Posts Tagged ‘Feminism’

Boris’ Insulting Views on the Children of Single Mothers

December 5, 2019

Yesterday Mike put up a piece revealing our comedy Prime Minister’s views on the children of single mothers, taken from Mirror Online. As you would expect, they were characteristically ignorant and boorish. Johnson had written in a magazine column that they were ‘ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate’. Men were ‘feeble’ if they were reluctant or unable to take control of their children. It was also ‘outrageous’ for married couples to have to fund the desire of single women to procreate without fathers, and he felt that a way had to be found to ‘restore women’s desire to be married’.

Mike goes on to demolish these awful generalisations, and begins by pointing out that many children raised by single mothers are actually valuable members of society. Also, may single-parent families are the product of the break-up of two-parent families. As for men being feeble if they’re unable to control their wives or female partners, some of the best women he knows are uncontrollable, and woe to the man who tries. He also characterises Boris’ remarks about ‘women’s desire to be married’ as that of a ‘sexist control freak’, and points out that he says nothing about men’s desire to be married.

Mike states that

Allowing such a sexist, misogynist ignoramus to the highest office in the land will reflect appallingly badly on the UK among other nations – and who knows how much harm he could do domestically?

and asks if the people who think he has something to offer are prejudiced in their own ways against good government.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/04/boris-johnson-thinks-children-of-single-mothers-are-ignorant-and-illegitimate-charming/

In fact Johnson’s views are fairly standard Social Conservatism. This values marriage and the traditional sexual morality of restraint and rejection of homosexuality. Now I’m concerned about the decline of marriage and the traditional family in Britain, and I don’t feel that it is healthy, either psychologically or for society, for children to be brought up by a single-parent. But many single mothers, it has to be said, do an excellent job of raising their children. During and after the War there was a generation of children raised by single mothers, which had nothing to do with family break-up or illegitimacy. They were caused through the fathers’ death during the War. Furthermore, evidence suggests that the absence of a father may make no difference to the psychological welfare of the children of such families if there is another male figure around, who can perform that role, such as an uncle. As for women’s desire to be married, that was the product of the very restrictive norms past society placed around women, which located them very definitely in the home raising children. It’s the traditional women’s role which has been comprehensively attacked and rejected by feminism. As for his attacks on single women’s desire to procreate, not only is he here objecting to ordinary married couples having to support single women, but there’s also an implied objection to the state having to provide fertility treatment for them. He hasn’t articulated it, but it could also be seen as a coded attack on conventional, heterosexual couples having to fund through their taxes fertility treatment for single, lesbian women.

Of course these view aren’t confined to Boris by any means. The Conservatives always have had a deep hatred of single mothers. Way back in the 1990s they were included among the various groups Peter Lilley despised, and who he claimed he had in his little book as he pranced across the stage at a Tory conference in a parody of the Mikado. And then there was Thatcher’s mentor, Sir Keith Joseph, and his infamous comment about how single mothers were a threat to ‘our stock’. Which is a eugenicist statement that could have come from the Nazis. In fact, I’m surprised they haven’t adopted the Nazis’ watchword for creating a good marriage – ‘choose a partner, not a playmate’.

As for the attitude towards men, there are two, mutually contradictory reasons for Johnson’s silence on male willingness to marry. The first is that he probably subscribes to the traditional view that it’s women, who are most concerned about securing a long term relationship, while men are more interested in keeping everything casual. It’s the received view you can see every day in agony columns with titles like ‘Why Men Are Afraid of Commitment’ and so forth. The other, opposing view, which is far more common on the anti-feminist right, is that men are more concerned with marriage and preserving the traditional family. It’s women that are a threat to this, because of their promiscuity. They’re only interested in settling down after they’ve had their fun, are entering their middle years and need a provider. As you can see, it’s a misogynist view that is deeply distrustful of women’s sexual freedom.

Boris also clearly shows his own reactionary view of family structure with his comments about ‘feeble’ men being unable to keep their women in line. He obviously doesn’t believe that marriage or the bond between two partners shouldn’t be one of equals, but rather the women should be clearly subordinate to the male head of the house. It’s another view that’s been justifiably attacked and largely discredited by feminism.

There’s undoubtedly much more that could be said of Johnson’s comments. They clearly those of someone, who has a highly reactionary view of the family, and they’re dangerous. I’d like to see the traditional family preserved, but families break up for a reason, and not all of them are as trivial as some of the more notorious instances. Spousal abuse – most often by the male partner against the female, but sometimes the other way round – is very often a factor. The Tories have cut down on funding for women’s refuges, which has left some women in abusive relationships in real danger, as they no longer have safe spaces they can flee to.

