Category Archives: Self

Jessica’s Diaries Being Posted On Substack

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve begun transcribing and posting my younger-self diaries to substack.

I started writing a diary at age 10, and reading back on my diaries has been informative and often hilarious over the years. When I started transcribing my diary to turn it into a novel (that one is from around age 25), I realised that other people may enjoy reading the secret diary of someone, even if that someone is ordinary.

And so I began to transcribe my first ever diary, from age 10, with the intention of transcribing it weekly. I think I’ll continue through time for as long as I like. There are plenty of years to cover before I reach the time of the first novel!

To read the diary head on over to:

https://diariesofjessicajane.substack.com/

A Day In The Life Of Spiritual Jess

Update for posterity on Jess’ life in 2021.

On 4th January I moved to a hostel with cheap bedrooms and shared facilities. I wanted to do my own thing as independently of others as possible. This means leaving my friends from London, and I did.

I switched out my first room which was kinda small to a bigger one with a private bathroom and a door to access the fire escape. By far my favourite feature of the room.

At first, in January, I was reading some buddhist books that are recommended in another book that I have (https://www.mctb.org/) The book says to start with Metta, so with Metta I started. I was simply saying “May I be peaceful and at ease” and the other three phrases in a vaguely undisciplined way during quiet times. I would also get stoned and observe my closed-eye visions, and my energy body. Something I still do now. Most of that month though I was easing in to the rhythms of the house, the kitchen and trying to stay warm.

In February, in the new room, I eventually decided to move on to Insight meditation practice (also known as mindfulness). I’ve gone from occasional 30 minute sits to 2×45 minutes every day. I also did an online weekend retreat of Mahasi noting, which I crashed out of it when it got hard several times.

This leads us to a “day in the life of”

I get up between 10am-12noon, just in time for the sun to reach my stairs.

I eat breakfast in the sun, and sometimes take my rug out to read down there. I am always reading one book on Buddhism/meditation of some kind or other, and cycle through them.

Usually, pre-lunch, I do a 45 minute mindfulness meditation sit on the rug just inside my room.

I eat lunch, trying to avoid other people as I make it. At some point in daylight hours, after lunch, I do a second 45 minute sit. Sometimes I do a guided video instead, occasionally later than dusk, to switch it up.

Sometimes, at some point before curfew at 8pm, I go out and get food, do laundry or other chores. In the park on the way to the supermarket I take photos of the wildlife.

If I don’t have chores but do need a little walk, I go and hug trees on the main street of Lisbon.

Once it gets to dusk I do a variation on having a nap, having a “special” cigarette on my stairs, and having a dance. Mostly all three. All of these involve imaginal experiences, paying attention to behind-the-eyes visions, my energy body, my physical aches and pains, and dreaming.

Afternoon nap time

At dinner I sometimes see my friends at the hostel, and I’m not always avoiding them, which seems good, even though I want to devote more and more hours to spiritual stuff.

Almost every day I consider writing, but after the first mindful sit I feel very different. I don’t know what to write, or have any sense of feeling like writing. One day in every 10-20 or so days, like today, I write first and meditate later.

The desire to write is sometimes for its own sake, and sometimes because I would like to switch to that as a career, and I’m concerned with gradually building up enough words to one day make money with it.

During Jan and Feb I did in fact work most days on an ebook of my pre-existing blog posts (find it here: http://ssica3003.com/book.html) which was more mechanical than writing new things, and easier to do for short chunks per day.

At night I eat dinner and watch a film. Typically I have a late-night call with my partner, then fall into bed to sleep around 2-4am. I’m normally disturbed by early morning hostel noises between 7am-9am, then I dream weird dreams for an hour or three before it all begins again.

My world context is of Portugal in a strict lockdown (curfews, no movement, nothing open except for food, no delivery of goods that are not food) but I don’t think I’d live my life much differently if I could move around more. I’m starting to miss English friends though, would have flown home for a visit soon, and my birthday will be a corona-birthday once again.

There’s nothing to do except get awakened, which was true before I left London, so here I am, doing that, and sometimes it’s sunny 🙂

‘Magic, Running In The Gutters Like Lightning’ by Alan Moore

I am a huge fan of Alan Moore, and I am one of the few readers who eagerly purchased his magazine, Dodgem Logic, as the issues came out in 2010. One article in particular in Issue 3 had a profound effect on my thoughts at the time, and contains a couple of concepts that are so useful I want to be able to reference them in my own writing.

Two years ago, Dodgem Logic content was not available anywhere on the internet, and so I transcribed this piece for reference. I now see that some Dodgem Logic content is available on Scribd. I hope that Alan and the other authors are the ones controlling that account and are getting paid for it. If so, I hope this transcription inspires people to seek out the rest of the Dodgem Logic content on Scribd and drive revenue to the authors, but if the existence of this article is a copyright-infringement-too-far Alan is welcome to contact me on [myhandle] at [gmail] and I’ll take it down.

Until then, enjoy:

‘Magic, Running In The Gutters Like Lightning’ by Alan Moore in Dodgem Logic, Vol1 Issue 3, pp 2-9, April-May 2010

Here amongst the body-bags and melting icecaps of the modern world, magic is surely no more than a comfort-blanket for the dopey and the deluded, or perhaps a lucrative and proven movie-franchise means of separating miracle-starved children and nostalgic, disillusioned adults from their pocket-money. Alan Moore thinks otherwise.

Magic is something that should not be mentioned in mixed company or, come to think of it, in any company whatsoever. It will kill the conversation deader than Houdini and evoke a silence at once horror-stricken, pitying, and uncomfortable, like suddenly announcing you’re partial to incest or Morris-dancing, practices that might have all been perfectly acceptable when we were medieval, but which modern science and common sense assure us we are better off without.

This is particularly true at present, when the science and rationality that dragged our species up from a quagmire of ignorance and pestilence is fighting for its life against a horde of pulpit-pounding, reality-phobic fuckheads who think the planet was, in only seven days, assembled like IKEA furniture a mere six thousand years ago by some kind of talked-up local volcano deity who could apparently have used a course in anger-management and who then planted lots of several-million-year-old fossils just to test the faith of 19th century palaeontologists. It isn’t simply Darwin that’s endangered here: Reason itself is under threat, along with every last advance in human thinking back to Galileo and beyond. Given the stakes, it seems counter-productive to make any sort of case for magic, seems like muddying already bloody waters to dredge up an idea that is equally despised by those on both sides of this increasingly brutal and bare-knuckled argument.

And yet, what if inside the bottomless top hat of magical ideas were some means of conceptually resolving the dispute, some arcane and discarded worldview broad enough to readily accommodate two seemingly irreconcilable realities, the scientific and the spiritual? After all, magic is older than both science and religion and in many ways is parent to the pair of them, with religion being only tribal magical traditions and creation myths that have been organised on a more formal basis, while science is itself built on foundations of hermetic scholarship and alchemy. Who better to sort out a brawl between the kids than Mum and Dad?

So, you might reasonably ask, if magic’s so important historically and potentially, what is it? Although a straightforward enough question, this has a variety of answers which depend on who is being asked. A five year old will tell you with conviction that magic is something that a witch or wizard does to conjure up enchantments or to fly the moonlit skies of Halloween. A Christian fundamentalist will tell you much the same thing but with greater emphasis on satanic orgies and eternal hellfire, while a scientific rationalist would describe magic as a system of belief that has exploited human ignorance of how the world works to prop up or justify an endless system of scams, tyrannies and slaughters, almost since that world began. There may well be more than an element of truth in all of these opinions, and yet if we wish to understand the subject on its own terms before we dismiss it then we might be better off, rather than consulting outsiders on the issue, in asking how magic has defined itself.

This question will admittedly elicit just as many different responses if considered across a few thousand years of diverse magical philosophies, but a halfway-modern definition after the important 20th century magician and alleged Great Beast Aleister Crowley would see magic as the act of bringing about changes in reality according to one’s Will. Will is capitalised deliberately, to stand for the intentions and the actions of one’s highest self, the wisest and most noble part of us, the part that watches out for us and tells us that pissing in an electric outlet isn’t such a great idea. This carefully makes a distinction between our true Will and all our wants, desires and impulses. Running amok at our place of employment or school with a samurai sword or AK47 would certainly bring about change in reality, for both ourselves and for our victims, but these would be changes that only a self-obsessed emotional and psycho-social cripple could find interesting or satisfying. This would be contrary to the whole central concern of magic, which is to connect the individual to his or her highest self and thus transform them into someone much more balanced and empowered, more capable of managing the powerful currents of their life and circumstances that swirl all around them; someone for whom plans succeed and difficulties melt away as if by magic.

Wonderful as this might be, if all there is to magic is some sort of woolly, new-age self improvement program, then what’s all the fuss about? Where are all the demons conjured hissing into pentacles and all the supernatural powers, the flying through the night on broomsticks? Do these ‘changes in reality’ we’re talking about include changes to the laws of physics, such as those which pertain to gravity, for instance? Pretty obviously, the answer to that question would be ‘no’. Does that mean, then, that all the claims made on behalf of magic are no more than a collage of madness, fantasy, fraud and misunderstanding? Given that to say as much is to dismiss the basis for the biggest part of modern science and culture then, again, the answer must be in the negative. This leaves us with an apparent contradiction. Are we saying magic is real, or unreal? Or are we saying that it is somehow both these things at once? The resolution of this puzzle gives us the key to understanding magic, but before we can unpick it we must first sort out our terms of reference. Before we can decide of magic’s real, unreal or somewhere in between we must first make it clear what we mean by reality.

The first thing we can say about reality from a human perspective is that we cannot experience reality directly. We have photons bombarding retinas. We have vibrations in our inner ear, in our tympanums. The cilia in our nostrils and the buds upon our tongues transmit impressions of the chemicals comprising everything we smell or taste, while the minute electrical impulses racing through our nervous systems tell us whether we are touching silk or sandpaper. Moment by moment, we somehow compose these signals into a grand, shifting tapestry we call reality. It isn’t: It’s our sensory impressions of reality, with a direct experience of the thing itself being impossible. Effectively, to practical intents and purposes, reality is in our minds.

The second thing we can say about human reality is that we seem to be perpetually experiencing two very different kinds of this elusive quality or substance. Firstly, there is the material world with all its complex and unyielding laws of chemistry, biology or physics that our mortal bodies exist in and interact with. In trying to comprehend material reality, our human consciousness developed an exquisitely precise tool, science, whereby we could measure, study and perhaps eventually understand most of the cosmos that surrounds us. And then, secondly, we have the immaterial realm that our minds seem to be suspended in, the shifting and ungraspable reality of human consciousness itself… which, as observed above, is the only reality that we can ever truly know directly. This ‘inner’ reality is utterly impenetrable to the scrutiny of the scientific method, which requires empirical proof and phenomena that are repeatable under laboratory conditions, thus excluding thoughts, emotions and the rest of our internal landscape. It’s ironic, but the only blind-spot in our scientific understanding of the world is consciousness itself, the very thing that science emerged from.

Science’s inability to handle consciousness (or even prove that it exists) presents a problem in that if we want to know how our minds work in order, say, to stop them getting ill or maybe to improve them, in the same way that we know things about our bodies, then we have no one to turn to. Consciousness, of course, also presents a major stumbling block for science itself. Science can quite justifiably claim credit for the countless insights into our existence that is has delivered down across the centuries, but one suspects that with consciousness being very probably the most extraordinary, rare and precious item in the universe, the failure of science to provide an explanation for it must surely be irritating.

From science’s point of view, consciousness is what has been called ‘the ghost in the machine’, a vaporous and elusive spectre that is inexplicable and which thus messes up our otherwise detailed and comprehensive clockwork scheme of things. So vexing is this gap in scientific understanding that some areas of science have tried to paper over it by claiming that consciousness doesn’t really exist, that it’s some manner of hallucination caused by glands, by chemicals, by something science is capable of measuring, despite the fact that this flies in the face of all human experience. It also offers us a model of our inner workings that seems limited, impoverished, and functionally all but useless, most especially if we’re in any line of work that calls on us to be creative. How are we meant to aspire to the literary heights of Shakespeare or musical composition skills of J.S. Bach with all mental activity reduced to a mere fart of the pineal gland? A richer and more helpful model of awareness would seem to be called for, perhaps based upon more flexible ideas as to what constitutes reality.

