The stage was set for Miss Universe 2000 to become the greatest event of the new millennium. Women from around the globe competed in a divided Cyprus to win back the coveted title from one of its few black owners: Miss Botswana 1999.
For some strange reason, every competitor in 2000 looked exactly like a ratty Milla Jovovich. In fact, two of the semi finalists, Miss Estonia and Miss Spain, we’re virtually indistinguishable (Estonia had a little more Brooke Shields going on, somehow). Banal disfigurement followed banal disfigurement as each Jovovich clone walked the runway in alphabetical order by country. That was until they hit K.
She approached the front of the stage and everyone should have been shocked. She looked NOTHING like Milla Jovovich. Incredibly, she shared the same name as the brother of the ex-North Korean supreme leader Kim Il Sung. She had a round face and high cheekbones. She stood out like a meringue among a pile of old shoes.
SHE WAS NOT ADMITTED TO THE SEMI FINALS!!!! Disgraceful!
And who was admitted?
The usual suspects: Venezuela, USA, Mexico, South Africa, India, Spain, Colombia, Canada.
In other words, those predictable countries with large and dedicated audiences watching miss universe on live tv! It’s all politics. Nothing more important than the ratings. Donald Trump, I have no respect for your little scam.
So, fast forward to the swimsuit event. India tops the score chart (and deservedly so), being the only contestant to wear a one-piece. The only interesting discovery coming from this event was the fact that Miss Canada had had a hell of a lot of silicon inserted into her chest. Far too much! Entirely out of proportion. And while the crowd went wild at the spectacle, everyone knew what the judges were thinking “Those boobs are too damned big!” The whole thing was set to an incredibly repetitive Guatemalan pop singer, who eventually got very sweaty.
Anyway, swimsuit means two thumbs down for Canada. One thumb up for India.
Next, evening wear. Venezuela seems to win this event every year, and this time was no different. She topped the score chart with her utterly pointless ivory dress, dusted with sparkly and cheap looking little sequins. Nothing special at all. Totally undeserving. She even manages to outscore India, who wears a stunning crimson number with a long, thin shawl wrapped tightly around her wrists. India was even daring enough to go with a SINGLE SHOULDER STRAP. Incredible! Her loss to Miss Venezuela in this event was a travesty. India should have won this hands down. Venezuela should have been right at the bottom. Again, anything for the ratings. Let the Venezuelans win.
Finally, we are told that all of the other Milla Jovovich impersonators have not made the grade, leaving only the somewhat Jovovichy Miss Spain, the slightly less Jovovichy Miss Venezuela and the really rather adorable (although still somehow rather Jovovichy) Miss India as the final three.
Each of the three are led to the front of the stage for THE FINAL QUESTION!!!! My first guess was that the question would be:
"Women have been oppressed over the last 2000 years. What do you think the next 2000 years holds for women?"
I was wrong.
In fact, the question, as our host, Sinbad, was about to tell me, was this:
"Right now, there is a protest happening outside. The protestors are saying that the Miss Universe pageant degrades women. What would you say to convince them otherwise?"
First up was Miss Spain. She began to explain, in Spanish, that Beautiful women had rights too. Her translator completely bungled it and made her sound like an idiot. Not the best start. Miss Venezuela was next. She blurted, in broken English, something about Miss Universe being good for women, but supplying no argument at all. Finally, Miss India gave her answer. In a deep, incredibly sexy voice, she said with terrifying confidence: “To all those protestors outside, I ask you this question: would you prefer to have the platform you have right now to express yourselves, or would you rather have the platform that I am now in control of?”
Slam mother fucking dunk.
India took the crown (or tiara?) from the Botswanan, and so deserving was she. But in the midst of all Miss India’s joy, her tears, her glittery crown and her new “Miss Universe” sash, I couldn’t help but wonder what fate awaited the cheated Miss Korea. Would she be okay? Were her feelings hurt? I hoped wherever she was, she was happy.
Actually, I just looked it up. She got a job in daytime TV.
To be a Muslim, one can either be born a Muslim or convert to Islam later in life. I did the latter and my wife, the former.
To convert to Islam, one must, in a sense, apply for citizenship. You see, Islam is not Christianity. Let’s be clear about this. You don’t just walk into a mosque, have a moving religious experience and then decide, “hallelujah, I’m a Muslim!”. You have to apply for conversion, learn Arabic, learn how to pray, learn what is halal etc. And just like applying for citizenship in a new country, you have to renounce your old one. You have to get a “passport”, so to speak, that gives you the all the associated rights of citizenship within Islam and which ensures that you don’t get mistaken for an infidel. It is a highly political and legal process.
In order to apply to become a Muslim, I made an appointment at the local mosque, much as one would apply to meet an immigration officer. Islam, it must be noted, has a very liberal immigration policy, and a ruthless, tyrannical emigration policy. So, I went down and met the Imam. Then, in front of two other witnesses, I recited the ‘shahadah’. The shahadah is the Muslim declaration of faith, recited in Arabic, and it can be translated simply as ‘there is no god but Allah, and Muhammed is his prophet’. That is the first pillar of Islam. There are five, you see. All Muslims commit to the five pillars. It is, in a rather strict sense, part of the definition of ‘Muslim’. Not committing to the five pillars? Not really a Muslim. Mohammed had a lot to say about people like these. So anyway, after I had recited the shahadah, and it had been witnessed by two male Muslims, I received a certificate of conversion to Islam.
Now think about that for a moment. I received a certificate, signed and stamped, with an official letterhead, filled in with my full details, that proved that I was a Muslim. Have you ever encountered this in any other religion?
Next, it was time to carry out the second pillar of Islam - prayer. So down I went, on a Friday (this day is the compulsory congregational prayer day for all men. Not women, of course) and I prayed. Afterwards, there was a sermon. The sermon was about how much zaqat (That means charity. It’s the fourth pillar of Islam) a man would have to pay if he owned more than 20 camels. Just so we’re clear about this, this true story happened in New Zealand, in the year 2012. I have never seen a camel in New Zealand. The lecture was not metaphorical.
