Wow, that’s amazing, I’ve been doing this blogging malarkey for a freaking decade! I thought I’d interrupt my work on another post to celebrate this entirely arbitrary fact. Yay!
It’s arbitrary, of course, because apes might not have had eight fingers and two thumbs, so we’d not use the decimal system and ten wouldn’t be a round number. I know, this blog blows your mind sometimes. 😉
I thought it was odd when I was coming up to my tenth birthday – only four months after Britain ditched pounds, shillings and pence for its new decimal currency – that my age wasn’t seen as a milestone: becoming that silly number thirteen was (and then 21, not the sensible choice for an ape, 20). Actually, after writing computer programs for long enough, you start to think powers of two are more naturally special – I’ll have a party when I’m 64.
Anyway, I digress. Arbitrary or not, this feels a bit special. I’m proud of my blog, and really pleased that I have some great followers and commentators. I’m proud enough that I’ve added my own name to the header, along with a few other tweaks, and I’m planning some more changes. I’m still not sure about “lettersquash”. It was a bit of a brain-fart moment coming up with that, because I didn’t want to put my name to the blog, and it just seemed to scream at me that that’s what you should get from a wordpress – letter squash. Ridiculous. But – this is weird, almost spooky – I’ve recently thought of an interesting connection to what I attempt to do here. Squashing letters is a bit like undermining doctrine. Tenuous, maybe, but hey-ho. It inspired my latest tag line, “mulching bogus logos since 2008″.
The stats tell me I have 40 followers, although some may not be for genuine enjoyment of my work. This is genuinely less interesting to me than the fact that a few people respond occasionally (or often), expressing their thoughts and appreciation of my work, which has been incredibly encouraging. I’d have given this up ages ago without you. Thanks so much!
I’m not sure what to make of the religious bloggers who follow me – a new one seems to sign up every time I write something anti-theist – maybe they’ve got a bot that does it on keywords, or maybe they’re open-minded sceptics (not a contradiction, of course).
What’s It All Been About?
It’s been a rather meandering subject matter since my first meandering post. I began describing in a few posts my conversion (“waking up”, or even “enlightenment”) from Eastern mysticism, which I’d taken on board as the teenage son of a yoga teacher some 30 years earlier and thereafter refined – with the help of music, lots of cannabis and some very “right-on” therapy training – into an exquisitely confused mess of superstitious New-Age garbage. I wrote briefly about this, and Zen Buddhism, and what I’d moved to, sceptical atheism. It was all pretty raw and I hadn’t worked out what it meant yet. I thought this was “doing philosophy”, talking about what you thought about the world. My philosophy. The world according to lettersquash.
The waking up happened for various reasons, including getting more serious about being a mystic and finding that it didn’t make sense, and through banging heads with some sceptical thinkers at the JREF.
I’ve not talked much about myself since. Like a lot of people, I feel a bit self-conscious doing that, so I soon moved on to criticising other people’s philosophy, beginning with the Law of Attraction. I don’t search for things to praise or attack: I happened to find this insane forum run by Steve Pavlina, because it said it was about personal development, and, well, that’s what I’m into. It was actually about practising an extreme form of positive thinking, a sort of practical solipsism, in which you believe that everything you think is manifested in reality (that’s all reality is).
I just saw the poor, innocent followers and their popular deluded leader, and I thought this was just an innocent mistake: the world was full of wrong philosophies that people pick up; that’s what I’d done; that’s all they’d done. I had no idea back then just how much time, effort, ego and greed goes into scamming people with bare-faced lies. I was such a rookie! It was only through writing the blog and reading others, like Yakaru’s inimitable Spirituality is No Excuse, that I learned about New-Age celebrities churning out dangerous propaganda like The Secret, and Hay House, publishing their entrancing bullshit. I’d been soaking much of that up myself through my counselling course, even getting to the point where I believed most physical ailments were due to some kind of mental stuckness, “issues”, relationship problems. My professors taught this shit.
I toyed with the idea of putting my energies into debunking those kinds of scam, but I soon realised that I didn’t have the sleuthing skills for following the money or the legal investigations. Nor did I have the balls to take on the scammers, and some of these guys have a lot to lose. I never thought to start these adventures behind a VPN to protect myself from reprisals.
After some more wandering around into subjects like “Directly down-wind faster than the wind” (because that strange engineering/physics discussion had taken over a significant chunk of my life) and organic farming (which I think sceptics dismiss too readily), I gradually settled into what I suppose is a recognised genre, the atheist or anti-theist, the critial-thinking educator, sceptic, philosophical naturalist and science enthusiast. You know the deal.
God, thanks to his non-existence, is a much safer target than some of his fans. I can still snipe at the Sheldrakes and Liptons and Hays of this world casually, from the sidelines, in more general terms, which is valuable work too, and save my main vitriol for those who tell us confidently and endlessly that God exists, because reasons.