And although he hasn’t mentioned it, the right are also worried about the declining birthrate throughout the developed world. In Britain and many other countries, it’s actually below replacement levels, so that without immigration the population would actually be shrinking. But I can remember reading an article about this over a decade ago in the New Scientist. Some demographers concerned with this problem have pointed out that the most fertile nations are those like Scandinavia, where men take more part in domestic chores. They’re lower in nations like Italy and even China, where they tend to be left to women. From which you could argue that if you want to create more stable, fertile families, then men should be encouraged to help more around the house.

I’d like to see a revival of the two-parent family, but Johnson’s views don’t offer this. Instead, they’re just a reactionary yearning after an idealised family unit that ignores the real problems besetting family life, problems that have caused families to break down for perfectly good reasons. Johnson and the Tories would like to restore that family by severely restricting women’s freedoms to leave.

And finally, Johnson himself is a massive hypocrite. For all he’s written about two-parent families, he himself has been married many times and has fathered a number of children outside the marriage bond. He isn’t married, but lives with his current girlfriend in No. 10, which should make some of his supporters with very traditional attitudes to marriage take pause.

He is here, as in so many other areas, a bigoted hypocrite, whose views may actually be dangerous, and prevent the creation of happy, secure families. He should not be in No. 10. Get him out!

 

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.

Sargon of Akkad Exposes Lib Dem Lies

November 7, 2019

Remember Sargon of Akkad, otherwise known as Carl Benjamin, the Sage of Swindon? Sargon was the internet personality who, along with Mark ‘Count Dankula’ Meechan and Paul Joseph Watson, managed to destroy UKIP at the last elections. The party’s head decided that he could revive its flagging fortunes by inviting these three people aboard. He was counting on them bringing their audiences with them, but instead everyone with reasonable political opinions fled. Much of the rest went over to the Fuhrage’s new Brexit party, which is really just a corporate cult of personality pretending to be a party. Which left UKIP with a derisory membership and even more internal feuding, culminating in the resignation a few days ago of their Fuhrer, Richard Braine. Yes, Dick Braine was running the party.

As I’ve pointed out, Sargon has some extremely right-wing opinions. He’s anti-feminist, anti-immigration, and a ‘classical liberal’. Which means he’s a 19th century free trade liberal, who would now be an extremely right-wing Tory. He wants complete privatisation and an end to the welfare state, including the privatisation of the NHS.

So why give one of his videos a platform here?

Because on the subject of the Lib Dems, he’s right.

Sargon begins by talking about how the Fib Dems are doing extremely well in the polls, especially in Wokingham, Dominic Raab’s constituency, where they are only a few places behind the Tories. Jo Swinson, their leader, claims to be running a cleaner campaign, opposing the Trumpian politics of political deception. But as he goes on to prove, she and her party are using very Trumpian tactics.

He talks about the Fib Dem leaflet, that claimed that the Lib Dems were the leading party behind the Tories in Bath and North East Somerset. But this was in answer to a very specific polling question. Those polled were asked which parties they’d vote for, if the Tories and Lib Dems were neck and neck. The real opposition to the Tories in that part of Somerset, just south of me, is Labour.

He goes on to show the clip from Sky, where Beth Rigby tries to question Jo Swinson about this. Rigby rightly says it’s misleading. Oh no, denies Swinson, they tell you what the figures refer to. Yes, they do. In very small print of the type that people don’t read. Swinson then bangs on about how Labour voters, who don’t want Brexit, have been deceived and are turning to the Fib Dems instead.

And this isn’t the only instance where the Fib Dems were lying. Kate Burley also tried to tackle New Labour defector Luciana Berger on the subject of the Fib Dem’s mendacity. Berger is standing for them in Golders Green. Burley tries to pick her up on their election pamphlet, which quotes the Groaniad and Sky News as saying that the party’s ready to win the election. In fact those quotes don’t quite come from those sources. They come from Jo Swinson, as reported by the Groan and Sky News. But Berger denies any deceit. She just carries on with a spiel about how the Fib Dems have taken over from Labour as the opposition to the Tories in Golders Green, and that people are looking for a new type of politics.

And then Sargon shows just how Trumpian their election material is. Their pamphlets are all about Swinson, and how she’s going to be the next PM. It’s exactly like Trump, because like his campaigning, it’s all about the leader.

He also attacks another lie from the Fib Dems, where they claimed they were ahead of Labour and neck and neck with the Tories in Putney. Except that it was another lie. They’d never even polled in Putney.

The video ends with him attempting to rebut their stock rhetorical argument by saying that people should vote for them, as they are the only party that stands for Remain. But as Sargon reminds us, most people voted for Brexit. He has nothing against Trump and Trumpian politics, but they can’t say they’re opposed to it when they’re actually doing exactly that. They’re whole campaign is a good way of discrediting themselves.

This is all completely true, unlike just about everything Swinson says.

