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A belief manifesto

I’ve been accused…good naturedly…of being a fence sitter in this blog. I won’t argue – it’s deliberate. Context is important, and too often, I find that opposing positions are rooted in different base assumptions. Even when the implied scope of the discussion is quite specific – “Should we reinstate the death penalty (in South Africa, in the present context)? ” – people have a tendency to argue on the basis of assumptions that might not be relevant to the very specific scope. Is the research cited, and which was performed in Europe, relevant to South Africa? Does the debate even matter if the death penalty has been declare unconstitutional?

Given that there’s no shortage of non-negotiable opinions on the internet, and that being non-committal is merely being true to my personality, I’ve elected to explore both sides of the argument as often as possible, and tended to avoid topics which are so obviously one-sided that opponents must clearly be deranged and thus unable to appreciate my (or any) writing anyway.

For an example of the latter, a friend suggested I write about ‘corrective’ rape. It’s obviously a problem in South Africa, and a very relevant topic. But the act is so obviously and unambiguously repugnant that I can’t think of anything novel to say about it (or any form of rape for that matter). On the other hand, there are a lot of ideas to be explored in the context of patriarchy that condones such acts, and protects it’s perpetrators. So I might not write about ‘corrective rape’ and other such obvious topics, specifically, and thus my opinion on them may go unstated.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. It’s that restating something which I consider to be self-evident doesn’t come naturally.

Today, though, if only to demonstrate my willingness to commit if I feel like it, I’ve decided to present a manifesto of my beliefs – at least those I can recall right now. Even then I might leave out some that I consider to be really, really ridiculously self-evident.

I believe

I believe that everyone, inherently, has a right to decisions about themselves. What consenting adults do to themselves and to each (consenting) other, is their right. That means that a man who wants to have sex with another man (as long as that other man consents), should be allowed to. That means that someone who wants to take their own life, should be allowed to. That means that someone who wants to take drugs, should be allowed to. That means that someone who wants to marry their dog, should be allowed to. (Or maybe not – how do we know whether the dog consents?)

I believe that the role of the law is to protect us from each other, but not from ourselves. That means that a man who wishes to take powerful and possibly fatal hallucinogenics should be allowed to, but not when he intends to fly a plane. Sometimes the right to ourselves will be in conflict with the rights of others, and then need trumps right. Sometimes it’s even more complicated than that, but there I go being all non-committal again.

I feel that vastly different ideologies can exist alongside one another provided people understand that opposing opinions don’t invalidate their own views and therefore do not need to be defeated in order to exist. Facts may invalidate their opinions, but as long as people understand that their ideas, good or bad, don’t need to be forced on others, it’s okay for them to be wrong.

On that note, I think it’s absolutely impossible for any human mind to be completely right even a majority of the time – there is simply too much data to assimilate – and so tolerance of conflicting ideas is an imperative overarching principle.

I believe that everyone should have the right to express their opinions about other people’s ideas, but that the manner of that expression should be subject to the law. Picket outside the abortion clinic at a distance, if you must, but preventing people from entering (or yelling at them from across the street) is harassment.

On that note, I believe that abortion should be legal, but feel that it should be a last resort. I feel that those who spend their energy actively fighting abortion would make better use of their time offering better alternatives – such as counselling, safe houses, unbiased sex education, adoption agencies and initiatives to improve the social conditions of people at high risk for unwanted pregnancy. I do question the ability of the street picketers to offer those things in good faith.

I think that racism, sexism and discrimination of all forms are uncool. I think they stem from the over-eagerness of humans to associate what something is to what it does (or can do or should do). It’s a hat, so it goes on your head. She’s a woman, so she makes sandwiches. I’m a man, so I could make better sandwiches if I wanted to.

I don’t think humans understand statistics. Even if most things do a thing, that doesn’t mean that all those things should do a thing.

I don’t believe that humans are capable of large scale conspiracies, such as organisations of illuminati secretly controlling the worlds governments. I do believe that the state of the world creates incentives for like-minded powerful people to cooperate for their own benefit.

I believe that prostitution should be legal, NOT because the decriminalising prostitution protects the rights of sex workers (or doesn’t, the case is not clear), but because consenting adults should be allowed to do what they want with themselves. Actually, I don’t think visiting a prostitute is necessarily shameful, though breaking the trust of a partner with whom you have agreed to be sexually or emotionally exclusive is undoubtedly shameful. I think it would be strange if it were legal to take your own life but not have sex for money. I think it’s strange that you can’t have sex for money, but that you can clean a toilet (or be punched repeatedly in the head) for money.

I think there are many kinds of relationships possible in the world – monogamy, polygamy, one wife with many husbands (it’s good to know polygamy isn’t patriarchal), marriage to inanimate object – whatever works for you and other CONSENTING adults. Thus, in my model, cheating is still uncool. Relationships with animals are still up in the air subject to the dubious consent thing.

On the topic of animals, I think the needs of humans supersede the needs of animals, but that the wants of humans do not justify the suffering of animals. Many facets of the animal food chain are very difficult to detach from human well-being (for now), but others are simply grotesque expressions of gluttony. If cows living a humane life means steaks cost me R500 (for example), then so be it. But better the cows die, if they are the primary source of food for a rural village.

I think it’s weird that the life of one lion matters more than the life of a billion battery chickens.

I think that genetic modification is fine in principle, but that any technology which affects the health of humans should be handled with care. In that sense, GM foods are not unlike medicines. I suspect that there is a degree of harm that can come with any new technology, until we adapt, even with the best of intentions.

I think the well-being of humans and animals supersede the precedence of culture and religion.

I don’t know that we necessarily have a moral imperative to help our fellow man (if so, set by whom and according to which standards?), but I believe that it makes sense to do so. Cynically, supporting oppressive social structures (such as racism and patriarchy) leads to unrest and unpredictable social upheaval. Less cynically, but still with respect to self-interest, helping others creates potential opportunities for oneself. And stated plainly, being an asshole causes people to treat you like an asshole.

I suspect I’ve barely scratched the surface of what there is to have an opinion about. But I’ve run out of words available to type before I bore myself.

I suspect many people will disagree. I’m interested to hear your views, especially if you disagree.




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