Posts Tagged ‘Folklore’

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.

Happy Halloween, Folks!

October 31, 2019

It’s October 31st, Halloween, the day when it was traditionally believed that the dead returned to Earth, and people dressed up as witches, wizards, ghosts and ghouls and went to parties. It was believed that the festival was based on the pagan Irish feast of Samhain. Research by folklorists suggest that it did start in Ireland, but the historian Ron Hutton published a piece in the folklore/ Earth Mysteries magazine Third Stone back in the 1990s disputing the idea that it was based on any pagan Celtic festival.

I had a book of ‘spooky verse’ as a child, which contained all manner of poems about ghosts and witches and so on, some funny, some tragic and some genuinely creepy. One of these was

Hey, ho, for Halloween,

And the witches to be seen.

Some black and some green.

Hey ho for Halloween.

Which is great when your a child, but hardly Ted Hughes.

However, I hope whatever you’re doing tonight, you’ll have a great evening, and best wishes to all. And just rejoice – Boris hasn’t got his way, and we haven’t left Europe!

Dankula and Mates Make Nuisance Call to Black Pastor

October 27, 2019

Well, Halloween is upon us. This is the time of year, according to folklore, when the dead once again return to Earth, and witches and wizards pore over their cauldrons and spell books casting their magic. For most people, it’s simply an opportunity for a party, where people go dressed as witches, ghouls, demons, vampires and so on. Or else they watch a horror film at the flicks or on DVD. Or go and catch The Rocky Horror Show at the theatre, if it’s playing. Many Christians dislike it, as they are afraid it encourages a real interest in the occult with all its dangers. Some churches put on Light Parties instead. I remember as a child going to Halloween parties, where the only magicians were definitely of the stage variety, and everything was at the suitable level of the traditional folktale and children’s fantasy book. This was long before the occult scares and witch panics of the 1980s and ’90s, and the hysteria over ‘Harry Potter’.

Nevertheless some people do try dabbling with the supernatural. Some of it’s just kids legend tripping. This is the term folklorists use to describe teenagers and young people going to reputedly weird or haunted sites hoping to see something paranormal. Or just wanting to take it as an occasion to have an evening out with booze and their girlfriends. This can have unintended sinister consequences, when the wider community takes the evidence of what they’ve been doing too seriously, and concludes that real, Satanic witchcraft has been going on. This can generate rumours and accusations of child abuse and the torture and sacrifice of animals. When this happens, a full-scale witch hunt erupts with the fear and hatred of its medieval and 17th century predecessors. People can be falsely accused and children separated from their parents and taken into care based on nothing but highly dubious testimony and the righteous beliefs of the witch hunters. The witch panic effectively ended over here with the Fontaine Report in the 1990s that concluded that the multi-generational Satanic groups abusing children haunting the lurid imaginations of the witch hunters didn’t exist. But the people, who pushed the Satanism scare are still about, trying to peddle their views to anyone who will listen, and there’s a real threat it could return.

It’s with this in mind that I came across a video on his channel on YouTube by Mark Meechan, the notorious Count Dankula. He’s the bozo, you remember, who thought it would be jolly japes to train his girlfriend’s pug to make the Nazi salute when he shouted ‘Heil Hitler’ and ‘Gas the Jews’. He was therefore prosecuted and convicted of spreading anti-Semitic hate speech. Dankula’s posted a number of videos of himself trying to defend it as a stupid joke, which should have been allowed under freedom of speech. He was also one of the crew of extreme right-wing internet personalities, including Paul Joseph Watson and Carl ‘Sargon of Akkad’ Benjamin, who joined UKIP. This resulted in some of the more liberal members leaving it and the party achieving a mighty 3.3% of the vote at the council elections.

The video I found dated from three years ago, 2016. It was of Dankula’s mates in a forest with a pentagram they had made on the ground out of tree branches. They’d also had some kind of fire, and were scattering the ashes around in order to make their pentagram look even more impressive. One of them also put a candle at one of the figure’s corners. They then phoned up a Black British pastor on a mobile and started swearing at him and trying to trick him with a bogus story about Satanists and human sacrifice.

The pastor was live streaming a Bible study of the Book of Jonah. Dankula’s mates first shouted ‘F**k!’ at him. One of them then put on a fake African accent and pretended to be a man waiting in the forest for Satanists to sacrifice him. The friend then said that there were no Satanists there, and he didn’t think they were going to turn up. But he personally had fought Satan last year on holiday in Spain, when the Devil had taken the form of a lizard. He’d killed the lizard, and roasted it in the ocean. This was accompanied by more swearing and puerile sniggering.

I’m not showing the video here or giving its address because I don’t want to give Dankula the publicity and the views. But it is out there. If you want to see, all you have to do use the search bar on YouTube.

