Posts Tagged ‘Plato’

Gove Claims Labour ‘Weaponised’ Windrush Scandal to Divert Attention from its Anti-Semitism Problem

April 29, 2018

Mike put up a piece last night responding to another malign comment uttered by Michael Gove. Gove is the former cabinet minister responsible for education, and so can fairly be blamed for a good portion of the problems now affecting our educational system.

He’s a close of ally of Boris Johnson, though this didn’t stop BoJo stabbing him in the back over Brexit. Nevertheless, he showed his loyalty to Boris, as well as his complete ignorance and utter incompetence in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. This was the British woman of Iranian origin, who went back to Iran on holiday. She was visiting relatives, but the Iranians threw her in jail on the trumped up charge of spying. Boris made her situation worse by claiming that she was teaching journalism. She wasn’t, and Johnson’s comment was seized on by the Iranians as confirmation of their own allegations that she was trying to overthrow the regime. Gove then appeared on TV to support Boris, and declared in an interview that ‘we don’t know what she was doing’. This was wrong, and showed Gove really didn’t know what he was talking about. And it just made matters worse for Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who used his stupid comments as more proof of espionage and put more years on her sentence.

Now Gove has waded in to give his considered thoughts on the current scandal of the deportations of the Windrush generation and their children. OH no! cried Gove, it’s not that bad. It’s just been ‘weaponised’ by the Labour party to divert attention from the massive anti-Semitism in their ranks.

No, Gove, it isn’t. As Mike points out, the evidence shows that anti-Semitism in the Labour party has actually fallen under Jeremy Corbyn. But this won’t matter to the Tories. Like Goebbels, they prefer to repeating a good, useful lie until people believe it. Well, it worked with a lot of people under Thatcher. There’s always the possibility, however, that Gove really does believe what he says, or, just as likely, he’s so ignorant of the facts and the issues involved that he doesn’t know any better. Just like he didn’t know better than to mug up on the real facts before holding forth about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The deportation of the Windrush generation is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a vile, racist policy in itself. But it’s also offensive and dangerous because, as Lammy shows, they were British citizens. The Social Contract theory of government states that political authority arose when the early human community joined together to elect a powerful figure – a king- to protect their lives, families and property. The theory was first formulated in Ancient Greece, where it was taken over by Plato. It was the basis of some medieval theories about the origins and duties of kingship, and formed the basis of the political theories of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. It has also been used to argue for the people’s right to remove their sovereigns and leaders, and to form democratic, representative governments.

Social Contract theory’s been more or less rejected by scholars. One of the reasons is because their almost certainly was never a primal meeting of the early human community, to elect a leader using legal terms that wouldn’t exist until thousands of years later. Even so, it has still be influential. Rawls attempted to defend it, or advance a similar theory, in his A Theory of Justice. And it remains true that one of the very basis, essential functions of government is to preserve the lives and property of its citizens.

But this the Tories have signally not done. They have decided to remove the basic right of citizenship from the Windrush migrants, simply because of their ethnicity. This has led to their deportation from a country, in which they have every right to live, and the denial of other essential rights. Like cancer treatment under the NHS, and other basis services to which they are entitled.

Not that this bothers the Tories. They’re whole attitude to government is based on marginalising and depriving the poorest, most vulnerable sections of the population in order to give more wealth and power to the rich elite. Hence the attacks on the poor, the unemployed, the disabled as well as the normal attacks on immigrants and ethnic minorities.

This is what has made the deportations extremely dangerous. It has shown that the Tories regard basic citizenship not as a right, but a gift that can be withdrawn on a whim or for reasons of political expediency.

This is not about Labour trying to use it to deflect attention from the anti-Semitism smears and witch hunt in its own ranks. This is about protecting a group, that has been subject to a monstrous injustice, and preserving fundamental civic rights.

Not that you can expect Gove to admit to all this, as someone who has constantly supported the Tories’ persecution of marginal and underprivileged groups.

It’s time to get him, Tweezer and the rest of them out of office.

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Books on God and Religion

March 17, 2018

On Thursday, Jo, one of the great commenters to this blog, asked my a couple of questions on the nature of the Almighty, which I tried to answer as best I could. I offered to put up here a few books, which might help people trying to explore for themselves the theological and philosophical ideas and debates about the nature of God, faith, religion and so on. I set up this blog about a decade and a half ago to defend Christianity against attacks by the New Atheists. I don’t really want to get sidetracked back there, because some of these issues will just go on forever if you let them. And I’m far more concerned to bring people of different religions and none together to combat the attacks by the Tories and the Blairites on the remains of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, and the impoverishment and murder of the British public, particularly the disabled, in order to further enrich the corporate elite. Especially as the Tories seem to want to provoke war with Russia.

But here are some books, which are written for ordinary people, which cover these issues, which have helped me and which I hope others reading about these topics for themselves will also find helpful.

The Thinker’s Guide to God, Peter Vardy and Julie Arliss (Alresford: John Hunt Publishing 2003)

This book is written by two academics from a Christian viewpoint, and discusses the Western religious tradition from Plato and Aristotle. It has the following chapters

1. Thinking About God – Plato and Aristotle
2.The God of the Philosophers
3. The God of Sacred Scripture
4. Religious Language
5. The Challenge of Anti-Realism
6. Arguments for the Existence of God
7. The Attributes of God
8. Life After Death
9. Miracles and Prayer
10. Jesus, the Trinity, and Christian Theology
11. Faith and Reason
12 Attacks on God, Darwin, Marx and Freud
13 God and Science
14 Quantum Science, Multi-Dimensions and God

God: A Guide for the Perplexed, Keith Ward, (Oxford: OneWorld 2003)

1. A Feeling for the Gods
God, literalism and poetry, A world full of Gods, Descartes and the cosmic machine, Wordsworth and Blake, the gods and poetic imagination, Conflict among the gods, Friedrich Schleiermacher: a Romantic account of the gods; Rudolf Otto: the sense of the numinous; Martin Buber: life as meeting, Epilogue: the testimony of a secularist.

