Month: February 2015

I’m Not Apologising

It’s been about a week now since news first broke about the murder of Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. These three, brilliant, intelligent, young people, with promising futures ahead of them were gunned down in their own home, by a neighbour, over what seemed to have been an ongoing dispute over a parking spot. At first glance the story sounded like another terrible casualty of the US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment, giving citizens the right to bear arms; which, all things considered, it still is. But as more details about both the victims and the perpetrator began to make the news, a much darker motive for a seemingly senseless crime started to emerge.

Craig Stephen Hicks, 46 was an atheist. His victims? All Muslim.

Within moments of this information being made public, the predictable uproar blew up on Twitter with hundreds of people calling for the same kind of of outrage and public outcry, as had been witnessed after the Charlie Hebdo incident in Paris last month. Because with the mere mention of this crime having taken place between a non-Muslim perpetrator and three Muslim victims, for some it seemed as though obvious parallels were to be drawn. In those first hours after the story had broken and as people all over the world began waking up to the news, it seemed as though the majority of public opinion was firmly rooted in one of two camps: those who seemed convinced that this was in fact a hate crime, somewhat on par with the Charlie Hebdo massacre, or those who understood that there was a very real difference between the incidents and that atheism at it’s core is not something that can ever be tied in with hate crimes and violence.

But the internet is a place of reactionary statements, where emotional outbursts often take the place of rational thoughts and opinions. There were calls for the more prominent atheists among us, such as Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss to apologise and be held accountable for the actions of this one, lone gunman’s actions. Dawkins responded immediately to these claims via Twitter:

Dawkins on Chapel Hill

Lawrence Krauss in turn responded to the brimming tensions among those who wanted to connect outspoken atheist voices such as his, with this heinous killing, in an article published on the Huffington Post:

“Let’s be clear about one thing. Hate speech is directed at people, not ideas. To argue that individuals like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or any of the other outspoken atheists, including myself, who criticize the doctrines of Islam, or Christianity, are inciting violence against individuals on the scale of the terrorists who espouse Islamic fundamentalism is akin to suggesting that the Enlightenment was fundamentally no different than the theocracies it eventually undermined.”

UNC Isn’t Charlie Hebdo, and Thomas Paine Isn’t Osama Bin Laden – Lawrence M Krauss

And whilst I understand why both they and scores of other prominent atheists/skeptics, felt that speaking out against this incident was the right thing to do, I’m absolutely fucking fuming that they were made to feel that way in the first place. Twitter poured forth with similar statements from other members wanting to apologise “as an atheist” for the actions of Craig Hicks. Making matters worse were tweets like the one from a user @lina_serene (whose account has now been deactivated) demanding that all atheists apologise for the shootings at Chapel HIll.

Excuse me? You DEMAND an apology? I don’t fucking think so. I don’t care how horrendous this man’s actions were. I will condemn the actions of anyone who takes it upon themselves to attack, injure or kill another person REGARDLESS of their age / gender / sexuality / race / nationality / religion / whatever; but I will NOT kow-tow to pressures from other people on social media sites, expecting me to somehow shoulder the blame and responsibility of one man’s actions PURELY BECAUSE BOTH HE AND I HAPPEN TO HAVE NO BELIEF IN A DEITY.

Wow, you know, when I type it out like that, plain for all to see, it seems so ridiculous, one can hardly imagine that anyone would even consider suggesting such a thing. Because in being an atheist, all I can really say that I have in common with the Chapel Hill shooter, is the fact that neither of us believe in a god. That’s it. And that’s because that is really all anyone can truly deduce from discovering that a person is an atheist. I know that there are certain other groups of people who would love to associate the term with a whole host of other things, but the reality is, it means just one thing: a lack of a belief in a deity.

And I get pissed off enough as it is, having to explain to people over and over again, that atheism is not a religion, that we don’t have a set of rules to live by, that there is no Grand Poobah who we follow/worship/give praise to or that speaks for us all as a collective. But it’s as if a general consensus of willful ignorance has been adopted by the majority who want to believe that we operate like a religion, so that we too can be held accountable in the same way that we expect of their belief systems. Sorry, but you don’t get to determine what it is we/I stand for or believe in. It just doesn’t work like that.

