Thursday, November 30, 2006

Cameron, Livingstone and JS Mill

David Cameron has attacked Ken Livingstone for peddling "Marxist cliches" about ethnic minorities.

Livingstone has responded by claiming it is JS Mill's famous 'harm principle', rather than Marxism, that forms the basis of his support for multiculturalism:
"Multiculturalism has nothing to do with an assertion that there are no universal values. The very statement that people should only be able to do such things that do not interfere with others is clearly an assertion of a universal value. In so far as they do not interfere with others, people should be able to chose freely which values they wish to pursue. A person, for example, may wish to wear a yarmulke, a turban or a hijab or none; they are free to chose."
Hardly a clash amongst intellectual titans, is it? Whatever else Livingstone might be, he certainly isn't a Marxist, so Cameron's wrong there. And I'd also agree with Livingstone's liberal defence of people's right to wear what they choose and follow the religion of their choice and so on. Beyond that, there's a couple of problems with his use of Mill.

Mill was concerned with individual rights; multi-culturalism with group rights. These two goals can obviously clash if the latter are ever internally intolerant of the former.

Like some on the left, Livingstone fails to distinguish the personal from the political - perhaps because he doesn't believe in such a distinction, I wouldn't know. With his harm principle, Mill was concerned with defending an individual's right to make choices free from interference by the state. But he did not do so on the basis that we should therefore approve of the choices people make - only that state interference was a greater 'mischief' than that which people can do to themselves through 'self-regarding actions'. This doesn't really have much to do with the celebration of diversity that I assume Livingstone is envisaging when he invokes JS Mill in the way that he does.

With these two considerations taken into account, along with the fact that Mill was a strong supporter of women's rights, while Livingstone is probably correct to suggest that he would have defended, for example, the right to wear a hijab, it seems unlikely that he would have seen it as an expression of multiculturalism to be celebrated in the way that Ken Livingstone does. Anyway, while I share Livingstone's aversion to anything that sounds like a compulsory state monoculture, I don't think Cameron, and before him Trevor Phillips and Jack Straw, were actually suggesting there should be one. Moreover, even if they were, Mill would have, of course, defended their right to say so.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Who will speak for Britain?

Sorry for going on about this topic but it's been preoccupying me. What future for the Union if even supposedly conservative commentators aren't willing to make conservative arguments in its defence? Take, for example, the historical comparisons made by Simon Jenkins:
"Partition is the new politics, despite being the hobgoblin of centralism. It is through partition that Ireland is booming, Slovakia reviving and the Baltic states prospering. The British government is in favour of it for everyone else, even forcing it on the former Yugoslavia and Iraq/Kurdistan. This year it welcomed Montenegro to Europe's community. By what hypocrisy do Westminster grandees ridicule Scotland's ambition?"
Where to begin? Does Simon Jenkins really believe Britain, a union older than the French and American republics, to be historically comparable to post-WWI constructs like Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia - to say nothing of Iraq?

And then there's Ireland - which he takes as a shining example of the benefits of partion in a manner worthy of Alex Salmond, leaving the reader with the question as to whether Simon Jenkins is acquainted even the most rudimentary facts of economic history. What else but ignorance can allow a writer to decry subsidy and then fail to grasp basic things like dates and the small matter of EU subsidy in an article that complains about the corrosive effects of the Barnett Formula? I'd expect better from my sixth-year pupils, frankly.

As for his cant about the 'will of the people', I can't bring myself to discuss it except to insist that this writer who is so fond of quoting De Tocqueville and Burke should cease to do so forthwith because clearly he has understood neither. That he has found a home in the Guardian is entirely fitting.

Then there's Laban Tall:
"Historically the UK was at centre an English enterprise. Though ambitious Scots, Irishmen and Welshmen powered large chunks of the Empire, the Armed Forces, industry and commerce, and Britain's whole was greater than the sum of her national parts, England was the heart of Britain - and rightly so in the opinions of its inhabitants. The largest, wealthiest, most important part - and the best part, too."
No. This is not patriotism but nationalism - the very thing that will dissolve the Union, if we let it. It is exactly the same spirit we hear from Jack McConnell when he says Scotland is the "best small country in the world". Nationalism does this - compares itself to everyone else, as well as defining those who don't belong. It's born of insecurity. Patriotism is different. It is an understanding that the attachments you don't choose that are the most significant - like the ones you have for your family. I don't try and convince myself my family is the best in the world, that they meet my needs more efficiently than any other family could do, or that they are more beautiful and intelligent than any other. Rather my love for them, my allegiance to them, is borne of just that - because they are my family. So it is with my country. Opinion polls say it has 'outlived its usefulness', its utility? Not for me, it hasn't, not for me. And never shall it be so.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Scotland consistently sectarian

Not just a problem confined to the West of Scotland, apparently:
"The first major study of new anti-bigotry laws in Scotland shows that 635 people were accused of religiously aggravated offences between January 2004 and June 2005."
Cardinal Keith O'Brien was quick as ever to play the victim card, claiming it was indicative of anti-Catholicism in Scotland.

Of course it is but the report showed that there is anti-Protestantism too. Statistics aren't my strong point but doesn't a 30% share of all 'religiously aggravated' offences by a 'faith community' that represents only 16% of the population represent quite an impressive result for the hoop-wearing community?

Cardinal Keef didn't share with us any thoughts he may have had about what that represented.

Calling Laban Tall.

Big brother is watching you

But I ain't watching it - not if Tommy Sheridan's going to be on it, as predicted by the Scotsman. Actually, I will - unable to avoid it. Like looking at an accident.

The tale of Tommy's demise is a bit sad, as Dave Osler says.

Slightly embarrassing being Scottish sometimes. I'm left wondering what it is about our political culture that produces this sort of cheesy celebrity-salesman type demagogues.

No, scrub that. Least up here we don't try to pretend this sort of kitsch represents socialist politicians reaching out to the yoof, or something - like some of the mad London-based SWPers do. Now that's embarrassing. Bought used cars from them, so they did.

Bring on the holidays

Too long since the last one, and the next one seems too far away. Kids are losing their damn minds, staff have already lost theirs. I sense Mr Chalk is having much the same experience since he's resorted to raising a petition to draw attention to the dismal state of discipline in many of our schools, which he - rightly, in my view - sees as the single most important barrier to improving standards in education.

Although it depends on where you work, I suppose. In response to his 'do something' injunction, I was wondering if it would make a difference if council tax payers in Glasgow were aware of what they are getting for their money. Not only does Glasgow have the shittiest schools in the country, it also has the highest council tax payments in the country. I wonder how many people are aware that one of the reasons for having the highest council tax bills is because we have shit schools. Because the utter shitness of our schools is one of the major factors behind people leaving the city and as they do, there are less people to pay the council tax - so the bills go up.