Next on the list, it was time to get married. As a Muslim, it would be against shariah law, and in many countries, against civil law, for me to have a civil marriage. Muslims must have Muslim marriages, overseen, protected, documented and sanctified by a shariah court. This is where I need my certificate of conversion, you see. Without the certificate, I could not have married a Muslim woman. That would be against shariah law.
Before the wedding, I had to go to a compulsory Muslim marriage course. At this compulsory course, I was taught that a marriage was constituted by a wife’s right to financial security and a husband’s right to her vagina. I was taught to beat my wife if she failed to provide said vagina. I was taught that I could unilaterally declare divorce, but that a wife has to petition the shariah court and get permission from the Qadi (judge) in order to leave her husband. If she’s being beaten, if she’s being raped (not that there is such a thing as marital rape under shariah law), she has to ask permission for a divorce and she has to prove her case.
Just so we’re clear, this is state sanctioned law in Singapore, in 2012. Muslim women must live by these rulings. They cannot get access to the same rights as many Singaporean women have access to, unless they unilaterally renounce their citizenship in Islam. Bear in mind that Singapore is not a Muslim country and has a Muslim population of a meagre 20%..
What I am trying to impress on the reader is that shariah courts exist wherever a community of Muslims has enough numbers set one up. Usually, they operate invisibly, beyond the sight of outsiders, away from the non-Muslims, from the infidels. These courts wed adult couples. They wed children to older men. They recommend and facilitate female genital mutilation. They sanction, sometimes even recommend, wife beating. They make rulings on rape, theft, contracts, murder, everything. And of course, a woman’s testimony is worth only half of a man’s testimony due to her dumb female brain. The point is, these are real courts of law, and they are an integral part of the religion of Islam. To live a full Muslim life, one must live according to shariah law. To go to the infidel police force and allege rape is tantamount to treason. The law of man is selfish, impure. Shariah is the law of god, pure and eternally perfect.
Then of course, after we were married, it was only a few months until Ramadan began. Fasting is the third pillar of Islam. During the entire month of Ramadan, the faithful and the skeptical alike go nil by mouth during daylight hours, gorging themselves only in the evenings and before sunrise. Again, this is enforced by shariah. For our own part, we hid in our bedroom and we ate whenever we could not be seen by my wife’s parents, with whom we lived. We hid a stash of cheezels under the bed. Why go to these lengths? Fear of punishment. Severe punishment. Of course, the more skillful evaders of shariah law eat lunches and brunches in secret and clever hiding places. But why should they hide? Why should they fear eating a sandwich? Is allowing these courts to exist really acting on a principle of freedom of religion? When there are courts that punish healthy eating, isn’t this a greater infringement on some other, arguably more important, freedom?
As is usual with so many religions, sex has its own long list of rules and rituals: No anal. Full body cleanse after the sex act. Handjobs only during menstruation. Say a prayer before the sex act. Wife must provide unlimited amounts of sexual gratification to husband. Wife must beautify herself before sex act. Coitus interruptus is allowed. Raping slaves is allowed. Sex with children is allowed. Dominatrices are disallowed. Failure to abide by any one of these rules might land a partner (normally the wife) in shariah court.
The supreme council of Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia recently published a book of questions and answers on shariah law. It is terrifying to read some of the questions that many readers would think to ask. The questions asked of these shariah judges border on (nay, bloody overlap) the obsessive compulsive. Here’s a good example of the kind of trivialities that would worry a citizen living under a shariah system. “I have read that plucking eyebrows is forbidden, but is it allowable to shave the eyebrows?” with answers to such questions being equally anally retentive: “There is debate as to the permissibility of eyebrow shaving. The current consensus of scholars is that while shaving the eyebrows is not specifically mentioned in the Hadith, it is therefore allowable, but not encouraged.” Why are they talking about this? This trivial affair of human hairiness? Is the woman asking because she fears the wrath of Allah or because she fears the wrath of the shariah court? Perhaps it is not hellfire she fears, but the long arm of the law. Perhaps it is even just the social pressure from that Muslim community.
And hey, communities put social pressure on all of us, don’t they? I know I only bought that d.a.r.e t-shirt to look cool in front of my friends. I only stole that chocolate fish because that older boy told me I could join his gang if I did. Indeed, some Muslim women in the more progressive Muslim countries (Indonesia and Turkey) only wear the veil to impress their friends with their piety. I know, I’ve met them. Unfortunately, there seems to be a pretty clear difference between “smoke this cigarette or we won’t think you’re cool” and “burn this American flag or we’ll charge you with blasphemy” (this happened in Pakistan last week) or ” wear this veil or your parents will throw acid in your face”.
At bottom, we have got caught in a tangle of our own enlightenment principles. We believe that a liberal state exists to protect the individual rights of those who live within its borders, and we also believe that part and parcel of the protection of those individual rights is the protection of religious rights. Unfortunately, Islam is not only a religion. It’s not just a big bunch of metaphysical ideas that people believe in to give themselves inner peace. It’s not just “God is the biggest thing in the world and love each other”. Islam is so much more than that. It comes to us inseparably connected to a set of laws and a way of resolving disputes which is, in itself, a threat to the liberal state in which it operates.
Well, you might say, so what? Muslims chose to be Muslim; it’s what they believe! It’s their religion! Let them have their courts and laws, so long as they don’t expect to bring me to be judged before them. But remember the first sentence I wrote here: “To be a Muslim, one can either be born a Muslim or convert to Islam later in life”. And if you were born a Muslim, it’s not what you chose to believe, and of course, we mustn’t forget what Islam says about apostasy. We mustn’t forget that Islam has a liberal immigration policy and a tyrannical emigration policy. People don’t leave the religion, no matter how much they doubt it, because their lives have been threatened since they were born. Threatened by courts, judges and law books, threatened by parents and peers, threatened by zealots. Islam is just a cult. Sure, some Muslims are crazy enough to want to be members, but just like the infamous Jonestown massacre, many Muslims are being held captive, and they want to leave. They do not want to remain members, but they are being threatened and coerced, by a hundred-thousand Jim Joneses. It is callous, foolish or self-deceiving to imagine that these people are expressing religious freedom.