Now Dankula claims not to be racist, and has said that he has Black friends. He may well be right. I also believe that there has been problems with some of the Pentecostal churches, which do promote the belief that witches and a Satanic conspiracy to undermine Christianity and decent society are all too real. It’s perfectly reasonable to criticise the preachers, White or Black, and secular individuals that promote this dangerous nonsense. But there was absolutely none of this here. The video gives no explanation for what they’re doing. It just shows a group of White yobs make a nuisance internet call to a Black pastor and telling a stupid, bogus story about Satanic sacrifice. It just seems to be a case of secular White kids sneering and mocking religious Blacks for their perceived credulity.

This undermines somewhat Dankula’s claim not to be racist. But it’s also an example of some of the pranks others might be making at this time of year. They also might be hoaxing evidence of occult rituals and Satanic practices, simply as a way of winding people up. Be warned, and don’t be taken in.

But whatever your beliefs or lack of them, I hope you have a great time this week. The most horrific thing I can think of is Boris Johnson and Brexit. Don’t have nightmares!

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

 

 

Tory Press Goes Full InfoWars as Sunday Times Compares Corbyn with Mugabe

September 11, 2019

What kind of drugs are the hacks at the Sunday Times on? Because whatever it is they’re doing, it’s not normal dope. Not from the stuff they’re writing. I’ve heard that very heavy, long term use of cannabis and amphetamines can cause psychosis. Heavy ketamine use can also cause paranoia. The pioneering psychologist John Lilley, who invented the sensory isolation tank and began the scientific attempt to communicate with dolphins was at one time shooting up ketamine every hour. His mind got so twisted on the drug, that he became convinced that there were solid state, computer civilisations out in space conspiring against us. In fact, he was so convinced, he was considering phoning up the president of the US. As this was the early ’70s, and the president was Richard Nixon, this could have been an extremely interesting, if possibly short, conversation. I can only conclude that the hacks in the Tory press, and very definitely the Sunday Times, are on some kind of terrible recreational chemicals from the rubbish they’ve written about Jeremy Corbyn.

Last weekend’s Sunday Times was a case in point. This carried an article by hack Sarah Baxter, in which she declared that

People are being as gullible about Corbyn getting a whiff of power as I was about Mugabe”.

Say whaaaat! As Zelo Street’s article about this latest slur against the Labour leader has pointed out, since Corbyn was elected head of the party in 2015 the right-wing press has been telling everyone that Corbyn was the reincarnation of Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zhedong, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, Erich Honecker, Nikita Khrushchev, Nicolai Ceaucescu, Josep Tito, and even Osama bin Laden.

The Sage of Crewe pointed out that Corbyn isn’t a Marxist, merely because the right-wing press says so. And that Marxism is not the same thing as the political system of the former Communist bloc, including China. The peeps on Twitter also weren’t impressed. The Zelo Street article contains a selection of comments from people sick and disgusted with Baxter’s noxious slur. Dane Harrison tweeted

Yeah fine. Why not, Jeremy Corbyn is Robert Mugabe. He’s also a Jihadi, an IRA operative, Kim Jong Un, Joseph Stalin and a Czech spy. Aren’t you embarrassed by the character assassination? Crazy idea, why don’t you rub two brain cells together and come up with a real critique?

Hindu Monkey said

Another morning. Another right wing paper casually comparing [Jeremy Corbyn] – a man who has fought his whole life for peace, with a mass murderer” and added that he f**king hated the media barons who run this beautiful country.

The tweeters noticed how the Times was trying to distract everyone from BoJob’s attack on democracy with the smear. Zelo Street commented

‘The “look over there” factor was also clear, with “The Times, there, running a column that positions Corbyn as a Mugabe figure whilst Boris Johnson ices out his cabinet, suspends Parliament and literally tries to break the law to force through his extreme agenda” and “The Times: Damn, Boris Johnson really triggered the libs by suspending Parliament … Also the Times: Just like Robert Mugabe, Jeremy Corbyn harbours contempt for our institutions of democracy”. Sarah Baxter’s deflection and propagandising duly busted.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/09/murdoch-goon-says-corbyn-is-now-mugabe.html

These ad hominem attacks on Corbyn remind me of the vicious racist smears the Republicans and their media flung at Obama when he was president. He was supposed to be a militant Muslim infiltrator, determined to bring down America from within and turn into an Islamic country ruled by sharia law. Or else he was a militant atheist. Or a Communist. Or a Nazi. It didn’t matter that all of the smears together are mutually contradictory, they were all flung at him.

