In January 2013 Camden Town, London a place I have worked for 8 years, lived for several of those, partied and generally been around for most of my time in London, something fatal happened. A fellow New Zealander Jacob Marx was killed by the sign of a local shop falling on his head. This sounds like some kind of slapstick comedy skit, but it’s not funny, someone died through the neglect of a shop who didn’t adequately maintain their exterior sign-age. I’ve walked under that very sign myself many times.
What a horrible and rather embarrassing way to die.
I’ve long thought the most embarrassing way to die would be to be run over by a pizza delivery person on a scooter. I want to die on stage after playing the best sax solo of my life, or saving someone from the jaws of an alligator, or at worst peacefully in my own bed, not at the ineptitude of a learner driver in a rush to get someone their cheesy junk food. I say that to people as part joke, but I also truly think that, I’m sure many people have thought and or discussed the best or worst way to go down.
Dying by cartoonish means can only be described as unfortunate, like Jacob and the sign.
Why is it even relevant that he is a Kiwi?
I would never describe myself as superstitious, my mother always reads her horoscope every day, I read them because it’s often amusing, sometimes scarily correct, but I put that down to coincidence more than anything, because often they couldn’t be more off the mark (although, I do think there’s something to be said about lunar cycles and behaviour, which may affect us based on the date we were born, nothing mystical about it though). I will however, not walk under a ladder, but that’s just sensible, people up ladders are often holding tools, pieces of scaffold, cans of paint, and if they fall on you, death is a consequence, at the very least serious injury, not superstitious. But why is it that upon hearing about the unfortunate Kiwi that somewhere in my most rational mind did I start to get paranoid about signs falling on my head, why did I start avoiding walking under signs? The chances of that exact fate occurring to two Kiwi’s in London is… well, must be billions to one, the chances of it happening another person full stop must be billions to one, but still paranoia set in. Some cruel trick of the gods to punish us for running away from home?
I felt stupid. But at least I don’t drive a yellow car; people who do that are evil.
They’re not, but why would you drive a garish yellow car? When it could be sleek black or super-fast red? On my walk to work there is a culvert on one road in Kentish Town, it’s a driveway that leads to some houses off the main road, in this culvert there is without fail, parked a bright yellow car, and every morning when I walk past it jars me, even though I know it’s there. Like some malevolent Herbie it sits there about to pounce into life and run me over, or maybe it’s waiting and following me, how insidious.
Why does the colour of this car bother me so much in a completely irrational way? I don’t know, but it’s awful. It doesn’t play on my mind all day long, but every time I walk past it bugs me, irks me. Why did someone paint it that colour, why did someone then buy it, and why is it ALWAYS there? Fuck that fucking car, and fuck the fucker who owns it.
Some things really irk me, as Sartre said “Hell is other people”
The sound of chewing bothers me immensely, cyclists on the footpath are a constant pain, but the chewing is sensory, the cyclists are a nuisance, the yellow car is just a yellow car sitting idle, not unpredictable, other than disagreeing with the choice of colour it really doesn’t cause me any problems.
But it’s not just that car, any yellow car bothers me. I’m sure a number of motorists wonder why I am scowling at them as they pass by, it’s because they are in yellow cars. I’ve not been to New York, but the iconic yellow cab doesn’t bother me at all, it makes sense in my head. It’s all completely irrational. It’s not a phobia, I don’t walk a different way to avoid it, it just bothers me, bothers me like an unsecured sign.
Fear of death should be rational, but I don’t think it is, death is inevitable, no point being scared of the inevitable, much like taxes it’s better to face it. Fear of the method of death is perfectly reasonable. I don’t wish to know how I die if it were possible, as an atheist I have nothingness awaiting me on the other side, not terribly appealing. I can see why people choose religion, it’s comforting to know there’s an afterlife, for me the body dying holds no fear, but my consciousness disappearing does sound frightening, that I won’t be thinking, understanding, that elicits fear. If I could be reincarnated as a snail, or a frog but retain my consciousness I think I would be OK with that.
