Welcome to my blog on the Altering Eye.
I’m an obsessive bibliophile, the author of a Japanese English study book, an occasional playwright and a full-time worrier. I’ve spent most of my career as an English language teacher in the UK and Japan, but for the past few years I’ve worked as a freelance digital copywriter.
I have an MSc in international politics and an ongoing interest in global and large-scale issues, but I’m also interested in how we can effect change at the individual, not just the macro, level.
In terms of topics, I’m drawn to the ethics and politics of food, public health, news and the media, war and peace, science and scepticism, and public opinion.
I’ll aim not to be too reactive in the subject matter of my blogs. Finding alternative viewpoints on the ‘biggest’ news stories of the day is getting easier thanks to the great work of sites like Democracy Now and Novara Media, but we also need to challenge dominant ideas of what is and isn’t newsworthy.1
The availability heuristic means it’s easy for our judgements and decisions to be swayed by the examples that come to mind at a given time. So even if we’re reading lots of insightful, critical articles about, say, non-state terrorism, we can still be affected in surprising, perhaps subconscious ways by what’s ‘available’ to us. For example, we might overstate the relative risk from Islamist terror (compared to say, drowning or being trampled by a cow) or become frightened of Muslims, despite our best intentions.
A recurring theme of my articles for The Altering Eye will be the need for critical thinking and scepticism. I’ll be mostly addressing my fellow progressives but want to avoid taking an unduly partisan approach. In the past few years I’ve become more and more attracted to the work of sceptical activists like Steve Novella and Rebecca Watson, but I haven’t thought much about what scepticism means for my beliefs as a socialist. This is something I expect to be blogging about a lot.
In terms of where I am at the moment on this issue, there’s a cliché that we’re all entitled to our own beliefs, but not to our own facts. I’m sure any half-competent philosopher could crush this dichotomy into dust, but to me it has its uses as a practical guide. And it’s something I’ll keep in mind for my writing.
As we state on our ‘About’ page, this will be an openly progressive, left-wing or emancipatory blog. That’s because in our view it’s better to acknowledge our values and perspectives than to pretend they don’t exist.
That said, clinging instinctively to identities can blinker us all to inconvenient facts, as well as leaving us vulnerable to thin arguments (or even outright lies) from ‘our’ own side.
One way to mitigate this danger is to think more carefully about the foundations of our core beliefs. It can be tempting to tie our most cherished morals and values to what we believe to be specific facts about the world, but it’s hardly necessary and can ultimately be counter-productive.
For example, I’ve recently decided (more or less!) to stop consuming dairy products. Much exaggerated folk wisdom surrounds the health effects of dairy products, and it’s not uncommon to hear people offer up such factoids as “adults are not supposed to digest lactose” or “milk increases the risk of x…”.
Happily, since my worries over large-scale dairy production have nothing to do with the nuances of complex clinical studies or the prevalence of 12,000-year-old human genetic mutations, I can feel comfortable interrogating these kinds of claims, without feeling my identity coming under attack.
Similarly, as animal-lovers, we love to lap up all the accounts of animal empathy and solidarity amongst animals that come our way. We over-interpret anecdotes from our pet-owning friends or share cutesy memes on social media that confirm our view. Before long, our idea of typical animal behaviour looks like a mirror image of the equally absurd “kill or be killed” worldview that psychopaths apparently love to expound.
But the truth is that animals don’t need to be uniformly adorable and saintly to deserve our empathy and respect, just like prison reform shouldn’t be reserved for just the angelic inmates. In reality, ethologists like Frans de Waal (whose books I wholeheartedly recommend) have no trouble finding plenty of examples of altruistic and sadistic behaviour in their animal studies – can’t we just enjoy learning from their painstaking, nuanced work, without cherry-picking the bits that chime with our pre-existing world views?
And it should go without saying that, if factual inaccuracies are the only reasons for our holding a belief, then it’s time to change the belief.
I’m not, I should make clear, interested in convincing readers that we should all be moving to the middle ground. In my view, ‘the fallacy of the golden mean’ is as big a problem as the so-called ‘echo chamber effect’ that we hear so much about.
It’s common to read how the left and right alike have allowed their ideologies to distort their views on a given topic, while centrists are spared. Perhaps this is because some people confuse centrism (which by definition changes geographically and historically according to the poles it takes as its reference point) and objectivity (which, at least theoretically, has no necessarily relationship with any time and culture-specific consensus).
As well as exploring challenging topics from a rationalist-progressive standpoint, I’ll also use this blog to share some ideas for progressive group projects, policies and individual actions. I have an unfortunate tendency to let the complexities and ambiguities of this world overwhelm me into inaction, so there’s therapeutic aspect to my writing this blog too. Having procrastinated for too long, I’m interested in the small and large choices I can make to become a more ethical, effective citizen.
Thanks for reading my introduction.
Looking forward to getting started…
- That’s not to imply that these sites don’t already work hard at this. Check out more alternative news sources on our Links page.