Indeed, many writers of the anti-Muslim ilk often miss the point, I feel. They tell you that jihad is on its way to your town. They warn you that Europe will be part of a fundamentalist Caliphate in twenty years. They warn you that you will be beheaded if you insult Islam. But, in reality, you are not the one suffering under Islam and you will not be living under shariah law any time soon. Muslims are the ones suffering, because we allow shariah law a place in our open and tolerant societies. We cannot let Islam continue to operate as so many tiny totalitarian states protected within the borders of a liberal state. We have to start thinking humanely about Islam. The question we ought to be asking is not “Is Islam a threat to the West?”, but rather “Is Islam a threat to Muslims?”
Once we see that what we once defended in the name of “freedom of religion” was in fact nothing more than the most intolerable, barbaric and sadistic human rights violation in modern history, we will wonder how we failed to recognise what was really going on.
Dear Muslim World,
Whether Sunni or Shia, conservative or progressive, it seems there are several things that we, in the West, need to get straight with you. Recently, a film called Innocence of Muslims was released, in which the prophet of Islam may or may not have been mocked and denigrated. In a trailer for the film, which was made available on YouTube with Arabic subtitles, sections were overdubbed which were deliberately intended to offend Muslims. This led to widespread violence, mob behaviour, the murder of a US diplomat in Libya, the attempted murder of Prince Harry in Afghanistan and, for some bizarre reason, the arson of a KFC in Lebanon..
It seems we had better sit down and have a wee chat about our values, our beliefs and our future together. Things just haven’t been gelling for us lately, and I feel that our differences are beginning to come between us. The first thing we need to get straight is this:
1. We don’t care.
This may come as a shock to you, and you may think it terribly insensitive of us, but most secular Western folk just don’t care if a film insults Muslims or Jews or Atheists or Buddhists. Indeed, it happens all the time in our neck of the woods and what’s more we think it’s a good thing! We love it! We don’t take any heed to ensure that information is disseminated in an inoffensive way because we believe that through open argument and debate, which includes hurting each other’s feelings, the truth can be brought to light. We also believe that the silencing of minority opinions through violence or threats of violence is totally unjustifiable. This has been a recurring theme in much of our philosophy and our literature for several hundred years. For example, 150 years ago J.S. Mill (he’s one of our favourite philosophers.you should read him.) said “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind”. Isn’t that a funny thing to say! Well, in the West, we have spent the last 400 years, or so, ensuring that the largest scope of dissenting opinions and argument is made possible, because we see this not only as humane and just, but also because it is an effective way to discover the truth.
Consider that when Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (a film mocking Jesus) was released in 1979, a few Christians were rather offended. However, nobody set fire to anything. Nobody was murdered. No riots broke out in the street. Indeed, two prominent British clergymen debated John Cleese and Michael Palin on TV after the film had been released. Cleese’s shining moment in the debate came after he was accused of blasphemy by one of the preachers, to which he replied: “Look, four-hundred years ago we would have been burnt for this film. Now, I’m suggesting that we’ve made an advance.” Indeed, it is an advance that John Cleese was not burnt, but it is an advance that is yet to come for the Muslim world.
So, in short, we just don’t care about your hurt feelings, indeed quite the opposite, we think it is great that your feelings have been hurt since this leads to self-examination and self-reflection. It is also a feeling you will have to get used to, because if we ever have to trample over all of your most heartfelt religious convictions in order to answer some question (such as whether Muhammed was a pedophile, or a mass-murderer, or whether he even existed) then we will trample on those convictions. In a free and open democracy, you have to grow a thick skin. I know this is all very new and strange, but basically, we really really really believe in freedom of speech. It is the bedrock of all of our political values. Sorry, it’s just how we feel about it.
2. We believe in the separation of church and state.
Although there are vestigial counterexamples to this belief, such as Queen Elizabeth II being both the head of state and head of the church of England, on the whole, we believe that religion and politics don’t mix. We believe that religion is a private matter and that it should stay outside of the public square (and Tahrir square). This may seem an impossible demand to make on you, since a full Muslim life can only be lived in the Dar as Islam (under a Muslim government). But there really is so much to recommend the separation of church and state, such as the protection of minority religious rights from oppression by the majority, the possibility of rational political debate, public education free from dogmatic religious indoctrination and the equality of all religious creeds before the law. Unfortunately, the separation of church and state is going to be a hard sell for you. Well, never mind. There’s a bigger problem.
Currently you are trying to force us, through acts and threats of violence, to combine religion and state again. For example, Egyptian PM Hisham Qandil is asking the US to “take the necessary measures to ensure insulting billions of people, one-and-a-half billion people and their beliefs, does not happen” . Now, that is actually a violation of the separation of church and state that I was just talking about. It is an attempt to bring a blasphemy law to the US, a country with a proud history of ensuring religious freedom for religious minorities through the legally enshrined separation of church and state in the first amendment of the constitution. It is an attempt to bring shariah law to the US. Can you see why the first amendment and the shariah can’t coexist? I’m sorry but they just can’t.
“Wait!” I can hear you respond. “I would guarantee that all religions are protected from offense! Therefore, this blasphemy law would not violate the separation of church and state. It would just protect all religions equally.” Unfortunately, even if that were the point, that is still a lie. You know just as well as I do that it is blasphemous in Islam to say that Muhammed is not the final prophet. This means that the Baha’i faith would be an offensive religion, since it holds that the prophets, Bab and Bahaullah, came after Muhammed, and followers of Baha’i could therefore be punished for proclaiming this belief. That isn’t protecting all religions equally. That’s discrimination. You are just extremely touchy about your religion, and there’s nothing we can do to help you except suggesting therapy of some sort. I know you say you don’t need help, but there are people out there to support you.