Another thing I was wondering, which has nothing much to do with this, is why 'libertarians' never follow through the logic of their position when it comes to education? Why stop at 'school choice'? Why not make education itself voluntary?

And why is choice the preserve of parents only? Where's my choice? Why don't 'libertarians' come out with any fun ideas like elected headteachers? Or no headteachers? Instead we get all this boring stuff about bloody vouchers. "Sweden has them, don't you know?" Oh, who gives a fuck? Libertarians? Pah! Lightweights...

Monday, November 27, 2006

People losing their damn minds #18

John 'mad dog' Reid has been losing the plot in his attempt to 'deliver the killer blow' to the nationalists at Labour's Oban conference with some arguments that are surreal as they are nasty:
"Breaking up the Union would leave Scotland vulnerable to terrorist attack and a flood of illegal immigrants, John Reid, the Home Secretary, said yesterday in Labour's most scathing attack yet on the SNP."
'Scathing' it may be - but it also doesn't make any goddam sense. Illegal immigrants, we are told, are economic migrants coming into Britain under false pretences. But we don't get very many up here now, so why would an independent Scotland receive more, when we are also being told separation would completely wreck our economy? Not just a bit fucked, totally fucked - according to Gordon Brown, Douglas/Wendy Alexander*, and now John Reid - plagues of locusts, the whole shabbang. Since we can rule out the weather as a 'pull factor', wouldn't this deprive them of any reason for wanting to come to Scotland? Ah, but duplicitous Johnny Foreigner will still want to come and blow stuff up, fucked economy notwithstanding, reckons John Reid. His reasoning behind this is so mental I can't even bring myself to discuss it.

The he blamed the SNP for "allowing the Tories to get into office for the last twenty years". Two years longer than they were actually in power? That's a fairly damning indictment. I mean, I'm opposed as much as any Unionist to blaming the English for everything. But Thatcher? The voting statistics show they really need to take the rap for that one, surely?

Then it got really scary:
"[R]eferring to his widely anticipated leadership bid against Gordon Brown, Mr Reid joked: "Almost one million of us Scots live and work in England - in all walks of life, up to and including the Prime Minister. And I am told the next Prime Minister might be a Scot as well."

Later, Mr Reid was given the opportunity to rule himself out of the fight for the leadership, but once again refused to do so."
As politician's jokes go, this one's even more unfunny than usual.



John Reid: Has brains, is dangerous - on account of the fact that he's done gone lost his goddam mind and he's from Lanarkshire.

*I revealed in a ground-breaking previous post that Wendy and Douglas Alexander are in fact the same person.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sociology degrees - please take one

So said a graffito written in a toilet cubicle in Glasgow University above the toilet-paper dispenser. Indicative of the relatively low esteem the discipline is held - a fact that distresses and perplexes Anthony Giddens:
"We live in a world of extraordinary change, in everyday life, family relationships, politics, communications and in global society. We are witnessing, among other things, a return of the gods, as religion re-emerges as a major force in our societies, locally and on a worldwide level.
[...]
My question is: in such circumstances, why isn't sociology again right at the forefront of intellectual life and public debate?"
I don't know exactly, but perhaps people are less willing to study it now for similar reasons I was disinclined to when I went to university. The impenetrable and ugly jargon. Or the way in which sociology students used to say to me, "Man is a social being", as if this were some breath-taking revelation that made their statist political preferences self-evident.

But these were minor considerations compared to the feeling I always had that it was sociology, rather than economics, that was the 'dismal science', offering a diagnosis but without any cure - or at least not one that satisfied. A sort of Calvinism without salvation; a discourse where contemporary social institutions were invariably understood as being 'oppressive', without any vision of what shape future ones might take.

It seemed to be characterised by an ahistoricism curiously combined with a confidence in their deterministic view of the human condition - this being the other problem with it for me. Any 'science of society' that seeks to make law-like generalisations really should have had a better track record. Why should sociologists be called apon to explain a 'return of the gods' when they conspicuously failed to predict this in the first place? And why should they be expected to understand this post-Soviet world of ours when this state of affairs too was hidden from them until it actually happened?

Perhaps I'm being unfair, and retrospectively satisfied that I made the right choice in avoiding the subject, but I do think part of the answer to Mr Giddens' question lies within his own speculations:
"[S]ociology's star was dimmed by the rise of market-based philosophies from the early 1980s onwards. As a phase of government, market fundamentalism lasted some twenty years - roughly the period covered by the Reagan and Thatcher governments. Its overall influence lasted longer, since more sophisticated versions of it continue to guide international organisations, especially the IMF and World Bank, down to very recent times. If markets settle most aspects of social life, including social justice, the scope of social factors - the prime province of sociology - is correspondingly reduced. The economic, as it were, predominates heavily over the social."
But 'market fundamentalism' didn't have this effect on history, or psychology, or political economy, or philosophy - so shouldn't sociologists ask themselves why it had this effect on the field of sociology? It may simply be that they are avoiding the realisation that they were simply wrong about too many things. The apostle of the 'Third Way' should, I think, at least consider this possibility.



Anthony Giddens: understandably depressed

De-motivation



Further to this post, I found this via Eric in the comments.

I'm thinking of having my own pithy sayings printed and having then stuck up around the school. Maybe something like:

"Remember: that light at the end of the tunnel may just be an on-coming train".
Or perhaps one from Tom Lehrer:
"Life is like a sewer: what you get out of it depends on what you put into it".
Then see a) how long it takes anyone to notice b) how long it takes to work out who it was c) whether adults can get away with the 'wisnae me' defence that proves so effective for the pupils.

Nationalism update

Further to the post below, there's an extraordinary poll in the Telegraph that shows a higher proportion of English voters than Scots want Scottish independence:
"A clear majority of people in both England and Scotland are in favour of full independence for Scotland, an ICM opinion poll for The Sunday Telegraph has found. Independence is backed by 52 per cent of Scots while an astonishing 59 per cent of English voters want Scotland to go it alone."
And Labour aren't helping with these odd arguments they are using. Mixed in with the usual distressing appeals to be 'modern' and 'globalisation' and stuff are things that just ain't true. For example, in Oban Gordon Brown said:
"We should never let the Nationalists deceive people into believing that you can break up the United Kingdom."
What a strange thing to say. Brown and the rest of them are making these arguments now precisely because it is possible to break up the UK.

Or Douglas Alexander:
"Scottish Secretary Douglas Alexander will close Labour's conference in Oban with another attack on the SNP.

