Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Hobbes’

Robert Boyle and the Possibility of Spirits on Other Planets and Stars

February 25, 2023

This might interest any readers of this blog with an interest in mysticism and history. I’ve been reading, off and on, Tony McAleavy’s The Last Witch Craze: John Aubrey, the Royal Society and the Witches (Amberley: 2022). This is about how individual members of the Royal Society, set up to advance science, and the 17th century naturalist and biographer John Aubrey, investigated cases of witchcraft scientifically as part of a project to combat the threat of atheism. They were afraid that the rise of the new mechanical philosophy denied the existence of disembodied spirits and so led to atheism. But this in turn could be challenged by properly investigated cases of witchcraft, hauntings and what would now be considered poltergeists, supported by the testimony of reliable multiple witnesses.

Aubrey himself, the author of Brief Lives, a series of potted biographies of the great men of his time, and books on the natural history and customs of his native Wiltshire and other counties, was a practising ritual magicians, though also friends with Thomas Hobbes, who denied the existence of the supernatural and was suspected of atheism. The Royal Society had no corporate opinion on witchcraft, but individual members were staunch believers, writing and publishing books about it. One of these was Robert Boyle, whose book The Sceptical Chymist, founded the modern science of chemistry. Boyle was deeply Christian, and left a legacy to fund an annual sermon preaching Christianity against atheism. But as a scientist and man of faith, he was also interested in the possibility of the existence of disembodied spirits on other worlds and stars, and the theological implications of their existence.

‘Robert Boyle thought a lot about the supernatural. Not only was he sure about the reality of angels and demons, he also speculated on the possible existence of enormous numbers of spirits of other types, ‘an inestimable multitude of Spiritual Beings , of various kinds.’ Distant planets and stars might contain alien spirits about which we know nothing. There could be spirits inhabiting ‘all the Celestial Globes (very many of which do vastly exceed ours in bulk)’. This raised, for Boyle, interesting theological questions. Angels and demons were known to be saved or damned, respectively, but in other worlds there might be spirits who were still being tested by God, just as Adam and Eve were tested in the Garden of Eden.’ (p. 69).

There’s a link, or a chain of belief here with the Swedenborgians of the 18th century, who believed that the planets were inhabited and that they could travel to them in spirit and communicate with their inhabitants during seances. I think they also believed that people also travelled to these worlds and made their homes on them after death. Some of the Spiritualist mediums believed this. And Evans-Wentz records the view of an elderly Irish mystic in his book, The Fairy Faith in the Celtic Countries, that the fairies were an old race come from the stars.

And this also continues into the UFO phenomenon. I am not going to start a debate over whether all alien encounters are mystical in nature rather than encounters with real, nuts and bolts craft, whether alien spaceships or secret terrestrial aircraft. But there have been UFO encounters which do seem to be either hallucinatory or mystical in nature. One Australian woman was abducted and examined in an alien spacecraft on a deserted road one night. When she was taken back there by a member of an Ozzie UFO investigation group, she had another such experience. But she was still physically present with the investigator in his car, and no UFO was visible. Other experiencers have said that there abduction was an astral or out of body experience, rather than physical. Sceptics have suggested that UFO abduction experiences can be explained by Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Some no doubt can, but others have occurred to seemingly normal individuals with no history of such a neurological illness.

I therefore wonder if Boyle was right after all, and this type of alien encounters are with disembodied alien spirits, which our brains interpret as physical alien beings in real nuts and bolts craft in order to make it comprehensible.

Video on Archaeology’s Challenge to Enlightenment Accounts of Origins of States and Inequality

December 8, 2022

This is a fascinating video I found on Novara Media’s channel the other day. In it, host Aaron Bastani talks to archaeologist David Wengrow about the origins of the state and the development of social inequality. Wengrow argues that the evidence from archaeology challenges assumptions that prehistoric and preliterate peoples were incapable of rationally deciding for themselves what kind of societies they wished to live in. He gives examples from prehistoric Europe and North and South America to show that ancient and indigenous peoples not only did decide on the kind of societies they wanted, but were perfectly capable of reversing trends in their societies towards authoritarianism. One of the examples of this, which I found truly jaw-dropping, was one of the city states the conquistador Hernan Cortes made alliance with against the Aztecs. Unlike the Aztec empire, that state city was a democratic republic. He also talks about the influence on Enlightenment critiques of western society of a Huron Indian chief in Canada, who was an intelligent conversationalist able to hold his own in conversations about the nature of society to such an extent that French, British and Dutch colonial authorities invited him to dinner to talk this matter over.

