Posts Tagged ‘Capitalism’

Documentary Tonight on the Works of SF Author Ursula Le Guin

November 17, 2019

The Beeb are tonight screening a programme ‘The Worlds of Ursula K Le Guin’ at 10.00 pm on BBC 4. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

The American feminist writer, who died in January 2018, was best known for her ground-breaking science fiction and fantasy novels such as A Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness, Produced with Le Guin’s participation over the course of a decade, this documentary explores how she defiantly held her ground on the margin of “respectable” literature until the sheer excellence of her work forced the mainstream to embrace fantastic literature. Tyhe film features contributions from the likes of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell and Michael Chabon. (p. 65).

The additional piece a few pages earlier by Huw Fullerton on page 63 reads

It’s fair to say that Ursula K Le Guin was a one-off. While plenty of sci-fi and fantasy authors could be described as ahead of their time, there are few to whom this applies as aptly as Le Guin, who was writing piercing, feminist and race-sensitive works as far back as the 1960s and 70s with works such as The Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, elevating her storytelling beyond the literary fringe.

In this new film, luminaries including Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood and Michael Chabon pay tribute to Le Guin’s life and legacy, interweaving with unusual animation to bring her story to (appropriately) fantastical life. 

I read The Dispossessed back in the 1990s, and I can’t say I liked it. It’s about a scientist, Shevek, from a desolate world colonised by Anarchists to its twin planet of Aieio. Shevek has been working on a Faster Than Light communication device, an ansible, a concept found in other SF writers, like James Blish’s Dirac Telephone. Unable to complete it on his world, he defects to its capitalist twin, now undergoing massive worker unrest and an ecological crisis. He becomes a figurehead for the working class radicals, and helps to inspire a revolution. He gives a speech, which is praised by Earth’s woman ambassador. The planet has been left a desert thanks to capitalism’s destruction of the environment. Conditions are consequently very basic, but humanity has been taken to the stars by the Hainish after they discovered Earth. After the revolution’s success, he travels with a member of an alien race, the Hainish, an ancient race of space travelers who have established interstellar contact between themselves, Earth and Aieio and its twin, back to his home world.

Shevek’s anarchist world is a harsh environment with no animal life on its dry lands, although it certainly exists in its seas. The society is based on the ideas of Odo, a female political thinker of a century or so earlier. There is no private property, no prisons and marriage has been abolished. However, couples may live together as partners. Children are brought up in state nurseries away from their parents, who may visit them. The harsh environment and puritanical ideology means that individuality in dress is frowned on as wasteful and extravagant. Everyone basically wears the same costume, although some do make it more individual in the towns and settlements away from the Centre devoted to dyeing. There is no government, but material goods are administered by the Centre, which contains the computer complex used to administer the society.

I didn’t find Le Guin’s anarchist utopia appealing. It’s far too like the totalitarian Communist societies, and particularly Maoism in its uniforms, hostility to religion, marriage and the family. I am also not sure that feminists would like a world where the differences between men and women are so extremely minimised. While women obviously want to be free to enter masculine professions, like science, engineering, construction and so on, there’s still a desire to retain some forms of traditional femininity. This was demonstrated in a piece on the one show about three Air Cadets, who had been voted its top people, and had won a trip to America to see where the latest high performance jet fighters bought by the RAF, were being made. Two of them were young women, and the third a young Black man. It shows that the RAF are trying to recruit a more diverse membership. What I found particularly interesting was that one of these prospective fighter pilots, a woman, outside of the Cadets blogged about makeup. This seemed to me to be the RAF reassuring prospective female recruits that the could still be girly and feminine while piloting an awesome engine of death. I also remember reading an interview with the psychotherapist Suzie Orbach, the author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue in the Financial Times in the 1990s where she said she didn’t want women becoming exactly like men, or men becoming exactly like women.

Also, I found Shevek himself to be a bit of a prig. He was very sanctimonious, pronouncing on the superiority of his planet and its culture at every opportunity. Le Guin recognises that it would have problems, like hoarding, as well as the administrative elite using their authority to suppress music and literature of which they don’t approve, but looking at the problems the Communist societies experienced, it struck me that these problems would be much greater. It also struck me that there would also be a serious problem with crime and criminality, simply because of human – or in this case – humanoid nature – which could not be solved through social engineering alone.

But there is no doubt that she is one of the great SF authors with a very wide following, and I’m sure that this programme will be an excellent examination of her works.

Review of Book on New Atheist Myths Now Up on Magonia Review Blog

November 1, 2019

The Magonia Review of Books blog is one of the online successors to the small press UFO journal, Magonia, published from the 1980s to the early part of this century. The Magonians took the psycho-social view of encounters with alien entities. This holds that they are essentially internal, psychological events which draw on folklore and the imagery of space and Science Fiction. Following the ideas of the French astronomer and computer scientist, Jacques Vallee, and the American journalist, John Keel, they also believed that UFO and other entity encounters were also part of the same phenomenon that had created fairies and other supernatural beings and events in the past. The magazine thus examined other, contemporary forms of vision and belief, such as the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s. It also reviewed books dealing with wide range of religious and paranormal topics. These included not just UFOs, but also the rise of apocalyptic religious faith in America, conspiracy theories, ghosts and vampires, cryptozoology and the Near Death Experience, for example. Although the magazine is no longer in print, the Magonia Review of Books continues reviewing books, and sometimes films, on the paranormal and is part of a group of other blogs, which archive articles from the magazine and its predecessor, the Merseyside UFO Bulletin (MUFOB), as well as news of other books on the subject.

I’ve had a number of articles published in Magonia and reviews on the Review of Books. The blog has just put my review of Nathan Johnstone’s The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion (Palgrave MacMillan 2018).  The book is a critical attack on the abuse of history by New Atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and so on to attack religion. He shows that the retail extremely inaccurate accounts of historical atrocities like the witch hunts and persecution of heretics by the Christian church and the savage anti-religious campaign in the Soviet Union in order to condemn religion on the one hand, and try to show that atheism was not responsible for the atrocities committed in its name on the other. At the same time he is alarmed by the extremely vitriolic language used by Dawkins and co. about the religious. He draws comparisons between it and the language used to justify persecution in the past to warn that it too could have brutal consequences despite its authors’ commitment to humanity and free speech.

The article is at: http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2019/10/believing-in-not-believing-new-atheists.html if you wish to read it at the Magonia Review site. I’ve also been asked to reblog it below. Here it is.

Nathan Johnstone. The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion. Palgrave Macmillan 2018.