Atheism-isn´t-a-religion.-Its-a-personal-relationship-with-reality1

Now a lot is being bandied about as to whether or not the actions of Craig Hicks on that day can be considered as a hate crime, with a huge amount of attention being paid to his Facebook page, where he posted and shared a lot of atheist memes. At first I was quite interested to see for myself, just what exactly his Facebook page did say, so I spent a good hour or so, trawling back through everything he’d posted over the past three years. What did I find? Well… nothing particularly out of the ordinary as far as the atheist content goes. A lot of the memes he had on there were exactly the kind of thing you’d find on my Facebook or Twitter pages. As has been pointed out time and again, yes there was a post regarding a handheld gun & holster, but lets be honest, if you’re going to make owning guns legal in your country, you’d better be ready to see a bunch of people posting pics of their favourite piece, here every so often.

But in response to the allegation that this guy was some kind of bigot who had killed his neighbours because of their religious inclinations, I found more posts suggesting the exact opposite. Posts about equality for same-sex marriage, for women’s rights, posts about seeing an end to racist attitudes and even a post which fully supported the rights of the Muslim community of New York, in their bid to build a mosque two blocks away from the Ground Zero site. The only thing setting this guy’s Facebook postings apart from mine, were the couple where he posted about his guns. I’m completely anti-gun and not just because I live in Britain. And so i thought about taking to time to copy and paste a few of his posts here to show how I really didn’t think that this guy’s actions could be considered a hate-crime. Because if half the world is trying to use the fact that he posted a lot of atheist memes, to denigrate and tar all atheists with the same brush, well, surely it made sense to look at whatever else he was fond of posting to get a better idea of how the guy thought.

But then I realised: It doesn’t actually matter if Craig Hicks was motivated to commit a hate crime because of the way he may or may not have felt about his neighbours. I mean, sure it matters to the victims’ families, the police and the authorities who are responsible for trying to figure out motive and motivation; but it really doesn’t matter one iota to me.

Why?

Because I have no reason to care about this man at all. He is nothing to do with me. We’re not related, we don’t live on the same street, he didn’t harm anyone directly connected to me. What he did was heinous enough without me needing to clarify his motivation for having done it. If I start to try and defend the guy and pick apart his online life as a way of somehow mitigating the actions of someone who just happens to have the same lack of a belief in god as me, then I’m falling into that same trap that everyone else in the mainstream and social media. Craig Hicks does not represent me. Nor does he represent ANY other atheist. In the same way that I don’t represent any other people who don’t believe in ghosts, or who happen to really love fountain pens.

There is NO atheist ideology that we all adhere to. There is no creed that Craig Hicks has disobeyed or dishonored. By committing such an atrocity, he has destroyed the lives of three innocent, young people and in doing so, set himself apart from the majority of the rest of the human race. But he isn’t about to be thrown out of any club for his actions. Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, Grayling, Krauss, Boghossian & Degrasse Tyson, aren’t all going to get together and vote for him to be ejected from some imaginary atheist fraternity. It just doesn’t work that way. Craig Hicks happened to be someone with no belief in any gods prior to him committing his crime and now as he sits in his prison cell, awaiting sentencing for said crimes, he remains an individual with no belief in any gods.

I think that all good intentions aside, fellow atheists in the public eye and on the internet, were too quick to jump to apologise for this man’s actions, in the wake of the burgeoning media attention around his alleged lack of beliefs. This was not Charlie Hebdo in reverse. This was not something that required a group of people united in belief, to come together and defend their position, because Craig Hicks’ actions didn’t actually contradict or contravene any code, creed or belief system.