Wengrow starts off by stating that modern political theory about the origins of society, as taught in politics courses, is completely divorced from archaeological accounts. The theory is based on the speculations of foundational Enlightenment thinkers like Hobbes and Rousseau, who admitted that they were speculating. But these accounts are now taught as fact. Archaeological research, however, is overturning previous ideas about the origins of urban society. For example, it was believed that agriculture and urbanisation were linked and appeared together as part of the Neolithic Revolution. But this is not the case. Excavations of the ancient city of Catalhuyuk in Turkey show that while it was an urban centre, although Wengrow hesitates to call it a city, show that its people were still hunter-gatherers, living by foraging rather than agriculture. And the same is true of the settlement at Amesbury at the time Stonehenge was being built. The people then had given up agriculture, although they retained animal husbandry. It appears they had tried growing crops and then rejected it in favour of foraging.

He then goes on to talk about the Huron Amerindian chief. He inspired a colonist from New France, who had been expelled from the colony, to write a book based on the chief and his dinner conversation when the colonist was penniless in Amsterdam. This became a massive Enlightenment bestseller, and inspired other books by Voltaire and others in which Chinese, Tahitians and other outsiders criticise European society. Wengrow states that the Indian societies surprise western Europeans because they were much less hierarchical than they were, and contact with these societies and the indigenous critics of western civilisation did influence European political philosophy. We easily accept that Europe took over many material products from these nations, but are much less ready to accept the idea that they influenced our ideas, even though the Enlightenment philosophers said that they had.

He also talks about Cahokia, a great pyramid and city state in the Mississippi valley in America. This appears to be another example of a society, in which people rebelled or simply walked away from authority and hierarchy. It was also another indigenous monument that was ascribed to everyone else but the native peoples when it was first discovered, and is now disrespected by having a road driven through it. When it was constructed, the local society seems to have been hierarchical. At the top of the mound is a structure from which all of the city could be viewed. But sometime after its heyday it was abandoned. The traditional reasons are that the climate changed, but Wengrow finds that unconvincing. What seems to have happened instead is that people simply got tired of living in such a society and walked away.

Tenochtitlan, one of the great cities in ancient Mexico, is another example of a strongly hierarchical society that underwent profound social change and became more democratic. Wengrow states that it’s a massive state, and they owe a debt to the French scholar who produced detailed maps of it. When it first emerged, it was hierarchical but then the nature of society changed. People started living in high-quality, single-floor homes. These were so good they were originally thought to be palaces, but now it appears they were villas occupied by ordinary citizens. At some point, the people of Tenochtitlan decided that they wanted a more equal society, to the extent that some scholars believe that there was a revolution.

Then there is the case of the democratic city state Cortes encountered. This really was democratic, as there are accounts of the debates in its assembly. This astonished the conquistadors, as there was very little like it in Europe at the time, except some of the Florentine republics. This all challenges the notion that once society develops to a certain extent and becomes complex, inequality also emerges and is very difficult to challenge or remove. These cases show that indigenous peoples could and did. He also argues that the same may have been true of slavery. The only successful slave revolt that we know of is Toussant L’Ouverture in Haiti. But Wengrow suggests there could have been thousands of other successful slave revolts in prehistory of which we are unaware. Slavery came about, he argues, from the expense of laying out offerings for the dead. In order to leave food and drink for the dead, the bereaved had to have access to the foods themselves and so they became indebted and dependent on the people who owned those resources.

He also talks about the problems in describing some of these urban centres as cities. There are huge sites in the Ukraine, but archaeologists are hesitant about calling them cities with some preferring other terms such as ‘mega-sites’ because they aren’t centralised.

Bastani asks him at one point about the problem of pseudo-archaeology. I think this came up because Graham Hancock is currently fronting a series on Netflix claiming that way back in prehistory there was an advanced society, but that it was destroyed in a global cataclysm. Wengrow states that quite often pseudo-archaeology is based on old and discarded idea, such as Atlantis. The people involved tend not to be anyone who’s ever been on an archaeological dig, and view archaeologists as spending their lives trying to hide some momentous secret from everyone. But it can act as an entry for some people to archaeology, and he doesn’t really like the sneering attitude of some archaeologists towards it.