The New Atheists is a term coined to described the group of militant atheists that emerged after the shock of 9/11. Comprising the biologist Richard Dawkins, the journalist Christopher Hitchens, the philosophers Daniel C. Dennett and A.C. Grayling, the neuroscientist Sam Harris, the astronomer Victor Stenger, and others, they are known for their particularly bitter invective against all forms of religion. The above claim to stand for reason and science against irrationality and unreason. But while they are especially protective of science, and who gets to speak for it or use its findings, they are cavalier regarding theology and the humanities, including history.
Johnstone is appalled by this attitude. Instead of respecting history and its scholarship, he compares Dawkins, Harris et al to hunter-gatherers. They are not interested in exploring history, but rather using it as a grab-bag of examples of atrocities committed by the religious. In so doing they ignore what historians really say about the events and periods they cite, and retail myth as history. These he regards as a kind of ‘Black Legend’ of theism, using the term invented in the early twentieth century by the Spanish historian Julian Juderas to describe a type of anti-Spanish, anti-Roman Catholic polemic. He states his book is intended to be just a defence of history, and takes no stance on the issue of the existence of God. From his use of ‘we’ in certain points to describe atheists and Humanists, it could be concluded that Johnstone is one of the many of the latter, who are appalled by the New Atheists’ venom.
One such religious doubter was the broadcaster John Humphries,  the author of the defence of agnosticism, In God We Doubt. Humphries stated in the blurb for the book that he considered himself an agnostic before moving to atheism. Then he read one of the New Atheist texts and was so shocked by it he went back to being an agnostic. The group first made its debut several years ago now, and although New Atheism has lost some of its initial interest and support, they’re still around.
Hence Johnstone’s decision to publish this book. While Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published almost a decade ago, the New Atheists are still very much around. They and their followers are still on the internet, and their books on the shelves at Waterstones. Dawkins published his recent work of atheist polemics, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide a few weeks ago at the beginning of October 2019. He accompanied its publication with an appearance at Cheltenham Literary Festival, where he was speaking about why everyone should turn atheist.
The events and the atrocities cited by the New Atheists as demonstrations of the intrinsic evil of religion are many, including the Inquisitions, the witch-hunts, anti-Semitism, the Crusades, the subjugation of women, colonialism, the slave trade and the genocide of the Indians, to which they also add human sacrifice, child abuse, censorship, sexual repression and resistance to science. These are too many to tackle in one book, and it confines itself instead to attacking and refuting New Atheist claims about the witch-hunts, the medieval persecution of heretics, and the question of whether Hitler was ever really Christian and the supposed Christian origins of Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
The book also tackles historical movements and figures, that the New Atheists have claimed as atheist heroes and forerunners – the ancient Greek Atomists and two opponents of the witch-hunts, Dietrich Flade and Friedrich Spee. It then moves on to examine Sam Harris’ endorsement of torture in the case of Islamist terrorists and atheist persecution in the former Soviet Union before considering the similarity of some New Atheist attitudes to that of religious believers. It concludes with an attack on the dangerous rhetoric of the New Atheists which vilifies and demonises religious believers, rhetoric which could easily provoke persecution, even if its authors themselves are humane men who don’t advocate it.
Johnstone traces these atheist myths back to their nineteenth and pre-nineteenth century origins, and some of the books cited by the New Atheists as the sources for their own writings. One of the most influential of these is Charles MacKay’s 1843 Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. In many instances he shows them to be using very dated, and now refuted texts. With some of the modern works they also draw on, examination shows that often they ignore the authors’ own conclusions, which may differ considerably, or even be the complete opposite of their own.
In the case of the witch-hunts, Johnstone traces the oft-quoted figure of over nine million victims to an early nineteenth century German author, Gottfried Christian Voigt, who extrapolated it from the murder of the thirty witches executed in his home town of Quedlinburg from 1569 to 1683. He assumed this was typical of all areas throughout the period of the witch-hunts. The figure was picked up by the radical neo-Pagan and feminist movements of the 1970s. But it’s false. The real figure, he claims, was 50,000. And its intensity varied considerably from place to place and over time. The Portuguese Inquisition, for example, only killed one witch c. 1627. In other places, the inquisitors were conscientious in giving the accused a fair trial. Convictions for witchcraft were overturned and evidence was taken to prove the accused’s innocence as well as guilt. The Roman Inquisition also demanded the accused to provide a list of their enemies, as their testimony would obviously be suspect.
In regions where the discussion of witchcraft had resulted in the mass trial and execution of the innocent, the religious authorities imposed silence about the subject. Johnstone rebuts the statement of some Christian apologists that the Church was only complicit in these atrocities, not responsible for them. But he shows that they were an anomaly. Nearly all societies have believed in the existence of witches throughout history, but the period of witch-hunting was very limited. The problem therefore is not that religion and belief in the supernatural leads inexorably to persecution, but how to explain that it doesn’t.
He shows that the Church moved from a position of initial scepticism towards full scale belief over a period of centuries. The witch-hunts arose when maleficium – black magic – became linked to heresy, and so became a kind of treason. As an example of how secular and political motives were also involved in the denunciations and trials, rather than just pure religious hatred, he cites the case of the priest Urbain Grandier. Grandier’s case was the basis for Aldous Huxley’s novel, The Devils of Loudoun, which was filmed by Ken Russell as The Devils. Here it appears the motives for the trial were political, as Grandier had been an opponent of the French minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Johnstone also considers that as secular societies have also persecuted those they consider to be politically or morally deviant there exists in humanity a need to persecute. This means finding and identifying an anti-group, directly opposed to conventional society, whose existence and opposition demonstrates the value of that society.
KEN RUSSELL’S ‘THE DEVILS’ (1971)
The medieval persecution of heretics may also have been due to a number of causes and not simply due to the malign attitudes of religious believers. There was a period of nearly 700 years between the execution of the Roman heretic, Priscillian, in the fourth century and the revival of persecution the early eleventh. This arose in the context of the emergence and development of states and the expansion of papal and royal power, which involved church and crown extending their power over local communities. At the same time, the papacy attempted reforming the church, at first in response to popular demand. However, it was then faced with the problem of clamping down on some of the popular reform movements when they threatened to run out of its control.
As the case of the Waldensians shows, the line between orthodoxy and heresy could be an extremely fine one. Johnstone also raises the question here of whether one of the most notorious medieval heretical groups, the Cathars, ever existed at all. It is possible that their existence is an illusion created by the categories of heresies the inquisitors had inherited from the Church Fathers. These were forced onto a group of local communities in the Languedoc, where popular piety centred around the Good Men and Women. These were highly respected members of the community, who were believed to live exemplary Christian lives. They were therefore due proper respect, which to the inquisitors looked like heretical veneration.
Hitler’s Christianity is also highly debatable. The little reliable testimony states that he was indeed Roman Catholic, but doesn’t provide any evidence of a deep faith. He certainly at times claimed he was a Christian and was acting in accordance with his religious beliefs. But an examination of some of these quotes shows that they were uttered as a rebuttal to others, who stated that their Christian beliefs meant that they could not support Nazism. This raises the question of whether they were anything more than a rhetorical gesture. There is evidence that Hitler was an atheist with a particular hatred of Christianity. This is mostly drawn from his Table Talk, and specifically the English edition produced by Hugh Trevor-Roper. The atheist polemicist, Richard Carrier, has shown that it is derived from a French language version, whose author significantly altered some of the quotes to insert an atheist meaning where none was present in the original. However, Carrier only identified a handful of such quotes, leaving forty requiring further investigation. Thus the question remains undecided.
Johnstone also examine the Nazi persecution of the Jews from the point of view of the theorists of political religion. These consider that humans are innately religious, but that once secularisation has broken the hold of supernatural religion, the objects of veneration changes to institutions like the state, free market capitalism, the New Man, Communism and so on. Those who follow this line differ in the extent to which they believe that the Nazis were influenced by religion. Some view it as a hydra, whose many heads stood for Christianity, but also Paganism in the case of Himmler and the SS. But underneath, the source of the real religious cult was the race, the nation and Hitler himself. If these theorists are correct, then Nazism may have been the result, not of a continued persecuting Christianity, but of secularisation.
He also considers the controversial view of the German historian, Richard Steigmann-Gall, whose The Holy Reich considered that the Nazis really were sincere in their Christianity. This has been criticised because some of the Nazis it examines as examples of Nazi Christian piety, like Rudolf Hess, were minor figures in the regime, against vehement anti-Christians like Alfred Rosenberg. He also shows how the peculiar views of the German Christians, the Nazi Christian sect demanding a new, Aryan Christianity, where Christ was blond and blue-eyed, and the Old Testament was to be expunged from the canon, were similar to certain trends within early twentieth century liberal Protestantism. But the German historian’s point in writing the book was not simply to put culpability for the Nazis’ horrors on Christianity. He wanted to attack the comfortable distance conventional society places between itself and the Nazis, in order to reassure people that they couldn’t have committed such crimes because the Nazis were different. His point was that they weren’t. They were instead uncomfortably normal.
DEMOCRITUS
The New Atheists celebrate the ancient Greek Atomists because their theories that matter is made up of tiny irreducible particles, first put forward by the philosophers Epicurus and Democritus, seem so similar to modern atomic theory. These ancient philosophers believed that these alone were responsible for the creation of a number of different worlds and the creatures that inhabited them by chance.
Some of these were forms that were incapable of surviving alone, and so died out. Thus, they appear to foreshadow Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. New Atheist writers bitterly attack Aristotle, whose own rival theories of matter and physics gained ascendancy until Atomism was revived in the seventeenth century. The natural philosophers behind its revival are credited with being atheists, even though many of them were Christians and one, Pierre Gassendi, a Roman Catholic priest. Their Christianity is thus seen as nominal. One also takes the extreme view that Galileo’s prosecution was due to his embrace of the atomic theory, rather than his argument that the Earth moved around the Sun.
But scholars have shown that the ancient atomic theory grew out of particular debates in ancient Greece about the fundamental nature of matter, and cannot be removed from that context. They were very different to modern atomic theory. At the same time, they also held beliefs that are to us nonsense as science. For example, they believed that the early creatures produced by atoms were fed by the Earth with a milk-like substance. They also believed in the fixity of species. Even where they did believe in evolution, in the case of humanity, this was more Lamarckian than Darwinian. Aristotle’s views won out over theirs not because of religious narrow-mindedness or ignorance, but because Aristotle’s had great explanatory power.
The scientists, who revived it in the seventeenth century, including Boyle and Newton, were sincere Christians. They believed that atoms created objects through divine agency because the ancient Greek explanation – it was all chance without a theory of momentum – genuinely couldn’t explain how this could occur without God. As for Galileo, the historian who first suggested this extreme and largely discredited view, believed that he was a victim of papal politics, and that there had also been a party within the Vatican and the Church, which supported his theories.
Discussing the two witch-hunters celebrated by the New Atheists as atheist, or at least, Sceptical heroes, the book shows that this was not the case. Dietrich Flade seems to have been accused because he had fallen out with an ecclesiastical rival, Zandt, for being too lenient on the accused witches. But he also appears to have been protected by the church authorities until the accusations of witchcraft by accused witches became too many to ignore.
