Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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A personal challenge

Over on Clare Flourish’s post on comment policy, Ark asks

Do you think you would be unable to live your life, or even have a life full of equal meaning and quality without religion?

9th March, 2021 at 7:18 pm

to which I responded with

Ark, you really need to stop thinking that “religion is believing in things you know ain’t true”. I won’t speak for Clare – She is quite capable of doing so herself, but for myself, religion adds to life – gives it a little oomph, and I would miss it if it wasn’t there. If you want a materialistic analogy, while I could probably live quite well on military rations, it pales in comparison to the experience of creating and consuming meals with my wife.

My understanding of religion is, and I’ll quote Sir Lloyd Geering: “Religion is a total mode of the interpreting and living of life“. As he explains:
Everybody who takes life seriously, in my view, is taking the first steps in religion. And this definition of religion, fortunately, covers all the types of religions we’ve had or will have in the future, because it recognises that religion is a human product. Religion is what we humans have evolved in our culture to enable us to make meaning of life…”

Belief in deities, the supernatural, or any superstition at all is not a necessary component of religion. And while you may consider religion serves no useful purpose, I feel the same about repeatedly whacking a tiny ball over a net.

9th March, 2021 at 9:28 pm

Ark’s response was

Hello Barry. We rarely converse on the internet so this might be interesting.
I will try not to be boring as I know Clare will be monitoring me very closely. 

In order to appreciate my views on religion let’s for a moment consider its origins, and I don’t just mean the Judeo/Christian religions, (though, as we are dealing primarily with Christianity, we can swing back and focus more on it, if you fancy?) but all of them.

Humans have always assigned agency to the things they did/do not understand.
The ‘gods’ were responsible for everything from rain, to thunder and lightening[sic], volcanoes, babies, and toothache.

When we became a tad sophisticated – developing the basics of language perhaps? – it seemed natural that the gods would choose some of the more sophisticated among us – shaman, spirit guides, voodoo doctors, prophets …. maybe a particular rabbi – to convey His / his /her /their wishes to the rest of the unwashed.

And, umpteen years further down the road, what we now have are considerably more sophisticated humans and therefore, the gods or God, even, has naturally. required much more sophisticated intermediaries, with many many more sophisticated arguments.

It is unfortunate that none of these arguments have ever demonstrated one iota of veracity pertaining to any religious/god claim. This strongly suggests that our willingness to believe is all down to two things: Indoctrination and credulity.
If one needs a religion – in whatever form you choose – to validate one’s life, maybe it’s time for a serious rethink?

I suppose some might say that table tennis is Hell, however, within the rules of the ITTF no one gets sent there for playing badly or deconverting and opting to play badminton.

Regards

Ark.

10th March, 2021 at 8:52 am

Ark has also started a similar line of enquiry over on makagutu’s blog:

@ Barry.
If we are honest there would likely be no Judeo/Christian religion if it were not for the bible, it being highly doubtful oral tradition would have survived intact with out the written word, and certainly Christianity probably would have died a miserable( but welcome ) death.

So, I wonder what specific value religion can offer anyone?

March 28, 2021 at 17:48

I can’t help having a feeling that Ark is trying to “convert” me from religion and Quakerism in order to “save” me from some undefined, but possibly unfortunate delusional fate. Apologies to Ark if that isn’t the case, but leading statements such as “…maybe it’s time for a serious rethink?” leads me to think otherwise.

Rather than hijack Clare’s post on comment policy, I’ve started this post so that Ark or anyone else for that matter can continue the conversation here. However there are some rules (aren’t there always?) that apply to this particular post. Please respect them.

  • Courtesy and respect are paramount. No name calling, insults or denigration, even by implication.
  • Acknowledgement that even where evidence is not in dispute, the interpretation or conclusions drawn from that evidence can be.
  • There are no absolute “truths”. We draw our conclusion from the evidence, wisdom and knowledge available to us. It is open to new insights at any time.
  • Do not frame opinion to appear to be statements of fact.
  • Discussion must be on the basis that all religions are products of human creativity; that there is no “true” religion.
  • If you wish to argue that any sacred works are infallible, non-contradictory or accurately convey all the truth and wisdom necessary to live life according to the desires of a deity, please find another platform on which to express your beliefs.
  • As I don’t have god-like powers of anticipating the content of comments that any contributors might make, I reserve the right to change these rules as I see fit.

Okay, with that out of the way, I’ll get right down to responding to Ark. In reverse order:

I suppose some might say that table tennis is Hell, however, within the rules of the ITTF no one gets sent there for playing badly or deconverting and opting to play badminton.

There are sporting codes where the banishment did occur for playing another code. For example, until fairly recently, anyone who played Rugby League in this country faced a lifetime ban from playing Rugby Union. For many that was the equivalent of being sent to hell.

I would also like to venture that all claims of having the “wrong” religion or none at all will lead to some sort of divine retribution are human inventions. As far as I’m aware no deity has ever stated otherwise. And quoting a passage from a sacred text without some other independent supporting evidence just won’t cut it.

If one needs a religion – in whatever form you choose – to validate one’s life, maybe it’s time for a serious rethink?

My first thought is “Why should I?” The only basis for doing so would be if there was no exception to the claim that all religions are harmful, and I am yet to be persuaded of that. But if I break the whole sentence down into its components (it’s something my autistic brain does in an attempt to be sure I understand the nuance(s) that neurotypical folk include in their communications) I’m left with uncertainty over two words: needs and validate.