For instance what if rather than denying the reality of consciousness simply because it happens to be outside the parameters of what science can discuss, we instead take the stance that both mental and physical phenomena are real, albeit real in different ways? If we accepted that all thinking creatures were amphibious, in the sense that they have a life in two worlds at once; if we accepted that the phantom world of consciousness was just as real in its own ways as the hard world we bruise our shin on, wouldn’t we at least potentially have a new way of looking at our own awareness, and perhaps a different means of interacting with our own minds that might turn out to be more productive, fruitful and, frankly, exciting?

The idea that we exist astride two worlds, both the material and immaterial, requires examination, though it should be said that this examination cannot be scientific because, as explained previously, consciousness and science go together like milk and uranium. Is there, then, any evidence for the reality of the two planes we are discussing?

Well it could be argued that the definite existence of two such realities is, as the saying goes, as obvious as Lady Gaga’s cock: There is the world in which physical things like, say, a chair exist, and there there is the different, immaterial world in which the idea of a chair exists. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the idea of a chair must come before a physical chair can exist. The same is true of the whole man-made world around us, with our clothes, our homes, our advertising jingles and the language that we sing them in all starting out as ideas in someone’s mind, in someone’s consciousness. Looked at in this way, the world of awareness, far from being unreal, is the solid bedrock upon which a major part of our material world is standing. Also, it bears pointing out that immaterial ideas are much more sturdy and enduring than their physical manifestations. If, for example, every solid material chair were suddenly to vanish from the world (and no, I don’t know how that would have come about, except perhaps in Dr. Who where there’d be some variety of mucous-dripping aliens for whom “our Earth chairs are a kind of drug”), then as long as we still had the idea of chairs, it really wouldn’t be that big a setback. Ideas are immortal, or at least as long-lived as the culture that comes up with them, whereas the objects, monuments and even empires those ideas inspire are transient by comparison. Considered from this angle, which of our two worlds seems the least flimsy and the most important, even the most real?

In this light, we perhaps begin to see how many of the more extraordinary claims made on behalf of magic may have a firm basis in reality, although not the hard, physical reality that we most usually mean when you use that term. We possibly begin to understand that saying magic only happens in the mind or the imagination is potentially a very different thing from saying that it isn’t real. Importantly, if we can accept that the insubstantial medium in which our consciousness exists is just as much a world as the more solid medium in which our bodies, furniture and scratch-cards are all situated, then we can at least try to explore that immaterial world and determine its properties, just our species has so rigorously and rewardingly explored the other realm that our amphibious human breed inhabits, that of matter. Even by simply considering awareness, metaphorically, as being somehow like a world or landscape, we are opening up a family-sized worm-can of fresh possibilities for interacting usefully and interestingly with our consciousness.

What might such a purely cerebral territory be like, compared with our familiar physical terrain, and governed by what different laws? The laws of space and distance, for example, would be different in a world made not from dirt and rocks but from ideas: Land’s End and John O’Groats, famously far apart in the material world, are often mentioned in the same breath and therefore are right next to each other in conceptual terms, are side by side in the peculiar geography of consciousness. The laws of time might well also be different, given that we seem able to travel effortlessly into the remembered past or the projected future in our memory or our imagination, in a way that we cannot accomplish in material reality.

Perhaps the most intriguing question with regard to this world of the mind that we’re hypothesising is whether we each have our own sealed and private mental world, or whether it might be more like the way things are in the physical reality, where each of us has our own private space… our house or room… while having the ability to venture out into the world beyond our door that’s mutually accessible by all, and where we can meet up and interact with other people. If the landscape of ideas were common ground to all of us, this might provide a way of understanding those occasionally reported instances of knowledge-at-a-distance or telepathy. It could also provide an answer to the question asked most often of creative people, which is ‘where do ideas come from?’

If consciousness was actually a mutual environment and if ideas were like physical features in that landscape… like pebbles or landmarks, say, depending on their size and their importance… then we’d have to suppose that since everyone has ideas good or bad, then everyone must be connected with this immaterial world of concepts all the time, whether they be aware of it or not. Some ideas, such as the idea to stick the kettle on and make a cup of tea, are commonplace and could be seen as the equivalent of sand-grains on a beach, in that they’re everywhere, are of such little value and so easily in reach that anyone could have ideas like that without the slightest mental effort. Genuinely original ideas are much, much rarer and will take more of a mental journey and a lot more work to track them down, being less like common sand-grains than like a newly discovered species or lost Aztec city. This is perhaps why new ideas are found most often by artists, philosophers or scientists; creative people who are struggling to establish a much deeper and more exploratory relationship with their own consciousness. It may seem strange to think about awareness as a landscape and ideas as landmarks in that space, distinctive rocky outcrops that we sometimes stumble over in our mental wanderings, but if this were indeed the case it would explain such otherwise improbable coincidences as James Watt’s invention of the steam engine at the exact same time that several other people were inventing the same thing, having had just the same idea.

Of course, so far we are considering our mental realm only in terms of its geography. However when we first set sail on explorations of our physical reality we learned that other areas of the material world were already inhabited by different kinds of people, unimagined animals and unfamiliar vegetation. It might be to our advantage, then to consider the potential biology of our proposed landscape of consciousness, its fauna and flora. Journeying into these further reaches of the mind, what other life-forms might we possibly encounter?

Well, if it’s a landscape that is mutually accessible, we could perhaps expect to make contact with other human minds that happen to be travelling in the same zone of consciousness, as we suggested earlier with regard to a potential basis for claims of telepathy. Furthermore, if it’s a landscape that is indeed timeless, then it might conceivably be possible to meet with human minds that are from our own point of view located in the past or future, which might offer us an explanation for phenomena as various as ghosts from bygone eras or prophetic glimpses of events yet to occur.

Then there’s the at first startling possibility of life forms that aren’t human, that are instead native to the immaterial meta-territory that we’re describing here, creatures made from the insubstantial stuff of thought in the same way that our physical forms are made from flesh and blood, ideas that have evolved to such a level of complexity that they can at least seem to be alive, to be intelligent and independent entities. Living ideas: surely there’s room in such a notion that’s sufficient to accommodate all of the demons, angels, gods, grey aliens, Smurfs or leprechauns, all the imaginary creatures that we humans have made claims for the existence of since the beginnings of our species, back before we had a rational, material worldview which informed us that the things which we experienced in our minds had no legitimate reality.

In our prehistory, before we even had the concept of a mind, we would presumably have taken our experience of the world to be a single, undivided whole, unable to make any separation between mind and body: between external and internal reality. It would seem natural then, in our stone-age attempts to understand a baffling and sometimes hostile universe, for us to vigorously investigate the farthest limits of our territory, both the world that was available outside us and the world that was available within. In these primitive attempts to engage with what we would come to call our consciousness, we have the origins of magic, and also, coincidentally, of science, art, philosophy and indeed almost all contemporary culture. The first Palaeolithic witch-doctors or shamans or magicians patiently developed a whole range of different techniques by which they hoped to interact more deeply and productively with the mysterious underworld that was somehow inside them. By studying these primordial practices, we can get a much clearer picture of the altered state of consciousness that they believed was necessary in order to practice magic, and perhaps also a deeper and more useful understanding of what magic really is.

In our comparisons of commonplace ideas with sand-grains and of rarer ideas with more distant items that would take more mental effort to locate, we seem to be suggesting that some people are prepared to engage much more energetically and deeply with the world of consciousness than others. It was this deeper engagement that our stone-age sorcerers were seeking, or at least this would appear to be the case given that most of their recorded magical techniques seem to be methods of inducing trance-like states in both themselves and their observers. Their otherworldly costumes, in which are the origins of all film and theatre, were designed to shock those watching into a new zone of consciousness. The chanting and the ritual drumming, from which all music commenced, are still still well-known as means of bringing on a state of self-hypnosis, with the same being true of dance, as any hold-outs from the Rave scene would most probably affirm.

And then, also in common with the Rave scene, there are all the psychedelic drugs that shamans are associated with, whether that be the preparations of Ayahuasca or Yage used by South American rainforest sorcerers, the spotted Fly Agaric mushroom favoured by both Lapland shamans and Viking berserkers, or the common “Liberty Cap’ so-called ‘magic” psilocybin mushroom which we may suppose was the most readily available source of a visionary stimulant for the witchdoctors of both ancient Europe and the British Isles. The point is that whether we speak of drumming, meditation. dance or drugs, we’re talking about methods that are only useful as a means of penetrating the internal landscape, which would seem to be a world that the magicians of antiquity thought just as real and important as the physical domain around them, if not more so.

The musings above hopefully present a way of understanding rationally how magic might be seen to work, at least by the practitioner: By using ritual or drugs or drumming or some other technique for inducing altered states, the shaman or magician travels further into our suggested realm of consciousness than would be possible in other circumstances. Moving through this realm they may encounter what seem to be immaterial entities with which they may communicate and from which they believe they can glean useful information. In a sense, it doesn’t matter if the entities concerned are actually ethereal, independent life-forms or just facets of the human mind and personality that we cannot usually access by other methods. Whether we’re communicating with an actual god or with some previously inaccessible part of our own awareness, it would seem to be a thing as marvellous and of as much potential use in either instance.

As we trace the course of magic’s evolution from its Ice-Age origins, we are constantly reminded that what people think to be the literal truths of magic are in fact misunderstandings of what are in fact purely internal mental processes. The standard image of a witch astride her broomstick flying through the night air to the Witches’ Sabbat (or, for that matter, off HarryPotter playing Quidditch) provides us with a splendid example of this over-literal approach at work. From what we’ve come to understand of medieval witchcraft, two of the accoutrements often possessed by genuine practitioners were ‘flying ointment’ and a ‘flying harness’.

In the preparation of the former, a variety of common drugs were combined with fat to make an ointment. These included Henbane, Deadly Nightshade, Angel’s trumpet (all of which are psychedelic at some doses and horribly poisonous at others) along with soporific drugs like Mandrake root (from which comparatively modern sedatives like Mandrax are derived) to make the user sleep. Taken in combination, it might be supposed that this would not be any ordinary state of sleep.

This brings us to the so-called ‘flying harness’, a contraption made of ;eather straps in which the wearer could be comfortably suspended as though weightless from the ceiling of a hut or outbuilding warmed to a constant body-temperature and kept in total darkness, muffled to eliminate all outside noises. This would appear to be an early version of today’s sensory deprivation or flotation tank, with the would-be witch hanging weightless in the dark and silence, neither too warm nor too cool, feeling both disembodied and adrift in their own consciousness. It was at this point that the flying ointment was administered, smeared one of the body’s mucous membranes that would rapidly absorb its heady mix of psychedelic drugs and sleeping potions.

Though I’m loath to be indelicate and spell this out, the body’s most accessible and most absorbent mucous membranes would be those found in the anus or vagina. That’s how suppositories work, after all. In the case of the flying ointment, it would be applied to the suspended witch by means of a convenient applicator, such as, say, a broomstick. When the ointment took effect, the witch would be propelled upon a disembodied psychedelic flight through the landscape of the imagination, a flight only taking place within the mind of the practitioner (although as we have pointed out, that isn’t necessarily the same as saying that the flight’s unreal). It isn’t hard to see how the above could easily be misinterpreted and end up as our cliched ‘image of a hag swooping through darkness with a broom between her legs. Best not to think of Harry Potter in the changing rooms at Hogwarts, getting ready for a match.

As magic became more sophisticated in its practices and theory down across the centuries, we still see the same trance-inducing techniques being used and still see magic taking place almost entirely in the inner landscape of the mind. During the 16th century, Elizabeth the First’s official alchemist, adviser, scientist and astrologer was the astounding Dr. John Dee, a man whose abilities with mathematics, navigation and encryption were the basis of the British Empire (a concept that Dee himself invented) and yet who devoted himself to communications through the medium of a black mirror or a crystal ball with startling entities that he described as angels.

His angelic invocations, chanted in a channelled or invented language called Enochian, function in the way that chanting did for prehistoric sorcerers, allowing the practitioner to slip into a trance state where they’re liable to be receptive to imagined visions in the blurred depths of a crystal ball, used here as a blank screen upon which the observer’s inner visions are projected much like pictures seen within the dying embers of a fire. Despite the fact that all of these drug-induced broomstick flights or crystal ball angelic conversations can only be seen by science as worthless delusions, can we easily dismiss the ideas of a great mind such as the one possessed by Dr. Dee, a man without whose scientific work the later work of fellow alchemist Sir Isaac Newton would not have been possible?

