Posts Tagged ‘David Attenborough’

What’s the Real Reason We’re Bombing Syria?

December 9, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political reported yesterday that Britain had bombed a Syrian army base, apparently in retaliation for criticism by Assad. See the article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/12/08/cameron-orders-attack-on-syrian-army-retaliation-for-assad-statements-veterans-today/. This has provoked a storm of protest. Amongst those criticising the attacks are veteran broadcaster and naturalist, David Attenborough, (See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/12/09/david-attenborough-laments-dreadful-uk-bombing-campaign/). Most movingly, a group of British veterans have thrown their medals on the ground outside 10 Downing Street as their protest against the bombings. (See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/12/09/syria-air-strike-protest-ex-soldiers-throw-their-medals-away/). This must surely show how iniquitous many feel the bombs are, when some of Britain’s bravest and most gallant squaddies and ossifers feel that this act has disgraced them, so that they feel they cannot wear the medals they have won with the pride they deserve.

I’m left wondering why we really bombed the Syrian army, and whose side we’re really on. Criticism by the country’s dictator, but not actual military aggression, seems a flimsy excuse to start bombing his country and killing his armed forces. If we did that every time a foreign head of state criticised us, we’d have to start bombing just some of our closest allies and collaborators in the EU, like France, Germany and Spain, long before we got to the really verbally hostile nations, like Iran or North Korea.

So why did we do it?

It could just be that Dave Cameron has decided that he just wants to bomb Assad. He wanted to start bombing him after the Arab Spring broke out, and it looked like democracy was finally going to sweep away all the dictators, absolute monarchs, theocrats and other tyrants throughout the Middle East. That dream, unfortunately, went unrealised. Years later it looks very much like we were better off not toppling Assad, because if he had gone, it’s likely that Syria would be in the hands of ISIS or al-Qaeda by now.

And for all that Assad is a genuinely nasty piece of work, the Syrian Ba’ath regime is like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – a secular state with some degree of genuine religious pluralism. Christians, for example, could serve in the Syrian government, in sharp distinction to the theocratic autocracy in Saudi Arabia and the other gulf states, which are absolute monarchies. These nations reserve power, and in the case of Saudi Arabia, refuse to tolerate, any other religions, including different Islamic sects. Only Wahhabi Islam is tolerated.

I blogged today about a piece in the New Eastern Outlook that argued that ISIS was really the Saudi army in disguise. Shorn of its religious trappings, ISIS was a tool by which the Saudis hope to annex and control the oil wealth of the other Middle Eastern nations. This seems to me to be exactly right. As I wrote before, Greg Palast points out in his book, Armed Madhouse, that the Saudis wanted Iraq invaded so that they and the Americans, their partners in Amerco, the Saudi oil combine, could seize that country’s vast oil reserves, the second largest in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia itself. And it was one of the reasons why the West invaded Iraq twenty five years ago, after George Bush snr told Saddam Hussein that there would be no opposition to his annexation of Kuwait.

The anti-War protesters shouting ‘Gosh, No! We won’t Go! We won’t die for Texaco!’ were right. Absolutely and unequivocally.

So what’s the reason we’re going into Syria now? Cui bono? Apart from the Saudis.

Years ago I read a book by an other with a very Islamic name, which claimed that the 7/7 bombings were another false flag operation. It claimed that they were set up by Britain’s intelligence forces in order to provide further spurious justification for Britain’s military involvement in the Middle East. This was part of a broader strategy of misinformation and staged enemy actions which included the war in Bosnia in the 1990s and the invasion of Afghanistan. The real reason for all these invasions was to permit NATO to seize control of the vital oil pipelines running from Afghanistan, across the Middle East, and into the Balkans. Interestingly for a book written by some of Islamic heritage, it argued that some of the atrocities committed by the Serbs in Bosnia, such as the mass murder of Bosnian civilians in a concentration camp, did not occur, but were manufactured by the Allies. I am extremely sceptical of this claim, as it sounds too close to Holocaust denial and the type of stories retailed by the anti-Islamic extreme Right.

The book sounds like a British version of the American ‘Troofer’ conspiracy theories, which allege that the American intelligence agencies, or in some of the nasty anti-Semitic versions going the round, Israel’s Mossad, were really responsible for the destruction of the Twin Towers back in 2001. I find that extremely unlikely. It’s part of the American Conspiracist fringe and its Islamic counterparts. Such theorising is very common in parts of the Islamic world. John Timpson in his book on Iran noted how common it was over there. It’s not hard to see why. Conspiracy theories, like those about 9/11, Jewish bankers or secret deals with alien beings, are created by the powerless and disenfranchised to explain bewildering and apparently inexplicable events. They flourish in states where government is closed and autocratic. Like the Middle East and other parts of the developing world, dominated by powerful factions, and where government may be absolute, secretive and extremely repressive.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a kernel of truth in their somewhere, hidden amongst the paranoia. The invasion of Iraq did have nothing to do with combating al-Qaeda. It was mainly an attempt to seize their oil, as well as prevent Saddam Hussein supplying arms and aid to the Palestinians. As well as a giant experiment in free market economics and massive corporate pilfering by the Neo-Cons. Now it seems that the Saudis are also funding, supplying and controlling ISIS as a way to seize more nation’s oil industries. It looks very much like the War on Terror really is just a War for Oil, just as the Greens was back in the 1990s told us the first Gulf War was when they lambasted it as a ‘resource war.’