I’m uncertain whether Ark means need as in I need to breathe or eat or whether he means need as in I need the companionship of my wife or I need mental stimulation. The former is a necessity for life itself, the latter for a fulfilling life.

What does to validate one’s life mean? I exist. Why is there any need to validate it? On the other hand, for sixty years my experiences as an undiagnosed autistic were invalidated (written off as unsound, erroneous or inconsequential, and my behaviour as a result of being autistic were considered to be wrong, bad, selfish, inconsiderate and rude and that my future would amount to nothing worthwhile), so perhaps Ark means validate in terms of affirming the worth of one’s experiences or even of one’s existence.

By putting it all back together I presume by needs religion to validate one’s life, Ark means that religion is necessary to have a worthwhile life. If so, Ark must be referring to my own religion as I have made it abundantly clear on many occasions that religion isn’t necessary for a worthwhile or fulfilling life. At a personal level, I find religion enriches my life, but I must emphasise that this is my personal experience, and I would be foolish to claim what is true for me must be true for anyone else let alone true for everyone else. The evidence does not bear this out.

Which brings me right back to “why is it time for a serious rethink?” If anyone is still with me after the tortuous workings of an autistic mind coping with a non-autistic world, I’m going to leave this thought for a moment before returning to it.

As an aside, If anyone is wondering why I deconstruct sentences so much, it’s the result of some rather unpleasant experiences resulting my failure to grasp the intended or implied meaning of a communication and instead grasping the literal meaning, and also of others reading far more into what I have said than what I actually said. Self preservation starts to kick in after being on the receiving end of sometimes high levels of violence, not to mention lower levels of assaults and bullying due to miscommunication.

Ark refers to veracity pertaining to any religious/god claim. Immediately I run into a problem. I appreciate that apologists attempt to “prove” that their beliefs are true, but I make no such claim. So is Ark referring to claims I have not made but assumes I might believe or is he referring to the claims of others? I don’t know. As I’m convinced religion is experiential, and doesn’t come from intermediaries or sacred texts, both of which are of human origin, every person’s experience will be unique and not repeatable.

I suppose there might be an issue with my convincement that religion is experiential because that too cannot be verified. However, if I start from the premise that Lloyd Geering’s definition of religion is accurate, then I think one has little option but to accept that religion can only be experiential.

In the very next sentence Ark suggests that our willingness to believe is all down to two things: Indoctrination and/or credulity. I presume “our” does not include Ark, so that leaves me (and others) to believe something (what?), and that I believe the something because I’ve been indoctrinated (by who) or that I’m credulous. So I wonder what I believe that might be false or due to credulity? Let me repeat Lloyd Geering’s definition of religion:

Religion is a total mode of the interpreting and living of life

Where in that definition does it suggest any specific belief is necessary? It’s a mode of living, not a set of beliefs. I’ll grant that many religions do come with a string of beliefs attached, some of which are untenable in this age, but simply holding a belief that one feels one holds out of religious conviction does not mean that the belief is erroneous, false or or not worth holding. I’ll come back to that shortly.

The first section of Ark’s comment contains an overly simplistic, and might I add condescending, “history” of religion as if I was unaware how religion may have originated. I would say that Ark is only partially correct when he states that humans apply agency to the things they did/do not understand. Humans apply agency to everything. It’s where the agency is unknown or unknowable that they use their creative minds to imagine a possible agency.

Even ignoring the fact that there is no hierarchical structure nor authority within Quakerism, I find the association of hierarchical religious structures to “sophistication” inappropriate. It might have been acceptable to19th century anthropologists but not today. Perhaps Ark didn’t mean to imply refined, clever or cultivated but those concepts are often associated with sophisticated.

On the other hand, if Ark means sophisticated as in a concept that is thorough and well-worked-out, I’d venture that some “modern” religions fall very short. Theological beliefs that are obviously contradictory while insisting they are objectively true doesn not indicate a high level of sophistication to me. I’ll add that “unwashed” is a pejorative term, and I’d prefer it not used here to label those without privilege or with less privilege, which is what I presume Ark means.

Now back to Ark’s serious rethink. To me, religion is a mode of living, a way one experiences the world and the choices one makes as a consequence. I can no more choose to be not religious than I can choose to be not autistic. For sixty years society tried to mould me into “normalcy”. All it did was force me to hide behind a mask where I acted out being “normal”, clumsily at first but I got better with practice, although never perfect. However it came at a high cost: exhaustion and burnout. Does Ark suggest I should pretend to not be religious, and if so, how?

I grew up under the influence of two very different cultures. One that belonged to my parents and many of my peers, and one that was very present in the small community I lived in until well into my fifteenth year. I received wisdom from both, and equally important, I learnt of the mythology of both. I wouldn’t have been ten years old when it dawned on me that the two cultures were different in one very important aspect. One culture divided life into the secular and the religious. The other culture didn’t. Additionally, one culture believed, in fact insisted, that it was the only correct lens through which to view the world. The other didn’t.

In my twenties, I met and married my wife whose background, being Japanese, is very different from my own. She grew up in an environment where Shintoism and Buddhism are integral aspects of life although religiosity is not., and during university she was exposed to some elements of Christianity. Her perspectives have only enriched my understanding of the nature of religion and how one’s world view and religion are intricately intertwined.