Wengrow himself is an interesting character. He didn’t want to be an archaeologist originally, but came to it from acting. He also worked in the BBC Arabic service. He decided at one point he wanted to get a degree, applied to the best university he could, Oxford, and sent reams of applications to its various colleges. They turned him down. Then he was told that he should apply for a place on a course that was just being set up. One of the colleges was just setting up an archaeology course, so he did. When it came to the interview, he told the interviewer that he had always wanted to be an archaeologist. At which point she held up all the previous letters he’d written. But they admitted him, and he has now had a career teaching and excavating in places like Egypt.

He states that sometimes the pseudoarchaeology about a period or culture misses the point about what’s really interesting about it. He talks about the idea that the Sphinx was constructed before the pyramids, and admits that it’s actually a reasonable question. But if you go back to the predynastic period a thousand years before the pyramids were built, you come to the burial sites of one of Egypt’s first kings. This is fascinating, although you wouldn’t know it from the dry way it has been discussed in conferences and museums like the Petrie Museum. Excellent though these are, they talk about highly specialised subjects like pot typography which is excruciatingly dull if you want to know the wider picture. The early king’s tomb is composed of room after room of the bodies of the people and occasionally the animals that were slaughtered to accompany the king into the afterlife.

The interview is based on a book Wengrow wrote with a colleague, The Dawn of Everything. Sadly, after spending a decade writing it, the co-author died just a few weeks after its completion. The book has been widely praised, and has even inspired artistic pieces. He talks about a French woman, who composed a piece of music based on it. He regrets he was unable to attend its performance thanks to jet lag coming back from somewhere, but later met the lady when she came to Britain.

I know a little about some of what he’s talking about to have no doubt that he’s absolutely right. One of the seminars in the archaeology department at Bristol, which I attended, was about how cities like Catalhuyuk were established before the appearance of agriculture. One of the huge Neolithic sites in the Ukraine is discussed in the La Rousse Encyclopedia of Archaeology. The great mound of Cahokia is also discussed in a book I bought years ago on North American Indian archaeology. I wasn’t aware that the people of Stonehenge had given up growing crops, nor of the democratic city states in South America and Mexico. This is fascinating stuff.

He’s right about archaeology contradicting the ideas of Enlightenment philosophers about the origins of society, though I’m not sure how much of a problem this is. The philosophers he discusses – Hobbes and Rousseau – were Social Contract theorists. Social Contract theory is the idea that the state and society were set up when men came together to select an authority under whom they would live, so that their lives and property would be protected. Thus the first kings. These princes are the representatives of the people, and so from the 17th century onwards the idea developed that sovereignty lay with the people, who could revoke the power they had delegated to the prince. This was the view of John Locke. However, subsequent philosophers showed that this was just conjecture, and that it could have happened like that as the people at the time were using concepts that only subsequently developed after the foundation of states and kingdoms. I thought Social Contract theory was dead, and he closest it had to a modern advocate was John Rawls in his Theory of Justice. Rawls argued that if people were just disembodied entities wishing to chose the kind of society in which they would care to live, they would choose one that had the maximum freedom and justice for everyone, as that would also include them. Away from centrist politics, the anarchists have been keenly interested in anthropology and those indigenous societies where there is no central authority.

I’m not sure how well some of this would go down with Sargon of Akkad and the Lotus Eaters. They’ve developed an interest in archaeology, recently posting a video discussing Homo Erectus, along with the Norman Conquest and ancient Rome. But Sargon is a huge fan of John Locke and describes himself as a classical liberal. I don’t know whether archaeology’s findings about the origin of early states would contradict his ideas or not.

Tory Candidate Recommends Paying Mentally Handicapped Less than Ordinary People

December 9, 2019

There really couldn’t be a clearer statement of the Tories’ contempt for society’s weaker, less privileged and disabled members. Mike put up a piece today reporting that the Tory candidate for Amber Rudd’s old constituency of Hastings & Rye, Sally Ann Hart, managed to outrage people at a local husting with her recommendation on how much people with learning difficulties should be paid. She said that they should earn less than people of normal intelligence, because ‘they don’t understand money’ (!) This lead to shouts of ‘Shameful!’ and one person in the audience shouting that they were autistic, and they wanted to get paid for the work they do. As they should.

Amber Rudd, when she held that constituency, only had a majority of 346 votes over Labour. After this, Mike reckons that the Labour candidate, Peter Chowney, might just take it. And Mike also makes it clear what Hart’s comment means:

I think it means it is Conservative policy to rip off and shortchange people whenever and wherever they think it is possible.

Never mind whether they do a good job or not, if someone has a learning disability, the Tories are saying not only that you can – but that you should – pay them less money.