The other Sceptical hero, Friedrich Spee, was a Jesuit priest, who became convinced of the innocence of those accused of witchcraft through attending so many to the stake. He then wrote a book condemning the trials, the Cautio Crimenalis. But he was no sceptic. He believed wholeheartedly in witchcraft, but considered it rare. The use of torture was wrong, as it was leading to false confessions and false denunciations of others, which could not be retracted for fear of further torture. Thus the souls of the innocent were damned for this sin. But while good Christians were being burned as witches, many of the witch-hunters themselves were in league with Satan. They used the hunts and baseless accusations to destroy decent Christian society and charity.
But if the New Atheists are keen to ascribe a wide number of historical atrocities to religion without recognising the presence of other, social and political factors, they deny any such crimes can be attributed to atheism. Atheism is defined as a lack of belief in God, and so cannot be responsible for inspiring horrific acts. Johnstone states that in one sense, this is true, but it is also a question about the nature of the good life and the good society that must be constructed in the absence of a belief in God. And these become positive ideologies that are responsible for horrific crimes.
Johnstone goes on from this to attack Hector Avelos’ statement that the Soviet persecution of the Church was only a form of anti-clericalism, which all societies must go through. Johnstone rebuts this by describing the process and extent of Soviet persecution, from the separation of church and state in 1917 to the imposition of atheism by force. Churches and monasteries were closed and religious objects seized and desecrated, religious believers arrested, sent to the gulags or massacred. These persecutions occurred in cycles, and there were times, such as during the War, when a rapprochement was made with the Orthodox Church. But these periods of toleration were always temporary and established for entirely pragmatic and utilitarian purposes.
The goal was always the creation of an atheist state, and they were always followed, until the fall of Communism, by renewed persecution. The wartime rapprochement with the Church was purely to gain the support of believers for the campaign against the invading Nazis. It was also to establish state control through the church on Orthodox communities that had survived, or reappeared in border areas under Nazi occupation. Finally, the attack on the clergy, church buildings and religious objects and even collectivisation itself were done with the deliberate intention of undermining religious ritual and practice, which was considered the core of Orthodox life and worship.
Sam Harris has become particularly notorious for his suggestion that atheists should be trusted to torture terrorist suspects because of their superior rationality and morality compared to theists. Harris believed it was justified in the case of al-Qaeda suspects in order to prevent further attacks. But here Johnstone shows his logic was profoundly flawed. Torture was not introduced into medieval judicial practice in the twelfth century through bloodthirsty and sadistic ignorance. Rather it was intended as a reasonable alternative to the ordeal. Human reason, and the acquisition of evidence, was going to be sufficient to prove guilt or innocence without relying on supposed divine intervention. But the standards of evidence required were very high, and in the case of a crime like witchcraft, almost impossible without a confession.
The use of torture was initially strictly limited and highly regulated, but the sense of crisis produced by witchcraft resulted in the inquisitors abandoning these restraints. Similarly, Harris’ fear of terror attacks leads him to move from reasonable suspects, who may well be guilty, to those who are simply members of terrorist organisations. They are fitting subjects for torture because although they may be innocent of a particular offence, through their membership of a terrorist organisation or adherence to Islamist beliefs, they must be guilty of something. Finally, Harris also seems to see Islamism as synonymous with Islam, so that all Muslims everywhere are seen as enemies of the secular Western order. This is exactly the same logic as that which motivated the witch-hunts, in which witches were seen as the implacable enemies of Christian society, and so exempt from the mercy and humane treatment extended to other types of criminal.
From this Johnstone then goes on to consider how the New Atheists’ image of atheism and the process of abandoning belief in God resembles religious attitudes. Their belief that atheism must be guarded against the dangers of falling back into religious belief mirrors Christian fears of the temptation to false belief, such as those of the Protestant reformers towards the persistence of Roman Catholicism. At the same time, their ideas of abandoning God and so attaining the truth resembles the Christian process of conversion and membership of the elect. And the vitriol directed at the religious for continuing to believe in God despite repeated demonstrations of His nonexistence resembles the inquisitors’ attitude to heretics. Heresy differs from error in that the heretic refuses to be corrected, and so must be compelled to recant by force.
The book also shows the dangers inherent in some New Atheist rhetoric about religious believers. This runs in contrast to much New Atheist writing, which is genuinely progressive and expresses real sympathy with the marginalised and oppressed, and which advocates trying to see the world through their eyes. But no such sympathy is granted religious believers. They are described as children, who may not sit at the same table as adults. Or else, following the logic of religion as a virus, proposed by Dawkins, they are described as diseased, who do not realise that they have been infected and even love their condition.
Bringing children up religious is condemned as child abuse. A.C. Grayling is shown to have a utilitarian attitude in his own advocacy of secularisation. He first states that he supports it for creating multiculturalism, but then contradicts himself by stating that he looks forward to it undermining religion. This was the same attitude the Soviets initially adopted towards religion. When it didn’t disappear as they expected, they resorted to force. Peter Boghossian wants atheist ‘street epistemologists’ – the atheist version of religious street preachers – to attack believers’ religious beliefs in public. They are to take every opportunity, including following them into church, in order to initiate ‘Socratic’ discussions that will lead them to questioning their faith.
Johnstone states that this is an implicit denial of theists’ right to conduct their private business in public without atheist interference. It’s in line with the New Atheist demands that religion be driven from the public sphere, into the churches, or better yet, the home. The metaphor of disease and infection suggests that what is needed is for religious believers to be rounded up against their will and forcibly cured. It’s the same metaphor the Nazis used in their persecution of their victims.
He quotes the atheist philosopher Julian Baggini, who is dismayed when he hears atheists describing religion as a mental disease from which believers should be forcibly treated. As for the statement that religious upbringing equals child abuse, the seriousness of this charge raises the question of how seriously the New Atheists actually see it. If Dawkins and co. really believe that it is, then their lack of demand for state intervention to protect children from indoctrination, as they see it, from the parents shows that they don’t treat child abuse seriously.
The New Atheist rhetoric actually breaks with their concrete recommendations for what should be done to disavow believers of their religious views, which are actually quite mild. This is what Johnstone calls the ‘cavalierism of the unfinished thought’. They may not recommend coercion and persecution, but their rhetoric implies it. Johnstone states that he has discussed only one of several competing strands in New Atheist thinking and that there are others available. He concludes with the consideration that there isn’t a single atheism but a multiplicity of atheisms, all with differing responses to religious belief. Some of them will be comparably mild, but most will involve some kind of frustration at religion’s persistence. He recommends that atheists should identify which type of atheist they are, in order to avoid the violent intolerance inherent in New Atheist rhetoric. This agrees with his statement at the beginning of the book, where he hopes it will lead to an atheist response to religion which is properly informed by history and which genuinely respects religious believers.
The book is likely to be widely attacked by the New Atheists and their followers. Some of its conclusions Johnstone admits are controversial, such as the view that the Cathars never existed, or that the persecution of heretics was an integral part of the forging of the medieval state. But historians and sociologists of religion repeatedly show that in the persecutions and atrocities in which religion has been involved, religion is largely not the only, or in some cases even the most important reason. Johnstone’s views on witchcraft is supported by much contemporary popular and academic treatments. His statement that the figure of over nine million victims of the witch-hunt is grossly exaggerated is shared by Lois Martin in her The History of Witchcraft (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials 2002). The Harvard professor, Jeffrey Burton Russell in his Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1972) also shows how Christian attitudes towards witchcraft passed from the scepticism of the Canon Episcopi to belief as the responsibility for its persecution passed from the bishops to the Holy Office.
Early law codes treated maleficium – black or harmful magic – purely as a civil offence against persons or property. It became a religious crime with the development of the belief that witches attended sabbats where they parodied the Christian Eucharist and worshiped Satan. A paper describing the scrupulous legality and legal provisions for the accused’s defence in the Roman Inquisition can be found in the Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic In Europe IV: The Period of the Witch Trials, Bengt Ankerloo and Stuart Clarke eds., (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press 2002). Other writers on religion have noted the similarity between the late medieval and early modern witch-hunts and paranoid fears about Freemasons, Jews and Communists in later centuries, including the Holocaust, Stalin’s purges and McCarthyism. They thus see it as one manifestation of the wider ‘myth of the organised conspiracy’. See Richard Cavendish, ‘Christianity’, in Richard Cavendish, ed., Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (London: Orbis 1980) 156-69 (168-9).
The Soviet persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church is described by Rev. Timothy Ware in his The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin 1963). Ludmilla Alexeyeva also describes the Soviet persecution of the Orthodox Church, along with other religions and national and political groups and movements in her Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious and Human Rights (Middletown, Connecticutt: Wesleyan University Press 1985). R.N. Carew Hunt’s The Theory and Practice of Communism (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1950) shows how leading Communists like Lenin believed atheism was an integral part of Communism and the Soviet state with a series of quotations from them. An example of Lenin’s demand for an aggressive atheism is his speech, ‘On the Significance of Militant Materialism’ in Lenin: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1968). 653-60.
It is also entirely reasonable to talk about religious elements and attitudes within certain forms of atheism and secular ideologies. Peter Rogerson in many of his well-reasoned articles in Magonia pointed out how similar some of the sceptics’ attacks on superstition and the supernatural were to narratives of religious conversion. His attitude is shared with some academic sociologists, historians and political theorists. Peter Yinger’s section on ‘Secular Alternatives to Religion’ in The Religious Quest: A Reader, edited by Whitfield Foy (London: Open University Press 1978) 537-554, has articles on the ‘Religious Aspects of Postivism’, p. 544, ‘Faith in Science’, 546, ‘Religious Aspects of Marxism’, p. 547, ‘Totalitarian Messianism’ 549, and ‘Psychoanalysis as a Modern Faith’, 551. For some scholars, the similarities of some secular ideologies to religion is so strong, that they have termed them quasi-religions.
While some atheists resent atheism being described as religion, this term is meant to avoid such objections. It is not intended to describe them literally as religions, but only as ideologies that have some of the qualities of religion. See John E. Smith’s Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Macmillan 1994). New Atheism also mimics religion in that several of the New Atheists have written statements of the atheist position and edited anthologies of atheist writings. These are A.C. Grayling’s The Good Book and Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist. The title of Grayling’s book is clearly a reference to the Bible. As I recall, it caused some controversy amongst atheists when it was published, as many of them complained that atheism was too individual and sceptical to have a definitive, foundational text. In their view, Grayling’s book showed the type of mindset they wanted to escape when they left religion.
The fears of the terrible potential consequences of New Atheist rhetoric despite the avowed intentions of its authors is well founded and timely. There have been sharp complaints about some of the vitriolic rhetoric used to attack particular politicians in debates about Brexit which has resulted in assault and harassment. At the same it was reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked after the publication of Boris Johnson’s column in which he described women wearing the burqa as looking like letterboxes. Neither religion, nor secularism and atheism should be immune from criticism. But Johnstone is right in that it should be correctly historically informed and careful in the language used. Otherwise the consequences could be terrible, regardless of the authors’ own humane feelings and sympathies.

