Archive for the ‘Atheism’ Category

Academics Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose On the Dangers of Post-Modern ‘Social Justice’ Ideology

May 21, 2021

I’ve commented before attacking Critical Race Theory and its rejection of conventional academic standards and norms, as well as its dangerous anti-White intolerance. But CRT is only one of a number of similar disciplines that can be grouped together under the title of ‘social justice’ ideologies that share a similar outlook and origin. These arose in the 1980s and 1990s from Post-Modernism and represent a real attack on the fundamental concepts and values of Enlightenment liberalism, individualism, science and objectivity.

The Grievance Studies Hoax

I found the video below on YouTube, entitled Applied Postmodernism – How ‘Idea Laundering’ Corrupting American Universities. It’s of a talk given by the scholars Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose at the Aspen Jewish Centre in Aspen, Colorado, on 30th July 2019. These three were so fed up with the quality and venom of ‘social justice’ pseudo-scholarship that they devised the ‘Grievance Studies’ hoax. They submitted 20 spoof papers to various postmodern academic journals, drawing on these disciplines’ previous literature to support deeply morally repugnant conclusions. One of these papers concluded that men should be trained like dogs not to participate in rape culture, while another said that straight White men at college should be trained to the floor to teach them about their privilege. Seven of these papers were accepted and a further seven were under consideration before the group ‘fessed up and they were withdrawn. Not only were these spoof papers accepted, but they were even praised approvingly by the journals’ editors. The reviewer of the paper about treating men literally like dogs called it ‘an important contribution to knowledge’.

Student Unrest at Evergreen College

The group were prompted to stage this hoax by a violent, extremist student protest at Evergreen University. This was one of the least racist universities in the US, but radical students took it over, wandering about campus with bats and dragging people out of cars, claiming that it was intolerably racist. Only one of the academics, Brett Weinstein, stood up to the students. He committed the unconscionable crime of asking them what their evidence was. This was vehemently rejected and Weinstein himself pilloried because the postmodern ideologies that motivated these students does not permit any questioning. If someone simply asks for evidence, or presents any criticism, this is seen as proof of their racism or bigotry.

Two of the academics speaking, Boghossian and Lindsay are American. The third, Helen Pluckrose, is British. She begins the talk by explaining that she was moved to start investigating and opposing these ideologies through her research as a feminist historian. She was interested in 14th century women’s spiritual writing, but was told that her research would not be accepted unless she examined it through the postmodern feminist ideological lens. If she continued pursuing her own ideological independent view, she would be blocked from doing a Masters and a doctorate. She sees herself as being attacked for standing up for the reality of biology and traditional liberal values in the broadest sense. The group are critical of the modern college environment with its safe spaces intended to protect people from encountering opposing ideas. This has created a generation of brittle students, who are unable to cope with opposing ideas when they encounter them.

Postmodern Ideologies of Power and Identity

The ‘social justice’ disciplines they attack and expose are the theoretical humanities which have arisen since the 1990s – Critical Theory, Post-Colonial Theory, Queer Theory, disability studies, fat studies and so on, which are all part of the general Cultural Studies movement, which is based on postmodern philosophy. These are founded on the ideas that knowledge isn’t something that exists independently and objectively, but is invented. Western knowledge is an oppressive system of knowledge that has been created by White men through language. It is not objective, but represents instead the universalisation of the values of these elite White men. Instead of seeing society as consisting of individuals, these disciplines see it as composed of different demographic groups with different relationships to power. White men speak with power, women and ethnic minorities have no power. The ideologies are prejudiced against great White men and western knowledge, but are favourable to women’s and eastern knowledge. These different demographic groups have different values. Science is consciously rejected as an instrument of oppression of elite White men. These disciplines demand instead that it should include feelings, personal experiences and cultural traditions. But these demands are made without any supporting rational argument.

Idea Laundering

The term ‘idea laundering’ was coined by Brett Weinstein. Just as money laundering allows criminals to present tainted money as really coming from legitimate sources, so idea laundering allows deeply flawed scholarship to gain a false respectability. It’s the process by which opinions, rather than solid fact, are published in academic journals as established, peer-reviewed research. This is then given further respectability through references in the work of other, succeeding scholars. One of the examples of this Helen Pluckrose cites is the feminist text, Doing Gender. This starts with the idea that men and women are cognitively identical, but have been socialised into different roles. The book has been immensely influential, and has spawned a number of other books with similar titles expanding and applying its ideas. And some of these are absolutely crazy. One of these books states that heterosexual men are only attracted to women because they have been socialised to do so, a complete rejection of the reality of human sexual reproduction. Another example cited is Critical Dietician Studies. This was founded by a group of postmodernists as a venue for their own papers after they were rejected by mainstream journals of nutrition. One of their papers approvingly refers to Lenin for his ideas about nutrition, despite the fact that Lenin is one of the very last people to be considered an authority on it.

Social Justice Movements’ Intolerance

The group state that they weren’t the first people to comment on this poor and highly ideologically driven scholarship, but no-one else knew what to do about it. When another critical academic, Bruce Gillie, tried to publish a paper defending colonialism, not only was it rejected but he himself received death threats. They state that their academic opponents do not play by the conventional rules of engagement. Boghossian later describes how he had someone follow him into a gents’ toilet in order to beat him up, but was fortunately prevented by the presence of Brazilian judo instructor. These highly intolerant ideas aren’t just in academia, but are increasingly found outside it. For example, there was a recent article in the Washington Post entitled ‘Why Can’t We Hate Men?’. The group state that they have received emails and inquiries asking for help from professors, students and others, including a lawyer from the Canadian equivalent of the Bar Association, the EU parliament, and even knitting and hiking groups, which have become divided by these ideologies.

Another part of this new, postmodern, ‘social justice’ scholarship they attack is the notion of White privilege. This is based on Peggy MacKintosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. This is simply concerned with perceived racial privilege rather than economic or educational privilege. It would not accept that a Black millionaire is more privileged than a homeless White man. These ideas have developed so that it states that the mere recognition by White people that they are privileged isn’t enough. They are actively complicit in it because they are born into and speak with a system of White privilege and oppression. The fundamental attitude is that racism exists everywhere, and the question is never whether it exists, but how it manifests in a particular circumstance.

Personal Politics and Strategies to Tackle Postmodernism

The group state that they aren’t Conservatives. They’re actually liberal atheists, but they believe there should be a place for Conservative scholarship in the academy. They coined the term ‘Grievance Studies’ not to deny that there were genuine grievances, but to look at the scholarship based on postmodernism using particular grievances and issues. This pseudo-scholarship is based on a profound cultural relativism, denies universal values and standards, and the individuals. Pluckrose states that as a feminist historian she wants to examine issues of social justice rigorously without deny biology. But this is impossible with postmodernism.

When asked how they intend to combat these movements, they state that they aim to do so by clearly explaining the issues and providing resources. Lindsay and Boghossian wrote a book together, How To Talk to Someone You Disagree With. Pluckrose is writing a book on the origins of the ‘social justice’ movement. I think someone has made a film about the hoax, as the group several times refer to it and the video seems to be about the panel discussion that followed a screening of the film. Boghossian talks about going into the ‘belly of the beast’, showing the film in colleges and building a movement there. They’re also constructing a website.