While it’s true I’m a product of the society that I grew up within, and probably hold a great many values and ideas that I’m unaware are uniquely a product of culture(s) I am immersed within, I am aware that everything that I value and the way I perceive the world is the product of my exposure to multiple belief systems and world views.

I reached my current position on religion through a process of continually re-evaluating my perspectives based on new information or insights as they became available – a process that still continues and hopefully will continue until such time as this brain ceases to indicate any sign of life. I’m certain that what I consider My Truth today is not the same as My Truth of five years ao, and is unlikely to be the same as My Truth in another 5 years time. I’m sure that’s true of all thinking people whether they are religious or not. So I see no need to make any immediate rethink based purely on Ark’s suggestion. Unless of course Ark has some important information that I’m not aware of, in which case I might reconsider my position based on the new evidence.

Okay, back to being indoctrinated and/or credulity. For this to be true there must be some beliefs that are unsupportable or erroneous or have simply accepted as truths without giving them much thought, so I’m looking forward to learning what those might be. I suppose this might be the place to ask which comes first: beliefs or values. Are specific beliefs derived from the values one holds, or do values arise from a set of beliefs? Or are they merely different sides of the same coin?

Like 90% of Quakers in Aotearoa New Zealand, I came to Quakerism from a non-Quaker background. I understand the situation is similar within most liberal Quaker Yearly meetings. I was first introduced to Quakerism when my wife was asked to provide translation services for a group of Hiroshima survivors and their descendants who were visiting the Quaker Settlement in Whanganui. What struck me at the time was that the values they held and the way they were expressed were consistent with my own.

It would be many years before I ventured to attend a Quaker Meeting for Worship, but when I finally did I was almost overwhelmed by a feeling of “coming home”. There was no mention of God, Jesus, salvation or sin. The Bible was not quoted from or even mentioned during the hour of worship. If my memory serves me right, two people stood and spoke, each for less than a minute. One spoke on a new personal insight in relation to the Quaker testimony on simplicity. The other spoke on a social justice issue and a concern he had about it.

After worship I was again struck by the absolute equality of worth of every person that emanated from the group. For once, my experiences were not dismissed or invalidated. Of course there were other attractions such as how discussion was carried out allowing someone with very little understanding of social cues to make an equitable contribution. That is something I seldom experience on other social experiences including at times within my whānau. And unless you’re autistic, you possibly have no idea what an hour of silence can mean.

The feeling of “being home” is one I do not experience anywhere else other than within my whānau. So Ark, If you think I should give that up please tell me why and what advantages I will gain.

I have titled this post A personal challenge because I suspect coping with responses to this might very much be a challenge for me.


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Kindness is not enough – an open letter to the Prime Minister of New Zealand — Matthew Wright

While many of my readers might reasonably think that Aotearoa New Zealand is a paradise on Earth, given my favourable descriptions of this nation, it is far from it. I still consider it the “best little country in the world” but it has it’s flaws – too many for me to stay silent about. Our housing crisis is just one of them. This article By Matthew Wright highlights the failure of successive governments, including the current one, to tackle social issues in anything other than a neo-liberal monetarist framework established by the Labour Party in the 1980s.

Dear Jacinda, It’s nearly six months since your government came to power with the first clear majority any party has had since MMP began, on the public expectation that you would lead the country out of the neo-liberal framework that has driven so many social problems. Instead, all that’s happened is – nothing. And then, […]

Kindness is not enough – an open letter to the Prime Minister of New Zealand — Matthew Wright


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Footsteps On My Mind

I’m not a person who feels down if things don’t go as intended. Melancholy is doesn’t seem to be part of my DNA. About the only time I feel “out of sorts” is during a prolonged migraine episodes when it feels like my “get up and go” has “got up and gone”.

Although I don’t consider I have reached my “twilight” years, I’m definitely in my “late afternoon” years. Despite being a chronic migraine sufferer, and living for sixty years not knowing I was autistic, but feeling like I was a square peg being forced through a round hole I view my life as being a wonderful experience. I can’t imagine an alternative life being any better.

Mostly, I recall the good things that have happened in my life, and whether or not it’s good to do so, I tend to sweep memories of negative experiences under the carpet. One reason for this state of affairs is due to having alexithymia, often referred to as “emotional blindness”. I suck at reading the emotions of others, but I’m even worse at reading my own. I know happiness and contentment are pleasurable experiences and I know deep sadness is is not. Most others I’m oblivious to, and it’s only since discovering I am autistic have I learnt to recognise some emotions by carefully thinking about the physical manifestations that frequently accompany emotions.

If it feels like my blood is about to bool it means I’m angry (or wearing to many clothes or in the early stage of another migraine). If I feel a churning motion in my stomach, it means I’m nervous (or some food has disagreed with me or Im hungry or I’m in the early stage of another migraine attack). If my face feels hot, it means I’m embarrassed (or I need to remove a layer of clothing or I’m in the early stage of another migraine attack). If I find my hands or jaw is clenched then I’m most likely very stressed out (or I could be in a state of rising anger or I’m in the early stage of another migraine attack). If people ask me to repeat something I’ve said then it might be because I feel down and am talking too quietly (or I’m in the early stage of another migraine attack and I’m slurring my speech, or we could be in a noisy environment). And so the list goes on.