He was also accused of being a viciously anti-White racist, who was going to murder more people than Mao and Pol Pot combined. And then there were the unhinged rants of Alex Jones of Infowars, the man who believes 9/11 was an inside job and thinks the evils of the world are caused by the globalist elite. Who are all Satanic socialist millionaires in touch with creatures from another dimension. Or something. Jones, before he was thrown off YouTube and other internet platforms, ranted that Obama was planning to seize control of the US and make himself its dictator. He was going to call a state of emergency, and then decent, law-abiding right-wing Americans would be herded into FEMA camps. This was when he wasn’t denouncing Obama as the Antichrist. Yup, he reckoned Obama was the Antichrist, because he smelt and there were always flies around him. Or so he claimed. Mind you, he also thought Hillary Clinton was a Satanic lesbian witch, possessed by demons, and possibly a cyborg.

Well, Obama has come and gone. He signally was not a Nazi, nor a militant atheist, Commie or militant Islamist. He has not killed tens of millions of White Christians, overthrown the government or declared a national emergency forcing people into FEMA camps. Neither has he turned America into a Muslim country under Islamic law. The separation of Church and state in the Constitution makes that, or should make it, an impossibility. And there’s absolutely no danger of it, either. Several local authorities have passed laws banning the establishment of sharia law, but this is a reaction by racist Republicans to a threat that doesn’t exist.

And just as Obama didn’t prove to be a murderous despot, so Corbyn won’t either.

But there does seem a tradition of hysterical paranoia directed at left-wing figures in the Sunset Times. Apart from that bilge about Mike and other decent people being Holocaust deniers, and the late Michael Foot being a KGB spy, way back during Bill Clinton’s presidency the paper’s hacks really believed in a paranoid conspiracy theory about the president. Along with a group of journos from the American Spectator, which I think must be the Speccie’s transatlantic cousin, these hacks formed the ‘Clinton Crazies’. There was a conspiracy theory going round that Clinton, when he was governor of Alabama, had been importing cocaine from South America using a secret airfield in that state. He was also supposed to be such an evil, malign character that 30 people connected to him had died in mysteriously circumstances, killed by their friend or employer. It was all rubbish. About 30 people connect with Clinton had died, but none of them had been assassinated on the orders of the President, as one former Clinton Crazy actually pointed out. Nevertheless, the hacks got themselves into such a state that one actually hid in his house with the blinds half-drawn, squinting through them waiting for the CIA assassination squad to turn up.

This comparison of Corbyn to Mugabe just seems to be more insane paranoia by the paper’s genuinely extreme right-wing hacks. And by comparing him to Mugabe, they’ve now moved into the realm of real tabloid hackery. It’s on a level with the bogus stories published by the Sunday Sport and the Weekly World News. The Weekly World News was infamous for running highly sensational, and obviously fake stories. My favourites were about an alien meeting Bill Clinton when he was campaigning for re-election, and promising his vote to him. And the headline, ‘Mom was Bigfoot, says beastie man.’ And the Sunday Sport also gained infamy when it claimed that a B 52 bomber had been found on the Moon. It then claimed in a later issue that it wasn’t there, and had probably been towed away by the Space Shuttle.

The smears against Corbyn are as fictitious as all these, and all the fake stories and accusations the American right-wing media hurled at Obama. There is one difference, however. All the highly unlikely stories in the Sunday Sport and Weekly World News were probably written just to entertain. Despite the fears of academic folklorists that people would believe them, and they’d contaminate the real urban folklore about UFOs, Bigfoot and the other weird beliefs they were studying, I suspect few people, if any, actually did.

The fake stories against Corbyn are more pernicious, as they’re clearly meant to be believed. Which means that the journalism in the Sunday Times and the rest of the British right-wing press is in a way actually worse. It’s far more like Alex Jones and Infowars, but pretending to be a reliable paper of record. And that’s no joke.

The Wretched State of Modern Ghost Hunting

September 9, 2019

I spent Saturday with friends at a conference on the paranormal by ASSAP at the University of Bath. ASSAP are one of the old school ghosthunting/ paranormal investigation societies. They were formed 30 or so years ago to investigate spontaneous cases occurring in the outside world, as opposed to the laboratory based approach of the Society for Psychical Research. The SPR itself has been going for over a century now, and was founded by serious, prominent scientists, philosophers and intellectuals in the Victorian period to investigate the-then new phenomenon of Spiritualism. This raised the question of whether there was an afterlife and there were hidden powers of the mind, like telepathy, telekinesis and so on. I realise that this is very much fringe science, and to many people it’s unscientific nonsense. But these societies really are rigorously scientific in their approach to studying the paranormal. Many of their members and active officials are qualified and practising scientists, medical professionals, engineers and IT specialists, as well as academics from other disciplines, like history, anthropology and so on. In their investigations they formulate and apply the methods of science. Phenomena are thoroughly investigated, and only after natural explanations have been ruled out is it suggested that whatever strange events have occurred may be supernatural. That can mean long nights in supposedly haunted houses sitting quietly bored waiting for something to happen. They also have a strict code of conduct to regulate dealing with scared, vulnerable people. And this means not dabbling with things that are well outside their competence, such as people’s mental or physical health. There was a fascinating panel discussion with five leading investigators. And one of the issues they discussed was this. One panel member said that he had one person from a case he was investigating phone him up worried, as the ghost had started scratching them. He promptly advised them to see their GP as he was not qualified to investigate that. There are clear ethical issues involved, and the professionals make sure that they protect and look after the welfare of the people experiencing the haunting or whatever.