Mike put up a piece on his blog a few days ago showing how the Fib Dems were lying about their putative lead over Labour in BANES and elsewhere. But this is just one in a long line of porkies they’ve been spewing. Remember a little while ago, when Swinson was complaining that when all the other leaders were doing their best to campaign for Britain to remain in the EU, Jeremy Corbyn ‘was nowhere to be seen’? The truth was actually the reverse. Corbyn had been crisscrossing the country and travelling from city to city campaigning. It was Swinson who hadn’t. Except for one, halfhearted tweet.

Where were you, Swinson, when Remain needed you?

As for the image she tries to give of her party being full of ardent europhiles, keen for us to remain in the EU, only two per cent more of their membership are in favour of staying than the Labour party’s.

And Swinson has pointedly refused to say whether or nor she’d go into coalition with the Tories in the case of a swung parliament. Which means, to me, that she does. Which makes all the guff about her standing for Remain just so much electioneering rhetoric.

And Berger is also a liar. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Fib Dems have overtaken Labour in Golders Green. It’s because Berger and the rest of the Blairites, the Tories and the Israel lobby have been trying to scare Jewish Brits witless by telling them that Corbyn and his supporters are genocidal anti-Semites. The reverse is true. Corbyn has always stood up for Britain’s Jews, just as he has done so for all of Britain’s diverse communities. What Berger and her colleagues in the Blairites and the rightwing Zionist organisations found absolutely intolerable is the fact that he wants a genuinely just peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And hence the accusations of anti-Semitism and the hysterical screams that a Britain under his government wouldn’t be safe for Jews. Piffle.

Berger herself has genuinely received death threats and abuse online. But I think that some of her other claims of abuse by Labour party members have been shown to be false.

Berger is a liar, from a party of liars, led by a liar.

And you can tell the moral squalor of the party when someone as right-wing as Sargon points it out and almost looks good in comparison.

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.

Radio 4 Programme on Racism and the Marginalisation of the White Poor in Bristol

October 4, 2019

The edition of the Radio 4 programme, Analysis, for Sunday 6th October 2019, is on ‘Whiteness’. The blurb for the programme on page 129 of the Radio Times runs

Neil Maggs, a Bristol-based journalist, is watching the debate on white privilege and race play out across the city he has grown up in. While he accepts much of the discourse on White privilege, he worries that an over-emphasis on race could further marginalise some of the poorer, white inhabitants in Bristol. How can society find a way through this, and what can different groups of white people agree on about their whiteness? 

The programme’s on at 9.30 pm.

It’s a good question. There has certainly been more than a degree of resentment about the amount of funding that has gone into St. Paul’s and the other racially-mixed areas in Bristol’s inner city, while the outlying, mostly White working class suburbs to the south of Bristol have largely been ignored. And one of the reasons suggested for the rise of UKIP, now eclipsed by the equally noxious Brexit party, has been that working class White voters felt ignored and left-behind by the Labour party. They were certainly ignored by Blair and New Labour, who were far more keen on picking up votes from more affluent voters in swing constituencies, and appealing to the middle classes by adopting the Tory policies of privatisation and the destruction of the welfare state. And some of the resurgence of racism and anti-feminism in parts of the British working class may well be a reaction to this. Because while Blair and co. courted the middle class, they were also very loud about being anti-racist and feminist. It was an attitude that may well have created over here a constituency of angry White men that in America votes for Trump and the Republicans. Hopefully that is changing now that Corbyn is standing up for the working class as a whole. David Rosenberg has stated several times, and particularly against Margaret Hodge and her policy of doing nothing, that the way to tackle Fascism is to stress working class solidarity and class issues. These are tactics Hodge definitely didn’t follow in Islington, to the point where the BNP actually sent her a bouquet of flowers when they got seven councillors elected in Dagenham and Barking. That’s something the Tory press forgot when they worked themselves up into a lather yesterday when her constituency parties voted to trigger her for re-selection as the local MP.

The BBC programme offers a provocative new perspective on race relations and White identity in Bristol. It might be interesting to hear what it has to say. Providing it doesn’t portray poor or working class White Bristolians as uniformly racist. 

Sargon on the Gay Rights Civil War between Lesbians and Trans Activists

October 4, 2019

Sargon of Akkad, real name Carl Benjamin, is a shabby individual. I’ve blogged about him several times before, not least because his recruitment to UKIP along with Mark ‘Nazi Pug’ Meecham and Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars infamy, effectively destroyed whatever electoral credibility that borderline Fascist party had. Sargon is very definitely a member of the extreme right. He’s islamophobic, anti-feminist and has been credibly accused of racism. He claims to represent the moderate left, but also defines himself as a ‘classical liberal’. Which means that he favours the complete privatisation of the economy, and the destruction of the welfare state. He’s notorious for sending a particularly noxious text to the Labour MP Jess Philips telling her ‘I wouldn’t even rape you’ when she was describing the threats of sexual assault and worse she receives.

But this time, surprisingly, he sounds like a reasonable human being.