Admittedly, great minds occasionally say or do things that are stupid or misguided, and even an open-minded sceptic who was willing to accept that there might possibly be some truth in our theories about mental space could reasonably ask if there was any practical or useful point to these imaginary exercises. After all, putting potential therapeutic value to one side, what is the point of talking to hallucinations? By their very definition they are mental things and thus cannot provide us with real information. This is a good point and, on the surface, a persuasive argument. However, it avoids the fact that science itself has no idea where a great deal of human knowledge comes from. The debate’s still open, for example, on how we arrived at the most fundamental concept in the whole of human thinking, which is language. As for mathematics, which turns out to be a perfect system that allows us to examine our mathematically-ordered universe, we as yet don’t have a convincing explanation for how we came up with it. This obviously doesn’t prove that immaterial spirits must have gifted us with language or mathematics, but it also doesn’t prove they didn’t.

Let’s consider the specific case of one small part of our vast arsenal of medical knowledge that of the vegetable drug curare, used routinely in the west because its paralysing properties are useful in those surgical procedures where it is important that the patient doesn’t move. Curare is one of the many drugs that we have borrowed from the herbal remedies and medicines used by the natives of the South American rainforests, and in his excellent book The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, ethnobotanist Jeremy Narby investigates its origins. Curare, used by the rainforest natives as a poisonous tip for their blowpipe darts, will paralyse a treetop monkey so that it cannot cling to its branch but will instead fall to the forest floor where it can be recovered. Better still the meat will not be tainted by the poison. Now, curare is a compound drug, and the rainforest natives have no concept of scientific method.

Even so, they somehow manage to select the right plants from amongst the estimated millions of separate species to be found within the rainforest, and they somehow know enough to boil the plants together and reduce them to a pulp without inhaling the sweet-smelling but instantly lethal vapours. Then, some-how, they know that the resultant mush will be inert unless it is injected in the subcutaneous tissue just beneath the surface of the skin, as is accomplished by a blowpipe dart, for instance.

Narby felt dissatisfied to all these somehows, and decided to ask the rainforest people natives where the’d got their complex information from. Their reply was that the knowledge was imparted by their snake-god through the medium of their local witchdoctors or wise men, the Ayahuasceros, or ‘the men who drink ayahuasca’.

Contacting these sorcerers and taking part in their hallucinatory rituals, Narby experienced a meeting with two large fluorescent talking serpents whom he understood to be the gods that he’d been told of by the natives. He went on to speculate that these ‘gods’ might be some sort of icon or avatar projected by the snaking double helix of our DNA, if DNA were actually a conscious entity. Whether this is the case or not the point is that a substance we are happy to use in our rational and scientific western world would seem to have its origins in processes that are beyond the limits of what science can usefully discuss. Without a magic worldview, even if that worldview is anathema to any scientific rationalist, both science and medicine would lack a number of incredibly important tools.

The notion that things of tremendous use or value can be gathered front the insubstantial entities that are encountered in the crystal ball, the psychedelic episode or simply in our wandering imagination hasn’t ever been in doubt for the innumerable practitioners of magic throughout history. During the nineteenth century, elaborate magic brotherhoods such as the Order of the Golden Dawn did much to organise some several thousand years of wildly diverse magic theory into a coherent system. Meanwhile, brilliant mavericks like infamous Aleister Crowley or the transcendentally unnerving Brixton artist and magician Austin Osman Spare were introducing the idea that the best magic systems were perhaps the ones that you’d discovered or invented for yourself.

In light of all of the above. where does that leave us? Here in 2010, beleaguered as we are by our increasingly invasive and controlling governments, with our material environment and our economies collapsing, should we even be discussing such a thing as magic? Won’t that just make God more angry?

On the other hand, if as a species we are circling the plughole of existence then it could be argued that we really don’t have anything to lose by just considering a different worldview, and indeed might have a lot to gain. One of the major benefits of the internal magic landscape is that it cannot be penetrated by police or government. In its environment of ideas, much more durable than our own physical environment, it maybe that solutions to our current eco-problems can be found… it’s fairly obvious that we need to get new ideas from somewhere, after all… and as for all our economic difficulties, as a resource magic is entirely free and doesn’t seem to have a carbon footprint.

But, even if we accept that magic might be beneficial, how are we to go about it? Well, we could do worse than looking to the ancient universal principles of magic, as described above, to find our answer. It would seem, for instance, that in order to engage more deeply with the magic landscape of our consciousness, some means of entering a trance-state is required. This could be repetitive and rhythmic drumming, chanting, meditation or a psychedelic drug, depending on the individual’s tastes. Before immersing ourselves in our preferred trance, however, we should have in place some method of controlling and directing our hoped-for experience. This is where magic ritual comes in.

A magic ritual, which might involve a lot of different elements, can be seen as a way of programming our minds towards the area of consciousness that we are hoping to achieve or contact. For example, if we wished to contact a symbolic entity like Mercury, the Roman god of magic and communication, we would decorate the space where we’ve decided to perform the ritual with things that are associated with that god. A good book of magical correspondences like Aleister Crowley’s 777 will provide complete and useful tables of associations for whatever entity you hope to get in touch with, but in the specific case of Mercury you’ll find that among those associations are the number eight, the colour orange, the perfume storax, the vegetable drug hashish, the precious stone fire-opal and a host of other things. So, when it comes to tarting up your ritual space for your Mercury ritual, you might want to have an orange cloth draping the tabletop or altar, with eight candles lighting the appointed space and some storax gum smouldering in an incense burner. You might want to have an image of the god in question in some central place, either a statue or an image clipped out of a magazine or, best of all, an image that you yourself have created. The combined effect of all these things is to create a mindset that’s conducive to the type of magical experience you wish to have.

Some unobtrusive music that adds to the atmosphere and seem appropriate might complement the ritual, and some sort of spoken invocation would provide a focus. You could probably find some already-written invocation to the Roman Mercury or similar Greek Hermes somewhere, but again it would be a lot better to write something of your own. Magic and the creative arts have much more than you’d think in common with each other, and with Mercury as god of writing and communication you might think that he’d appreciate all the creative effort that you’ve gone to. Write something that’s as lyrical and strong and as poetical as you can make it, something good enough to please a god, or at least your idea of a god (which is, after all, all we’re talking about here). When you have all this preparatory work in place, that would be a good time to induce your preferred trance-state by your chosen means, and then sit back and wait to see what happens.

This basic and simple methodology can obviously be adapted to whatever sort of magical experience one happens to be seeking, with a little use of the imagination. The above example deals with conjuring some being in to your awareness, but could just as well be used if you desired to travel mentally into the world associated with that entity, just as the witches travelled in their minds to their imaginary Sabbat. This technique for mental travel…basically a strenuous forum of imagining…could also be used to explore the zones mapped by some magic systems such as the Hebrew Kabbalah or John Dee’s Enochian realm, or with a bit of thought and ingenuity could be applied to whatever experimental magical procedure the practitioner might like to try importantly, at the commencement and conclusion of the ritual or experiment, it is a good idea to cam out what’s known as a banishing ritual, to symbolically seal off the experience and keep whatever forces may have been called up from having an unwanted effect upon your ordinary life. Banishing rituals are readily available in numerous books on magic, or once again you can invent your own.

The reason banishing rituals are necessary is that magic is a subject not without its dangers. Foremost amongst these is the very real possibility of going mad or losing yourself in this new and unfamiliar territory. If one’s reasons for approaching magic are for entertainment or for a secret advantage over others or just idle curiosity, then one is probably better off avoiding it, the risks being considerable. Practiced magicians speak of the importance of keeping your four ‘magical weapons’ with you constantly, at least symbolically. These four symbols… the wand, the cup, the sword or dagger and the coin… are the four suits seen in the Tarot deck.

The represent the four classical elements, fire, water, air and earth, and also represent the human qualities that those elements stand for. Coins or discs that stand for earth remind us that in our approach to magic we must make sure we are grounded and that our material circumstances are sufficient to our needs. Swords, standing for the element of air, are symbols of our intellectual faculties, the cutting edge of our intelligence that helps us to discriminate between a good idea and a bad one and which helps prevent us sliding into mere delusion or perhaps full blown insanity. Cups, representing water, stand in human terns for our emotions and above all our compassion, without which all of the magic power in the world won’t stop us turning into arseholes, brutes or monsters. Finally, wands stand for fire and represent our spirit or our soul, our highest self that should be in command of our emotional, our intellectual and our earthly circumstances if we wish to be balanced and fully realised individuals in control of our own lives.

It’s this harmonious and empowered state that is perhaps the most important goal in magic, turning yourself into someone capable of leading an enjoyable and useful life while having a benevolent effect upon the world, bringing about changes in accordance with your Will. This is the gold the alchemists were seeking, being much less interested in transforming metal than in their own personal transformation. There’s a lot of work entailed, admittedly, but the rewards are unimaginable and more likely to improve your life than winning several million on the Lottery. Of course, there are some people who were hoping that magic would be a way of getting what they wanted without working for it. There are still a lot of would-be magical practitioners who think of magic as a way of, for example, making someone fall in love with them, or conjuring up cash, or punishing somebody who’s offended them with a demonic curse. This, in the current author’s own opinion, is just lazy, cowardly, manipulative bullshit. If someone’s offended you then sort it out yourself, assuming that you can’t just, y’know, move on and get over it the way a grown-up would. If you want money, then why don’t you magically-get off your magic arse and do some magic work and see if money doesn’t magically arrive? And if you want someone to love you, do the necessary work upon yourself that makes you somebody-worth loving. Trying to coerce someone’s affections through the use of sorcery compares unfavourably with simple rape, where at least you’re not trying to involve eternal spirits in your wretched, verminous activities. Generally, the rule is that if there is something that can be accomplished by quite ordinary material means, don’t bother magic with it. On the other hand if there’s some immaterial demon messing up your life, like anger or depression or addiction, then magic maybe the very thing you need to give your problems both a name and face, to banish them or at least to negotiate with them and perhaps see them in a different and more useful light.

Magic isn’t there to turn us into gods, although that’s certainly what it has been mistaken for. Instead, magic is what can turn us into complete human beings, fulfilled in their lives and in control of their own destinies. Even if all the above is no more than misguided speculation and if there’s no more to magic than an over-active use of the imagination, think about the benefits that a better relationship with your imagination might allow you, maybe that job as a writer or an artist that you’ve always dreamed about, if only you could work out where such people get their ideas from. It may not be the bolts of fire from the fingertips that Gandalf led you to believe it was, but I’m reliably informed that it can still be a productive and incredibly enjoyable existence.

Science is a perfect tool to measure our material universe, but it is only consciousness, beyond the reach of science, that lends that universe its meaning. Without meaning, this is just a random, accidental world and all life is an ultimately unimportant fluke of chemistry and physics. If, however, you chose to see your existence as ablaze with meaning and significance, then magic is a worldview and a faculty that’s free to everyone, part of their birthright as a conscious human being. All that’s needed is a shift in how you see reality and you can change reality itself, at least as far as you’re concerned. With our environmental, financial and personal resources at an all time low, it might be that the most abundant human energy resource of all is right between our eyes, just waiting to be tapped and to transform the battered matter of our world with its endless new possibilities.

We could have magic, running in the gutters like lightning.

How I Left The Cult

I was raised in the religion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I stopped attending meetings and ceremonies when I was 16.

TL;DR I didn’t actively leave, my mum broke some rules and the family sort of drifted out. But I spent a long time, from ages 16-27 “de-programming” myself. If you’re wondering whether to leave something, you probably should.

Who are Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a late 19th Century Christian sect, originally from the US.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are Millenarianist in that they think an end time is coming, and  Millenialist which is an interpretation of Christ being installed in a 1,000 year reign over Earth, before the final “end time” occurs.

They hold a fundamentalist view on the Bible, meaning they take the words of the bible literally, rather than as metaphor. Their interpretation differs from other sects, partly because of their founding leader Charles Russell, and partly because they use their own translation of the bible.

Famously they believe in the Old Testament doctrine prohibiting the imbibing of blood, so they refuse blood transfusions, however they do not practice kosher eating. They also do not participate in birthdays, Easter, Christmas or Hallowe’en celebrations, considering these to be pagan festivals with no basis in scripture.

They refuse military service, do not vote, and are famous for going door to door preaching their religion. They reject the notions of an eternal soul, the existence of hell and the “holy trinity” doctrine.