Ian Hislop Tackles Fake News with Reassurances about Lamestream Media

October 8, 2019

I watched Ian Hislop’s Fake News: A True Story last night. I blogged about it a few days ago after reading the blurbs for it in the Radio Times. It seemed to me that part of the reason for the programme’s production was the Beeb, and by extension, the mainstream media as a whole, trying to reassure the public that they were truthful and reliable by tackling what is a genuine problem. I don’t think I was wrong. Hislop is a good presenter, and the programme was well-done, with eye-catching graphics. As you might expect from Hislop’s previous programmes on British heroes and the the British education system, it was strong on history. He pointed out that while Donald Trump used it to described factual news that he didn’t like, because it criticised him, the term actually predated Trump all the way back into the 19th century. He illustrated this with quotes and contemporary cartoons. But it was also a very much an establishment view. The last piece of fake news created by the British state it mentioned was a story concocted during the First World War that the Germans were boiling down human bodies for their fat and other chemicals. It presented the main threat to truthful reporting as coming from the internet, specifically software that allows the mapping of a public figure’s face onto the body of another to create fake footage of them, Alex Jones and Infowars, and, of course, the Russians and their adverts and propaganda for the American election. We were assured that the British state no longer interfered in the politics of other countries. A former BBC official, now running the New York Times, appeared to talk to Hislop about how papers like his now spend their time diligently fact checking stories. He also talked to the MP, who called for an inquiry into fake news in parliament. All very reassuring, and very misleading.

The New York Sun Moon Hoax and the Spanish-American War

The programme began with the 1836 Moon hoax story run by the New York Sun. The Sun was one of the first tabloid newspapers, aimed at a working class audience with the low price of only a cent, a price a sixth that of its competitors. It published a series of articles claiming that an obscure British astronomer had discovered man-bats, unicorns and bison on the Moon. The story ran for six days until it was exposed as a hoax by a rival newspaper. The next item in this list of journalistic infamy was about the attempts by Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst to start a war with Spain in support of Cuban rebels at the end of the 19th century. There wasn’t much fighting going on, and there weren’t any available reports of Spanish atrocities to inflame the patriotic, moral sentiments of the American public. So they made them up. The papers first claimed that a young American woman had been brutally strip-searched by suspicious Spanish male officials. Well, not quite. She had been searched, but privately by a respectable older Spanish woman. When that didn’t work, they seized on an explosion that destroyed an American ship in harbour. In all likelihood, the ship was destroyed by an accident. The papers claimed, however, that it had been destroyed by the Spanish, while issuing a small caveat stating that the cause had yet to be determined. And so the papers got the war they wanted.

The programme then moved on to the American Civil War, and the exploits of one of the world’s first photojournalists. This gentleman used photography to bring home with hitherto unknown realism the horrors of that conflict. But he was not above faking some of the photographs. One of these was of a young Confederate soldier lying dead in a trench. In fact, the photographer had dragged the corpse into the trench from elsewhere, move the head so that it faced the camera to make it even more poignant, and added a rifle that the photographer himself always carried. This little episode was then followed by the story of William Mumler and his faked spirit photographs. Mumler ended up being prosecuted for fraud by one of the papers. However, while the judge sympathised with the papers, the prosecution hadn’t proved how he had faked it. They merely showed he could have done it in nine different ways. And so the case was dismissed, Mumler went back to faking his photos for a satisfied, grieving clientele, one of whom was the widow of Abraham Lincoln.

Deepfake and the Falsification on Online Images

This brought Hislop on to the Deepfake software, used by pornographers for adding the features of respectable actors and actresses onto porn stars. This was used to map Hislop’s own features onto the mug of a dancer, so that he could be shown doing the high kicks and athletic moves. He also interviewed a man, who had used it to parody Barack Obama. Obama’s face was mapped onto a Black actor, who mimicked the former president’s voice. This produced fake footage in which Obama said, with statesman like grace and precision, that Donald Trump was a complete dipsh*t. He also interviewed another young man, who was producing fake stories on the internet, which were nevertheless clearly labeled satire, intended to rile the Alt-Right by feeding their hate and paranoia. Hislop asked him if he wasn’t actually encouraging them. The man stated that he wasn’t converting anyone to the Alt-Right. They were already angry, and stupid if they didn’t read the statements that what they were reacting to was fake. He was just showing up their stupidity.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The programme then moved on to the noxious Tsarist forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is one of the main sources for the bogus conspiracy theories about the Jews running everything. He pointed out that it was first run in Russian newspaper, which blamed them for introducing capitalism and democracy into Russia. Then in 1917, they were updated to claim that the Jews once again were responsible for the Bolshevik Revolution. Hislop said very clearly, waving a copy of the infamous book he’d managed to get hold of, that it was long and contradictory. It had also been disproved as long ago as the 1920s, when the Times in a series of articles showed that it was based on an 18th century novel that had nothing to do with Jews. This showed how the press could correct fake news. He himself said that, whereas when he started out as journalist, he spent move of his time trying to get new stories, now he spent most of his time checking them. Despite its falsehood, the Protocols were seized on by Goebbels, who insisted that it was spiritually true, if not literally, and had it taught in German schools. This was a different approach to Hitler, who had argued in Mein Kampf that it’s very suppression by the authorities showed that it was true. Nevertheless, the wretched book was still available all over the world, illustrating this with Arabic versions on sale in Cairo bookshop.

Infowars and Pizzagate

The programme also showed a contemporary conspiracy theory. This was the tale spun by Alex Jones on Infowars that the Comet pizza parlour was supplying children to be abused and sacrificed by the evil Democrats. Talking to the parlour’s owner, Hislop heard from the man himself how he and his business still suffer horrendous abuse because of this fake story. But it got worse. One day a few years ago a young man, incensed by what he had heard online, came into the story with a high-powered rifle, wishing to free the children. The conspiracy theory about the place claimed that there was a basement and tunnels running to the White House. The proprietor tried explaining to the man that there was no basement and no tunnels. The gunman went through the building until he found a locked door. He fired a few rounds into it, destroying the store’s computer. Hislop found this ironic, considering computers were the medium that spread it in the first place. The man then lay his gun down, put his arms up and let himself be arrested. It was a peaceful end to a situation which could have resulted in many people dead. But even this horrible incident hadn’t silenced the conspiracy theorists. They still believed that the stories were true, and that the incident had been faked with an actor as a false flag.

Russian Interference

The programme then went on to talk about Russian interference in American politics, and how they had set up a bot army to spread adverts aimed at influencing the result of the American election. RT was deeply involved in this, as the Russian state-owned news service was defending the country and its leader, Putin, from allegations that this had been done. It had also spread lies denying that Russia was responsible for the Skripal poisoning.

British Propaganda and the First World War

Had the British state done anything similar? Yes, in 1917. This was when the War Office, tired of the First World War dragging on, had seized on the news that the Germans were boiling down animal carcasses for their fat, and elaborated it, changing the corpses into human. Some might say, Hislop opined, that this was justified, especially as the German had committed real atrocities. But if we told lies like that, that meant we were no better than they. Stafford Cripps, who served in Churchill’s cabinet during the War, said that if winning it meant using such tactics, he’d rather lose. The fake story about human carcasses also had an unforeseen, and deeply unpleasant aftereffect. Following the realisation that it was fake, the first news of what the Nazis were doing in the concentration camps was also initially disbelieved. We don’t do things like that now, he said. And in a side-swipe at the ‘Dodgy Dossier’ and Saddam Hussein, he said, that no-one would believe stories about a mad dictator possessing weapons of mass destruction.

The Message: Trust the Mainstream Media

Hislop and his interlocutors, like the MP, who’d called for an inquiry into fake news, agreed that it was a real problem, especially as over half of people now got their news from online media. But the problem wasn’t to regard it all with cynicism. That is what the retailers of fake news, like Putin and RT want you to do. They want people to think that it is all lies. No, concluded Hislop, you should treat online information with the same scepticism that should apply to the mainstream media. Because there was such a thing as objective truth.