He goes on to describe what the Tories’ re-election would mean for other disabled people across Britain.

But we can see what kind of nation the Tories would create if they are elected into government again on December 12: one in which the hostile environment they have already built for disabled people would spill over into open contempt, with more pushed into poverty, and possibly even more deaths than we’ve seen in the last nine years of Tory misrule.


The Tories really do amaze me. Just when you think they couldn’t get lower or scummier, they do. Their morals are so low they’re subterranean. And I also wonder if Hart herself isn’t a bit defective in the old grey matter. Years ago I read a piece in New Scientist about some of the problems suffered by people with injuries or other impairments to specific parts of their brain. One region of the brain apparently regulates morality. According to the neurologist interview by the magazine, those of his patients who’ve suffered damage to that area will do things like start eating the food off other peoples’ plates in restaurants. They do so simply because, with that part of their brain not working correctly, they no longer understand that’s not the right thing to do.

It’s tempting to speculate that Sally Ann Hart may have a similar mental impairment. But sadly, I doubt it. She doesn’t appear to have suffered any damage to her brain. She just has a nasty attitude to the disabled.

As for disabled people not understanding money, while that’s no doubt true of some, it most certainly isn’t true of others. Some autistic people, for example, are superb mathematicians, but find it difficult to cope in social situations. And there are too many people of normal intelligence, who are unable to deal properly with money. I’ve heard stories of people falling on severe financial difficulties because the money they should have used to pay the rent or the mortgage they’ve instead spent on an expensive car or luxury holiday to somewhere exotic. They’ve made a stupid choice, but they aren’t mentally handicapped and shouldn’t be paid less for their work either.

But Hart’s comments about the disabled also reveals much about the wider Tory viewpoint, at least for some members of the party. One writer on American Neoconservativism believed that they had an essentially Hobbesian worldview. That is, they followed the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes in considering people purely as isolated units in society, engaged in a ‘war of each against all’. This also seems to be Hart’s thinking, in which those physically, mentally or socially inferior are to be taken advantage of and exploited. Because they are unable to cope for themselves, and so ultimately it’s for their benefit. Hence the punitive benefit sanctions and the Work Capability Test. These may strike everyone with an ounce of compassion and objectivity as grossly unfair and cruel to the point of murder, but to the Tories it’s all for the good of those at the receiving end of it. They have to be kept in line, even by exploitation, as they cannot cope and function as proper, self-reliant, responsible members of society otherwise.

It’s a disgusting attitude. Stop this Tory exploitation of the disabled and, indeed, anyone else on Thursday. Get them out, and Corbyn in!

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.

Jeremy Corbyn Suggests Capping Director’s Pay – Media Goes Ballistic

January 11, 2017

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting on another good suggestion from Jeremy Corbyn, and the predictable response of outrage and sneering from the meejah. The Labour leader had said on an interview on Radio 4 yesterday morning that he believed that there should be a cap on the pay earned by company directors and senior execs. The media naturally responded by pointing out that Corbyn has an annual pay of £138,000 a year, and tried to draw him into giving a price figure for what the maximum amount earned should be.

The story got onto the One Show yesterday evening, where they did a brief survey of people in the street. Opinions were, as they say, mixed. One elderly objected to the cap on the grounds that it might take away the incentive for people rising to the top. Looking at the headlines on the various papers this morning, it was very clear that it had riled someone at the Torygraph, as this was the story they shoved on their front cover. Other newspapers, like Mail, led by claiming that Labour’s policy in immigration was ‘in disarray’. Mike’s also written another article this week showing that’s also rubbish.

Mike in his article makes the point that compared to some of the vast, bloated salaries awarded to company executives, Corbyn’s own salary appears very modest indeed. He suggests that it is stupid to try to lay down a particular set figure – it should be based on company turnover and the lowest wage earned by an employee at that company. He also makes the point that the casting of particular star actors can make a great difference to how well a movie does, and that when this happens, everyone else who worked on the movie should also enjoy the films’ financial awards.

This is all correct. And there’s something else that needs to be added:

Japan already has maximum wage legislation.

Yep, it’s true. Japan is one of the world’s five wealthy countries with a very capitalist economy. The centre right Liberal Democratic party has ruled the country almost uninterrupted since the Second World War. And it also has a cap on how much company directors may be paid. I think it’s set at about 20 times that of the lowest paid employee, but I am not sure.