They have strict social and interpersonal rules, mostly inspired by the moral values in the late 19th century US.

See the wiki link for more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah%27s_Witnesses

My History With The J-Dubs

There is a family photo of me as a 5 week old baby, taken “at Twickenham”, a stadium which is famous for rugby but which Jehovah’s Witnesses sometimes use for their annual “district assembly”, massive weekend-long gatherings for JWs that occur in sports stadiums. They are primarily outside, with folks sitting on the concrete in the summer sun (and rain!) for three days straight. While comfort provision is made for members at the event, it is nonetheless quite an undertaking to take a newborn along.

This canonical family photo illustrates to me that I really was raised for my entire childhood in the JW religion.

Some time before, the J-dubs had knocked on my parent’s door, as so many people around the world have an experience of, and my Dad was the kind of guy to say to them, without irony, “hmmm, sounds interesting, please come in”. He found the religion appealing, and for some reason my Mum agreed to join as well.

I assume this is because her own mother and older sister had converted some years previous, and for a short time as a teenager she went along to JW events with them. She had grown up and moved out before she married my Dad at age 20, so presumably she’d left it all behind for those years. However when her new husband became interested in what the JWs had to say, I guess she found it familiar. The JWs place great emphasis on a wife obeying a husband, so the two of them became Jehovah’s Witnesses together.

A few years later my parents’ marriage broke down (I was 3 and my sister 2). My mother divorced my father. My mother continued to raise me and my sister as Witnesses after the divorce. I think she partly used his faith, and conviction that we should be “saved” at Armageddon to ensure she got custody of us during the divorce (my father was expelled from the religion, so could not make sure we were saved himself). But to her credit she made good on her promise to make sure we were indeed raised as JWs until we were adults.

We ended up living with my gran, who had been a devout JW for decades. My gran was my caregiver because my Mum worked full time. It went without question that all four of us would be JWs and attend all the meetings without fail.

My father quickly remarried and subsequently raised his children from his second marriage as Jehovah’s Witnesses too. (He had been expelled for the first divorce but when the JWs came knocking again in his new town they let him back in.) So myself and my sister, plus my half siblings (a brother and sister) were all raised in this weird Christian fundamentalist religion.

Being raised a JW

It’s very hard to describe what it’s like to be raised a JW. I will give at best a patchy version of my experiences here.

One of the major things I remember is that, because of their “socially separate” policy and their beliefs in general, I was marked out as different to everyone else literally every single day at school.

I was not allowed to attend the 5 minutes of morning assembly that was “religious” (all they did was sing a hymn or something), but I was supposed to listen to the school announcements etc. So halfway through assembly I had to slip in through the door at the back of the school hall. Every day, their would be this weird pause between the hymn and the notices and the whole school would turn around to look as me and the Jewish kid filed in at the back. Every. Single. Day.

Then there was the No Christmas, No Birthdays, No Hallowe’en, No Easter thing. This comes up a lot at school when you’re younger. Almost every week is one of these holidays and the teacher is taking a break by just having everyone make cards or decorations, but I had to be given some non-religious ‘alternative’ task to do. Either that or sit in silence when people sang happy birthday, or leave the room altogether if Christmas carols were being sung.

Couple that with being a teacher’s pet (grades were the way to get love in my household) and you have a child who is so unutterably different that I was bullied by absence. I was tainted, and to even speak to me was to risk contamination. The social isolation was profound.

The witnesses have a perfect circular reasoning trick for this. Somewhere in the bible Jesus warns his followers that they will be hated for spreading his word. So the more JWs receive grief, the more it confirms that they are on the right track, and following Jesus correctly.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have a lot to say about sex. No sex before marriage, obviously, but some kinds of sex are restricted during marriage (anal), no masturbation for anyone but especially teenagers and of course, it’s not ok to be gay.

These points were raised explicitly and regularly to make sure everyone “stays strong”. These teachings contributed to me feeling guilt, anxiety and repression about sex both in childhood and in adult life.

The witnesses take a similarly draconian view on drugs, smoking, tattoos, sex or violence in the media and bad language. They also ban members from watching movies with too much magic in it (Harry Potter), or something that may be influenced by ‘demons’ (Lord of the Rings). They believe ‘demons’ to be invisible, and mostly don’t believe in possession, but nonetheless think they are very real.

We weren’t allowed posters on our walls (idolatry), or pictures of magical animals (demons), to have friends outside of the witnesses (bad associations), or to listen to certain music (bad language/demonic) or to celebrate birthdays or Christmas (pagan). The Kingdom Hall itself (the church building), had no decorations at all, but it was kept spotlessly clean. Many ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses talk about how bland and lifeless the religion is.

The organisation itself acknowledges how hard it is to hold strictly to 19th century protestant moral values late in the 20th century and there’s a lot of talk of sacrifice and trials and the hard road and keeping on the straight and narrow, in order to stay true to God. I believe this created a strong anhedonia in me, whereby I restricted all of my thoughts and feelings by default, even for things that were “allowed”, because holding back, buttoning down and waiting were so valourised.

How I got out

Passive leaving

I didn’t, really. In the heady days of internet relay chat my mum met a man on the internet, then met him in real life and one day in the summer after I turned sixteen my mum told me the news that she was pregnant.

Having sex outside of wedlock is a pretty serious offence to the J-dubs and so my mum was temporarily suspended while they considered what to do.

Mum usually drove us to the meetings, but without her taking us, myself and my sister just by default didn’t go along either. Our gran’s faith was always a powerful force in terms of keeping us in the religion and attending meetings every week, but I’m not sure if she kept going during this period or not. 

Without any external drive to keep going along to the meetings, I remember clearly that it felt like a spell being broken. All my week nights and weekends were free. It felt like bliss coming from an absence, like the silence after an annoying noise finally stops. My life was empty and silent. Calm.

Later I would reflect that going to the meetings all the time, and it occupying so much of your life, is one way they keep members in thrall to the religion.

There was also an oppressive silence between all the family members,  like a held breath. It was very tense, but I tried to stay out of the house as much as possible and be with my boyfriend instead.

After about a month, I got back from a weekend at my boyfriend’s house to learn that mum had been in hospital because she’d had a miscarriage. Even though the weekend was dramatic and scary, it was obvious that this baby not existing was a huge relief to everyone. Not long later I learned that the elders had decided my mum could return to the Witnesses if she showed repentance, but we never went back. It was an entirely unspoken thing, as was always the case with my mum in those years.

At the time I barely mention these goings on in my diary, instead I’m mooning over the latest boy, but a bit later I repeat several times “I’m never going back to the meetings”.

So for my entire life I had been in a cult, which shaped my entire mental and emotional landscape from birth, attending three meetings a week, every week plus occasionally door knocking on Saturdays, and then suddenly I just… wasn’t. I got out of the cult passively, the spell was broken, and what remained was a void.

Active leaving

In my diaries a bit later I say “I’m never going back to the meetings” and I sound as though I’ve made an active decision. In my self-narrative nowadays, I normally tell people that I had my suspicions about the religion by the time my family left, but was sort of ignoring them, and waiting to be older to find out what it all really meant.

An ex-JW friend I met much later would describe it as the “after armageddon box” – a place where you put your doubtful thoughts about the religion and god ready to be asked later, when we might have access to god or Jesus after the end times have happened. Eventually his “after armageddon box” was so full that he began to doubt the religion a lot.

I normally say that if my family hadn’t drifted out when I was 16, it wouldn’t have been much longer before I left myself. My general goal with life at that time was just to hang on until age 18 and finish school, finally be an adult, and get out from living with my parents as soon as I could. Even though they practice famously severe shunning of any ex-member, I’m sure I would have left the religion behind too.

However, that’s not what happened. We left when I was 16; when I was 17 I moved in with my Dad (mum had been threatening to throw me out for months) and he and his family were all still very much in the faith. Since I had never been baptised as an adult, I was considered a “prodigal son” and should be gently cajoled to return to the religion rather than fully shunned, so they were allowed to talk to me.

Despite being encouraged to go to the meetings for the whole time I lived with them, I stood firm that I wasn’t going to go back. That much was very active on my part. I “ran away” from living with them when I was 18 (my stepmother read my diary and point blank refused to talk to me again), just after I’d finished my school exams. I lived with my Mum again for a short time, and as soon as I saved up a few paychecks, I moved out forever.

Deprogramming

Some problems

When we first drifted out of the religion, I decided to sleep with my boyfriend. The moment my mum told my 16-year-old self that she was pregnant I had the crystal-clear thought: “you don’t get to tell me what to do any more”. I lost all respect for her, because of everything that her pregnancy implied, both secular and religious. So yes I had sex with my boyfriend (but I was sure to get on contraception first!)

That year I also had my first experience of celebrating Christmas with him and his family. In the few scholarly texts that mention Jehovah’s Witnesses, they say that ex members are often socially awkward around the giving and receiving of gifts, which I empathise with.

However apart from those two things I didn’t immediately deprogramme from the thoughts that the religion had inculcated. My life was a tire fire from ages 16-19 and I had little time or stability to do any reflective thought.

But as soon as I moved out and had a stable boyfriend at around age 19, I began deprogramming in earnest. I realised I needed to systematically check all of my beliefs, not just the ones about God. My boyfriend of that time helped by walking me through the more obvious things like creation vs evolution. He also helped me try weed and later, other drugs.

Then the problem was sex. I had huge guilt around it, and weird thoughts like I must intend to marry my sexual partner, if not actually be married, in order for it to be ok to have sex. I had a very low sex drive, partly due to repressing pleasurable feelings.

I also had very low affect, my emotions were numbed out, though I think that had as much to do with my family life as the religion. Relatedly, I still have issues with finding enjoyment in things, which makes decision making surprisingly hard.

I now think I was also developmentally stunted. I was extremely smart, but condescending, arrogant and dismissive with other people. I had no empathy, even with friends. My boyfriend had to keep reminding me “you can’t treat people like that”. In the terms of the psychological theory that I mention on my philosophy blog, I was still in Kegan stage 2 – a non-empathetic stage normally traversed in early teens – at the age of 19-20.

I believe the move away to my dad’s house is a pertinent example. My dad’s home was around 200 miles away from my mum, and so there was no possibility of seeing my old friends when I moved there. I left without telling anyone I was going, it all happened during half term.

I eventually heard through my mum that my best friend was very upset. I was confused by this, because we always talked about how we would like to move out from our mums to live with our dads (she was from a single parent household too). I thought she would realise that I had made it out and gone to a better place and be happy for me. I just could not understand why she would be sad or angry. I remember being confused and then not really thinking about it afterwards. I was 17 at the time.

It was only years later, in my early 20s, at the earliest, that I realised that of course she would be upset. She might miss me, or be upset that everything was so sudden, that I didn’t care enough to give her a quick message of some kind, or that she might be jealous that I’d moved away or indeed have any number of strong emotions about what happened.

Some solutions

Living with dad helped a few things. He and his kids were naturally more touchy-feely than my family, which I appreciated. He forced me out of my tendency to go silent when I was upset or crying. It was a revelation to me that he actually wanted to hear what was wrong, and actually try to help. I had to deal with being a snotty mess in someone else’s presence. An almost unbearable form of being ‘seen’ at the time. Being in a totally different family held a mirror up to some of my assumptions, especially around the “fair” distribution of chocolate biscuits. He also answered all my questions about why he and my mum got divorced. A classic case of there being at least two sides to every story.

Once I’d moved out away from parents, I read some self help books to figure the emotional and sex stuff out, and Oliver James’ ‘They Fuck You Up’ book was particularly useful for this. I wrote pages of self reflection on an A3 notepad. I also kept writing in my diary. I was a prolific poetry writer too.

I ferreted out cached beliefs one by one. Sometimes I did things just because JWs ban them so I went and voted (JWs are instructed to be politically neutral).  I carried a lighter in case anyone who smoked asked me for one. I placed a bet on a boxing match (gambling also forbidden). I took a certain joy in doing things that would shock JWs, or my parents in general. I still have that joy. I also tried to detect much more subtle discriminations. I occasionally caught myself being judgey about people, and asked myself: why? One example I strongly remember is disliking people who had tattoos, only because the Jdubs sneer at them. I decided to throw those thoughts in the bin.

I read a lot of books, absorbing how other people feel about life, which helped me to figure out the range of things that people can feel. I read Sylvia Plath’s diaries, Anaïs Nin stories, Henry Miller novels, a psychology of self harm book, Kathy Acker’s punk feminism, Alan Moore’s ‘Lost Girls’ graphic novel. I would read anything, especially fiction and science fiction, but I was drawn to books about sex and books about or by depressed women.