But I don’t want to get too type-cast. My recent focus has been Christianity, writing critiques of two books that fell into my lap begging to be trashed, Who Ordered the Universe?, by a little-known Dr Nick Hawkes (four degrees, no less, nothing learned), and Before You Say “I Don’t Believe”, by an equally obscure Roger Carswell, God’s own Benny Hill (Yakaru 😀 ). They fell into my lap because my partner is a Christian, which is probably by no means unique for an atheist blogger, but perhaps unusual, and it certainly focuses the mind.
Where To Next?
In the course of the Hawkes review, Yakaru mentioned the Amazon sales figures in relation to his own work criticising Bruce Lipton, and I realised I should take this more seriously. Writing about almost unknown religious apologists is probably of little interest to most people, much less important, and might even risk increasing their popularity and influence. It is the louder, more popular voices one needs to counter: more people will be listening to them. So, I think I need to grow a pair and take on some bigger names in future. I have the likes of Jordan Peterson in my sights, whose insidious mix of valid psychology, mythic psycho-babble with a Christian emphasis, and insensitive meritocratic exceptionalism is deeply worrying. His whiny, arrogant outpourings on youtube have been encouraging the reactionary disgruntlement of his largely white, male following whose traditional place at the top of the social pyramid is threatened by feminism, gender fluidity, post-modern relativism and (they say) social Marxism. Back in the good old days when men were real men, women were real women and Jesus was King…you know the kind of idiot.
But they can’t help it. My blog can’t really help where it goes. The other post I’m working on now is about free will and my increasing confidence that it’s an illusion. That issue hit me sideways, too. It has connections with religion, of course, and another subject I put on hold, the nature of consciousness. I still intend to write about that – a simple solution to the hard problem thereof.
I’ve been thinking it’s time I upped my game, maybe segued into podcasting or vlogging (I’ve got the looks for podcasting). I really like watching presentations, talks and other educational videos on YouTube. The subjects I want to deal with are often quite subtle and complex, and talking is a good way to express nuanced ideas much more fluidly than in text. One of my Internet aquaintances, who turned into a best buddy, Recursive Prophet, encouraged me converse with him by voice mail many moons ago, which we’ve been doing ever since, and he was surprised to find I sounded much less sure of myself than I look in written form, and that’s probably a good thing when you’re preaching scepticism.
I’m wondering about trying to – dare I say the awful words – monetize my content creation. Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay if you don’t want to: I’m talking about a freemium arrangement, where you just pay if you want some extra bells and whistles on top of the regular offerings. I’m researching at the moment and everything’s up in the air. I might only do that with a separate type of content, like a podcast, or even a completely different business, like making bamboo flutes, open an Etsy shop.
I never used to like websites that ask for money, and I recently had a dig at someone for their Patreon link, but I’m beginning to realise that this voluntary model, funding coming directly from people who feel your work is valuable enough to them to support it, is a step forward for humanity from “wage-slave” capitalism. Or perhaps it’s a return to an older style of marketplace, where patrons (sometimes rich ones) bought wares directly from artisans (often poor ones) on the public street or in their front parlours. As I get older, an online income stream, however modest, becomes more attractive. I might find it harder to do my day-job, selling tickets at the gates of a visitor attraction for a minimum wage (yeah Dad, private education rocks). I don’t want to retire from work, I probably can’t afford to, and I only have a state pension to look forward to in my dotage.
All manner of causes contributed to me not making a “success” of myself, in the traditional sense of using my talents to make lots of money. One was my dislike of capitalism, and another my religious outlook (why does almost nobody following Jesus give their money away and live like a pauper?). I dropped out of uni to play guitar and contemplate my navel, and only returned to academic study in my thirties. I became a therapeutic counsellor, but I gave it up ten years later, triggered by my mother’s sudden death in a road-traffic accident. One of the things I’m wondering about is offering some kind of counselling or life coaching online, which fits quite well with critical thinking.
Anyway, best not get too far ahead of myself, I might bump into me when I catch up. I know these are all decisions I have to make myself, but I’d be very interested if you have any thoughts to share, or experiences of working online, or advice, or requests for things to blog about, either in the comments or via email – you’ll find my address at the bottom of the page.
One of the decisions I made earlier that I’m very happy about is to engage with readers in the comments section. In fact, I feel I should do more in this regard, write posts that ask questions and do less lecturing. I was fortunate that I got online in the forums era of the Net, when people with similar interests got together and argued about stuff. We learned more then, I reckon. It seems a long time ago now, before the social-media giants got their proboscises into us, like giant flies, sucking up our data and vomiting it back into our filter bubbles, a magnified digest of our own cognitive biases. We have to keep challenging ourselves, trying to think the opposite of, or anything different at all from, what we think today.
Well, this is belated, like all good arbitrary birthday wishes, but only by a day (someone has to dig my allotment).
Thanks for reading. Ciao for now.