So, after bombing Assad’s army, is Cameron going to urge us, perhaps a few weeks, months or a year or so from now, that we now need to put ‘boots on the ground’ to join the 70,000 ‘moderates’ everyone else says isn’t there, in order to save the Syrian people from Islamist tyranny? Unfortunately, I can see that happening, just as I think that if he does, the real reason will be to seize, sorry, protect the Syrian oil wells, refineries and pipelines.

I may well be wrong, but this is the way I can see this war developing. And I’m already sick of it.

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Vox Political: Oxford University Now Has ‘Voodoo Science’ Explanation for ME

October 29, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has this article reporting an article in the Torygraph, claiming that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis isn’t actually a real, organic disorder, but entirely psychological, according to academics at Oxford University. They believe it can be treated through positive thinking and exercise, recommending our old favourite, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Mike’s article begins

This is appalling. Oxford University academics are trying to tell us that sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome (otherwise known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME) can make themselves better by positive thinking.

Oh – and exercise. Have you ever tried to get an ME sufferer to do more exercise?

It seems we are heading back to the days when the condition was dismissed as “yuppie flu”.

The research so easily fits in with what the DWP and its cronies at Unum, Atos et all have been saying that This Writer half expected to see one or all of them credited as funders for the project – and was more astonished to find that it was actually funded by the Medical Research Council which, on the face of it, actually seems to be respectable.

The full article can be read at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/10/28/voodoo-therapy-is-not-the-cure-for-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-oxford-university/.

This seems to be just one part of the more widespread issue of the corporate funding and corruption of science. The pseudoscientific studies advocating CBT as the miracle cure for acute illnesses leading to unemployment have come from a department at Cardiff University set up by the very businesses, like Unum, pushing them. It’s a good question, not mentioned in Mike’s article, whether the academics at Oxford university have similar connections to those business groups.

The title of Mike’s article also recalls Ben Goodacre’s book, Voodoo Science, which is all about dodgy scientific claims based on spurious or flawed research. Since Maggie Thatcher, university science departments have been forced to work with private industry in order to receive funding. At one level, you can understand the reasoning – to get value for money in terms of innovations that can be developed into marketable products. On the negative side is the discouragement of blue-sky thinking, and the promotion of inventions and products that will benefit industry, but not the public.

And this is definitely one of the latter. You should also ask whether the scientists making the statement that ME is purely psychological have produced research that has passed peer review. In order for scientific research to be considered respectable and reliable, it has to be published in a peer-reviewed publication. That means that other scientists working in the field, or related fields, have read the article and concluded that it is good science, rather than gibberish. One of the problems of contemporary science is that it much of it seems to be driven through press release and publicity, rather than more conventional avenues of publication. For example, a few years ago, you will remember, there was massive publicity surrounding the discovery of a fossil lemur, which was held to be one of humanity’s oldest primate ancestors. The two palaeontologists making the discovery released the news in a press conference in New York. The Beeb devoted a documentary to it, and even David Attenborough was drawn, though he later excused himself by saying that if you listened to his commentary careful, it was properly non-committal and littered with ‘perhaps’ and ‘maybe’s. Then came the news a few days or weeks later that the discovery was scientific nonsense. The creature wasn’t an ancestral lemur, but a type of tarsier, and so not a direct part of the line of evolutionary descent leading to humanity.

And that’s only one example. There are have been many others, mostly in the field of genetics. I’m sceptical when scientists claim that they have found the ‘gene’ for such and such a psychological disorder, such as schizophrenia, or aspects of human sexuality, like the much touted ‘gay gene’. I don’t doubt that in many cases there is a genetic component, but genetic inheritance alone does not necessarily result in a particular syndrome or psychological condition or sexuality. For example, a little while ago scientists announced that excessively violent criminals had a particular mutant gene. There was therefore a genetic reason why some crims were so violent. Another genetics scientist wrote into one of the newspapers reporting the finding to pour a bit of cold water on the ‘discovery’. Pschopathically violent criminals might have the gene, but so do half the population generally, so do probably many of the people you’re working with at the office. So, not quite the explanation for criminal violence that it claims to be, then.

Now it may be that the research on ME in the Torygraph is fine and respectable, but more than a little scepticism is warranted, especially as this is in an area, in which government and big business are pouring vast sums in order to cut the welfare budget and boost corporate profits. Just because something’s published in the broadsheets and claims to be science doesn’t mean that it’s as well established as Newton’s Laws or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. And this in particular looks like prize rubbish.

