal liability insurance, because they get sued too), there’s a good chance the injured party will need to find someone to blame to avoid financial disaster. Instead, you could be bankrupted just for trying to save someone’s life. If you have people who rely on your money (eg your family) you would be risking their future for a stranger. Not a good incentive to help, and even less incentive for supplying a product or service that can in any way damage someone (eg a hot coffee http://www.stellaawards.com/) without a comprehensive series of warnings and legal waivers. Blame and fear tears America apart. I think you will agree with me that we don’t want this in NZ.

In my (educated) opinion, ACC has more impact on the Kiwi culture than any other government service (eg education, health and police), and this is why I am so surprised that ACC policy doesn’t even get a mention in most parties’ policies. I decide who to vote for based on their attitude to ACC. The government doesn’t really want the cost, but the alternative, allowing people to sue for personal injury like the Americans do, is far worse. How much is the brave community of NZ worth?

We don’t have the right to sue for our medical costs in NZ: we traded-off the right to have ACC. This means that ACC had better cover accidental injuries comprehensively because we commonly have no further recourse. But instead I see ACC being undermined and no rights to sue being re-introduced.

  • Businesses and sports are being levied according to their risk, which is a disincentive to start a business in anything adventurous. If ACC is a government department, created for the good of the country, paid for by taxes, and enjoyed by all equally, why are some ventures penalised by higher costs? Sure, they might have more injuries, but do we imagine they want these injuries, or get them from being more careless or stupid than people in low risk occupations? Do we imagine that we’d be better off without these occupations? Wouldn’t they already be paying more to attract employees? Wouldn’t the levy be better spent to minimise those injury risks?
  • People are now being denied ACC help when the injuries can be blamed on age and existing conditions. While it may be true that a broken limb or spinal injury might not have happened if the person was younger, or hadn’t had a similar injury in the past, or wear-and-tear, it doesn’t change the fact that the injury would not have happened except for the accident. People are living with injuries and costs from accidents because ACC is judging their claims like a commercial insurance provider, where it is in their interest to not pay out. It is not in the countries’ best interest, however. Do we really want to dis-incentivise older and previously injured people from getting off the couch and into life? Are they really that worthless to NZ?

And then the Pike River disaster happened. Somehow the people who ran the mine were not criminally negligent or otherwise legally responsible, and yet NZ (rightly or wrongly) thought they should be, for justice to be properly served. The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 was passed to law, and WorkSafe Crown Agency created to interpret the requirements to everyday life. The gist of it is, the ‘person conducting a business or an undertaking’ (PCBU) can be held criminally liable if someone is killed or injured whilst participating in the undertaking.

The law and it’s (WorkSafe and layperson) interpretation is having a serious effect on NZ culture. Here is a list of things I have been told about, as someone who does adventure activities:

  1. A kite-boarding teacher shutting up shop because, while they taught safety and had a definite positive motivation for ensuring the safety of the students, they didn’t want to be responsible for the people who didn’t learn fast enough to avoid injury. I’m sure there will be many more such stories. As above, when choosing to help a stranger, why would you do it when there is a risk they could get damaged and destroy your life? There’s a good chance that they were doing enough to satisfy WorkSafe, in the event of an injury, but many people don’t have the time, financial or cognitive resources to study and understand how the new law applies to them specifically, even if they had the inclination. It’s one thing to be willing to patch someone up as a part of your small busy business, and quite another to commit to understanding such heavy legislation and all the implications, and get all the requisite bureaucratic documentation together whenever it’s required.
  2. Schools closing playgrounds and cancelling school camping trips, to protect teachers and supervisors from the legal consequences of a kid hurting themselves. Cotton-wool parenting (Google it – too many studies to list) doesn’t work. If kids don’t have the opportunity to hurt themselves in childhood, they get to their teen lives thinking they can’t be hurt. They also lack physical literacy and resilience, self-confidence and independence, risk assessment skills and good responsible decision making, and opportunities to learn, grow, and earn the trust and respect of their family and peers.
  3. PCBU’s being so freaked out by the Damocles’ Sword of criminal liability they refuse to let risk-based performers do their job… I’ve heard of circus performers being told they cannot do a number of their acts, because of the risk (the risk is what makes it an act!) and in one case a pair of stilt walkers forced to walk half a kilometre around a water feature because the organisers did not want the risk of them walking across a bridge (as if falling off stilts elsewhere is safer). The vast majority of professional circus performers know the risks, and do what they need to to mitigate the risks themselves. Having ignorant PCBU’s dictating or (worse) helping with the safety measures just adds complexity and unknowns to something that is already tricky.
  4. Home businesses having to write up risk assessments and mitigation plans for employees that come to their home – common sense is no longer enough. It is also apparently not enough that the people you are responsible for just sign a waiver – you have to be able to demonstrate that they have been informed of and understand the risks they face and the mitigation of which they need to be aware. We’re holding the bubble-wrap on with rolls of red tape.

