Archive for the ‘Morality’ Category

The Continuing Scandal of the DWP Asking the Depressed Why They Haven’t Committed Suicide

March 18, 2017

Mike this week put up a piece reporting and commenting on the admission by Maximus that they do indeed ask depressed people questions about suicide as part of the Work Capability Assessment. See are several questions. The first questions simply ask them if they have had thoughts about suicide, and the frequency and severity of these thoughts. These are, in my view, reasonable questions. Or rather, it would be if it were part of a genuine medical examination as part of a real programme to make that person well again. Depression isn’t a case of being ‘a bit down’. It is, as the British medical scientist, writer and Humanist, Lewis Wolpert described it in the title of his book, ‘A Malignant Sadness’. Clearly, if someone does have thoughts about suicide, they are extremely unwell and desperately need help.

The other questions, however, is unwarranted and frankly dangerous. The depressed person is then asked

“And what is it that stops you from acting on the thoughts that you have?

“Can you think of any reason that you’re not doing that? Is it friends or family support?”

Now it should be clear to anyone with the most meagre level of intelligence that asking people, who are already mentally fragile and have admitted they think of doing themselves injury or actually killing themselves, why they haven’t done so is extremely dangerous. My guess is that the way it is phrased in particular makes the question seriously unethical, as it seems to assume that the depressed person is not seriously troubled by these thoughts unless he or she has tried to act them out.

I don’t know, but I can imagine that if a social scientist or medical professional doing research amongst the clinically depressed asked the question, they could be hauled up before their relevant bodies overseeing professional standards for ethics violations or misconduct. As part of their training, social scientists are told not to phrase questions in the form of ‘You’re not…are you?’ And the Hippocratic Oath, a form of which doctors were required to take until recently, contained the provision ‘And I shall do no harm.’ These questions seem close enough to the first question, at least in spirit, to make them also unethical, while violating that provision of the ancient doctor’s Oath in that they could seem to some to be suggesting that they should.

The Work Capability Test itself is a scientific travesty. It is based on spurious and scientifically invalid research supposedly linking recovery to illness to mental attitude. The whole wretched test was introduced by Blair and his coteries on the recommendation of the American insurance fraudster, Unum, in a conference in the first years of this century. It is based on the attitude, shared by the Blairites and the Tories, that nearly everyone claiming invalidity or sickness benefit is a malingerer, despite the fact that such fraud only counts for 0.7 per cent of such claims.

The question also shows the immense double standards about health that persists between us and our rulers. It’s assumed that asking a severely ill person why they haven’t harmed themselves or committed suicide is acceptable. But heaven help anyone, who asked the same question of a captain of industry or leading politician why they haven’t tried to commit suicide, and you can imagine the feeding frenzy from an outraged press.

For example, the Blairite contender for the Labour leadership and flagrant liar, Angela Eagle, was asked by Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics about Tony Blair and whether the vile warmonger should face trial for leading Britain into an illegal war. Tellingly, she said no, as ‘Tony’s been through the wringer’. Thus showing that she cared more for the Dear Leader’s anguish than for the real horror he has inflicted on hundreds of thousands, of not millions of innocent people, who have been killed, tortured and forced out of their homes through the carnage he and that other malignant creature, George Dubya Bush, have created through their war. I don’t know what Neil’s response was, but can you imagine the outrage that would have resulted if Neil had said, ‘Well, he can’t be going through too much trouble, ’cause he’s still walking’.

Or if one of the other interviewers asked the same question of one of the Tories, like Theresa May, David Cameron, or the people directly responsible for the question: Ian Duncan Smith and Damian Green. There would have been fury directed at the ‘left-wing’ BBC. How dare they suggest that a minister of the realm isn’t doing his job if he hasn’t committed suicide for his failures! Or even the suggestion that they have failed in their job, which the Tories have, spectacularly.

But if it is acceptable to ask a gravely disturbed person why they haven’t acted out their desires to harm themselves, then by the same standard it should be acceptable to ask the same questions of anyone, including and particularly the ministers that have formulated that question.

Now I am not suggesting that Blair, May, Cameron, aIDS or Damian Green should be asked these questions, or otherwise be told to kill themselves, for precisely the same reason I don’t think anyone should be asked these questions. I am merely trying to point out the double standards involved here.

Now I imagine that if they were asked about this question, Damian Green or his predecessor, the Gentleman Ranker (and a right ranker he truly was) would say, in their inimitably patronising manner, that they are only trying to gauge the severity of the illness. This is rubbish. The whole test is structured so that the government can find some pretext to deny paying the ill person disability benefit on the grounds that they’re still somehow fit for work.

And Mike and many other bloggers and disability activists also see something much more sinister here. Many tens of thousands of people have committed suicide, or died in poverty and misery after being thrown off benefit, although the DWP continues to deny it. See Stilloaks website and the blog, ATOS Miracles, for further coverage of this and the biographies and individual cases of some of the victims. For Mike and people like Jeff Davies, one of the long term commenters on my blog this is evidence of a covert, secret genocide of the disabled. The government wants them dead, because that way they don’t have to pay out to support them. They can continue lowering the taxes of their rich donors.

This is how it’s beginning to look to very many of us, whether we’re disabled or fit. The presenters of the Channel 4 comedy review show, The Last Leg, even said so themselves. There should be mass outrage about these questions and the test itself. That there isn’t is a major disgrace in itself.

Arthur C. Clarke Book on the Terraforming of Mars

March 18, 2017

Arthur C. Clarke – The Snows of Olympus: A Garden on Mars – The Illustrated History of Man’s Colonization of Mars (London: Victor Gollancz 1994).

A little while ago I put up a number of articles on the possible terraforming of various planets in our solar system. The prime candidate at the moment would be Mars, but people have also suggested ways to terraform Venus and the Moon. I’ve managed to dig out from my bookshelves a copy of Arthur C. Clarke’s book, The Snows of Olympus, which I bought way back in the 1990s. Clarke’s been called ‘The Space Prophet’ because of his article published in a radio hobbyists’ magazine shortly after the War predicting geostationary communications satellites. He has jokingly said in an article ‘How I Lost a Million Dollars in My Spare Time’ that he should have patented the concept, and so made himself a billionaire because of its immense value to the telecommunications industry. This book is no less prophetic in that it uses computer simulations to depict the gradual greening of the Red Planet over a thousand year period from the next few centuries to c. 3000.

