Posts Tagged ‘morals’

Go Ahead, Wreck Your Home

March 14, 2008

Do government agencies use subliminal advertising techniques?  For months now, the Lottery Corporation has been running commercials to promote their ‘play on-line’ service.  In other words, they’re promoting on-line gambling.

The commercials are ostensibly humorous.  One features a middle aged suburban man teeing up in his living room and driving a golf ball through the sliding glass patio door, shattering it.  Another has a woman rolling her bowling ball down a wood-floored corridor, which then crashes into the wall at the end and damages it.  Both end with the corporation’s web address and a voice-over telling you to “Play at home”.

The images in the ads seem to go beyond humour.  They appear to appeal to the habitual gamblers’ deep, dark desire to destroy their lives/homes.  It strikes me as unethical and very hypocritical, given that subliminal advertising is supposed to be illegal.  I guess the government will look the other way when they are benefiting from the revenue generated.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, subliminal advertising refers to using techniques or tactics in advertising that suggest something subconsciously.  There is always a grey area, of course, because much of an ad’s work is to create an image to appeal to a target market.  This is usually not achieved via directly spoken or written information.

A famous example of subliminal advertising is the image of popcorn or drinks on a single frame of film inserted into a movie in a theatre.  The audience doesn’t consciously notice it, but they suddenly feel the urge to buy some popcorn or a soft drink.  This would have been commonly done back in the days when there was an intermission.

These lottery ads remind me of the screaming faces airbrushed into ice cubes in liquor ads.  Those ads tapped into the fears and insecurities that the alcoholic feels.   Although the lottery ads don’t have hidden images, there does seem to be a subconscious message, appealing to an addict’s self-destructive tendencies.

This gives an indication of how much government depends on lottery revenues and begs the question, which is a higher priority for them – revenue or society?  Should government prey on its own people to generate revenue?

Just a thought.

Advertisements

Beijing-Style Censorship in Canada

March 1, 2008

Yesterday, there was a story in the news about changes to the Income Tax Act that will allow the government to deny tax credits to Canadian films it decides it doesn’t like, after the fact.  The bill, C-10, is now in the Senate, having been passed by the Commons unnoticed.  Now that it’s become public knowledge, some opposition MPs who voted it through the minority government first house are suddenly protesting.  It makes you wonder if they even read the legislation they vote on.  It also makes you wonder why the media didn’t pick up the story before it was passed.

This bill is a form of censorship.  There aren’t any criteria to determine which films will be rejected.  It will be entirely at the discretion of a panel set up by the government.  David Cronenberg says it’s the kind of thing you’d expect from Beijing.  This is clearly open to abuse to further political or social agendas.  For evidence you don’t have to look any further than who takes credit for making it happen.

Charles McVety is a clergyman and the president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, a fundamentalist evangelical group that seeks to restore “Judeo-Christian moral principles” in Canada.  He seems to be as interested in American social politics as Canadian, if not more, because on his Word.ca website you will find an ad for his new book, rather grandly entitled ‘Earthism’, which appears to claim that the disgrace of fellow clergyman turned gay crackhead Ted Haggard fits nicely into the ‘great falling away’ prophesied in the bible.  It doesn’t seem to matter how hypocritical and wrong these people are shown to be, they’ll still find a way to claim it proves they’re right.

His group lobbied for years to get these changes.  His contacts included people in the PM’s office, fellow fundamentalist Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, and like minded backbench MPs.  Although he didn’t meet with Stephen Harper or Heritage Minister Josee Verner personally, the government finally agreed with the group.  Verner replied to his written materials by saying said she didn’t want to fund movies like ‘Young People Fucking’, for instance.

Conservative MP Dave Batters also cites ‘Young People Fucking’ as an example, despite not having seen it.  In a committee meeting with Michel Roy of Telefilm Canada, he said the purpose of Telefilm is to “facilitate the making of films for mainstream Canadian society, films that Canadians can sit down and watch with their families…”  He doesn’t seem to understand what a mainstream movie is.  A commercially successful movie is mainstream, because it appeals to a wide audience.  A film can be mainstream and be unsuitable for a seven year old.  Many mainstream movies have ‘mature’ content.  Although I agree the decision makers at Telefilm annoyingly seem to have their own preferences, and I’ve heard the evidence myself at trade forum seminars, this kind of censorship is not the answer.