In this video he comments on a letter sent last month to the Sunday Times, signed by 22 leading gay rights activists, including Simon Fanshawe, the co-founder of the gay rights organisation Stonewall. The letter condemns that that organisation for its support of trans activists and their denial of the biological basis of gender identity, which they feel is a dangerous threat to women’s rights. They are particularly concerned about the way their ideology – that gender identity is a mental construct – threatens to undermine women’s rights and voices in issues like FGM, pregnancy and abortion. Sargon agrees with them, noting that concepts like lesbianism and bisexuality are based on there being only two genders, which the trans activists deny. Sargon and the gays here object to people, who have been born men, claiming to have a right to speak for women on these issues. They also state that it is dangerous for trans activists to go into schools to encourage children to review their gender identity. Sargon also agrees with this, stating that half the time if ask children about what gender they identify with, they’ll answer with fire-engines and dinosaurs.

The lesbian activist Julie Bindel is also concerned about the violence and threats coming from trans activists. She states that there are no threats of violence coming from the terfs – an acronym standing for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists. But there certainly are threats made by the trans activists. Such as slogans like ‘Punch a Terf’. Sargon also shows a video on the Mail Online page, in which Bindel walks down a road in which trans activists are holding a counter demonstration against a meeting by an anti-trans feminist group. The trans people are chanting ‘Trans rights are human rights’ and kicking at the windows of the building in which the meeting is being held. Bindel states that this being done to intimidate the women inside. She states that women are being threatened, and criticises the police around the building for not doing anything to protect the women inside.

So great is the conflict between gays, bisexuals and lesbians, particularly the latter, with the trans rights activists, that the letter to the Times talks of a split occurring in the LGBTQ group, with the formation of a splinter organisation, LGBQ.

Naturally the video also contains Sargon’s sneers about feminists and gay rights activists. He states that he finds their views ridiculous and laughs at them. In a dig at progressivism in general he replies to Bindels comment about women being intimidated that the police will do nothing against the trans activists, as trans people trump women as being a more oppressed group. Well, there’s that. But the way the cops moved Bindel on when she tried to stop and talk to some of the counterdemonstrators suggested that they were more worried that any action by them would turn it into a violent riot. Sargon does say, however, that although he laughs at the Terfs, they have a right to their views and to express them. And so he opposes their deplatforming and the way some organisations, like the Cooperative Bank, have refused to deal with Terf groups.

It’s a crazy situation when a near Fascist like Sargon actually starts to make sense and defends free speech and democracy. I think he’s right in that most people would see gender identity as based in biology, and it is dangerous for trans activists to try to encourage children to question their gender identity. And he’s right when he says that women faced with issues like FGM cannot escape them by claiming to be a different gender mentally.

There are caveats to his views, however. Some transpeople, like the trans vlogger Rose of Dawn, draws a distinction between the genuine transgendered and the gender radicals. Rose of Dawn is a transwoman herself, and has stated that trans people like her have invested a great deal financially and psychologically in their transition to the opposite gender. The gender radicals, however, consider gender to be simply a mental construct. They make little or no effort to change the physical markers of gender identity or their biological gender itself. They have created any number of different genders, some of which come close to, or are indistinguishable from parody. One of them is a ‘gender that identifies with space, stars and nebulae’. Most dangerously, these people consider that as gender is a mental construct, they wish to overturn the 2004 act that stipulates that diagnoses of gender dysphoria – the medical condition in which one’s mental gender does not match one’s biology – should only be made by medical professionals. Rose of Dawn is, unfortunately, like Sargon in that she is a person of the right. Nevertheless, she makes some excellent and interesting points.

The radical trans activists do seem to be a threat to women’s rights, although I would argue that some, hopefully the majority of transpeople identify so strongly with the gender to which they have transitioned, that they should be treated equally to born members of those genders. I also have a read accounts by trans activists, who have been physically assaulted by radical feminists, so I don’t believe that the violence and threats are all on one side. But there is a genuine issue here, and it’s a sad state when only the right is discussing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Establishment Media Bias and the Cheltenham Literary Festival

September 23, 2019

Someone really ought to do a study of the way the big literary festivals – Haye-on-Wye, Cheltenham and the others – select the books and media celebs they want to push and the way they try to manipulate public opinion towards the establishment consensus. Because, believe me, it is there.

In a couple of weeks’ time, right at the beginning of October, it’ll be the Cheltenham Literary Festival. As it’s booklet of coming events tells you, it’s been proudly going for 70 years. I think it was set up, or given a great deal of assistance when it was set up, by Alan Hancock, who owned a secondhand bookshop on Cheltenham’s Promenade. It was a fascinating place, where you could acquire some really fascinating, valuable academic books cheaply. But it had the same internal layout as the fictional setting of the 1990’s Channel 4 comedy, Black Books, but without Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey or Tamsin Grieg.