Mr Alexander will claim the SNP strategy of independence runs counter to global political trends."
Eh? Typical New Labour: something is undesirable if it is 'counter to global political trends'. But it isn't even that. Weren't they paying attention to what happened to Yugoslavia? Or more gently in Czechoslovakia? Arguably globalisation makes this sort of thing more likely as people cleave to local loyalties in the face of impersonal economic forces.

Would it kill them to say something like, "The break-up of the UK is perfectly possible, it wouldn't necessarily be a disaster for the Scottish economy - nevertheless we don't think it would be a good idea"?

Then they could offer to put John Reid back in his cage, or something.



"Sooo - where can I get one of these?"

Saturday, November 25, 2006

For the Union

Blair seems to have been sufficiently rattled by the possibility of an SNP win in the 2007 Holyrood elections to take the trouble of delivering "his most passionate and comprehensive condemnation of Scottish nationalism yesterday", according to the Scotsman:
"The Prime Minister has derided the Nationalists in the past. Indeed, it has become routine for him to sprinkle a few anti-Nat insults and jibes into every speech he gives in Scotland.

But this is the first time he has taken such time and effort to confront the SNP and its policies."
Perhaps, as the piece suggests, it's the legacy thing. Having insisted that devolution would cement, not undermine, the Union, he seems unnerved at the prospect that it might prove to have the opposite effect.

Blair is right to confront the nationalists - but it's the manner in which he is going about it I have a problem with. Blair said the SNP's politics are those of "fear and grievance". He's right about the latter, but wrong about the former; if there is fear, it is being peddled by Blair and Brown, not the nationalists. One just has to sample the arguments used, which depend heavily on the 'cost of divorce' theme - that separation would be a disaster for the Scottish economy.

But this serves only to cheapen the debate - serving only to give a constitutional angle to the tired debate in British politics where essentially statist parties attempt to woo the voters with promises to grow the economy faster, and redistribute the proceeds more efficiently, than their rivals.

There's another Unionist case to be made and perhaps I shouldn't blame Blair and Brown for not making it because I find it difficult to articulate myself. It has something to do with one's allegiance being a civilisational choice, rather than a calculation of potential economic benefits. Something to do with preferring a polity that is based on civility rather than ethnicity. Definitely something to do with an affection for what is familiar over a future state that cannot be known. For although I doubt it, perhaps a larger Scottish state would really make us more like Scandanavia instead of the Soviet Union. But even if it did, I don't want to be like Sweden or Norway. Because while I'm sure this is pure prejudice on my part, I think this would be a lesser fate for us.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Miscellaneous rants


Sorry for light posting - been goddam busy actually working, which doesn't agree with me at all. I'm in a real tick the boxes department here, within a tick the boxes school.

They are so keen on ticking boxes that they invent boxes for you to tick that you are not contractually obliged to tick. It's at times like these I don't recognise my own species. Why would you do that, why? More importantly, why are they doing it to me?

Here's a photo of the notice that confronts me every bloody morning when I go to pick up my register. It was probably against the law or something to take this but I thought I should give you the flavour. If I turned around and went home, what sane person would blame me?

Anyway, elsewhere people have been busy. Harry's giving up smoking and is asking for advice. Mine is do it, don't do it - but don't turn into one of these born-again anti-smokers who smile smugly and dispense advice replete with their own giving up the evil weed experiences. "I found I can taste my food so much better..." Bully for you. Now fuck off.

Elsewhere, Chris Dillow reads books (Gordon Brown's, for heaven's sake) so you don't have to. He suggests that since Gordy assumes without argument that it is the role of government to make the country an enterprise association, he is the sort of person that reads merely to reinforce his own prejudices. Clever chap. Chris, that is.

Will has news that Trot factionalism is bad for job security.

And here's a tabloid story that made me laugh:

"Federline will be revealing everything about his short marriage in court, including Britney’s lesbian fantasies, as the couple battle over custody of their two sons Sean Preston and Jayden James.

An insider told the Sun: "Britney has told him more than once she is sexually attracted to women and men equally.

She has asked Kevin many times if they could have a threesome."
The Sun said she begged. Several times. But we are to take it he declined.

Apparently he's expecting a court of law to believe this. Which is nothing if not ambitious, to say no more than that.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Theology and being sensible

Richard Dawkins once said that theology departments in universities should be closed down because theology isn't a subject, since it studies something that doesn't exist.

Here's a response to that sort of line from someone who knows the difference between systematic and Biblical theology.

As Tom points out, Dawkins ignorance of the subject has led to him being a little confused. But beyond that, there seems to be philistinism at the heart of what he says:
"If all the achievements of theologians were wiped out tomorrow, would anyone notice the smallest difference? Even the bad achievements of scientists, the bombs, and sonar-guided whaling vessels work! The achievements of theologians don't do anything, don't affect anything, don't mean anything. What makes anyone think that "theology" is a subject at all?"
It reminds me of the utilitarian, "Why study Latin?" line - and Michael Oakeshott's answer. Because it represents an investment in human thought and as such forms part of the general conversation of mankind, that's why. You need another reason?

(Via)

Monday, November 20, 2006

New Generation Network

Interesting new manifesto, of which the blogosphere's own Sunny Hundal has had no small role in. The CiF piece related to it has some refreshing lines. I liked this one:
"We need an approach that discards the older politics of representation through government sanctioned gate-keepers."
Absolutely. For example, expecting an old guard of imams who represent entrenched interests to represent the voice of 'moderate Islam' that will draw radicalised Muslim youth away from extremist organisations is a bit like expecting the Moderator of the General Assembly to bring Rangers bigots into line. They'll need some fresh thinking, so this looks to be a promising start. The first to the microphone lot need to be challenged - because in many cases that's the only reason we hear so much from them.

W.O.B (update)

Our Jack has waded into the War on Buckfast:
"It's not only a drink which is particularly attractive to younger people for a number of reasons, but it is also a badge of pride amongst those who are involved in antisocial behaviour. So I think the health minister was absolutely right to target it and I think those who produce it should take his views more seriously."
The first bit is true. So why give it more publicity?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

On the triumph of intolerance

With regards to religion and its relationship to civil society, an old friend of mine has, I think, the right question: we had become accustomed in this country to people treating religion as something akin to a hobby in as far as it was understood to be something one did in private, in one's own time. You make think its a generalisation, or a stereotype - but I think it is true; the British have for a long time, perhaps since Cromwell, been suspicious of what used to be called 'religious enthusiasm'. What to do, he asks, when this is no longer the case, when there are apparently so many people who take it seriously?