Religion or belief gives you something to grab hold of, to give life the ever elusive “meaning” so I’m not surprised that many people find faith in something, but it is also irrational. It’s irrational to believe that something you have absolutely no concrete proof of should exist. Where’s the proof of an afterlife? Proof of god? At least a Kiwi was killed by a sign, which actually happened, there’s a precedent.
Of course many believers in a variety of gods would say the usual, the existence of life, of earth, the sun and fucking stars is all the proof I need of god…
You can’t argue with people like that, the proof that people who drive yellow cars are evil is the fact I had that thought, yellow cars exist, people drive them, so my concept is just as reasonable as believing that there is a god.
Ignorance is bliss; I don’t believe that, I like knowledge. Plenty of ignorant people are miserable, were the tribes of the Amazon happy before Europeans came? Or were they dissatisfied with life, wishing for more? They certainly had war, they understood terror, and they had beliefs to help life make sense. It was, as usual a bunch of Christians who came along and assumed these people needed saving and made them learn the lessons of the bible. Were the Amazons OK with that? Some of them may have been. Turning into a jaguar after death sounds pretty cool to me, why fuck with that idea?
As you’ve gathered at this point, I am somewhat anti-religion, certainly anti organised religion, I fully respect everyone’s rights to believe whatever they want, if it brings them happiness, who am I to argue? I am staunchly against what religion has done to us, the wars that have occurred because of it, the genocide, but that isn’t my point.
The Ten Commandments are fairly sensible, fairly moralistic. Things that most of us have in built in us, Thou Shalt Not Kill. Most of us just know that’s not OK (unless you lack empathy, but that’s another discussion altogether) so basically it’s cool, but the Seven Deadly Sins make no sense, what’s wrong with pride? Anger is a normal emotion, lust is perfectly OK, we can’t help it if we have lustful feelings, sex is normal, essential even. There’s nothing OK about flagellating away your sinful thoughts, when they are normal, this is when we end up with abnormal beliefs. Sexuality becomes askew. Of course, it’s not the sin in itself, lust is fine as long as it’s not for a child, or your neighbour’s wife or whatever, and anger is fine as long as you don’t take it out on anyone. Pride is bad if your pride is based on harming others. But all ancient religious texts are up for interpretation, and usually the wrong interpretation.
“You can use facts to prove anything”
The point being, we can justify anything with any piece of information, it may be wrong, but if you believe it to be true it’s very hard to change that mind-set, and we are a stubborn species.
If there are fish, there must be a sea.
Not entirely wrong, but not entirely true either? Some self-reflection is always a good idea. Am I perfect? Not by a long way, I have emotional responses to things that aren’t reasonable in the context of things, I jump to conclusions. I try to use my intellect and rationality to help me make the right choices.
But how can you possibly engage in self-improvement with stubborn and untrue beliefs? Belief in what cannot be proven?
“Philosophically I think it’s wonderful, but practically, sod it”.
I can’t remember where that quote came from, but I think it sums up people pretty well. Self-improvement doesn’t appear to be at all practical, might be a great idea. The same reason why major societal changes that would benefit us all don’t occur, most people can’t be bothered. People don’t like change. It’s comfortable to believe there’s an afterlife, so even if your life is fucked up beyond recognition, it’s all washed away at the end of your blip in the universe lifetime. In recent years, revolutions have happened, look at Syria, people stood up for change under regimes that would have been OK with seeing said people dead. People realised that life on earth was important enough to die for change.
There some religious groups who give the appearance of helping, their idea is to walk around handing out leaflets about the afterlife… idiotic. If they spent that time actually helping others they surely would have secured their spot at god’s dinner table. There are many very good charities run by religious groups, that genuinely do help others, but I am always suspicious when something is run by the church of blahdeblah. Maybe that’s just me, I do recognise good work.
It’s this mind-set, this belief in invisible omnipotent puppet masters that stops people from changing things, people fear change. I’m not going to try and disprove gods existence, that’s a waste of time, but I am happy to point out why beliefs are irrational and certainly don’t indicate the existence of anything.
 This was written prior to the more recent crisis in Syria, despite the desperation of many fleeing the principal that they did stand up is still there, the outcome unfortunately hasn’t been positive for the ordinary citizens.