Lastly, there is a really big sore point between you and me. It is the big, hairy elephant in the room. I didn’t even want to bring it up, but It is a major gap separating us by several hundred years. Well, here goes:
3. Your religion is backward.
Sorry, I know this one is really going to smart. In the West, we feel it is super important to guarantee people certain fundamental rights. We feel that these rights are vitally important for guaranteeing a society of human flourishing, individuality, social experimentation, scientific experimentation, artistic freedom, social progress and legal equality. You, on the other hand, do not believe in anything like equal fundamental rights. You believe that women are the chattels of men. You believe that apostasy is a punishable offense (some think it is punishable by death). You believe that men may rape their wives and beat their wives in certain circumstances (even “liberal” Muslim scholars are unlikely to condemn wife-beating outright, and more likely to debate the severity of the beating). You prohibit music. You believe that your prophet, Muhammed, is the very best example of a man, despite the multiple acts of pedophilia, mass rape, mass murder and warmongering attributed to him in the Hadiths. You are anti-semitic and poorly educated for the most part. You do not guarantee legal equality for all religions, imposing a jizhya (special tax) on non-muslims. You endorse capital punishment for adultery. You put your adherents through excessive, militaristic, compulsory rituals that deprive them of sleep and food, exciting a siege mentality. Despite the fact that Biblical literalists are the laughing stock of the Western world, you believe the Qu’ran to be the literal word of Allah, jihad and all. And then, you riot when somebody draws a picture of your prophet.
How can I put this nicely? Hmmm…. OK, think of it this way. You are time travellers! In the West, it is the year 2012, yet somehow, in most majority Muslim countries, it is the year 1433 (just as your own calender says)! You have travelled back to a time before feminism, before the enlightenment, before the industrial revolution, before the sexual revolution, before rock and roll. Hell! Before baroque even!
To cut to the chase, we see your culture, your religion, your laws and your beliefs as painfully backwards. It is like watching an old and dangerous alcoholic drink himself to death. We want to help you quit, but if we try to help you we get attacked with a bottle. We want to encourage you towards the good life; towards a world of liberated women; towards a world without incommensurate punishments; towards a world of social, political and sexual freedom and away from the sadistic Islamic societies you are trying to create.
We don’t like your way of life. We want nothing to do with it. We don’t want to restrict freedom of speech. We don’t want to tell our women to “cover up” or “be modest”. To quote Richard Dawkins “I don’t dress women, women dress themselves”. We don’t want to punish gay and lesbian Muslims in the name of multiculturalism. We don’t want your shariah. We want equality for everyone, regardless of religion, gender, sexual orientation and race. We don’t want to punish freethinkers, we want to encourage them. We want a world of new ideas, of experimentation. We want a world of argument and debate, not silence and repression.
The fact is, we simply have no use for your dark age theology any more, and how could we? We are so much more advanced than you, in so many respects. Scientifically, socially, intellectually, ethically, technologically, economically… The list goes on. I figure we are about 500 years ahead of your civilisation, if it can be called that. What could you bring to the table to offer us other than threats? You have nothing of value for us. Your tools are outdated and we don’t accept your currency. Indeed, we may as well be aliens from outer space, who have just landed on your Islamic planet. Sure, our alien ways may seem strange to you, but that’s because our civilisation is so much more advanced than yours.
We’ve been where you are now, but that was a long time ago. We’re over it. That was just a bad phase we went through. We don’t want to go back there, we want to keep moving forwards, towards equality and intellectual progress. You simply cannot help us anymore, and you’re beginning to drag us down with you. I’m afraid that our differences are just too numerous, and our disagreements too severe. The arguments are getting tiring and repetitive and we just need to move on.
Perhaps one day, far off in the distant future, I’ll see you at a cafe in Florence. You’ll be married, perhaps to someone of the same gender, sipping on a glass of wine perhaps, reading a book, not the Qur’an, but maybe Camus or Pinker, and flirting with the waitress whenever your partner isn’t looking. I’ll see you. We’ll exchange a silent glance. A little smile. And I’ll know that you found a civilised life.
A REALLY COOL SKELETON GAME!
It is usually held that the 20th Century was the American Century. Well, I dispute that assumption. In fact, while America was obviously very rich and politically powerful, the ideas that shaped the 20th Century weren’t American at all. In fact, they were largely produced by Austrians. That’s why the 20th Century was not the American, but the Austrian Century.
Here is a list of 10 Austrians who shaped the world’s Art, Science, Business and Politics in the last hundred years.
1. Adolf Hitler
Possibly the most important Austrian on the list, if ‘important’ is understood in terms of number of people killed. By the time he had died, Hitler had exterminated around two thirds of the entire Jewish population of Europe. After taking over Austria, his home country of birth, and then Czechoslovakia, he decided to invade Poland in 1939 with tacit support from the Soviet Union in the form of a non-aggression pact. This led to World War Two and the deaths of around 60 million people. Nazism continues to influence idiots all over the world, and a Hitler moustache has now become an unfashionable, unacceptable and taboo way for a man to keep his facial hair.
2. Ludwig Wittgenstein
Wittgenstein attended the same primary school as Hitler. Although the very same age, born only a few days apart, they were never in the same class. Hitler, being a rather backward little boy, was held back a year. Moreover, Wittgenstein, being rather clever, was put forward a year. Thus, the boys were two grades apart. Wittgenstein was arguably the most influential philosopher of the 20th Century. Bertrand Russell, the pioneering philosopher of mathematics described the young Wittgenstein as a “crank” and an “affliction”. Later, Russell came to believe Wittgenstein was a genius. In Wittgenstein’s first book, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, (named and composed in the style of Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus) he claimed to have solved every fundamental philosophical problem with austere logic and strict definitions. In his second book, Philosophical Investigations, he claimed that everything in the first book was wrong and that all philosophical problems were nothing more than abuses of everyday language use, or rather the result of “language gone on holiday”.