Learning to recognise emotions this way is quite confusing. For example, If I feel my eyes start to water (and there’s no irritant present) does it mean I’m happy, or sad, or both or something else? If I feel a lump in my throat is this really nostalgia tinged with sadness? What else can it mean? And is it something else if I experience both the lump and the water? I really have no idea.

Over recent weeks I’ve been having moments where I recall my thoughts from my teen years many decades ago when I was beginning to understand that I was in some way different from everyone else and very different from my peers. I don’t recall having any feelings one way or the other as it dawned on me that everyone had a group of friends and I had none; that others seemed to revel in loud and noisy events where everyone talked very loudly, but I was unable to make out a single word and I’d be physically ill within five minutes of arriving; That I had no clue about the topics fellow teenagers were talking about and none of them seemed interested in why the Ab class locomotive was so ubiquitous in NZ or the nature of black holes or what technology driverless cars might employ in the future.

While I was very comfortable in my own company, I realised that having conversations with myself was not very profitable. I don’t recall feeling sad or angry or disappointed about my situation. I simply accepted that that was the way it was. But now when I look back at those moments when I began to realise that I was in some way very different from everyone else and would never fit into their world, I do feel a discomfort somewhere just below my diaphram. I’m not able to distinguish between mild indigestion and hunger, and I rarely have either sensation, but this sensation is something like that. If I’m sitting or lying I have to get up and do something, but I have no idea what or why.

I’m guessing the flashbacks and the uneasy feeling are associated but how and why? I’m confident I understand my teen self better now than I did back then. So are the sensations due to a reliving of emotions of the past that I wasn’t aware of at the time, or are they new emotions created out of hindsight and in the full knowledge of what was to come. Either way, what does this sensation represent? Regret? nostalgia? Sadness? Disappointment? Loss? Something else? I’m assuming it’s negative because it’s unpleasant.

I doubt very much that it’s happiness due to knowing how my life has turned out. For the most part I think I’ve been blessed: a best friend companion and lover for almost 50 years; two wonderful children and three amazing grandkids. What more could I desire? While there’s always a possibility that the discomfort and the flashbacks are unrelated and purely coincidental, I don’t think so. And that’s because after hearing a particular song this morning, the hunger or indigestion was much stronger and still lingers.

Popular songs have always been about the hopes and disappointments of romance, but scattered among them are a few that deal with the hopes, dreams and disappointments of every aspect of life. I find song lyrics fascinating because it is often very difficult to know what a song is really about. The song I heard this morning was one of my favourites at round the time I left school or perhaps shortly after and was about the time I realised that I was not a typical teenager by any stretch of the imagination and never would be.

As I listened to the track, I suddenly felt the discomfort rise as these words were sung:

People all around, they never seem to notice me
Maybe because my mind's behind a cloud that no-one sees the wood for trees
What's wrong with me?

Did those words speak to me then but I didn’t realise it, or are those words speaking to me now reminding me how much my life would have been different if I was not autistic? I don’t know. What I am sure of is that I’m unlikely to get a good night’s sleep thinking about it. Bugger emotions! (Is that frustration, irritation, anger, regret or something else?) They’re so confusing. It’s at moments like these that I wish I hadn’t had any mindfulness training, and I’d remain blissfully unaware of the connection between emotions and bodily sensations.

For anyone interested in hearing the source of my discomfort, here it is. I was into psychedelic music at that time which is why I might have found this piece attractive Perhaps all I’m feeling is nothing more than nostalgia for a music era that no longer exists. Oh I give up!.

Music Convention – Footsteps On My Mind


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Changing perspectives

It still comes as a surprise to me to realise my perspective on many aspects of life have changed over the years. I’m also reminded that much of what I comprehend about the society in which I live is viewed differently by others. Some nuances are so subtle that it is only now in hindsight and because they are topics of debate today that I realise I did not understand let alone appreciate some social norms I grew up with.

One of these is gender roles. I completely failed to recognise that society had different expectations of men and women. It even baffled me why certain types of attire were considered appropriate for one gender but not the other. But it was the more subtle expectations for both men and women that I failed to pick up on and was oblivious of their existence.

I grew up in an era where most families could live in moderate comfort on a single income and virtually every household had a stay at home parent while there were children in their care. It never occurred to me that the reason most households had a stay at home mother and not a stay at home father was primarily due to social expectations and not a matter of choice negotiated between the parents.

Prior to my teen years, I adopted whatever behaviour and role I felt suited me, and being unaware of social expectations, I simply took on aspects that today would be viewed as gender nonconforming or nonbinary. Starting in my early teens I had most of this adaptation knocked out of me as I became aware of the negative views many held about me, and especially by acts of violence that I thought I had provoked merely by being different from the norm. I wasn’t fully cognisant of the disapproval being gender biased. Instead I had an understanding that it was not acceptable for me, as an individual, to exhibit such behaviour without understanding why.

It wasn’t until my mid twenties when it dawned on me that there were oh so subtle ways that societies place different expectations on men an women. The first occurred on my honeymoon when my new mate prostrated herself in front of me promising to be a good and obedient wife. To say that I was surprised is an understatement. I was shocked and appalled. I made it very clear that I was expecting an equal partner, not a servant. I later learnt that she was just as shocked at my response, but pleasantly so. Admittedly her culture had (and still has) more clearly defined gender roles, but it’s only a matter of degree, not that it was absent in my own culture.