We should also keep in mind that there is a theory that adults, when they have reason to believe they can’t be hurt, act with less care and personal responsibility to themselves and others. Legislation that allows people to believe that, in order to protect themselves from legal consequences, a PCBU will have made the activity safe for participants will almost certainly result in the participant taking less care themselves, putting themselves, others, and the PCBU at more risk.

The law was never meant to do this! It was written to ensure that the people behind an incident like Pike River can be made accountable. It was not made to add the fear of explicit legal responsibility for other people onto our shared adventures. It was not meant to undermine the value and liberty we get from ACC by finding someone to blame for our accidents, or cost so much, because while it might incidentally reduce the annual costs to ACC, it will cost businesses around NZ real money in legal and bureaucratic fees and time. It is not supposed to cause conflict between a risk expert voluntarily accepting risk and “reasonably practicable” mitigation and a layperson’s involuntary exposure and perception bias. It is, whether it was meant to or not, destroying undertakings that represent our way of life, heritage and culture.

I will be repealing this law, for the sake of NZ, to enable us all to take responsibility for ourselves on our adventures, and believe in our government safety nets, and bring back our culture of brave, adventurous, fun-loving and caring Kiwis. It would be great if you want to help.

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Are we making a mistake with EQ?

Compare these two perspectives:

Adam Grant Ted Talk about givers and takers and Travis Bradberry on Emotional Intelligence 

Does high EQ correlate to a giving personality or an agreeable personality? Are those with high EQ all team players, supportive and able to act in enlightened self-interest? If there is a correlation with givers, is there the same correlation of success and failure as shown in the Ted Talk? If there is more correlation with agreeableness I think we need to rethink this.

EQ is a trending topic, but I’m finding myself getting sceptical of how it is perceived and promoted:

  1. All the arguments made in the Linkedin article are for personal gain
  2. 90% of “top performers” have high EQ – to me that means they get promoted or good pay because they’re good at personal emotional control and person management skills eg networking, and convincing people to like and support them.
  3. As a woman in a male-dominated profession (tech) I find that observation painful on two levels:
    1. so much for equal pay for equal skill, and
    2. women are commonly expected to do the social roles in corporate jobs, because it is understood that we soft-heartedly look after others, and exist to make other people’s lives easier. We then we get “mum-zoned” and forgotten about. Women in top positions commonly don’t embody that feminine care characteristic, so they will get some respect, and they are trusted less as a result. What does EQ look like in that contradiction? People with high EQ show compassion and are trustworthy, but women in top positions are not trusted, and women who show compassion get side-lined.
  4. If 90% of “top performers” have high EQ, and 21% of senior professionals [are] psychopaths (from admittedly only one study) how does that work out?

EQ looks more and more like the skills of clever emotional and social manipulation, which is very different from a personality of a giver. One doesn’t have to be sociopathic to exhibit these traits, but a lot of sociopaths can and do.

