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“The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free” ― Baruch Spinoza

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"The fool who persists in his folly will become wise

-William Blake

“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom...You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.”

-William Blake

"Those who promise us paradise on earth never produced anything but a hell."

-Karl Popper

What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

-Christopher Hitchens


27 Nov 2017

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15 Jul 2017

My latest piece featured in the Australian Rationalist.

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14 Feb 2017

By Callum Golding

“Man is a rational animal- so at least I have been told. Throughout a long life, I have looked diligently for evidence in favour of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it. I have seen cruelty, persecution, and superstition increasing by leaps and bounds, until we have almost reached the point where praise of rationality is held to mark a man as an old fogey regrettably surviving from a bygone age. I have been driven to study the past, and have found, that folly is perennial and yet the human race has survived. The follies of our own time are easier to bear when they are seen against the background of past follies.”

Bertrand Russell | Unpopular essays

Truth, goodness and liberty are ideas that citizens of even the most democratic states are forever at risk of losing. With politics now entering precarious territory since Brexit in June, the U.S election of Trump in November, and a so called rise in ‘alternative facts’, that loss is fast becoming reality. Effects, as we will see, have no alternatives, only causes. To begin with- led by a very dedicated elite, we have seen almost half a century of rising inequality throughout Western nations, this extraordinary accumulation of wealth by less than a percent of our planets population has been accompanied by an unethical commitment to the destruction of our biosphere, no alternative there! Furthermore, excessive war and armament through a volatile and rigid Middle East under various banners, has aroused, or arguably created, radical Islam. A playbook so successfully divisive that public opinion now oscillates between inflammatory rhetoric on the one hand and grotesque apologists on the other. Meanwhile, a rise of identity driven politics mostly on the left has, and is, attempting to reject open dialogue- an effort in its infinite wisdom, that has now given rise to its very own nemesis- the ‘alternative’ right. No added fuel was necessary for the Trump’s and Farage’s of this world, but the left has felt obliged. Now operating fearlessly under a pretence of ‘candid’ speech, these alternative-humans fan the flames of prejudice and give an air of certitude that the working class have so desperately pined for after their long line of sterile neoliberal predecessors. What else did we expect?

Truth- respect for the scientific method, goodness- the preservation and extension of universal human rights, and liberty –protection from increasing violations of privacy and freedoms, are steadily under attack. Nevertheless, we need not be driven to despair just yet, as Russell maintained, ‘The follies of our own time are easier to bear when they are seen against the background of past follies’. Looking back through history can settle the nerves about current affairs, and so too can an understanding of our core human values- including the historical context surrounding their development. Securing a set of principles through a historical lens allows us to challenge those who wish to distance themselves from the light of public scrutiny.

To understand how we can combat the present, we must look to the safeguards of the past. One particular safeguard is, On Liberty- by John Stuart Mill, a guiding light through modernity. Mill was an English philosopher, political economist and naturalist and his essay is arguably one of the most eloquent defences of individual freedom to date. Mill argues that people tend to believe having strong feelings on a subject makes having reasons for that belief unnecessary, failing to realize that without reason, beliefs are mere preferences that often reflect self-interest. This has intensified over the last few decades with the rise of ‘identity politics’- often a pretext for dogmatic sensitivities or political correctness. Apparently feeling outraged or offended gives someone permission to violate the rights of others, sometimes with intimidation, other times worse. The Salman Rushdie case highlighted this in 1989, when Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran launched a sordid bounty known as a fatwa, on the author of the novel The Satanic Verses. This led to the murder of many innocent people, as well as attempts on Salman himself. Not to mention the tens of thousands that demonstrated throughout the Western world commanding that his novel be banned. Advocates of art, freedom and spontaneity came straight to Rushdie’s defence, with over a hundred Arab and Muslim intellectuals from around the world, some risking their lives, collaborating in a book of essays called, 'For Rushdie- In Defence of Free Speech'.

Mill crystallized the value of listening to those we disagree with most, to avoid refusing “an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility”. The light of truth shines brighter on a diverse landscape and we create more damage censoring opinions we are averse to than by attempting to understand them. Often the hardest point to swallow is the inherent license to criticize and ridicule. This double edged sword is the same as all technologies- the hammer can be used to build a house, or smash a skull. There are inherent limits to freedom of speech like incitement to violence in front of an excited mob, “No one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions. On the contrary, even opinions lose their immunity, when the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to constitute a positive instigation to some mischievous act.”

An example of our failing to observe this principle was clear this year with the leftist riots at U.C Berkeley that shut down the outlandish ‘alt right’ speaker Milo Yiannopoulos. Oblivious are these violent participants that their actions only increase alternative popularity. If we allow opinion the light of day it can be scrutinized and challenged rather than caught up under the surface. Outrageous and false claims suffer unavoidable social and political costs. Reason therefore demonstrates that sanitizing is not only counter-productive, but problem creating. As free agents with a native capacity for truth, we must learn to think and judge for ourselves, lest we discover a world where the lines between truth and an alternative are made to blur.

Stifling and suffocating dissenting opinion in the name of social good has led to some of the most horrible mistakes in human history, 'Socrates and Jesus, two illustrious figures, were put to death for blasphemy because their beliefs were radical. Galileo was made to recant for asserting that the earth was not the centre of the Solar system'. History is rampant with examples of thought crime. Take for instance the 'Priestly riots' in 1971, whereby Joseph Priestly, who incidentally discovered oxygen, had his laboratory in Birmingham burnt to the ground by an angry orthodox mob. Priestly eventually fled England and headed for America.