All of this contrasts very strongly with the approach of many of the contemporary ghosthunting groups. One of the talks I attended was by a female Ph.D. student, discussing why she no longer considers herself a ghosthunter. She very definitely was a ghosthunter, it must be said, but her old school approach was far too different from that of most of the ghosthunting groups that were now around. She stated at the outset that she wasn’t trying to shame or embarrass anyone. She was just trying to show what it was like now. And it was grim.

If she was correct, then contemporary ghosthunting is not driven by the goals and methods of science. ASSAP, the SPR and the other, older paranormal societies contain both believers and sceptics. These new societies were composed almost solely of believers, who were determined to obtain evidence. They were also very much creatures of today’s media-driven culture. They had their websites, on which they put up the video footage they believed they had obtained, which demonstrated paranormal activity. They also had their own merchandising, such a T-shirts and caps bearing their group’s logos. Quiet, scientific investigation was out. In old school investigations, things tend to be calm and quiet, with everyone knowing where everyone else is. In these investigations, there’s much excitement with people running around here and there. They are keen to have scientific equipment, like EMF meters. These register changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. But they don’t know how to use them. They’ll also have tape recorders in order to record any voices from the spirits. However, most of the time these record simply noise, and so they spend their time messing around with them trying not just to clean them up, but effectively editing the tape so it produces what they want to hear. The speaker said that these groups were strongly influenced by programmes like Most Haunted, where there was a lot of running about, a lot of excitement, and people got possessed. She showed one tweet from a group, which said they had had a quiet night. They had only encountered two spirits and a third had chased them home. This, she said, beat all the quiet times she had on investigations in haunted locations where absolutely zip happened.

They were also completely irresponsible with the members of the public they dealt with. One family were frightened to go up in their attack after they were told by the investigators that there was a demon up there, ’cause they’d caught it laughing on tape. Yes, it did sound like someone laughing. However, the sound was eventually revealed to be due to plumbing, rather than the paranormal. Another family made £10,000 worth of alterations to their property after another medium told them that they had a portal to the underworld. Yet another family were scared to go back to their house after a medium told them they also had a portal to the underworld. She wasn’t capable of dealing with it. She could, she said, give them an address of a shaman, but he had moved away. She made the point that this was incredibly irresponsible. She’d frightened these people, and then left with them with it.

She was also pessimistic about what could be done about this problem. It’s the hope of groups like ASSAP and the SPR that someday parapsychology will be given its due respect as a genuine scientific discipline. But there seems to be little chance of this with the field dominated by this new kind of ghosthunter. They were keen to defend the reality of the paranormal, and any criticism was met with the accusation that the critic was a ‘hater’, who should be ignored. This meant that the sceptics were even more determined to disparage and ignore parapsychology. The speaker had hoped that these groups would die out, but they seemed to multiply and breed like viruses.

It was a fascinating, if dispiriting – no pun intended – talk, and I really don’t know what can be done about this situation. The speaker said she didn’t want to shame anyone, as these groups genuinely believe that what they’re doing is right. Perhaps. But if they’re making ordinary people terrified in their own homes, then clearly they’re a menace. Listening to her, it struck me that ‘ghosthunting’ in the traditional sense was very much a misnomer for these people. They’re actually legend trippers. ‘Legend tripping’ is the term folklorists use to describe the practice of people, mostly youngsters, going to a haunted or supposedly paranormal location, in order to experience something weird. Quite often they also have an ulterior motive as well, as they’ll often bring alcohol and their girlfriends. I am not saying that these groups are also there to drink and have a bit of romance, but they do seem to show the same mindset as those seeking to experience the paranormal on legend trips.

But if these groups dominate ghosthunting now, perhaps there is still some hope. Possibly that style of ghosthunting may fall out of fashion, even though it hasn’t done so far. What I think groups like ASSAP can do is carry on with their thorough, scientific investigations and make sure that these are given due prominence, in the hope that their influence will carry. Hopefully, a few, at least, of the other groups may get the message of how to investigate the paranormal properly.