The second occurred after I grew a beard in the mid 1970s when they were far less common than now, but more often worn by men of privilege. I didn’t grow it as a sign of masculinity or as a fashion statement, but because I loathed shaving and having very wavy hair, ingrown hairs were an all too often painful fact of life. Overnight the way both men and women responded to me changed – especially those who did not know me personally. It was quite an eye opener.

Both genders tended to be more polite to me but in different ways. Men tended to treat me as an equal or as someone slightly more “knowledgeable” than themselves. I was also assumed to be older than I was. Women on the other hand tended to display a sightly more subservient role in my presence as if somehow the beard gave me more authority. I felt even more uncomfortable in the company of others than ever before – both men and women.

The reason I was prompted to write this post was that I heard a song this morning that was a favourite of mine in the late 1960s. It has always brought a lump to my throat and a little water to the eye. It reminded me so much of the relationship between my parents who had so much respect and love for each other, although rarely expressed in the presence of others. I’ve always viewed the words as an expression of love by an equal partner, but when I now hear the answer to “what should I want from life?” in the last verse, the answer makes me somewhat uneasy. There’s an implication that one’s worth as a woman is measured by having a loving spouse. Or am I reading too much into the lyrics?

Allison Durbin – I have loved me a man (1968)
I have loved me a man, like my momma did
I have loved me a man.
Tall and tender, his hands like my daddy's were
With a mind that understands

And the arms that held me when I would cry
The lips that kissed away my tears
They're a part of the man that my momma loved
And I have loved me a man

I have wed me a man, like my momma did
I have wed me a man
I can still feel the warmth of the words he said
He held my heart tied in his hands

And in the morning I would wake by his side
And wonder what I could have done
To be loved by a man like my momma loved
And I have loved me a man

I would bear him a child, like my momma did
I would bear him a child
She'd be gentle and sweet, like my momma was
I'd watch her grow and in a while

She'd ask me momma what should I want from life
And I would tell her with a smile
Just be loved by a man like your momma loved
And I have loved me a man

And I have loved me a man


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Manaakitanga – a Kiwi answer to Covid

One aspect of Pākehā (European) cultural dominance that we Kiwis have historically downplayed is the undervaluing and sometimes the suppression of Māori culture. Sometimes it has been the result of a misplaced belief that one culture is more advanced or otherwise better than another. Other times it resulted directly from a notion of entitlement – that settlers had a right to indigenous resources and if that necessitated the overriding of Māori customary law by British law, so be it.

A hundred and fifty years later, the courts are beginning to recognise that customary law has equal footing with common law, and not before time. In legislation we are seeing a start to the recognition of the Māori world view as a legitimate perspective on equal footing with the Western world view. One example of a change from the Western perspective has been the granting of personhood to forests, to rivers and their catchments, and to mountains. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next few decades much more of the landscape is also granted personhood.

I accept that such a concept is alien to most people immersed in Western monoculture where personhood can only be granted to individual humans, and to a limited extent, to corporate entities. In the West, two thousand years of Christian thought has separated humanity from nature and has placed mankind, collectively and individually, above and in control of nature. It hasn’t worked out too well in my view.

Since the revival of Māori culture, from the 1970s onwards, aspects of Māori culture have started to infiltrate our once Western culture. At first, it was merely the acceptance that aspects of Māori culture were “allowed”. In other words, Pākehā “granted” Māori the “right” to express their culture publicly – a form of tokenism. But over the decades something more profound has occurred.

Not only have Pākehā accepted, and more recently welcomed aspects of Māori culture, they are also embracing it. By this I mean that not only have Pākeha recognised that Māori culture has equal standing with their own, their world view is being coloured by it. Perhaps Pākehā have been influenced more by Māori for more than a hundred and fifty years, but it’s only very recently that they have acknowledged the fact.

I return now to the topic of this post: manaakitanga. If you look up the term in the Māori Dictionary, you’ll see that it is defined as “hospitality, kindness, generosity, support – the process of showing respect, generosity and care for others“. But it’s more than that. It’s also about recognising the collective – that one’s freedom as an individual is only as strong as one’s place in the community.

The importance of the “collective” has probably been an unconscious part of the Kiwi culture for more than a hundred years. Perhaps some on the right of the political spectrum will identify this with socialism, but I believe that is only partially correct. Socialism is “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole“. Manaakitanga is more about values than about process.

Concepts such as universal suffrage and welfarism that became part of the New Zealand landscape in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and more recently, a universal no fault accident compensation and recovery system, can I believe, be at least partially attributed to manaakitanga, although Pākehā have been slow to recognise the source. Today manaakitanga is a core part of the education system in Aotearoa New Zealand.

So what has manaakitanga to do with the current pandemic? It is, I believe, the reason why this nation has been successful in keeping Covid-19 out of our communities. While being an island nation has made the shutting of borders somewhat easier than most nations, given the will, any nation could do the same. And the argument that a nation can’t shut its border due to commerce doesn’t cut it either. This nation is more dependent on international trade and the steady inflow and outflow of travellers than most. For example, as a percentage of GDP, international trade in NZ is twice that of the US.