The approach the authors of this research recommend is actually quite dangerous. Go down through the comments to the article to find first-hand accounts from people with the disease or similar illnesses on the dangers they have suffered from treatments like that recommended by the scientists of the Oxford study. From their experiences, I’d say that this looks like well-argued, but dangerous pseudoscience.

Cameron Joins the Borg for the Sun

April 6, 2015

Star Trek’s Borg: The Future of the Conservative Party

On Saturday, I reblogged an edition of Russell Brand’s The Trews, where he takes apart a promotional video for David Cameron made by the Sun. Apart from the general horrendous bias of the video and its flagrant omissions of what Cameron has actually inflicted on the poor, sick and unemployed of Britain, it was also notable for the weird extremes its sycophantic tone took. It wasn’t enough to show Cameron’s working day, lobbing him soft questions, and trying to present the butcher of the poor and homeless as somehow warm, cuddly and caring.

David Cameron as Nature Documentary

No! They had to take viewer identification to a completely new level. They fixed Cameron up with the type of camera they usually fix on animals in nature documentaries, so you could experience what it was like to be him as he walked down 10 Downing Street’s hallowed corridors.

This presented the highly amusing spectacle of the prime minister being wired up in the same way the Beeb has put cameras on wild birds, seals and walruses, and, most recently, cats and dogs. There’s even a form of camera that can be purchased by ordinary members of the public, who want to put it on their pet to see what their pooch is doing. It was one of a number of doggy gadgets that Warwick Davis tried out on the One Show. This ended up with the nation’s favourite Ewok yelling down the computer screen as his canine best friend decided that it would take a dip in the house’s fish pond.

With Cameron similarly wired up to the TV, all that was needed was a voice-over by David Attenborough giving details of his territorial behaviour, nesting, and mating rituals.

There is a more serious side to this. The camera placed on Cameron to present his pov takes the whole exercise into the issue of cultural hegemony, the Fascist cult of the leader, and the potential loss of individuality and personal freedom through the internet.

Cameron’s Camera and Marxist Theory of Hegemony

Marx claimed that the ideologies informing and governing societies, such as religion, were constructed in order to disguise and legitimate the power of the economically superior ruling groups. This was developed by the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci into his theory of hegemony, in which the ruling classes grip on culture and its manipulation is part of the process through which they rule.

Part of this involves the lower orders and subordinate groups taking over and viewing everything through the eyes of their social superiors. One of the problems in history is that frequently the only materials that survive from past ages, is that produced by the ruling class of aristocratic White males. Thus the view of the past can be skewed very much towards the viewpoint of the governing aristocracy. If you look at culture generally, it frequently, but not always, was made by members of the ruling classes, and so reflects and promotes their class interests.

This isn’t always the case, and there are severe flaws which have effectively discredited Marxist aesthetics, which puts everything down to class. Nevertheless, it is broadly true in many cases.

This exercise with Cameron’s personal camera took this to its ultimate extreme. Not only were you being asked to identify with Cameron’s worldview, but you were also being manipulated into identifying with him personally, as a real, embodied being walking the corridors of power. This is as close a personal identification you can get with modern technology, failing having galvanic stimulators strapped onto your body, so you can carry out every movement he does.

The Fascist Leader Cult

Absolute glorification and identification with the leader is also one of the central tenets of Fascism. The cult of a charismatic leader was supposed to bring the ordinary citizen into a more personal, dynamic relationship with their government than was possible in democracy, with its grey, stultifying, boring bureaucracy. In practice, the reverse was true, and the cult of the leader proved far more boring and bureaucratic than the democracy the Fascist leaders had overthrown. And particularly as the Fascist apparatchiks were generally mediocrities and non-entities, carefully selected for their lack of talent and charisma so that they would never challenge the authority of the Fuehrer or Duce.

This was partly the purpose of the Fascist spectacles – the speeches from balcony and rallies in Nuremberg Stadium: to reach out to the masses and propagandise them through the leader’s personal charisma and oratory. And Hitler in particular stressed his personal connection with ordinary Germans and the submerged masses. In one of his speeches, he declared ‘everything I am, I am through you. Everything you are, you are through me.’ People and Fuehrer thus in Nazi rhetoric and ideology were almost indissolubly linked, the one a personification of the other.

Cameron’s donning of the camera to present his personal view took that concept, and attempted to make it technological reality.

We are Borg. Your technological and biological distinctiveness are at an end. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

Remember the Borg in Star Trek? This was their answer to Dr Who‘s Cybermen. The Borg were a race of humanoids, who had taken cybernetics almost as far as it would go. They had become cyborgs, combining the organic and machine. This technology had made them so interconnected, that they had lost all individuality. Only the Borg queen had an individual identity. The rest were merely drones, serving the collective, which was itself a gestalt intelligence or hive mind, like a giant anthill.