And the limitation of wage differentials is not something that has been simply added on in the course of reform, but an integral part of the dominant, guiding vision of the nature of Japanese society. East Asian societies can be extremely collectivist, stressing group loyalty over individual opportunity or achievement. In Japan the goal was to create a harmonious, middle class society, where there would be no extremes in wealth or poverty. This isn’t quite the case, as the Burakami, an outcast group rather like the Dalits in India, and those of Korean descent are still subject to massive poverty and discrimination.

The Japanese have also tried to justify their collectivist outlook through racist pseudo-anthropology. One school textbook claimed that Japanese society was more collectivist and co-operative because the Japanese people were descended from agriculturalists, who had to forge strong links with each other in order to cultivate and harvest rice. We Westerners, however, were all isolated individualists because we’re all descended from hunter-gatherers.

As anthropology, it’s rubbish, of course. Some social historians have argued that agricultural societies are more prone to tyranny and absolute government, which would include the type of Asian absolute monarchies described by Western observers as ‘oriental despotism’. But all human societies were originally hunter-gatherers, including the Japanese. And European society has practised settled agriculture since the beginning of the Neolithic 6,000 years ago.

The origins of Japanese and East Asian collectivism probably lie more in the influence of Confucianism, which stressed the right relationships between the members of society, such as between the prince and the people, and between elders, parents and children, and the still powerful influence of feudalism in structuring social relationships. Instead of a samurai warrior giving his loyalty and service to a daimyo feudal lord, it’s now the sarariman – the corporate warrior – becoming part of the retinue of company employees under the lordship of the director.

And European individualism probably comes not from any vestiges of our hunter-gatherer deep past, but from the effect of Hobbesian Social Contract political theorising and the free trade economics of the French Physiocrats and Adam Smith. Hobbes has been described as the first, of one of the first philosophers of the emerging bourgeois society of the 17th century. This was the period which saw Cromwell sweep away the last vestiges of feudalism in England, and the emergence of modern capitalism. But Hobbes’ philosophy views people as social atoms, all competing against each other, as opposed to other views of society, which may stress the importance of collective or corporate identities and loyalties, such as family, feudal lordship or membership of trade and professional bodies. Similarly, the founders of the economic theories of modern capitalism, such as the Physiocrats in France and Adam Smith and in Scotland, also stressed unrestrained individual competition. They were also specifically arguing against the mercantilist system, in which the state regulated trade. For example, in the 17th and 18th centuries the British government enacted a series of legislation governing trade with its emerging colonies, so as to tie them to the economy of the home country, which would benefit from their products. Modern Western individualism come from these theories of capitalist society and the perceived operation of its economy.

The collectivist nature of Japanese society also expresses itself in other ways in the structure and management of Japanese corporations. Singing the company song in the morning is one example. Management are also encouraged or required to share the same canteen as the workers on the shop floor. Both of these practices, and no doubt many others, are designed to foster group solidarity, so that management and workers work together for the good of the company.

This isn’t a perfect system, by any means. Apart from the immense pressure placed on individuals in a society that places such heavy emphasis on the value of hard work, that individuals actually keel over and die because of it when doing their jobs, it has also made Japanese society and corporations extremely resistant to change. Confucianism places great stress on respect for one’s elders and superiors. While respect for the older generation is an admirable virtue, and one which our society in many ways is sadly lacking, in Japan it has resulted in a mindset which resists change or apportioning due blame for historical crimes and atrocities.

At the corporate level, the slow down of the Japanese economy in the 1990s meant there was no longer such a pressing need for company staff to work such long hours. However, so great is the corporate inertia, that staff still feel that they have to keep working past six O’clock in the evening, even if there is little or no work to do, because they don’t want to be seen as breaking with the approved practices of previous generations of employees.

And at the national level, it has been suggested that the exaggerated respect for one’s elders and ancestors is the reason why Japan has had such immense difficulty confronting the atrocities their nation committed during the Second World War. Japanese school texts and official histories have been criticised because they’d don’t discuss the atrocities committed by the imperial Japanese army. One school textbook even talked about the army’s ‘advance’ through Asia, rather than its invasion. The reason for this failure to admit the existence of these crimes, and criticise those who perpetrated them, is that respect for one’s elders and social superiors is so engrained in Japanese society, that except for a few extremely courageous mavericks, casting shame on those responsible for such horrors and, by implication, the whole of society during this period, is unacceptable. Even though many over on this side of the Eurasian landmass would consider that a failure to confront the atrocities committed by one’s nation to be even more shameful.