I read pages and pages of books. I also watched hundreds of films, got stoned every day and got into music. I have an enduring love for art that is bleak or nihilistic.

My life at the time was a continuous struggle with poverty. I never had any spare money, although I felt great because I lived in my own place. I worked at a library and got all my books and films from there. Being poor takes a lot of time and energy, so the progress was quite slow. Eventually, at age 21, I went to university.

At university I discovered equal rights and feminism. I also got into philosophy by the sideways route of doing an art degree with no prior experience with art. The art library had lots of philosophy books, because art and life inform each other. I wasn’t that great at making art, so I would read instead. I became a Sunday manager at the nearby public library while I studied, so I still had access to public library books too.

I had a tiny bit of NHS therapy during uni, because at age 23, after feeling I’d done so much work to deprogramme myself, I developed an acute anxiety condition. It was triggered by thoughts of death, a concept I had until then not really thought about, because the JWs believe in immortal life on earth. I also had wind: trapped air in the digestive system. It’s easily cured but it makes you feel short of breath and in pain when you eat. It is funny now, but it contributed to me having several panic attacks. I spent my entire last year of uni in a haze, feeling like I was watching myself on a screen, and worried I would have more attacks. I started to feel better after about a year. Over a decade on, my fear of death and the anxiety I get from that thought still haunt my evening times, because it’s not easy to rationalise.

My work as a librarian helped me to develop empathy. I’ve always been hard on myself to be true to my principles, and I really believed in doing a good job and in intellectual honesty. I had to work with people who were homeless, very old, very young (and unsupervised) and / or relatively mentally ill. I wanted to truly help them ‘fairly’ which meant I had to really pay attention to what they said and how they thought. Trying to teach a paranoid schizophrenic 50 year old how to use a computer is a humbling experience.

I was with the same boyfriend all through this time, he helped me a lot. He constantly scolded me for not considering how other people felt. It must have been because of him that I finally figured out my friend’s feelings about me moving away.

But my relationship with him is also a story of lack of empathy. I believed we had a great relationship and were mostly happy through our 7 years together. But I found out after we broke up that he felt a lot of pain throughout those years because of things I did to him. I’m not sure of the details because I heard it through mutual friends.

He never seemed to tell me about problems at the time, but maybe I didn’t hear it. Probably I dismissed things that weren’t expressed clearly and forcefully. I still tend to do that. But even if we allow for the fact that someone who keeps too quiet in relationships often ends up with someone who pushes forward and is decisive, it was a shock to me that he was so unhappy but I didn’t know. So even though I was developing empathy I clearly wasn’t applying it well in my home life and now when I look back I still think it was a shallow empathy, with not much mastery.

Completing Deprogramming

In my mid to later twenties I had a number of life milestones. I came out as bi (after reading a book, of course). I joined an active feminist group and did many activities with them. I founded my own bi group. I became polyamorous, at first with my partner of all those years and then I continued after we broke up. We had moved to a new city by then and I was trying to make new friends. Friends who were lesbians, feminists and weed smokers. ‘Bad associations’ indeed! After the breakup I moved out into a sharehouse of strangers; I was finally living on my own.

Around the age of 27, after living in that sharehouse a while, I realised I felt like I had reached a point of being more “normal”, by which I mean normal levels of fucked-upness, rather an extraordinary and weird levels of fucked-upness.

I had made a point of being more independent. I had had lots of life experiences, from uni to management jobs to rolling my own joints to storming police lines.

I’d examined and binned so many ideas. First from the JWs, but then I’d also completely overshot and was examining and binning conventional ideas from “normal” society too.

Binning the ideas from the J-dubs was helping me heal, but binning “normal” society was also helping profoundly. For example, a strange side effect of trying polyamory was that it unlocked my ability to do social touch with friends. I’ve no idea why.

So by around this time, I felt normal.

And slightly to my annoyance, I was starting to see that my experiences, knowledge and confidence were having an effect on others. The unusual ways I lived my life were intriguing to people. When I spoke, everyone would fall silent and listen, which never used to happen.

Without me really wanting it, people were looking to me for advice on how to be, wheras previously I had always been the student of that. It was ever clearer that my project of ridding myself of indoctrination was over. The work of choosing how to live had begun.

Lasting effects

It’s been 7 or 8 years since I reached “normal” and then completely overshot. I now live a life that is in many ways extraordinary and probably to most people, very weird.

But, I still feel the effects of things from childhood.

I still feel that relationships with others is my biggest weakness.  I have an extremely spiky personality, a defence against always being the outsider, never being accepted. Although acceptance is something I obviously deeply crave.

I still have intermittent anxiety, I still worry about dying.

Despite appearances I still have very conventional sex and not lots of it, but I’m proud I can have sex at all, considering.

I have an abiding deep suspicion of “knowledge” or “truth”, of people in “authority”. The study of how we know what we know will always fascinate me.

It’s very hard to disentangle the effects of the religion from the effects of my general family life. It’s tempting to think that actually perhaps most of my problems, if that’s what they are, would have come from family dynamics no matter what religion we followed, if any. A child with essentially absent and emotionally distant parents was always going to have trouble with empathetic relationships. In a way this post is merely about “how I left my family”, rather than how I left a cult.

However it’s kind of a chicken and an egg. The religious flavour is important. My parents were exactly the kind of people to be drawn to this particular religion thanks to their own traumas. They are the kind of people who want to be wrapped up tight by strict rules and be soothed by being told exactly what to think, from people who know exactly what is happening and know exactly what to do to make everything ok. If they were not scooped up by this cult, it would have been another one, or some other paternalistic system. The details may have been slightly different but probably the neuroses in me would have ended up exactly the same.

I was raised by people who can’t handle the world as it is, and that makes me very sad for them. Strangely enough for me, after being raised believing that humans are evil and our civilisation has reached a nadir so bad that god is going to smite it all away, I’ve come to find a great joy in the fact that humans are actually just apathetic or greedy or damaged.  And also creative, generous and joyful. I trust myself and my decision making. I feel I do understand the way the world works, and find that comforting, even though the drive to understand came from pathological roots.

Advice for others

If you’re wondering whether to do something that will really shake your life up, especially if you have to leave something, I would encourage you to do it. You can’t un-see whatever it is you’ve seen. The worry you’re feeling now is probably not actually about whether leaving is a good or bad decision, because you already have one foot out of the door. It’s more about feelings of grief, grief that you used to feel tightly embedded in something, and now you don’t.

No-one likes changing, but change happens to us, whether we like it or not. It’s a bit of a slog, but learning how to change, and not being scared of it, is a massive life skill that eventually brings a ton of its own comfort, and success.

If you feel you’ve been kicked out of a plane and are falling backwards, arms flailing, watching the plane get smaller and smaller in your vision and feeling scared, picture this: you might as well roll over and face the ground. You can direct the fall, watch the view, even go sailing around like a bird in the wind. Feel the rush, try to enjoy it. The entire world is literally in front of you, you might as well direct where you land.

Once you’ve left, you’re going to need information. Religious cults in particular restrict information, so read books (or listen to podcasts), read the internet and figure out how you think things really are. Lots of people just substitute one belief system for another, try not to do that. Instead try to figure out why you don’t trust your own intuition about what to think.

Three things:

Fiction is just as important as non-fiction, especially for emotional work. Art of all kinds is very important, and comedy.

While approaching at your own pace and using caution, you should definitely, definitely take drugs. See which ones call to you, any will do. Then don’t overdo it.

Finally, enlist other people. Cults are deliberately isolationist, to remove any chance of “wrong” information reaching you. Other people are a mirror and a support. Try to meet and get to know a broad range of people. Their example can help you figure out how you want to be.

Finally:

Everything is going to be ok. I promise.

Reflections 2018

I love doing reflections at New Year, but I still find it very weird to use a few days after Winter Solstice as the dividing line. None the less we must proceed:

This year has been so varied and so intense. I’ve experienced some new things, both good and bad. Have met heroes and achieved dreams but lost people, plans and projects such that I felt utterly crushed.

For the first time ever I experienced grief. A deep dark chasm of sadness that pulled my natural emotional average down by its weight for several months.

Much of it was the first half of the year and it’s been better since spring, but the sadness keeps orbiting back around with the loss, and the ramifications of that loss.

So what actually happened?

Winter

In Jan/Feb some longterm housemates who had been long term dissatisfied with living in the house had various degrees of blowup. We had round upon round of sharing circles, trying to be our best selves, but in the end people lash out. Both times at me, because I’m the most vocal when I think problems are happening. Maybe I could do it better, maybe I should shut up, I don’t know, but it hurt.

Coupled with trying to find work but suffering a few setbacks, such as a code test I just wasn’t up to, I felt beaten down personally and doubting my skills at work. I played video games for nearly two months solid to escape the emotions.

Eventually, I managed to get two weeks of work, and buy a new laptop. Thank god! The weather was grey and wet though, and the office time depressing.

I also discovered that one of my ex-lovers, a woman three years younger than me, had died. I’ve never had a friend die before. We were no longer close and she died of unknown causes, so it felt more surreal than anything else.

Spring

Then in March a sudden cold shock. We were all lined up for a Portugal trip that eventually we decided to cancel (too much rain) but I suddenly realised for myself why the team had been gradually drifting away. On a series of key decisions I was consulted, but not listened to, as if I was an advisor but not a team member. Our Land became His Land. Our House became His House. Cue another several rounds of sharing circles and meetings within which came a truth I’d been blind to for this whole project: it was no longer communal. Our investor was taking full control, despite my warning that I cannot be on a project that’s not built from a team. I was very explicit about that, about the ways it would need to be to be truly communal, and it was explicitly rejected. He just couldn’t get past needing to control.

So I lost Portugal, the Land, the plans for the next 3-5 years of my life, my hope for a new community home and worst of all, my best friend. I felt stupid for thinking it could be any other way.

Around this time it was my birthday. I had been lifting for 8 weeks to get in shape for the TopGun theme, and everyone who came said it was their favourite party so far. Indeed by the evening when I lead half the guests in a mini lifting routine on our home-made indoor beach volleyball court, I was laughing and enjoying the party. But I had started that morning crying my eyes out because nothing was going to plan, and I no longer had my best friend to help me.

Over this time I’d been having tiny moments of contact from the little “smarty pants” twitter community I inhabit, small rays of light in the dark spring. The beam of hope on my horizon was flying to SF to meet my blogging hero, and maybe some friends/lovers too.

That was due in April. I was pretty crushed to discover that my hero was having a hard time with life, and recommended I bring along friends when I visited because he would be too tired to really talk. At the same time the intended friend I was going to bring along also let me know that they were unavailable, meaning I could see neither of them.

I felt devastated, and I thought hard about why. I was really desperate for validation and encouragement in this area of my life (philosophy) that few friends can engage me on. I craved peers and importantly I craved elders.  I tried to resolve some of my needs for myself with some success. But this was when the grief started

And none the less I rallied, and resolved to meet other people in SF instead. I reached out a bit on Twitter and decided to swallow the financial cost of accommodation. I settled in to the plane, began to watch a movie and as the delays stretched from minutes to hours I listened in totally numbed disbelief that we should all get back off the plane into the terminal because the flight was cancelled.

This final twist was at least making my year so far laughable as well as simply deeply depressing. I just became numb. I stopped making any plans, stopped assuming I knew anything about what was going to happen next.

I reached out in small ways. Improved my house, offered my web dev skills to friends. It helped.

My friend’s funeral finally happened, and I found it to be affirming. I think funerals can be, but it also shows you the kind of time I’d been having up to then.

Summer

In May, my year pivoted around. I took intense driving lessons across just three days, with my test on the fourth. I cried every day of lessons and barely slept, but I passed with three minors. Thanks to assistance from one of my newer housemates, I had my own (shared) car by the very next week.

The rest of the unusually hot summer was spent in a mixture of short work contracts, driving around and outdoor swimming, a new and unexpected hobby.

I helped with Bi pride, where we had a float and went to BiCon which I enjoyed very much. I have volunteered for a small role organising next year!

In my final contract of the summer though I was fired without notice from a contract I’d been working. It was pretty obviously unfair and some sort of personal power play, but it knocked my confidence yet again.