I wonder what EQ looks like in armed forces top brass, or Fortune 500 businesses? These organisations tend to be more goal oriented, and success is commonly found at the expense of the lives or livelihoods of others, and those at the cutting edge have less scope to be patient and understanding with those around them. There are CEOs in the Fortune 500 said to have high EQ, so it is possible, but it certainly doesn’t look like it is necessary, since there are also a number of sociopaths.

Alternatively, maybe those bosses with high EQ just employ others to do the nasty expedient stuff. I have seen this before: a Christ-like New Age guru and his frantic bevy of female carers, throwing themselves in the way of anything that might disrupt his view of Nirvana. It’s easy to be nice when it’s someone else’s job to do the dirty work for you.

I also wonder how successful the businesses are that have a lot of people with high EQ – do they show the same success metrics as businesses that put the bottom line first, instead of a nice working relationship?

Perhaps EQ has missed some salient factor/s, as IQ measuring surely did in its infancy? Perhaps there needs to be more understanding about the EQ it takes to own up and be responsible for the pain that one can cause, willingly or not, to yourself and others, as one goes through life? What does EQ look like in someone with a genetic predisposition to more intense emotional states? Is EQ culturally biased to present the Western ideal of emotional balance or maturity? What does EQ look like in a refugee, or someone who lives in a war zone? Is it impossible for a person with a disease like depression to have a high EQ?

When I look at my own EQ, I know I exhibit a lack of management skills, mostly relationship management, but that’s not because I am not aware of how I come across. In the giver/taker parlance I am a disagreeable giver. I know how a lot of people feel, and where they are coming from, and I love the potential of humanity, and yet I learn to have no sympathy for some of them, because they are (culpably, deliberately or lazily) weak: they take resources from others, ignore their opportunities, fail to learn, and do nothing to help themselves. I will only give so much.

I know I’d do better in my career and social circles if I was “nice” (agreeable), but I don’t want to change. Firstly, I know we don’t live in an ideal world, and I work to change what I can, but while doing that through the emotional manipulation of others may be more successful, I find that option too personally distasteful. I express how I feel, and hope people care enough to help me change things. It feels dishonest, too, to be “nice” to people who I have learnt to distrust, and I find that such people don’t change, regardless how you treat them (nice or not). They are just more likely to socially isolate you when you stop giving, since you are no longer useful, and they don’t want you affecting the belief of others. These are many of the “nice” people I have met (not all – there are some I believe are genuinely kind, too) and this is why I don’t trust EQ.

[Footnote: James Bach says it very well in this blog post, in the section “On Being Nice”. I related to that.]

 

The Serenity Prayer

Facebook reminded me that I wrote this back in 2014… Definitely worth saving, I think

I’ve been thinking about the Serenity Prayer, in relation to current events. A lot of people in my life are motivated to vote, and angry/disappointed with politicians (for lots of reasons). Gvmt level bullshit is something I do not believe I can change (at all – I radically accept that politicians are the worst people to be in control of a country, and yet, they are), but I did vote, mostly cos not to do so is basically a vote in favour of (right wing) conservatism, and I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.
I do believe I can possibly change things in my smaller communities. I will act to defend people, and their rights and liberties, against the imposition of unjust rules, (formal or implied) traditions and policies we create in our social groups, and that’s where courage becomes an issue. There is commonly no process in place that one can follow to bring the issue to people’s attention and get it addressed in a formal, un-emotive manner. Trying to change something amongst the people you interact with on a regular basis is therefore fraught with difficulties. The people who made the situation (our leaders and bosses) feel threatened in their authority, compassion and intelligence. The people who do not suffer from the thing that needs to be changed commonly don’t see the issue, and fight to keep the status quo. The people who do suffer tend to keep their heads down, because, as the Russians say, it can always get worse, they are already disenfranchised, and they see the flak I get.
Wisdom. I have come to define this as an ability to correctly judge more of the consequences of actions. This comes from experience, if one chooses to learn from experience. I define ethical good as overall positive social consequences. I’m starting to wonder, given my more common failures and the resultant social isolation, if I really do have any ability to cause any policy change in a social group, and if I’m right to try. Should I, on seeing community injustice, just accept that this is what we do to each other, and that the disenfranchised had just better learn to look after themselves? It is definitely right to stand for better social policies IF you know you will succeed, but if you fail you do not achieve much positive social consequence (except maybe giving some validation to the afflicted) and commonly dissent has immediate negative social consequences. If it was law, like changing the laws regarding homosexuality, it will continue long enough to show positive change from building dissent, but these social groups are more ephemeral or, in the case of work, impersonal. Who does have the ability to turn the juggernauts of our leaders’ self-indulgent social privilege and entitlement around? How do they do it? How can we hope to make a better world for ourselves if all we can do is watch as the social groups we value create their own victims?
Gods. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