Japanese and Asian collectivism is not, then, perfect. But a maximum wage cap certainly did not hinder Japan’s advance to become one of the world’s foremost industrial countries. And the goal of creating a harmonious, co-operative society where there is little disparity in wealth is a good one.

The title of Mike’s article on Corbyn’s suggestion for a maximum wage states that the identities of those complaining about it reveal why they’re doing so. Indeed. The proprietors and leading executives of newspaper companies, like the Barclay twins at the Torygraph, have awarded themselves immense salaries. They’re multimillionaires. This wealth is increasingly not being shared with the hacks, who do the actual work of putting the paper out. The Torygraph has been particularly struck with declining sales to the point that Private Eye’s ‘Street of Shame’ column regularly reported further job cuts. Many of the big newspaper companies depend on the work of unpaid interns, particularly the Groaniad. And even if they’re not being threatened with the sack, conditions for the paid staff are becoming increasingly Orwellian. For example, the Eye reported a few months ago that one of the managers at the Torygraph had tried to install motion detectors on the staff’s desks to prevent them moving around too much, just like the staff at call centres are also monitored. The hacks were so annoyed, however, that management had to back down and the motion detectors were removed.

As for the film industry, the presence of big name Hollywood stars can sink a movie simply through the sheer expense of paying. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger was paid $7 million for his appearance in the second Terminator movie. While that was a box office success, the presence of ‘A’ list celebrities in a movie does not guarantee that a film will be a success. One of the reasons why the film Ishtar became such a notorious flop in the 1990s was that the producers cast three major stars, who all commanded multi-million dollar salaries. This pushed the bill for the movie towards $20 million or so, even before the film had been shot. The film was thus under financial pressure from the start.

Apart from the Japanese, there are other, successful European nations that also deliberately avoid huge inequalities in wealth. One of these is Denmark. The newspapers have been full of articles analysing and celebrating the traditional Danish concept of ‘hygge’. This has been translated as ‘cosiness’, but it actually means much more than that. The way I’ve heard it explained by a Danish friend, it’s about being content with the homely necessities. I got the distinct impression that it was similar to the Swedish notion of ‘lagom’, which translates as ‘just enough’. You make just enough to satisfy your basic needs, but no more. And from what I’ve heard about Danish society, the social attitude there is that no-one should try to appear ostentatiously better off than anyone else. This is not to say that everyone has to do the same low-paid job, or that they should not earn more than anyone else. But it does mean that they should not be conspicuously more affluent.

This is the complete opposite from the values promoted and celebrated by Thatcher and the wretched ‘New Right’ of the 1980s. They demanded making conditions harsher for the poor, and giving ever larger salaries to management on the grounds that this would act as an incentive for others to do well and try to climb up the corporate and social ladder. The result has been the emergence of a tiny minority, who are massively wealthy – the 1%. Like the Barclay twins, Rupert Murdoch and just about every member of Theresa May’s cabinet. For everyone else, wages have stagnated to the point where a considerable number are finding it very difficult to make ends meet.

But wage caps and an attitude that discourages inequalities of wealth have not harmed Japan, nor Denmark and Sweden, which also have very strong economies and a very high standard of living.

The massive difference between the millions earned by the heads of the big corporations has been a scandal here in Britain, to the point where David Cameron and May made noises urging company directors to restrain their greed. Corbyn’s suggestion is eminently sensible, if Britain is to be a genuinely inclusive, prosperous society. The outrage shown by various media execs to it shows that the Tories are still committed to a policy of poverty for the many, riches for a very few. And all their concern at reining in executive pay is just platitudes to make it appear that they’re concerned when the issue becomes too embarrassing.

Andreas Whittam Smith on the Tories: ‘Nasty, Stupid and Clumsy’

November 10, 2014

Mike over at Vox Political has an article on the Independent’s Andreas Whittam Smith’s description of the Tory party as ‘nasty, stupid and clumsy’, for their policies which penalise and impoverish the poor, the sick and the disabled. Smith notes that, contrary to their propaganda, the conditionality imposed by them on welfare payments does not help them into work. The barriers that prevent people from finding and holding a job are those of opportunities, lack of skills or training, illness and childcare problems.

Mike goes on to discuss how these issues are further expanded and explored in a report compiled by scholars at Edinburgh Napier University and the University of Stirling, discussed on Alan Wylie’s A Working Class Man blog. This also describes how working people have been forced further into poverty by the Tories’ welfare reforms. It also concludes that the conditionality of the Tories’ welfare system does not tackle the problems people really face finding and getting into work.

