I unpacked my head in a Greenwich pub, but still couldn’t find the thoughts I wanted, they must be kept in someone else’s head
Nothing makes me believe free will is an illusion more than doing talks at Skeptics in the Pubs events.
Some months before the talk, I am asked for a title. For this evenings, it was going to be Eggs, Milk, Holiday, Death. The title normally comes from an idea I was in the midst of when the organiser called me. On this occasion, I think I was the advantages of human ability to plan ahead versus its negative implications, we can foresee our own death. Then I forget about that until I see the title in a publicising tweets a week away from the talk.
A few days beforehand, I make some notes.
Pertinent facts. A little reading from a book. Some angry posturing.
On the day of the talk, I lose the notes somewhere in the room that is a lagoon of past notes, most unused.
On the day of the event, I start making notes on the backs of postcards, some non-sequiturs that are meant to act as prompts.
An hour before leaving the house, I see the news of the murders at the Charlie Hebdo offices.
The initial reaction is a confused brow – “murdered for doodles? death for satire?” – I guess the same as many other people. On the train in, I think that I couldn’t do a talk for sceptics on this day and not bring this up.
But the idea of deaths because of jokes is so absurd, that everything that comes from my pen is banal.
The battle against dogma and fight for curiosity and positive doubt – yes, yes, of course we know that
How our self conscious awareness of our own death led to creating myth to combat our fear of personal annihilation, but have tragically led to some deciding these myths justify the annihilation of others. Yes, yes.
Why faith schools are a dismal, retrograde step that can lead to each believer group huddling in their own ghettoes of certainty. Of course, that’s what all the humanists say.
Other thoughts bubbled and popped into extinction before I could grasp their gist.
At the event, as usual, I just started talking.
Every now and then, my aware mind stops and says, “why aren’t you talking talk about this idea in your head”, and so I find an idea I want to discuss, and hopefully illuminate it rather than darken it. At other times, I stop half sentence and realise I have quite forgotten why I began saying whatever I am saying, I seek a punchline forthwith as an emergency exit.
Then looked at a clock, and thought I better stop. The audience’s bladders were relieved. I had started to notice knees moving like pistons.
Sometimes, I surprise myself. Ideas come out fully formed, the arguments are cogent. I watch from within, satisfied. Last night, I didn’t find what I was after. Through endless, improvised monologue, I hoped to have that illuminated moment when I thought, “now I understand”.
It was a day when people died for jokes.
Jokes about something, jokes that held an idea and a point of view.
But still jokes.
There is a reason despots don’t like to be joked about. For such a low art, it is shocking how potent it can be.
It is human to be sullen and annoyed about jokes about you or your favourite peccadillos, but to commit murder over jokes, to feel so offended for the reputation of a long dead prophet, or being that offers you no proof of its existence, because they were felt-tipped…?
I am still stuck.
http://www.robinince.com is where me things and tour things are (USA, UK, Australia where I am visiting thanks to their Atheist foundation).