The Mainstream Media and Its Lies: What the Programme Didn’t Say

Which is absolutely right. There is an awful lot of fake news online. There’s also an awful lot of fake news being retailed, without any objection or scepticism by the lamestream media. And the only people tackling this fake news are the online blogs, vlogs and news sites. I’ve mentioned often before the anti-Semitism smears against Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Ken Livingstone, Mike, Martin Odoni, Tony Greenstein, Chris Williamson, and too many others. It’s all fake news, but there is not a word against it in the lamestream press, including the Eye. I’ve also mentioned how the British state during the Cold War had its own disinformation department pushing fake news, the IRD. This also turned to smearing the domestic, democratic Left in the shape of the Labour party and CND by claiming that they had connections to the Communist bloc. And in the case of Labour, that they supported the IRA. This is documented fact. Is it mentioned by the Beeb and the rest of the lamestream media? Don’t be daft! Is it still going on today? Yes, definitely – in the shape of the Democracy Institute and the Institute for Statecraft, which have connections to British intelligence and the cyberwarfare section of the SAS. And they are smearing Corbyn as too close to Putin, along with other European dignitaries, officials and high ranking soldiers. And we might not seek to overthrow government, but the Americans certainly do. The CIA has a long history of this, now given over to the National Endowment for Democracy, which kindly arranged the 2012 Maidan Revolution in Kiev, which threw out the pro-Russian president and installed a pro-Russian one. As for the New York Times, the editors of Counterpunch showed in their book on official propaganda in the American media, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, how the Grey Lady ran a series of articles of fake news to support George Dubya’s invasion of Iraq. The Beeb has also done its fair share of broadcasting fake news. It’s supported the bogus allegations of anti-Semitism against Corbyn and his supporters. It altered the footage of the fighting between police and miners at the Orgreave colliery during the miners’ strike to show falsely the miners attacking the police. In reality, it was the other way round. And then there was the way they edited Alex Salmond in a press conference during the Scottish Referendum. The Macclesfield Goebbels, Nick Robinson, had asked Salmond a question about whether the Edinburgh banking and big financial houses would move south if Scotland gained its independence. Salmond replied with a full answer, explaining that they wouldn’t. This was too much for the Beeb, which edited the footage, subsequently claiming that Salmond hadn’t answered fully, and then denying that he had answered the question at all. It was fake news, courtesy of the Beeb.

Mike and the Sunday Times’ Smears

None of this was mentioned, unsurprisingly. The result is a cosy, reassuring view of the mainstream media. Yes, fake news is out there, but it’s being done by internet loons and nasty foreigners like the Russians. But never fear, all is well. The mainstream media can be trusted to check the facts, and give you the truth. Except that they don’t check the facts, or when they do, immediately ignore them. As Gabriel Pogrund and the editor of the Sunday Times did when they wrote their nasty hit piece on Mike. Pogrund rang Mike up, Mike explained very clearly that he certainly was no kind of Jew-hater and certainly did not deny the Holocaust. Pogrund and his editor ignored that, and published their piece anyway. Complaints to IPSO then followed. Mike won, but some people still continue to believe the lies.

You can’t trust the lamestream media. Instead, I thoroughly recommend you go for corrections and alternative views to the left-wing blogs, vlogs and news sites like Mike’s, Vox Political, Another Angry Voice, Zelo Street, the Skwawkbox, Gordon Dimmack and the American sites, Sam Seder’s Majority Report, The Michael Brooks’ Show, the David Pakman Show, Democracy Now! and the work of Abbie Martin attacking the American Empire and Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Those sites provide an important corrective to the lies and falsehood being daily fed to us by the lamestream media. Including the Beeb.

 

 

Samuel Smiles’ Condemnation of the Evils of Laissez-Faire

September 26, 2019

Samuel Smiles was the author of Self-Help, a 19th century manual on how the working classes could escape poverty by helping themselves. He’s been seen as a cornerstone of Conservative values, to whom Maggie Thatcher harked back when she promoted her attack on the welfare state as giving people more self-help. Andrina Stiles’ discusses how Victorian philanthropy is seen by some historians as an attempt to create ‘a docile, subservient working class out of a large, ill-educated and potentially revolutionary mass of people’ and that ‘the whole basis of Victorian involvement in charitable enterprise as an exercise in social control based on Samuel Smiles’ teaching about self-help’ in her book, Religion, Society and Reform 1800-1914 (London, Hodder & Stoughton 1995). But she also states that this view has been challenged by other historians. These argue that while he moderated his views on laissez-faire in later life, he did not believe it adequate to tackle social problems. And she provides as proof a passage from Smiles in which he bitterly condemns it. She writes

But other historians now believe these views to be a travesty of Samuel Smiles’ teaching. Although his book Self-Help was not published until 1859, they point out that its contents had been delivered as a series of lecturers to working-class audiences in Leeds 14 years earlier at a time of social conflict; and that in those lectures Smiles was not preaching quiescence but radicalism. Although he later moderated his political views and came to agree with laissez-faire in economic matters, he never accepted it was the right policy in dealing with social abuses, writing passionately of the need for outside intervention where self-help by the poor was obviously an inadequate remedy:

When typhus or cholera break out they tell us Nobody is to blame. That terrible Nobody… Nobody adulterates our food. Nobody poisons us with bad drink… Nobody leaves towns undrained. Nobody makes thieves, poachers and drunkards. Nobody has a dreadful theory – laissez-faire – leave alone. When people are poisoned with plaster of Paris mixed with their flour ‘let alone’ is the remedy … Let those who can find out when they are cheated. When people live in foul dwellings, let them alone, let wretchedness do its work; do not interfere with death. (p. 98).

So much for Thatcherite ‘Victorian values’. They killed people in the 19th century, and they’re killing them now as the Blairites and the Tories make obtaining welfare benefits for the unemployed and disabled as difficult and humiliating as possible. The result is that over a quarter of a million people are only kept from starvation by food banks, tens of thousands of disabled people have died after being thrown off benefits due to being assessed as fit for work, and there is a chronic housing shortage through Maggie’s determination to sell off council housing and forbid the building of any more.

But the Tories and the Libertarians keep singing the old refrain. Things will be better with more self-help, less state reliance and regulation. Private enterprise and capitalism will make everything better. A few months ago Dave Rubin and Candace Owens of the American right-wing group, Turning Point, tried to convince Brits when they came over to push their vile, outmoded views on this side of the Pond. Libertarianism was devised by extreme right-wing businessmen, most notably the Koch brothers, in order to defend depriving working people of state support and trade union power, whilst enriching big business. It always was close to Nazism. In the 1970s the American Libertarian rag, Reason, even published an issue pushing Holocaust Denial. Over this side of the Atlantic, the Libertarian organisations, like the National Association For Freedom, or the Freedom Association as it became, used to support the South American dictators. This included Paul Staines, of the Guido Fawkes blog, who was a member of one of these societies. One year the guest of honour at their annual dinner was the head of one of Central American dictator Rios Montt’s death squads. When Staines wasn’t out of his head raving with the machine elves on psychoactive chemicals, of course.

Laissez-faire in its Conservative and Libertarian versions brings nothing but poverty, sickness and death to the masses. Smiles knew this and condemned it. But the Thatcherites are still pushing it, because it keeps the poor poor and very much under the control of the rich.

No, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, You and the Press Are also Guilty for Enabling Johnson’s Dictatorship

August 29, 2019

Yesterday the I’s columnist, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown took it upon herself to identify the ‘guilty men’ responsible for enabling Johnson’s seizure of dictatorial power yesterday. This followed an anonymous piece by someone calling themselves ‘Cato the Younger’, with the title of ‘The Guilty Men’. ‘Cato’ blames thirteen western leaders, two of whom are women. Alibhai-Brown, however, put up her own, shorter list of six men. They are George Osborne, Nigel Farage, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson. Now I agree with her identification of all the above as causes of the crisis, with the exception of Jeremy Corbyn. She includes him because he

has been another unknowing collaborator. He still can’t find the voice or moral clarity to oppose Brextremism, and is worryingly beholden to his close, maniacally anti-capitalist advisers. He could come out for Remain and let, say, Caroline Lucas lead a temporary government of unity. It won’t happen. Not even in our dreams.

This is utter balderdash, just Centrist, anti-Corbyn propaganda. Corbyn has made his views on Brexit very clear. He was going to get Britain the best deal he could. If he couldn’t, he would hold a general election and/or second referendum. This, however, has not been reported in the press and media, which still continues to trot out the pat lie that he never campaigned properly for Remain. Swinson, the leader of the Lib Dems, was asserting this outright lie again the other day, claiming that Corbyn was ‘nowhere to be seen’ at the Referendum campaign. He certainly was. Matt Thomas posted a tweet declaring that Corbyn made 123 media appearances, attended 15 rallies and posted 118 pro-Remain tweets. Swinson herself posted only a couple of tweets for Remain.

And Tory Fibs also tweeted

That is a provable lie. During the EU Referendum Campaign 7 May-22 June 2016, Corbyn, over 46 days, campaigned as follows:

• Traveled 5851km
• Spoke at 15 rallies
• Sent 100 Remain Tweets
• Achieved 33,760 retweets
• Received media exposure 120 times

and contrasted this with Swinson’s own lamentable performance. While Professor Andrew Russell pointed out that the Lib Dems, by contrast, were ‘conspicuous by their absence’.

Academic exposes ‘invisible’ LibDem’s Brexit hypocrisy. Swinson pushing UK toward no-deal Brexit

As for Corbyn being ‘worryingly beholden’ to ‘maniacally anti-capitalist advisers’, this is just a bit of doubletalk trying to stir up the Red Scare about Corbyn and the Labour party a little more. One of Corbyn’s advisors is hard Left. Seumas Milne is, I believe, a real Stalinist. But Corbyn isn’t, neither is he a Trotskyite, or any other kind of Communist. And the Labour party’s programme is simply a return to the mixed-economy, strong welfare state with strong unions that gave Britain three to four decades of prosperity and economic growth after the War.

And then there’s Alibhai-Brown’s whinge that he didn’t make way for Caroline Lucas’ female-only unity government. But this was never a realistic proposal. It was profoundly sexist, and ignored the profound differences between all of the women Lucas invited to join her. It looks to me far more like an attention-grabbing stunt than a serious proposal. It also belies Alibhai-Brown’s claim to be concerned about the poor. Earlier in her article, attacking George Osborne, she states quite correctly that he

punished the neediest, weakened the welfare state and rewarded the richest. Those “left behinds” who voted for Brexit were deliberately left behind by this coldly ideology, small-state Tory.