Ursula Le Guin Referenced in Radio 3 Programme about Forests

June 14, 2018

Next week, Saturday 16th June 2018 to Friday 22nd June, Radio 3 is broadcasting a series of programmes about forests, in folklore, history, anthropology, witchcraft, music and art. And next Tuesday’s edition of Free Thinking, 19th June 2018 at 10.00 pm discusses forests and the natural world in the work of the Fantasy and SF author Ursula K Le Guin. It takes as its title that of one of her SF novels, The Word for World Is Forest. The blurb for it on page 126 of the Radio Times reads

Humanity’s impact on the natural world is a theme running through the work of American novelist Ursula K. Le Guin. Matthew Sweet discusses Le Guin on forests with British academic and Green Party politician Rupert Read.

Trump Advisor Sebastian Gorka Wanted for Firearms Offences in Hungary

January 27, 2018

Remember Sebastian Gorka, who was one of Trump’s key advisers in government, before the Orange Buffoon lost his rag and sacked him, like he’s done to so many others? Gorka was of Hungarian extraction, and had strong links to the Hungarian Far Right. He wore the insignia of the Vitezi Rend, the Hungarian chivalric order set up by Admiral Horthy, the Hungarian dictator, who led the country into a pact with Nazi Germany and assisted them with the Holocaust and deportations of Jews in his country. Gorka has also been personally active in a number of Hungarian Far Right organisations, and was one of the founders of one of them.

Turns out Gorka’s a wanted man. In this clip from the David Pakman Show, host David Pakman and his producer discuss the news that Gorka is wanted for firearms offences in Hungary going back before he became a member of Trump’s cabinet. Gorka has responded to this by making a non-denial. He Tweeted that the warrant was put out after he moved to America, adding ‘moron’ for good, insulting effect. But as they point out, this isn’t actually a denial that he is wanted for these crimes. Pakman also draws parallels of moving to America from South America, where he grew up. It’s perfectly possible that Gorka committed the offences after he emigrated to the US. Just because his primary residence is now the USA, does not mean he hasn’t been back to his family’s old homeland from time to time. Just as it doesn’t mean that because someone lives in California they have never been out of that state.

Pakman and his producer also point out that this also has dire implications for Trump’s claims that he’s hard on immigration and stands for law and order. Well, no, clearly he doesn’t. He claimed he was going to be super-hard on vetting his staff. He clearly wasn’t, otherwise Gorka’s arrest warrant would have been flagged, noted, and he wouldn’t have got the job. On the other hand, perhaps he was, and the Generalissimo of Reality TV didn’t care. Pakman also contrasts Gorka with the Mexican and Hispanic immigrants, who enter America to do physical work, like labouring. This wasn’t the case of a normal immigrant, who actually does something useful, like put in windows, fix the plumbing or mow the lawn. No, Gorka was a criminal immigrant, whom Trump took into the White House itself.

The last minute or so of the clip is a piece of advertising for their sponsors. I’m sorry for this, but I realise that shows like Pakman will only survive by advertising, and need sponsorship. Because Google is desperately trying to close down any left-wing news sites on the spurious grounds of combatting fake news.

As far as Gorka’s unsavoury activities and connections go, I honestly don’t think that Trump cares. He’s surrounded himself with all kinds of deeply unpleasant characters with extreme right-wing views, like Richard Spencer and the Alt Right. A century ago Gorka’s own ethnicity would have been problem for American nativists. Back in the 1920 right-wing American ethnic nationalists really didn’t like immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, like Poles and Hungarians, because they were considered racially inferior. Hitler in his Table Talk remarks that Hungarians are ‘men of the Steppe’, which is sort-of true in that the Magyars had been steppe nomads before the entered the Pannonian March in the 9th/10th century. And the Nazis despised the Poles and other Slavs as racial inferiors. Millions of Poles and related peoples were imported into Nazi Germany to work as slave labour. However, the Nazis strictly outlawed any sexual contact between Germans and Poles as a threat to Aryan racial purity. And if you look at some of the diagrams showing the differences between peoples in Nazi texts, like the handbook given out to the Hitler Youth, they portray the Poles and the other Slavs – Russians, Belorussians, Ukrainians, Czechs, Slovaks, Ukrainians and so on – as having very Asiatic features similar to those of the Chinese and other east Asian peoples.