via (95) Anna Cruse – I’ve been thinking about the Serenity Prayer, in…

3 and a Bit Months Without Official Job and Income

I knew that my company was struggling to meet financial targets, and actually asked my manager if redundancies could happen. He didn’t believe it at the time, and acknowledged my perception when we got the word that it would happen, after all. When we were told I got the strangest feeling. Having just started 9 months before, and having failed to gain the approval of the clique of older women (long term employees) who told people how things were to be in the business, I felt there was a good chance I would not survive the cull in early August. Where the other testers whose jobs were at risk were metaphorically kneeling on the cliff edge pleading or stoically waiting for the push, I found myself looking over the edge, wondering where to jump to.

I really did not want to go back to my original job, that I had left for much better pay and opportunities. I thought I’d try my hand at contracting. I really liked the idea of doing my job, which I enjoy, in a variety of environments where I wouldn’t stay long enough to suffer the effects of office politics, and getting paid really well so I could have the time after each job to enjoy my life and explore new interests, like training to be a clown, and writing. I discussed this plan with the people who I have regularly financially supported in the past – none of them legal dependants. I needed to know that if I took the option of a non-guaranteed income that they could survive without my help. The Ruski bravely declared he could handle it. The Girlie already owed me a lot of rent, from when I had a job, and was on her last warning, but it seemed she had her act together. The one overseas brushed it off, and my daughter went pale but assented. I believed I had all their understanding and support, so I signed up to a few agencies looking exclusively for contract work. They warned me the market was flat, but I am not risk adverse, and I can survive like a cockroach, so I buckled down for a wait.

First thing we did for damage control was add another flatmate, making four, including me, and we divided up the household expenses evenly (I had been paying for most of them). Moving him in involved clearing out the spare room, which I had also been paying for, of all my stored junk. We do not have a lot of storage space in our flat, so I have given away / thrown away / sold a whole lot of stuff I really no longer need, but have been keeping “just in case”. I learnt this trait from my parents, who scrimped and saved themselves up from blue collar to comfortable middle class. They like stuff, and give gifts of stuff, and protect their stuff, and put it on display. To me, a lot of my stuff is just junk, and useless, and collects dust. It’s funny how such stuff accumulates in our lives. Like emotional baggage we just keep carrying it around and not dealing with it. It’s not as though we even care for it, and it weighs us down, making an anchor we can’t walk away from, and we have to live in a house just to put a roof over it. I considered the possibility of living in a van, like some of my circus friends. It has appeal. I am low maintenance, and happy in small accommodations, and by myself. If I didn’t get a contract, perhaps I would do that, and roam around NZ teaching acrobatics and other stuff, and bringing circus to places that had limited options.

We had a long term couchsurfer at the time, who was actually a pain in the arse, but had offered to pay a bit towards his costs and space, so bought himself some grace. Then three weeks later a previous flatmate came back to NZ and shacked up with the Girlie, the girl he left behind, making five and a half flat occupants. We discussed it – he had some time to sort himself out, and would contribute to the expenses when the surfer left, after a month, at the end of September.