David Starkey's answer is that we are confronted today with a situation where religion has to be 'put back in its box'. His argument is that the privileges that the Church of England have retained since Henry VIII have come back to haunt us in a multi-faith society because each religious grouping has a claim against the state on the grounds of inequity:
"Because certain privileges were retained for the established Christian churches, there is the argument from equity. This says that because the right to have faith schools has been accorded to the Church of England, Judaism and Catholicism, therefore we must give it to Islam.

Similarly, in the House of Lords we have the extraordinary situation where religious leaders sit ex officio in the legislature. Only one other country entertains the practice — the Islamic Republic of Iran. Now it is being suggested that because bishops are represented in the Lords, therefore rabbis, Catholic archbishops and imams should also sit there. This, in the early 21st century, is grotesque."
This much I agree with. Other religious minorities can justly claim they are discriminated against but it is absurd and intolerable for the British state to become the protector of faith in general, which is behind Prince Charles' fatuous suggestion that he should be called the Defender of Faith, indefinite article.

Starkey is right to call for a secular state and refreshingly right to suggest that history teaches us that such a secular state must reject Jacobinism. For as Ruth Gledhill reminds us, there is nothing more calculated to cause religious fundamentalists to flourish than to give the sense that they are being persecuted. This is why the various universities that have decided to proscribe the activities of Christian Unions on campus are being not only illiberal but unbelievably stupid. Christian unions, this piece says, are under unprecendented threat from students claiming they are 'exclusive'. A Christian group excluding people who aren't, em, Christians - fancy that. I wonder if socialist unions are being obliged to accept addresses from Tories? No, I don't really.

It's the same with Islam. I worry about people who don't seem to know what tolerance means. For there is no need for tolerance for things you approve of. The Dutch, who used to understand this very well, are in danger of forgetting this lesson from history. For their famous liberalism was not the product of the elimination of religion, as some seem to suppose, but because of the competing interests of the various religious groups that grew up in this historic centre of trade and commerce. Calvinists, Catholics and Jews here learned that religious tolerance was the better way than progroms, persecutions and pogroms.

Yet they are in danger of forgetting this with the proposed ban on Muslim clothing, as advocated by Rita Verdonk, the Immigration minister. No liberal should feel comfortable with 'national discussions' being conducted about what people wear. Here's the liberty I claim for myself, and therefore believe should be extended to others, perhaps the closest I have to a credo: I want the freedom to prostrate myself to Allah five times a day, go to mosque on a Friday and avoid bacon if I want to. Or the freedom to watch pornography whilst wearing a pink tutu, eating a bacon sandwich washed down with a beer, followed by a big spliff full of skunk-weed and white heroin, if I want to. Those who know me understand that while I'm much more likely to do the latter, I don't particularly want to do either but I claim it as my freedom nonetheless. Because I might feel the need to. Because my own bad decisions are better than good ones made on my behalf by somebody else.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Speaking of libertarianism

There's a silly quiz you can do, which I found here.

Here's what I got:


Simplistic, perhaps. But I'm a simple man with simple pleasures. You become a 'libertarian' if some of these are illegal and you wish they weren't, is all.

More "shrill discourse" please

Matthew Taylor, Blair's out-going chief strategy adviser says:
"We have a citizenry which can be caricatured as being increasingly unwilling to be governed but not yet capable of self-government."
An arrogant twat, as Chris rightly says. And one could add that since Matthew Taylor thinks blogs are part of the problem, what he says doesn't quite ring true:
"What is the big breakthrough, in terms of politics, on the web in the last few years? It's basically blogs which are, generally speaking, hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are.

The internet is being used as a tool of mobilisation, which is fantastic, but it only adds to the growing, incommensurate nature of the demands being made on government."
It's the last bit I don't recognise. I suppose it depends what blogs you read but on my regular reading list there are more than a few whose principle 'demand' on government is that it should do less.

The generally libertarian stance of many blogs can be seen clearly when you look north of the border. The dreary dead-tree statist consensus here simply doesn't reflect right-libertarian voices like these ones.

And by a happy coincidence, and as you might expect, Mr Eugenides has made the same point already. So if we repeat it, perhaps Mr Taylor and all the other Blairite managerialists might eventually get the message: you want 'empowered communities' full of 'active citizens'? Well, fuck off and leave us alone, then.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Against Sabbatarianism

From the Scotsman:
"THE Free Presbyterian Church yesterday won the support of a key parliamentary committee to continue their fight to reinstate Sunday as a day of rest.

The church believes working on a Sunday instead of worshipping God or spending time with family is at the root of social disintegration."
And what if you don't believe in God and/or don't have a family? Scotland used to have a particularly dismal way of observing the Sabbath, which although greatly diminished, still forms part of my childhood memory. It consisted of everything being shut and the only thing being on telly some turgid but worthy beeb drama. I don't know how interesting attending Sunday school would have been because my parents were atheists but without even than to break the monotony, Sunday used to be like a waiting room in the dentist - on a national scale.

This is what the 'wee frees' are nostalgic for:
"Research by the Keep Sunday Special campaign found almost half of people questioned think shopping on a Sunday can add to people's overall stress levels at the weekend."
So don't do it then. Honestly! Apart from disagreeing with the supposed benefits of this dreary Calvinistic tradition, I'm at odds with the theology - even if one accepted it is the role of the state to impose this on everyone else, which it isn't:
"The Rev Hugh Cartwright, who was representing the "Wee, Wee Frees" as the Free Presbyterian Church is known, said that no work at all should be done on a Sunday. People should not watch television, read papers or play sport, but attend church, read the Bible or spend time with family."
I've already read the Bible and having done so I've detected a couple of pretty fundamental problems with this compulsory Sabbath observing argument, which are:

a) Hate to break it to the wee frees but the Sabbath is on Saturday, ok? 'Fraid I can't see past the logical problem of the whole thing; one and seven are different things.

b) Christians are not required to obey the Mosiac law (see the artist formerly known as Saul of Tarsus - a guy y'all are usually very keen on, as long as he's banging on about predestination or something), of which Sabbath observance is a part. If you disagree, go and get yourselves circumcised before you start telling the rest of us what to do on our days off.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Scotland gets new education minister

Jack McConnell paid tribute to the 'hugely-popular' out-going education minister Peter Peacock:
"The First Minister said Mr Peacock was leaving the education system "in good shape", with morale high, increasing numbers of teachers entering the profession and pupil attainment improving."
Morale is indeed sky-high. Speaking for myself, I come into work almost giddy with euphoria - and I know most of my fellow professionals feel the same.

