Friday, May 25, 2012

Creating a 'Culture of Giving'

Creating a 'Culture of Giving'

I'm convinced that the inhibitions preventing many Australians from donating to charity are societal rather than personal. In other words it's not that we don't care about injustice or suffering ; No, looking at the response of the Brisbane community to the 2011 floods seems evidence enough that we do care about helping those in need. Rather it's that donating to aid groups (particularly overseas aid groups) is not a prevalent social norm in Australia. Our 'fair-go' attitude unfortunately often lingers at the coastline of the Australian shores and doesn't extend globally. It's not that we're missing the compassion necessary to donate, it's that this sense of compassion is overshadowed by subconscious concerns regarding reputation and culture. Perhaps these concerns linger as 'cultural residue' from the pre-welfare state days in which giving was associated with churches and the pious - a system that is now largely replaced with state provisions; However, regardless of the reason for our lagging overseas aid contributions (compared to other OECD countries) I think that the common attempts at soliciting donations in Australia (such as showing people pictures of starving Africans) are not the best way to encourage charitable giving. Such strategies imply that we are ignorant of the global situation and this is simply untrue. It is not more information that we need - it's more encouragement. We don't need lectures on morality - we need a paradigm shift towards socially normalised charitable giving rather than the tired perception that only the religious and/or the selfless give to charity. 

So how do we do this? Well firstly we need to re-position giving as being of equal importance to the giver as the recipient. Recognising that people who donate to charities are admirable and then deciding to do the same yourself is an incredibly fulfilling form of self-development. People should be encouraged to realize that selflessness is not inherent but learnt; you CAN learn to be the selfless giver - the type that the current society praises but does not emulate. And in emulating the actions of those that you admire you too become admired - both by yourself and by society as a whole. I think that it is this type of thinking that needs be unlocked in order for charitable giving to become normalised. This is what is sometimes known as a 'communitarian approach' (see Amatai Etzioni) and is a way of trying to solve a problem by changing the moral culture in which the problem occurs. In this post I'm not interested in arguing about 'why' we should give to charity. For this you can read some Peter Singer, or Aristotle, or read a bible: The three big ethics camps - Utilitarianism, Virtue Ethics, and Deontology - can all provide strong moral arguments in support of charitable giving. No, I'm not aiming to preach to you. I'm more interested in how to modify our culture such that our favourable predispositions towards charitable giving are mobilized. 

As I said earlier, Australians don't have any particular problems with charitable giving, it's just that many people deem it 'not for them'. Nevertheless people are motivated to give to charity when it is easy, or when it co-insides with other aims. For example if people are already planning on buying coffee they will often not mind spending a little more to ensure that their coffee is 'FairTrade'. Likewise Suncorp Bank offers the option to round-up BPAY bill transactions to the nearest dollar with the difference going to charity. These are, I believe, steps in the right direction but, as philosopher Slavoj Zizeck points out, they suffer the tragedy of trying to solve one problem (poverty) with an equally bad alternative (capitalism). Nevertheless it fills me with hope to see gargantuan corporations becoming interested in charities; even if their motivations are to do with maintaining a favourable image rather than a true, altruistic, sense of philanthropic duty (if such a thing exists). 

As I stated earlier I believe that we should tackle the problem of poverty with cultural paradigm shifts rather than explicit moral arguments. A relevant and new-ish social trend is 'hipster culture'. I use the example of 'hipster culture' purely as an example of a cultural movement, however it is these types of movements that have the power to motivate people into doing things. (If hipster culture can encourage people to buy bulky, expensive vinyl records in an mp3 age purely because they are 'cool'  then who knows where the boundaries lie) So called 'hipsters' (mostly young adults aged 15-25) will often dress in clothes purchased from op-shops such as St Vincent De Paul or Lifeline (however this style of dress is becoming increasingly capitalised upon by clothing chains). Whilst the motivation behind the hipsters' clothing choices might be non-conformity rather than philanthropy hipsters probably give more money to charity (admittedly 'indirectly') that their non-hipster friends. I'm interested in whether or not charitable giving can gain the same fashionable reputation of non-conformity as op-shop fashion - and I think it can. Giving to charity in 2012 is the ultimate expression of non-conformity. Given the range of charitable institutions that exist it can also be an formidable display of individuality depending on which organisation receives the funds.   

The best way to re-brand charitable giving as a non-conformist social trend (or even as a mundane but acceptable action) is to openly defy the social norms that discourage discussion about these issues. Often when I talk about how I try and give a large proportion of my earnings to charity I am met with an uncomfortable conversational dead-end. On other occasions, however, I will see people become interested, inspired, intrigued, or even confused. These conversations plant seeds in people's minds that grow into thoughts that giving can be (and indeed 'is') an acceptable thing to do and talk about. Simply talking openly about the benefits of giving is all that I wish for my readers to do. Talk about how donating is personally fulfilling; talk about how it expresses your non-conformity and individualism; talk about how easy it is. This is a simple and effective course of action that targets the social inhibitions preventing donations by normalising an outspoken but important topic. By simply talking about charitable giving you can help to inspire others to try it for themselves and realise that the benefits outweigh the losses. We need charitable giving to attain the same magnitude of social interest as Same-Sex Marriage, Abortion, and even KONY. In fact KONY, whether you agree with the cause or not, is a testament to the power that people can have when sufficiently motivated. 