Furthermore, in order to make work pay, the Tories are going to remove further welfare benefits, including from those in work, thus making both working people and the unemployed worse off.

Mike’s article begins:

Independent luminary Andreas Whittam Smith reckons the Conservative Party in its current form is both nasty and stupid – and also clumsy, if his latest article is to be believed.

Nasty because of its aggressive behaviour – such as the decision to withdraw support for rescue operations that save thousands of migrants from drowning as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Or because of benefit assessment policies that mean people living with progressive and degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease and rheumatoid arthritis are being subjected to what a group of charities describes as “upsetting and unnecessary” examinations to see whether they will recover enough to look for work in the future – a pointless exercise because their conditions are flagged up from the start as progressive and degenerative; they’re never going to get better.

Or because, after the Resolution Foundation found that one-in-five employees (4.9 million people) earned less than the living wage, George Osborne is promising that if the Conservative Party wins next year’s general election, then most welfare payments that the working poor rely on – including child benefit, tax credits, jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit and income support – will be frozen in April 2016 for two years. They are currently rising by 1 per cent a year. He will make the working poor poorer.

This is all very Hobbsian. Thomas Hobbes was the 17th century philosopher, who believed that people were basically violent, predatory and rapacious, and if led to their own devices, society would degenerate into ‘the war of each against all’. He therefore championed a strong monarchy, or other central authority, to preserve peace, and the citizens’ lives and property. It’s been said that the American, and particularly the Neo-Con, view of society is essentially a Hobbesian one of cut-throat competition. It was Hobbes, who said that ‘in the state of nature the life of man is poor, nasty, brutish and short’. This succinctly describes the Tory vision for British society, and they have been very successful in putting into practice. For most working people, their lives are poorer, nastier, and their treatment more brutal, and their lives shorter every day the Conservatives are in power.

Mike’s article can be read at:

Dawkins, ID and Forteanism

June 9, 2008

Looking through this month’s copy of the Fortean Times, a monthly dedicated to reporting the weird and bizarre, I was particularly struck by two letters to the magazine from readers defending Dawkins from criticisms made by two of the FT’s long-term columnists, Noel Rooney and The Hierophant’s Apprentice, and the columnists’ replies to the letters. What I found particularly remarkable about the comments of Dawkins supporters wasn’t their defence of Dawkins’ attacks on religion, but the fact that they found his views Fortean. The author of one of the letters stated that ‘I consider Dawkins to be most ably informed on the excesses of religion and the myth of belief and to be doing a particularly fortean job in exposing the fallacies of religions, the religious and the religious principle in all its forms’. 1Now there is some similarity between Dawkins’ views on the paranormal and the type of philosophical scepticism adopted and recommended by Charles Fort, the compiler and publisher of weird and scientifically inexplicable facts after whom the Fortean Times is named. Dawkins’ view that if the paranormal exists, then it is ‘perinormal’, that is, it is not totally outside science but will eventually become incorporated into a scientific paradigm when enough evidence is accumulated to allow this, is close to Fort’s own observations that previously damned data – facts ignored or denied by conventional science – may become accepted by science through a change in the scientific paradigm, or the Dominant as Fort himself termed it. Nevertheless, at the risk of slavishly defining Forteanism according to Fort’s own personal philosophy, something that Fort himself did not want and which Noel Rooney in his reply also criticises, there’s a big difference between Dawkins’ scepticism towards the supernatural and Forteanism.

Dawkins own scepticism is very much that of 19th century Positivism, which believed, following the theories of Auguste Comte, that religion and metaphysics had been superseded by science. Indeed the university chair Dawkins holds, that of Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, has a strongly Positivist tone, suggesting that there is a single, absolutely authoritative view of science about which the public must be informed, but must not question. This is not an ‘anti-science’ view. I recall one scientist, who certainly showed Dawkins’ concern for better communication of science, making the same arguments in an opinion article published in the ‘Forum’ column of New Scientist in the 1990s. Fort, on the other hand, while not religious, directed his scepticism very much at science and the claims of scientists who presented as objective fact a view of reality based not so much on evidence as on their own, personal beliefs, in defence of which they excluded and suppressed any scientific data that could not be fitted into it, or which actively appeared to contradict it. Fort’s Book of the Damned begins by stating this very clearly:

‘A procession of the damned.

By the damned, I mean the excluded.