2. Beyond the gods
Prophets and seers; The prophets of Israel and monotheism; Basil, Gregory Palamas and Maimonides: the apophatic way; Thomas Aquinas: the simplicity of God; The five ways of demonstrating God; Pseudo-Dyonysius the Areopagite; The doctrine of analogy; Three mystics.

3. The Love that moves the sun
The 613 commandments; Pigs and other animals; the two great commandments; The Ten Commandments; Jesus and the Law; Calvin and the Commandments, Faith and works; Theistic morality as fulfilling God’s purpose; Kant, the categorical imperative and faith, God as creative freedom, affective knowledge and illimitable love.

4. The God of the Philosophers

God and Job; Plato and the gods; the vision of the Good; Appearance and Reality; Augustine and creation ex nihilo, Aristotle and the Perfect Being; Augustine and Platonism; Anselm and Necessary Being; Evil, necessity and the Free Will defence; Creation as a timeless act; Faith and understanding.

5. The Poet of the World

The timeless and immutable God; The rejection of Platonism; Hegel and the philosophy of Absolute Spirit; Marx and the dialectic of history; Pantheism and panentheism; Time and creativity, The redemption of suffering; History and the purposive cosmos; Process philosophy; The collapse of the metaphysical vision.

6. The darkness between stars

Pascal: faith and scepticism; A.J. Ayer; the death of metaphysics; Scientific hypotheses and existential questions; Kierkegaard: truth as subjectivity; Sartre; freedom from a repressive God; Heidegger and Kierkegaard: the absolute
paradox; Tillich: religious symbols; Wittgenstein: pictures of human life; Religious language and forms of life; Religion and ‘seeing-as’; Spirituality without belief; Non-realism and God; The silence of the heart.

7. The personal ground of being

God as omnipotent person; The problem of evil; Fichte, Schelling, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche: beyond good and evil; Omniscience and creative freedom; God: person or personal; Persons as relational; The idea of the Trinity; The revelatory roots of religion; Conclusion: Seven ways of thinking about God.

Bibliography

Teach Yourself Philosophy of Religion, by Mel Thompson, (London: HodderHeadline 1997)

Introduction
What is the philosophy of Religion?
Why study religion in this way?
What is involved?
The structure of this book
What this book aims to do.

1. Religious Experiences
Starting with experience
What happens when you experience something?
What is religious experience?
Induced religious experiences
Prayer
Conversion
Mysticism
Charismatic experiences
Revelation
Some features of religious experience
What can we know?
Authority and response
Conclusion

2.Religious Language
A private language?
Knowledge and description
Faith, reason and beliefs
The rational and the non-rational
Interpreting language
Cognitive and non-cognitive
Language games
The limitations of language

3. God: the concepts
God as creator
Eternal
Omnipotent
Omniscient
Transcendence and immanence
Theism, pantheism and panentheism
Atheism, agnosticism and secularism
Nietzsche: God is dead
Secular interpretations of God
A postmodernist interpretation
The Christian concept of God: the Trinity
Beliefs, language and religion
Saints?
Religious alternatives to theism
Basic beliefs

4. God: the arguments
The ontological argument
The cosmological argument
the teleological argument
the moral argument
the argument from religious experience
Conclusion

5. The Self
Bodies, minds and souls
Dualism
materialism
Idealism
Knowing our minds
Joining souls to bodies?
Identity and freedom
Freedom?
Life beyond death
Some conclusions

6. Causes, providence and miracles
Causes
Providence
Miracles
Summary

7. Suffering and evil
The challenge and the response
the problem
God as moral agent
Suffering and the major religions
Coming to terms with suffering
The devil and hell
Religion and terrorism
Summary

8. Religion and Science
The problem science poses for religion
the key issues
the changing world view
the methods of science and religion
the origin of the universe
evolution and humankind
Some conclusions

9. Religion and ethics
Natural law
Utilitarianism
absolute ethics
Morality and facts
How are religion and morality treated?
Values and choices
Conclusion

Postcript, Glossary, Taking it Further

God and Evolution: A Reader, ed. by Mary Kathleen Cunningham (London: Routledge 2007)

Part One
Methodology

1. Charles Hodge ‘The Protestant Rule of Faith’
2. Sallie McFague ‘Metaphor’
3. Mary Midgley ‘How Myths work’
4. Ian G. Barbour ‘The Structures of Science and Religion’.

Part Two
Evolutionary Theory

5. Charles Darwin, ‘On the origin of species
6. Francisco J. Ayala ‘The Evolution of life as overview
7. Michael Ruse ‘Is there are limit to our knowledge of evolution?

Part Three
Creationism

6. Genesis 1-2
7. Ronald J. Numbers ‘The Creationists’.

Part Four
Intelligent Design

10. William Paley ‘Natural Theology’
11. Michael J. Behe ‘Irreducible complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution’
12. Kenneth R. Miller, ‘Answering the biochemical argument from Design

Part Five
Naturalism

13. Richard Dawkins, ‘The Blind Watchmaker’
14. Richard Dawkins, ‘God’s utility function’
15. Daniel C. Dennett, ‘God’s dangerous idea’
16. Mary Midgley, ‘The quest for a universal acid’
17. Michael Ruse, ‘Methodological naturalism under attack’.

Part Six
Evolutionary Theism

18. Howard J. Van Till, ‘The creation: intelligently designed or optimally equipped?’
19. Arthur Peacock, ‘Biological evolution-a positive theological appraisal’
20. Jurgen Moltmann, ‘God’s kenosis in the creation and consummation of the world’.
21 Elizabeth A. Johnson, ‘Does God play dice? Divine providence and chance’.

Part Seven:
Reformulations of Tradition

22. John F. Haught, ‘Evolution, tragedy, and cosmic paradox’
23. Sallie McFague, ‘God and the world’
24. Ruth Page, ‘Panentheism and pansyntheism: God is relation’
25. Gordon D. Kaufman, ‘On thinking of God as serendipitous creativity’.