One major obstacle is the educational establishment. They state that teaching in the US is now based very much on a postmodern, ‘social justice’ book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This is designed to look for and attack racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry at the expense of factual learning. Another problem is that liberals aren’t pushing back against these ideas as there doesn’t seem to be a good alternative. Decent people don’t want to be seen as against social justice. The issue is therefore to show that this ‘social justice’ scholarship is illiberal by those who genuinely want equality and a level playing field.

Attacks by Opponents

The three are asked about how they have been personally affected by this affair. Pluckrose states that as an independent scholar, she isn’t at the same risk as Boghossian, a tenured academic. Nevertheless she has had her views extremely misrepresented, been called a fascist and had her family’s internet accounts cloned so that trolls can attack her online. Lindsay says that he is also independent and that his experience is therefore almost the same as Pluckrose’s, and that he has lost friends and family. He states he is against racism and sexism, but just wants the scholarship about it to be better.

It is Boghossian who has suffered the most. He states that he is hated by his colleagues at the university, and has been the target of a persistent campaign of harassment and smears. There have been hit pieces on him in newspapers. He has been accused of criminal activities and maltreating his family, who have also been targeted. Less seriously, he has also been accused of supporting Trump and being pro-life, as well as being a Nazi and a grifter. The group give a further example of how this postmodern ‘social justice’ movement is pushing ideology at the expense of fact. They cite a book for maths teachers that urges them to use the subject as a way of indoctrinating students with this ideology.

Social Justice Postmodernism Not as Popular as Appears

They believe, however, that these ‘social justice’ movements are really just a small, but very powerful and influential minority and that it is opposed by many on the left. This is the old economic left and the socialists against the new identitarian left. There is also opposition from liberals, centrists and the centre-right. I think they are quite amused by the fact that, although liberal atheists, their ideas have been adopted by the Conservative religious right and are now taught in Southern Baptist seminaries. But they believe that this small, but highly influential ideological minority is nevertheless exercising a chilling culture. They talk about performative falsification. This is when people appear to go along with ideas they don’t hold, and even become enforcers for them out of fear that they will be targeted otherwise. They talk about receiving letters from students apologising for signing petitions against them, who felt that they would suffer if they didn’t. As far as the universities go, it appears to be the elite universities that suffer the most from this ideology. Pluckrose cites here recent demonstrations at Oxford and Cambridge. The lower tier universities aren’t quite so affected, as they have more students from working class backgrounds, who want practical knowledge and can’t afford to be concerned so much with social theory.

The group believes that these ideas could not have gained their power without the internet. However, they existed in the universities as far back as the 1980s. Postmodernism first arose in the 1960s as a movement by disaffected Marxists to analyse and deconstruct the existing power structures. This petered out as they seemed to be of no practical use. They were taken up again in the 1980s at the tail end of the Civil Rights movement by scholars and activists determined to give them a practical application. An example of this is Kimberley Crenshaw and the Black identity politics, which drew very much on postmodernism.

Regarding the future, Pluckstone has great hope in student groups, who have contacted her to speak to them and send information. There is a counterbalance to the ‘social justice’ movement, but at present it can’t speak. It needs resources and to find others like them. People do need to speak freely about it. University professors want to challenge it, but feel silenced. They describe how they have been contacted by a left-wing psychologist, who wishes to tackle social justice issues, but objects to the way the ‘social justice’ movement handles them. He wanted advice on what he could do.

What Parents Can Do

The group are asked what parents can do to resist this indoctrination. This is an issue that particularly affects Pluckstone, as she is also a parent. She explains that she talks to her fifteen year old daughter about issues like freedom and equality, and that reverse racism and sexism are still racism and sexism. She advises parents that when they get messages from the school stating that they are going to teach diversity and equality, they should ask the school why they are going to teach it that way. This shows the school that they will get pushback if they are too ideological. She states that it is rather different in England, where Christianity is present in schools, but she advises them to concentrate on the rules, which are rather stronger in America, preventing religious or political indoctrination in schools.

The group also advises people to be aware of language, as there are certain ‘trojan horse’ words which smuggle in the ideology. One such is ‘equity’. This does not mean ‘equality’, but simply making up for past injustices. Another code word is ‘critical’, which in this context does not mean ‘critical thinking’. They also recommend the book Kindly Inquisitors by Jonathan Rausch, which is suitable for 12-13 year olds, and which lays on the need to defend freedom of speech. They also attack Robin Di Angelo’s White Fragility as an example of the type of best-selling ‘social justice’ book they oppose.

They also believe that children know when they’re being lied to, and this could result in the baby being thrown out with the bath water. If the teaching becomes too ideological, not only will children reject the ideology, but also the solid teaching in which the ideology is embedded. As an example of how unselfconsciously intolerant ‘social justice’ ideology is, the group describe how they took the twelfth chapter of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, in which he describes his aims for the Nazi party, and carefully edited it to be about intersectional feminism. This was one of the spoof papers that were successfully submitted to various postmodern journals. In this instance it was taken up by a feminist journal.

A member of the audience suggests that they should produce soundbites that would appeal to fifteen year olds. The group say that they are going to produce a variety of books aimed at beginners’, intermediate, and advanced levels so to be intelligible to different people of all ages and ability. Boghossian also says that he is compiling a ‘turnkey’ syllabus for university professors.

Postmodern Attacks on Medicine

As an example of how this ideology is negatively affecting people, they talk about the use of pronouns. People are now being required to give their pronouns not as a statement of their own gender identity, but to show they are in line with the gender ideology. One of the three talks about how he personally knows one woman, who was a rape victim and very uncomfortable when she was asked what her pronouns were because of her experience. They also describe how cancer researchers have been placed under pressure by pro-fat activists not to say that obesity is a factor in some cancers because this is prejudicial against fat people. At the same time, extreme disability activists have placed medical professionals under pressure to withhold information on autism and deafness because it would be ‘ableist’ not to want to have a disabled child. This shows the power of the movement. When money corrupts academia, it’s immediately recognised and opposed. But this ideological corruption of education is much more difficult to see and so more acceptable. They also state that young people speak the jargon of postmodern social justice fluently, because they are surrounded by it all the time.

I’ve put this video up not to support the Conservative right, but because, as this group has shown, the postmodern ‘social justice’ movement is viciously intolerant and attacks fundamental ideas of individual freedom, dignity and individual worth on which western liberal society is based and which are at the heart of the politics of both the mainstream left and right.

And its because of their intolerance, divisiveness and racism and sexism that these ideas need to be fought by those on the left.

Richard Dawkins Stripped of Atheist Award for Questioning the Trans Ideology

May 5, 2021

This story was over a number of right-wing and gender critical websites last week, and it’s interesting as it shows the comparative power of the trans rights lobby against both organised religion and one of atheism’s fiercest polemicists. Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and anti-theist activist, was stripped of his Humanist of the Year Award because he’d posted a comment on Twitter comparing trans people to Rachel Dolezal.

Dolezal had been kicked out of the White chapter of NAACP – the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People – because she’d declared she considered herself ‘transracial’. Although White, she identified as Black. This obviously left many people very offended, and so she was expelled. Dawkins followed this with the comment ‘Now we have men identifying as women and women identifying as men. Discuss.’ As commenters like Graham Linehan and Sargon’s and his fellow Lotus Eaters said, it’s a very mild criticism, couched as an invitation for discussion. And indeed Dawkins tried to excuse it as just that – an invitation to discuss the issue. But it was enough to bring down on him the wrath of the trans rights activists and their supporters in the various atheist and sceptic groups. American Atheists accused him of minimising the persecution of marginalised groups, and the British Humanist Society stripped him of his Humanist of the Year Award, which he’d been given in 1996. Dawkins then made an apology, saying that he had no wish to minimise the suffering of trans people, and did not want to ally himself with ‘Republican bigots’.