The book has a prologue, in which Clarke gives the text of a speech he gave to future Martian colonists as part of the Planetary Society’s ‘Visions of Mars Project’. Launched by the late and much-missed astronomer and space visionary, Carl Sagan, this was a project to send the future colonists the gift of a collection of SF short stories about Mars aboard two probes due to land there. There’s then a short introduction in which Clarke lays out the aims of the book. The first chapter, ‘Prelude to Mars’, discusses the history of the exploration of the Red Planet by terrestrial astronomers and writers, such as Giovanni Schiaparelli, Percival Lowell, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.S. Lewis in Out of the Silent Planet, and the controversy surrounding the supposed ‘face’ on Mars, made by Richard Hoagland and others.

Chapter 2 – ‘The Curtain Rises’ – is on the probes sent to explore Mars, such as the Mariner probes and discussion between himself, Sagan, Ray Bradbury and the JPL’s Bruce Murray at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the probes and their findings. He goes on to discuss Viking probes and the debate about American and Russian cooperative ventures in space research. This last ended for a time because of international tensions created by the Solidarity crisis in Poland.

Chapter 3 – ‘Going There’, describes the problems and suggested methods for reaching Mars, establishing crewed bases there, including various types of rocket from the conventional chemical to nuclear-thermal and atomic; solar sails and space elevators, George Bush seniors’ intention to launch a crewed mission to Mars by 2019, and the tasks that would immediately face the astronauts landing there.

Chapter 4- ‘Virtual Explorations’ is on the use of computers and VR to explore and map Mars, and particularly the Vistapro programme used in the generation of many of the images in the book.

Chapter 5 is on the artistic and computer depictions of Olympus Mons, the planet’s highest mountain and the gradual reclamation of its surface by vegetation, beginning with lichens, during the long centuries of terraforming. This culminates in the emergence of liquid water and creation of a sea surrounding the mountain.

Chapter 6 does the same for Eos Chasma, the ‘Chasm of the Dawn’, in the Valles Marineris.

Chapter 7 shows the same process as it would affect the Noctes Labyrinthes – the Labyrinth of Night. This forecasts the growth of forests in this part of Mars, beginning with pines but later including deciduous trees.

Chapter 8 – ‘The Longest Spring’ discusses the various methods that could be used to terraform Mars, such as coating the ice caps with carbon from Mars’ moon, Phobos, the use of orbiting mirrors to melt them, raising its temperature by turning Phobos into a miniature sun for about 40 days using ‘muon resonance’ – a form of nuclear reaction, and bombarding the planet with comets to cover it with water, and ‘Von Neumann’ machines that would gradually terraform the planet automatically.

‘Disneymars’ looks forward to a museum display and audiovisual presentation that would show the colonists what their planet would look like in the future as the terraforming progresses.

Chapter 9 – ‘Concerning Ends and Means’ discusses the moral dimension of terraforming, the immense historical importance of exploration and the need to continue this exploration to the Red Planet in order to preserve human civilisation and progress.

There are two appendices. The first is an extract from a speech, The Mars Project: Journeys beyond the Cold War, by US senator and WWII hero, Spark Matsunaga. The second, ‘So You’re Going to Mars’, is fictional advice given by the immigration authorities to people moving from Earth to Mars.

The quality of the computer graphics is mixed. Many of them, which were without doubt absolutely astonishing for the time, now look rather crude and dated as the technology has improved. Others, however, still stand up very well even today. The quality of the computer simulations of the terraforming process can be seen from this image below of what Eos Chasma might look like in 2500 AD.

There are also plenty of illustrations of Mars, rendered using more traditional artistic methods such as painting, including photos of Percival Lowell’s own drawings of what he believed was the planet’s network of canals.

Although the computer tools may have been superseded and improved in the decades since the book’s publication, I think the science, and the social issues Clarke discusses, are still solidly relevant and contemporary. Certainly there is now a popular movement to send humans to the Red Planet at some point in the coming decades, and prospective future colonists have even come forward to volunteer a few years ago. There is, however, a greater awareness of the medical dangers from radiation and microgravity that would affect – and possibly destroy – a mission to Mars. The dream, however, is still there, as shown by the success of the film The Martian a few years ago.

Pamphlet by Robert Owen on Self-Governing Communes

March 4, 2017


Robert Owen’s pamphlet on reforming Britain into federation of autonomous socialist communities: front cover


Rear cover listing other works written by Owen.

Looking through my bookshelves yesterday, I managed to find an old copy of a pamphlet by Robert Owen that I’d read when I was at college. It’s a facsimile edition of the Utopian Socialist’s Outline of the Rational System of Society, published by his Home Colonization Society at their headquarters in Pall Mall in London in 1841. The modern edition was republished by a small, private press on Guernsey.

Inside the front cover is a short piece by the Home Colonization Society’s secretary, A.C. Cuddon, giving a brief overview of its aims and activities. It states

Whatever may be said or written on the improvement of all classes of society, it is now evident to those who reflect, that that which is necessary to this end is a SOUND, GOOD, PRACTICAL EDUCATION, AND PERMANENT BENEFICIAL EMPLOYMENT to all who require them; in fact, that any other measures are mere palliatives, and can produce only temporary benefits, at an extravagant waste of time, capital and labour.

It will also be obvious to those who have thoroughly investigated the subject, that a sound education and permanent beneficial employment cannot be given under the present competitive arrangements of society; and that the best mode of securing these benefits to the population will be by the establishment of SELF-SUPPORTING HOME COLONIES, on account of their complete efficiency for the purpose, and their great economy over the present system.

A Society has therefore been formed to promote the establishment of these colonies; having for its object-
1stly. To submit the plans of the Colonies in all their details to the most scientific and experienced men in every department of life.
2ndly. To make these plans extensively known to the public, and to demonstrate their efficiency for the purposes designed.
3rdly. To demonstrate that these Colonies, in consequence of their very superior economical arrangements, will afford a secure and profitable investment for capital.
4thly To arrange the preliminaries for Joint-Stock Companies to carry the same gradually into extensive execution.
5thly. To publish the most useful and authentic works explanatory of the principles on which the system of Home Colonisation is based, in order to convey to the public correct information on this most important subject.