Pamphlet by Robert Owen on Self-Governing Communes

March 4, 2017

owen-pamphlet-1

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

owen-pamphlet-2

Rear cover listing other works written by Owen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Conditions Requisite for Human Happiness;

The Principles and Practice of the Rational Religion; and

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

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

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

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

Liberty of Mind or Conscience

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

Providing For and Educating the Population

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

General Arrangements for the Population

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

Government of the Population and Duties of the Council.

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

Adjustment of Differences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Treasury of Ancient Mathematical Texts

February 4, 2017

Henrietta Midonick, The Treasure of Mathematics: 1 (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1968)

ancient-mathematics-cover

I realise that the history of mathematics is an arcane subject, that few people will have much interest in, having struggled enough with the subject at school. But with Black History Month, there is immense interest amongst scholars of Black and Asian history about restoring Black and Asian scientists and mathematicians to their rightful place in history.

I picked up this book in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham about a year or so ago. It’s a collection of ancient and medieval mathematical texts from Ancient Egypt, Babylon, China, India, Islam, the Jews and, of course, the ancient Greeks. The blurb for it runs

Mathematics is the only true international language. men can communicate more directly, precisely and logically in pure mathematics than in any other tongue. Moreover we have much to learn from the achievements of past civilizations in this field: even modern computers have not fathomed all the intricacies of Stonehenge. In this fascinating collection of original sources (many of them published in a popular edition for the first time) Henrietta Midonick shows individual mathematicians grappling with varied problems – some practical, such as architecture, money valuation, mechanics, astronomy and calendar calculation; others verging on philosophy, such as the existence of zero and the concept of infinity. Her arrangement also demonstrates the growth of key ideas in geometry, arithmetic, logic and calculus.

Volume 1 documents the growth of mathematical science in the civilizations of Babylon, Ancient Egypt, the Mayas, India and China, and assesses the revolutionary discoveries of Plato, Archimedes and Euclid in classical antiquity.

Among the various extracts are pieces on Babylonian mathematics; four geometrical problems from the Moscow Papyrus, which dates from Ancient Egypt, c. 1850 BC; the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, again from Egypt, c. 1650 BC; the Bakhshali Manuscript, from 4th century AD India; the Mayas – discussing their system of numbers, the calendar, arithmetic and chronology, and the Quipu, the method of keeping statistical records using knots, used by the ancient Incas in South America.

Chinese mathematicians include Wan Wang, from the 12th century BC, Chou Kung, c. 1100 BC; Chang Tsang, died 152; Liu Hui, 3rd century AD; Sun-Tsu, from the same century; Hsia-Hou Yang, 6th century AD; Wang Hs’iao-T’ung, 7th century AD, Li Yeh, c. AD 1178-1265; Ch’in Chiu-Shao, c. AD 1250; Yang Hui, c. AD 1275; Chu Chi-Chieh, c. AD 1300.

The Indian scholars collected include Aryabhata the Elder, c. AD. 476; Brahmagupta, AD 598; and Bhascara Acharya, AD 1114-c. 1185.

It also includes the Algebra of Mohammed ben Musa al-Khowarismi, who founded much of modern algebra, including giving it its modern name.

The two Jewish mathematicians collected include the Mishnat ha-Middot of Rabbi Nehemiah, from c. AD 150; and the Method of Division of Immanuel Ben Jacob Bonfils, c. AD 1350.

The ancient Greeks include Hippocrates of Chios, 5th century BC; an extract from Plato’s Dialogues; the Elements of Euclid of Alexandria, c. 300 BC; Apollonius of Perga’s Conic Sections, from the same period; Archimedes’ On Spirals, Mechanical Problems, and Quadrature of the Parabola, Pappus, c. AD 300, and Proclus, AD 410-485.

babylonian-multipilication-table

Ancient Babylonian Multiplication Table for X 10.

For the non-mathematician like myself these texts aren’t easy reading. There are diagrams to help, but many of them, as the pioneering works of their time, are trying to express difficult mathematical ideas without the modern language of Maths, and so it can be difficult understanding what they are trying to describe. Nevertheless, this is an important collection of some of the classic texts of ancient mathematics on which the structure of modern maths has been built.

Chunky Mark on the Hyperreal Smears and Attacks on Jeremy Corbyn

July 19, 2016

This is another worthwhile and entirely accurate rant from Chunky Mark, the Artist Taxi Driver. Chunky Mark’s standard rhetorical device is shouty rants, in which there are isolated moments of quiet reflection on a given point. But, as this piece shows, he’s also very well informed in the literature of philosophy and media manipulation in the era of postmodernism, quoting Nietzsche, Plato, Jean Baudrillard, and Umberto Eco’s theory of the hyperreal. Oh yes, and he has a few digs at Pokémon Go as well, as an example of the latter.

This rants starts out with the Chunky Artist explaining Nietzsche’s theory that humans lived apart from reality, and that the representation we had of it in our minds was only a construct. He talks about how the media have tried to smear and distort everything Jeremy Corbyn has said. This follows a report from the London School of Economics, that found that 75 per cent – three quarters – of what was said about Jeremy Corbyn in the media was false, and that a third of this rubbish came from his fellows in the Parliamentary Labour Party. He notes that Owen Jones wrote a piece in the Guardian before all this broke out stating that if Corbyn was elected, there’d be a firestorm. And there has. Chunky Mark defends Corbyn’s supporters from the accusation that they are a ‘cult’. He states that it is not like the worship of Jesus or Buddha. His supporters are well aware of his faults, such as the fact that he isn’t a good speaker. They support him not because of who he is, but because of his ideas. He puts people first, and is against Trident, the nuclear submarine system. He is not like the rest of the political parties and the media – the Tories and Blairite New Labour, who put corporations and the rich first, who give money to wealthy tax dodgers in the Cayman Islands. And so the media has to smear him, producing a false image of the type described by Plato and then by the French postmodernist, Jean Baudrillard, a Virtual Reality, like Pokémon Go. They seek to infantilise people to destroy their support for Corbyn, comparing his supporters to a Trotskyite rabble wearing donkey jackets, hippies stinking of patchouli oil and waving joss sticks. They, the media gurus and PR manipulators, know how afraid people are of appearing on the outside, of being left out of the crowd, and so they attempt to smear and marginalise Corbyn and his supporters. Because they think differently. They do not accept the post-Thatcher consensus, and believe another world is possible.

