The Lovely Bones

Recently watched the film then read the book. The film was excessively harrowing, but the book was very good.  One thing that came out of it for me was a bit of a puzzle.

Spoiler alert for anyone not wanting to hear crucial parts of the plot! To summarise, a bad man does nasty things to a lot of women and children. Right at the end of the book, he ‘gets his comeuppance’, being killed in a freak accident that closely resembles the ‘perfect murder’ that the murdered Susie Salmon’s sister concocts at one point in the book. This seems to suggest that either Susie somehow intervenes from her heaven, or god has a sense of humour, or maybe it is all just coincidence. Now, here’s my puzzle.

Why do so many people – almost all of them – watching the film or reading the story feel that the bad guy ‘getting his comeuppance’ is almost cathartic, practically cheering his demise? I mean, it’s a good thing that he won’t go on to kill again, but his death does not bring the dead girls back. It doesn’t even bring any real succour to them or their living relatives as it happens pretty anonymously to all of them. It seems to me that it was a plot device aimed pretty squarely at the reader/observer, to bring some sort of relief. But what kind of relief actually makes sense?

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Who am I?

Depending on how you interpret the question, there is potentially a lot of mileage in this. I want to address the concept of personal identity because I really fail to understand the problem that a lot of philosophers seem to have with it. If there is a problem, it is about accepting the way things are.

What makes a person a person? What makes a person the same person they were a minute ago? Or yesterday? What am I? I think a lot of the problem grows from a tension between general conceptions of identity in space and time conflicting with the idea that people are special in their identity.

Identity outside the realms of maths and logic is a messy affair. Ships get replaced bit by bit. People change their minds and behaviour. Organs are transplanted. Plant grow from seeds and people grow from infancy. Despite these changes, we still identify a person as that same person, simplistic matters of mistaken identity and error aside. Indeed, errors are possible, but in most cases the identity is sound and useful. Otherwise I’d not know if you were my mother, a stranger, work colleague or whatever. Cunning philosophers offer many thought experiments to eat away at this kind of identification, involving switching brains between people, removing parts of the body until the person ‘disappears’ and suchlike.

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Problem of Incest

This is an odd one, as incest has such negative connotations, but as far as I can tell the only reason against it is the genetic risks to any resulting children from the inbreeding. There are cases of incestuous abuse, but if both parties are consenting this doesn’t really apply. The actual abuse is the issue in such cases, rather than the incest per se.

For the record and before the torch and pitchfork brigade arrive, I’d just like to clarify from the start that I have no incestuous leanings myself: This is simply about attacking what appears to be an unfounded prejudice!

Incest is taboo in virtually every society, but if we compare it with, say, homesexuality, presumably the parties involved can’t help feeling that way. In fact, genetic sexual attraction is a very real factor – ever noticed the similarities of the faces and features of couples in the marriage announcements? If having kids was removed from the incestuous relationship, what is the problem, say, if the male/female was sterilised for instance? For that matter, if the relationship was non-sexual as with non-practicing homosexuals, would there still be a problem?

My concern is that when people consider the concept of incest they immediately gross themselves out by thinking of how much they would NOT go for their relatives, and this disgust becomes associated with incest in general. For myself, I love my family dearly and have no desire to have sex with them, but I cannot see any reason that incest should be declared taboo for responsible consenting adults (dealing with the genetic risks) without appeal to some religious mandate. The religious standpoints vary in terms and conditions of permissiveness and the nature of the blood relationship, but I cannot find any justification. Given the number of agnostics and atheists, why does the taboo persist?

No Kids, Thanks

Whether or not to have children. It’s a significant choice for anyone to make, so here’s my reasoning:

  1. There are many kids already lacking a decent upbringing.
  2. I don’t feel any particular selfish attachment to having my own genetic offspring running about, and I think it is perfectly possible to love another’s biological child as a son or daughter.
  3. I believe that there can be more to life than breeding.
  4. I’d be content to establish a social institution doing good works as my ‘child’.
  5. I can be a good role model to others without having my own children – I can even be more of a father figure than some biological dads out there.
  6. We are not in a situation where society is desperate for more children.
  7. Babies are not cute. I think that myth is some hormonal trickery at work!
  8. I disagree that having a child is the epitome of mutual love.

Conclusion:

I don’t want my own kids. Alternatively, adoption or fostering could work.

What are Schools For?

Prompted by ideas about social changes effected by digital communication and the Internet, what do we need to learn in schools? There are several online resources with this very question up for discussion, and rightly so. The Internet, as a wonder of the modern world, is utterly deserving of its capital letter.

Youth work has emphasis on voluntary engagement with young people, but schooling has conventionally been compulsory. Why is this? I can see schooling as teaching young people things they need to know, accepting that young people are not necessarily in a position to decide what is important, and so we conduct a form of indoctrination while they are in this fledgling state. The nature of this indoctrination varies, depending on the society. Later in their development we seek to teach them about choice and responsibility, helping them on the path to becoming active members of society.

The question arising from the context of improved digital communication and Internet access is this:

What do young people need to learn, and what can they simply access via the Internet?

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Caught in Time

Our perceptions of the passage of time are not constant. Sometimes it flies, and sometimes it drags. Imagine what would happen if a person’s perception of time were to greatly increase or decrease? In the case of the former, the world would blur and you would become as a statue. If your lifespan were unchanged, you would be dead in a flash – seeming to the rest of the world as if you had fallen into a kind of paralysed coma. In the latter case, things would slow down to a virtual stop. However, there would be no ridiculous sci-fi style wandering about moving objects frozen in mid-flight and rearranging furniture for comic effect – abusing physical laws left right and centre. You would be literally stuck in place, frozen in time. If your mind was still functioning I think you would find it quite an unpleasant experience. You would be trapped for an eternity before anybody even knew it – and probably be quite insane by the time it all wore off, a second later from the point of view of the rest of the world. All this from a simple matter of perspective.

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Who Needs Luck?

This is about lotteries. Working from a basic principle: Resources should be assigned according to need. A lottery, therefore, is only appropriate where needs are equal and there is no other way of deciding who is to benefit. So what implications are there for raffles, or the National Lottery?

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It’s Your Fault You’re Offended

Simple really. There’s so much emphasis on political correctness that I think this needs to be said. If you are offended by something, it’s your fault.

There is a difference between offence as a harmful thing and the actual cause of the offence itself being harmful. Say I shoot an orphan and you take offence. The shooting of the orphan is certainly worthy of criticism etc. for being an inappropriate act, but any sense of offence you take at the act is entirely in your head. If the sense of being offended causes you to suffer, then stop being offended. Remember the old saying, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’? Words do hurt – emotionally – if you let them, but only physically if carved on bricks and thrown, for instance! By all means correct my racist remarks, and re-educate me to stop my rape and vandalism, but don’t be offended by words. That much at least should be within your power to control, and is beyond my ability to apologise for!

If declarations are taken as an indication of prejudice, then act appropriately to educate or minimise damage, but if someone was to insult me with a completely unfounded or unjustified statement, then why on earth would I actually be offended? May as well be offended by a dog for barking – irritated maybe by the noise and spittle, but the words are meaningless. If they actually speak the truth, then why be offended by facts? That seems similarly immature. Perhaps what is really going on is people are participating in a cultural ‘Shibboleth’ in which visible signs of outrage help people to guage and reinforce membership of a social group. In which case, a simple, calm and measured ‘Inappropriate’ would suffice.