3. Erwin Schroedinger
Schroedinger was a founder of Quantum Physics who won the Nobel Prize for developing the Schroedinger equation. He is more famous, unfortunately, for a simple thought experiment called Schroedinger’s cat, and I’m sure you’re familiar with it. The problem exemplifies a paradox with a traditional interpretation of quantum physics. According to the traditional interpretation, a subatomic particle can be said to be in a “superposition” of contradictory states. Schroedinger exploited this feature of the traditional interpretation by devising a thought experiment in which the life of a cat depended on the superposition of states of subatomic particles. A cat is in a box with a radioactive source and a flask of poison. There is an internal monitor which will release the poison into the cat once it senses the radioactive source. After a certain amount of time, the cat itself can be said to be in a superposition of states. The cat will be, according to quantum physics, both dead and alive at the very same time. Schroedinger used this thought experiment to illustrate the absurdity of the traditional interpretation. The term ‘Schroedinger’s cat’ is now popularly used to describe any paradoxical state of an object.
4. Arnold Schwarzenegger
The premier action hero and bodybuilder of the 20th Century, Arnold Schwarzenegger moved from five-time Mr. Universe winner to top Hollywood star with his blockbuster debut in Conan the Barbarian. He went on to star in some of the most popular action and comedy films of the 80s and 90s including Terminator, Terminator 2, Total Recall, Predator, Kindergarten Cop and Twins. In 2003 he was elected Republican governor for the state of California, a role he held until 2011 and which earned him a new nickname, the Governator. Through his film career, he shaped an entire genre of action film, paving the way for a new archetypal action hero - the northern european, thick-accented muscle-man - which later became a necessary position to fill for many action films seeking broad market appeal.
5. Sigmund Freud
The founder of psychoanalysis and the origin of many modern folk psychological beliefs, Freud discussed infantile sexuality as the cause of much pathological sexual behaviour, sexual repression and sexual desire in adulthood. This led to the popularisation of the phrase ‘Freudian slip’ whereby incriminating slips of the tongue are interpreted as resulting from the sub-conscious expression of secret desires. For example, George W. Bush, once said of Ronald Reagan "For seven and a half years I worked alongside him, and I’m proud of being his partner, and we had triumphs, we made some mistakes, we had some sex…setbacks”. Although we live in an era in which Freud’s ideas are in decline, he was unarguably one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century. His views on human sexuality remain popular, nay, ubiquitous, despite the ongoing decline in academic interest in his work. Ideas such as the id, the ego and penis envy remain stock folk psychological entities despite this decline.
6. Arnold Schoenberg
Schoenberg was an influential Austrian modern composer, who developed a new style of composition dubbed as ‘atonal’. He deeply influenced other modern composers of the day including, most famously, John Cage, who rose to fame for his conceptual piece ‘4’33’, which consists of four minutes thirty-three seconds of orchestral silence. Schoenberg’s own work broke severely with traditional compositions in the 1920s, when he devised a method of composition in which twelve notes are organised equally, without any single note being given prominence as is the case with traditional harmony. He declared to his friend after discovering the new technique: “I have made a discovery which will ensure the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years” The new style, dubbed ‘serialism’ was initially met with skepticism, but later gained wider critical and popular acclaim, until the time that Schoenberg was considered a master, if not the master, of modern composition. Schoenberg suffered from triskaidekaphobia, a fear of the number thirteen, and some believe his death was directly caused by anxiety and depression shortly after his 76th birthday, as 7+6=13.
7. Frederick Hayek
Hayek was an influentual economist, philosopher of science and political theorist who had a major impact on 20th Century thought. He was, alongside Friedman and Keynes, one of the most renowned economists of the last hundred years. His political treatise ‘The Road to Serfdom’ was written at the height of World War II, and constituted a moral defense of the Allied Nation’s liberal democratic politics against the competing totalitarian alternatives presented by Fascism and Communism. The book also contained a warning - beware the siren-song of big government and mass organisation. He made the case for societies based on limited power and spontaneous social order. His book gained a wide appeal in the last years of the Cold War. Neo-liberals Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan derived many of their ideas about the role of the state from ideas that Hayek put forward, and he was, in this respect, indirectly responsible for much of the neoliberal reform of the 1980s. His work on monetary theory won him the Nobel prize in 1976. Furthermore, his prize-acceptance speech has become one of the formative articles in the theory of complex systems and scientific explanations.
8. Kurt Goedel
Goedel was one of most brilliant logicians to have ever lived. In 1931, at the age of just 25, he published his two incompleteness theorems, which shook the foundations of mathematics stronger than at any time since Euclid, some 2500 years ago. At the same time as other logicians and philosophers of mathematics had been making extensive headway into understanding the logical foundations of mathematics, Goedel pulled the plug on the entire operation. In short, his theorems proved that for any axiomatic formal system powerful enough to describe the arithmetical rules of the natural numbers, there will always remain facts about those numbers that cannot be deduced from the axioms. Or, as a layman’s translation, no matter how hard you try to prove every mathematical fact there will always be at least one fact that can’t be proved. This is why his theorems are theorems of “incompleteness”. He proved, with a young and stunning mind, that any complete logical explication of mathematics is impossible.