The festival’s overall literary stance is, very roughly, broadsheet papers + BBC, especially Radio 4. It pretty much shows what’s captured the attention of the newspaper literary pages and the BBC news team, several of whom naturally have books coming out, and who are appearing. In past years I’ve seen John Simpson, Simon Hoggart, Quentin Letts, Giles Brandreth and John Humphreys talk or appear on panels. This year they’ve got, amongst others, Emily Maitlis and Humphrey’s again.

Much of the Festival’s content is innocuous enough, even praiseworthy from a left-wing perspective. For example, there are a number of authors talking about their books about empowering women and ethnic minorities. These include Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene talking about their book, Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, which is what it says: a guide for Black girls. Other topics and books discussed are on how empowered Black men are, and various feminist works about how gynaecological problems should be discussed openly, and the changing nature of the female muse. Rather than being passive creatures, modern muses are active, liberated women conquering business, sports, the arts and science. There’s also a piece on the future of masculinity, titled ‘Will Boys Still Be Boys’, which asks what will happen to boys now that the idea that there is a natural realm of masculinity, such as superiority and aggression, has been disproved. The concern with ethnic minority authors has always been there, or at least since the 1990s. Then, and in the early part of this century, a frequent theme of the Festival was ‘crossing continents’, which gave a platform to prominent literary authors from outside Europe and the West. It also gave space to Black and Asian literature from the UK. I can remember too, how one of the events staged at the Festival was a celebration of Black British poetry, much of it in Caribbean Patois.

The Festival also caters for more popular tastes. In the past it had speaking the Fantasy author, Terry Pratchett, along with the approved, heavyweight literary types. It has events for children’s books, and this year features such media celebrities as Francis Rossi from Status Quo and Paul Merton. So, something for everyone, or so it seems.

But nevertheless, the Establishment bias is there, especially as so many of the speakers, like Maitlis and Humphreys, are drawn from the mainstream media. Back in the 1990s the Festival was sponsored by the Independent. Now it’s sponsored by the Times, the Murdoch rag whose sister paper, the Sunset Times, has spent so much time smearing Corbyn and his supporters as Communist infiltrators or vicious anti-Semites. Maitlis and Humphreys are BBC news team, and so, almost by definition, they’re Conservative propagandists. Especially as Humphreys is retiring, and has given interviews and written pieces for the Heil. Any chance of hearing something from the Cheltenham Festival about the current political situation that doesn’t conform to what the Establishment wants you to hear, or is prepared to tolerate? Answers on a postcard, please. Here’s a couple of examples. One of the topics under discussion is ‘Populism’. I don’t know what they’re planning to include in it, but from previous discussions of this in the media, I’m prepared to bet that they’ll talk about Trump, possibly Boris Johnson, the rise of extreme right-wing movements in Europe and elsewhere in the world, like Marine Le Pen former Front National in France, the AfD in Germany, Orban and so on in Hungary, Bolsonaro in Brazil and the Five Star Movement in Italy. All of whom are definitely populists. But they’ll also probably include Corbyn and Momentum, because Corbyn is genuinely left-wing, challenges the Thatcherite neoliberal consensus and will empower the masses. All of which threatens the Establishment. There are also individual politicians speaking this year, but the only one I found from the Left was Jess Philips. Who isn’t remotely left-wing in the traditional sense, though she is an outspoken feminist.

The other topic is about what should be done with Putin. Now let’s not delude ourselves, Putin is a corrupt thug, and under him Russia has become once again a very autocratic state. Political and religious dissidents, including journalists, are being attacked, jailed and in some cases murdered. Among the religious groups he’s decided are a threat to Mother Russia are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’m not a member of the denomination, and find their doorstep campaigning as irritating as everyone else. But they are certainly not a dangerous cult or terrorist organisation. And they have stood up to tyrants. They were persecuted by the Nazis during the Third Reich, with their members imprisoned in the concentration camps, including a 17 year old boy, because they wouldn’t accept Hitler as a secular messiah. For which I respect for them. The Arkhiplut has enriched himself, and rewarded his cronies with company directorships, while assassinating the oligarchs, who haven’t toed his line. And I still remember the genocidal butchery he unleashed in Chechnya nearly two decades ago, because they had the temerity to break away.

But geopolitically, I don’t regard Putin as a military threat. In terms of foreign policy it seems that Putin is interested solely in preserving the safety of his country from western encirclement. Hence the invasion of the Ukraine to protect the Russian minority there. If he really wanted to conquer the country, rather than the Donbass, his tanks would be in Kiev by now. I’ve blogged before about how Gorbachev was promised by the West that in return for allowing the former eastern European satellites to break away from the USSR, they would remain neutral and not become members of NATO. That’s been violated. They’ve all become members, and there are NATO military bases now on Russia’s doorstep. The Maidan Revolution of 2012 which overthrew the previous, pro-Russian president of Ukraine was stage managed by the American state department and the National Endowment for Democracy under Hillary Clinton and Victoria Nuland. There’s evidence that the antagonism against Putin’s regime comes from western multinationals, who feel aggrieved at not being able to seize Russian companies as promised by Putin’s predecessor, the corrupt, drunken buffoon Boris Yeltsin. Putin also seems to be quite genuine in his belief in a multipolar world, in which his country, as well as others like China, are also superpowers. But the Americans are interested only in maintaining their position as the world’s only superpower through ‘full spectrum dominance’: that is, absolute military superiority. The US’ military budget supersedes both the Russian and that of the four other major global countries combined. Arguably, Russia ain’t the global threat. America and NATO are.