I haven’t seen ‘Young People Fucking’ yet, but I will.  What I have read about it indicates that the title is probably the most shocking part.  It might just be shocking enough to get it noticed and help it break through to the mainstream – an achievement for a little Canadian movie in a Hollywood dominated marketplace.  Good marketing.  The easily offended moralists may unintentionally help that cause.

If McVety and the government want to talk about ending offensive tax credits or breaks, let’s talk about ending the free ride for religious organizations.  Churches and their affiliates don’t pay taxes even though they profit from investments.  Not all the money they receive is used for charity, and their idea of charity is often actually tied to recruiting new members and spreading the word.  They have also been havens for paedophiles.  Talk about offensive.

The long feared appearance of the moral right wing of the Conservative government may have come.

Fear of the Void

February 10, 2008

The void must be a very scary thing to many, if not most, people.  As far as I can see, people believe in god because they’re afraid of the gaps in human knowledge.  They feel a need to fill in these gaps and that’s where god comes in handy.  Everything is defined and can be traced back to a source, even if it, itself, is undefinable.

I had a phone conversation with a family member a while back that turned into a discussion about religion, god, and society.  We disagreed, so maybe debate would be a better word.  She seemed to rely on the fact that I didn’t have all the answers as proof that her belief was justified and, therefore, that our society should be founded in religious principles.

At one point, I had her cornered.  She had no response and, suddenly, there was real panic and fear in her voice as she started accusing me of some violation of the rules or principles of debate, then found an excuse to end the conversation and hang up.  I realized that she didn’t just want to believe she was right.  For some reason, she needed to.

I don’t understand this fear.  I accept that there’s a lot we don’t know.  I even accept that what we know is dwarfed by what we don’t know.  I’m OK with saying, “I don’t know”.  It’s a perfectly valid, and honest, answer.  We gradually fill in the knowledge gap, or void, with facts as we expand our knowledge.

But that’s not fast enough or good enough for some people.  They want a complete package now.  And, if any facts threaten their complete, but false, universe, they reject them – often vociferously.  They seem to think the world will fall apart without one.  Some, who have been misled or lied to and then realize it, do have or let their worlds fall apart, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Even some people who reject god and religion continue their pursuit of perfection.  They need a perfect system or philosophy to replace the old one they discovered wasn’t perfect, or even real.  They need an irrefutable core that everything else can be traced back to.

But we are imperfect people in an imperfect world.  We do the best we can for ourselves and to balance our own needs with those of society.  We try to interact with others in a way that is as mutually agreeable as possible.

Maybe we will find a perfect philosophy or system one day.  Maybe not.  Until then, we have to accept our imperfection and make do with what we do know.  We should not accept a false system of belief that offers misleading perfection, or an illusory perfect world view.

A society based on lies will eventually come crashing down.  Better to bring about a soft landing than to delay the inevitable crash by trying to hold up the sky.

Belief Does Not Make You Good

January 28, 2008

There is no correlation between morality, or ethics, and religion or belief in god.  The one doesn’t require, or guarantee, the other.

China is officially atheistic but they have strong traditions and morals.  Women are taught to be modest.  They might even be considered prudish compared to western women, including Christians.  They believe a man wants to marry a virgin, so – no sex before marriage.  I’m not saying this modesty makes them better, but a religious zealot would aspire to a society of such ‘virtue’.

Things are changing, now that the country that used to talk of western decadence has adopted the mantra, “It’s glorious to be rich”.  So, it seems that economics and the pursuit of material wealth have more to do with influencing ethics and morals than belief or non-belief in a god.  You could be a highly ethical atheist or a sleazy believer.

I was once in the presence of someone who I think may have actually killed someone, and he told me he believed in god.  I found myself in the London flat of someone who knew someone I knew.  Someone else was there, too, sitting across the coffee table from me.  The conversation revealed that he was twenty-six and he’d just got out of prison after serving eight years.  So, he was sentenced at eighteen.

Maybe the situation is different in Britain these days, but at the time the papers were screaming about wishy washy liberal judges who were soft on criminals and more concerned with their rights than the victims’.  They also complained about parole being automatic.  So, if he served eight years, he was probably sentenced to at least twelve to fifteen.