9. Gustav Klimt
Klimt reshaped the entire artistic enterprise in the 20th Century, taking leaps into expressionism, abstraction and primitivism before any such movement had been born. Without regard for the existing formal expectations of the artists of his day, he took great leaps into unchartered territory which culminated in his famous ‘golden phase’, consisting in a series of paintings layered with patterns of gold leaf. One of his most famous pieces of this period, his ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Baier I’, sold for the highest price for a single painting ($135,000,000) in 2006, surpassing Picasso’s ‘Boy with a Pipe’ which sold for $105,000,000 in 2004. The torch of his influence was carried on in the works of his student Egon Schiele, who cemented a nascent expressionism through the use of contorted human forms and angular lines. Klimt’s work has continued to gain popularity over time, as his legacy is beginning to be understood. He is renowned as a fearless artist of superlative technical ability and glorious aesthetic sensibility.
Otzi (also known as the Iceman) is the only Austrian on this list who was not alive during the 20th Century. His body was discovered in 1991 by two climbers who discovered the corpse of what they believed to be a recent murder victim. On further analysis, the impressively preserved body was found to be almost 3000 years old. The body of “Otzi”, as he was dubbed, was so well preserved that even the contents of his stomach were able to be analyzed. He had eaten a meal of ibex meat and wheat less than two hours before his death. Speculation surrounding the cause of death led scientists to conduct extensive forensic analysis of the body, resulting in what could be called the world’s oldest unsolved murder case. Otzi had an arrowhead lodged in his shoulder and trauma to the skull, both of which were fatal injuries. DNA analysis of blood stains on Otzi’s clothing uncovered that four other men were involved in his death. The discovery of Otzi gave scientists the clearest picture of the life of copper age Europeans, including information about diet, tattoos, clothing, epidemiology and genetics. Otzi was an Austrian time capsule, and the discovery of his body was one of the premier moments of 20th Century archeology.
Also cool. A sexy lady on a space station.
I am a recent convert to Islam. I found your email adress as a counsellor on the DA website.
I have just one question about my wife’s behaviour. She is refusing to sleep with me for three months already. It is nothing to do about her menses and when I make advances towards her she gets very angry with me. But I cannot remain chaste like this, and I have told her this. Still she refuses. What are my options at this point?
Insyallah, this problem can be fixed.
Waalaikumussalam Abdul Hassan,
Sorry for my late reply. I just come back from my leave. With regards to your wife’s refusal to sleep with you, there can be a few factors relating to this issue. Your wife cannot remain silent for a long time if she is unable to serve. If she is angry at your advances, I believe she could be having psychological issues dwelling in her. Can this be discussed? If she is willing to let you know her problems, it is a good sign that she actually needs help. Do try to understand her sensitivities.
Rusmini Komzari (Mdm)
Darul Arqam Singapore
Assalamulaikum brother Rusmini,
Thank you so much for your reply. It is so good to receive some wise counsel. Frankly, I have discusses this with her and every time she says that she is “just not in the mood”. But how? Every time I make advances she can be “not in the mood”? I understand that she might not want to serve, but that is my right as a husband, isn’t it? Still she continues to behave that way.
I have already been very sensitive to her, and I have remained calm (I haven’t become angry even once). But I’m beginning to feel that I have no options and I feel very unsatisfied for a long time already.
Waaliakumussalam Abdul Hassan,
By the way, I’m Sister Rusmini. It would not be advisable to discuss this issue through e-mail. Can you be available to have a session with me? Would prefer if you can bring your wife along.
Darul Arqam Singapore
Sister, I am very sorry!
I have asked my wife to come to a session, but she has refused. She says I am trying to embarrass her!
Are you available on Monday? I am free any time. I will try to convince her to come with me in the meantime.
Monday is my off day for this month. Tuesday to Friday is find.
Darul Arqam Singapore
Perhaps Tuesday then. When is a good time?
Is 11.00am ok for you on Tuesday – 17July ?
Darul Arqam Singapore
(I attend a counselling session at which I am told that my wife’s behaviour is not halal. I am also given a photocopy of a segment of the Koran that tells me to beat my wife if she doesn’t provide sex)
(TWO WEEKS LATER)
Assalamualaikum Abdul Hassan,
May you receive my e-mail in good health and iman. Can I know how is your development, do you need any help ? Please do not hesitate should you need assistance.
Darul Arqam Singapore
Assalamulaikum sister Rusmini,
Thank you for asking. There’s good news and bad news.
The good news is that there has been a little change since we first talked. My wife has begun to serve me a little bit more, but not with sex. This is also worrying for me, as I am unsure as to whether this is haram (forbidden). she has given me two orgasms, since I spoke to you, one time by using her hand. Is this allowed? She has also used her mouth to make me orgasm, and again I do not know if this is haram or not. Is this allowed? She did not swallow my semen, if that is important.
Now, the bad news…
She says the problem is that my penis is too large, and that it never feels comfortable. I had no idea about this.
We are still thinking of ways to overcome that. Any advice?
Thank you again for asking,
Waalaikumussalam Abdul Hassan,
Thank you for your update. Indeed there is a problem with your wife. Using the hand is allowed f she is having menstruation. As for using her mouth, that is haram. Is she aware of that? If she thinks your penis is too large, perhaps she can use a lubricant to allow easy penetration. At the same time, you may need to fine tune your technique and skills to lessen her discomfort or pain in those area. I believe she may not agree if you advise her to consult a sexologist. Can I suggest you meet one of our fellow volunteer – a guy where you can be able to express to him so that he can guide you better?
Darul Arqam Singapore
Waalaikumussalam Abdul Hassan,
Please look into Surah Al-Baqarah verse 222/223-
Verse 222: - “They ask thee concerning women’s courses. Say; They are a hurt and a pollution- so keep away from women in their courses, and do not approach them until they are clean. But when they have purified themselves, you may approach them in
any manner, time or place ordained for you by Allah. For Allah loves those who turn to him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean”.
Explanation: Adhan – hurt, pollution. Both aspects must be remembered. Physical cleanliness and purity make for health, bodily and spiritually. But the matter should be looked at from the women’s point of view as well as the man’s. To her there is a
danger of hurt, and she should have every consideration. In the animal world, instinct is a guide which is obeyed. Man in this respect should be better.