Atheism+is+not+how+I+live

It’s hard for a lot of people to be an atheist in many countries across the world, so when stories like this hit the news, it can feel like any progress we’ve made towards being viewed with less hostility, just evaporates in the wake of sensationalist headlines. But whilst getting to know other atheists online via Twitter, Facebook, You Tube or an online forum might help to bring like minded people together for support (especially for those living in the US Bible Belt, Middle East or other heavily religious countries) what we refer to sometimes as an ‘atheist community’ isn’t actually a congregation made up of people all following the same rules or expressing the same views, by any stretch of the imagination. The only thing we have in common really, is that we all have no belief in any gods. Yes, there seems to be a greater number of people in the ‘atheist community’ who would consider themselves skeptics, rational and scientifically minded, but that generally just happens to be the kind of people who are more likely to question something as absurd and fantastical as some divine creator and the subsequent holy books ascribed to his word.

But having an interest in science, philosophy, theology or the historicity of any religion is not a requirement for being an atheist. You either believe in a god, or you don’t. Everything else is just down to personal preference. We’re not trying to be the perfect cookie-cutter example of any particular ideal. We may share some similar views, but they’re by no means a requirement. We atheists come from every walk of life. From every part of the world, every social class, every race, gender, age, sexuality, political leaning and any other demographic you can think of. We may identify strongly as being atheists, but being an atheist does not determine who we are or what we stand for. So for anyone to dare suggest, to me or any other atheist, that we should associate with, stand for or apologise for the actions of Craig Hicks, a week ago today, pisses me off more than you can probably imagine.

I am sorry that three beautiful, brilliant, intelligent young people had their lives cut short by this devastating crime and my heart goes out to their parents who I feel have shown great dignity and strength in what must be the most difficult time of their lives. My opinion here is in no way intended as any form of disrespect towards them in their time of grief. I feel sorry for them, but I cannot say sorry on behalf of the perpetrator, or some imagined group people believe he belonged to. I did not pull the trigger that day. i did not know Craig Hicks before he murdered his victims and I have absolutely nothing to do with that man and whatever it is that may have motivated him. I am not Craig Hicks. I am not a murderer and I have nothing to apologise for. So as contentious as it may seem, I’m afraid that this atheist, for one, will not be apologising.

#SorryNotSorry

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When 140 Characters Just Isn’t Enough

Okay, so I’m guessing some of you reading this will already know who Bad Girl Bex is from following – or avoiding, blocking or hiding from me! – on Twitter. (Or maybe you came here to see who exactly was behind the long, rambling comment that was left on your own blog – in which case I’m really sorry if I took up a ton of space and gave you a headache trying to read all the way through my inane twat-waffle. That’s kinda why I decided to come here and create my own space and soapbox to squawk from, but I’ll get back to that in a bit.)

You see, 2014 was the year I really, properly started to ‘get’ how Twitter worked and began using it as a way of meeting and following a lot of smart, funny, knowledgeable people. Twitter is one of those things that when you first sign up, it sort of makes sense on a basic level. It’s easy to figure out how to find and follow people you like or are interested in and you just hope that given time, you too will acquire followers of your own. So, you have a little look around, follow a few people and when you feel brave enough, you venture forth with your first ever tweet.

And then you wait. But nothing really happens for a while, because in reality you’re just another unknown n00b transmitting the occasional thought out into the ether. You wonder what makes other people so popular. How did they get so many people to follow them? They don’t look ‘famous’ – and for the most part, they’re not. At least not in the non-Twitterverse anyway. But you keep on following people, you click on a ‘favestar’ here and there; you even go so far as to retweet a few things that you see and like and think is worth passing on. Then one day, someone actually favourites something YOU tweet and suddenly you feel on top of the world! Somebody liked something you said! Somebody actually noticed you on the internet! You’ve arrived!

Then it all starts to click into place. Twitter only works for those who are willing to make it work for them. To get the most out of it, you actually have to commit to the interactive nature of the beast. You probably start off pretty unfocused, following a variety of people who have vastly different agendas and ways of utilising their accounts. It feels a bit like you’re trying to find your friends and make yourself heard, whilst navigating your way through the 80,000+ throng of people attending a music festival. You can’t imagine how you’re ever going to really make a mark, be heard or make sense of it all, but you press on, stumbling blindly about the place hoping for the best.