The expenses attendant on the above will be met by Subscriptions of £5 each and upwards; which shall, at the option of the subscriber, be placed to his or her credit in behalf of one or more shares, which the subscriber may choose to take in the first Joint-Stock Company established, and by donations.

A Subscription of Donation to the above amount will constitute a member of the Society.

The Society have published a statement of their views and the measures they propose, in a work entitled “A Development of the Principles and Plans on which to establish Self-supporting Home Colonies; as a secure and profitable investment for capital, and effectual means permanently to remove the causes of ignorance, poverty, and crime, and most materially to benefit all classes of society, by giving a right application to the now greatly misdirected powers of the human faculties, and of physical and moral science.”

This Society is not confined to any particular class, sect or party, but invites the cooperation of all who will unite in practical measures for the relief and amelioration of humanity. And the proposed Colonies will contain arrangements for the accommodation of every religion; the only religious requisition being, the practice and charity and kindness to all.

The pamphlet consists of several short sections, in which Owen lists the basic facts or principles on which his communities will be built, which mostly consisted of his views of human nature and psychological needs and influences of human society. The sections are entitled:

The Five Fundamental Facts on Which the Rational System of Society is Founded;

The Fundamental Laws of Human Nature, Or First Principles of the Science of Man;

The Conditions Requisite for Human Happiness;

The Principles and Practice of the Rational Religion; and

The Elements of the Science of Society, Or Of the Social State of Man.

He then gives on pages 10 to 14 of the pamphlet his proposed constitution for these colonies. He writes

A rational Government will attend solely to the Happiness of the governed.
It will ascertain what human nature is;-what are the laws of its organisation and of its existence, from birth to death;-what is necessary for the happiness of a being so formed and matured;-and what are the best means by which to attain those requisites, and to secure them permanently for all the governed.

It will devise and execute the arrangements by which the condition essential to human happiness shall be fully and permanently obtained for all the governed; and its laws will be few, easily understood by all the governed, and perfectly in unison with the laws of human nature.

Liberty of Mind or Conscience

1. Every one shall have equal and full liberty to express the dictates of his conscience on religious, and all other, subjects.
II. No one shall have any other power than fair argument to control the opinions or belief of another.
III. No praise or blame, no merit or demerit, no reward or punishment, shall be awarded for any opinions or belief.
IV. But all, of every religion, shall have equal right to express their opinions respecting the Incomprehensible Power which moves the atom and controls the universe, and to worship that Power under any form, or in any manner agreeable to their consciences,-not interfering with the equal rights of others.

Providing For and Educating the Population

I. Every one shall be equally provided, through life, with the best of every thing for human nature, by public arrangements; which arrangements shall give the best known direction to the industry and talents of every individual.
II. All shall be educated, from infancy to maturity, in the best manner known at the time.
III. All shall pass through the same general routine of education, domestic teaching, and employment.
IV. All children, from their birth, shall be under the especial care of the community in which they are born; but their parents shall have free access to them at all times.
V. All children shall be trained and educated together, as children of the same family; and shall be taught a knowledge of the laws of their nature.
VI. Every individual shall be encouraged to express his feelings and convictions only; or, in other words, to speak the truth solely upon all occasions.
VII. Both sexes shall have equal education, rights, privileges, and personal liberty; their marriages will arise from the general sympathies of their nature, uninfluenced by artificial distinctions.

General Arrangements for the Population

VIII. Under the Rational System of Society,-after the children shall have been trained to acquire new habits and new feelings, derived from the laws of human nature,-there shall be no useless private property.
IX. As soon as the members of these communities shall have been educated from infancy in a knowledge of the laws of their nature, trained to act in obedience to them, and surrounded by circumstances all in unison with them, there shall be no individual punishment or reward.
X. Society shall not be composed, as at present, of single families, but of communities or associations of men, women, and children, in the usual proportions, from three hundred to two thousand, as local circumstances may determine.
XI. As these new communities increase in number, unions of them shall be formed for local and general purposes, in tens, hundreds, thousands, &c., according to the less or more extended objects and interests which shall require their consideration and direction.
XII. Each of these communities shall possess around it land sufficient for the support, for ever, of all its members, even when it shall contain the maximum in number.
XIII. These communities shall be so arranged as to give to all the members of each of them, as nearly as possible, the same advantages; and to afford the most easy communication with each other.

Government of the Population and Duties of the Council.

XIV. Each community shall be governed in its home department by a general council, composed of all its members between the ages of thirty and forty; and each department shall be under the immediate direction of a committee, formed of members of the general council, chose by the latter, in the order to be determined upon; and in its external or foreign department, by all its members from forty to sixty years of age.
XV. After all the members of the community shall have been rendered capable of taking their full share of the duties in the general council of government, there shall be no selection or election of any individuals to office.
XVI. All the members at thirty years of age, who shall have been trained from infancy in the communities, shall be officially called upon to undertake their full share of the duties of management in the home department; and at forty they shall be excused from officially performing them: at forty they will be officially called upon to undertake the duties of the external or foreign department; and at sixty they will be excused from officially attending to them.
XVII. The duties of the general council of
home department shall be, to govern all the circumstances within the boundaries of its community,-to organise the various departments of production, distribution, and formation of character,-to remove all those circumstances which are the least favourable to happiness,-and to replace them with the best that can be devised among themselves, or of which they can obtain a knowledge from other communities. The duties of the general council of the external or foreign department will be, to receive visitors or delegates from other associations or communities,-to communicate with other similar associations,-to visit them and arrange with them the best means of forming roads, and conveying surplus produce to each other,-to travel, to give and receive information of inventions, discoveries, and improvements, and of every other kind that can be useful;-and also to regulate and assist in the establishment of new associations, composed of the surplus population of the community from among themselves, and to send to delegates to the circle of communities to which their community shall be attached.
XVIII. The general councils, home and foreign, shall have full power of government
in all things under their direction, as long as they shall act in unison with the laws of human nature, which shall be their sole guidance upon all occasions.
XIX. All individuals trained, educated, and placed, in conformity to the laws of their nature, must of necessity, at all times, think and act rationally, except they become physically, intellectually or morally diseased; in which case the council shall remove them into the hospital form bodily, mental, or moral invalids, where they shall remain until they shall be recovered by the mildest treatment that can effect their cure.
XX. The council, whenever it shall be necessary, shall call to its aid the practical abilities and advice of any of the members not in the council.