My hope - my optimistic dream perhaps - is that someday we will engage in a global moral dialogue about a problem that is as equally devastating as the KONY story and far more enduring: Poverty, disease, and famine. Eventually we will need to engage with the difficult moral questions, but first we need to create a cultural environment that will allow a non-stigmatized discussion about such things. Ultimately I want charitable giving to be seen simply as 'something that all good people do'; it should be, for those of us in 1st world countries, as intuitive as the compulsion to pull a drowning child out of a small pond.  

For those that are sceptical about the trustworthiness of certain charities there are tools like, a private organisation that rigorously investigates the successes (or lack thereof) of many Australian and Global charities. For those that want logical philosophical arguments in favour of giving Peter Singer's 'The life you can save' is the go-to text. The only thing that is holding you back from helping the world through your donations is yourself. Make the choice to give, encourage others to do the same, and maybe we can promote the beginning of a 'culture of giving'.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sexist Irony, Retro Sexism, and Poe's Law

Sexist Irony, Retro Sexism, and Poe's Law

So lately I've been getting increasingly irritated with sexist jokes. Part of the reason that I've been becoming so annoyed is simply the vast quantity of these jokes that I come across. The rest of my frustration comes from a surprising part of myself that turns out to be rather feminist. I've never really thought of myself in such terms but given the conversations I've had with people lately I should probably accept it. And you know what? I think I will. Sexist Irony, also known as Retro Sexism, is still sexism - And I'll gladly be one of the kill-joys that spells it all out.

I see and hear sexist jokes all the time. I hear them from people I despise and from close friends. The sexist joke has become somewhat like a 'knock knock' joke - Normalised, predictable, and tired. The only difference is that a knock-knock joke doesn't risk undoing decades of work trying to establish a more egalitarian world for women. Yeah yeah, I can hear you now - 'Listen to Andrew getting all melodramatic - they're just jokes'. Well yeah, they're jokes for us, the post-feminism generation. We can appreciate the irony of telling a woman to 'get back in the kitchen, or saying 'make me a sammich' because we understand the context that makes the joke funny - the stereotype of the 50's housewife. But what about the people who don't understand the context of the joke yet find it funny anyways - why are they laughing? On the internet it's especially hard to distinguish between 'edgy jokers' and 'sexist jerks'; the digital medium with its lack of expressive capabilities (tone of voice, facial expressions, etc) means that sexist jokes are bound to be misinterpreted.

Imagine you had a friend who liked to make racist jokes. Oh yeah, he's edgy, brave, non-conformist - But how many racist jokes does he have to tell before you suspect that he may actually be racist?
All this is reminiscent of Poe's Law, which essentially states that: 'a parody of something extreme by nature (sexism) becomes impossible to distinguish from sincere extremism'. I think that the current trend in 'parodying' sexism is becoming increasing difficult to distinguish from actual sexism. 

A new term for this trend is 'Retro Sexism'. Retro Sexism is defined here as being: 'Modern attitudes and behaviours that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way.' There is also a really interesting youtube video on Retro Sexism here ^^^ (you only really need to watch the first minute or so to get the gist of it). An example of 'Retro Sexism' might be your average 'women in the kitchen' joke. Even though I don't find them particularly funny provided that everyone understands that the joke is made ironically then theoretically there is no harm done.

BUT, when I see things like this. . .

I think otherwise. So maybe you wonder 'what is the difference between a 'women in the kitchen / make me a sammich' joke and the above image?'? The difference is that 'Christina' in the image above has completely missed the irony - she's treating the JOKE as REALITY! Worse more is that she is endorsing the sexist message!

The underlying message that Christina seems to be trying to convey is that girls should  either A) have a boyfriend that they make sandwiches for, or B) not have a boyfriend at all. Fuck that. If I were a girl I wouldn't want some asshole boyfriend with an attitude of entitlement that asks for (and expects) sandwiches simply because he thinks he 'deserves it'. Women are (and should know that they are) 'special enough' to deny making their boyfriend a sandwich without being seen as 'bad girlfriends' or anything else. And we ('we' referring to anyone who has ever made a sexist joke - myself included) need to stop normalising this type of culture before we actually revert to a pre-feminist era. Notice that the picture comes from a website called - This shit is funny? THIS has gone VIRAL?! It makes me want to stab myself in the eye with a fork. Personally I'd like to find girl with the independence and self-esteem to defend herself from over-dominance or oppressive attitudes. Nothing is more of a turn-off than a doormat.