Manaakitanga can be seen in our willingness to forgo personal freedoms for the sake of the community as a whole. When this nation went into lockdown for six weeks from late March last year, they were the most restrictive anywhere, (with the possible exception of Wuhan.) If you believe Kiwis accepted the hardships and pain the lockdown caused because we’re “subservient to our overlords” (yes, I’ve seen that description used of Fox), then you really don’t know Kiwis at all.

We made our sacrifices in the interests of the the collective – what we have called a “team of 5 million“. And it worked. Our lives are for the most part like they were before Covid appeared on the scene. The experience has reinforced the idea that an individualistic approach is not enough and that it takes a team for us all to gain true freedom.

Perhaps the relative failure of many nations in the West compared to those in the East, is due to the notion that personal individual freedom, and “rights” are paramount and above the interests of the collective. I’m not sure that such a concept has ever been held in the high regard in this nation. It’s not part of the Māori world view, and when we consider the motives of many of the early settlers, it wasn’t high on their agenda either. A “fair go”, an escape from the excesses of unregulated capitalism, egalitarianism, equity and equality in equal measure, and fair sharing, were more on their minds than personal liberty and bettering their peers.

The influence of a Māori world view has, I think, lead us to better understand what it is that we have always, if unconsciously sought, and now Pākehā too have a name for it: manaakitanga.


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Special people

On Saturday I and two of my siblings travelled the three hours to Opunake to a commemoration service for an aunt. I’m in my 70s and the two siblings are knocking on the door of 70, and attending funerals, commemorations and celebrations of lives of recently departed is becoming more frequent by the year.

This particular service was called a commemoration as the aunt died in January, but due to the restrictions on international travel imposed by Covid, it was felt more appropriate to delay the funeral until as many as possible would be able to attend. Instead of there being a presence of a body in a casket, there were her ashes in an urn on a table amidst flowers, photographs and a candle. Somewhere between 200 and 300 attended

Looking back on the services I have attended over recent years, it struck me that the only “real” Christian funeral was that of my mother. All the rest either ignored Christian theology altogether or at best may have included a token hymn that reflected an aspect of the deceased’s life more than anything specifically Christian.

Like all the others I have attended (apart from my mother’s) there has been no mention of God or gods, Jesus or an the expectation of an afterlife in heaven or hell. The only token towards a cultural Christianity was a quip by one speaker who mentioned that if her late husband was the one designated to drive her to the pearly gates in his much loved orange Vauxhall Viva, she’d probably wish to be somewhere else – anywhere else. He had a reputation for loudly expressing his view that he was the only competent driver in the world (and probably in heaven), although it was evident to everyone else that he wasn’t.

Aunty Joan was my father’s oldest sister and was just a few weeks short of her 105th birthday. She was one of twelve siblings, of whom only two remain. I was going to title this piece “Another one bites the dust” in light of that comment being made in jest by one of her remaining brothers, but I suspect some of my readers might not think too kindly about such an irreverent phrase, particularly if they have experienced a recent loss of their own.

On the drive back, my brother, who is neither a Christian nor religious made the comment that Aunty Joan was a true Christian, and the world could do with more people like her. My sister and I agreed, but I quipped that a great many fundamentalist Christians would disagree. It all comes down to what one considers “being Christian” is all about.

I live in a society that is secular but nominally “Christian”, and as best as I can recognise, the religious beliefs of Kiwis has changed little over my lifetime. What has changed is what Kiwis consider “being Christian” is. Until the 1960s, most Kiwis regardless of their religiosity would have been offended if they were described as not being Christian. Being Christian did not centre around belief but around action. One was judged by their deeds – generosity of heart and spirit, helping those in need regardless of one’s own circumstances, listening, caring, being supportive and being a warrior of whatever one perceived as social justice.

What has changed over recent decades has been that the concept of “being a Christian” no longer has that meaning. Lead by the importation of fundamentalism it’s become all about belief – having a specific sort of faith, and that “good works” count for nothing. Perhaps if one does “good works” for the purpose of salvation (whatever that is) then just maybe they do count for little. But people such as Aunty Joan never gave salvation a second thought. They give of themselves because, in good conscience, they could not ignore the needs of others.

For old schoolers such as myself, Christianity was (and I’m using the past tense deliberately) about one’s relationship to humanity (Love your neighbour as yourself). Today it seems that for some Christians, all that matters is one’s relationship with a deity and the worshipping of “His” Bible.

Sixty years ago I too would have been offended if someone had declared I wasn’t a Christian. Today, I’d be offended if they said I was. It’s not that my beliefs or values have changed significantly, it’s because the common understanding of what being a Christian has undergone a radical change under the influence of the fundamentalist evangelical movement. That’s why today, if someone asks if I’m a Christian, I always ask what they mean by being Christian. I’m unlikely to be in agreement with many who are younger than fifty.

The following is a poem by David Harkins that was presented at the service. I felt it was most appropriate.

You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.


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A Twitter violation revisited

Well, it seems there is at least one human at Twitter, or a good imitation of one. I have received a qualified apology. And my reason for “qualified” is as it seems to imply that my account exhibited automated behaviour. I’m still struggling to understand how expanding a very long conversation thread as I was reading it exhibited such behaviour. Perhaps I was reading too fast? But I’ll let it rest for now.

Hello,

We’re writing to let you know that your account is now unlocked. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.