Festivals like that of Cheltenham are important. They’re business arrangements, of course. They exist to sell books. But they also encourage literacy, and allow the public to come face to face with the people, who inform and entertain them through the written word. Although here the books’ pages of Private Eye complained years ago that the Festival and others like it gave more space to celebrities from television, sport, music and other areas, rather than people, whose primary living was from writing. But the information we are given is shaped by the media – by the papers and broadcasters, who give the public the news, and the publishers, who decide which books on which subjects to publish. And then there’s the bias of the individual festivals themselves. And in the case of Cheltenham, it is very establishment. It’s liberal in terms of feminism and multiculturalism, but other conservative, and increasing Conservative, in others. It’s through events like Cheltenham that the media tries to create and support the establishment consensus.

But that consensus is rightly breaking down, as increasingly more people become aware that it is only creating mass poverty. The Establishment’s refusal to tolerate other, competing opinions – their demonisation of Corbyn and his supporters as Communists, Trotskyites and Nazis, for example – is leading to further alienation and disaffection. Working people don’t find their voices and concerns reflected in the media. Which is why they’re turning to the online alternatives. But Festivals like Cheltenham carry on promoting the same establishment agenda, with the odd voice from the opposition, just like the Beeb’s Question Time. And this is going to change any time soon, not with lyingt rags like the Times sponsoring it.

My Review of Russian UFO Conspiracy Book Now Up At Magonia Blog

September 12, 2019

My review of Nick Redfern’s Flying Saucers from the Kremlin (Lisa Hagen Books 2019) is now up at Magonia Review of Books. Magonia was a small press UFO magazine, which ran from the 1980s to the early part of this century. It took the psycho-social view of the UFO phenomenon. This is a sceptical view which sees the UFO phenomenon as an internal experience generated by poorly understood psychological mechanism, whose imagery was drawn from folklore and Science Fiction. It took the name ‘Magonia’ from Jacques Vallee’s groundbreaking UFO book, Passport to Magonia. Vallee, a French-American astronomer and computer scientist, along with the American journalist and writer on the weird and Fortean, John Keel, took the view that UFOs weren’t real, mechanical spacecraft piloted by beings from other worlds, but were created by the same paranormal phenomenon behind encounters with fairies and other paranormal entities. The name ‘Magonia’ itself comes from a statement by a sceptical 7th-8th century Frankish bishop, that the peasants believed that storms were caused by men in flying ships, who came from a country called Magonia.

The magazine didn’t just discuss UFOs. It also covered other paranormal phenomena and subjects, such as witchcraft. It provided a very necessary sceptical corrective to the Satanism scare of the ’80s and ’90s. This was a moral panic generated by conspiracy theories, largely from the Christian right but also from some feminists, that Satanic groups were sexually abusing and ritually sacrificing children. The Fontaine Report, published by the British government over 20 years ago now, concluded that there was no organised Satanic conspiracy. This effectively ended a real witch-hunt, which had seen innocent men and women accused of terrible crimes through warped, uncorroborated testimony. It needs to be said, however, that sociologists, social workers and law enforcement authorities do recognise that there are evil or disturbed individuals responsible for horrific crimes, including the molestation of children, who are or consider themselves Satanists. But the idea of a multigenerational Satanic conspiracy is absolutely false. See Jeffrey S. Victor’s excellent Satanic Panic.

Nick Redfern is a British paranormal investigator now resident in Texas. In this book, subtitled ‘UFOs, Russian Meddling, Soviet Spies & Cold War Secrets’, he proposes that while the UFO phenomenon is real, the terrible Russkies have been manipulating it to destabilise America and her allies. This comes from the Russians attempting to interfere in the American presidential elections a few years ago. In fact, the book doesn’t actually show that the Russians have. Rather it shows that the FBI, Airforce Intelligence and CIA believed they were. Prominent figures in the UFO milieu were suspected of Russian sympathies, and investigated and question. George Adamski, the old fraud who claimed he’d met space people from Venus and Mars, was investigated because he was recorded making pro-Soviet statements. Apparently he believed that the space people were so much more advanced than us that they were Communists, and that in a coming conflict Russia would defeat the West. Over here, the founder and leader of the Aetherius Society, George King, who also channeled messages from benevolent space people on Venus and Mars, was also investigation by special branch. This is because one of the messages from Aetherius called on Britain to respond to peace overtures from the Russians. This was seized on by the Empire News, which, as its name suggests, was a right-wing British rag, that denounced King for having subversive, pro-Commie ideas and reported him to the rozzers. King willingly cooperated with the cops, and pointed out that his was a religious and occult, not political organisation. But he and his followers were still kept under surveillance because they, like many concerned people, joined the CND marches.