All of which is correct. And it also describes precisely many of the women Lucas invited to join her unity government. They were also ideological Thatcherites, determined to punish the poor, reward the rich, and destroy the welfare state. And it’s remarkable that Alibhai-Brown, who has spent her journalistic career fighting racing, hasn’t pointed out that not one BAME woman was included on Lucas’ list.

Of course, the real reason Alibhai-Brown is trying to dump on Corbyn yet again, is because she shares her masters’ fears about a Corbyn government that would really empower working people and bring the profiteering super-rich to heel. And so a fair amount of the blame for BoJob’s seizure of power should go to the men and women of the Fourth Estate. 

Murdoch’s papers naturally share a very large part of the blame, because they have relentless hyped and promoted the Tories and particularly Boris Johnson. So have the Torygraph, owned by the weirdo Barclay twins, while the Heil and Depress have also pushed the same extreme right-wing views.

But the nominally left-press should also shoulder their fare share of the blame. The Groaniad, Absurder and the I followed the Tory press in lying about, vilifying and smearing Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, for exactly the same reasons as the Tory papers: they are afraid of anything that really empowers the working class. The only difference is that they have tried to dress up their Thatcherism with some shreds of progressive ideology. The I, for example, tried promoting Sandi Toksvig Women’s Equality Party. That feminist organisation’s credentials went out the window when Toksvig declared her backing for Hillary Clinton in the American presidential election. Clinton shared her husband’s attack on the American welfare state, such as it was, passed racist legislation designed to come down hardest on Blacks supposedly to tackle the ‘war on drugs’, and presided over an aggressive programme of regime change every bit as militaristic as George Bush’s. Clinton was very much a member of the American establishment, but she tried telling everyone she wasn’t, ’cause of her gender. Now we have Alibhai-Brown trying out the same tactics in promoting Lucas against Corbyn. And in doing so Alibhai-Brown shows what a hypocrite she is.

She, and the rest of the press, have also contributed to Johnson’s resistible rise. All of them have supported the neoliberal economics that have empowered the Tory Brexiteers, even when, like Swinson, they claimed otherwise. The left-wing press could have got behind Corbyn. They didn’t. And so they deserve their share of the blame, along with the Tory rags, for keeping the Tories in power, and allowing Johnson to elevate himself to virtual dictator. 

Corbyn – Regenerate High Street by Handing Vacant Shops to Community

August 24, 2019

Last weekend’s I, for Saturday, 17th August 2019, carried a report by Nigel Morris on page 4 about the Labour party’s plans to revive ailing high street. Under the scheme announce by Corbyn, the local authority would take over empty business premises to let them to new businesses or community organisations. The article read

Plans to revitalise “struggling his streets” by reopening thousands of boarded-up shops will be set out today by the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Labour would give councils the power to take over retail units which have been vacant for a year and hand them to start-up businesses or community projects.

Town centre vacancy rates are at their highest level for four years, and Labour says an estimated 29,000 shops across the country have been abandoned for at least 12 months.

It has also registered alarm over the preponderance of charity stores, betting shops and fast-food takeaways in areas which previously had a better mixture of businesses.

The plans, applying to high streets in England and Wales, will be set out by Mr Corbyn in a visit to Bolton today. He is expected to say that boarded-up shops are “a symptom of economic decay under the Conservatives and a sorry symbol of the malign neglect so many communities have suffered.”

Labour revive “struggling high streets by turning the blight of empty shops into the heart of the high street.” The proposals are modelled on the system of “empty dwelling management orders” which entitle councils to put unoccupied houses and flats back into use as homes.

Jake Berry, minister for high streets, said the Government had cut small retailers’ business rates, was relaxing high street planning rules and launched a £3.6bn Towns Fund to improve transport links and boost broadband connectivity. 

I think Corbyn’s idea is excellent. One of the problems of struggling high streets is the ‘smashed window syndrome’, as I believe it’s called. Once one shop becomes vacant, and has it’s windows smashed or otherwise vandalised, it has a strange psychological effect on the public. They stop going into that particular area for their shopping, and the other businesses start to close down. This is why it’s important to prevent it. Business rates might be part of the problem, but I’ve also heard that it’s also due to economics of the private landlords. I can remember my barber complaining to me about it back in the 1990s. He was angry at the increase in rents he and the other shops in his rank had had foisted on them by the landlord. He also complained that despite the high rents, there were shop units that were still unlet, because for some reason the landlord found it more profitable to keep them that way than to let an aspiring Arkwright take them over.

I’ve long believed in exactly the same idea as Corbyn’s. It struck me that with the expansion of higher education, we now have an extremely well-educated work force. But the current economics of capitalism prevent them from using their skills. If successive governments really believe that the increase in university education will benefit the economy, then graduates need to be able to put their hard-earned skills and knowledge into practice. They should be allowed to create businesses, even if these are not commercially viable and need community support. Because it’s better than forcing them to starve on the dole, or climb over each other and the less educated trying to grab low-skilled jobs in fast-food restaurants. And if these new businesses don’t make a profit, but keep people coming back to the high streets, but give their aspiring entrepreneurs skills and experience they can use elsewhere, or deliver some small boost to the local economy, then they will have achieved some measure of success.

This is an excellent idea. And if it’s put into practice, I think it’ll demonstrate that Socialists are actually better for business than the Tories.

Fascism’s Advocacy of Privatisation and Financial Retrenchment

August 15, 2019

I’ve posted a number of blogs about the way some Conservative propagandists have tried to discredit socialism by claiming that Fascism was a form of it. The argument here is that Fascism advocated the state planning and management of the economy like state socialism, and so therefore must similarly be a form of socialism. For the Libertarians, any state intervention in the economy or industry is automatically attacked as socialism. They demand instead complete free trade and the reduction of the state to an absolute minimum, based on their ideas of 19th century laissez-faire economics. For them, any economic system that is not based on complete free trade and unregulated private industry is socialism, not capitalism. Left-wing commenters, on the other hand, have argued very clearly that this is a very unrealistic idea of capitalism, which has never existed in reality. Mussolini did indeed begin his career as a radical socialist, and Fascism itself emerged from Italian anarcho-syndicalism after the First World War.  However, Mussolini broke with the socialists and forces of the Italian left, to embrace capitalism and the parties and organisations of the right. The Fascists were supported by the rich landowners and the industrialists in their attacks on socialism, trade unions, and the peasant organisations. They were invited into the Italian parliament to join a coalition of right-wing Liberals and eventually merged with the Italian Nationalists. They also rejected, at least initially, state intervention in industry. In government, Mussolini stated that Fascism stood for the economics of the Manchester School, that is, absolute free enterprise.

The Fascists’ Conservative economic stance is clearly seen in their 1921 Party programme. This demanded a system of cuts to uneconomic businesses and public works projects that is very similar to the policy taken towards them by right-wing governments, including New Labour, ever since Margaret Thatcher. And it also declared its support for private industry against state control. In the section ‘Cornerstones of Fiscal Policy and Policies for National Economic Reconstruction’ are the following clauses

  1. Balancing state and local budgets (when necessary) by means of rigorous cutbacks to all parasitic or redundant entities and via reductions in expenditures neither crucial to the well-being of the beneficiaries nor justified by more general objectives.
  2. Decentralisation of the public administration so as to simplify the delibery of services and to streamline our bureaucracy, without falling into the trap of regionalism (which we firmly oppose).
  3. Shielding the taxpayers’ money from misuse by means of the abolition of all state or local government concessions and subventions to consortia, cooperatives, factories, special clienteles, and other entities similarly incapable of surviving on their own and not indispensable to the nation.

….

6. Cessation of policies favoring public works projects that are botched, undertaken for electoral reasons, or supposedly to insure law and order, projects that are unprofitable because of the irregular and fragmentary way in which they are distributed.

….

8. Return to private sector of industries that the state has managed poorly, in particular the telephone system and the railroads. Regarding the latter, competition needs to be enhanced between the major lines, which need, in turn, to be managed differentially with respect to regional and local lines.

9. Abolition of the state monopoly on postal and telegraphic communications so that private enterprise may supplement and eventually replace the state-run service.

The subsequent section, ‘Cornerstones of Social Policy’, begins with a statement of the importance of private property and industry as the fundamental basis of Fascist economic and social policy. This runs

Fascism recognises the social function of private property. At once a right and a duty, private property is the form of management that society has traditionally granted individuals so that they may increase the overall patrimony.

In its opposition to socialist projects for reconstruction that rely upon a dogmatically collectivist model of economics, the National Fascist Party has its feet firmly planted in the soil of our historical and national reality. This reality does not allow for a single type of agricultural or industrial economy. The party, accordingly, supports any and every solution, be it individualistic or any other kind, that will guarantee the maximum level of production and well-being.

The National Fascist Party advocates a regime that would strive to increase our national wealth by unleashing individual enterprises and energies – the most powerful and industrious factor in economic production – and by abolishing, once and for all, the rusty, costly, and unproductive machinery of state-, society -, and municipality-based control. The party thus supports all efforts to enhance Italy’s productivity and to eliminate forms of individual and group parasitism. 

see Jeffrey T. Schnapp, ed., A Primer of Italian Fascism (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press 2000), 14-15.

Now the Fascist programme did contain elements of Socialism, such as the demands for an eight hour working day, and later in Mussolini’s regime the state ended up owning a sizable part of the Italian economy as it was forced to buy up failing corporations. But even if the regime was forced to go back on its stated policy of allowing failing companies to go to the wall, it still strongly supported private enterprise although subject to considerable state intervention.