Adjustment of Differences

XXI. If the general councils should ever attempt to contravene the laws of human nature,-which is scarcely possible,-the elders of the community who have passed the councils shall call a general meeting of all the members of the community between sixteen and thirty years of age, who have been trained from infancy within it. This meeting shall calmly and patiently investigate the conduct of the general councils; and if a majority shall determine that they have acted, or attempted to act, in opposition to these laws, the general government shall devolve upon the members of the community who have passed the councils are above sixty years of age, united with those who have not entered the council and are between thirty and sixteen years of age. It is scarcely possible to conceive that this clause will ever be required; and, if required, it can only be of temporary application.
XXII. All other differences of every description,-if indeed it be possible for any to exist in these communities,-shall be immediately determined and amicably adjusted between the parties, by the decision of a majority of the three senior members of the council: except when the difference shall ex9ist between members of the councils,-when it shall be, in like manner, decided by the three members who have last passed the councils.

This is followed by a conclusion and a section of concluding remarks, in which Owen looks forward to as many as 2000 individuals being supported per mile of average quality soil, without any further discoveries and much less labour and capital than needed under the present system.

The pamphlet shows Owen’s basis in 18th century philosophy and its concern for establishing the basic principles of human nature, including morality, as well as Owen’s Deist belief. Owen states in his section on religion that God, whatever the individual religions wanted to call Him, exists, but that the precise nature of the Almighty has not been discovered. Which seems to suggest that he believed that someday science would also solve the mysteries of theology as well as the natural world.

His communities themselves are very much like the federation of small, independent communes advocated by Thomas Spence and his followers in the late 18th and early 19th century, and in France by Comte and then Fourier, who recommended reforming the country into a similar system of autonomous phalansteries. It seems to me that these ideas owe much to Rousseau and his ideas of democracy, based on his experience of the Swiss cantons, which were similarly bound together in a federation. They also seem to go back even further to the ancient Greek city states, and the constitutions suggested for them by Plato and Aristotle.

Although Owen went to America to try to found colonies there, his system proved massively impractical and all of them collapsed, as did similar plans by other Utopian Socialists. His schemes offer no rewards for excellence, or punishments for incompetence or laziness, defects which have led to the collapse of many similar experiments in communal life since then. Also, few would really want to embrace a system in which the community has almost absolute power of their children. According to William Blum, this was used as a scare in Venezuela a few years ago to prevent people voting for Hugo Chavez, and his right-wing and far right opponents told people that if they elected him, their children would become the property of the state.

The section where he recommends sending moral invalids, as well as those physically or mentally sick, to the community hospital is also sinister. It recalls the way twentieth century totalitarian governments, like Soviet Russia or Mao’s China, used psychiatry to persecute and incarcerate political dissidents, or sent them to ‘re-education’ camps. Even so, I think its very clear that ‘moral invalid’ certainly describes large numbers of the Tory, Lib Dem and Blairite sections of the Labour party. Particularly Damian Green, his mistress Theresa May, and Jeremy Hunt, and their forerunners in the last government.

Nevertheless, Owen was a major pioneer in the formation of Socialism, and in challenging the injustice, exploitation and poverty of traditional capitalist society, and so still remains important in that sense.

Apart from this pamphlet, Penguin Classics published a collected edition of his works, which I’ve reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

Alt-Right Goebbels Milo Yiannopolis Spectacularly Self-Destructs Defending Paedophilia

February 25, 2017

This week, Alt-Right ideologue Milo Yiannopolis’ career was spectacularly destroyed by the outrage over a year-old video of interview in which he defended paedophilia. I’ve blogged about Yiannopolis before. He’s another journo from the right-wing news organisation, Breitbart, who’s been very vocal in his support of Donald Trump. He’s also a walking mass of contradictions – a self-hating gay, who rails against homosexuality, and a racist, who’s half-Jewish and talks about his Black boyfriend. He’s also extremely anti-feminist. Guy Debord’s Cat has written a particularly good piece taking him and his bigotry apart at:

A year or so ago, Yiannopolis was a guest on Joe Rogan’s Drunken Peasant’s podcast in which he defended paedophilia. Yiannopolis declared that the laws regarding consent were confused and oppressive, and confessed that he’d had a gay relationship when he was 14 with his Roman Catholic priest, Father Michael. He claimed that such relationships could be positive, and that he had been the initiator in the relationship. He also went on to claim that he had also been on Hollywood boat parties, in which ‘very young boys’ were also present and abused by the older men there.

Kevin Logan made a video of this part of the podcast, naturally attacking Milo for his vile defence of child abuse. This was picked up by the American mainstream media in the furore following Yiannopolis’ appearance on the Bill Maher Show. The result has been that Yiannopolis’ has been disinvited from CPAC, the main Conservative conference in the US. His deal for a proposed book, Dangerous, has also been dropped by the publisher, and many of the universities at which he was booked to speak have also dropped him. He has also been forced to resign from Breitbart.

Yiannopolis has now made a kind of non-apology, in which he claims it was all a joke, or something like that, and stating that he does not condone nor defend paedophilia. However, he makes a distinction between this and hebephilia, which is supposed to be sexual relations with teenage boys. This just seems to be a case of hair-splitting, as Milo is still talking about the abuse of those, who are minors under the law. It’s still child abuse, and I think under American legislation would be considered statutory rape of a minor.

Here’s a video from the Jimmy Dore Show, in which the comedian rips apart Yiannopolis’ original comments and his later quasi-apology.

Dore also makes the point that Yiannopolis has also committed an additional crime under Californian law. This obliges those, who know that child abuse is being committed, to inform the police. Yiannopolis was present at these parties where ‘very young’ – barely teenage? – boys were being abused, and did not tell the cops. I think he also claimed to know three or four other men, who were also abusing underage boys.