All this is true. I don’t agree with Chunky Mark’s comments about Jesus and Buddha, as both of these figures did stress compassion to the poor and unfortunate. But I take the wider point he was trying to make, that it wasn’t about Corbyn himself but his ideas. And he’s right: they are a threat to the media establishment, the Tories and New Labour, because he and his supporters threaten corporate profit and power, because they value prosperity, dignity and health for the poor and ordinary people, not for the rich few. Hence the lies, smears and distortions. All to keep the Thatcherite consensus shored up for just a little while longer.

The Tories’ ‘Nudge Unit’ and the Nazi Manipulation of Workers’ Psychology

March 31, 2016

Yesterday I posted a very well received article warning people about how the government is trying to deny automatic repeat prescriptions for people on medication for depression. Two of the commenters on the article, Shawn and Michelle, also added their observations on how the government was deliberately trying to manipulate the public’s psychology, especially that of the sick and disabled themselves, through the glib use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as the catch-all treatment for depression on the one hand, and the ‘Nudge Unit’ on the other. The Nudge Unit was the government’s attempts to set up a state department explicitly and blatantly devoted to manipulating popular psychology.

They weren’t the first regime to do this. Robert A. Brady in his book, The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd 1937), noted how the Nazis also tried to manipulate the psychology of the German workers through their totalitarian organisation, the DAF, or Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labour Front). The Nazis based the techniques they used on German workers on schemes and techniques that had already been tried by industrialists as part in experiments in ‘welfare capitalism’ elsewhere. It’s a long passage, covering several pages, but I think it’s worth quoting in full, just to show how totalitarian this is.

Exploitation of Non-Commercial Incentives

Social philosophers, anthropologists and reformers have long held that “man does not work for bread alone.” But only recently has industry learned that significant as hours, wages and other conditions of employment may be, they do not of themselves call out the highest levels of labour productivity. Given the minimum on these grounds, non-commercial are far more potent than commercial incentives. All those factors that combine to give the “sense of workmanship,” of group participation, of unfolding creative power, fall into the non-commercial class. Interest and emotional drives lead to higher and better sustained levels of output than can be provided by mere wage and hour considerations. With non-commercial incentives fatigue is lowered, improvements in processes and methods are more easily introduced, and friction between management and men is reduced to a minimum.

The Nazis were not the first to make this “discovery”-more accurately, “rediscovery.” Drawing realisation of the possibilities inherent in non-commercial incentives lies behind the elaborate and varied programmes of “welfare capitalism” found in all the western industrial countries. It provides the principal drive behind the rapidly proliferating psycho-technical research institutes, personnel selection and training systems, occupational conferences, bureaux and committees, industrial and public relations counsellors. Pioneering work in this field has been done by the world famous British Institute of Industrial Psychology, Moede’s laboratory at the Technische Hochschule at Charlottenburg, the German Institute for Technical Education and Training (D.I.N.T.A.) and many others. In America the Industrial Relations Counsellors, the National Occupational Conference, and the Personnel Research Federation are merely the leading organisations in this field.

Many of the largest corporations in the world have been applying these techniques on a large scale for many years. Outstanding examples are the National Railways and the Dye Trust in Germany, and the Western Electric and the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in America. The “Hawthorne Experiments,” carried out in one of the largest plants of the Western Electric, for example, provide both the experimental results and the argument for a position with respect to organised labour identical with that held by the leader of the German Labour Front. Labour, if interested and made to feel important, would work harder without demanding more pay.

A publication of the British Institute of Industrial Psychology, The Problem of Incentives in Industry, lists, among the exploitable non-commercial incentives, the following: Interest and Pride in the Work, the Incentive of Appreciation, the Incentive of Knowledge, the Incentive of Loyalty, the Incentive of Welfare Schemes, Interest in the Firm, Encouragement of Suggestions, Co-operation in Time Study, and the Incentive of Efficiency. Experimentation with and study of the working effects of such incentives has shown, step by step, the preponderating importance on the worker’s whole attitude towards life. It is an American, not a Nazi, author, who penned the following lines in one of the most significant books of the past decade dealing with social-economic problems: “To study a subject merely as the doer of a particular piece of work is of little value; the work to the worker is part of a whole, made up his numerous reactions to situations, real and ideal, over and above his work. Sometimes it is the phantasy life that is of more importance to the individual than the apparent real life. It is clearly impossible to obtain a thorough knowledge of anyone, but it has proved possible to get the point of view of a subject with sufficient clearness to yield an insight into the relation of the work he does to his general attitude to life.

The author of the above lines was thinking of the Hawthorne Experiments as he wrote. At Hawthorne and other places it has been demonstrated that cleverly introduced non-commercial incentive schemes will bring increases in labour productivity of 50 per cent and more per worker without appreciable increase in fatigue-and, of course, without corresponding increase in pay. Uniformly these schemes are tied p with the worker’s “attitude towards life,” his willingness and interest in work for larger ends, his social and cultural values. Intelligent investigators have come quickly to see that that these factors are interwoven with the whole economic and social systems of our times, and that, hence, capitalism, socialism, and communism are up for review not only in their larger bearing on problems of equality and human rights, but also with respect to their direct bearing on the homely problems of high man-hour productivity.