Star Trek’s producers state that when they created the Borg, they did so deliberately to play on American fears of collectivist societies, like those of the Japanese. And, we might add, like Communism. But the part of the Western political scene now that has the most totalitarian ideology is that of the Conservative right. Through sanctions, workfare, work coaches, fitness to work assessments and so on, the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers have created an extensive bureaucracy of surveillance and control, which is intended to monitor almost every aspect of the benefit claimant’s life. It harks back to the utilitarians’ ideology of control in Jeremy Bentham’s prison design. These were to have panopticons, a watch room from where every corridor and the movements of all the criminals in the prison could be observed and monitored. This, it was believed, would allow the authorities complete control over the prisoners and facilitate their reform.

The same ideology now permeates the Tories’ views of the poor and benefit claimants. At the moment the personal cameras are just being used to get people to identify with their leaders. How long before someone wants to use them to monitor us in the next extension of totalitarian power from a party determined to ‘discipline and punish’?

Delingpole, Jack Aspinall, the Conservatives and Eco-Fascism

April 11, 2014

Commend him for announcing the Savile investigation

Michael Gove: Believes Global Warming is another piece of ideology dreamed up by academics. This time their ‘activists’ not ‘Left-wing’, but same anti-intellectual drivel.

Looking through the politics section of Waterstone’s the other day, I found James Delingpole’s Ecofascism. I didn’t buy it, because its author’s name pretty much told me what I could expect. Delingpole is a columnist for the Telegraph and Spectator, who specialises in pieces describing at length how disgusting and depraved the underclass are. I am not remotely surprised Delingpole has also decided to produce a lengthy diatribe against the Green Movement. Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic have a bitter hatred of the Green movement. they dislike the way it seeks to limit the activities of industry in order to stop humanity fouling the planet even further. They also resent the Green tariffs levied on polluting industries, like the notorious ‘carbon tax’ to limit carbon dioxide emissions, as a form of Socialist redistributive taxation by stealth. Hence the attacks on anthropogenic global warming by the former Tory chancellor, Nigel Lawson, and Michael Gove’s attack on it being taught in the class room. The Conservatives have also tried to block Green initiatives through the foundation of fake grass-roots, ‘astroturf’ pressure groups, like Wise Use in America.

As with the Right’s attempt to link Socialism with Fascism, because of the latter’s inclusion of some Socialist or anti-capitalist policies, so Conservatives also link the Green movement with Fascism because Hitler also favoured certain Green policies. In his Table Talk, for example, Hitler discusses the need to protect the German natural environment and develop renewable energy supplies. Of course, simply because Hitler shared these ideas does not automatically mean they are in any sense Fascistic. Much of the Green movement is left-wing in political orientation. A large part of the Anarchist movement is very Green. There was a Green Anarchist group and magazine in Britain in the 1990s. The German Green party had, amongst its leaders, the Baader-Meinhof Gang’s former lawyer.

There is, however, a problem in that some parts of the Fascist extreme Right is also Green, or presents itself as environmentally concerned, because of Hitler’s own Green inclinations. Neo-Nazis have attempted to infiltrate the Green movement. A little while ago the Anarchist publishers, A.K. press, produced a small book describing the way various Nazi groups and organisations were attempting to do this. Murray Bookchin, one of the leading ideologues of modern, post-scarcity Anarchism, walked out of one conference after a former East German dissident declared that we needed a ‘Green Adolf’. Unfortunately, some parts of the Green movement also echo the genocidal rhetoric of Nazism in their desire to limit the growth of the human population. David Attenborough, who is very definitely not a Nazi, was criticised by a Tory local councillor a year or so ago after he made an appalling comment about the West sending aid and food to the Developing World. Attenborough had said that we must be mad to send food to Starving Africans, when the lack of resources meant that there was no food to support them and the local wildlife in their overpopulated area. He later apologised for his statement and said that he was more concerned with the survival of human children than with animals.

Such sentiments, however, are not limited Nazis, Left-wing or ‘Deep’ Greens or ecologically-concerned scientists and television presenters. They can be also be found amongst figures, whose politics is probably best described as extremely reactionary Conservative, like the millionaire zoo-keeper, Jack Aspinall. Aspinall runs a number of private zoos around the planet. He has one in Australia, which appeared on one of the animal programmes on ITV several years ago. The programme showed the late Australian zoologist and TV presenter, entering the gorillas’ enclosure so he could enjoy some quality with these majestic apes. It was great television, with some fascinating and delightful shots of Irvine being accepted by and playing with these animals, just as David Attenborough himself did all those decades ago in Life On Earth. It’s definitely not safe for everyone, however. When the late Johnny Morris entered a cage with some aggressively boisterous young males, they ran at him several time, knocking him over and leaving him with several broken ribs.