Yiannopolis’ defence of child abuse is disgusting, but many left-wing bloggers and vloggers have also pointed out that he’s also made revolting comments about non-Whites, feminism and ‘SJWs’, or Social Justice Warriors, the Alt-Right term of abuse for anyone concerned with minority rights and social justice. He’s always been a troll, who delights in deliberately saying the offensive and unspeakable to shock and outrage those on the Left. Dore, and David Pakman, who has also commented about this on his show, also make the point that Yiannopolis in himself isn’t really very interesting. His views ain’t original. All that makes him noteworthy at all is that he’s a gay man, saying vile things about other gays. It’s another example of the Republican strategy of taking one member of a particularly minority to criticise and attack the others. Quite often its Black Conservatives attacking Blacks. They’ve also pointed out that it also shows the great intellectual cachet Americans accord anyone with an upper class British accent. Yiannopolis’ views on race and feminism are bog-standard, unremarkable bigotry. But because he articulates them in a BBC, public-school accent, they are somehow taken to be more insightful and intellectually respectable than they are.

For the moment, Yiannopolis’ career has imploded. But one of the commenters on one of the news threads about this predicted that he’d probably be back in time. Unfortunately, I can see this being true. As for the universities that have cancelled him, I think they’re entirely right to do so. Beyond matters of principle, unis and other places of education have a duty of care to their students. Many students and staff will have children, and will obviously be very uncomfortable about the university allowing someone to speak, who believes that statutory child abuse in certain circumstances is acceptable. Yiannopolis’ views are also in strong opposition to the ethics of school teaching. These have very strong rules designed to protect students from abuse, and teachers from false accusations, which also occur from time to time. Universities aren’t schools, but at least in Britain they do run teacher training courses. The education professionals running these courses are highly unlikely to want to see invited onto campus a speaker, whose stated personal views attack the moral and legal principles they wish to impress on the teachers of the future.

In the meantime, Yiannopolis’ fall has shown that there is a line even which the trolls of the Alt-Right cross at their peril. But as the other left-wing bloggers and vloggers have pointed out, it’s a pity that this didn’t happen to Yiannopolis earlier when he making his vile comments on race and feminism.

Moronic Tory Thug Declares that ‘Torture Works’

January 30, 2017

On Friday Mike put up a piece reporting that the Tory MP Bob Stewart, a former army officer, had declared that ‘torture works’. Mike’s short piece commented that this was because Stewart clearly didn’t know the difference between right and wrong, and that they didn’t teach morality at Sandhurst.

He also included a Tweet by Laurie Penny, stating that the same could be said for chemical weapons, cluster bombs and genocide. But that wasn’t the issue.

Indeed not. The issue is whether they are at all moral, and whether a nation that considers itself civilised should be using them. In all of the above, the answer is clearly ‘No’.

I think Mike is, however, wrong about morality not being taught at Sandhurst. A few years ago one of the alternative BBC channels ran a series following a group of cadets at the training academy. This showed them being taught and discussing the issue of morality in war. I got the impression that this is a major part of the course, and that much more could have been shown.

That does not mean that British officers are morally unimpeachable boy scouts. Unfortunately, the army has more committed atrocities. But it has also been trying to rebut any reputation it might have acquired for cruelty and incompetence. Remember a little while ago, when the recruitment films being run on Channel 4 and the commercial channels showed British squaddies nobly helping to police the distribution of food aid? Or showing tough but caring female squaddies looking after traumatised women, who’d had their menfolk butchered before being raped themselves? That was the image the British army wanted then.

Torture doesn’t work. Members of the intelligence services have said that it doesn’t provide any usable information. Which shouldn’t really surprise anyone, as people in extreme pain will say whatever they can to make it stop.

Instead, it lowers us to the same level as the thugs who use it, like al-Qaeda and ISIS, and acts to further radicalise our opponents against us. If we are known to brutalise and torture our enemies and suspects, this will be used against us by the terrorists, who will claim that this justifies their campaigns against us. If we espouse torture, then we’re handing our enemies a major propaganda weapon.

But clearly Bob Stewart doesn’t understand that. Probably because he’s a Tory, and the whole party’s platform seems to consist on inflicting pain and degradation to those they consider inferior, including the poor and helpless in British society.

Counterpart’s Ken Surin on the Arguments against South African and Israeli Apartheid

January 11, 2017

On Monday Counterpunch published an article by Ken Surin, one of its regular contributors, about a meeting of the Modern Language Association he attended in Philadelphia. This debated two resolutions, one for, the other against, the BDS movement. Surin discusses in his article the similarity between Israeli apartheid and that of South Africa. He was himself active in anti-apartheid politics as a student in the late 1960s and ’70s, and shows how the same arguments against sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa are still being trotted out today to defend Israel, and how the arguments for sanctions against South Africa still apply to Israel today.

The article as a whole deserves to be read. But there is one passage which is particularly interesting, where he makes the counterarguments against the attempts by South Africa and Israel to deflect criticism by pointing to other countries, which are equally guilty of human rights violations, but are much less criticised. He writes

The “Why pick on Israel, when there is also North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, and so forth?” plaint was also heard at this conference, and for me this resonated very closely with the similar complaint made by South African apartheid sympathizers: “Why pick on South Africa? What about those African cruel dictators– Mobutu, Idi Amin, the “Emperor” Bokassa—who treat their people as excrement?”.

The answer to this objection is fourfold:

1/ No African despot ever pretended to uphold “western values” (whatever these may be) in the way Israel does, and white South Africa did, at least symbolically.

2/ If the African tyrants were asked whether they respected “democracy”, their deep resounding laughter would have answered this question. Israel on the other hand….

3/ Israel is the largest recipient of US military aid, nearly all of which is used to subjugate the Palestinians. If the US turned off this tap, Israel would probably soon be motivated to mend some of its ways. So would Saudi Arabia, effectively an Israeli/US proxy in the Arab world along with Egypt. No such tap exists where North Korea is concerned. The simple lesson is that we fight battles where we can be effective.

4/ The logic of this argument is faulty. Consider the following analogy:

You own a house and the land it’s on. Some people come to your house, citing some holy book if it suits them, and they take it over by force of arms, perhaps invoking the holy book. You are told that from now on you must live in the tiny tool shed at the back of the property.

You protest, saying “but this is my house and land!”. “Tough”, they say, “from now on this is ours”.

The law (as international law does for the Palestinians), however, allows you to use all legal means, including justifiable force, to resist them and get them to end their seizure of your house and land.

As you are about to do this, someone comes along and says at the Philadelphia MLA conference: “No, you can’t take measures to get them to leave. In this town, there are several other houses that have been taken over by lawbreakers, who also tortured their owners, kidnapped their children, and so on. So, you can’t evict the illegal occupiers of your own house, until you go out and protest against these other illegalities, initiate boycotts of their perpetrators, and so on”.

