Monthly Archives: April 2013

A Problem for Faith Detractors

Oh so reluctantly I head back into the murky waters of the religious debate. Today I am a fully self-assured secular agnostic but memories of the intellectual slaughter I would subject myself to in college philosophy classes are still raw. Back then I had a curious, wilful belief in god that was ever at odds with the subconscious always rapping. “Idiot,” it would chime as I ran head first into another logical obstruction to this forced faith.

It only took a couple more years of increased exposure to higher education, simultaneous to my withdrawal from the grand and imposing edifices of public school religiosity, before the façade began to slip. Not being in a beautiful church five mornings a week unsurprisingly takes the mind away from these things, but more than anything in was Mr. Paine and The Age of Reason wot did it. Far from rationalising my dwindling faith, deism killed it.

Perhaps trying to rationalise faith will inherently kill it but the crux of the matter for me was that no faith could be possibly true when all claim to be true and divine and so on, so forth. And if you can’t reconcile divinity with divinity, how exactly can you reconcile divinity with humanity? Are we to just take a stab in the dark like some Pascalian wager? Indeed, how can something even be divine if it can be dissected and selectively reconstructed by humans?

Paine’s attempts to make this ancient faith system compatible with the modern world and its improved understanding, (always at the expense of increasingly redundant theological reasoning) made me fully commit to the notion that mankind dealt in theological reasoning in lieu of understanding, until understanding was gained. If that wasn’t enough, along came Hume’s Natural History of Religion just to throw the last confirming clump of sod on the grave.

There is no question anymore, I have no faith and that is fine. But this doesn’t mean Richard Dawkins, in my humble estimations, isn’t a bit of a dick. Just to catch you up, Dawkins went on the Twitter warpath with Islam and one Mehdi Hasan, socialistic journalist of Guardian, New Statesman and Huffington Post fame. Dawkins challenged Hasan’s professional integrity and aptitude on the basis that Hasan is a Muslim.

To paraphrase, “Should we take a journalist seriously, who believes in the Islamic faith, which in my douche-bag opinion is like believing in a flying, winged horse.” Essentially, should we allow a person of faith to deal in the trade of facts? For an intelligent man I have to say this was a stunningly unintelligent assault on a journalist who, although I caustically disagree with on a near daily basis for political reasons, never earned derision for his expressions on faith.

In fact, Hasan has written some excellent pieces on the need for Muslim communities to properly integrate with British society and is generally very constructive in his approach to faith and the modern world. What is not constructive at all is this recent collective of hyper-smug, liberal intellectualism, so well embodied by the likes of Dawkins, which believes it has the run of the “right way” of thinking. Religion is an antiquated superstition. Conservatives are morons and dicks. Disagree with these things and you’re a dick too. And stupid. And a dick.

This aggressive tendency towards those of competing, or even of slightly more nuanced views, was rather cringeably played out on last week’s episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. The silver-haired HBO demagogue conducted an abysmal interview with security expert Brian Levin, going at loggerheads with the guest over his bigoted views on Islam. Maher’s view is that Islam is a problem faith, more so than other faiths, and this should be the outspoken position of anyone with a brain.

He threw buckets of water on the idea that his show was a forum for debate when he informed Levin, off the back of the suggestion that perhaps one could look at these things more carefully, utterly bluntly, “You’re wrong”. Two or three times actually. And sure enough, people like Maher and Dawkins are ever pushing themselves into the realm of iconoclasm, one they would logically want to avoid given their views on religion. They betray what is to me a fundamental value of secular agnosticism, that being humility.

I’m simply not interested in going around and telling people that they or what they believe in is stupid. It achieves nothing but the defensive ire of those you’re attacking and sheds a poor light on those who have less harsh interpretations. The modern world, always advancing, is putting an inexorable secularising force on everything that will in time accomplish more than a million Mahers and Dawkins combined.

Religious institutions for the most part recognise this and are in “terminal debate mode” over their traditional values versus the need to adjust to contemporary climates, if terminal decline is to be avoided. This process is only hindered by the disgust of people like Maher and Dawkins, who with so much disdain for the lack of science and logic in these belief structures are equally complicit in creating entrenched opposing forces.

When I was a bit younger and breaking into my present beliefs, I treated them like heroes of the New Faith of Reason. But they’ve become too much like preachers for my comfort and they don’t speak to or for me anymore. Maybe it still appeals to the reactionary freshman, militant atheist type. If the two of them gain satisfaction from impressing that particularly gaggle then bully for them. It’s just a bit sad really.