Also, a beloved housemate moved out. I’d been toying with leaving my houseshare entirely and starting a new one, but her room was amazing, so I moved into it. I left behind my home-made cube room, and the ground floor previously shared so closely with my ex-friend.

I made a new plan to work, to save money, to get up early and to be my own investor in community projects, and leave these stupid boys behind.

At the same time, 3 housemates moved out and 3 new ones moved in, in quick succession. It has been a long road to integrate and help them, but also keep the house together/cohesive. This is probably what I did all September.

Autumn

Despite my enjoyment, the summer contracts had not nearly been enough. I wasn’t covering my expenses, let alone earning enough to save. I had a few bits and pieces in September but my luck changed in October and I landed a sweet deal that had me working all the way up to Xmas, and will continue in 2019 as well.

Around that time I had the great pleasure of meeting my blogging hero, who had finally managed to visit the UK, and so I met him in my very own kitchen. He was still extremely tired, but we hung out a few times and taking him along to our local London thinky meetup made me feel like I was escorting a rock star. Fuckin’ ey.

…and just to keep me from being too smug about my positive emotions my friend and housemate, the one who is funding the Portugal project, announced he would move out from our house to Portugal to live there on his own. It felt like he had chosen that place over our friendship all over again. We’ve been so close for so long I seriously feel lost in every aspect of my life without him. From coding work to business in general to running this entire shitshow we call a warehouse, to my hobbies, to talking about guns, politics, sociopaths and everything else no-one will talk to me about. It’s a big loss. It still makes me cry. And all because of doorknobs.

Gah.

Apart from that, I have almost no life news for the rest of the year. I simply worked, kept my head down, opened savings accounts and worked some more. My ability to think drained away, and I missed my Reading Challenge target.

I’m now dearly missing thinking, and reading, and investing in new relationships and getting up whenever the hell I want. But I did feel a huge lift of anxiety as the money started rolling in.

Relationships

One relationship ended this year and their feedback was vague but negative and so knocked my confidence. I slept with a few new people this year, but just as one-offs. Multiple people I fancy have turned monogamous or are work colleagues who ignore me romantically, while people who I fancy for something beyond superficial reasons seem few and far between indeed. I would like more romantic and sexual partners and feel that those avenues don’t exist or get closed off. It is a source of sadness for me this year.

My one long-standing partner is still going strong though and is a source of much needed comfort, though the balance of that seems increasingly like I’m the responsible one who dishes out help more than receives it.

Mental health

Despite the awful year I suffered those shocks quite well. I feel I’m at baseline now that money has been relatively stable. Baseline still means occasional death anxiety, maybe once a month disturbing my sleep. I still worry too much and plan too far ahead. Now that I have money I am considering therapy.

Work

This autumn contract has really powered my savings goals, and summer was ok too. I’m quite glad I got to have lots of summer fun (and work in air conditioning when it was simply too hot!) Looks like when I make a decision, lag time to achieving savings goals is only a few months. Could work on improving my day rate though.

Thinky Work

I’ve written just 6 blog posts this year. A friend made his own version of balcony philosophy and I enjoyed being part of that. I met some people from Twitter, including the Ribbon Farm founder – swanky! I’m also part of a Slack for fluidity-types, although it’s gone quiet now.

Now

Reflecting at this time of year seems weird, as I’ve said. I feel the first half of last year was one thing, and now I’m in the middle of something else. I’m looking up interest rates for savings and options for investment returns. It’s all very unusual but hopefully the direction I’m headed.

This post has already taken far too long, let’s publish now and get it out there.

Money, part 2

This is a continuation of my previous post, describing my mission to actively move away from using money. This involved being homeless and discovering the opportunities of life without money.

Going back to money

I always knew I would be reintegrating with the “normal” world eventually. After a whole year of being homeless and surviving without money, I was ready to go back.

In discovering rationalism, I had come across some cool techniques for life. Using probabilities and a cost vs benefit analysis I decided to move to London and become a developer. This was calculated as a low-cost high reward strategy for maximum money in minimum time that had a good chance of success.

The ultimate goal was to make time for more philosophical activity in my life. The no-money route is an option to regain some time, but perhaps not enough. The costs are also high: poor physical health, lack of stability (high anxiety). In short, to reach my goals, I had to use money.

Emotional difficulties

Even though my feminist days gave me this advice: “we all are doing what we can to survive under unfair conditions, so it is wrong to criticise others who are performing along the expected lines of society”, I still suffered feelings of horrible guilt and of being a sell out.

I rationally knew that I had come up with a decent plan that might ultimately help me to do more of what I love, an activity which might help people and even contribute to changing the society I find myself in. However the feelings of being a sell-out, of “getting more right-wing as I got older” were strong. It took some years to be more at peace with my choices and even longer to find a framework that might help to describe them.

I also felt uncomfortable  earning (what felt like) an obscene amount of money in comparison to others. Coming from the local government sector gave me a strong sense that the people who do the hardest jobs get paid the least money. I also felt working class guilt, that I was being a traitor for accepting and using middle class salaries, buying myself middle class privileges.

Of course, it was harder for me to remember that my new salary was still below average, well below median and certainly not “obscene” by any measure.

 

I had to remind myself that it is ok to have money. Life is indeed much easier with money. I think the study about IQ drop when feeling anxiety over money has failed to replicate, like so many others, however the anxiety levels at the low-end of the money scale seem anecdotally extremely large, and are relieved entirely by a modest income. Having modest amounts of money allows for optimism for the future, enables regular excursions outside of the house, enables much easier social relations, allows freedom of travel and greatly improves physical health.

Another aspect of money relates to sharing your money. I can now be honest about my motivations for generosity, is it signalling, is it genuine concern? I now feel ok about exploring those ethics.

One thing is certain, being without money is an excellent way to understand and use it effectively.

Further Truths

It’s expensive to be poor.

This perverse rule was visible everywhere once I recognised it.

The ATMs in poor neighbourhoods always charge for withdrawals, because poor neighbourhoods don’t attract chain banks or other enterprises that provide free cash machines. It’s not worth it, because everyone there is poor.

The converse is also often true: it’s cheap to be rich. Rich people are often invited to free events in the random hope that someone will spend their money eventually on the host’s business. Art galleries have free private views. Overdrafts on wealthy client’s accounts are free, while poor people are penalised for even a £1 overdraft withdrawal. The richer you are, the more free things get offered to you. Of course, money makes more money if you just leave it alone, so the act of simply having some gives you an income on it as well.

Cheating on benefits is much harder than getting a job

Almost nobody does it, so get over it. Of the ones that do, it is our fault as a society for not providing more useful deception games that their skills could be applied to. Either way it is an acceptable loss.

 

Post-money

It doesn’t take very long to earn enough money such that survival is covered and all the questions about the meaning of life, and how to spend one’s time, return. For my freelance friends who really do earn obscene money, the problem of what to do every day becomes a real concern. Material benefits lose their charm alarmingly quickly. Boredom is the ultimate problem.

It leads me to wonder if there are groups of people with rich depression, whom we could leverage to do interesting things. It also makes me a proponent of universal benefit, which might be an interim step that will lead us to the idea that we should spend some time shunting around our shared, limited resources and the rest of the time getting together to do interesting things.

Money doesn’t need to be money

For some people (many?) their salary is much more to do with “numbers going up” – the dopamine reward system that video games harness so well, than it is to do with material goods or comfort. For those who are not too interested in the status that material goods bring, the motivation is more to do with the esteem a society holds them in (itself another kind of status).

This had led me to speculate about the possibility of divorcing “currency” – a phrase for the part of money that is a functional system of exchange rather than drag 2,000 eggs to market to swap for a cow – from the insane, imaginary mathematical games people play in financial markets that none the less cause ordinary people to lose their homes.

I recently spoke to a software developer in the finance industry who openly admitted that he engages in creating software that is deliberately difficult to use, so that financial investors feel as though they are actually doing something during their 90 hour work week, rather than admit that they do no better than random chance. His team actively re-writes old software with more complex navigation menus and deliberately obfuscatory usage procedures to supply the illusion that these people do something Very Hard that only Magic Skilled People can do.

I wonder how hard it would really be to round up the entire top several levels of the world financial system and quietly slide them all into an MMO or virtual world, where we tell them they are trading and have won and lost millions of “dollars” when actually we have disconnected them from the currency we use for basic goods, shelter and transport a long time ago.

Capitalism

I used to think capitalism was evil. Now I think it’s just a system.

I think it’s quite amenable to being hacked and changed, which is good. It might be the least bad system so far. It also doesn’t function in a vacuum. Capitalism so far has always operated with, alongside and within several other systems: nation states, governmental organisation systems, political systems, charity systems and particularly “welfare” systems. The welfare side is where we put lots of our human morals, and I now find it strange when people demand moral behaviour from capitalist systems.

There are some who believe that current systems would be improved if allowed to operate with the same rules as a “market”. I think they are correct in some cases, but it would be disastrous in others.

I do think there are aspects to markets/capitalism that mean it has never been a complete or functioning system. For example, natural resources are exploited at no cost, giving the illusion of eternal resources and thus eternal growth. I will be very interested to see how capitalism changes when this loop is closed, such as when governments give natural resource systems legal rights, or with carbon taxes.

I feel optimistic that since capitalism is subject to theories as engines, not as cameras, it will continuously evolve and will no doubt be a useful system in the system tool box for a long time.

Emotionally Dealing With Cheaters

It’s time for some emotional maturity when it comes to agents engaged in systems.

Hawks and Doves

A few decades ago, a couple of scientists applied game theory to evolutionary development. The result was evolutionary game theory and it gave us some neat new ways to understand evolution.

The most famous example of this work is known as “hawks and doves”. The premise is that given a certain set of circumstances, individuals within the same species competing for finite resources may have more than one strategy for obtaining those resources. Divided simplistically, an individual may behave in a “dove”-like fashion ie standing down from conflict (after an initial bluff of force) and sharing resources with other doves it discovers, both of whom are non-violent or a “hawk”-like fashion ie following through on threats of violence and not sharing resources with others. The dove strategy has low costs but also low rewards while the other has high cost but also higher potential reward.

The theorists produced a graph that showed which strategy might be optimal under which conditions. There is an awful lot more to evolutionary game theory however I mention this as an illustrative example.

Depending on the conditions, you have a certain percentage of hawks and doves. The more hawks you have, the more costly it is to be one as you might starve or be killed. The more doves you have, the higher the reward for being a hawk (violent and not sharing) since almost everyone you meet is a dove and will back down. In the high dove scenario, it makes sense for more individuals to become hawks since the rewards are high and the risks very low. Once you have several hawks though, the chances of meeting another hawk are higher and it once again becomes too costly to be one compared to the expected reward. There is a certain balance that appears between the types of strategy. The exact ratios depend on the situation, but what I want to point out is that you always have some hawks.

Social Strategies/Cheaters

Evolutionary game theory goes on to analyse circumstances where individuals within a species co-operate to a certain extent, rather than compete.

Humans often co-operate, and this behaviour is said to be ‘social’. Humans are one of the most socially sophisticated animals on the planet.

In a highly social society there are systems of rules in place and a few different strategies for success. Social systems are typically based on varying degrees of trust, you need to trust that other people will follow the rules and humans have evolved extremely complex skills and heuristics to assess trustworthiness in others.

One strategy in trust based systems is to fake trustworthiness, not abide by the rules, screw people over and reap the benefits. This strategy risks being caught and completely shunned, which may even lead to death. It is a high-risk, high-reward strategy that is the social equivalent to a hawk.

It seems to be that any social system that has rules based on trust is also open to the possibility of cheating being a viable strategy. In any social game you always have some cheaters.

Stopping Cheaters

Our social evolution has given humans pretty powerful tools to spot a cheater, helping groups to keep cheaters to a minimum. Many of our formal systems also have safeguards to attempt to weed out cheaters.

However, I frequently come across the assumption that it would be ideal to completely eliminate cheaters. This is wrong.

Eliminating cheaters is not possible. All games of any complexity have rules and therefore can be cheated. The more dove-like rule-followers a game has, the greater the rewards are for cheating and so the likelihood of having cheaters in the game increases. I believe that past a certain point you have a power-law situation with cheaters, where the energy expended to detect and remove cheaters grows exponentially the lower the number of cheaters becomes. Eventually, the measures taken to eliminate the cheaters become more injurious for everyone than the harm the cheaters are causing.