The appropriate response: “If the law is on my side, I can resist the home invaders, so you can go *@#$ yourself”.

The complete article can be read at:

Jeremy Corbyn Suggests Capping Director’s Pay – Media Goes Ballistic

January 11, 2017

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting on another good suggestion from Jeremy Corbyn, and the predictable response of outrage and sneering from the meejah. The Labour leader had said on an interview on Radio 4 yesterday morning that he believed that there should be a cap on the pay earned by company directors and senior execs. The media naturally responded by pointing out that Corbyn has an annual pay of £138,000 a year, and tried to draw him into giving a price figure for what the maximum amount earned should be.

The story got onto the One Show yesterday evening, where they did a brief survey of people in the street. Opinions were, as they say, mixed. One elderly objected to the cap on the grounds that it might take away the incentive for people rising to the top. Looking at the headlines on the various papers this morning, it was very clear that it had riled someone at the Torygraph, as this was the story they shoved on their front cover. Other newspapers, like Mail, led by claiming that Labour’s policy in immigration was ‘in disarray’. Mike’s also written another article this week showing that’s also rubbish.

Mike in his article makes the point that compared to some of the vast, bloated salaries awarded to company executives, Corbyn’s own salary appears very modest indeed. He suggests that it is stupid to try to lay down a particular set figure – it should be based on company turnover and the lowest wage earned by an employee at that company. He also makes the point that the casting of particular star actors can make a great difference to how well a movie does, and that when this happens, everyone else who worked on the movie should also enjoy the films’ financial awards.

This is all correct. And there’s something else that needs to be added:

Japan already has maximum wage legislation.

Yep, it’s true. Japan is one of the world’s five wealthy countries with a very capitalist economy. The centre right Liberal Democratic party has ruled the country almost uninterrupted since the Second World War. And it also has a cap on how much company directors may be paid. I think it’s set at about 20 times that of the lowest paid employee, but I am not sure.

And the limitation of wage differentials is not something that has been simply added on in the course of reform, but an integral part of the dominant, guiding vision of the nature of Japanese society. East Asian societies can be extremely collectivist, stressing group loyalty over individual opportunity or achievement. In Japan the goal was to create a harmonious, middle class society, where there would be no extremes in wealth or poverty. This isn’t quite the case, as the Burakami, an outcast group rather like the Dalits in India, and those of Korean descent are still subject to massive poverty and discrimination.

The Japanese have also tried to justify their collectivist outlook through racist pseudo-anthropology. One school textbook claimed that Japanese society was more collectivist and co-operative because the Japanese people were descended from agriculturalists, who had to forge strong links with each other in order to cultivate and harvest rice. We Westerners, however, were all isolated individualists because we’re all descended from hunter-gatherers.

As anthropology, it’s rubbish, of course. Some social historians have argued that agricultural societies are more prone to tyranny and absolute government, which would include the type of Asian absolute monarchies described by Western observers as ‘oriental despotism’. But all human societies were originally hunter-gatherers, including the Japanese. And European society has practised settled agriculture since the beginning of the Neolithic 6,000 years ago.

The origins of Japanese and East Asian collectivism probably lie more in the influence of Confucianism, which stressed the right relationships between the members of society, such as between the prince and the people, and between elders, parents and children, and the still powerful influence of feudalism in structuring social relationships. Instead of a samurai warrior giving his loyalty and service to a daimyo feudal lord, it’s now the sarariman – the corporate warrior – becoming part of the retinue of company employees under the lordship of the director.

And European individualism probably comes not from any vestiges of our hunter-gatherer deep past, but from the effect of Hobbesian Social Contract political theorising and the free trade economics of the French Physiocrats and Adam Smith. Hobbes has been described as the first, of one of the first philosophers of the emerging bourgeois society of the 17th century. This was the period which saw Cromwell sweep away the last vestiges of feudalism in England, and the emergence of modern capitalism. But Hobbes’ philosophy views people as social atoms, all competing against each other, as opposed to other views of society, which may stress the importance of collective or corporate identities and loyalties, such as family, feudal lordship or membership of trade and professional bodies. Similarly, the founders of the economic theories of modern capitalism, such as the Physiocrats in France and Adam Smith and in Scotland, also stressed unrestrained individual competition. They were also specifically arguing against the mercantilist system, in which the state regulated trade. For example, in the 17th and 18th centuries the British government enacted a series of legislation governing trade with its emerging colonies, so as to tie them to the economy of the home country, which would benefit from their products. Modern Western individualism come from these theories of capitalist society and the perceived operation of its economy.

The collectivist nature of Japanese society also expresses itself in other ways in the structure and management of Japanese corporations. Singing the company song in the morning is one example. Management are also encouraged or required to share the same canteen as the workers on the shop floor. Both of these practices, and no doubt many others, are designed to foster group solidarity, so that management and workers work together for the good of the company.

This isn’t a perfect system, by any means. Apart from the immense pressure placed on individuals in a society that places such heavy emphasis on the value of hard work, that individuals actually keel over and die because of it when doing their jobs, it has also made Japanese society and corporations extremely resistant to change. Confucianism places great stress on respect for one’s elders and superiors. While respect for the older generation is an admirable virtue, and one which our society in many ways is sadly lacking, in Japan it has resulted in a mindset which resists change or apportioning due blame for historical crimes and atrocities.

At the corporate level, the slow down of the Japanese economy in the 1990s meant there was no longer such a pressing need for company staff to work such long hours. However, so great is the corporate inertia, that staff still feel that they have to keep working past six O’clock in the evening, even if there is little or no work to do, because they don’t want to be seen as breaking with the approved practices of previous generations of employees.

And at the national level, it has been suggested that the exaggerated respect for one’s elders and ancestors is the reason why Japan has had such immense difficulty confronting the atrocities their nation committed during the Second World War. Japanese school texts and official histories have been criticised because they’d don’t discuss the atrocities committed by the imperial Japanese army. One school textbook even talked about the army’s ‘advance’ through Asia, rather than its invasion. The reason for this failure to admit the existence of these crimes, and criticise those who perpetrated them, is that respect for one’s elders and social superiors is so engrained in Japanese society, that except for a few extremely courageous mavericks, casting shame on those responsible for such horrors and, by implication, the whole of society during this period, is unacceptable. Even though many over on this side of the Eurasian landmass would consider that a failure to confront the atrocities committed by one’s nation to be even more shameful.