Aspinall himself is extremely Right-wing, and definitely seems to prefer animals to people. He was in the news several times in the 1990s after his animals killed two or three of their keepers, and a tiger badly mauled a model’s arm. Brian Masters, in his biography, The Passion of John Aspinall, quotes him as saying that the world, including Britain, was vastly overpopulated. Here in Blighty we needed to cut our population down from about 60 million to eight. He also declared that we need a Right-wing counter-revolution, ‘Francoist in spirit and determination’. Franco was indeed a Fascist dictator, but his regime also included other groups in order to counterbalance the Phalange’s radicalism. His regime has therefore been described as essentially palaeo-conservative, using the trappings of Fascism to give it a more modern guise. Aspinall’s own political beliefs appear to be the same – extreme Right-wing, illiberal anti-democratic Conservative, rather than Fascist. Nevertheless, he clearly identified with that part of Fascism.

This doesn’t affect Green politics as a whole, however. There is still an ecological crisis of immense proportions facing the planet, and whatever Gove or Lawson say to the contrary, by far the vast majority of scientists are convinced of the reality of anthropogenic global warming. It is the Green movement’s Conservative detractors, who are ideologically driven, not the Greens themselves. And regardless of ‘Green’ varieties of Nazism and Fascism that appeared during the 1990s, at least one of those, who could be described as Eco-Fascist, Jack Aspinally, was an arch-Conservative. But somehow I doubt that’s something Delingpole or Gove would really like to admit in their campaigns against the ecologically conscious and Left-wing academics and intellectuals.

Tory Councillor Told To Resign after Criticising David Attenborough – But Attenborough Does Believe in Doing Nothing for the Starving

September 19, 2013

Late yesterday evening there was a story on the MSN News about Phil Taylor, a Conservative councillor in Ealing, who had been told to resign for his comments on Twitter about David Attenborough. According to the article, Taylor had been angered by a statement by Attenborough on the need to curb the growth of the world’s population. He tweeted ‘I do wish this silly old fart would practice what he preached and take a one-way trip to Switzerland’. The leader of the Labour Party in Ealing Council, Julian Bell, condemned Taylor’s comments, and demanded that he should either apologise or resign. Taylor was also criticised by Scott Freeman, from the anti-bullying charity, Cybersmile, for setting a bad example and encouraging cyberbullying.

In reply to these criticisms, Taylor said in an email “My tweet reflected my frustration with Attenborough repeatedly using his ‘national treasure’ status to promote a set of views that see people as being a problem. His prescriptions seem always to apply to other people.

“My view of the world is that we have to work out how to make sure that the 9 billion people who will populate the world by 2050 all have a good life. They all have hopes and dreams and don’t need to be told what to do by Attenborough.”

The article concludes with the simple statement that ‘Sir David said in a radio interview this morning that he recognised that population controls were a controversial area and emphasised that he felt more strongly towards a human baby than any animal.

However, it is important to have a debate over what we do about the rising pressures on natural resources, he said.’

The full article can be read at:
http://news.uk.msn.com/uk/david-attenborough-should-kill-himself-says-tory-councillor.

Right-Wing Opposition to Green Politics

Now the Right does not like Green politics. In America Green politics are criticised as a Left-wing strategy for increasing taxation, regulation and enforcing income redistribution. The last means Republicans don’t like it because the Greens want to take money from the rich and give to the poor. Conservatives in America and Britain believe that Big Business has an absolute right to exploit, pollute and destroy the environment and its flora and fauna. In response to pressure from Green politicians and environmental groups, they have set up astroturf organisations, like ‘Wise Use’ to counter such criticism and present Conservatives as advocating instead a responsible approach to the environment in line with a policy promoting the proper exploitation of the natural world.

Attenborough: UN Should Not Give Food to Famine Victims

Now the suggestion that Attenborough should go and end his life in a Dignitas clinic is extreme, and it does set a bad example when so many children have ended their lives through abuse on the Internet. Taylor’s comment is not, however, quite as bad when you read what Attenborough himself had said. This is truly monstrous. According to the Daily Telegraph, Attenborough told their interviewer about his fears about overpopulation and appeared to suggest that the starving of the developing world should be left to die. The great broadcaster apparently said:
“What are all these famines in Ethiopia, what are they about? They’re about too many people for too little land. That’s what it’s about. And we are blinding ourselves. We say, get the United Nations to send them bags of flour. That’s barmy.” According to the article, he stated that overpopulation was a problem, and that if we didn’t tackle it, nature itself would, as it had done for a long time in the past. He also believed that the major obstacles to managing the world’s population was the attitude that having children was a human right, and the Roman Catholic Church’s prohibition on contraception. He also acknowledge that his statement about Ethiopia and its starving could be ‘misconstrued as an attack on poor people as the issues of major concern were in Africa and Asia.

The article about his comments can be read here:http://news.uk.msn.com/articles?cp-documentid=257478670.

India Starvation Photo

The victims of a famine in India. David Attenborough doesn’t want the UN to give food to people like these.