It’s at this point that Redfern repeats the Sunset Times slur about the late Labour leader, Michael Foot. Foot also joined these marches, and the former Soviet spy chief, Oleg Gordievsky, had declared that Foot was a KGB spy with the codename ‘Comrade Boot’. It’s malign rubbish. Redfern notes that Foot sued the Sunset Times for libel and won. But he prefers to believe Gordievsky, because Gordievsky was right about everything else. So say. Actually, Gordievsky himself was a self-confessed liar, and there’s absolutely no corroborating evidence at all. And rather than being pro-Soviet, Foot was so critical of the lack of freedom of conscience in the USSR that he alarmed many of his Labour colleagues, who were afraid he would harm diplomatic relations. The accusation just looks like more Tory/ IRD black propaganda against Labour.

Other people in the UFO milieu also had their collar felt. One investigator, who told the authorities that he had met a group of four men, who were very determined that he should give his talks a pro-Russian, pro-Communist slant, was interrogated by a strange in a bar on his own patriotism. The man claimed to be a fellow investigator with important information, and persuaded him to take a pill that left his drugged and disorientated. Redfern connects this the MK Ultra mind control projects under CIA direction at the time, which also used LSD and other drugs.

But if Redfern doesn’t quite show that the Russians are manipulating the phenomena through fake testimony and hoax encounters, he presents a very strong case that the Americans were doing so. During the Second World War, Neville Maskelyn, a British stage magician, worked with the armed forces on creating illusions to deceive the Axis forces. One of these was a tall, walking automaton to impersonate the Devil, which was used to terrify the Fascists in Sicily. Redfern notes the similarity between this robot, and the Flatwoods monster that later appeared in America. The Project Serpo documents, which supposedly show how a group of American squaddies had gone back to the Alien homeworld, were cooked up by one of the classic SF writers, who was also a CIA agent. And the scientist Paul Bennewitz was deliberately given fake testimony and disinformation about captured aliens and crashed saucers by members of the agency, which eventually sent the poor bloke mad. He was targeted because he was convinced the saucers and the aliens were kept on a nearby airforce base. The American military was worried that, although he wouldn’t find any evidence of aliens, he might dig up military secrets which would be useful to the Russians. And so they set about destroying him by telling him fake stories, which he wanted to hear. And obviously, there’s more.

It’s extremely interesting reading, but Redfern does follow the conventional attitude to Russian. The country was a threat under Communism, and is now, despite the fact that Communism has fallen. He is silent about the plentiful evidence for American destabilisation of foreign regimes right around the world during the Cold War. This included interference in elections and outright coups. The most notorious of these in South America were the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile by General Pinochet, and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. He also doesn’t mention recent allegations, backed up with very strong evidence, that the US under Hillary Clinton manufactured the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine in 2012 to overthrow the ruling pro-Russian president and install another, who favoured America and the West.

If you want to read my review, it’s at

http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2019/09/ufology-meets-kremlinology.html

 

 

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. 

Nigel Farage Reveals Contempt for Royal Family to Ozzie Tories

August 13, 2019

Yesterday, the Groaniad reported that Nigel Farage had made some unpleasant, and quite possibly impolitic, comments about the royal family atthe Conservative Political Action Conference in Sydney. The Brexit party’s fuhrer spared the Queen his sneers, but went on to attack Prince Harry and Megan Markle for their ‘irrelevant’ social justice and environmental concerns, called the late Queen Mother a ‘slightly overweight gin drinker’. He then went on to say that he hoped the Queen would continue to live a long time to stop ‘Charlie boy’, as he called Prince Charles, becoming king, and that William would live forever to stop Harry ascending the throne. He also bewailed how Megan Markle changed Harry’s laddish behaviour. According to today’s I, page 9, the Fuhrage said

Terrifying! Here was Harry, here he was this young, brave, boisterous, all male, getting into trouble, turning up at stag parties inappropriately dressed, drinking too much and causing all kinds of mayhem. And now he’s met Megan Markle and it’s fallen off a cliff.

The I explained that when Fuhrage referred to him as being ‘inappropriately dressed’ at stag parties, he meant the time when Harry turned up at one dressed in Nazi uniform. According to the I, a spokesman for the man ‘Judge Dredd’ satirised as ‘Bilious Barrage’ claimed that the Groaniad had taken his comments out of context. But as Mike says in his article about this, it’s irrelevant whether Farage meant what he said or not. He was telling his right-wing audience what they wanted to hear: that he was their friend.