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Back to America

A quick glance at the recent works and I see it has been some few months since I really looked at anything outside of the EU. Now of all times would be ideal to do so, with so much going on. Electoral concerns in Venezuela, the North Korean problem, Pervez Musharraf’s return to Pakistan… all will take second place to the sudden burst of activity coming out of nowhere else other than the illustrious United States of America.

No need for the build, I think we all know what might be touched upon. The Boston Marathon bombing was a shock and a tragedy, but in my opinion a relatively muted one. I’m not trying to write down the deaths of three people, including a young boy, but it says a huge deal about how far the world has come since 9/11 that the reaction was essentially measured. Perhaps I could be watching a bit more Fox News, but I’ve not heard any blood-curdling screams for revenge against Muslims, or any suggestions that this is entirely Obama’s fault.

Scale no doubt plays a role. The casualties have not remotely been as near to the tolls of a number of appalling attacks that have taken place in Afghanistan and Iraq recently, but who the hell cares about those dust bowls? Hopefully lots of people actually, although the disproportionate attention given to Boston in light of these other incidents suggests that isn’t the case. This fine article by Assed Baig for The Huffington Post does not only discuss this, but it’s also by far the best article I’ve read on that otherwise general repository for journalistic effluvium.

Terrible website. But I digress. The bombings were awful. Wherever such an event takes place it always is awful but clearly we’ve grown somewhat resilient to them. Whether for better or worse we have become used to a climate in which these things happen occasionally and I imagine it would take a considerably bigger bang and a higher body count to seriously start ruffling international feathers. And potentially a different target, which leads us onto the next point.

The question of who actually was responsible has also been surprisingly muted, where in this situation I would not unreasonably anticipate a brain-achingly tiresome degree of speculation. So I’d better speculate a bit now. The target suggests to my keenly honed eye for security and counter-terrorism, honed so keenly at the Institute For Anyone With A Brain Is Entitled To An Opinion, is that the culprits are either some old fashioned McVeigh anti-establishment types or an extremely localised Islamic fundamentalist group.

International terrorism has a reasonably well-defined modus operandi and a slightly niche sporting event doesn’t fit the bill. Public transport, government or financial infrastructure could have surely made for a more potent outcome in terms of physical and human damage, not to mention in a more populous and significant area than Boston. Deliciously speculative indeed, but I would have to throw my hat into the former category. It almost feels silly and xenophobic to even mention the radical Muslims these days, given how distant that fight seems to have become.

However, throw together a second term for Obama and attempts at gun control (both deeply unpopular with a hard right wing), coupled with a still intensely iffy (the professional term) economy, and I see a cocktail ripe for backwoods extremism. Oh, and add a dose of The March of the Gays, also known as a surge in political backing for LGBT rights, and we’re positively on the verge of a conflagration. In all honestly I’m surprised there hasn’t been domestic mutiny sooner.

It’s either a testament to the strong fabric of American society or the vast internal security apparatus, established by current hermit George W. Bush, that this stands out as a lone incident in recent years. Unless, that is, you were to include every casual school or public shooting as an act of domestic terrorism. And why wouldn’t you? Terrorism doesn’t demand a central organisation and political motivation, just acts of terror.

This is a hugely pertinent point, because the almost criminally negligent US Senate, or rather the truly corrupt Republican wing of that body, have just shot down the most limited attempt at imposing sanity to US gun regulation. Background checks? Nope. Assault weapons ban? Nope. It is corruption, is it not, when an interest group actively manipulates the actions of legislators for mutual gain? Just checking. The closest thing resembling a Republican moral apparently died before I started paying attention.

The reason I try and link these shootings to terrorism is because it is potentially a pathway to successful measures in this horribly troubled battle. If you weren’t aware, the IRA was for decades funded by wealthy east coast American-Irish fraternities, who kept pouring funds back into the homeland as they held to an outdated anti-Anglo sentiment that was as disingenuous as the notion any of these Yanks really were Irish.

IRA funding from the USA dried up almost overnight after 9/11 as Americans, particularly New Yorkers, were adequately reminded of what terrorism was. Suddenly the previously heroic actions of the IRA took on a hugely unsavoury tone. This is what needs to happen in the gun debate. The core argument needs to move well away from this twisted 2nd Amendment defence and towards the idea that controls will prevent terrorism. The anti-government paranoids will always have their gripes but make no mistake. A psychotic American with a gun is potentially as much a terrorist as a psychotic Muslim with a bomb.

