Curiosity Killed the Computer

OK – the title might be overstating it a bit, but I’m a test analyst, and we get tired of hearing about how “automated testing” replaces the need for manual testers.

I recently saw this TED talk about machine deep learning.

I was somewhat surprised about how much the process for teaching machines was so akin to one of the fastest ways to teach expertise to humans – the exposure to 200-300 excellent examples in a short time, with a small amount of expert guidance, and seen in this presentation by Kathy Sierra.

I was thinking, it might not be so long after all, before machines are doing all our observational jobs, if they can learn pattern recognition like that (and they are more accurate and much faster and never forget…)

And then I saw this wonderful talk about aliens (or maybe not aliens). Even though number crunching is one of the primary uses for computers they could still miss evidence that humans could pick up, and more significant than that, they don’t see what we don’t program them to see. That is, we can see things that are not expected, but because we don’t expect an anomaly, we don’t make our computers see it. The pattern recognition a computer uses might throw a wobbly when confronted with a 3-wheeled car, or a wrecked car, but we would still see it is a car. Computers look for recognisable or definable characteristics. Humans characteristically have 2 arms, but we recognise that there are exceptions… We might be able to teach a computer the pattern recognition to sex chicks, but it won’t cope with a hermaphroditic or mutated example (unless we thought of that possibility ourselves, first).

Humans have observational skills that cannot yet even be explained, like the amateur astronomer that Bill Bryson talks about in “A Short History of Nearly Everything”. Reverend Robert Evans can see supernovas…

To understand what a feat this is, imagine a standard dining room table covered in a black tablecloth and someone throwing a handful of salt across it. The scattered grains can be thought of as a galaxy. Now imagine fifteen hundred more tables like the first one—enough to fill a Wal-Mart parking lot, say, or to make a single line two miles long—each with a random array of salt across it. Now add one grain of salt to any table and let Bob Evans walk among them. At a glance he will spot it. That grain of salt is the supernova

We may not all be exceptional, like this, but these examples show there is an argument yet to justify the inclusion of human observational skills on top of machine pattern recognition and deep learning even when the machines get good at it and are in common use. We learn new things when someone sees something they don’t expect, and says “WTF?” and follows the lead. Test wisdom says “the difference between what we know and what we need to know is why we test in the first place”. Machines might be able to take care of the things we know, but it will need a true AI before the need for complementary human analysis can be questioned.

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Do You Really Want a Tester?

This essay is targeted at the managers of the digital development (IT) section of businesses that want to make or save money. It will come as a surprise to some people, that there is more than one “school” of testing. I have been exposed to two extremes, and through my 12 years of experience, and with personal integrity, have accepted one of them as supporting and representing the high standard of professionalism that I endeavour to offer my employer. This is probably not the one you are acquainted with. Allow me, please, to enlighten you.

Testing is a specialised cognitive skill. As with any such skills, from people management to oil painting, it cannot be reduced to a number of steps (and because of that it can’t be done by a machine – more about that later). A test case is not a test. At best, it is a test guide or idea. There is no way a “test case” could ever be written to represent all the analysis that a tester does, intrinsically, heuristically, and because it is impossible to do 100% testing there is no way that producing “comprehensive test cases” ever comes close to representing the test coverage or the actual analysis done. If a confirmation can be done by a machine, then it is a “check”, not a test. Testing involves mindful discerning analysis of the observations made during deliberate experimentation.

As a simplistic example of this, imagine a “test case” that confirms that Box C shows the factor of boxes A and B. If this “test case” was automated, we’d have to set the values of boxes A (6) and B (7) so we know that Box C will get the same results each time. A coded check would confirm that 42 shows in Box C: pass. A person checking would intrinsically notice if the result displays aligned properly, in the correct format, font and size and colour, in base 10, if it took a long time to display, or if Outlook crashed when the result displayed. A person testing could change Box B to 8 and see Box C does not change from 42 – turns out that was hard-coded so the auto-check would pass… There are infinite tests that could be done: even having different programs open at the same time on your computer can affect a function. A business is not going to ask a tester to test every possible combination of programs, browsers, operating systems, settings…

What would a “pass” on this test reveal? If it is done by a different tester in a slightly different way eg inputting Box B before content in Box A, or tabbing instead of mouse clicks is that a different test? It could get a different result. Also, if it fails the first 2 times, works on the third, is broken by a regression issue, fixed and is currently working at release, that usually shows as Count of Test Case = 1, Pass = 1, 100% Pass – and tells us nothing about the potential risks of the function.