This is the man, who has a deep, bitter hatred of organised religion and its supporters. Dawkins is the author of the God Delusion, which was published with the explicit aim of destroying people’s belief in the Almighty and converting them to atheism. He was the leader of the ‘New Atheists’, who were notorious for their bitter invective. Dawkins has described raising a child as a member of a particular religion as ‘child abuse’ and called religious people ‘faithheads’. He has also been accused of islamophobia because of comments he has made about that religion’s traditional attitude towards women and the practice among many Muslims of Female Genital Mutilation. HIs attitude towards religion is so bitter and intolerant, that it has actually alienated many more traditional, tolerant atheists. See for example Kim Sterelny’s foreword for his book, Darwin Wars, about the feud between Dawkins and the late Stephen Jay Gould over their differing interpretations of Darwinian evolution. But Dawkins has carried on undaunted with the same bitter polemic. But when faced with attacks for simply questioning trans ideology, he automatically caved in.

This shows the comparative power of organised religion compared to the trans rights lobby, at least within the sphere of progressive politics. Critics of the ideology have described how the trans lobby has captured a plethora of organisations, including the gay rights organisation Stonewall, various, mostly left-wing political parties and have advised organisations like the police and feminist organisations. The only political parties resisting them are those of the conservative right, which explains why Dawkins didn’t want to be seen supporting the Republicans. The problem is, however, that there is a feminist dimension to Republican opposition to trans rights, and that Dawkins asked a perfectly reasonable question.

Sargon of Gasbag and the Lotus Eaters made a video about this last week, pointing out that the academic magazine Hypatia had published an article defending trans-racialism. Hypatia describes itself as a journal of feminist philosophy. It had asked why it should be acceptable for people of one sex to identify as members of the other, but not people of one race to identify as members of a different ethnic group. Historically, there have been other Whites, whose admiration of Black America and its culture has led them to try to live as much as possible as Blacks. Years ago in the 1940s, I believe, one man went so far as to paint himself with melanin in order to live as a Black man. He then published a book about his experiences with the deliberate intention of challenging racism and bringing Whites and Blacks together. The Hypatia article stated that the arguments for transgenderism and trans-racialism are exactly the same, and there is no logical reason why one should be acceptable and the other not.

One of the objections to the transgender movement is the feminist concern that it will disadvantage natural, born women in sports. On average, men are stronger and more powerful than women. Hence there is the entirely justifiable fear that if biological men and boys are allowed to compete in female sports it will put biological females at a disadvantage. Natural women are at risk of being pushed out of their own sports. This has implications for university careers, as it means that sports scholarships to universities will go to transwomen rather than natural women. Hence Republican politicians in Maine and New Hampshire have put forward a bill banning biological men competing as women in women’s sports as a deliberate defence of the latter.

These are issues that at the very least need to be discussed calmly and logically, without accusations of bigotry and persecution. In my opinion, those attacking the trans ideology are right and are actually on the side of traditional feminism, and no amount of abuse will change this.

For all his deeply unpleasant intolerance towards religion, Dawkins was perfectly right in wanting it discussed.

Here’s the Lotus Eater’s video on the issue.

Here’s Black American feminist Karen Davies on the bill in Maine to protect women’s sports.

Trump and the Spectre of Mussolini

January 7, 2021

The big news today has been last night’s attack on the Capitol by Trump’s supporters. They had been fired up to make the assault by Trump’s continued insistence that he is the real winner of the election, but it has been stolen from him by vote-rigging from the Democrats. As Mike himself has pointed out, Trump himself has not been averse to trying to do this himself. Earlier this week it was revealed that Trump had tried to persuade Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, to find one more vote for him in the state more than those cast for Joe Biden. And a week or so ago it was also reported that he had also been considering calling in the army in order to defend his presidency. If he had done so, it would have been a coup attempt.

Microsoft News in a piece they published today about the attack state that among the mob were members of various far right groups, such as the Proud Boys, the Nationalist Social Club and supporters of the Qanon conspiracy theory. This is the bizarre belief that Trump has been secretly fighting a war against an evil covert group determined to take over and subvert America. Last night there had been various messages posted on right-wing websites urging ‘Revolution’ and ‘Civil War’. World leaders have expressed their disgust and condemnation of the attack, though as Mike also points out, there has been no condemnation of Trump himself from Boris or Priti Patel. The attack is ominous, as it shows just how fragile American democracy is.

Indeed. Way back in the 1990s there were fears of a similar attack with the emergence of militia movement. These are right-wing paramilitary organisations founded by people, who really believe that America is in danger of being taken over by the extreme left, or the forces of globalism and the one world Satanic conspiracy or whatever. Many of them were explicitly racist with the connections to the neo-Nazi right. At one point a woman claiming to be a senior officer in the movement appeared online urging the various militias to unite and march on Washington. Her call was ignored, largely, I think, because the other militia leaders didn’t trust her and were extremely suspicious of her motives. I got the distinct impression that they suspected her of being an agent provocateur and that the march was some kind of trap by the federal government. There was no armed paramilitary march, and so America dodged a coup attempt, or whatever it was, that time.

But the attack is also reminiscent of an assault on government even further back, almost one hundred years ago. This was the infamous ‘March on Rome’ of Mussolini’s Fascists. This succeeded in getting him appointed as the new Prime Minister by the Italian king, Emmanuel II, and began the process which saw him overturning Italian democracy to forge the Fascist one-party state and his personal dictatorship. Of course, for such coups to be successful, the armed forces, capital and the civil service must be willing to collaborate with the insurgents. Mussolini had the support of Italian industry and the big landowners, as he offered to protect capitalism from the forces of revolutionary socialism. The Fascists also included a number of ex-servicemen, the squadristi, and they had considerable support within the regular Italian armed forces. However, the head of the Italian police had absolute contempt for the Fascists and offered to defend the Italian government from the Fascists. But the king turned him down, and caved in to the future Duce.

There are similarities to last night’s events. Many right-wing Americans do seem to fear that Communism and anarchy are somehow about to overrun America with the violence of some of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in America and the supposed ‘cultural Marxists’ that have allegedly taken over the American educational system. And the fears that there really is a secret conspiracy to overthrow American democracy and enslave its citizens has been around for decades. Bizarre conspiracy theories appeared in the 1970s about the Bilderberg group and the Trilateral Commission, claiming that these groups really ran the world. Then in the 1990s George Bush senior’s statement that he was going to create a ‘new world order’ prompted comparisons with the Nazis, as Hitler had also said the same about his regime. It was also linked to older conspiracy theories about the Freemasons because the Latin version of the phrase, ‘Novo Ordo Seculorum’, supposedly appears on American dollar bills along with various Masonic symbols. These theories claimed that America was being secretly run by a group of Masonic Satanists, who were planning turn America into a totalitarian, Communist state and send Christians to concentration camps. Even the collapse of Communism did not allay these fears. Many of those, who bought into these bizarre theories, thought that the collapse of the Soviet Union was all some kind of ruse. One variety of these myths claimed that the Russians had established secret military bases in Canada and Mexico, and at a given signal Soviet tanks would roll over the border into America. The 1990s were arguably the peak of such beliefs, as shown in the popularity of similar stories of covert government pacts with aliens from Zeta Reticuli and TV’s The X-Files. But such fears have certainly not gone away. There was a resurgence during Obama’s presidency, when America’s first Black president was accused by the bonkers elements on the American right of being a secret Muslim. or atheist. Or Communist. Or Nazi. Whatever, Obama was filled with rage against White Christians. One pair of pastors told the listeners of their church radio station that Obama was going to establish a dictatorship and would massacre even more people than Chairman Mao. Alex Jones was repeating and amplifying similar myths over on his internet radio and TV station. He claimed that Obama was going to invoke emergency legislation under the pretext of impending environmental disaster to force ordinary Americans into refugee camps. Militant feminists and gays were part of this conspiracy, in which humanity was to be transformed into a race of genderless cyborgs. Jones lost a considerable part of his audience when he was banned from various social media platforms thanks to his claims that a Boston pizza parlour was really a front for supplying children to be abused by members of the Democratic party and that several high school shootings had really been faked to provoke popular support for gun control laws. This caused real distress to the bereaved parents, who were accused of being ‘crisis actors’. Jones has nearly vanished from the public stage, though he still appears here and there. Even when he had an audience, many people still regarded him as a joke. But it looks like the conspiracy theories Jones promoted, and the underlying distrust of the government, still have a powerful hold on many Americans.