I wondered what an eighteen year old kid had to do to get a twelve to fifteen year sentence from a wishy washy judge who thinks he deserves another chance and that, given the position of disadvantage he started from, it was inevitable that he would make some bad decisions.  The only two things I could think of were murder or a particularly brutal rape.

But, he believes in god, so, according to his fellow believers, he’s a better, more ethical person than me.

Pork on Friday

January 25, 2008

I like to eat pork on Fridays.  Not just because I like pork – which I do – but because it’s a simple way to defy the ridiculous dogma of four major religions at once.

Christians are supposed to eat fish on Fridays.  Jews and Muslims, when not trying to kill each other, actually agree that pork shouldn’t be eaten at all, let alone on their holy day.  Hindus are supposed to be vegetarian, a position I can understand when individuals freely take it but I don’t like any religion telling me what I have to do or eat.

So, by the simple act of eating pork on Friday I can thumb my nose at those who impose themselves on us.  It’s my little protest, and no one gets hurt – except the pig, I suppose.

It surprises me that these rules persist, but they do.  A few years ago, when my brothers visited Vancouver, we went for Japanese food.  It was Friday.  One brother had recently gone vegetarian for religious reasons.  The other brother and his future wife had sushi, but he seemed a bit surprised and slightly offended when I ordered katsu don.  I guess he adhered to the old rules and expected that I would, too.

But the rules are more deeply ingrained in other places.  Years ago, in the cafeteria of an organization I worked for in London, I was looking over the lunch ‘options’.  There was nothing but fish.  Not being in the mood for seafood, I mentioned it to the middle aged woman behind the counter.  When I asked if there was anything else, she replied in an Irish accent, “No, it’s Friday”.  When I furled my brow, trying to find the logic, she added, “Fish Friday”, in a tone suggesting I’m supposed to know this.  After more facial contortion I replied, “Why, because they both begin with ‘F’?”.  I had successfully forgotten fishy rules, having liberated myself from my upbringing.  Now they were being imposed on me again.

It ended moments later with her saying that if I wanted something other than fish she wasn’t going to make or serve it.  She absolutely refused to consider the possibility that someone else might not share her belief.  She felt she had every right to impose her beliefs on everyone else.  It was all about her, not the diverse collection of customers.

My peaceful protest may seem silly, but so are the rules the little act of defiance is aimed at.  That’s the point.  And where does anyone get off actually being offended by what someone else chooses to eat?  If that’s not a sure sign that religions and the religious take themselves too seriously, what is?

Absolutely Relative

January 21, 2008

We assume parents are always right.  Society is geared towards the idea of parental infallibility.  “Don’t do anything your mother wouldn’t do/would be ashamed of”, we’re told.  “Honour thy mother and thy father”, one of the Christian commandments reads.  It reinforces the ideas of authority and continuity.  The family is a module, a building block of society.

But what if your parents are wrong?  What if they are racist, for instance?  You love someone of another race, but your racist parents tell you it’s wrong or that they’re ashamed of you.  You’re mother would never get involved with someone of another race.  Do you follow the rule of honouring your parents and their example, or your conscience and heart?

Let’s subject the assumption to extreme scrutiny.  Hitler had children.  What if they had seen what a monster he was, and killed him?  Would they have been heroes for doing the world a favour, or patricidal maniacs?  If they’d had the opportunity to grow up, should they have honoured their father and followed in his footsteps?  We’re supposed to follow our parents’ examples, but not every parent sets a good example.

Moral absolutes simply don’t work.  As soon as you make a universal statement, it has to stand up in every instance – including the most extreme ones.  But there are always exceptions.  There are always special situations, extenuating circumstances to take into account.  Every case is unique.  The ethical landscape changes relative to these unique circumstances.

Surprisingly, people who claim to be moral absolutists are often some of the most strident supporters of moral relativism, when it suits them, without realizing it.  The god fearing bible thumpers who swear by the ten commandments are often the same people who defend their right to own a gun and use it to kill someone in self-defense.  The relevant commandment does not contain a clause regarding extenuating circumstances.  It is just assumed by those who think it should apply, relative to the situation.