A recent example from my life: at a Pride parade of tens of thousands of people a political group of a dozen participants was denied entry, but unofficially they ‘broke in’ at the end of the column and marched anyway. Despite the fact that the organisers had made reasonable efforts to prevent the group from marching that year the outrage was huge, so the following year the organisers implemented a security system requiring all 10,000 people to acquire official wristbands, the parade needed extra staff, security barriers and to change the assembly point and shorten the parade route. The measures far exceeded the harm.

Eliminating cheaters is not necessarily desirable. Cheaters have to develop great skill to cheat, skills that are often prized in general, from thorough attention to detail to ingenuity, innovation and improvisation. In David Chapman’s essay ‘Geeks, Mops and Sociopaths’ the sociopaths – the cheaters – have an important function. They use their skills to market the New Thing made by the Geeks, making money and enriching culture, even if they reap an unfair share of the rewards. Sociopaths in general are quite likely to be cheaters but also quite likely to be very useful, like surgeons.

Emotional maturity

The extreme measures taken to eliminate cheaters seem to be often caused by the emotional pain of being a rule-follower and seeing or knowing that there are cheaters. Cheaters seem to reap great rewards, while the costs of the strategy are less visible. The emotional reaction can blind people to other causes for cheating, such as injustice (which I think may have played a part in the Pride parade example).

This emotional overreaction goes for double when money is involved – the obvious example is rabidity over benefit/welfare cheaters. I think the extra effort expended on trying to prevent cheaters is one of the key reasons that universal benefit works out cheaper.

People also seem to overestimate how many cheaters there are. I would expect any system to be capable of supporting around 10% hawks/cheaters. However from internet reading I’ve done about crimes, false claims about crimes (eg false insurance claims, false rape claims) are around 2%. This seems absurdly low.

The emotional desire to eliminate cheaters is prioritised over the rational knowledge that cheaters are inevitable, exist in low numbers and are even desirable. We need to sort that out because so often the measures to prevent cheaters are worse than the cheaters themselves.

 

 

Money

From the title, this post seems to me to have too broad a remit but I wanted to document the changes in my relationship to money.

This blog was started at the outset of a journey in which I refused to engage with money. Money was being used as a weapon of power, particularly in the political landscape, and I wanted to disempower the people I did not agree with. When it comes to affairs in the humaniverse (a term I coined to describe what many people call ‘the real world’ or ‘life’ of the ‘universe’ when actually the thing they are describing is entirely dependent on humans to exist and so I call it the humaniverse), people only have power if everyone else collectively believes that they do. It’s possible to shift power if this act of believing is changed or halted. Since it was mainly the Chancellor of the Exchequer that I had problems with, and their domain is money, I decided to stop believing in it.  Now, some might say that money has non-human power of its own, or humaniverse power of its own, however I decided to see whether it merely had advantages, ones which it was possible to do without.

And I found that it was possible. It is only possible through many other aspects of the humaniverse supporting the journey of course. At first I might have said I was using a different system to live, but I don’t think that’s true, I was still part of the same mechanisms, just squeezing into an extremely unusual choice within that system.

Money is a key step in a short chain that humans have set up. You start with needing shelter, food and luxuries, you exchange your labour for a currency and you use the currency to fill the need. For most of us, money is that currency. By ignoring money I substituted other kinds of currency, such as time or domestic labour. My feminist sisters have done some excellent work in pointing out that vast amounts of female domestic and emotional labour support the lop-sided system of capitalism that rewards some labour with money but relies on lots of other labour that is given very little reward, an extremely disproportionate amount of which is done by women.

So in a straightforward sense I exchanged domestic labour for being able to stay overnight with friends and family and this depended on them still having jobs and paying rent, so was not really ‘outside the system’. In a slightly more subversive way, I removed unwanted food from the bins of supermarkets. This too is only possible if only some people do it, and thoroughly depends on the system.  It also demanded quite a lot of my time and physical energy, so that was the unit of exchange for ‘free’ food.

The biggest thing to try to do without money is try to find shelter. This endeavour brings one into the same category as the homeless, tramps, Travellers (Roma, gypsies) and squatters. All of these people are trying to derive shelter without traditional income streams and all of them have to move on frequently. This way of living requires time, travelling resources and a very large amount of emotional and physical energy. These strategies seem to be the most ‘outside the system’ strategies I encountered because they require almost total disconnection from every other service our society provides and can have a profound toll on physical health.

It is in this area that I had the most insight about the way we order our culture and how profoundly insecure and intolerant we are. Read more here.

However, the benefits of living without money were many.

Time

Not having to work gave me a lot of free time. After sorting out some food and housing for the day, I had many hours left over and I was almost stumped with how to fill them. I read lots of books and talked to people, but I could have learned whole languages or retrained in anything I wanted. I taught myself to juggle and practised for many hours. I read the whole of HPMOR and a good chunk of the LessWrong material. I had lots of time for reflection.

Mental freedom

The mentral freedom I experienced was likely only possible due to actively trying to turn away from money and earning money. This seemed a little like staring into a campfire for a lifetime, then suddenly turning around and viewing a dark, unkown vista that is the whole rest of the world. Entire landscapes of possibility seemed now open. With so much time to fill, something that requires time now seemed exciting, such as learning a language. The world actually felt like my oyster, instead of that being a thing people say.

This revelation was so strong because I’ve always had a life of desperately trying to earn enough money to survive, ie a poor/working class kind of a life.

With money out of the picture, my efforts were all focussed towards things like leisure, learning, helping others, creating art, making plans and basically everthing most humans wish they had more time to do. I found that not tying my decisions to whether it might help my career in some way enabled me to make surprising choices. It was possibly only then did I truly engage in or appreciate activities that you do for their own sake. This last is meant to be a corner stone of good mental health.

It is from these experiences that lead to my current views about the sheer unapprecaited scale of output from all humans we as a species could receive by instituting Universal Benefit schemes.

Novelty

Because of having to move on a lot, and exploring new mental space, something novel happened to me almost every day. According to research I’ve read but not checked, novelty (or absence of routine) makes subjective experience of time seem to lengthen. If things are constantly new, it is as if time is moving more slowly. Perhaps because we generate a baseline expecation of how many things can happen in, for example, one day.

As a result, the year I spent homeless and engaged in almost constant novelty subjectively feels about the same as three years of a normal life. This is one of the reasons ‘travelling’ feels like such a transformative experience since the traveller has experienced (and changed as a result) at seemingly three times of the speed of normal life.

People make their reality narrow

After seeing a city in terms of only its abandoned buildings, rather than its desirable ones or after seeing a pedestrian railing as a playground instead of a crash barrier it is easy to see how many different realities exist for humans in the same physical space. You only see what you need to and human contexts are really narrow.

I sometimes experienced the opposite of what most people experience in certain places. For example, I perceive Birmingham to be very friendly because I was homeless and I locked eyes with homeless people. Homeless people smile a lot at the people that see them, so I experienced Birmingham as very friendly, the opposite of what most people find there.

Realising how context-specific humans can be, to the point of being entirely blind to physical objects was very useful. I now practice context-switching, particularly for city streets. I imagine how a lover of architecture would see a street, then a person looking for free food, then a parkour practitioner, then a squatter, then a property developer, archaeologist and so on and in that way attempt to see my environment in its intricate entirety.

Poor Person Pain

One of the things I learned was that as a poor person, I had developed antagonistic defences against things that I could never have, due to being a poor person. Instead of being in pain over the things I could never have, I created elaborate reasons for why I actually didn’t want them anyway, probably to alleviate that pain. I said and believed that a poor person’s life was more virtuous, due to reusing, recycling and sharing, that I didn’t want things like nice clothes because it was empty signalling, that following fashion was pointless, unethical or deceitful.

It was only through the subject of technology did I notice this behaviour by experiencing cognitive dissonance. I had developed a dismissive and curmudgeonly attitude to technology during travelling. It was indeed partly because I believed non-technological skills like reading maps and surviving when you don’t know where you were are important skills to develop and not lose. However that was not the whole story and in other ways I would describe myself as a person who welcomes technological advances and was not curmudgeonly about technology in general. I realised I had set myself up to hate the things I couldn’t have, because technology is rarely available for free.

Returning To Money

Returning to money, however, was no easy feat.

Reflections 2015

I see I’ve barely made a post since October 2014. Via my customary ‘reflections’ post, let’s take a look at everything that’s been going on for me this year.

Context

For much of last year I spent time thinking about how to save the world. I also spent some time trying to find paid work, but perhaps not enough. I had  a new friend who made world saving his sole concern and invited me to help.

Around October 2014 I felt that this friend’s attitudes and strategies were incompatible with mine and we parted ways. At the same time I fell in love once more. I had been completely single for a long time, and had unsatisfying relationships for some time before that.

New Person was (is) quintessentially kind, generous, empathetic and thoughtful. Most importantly they make me feel calm. It threw into stark relief the wrangling and frustration I felt with my world-saving friend and New Person helped to set me on a new path.

Extremely useful life lesson: if a person you care for makes you feel doubtful or confused, even after attempts at different types or levels of communication, then they are not good for you. They are failing to empathise with you, and no matter what possibilities your relationship might have held, you will never realise those possibilities because they do not have a strong enough desire to work with you. They let you continue to feel confused, they are fine with you experiencing crippling doubt. They are not good for you and you must let them go.

In autumn 2014 I had abandoned paid work in favour of world saving, leaving me once again with no cash beyond next month’s rent and not much more experience in my industry than the year before. This was a conscious decision in August, and it was deliberately reversed in November. By Christmas I was attempting to turn the boat once more, but this time I really meant it.

This year

This year has been a year of two halves. In the first half I was still living in poverty, eking out every penny I earned to stretch into the unknown future. In January I had to borrow money for rent. At the last moment I got a week of work in March, which covered back rent for February and lasted until April. I got one more week of work in May, again covering back rent and leaving enough for one more month into the future. I spent nothing but Oyster payments and rent. I was kept in weed and good cheer entirely by New Person, who also covered my train fare for visits and the occasional meal out.

When actually seeking to earn money but not having any, the world closes down into a dark, cramped tunnel. There is only one acceptable activity: looking for work, or training more for work.Some weeks I coded every morning, and I mostly managed to read blogs about my craft and checked job boards every day. I went to meetings and meetups, but all this took all the willpower and discipline that I had available. There was nothing of me left over for anything else.

Every pay day I experienced a brief rise back to my normal IQ. Those 13 points lost due to anxiety about money tangibly returned for a week or two, allowing some light at the end of the dark tunnel to peak through, but soon closed up again as rent day went by.

I have on and off anxiety, which takes the form of intense death anxiety, and this reached a peak in May. I started to wonder how anyone could think that doing anything in life is important, or meaningful. I couldn’t believe that others didn’t see how laughable plans for the future seemed to be and I was constantly triggered by the smallest things, particularly lists of ‘100 things to do before you die’ or common phrases like “well, you can’t take it with you”. What on earth could it matter if you saw that movie or didn’t? Visited Thailand or didn’t? Bought a house or not? It’s meaningless in the context of that self disappearing as if it never existed in the first place.

This anxiety used to plague me before sleep, when all was quiet and there was only my ego inside my head, but by May it was leaking out into my days and eventually stopped me from doing normal things that I knew were statistically risky, like being in cars. I knew I needed help but didn’t have the energy to get it. But I did have my housemates and my partner, who knew what was happening and gave me support.

One thing I did have for that dark time was videogames. New Person had an Xbox One and I became obsessed with Destiny, a first person shooter with RPG elements. Getting my own XboxOne so that I could play online with them became my goal to symbolise what I was striving for.

Then in June came the second half.  I had resisted the urge to relax my job hunting for the summer, like I had so many times in the past. I reversed my reasoning about how it’s better not to work in the summer. I had previously fucked up my momentum by stopping in the summer, all because of chronic fear of missing out. But I had no agency to do anything this summer without money and I could make my own summer with a holiday in British winter. If I had money. So I carried on trying to find work.

Finally, I put javascript on my CV. I had purchased a theme for my website, with a proper design. I was now interesting to agencies and after several failed interviews I suddenly got an 8 week contract with an expanding travel company doing CSS work.

This was the moment I had been gambling on for two years. Due to the day rate for my industry, any contract longer than 3 weeks could pay my back and forward rent and also start to pay all my debts. It took just 4 days to earn the money I owed people from the previous two years.

On my first pay day I had to run out and buy clothes, since I owned almost nothing without holes or without missing buttons, and no suitable shoes or coats. I was lucky that it was summer and a start-up office, so I could hide my lack of clothes by not really having to wear the normal office uniform.