This racist contempt for the Slavonic peoples was reversed after the War, when the Nazis turned their attention to Black and Asian nationalist movements, and non-White immigration. The Shoah had made anti-Semitism absolutely unacceptable to most people, although in Britain and America groups like the National Front, BNP and the American Nazi Party were still goose stepping around in Nazi uniforms as late as the 1970s. Then the White Nationalists decided that Magyars and particularly Slavs, weren’t subhuman after all, and started actively recruiting them. Hence the re-emergence in these countries of anti-Semitism, now allied with a vicious Islamophobia, amongst a plethora of Far Right parties. And Sebastian Gorka’s inclusion in Trump’s cabinet of horrors, along with other prominent leaders and spokespeople for the racist Right.

Hungarian workers, like the other varied immigrant groups in America and the new, Hispanic immigrants Trump and his supporters despise, contributed greatly to building the American economy. One of the heroes of working class folklore amongst the steelworkers of Pittsburgh, was Hungarian. He became a larger than life figure, similar to Paul Bunyan in the logging camps of the West, and was reputedly able to paddle and splash in superheated molten metal. This came at a time when working people had strong unions, which could demand respect and insist on their rights. All of which has been destroyed by pernicious Reaganomics and the neo-liberal assault on the working and lower middle classes that has followed it.

We need more working class heroes like the immigrant workers, Irish, Chinese, Italian, Slav, Hungarian, and oppressed domestic indigenous groups like Afro-Americans, who physically built America, toiling on its roads, railways and factories. And as Pakman points out, the Hispanic immigrants have proved themselves invaluable in doing dirty jobs no-one else wants to do. In fact, after one town kicked them all out, it then found it had a labour shortage and appealed for them to come back.

What we don’t need, is more far Right racists like Gorka and his domestic counterparts in the Alt-Right, Klan and various Nazi parties.

Protesters Chant ‘Tories Out’ at Jacob Rees-Mogg Meeting

October 4, 2017

This is a very short video from the Groaniad. It’s just over half a minute long, but it shows the protesters at the Tory Conference in Manchester disrupt a meeting held by Jacob Rees-Mogg. The crowd hold up placards and chant ‘Tories Out!’

I think this is just one of a number of protests that have taken place in Manchester against the Tories. I put up a brief video of one that was held outside their conference hall the other day. And I can’t say that I’m not happy that they held this protest in an event held by the Young Master. Rees-Mogg is being touted by some Tories as the next leader of the party, presumably after they dump May. The editor of Conservative Woman was writing in the I the other day, praising Mogg as ‘personable’ and ‘popular’. Well, she’s welcome to her opinions.

I have to say that Mogg in his coat reminds me of a figure from Andean folklore. This is the Pishtaco, described as a White or mestizo (person of mixed Spanish and indigenous heritage) man in a long dark coat, underneath which he carries a pair of long knives. This man kills indigenous children for the grease their bodies contain, which is used to lubricate the machines of European industry.

On the other side of the world, the Asian Indians had a similar story back in the days of the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’. This was the trade in indentured migrants from Indian and China to South America, the Caribbean and Fiji, to work on the sugar plantations to replace the enslaved Black workers, who had just been freed. Pay and conditions were appalling, and the immigrants were treated as slaves. There were also instances of kidnapping, and the British several times organised raids in India, where kidnapped Indian labourers had been forcibly imprisoned prior to their transportation half-way around the world. Furthermore, no provision was initially made for the migrant labourers to keep in touch with their families or send part of their earnings back home. Families were thus torn apart, with no word from their relatives, for years at a time. The imperial authorities responded to the trade by passing legislation regulating the trade, stipulating minimum living and working conditions and demanding that systems should be set up to allow the families of labourers to come with them, and migrant workers to send part of the wages back home to support their wives and families.

However, the kidnapping and complete absence of any news about some of the men, who had gone abroad to work had resulted in the rumour that rather than being taken to work on the plantations, the labourers were being taken to secret factory or workshop, where they were killed and their skulls drained of the cerebrospinal fluid. As with the Andean Amerindian stories about the grease from the bodies of murdered children, the fluid from their skulls was exported to Europe for use in industry there.

These stories are just folklore. However, they were a metaphorical response to conditions of colonial oppression and exploitation. Mogg, with his tall, lanky frame certainly reminds me of the Amerindian figure. And as metaphors they also fit the Britain under the Tories. We are seeing people exploited, with capped wages, zero hours and short-term contracts, welfare to work legislation designed to get the unemployed working for the benefit – but not real wages – for the big supermarkets, and benefit sanctions to make the jobless and those threatened with unemployment feel as threatened and as powerless as possible. And people are starving. There’s about 100,000 forced to use foodbanks as they cannot afford to buy food. Something like seven million live in food insecure homes. And three million British children this summer went without having enough to eat.

Meanwhile, the Tories have given massive tax cuts to immensely rich, cuts which Rees-Mogg has fully supported, while at the same time voting to increase the tax burden for the poor, and cut benefits. And people are dying. I’ve mentioned the long lists and articles on those, who have died in starvation and misery due to benefit cuts by Mike, Johnny Void, Stilloaks, DPAC and so many others.