A little background: We have systems that find and remove automated spam Twitter accounts, and it looks like yours was flagged as spam by mistake. This can happen if an account exhibits automated behavior in violation of our rules.

We apologize for the mixup, and hope to see back on Twitter soon. 

If you need to get in touch with us again, please file a report through your Twitter app or our forms page, as this account isn’t monitored for replies. 

Thanks,

Twitter


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Covid restrictions

Whenever media comment on the success the Aotearoa New Zealand has had in managing the pandemic, too often there is a mistaken belief that the citizens of this nation are living under some form of draconian authority that has made us prisoners in our own country.

In some cases it may be that messages to its residents from authorities or conversations between Kiwis is misinterpreted (either in ignorance or deliberately) to mean something sinister – for example the misconception that thousands of Kiwis are locked up in concentration camps indefinitely for refusing to take a covid test and by implication anyone who opposes the way the government is managing the crisis is also locked up. This myth is one actively promoted on Fox in shows such as The Ingraham Angle.

In most cases it’s a matter of making the “facts” fit a preconceived notion, one of which is that because they believe we are a socialist state (really?), we must have an authoritarian government that limits our freedoms and interferes in our daily lives. In fact nothing could be further from the truth.

One only needs to see where this nation ranks on just about every freedom index known to see the fallacy of their beliefs. Whether it’s personal, economic, political, religious or any other freedom, Aotearoa New Zealand is ranked at the top or nearly at the top whereas their beloved America is seldom in the top twenty places. But specifically I want to illustrate that the approach to covid taken by our government has resulted in us having less stringent restrictions and more freedom than just about any other country.

Those who argue against restrictions often cite Sweden as a shining example of freedom during the pandemic. However Swedes do live under quite heavy restrictions – more so than the US. They also have suffered a heavy loss of life and the economy has slowed down significantly. Meanwhile NZ suffered a huge hit due to the lack of foreign visitors but the economy has bounced back to above pre-covid days and we go about our daily lives much as we did before the pandemic started. And while this country reports new cases almost on a daily basis, these are not cases in the community. They are new arrivals to this country who have tested positive while still in quarantine.

I’m going to present some information in the form of charts and tables that show that Aotearoa New Zealand is not a communist or fascist hellhole that many on the right claim it to be. I don’t intend to show whether or not the actions taken by our government are more effective than in other jurisdictions, only that they impacted on our freedom less than elsewhere. I’ve arbitrarily chosen four countries to compare with NZ: The United States because that is where the claims that we have lost our freedom are the loudest; The United Kingdom because their government seems to change their mind as often as most people change their underwear; Sweden because it has had no lockdowns and is looked upon by the the anti lockdown brigade as a shining example of how to manage a pandemic; and Japan because it’s the wife’s homeland, and like the UK and NZ is a group of islands.

First let’s look at the COVID-19 Stringency Index. The nine metrics used to calculate the Stringency Index are: school closures; workplace closures; cancellation of public events; restrictions on public gatherings; closures of public transport; stay-at-home requirements; public information campaigns; restrictions on internal movements; and international travel controls.

As can be seen from the chart below, the US, the UK and Sweden have had similar levels of stringency throughout 2020 and it’s only since the end of last year that measures in the UK have become more stringent.

Japan has had been significantly less stringent over all but still considerably more so than NZ. Note how New Zealand has responded. At any sign of an outbreak, the nation goes hard for a few weeks or days, but otherwise life is mostly “normal”.

The COVID-19 Containment and Health Index shows similar results. This index builds on the Stringency Index, using its nine indicators plus testing policy, the extent of contact tracing, requirements to wear face coverings, and policies around vaccine rollout. It’s therefore calculated on the basis of the following thirteen metrics: school closures; workplace closures; cancellation of public events; restrictions on public gatherings; closures of public transport; stay-at-home requirements; public information campaigns; restrictions on internal movements; international travel controls; testing policy; extent of contact tracing; face coverings; and vaccine policy.

Both the above charts clearly indicate when community transmission occurred in NZ and lockdowns were put in place. The first when around 1500 were infected, the second when around 100 were infected and the third where 4 people were infected. In each case, the restrictions were lifted only when health authorities were satisfied that the virus was had been eliminated from the community. And as can be seen, the containment measures taken during the last two outbreaks have still been less than the day to day containment measures in the US, the UK and Sweden.

If we look at some of the metrics used in the above charts we can see how these have worked out. Note that in some jurisdictions, management of the pandemic varies from region to region. So while the strongest measure indicated for a country may not apply everywhere, it applies to a significant section.

School closures

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommended: Japan
  3. Required (only at some levels): US; Sweden
  4. Required (all levels): UK

Workplace closures

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommended: Japan
  3. Required for some: US; Sweden
  4. Required for all but key workers: UK

Cancellation of public events

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommended cancellations: Japan
  3. Required cancellations: US; UK; Sweden

Restrictions on public gatherings

  1. No restrictions: NZ
  2. Restrictions on large gatherings but above 1000 people: Japan
  3. Gatherings between 100 & 1000 people:
  4. Gatherings between 10 & 100 people:
  5. Gatherings of less than 10 people: US; UK; Sweden

Stay-at-home requirements

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommended: US; Japan; Sweden
  3. Required (except essentials): UK
  4. Required (few exceptions):