From truth and liberty to an alternative goodness- the heart of our ethical lives. The right to privacy and solitude allow one to determine the beliefs and convictions that shape one’s world view. With fear of oppression, peer pressure or societal observation, this task soon becomes very difficult. Since whistle-blowers like Snowden and Manning, we have become more conscious of democratic governments undermining the constitution and individual rights, without probable cause, and using the invariable pretext of security. We ought to observe the fact that a balance must be struck between freedom and security, nevertheless, democratic governments were thus arranged so that transparency of public representatives could enable dialogue between citizens and ensure decisions could be reached democratically, subject to checks and balances. Mass surveillance pre-Snowden, was neither checked nor balanced. As the lead journalist on mass surveillance leaks, Glenn Greenwald said, “The way things are supposed to work is that we're supposed to know virtually everything about what they ‘the government’ do: that's why they're called public servants. They're supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that's why we're called private individuals.”. To say that one does not care about privacy because one has nothing to hide, is like saying one does not care about freedom of speech because one has nothing to say.

Evidently there is a lot to be understood from great minds of the past and present and each with a resounding similarity in convictions, once again, we find no alternatives. Harbor no resentment toward anyone with a difference of opinion, alas! Sprinkle a little upon oneself when lacking the courage of truth or neglecting a pang of conscience. One need not avoid talking about religion and politics, or any so-called taboo, especially out of fear of offending. Instead, one ought to push and pull at them frequently, with as cool and reasoned a temper as one can muster. With a desire most of all to hear, to learn, from conflicting ideas and opinions. With this firmly in mind- there will always be light at the end of any dark and uncertain tunnel.

“You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.

The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.

Your affectionate friend and fellow-citizen”

Thomas Paine | Age of Reason

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2 Mar 2016

Why do we see our environment as something so separate from us? The cut off and isolated ego, motivated by self-gain is a prevailing myth mistaken for the good life. A recent expedition up to the Leard state Forrest confirmed what most value systems currently amount to, perpetual growth at all costs.

Our first night was spent in a motel in Gunnedah, a small town three hours north-east of Dubbo, known as “The koala capital of the world’. Ironically, one finds it is difficult to foresee that title remaining once the local coal expansion is complete. After a long nine hour drive from Canberra we were pleasantly surprised to discover the advertised swimming pool was not only open, but full of water. Soon after the refreshing dip, gumption was in full flourish. The Motel manager was not shy in telling us that the local consensus was Whitehaven Coal was good news and, ‘That! You will find, is the view around here!’, Even though in full agreement that climate change was a very concerning issue, she seemed settled on the fact that nothing was likely to change “well, over the next 20 years at least”, and that jobs were the most important factor. So they had all been promised.

Now, with the recent commitment by Australia at the Paris summit to rapidly reduce its C02 emissions, it seems astounding that they would allow a conglomerate like Whitehaven to export, ‘business as usual’. Whitehaven, who suffering from a significant reduction in share price, will continue to haul 13 million tons per annum directly to Newcastle port, and out the back door to the Asian market. Despite the drop in share prices, Whitehaven has assured investors it will return a profit this year. The ‘will’ return a profit this year, is the word to watch out for. Big bad business believe that their own corporate ‘will’ driven by the desire to obtain a futile version of wealth, will eventually fill their empty hearts with gold.

The scientific consensus of our being on the precipice of environmental suicide is still ignored in this country and the persistent ignorance of politicians to sign off on ‘pollution projects’ continues. The energy trapped by man-made global warming pollution is now equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs, per day, 365 days a year. And perhaps the fact that we can’t see or hear those bombs going off is one reason we have taken so long to respond. However, it is seemingly obvious that mankind’s consciousness is noticing the train wreck we are about to become, and without further ado, a social conscience and urgency to protect our earth, is now on the rise.

Two significant moments from this trip firmly stand out. One was the night we stayed in Breeza, a small locality 43 kilometers from Gunnedah with a population of 133 people. The camping site was directly next to the Maules creek train line, heading through the Liverpool plains and destined for Newcastle. This was what I came to label as the ‘doomsday’ train. It had over 80 carriage’s emphatically chugging past our tent, on the hour, every hour. The next cold shudder came when we stayed at an old abandoned farm 5 kilometers west of the Maule’s Creek mine. As we sat and discussed with the crew of ‘Front line action on coal’ (Or FLAC, which was also the name of an adorable dog on the farm), what had sparked our love of nature, we could see and hear in the near distance an incandescent pulsation the size of a small village, throbbing and whirring away, making it loud and clear that greed never sleeps.

Over the last few years hundreds of people have passed through these troubled lands, many willing to peacefully lock on their bodies to equipment with the consequence of arrest. Demanding nothing less than responsible action. This is not just a bunch of tree-hugging hippies, this is an engagement by anyone with even a minor commitment to protecting sacred land, wildlife and the future of our environment. This is local aboriginal Gomeroi land, it is Brumbies rugby star David Pocock’s land, it is philosophers, knitting nannies, country singers, farmers, students, scientists and Tom, Dick and Harry’s land. This earth is a shared responsibility, and as a community of human beings, we must listen to the law of our conscience and act on that. But what can little old me do one asks? As the Dalai Lama once pointed out, 'if you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito'.

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