I actually had very little time at first: not knowing when I would be employed again, I had a heap of costumes to make for shows and games, stuff to sort out, job applications to write and casual “until I get a contract” job options to consider. I loved doing jobs for my friends – it was good to be able to give them the time I had not had before, and they really helped me in return. I signed up for all sorts of things, and got odd jobs around the place to supplement my rapidly depleting funds, but never enough to cover my weekly expenses. One of the biggest expenses was my insurance: I had only just got it sorted while I was working, and after all that paperwork I would be damned before I gave up on it. I couldn’t expect it with contracts, either, so if I wanted it, I had to keep it going. It’s a big question, though. Do I really want it? “I bet that I will die, or my kids or I will suffer a debilitating injury or illness within my working lifetime”. Given my lifestyle I think it’s a pretty safe bet, actually.

I think it was about the end of September when I bit the bullet and got an accommodation supplement from the government. I did not get the unemployment benefit – I did not want them on my case, telling me to take any job they pushed at me. I had started thinking I should just get a nice part-time admin job, where I got enough cash to survive and time to do my own thing. I was really enjoying the time to myself, and I really don’t care about having lots of money. I applied for quite a few, I didn’t get one reply. I can’t help but wonder what people look for in an office temp.

September past quickly, but October was horrible. Our returned flatmate was causing trouble with us and his girlfriend, and when I asked for the agreed expense supplement he got very difficult. He had apparently not used the free month to get himself any form of income. Then he started keeping a record of all the things he ate to show he didn’t consume as much as he was paying for, then it started coming out how much he actually despised me. This was someone who would write to me while he was overseas “hey, old buddy, old pal…” and ask me to lend him money, which I did. Apparently he was just acting as my friend from the point he got the girlfriend – he had been vilifying me to her the whole time – so I would keep supporting him, and when the money dried up so did his act. I was heart-broken. He is gone from my life now. He says he will pay me back, but in the end a bit over $1K is a small price to pay to learn I have a false friend.

The Girlie was also somewhat concerned about whether I was honest with the cash. While I said I had very little income and was running out of funds I would still buy wine for the household and go for curry after my circus class. People who are broke don’t do such things, she said. I don’t think she realised that I also paid for the studio where she learnt to dance with me, and paid for my martial arts lessons. I told her that, as an adult with no dependants, I would spend my money as I pleased, and take the risk that it runs out before I got a job, and live with small moments of non-essential pleasure while I still could. If I didn’t get a job there would be plenty of time for me to be poor, scraping for every cent, maybe worried and miserable, but more likely dumpster diving and busking. I have lived below the breadline before, and I can do it again.

My long-term unemployed daughter applied for a job. This was a wonderful thing for me – I liked to see that she was beginning to take some responsibility for her life. But the Ruski was suffering. Working 50+ hours per week to pay all his regular bills, wondering what to do about the irregular ones, and with another 20 odd hours training and/or performing was taking its toll. He gets sick easily, and has no time to try to change things for himself. I saw a thing on Facebook, about a family of friends https://www.facebook.com/ash.martell1/videos/10206462910045239/ and I thought that this is what the Ruski and I could do: I could bring in the cash, because I can, and then he could live and grow as an artist. When he’s rich and famous I’m going to be his chauffeur and bodyguard. Until then I’m supporting the performing arts of NZ.