The trick though, is to think of it more like a city. Like London for example. When we think of London, we think of the huge sprawling capital of the UK; vast, impersonal and lacking in that sense of community you expect to see in smaller towns and villages. But in reality, London is actually made up of hundreds of little ‘villages’ itself. Boroughs, streets, housing estates…. wherever people are living, there are defined boundaries of living spaces. Territories to which people belong; turf to be patrolled and defended.

No matter which part of London you actually live in, you will still have your own particular local shop, local pub or Starbucks. You might support Millwall, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Fulham, Barnet, Leyton Orient, Bromley or any number of other football teams regulated by the London Football Association. Kids will go to certain schools. You might – if that’s what floats you boat – have your own local church which you attend regularly. The point is, no one living in London really lives in the ‘London’ people think of when you talk about the nation’s capital. (Unless of course you live in the ‘City of London’ and in that case, you’re probably way too rich and important to be reading this piddly little blog of mine!) You really only live in a small, specific area – which is really no different to living in a small town or village anywhere else in the country.

And Twitter is a lot like London – or any huge city – in that respect. Sure, it’s a massive heaving, living, breathing, sometimes overwhelming monster that can appear really difficult to negotiate and get yourself involved with at first; but once you figure out where exactly in this huge Behemoth you belong, suddenly it all starts to make a little more sense.

2014 was the year I figured out where my own little catchment area in the Twitterverse lay. Over time I had found myself gravitating towards more accounts which had atheist, anti-theist, skeptic or scientific content. I was liking and retweeting more posts that fell under these categories; and as the months passed and I started to get to know these contributors better, I found myself discovering other fantastic, interesting people through them. It soon began apparent that there was a sort of network connecting all of these really great people and once I’d figured out how important it was to make and keep these connections – via retweeting, favestarring, replying and creating content of my own – I finally began to ‘get’ how Twitter truly works.

On the surface, it’s one helluva simple idea. You get 140 characters to say something you want and broadcast it around the world; to whosoever just happens to be listening. You can use keywords or hashtags to make your Tweets easy to find, or you can address them directly to specific individuals you want to talk to. It’s easy to see how those ‘yet to succumb’ to it’s dangerously seductive charms, could write it off as just a load of people randomly spouting their opinions and another bunch of other people reading them. Because they’re kinda right. But what it also is, is the most successful method of getting to know and speak to, like-minded people from all over the globe. You can find people who have similar political or religious beliefs. You can find people who love pictures of cats. You can find readers for a book you just wrote by promoting it through your TL. You can drum up support for a cause and rally people from all around the world, to help you. If you have a message – whatever that message happens to be – and if you want to find an audience to hear your message, you can find that audience on Twitter.

Unlike some online fora which will only allow you to broadcast your messages to the limited number of members signed up, or unlike Facebook where you tend to make more connections with people you already know, Twitter can get your message out to millions of people you’ve never met before. All using hashtags, keywords, emojis – and all within a 140 character limit. I know that the guys behind designing the interface for Twitter, spent a good deal of time figuring out what the limit was going to be, when it came to deciding how many characters each user would be allowed per tweet. Somehow, they came to the conclusion that 140 was the ‘magic number’ allowing a user to conststruct just enough of a message to convey meaning, without overwhelming the other users who were reading through said tweets. There was a lot more to it than that of course and they probably had a team of  7 or 8 people in R&D, sat around a table, pouring over PDFs of graphs and other statistical analyses, for months at a time, before they finally came to the number 140, but you get the picture; and for the most part, I think they got it just right.