Here as elsewhere it is realised that productivity is connected by a thousand intimate bonds with the problem of the “attitude to life”, the Weltanschauung, the social philosophy of the individual workman. Doctrine, purpose, and policies are intertwined as the efficiency fundamentals of the human factor just as rigidly as power, connecting belts, and organisation are key to the efficient functioning of machines. As Mooney and Reiley have put it, where “spirit is co-ordinated … the man who is permeated with … doctrine invariably sees everything, the hard causes as well as the small matters, in their relation to the whole …” and, because he sees, agrees, and supports, he will work harder and produce more.

Control over the inner life of the worker leads by slow degrees to control over the entire culture: the worker’s entire intellectual and emotional environment, the science and the arts. Once begun there is no turning back. Since philosophy of life is at stake, the underlying tenets of the economic system are being weighed in the balance. The Communists teach that only those who produce should govern, and, since none except the weak and the disabled should live from the labour of others, the ideal is classless society of producer-users. The Nazis seek to prove that the existence of separate and distinct social classes is not only indispensable but the necessary law of life and social organisation. To prove their point they resort to arguments not unlike those advanced by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. And like Plato they propose a socially stratified society, governed from on top, in which each belongs to that class allotted to him by virtue of his “natural” gifts and capacities, and in which complete harmony obtains so long as the point of view of each and every man in each and every class is controlled through appropriate education and propaganda.

The Nazi position boils down to this: How far can the “co-ordination of spirit” be used for the fullest possible exploitation of the working capacities of the German population on behalf of the business enterprise-the “works community”? How far can this exploitation be carried without giving rise to revolt, without causing labour to resort to strikes and sabotage? How far can labour opposition, labour class interest-and of the existence of these interests there is not the slightest question in any of the literature-be “neutralised” on behalf of “service to the public” by “self-governed” business?

The Labour Front is the Nazi answer. (Pp.121-4).

Now I have absolutely no problem with the benign use of industrial psychology to make workers feel that they belong in a certain firm, and they personally and their labour are valued. Indeed, I’ve enjoyed working in companies where there was a great sense of comradeship, or team spirit, amongst the workers. However, the Tories aren’t interested in promoting that. They have no interest in fostering any of this. The only object of Tory propaganda and psychological manipulation is to make the worker feel powerless, to force them to work harder and longer for less, because they have no other choice, and to stigmatise those who can’t as malingerers. It’s a nasty, bleak, callous view of humanity, and show the cruelty and callous mentality of those who promote this world view. And it’s being deliberately spread through the medical profession and what remains of the welfare state, through ‘work coaches’ who do nothing but harangue the unemployed for being unemployed, and by Tory plans to insert special official in health centres and doctors surgeries to make sure the proles get back to work as quickly as possible. It hasn’t got to the point of compulsory mass membership in Tory labour organisations. For one thing, the Tories really don’t want to concede any kind of class organisation to the workers. But the totalitarian mindset is there, nonetheless.

Tolstoy’s The Law of Violence and the Law of Love

January 24, 2016

Tolstoy Law Love

(Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, no date)

As well as being one of the great titans of world literature, Leo Tolstoy was a convinced anarchist and pacifist. The British philosopher and writer, Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his book, Russian Thinkers, states that Tolstoy’s anarchist beliefs even informed his great work, War and Peace. Instead of portraying world history as being shaped by the ideas and actions of great men, Tolstoy’s epic of the Napoleonic Wars shows instead how it is formed by the actions of millions of individuals.

The writer himself attempted to put his own ideas into practise. He was horrified by the poverty and squalor, both physical and moral, of the new, urban Russia which was arising as the country industrialised, and the degradation of its working and peasant peoples. After serving in the army he retreated to his estate, where he concentrated on writing. He also tried to live out his beliefs, dressing in peasant clothes and teaching himself their skills and crafts, like boot-making, in order to identify with them as the oppressed against the oppressive upper classes.

Tolstoy took his pacifism from a Chechen Sufi nationalist leader, who was finally captured and exiled from his native land by the Russians after a career resisting the Russian invasion. This Islamic mystic realised that military resistance was useless against the greater Russian armed forces. So instead, he preached a message of non-violent resistance and peaceful protest against the Russian imperial regime. Tolstoy had been an officer during the invasion of Chechnya, and had been impressed by its people and their leader’s doctrine of peaceful resistance. Tolstoy turned it into one of the central doctrines of his own evolving anarchist ideology. And he, in turn, influenced Gandhi in his stance of ahimsa – Hindu non-violence – and peaceful campaign against the British occupation of India. Among the book’s appendices is 1910 letter from Tolstoy to Gandhi. I also believe Tolstoy’s doctrine of peaceful resistance also influence Martin Luther King in his confrontation with the American authorities for civil rights for Black Americans.

Tolstoy considered himself a Christian, though his views are extremely heretical and were officially condemned as such by the Russian Orthodox Church. He wrote a number of books expounding his religious views, of which The Law of Violence and the Law of Love is one. One other is The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Tolstoy’s Christianity was basically the rationalised Christianity, formed during the 19th century by writers like David Strauss in Germany and Ernest Renan in France. In their view, Christ was a moral preacher, teaching devotion to a transcendent but non-interfering God, but did not perform any miracles or claim He was divine. It’s similar to the Deist forms of Christianity that appeared in the 18th century in works such as Christianity Not Mysterious. While there are still many Biblical scholars, who believe that Christ Himself did not claim to be divine, such as Geza Vermes, this view has come under increasing attack. Not least because it presents an ahistorical view of Jesus. The Deist conception of Christ was influenced by the classicising rationalism of the 18th century. It’s essentially Jesus recast as a Greek philosopher, like Plato or Socrates. More recent scholarship by Sandmel and Sanders from the 1970’s onwards, in works like the latter’s Jesus the Jew, have shown how much Christ’s life and teaching reflected the Judaism of the First Century, in which miracles and the supernatural were a fundamental part.