Anyway, just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, the rather nice Mr Peacock is being replaced with Hugh Henry. You know the type - former leftwing 'firebrand' who has since become a New Labourite. John Reid without the charm in other words. Look forward to a growth in the use of 'progressive', talk of the 'challenges facing us in the 21st century' etc. Generally these types no longer believe greater equality is even desirable, never mind possible - but the economic determinism dies hard. Liberty in the form of decentralisation? Forget it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

God and teapots

Bertrand Russell used a 'flying teapot' analogy to illustrate the point that the onus of proof lies with the religious believer, rather than the sceptic:
"If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time."
While I accept this argument up to a point, there's a couple of problems with it. It holds in the sense that both the belief in flying teapots and God are incapable of falsification and therefore unscientific according to the Popperian definition, nevertheless believing in God has always struck me as being unlike believing in flying teapots for a couple of reasons.

One is the idea that all 'leaps of faith' are essentially the same. Surely most people operate on the working assumption that they are not? Take conspiracy theories. These are characterised by a) a lack of evidence, b) an implausible belief in the superhuman capabilities of tiny groups of people. But, while there is no evidence, for example, for the various 9/11 conspiracies, one wouldn't automatically assume those who espouse these theories are insane in the way David Icke obviously is.

The other is one that Bertrand Russell, and more recently Richard Dawkins, make for me: people do not have the same social and psychological investment in believing in flying teapots - or more historically, an aversion to walking under ladders - than they do in God. The aversion to walking under ladders has not historically been the repository for communal codes of morality, unlike religion. Now while it is obviously true that this has not always been benign, as Dawkins points out, this shouldn't lead him, and Russell before him, to dispense with the original insight that they for their own reasons felt themselves unable to follow through: historically religion has operated on more levels and at a deeper level than the various superstitions they like to use as analogies.

This does not require those of us who are agnostics and atheists to 'respect the beliefs of others', still less put up with the rhetorical nonsense that our position is a 'faith'. But it does require - I think, anyway - that we use better arguments than those that pretend believing in God is like believing in flying teapots. Because socially, psychologically, emotionally, and politically this is clearly not the case. And once we've eliminated these, there isn't as much left of us as some like to pretend.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Male bonding

It's getting goddam chilly up here and my central heating wasn't working properly - so I set about letting the surplus air out of my radiators.

"What are you doing, Daddy?", my son asked.

"just fixin' the heating, son", I growled manfully, wrench in hand.

The fact that it was my girlfriend that told me this was what was wrong with it and what needed to be done detracted only slightly from the feeling of masculine achievement; those of us who are children of academics have to take these small victories over technology where we can find them.

For academics, along with really posh people, go through life with a sense of wonder that few people can equal. "So you put the bread into these two slots and they come out as toast? Amazing!"

The last time I had this feeling I changed the battery in my car. Took me about two hours, and I gave myself several electric shocks - but still...

Speaking of which, would anyone know why I can't copy music I've downloaded (or 'burn', I think you young people call it) onto blank CDs and/or how to change the template on this stupid blog without losing all the information?

Yesterday in Turkey

Thousands demonstrated in support of secularism during the funeral of Bulent Ecevit in the capital Ankara:
"Turkey is secular and will remain secular," crowds chanted as his coffin reached the city's main mosque."
Because they love their native country more than the salvation of their own souls. Not exactly a snappy slogan, as Eric says - but beautiful nonetheless. To me, anyway. Who was it that said "pagan self-assertion is as good as Christian Islamicist self-denial"?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Offensive illiberalism

Gordon Brown and the BNP, as Tim Worstall, Chris Dillow and Dave Weeden have rightly pointed out, are both guilty of this.

Following the acquittal of Nick Griffin and Mark Collett on charges of inciting racial hatred, Gordon Brown has, in typically New Labour fashion, decided what we need is more laws to protect 'mainstream opinion':
"Chancellor Mr Brown said: "Any preaching of religious or racial hatred will offend mainstream opinion in this country.

"We have got to do whatever we can to root it out from whatever quarter it comes.

"And if that means we have got to look at the laws again, we will have to do so."
Charlie Falcnor joins in the carnival of illiberalism:
"He said there should be "consequences" from saying Islam is "wicked and evil"."
Chris asks that since Richard Dawkins thinks religious education is 'child abuse', surely he too would fall foul of any law that proscribed this?

Logically yes - but I suspect Chris imputes too much method behind this government's authoritarian madness. This government seems to have the idea that religion in general is a Good Thing that should be supported by publicly-funded schools and laws that restrict free-speech and so on.

But Dawkins would probably be safe because his hostility to religion is an equal opportunities affair. He would be allowed to say he thinks, which he does, that Islam is a 'wicked religion' as long as he quickly added "and so is Christianity and Judaism".

People who say religion is a splendid thing would of course be safe, along with those who say that they like Christianity, Islam or Judaism in particular. I'd imagine a problem would arise, though, if supporters of any of these start to explain why they prefer them to the others.

Christians, for example, who think God said His final word through his son and that therefore Mohammed is in fact a false prophet might find themselves straying into dangerous territory.

As might Muslims who think Christians are dangerous heretics for thinking that not only was Yeshua Ben-Joseph a prophet but in fact the very incarnation of God. And if either of them expressed these opinions particularly forcefully, they'd be guilty of preaching hate.

The problem this government has is that probably the majority of Christians and Muslims, if they are at all orthodox in their beliefs, actually think something along these lines because exclusivity is central to all salvation religions.

Indeed it might be the case that one of the reasons that Muslims are more likely to come to people's attention for this sort of 'religious hatred' is simply because they have not yet learned to publicly evade, deflect and obfuscate in respose to questions about what they actually believe - unlike the disingenuous Church of England and Roman Catholic clerics who pop up occasionally on our TV screens and in our newspapers. Whenever they're actually asked questions of a probing nature, that is - a rare thing indeed.

Gordon Brown's proposals are not just offensive to 'mainstream' liberal opinion, then - they are intellectually absurd. I for one am heartily sick of hearing about Brown's 'intellectual gravitas' and how many goddam books he reads. So what? He's either reading the wrong kind - or he doesn't understand them.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A lesson in sematics

AC Grayling gives the "Theos" thinktank (sic) a well-placed kick in the gonads:
"In the foreword to the confused document produced by the religious thinktank Theos this week the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster, in a joint statement whose very existence does the latter great credit given that he officially thinks the former is damned (it is official Roman Catholic doctrine that there is no salvation outside the church), iterate the claim that "atheism is itself a faith position". This is a weary old canard to be set alongside the efforts of the faithful to characterise those who robustly express their attitude towards religious belief as "fundamentalist atheists".