The most delicate matters are here referred to in the most discreet and yet helpful terms. In sex morality, manner, time, and place are all important; and the highest standards are set by social laws, by our refined instinct of mutual
consideration, and above all, by the light shed by the highest Teachers from the wisdom which they receive from our Maker, Who loves purity and cleanliness in all things.
Verse 223:- “Your wives are as a tilth unto you so approach your tilth when or how you will; but do some good act for your souls beforehand; and fear Allah, and know that ye are to meet Him in the Hereafter, and give these good tidings to those who
Explanation: Sex is not a thing to be ashamed of, or to be treated lightly, or to be indulged to excess. It is as solemn a fact as any in life. It is compared to a husbandman’s tilth; it is a serious affair to him; he sows the seed in order to reap the harvest. But he
chooses his own time and mode of cultivation. He does not sow out of season nor cultivate in a manner which will injure or exhaust the soil. He is wise and considerate and does not run riot. Coming from the simile to human beings, every kind
of mutual consideration is required, but above all, we must remember that even in these matters there is a spiritual aspect. We must never forget our souls, and that we are responsible to Allah.
Our highest spiritual ambition should be the hope of meeting Allah. To uphold such a hope is to give glad tidings to people of faith. It would only be unrepentant sinners who would fear meeting. Note, how the most sensuous matters are
discussed frankly, and immediately taken up into the loftiest regions of spiritual uplift.
I hope the above verses would be able to enlighten you and your spouse with regards to your sexual matters. Her mouth is definitely not the tilth to enable you to sow your seed. As for your queries using your mouth on her and using sex toys with the purpose to lessen her pain and ease penetration, that can be discussed with her amiably.
Darul Arqam Singapore
Salam Abdul Hassan,
With regards to anal stimulation, that is not the rightful place to start with. The word ‘tilth” stated in the Quran does not refer to the anus or your wife’s mouth. Please avoid the anus area as that is “haram”. As for your wife giving oral sex, though there is no indication in Quran and Hadith, it makes sense if you know where you should be planting your seeds. In creating arousal for your wife, it is already stated you may approach her in any manner as long as it does not cause hurt.
Rusmini KomzariExecutive Officer-Counsellor
Now, as I said in Part One, there are three reasons that the current model of intertemporal choice is bollocks:
1. It makes fucking lousy predictions.
2. It conflates two distinct kinds of discounting.
3. It is based on a shaky assumption.
The first and second reasons have already been dealt with. So now we move on to this so-called “shaky assumption”? The shaky assumption, put as simply as possible, is the assumption that personal identity remains intact from one moment to the next. At first, this assumption seems totally unproblematic. Of course I am the same person now as I was when I was eight, or that I will be when I’m eighty. I am me, one and the same person, throughout the course of my life.. This assumption is taken totally for granted in almost all everyday situations (except in philosophy classrooms and, perhaps, drug-induced egoless states of consciousness), but although it is a common assumption, it is actually pretty fucking hard to cash out how the hell personal identity works through time.
What is this entity that remains identical through time? What is this mysterious criterion that tells us when x is the same person as y? How do we know if we have two people or one? Do the people have to share the same body? Is x the same person as y if and only if x and y share the same body? Hopefully not, since all the cells in our bodies are replaced every seven years. This would imply that I am a different person every seven years. Furthermore, if personal identity were just bodily identity then siamese twins would only count as one person. Okay then, maybe personal identity is a continuity of memories. So, if a 40 year old man can remember things that happened to him when he was 20, this is what makes the 40 year old man and the 20 year old man the same person. But this approach also fails, since we can imagine that the 20 year old man can remember things that happened to him when he was 5, which the 40 year old cannot remember. This would mean that although the 40 year old is identical to the 20 year old, and the 20 year old is identical to the 5 year old, the 40 year old is not the same person as the 5 year old.
We want to say that some part of us persists in an identical fashion from one moment to the next, but when we search for this unchanging part of ourselves, this part that stays identical through time, if we really look deep inside and consider all the options, we quickly find that there isn’t anything there that remains constant. Instead we find only a series of constantly changing experiences. Perhaps then, there is no enduring self.
If there is no enduring self, then perhaps the person whose retirement I am saving for is not even the same person as me! Perhaps we should spend that $50 a week on smokes rather than a retirement fund, since A. the future beneficiary of the retirement fund is not even me, and B. The future inheritor of the probable lung cancer is not me either. As the philosopher Joseph Butler said almost 300 years ago “if the self or person of today, and that of tomorrow, are not the same, but only [similar] persons, the person of today is really no more interested in what will befall the person of tomorrow, than in what will befall any other person’’
This leads to specific questions about intertemporal choice and the way in which we should make ethical choices between present and future goods. For example, if personal identity does not endure through time, then are we morally obliged to care for our future self’s needs? Is it, in some manner of speaking, charitable to save for retirement? If, however, personal identity does endure through time, then what is the most rational (utility maximising) way to distribute resources over time?
The problem of personal identity through time is so important for models of intertemporal choice because if there is no enduring self, or rather, if future selves are totally different people from present selves, then there is no single entity to which we can ascribe the utility of an intertemporal choice. We cannot say, as economists often do, that rational agents make intertemporal choices which maximise lifetime satisfaction, because this leads straight to the question - “whose satisfaction are we talking about?” If there is no personal identity that endures through time, then there is simply my satisfaction, and some other (future) person’s satisfaction. If I trade off some of my satisfaction for that other person’s satisfaction, then I am not maximising my own utility. I’m just doing someone else a favour. Like giving money to a family member in need.
