Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Menal malleability

One thing that I really became aware of by living for a year in Japan was just how malleable many of my likes and dislikes are. While the evidence seems to point to the fact that the major personality traits are largely innate and unchangeable,  likes and dislikes are highly influenced by culture. Take for example fashion.

Daily clothing in Japan is definitely Western, yet distinctly unique. Skirts tend to be short and pleated, lace is found on most things, and polka-dots and bows reign supreme. I see a lot of 50's influence in Japanese clothing of today, yet I repeat, it is uniquely Japanese.

Why is this relevant? When I arrived in Japan, much of the fashion seemed strange to me. I tend to be a slow adopter of fashion trends, even in Australia, yet living in Japan made me realise that despite being a slow adopter, I nevertheless adopt, and so I came to adopt many of the fashion trends of Japan. I started wearing shorts over black tights. I started wearing a lot more lace. I bought 3 pairs of pants with built in suspenders. I layered singlets under anything a little more revealing, even on non-work days, becoming self-conscious about cleavage because nobody else showed any. My style was not Japanese, the kids were quite clear on that. Nevertheless, it was not the sense of style I arrived with.

In nothing was this more obvious than in the socks. Many Japanese girls wear lace-topped socks with ankle boots or sandals. I bought myself several pairs of these socks, which I truly love. I wore them quite a lot in Japan, and resolved that I would continue to wear them when I returned. Yet I've only worn a pair once, and felt quite self-conscious about them. I love them and still want to wear them, but they're just a bit too different over here.

Fashion is, on the whole, trivial. Yet it makes me consider how (non) resistant I am to cultural conditioning in other areas.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Why I am an atheist

Why am I an atheist? To be perfectly honest, my upbringing contributed. Most people stay with the religion of their childhood, and I stayed with the non-religion of mine.

Having said that, I always felt in the minority, and this kept me from uncritically accepting what I was taught. In fact, for a large part of my childhood, I wished my family was Christian so I would be normal like my friends. I had a devoutly Christian friend in primary school, and she convinced me to start praying regularly, and I attended Christian youth activities with her. The youth activities lasted many years: they were fun, although I never really took them seriously. They praying didn't last, maybe a week. At age 10 it didn't take me long to acknowledge that I was talking only to myself.

Fast-forward to when I finished Uni. For the first time in years, I had the time to devote to reading for pleasure, and now I craved knowledge rather than the fiction I had devoured as a child. The first topic I jumped into was religion. I remember thinking as a child that if I studied all the world religions, I might find one that fit me; I had felt incomplete without a religion. Now I read The God Delusion, God is not Great and The End of Faith, alongside The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith and many other books. I tried to read them all with an open mind, but my mind snapped shut when in The Case for Faith, one of the interviewees used the existence of witches as a part of his argument. I read John Shelby Spong, and liked his outlook, but found no reason to accept his beliefs. I read The Demon Haunted World. I watched documentaries (many by Dawkins), and any number of debates on religion. I watched some horrible Intelligent Design videos my in-laws gave me. I progressed onto biology and physics. The more I researched, the more absurd religious beliefs seemed.

It is true that my upbringing biased me towards an atheistic stance, but it certainly didn't determine my adult atheism. The household I grew up in was center-right, and I am now quite firmly in the left. My views about most political topics stand at odds with at least my father, and frequently against both parents. My naive views absorbed from my family have changed in most things, and so too have my views on religion. It's just that with a much deeper and more nuanced understanding, I am now confident in my atheism.

As for my reasons for being an atheist? They're very simple. The evidence for any god is about as compelling as that for the Loch Ness Monster.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The "Good Old Days" sucked

Since returning to Aus, I've had to endure a lot of conversations (monologues) about how things were so much better in "The Good Old Days". I don't remember these conversations occurring before I went to Japan; they probably did, but they certainly bother me more now.

Since the people waffling on about how depraved the present is are either my parents' or grandparents' generation, I'll assume that they heyday of the past was when they were in their 20's which means the 50's through to the 70's.

I am so glad that I do not live in those day, below are a few reasons, there are many more:

Right to work 
I graduated from high school in the top 1% of school leavers in my state, and finished University (in IT - a male area) with a GPA of 6.96 out of 7.00. It is not conceited therefore to say that I am far more capable in my field than the average man off the street, and also better than many men in my field. Yet in the 50's, or even much later, I would have struggled to work in a traditionally male field. Also, when I got married, there was no expectation that I would be leaving my job so I could focus on domestic work, and why should there be?

Equal pay
Until 1969 (in Australia), employers were allowed to pay women up to 25% less simply because they were women. Yes there is still a gender wage gap, and this is a complex issue with much work yet to be done, but few people today would argue that a woman deserves less pay for exactly the same work and performance.

Domestic violence
Domestic violence wasn't even recognised as a problem until the feminist movement of the 70's. Rape within marriage was not recognised in Queensland until 1989! Although prosecution for domestic violence is still fraught with difficulties, at least today the police don't send a woman home with an admonition to try not to provoke him.

Social justice
Today is far from perfect, but for people in the Western world, there's never been a better time to be gay, or transgender, or have a mental illness. I'm not sure if it also extends to people with disabilities, or people of colour, but I'll wager that on the whole, now is a pretty good time for them too. Although I am not personally included in these categories, nor am I particularly close to anyone who is, nevertheless, I find it hard to understand the mindset that is willing to throw these people under the bus to return to a time when things were supposedly rosier, at least for white straight cisgender men (and to a lesser extent women).

Yes, I love the Internet. Without the Internet, my mind would be much smaller. Not only does the Internet give me direct access to information online, but I can use it to look up and buy books that I wouldn't have otherwise known about or been able to get.

The current era has so much still to fix, but I'd rather be living now than at any time in history.