But as you will already know if you follow me (not to mention what you can tell from this lengthy opening gambit) I’m pretty chatty once I get going. I find it hard to condense all my thoughts, feelings and opinions into such an itty-bitty soundbite. I mean, obviously I do manage to keep myself restrained for the most part (it’s amazing how creative you get at using abbreviated text-speak when you’re trying to compose an effective tweet!) because at just over 12K tweets, I’m starting to become a bit of an old hand at it. But I do so love a good rant! I love getting the opportunity to write down how I think and feel about things, which is why I’m such a fan of journaling – something I’ve been doing on and off for 23 years. I think I also manage to organise my thoughts properly and clarify my position on something, once I’ve taken the time to write about it; either via pen and paper or keyboard and screen.

toormix-notebook-blue

One thing I noticed about a lot of the owners/authors of my favourite Twitter accounts, was that they also had links to their blogs and online places, included on their profile pages. I’m not just talking one or two people here and there either; it seemed like anyone who was anybody on Twitter, also had their own private, personal platforms from which to further expound upon their ideas, express their opinions and speak their minds. Following those links, I discovered a wealth of well-written, humorous, intelligent, interesting and truly impressive content. Pretty much every new blog I checked out, turned out to be worthy of reading and bookmarking, so I could come back time and again to see what was new. I found myself unable to restrain myself from leaving long, rambling comments on their posts – probably sounding like some dumb fangirl, more often than not. And when they took the time to reply to me? Hell, I was really blown away that they’d actually taken the time to acknowledge me full stop. But it really reinforced that conclusion I’d already come to, about how Twitter and the atheist ‘community’ as a whole, worked to create a network of individuals who actually want to reach out to each other and form friendships, offer support or just high-five one another from time to time. So it was only a matter of time before I decided that I too wanted to have my own little slice of the t’interwebs!

So, what can you expect to see from me if you decide to come back again from time to time? Well, atheism and anti-theism are the two topics that are closest to my heart, so naturally I’m going to posting quite a bit about that. But it’s not going to be a blog dedicated exclusively to atheism. The name of the blog is ‘Outspoken’ because I’ve always been renowned for my no-nonsense, candid honest opinions on just about everything. To call someone opinionated is looked upon almost as an insult these days, which always struck me as odd. Because everyone is opinionated. We all have an opinion on a multitude of matters, from the major to the mundane. I guess I’m just a little less reluctant to want to share those opinions I have with other people – and that probably makes me a pretty good candidate for blogging. So you can expect to find comment and commentary on a whole host of topics that not only interest me, but those which I think might also interest you too.

talking-about-myself

I can’t always promise to be the most pleasant or palatable of posters at times; not because I intentionally look to shock or annoy people with my opinions, but because being honest is just something I feel really strongly about. I despise fake, phony, two-faced people who just want to kiss-ass and come up smelling of roses. I’d rather be despised for speaking my mind, than loved for having sold out and compromised my own integrity. So there may be times when you really don’t like my opinions or agree with the stuff I’m posting on here. But that’s actually a good thing. I’m going to leave the comments field open for now, because I really encourage people to voice their opinions, have their say and get the opportunity to offer up an alternative point of view.

Now, that doesn’t mean I’m giving a green light to every bilge-spilling fucknut and his side-kick, to just pour forth with a shit-tonne of proselyting bullspunk on here. No sirree Bob. If you have a valid, well constructed opinion then I’d love to hear it. But there really will be a zero-tolerance rapid deletion of any preachy, religiobot quoting nonsense, that anyone dumb enough to think I’m really going to pay the slightest heed to it, might decide to litter up the comments field with. Decent discussion and debate are always welcome; deluded fuckwittery is not. And on that sweary note, (oh shit yeah, did I not tell you? I do actually swear a lot from time to time, but don’t let that distract you from the overall message I’m trying to get across, m’kay?) I am going to bid you all adieu. If you’ve managed to make it this far, I thank you. If this long-winded introduction hasn’t put you off and you’re planning to come back and see me again sometime, then I would be very happy to have to along for the ride.

Now, I’m pretty sure you’re going to need a drink and a toilet break after all this, so I’ll stop now, before I end up going off on another tangent. Thanks again for your time (I know I do like to write a lot, but don’t worry, not all my posts will be of this epic Homeric length) I really do appreciate it.

Much love y’all

Bex