Japanese and Asian collectivism is not, then, perfect. But a maximum wage cap certainly did not hinder Japan’s advance to become one of the world’s foremost industrial countries. And the goal of creating a harmonious, co-operative society where there is little disparity in wealth is a good one.

The title of Mike’s article on Corbyn’s suggestion for a maximum wage states that the identities of those complaining about it reveal why they’re doing so. Indeed. The proprietors and leading executives of newspaper companies, like the Barclay twins at the Torygraph, have awarded themselves immense salaries. They’re multimillionaires. This wealth is increasingly not being shared with the hacks, who do the actual work of putting the paper out. The Torygraph has been particularly struck with declining sales to the point that Private Eye’s ‘Street of Shame’ column regularly reported further job cuts. Many of the big newspaper companies depend on the work of unpaid interns, particularly the Groaniad. And even if they’re not being threatened with the sack, conditions for the paid staff are becoming increasingly Orwellian. For example, the Eye reported a few months ago that one of the managers at the Torygraph had tried to install motion detectors on the staff’s desks to prevent them moving around too much, just like the staff at call centres are also monitored. The hacks were so annoyed, however, that management had to back down and the motion detectors were removed.

As for the film industry, the presence of big name Hollywood stars can sink a movie simply through the sheer expense of paying. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger was paid $7 million for his appearance in the second Terminator movie. While that was a box office success, the presence of ‘A’ list celebrities in a movie does not guarantee that a film will be a success. One of the reasons why the film Ishtar became such a notorious flop in the 1990s was that the producers cast three major stars, who all commanded multi-million dollar salaries. This pushed the bill for the movie towards $20 million or so, even before the film had been shot. The film was thus under financial pressure from the start.

Apart from the Japanese, there are other, successful European nations that also deliberately avoid huge inequalities in wealth. One of these is Denmark. The newspapers have been full of articles analysing and celebrating the traditional Danish concept of ‘hygge’. This has been translated as ‘cosiness’, but it actually means much more than that. The way I’ve heard it explained by a Danish friend, it’s about being content with the homely necessities. I got the distinct impression that it was similar to the Swedish notion of ‘lagom’, which translates as ‘just enough’. You make just enough to satisfy your basic needs, but no more. And from what I’ve heard about Danish society, the social attitude there is that no-one should try to appear ostentatiously better off than anyone else. This is not to say that everyone has to do the same low-paid job, or that they should not earn more than anyone else. But it does mean that they should not be conspicuously more affluent.

This is the complete opposite from the values promoted and celebrated by Thatcher and the wretched ‘New Right’ of the 1980s. They demanded making conditions harsher for the poor, and giving ever larger salaries to management on the grounds that this would act as an incentive for others to do well and try to climb up the corporate and social ladder. The result has been the emergence of a tiny minority, who are massively wealthy – the 1%. Like the Barclay twins, Rupert Murdoch and just about every member of Theresa May’s cabinet. For everyone else, wages have stagnated to the point where a considerable number are finding it very difficult to make ends meet.

But wage caps and an attitude that discourages inequalities of wealth have not harmed Japan, nor Denmark and Sweden, which also have very strong economies and a very high standard of living.

The massive difference between the millions earned by the heads of the big corporations has been a scandal here in Britain, to the point where David Cameron and May made noises urging company directors to restrain their greed. Corbyn’s suggestion is eminently sensible, if Britain is to be a genuinely inclusive, prosperous society. The outrage shown by various media execs to it shows that the Tories are still committed to a policy of poverty for the many, riches for a very few. And all their concern at reining in executive pay is just platitudes to make it appear that they’re concerned when the issue becomes too embarrassing.

Marine Le Pen Wants to End Free Education for Immigrant Children

December 10, 2016

Padraic Flanagan also wrote a story in yesterday’s I reporting that Marine Le Pen, the head of the French Front National, had recommended that immigrant children should not automatically qualify for free education. The report ran

The French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has called for an end to automatic free education for foreign children. She has said foreigners in France should go through a “waiting period” before benefiting from the country’s social services and that children whose parents are in France illegally should not be allowed access to free schooling.

Ms Le Pen, a candidate in France’s spring presidential election, took the subject in front of reporters yesterday during a stroll through the Paris Christmas market on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees.

The National Front leader also wants to stop what she calls “massive” immigration and is urging an exit from the European Union and its common euro currency. (p.13).

Mike’s covered similar issues in several of his blog posts. There have been demands from Tory and Kipper politicos to stop immigrants and immigrant children from qualifying for certain welfare benefits in this country. Mike has pointed out how this is not only grossly unjust, but also risks increasing the spread of disease, in the case of denying illegal immigrants medical care. He has also most recently stated that it is immoral to punish children for the crimes of their parents.

Much the same arguments apply here. This policy also risks pushing up immigrant crime. If immigrant children are denied the right to an education, this effectively blocks them from entering the jobs market. They will thus either have to rely on the welfare state, or turn to crime. And it will further radicalise them, by forcing them to turn inward to their own communities for support.

It’s a vile idea. But unfortunately, such ideas are becoming increasingly common in the post-Brexit, post-Trump world.

Jesus in the Food Bank Queue

December 9, 2016

I’ve been attending the Advent course run by one of the ministers at our local church. The theme is hospitality in the Bible and the early church, and the obligation this lays upon modern Christians to live and work for the poor, the marginalised and strangers. Last night one of the texts studied was Christ’s words ‘For as you do to the least of them, you do to me’. Christ made clear that the people, who will be saved at the Last Judgement, will be those who fed, clothed and tended Him when He was in need. By which He meant the poor, the hungry, the sick and the outcast.

He talked about how he had visited a church in Washington D.C. He pointed out that not all of the city is like the White House and the government buildings. Beyond this well-kept, affluent area is are districts of the most desperate poverty. The church he’d visited had maintained a food line for the area’s poor. He stated that these were people, who were forced to use it to make ends meet until their next paycheque came. He was particularly impressed by one of the women serving at this food bank. Every morning she prayed to serve Jesus when she saw him again in the queue that day. She didn’t mean she literally saw Him, but as He was present in the poor peeps, who turned up for their food. It was a powerful, modern application of Christ’s teaching.