So the legends of South America’s indigenous peoples and its Indian counterpart also metaphorically apply to today’s Britain. Our people are being exploited and killed by the Tories and their austerity campaign for the benefit of the big corporations. Rees-Mogg himself has always been perfectly polite when he’s appeared on TV, and I dare say that personally he’s probably entirely decent the way he treats others. But his party is responsible for starvation, exploitation and death through a set of policies he firmly supports and wishes to expand.

The protesters are quite right to demonstrate against him and his wretched, murderous party.

Trump and the Nazis’ 19th Century Precursors

March 27, 2016

I’ve blogged several times about Donald Trump and the very strong similarity between his rhetoric and racial politics and those of the Fascists, Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Trump is racist, and preaches a violent intolerance towards political opposition, as well as Mexicans and Muslims. However, reading Karl Dietrich Bracher’s The German Dictatorship: The Origin, Structure and Consequences of National Socialism (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1971) I was also struck by the extremely strong parallels between Trump, the American Republican party, and the 19th century precursors of Nazism in the various anti-Semitic movements in Germany.

In the first chapter ‘The Preconditions’, Bracher devotes an entire section to ‘The Role of Anti-Semitism’, pp. 52-64, in which he discusses the infamous forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, anti-Semitic racial stereotyping, and the social and political origins of organised anti-Semitic parties and organisations, like Adolf Stoecker’s Christian Social Party and Wilhelm Marr’s League of Anti-Semites, as well as other, minor, anti-Semitic political parties such as the Social Reich Party and the German Reform Party. He notes that German political anti-Semitism had its origins in the social disruption caused by industrialisation, the development of capitalism, and urbanisation. They were also attempts to draw the masses away from Socialism and the SPD to give their support to the traditional, Conservative-authoritarian social order.

He also discusses how the rise in anti-Semitism in Germany was a response to the influx of Jewish refugees fleeing persecution during the spate of pogroms that erupted throughout the Russian Empire in the 1880s. On page 55, Bracher writes

But when the optimism of the Enlightenment began to give way to an irrational volkisch nationalism, the idea of the eternally ‘demoralizing’ role of the Jew began to take root. His assimilation seemed impossible; his character was unalterably negative. The religious difference became a moral one; the image of the secularized Jew was based on a mythical-deterministic concept, a combination of reaction and impotence, hatred and fear. The quintessence of this type of anti-Semitism was the fear of the dark world of the ghetto and of the conspiratorial workings of ‘international Jewry’ as told of in pamphlets and novels since the turn of the century, a fantastic mixture of falsified and misunderstood Jewish works and stereotyped invention. The influx of Jews from the ghettos of the East furnished daily proof and arguments for the fear and hatred of the unknown. At the same time, their presence was held responsible for the problems and difficulties which changing social and economic conditions wrought in the lives of a people in an industrial society brought up on pre-industrial social ideals. According to Wilhelm Marr, Bismarck’s Reich was practically a ‘New Palestine’, which in all vital respects was under Jewish alien domination. The right-wing, anti-Bismarck opposition was a mainstay of this early wave of the 1870s and 1880s, when conservative Protestant and anti-liberal Catholic forces forged a temporary alliance.

There are glaringly obvious parallels with today’s refugee crisis, and the rhetoric surrounding Muslims, in which they are considered to be unassimilable into modern democratic society. As for Marr’s description of the Bismarckian Reich as a ‘new Palestine’, this sounds very much like the anti-Semitic rhetoric from the American Nazi Right, which describes the contemporary liberal American government as ZOG – the Zionist Occupation Government.

American Conservatives, like the Republicans, try to contrast Socialism with democracy. They pose as defenders of the latter against Socialism, which is always portrayed as totalitarian, and practically synonymous with Communism and Nazism/Fascism. Hence all the rhetoric claiming that Obama, who actually isn’t even particularly liberal, is really a Communist-Nazi-Muslim. One Trump supporter interviewed by Jordan Cheriton, stated that he wasn’t going to vote for Bernie Sanders, who describes himself as a ‘Democratic Socialist’. The young man stated that Sanders, as a Socialist, would govern totally, even telling Americans how they should lie in bed.