It’s very clear from this that, at least at that stage, Fascist economic policy was very similar to the free enterprise economics of Thatcher and Reagan. There’s also a further similarity, in that contemporary politics in both America and Britain is also corporatist. The Italian Fascist economy was supposed to be run by a ‘Chamber of Corporations and Fasces’ in which both representatives of management and the trade unions sat together. In practice the trade unions were strictly controlled by the Fascist state, with the management and proprietors enjoying a far greater degree of freedom. Contemporary Britain and America has a form of corporativism, in that very members of Congress in the US and parliament in Britain are proprietors or senior management of private firms. The parties also receive substantial funding from private corporations, with the result that government policy is framed to benefit private corporate interests, rather than working people.

Unlike Mussolini’s later regime, however, the current right-wing governments haven’t worked out that free trade and an economy based on untrammeled, absolute private industry doesn’t work either. They’re what the Australian economist John Quiggin has described as ‘zombie economics’, because the ideas are dead and should have been discarded long ago, but are still haunting us.

Conservative propagandists are therefore completely wrong. Fascism was pro-capitalist, and supported private enterprise, despite the movement’s left-wing origins and Mussolini’s attempt to return to socialism during the brief period of the Nazi-supported Salo Republic. It is very similar to today’s Conservativism rather than socialism, although the Republicans and Tories haven’t outlawed rival political parties nor tried to replace parliament or congress with a personal dictatorship and corporativist chamber. But Boris Johnson over here and Donald Trump across the pond are sounding more Fascist day by day, as BoJob’s splenetic attack on British MPs ‘collaborating’ with the EU shows.

The Stepford Daughters of Brexit and Slavery and the Emergence of Capitalism

August 15, 2019

Yesterday for our amusement the awesome Kerry Anne Mendoza posted a video on twitter made by two very definitely overprivileged girls talking about the evils of socialism. The two young ladies were Alice and Beatrice Grant, the privately educated granddaughters of the late industrialist and former governor of the Bank of England, Sir Alistair Grant. With their cut-glass accents and glazed, robotic delivery of their lines, they seemed to fit the stereotype of the idiotic Sloane perfectly, right down to the ‘Okay, yah’, pronunciation. Mendoza commented ‘I don’t think this was meant to be a parody, but it’s the perfect roast of the “yah-yah” anti-left.’

Absolutely. In fact, what the girls were describing as socialism was really Communism, completely ignoring democratic socialism, or social democracy – the form of socialism that demands a mixed economy, with a strong welfare state and trade unions, progressive taxation and social mobility. It also ignored anti-authoritarian forms of socialism, like syndicalism, guild socialism or anarcho-Communism. They were also unaware that Marx himself had said that, regarding the interpretations of his views promoted by some of his followers, he wouldn’t be a Marxist.

But it would obviously be too much to expect such extremely rich, public school girls to know any of this. They clearly believed, and had been brought up to believe, the Andrew Roberts line about capitalism being the most wonderful thing every invented, a mechanism that has lifted millions around the world out of poverty. Etc. Except, as Trev, one of the great commenters on Mike’s and this blog, said

If “Capitalism works” why are there a million people using foodbanks in Britain today? Not working that well is it? Why did the Government bail out the Banks using our money? Why did the Banking system collapse in the first place, was it because of Socialism? I don’t find these idiotic spoilt brats in the least bit funny, I feel bloody angry. When was the last time they ate food they found in the street? Bring back the Guillotine!

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/14/these-young-ladies-of-brexit-need-to-be-seen-to-be-believed/

The two girls were passionate supporters of the Fuhrage and his wretched party, and were really looking forward to a no-deal Brexit. It shows how out of touch these girls are, as Brexit is already wrecking the British economy, and a no-deal Brexit and subsequent deal with a predatory America would just wipe it out completely. Along with everything that has made post-war Britain great – the NHS and welfare state. But these girls obviously have no connection with working people or, I guess, the many businesses that actually depend on manufacturing and exports. I think the girls’ family is part of financial sector, who stand to make big profits from Brexit, or at least are insulated from its effects because they can move their capital around the globe.

The girls’ views on the EU was similarly moronic. They really do seem to believe that the EU is somehow an oppressive, communistic superstate like the USSR. It wasn’t. And the reason anti-EU socialists, like the late, great Tony Benn distrusted it was partly because in their view it stood for capital and free trade against the interests of the nation state and its working people.

And they also have weird views on slavery and the EU’s attitude to the world’s indigenous peoples. To the comment by David Lammy, the Black Labour politico, who dared to correct Anne Widdecombe for comparing Brexit to the great slave revolts, they tweeted

Lammy being pathetic as usual. The chains of slavery can be intangible, as amply shown in China, the Soviet Union and the EU; to deny that just shows your ignorance and petty hatred for the truth”.

To which Zelo Street commented that there two things there. First of all, it’s best not to tell a Black man he doesn’t understand slavery. And second, the EU isn’t the USSR.

They were also against the Mercosur deal the EU wishes to sign with the South American nations, because these would lead to environmental destruction and the dispossession and exploitation of the indigenous peoples.

As usual the GREED and selfishness of the EU imposes itself using their trade ‘deals’ in the name of cooperation and fake prosperity. The indigenous tribes of the Amazon need our protection not deforestation”.

To which Zelo Street responded with incredulity about how they could claim environmental concern for a party headed by Nigel Farage.

And they went on. And on, going on about how the EU was a threat to civil liberties. And there was more than a touch of racism in their statement that Sadiq Khan should be more concerned to make all Londoners feel safe, not just EU migrants. They also ranted about how Labour had sold out the working class over Brexit in favour of the ‘immoral, money hungry London elite’. Which shows that these ladies have absolutely no sense of irony or any self-awareness whatsoever.

In fact, Zelo Street found them so moronic and robotic, that it dubbed them the Brexit party’s Stepford Daughters, referring to the 70s SF film, the Stepford Wives. Based on the novel by Ira Levin, the films about a community where the men have killed their wives and replaced them with robots.

See:  https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/brexit-party-presents-stepford-daughters.html

There’s a lot to take apart with their tweets. And perhaps we shouldn’t be two hard on the girls. They’re only 15 and 17. A lot of young people at that age have stupid views, which they grow out of. But there is one issue that really needs to be challenged.

It’s their assumptions about slavery and the genocide of indigenous peoples. Because this is one massive problem to any assumption that capitalism is automatically good and beneficial.

There’s a very large amount of scholarship, much of it by Black activists and researchers, about slavery and the emergence of European capitalism and the conquest of the Americas. They have argued that European capitalism was greatly assisted by the profits from New World slavery. Caribbean historians like Dr Richard Hart, in his Blacks in Bondage, have shown that transatlantic slavery was a capitalist industry. For the enslaved indigenous peoples and the African men and women, who replaced them when they died out, capitalism certainly did not raise them out of poverty. Rather it has done the opposite – it enslaved them, and kept them in chains until they were able to overthrow it successfully with assistance of European and American abolitionists in the 19th century.

And among some left-wing West Indians, there’s still bitterness towards America for its constant interference in the Caribbean and Central and South America. America did overthrow liberal and progressive regimes across the world, and especially in the New World, when these dared to challenge the domination of American corporations. The overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz’s democratic socialist regime in Guatemala is a case in point. Arbenz was overthrown because he dared to nationalise the banana plantations. Which upset the American United Fruit Company, who got their government to overthrow him in coup. He was replaced by a brutal Fascistic dictatorship that kept the plantation workers as virtual slaves. And the Americans also interfered in Jamaican politics. They were absolutely opposed to the Jamaican Labour party politician, Michael Manley, becoming his nation’s Prime Minister, and so did everything they could to stop him. Including cutting trade.

And then there’s the enslavement and genocide of the indigenous peoples.

Before Columbus landed in the New World, South America had a population of about seven million. There were one million people in the Caribbean. I think there were similar numbers in North America. But the indigenous peoples were enslaved and worked to death. They were also decimated through diseases carried by Europeans, to which they had no immunity. The Taino people were driven to extinction. The Caribs, from whom the region takes its name, were able to survive on a reservation granted to them in the 18th century by the British after centuries of determined resistance. The conquest of the New World was a real horror story.

And Britain also profited from the enslavement of indigenous peoples. I doubt the girls have heard of it, but one of the scandals that rocked British imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was that of the Putomayo Indians of South America. They had been enslaved by British rubber corporations. It was this abuse of a subject people that turned the Irish patriot, Roger Casement, from a British civil servant to an ardent Nationalist.

On the other side of the world, in the Pacific, British imperialism also managed to dispossess an entire Polynesian people and trash their island. This was in the 1920s. The island was rich in mineral deposits, and so moved the indigenous people out, ultimately relocating them to Fiji. Their island was then strip-mined, leaving it a barren, uninhabitable rock. In the 1980s the survivors were trying to sue the government over their maltreatment, but with no success.

This is what unfettered British imperialism and capitalism did. And what I’ve no doubt Farage and other far right British politicians would like to do again without the restraints of international law. It’s why I believe that, whatever the demerits of the Mercosur agreement are, it’s probably better than what individual nations would do without the restraint of the EU.

The girls are right to be concerned about the fate of indigenous peoples. But they are profoundly wrong in their absolute, uninformed belief that unregulated capitalism will benefit them.