In The Law of Violence and the Law of Love, Tolstoy sets out his anarchist, pacifist Christian views. He sees the law of love as very core of Christianity, in much the same way the French Utopian Socialist Saint-Simon saw universal brotherhood as the fundamental teaching of Christianity. Tolstoy attacks the established church for what he sees as their distortion of this original, rational, non-miraculous Christianity, stating that it’s the reason so many working people are losing their faith. Like other religious reformers, he recommends his theological views, arguing that it will lead to a revival of genuine Christianity. At the same time, this renewed, reformed Christianity and the universal love it promotes, will overturn the corrupt and oppressive rule of governments, which are built on violence and the use of force.

Among the other arguments against state violence, Tolstoy discusses those, who have refused or condemned military service. These not only include modern conscientious objectors, such as 19th century radicals and Socialists, but also the Early Church itself. He quotes Christian saints and the Church Fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, who firmly condemned war and military service. For example, Tertullian wrote

It is not fitting to serve the emblem of Christ and the emblem of the devil, the fortress of light and the fortress of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters. And besides, how can one fight without the sword, which the Lord himself has taken away? Is it possible to do sword exercises, when the Lord says that everyone who takes the sword shall perish by the sword? And how can a son of peace take part in a battle.

Some scholars of the Early Church have argued that its opposition to military service was based on opposition to the pagan ceremonies the soldiers would have to attend and perform as part of their duties. As believers in the only God, these were forbidden to Christians. Nevertheless, despite his condemnation, Tertullian admits elsewhere that there were Christians serving in the Roman army.

Other quotations from the Church Fathers make it clear that it was opposition to the bloodshed in war, which caused them to reject military service. Tolstoy cites Cyprian, who stated that

The world goes mad with the mutual shedding of blood, and murder, considered a crime when committed singly, is called a virtue when it is done in the mas. The multiplication of violence secures impunity for the criminals.

Tolstoy also cites a decree of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 proscribing a penance to Christians returning to the Roman army, after they had left it. He states that those, who remained in the army, had to vow never to kill an enemy. If they violated this, then Basil the Great declared that they could not receive communion for three years.

This pacifism was viable when the Church was a small, persecuted minority in the pagan Roman Empire. After Constantine’s conversion, Christians and the Christian church entered government as Christianity became the official religion. The Church’s pacifist stance was rejected as Christians became responsible for the defence of the empire and its peoples, as well as their spiritual wellbeing and secular administration. And as the centuries progressed, Christians became all too used to using force and violence against their enemies, as shown in the countless religious wars fought down through history. It’s a legacy which still understandably colours many people’s views of Christianity, and religion as a whole.

This edition of Tolstoy’s book is published by the Institute of World Culture, whose symbol appears on the front of the book. This appears from the list of other books they publish in the back to be devoted to promoting mysticism. This is mostly Hindu, but also contains some Zoroastrian and Gnostic Christian works, as well as the Zohar, one of the main texts of the Jewish Qabbala.

Pacifism is very much an issue for your personal conscience, though it is, of course, very much a part of the Quaker spirituality. Against this pacifist tradition there’s the ‘Just War’ doctrine articulated and developed over the centuries by St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and other theologians and Christian philosophers. This examines and defines under which circumstances and for which reasons a war can be fought, and what moral restrictions should be imposed on the way it is fought. For example, combatants should not attack women, children and non-combatants. Despite this, the book is an interesting response to the muscular Christianity preached during the days of the British Empire, and which still survives in the American Right. Many Republicans, particularly the Tea Party, really do see Christianity as not only entirely compatible with gun rights, but as a vital part of it. Bill O’Reilly, one of the anchors on Fox News, has stated that Christ would fully approve of the shooting of violent criminals, even in circumstances others find highly dubious. These include some of the incidents where teh police have shot unarmed Blacks, or where such resistance from the suspect may have been the result of mental illness and the cops themselves were in no danger. In the Law of Violence and the Law of Love, you can read Tolstoy’s opinion of the official use of lethal force, and his condemnation of the capitalist statism O’Reilly and Fox stand for.

Chaos on the Airwaves: Wannabe Fascist Dictator Phones into LBC

March 18, 2015

More from the Fascist trainwreck that is Joshua Bonehill, the would-be great dictator. EDL News has this piece, Joshua Bonehill calls LBC to discuss anal sex and it ends badly , reporting the appearance of Bonehill on a late night show when he phoned into discuss the above topic with the programme’s host, Christo. In the words of Derek Fender’s article

Predictably it did not go well for him. The Yeovil based oddball ranted about gays, jews blacks, cultural marxism, white genocide whilst LBC host, Christo, could barely contain his laughter.

It ended with Christo asking Bonehill if he had a girlfriend which seems to be a very touchy subject. Christo then went on to ask Bonehill to meet him for a cosy dinner date in Old Compton Street which lead to him slamming the phone down.

Amongst other offensive, ludicrous and potentially dangerous comments, Bonehill claimed that AIDS was nature’s way of correcting homosexuality, which was unnatural. And the Jews were responsible for encouraging homosexuality as part of their plan for world domination by destroying the White race.

Cristo raised the obvious point that homosexuality was hardly unnatural, as it was found in nature. That’s a fact that has only really been established scientifically within the last 20 years. I’ve a book on genetics published in the 1990s that states that while pseudo-homosexuality exists in nature, homosexuality proper doesn’t. It was Plato, who first argued that homosexuality was unnatural, and this view has now been completely refuted. Channel 4 even broadcast a programme about it, The Truth About Gay Animals. There was also an article about it a decade or so ago in the Fortean Times.

As for being spread by homosexuality, I was of the impression that the disease first crossed the species barrier from apes and monkeys to humans through people eating infected monkeys. And in Africa one of the ways the disease is spread is through long distance truckers catching the disease through prostitutes, whom they infect in turn, and then their wives and families when they return to them. If there’s a lesson about danger there, it’s probably that there are pockets of disease in Africa into which the human population is increasingly coming in contact. And also the grinding poverty and lack of economic opportunities that forces women onto the streets.

There’s also a problem with sexual ignorance and a number of superstitions that have grown up about the disease. One is that it can be cured through having sex with virgins. This has led to previously uninfected women being exposed to the disease. Some of this is through rape, and there are horrendous reports of young girls being attacked.