At best, a passing test is a rumour of success… A failing test is an allegation of failure. – M Bolton

We should also keep in mind that “test cases” do not appear out of thin air. Since they are usually expected to be produced in advance of the tester getting access to the product, they are generally based around the testers’ other available oracles, for example the BRD. If these “test cases” are to accurately reflect the main functional requirements of the product, it means the design and requirements need to be produced to a high standard as well. It is not reasonable to expect better detail from test cases than the rest of the project documentation. Waterfall methodology is fundamentally flawed. Can any business really believe that they are going to design an entire 6 month project 100% correctly from the start? If the business is interested in making money and being at the cutting edge of digital development and consumer interests, they should be working iteratively from Minimum Viable Product and enhancing from there, and that does not support the argument for the creation of a complete suite of static “test cases” before testing even starts.

The expectation of and reliance on “test cases” and automation in many digital workplaces indicates a fundamental lack of understanding of what testing actually is. This is commonly enabled and enforced by members of the test community itself, many of whom have never questioned the inconsistencies inherent in the establishment process (which shows an indicative lack of discernment for people who should be professional sceptics). I have heard various dogma about why people think we need test cases. I say “dogma” because, if they were arguments, they would be dropped when the people who believed them were given a compelling rational counter-argument that clearly disproved the belief…

  • “We have written test cases so new testers know how to test a system.”
    • First, test cases are not designed to teach anything. They don’t explain what user need the program is supposed to address or how the user is anticipated to use it, or what the out of the various functions mean to the user, or why the designer decided to choose one function over a different one, or the business priorities with respect to the program.
    • Second, you would think that, if you’ve hired an experienced professional tester, they’d already know how to test. All they need to do is learn what the program is for and how to use it, experiment, and question to start getting a feel for the product and the project.
    • Third, if you want to teach someone to test (ie use critical thinking, structured analysis, intuitive leaps and intelligent informed reasoning supporting their reports), you have to encourage them to think far beyond learning to follow a set of mindless, repetitive steps that can in fact get in the way of analytical thinking.
  • “… so we can get test coverage and test progression metrics.”
    • It is not true that all tests are equal. A fail in one critical path is worth far more than 10 typos in page content, yet each test case is counted equally when “pass rates” are calculated.
    • Does the metric really reflect the value you want to measure? 80% of the test cases may be run, but that’s because they were easy – the remaining 20% may take 80% of the time, so this doesn’t show how close we are to completion.
    • There are many more such inconsistencies with this idea. I recommend reading this article here before considering reducing tests and test activities to numbers.
  • “… so we can prove coverage and compliance.”
    • As I pointed out above – we will never have complete coverage, and any set of documentation that says otherwise is false.
    • This also assumes that every tester follows every written step, every time they do the tests, which I don’t think is a universal truth. It seems to me far more useful to inform the test professional of the details if you feel you are somehow obliged to run specific tests on certain occasions, and allow them to determine the constraints of that requirement.
  • “…to have a set of “standardised” regression tests.”
    • No tester will ever follow a set of instructions the same way twice, and a different tester will behave significantly different with the same instructions, so the idea of standardisation is completely illogical, unless the checks are run by a machine in an otherwise closed environment.
    • Even the best testers will begin to miss things when asked to mindlessly follow the same set of checks and tests every time the program is updated. Intelligent people get bored with repetition, and rush things, to get it over with. It is not testing if your mind is not engaged.
    • A (usually) truncated set of tests such as this will obfuscate the areas of change and real risk. Instead of a wild shot-gun blast of tests in the general direction of the potentially affected areas, it is far more efficient and effective to work with the developers to understand what code was changed, and where that code is used, and then target the testing to the areas of most risk. Regression defects may appear random on the surface, but they always have a cause. Working with the devs also helps them understand how they have to think about more than just the function under work, so they write better code.
  • “…so someone knows where to pick up if your tester gets hit by a bus.”
    • This is the best reason I have seen, but still, if your tester has been giving clear and informative progress and issue reports along the way, it should be obvious what they have done, and any good tester should be able to see what yet needs to be done. Progress reports that say “Of 33 test cases, I have run 17, and 5 of these have failed” do not actually tell a replacement tester what testing has been done.