We shall have a procession of data that science has excluded.’ 2

Fort’s scepticism, rather than being Positivist, appears to be closer to that of the ancient Greek Sceptics like Pyrrho and Heraclites. These ancient Greek Sceptics believed that reality was fundamentally unknowable, in that nothing definite could be said about it, and so argued for a complete detachment from belief. 3 The great Sceptical philosophers, Carneades, was notorious for being able to argue both for and against a given position with equal force. While he also considered that reality was fundamentally unknowable, he considered that some impressions were more persuasive than others, and more servicable through closer inspection and corroborating impressions. They were thus more credible, though not more certain. 4 Fort’s view that everything was in a state of intermediacy, and striving to become ‘more nearly real’ while gradually blurring into everything else, was also similar to the view of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus that everything was in a state of flux, and that nature operated through the union of opposites, stating that ‘Combinations – wholes and not wholes, concurring differing, concordant discordant, from all things one and from one all things’. 5 Fort’s scepticism towards dogmatic science was also shared by the militantly atheist Nietzsche, who also considered reality to be a flux that was only imperfectly caught and described in the net of language, and declared that any view that claimed objective validity was a ‘shadow of God’ that oppressed humanity.

Alhtough they aren’t Sceptics, in many ways the adherents of Intelligent Design have a far more Fortean approach to science than Dawkins. As Intelligent Design, by suggesting that living creatures are the product of an intelligent designer rather than chance Natural Selection, is very much contrary to existing orthodox evolutionary science, its supporters are, like Fort, critical of the claims of scientists to proceed through the dispassionate evaluation of objective evidence. Philip Johnson, one of the leading proponents of Intelligent Design, has supported his arguments in this regard using the views of the physicist and philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend. Feyerabend, like Thomas Kuhn, considered that scientific progress largely consisted of the change of one set of self-consistent scientific concepts with another, only marginally based on the empirical evidence and not really constituting anything like progress in knowledge. 6 Although a controversial view, the history of science does provide examples of the way scientists have acted to suppress facts that do not support their current paradigm, and supporters of Intelligent Design have documented and publicised these incidents. For example, a recent post for the 26th May, ‘Can Science be Unbaised’, at the Intelligent Design site, The Design of Life, by Jane Harris Zsovan noted the intense controversy surrounding the views of Steven Shapin and Simon Shaffer in their book, Leviathan and the Air Pump. Examing the debate about the usefulness of experimental in constructing a true model of the world between Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes, Shapin and Shaffer concluded that scientists were no more objective in their view of the world than other people. In November 2007, Shapin and Shaffer in an edition of the Canadian TV science programme, Ideas, that after their book came out they suffered personal abuse and even threats of sacking from their colleagues, because of their rejection of the claim that science proceeds through complete objectivity. Thus, Denyse O’Leary, another leading supporter of Intelligent Design, has stated on her blog that ID is not the first or even the only scientific debate in which one side has been attacked and declared to be ‘anti-science’ by another.

Now this does not mean that Dawkins’ view of evolution is necessarily incorrect. It just means that in this instance, his view of science is less Fortean than that of the supporters of Intelligent Design, even though they aren’t sceptics like Fort himself. However, I do find interesting the recommendation of one of Dawkins’ defenders in their letter that Dawkins’ successor as Professor for the Public Understanding of Science should be invited to take part in the Fortean Times’ annual Unconvention and debate the motion ‘this house believes that all science undergraduates should be made to read Charles Fort’s The Book of the Damned’. 7 My guess is that they wouldn’t, especially if the similarity between Fort’s views appeared to support the wider philosophy of science expressed by Intelligent Design.


1. Philip Bolt, ‘Dissing Dawkins’, in Fortean Times, no. 237, (2008), p. 74.

2. X, ed., with introduction by Bob Rickard, Charles Fort’s Book of the Damned (London, John Brown Publishing 1995), p. 1.

3. ‘Scepticism’ in J. Speake, ed., A Dictionary of Philosophy (London, Pan Books 1979), p. 314.

4. ‘Scepticism’, in Speake, ed., Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 314, and ‘Carneades’ in Speake, ed., Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 56.

5. Aristotle, On the World, 396b7-8, 20-25, cited in Jonathan Barnes, Early Greek Philosophy (Harmondsworth, Penguin 1987), p. 114.

6. ‘Science, Philosophy of’, in Speake, ed., Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 320.

7. ‘Dissing Dawkins’, Jason Mills, Fortean Times, no. 237, (2008, p. 74.