Apart from being a grotesque distortion of Socialism, it also ignores the fact that some of the anti-Semitic movements in 19th century Germany did have a quasi-democratic character. One of the leading anti-Semitic politicians in Germany at the time was Otto Boeckel, a folklorist and the author of a pamphlet Die Juden – die Koenige unserer Zeit (The Jews – Kings of Our Time). Boeckel also published a paper, Reichsherold, which Bracher states ‘had a pronouncedly progressive, anti-clerical, anti-capitalist tenor. It propounded near-radical democratic ideas’. Boeckel himself was political quite liberal, and broke with the League of Anti-Semites because he found them too conservative, founding his own Anti-Semitic People’s Party. Boeckel became the first independent anti-Semite to be elected to the Reichstag after he won an election in a Conservative stronghold near Marburg in 1887. Boeckel himself wanted the segregation of Jews and Gentile Germans.

The League of Anti-Semites also demanded laws to prevent further Jewish integration and assimilation into German society. It based these on similar measures elsewhere, such as contemporary American laws against Chinese immigration. (p. 60). And one of the other, most successful anti-Semitic politicians of this period was Hermann Ahlwardt. Ahlwardt, like Boeckel, won his seat an Conservative district, this time in a rural seat near Berlin. Bracher writes of him that

He had neither organization nor funds ,but he travelled tirelessly through the countryside to preach his anti-Semitic, anti-aristocratic gospel to the peasants. His campaign was directed against ‘Jews and Junkers’, against the racially marked ‘parasites’, the ‘predatory beasts’ and ‘contaminators’. He used socialist arguments to indict the economic ‘exploiters’ who were abusing notoriously blind ‘Germanic’ trustfulness. His contention that were it not for Jews, only half of all existing laws would be necessary held particular appeal. (P. 61.)

In 1895 the Anti-Semites, with the support of some conservatives, tried to introduce into the Reichstag a resolution by Ahlwardt to stop Jews being admitted into Germany. This was rejected by 167 votes to 51, and the anti-Semites consequently went into decline. In 1893 the Anti-Semitic parties, in total, had held 16 seats. In 1912, this had gone down to seven.

Unfortunately, their influence persisted as they became allied with the conservatives, who also adopted their anti-Semitic rhetoric.

(Y)et they remained an influential latent force when tactics dictated collaboration with the Conservatives, who furnished both funds and respectability. The radicals became demagogic auxiliaries, and the Conservatives themselves incorporated anti-Semitic slogans in their platforms, as in the so-called Tivoli Programme of the Berlin party congress of 1892. The agrarian interest groups (the Farmers’ League (Bund der Landwirte) and the German National League of Commercial Employees (Deutsch-nationaler Handlungsgehilfenverband), organized in 1893, became staunch backers of this course. The individual splinter groups now were replaced by the institutionalisation of anti-Semitism within the framework of an anti-Marxist, nationalistic, traditionalist ideology. The year 1893, the year of transition, also saw the founding of the Pan-German League (Alldeutscher Verband), which was conceived of as the vanguard in the fight against the continuing influx of ‘eastern Jews’, the electoral victories of the SPD in the Reichstag elections of 1893, and the policies of Bismarck’s successor, Caprivi. (p. 63).

The similarities between Ahlwardt then and Trump today seem close. Ahlwardt was an independent, who campaigned without the backing of a major political organisation. The Trumpenfuhrer is, of course, an extremely wealthy man, campaigning for the nomination for one of the two main American parties. He is, however, also claiming to be an outsider. His campaign is self-funded to a greater extent than his electoral rivals, as the big business donors he approached refused to finance him. He has turned this to his advantage by claiming to be some kind of underdog attacking the corporate control of politics. Despite the fact that he is part and parcel, if somewhat estranged, of that same corporate control.

Trump and his rival for the Republican nomination, Ted Cruz, want to end Muslim immigration to the US. They also want heavier surveillance of Muslim communities. Trump would like the remaining Muslims in America to be forced to carry identification documents, while Cruz wants heavier police patrols in Muslim areas. It’s also been suggested that what they really want is Muslims’ segregation into ghettos. There’s an obvious parallel there with Ahlwardt’s plan to halt Jewish immigration into Germany, and legislation to keep them separate from Gentiles.

There is some hope offered in these parallels, in that the fortunes of the Anti-Semites after the defeat of Ahlwardt’s immigration bill suggests that if Trump and Cruz’s demands for similar laws against Muslim immigration, those will also decline. It also shows that there is nevertheless a continuing danger of a resurgence of the racist extreme Right, if their policies and rhetoric are taken over by mainstream Conservatives.

Even if Trump isn’t Hitler, or even Mussolini, ready to pitch America into the nightmare of racial persecution and authoritarian, one-party dictatorship, his rise, like that of the organised anti-Semites in Wilhelmine Germany, may lay the groundwork for the emergence of just such a dictatorship at a later date. The German anti-Semites and Conservatives promised to save their people and their way of life, from the threat of big business, Socialism, and foreign – Jewish – immigration. Trump and Cruz need to be stopped, if not for us, then certainly for our grandchildren.