This is classified in logic as an "informal fallacy" known as a "tu quoque" argument. We understand that the faithful live in an inspissated gloaming of incense and obfuscation, through the swirls of which it is hard to see anything clearly, so a simple lesson in semantics might help to clear the air for them on the meanings of "secular", "humanist" and "atheist". Once they have succeeded in understanding these terms they will grasp that none of them imply "faith" in anything, and that it is not possible to be a "fundamentalist" with respect to any of them. I apologise to those who know all this of old, but evidently if our archbishops remain in the dark about such matters, there must still be a need for patient iteration of - what else? - these fundamentals."
He also patiently explains a little of the history of secularism. If you read the Theos report, you'll understand this is a necessary and timely exercise in remedial education.

I've asked rhetorically before but now I'm really starting to wonder - where do we get all these dim clerics from?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Racism and power

Over here.

Return of the 'Dixie-crat'?

Sidney Blumenthal is one amongst a number of commentators heralding the Republican rout in the Congressional Mid-terms as a 'revolution' in American politics.

Given the electoral dominance of the Republicans for the last twenty years or so, it is understandable that he should be getting a little moist at the possibility that the Republican 'big tent' has collapsed, leaving them as a hollowed-out 'regional-rump' party dominating only in the South.

While he's obviously premature in his judgment, he may well prove to be right about this. However, he doesn't as yet consider what the implications of this might be. But one early inference that one might draw from these results is that they represent the return of the 'Dixie-crat' - not in the narrow regional sense but rather in that the Democrats now hold power in Congress on the back of conservatives who are Republicans except in name.

An interesting feature of this new intake is that it seems to reverse what seemed to be becoming the natural order in political parties on both sides of the Atlantic; with the leaders representing a more centrist position than much of the Congressmen, MPs and the rank and file in general. Kinnock, Smith and Blair were more centrist (or rightwing, if you prefer) than most of the Labour party. John Major to the left of European obsessed ideologues on the backbenches. The unsuccessful Bob Dole more moderate than the bulk of the Republicans, not least the crew that came to dominate Congress under Clinton. And so on. Not so this time, it seems:
"When Congress returns in January, both the House and Senate will see something of an ideological shift, with an influx of freshmen Democrats who, while unified in their opposition to the war, are well to the right of the party's current caucus on cultural issues."
The Times piece goes on to profile the positions of these 'Blue-dog' Democrats on issues like gun-control ad abortion. A number of these are only Democrats out of their opposition to the Iraq war. Old cons instead of neocons, in other words.

Potentially positive if it meant the Democrats out of necessity dispensed with the partisanship that so disfigures American party politics but hazardous too should the leadership press ahead with a sectarian agenda. And a more melancholy obervation is that consensus would require a cementing of the cultural shift to the right and that the very need for such a consensus might suggest that the 'culture wars' will remain a feature of the American political landscape for the forseeable future.

More stupid Christians

This time it's Ekklesia, who think wearing a red poppy 'stifles debate':
"The director of Ekklesia, Jonathan Bartley, says people should be able to choose between red or white ones.

He told the BBC: "The red poppy suggests the idea that our soldiers died for freedom but that's not a value-free position.
[...]
Mr Bartley, writing in an edition of the Anglican newspaper The Church Times, said that the red poppy implied redemption can come through war."
Pass the machine gun. You'll struggle to find a historian, or anyone else for that matter, who doesn't think WWI was a tragic waste of human life. We wear a red poppy to remember them, a commemoration - not because we believe in the 'redemptive power of war' or anything. And the next line floored me:
"He wrote that the Christian story implies redemption through non-violent sacrifice, and therefore the white poppy is more Christian than the red type."
Sorry but the Crucifixion was central to the 'Christian story' last time I looked. Tad violent as far as sacrifices go, no? Where do we get all these dim clerics from?

God and Caesar

I find myself agreeing with Maddy Bunting. At least I think I agree with her; I wasn't at the launch of Theos, a 'thinktank' that seeks to put 'God back in the public domain' but from her description it sounds pretty dismal.

And their report, funkily titled "Doing God"(pdf), certainly is. See, wannabe Christian theocrats have a wee theological problem - Jesus didn't offer a political analysis, nor did he exhort his followers to involve themselves in politics. Desperately wishing this were not so, God-botherers attempt to bend the Bible to a more activist-friendly interpretation. See the section on 'God and Caesar', for example - all the usual hoary old cliches are there. Christ's exhortation to 'render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's' - often taken as an indication that religion should be kept separate from politics - has been 'hacked out of context', they complain (see p. 31).

Ok, here it is in context. The key point is that the Pharisees and the Herodians ask him whether they should pay taxes to Caesar in order to trick him. One lot want him to say 'yes', the other to say 'no' in order to suit their own respective political agendas. Instead he refuses to answer the question in the terms it has been set.

Whether they know it or not, the Theos crew are the spiritual heirs of the nationalists in first century Israel - Zealots-lite, as it were. Maddy, to her credit, seems to have grasped this. Like the Zealots, they effectively want Jesus to answer the question unequivocally in the negative. But he didn't - and assuming they think the New Testament is authoritative in some way, you'd think two thousand years would be long enough for them to get the point. But apparently not.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rumsfeld resigns

And not before time. Did he jump - or was he pushed? The latter probably but that the question can even be asked shows just how belatedly this particular stable door has been closed.



All political careers end in failure. Or as Rummy himself might put it when he's feeling more reflective, "Shit happens."



Good riddance. Er, both of you. There are some people who think it would have been better if either of you, or both of you, had stayed around. I'm not among them.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Against the surveillance state

Polly Toynbee reckons concerns over the fact that we have more CCTV per capita than any other country on the face of the planet is just an irrational, middle-class angsty thing. Like ID cards and DNA banks - what's the problem? She doesn't call those of us who are concerned about this sort of thing 'bruschetta-eaters', but she might have well have.

Mr Eugenides has already had a splendid rant at this garbage and I wouldn't feel the need to add anything to it - were it not that I've just spent three hours marking and I'm pissed the fuck off so I'm going to join in too. Take this for example:
"Big Brother is the malevolent use of surveillance by a wicked state. But for as long as the state remains democratic we can decide what use is made of it and how we are protected from possible abuses."
We have to back to the kindergarten of political philosophy here but I'm afraid it's necessary, so bear with me: democracy is concerned with how power is legitimised, liberty with its scope. Liberty has tended to be wider in democracies but they are, both in theory and practice, two different things. I am not any happier having my liberties taken away from me just because it is the 'will of the majority', thank you very much.