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Rest In Peace

No swingeing eulogy here, I’m not trying to carve out a name for myself on the back of loss. Unless you live in a cave, or are a feckless modern youth, you’ll know Margaret Thatcher passed away yesterday. The reaction was perfectly predicted by one Martin Belam over a year ago, in this pie chart. I daresay I fall marginally into the blue segment, with perhaps just a hint of green. I try to be rational but was still struck by the vindictive, celebratory tone that emerged from some.

One relatively younger looking man gloated into a BBC camera, “Thatcher ruined my hometown, so… I’m glad she’s dead!” I would counter rather that modernity ruined his hometown, a fact that many of the disenfranchised former industrial classes vehemently deny in their hatred for the former Prime Minister. She didn’t exactly ease the fall but British industry was simply out-gunned by international markets and the lower wages of further flung nations breaking into the new world.

I would argue, obviously, sick Tory that I am (not really at all), that the unions were equally complicit in their downfall through their unashamed war against Thatcher and the hope that union strangleholds might be relaxed. It was a classic case of an unstoppable force hitting an immovable object and the government won. Thatcher never helped matters with her increasingly monarchic disposition, and let’s not mention the Poll Tax, but still.

There should be restraint in these situations. I have no real problem with a person despising Thatcher, as they are completely entitled to, but I believe there’s a common decency that a person makes void in themselves if they can’t respect the dead, even for a moment. I was horrified by the jubilation on the streets of America over the death of Osama bin Laden. There’s no argument, the man was a monster, but I think to Nietzsche and the abyss.

After encountering so many frankly sickening comments from random idiots all the way to Gerry Adams, I tipped myself into that green category with this comment on Facebook, “For f@%k’s sake people, two expressions, ‘Don’t speak ill of the dead,’ and, ‘I’ll dance on your grave.’ If you can’t mind the first at least have the decency to wait long enough to actually do the second.” And I’ll stand by that statement on reflection.

I never directly experienced the Iron Lady’s tenure or even public life. All I have is the retrospective and the influence of those who were contemporary to her, replete with so many opposing views. On that basis I would praise her for giving life back to the City and for sticking two fingers right up at Galtieri and his corrupt agenda. She deserves great respect for her position as first democratic female leader of the nation and for managing the Cold War.

The regal nature of her later years in office are understandably hard to swallow for many, when compounded with the dismantling of industry and the unions and the absurd unjustness of the Poll Tax, all of which did undeniably hit the poorer elements of society terribly. But of these the former were necessary, however harshly achieved, and only the latter was a crude error, in my opinion. On balance I might say she was a decent Prime Minister, but for the divisions.

That is the bottom line in my estimations of her. All said and done, the leader can’t be said to have been truly good that caused such deep and lasting rifts, not only in opinions of his or herself but also in how people feel about the character and trajectory of the nation. Great for some, terrible for others, and in that regard joining the club of probably every leader that ever was, rest in peace Margaret Thatcher.

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An Ode to the Short Man

Little people sometimes carry a lot of weight. But I’m not talking about rotund midgets and I’m certainly not talking about the figurative “little person”, the working person or otherwise those under the boot of the powerful and prosperous. I’m very literally talking about a few little people and who else could that be in the current context, other than the inextricably linked George Osborne, Ed Balls and Kim Jong-Un.

They are about as inextricably linked as a sparrow’s fart and a natural catastrophe of course, but they are connected somehow, most likely by their stature-induced god complexes and need to be strident arseholes. The former two for saying politically moronic things at the dawn of a huge austerity pinch and the latter for trying to start World War III in East Asia. The question must be asked, why does the world continue to put up with these diminutive demons?

For a start, because there isn’t a thriving culture of dwarf hatred and if you haven’t noticed already, this article is playing with a highly tenuous theme. I merely delighted in the topical coincidence of domestic and international issues being currently driven by those of lesser heights. Why these totally distinct individuals behave the way they do may have some deep rooted origin in the insecurity of never having physically looked down at someone, so metaphorical terms had to suffice.

But this shouldn’t be the focus here. The reason George Osborne might ram his entire lower body into his mouth, with statements regarding the now infamous Philpotts and their dubious association to the problems with the welfare state, is because he is an inept political operative. How his scorecard looks as Chancellor remains to be seen come election time, as rough as things look now, but the jury is long out on his and his party’s shrewdness.