Bonehill doesn’t really respond to Christo’s argument, instead getting a bit shirty, and trying to change the subject slightly by moving on to argue that the Jews were deliberately promoting gayness. This is not only bilge, it’s pure projection. I don’t know, but I think the origins of the gay rights movement go back to the end of the 19th century and the beginnings of academic sexology with Havelock Ellis and E. Krafft-Ebing. From the 1930s onwards there were increasingly sensitive literary treatments of it, with Radcliffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, which dealt with lesbianism. Radcliffe Hall came from a very respectable British middle class background. It was also part of the sexual revolution that started in the ’60s with the Kinsey Report, the Stonewall Riots in America, and the formation of Gay Liberation over here. One of those, who campaigned for the legalisation of homosexuality in the 1960s was the musician and cartoonist, Gerhard Hofnung. Hofnung was of foreign extraction – he came originally from Germany. He was, however, Quaker and not Jewish. His reasons for advocating its legalisation was due to his humanitarian concern as part of his Quaker faith. This isn’t to say that there weren’t Jews involved with movement. I’ve no doubt there probably were, along with people from Roman Catholic, Protestant, and purely secular backgrounds. It’s just that it can’t be seriously claimed that the campaign to legalise homosexuality, and demand equal rights for gay people originated solely with the Jews, or is part of some weird secret plot.

And it is a piece of projection. Certain parts of European Fascism were strongly supportive of homosexuality. Ernst Rohm of the SA, the ‘socialist’ section of the Nazi party, was gay and it’s been claimed that so were 3/4 of that organisation’s members.

In Italy, the Futurists advocated as part of their programme of artist and social modernism ‘scorn for women’, and attacked the family and traditional sexual morality. They were in favour of free love, and also advocated homosexuality.

This does not mean that Fascism as a whole supported homosexuality or treated homosexuals with anything other than absolute contempt. In Nazi Germany, gay men were sent to the concentration camps, where they were identified with a pink triangle.

The Nazis did, however, encourage homosexuality amongst Jews as a way of trying to prevent them from having children. It was part of a deliberate policy aimed at their extinction. Bonehill’s statement that the Jews are doing this to prevent Whites from propagating their race is pure projection.

The LBC show is weirdly funny, however, as Christo really can’t believe how bonkers Bonehill actually is. Apart from his guffaws, he asks several times if it is a wind-up. At one point he asks if people really still believe the rubbish Bonehill has been uttering.

The EDL article is at http://edlnews.co.uk/2015/03/01/joshua-bonehill-calls-lbc-to-discuss-anal-sex-and-it-ends-badly/. It’s got a 25 minute recording of Bonehill’s inane spoutings. As an example of pure right-wing drivel, it is utterly hilarious.

Christo is right in that some of Bonehill’s antic are so weird and bizarre that you wonder if he is entirely serious, or just playing a very tasteless and offensive game. If he is serious, then you also wonder about his mental health. According to the SlatFascist site, not so long ago Bonehill was trying to promote himself through some extremely dodgy pseudo-mysticism. He claimed that he was the White messiah prophesied by one Aryanus. This is too close ‘Hairy Anus’ to my mind to be taken at all seriously, quite apart from the fact that Aryanus was obviously someone Bonehill made up.

John Wise and the Christian Congregationalist Origins of the American Democracy

July 7, 2013

For most people, the origins of modern American democracy lie in the Revolution of 1775. In fact, American clergymen and political philosophers had been advocating democracy almost from the beginning of the 18th century. One of the first was the Congregationalist minister, John Wise (1652-1725). Wise was the pastor of the second church at Ipswich in Massachusetts. He was imprisoned during the Andros regime for urging his congregation to withhold their taxes. He wrote his two books, The Churches Quarrel Espoused of 1712 and A Vindication of the Government of New England Churches of 1717 in defence of the Congregationalist system of church government. In Congregationalism, every church is independent, and the congregations choose their own ministers. At the time Wise was writing, there was a movement within the Church to replace that system with a Presbyterian organisation. Wise rejected this and defended the Congregationalist system of church government as that had been the form of ecclesiastical government established by New England’s founding fathers. He went further than merely defending democracy in church, however. He advocated that it should also be established as the secular political system as it was based on ‘right reason’.

Sovereignty Lies in the People through the Social Contract

Like Locke, the basis of his argument for democracy is the idea of a social contract: that sovereignty lies with the people, who surrender their freedom to a king or other authority in order to preserve order. He states:

‘The first human subject and original of civil power is the people; for as they have a power every man over himself in a natural state, so upon a combination they can and do bequeath this power unto others, and settle it according as their united discretion shall determine. For that this is very plain, that when the subject of sovereign power is quite extinct, that power returns to the people again. And when they are free, they may set up what species of government they please; or if they rather incline to it, they may subside into a state of natural being, if it be plainly for the best. In the eastern country of the Mogul, we have some resemblance of the case, for upon the death of an absolute monarch they live so many days without a civil head; but in that interregnum those who survive the vacancy are glad to get into a civil state again, and usually they are in a very bloody condition when they return under the covert of a new monarch; this project is to endear the people to a tyranny from the experience the have so lately had of an anarchy’.

‘A civil state is a compound moral person whose will (united by those covenants before passed) is the will of all, to the end it may use and apply the strength and riches of private persons towards maintaining the common peace, security, and well-being of all, which may be conceived as though the whole state was no become but one man; in which the aforesaid covenants may be supposed, under God’s providence, to be the divine fiat pronounced by God, “Let us make man.” And by way of resemblance the aforesaid being may be thus anatomized.’

The Position of Magistrates and other State Servants and Officials Depends on the Sovereign Power

‘As it takes in ministers for the discharge of business, so it is called the right of appointing magistrates. So that all great officers and public servants must needs owe their original to the creating power of sovereignty; so that those whose right it is to create may dissolve the being of those who are created, unless they cast them into an immortal frame, and yet must needs be dissoluble if they justly forfeit their being to their creators.’