Fortunately, yesterday was different from 1920s Italy. America’s military has so far shown no interest in coming to Trump’s aid and overthrowing democracy. Black Lives Matter is extremely unpopular in certain areas, but the police, security forces and private industry aren’t backing armed paramilitary units to defend capitalism. American democracy is being shaken and tested, but so far it hasn’t cracked. The problem is, it’s not clear how long this will last. By calling for people to storm the capitol, Trump has struck a blow against democracy. He’s been unsuccessful, but this might inspire a future president with the same inclinations to try again. And they might be more successful.

And we’re not safe from such assaults over here. Mike in his article has warned that the Tories appear to be taking notes from Trump, while Zelo Street points out that the same people, who backed Trump also back the Tories and Brexit over here. He concludes with a warning of who the Brexiteers will blame when it all finally goes bad:

Many Brexiteers believe it’ll be someone else’s fault – Remainers, ethnic minorities, foreign nationals, multinational corporations, those of insufficiently patriotic intent – when it all goes bad. It won’t be Bozo, Ms Patel, Gove, or Nigel “Thirsty” Farage they will be going after.

There is a real danger of America becoming, if not a dictatorship, then a very authoritarian, Fascistic state. And Britain following.

See also: Four dead after Trump provokes US Capitol riot – and the UK Tories are taking notes | Vox Political (voxpoliticalonline.com)

Zelo Street: Trump Insurrection – Next Stop UK (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

‘I’ Report on Walkout by Left-Wing Labour NEC Members

November 27, 2020

Starmer’s attack on the Labour left and his drive to centralise authority around himself and the Blairites continues. On Tuesday the left-wing members of the party’s NEC staged a Virtual walkout at an online meeting in protest against Starmer’s imposition of Margaret Beckett as chair. Starmer’s action had breached party rules stating that the position was elected. The I published a piece about this, ‘Left-wingers ‘walk out’ after Beckett wins NEC chair’ by Harriet Line and Alan Jones in its edition for Wednesday 25th November 2020. This ran

Members on the left of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee staged a digital walkout in protest at the election of veteran MP Dame Margaret Beckett as chairwoman.

In a letter to the party’s general secretary, David Evans, a dozen NEC members said the “longstanding protocol” of the vice-chair being elected as chair was not being followed.

They said Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had lobbied for Dame Margaret to be elected to the position, and accused him of “promoting factional division within Labour”.

The members staged a Virtual walkout from the NEC’s “away day”, which was being conducted via Zoom, yesterday morning.

In the letter, they said: “We believe the true reason for the leader lobbying for Dame Margaret, and indeed the reason that had been given by senior party MPs in private, is because the vice-chair, Ian Murray, was a signature to the previous correspondence sent to you seeking admonishment of the Leader.”

Signatories to the letter are believed to include the NEC’s outgoing chiar, Andi Fox, Mick Whelan, the Aslef general secretary, former MP Laura Pidcock and youth rep Lara McNeill, as well as Mr Murray. Ms Fox said the “disregard and disrespect for the left is something we could not allow.”

Some in the NEC had already expressed anger at Sir Keir’s decision to withhold the whip from Jeremy Corbyn, despite the body allowing him to return as a party member.

On Monday, Labour’s chief whip Nick Brown asked Mr Corbyn to apologise for claiming that the scale of anti-Semitism in the party was “dramatically overstated for political reasons.” In a letter seen by the PA news agency, Mr Brown said Mr Corbyn’s response to a damning Equality and Human Rights Commission report caused “distress and pain” to the Jewish community.

This looks to me like Starmer trying to keep control of the NEC after a large number of people from the party’s left were elected. As for Starmer’s imposition of Beckett as chair, of course it’s not democratic. Starmer’s a Blairite, and Blair hated grassroots democracy in the party along with anything that smacked of traditional Labour values and policies. He did everything he could to centralise power about himself and the New Labour faction.

Corbyn’s comments about the exaggeration of anti-Semitism in the party for political reasons was absolutely correct, and he has nothing to apologise for. The actual incidence of real anti-Semitism in Labour was very, very low. In 2019 the party had the joint lowest level of anti-Semitism of all of them. And contrary to what we’re now being fed, anti-Semitism, like racism generally, comes overwhelmingly from the fascist and populist right. But the right-wing British political and media establishment exaggerated its incidence in Labour in order to smear Corbyn and his supporters. They took their cue from the self-proclaimed Jewish establishment – the Board, Chief Rabbinate and various other malign organisations – who don’t represent all of Britain’s diverse Jewish community by any means. These organisations just represent the United Synagogue and were not concerned with protecting Jews from real anti-Semitism as protecting Israel from criticism for its barbarous, inhuman treatment of the Palestinians.

The left-wingers on the NEC were entirely right to protest, especially as Starmer is continuing his abandonment of Corbyn’s genuinely popular policies. Policies that this country and its working people, Black, White, Asian, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist or pagan, desperately need.

But Starmer doesn’t want to represent them, only the interests of the elite and affluent, and the neoliberalism that enriches them.

Jama’at-i Islami – The Pakistani Islamic Party Pushing for Theocracy

November 25, 2020

Pakistan was founded as an explicitly Muslim country. It’s a democracy, but there is a section of its parliament, if I remember correctly, that’s made up of Muslim clergy, who scrutinise legislation passed by the lower house to make sure it accords with Islamic law. Since the 1970s and the regime of the dictator, Zia al-Haqq, Islam has become increasingly powerful in Pakistani politics. I believe the current president, Imran Khan, is the leader of an Islamic party. Pakistan was one of the nations that experienced protests against France over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and there have been official denunciations of the cartoons and President Macron’s attempts to combat Muslim radicalism.