A popular answer to the problem of personal identity through time is to say, “Alright, fine! There is no identical self. There is no entity that endures perfectly identically through time to which we can ascribe something called “lifetime satisfaction”. There is, however, a series of temporally connected ‘selves’ that share a certain amount of overlap with previous selves, with respect to many physical and mental characteristics, a bit like this overlapping row of coins:
Although each self is different, each one nevertheless retains some overlap with a previous self. Whether this overlap is in shared memories, bodies, brains, dispositions, whatever, it doesn’t really matter at the moment. The idea is that the self does not remain identical through time. Instead, what we would normally call ‘personal identity’ is nothing more than a series of temporally connected people with varyingly similar (or identical) attributes. How we answer a question like “is x the same person as y?” depends on whether x is a member of the same temporally connected series as y.
So, we need a new model; a model that doesn’t ascribe aggregate utility to some entity that remains identical throughout a lifetime, and instead, accepts that intertemporal choices are very much like interpersonal endowments. In other words, we need a model that makes deciding whether to go to the movies today, or a French restaurant in December, a bit more like deciding whether to go the movies today or give a friend a voucher for a French restaurant. The question that we need to ask is “how connected does the person feel to their future self?”
This line of thinking is further justified by some recent neuroscientific evidence. Test subjects were wired up to an MRI machine or whatever it is that scans brain patterns. They were asked to imagine themselves doing everyday things such as washing dishes, or driving a car. Then they were asked to imagine other people doing exactly the same things. In both cases, the same part of the brain lit up. This suggests that when we picture ourselves in future situations, it is not very different from thinking about other people. Thinking about yourself in the future, or in hypothetical situations, uses the same bits of the brain as thinking about other people.
So, the motivating factor for an intertemporal choice will be how connected we feel to our future selves. Luckily, some psychologists who were studying love already have a way to look at this. Aron, Aron and Smollens wrote an important article called Inclusion of Other in the Self Scale and the Structure of Interpersonal Closeness (sigh) which roughly translates as A Way to Tell How Close People Feel to Each Other. In this paper, they developed a simple and effective model to predict whether couples would be together three months after the test was taken. They asked romantic partners to identify the degree of “closeness” (how much each partner had “included the other in the self”) by choosing from the selection below, the diagram that best illustrated how connected they felt to their significant other. The idea being that two people are close, or connected, as far as they adopt many of the same traits such as values, desires, tastes, goals etc.
And we may consider these diagrams in terms of intertemporal choice, and how connected we each feel with our future self. Indeed, some economists are beginning to adopt this test as a way to measure how connected a person feels to their future self. In theory, agents with low connectedness to their future selves will be more biased towards present happiness, since they feel only as connected to their future self as they do to any random stranger, that is, disconnected. Agents who feel very connected to their future selves will be more likely to endow resources to their future selves. Some very interesting results have already emerged from such studies.
For instance, connectedness to future selves has been found to be highly correlated with ethical behaviour. In one paper, called Short Horizons and Tempting Situations by Hershfield, Cohen and Thompson, they show that subjects who exhibit low connectedness between present and future selves are more likely to cheat, lie and make false promises. Those who exhibit high connectedness between present and future selves are more likely to play by the rules. Perhaps this is an indication that people who feel very connected to future selves are concerned about how the consequences of their actions will affect their future selves. Or, perhaps this indicates that people who feel very connected to future selves are just generally good at empathising with the needs of others since, as was shown, thinking about ourselves in the future is just like thinking about other people.
This is all very interesting stuff.
It is just one of a variety of new models being developed to solve the problems that come from many current analyses of intertemporal choice.
Before signing off, however, I would like to discuss a couple of other implications of all this nonsense.
Once we begin to see intertemporal choice as a kind of interaction between two people, the self and the future self, it quickly becomes obvious that, in short, we can fuck with that other person. We can play games with them. Many people do play games with their future selves, especially those people who are struggling with addiction or who wish to continue behaving a certain way. So, a lover might tattoo the name of their significant other on their own arm. Why do they do this? Well, one reason is that they want to impress the other person, that’s fine. But another reason is that we want to remind our future selves where our priorities are, and don’t you forget it. If the couple have a fight, there is a now a strong incentive not to break up - they’ll be stuck with silly tattoos. The tattoos are signals to the future self about the relative importance of the relationship.
Another example is the chain smoker who wants to quit. She might set a reward for herself. “If I don’t smoke for a month I’ll buy myself a holiday in Tahiti as a reward” she says to herself. In this case, there is a strong incentive to cheat! Although the rules of the game have been set, the best strategy in this game is to both smoke the whole time AND go to Tahiti.The best strategy is to cheat.
Another issue this raises is the relationship between self-esteem and intertemporal choice. Somebody with very low self-esteem, and high future-self continuity, might look at that future person as a bad person and deliberately punish that future person. This can often be seen when depressed people put themselves into deliberately risky situations. Women, for example, are much more likely to have sex when depressed. They are also more likely to engage in unprotected sex, or sex with strangers and other high risk sexual activities that endanger their future self.
Chain smokers are also affected by this relationship between self-esteem and intertemporal choice. Given a choice between smoking now and being healthy later, the depressed smoker may picture their future self, dislike the person they see, and then say “Fuck it! I deserve to get lung cancer”. The importance of self esteem on the question of intertemporal choice is one that I believe has been downplayed in the literature.
So, this approach may help us to understand what variables are important in models of intertemporal choice. In any case, the role of the discount rate in the Discounted Utility model has to be challenged as the primary explanatory tool of agent’s intertemporal preferences. In the last ten to twenty years, the Discounted Utility model has begun to be seriously challenged and new models have begun to sprout up. I believe the important variable to challenge in these models is their treatment of the self through time, and the importance of our feelings towards that self. How we feel about our present and future selves drastically affects the choices we make, both in simple trade-offs and intertemporal.ones. This undoubtedly important piece of common sense is the missing link between the present model of intertemporal choice and a model that actually works.
If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible. He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants.The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society - a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals. — F.A. Hayek http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/1974/hayek-lecture.html