About mid-October, with no funds left, I contacted someone I trusted at my old job and started looking for full time work again. I didn’t want to do these things, but I had run out of options. It makes no sense to me that I can’t work part time and make less money if I want. What is wrong with this world, that we have to do 9-5 five days a week, and make money we don’t need or care about? I’d rather have my life. Then the Girlie’s rent was stolen. After discussion we decided that her best option was to return to her mother’s home where she didn’t need to be financially reliable. At least her by now completely obnoxious boyfriend, who had also not been paying what we had negotiated, left with her. That left us down to three flatmates, however – short about the same amount as the weekly food bill. A couple of my friends knew how hard things were getting, and offered to lend me cash, if I needed it. I thanked them, and said I would ask if it came to that. About that time I also applied to be a bouncer at a brothel. I thought a female door staff would be a good thing for such a sensitive industry, but I got no replies from that job, either. I was rejected by jobs I applied to, rejected by potential flatmates, rejected even by a stage show I auditioned for. They would all say “you were great but we went with someone else”. I got tired of hearing that: just say I wasn’t successful. There was a time when there was no wine and we all looked into the abyss…

…and then I got a part time temporary contract at my old company, at contract rates, which works out at more per week than at the upgrade job. Then we got a new flatmate. Then I got offered a full time job and a contract job at the same time. I have decided to take the full time job, since while I love the idea of my liberty, I would rather have the dependable income to help my friend get his life back on track.

Never once did I bounce a payment for any of my financial responsibilities. I worked hard to survive and with the support of my friends I pulled through. Bad things happened, and I had to make hard choices, but I didn’t stop teaching circus and dance, couchsurfing, sharing what I could, supporting my family and friends in return, and I didn’t let anyone down. Life has been good for me, in that way. I discussed this with the Ruski – am I just lucky? He says we make our luck, at least in part from our attitude, and this is what I built for myself. It’s a humbling thought.

You Should Not Read This…

So – you ignored my patronising advice. Good for you 🙂

There are some words that, when I hear them, instantly raise red flags around the communication. One of these is the word “should”. Every time I hear someone say this I know they are talking about an idealised, romantic view of the world and commonly not about reality. Here are some examples…

As a tester, I hear the word “should” a lot. “The content from this field should populate the corresponding field on the admin page”. “The import should take no longer than 5 min”. “The user should be aware that they can’t add a link to this content”. Testers are professional sceptics. When we hear the word “should” we say “Reeeally? I’m going to have a look at that…” It’s surprising how often statements like these are wrong, completely or partially. One of the things that catch developers out is the belief that their “should” will apply in all circumstances. Yes, a name entered into the Name field is saved to the database… except when that name contains an apostrophe (common in Polynesian names), a hyphen or a space, or some strange German letter… And even if a user “should” know better, what happens is they accidentally add a link (in a cut and paste, for instance)? Does the app up and die? It probably shouldn’t do that.

As someone who studies ethics, however, one is aware of far less amusing failures of the word “should”. “People should protect the environment, if they are rational”. “There should be no discrimination in the workforce”. “People can believe what they want, but they should not act to harm other people or communities”. What people are really saying, when they say “should” is the opposite: people DON’T protect the environment, there IS discrimination, and people DO act according to their beliefs, even when it harms others. After making these pronouncements ethicists then allow themselves to feel disappointed at the way people actually behave. We need to accept the reality of what we are talking about. Ethics are too often about dreams and utopian ideals, and not about reality, and it’s far too easy for a privileged, educated Westerner to accept the constraints of their own ethical pronouncements and just assume that if they can and will, anyone can and will. Until ethicists make statements that are both possible and compelling to the general population, or at least law-makers, ethics fails to be a practical study and is instead just a means to designate various things that would be valued, if we were rational. We need to find the statements that make the following true:

  • People CAN AND WILL protect the environment when…
  • There WILL be no discrimination when…
  • People WILL NOT hurt each other when…

Anyway, who listens when other people tell you what you “should” do? You’re reading this, right? Unsolicited advice, or just basic patronising authorities (warranted or not) are generally ignored unless someone really has an interest in the topic and no clue what to do. In my experience, they only time pronouncing “should” has any effect is when people turn it on themselves: “I should go on a diet”. “I should not pay so much attention to negative people”. “This should not happen to me”. This has an effect because, rather than achieving these high aspirations, we fail to achieve them (or even properly start them) and then have an excuse to beat ourselves up. It’s a self-imposed goad with no plan to get the carrot. One of my couchsurfers put it very well when she related being told to “Stop shoulding all over yourself”. Once again, when we say should, we are being unrealistic, and talking about dreams instead of realising them. We need to accept that we are NOT going to go on a diet, unless something changes, and then we might. We only change when we actually do something, and keep at it, however that comes about, and then there is no more “should”.