Anyways, the point is that what began as jokes are now regrettably becoming a part of our culture - It's Poe's Law in action. 'Women in the kitchen' style jokes are sexist, cliché, and becoming less and less funny by the second - Please stop telling them. Also, this:


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Utopian Dreams


There is a grassy highlands in the mind,
Away from bored realities - the daily grind.
A place where fiction, music, and philosophies,
wait dormant there for you to up and seize them,
free them, take them, breathe them, taste them;
Here is where our passions lie,
a sanctuary riches cannot buy.

When you reach this place society dissolves,
The marketplace on which the world revolves,
Must fulfill - financial treadmill - existential grief.
Incessant inner monologues, God - Lack of belief.
All meaning seeking questioning fades in the luminescence,
of enlightening self-knowledge of your true, pure, human essence.

In these highlands live the dreamers, the idealists,
They share utopian ideas in shady groves.
Inspired by Huxley, Nietzsche, transcendental theorists,
And from their introspection we all grow.

In essence we are very simple creatures,
The human animal likes pleasure - dislikes pain,
But only in the highlands,
can our imagination find and
then discover what pleasure 'is' when well defined.   

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Yogurt Making Adventures - How to make yogurt.

Lately I've been telling everyone who will listen (and probably those that don't listen too) about my yogurt making adventures. Now that I've got a blog and can expand my scope even further and subject even more people to my excited yogurt talk - Hurrah! 

I started making yogurt recently because you can do it fairly cheaply and easily. Also, yogurt is delicious. Here's how to do it:
You will Need:
A large pot.
A large Jar or container to hold the yogurt.
A crock-pot/slow-cooker/other incubation device.
A thermometer. (don't skip this one - it's vital)
2 Litres of Milk
2/3 cup of Full Cream Milk Powder
Yogurt Culture OR good quality Greek yogurt.
Calcium Chloride (Optional)
Sugar/Flavourings (Optional)

1. Add the milk to the pot. 

2. Add 4-6 drops of Calcium Chloride and 2/3 cup of Milk Powder.

 3.  Heat the milk until it reaches 90°C. Hold it at this temperature for about 10 minutes.  This process causes the whey proteins to unravel and coagulate(or something equally scientific that I don't understand) and in the end helps to make a nice and thick yogurt. The heating also kills rogue bacteria that can spoil the yogurt.

 4. Pour the hot milk into your yogurt receptacle and add any extra sweeteners/flavourings that you would like. Adding flavourings is optional. If you add nothing you will get a plain greek-style yogurt that is delicious 'as is'. If you combine a teaspoon and a half of Vanilla bean paste and half a cup of sugar you will get a very nice vanilla yogurt. I went off on a bit of a tangent this week and decided to experiment with coffee yogurt. I figured I'd use the cheap coffee essence as a trial because good quality coffee is expensive and I wasn't sure whether the coffee and yogurt flavours would go well together. I'd like to try a yogurt where I add some almond meal at this step. . . I think that almond-yogurt could be interesting.

^^ This is what my coffee-yogurt concoction looked like before incubation.

5. Cool the mixture down to about 40-42°C. You can do this by sitting the container in the freezer, putting it in an esky, or sitting it in cold water. I went for the freezer method.

 6. When the yogurt mixture gets to around 40°C-42°C take it out of the freezer and add the yogurt culture. If you're using the powdered yogurt culture you only need to add a VERY small amount. If you are using already made yogurt as your culture starter you will need to add about three tablespoons of yogurt to the mixture for each litre of yogurt.

 7. Add your yogurt mixture to whatever heat-maintaining-device you're planning to use. I wrap the container in tea towels and put it in a slow cooker and then cover the whole thing in a cool-bag to keep the heat in. If using the slow cooker method you need to set the slow cooker on 'low' for about 15 minutes every 3 hours; this helps maintain the 40°C temperature. You will need to incubate the yogurt for about 8-10hrs, checking the temperature every now and then. 

 8. After 8-10 hours the yogurt should be done. You will know it's ready when it feels firm on the top when touched with the back of a spoon. Whack the yogurt in the fridge and try and wait in anticipation for it to cool. I generally co-ordinate my yogurt making to that it finishes incubating late at night. This means that I put it in the fridge at night and can eat it in the morning.


^This is the finished coffee-yogurt I made. It turned out pretty good. Coffee and yogurt have fairly different flavour profiles so I knew it was a bit of a risk trying to combine them. Nevertheless it's certainly edible, albeit a bit odd, and I think the taste is growing on me.

I bought the yogurt culture, thermometer, and Calcium Chloride from Green Living Australia (link here) at a pretty reasonable price. They also delivered the materials to me the next day in a refrigerated package. I was impressed. 

Next up I'll try to make cheese, so there will be a blog post on that soon.  :)