I worked for the next 11 weeks or so on and off, achieving a second contract for two weeks with another company. I registered a limited company, under the name I’d chosen with my Dad 13 years previously. I opened a business bank account. I got an accountant. I spent hundreds of pounds filling up my wardrobe that had not had a new item added to it since 2011.

Everything was suddenly ok. After those 11 weeks it was September. I took New Person on holiday to Amsterdam. I bought the Xbox. I rebuilt my warehouse bedroom with vastly better materials. I replaced my mattress with a bigger, handmade futon. I started to fund New Person to be self employed.

I had a flood of new emotions, and I will hopefully dedicate a post to my feelings when buying a new summer coat. Almost everything I thought about the world is now different. Again.

When I came back from my holiday in September there was no work around. The fear that my summer contracts were a fluke was hard to keep at bay. I had overspent a little on my house rebuild, so only had rent covered for three months ahead rather than 4. And I hadn’t planned for Christmas. But I stayed a bit more calm. I went outside sometimes. I was paying myself a salary from my business earnings that gave me spending money over and above my rent, so I could go to the pub and afford train fare.

I went to get help for my mental health and cried throughout every step of the process. Everyone in that process was great. I strongly feared I would have a non-queer friendly Christian therapist with the name “Uwe” pronounced “oo-way” by the lady on the phone. But to my great relief he turned out to be an avuncular, humanist, atheist German man called “oo-ver” and he was/is amazing.

More work showed up in November. I ditched a client that I did not like because they made me feel uncomfortable, even though I desperately needed the money. But instead I managed to work at a global film company, and my rent was sorted.

Finally, out of the blue, I had a long contract in December, and despite losing some respite time I gained gleeful abandon shopping for Christmas presents. Gifts I could easily afford with no thought at all, for the first time since I started doing Christmas. It was wonderful.

In the background of this anxiety/money quest, I had noticed that my sister seemed to like me more than before. She also got pregnant this year and when I saw her this summer for her birthday she was tolerant and kind: a big change from the past. I decided she’d need help with the baby, because her husband and family that live close by all work full time hours. But I couldn’t just rock up when it was born, so I should call her while everyone else was at work during her pregnancy. She was sitting at home absorbing the world through youtube, discovering TED talks and the Bechdel Test and the gay rights movement for the first time on her sofa.

Reconnecting with her after years of antipathy was something I hoped for but didn’t really expect and it’s very good to feel it happen. Change was a beacon on my horizon this year, even if I couldn’t always see it.

This Christmas I met my nephew, just 6 days old and so much more interesting because he’s related to me. I didn’t know how I would feel about being around a baby, but once I’d held him, I couldn’t wait to hold him again. I also stood up for my sister, as the one who will be hit hardest by this new arrival. I think she took strength from seeing me, and that’s also a wonderful feeling.

Last year I honed my skills on the whetstone of yet another driven man that I ended up in some kind of a relationship with. Once again it was difficult and the end painful, but made so much easier by the sharp relief of New Person. Their skills, their drive to be better, their emotional maturity. It was them that made this year happen, that made the dark times not too dark. Them who encouraged some forgotten geeky joys, who showed me how to plan for the present, how to enjoy things right now and how to be calm.

Finally, to keep another tradition, here is a screenshot of every book I read this year.

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 14.37.50

Me and myself

But who had uttered these words? They had not frightened me. They were clearly audible to me yet they did not ring out across the air like the chilling cough of he old man in the chair. They came from deep inside me, from my soul. Never before had I believed or suspected that I had a soul but just then I knew I had. I knew also that my soul was friendly, was my senior in years and was solely concerned for my own welfare.

– Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman

I’ve written before in my diary about experiencing dreams and waking moments when my internal-monologue ‘self’ has had a discussion with another entity inside my brain. This entity must also be myself, since it’s inside my brain, however it has certain unexpected qualities, chiefly that while my monologue “self”, the thing I think of as me, has a clear idea of what it is about to say, the other self’s intentions are completely opaque to me. I recall in dreams having a conversation and as well as having no idea what the self will say, I was surprised by its answers. Curiously, in this particular dream, the opaque self was looking after my wellbeing.

Ever since noticing this phenomenon I have also noticed how often one consults oneself, in a manner that implies two people are talking, how often I think of myself in the plural, how often I have a sensation of being divided or having differing thoughts simultaneously and of referring to myself as ‘we’.

My new thoughts of the day equate the self whose intentions are opaque with the part of the brain which causes me to take an action without conscious thought. I’m not talking about nervous system or autonomic actions, such as reacting away from pain, rather something I noticed that I was gaining while I was in my travelling year, which felt like the opposite of laziness. I found myself leaping up to take action to make something happen, rather than debating with my internal monologue about whether and how to take an action. In those moments it is as if the conscious self only engages with realising you are doing something after it has begun. It feels spontaneous, and “un-selfconscious”. 

I was recently talking with a friend who seemed to be expressing an inability to achieve unselfconsciousness. The state is something similar to being in flow, but the absence of self-monologue occurs when experiencing pleasure, rather than necessarily needing to be performing an optimally stimulating task.

Judging from my own experience, it seems as if the benevolent, opaque self is the thing that takes action and the thing that can knowledgeably talk to you. I believe it is the main part of human life. However the internal monologue self can only occur in a modern world where every need is catered for: food, shelter, warmth, care and social life are all present by default and require no effort to achieve, at least for a very long time in early life, leaving an inordinate amount of time to sit around thinking.

The monologue self and the talking part of the action self only exist because of language, and the monologue self is only so strong due to the complexity of language, the early age that literacy is achieved and the amount of time spent thinking in it.

In my own individual experience as a person simultaneously intelligent, shy, artificially walled off from social interactions and having a preference for reading and writing as solo activities, I think my monologue self has been strongly developed whereas the ‘take action’ self neglected (and even deliberately suppressed by my elders/environment).

Throughout my life I have craved to behave more unselfconsciously, to be less lazy, or less paralysed, to worry about and be afraid of fewer things, to embrace new activities and to feel less trapped having internal experiences that other people don’t seem to share.

These thoughts about the two selves and where they come from feel reassuring to me, as they suggest a path to strengthen the one that takes action, and hopefully increase well-being too.

 

 

2012 is coming to an end

I felt a slight shock when I realised that 2012 is almost over. Here is my traditional post musing on the things I’ve done this year.

I gave away (almost) all my worldly possessions. I went to my third BiCon. I had group sex! I had group sex more than once! I had group sex with people I’d only known for a day! I went to Doncaster, Middlesbrough, Manchester, Bradford, Cambridge, Portugal and Madrid for the first time. I walked outside of Birmingham New Street Station. I cried infront of a painting. I went to a psytrance festival. In a foreign country. I swam in a lake sparkling with fool’s gold. I saw a lizard. I volunteered for litter picking at a festival. I saw how the world works. I learned how to get food out of bins. I was travelling/homeless for two thirds of the year. I read/watched the entire run of Promethea, My So-Called Life and Firefly. I fell in love. I added some notches to my bedpost (including three girls and a royal marine!) I blagged three nights in a caravan after a festival. I went backstage. I was a runner for stilt walking performers. I met some famous drum ‘n’ bass DJs. I did bi activism. I stayed over in a squat. I stopped being scared of London. I saw Tube mice. I hitch-hiked. I ate melon and liked it. I kissed a guy with a forked tongue. I made many new friends. I stayed on a boat in the Lake District. I met many people who will change the world. I tried mushrooms. I stopped taking sugar in my tea. I got so ill my period came a week and a half early, and I mistook it for kidney disease! I broke up and got back together with the same person! I walked on a slackline! I learned to juggle! I protested outside the deputy PM’s house! I lead a protest charge with “She’ll be coming round the mountain”! I marched with the trade unions against austerity (twice)! I saw a world title boxing match! I went to a gig with someone I didn’t know. I saw my father. I met my step grandmother, and other estranged family. I entertained revolutionary thoughts. I  took my clothes off for cash. I joined libraries in four different cities. I got a tax rebate. I “looked poly” in public. I confused people. I loved it when my boyfriend kissed a guy. I stayed awake all night and worshiped the full moon. I wrote dirty stories for money. I went to OpenCon. I was captain of a starship. I lost my childhood. I quit my job. I had dinner at Harvey Nicholls. I was looked after. I busked on the street. I got pet rats and had to give them away. I felt human. I stayed alive.

This year I’ve had a So-Amazing Life.

And what have I learned? When it comes to food, you get what you’re given, be grateful for it, don’t waste any and always share. When it comes to sleep, just do it when you want to or when you can, there’s no need to worry. You can learn to change your sleep over time, including where you can tolerate doing it. A futon on slats is the best way to sleep ever. Food is only out of date when it smells bad. Food is all around you, the more humans in any given space, the more free food you will find. The humaniverse will take care of you, if you let it. Be patient. Walk everywhere. Be the change. Doing new things makes life feel full. Being somewhere comfortable with nothing to do slows time down. Follow your highest excitement. Whatever your heart sings for. Who dares, wins.

Still to come:

get dp’d, apply to a PhD, start my own business, get a tattoo, get my driving license, go to Burning Man, eat at high table.

Welcome

Dearest readers,

I have four draft posts of vayring styles and quality lined up for your delictation however before we begin, let me tell you of a touching experience I had today. I happened to find and read my diary entries from the beginning of this year. I sounded fairly broken, filled with anxieties and heartache. I can now barely remember or recognise myself from just five months ago, before the start of this hobo journey and the thing that I now call my so-amazing life.

In tribute to Angela Chase in My So-Called Life, the 90s series that inspires this blog’s name and latest edition to bisexual culture (as voted by Jess and Nic), I present you with a blog post from my younger years, while I was studying for my degree in Fine Art, that I find charming and hilarious.

the mean reds

Hiding from my film in the library because it can’t get out of the media studios. Don’t know how to “finish” what I’ve done and don’t know if what I’ve done is even what I want (wanted) to do. It’s a case of the post production blues. The only high left for this piece is the dubious thrill of showing it to someone else which is more akin to realising you’re in the middle of a huge crowd and about to crap your pants.

I’m doing lots of running and hiding – leaving the house in the morning for uni because it’s ‘the thing to do’, once here just hiding from work and wanting to go home but when I get home I cower under the weight of FREE TIME. I feel I’m hiding from my friends here, hiding from sex, trying to hide from myself.

Maybe after this party that EVERYONES talking about will I feel I’m not waiting for something and I can get on with it. Finishing this film does highlight the fact I have no idea what to do next aswell. Ok I do have some ideas, fuck it. Interesting that I take refuge in writing.

I’m quite suprised to realise that not everything in life is gradually improving as you get older, in many cases quite the reverse actually, and this is possibly known as getting old. I always thought that if something hadn’t affected you in the past then it wouldn’t in the future, that if you were shit at something you can only improve as time goes on, and if you’re good at something you always will be, in the sense that you can’t go backwards.

But that’s all wrong. You can get worse at things. You don’t get better at things. New things to be shit at appear all the time. Not to mention your body giving you jip all the time, eve if you’re nice to it. It’s a slippery downhill slope and dying is when you give up trying. I’m suprised we live as long as we do, really.

On the other hand various sources (my mum, books, the bank manager) all implied to me that once you’re past about 18, you’re pretty much gonna stay the same the rest of your life: have the same interests, think the same things, be the same person. This is a big pile of bollocks.
Which is great, it means you can do what the fuck you want. And no-one knows you. A tragedy in some ways, but, to know someone is to have power over them and knowing that no-one really knows you means no-one controls you. But I can’t emphasise enough how utterly bollocks that ‘staying the same’ thing is.

So yeah, problems with sex feel like they’re getting worse, I feel more and more annoyed with people at uni, my rage at fundamental christianity builds every day with no sign of abating and I feel totally enclosed and ridiculously free all at the same time and it’s making me impotent.

A man called me a fag hag the other day. At first I wanted to deliver a good hard fist to the stomach of the guy but I realise I should have simply sat next to him and whispered in his ear ” Your children are going to put you in a home.” I felt much better after I thought of that. Idiot should have said ‘dyke’ or something though, a fag hag just hangs with gay guys, she doesn’t look gay, like I suppose he thought I did. Tard.

So, I’m pissed with everyone, especially my parents, I want to take drugs and generally tear the world apart: I think I just became a teenager.