Attenborough and Atheist Attacks on Religion and Christianity

Now Attenborough has shown himself with these comments to be monstrously ignorant and callously indifferent to global suffering. I have been extremely unimpressed with Attenborough for several years now, ever since he added his voice to that of Richard Dawkins in sneering at religion. That’s a different issue, but I found his remarks then ignorant and uninformed, as countless people of faith, and particularly Western Christians, did contribute to the rise of science. For a more complete discussion of how Christianity laid the basis for modern science, see R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press 1971). I was also not impressed by his attitude, which suggested that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection had somehow disproven the existence of God. I’ve blogged several times on this issue. For a proper discussion of this issue, see Own Chadwick, ‘Evolution and the Churches’ in G.A. Russell, ed., Science and Religious Belief: A Selection of Recent Historical Studies (London: The Open University/ University of London Press 1973)282-93. These are separate issues. Attenborough’s comments here also seem woefully ignorant and misinformed.

Traditional Attitudes towards Large Families in Western History and Modern Developing World

Let’s take his comment about the Roman Catholic church’s stance on contraception being part of the problem. In actual fact, many cultures and religion advocate large families. In tradition Moroccan society, a family with fewer than 12 children was described as ‘unfinished’. The pagan religions in Africa also lay great stress of large families and the fertility of their flocks and herds. As for attitudes to the environment and animal life, Nigel Barley in his account of his fieldwork amongst the Dowayo people of Cameroun, The Innocent Anthropologist, noted that they had very little knowledge of the animal life around them, and were quite prepared to exterminate any creature they disliked, such as lions. He states that family planning is so unpopular that there is a joke that the only thing that will not be opened and misappropriated when you send it through the post in West Africa is a packed of condoms.

He also does not seem to know, or understand the reasons why the developing world, and indeed Britain and the West before the twentieth century, had large families. These were massive infant mortality rates and to provide support for the parents in their old age. Barley himself says that one of the most moving demonstrations of the tragically high rate of death in childhood in Africa is a question in the Nigerian census form. This asks you how many children you have. After this is the question ‘How many are still living?’ In traditional societies, such as Britain before the establishment of the welfare state in 1948, there is no or little state provision for citizens in their old age. People therefore have large families in order to support them when they have become too elderly to manage for themselves.

Pakistan Contraception Photo

Women in Pakistan receiving contraceptive advice.

Fall in Birth Rate throughout the World

Attenborough also seems to have ignored the fact that globally, birth rates are dropping. Governments throughout the developing world have launched campaigns to control their populations through family planning and contraception. This includes the developing world. The French anthropologist, Richard Tod, has pointed to the fact that, although families in the developing world may be much larger than in the West, there has been a dramatic decline. In some Middle Eastern nations, such as those of the former Soviet central Asian republics like Azerbaijan, for example, the birth rates are comparable to those of Western Europe. In Britain and much of the developed world, including Germany, Italy, Russia and Japan, the birth rate is actually below replacement levels. The population in Britain has grown only because of immigration. The Japanese are so concerned about their demographic decline that Japanese newspapers have run stories predicting that in a thousand years’ time, the Japanese people will be extinct. One of the reasons why the Land of the Rising Sun is putting so much resources into developing robots is to create a suitable workforce. The Japanese are unwilling to permit mass immigration to provide the country with labour, and so have turned to cybernetics and robots instead. In fact the global decline in the birth rate has alarmed some demographers, anthropologists and economic planner. In mid-1990s New Scientist carried an interview with a scientist, who believed that population growth had peaked or was peaking. He believed that by the middle of this century there would be a population crash. The result would be increased strain on the welfare state due to the cost of caring for an aging population. The economy would also contract, and countries would have to compete with each other to attract migrants to join their nations’ workforce. He also believed that the high mortality rates in some African nations coupled with a low birth rate would cause their populations to shrink. He believed that the first nation that could be so affected would be Ethiopia. We are here looking very much at the kind of dystopian future predicted by the film Children of Men. This portrayed a Fascistic future Britain, in which no children had been born for 18 years.

Racist Fears over Campaigns to Limit Population

Attenborough’s comments here also threaten to increase racial tension and spur on the rise of the racist Right. IN Britain and America the Fascist and Nationalist Right see demands by the ruling elite that we should limit the size of our families as part of a policy of racial extermination directed at the indigenous White population. They believe that there is a deliberate policy by the liberal elite of wiping out Whites, and replacing them with Black and Asian immigrants. Attenborough’s comments will be seen by them as another example of this policy. Black Nationalists may also see it as a racially motivated attempt to exterminate them. Private Eye a few years ago reported the outrageous comments by a Black leader in South Africa, telling people not to use contraception to stop AIDS as this was really another racist attempts by Whites to limit the Black population. Such statements have some verisimilitude due to the fact that BOSS, the South African secret service, had at one time been active trying to develop diseases that would specifically target Blacks. Attenborough might fear that his comments may be ‘misconstrued’ as an attack on the poor of Africa and Asia, but given the highly mixed legacy of European colonial administrations, one cannot reasonable blame them for doing so. About ten or so years ago a history book came out. It was entitled ‘Third World Holocausts’, or something like that. I can’t remember the exact title. I do, however, remember what it was about. The book described the way European colonialists had committed terrible atrocities in their African and Asian possessions from the political and economic ideologies of the time. In the 19th century, for example, there was a terrible famine in one of the Indian states. I believe it was Bengal, during which millions starved to death. The Raj refused to import and distribute food to its victims from the belief that this would undermine the principle of free trade they were trying to adopt across the Empire.