Of Cats and Dogs

One thing me and the Ruski really don’t see much eye to eye on is the relative merits of cats and dogs. He loves cats, and is happy to be the staff of our little cat, Chilli, who will wake him to feed her and then come back to my bed to snooze with me (without eating anything). He has also been known to chase off the two little dogs from our neighbours who occasionally get loose and like to bark at Chilli. She was perfectly safe, sitting on top of the fence pretending to ignore them whilst driving them crazy, but the Ruski had to ruin her fun. He has mellowed somewhat in the last few years, but for the longest time he did not like dogs. This was in large part to the childhood memory of being chased and treed by a pack of wild dogs in Siberia.

I, on the other hand, have some reservations about our love affair with cats. I get that they are lovely or hilarious to watch (I have been known to spend time watching cat videos on YouTube), and can form relationships with humans and be warm, affectionate company, and cats other than ours can kill pests (or entire species, let’s not forget). Chilli is the worst hunter ever. But those qualities we commonly find endearing in cats, their self-contained and commanding nature, distain, fastidiousness, savagery… we would not like these qualities in a person of our acquaintance. Also, consider these points:

Now I have heard the protests of the cat-lovers: “not my cat – my cat is smart / faithful / friendly / caring…” and I have to admit to seeing a lot of variation in cat attributes myself. This can be attributed to the fact that we don’t spend a lot of time killing off cats that exhibit strange or anti-social tendencies, like we do with dogs, and so more behavioural variation can be expected. Commonly we find the mad cat endearing, even when it scratches us for no reason or steals the neighbours’ panties off the washing line eg http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2397155/A-real-cat-burglar-Cheeky-Norris-steals-neighbours-underwear-night-prowls.html We excuse their bad behaviour in the same way as overindulgent parents, with maybe a slight embarrassment, but private delight.

To highlight this, the other day Chilli came over for a pat when I was in the middle of something. I gave her a quick pat and moved to walk away and she scratched me on the leg. I told the Ruski about this, and he said “What a bitch! [Pause] You should know better than to walk away when she wants attention!” I think he deserves everything he gets with the joys of cat ownership, including the catbox duties and the barfed furballs.

On the other hand, the things we culturally find pathetic or undignified in dogs – their unconditional love, desire to please, steadfast loyalty, and boisterous nature – these are things that commonly make a person our best friend, though maybe we would be a bit nervous of this, thinking we don’t deserve it. Why do we choose to laud the antisocial behaviour of cats over the social behaviour of dogs? Or, if I am to get serious for a bit, why do we imagine that people who treat us rudely or with distain show quality and are desirable, and those that accept us and treat us well can be taken for granted and used? I do believe these traits of humans are interconnected, and bear thinking about.

Why do we have these double standards in the value of these qualities? This is why I have reservations. It’s not because I don’t love cats, it’s because I do love humans, and I wonder if we hurt ourselves and sabotage our relationship happiness by confusing our values between humans and our furry friends. What’s the chance we see the dog or cat qualities listed above in a person and accidentally apply the reversed interpretation we give these qualities in our familiar non-human friends? For example, I suspect the Ruski admires cat qualities in girls, which I believe accounts somewhat for his miserable romantic life. If I say someone has a cat-like personality, I am not saying a nice thing about them, but am likely thinking of a sociopathic or neurotic narcissist. I admit to being a sucker for narcissists, which is probably why I actually do like cats. And this is OK: they are not humans, and they teach us humility. Dogs teach us how to be friends.

 

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.