Conservative thinkers don’t like to… think about such things.  That might encourage change, after all.

Charity With Strings Attached

January 17, 2008

After expressing my concerns yesterday about charities with religious affiliations, I followed a trail in the blogosphere to some other sources, where I found I was neither alone nor unjustified.

Religious charities often invite aid recipients to partake in religious rituals or services.  It may be optional but those on the receiving end may feel obliged, even if they don’t want to accept.  Sometimes, the supposed do-gooders are even more crass and insidious.  In those cases, charity is conditional.  This doesn’t surprise me.  It only confirms what I already know, based on personal experience.

About ten or fifteen years ago, when I was living in London, I’d just picked up some Fair Trade coffee near Waterloo Station, wanting to help the peasants who actually worked the land in Latin America.  The staff had reassured me they had no religious agenda.  Then, down the street, I encountered a charity worker associated with the Anglican Church, I believe.   He said they feed hungry people overseas.  I asked if the hungry people had to pray to get the food.  Initially evasive,  he then said, “I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they pray, if we’re going to feed them.”  The words were etched in my mind.

It’s comforting to know the good people of the church are on the same ethical level as Robert Mugabe.  You’re starving and need food?  I’ve got food.  But, you have to support my cause…

If charity isn’t truly selfless, it isn’t charity.  It’s marketing.  A free gift for signing up.  A loss leader to get you in the store.  It isn’t charity if there is an expectation, or even a hope, of something in return.

Religious charity is an elaborate recruitment campaign.  They don’t pray for so much as prey on.  This isn’t just overseas.  The twelve step program of AA and other addiction groups requires acceptance of god as one of the steps.  They effectively replace substance addiction with addiction to god, creating an army of the desperate who cling to god and lies because they think they have to.  Afraid of their own demons, this army of ‘lost souls’ is prone to political manipulation.  Now I know where zombie movies come from.

If you want to help people without strings attached, try UNICEF, CARE, the United Way, Fair Trade, or nationally recognized medical research organizations in your country.

There Goes the Neighbourhood

January 16, 2008

I found out a while ago that the building being constructed a couple hundred metres down the road is a Catholic church.  I groaned.  Just what the world needs – more churches when the existing ones are empty, in every sense.

Then I wondered how they pay for it.   If the churches are largely empty, the collection plates must be too.  Besides, shouldn’t that money be used for good causes?  I mean real good causes – like charity, feeding the starving, housing the homeless – as opposed to building unnecessary churches.  They’re not cheap – especially these days in Vancouver, where the superhot construction sector often hits cost overruns.

Some time later, a thought crossed my mind.  I’d heard that most of the money given to charities like the Red Cross to provide aid after the Asian tsunami a couple years ago hadn’t been distributed yet because they basically didn’t know where to begin.  The Red Cross has Christian affiliations, doesn’t it?  I gave them money to help those people.  They better not be using it to further the aims of the church, by building churches, for instance, or sending out missionaries to spread the word and convert people.

There was a story in the news the other day about abuse of aboriginal children by clergymen at government run schools they’d been sent to for conversion.  Apparently, the Catholic church has refused to pay $10 million compensation, their share of a settlement.  They claim they didn’t take the kids away from their parents and put them in those schools, the government did.  I suppose the government made them penetrate the children, too.  The church will not take responsibility.  They seem to think they’re above blame.

Incredibly, a new deal was struck in which the government would pay for the church.  Where does the government get the money?  Taxes.  Your taxes.  Money taken away from you is being used to pay a penalty the Catholic church refuses to.  How can the church get away with that?  Why would the government do that?

Although the church denies responsibility, they aren’t necessarily unaware of what their priests get up to.  A while back, on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart talked about a similar abuse case in the U.S. where the settlement was a whopping $600 million.  But, in that case, believe it or not, the church had SEXUAL ABUSE INSURANCE that covered the bill.  If you buy insurance, it’s because you know there is a reasonable risk of something happening.  To even consider something like sexual abuse insurance, you’d have to think it was likely.

The Catholic church seems to be very good at getting others to pay their bills.  They’re also a large organization that seems to think it has limited liability.  Sounds kind of like a corporation…  Maybe it’s time they started paying taxes…