And given Ms Toynbee's touching solicitude for the poor, who the fuck does she think will be asked to produce their goddam ID cards on a regular basis? The middle classes? If that were so it'd be a first. Or take this:
"Liberty is taking priority over equality, because it can arouse pleasing middle-class angst."
What the fuck is this shit? Pleasing to whom? Sometimes liberty conflicts with equality, sometimes it does not - but it seems to me that under this New Labour government both liberty and equality have taken a bit of a beating. And with these examples, why is there a conflict? ID cards will do nothing, not a damn thing, to reduce inequality. Or DNA data banks. And don't these cost a few bob? Who pays for this? The low-paid workers our Polly professes to care about, that's who. Finally, she closes:
"There are real threats to some civil liberties - imprisonment without trial, acceptance of torture..."
Yes, yes there are. Nick Cohen take note - you used too, after all...
"...but CCTV and ID cards are not among them."
Ah, but they are...
"There is a moral blindness in pouring out so much righteous indignation over potential minor infractions against liberty while largely ignoring gross inequality."
So what if people don't ignore 'gross inequality' and they're concerned about the loss of liberty, eh? Perhaps then we could have some argument in defence of the surveillance state - which isn't exactly prolier-than-thou, 'cos Polly obviously can't do that - but that doesn't depend on the "I'm more concerned about the proles than thou" line we get from Guardianistas every time they make excuses for this government's erosion of our ancient liberties.

Monday, November 06, 2006

On being modern

Tony Blair is modern. That's why he favours ID cards:
"Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he will push on with ID cards - insisting that as with CCTV and DNA the issue is one of "modernity" not civil liberties."
That's Blairism in a nutshell right there. Civil liberties? They're, like, so yesterday, grandad.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Against torture

At any time, under any circumstances. Nick Cohen declares in the Observer today that we must deport terrorist suspects, "whatever their fate" - by which he means the possibility, indeed likelihood, that suspected jihadi terrorists will be tortured on their return to their country of origin.

Many of the responses already in accuse Cohen of advocating torture, which he doesn't so - yet there is something profoundly unsettling about Cohen's piece.

One is that he seems to have fallen for the characteristically New Labour idea that the old rules don't apply because we're in an unprecedented situation:
"For the first time in British history, there are asylum seekers who could attack the country which gave them sanctuary. I don't think people realise how unparalleled this change is."
Yet if perchance Mi5 were to get it wrong, that the suspect turned out not to be a terrorist at all, this would hardly be a 'new thing', would it?

The other is his approving remarks about what the French do in their "national interest", which is to routinely breach their obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights by sending terrorist suspects back to Algeria where they will almost certainly be tortured. "The French, being French", Cohen writes, "don't have taboos. They just do what's in their national interest." But he doesn't consider the wider implications of what this pursuit of 'national interest' means.

For its effect, surely, is to reinforce - both in principle and practice - the notion that states may treat their citizens in any way they please? But a rejection of this idea in favour of the principle of human rights that transcend national boundaries formed a large part of Cohen's support for regime-change in Iraq.

Furthermore, some awareness of what France has done in its 'national interest' in the past might have been appropriate here. Along with its use in Northern Ireland by the British and by the Americans in Vietnam, the Algerian torture scandal was indicative of the slow abrogation of the principles established by the English, French and American Revolutions.

In defending 'our way of life', it is my contention that it is this latter tradition we should be defending, rather than the backsliding into the barbarism we have seen growing in the West since the 1960s. Those using the 'ticking time-bomb' rationale should understand that there was never a time in human history where torture was not justified in terms of some wider good. It may have been dressed up in religious language but the justification has always been the same. What we should see as a threat is even the hint of a suggestion that this may in some way be acceptable, that we should ever consent, or be complicit in, the state having this kind of power over another human being.

Cohen points out that the historic legal abhorrence of torture in the English common law has long taken on the status of a taboo. When he seems to compare this unfavourably to the French, I think he is wrong to do so. Here I prefer the wisdom of ages and of nations to his. This is a matter of faith. Because, as I've said before, the strength to protect the rights of those who seek to destroy us is the glory and wisdom of democracy. It is this tradition that is worth defending - without apology, without compromise.

[Cross-posted at DSTPFW]

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Apocalypse maybe?

Mike Hulme Director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, has expressed concern at the apocalyptic language that increasingly surrounds the climate change debate:
"[O]ver the last few years a new environmental phenomenon has been constructed in this country - the phenomenon of "catastrophic" climate change.

It seems that mere "climate change" was not going to be bad enough, and so now it must be "catastrophic" to be worthy of attention.

The increasing use of this pejorative term - and its bedfellow qualifiers "chaotic", "irreversible", "rapid" - has altered the public discourse around climate change.

This discourse is now characterised by phrases such as "climate change is worse than we thought", that we are approaching "irreversible tipping in the Earth's climate", and that we are "at the point of no return".

I have found myself increasingly chastised by climate change campaigners when my public statements and lectures on climate change have not satisfied their thirst for environmental drama and exaggerated rhetoric.

It seems that it is we, the professional climate scientists, who are now the (catastrophe) sceptics. How the wheel turns."
I wish I understood the science but I think I know a wee bit about history and sociology and a couple of things stand out in this whole debate:

1) People's position on the science is obviously conditioned by what they want to believe and how it fits in with their world view. Many free-marketeers are unhappy to take on board the idea that an externality the scale of climate change could have been produced by industrial capitalism because it implies more government intervention in the economy. The statist left tend to believe the more apocalyptic predictions for exactly the same reasons. How many make up their minds based on the evidence? I suspect most are like me and don't have a sufficient understanding of the science to do this.

2) You hear a lot about a 'scientific consensus', along with accusations of 'flat-earther' directed towards those who dissent. I for one am completely unimpressed with this idea. It's only a 'Hardy Boys discover the Enlightenment' approach that can allow people to believe that Galileo was the last scientist to find himself on the wrong end of a consensus that subsequently proved to be false. Scientists are human beings and have interests - careers and reputations - to defend. If there were a greater awareness of history out there, I think we would hear less about the priestly authority of 'consensus'. "Cleaning surgical tools will reduce infection? How absurd."

3) As Matthew Parris of the Times pointed out a while ago, the idea of the apocalypse is a legacy from our religious past and like it or not, it is deeply-ingrained in our collective memory. It doesn't mean climate change isn't happening but it seems likely that our responses to it are conditioned by this.