Human states are formed by People to Protect themselves from Harm from Other Humans

The chief end of civil communities is that men thus conjoined may be secured against the injuries they are liable to from their own kind; for if every man could secure himself singly, it would be great folly for him to renounce his natural liberty, in which every man is his own king and protector.’

Origins of Democracy in Ancient Communities Where All Men are Equal

A democracy, which is when the sovereign power is lodged in a council consisting of all the members, and where every member has the privilege of a vote. This form of government appears in the greatest part of the world to have been the most ancient. For that reason seems to show it to be most probable that when men (being originally in a condition of natural freedom and equality) had thoughts of joining in a civil body, would without question be inclined to administer their common affairs by their common judgment, and so must necessarily , to gratify that inclination, establish a democracy; neither can it be rationally imagined that fathers of families being yet free and independent, should in a moment, or little time, take off their long delight in governing their own affa9irs and devolve all upon some single sovereign commander; for that it seems to have been thought more equitable that what belonged to all should be managed by all, when all had entered by compact into one community. The original of our government, says Plato (speaking of the Athenian commonwealth) was taken from the equality of our race. Other state there are composed of different blood, and of unequal lines, the consequences of which are disproportionable sovereignty, tyrannical or oligarchical sway, under which men live in such a manner to esteem themselves partly lords and partly slaves to each other. But we and our countrymen, being all born brethren of the same mother, do not look upon ourselves to stand under so hard a relation as that of lords and slaves, but the parity of our descent inclines us to keep up the like parity by our laws, and to yield the precedency to nothing but to superior virtue and wisdom. And moreover, it seems very manifest that most civil communities arose at first from the union of families that were nearly allied in race and blood. And though ancient story makes frequent mention of kings, yet it appears that most of them were such that had an influence rather in persuading, than in any power of commanding. So Justin describes that kind of government as the most primitive which Aristotle styles an herioical kingdom, namely, such as is no ways inconsistent with a democratical state.’

A democracy is then erected when a number of free persons do assemble together in order to enter into a covenant for uniting themselves in a body. And such a preparative assembly hath some appearance already of a democracy; it is a democracy in embryo properly in this respect: that every man hath the privilege freely to deliver his opinion concerning the common affairs. Yet he who dissents from the vote of the majority is not in the least obliged by what they determine till by a second covenant a popular form be actually established, for not before then can we call it a democratical government, namely, till the right of determining all matters relating to the public safety is actually placed in a general assembly of the whole people; or by their own compact and mutual agreement, determine themselves the proper subject for the exercise of sovereign power. And to complete this state and render it capable to exert its power to answer the end of a civil state, these conditions are necessary.

(1) That a certain time and place be assigned for assembling.

(2) That when the assembly be orderly met as to time and place, that then the vote of the majority must pass for the vote of the whole body.

(3) That magistrates be appointed to exercise the authority of the whole for the better dispatch of business of every day’s occurrence; who also may with more mature diligence search into more important affairs, and if in case anything happens of greater consequence, may report it to the assembly; and be peculiarly serviceable in putting all public decrees into execution. Because a large body of people is almost useless in respect of the last service and of many others, as to the more particular application and exercise of power. Therefore it is most agreeable with the law of nature that they institute their officers to act in their name and stead’.

It’s clear from the above that Wise’s model of democracy was based on the direct democracies of the ancient world, such as Athens. While this is some way away from modern, representative democracy, where MPs, senators and congressmen actually pass the laws as the people’s elected representatives, it nevertheless shows the beginning of American democracy and particularly the Town Hall meetings that are a vital part of it.

Medieval Kingdoms of Infinite Space

April 27, 2013

There’s a little bit in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Q says to Picard ‘What is it your beloved Shakespeare said? ”All the Galaxy’s a stage, and all its people only players’.
‘World’, Picard corrects him. ‘It’s world, Q’.
‘Well,’ retorts Q sniffily, ‘it’s what he would have put.’ Yet a century before Shakespeare, European Natural Philosophers were discussing the possibility of other worlds and extraterrestrial life.

Medieval philosophy and science was based very much on Aristotle. Aristotle believed gravity was a universal force produced by each element seeking its own place in the universe. Thus, things fall to Earth because Earth is their natural place. He ruled out the possibility that there were other worlds, because he felt that if there were, this would mean there was no natural place. Other ancient Greek philosophers, such as the Pythagoreans and Plato, had a different view of gravity. According to Joannes Stobaeus, writing in the 5th century AD, Heraclides of Pontus and the Pythagoreans believed that each star was a world consisting of an earth surrounded by air. Plato in the Timaeus believed that objects naturally sought to rejoin their own kind, in whichever world it was situated. During the fifteenth century there was a revival of interest in Platonism. The leading churchmen Nicole of Oresme and Nicholas of Cusa both believed that gravity was a local phenomenon, and that each star was a centre of attraction holding its constituent parts together through gravity. Nicholas of Cusa went even further, and believed that every star was inhabited, just like Earth. There’s a myth that it was the belief in an infinite number of inhabited worlds which led to the Church burning Giordano Bruno for heresy. It wasn’t. The Church did not have an issue with that. It was Bruno’s pantheism and belief in magic which led to his condemnaiton by the ecclesiastical authorities.

Nicholas of Cusa went even further than believing the universe was inhabited. He considered that while the universe was not infinite, it had no boundaries, and thus had no centre, therefore denying that the Earth was at the centre of the universe. It’s a profoundly modern conception of the nature of the cosmos, even if he shared the medieval belief that each world was surrounded by rings, each ring composed of one of the four elements. It makes you wonder what someone like Nicholas of Cusa would have produced if, rather than writing tale of Romance, they had written Science Fiction instead.

Source

A.C. Crombie, Augustine to Galileo 2: Science in the Later Middle Ages and Early Modern Times 13th – 17th Century (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1959).