Attenborough’s Comments and the Irish Potato Famine

Irish Famine Photo

Irish victims of the Potato Famine queuing to emigrate.

Much closer to home, Attenborough’s comments recall the attitude of British politicians and civil servants during the Irish Potato Famine. The head of the British civil service, Trevelyan, stated that the victims of the famine should be left to starve. It was, he stated, their fault due to their improvident and irresponsible lifestyle. The result was the legacy of bitterness and hatred which further fuelled Nationalist demands for home rule under Charles Stuart Parnell and violent revolution from the Fenian Brotherhood and later Irish Republican groups. Attitudes like Attenborough’s have partly contributed, however, remotely, to the rise and persistence of terror groups like the IRA.

Fascism and the Green Movement

Attenborough’s views are also similar to some other, viciously misanthropic, extreme Right-wing views found in certain sections of the Green movement. In the 1990s one of the anarchist groups became alarmed at the Fascist tendencies then entering the Green movement. Murray Bookchin, a leading anarchist intellectual, who advocates Green, post-scarcity Anarchism, walked out of a Green conference in Germany when one of the speakers, a former East German dissident, declared that they needed a ‘Green Adolf’. Private Eye, in ‘Ape Sh*t’, its May 1988 review of Brian Masters biography of John Aspinall, The Passion of John Aspinall, remarked on the thuggishness of Aspinall’s political opinions. Aspinall has stated that humans are ‘vermin’, and stated that he favours a policy of ‘beneficial genocide’. He believes Britain’s population should be reduced from 54 to 18 million. He also has explicitly Fascist political sympathies. He supports ‘a right-wing counter-revolution, Franco-esque in spirit and determination’. See Francis Wheen, ed., Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion (London: Verso 1994) 226-7 (p,. 226).

Now I don’t think Attenborough is a Nazi. He has not advocated a Fascist dictatorship nor has any racist views. Indeed, quite the opposite. His programme, Man Alive, in the 1970s brought anthropology to British television and he was always polite and courteous to the primal peoples he spoke to and whose lives he explored. It’s a pity that this respect has not been extended to their children or grandchildren forty years later. Attenborough himself has been responsible for some of the very best of British television. He has delighted and educated the British public with his programmes on animals and wildlife for about sixty years. The BBC’s Natural History Unit in Bristol has brought from fame and honour to the city for its achievements in wildlife broadcasting. When he was controller of BBC 2, he was responsible for bringing some of the most innovative ideas to British television. Who now remembers Brass Tacks, a programme which allowed members of the public to talk about their political views? Unfortunately, Attenborough’s views in this instance less resemble those of an enlightened, genuinely liberal educator, but that of a loudmouthed bigot.

Attenborough’s Comments and the Macc Lads

Attenborough’s view in this instance resemble those of the Macc Lads. This was a northern punk band, which specialised in deliberately offensive lyrics. These could reasonably be described as misogynist, homophobic, and racist. I don’t know if the band themselves actually were. One of their songs describes them listening to the Band Aid global fundraising concert to help the famine victims of Ethiopia and Africa. The song ends with the lines

‘But I didn’t send money
t’ starving n*ggers
Because I’m a fookin’ Nazi’

I’ve been told that the Macc Lad’s songs were not meant seriously. Sadly, Attenborough here appears to have joined them, and this time meant it.

I would hope that Attenborough reconsiders his position in this matter, and issue the apology for his comments that they demand.

Overpopulation in SF Cinema

Apart from this, problems of a vastly overpopulated world has been portrayed in two films, Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston, and ZPG (Zero Population Growth), starring Oliver Reed. The future in ZPG is one in which, due to population pressure, even domestic animals, such as dogs and cats, have become extinct. The plot involves the attempts by the hero and his wife to preserve their child after the government outlaws having children.

Here’s the trailer for Soylent Green.

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And this is the movie trailer for ZPG.

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Bill Bailey on Alfred Russell Wallace and the Origins of Evolution by Natural Selection

April 27, 2013

Last Sunday the BBBC began a new 2-part series in which the musician and comedia, Bill Bailey, followed in the footsteps of the great Victorian biologist, Alfred Russell Wallace to discover how he indpendently came to the theory of Natural Selection at about the same time as Charles Darwin. Russell’s been overlooked as the co-discoverer of the theory. Bailey points out that at the time, Natural Selection was known as the ‘Wallace-Darwin Theory’. It was Russell’s letter to Darwin discussing his theory of Natural Selection that prompted Darwin, after decades of independent research, to finally publish his own results. AS time went on, Wallace receded into the background until finally the theory was completely dominated by the towering figure of Darwin. Bailey went to the Natural History Museum in London to show the great statue of Darwin that was installed four years ago during the Darwin bicentennial celebrations. Wallace, he noted, was nowhere to be seen. He then briefly talked with David Attenborough, who duly paid tribute to Wallace’s genius and perserverance in researching and formulating the theory.