The force behind the growth of political Islam in Pakistan appears to be the Jama’at-i Islami, whose name translates as ‘The Islamic Society.’ The article about them in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions runs as follows

A highly disciplined and well-organised Muslim political party, founded in 1941 by Abul al-A’la Mawdudi. it aims at establishing an observant Islamic state in Pakistan. The Jam’at’s political platform offers an alternative to teh secularists and modernists, and in this lies its appeal (especially since 1977). The Ja’amat advocates that Pakistan should be a theocratic state, ruled by a single man whose tenure of office and power are limited only by his faithfulness to Islam. The ruler should be assisted by a shura (advisory council), with no political parties and no provision for an opposition. General Zia al-Haqq, the military leader after the overthrow of Z. Bhutto (1977)., used the Jama’at as a political prop for his ‘back to Islam’ campaign. The Jama’at has influence among the military, the middle classes, and the college and university students. It publishes a monthly magazine, Tarjuman al-Quran, in Lahore that has a high circulation. On the international level, the Jama’at was on good terms with Imam Khumayni and the oil rich Arab states; the Saudis have supported the movement since the early 1970s. (p. 489).

This looks like an attempt to create a kind of caliphate, and the Dictionary notes that there is considerable support for its return in Pakistan. I also wonder about the movement’s influence in British Islam, as there has been a problem with fire-breathing radicals immigrating to Britain to supply the shortage of imams for British mosques. Which is why moderate Muslims in this country have demanded government assistance in training Muslim Brits, who have grown up in our ostensibly democratic culture, as imams and community leaders.

I’m not a secularist, and believe that people of faith have a right to have their voices heard in politics and parliament, but this is just a movement for religious tyranny. In Pakistan as it is there’s persecution, including violence and pogroms against religious minorities. We’ve seen Christians murdered and imprisoned following accusations of blasphemy. There have also been riots and murders of the Ahmadiyya. Apparently even pious Muslims have been murdered because of comments they have made, which have been interpreted by others as blasphemous. There are 200 people on Pakistan’s Death Row accused of blasphemy. Many of these accusations are spurious, cynically levelled because of other disputes between the parties concerned. If a theocracy was established in Pakistan, it would only cause more oppression and violence.

I also believe that it wouldn’t be good for Islam either. Atheist sites on the web have reported that there has been a massive increase in atheism in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Iran. Six years or so ago Saudi news reported that a large number of Qurans had been found thrown into a sewer. A few days ago Iranian media reported that this had also happened in their country. A poll conducted of 50,000 Iranians found that 38 per cent of the population is either atheist or has no religion. If this is true, then it’s probably the result of people becoming fed up of the repression they are experiencing from their theocratic governments. The religious violence of the Islamist extremists, al-Qaeda and Daesh, are undoubtedly another factor. A few years ago I read a book by a French anthropologist, who came to the conclusion that the Islamist movements were the response of Muslim societies as the experienced the transition to modernity. This was comparable to the way radical, militant Christian movements had appeared in Europe in the 17th century, such as those in the British Civil War. Now Islam was experiencing the same.

My guess is that if the Jama’at ever succeeded in creating a theocracy in Pakistan, it would be massively unstable as the various sects excluded from the regime’s view of what was properly Islamic were oppressed and rebelled. I don’t believe that the Jama’at and other extreme, theocratic movements have anything to offer Muslims or anyone else anything except more oppression and violence.

Supernatural and Psychic Powers in Buddhism

November 24, 2020

Here’s something a bit different before I get on to the heavy political stuff. It seems that Buddhism has a particular term for the supernatural powers of its mystics and holy men and women. This is iddhi, rddhi, from the Pali and Sanskrit words ardh, ‘grow’, ‘increase’, ‘prosper’, ‘succeed’. The entry for it in Bowker’s Dictionary of World Religions, which describes it as

Paranormal, psychic or magic power in Buddhism, where it is one of the six kinds of higher iknowledge (abhinna). Canonical writings contain a standard list of eight forms of iddhi: the power to (i) replicate and project bodily-images of oneself, (ii) make oneself invisible, (iii) pass through solid objects, (iv) sink into solid ground, (v) walk on water, (vi) fly; (vii) touch the sun and moon with one hand, (viii) ascend to the world of the god Brahma in the highest heavens. They are described in e.g. Vissudhimagga 12. These powers were said to become available to the meditator upon achieving the the fourth jnana. They were possessed by the Buddha and many of his monks and nuns. However, the Buddha regarded them equivocally because some non-Buddhist ascetics possessed them too; they were a sign of meditational attainment only, and not a spiritual qualification; and they could be put to bad as well as good use. He, therefore, attempted to lessen their importance by making it an offence for monks or nuns to display them before layfolk, and by providing an alternative interpretation of iddhi to mean the application of equanimity (upekkha) and mindfulness (sati) in the face of all situations. Nevertheless in Vajrayana they are prominent as a demonstration of perfect control over the body. (p. 464).

Knowledge gained through paranormal perception is also included as a form of knowledge, alongside more conventional forms, in the Buddhist idea of knowledge, jnana, from the Sanskrit for ‘knowing’. The paragraph on this in the article on Jnana in The Dictionary of World Religions says

Knowledge based on extra-sensory perception is one form of paranormal knowledge . This is called ‘going beyond the human’ (atikkanta manusaka, Digha Nikaya 1. 82). Five kinds of higher knowledge (pancabhinna) fall into this category (Anguttara Nikaya 2. 17-19). These are (i) psychic power (iddhi-vidha), (ii) divine ear (dibbasota); (iii) telepathic knowledge (cetopariyata nana), (iv) knowledge of previous existence (pubbenivasanussati), and (v) clairvoyance (dibbacakkhu) One can attain this state if one’s mind is purified of five impediments (pancanivarana, see Nivaranas – covetousness, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt, Majjhima Nikaya 1. 181,270, 276) and on attaining the fourth Jhana. (p.504).

I think that fascination with the supposed paranormal powers acquired through Buddhist meditation and similar disciplines in Hinduism was one the features that attracted westerners to these religions from the 19th century onwards. They were certainly influential in the growth of the New Age religions, like Theosophy, although this was strongly influenced by Hinduism rather than Buddhism. The French explorer Alexandra David-Neel popularised these powers in her account of her sojourn in Tibet. Such ideas have also had their effects on comics, Science Fiction and Fantasy. The Marvel superhero, Dr. Strange, ‘Master of the Mystic Arts’, gained them through studying under the Ancient One in Tibet. Some of the accounts of Buddhist sages with these powers seem to me to be just legends, but if there are any adepts who truly have them, and could demonstrate them in a laboratory and before stage magicians, so there could be no possibility of cheating, we might be on the way to proving the existence of the paranormal at last.

But that might also be a shock to the secular, atheist materialists, who use Buddhist ideas about mindfulness for nothing more than attaining inner peace. You can imagine the panic it would cause members of the Skeptics’ movement if suddenly they found themselves able to read minds, make themselves invisible, walk on water and so on.

A 17th Century Anglican Plea for Religious Toleration

November 21, 2020

Jeremy Taylor was the chaplain of King Charles I and the rector of Uppingham. After the royalists were defeated in the British Civil War, he fled to Carmarthenshire in Wales, where he wrote his book arguing for religious freedom, The Liberty of Prophesying. After the Restoration he was appointed bishop of Down and Connor. He was also the author of a number of devotional works and sermons, but it’s his defence of religious freedom that I find particularly interesting. He said ‘they were excellent words which St. Ambrose said in attestation of this great truth, that the civil authority has no right to interdict the liberty of speaking, nor the sacerdotal to prevent speaking what you think.’

See the article on him in John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: OUP 1997) 958.