He also produced quotations from the Early Church Fathers about the Christian duty to work for the poor, even when personal charity was being undermined somewhat by the institutional charity – hospitals, hostels, orphanages and monasteries of the late Roman Empire after Constantine’s conversion. Hippolytus, for example, advised that every citizen, who was able should build a guest chamber on to their house. And one of the other Church Fathers described one of the hospitals as a city for the poor, by which they could meet the rich as equals.

These are very strong, challenging demands for Christians to practise the charity taught in the Bible, and to seek out, identify with and support ‘the fatherless, the widow and the foreigner’, and bring to their feasts ‘the poor, the lame and the blind’.

Unfortunately, Contemporary neoliberal politics since Thatcher and Reagan has demanded that the institutional care provided by the state should be cut back, with disastrous results. They believed that this would strengthen the Church by forcing people to fall back on private charity. Hence we now have the spectacle of various charities actively seeking out government contracts, and fully supporting the hideous policies of sanctioning and marginalisation that are forcing more people into poverty, misery, starvation and, in extreme cases, death. And the charities themselves are under threat. The figures provided by the Trussell Trust of the numbers of people using their food banks have been attacked by the Tories for the simply reason that they give the lie to their propaganda that austerity – meaning benefit cuts and wage freezes – have somehow made people better off.

I fully support the charities and their workers, who do genuinely work for the poor. One of the most acute accounts of what it is like to work at the sharp end trying to aid those pushed into need by the government’s policies comes from the blogs and vlogs of people working in food banks. I’ve reblogged some of these. But private charity isn’t enough. We need the support of the state, and active welfare policies to empower the poor, disabled and marginalised, including the working class.

As for Theresa May, and her claims to be guided by her Christian faith, before she does so, she should meditate very much on how Our Lord is present in the poor. She may well do so. But I’ve seen no evidence of her doing anything genuinely to alleviate poverty.

William Penn on Religious Toleration

November 18, 2016

William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, was a Quaker and an ardent campaigner for freedom of conscience. He wrote at least three pamphlets arguing for it, The People’s Ancient and Just Liberties Asserted of 1670; The Great Case of Liberty and Conscience (1670) and A Perswasive to Moderation to Dissenting Christians (1685). They’re collected, along with his other writings, in The Peace of Europe, The Fruits of Solitude and Other Writings, edited by Edwin B. Bronner (London: J.M. Dent 1993). Penn argues for freedom of conscience on scriptural, theological, and historical grounds, as well as citing cases of contemporary religious toleration amongst the states in his day, where religious diversity had not caused civil dissension and war. This included the various Muslim empires, which he noticed also were characterised by different sects, all of which apparently lived in peace. He particularly felt that religious persecution was not something Christians should do. Not only was it positively forbidden by scripture, in his opinion, it was unnecessary. Christianity did not need the use of force to prove its truth. Furthermore, the use of force was actually self-defeating, as it caused people to despise, rather than respect Christianity.

Here’s a couple of passages that struck me as particularly acute, though all of the arguments in The Great Case of Liberty and Conscience are worth reading, as one of the arguments for toleration is the peaceful coexisting of Christians and Muslims in Spain under Charles V. This didn’t last long, as they were expelled in the 15th century under Ferdinand and Isabella. Nevertheless, it is important and acutely relevant to today that Penn had no doubts that Christians and Muslims could live together peacefully without religious coercion.

11. It ever was the prudence of the wise magistrate to oblige their people; but what comes shorter of it than persecution? What’s dearer to them than the liberty of their conscience? What cannot they better spare than it? Their peace consists in the enjoyment of it: and he that by compliance has lost it, carries his penalty with him, and is his own prison. Surely such practices must render the government uneasy, and beget a great disrespect to the governors, in the hearts of the people.

12. But which concludes our prudential part shall be this, that after all their pains and good will to stretch men to their measure, they never will be able to accomplish their end: And if he be an unwise man that provides means where he designs no end, how near is he kin to him that proposes an end inobtainable. Experience has told us, 1. How invective it has made the imposed on. 2. What distractions have ensued such attempts. 3. What reproach has followed to the Christian religion, when the professors of it have a used a coercive power upon conscience. And lastly, that force never yet made either a good Christian, or a good subject. (p, 171.)

3. Unity, (not the least, but greatest end of government is lost) for by seeking an unity of opinion (by the ways intended) the unity requisite to uphold us, as a civil society, will be quite destroyed. And such as relinquish that, to get the other (besides that they are unwise) will infallibly lose both in the end. (p. 172).

In short, what religious, what wise, what prudent, what good natured person would be a persecutor; certainly it’s an office only fit for those who being void of all reason, to evidence the verity of their religion, fancy it to be true, from that strong propensity and greedy inclination they find in themselves to persecute the contrary; a weakness of so ill a consequence to all civil societies, that the admission of it ever was, and ever will prove their utter ruin, as well as their great infelicity who pursue it.

And though we could not more effectually express our revenge than by leaving such persons to the scope of their own humours; yet being taught to love and pray for our persecutors, we heartily wish their better information, that (if it be possible) they may act more suitably to the good pleasure of the eternal just God, and beneficially to these nations. (p. 185).

Penn was aware of the counterargument that by arguing for freedom of conscience, he was also arguing for religious Dissenters to be able to attack and murder everyone else, and deals with it in the following passage:

Object. 3. But at this rate ye may pretend to cut our throats, and do all manner of savage acts.

Ans. Though the objection be frequent, yet it is as foully ridiculous. We are pleading only for such a liberty of conscience, as preserve the nation in peace, trade, and commerce; and would not exempt any man, or party of men, from not keeping those excellent laws, that tend to sober, just and industrious living. It is a Jesuitical moral, to kill a man before he is born: first, to suspect him of an evil design, and then kill him to prevent it. (p. 175).

Trump’s embrace of Fascists and anti-Semites, and his automatic suspicion of all Muslims, as somehow a threat to America, is here explicitly condemned by one of the very first founders of America, and a leading figure in the centuries-long campaign for freedom of conscience in Britain. Penn was one of the founders of the great American tradition of religious liberty, a tradition which Trump is determined to attack and uproot. He must not be allowed to do so.