I was appalled to see, in the results of a job search, the term “Automated tester” being commonly used. Gone is the facade of testers being “test automation engineers” – they now say explicitly that testing can be done by a robot. We have cheapened our profession so much, allowing people to believe that what we do can be reduced to a series of steps, and our valuable analysis is just a number, that they now rationally but erroneously intend to replace us with machines. I’m not even particularly concerned for my job: this is disastrous for our digital future, as our increased use of, reliance on, and integration with digital solutions that have no better critical functional analysis than an automated check.

The only real thing that testers produce are reports on the state of the product under test, for the business to decide if they are happy to release the product or not. This is what I do, and I try to do it to the best of my ability. If the business requires their testers to conform to bad testing practices, they will get poorly tested products, misleading metrics and a false sense of security, and it will cost more in time and issues. If your tester is informed, professional, and has integrity, but cannot change the way things are done, they will leave you. If you want to just wave a “tester” at the product to get the rubber stamp and don’t want real information to burst your bubble, why pay professional prices? An office temp could do it. If you really want a tester, who gives you good information, so you can have justified confidence in your product, let them do their job properly.

The established process wastes significant time and money on writing and/or running symbolic ritualistic checks, gives people meaningless or misleading numbers,  and then allows people to naively believe that these prove something by which they could make reliable project decisions. This process I reject, as insufficient for good testing: wasteful, unprofessional, limiting, unethical, ignorant, dogmatic rubbish. And yet, this latter kind of testing is what the majority of potential employers look for, knowing no other way. If your organisation can afford to waste huge amounts of money on bad practices, bureaucratic rituals, shoddy products and customer dissatisfaction (eg, in my experience this means government, banks and insurance companies) and that is how your company operates, you don’t need or want a tester like me.

This essay is targeted at the managers of the digital development (IT) section of businesses that want to make or save money. A professional tester should be sceptical, especially of their own perceptions, asking questions, learning new test techniques and skills, efficiently targeting their testing to the areas of most risk, owning and learning from their mistakes, working to inform the stakeholders about risks, uncertainty, what kind of bugs they are getting, what other issues the project faces, the state of the product, and how the tester know their testing is sufficient for the needs of the business. If this is what your business wants, then you actually do want a tester. I am in awe of the people who represent this kind of testing: I am inspired, challenged, and constantly reminded that there are brilliant thinkers in the world, who work with vast integrity, and I want to be counted amongst them.

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.]

 

Why Do I Have All This Stuff?

Another one worth saving, from Facebook last year

A bit introspective today…

Yesterday I received 2 keys – one from my mum, for the bach, with orders to destroy the old one (literally), and a flat key from Vanya, which I had commissioned to avoid further incidents of slipping as I climb through my bedroom window (painful). I then did a cull of keys – I had so many, and couldn’t remember what any of them were for. Why did I keep them so long? This has got me thinking more about what I keep, and what I throw away. I’m not one inclined to connect to arbitrary or trivial things.
My past is gone: I don’t take photos (what does one do with old hard copy photos people gave me? Thanks to those who tag me on Facebook). I don’t get nostalgic, I don’t carry much baggage from the bad things, and I forget a lot.
I don’t care about money or stuff. I keep stuff (just in case: my mum taught me that), but if I didn’t have it I wouldn’t care. I have a bunch of stuff that I have lugged around from place to place that I know I’ll never really get to again… anyone want some material? (Free to good crafty home). I also have a bunch of clothes and shoes to go…
I change: I am not connected to my self image, except as a person who can always improve. All my beliefs are open to challenge. I do not require security. I am extremely distrustful of appeals to precedent and tradition.
I do get connected to people and causes, but I know that life moves on, and sometimes these go on different paths to me. I don’t fight that – maybe I should? The closest I come to regret is thinking about past connections that I don’t actively keep current. I just feel that it happens, and one must accept that. If that’s happened, and the paths cross again, I am generally delighted to re-connect to the person or cause, as they are now, but I get uneasy if I am treated like the person I was in the past. That’s why I keep old friends on Facebook: I always hope I’ll see you again (even if I forget your name and what you look like ). I hope you know you can ALWAYS ask me to help you – I might say no, but I don’t mind being asked.
And I have learnt to walk away from people and causes that I care about, but that do me no good. In such cases I don’t go back, and if we cross I don’t reconnect. Sometimes it’s good to leave things behind, and the baggage that comes with them. I think we all carry too much stuff, sometimes.

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.

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.