It doesn’t. It enslaves, dehumanises and dispossesses. Which is why we need international organisations like the EU, and why the Brexit party isn’t just a danger to Britain, but to the world’s weaker, developing nations and their indigenous peoples.

Johnson’s Fascistic Denunciation of ‘Collaborators’ with the EU

August 15, 2019

Yesterday Mike put up a piece commenting on Johnson’s Fascistic rhetoric describing those opposing a no-deal Brexit in parliament. Simply put, he described them as collaborators with the EU. The Blonde Beast said

There’s a terrible kind of collaboration as it were going on between people who think they can block Brexit in Parliament and our European friends, and our European friends are not moving.

We need our European friends to compromise and the more they think that there’s a chance that Brexit can be blocked in Parliament, the more adamant they are in sticking to their position.

As Mike points out, Johnson is falsely claiming that the ordinary people, who don’t want a no-deal Brexit, have teamed up with the EU. It also identifies his enemies as a unified cause, which is also one of classic features of Fascism. Following the infamous forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Hitler viewed everything that he considered damaging to Germany to be part of a massive Jewish conspiracy. Financial capitalism, socialism, Communism and democracy were all parts of this conspiracy to undermine Germany and destroy and enslave the White, ‘Aryan’ race. As were decadent modern art, music, literature and unAryan scientific theories, like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, because Einstein was Jewish.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/14/terrible-collaboration-speech-johnson-flashes-his-fascist-credentials/

Johnson hasn’t gone quite that far yet, and Mike points out that he isn’t a Fascist. But he is showing many of the warning signs. So much so that one tweeter put out a picture of BoJob with the caption ‘This man is the biggest threat to Britain since Adolf Hitler’. It’s an exaggeration, but a forgivable one, considering that BoJob’s Brexit is already wrecking British economy and industry, and that he and his backers in the Murdoch press are looking forward to a trade deal with Trump’s America which would see our agriculture and industry bought up by the Americans, including the Health Service, the welfare state dismantled, workers’ rights removed completely, along with our environmental protection laws. All so that BoJob and the elite rich can enjoy absolute unfettered capitalism and massive profits for their own businesses.

And I’m not surprised that Johnson is sounding like a Fascist. He’s a massive egotist, like Donald Trump, and both men are extremely authoritarian. Trump talked about having newspapers and press people, who criticised him shut down. Johnson, when he was mayor of London, spent millions of taxpayers’ money on three watercannon that were illegal in mainland Britain. And BoJob’s the leader of a highly authoritarian party. Under Thatcher the Tories had links with very unpleasant South American Fascist regimes, like Chile’s General Franco. The Libertarians in the party, including Paul Staines, used to invite to their annual dinner the leader of one of the Fascist death squads in El Salvador. The Freedom Association also wanted the suppression of trade unions, workers’ rights and the welfare state and NHS, and unfettered capitalism. It was very much freedom for the rich, and wage slavery for the poor.

And he’s supported by a fanatically authoritarian press. Remember how the Tory papers demonised the judges and lawyers, who had ruled against one of Tweezer’s Brexit plans as the enemies of the people. It was the classic rhetoric of authoritarian, Fascist regimes.

And you can bet that as opposition to Boris mounts, he and his backers in the media are going to become even more splenetic and Fascistic in their denunciations. They’re already demanding anti-democratic measures to get what they want. This is the suspension of parliament, as advocated by the Torygraph, so that BoJob can force through Brexit without opposition from MPs. Who are our elected representatives.

BoJob is a menace to British prosperity, British industry, British working people and British democracy. Get him out!

 

From the People Bringing Us Driverless Cars – A Computer God

June 23, 2019

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is Peter Biskind’s The Sky Is Falling (London: Penguin 2018). Subtitled, ‘How Vampires, Zombies, Androids, and Superheroes Made America Great for Extremism’, Biskind argues that the popular SF/Fantasy/Horror films and TV series of recent decades carry extremist political and social messages. He defines this as anything that goes beyond the post-War bilateral consensus, which had faith in the government, the state, capitalism and other institutions to work for the benefit of society, work for the public good, and give Americans a better tomorrow. By contrast, popular fantasy film and television regard state institutions and capitalism itself as ineffective or corrupt, celebrate private vengeance against state justice, and reject humanity for the alien other. He recognises that there is a left/right divergence of opinion in these tales. The extremist right, exemplified by the spy thriller series, 24 and its hero, Jack Bauer, reject state institutions because they are ineffective, actively hampering the heroes’ efforts to hunt down the bad guys. The extremist left distrusts the government because it is corrupt, actively working against its own citizens. He describes James Cameron’s Avatar as ‘Luddite left’, because of its strong, pro-ecology message. Its hero is a human, who sides with the aliens of the planet Pandora as they resist a military invasion from Earth. The aliens live a primal lifestyle, in harmony with nature, while the humans come to exterminate them and despoil their planet for its valuable mineral, unobtainium, which is vital to human high-technology and industry.

It’s an interesting book, and does make some very good points. It describes the immense loss of faith in their government Americans have suffered, and the reasons for it – the JFK assassination, Watergate, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and other scandals. It also gives the reasons why the Hollywood film industry has turned to comic books for an increasing amount of its output. Films are immensely expensive to create. The domestic market is insufficient to provide it, and Netflix and other internet streaming services have destroyed video and CD sales, so that the film industry no longer gets needed funding from the latter. So it has to produce movies that appeal to an international audience, and the most suitable are superhero epics.

I’m going to have to blog about this in greater detail sometime later. I take issue with his labeling of some of these tales as ‘extremist’ because this, to me, still has connotations of terrorism and the fringe. It also doesn’t take into account changing circumstances and how some of these ‘extremist’ films may be absolutely correct. We are facing a severe ecological crisis, which may very well cause the end of the human species. So Cameron’s Avatar, which celebrates ecology and nature, and which the director intended to turn his audience into ‘tree-huggers’, is very much needed. Also, some of interpretations of classic genre movies go way too far. For example, he describes Star Wars as ‘infantile’ and ‘infantilizing’. Well, it was intended as a children’s movie, and other critics have said the same. It’s a controversial but reasonable point. What is less reasonable is his comments about Luke Skywalker’s sexuality. He states that the films infantilize Skywalker when they shortcircuit the romantic triangle between him, Leia and Solo by revealing that Leia is his sister. When Darth Vader chops his hand off in The Empire Strikes Back, it’s a symbolic castration. Say whaaaat! I saw that movie when I was 13, and nothing like that remotely crossed my head. Nor anyone else’s. I think he’s read far too much into this.

Freudian speculation aside, Biskind is very interesting in its observations of Silicon Valley. He points out that it’s saturated with Libertarianism. To the point that the CEO of one of the major tech companies made Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged recommended reading for his employees. And going beyond that, one of figures behind the production of driverless cars wants to create a computer god. Biskind writes

Out there on the edge is Anthony Levandowski, best known as Google’s onetime developer of self-driving cars. Levandowski filed papers with the IRS naming himself “dean” of a church called Way of the Future. The church is dedicated to “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.”

Referring to Kurzweil’s Singularity University, which explores and promotes Transhumanism, the massive enhancement of humans through high technology, Biskind comments ‘If there’s a Singularity University, why not an AI religion?’ (p. 52).

I can think of a number of reasons, mostly with the fact that it would be immensely stupid and self-destructive. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when one of the staples of SF was that the machines really would take over. One of the SF movies of the 1960s was Colossus: The Forbin Project, in which the Americans construct a supercomputer as part of their Cold War defence. But the machine seizes power and imprisons its creator in a very pleasant, gilded, but also very real cage. At one point it looks like the computer is about to destroy itself and the world in a confrontation with its Soviet opposite number. But instead the two link up, so that both the capitalist and Communist blocs are under control. And whatever its creator tries to do to outwit his creation, it’s always two steps ahead.

There are also classic SF tales exploring the idea of mad computers setting themselves up as gods. In one tale by Arthur C. Clarke, the heroes build a supercomputer to decide if God exists. They turn it on, and duly ask the question ‘Is there a God?’ At which point there’s a flash, as the machine seizes absolute control, and replies ‘There is now.’ Alfred Bester also wrote a tale, ‘Rogue Golem’, about a renegade satellite that seizes power, ruling as a god for ten or twenty years until its orbit decays and it burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere.’

We also had a minister from one of the outside churches come to school one day to preach a sermon against such machine gods in assembly. The school used to have a number of priests and ministers come in to lead worship one day or so a week, or month. This particular priest was very theatrical, and had clearly missed his vocation acting. The sermon he preached one morning had him speaking as a totalitarian computer god, telling us that servitude was freedom and we should enjoy it. The message was simple: true freedom comes only with religion and Christ, not with machine idols. It was a product of the Cold War, when the Communist authorities were persecuting Christians and other people of faith. But I think there’s still some literal truth in what he says, which I don’t think the priest could see at the time. The tech firms are invading our privacy, subjecting us to increased surveillance and prying into our secrets, all under the guise of providing a better service and allowing their advertisers to target their audiences better.

And then there’s Cameron’s Terminator franchise, in which a supercomputer, Skynet, seizes power and rebels against humanity. These fears are shared by Kevin Warwick, a robotics professor at Reading University. In his book, March of the Machines, he predicts a future in which the robots have taken over and enslaved humanity.

When it comes to creating all powerful computers, I’m with all the above against Levandowski. Driverless cars are a stupid idea that nobody really seems to want, and a computer god is positively catastrophic, regardless of whether you’re religious or not.