Unlike the aristocratic and university-educated Darwin, Wallace came from a humbler background. His education stopped when he was about 12 or 14, and he was forced to fund his expeditions by selling the specimens he collected. It was during his trip to Indonesia that he began to formulate his theory of Natural Selection by noting how the species very gradually shaded into each other.

It’s a fascinating story. Bailey’s a musician and comedian, as well as Rocker and SF/ Fantasy geek. His shows incorporate music, wittily playing on the different styles and genres. One of the funniest of his pieces about how the Dr. Who theme, when you slow it down, sounds like Belgian Jazz. He then does a Belgian Jazz song, to the amended Dr. Who theme, with vocals in French, about the Doctor defeating the Daleks ’cause they can’t climb stairs. A enthusiast of the theremin, he managed to seriously freak out Jonathan Ross by playing it on his show. In the programme, Bailey’s a genial, articulate and knowledgable host. He’s done some of the same pursuits Wallace did, such as butterfly collecting, and first travelled to Indonesia several decades ago. He fell in love with the place, and the programme shows him not only trekking through the Indonesia rainforest in search of exotic animal and poring over Wallace’s books and specimens, but also staying and talking with an Indonesia family. He talked about how Indonesians also ate dragonflies, downing a kebab skewer of them. He thus followed Ray Mears in eating insects and what westerner’s would consider revolting in the name of bushcraft and cross-cultural understanding.

Criticism of Programme for Presenting Evolution as Leading to Atheism

DEspite that, I have serious reservations about the programme. It’s underlying theme is that evolution naturally leads to atheism, and conflict with the Church. Bailey several times talked about how Wallace would eventually lose his faith, and the Church’s opposition to evolution, or transmutation as it was then called. The show presented a picture very much of the lonely genius ploughing his way to scientific truth against opposition from the religious Establishment.

Yet here and there there are hints to contrary. Bailey noted the setback to Wallace’s own research on evolution with the publication of Chamber’s Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. As well as angering the Church, it was also scientifically rubbish, with tales of a Platypus being produced by a bird. Bailey notes that the Vestiges was massively popular, and was even read by Queen Victoria. Wallace was afraid that without further research, his own theory of evolution would similarly suffer ridicule.

Philosophical and Theological Trends leading to Acceptance of Evolution

What the programme does not show or mention, is that attitudes at the time were changing. Victorian society was becomming much more open to evolutionary theory. This was due to a number of factors. Firstly, the work of the German explorer Humboldt in South America had made the Victorian public aware of the great variety of species in that part of the world, and the possibility that evolution may have played a role. A further boost came from Hegelian philosophy. Hegel believed that society advanced and evolved through a dialectical process of thesis, antithesis, synthesis. While his theory was confined to human societies, it nevertheless opened up the Victorian public to the possibility that other aspects of the world also similarly evolved. In the 1820s the Bridgewater Lectures led to Liberal theological opinion in the Anglican Church considering that the world and its creatures may similarly have been produced by natural law. In the 1840s Baden-Powell, the Savillian professor of Mathematics at Oxbridge set out his view considering that the world’s creatures had also evolved in a process similar to the contemporary manufacturing process. Just as the way an article was shaped and formed during manufacture by different industrial processes, so organisms were shaped and formed by the world. And just as the industrial techniques that produce a table, coat or pot are the products of an intelligent creator, so the evolutionary processes that create a living creature also indicated the presence and direction of a supreme intelligence: the Almighty. A number of other Anglican clergy, such as F.D. Maurice, also accepted evolution because it made the creation of the world less mysterious, and pointed to the action of a divine intelligence.

Wallace, Teleology and Spiritualism

Although he lost his Christian faith, Wallace’s own views departed considerably from a completely materialist view of evolution. He was a Spiritualist, who believed that evolution was teleological, working towards a predestined end. He also believed that the higher faculties in humanity – our intelligence and moral sense, could not have been the product of unguided evolution. Because of this there has been interest in him from the Intelligent Design movement. Yet Wallace’s unorthodox opinions were not mentioned in the programme, even if just to dismiss them. It will be interesting to see if they are mentioned in tomorrow’s programme.

In short, Bailey’s series is an excellent programme in many ways as an introduction to Wallace’s life and thought. There are some stunning footage of the plants and animals of the region, and eye-catching animated sections which bring Wallace’s notes to life. The series suffers, however, from the simplistic notion that evolution must always lead to atheism and its doctrinaire and uncritical acceptance of the belief that religion and science are in conflict. Very few historians of science accept this view, but it has been loudly promoted by Dawkins and many of his followers. The programme follows this line, thus distorting and obscuring oen of the most profound intellectual developments of the Victorian Age.