I’m very much aware that throughout Christian history there has been very little freedom of religion and conscience, and that the Anglican church’s toleration of Dissenters was very limited until the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in the 19th century. Until then Protestant nonconformists were excluded from the grammar schools, universities and government, and could only hold their services five miles away from towns. Atheism and Roman Catholicism were illegal again until the 19th century. But it was clergymen like Taylor and his fellows in the Nonconformist churches, like the Quaker William Penn and a number of Presbyterian ministers, who laid the foundations for the British and American tradition of religious tolerance. The most famous of the works calling for religious freedom from this period is Milton’s Areopagitica.

Despite the passage of the centuries, their message is still acutely relevant. Many countries still don’t have freedom of conscious or religious liberty in the 20th century. The Communists attempted to destroy religious and viciously persecuted people of faith, while the Nazis, apart from trying to exterminate the Jews, also sent their other religious opponents, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, to the concentration camps.

We have recently seen a French teacher murdered for showing schoolchildren the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed in a class about free speech, and mass demonstrations against France for permitting the cartoons in Muslim countries. To many people, their calls for legislation against such disrespect seem like demands for Muslim blasphemy laws. Christians and members of other religious minorities, such as Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims have been murdered in Pakistan as well as orthodox Sunni Muslims because of supposed blasphemy. This is banned in Pakistan and punishable with the death penalty. The only permitted religion in Saudi Arabia is Wahhabi Islam, and a few years ago the Saudis declared that atheism was terrorism. This was just atheist unbelief itself, regardless of any act of genuine terror, such as killing people or destroying property.

I’m sympathetic to Muslims regarding the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I don’t like the way Christianity and Christ are mocked by certain sections of the media and the entertainment business either. I’ve also heard the argument that Charlie Hebdo is a nasty rag. It’s not left-wing, but right, apparently, and its targets also include Roman Catholicism and immigrants.

But there’s a greater principle of free speech and the sanctity of human life here. All religions and ideologies, including atheism, should be up for debate, with people free to choose as they will. They’re fundamental human rights, the violation of which either leads or is part of tyranny.

Blasphemy Laws and the Muslim Protests Against France

November 3, 2020

Over the past week or so we’ve seen mass protests across the Islamic world, including the Islamic community in Britain, over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. These have followed the assassination of school teacher Samuel Paty for simply showing his class the cartoon as part of a lesson about free speech. It’s been pointed out in articles in the I that Paty was far from a racist or Islamophobe. He had taken lessons in Islam in order to understand his Muslim students better, and had warned the Muslims in his class what he was about to do so they could leave to avoid being offended. One girl remained, told her father, her father told the local mosque, the mosque told the community. And a Chechen Islamist heard them, and took matters into his own hands. Other Islamists have carried out further attacks on innocents, who had absolutely no part in the affair. Three people, including a priest, were stabbed to death in a church, simply for being Christians, and there have been shootings in other nations.

The murders of these innocents has not been denounced by the Muslim protesters, however. Instead we have seen former cricketer Imran Khan, now leader of an Islamic party and the president of Pakistan, denounce Macron for the publication of the cartoon. He has been joined by Turkish president Erdogan, another leader of a Muslim party Who wouldn’t know free speech if it came up and bit him on the elbow. Tunisia has also denounced France, and when I looked online last night, Islamists in Bangladesh were giving their government a few hours to sever links with France.

It’s been reported that Khan has been complaining about the hurt felt by Muslims around the world about the publication of the cartoons. Supposedly the right to free speech does not mean the right to offend. But others have pointed out over and over again that that is precisely what it means. The type of free speech that only permits what is inoffensive is no free speech at all.

At the heart of this are the Muslim blasphemy laws. This is an attempt to impose them on France and, by implication, other western nations. However, Muslim are a minority in Europe and so the only arguments Khan and the others can use against Europeans is that their feelings are hurt, and that there will be political repercussions.

I looked up the article on blasphemy in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. by John Bowker (Oxford: OUP 1997). This provides information on the concept of blasphemy in Christian, Judaism and Islam, its punishments, and the problems of enforcing such laws in Britain. It runs

Blasphemy (Gk: ‘speaking evil’ ). Impious or profane talk, especially against God; and in many western legal systems , the offence of reviling God or Jesus Christ or an established church. To be blasphemous a publication must be intended to shock and endanger the moral fabric of society; one that is merely anti-religious (e.g. denying the existence of God) is not. In England in 1977 the editor of Gay News was convicted of blasphemous libel for publishing a poem which portrayed Christ as a practicing homosexual. This was the first successful prosecution for blasphemy since 1922, and showed the difficulty of objectively applying the common law definition. The appearance of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, raised the issue whether blasphemy should be extended to become a more general offence (in the UK), or whether it is an offence in the domain of inciting unrest.

‘In Judaism, ‘blasphemy’ is speaking scornfully of God (Heb. gidduf, heruf) and is described euphemistically as birkat ha-shem (‘blessing the name’, i.e. God). According to Leviticus 24. 10-23, the penalty for cursing God is death, but in discussing this passage, the rabbis defined blasphemy in such a way that it became an improbable crime-and thus the death penalty did not need to be invoked. Excommunication (herem) became the punishment in any case once legal autonomy had been lost…

‘The nearest equivalent in Islam is sabb, offering an insult to God. Qur’an 9.74 condemns those who sear by God that they said nothing but in fact spoke a word of rejection (kalimat al-kufr) after they had become Muslims. This relates blasphemy closely to apostasy (ridda). The expression of contempt for God, the Prophet Mohammed, the angels, or the traditional explications of revelation constitute the offence. Accidental blasphemy is not usually excusable (though Malikites allow it if it is expressed by a recent convert to Islam).. The punishment varies between different Schools of Islamic Law -e.g. the Hanafites remove the offenders legal rights, declare his marriage invalid, and declare any claims to inheritance or property void; the Malikites demand immediate execution of the death penalty.,’

The British prosecution for blasphemy mentioned in the article was brought by Mary Whitehouse, who made it her professional duty to be offended about everything. The gays on the opposite side took this as an attack on them, and launched their own protests against Whitehouse. There’s a comic aspect to this, as Whitehouse recalled that she woke up one morning to find militant gays marching about her garden waving placards.

I think the enforcement of the blasphemy laws is more or less impossible. They’re a dead letter, if they haven’t been repealed. As an example, just consider how many TV comedians since then have expressed their own contempt for Christ and his followers. The comedians Lee and Herring regularly did so on their BBC 2 programme, Fist of Fun. It came as a surprise to me a few years ago when Muslims around the world were again up in arms demanding the execution of blasphemers because of something Pope Benedict said about Mohammed in a speech when one of the two appeared on television attacking Islam. When they were interviewed by the short-lived mag Comedy Revue in the 1990s, they were asked about their attacks on Christianity and whether they would do the same to Islam. They laughingly made it clear that they definitely wouldn’t because they were afraid of violence and attempts on their lives. And thought themselves very clever for doing so. Which shows the British media establishments general attitude to Christianity.

The Muslim blasphemy laws are extremely dangerous. At the moment there are 200 people on death row in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy. Most of these are probably entirely spurious. They’re brought for entirely cynical reasons, such as getting rid of an opponent in a dispute over a completely unrelated issue. Muslims have also claimed that their attacks on Christians were also motivated by the outrage they felt at blasphemies committed by their victims. But some of it seems to me to be an attempt to enforce the Pakistani caste system. Indian and Pakistan Islam has a caste system like Hinduism, only not as severe. Most of the Christian community in Pakistan are of the lowest caste, and many are bonded labourers in brickyards, effectively slaves. One of the Christian women accused of blasphemy was accused after she brought water from a well to a group of Muslim women. Along the way she took a sip of the water. It looks to me that the real crime here was that she broke their laws of caste purity, and that the accusation of blasphemy was added on after this offence.

