Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Human Universals - A List of Human Stuff

December 15th

Donald E Brown, an American anthropologist and scholar, took the time a few decades ago to compile a list of things that all human races appear to have in common. I remember finding this list online a few years ago and pouring over it.

One of the topics that has always interested me is the question of what it means to be human. This list doesn’t answer that question and these things are not uniquely human, but we do appear to share them across disparate cultures. The modern office worker and the Eastern Eurpean cave man’s commonality is documented here, and it’s wonderful.


Life as a Nerd in Byron Bay

October 25th

I started this post, with a glass of red wine. With several in fact, to be honest. That is how all great monologues begin; uninhibited and well… ranty. My operating system’s spell checker tells me that ranty isn’t a word. Well, I think you know what I mean anyway, so screw you operating system.

I’ve always been a self confessed nerd. There’s no use hiding it. It doesn’t matter whether I’ve used the internet to bolster my knowledge of sport or mechanics. I just don’t care enough to pull it off in conversation. And despite the ongoing debate about nature vs nurture, I hold the opinion that no amount of environmental support would have made me any better at kicking a football towards it’s intended destination. Instead of feigning authority… I simply fess up to being a nerd, incapable of regular social intercourse. It’s not you, it’s me. Honest.

Living in Byron Bay, Australia, hippy capital of Australia, puts me in a peculiar position. On the one hand I have the pseudo scientific mumbo jumbo that comes from the new-age “spiritual” posse of the area and on the other there is the ultra-cool surfy demographic willing to throw themselves into the indiscriminate ocean in pursuit of a water based ride. Not to demean either group, which I hold in high enough regard, but I just can’t do it. I like the idea of both of course - free love and spiritual transcendence or the physically and socially rewarding surf culture both sound like perfectly edifying pursuits but I just don’t have the grapes for either. I’ve often mused that if God exists, why did he endow me with such a critical, skeptical epistemological view as to render himself non-existent? Or why if I’m so envious of the “cool” sporty types while I find more gratification in the intellectual pursuits of technology and philosophy than football and water sports.

To make matters worse, I’ve been endowed with the arrogant failure of my internal editor. Without a sense of “taboo”, I’ll happily engage my peers in conversations about politics, religion and sex where they’d rather discuss the weather, sport and local gossip. Who cares about such inane topics? Why do we fritter away our time of such inconsequential lines of inquiry? Perhaps I’ll never know, so instead I’ll probably continue to offend, rebuke and challenge my conversational partners in such exchanges. I’d rather be offended than bored. Wouldn’t you? Life’s too short to talk about the weather. Unless you are a meteorologist, in which case I’d love to pick your brains about the science.

Unfortunately I’ve imbued enough liquor to make all attempts at conclusion futile. It seemed such a good idea at the beginning, to start typing. And spellcheck certainly gives the illusion of some semblance of sobriety, but this is not the case. So instead I’ll stop here and post. I think I’m drunk enough to do that, though I may regret it later.

Good night.

The Privacy You Know

April 1st

Personal privacy is a casualty of our time. Some privacy is taken from us forcibly. In the name of security we are ordered to submit our records, our bodies, our associations and our biographies to institutions who want us to feel safer for it - but can’t guarantee that security or even quantify the efficacy of their actions.

Other privacy is surrendered voluntarily to our communities (and therefore everyone) via our social connectivity. Who would have thought that the very sites that sacrifice the privacy we cling to in the name of civil liberty, are so popular they have reshaped the internet as we know it. Blogger, Wordpress, Myspace, facebook, twitter, Linked In et al expose our personal privacy in a way hitherto unknown before. Younger users I suspect are growing up with no sense of what privacy used to be, but dispense it happily leaving the rest of us wondering what all the fuss was about.

So between the privacy that is taken, and the privacy we give away - what is left over? Our humanity appears in tact so far, and the contestants of televisions Big Brother didn’t slowly die like rats in a laboratory experiment gone wrong. In the middle is our privacy of mind, of thought. As our physical and social privacy melts away we are left only with the shelter of our personal counsel. I suspect one day that too will be threatened, and perhaps in some future dystopia we can have our thoughts, fantasies and id screened for any content that could be refused classification or for personal weakness or anxieties.

In this sense perhaps our compulsion to share ourselves so willingly online is not a sacrifice of privacy at all, but rather it’s the opportunity to express our private thoughts publicly in any way we choose to determine. Maybe social networking actually protects our privacy by allowing us to control it.

Charles Darwin, You Would Be So Proud!

February 12th

You would be so proud of us. If you were here today you could see that we have totally vindicated you and your theories. Even the pope reckons you were onto something after all. Check it out, we pushed the environment to it’s upper limits and it was amazing, all these species died, and some bloomed into plague proportions. It was just like you said!

Now we have amazing advances in our understanding of genetics and DNA all thanks to your original insights. Our mind-bogglingly huge intellectual advances make your little notebooks look kind of feeble by comparison but we still couldn’t have done it without you. Generally speaking we haven’t actually quite brought back genetically extinct species, or solved the issues of overly successfully plants and animals but it’s not for trying! We so totally could do it if we wanted to.

What’s really great though is that we’ve imagined that idea’s can travel like genes, and we call them memes. You see it’s just like your theory of genes, except instead of the genes being carried by species, we postulate ideas, culture, concepts and feelings are carried by us humans. You’d be amazed! There is this one meme where it’s dangerous to tell children about your theory of evolution. There’s this other one where homosexuals make the sky god so angry he makes us fly planes into each others buildings to show his disappointment. My personal favorite is this meme where we use our massive international computer network to send each other photos of domestic cats with poorly spelled captions. It’s so funny! I don’t know how these memes work, but they sure are something.

We’ve come so far Chuck, you would be so proud.

The Triumph and Tragedy of Being Human.

February 9th

The human animal has suffered greatly at hands of nature and each other and yet as our species matures we’ve developed a social cohesion unparalleled in the rest of the animal world. I don’t say that lightly, for there is little difference between homo sapiens and all manner of other life on earth but some things are undeniably human. Our increased socialisation is one of those things. Long gone are the days where small nomadic tribes or families wandered the plains of Africa. The times of disconnected towns and villages or colonial exploration of an unmapped world are over.

With this connection, comes great responsibility though perhaps we didn’t see it coming when Edison’s light bulbs illuminated lower Manhattan with the first power utility in 1882. In the blink of an eye, the wave of industry mechanized us, and wars were brought flickering and animated from the frontline to the movie screen. Radio and television closed the time gap and before long geosynchronous satellites ensured that we were aware of what other humans were doing anywhere on earth. It wasn’t far after that we arrive here, on the internet, connected to each other - always and everywhere. Radio and television closed the time gap and before long geosynchronous satellites ensured that we were aware of what other humans were doing anywhere on earth. It wasn’t far after that we arrive here, on the internet, connected to each other - always and everywhere, whether we’re attending online universities or “checking in” at the coffee house via FourSquare.

This global socialisation has brought with it a series of ethical challenges that, for the most part, have been met. With great kindness the parisian housewife cares in earnest about the fate of the children in a war fought elsewhere. Or the New Zealand student with a deep devotion to the forests of Indonesia. With our sudden awareness comes a profound sense of responsibility. We care about the innocent victims of war as they are no longer out of sight.

It is unsurprising therefore than with our intrinsic physical connection the id of our kind is unearthed, and our darkest and weakest human failures come to bear. As if the burden of the natural world isn’t enough we are faced with the challenge of our own competitive nature, of social inequity, moral depravity and hate. The great irony and foremost challenge of our unity is our inherent dislike for one another, and this is the triumph and tragedy of being human.