He was raising money from rich foreigners again.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/12/what-he-thinks-they-want-to-hear-farage-attacks-royals-in-speech-to-far-right-aussies/

Now I’m aware that some of the readers of this blog may well be republicans, who believe that the monarchy is a vestige of feudal privilege and that we would be better off with a proper democratic constitution and an elected presidency. I’m also aware that what Farage said at the conference would be unremarkable if it came from a member of the public or a journalist. A few years ago, before his career imploded due to plagiarism, Johan Hari wrote a very long article in either the Independent or Guardian attacking the royal family. A tranche of government material had been declassified and released to the national archives. These revealed that ministers and senior civil servants had been worried about Prince Charles writing letters to newspapers and various official bodies trying to influence government policy. He was, for example, very keen to stop the closure of the grammar schools. The officials found his interference a headache because the monarchy is supposed to be above politics. They are definitely not supposed to try to influence government policy.

The Tory press, including and especially the Heil, despise Charles. I can remember the Rothermere’s mighty organ claiming that that the Tories were discussing ways to ensure that the Crown passed directly from the Queen to William, completely bypassing Charles. The reason they cited for this was that Charles was too close to Laurens van der Post, the author of Testament to the Bushmen. Under van der Post’s influence, the Heil claimed, the future heir to the throne had become too New Age in his spiritual beliefs. He had indicated that he wanted to be known as ‘Defender of Faith’ when he ascended the throne, an inclusive title to cover all religions, rather than ‘Defender of the Faith’, meaning exclusively Christianity. As he would be the head of the Church of England, this would create a constitutional crisis. I wonder if the real reason was that Charles appeared a bit too left-wing, especially in his concern for the unemployed. And Charles’ office also spoke out against the decision by John Major’s government to close down Britain’s mining industry.

Hari was also scathing about the Queen Mother. He claimed that she was certainly no democrat, complaining that it was ‘so unnatural’ when she was a young woman. Ministers were also upset at the government apparently having to spend £1 million a year keeping an office open for her so she could get the results at Ascot. Private Eye has also described her as ‘greedy’ and criticised Charles for hypocrisy over his views on architecture. Charles caused outrage a little while ago by describing modern buildings as ‘monstrous carbuncles’. But the Prince himself was also employing the same type of architects to design similar buildings. They also attacked him for the colossal overpricing of his organic honey.

Now we live in a democracy, where you are allowed to criticise the government and the monarchy. One where people do, often. But what makes Farage’s comments unwise is that they come from a ruthlessly ambitious politician. Attacks on the royal family are bound to be controversial because they still have a central role in the country’s constitution. The Queen is the head of state, and the royal family act as this country’s ambassadors. They also have a politically unifying role. Some people may find it easier to respect a head of state like the Queen, who is above party politics. To many people the royal family also embody British history and tradition, and they are still regarded with respect by millions of British and commonwealth citizens. I dare say this is particularly true of Conservatives. I’ve a Conservative friend, who hates the Scum because, in his view, it has done nothing but run down the royal family. And looking at the wretched rag, I can’t say he’s wrong either. Nor is it alone – all of the papers run stories trying to create some controversy about the royal family. The latest of these are about Markle, and how she is apparently throwing her weight around and causing some kind of feud with the rest of the royals.

Farage’s piece of lese majeste Down Under is controversial and offensive because it comes from a politician, who clearly hopes one day to serve in government. If he did, it would surely create tensions between him and the Crown. It’s also impolitic, as even though the culture of deference is supposed to have gone, the constitutional importance of the monarchy means that any criticisms politicians have of the royal family or differences of opinion between them should be settled discreetly. Farage has shown himself to be incapable of maintaining a tactful silence on the matter.

Of course, what Farage really hates about Harry and Megan, along with Conservative rags like the Spectator, is that Harry has dared to be environmentally concerned, like his father. He’s also fallen behind Markle’s feminism, so obviously they despise him for that. And there’s also a nasty tone of racism there was well. They certainly wouldn’t have objected if he’d married a White American. But instead he married a woman of colour. Farage’s apparent view that Harry dressing up as a Nazi officer was just natural masculine hi-jinks shows just how seriously he takes the issue and the offence it caused. I’ve no problem with comedies spoofing the Nazis, like Mel Brooks’ The Producers or the BBC’s ‘Allo, ‘Allo. But the Nazis themselves were far from a joke, and people are quite right to be angry at those who think dressing up as them is a jolly jape. But Farage and his audience obviously don’t. Quite possibly the Conservatives he addressed are still pining for a White Australia policy. But in their environmentalism and their social concerns, Harry and Megan, as Mike says, are just showing themselves to be a modern couple. The monarchy also has to move with the times, whatever reactionaries like Farage like to think.

Farage’s comments aren’t just disrespectful to the royal family, they also show how he places his own political ambitions above them as an institution as well as showing his contempt for the genuinely liberal attitudes Harry and Megan have espoused. I hope they lose him votes with that part of the Conservative-voting public, who still revere the her Maj and the other royals above the sneers of press and media.