The ex-Muslim vloggers the Apostate Prophet and Harris Sultan have also pointed out the hypocrisy in Khan’s denunciations. When western countries have criticised Pakistan for human rights abuses, Pakistan has simply told them to mind their own business. But when France defends the publication of cartoons Pakistan and its Islamic leadership find offensive, suddenly he’s justified in interfering in their affairs. He has also denounced the closure of radical mosques and the expulsion of extremist imams as an attack on Islam. It isn’t. It is simply France protecting itself against Islamist violence, in the same way right-wing terrorist groups are banned. And Khan is again being hypocritical in his denunciations. When the Taliban made a series of bloody attacks in Pakistan a few years ago, the armed forces and security services cracked down hard. According to the two above vloggers, they went from house to house in the province of Waziristan arresting anyone with a beard. I haven’t linked to the two because I don’t want to offend any Muslims reading this blog. But you can Google the articles on YouTube if you want to find out more.

Macron should stand firm against all this. Blasphemy laws are a severe attack on free speech, and the penalties inflicted for it and the flagrant abuse of such accusations are particularly dangerous. Freedom of speech and conscience, including that of Muslims, is far too important to be sacrificed because of hurt feelings and outrage.

Thunderfoot Attacks Black South African Student Who Claims Western Science Is ‘Racist’

October 27, 2020

Thunderfoot is another YouTube personality like Carl Benjamin aka Sargon of Akkad, the Sage of Swindon, whose views I categorically don’t share. He’s a militant atheist of the same stripe as Richard Dawkins. He’s a scientist, who shares Peter Atkins’ view that science can explain everything and leaves no room for religion or mysticism. He’s also very right wing, sneering at SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) and attacking feminism. So he’s also like Sargon on that score. But in this video, he does make valid points and does an important job of defending science against the glib accusation that it’s racist.

Thunderfoot put up this video in 2016 and it seems to be his response to a video circulating of part of a student debate at the University of Cape Town. The speaker in this video, clips of which Thunderfoot uses in his, is a Black female student who argues that western science is racist and colonialist. It arose in the context of western modernity and excludes indigenous African beliefs, and if she had her way, it would be ‘scratched out’. One of the African beliefs it excludes is the fact, as she sees it, that sangomas – African shamans – can call lightning down to strike people. She challenges her debating opponent to decolonise their mind and explain scientifically how the sangoma is able to do that. Her interlocutor is not impressed, and laughs out loud at this assertion, which gets a sharp response from the moderator who claims that the debate is supposed to be a circle of respect and they should apologise or leave. The anti-science student states that western science is totalizing, urges her opponent to decolonize their mind, and calls for an African science. She also rejects gravity because Isaac Newton sat on a tree and saw an apple fall.

Thunderfoot answers these assertions by pointing out, quite rightly, that science is about forming models of reality with ‘predictive utility’. It is the ability of scientific model to make useful predictions which shows that the model is an accurate description of reality. Science’s discoveries are true for everyone, regardless of whether they are male or female, Black or White. He shows a clip of militant atheist Richard Dawkins talking to another group of students, and explaining that the proof that science works is that planes and rockets fly. The equations and scientific models describing them have to, otherwise they don’t. Dawkins is another personality, whose views I don’t share, and this blog was started partly to refute his atheist polemics. But the quote from Dawkins is absolutely right. Thunderfoot goes on to say that if African shamans really could call lightning down on people, then surely someone would have used it for military purposes. And to demonstrate, he shows a clip of Thor getting hit with a lightning bolt from an Avengers movie.

As for African science, he then hands over to another YouTuber, who talks about an attempted scam in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. A women claimed that she had a rock which produced refined diesel oil, and called on the government to see for themselves. Which they did. If the woman’s claim was genuine, then Zimbabwe would be entirely self-sufficient in diesel. However, such hopes were dashed when it was revealed that the rock had a hole bored into it from which diesel was being pumped.

The video goes on to make the point that such ‘science denialism’ is dangerous by pointing to the claim of the former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, that HIV didn’t cause AIDS. He tried to stop people using the retroviral drugs used to treat HIV in favour of herbal cures that didn’t work. As a result, 300,000 people may have lost their lives to the disease.

Thunderfoot concludes that this is the situation this student would like to create: an African science which rejects gravity, asserts shamans can strike people with lightning, and in which hundreds of thousands of people die unnecessarily from AIDS. Here’s the video.

Racism and the Rejection of Conventional Science

Thunderfoot is right in that one current view in the philosophy of science is that science is about forming models of reality, which can make predictions. This is the view I hold. He is also correct in that science’s findings are valid regardless of where they are made and who makes them. And I’d also argue that, rather than science, it is this young Black woman, who is racist. She rejects science on the racist grounds that it was created by White Europeans. This is also the genetic fallacy, the logical mistake that a statement must be wrong because of the nature of the person who makes it. The Nazis, for example, made the same mistake when they rejected Einstein’s Theory of Relativity because Einstein was Jewish. They also believed that science should reflect racial identity, and so sacked Jewish mathematicians and scientists in an attempt to create a racially pure ‘Aryan’ science.

Science and the Paranormal

I don’t believe, however, that science automatically excludes the supernatural. There are very many scientists, who are people of faith. Although it’s very much a fringe science – some would say pseudoscience – there is the discipline of parapsychology, which is the scientific investigation of the paranormal. Organisations like the Society for Psychical Research and ASSAP have existed since the 19th century to carry out such investigations. Their members do include scientists and medical professionals. I don’t think it would be at all unreasonable for parapsychologists to investigate such alleged powers by indigenous shamans, just as they investigate appearances of ghosts, psychic powers and mediumship in the west. And if it could be demonstrably proved that such shamans had the powers they claim, then science would have to accommodate that, whether it could explain it or not.

On the other hand is the argument that science shouldn’t investigate the paranormal or supernatural, not because the paranormal doesn’t exist, but because it is outside the scope of scientific methodology to investigate it as different field altogether. Thus science can ignore the general question of whether tribal shamans are able to conjure up lightning bolts as outside its purview and more properly the subject of metaphysics or theology. In which case, it’s left up to the individual to decide for themselves whether these shamans are able to perform such miracles.

Muti Witchcraft and Murder

Thunderfoot and his fellow YouTuber are also right to point out the harm that bad and fraudulent science can do. And there are very serious issues surrounding the promotion of indigenous African magic. Years ago a South African anthropologist defended African muti at an academic conference here in Britain. Muti is a form of magic in which someone tries to gain success and good luck through acquiring amulets made of human body parts. These include the fingers and the genitals. It’s believed they are particularly powerful if they are cut off the victim while they’re still alive. There’s a whole black market in such body parts and amulets in South Africa, with prices varying according to the desired body party. Way back in 2004-5 the police found the remains of a human torso in the Thames. It had been wrapped in cloth of particular colours, and it was believed that it had belonged to a boy, who’d been killed as part of such a ritual.

Indigenous Beliefs and the Politics of Apartheid

Years ago the small press, sceptical UFO magazine, Magonia, reviewed a book by the South African shaman Credo Mutwa. This was supposed to be full of ancient African spiritual wisdom. In fact it seems to have been a mixture of South African indigenous beliefs and western New Age ideas. The Magonians weren’t impressed. And one of the reasons they weren’t impressed was Mutwa himself and the political use of him and other African shamans by the apartheid government.