4) George Monbiot is an annoying twat who is representative a a significant strand who appear to be unable to see any upside to industrial capitalism. Every time you take a flight you kill someone, he once intoned. Except when he takes a flight to promote a book, in which case it's ok. Thing is, the sort of cost-benefit anaylsis he must be secretly doing (unless he's a complete irrationalist) to justify taking a flight in such a self-regarding manner never gets applied to the wider problem. Climate change is killing people and will kill more people in the future? I'm sure that's true - but would Monbiot and his ilk care to estimate how many of these are alive today solely as a result of technological advance and its application to the business of production? Because they tend not to do this.

Mike Hulme also points out that other annoying upper-class twats* - like Tony Blair - tend to echo the more apocalyptic language of the climate change campaigners. But I doubt Fettes boy understands the science either.

*My judgment, not his.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Train all staff to restrain unruly pupils says school heads' union

From the Scotsman:
"TEACHERS should be taught physical restraint techniques amid mounting concerns over classroom indiscipline, a leading union claimed last night.

Members of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS) said training should be available for all school staff to make them better equipped to cope with unruly pupils.

The union has also called for teachers and their assistants to be trained in "de-escalation techniques" to prevent incidents of indiscipline getting out of control."
I've got a problem with the way these sort of stories are reported. In Glasgow schools, anyway, the level of discipline is not very good and I've encountered some schools and classes where it is absolutely shocking. But even in the very worst situations, it is only on the rarest occasions that I have felt personally threatened. Very badly-behaved pupils tend to be a menace to other pupils most of the time.

Whenever the meeja runs a story on a genuine concern teachers have, they tend to pick on the most extreme examples they can. It's like when they have a piece about teacher's working hours; they invariably wheel someone out who says something like, "To get all my work done, I'm in at 7 o'clock in the morning and don't get out until after six" - and I think, "Why, why would you do that to yourself, you lunatic?"

Anyway, the AHDS is not a 'leading union' - it's just for a bunch of management that are too snotty to join the EiS or the SSTA and whose members are obviously traumatised on the rare occasion they actually come into contact with any we'ans.

And if we're going to have training to deal with this sort of thing, I don't want any wimpy "de-escalation techniques". Lessons in Kung Fu or something would be nearer the mark.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

For Kate Moss

Francisco Santos, Columbia's vice-president, is none too impressed with Kate Moss:
"To me it's baffling, that somebody who helps cause so much pain in Colombia is doing better than ever and winning more contracts than ever."
While anti-drugs arguments that focus on the harm done to the victims of the criminal organisations that produce and traffick the stuff are better than those that concentrate on the harm to consumers, the singling out of Kate Moss seems a little unfair. My reasons for defending her are four-fold:

1) While Kate Moss is hardly a typical employee, in general the growing trend for employers to regulate what their workers do in their spare time is most unwelcome.

2) We're never done reading or hearing about some vacuous celeb and their tedious 'revelations' about their "cocaine hell". Seems a little unfair to focus on Kate Moss just because she has a junkie boyfriend and was careless enough to be photographed snorting the stuff. She's being treated as a symbol, not as an end in herself - which is unjust.

3) The crime and violence associated with the production and distribution of this product will remain for as long as a) it continues to be illegal and b) the market for the product exists. The behaviour of Kate Moss will make no impact on this whatsoever.

4) I appreciate the other view but I'm hoping she reads this, ditches doofus-features and decides to pop up to Glasgow to thank me personally.*



*Only joking, J. x

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Faith and utilitarianism

Mel's latest carries her usual themes: insipid secularism has created a culture of self-centred hedonism that is too flabby to repel the Muslim hoards sweeping across Europe. She advocates a national discipline strategy based on press-ups. Well, actually, she advocates the re-Christianization of Europe:
"[T]he collapse of Christianity in Britain and Europe and its steady replacement by secularisation is so catastrophic for the defence of the west. The useful idiots who believe that only a secular society can hold off the forces of irrational belief at the heart of the Islamic jihad have got this diametrically the wrong way round. Secularisation produces cultural enfeeblement, because the pursuit of personal happiness trumps absolutely everything else. The here and now is all that matters. Dying for a cause, however noble, becomes an absolute no-no. It's better to be dhimmi than dead - the view that has now effectively prevailed in Britain and Europe.
[...]
And that is why I, a British Jew, argue that it is vital that Britain and Europe re-Christianise if they are to have any chance of defending western values."
I'm getting really fed up with apologias for religion based on this sort of disutility argument: for Melanie Phillips and her ilk, the decline in religious faith has produced a cultural catastrophe of family breakdown, crime, cowardly sensualism, plagues of locusts etc.

Secularists of the world unite in argument - we spend too much time taking issue with the dodgy history and sociology that people like Melanie Phillips use. But this distracts from a more obvious and immediate problem with her argument. It is that people don't become believers for this sort of reason. People convert for the salvation of their own souls, not because they think thereby they'll be instrumental in strengthening the nuclear family and reducing crime.

So if Melanie Phillips wants Europe to re-Christianize, her energies would be better spent trying to make converts by preaching the Gospel.

But she can't - because she doesn't believe in it herself.

You see the problem.

Anyway, what would happen if the 're-Christianization of Europe' produced not people willing to fight for the causes she advocates, in the way she prescribes, but instead people disposed to loving their enemies and turning the other cheek? Mel doesn't say.

Update: See also Norm, Chris and David T. on the same topic.

W.O.B

Stands for the War on Buckfast. Buckfast is a tonic wine made by Benedictine monks of Buckfast Abbey in Devon, England and drunk in disproportionate quantities by my pupils who then go on to take their understandable dislike of each other out with the empty receptacle.

Our Executive has decided this is so much of a problem that they had a summit about it. But some have come to the conclusion that this is having the opposite effect than the one intended:
"THE Executive's high-profile campaign against Buckfast is backfiring, critics warned last night, as every effort to demonise it turns the tonic wine into a "cult" drink among the young.

Andy Kerr, the health minister, met the distributor of Buckfast yesterday in the latest in a series of attempts to tackle Scotland's worsening alcohol problem. But his efforts were dismissed as "extremely naive" and offering nothing more than "cheap platitudes" by his political opponents when it emerged that the minister had not asked for specific steps to reduce the cheap availability of the product."
It's bound to. I mean, there's me - a pillar of the community, raising attainment and combatting social exclusion in one of Glasgow's premier 'faith schools' - and even I was compelled to go out and buy a hoodie after all that guff we had from various NuLabour ministers. Got one for the boy too.

Same with this. If the Executive wanted to advertise a product, they could scarcely have done a more efficient job. It's a bit like the triangle that Channel Four used to put at the top of the screen when they were showing some 'artistic' porno nonsense in their earlier days. Anyone remember that? Anyway, need to pop out and get me a bottle. In a shop that sells veils. Need one of them too.



Picture stolen from the elegantly-named Bawbags.
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