It really feels like amateur hour sometimes, on both sides of the aisle. These days I care far less for the ideological imperatives of either, choosing rather to place my faith in their competence and operational savvy. I want to see capable, intelligent and scrupulous people filling those Commons benches and it rarely feels like we have anything of the sort when the Boy Wonder is also caught parking in disability zones after publicly slamming scroungers.

The opposition is equally goddamned awful at present, as my patience for the supposed “alternative” runs ever drier. If you have a look at Ed Ball’s blog you can see that he needs to spend more time being Shadow Chancellor and less time trying be a condescending prick like myself. As it happens, my comments on his latest article are yet to pass moderation and I doubt they shall. For that event I shall reiterate here.

Given that I received an email recently from my local MP, Emily Thornberry, providing Labour’s six point economic plan, it seems a bit rich for Mr. Balls to be offering any critique. Here is my translation/response for this inspiring Labour roadmap to prosperity.

  • Reduce VAT = Reduce revenue during a period of recession. How will the Shadow Chancellor pay for this, we have no money?

  • Reinstate 10p tax rate paid for with a Mansion Tax = The latter doesn’t make up for the former and doesn’t work anyway, it hits asset rich/cash poor households inordinately. The 10p rate is also worse for low earners than no taxation before 12k earnings, which is the coalitions on-target medium term goal.

  • Bring forward infrastructure programmes = meaningless drivel designed to play on speculation as to why things like HS2 will take another decade to complete or even start. Things like this take as long as they take in a country that isn’t China or the UAE.

  • National insurance break for small firms = Reduce revenue during period of recession. How will the Shadow Chancellor pay for this, we have no money? Also, small business happens to be one of a few thriving sectors so this is unnecessary, another gimmick.

  • Guarantee jobs for long-term unemployed and youths = How? More public sector work? It’s either an empty aspirational election pledge or he’s going to bloat the public sector again, which this country can scarce afford. Unrealistic, or, how will he pay for it?

  • Increase lending to small business = Again, how? The government has done everything and bit more to get the banks lending and they just won’t, so what is the effective new approach here? Direct government lending? How is that paid for? More truly vapid stuff, thank you Mr. Balls.

The crux of the Labour plan is borrow and spend, with reduced revenue, straight back into a nightmare scenario. They have learned nothing, and will learn nothing as long as the front pairing are part of the same Brownite faction that nearly brought the country to its knees. The incalculable cynicism of their populist calls in the face of an absolutely necessary period of austerity, which they are responsible for, is nothing short of stunning.

I’m almost too angry now to even start talking about North Korea in any depth and it was a stupid connection in the first place. Needless to say, no one at all in the heavens or on earth can begin to comprehend the belligerence of this introverted nation’s government. To myself, the layman, it seems they really do exist in a world of paranoid fantasy and this whole situation appears as if a crude fiction, the next chapter in Team America by Parker and Stone.

Perhaps there is this… much like Osborne, when confronted and embattled Kim Jong-Un and his military take up irrational tendencies that will only harm their prospects. There is clearly a ridiculous behind-the-scenes diplomatic dynamic behind the manoeuvring of so many B52’s, or of missiles to that coast or another, but this much is surely certain. Whatever the damage to the region, should things come to conflict North Korea will no longer be in existence.

I cannot imagine with any shred of my occasionally almost thoughtful being that China would honour its alliance with the DPRK if there was war. There is talk of them being concerned by a unified pro-America Korean peninsula but then I would think that America should draw down their forces in East Asia should the DPRK be ended. It is and has been for some time the primary existential threat to US interests in the region, and a key reason for a military presence.

Sadly, “need” and “military presence” are entirely dissociated concepts to the American military but that would be the rational outcome I would hope for should the situation drastically alter any time soon. The talk is that there will be no conflict, and that this is just more posturing, but a part of me wants emphatic action to deal with this endless dilemma. Because of course all the while, the people of North Korea suffer terribly.

If only something could be done without terrible destruction. That often feels like an unrealistic possibility given the indoctrinated, apocalyptic tendencies of the North Korean military complex but as with so many things we can only hope for the best. A bloodless internal revolution and the founding of democratic and egalitarian principles would be great. Though I believe we were just discussing realism…

No, more likely we see protracted negotiations that results in a tacit, temporary abandonment of nuclear and ballistic ambitions in exchange for improved aid and relieved sanctions. All to be resurrected when this deluded and infantile regime spills their ice cream again. The question, at what point do you stop giving a hungry, angry baby attention?

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