Before it fell, apartheid South Africa had a policy of ‘re-tribalisation’. This was the promotion of the separate identities and cultures of the various indigenous peoples over whom the White minority ruled. This included the promotion of traditional religious and spiritual beliefs. These peoples had intermarried and mixed to such an extent, that by the 1950s they had formed a Black working class. And it was to prevent that working class becoming united that the apartheid government promoted their cultural differences in a policy of divide and rule. Mutwa was allegedly part of that policy as a government stooge.

Attacks on Science and Maths for Racism Dangerous

I’ve put up several videos now from Sargon attacking the assertion that western education and in particular mathematics is racist and somehow oppressed Blacks. I’m putting up this video because it does the same for the assertion that western science is also racist.

Not only are science and maths not racist, it is also very definitely not racist to reject some forms of African magic. Killing and mutilating people for good luck is absolutely abhorrent and should be condemned and banned, and those who practise it punished, regardless of its status as an African tradition. At the same time it does need to be realised that the South African government did try to keep Black Africans down and powerless partly through the promotion of indigenous spiritual beliefs. It’s ironic that the young woman shown arguing against science does so in an apparent belief that its rejection will somehow be liberating and empowering for Black Africans. And Thunderfoot has a chuckle to himself about the irony in her arguing against science, while reaching for her ipad, one of its products.

Belief in the supernatural and in the alleged powers of indigenous shamans should be a matter of personal belief. Disbelieving in them doesn’t automatically make someone a racist bigot. But this young woman’s rejection of science is racist and potentially extremely dangerous, because it threatens to deprive Black South Africans like her of science’s undoubted benefits. Just like Mbeki’s rejection of the link between HIV and AIDS led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of desperately ill men, women and children.

Conclusion

What is particularly irritating is that this young woman and her fellow students are affluent and, as students, highly educated. If the woman was poor and uneducated, then her views would be understandable. But she isn’t. Instead, she uses the language and rhetoric of postmodernism and contemporary anti-colonialism. It does make you wonder about what is being taught in the world’s universities, arguments about academic freedom notwithstanding.

In the past, there has been racism in science. Eugenics and the hierarchy of races devised by 19th century anthropologists as well as the Nazis’ attempts to create an Aryan science are examples. But attacks on conventional science and mathematics as racist, based on no more than the fact that modern science and maths have their origins in contemporary western culture is also racist and destructive.

Glib attacks on science by people like the young student in the above video not only threaten its integrity, but will also harm the very people, who most stand to benefit. They should be thoroughly rejected.

A Common Sense Exorcism from a Sceptical Medieval Monk

October 12, 2020

The view most of us have grown up with about the Middle Ages is that it was ‘the age of faith’. Or to put it more negatively, an age of credulity and superstition. The scientific knowledge of the Greco-Roman world had been lost, and the Roman Catholic church retained its hold on the European masses through strict control, if not an outright ban, on scientific research and fostering superstitious credulity through fake miracles and tales of the supernatural.

More recently scholars have challenged this image. They’ve pointed out that from the 9th century onwards, western Christians scholars were extremely keen to recover the scientific knowledge of the ancients, as well as learn from Muslim scholarship obtained through the translation of scientific and mathematical texts from areas conquered from Islam, such as Muslim Spain and Sicily. Medieval churchmen had to master natural philosophy as part of the theology course, and scholars frequently digressed into questions of what we would call natural science for its own sake during examinations of theological issues. It was an age of invention which saw the creation of the mechanical clock, spectacles and the application of watermills as pumps to drain marshland and saw wood. There were also advances in medicine and maths.

At the same time, it was also an age of scepticism towards the supernatural. Agabard, a medieval Visigothic bishop of what is now France, laughed when he was told how ordinary people believed that storms were caused by people from Magonia in flying ships. The early medieval manual for bishops listing superstitions and heresies they were required to combat in their dioceses, the Canon Episcopi, condemns the belief of certain women that they rode out at night with Diana or Herodias in the company of other spirits. Scholars of the history of witchcraft, such as Jeffrey Burton Russell of Cornell University, argue that this belief is the ancestor of the later belief that witches flew through the air with demons on their way to meet Satan at the black mass. But at this stage, there was no suggestion that this really occurred. What the Canon Episcopi condemns is the belief that it really happens.

The twelfth century French scholar, William of Auvergne, considered that demonic visitations in which sleepers felt a supernatural presence pressing on their chest or body was due to indigestion. Rather than being a witch or demon trying to have sex with their sleeping victim, the incubus or succubus, it was the result of the sleeper having eaten rather too well during the day. Their full stomach was pressing on the body’s nerves, and so preventing the proper circulation of the fluids responsible for correct mental functioning. There were books of spells for the conjuration of demons produced during the Middle Ages, but by and large the real age of belief in witches and the mass witch hunts came in the later middle ages and especially the 16th and 17th centuries. And its from the 17th century that many of the best known spell books date.

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is G.G. Coulton’s Life in the Middle Ages. According to Wikipedia, Coulton was a professor of medieval history, who had originally studied for the Anglican church but did not pursue a vocation. The book’s a collection of medieval texts describing contemporary life and events. Coulton obviously still retained an acute interest in religion and the church, as the majority of these are about the church. Very many of the texts are descriptions of supernatural events of one kind or another – miracles, encounters with demons, apparitions of the dead and lists of superstitions condemned by the church. There’s ample material there to support the view that the middle ages was one of superstitious fear and credulity.

But he also includes an account from the Dutch/ German monk and chronicler, Johann Busch, who describes how he cured a woman, who was convinced she was demonically possessed through simple common sense and folk medicine without the involvement of the supernatural. Busch wrote

Once as I went from Halle to Calbe, a man who was ploughing ran forth from the field and said that his wife was possessed with a devil, beseeching me most instantly that I would enter his house (for it was not far out of our way) and liberate her from this demon. At last, touched by her prayers, I granted his request, coming down from my chariot and following him to his house. When therefore I had looked into the woman’s state, I found that she had many fantasies, for that she was wont to sleep and eat too little, when she fell into feebleness of brain and thought herself possessed by a demon; yet there was no such thing in her case. So I told her husband to see that she kept a good diet, that is, good meat and drink, especially in the evening when she would go to sleep. “for then” (said I” “when all her work is over, she should drink what is called in the vulgar tongue een warme iaute, that is a quart of hot ale, as hot as she can stand, without bread but with a ltitle butter of the bigness of a hazel-nut. And when she hath drunken it to the end, let her go forthwith to bed; thus she will soon get a whole brain again.” G.G. Coulton, translator and annotator, Life in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1967) pp.231-2).

The medieval worldview was vastly different from ours. By and large it completely accepted the reality of the supernatural and the truth of the Christian religion, although there were also scientific sceptics, who were condemned by the church. But this also did not stop them from considering rational, scientific explanations for supernatural phenomena when they believed they were valid. As one contemporary French historian of medieval magic has written, ‘no-one is more sceptical of miracles than a theologian’. Sometimes their scepticism towards the supernatural was religious, rather than scientific. For example, demons couldn’t really work miracles, as only God could do so. But nevertheless, that scepticism was also there.

The middle ages were indeed an age of faith, but it was also one of science and rationality. These were sometimes in conflict, but often united to provide medieval intellectuals with an intellectually stimulating and satisfying worldview.