Face covering policies

  1. No policy:
  2. Recommended: Japan
  3. Required in some public spaces: NZ; UK; Sweden
  4. Required in all public spaces:
  5. Required outside-the-home at all times: US

Public information campaigns

  1. None:
  2. Public officials urging caution:
  3. Coordinated information campaign: NZ; US; UK; Japan; Sweden

Public transport closures

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommended closing (or reduce volume): US; UK; Japan; Sweden
  3. Required closing (or prohibit most using it):

Restrictions on internal movement

  1. No measures: NZ
  2. Recommend movement restriction: Japan; Sweden
  3. Restrict movement: US; UK

International travel controls

  1. No measures:
  2. Screening:
  3. Quarantine from high-risk regions:
  4. Ban on high-risk regions: US; UK; Sweden
  5. Total border closure: NZ; Japan

Testing policy

  1. No testing policy:
  2. Symptoms & key groups:
  3. Anyone with symptoms: NZ; UK; Japan; Sweden
  4. Open public testing (incl. asymptomatic): US

Contact tracing

  1. No tracing:
  2. Limited tracing (only some cases): US; UK; Japan; Sweden
  3. Comprehensive tracing (all cases): NZ

Vaccination Policy

  1. None:
  2. Availability for ONE of following: key workers/ clinically vulnerable groups / elderly groups: NZ; Japan
  3. Availability for TWO of following: key workers/ clinically vulnerable groups / elderly groups: US;
  4. Availability for ALL of following: key workers/ clinically vulnerable groups / elderly groups: Sweden
  5. Availability for all three plus partial additional availability: UK
  6. Universal availability:

Income support

  1. No income support:
  2. Covers less than 50% of lost salary: NZ
  3. Covers more than 50% of lost salary: US; UK; Japan; Sweden

Debt and contract relief

  1. No relief: Sweden
  2. Narrow relief: US
  3. Broad relief: NZ; UK; Japan

So please tell me how New Zealand is in the grips of a brutal authoritarian regime after first removing our guns (another myth), while the US (or Sweden) is a model of covid management that should be emulated across the planet.


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A Twitter violation?

I know Twitter is coming down hard on those who violate their terms of use, but this is ridiculous.

I haven’t had a personal Twitter account, up until today, and now I’m locked out due to some violation or other, but have absolutely no idea what.

I hadn’t been signed up for more than 3 minutes when I was locked out when a tweet and the comments I was reading disappeared and was replaced with a message stating that my account was disabled until I could verify my identity! On acknowledging the message, I was directed to a screen where I was to enter my phone number As usual in these situations I checked the URL before I did so just to make sure it was valid. It was.

Every attempt at unlocking the account resulted in a silent phone call from Alabama in the USA (I was expecting an SMS message) and an empty email message. Then this message arrived by email:

We’re writing to let you know that your account has been flagged for unusual behavior that violates the Twitter Rules, and has been locked until you take the following steps: 

  1. Log into your account, or open your Twitter app on iOS or Android. 
  2. You’ll see a message about your account, and a prompt to click “Start.”
  3. Select your country/region, and then enter your phone number. 
  4. Click “Send code.”
  5. You’ll receive a message from Twitter with a confirmation code. 
  6. Enter the code you receive on the prompt screen. You’ll receive a confirmation. Please note, it may take a few minutes for your account to be completely unlocked. 
  7. If you’re still experiencing a problem after confirming your identity, respond to this message and provide us with more details about what’s happening. 

Please note, repeat violations of the Twitter Rules can lead to a permanent suspension of your account. 

Thanks, 

Twitter

I have no idea whether the “violation” is in regards to reading tweets and associated comments or whether it’s to do with being unable to verify my account. Keep in mind the only activity I had performed was to view two or three tweets and expand the comments. That was all apart from trying to unlock the account.

I followed the instruction provided as far as step 4. The “message” I’m supposed to receive in step 5 consists of a silent telephone call and an empty email. Impass! I’m at a loss as to how I’m supposed to enter a nonexistent verification code in step 6. I’ve emailed them with the details of what happened but who knows if any action will be taken:

Dear Twitter,
I signed up for an account today and tried to use my mobile phone number to verify my account. I never received an SMS message. After several attempts to resend the verification code, I opted to set up the account using an email address. This worked as I received the 6-digit code and was able to sign in. I received the code at 16:50 NZDT.


I started reading some tweets and as I was expanding some of the comments, a message popped up informing me that Twitter was unable to verify my identity and I needed to enter a phone number. That I did: [Ph number provided]. Almost immediately my mobile phone rang, but on answering it, there was complete silence. I waited a few seconds until the call terminated. The call came from [Ph number provided]. I tried re-sending the code two more times with the same result. I also tried using my home phone number [Ph number provided], again with the same result. 

Shortly afterwards, I received four email messages from info@twitter.com. The sending mail server was [server name and IP address provided]. The emails were all sent sent at 16:55:29 NZDT and were devoid of content. I have included the source code of one of the messages below. A few minutes later, this email to which I am now responding arrived. It was sent earlier than the 4 empty messages at 17:53:34 NZDT.


So my questions are:

  1. In what way have I violated Twitter’s rules?
  2. How do I unlock my account in the absence of a verification code?

Kind regards

Barry

Perhaps I might receive a response in a day or three, but who knows? Has anyone else faced similar situations with the social media giants?