Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Killing for God

New research published in the March issue of Psychological Science may help elucidate the relationship between religious indoctrination and violence, a topic that has gained renewed notoriety in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. In the article, University of Michigan psychologist Brad Bushman and his colleagues suggest that scriptural violence sanctioned by God can increase aggression, especially in believers.

The authors set out to examine this interaction by conducting experiments with undergraduates at two religiously contrasting universities: Brigham Young University where 99% of students report believing in God and the Bible and Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam where just 50% report believing in God and 27% believe in the Bible.

After reporting their religious affiliation and beliefs, the participants read a parable adapted from a relatively obscure passage in the King James Bible describing the brutal torture and murder of a woman, and her husband’s subsequent revenge on her attackers. Half of the participants were told that the passage came from the Book of Judges in the Old Testament while the other half were told it was an ancient scroll discovered in an archaeological expedition.

In addition to the scriptural distinction, half of the participants from both the bible and the ancient scroll groups read an adjusted version that included the verse:

"The Lord commanded Israel to take arms against their brothers and chasten them before the LORD."

The participants were then placed in pairs and instructed to compete in a simple reaction task. The winner of the task would be able to "blast" his or her partner with noise up to 105 decibels, about the same volume as a fire alarm. The test measures aggression.

As expected, the Brigham Young students were more aggressive (i.e. louder) with their blasts if they had been told that the passage they had previously read was from the bible rather than a scroll. Likewise, participants were more aggressive if they had read the additional verse that depicts God sanctioning violence.

At the more secular Vrije Universiteit, the results were surprisingly similar. Although Vrije students were less likely to be influenced by the source of the material, they blasted more aggressively when the passage that they read included the sanctioning of the violence by God. This finding held true even for non-believers, though to a lesser extent.

The research sheds light on the possible origins of violent religious fundamentalism and falls in line with theories proposed by scholars of religious terrorism, who hypothesize that exposure to violent scriptures may induce extremists to engage in aggressive actions. "To the extent religious extremists engage in prolonged, selective reading of the scriptures, focusing on violent retribution toward unbelievers instead of the overall message of acceptance and understanding," writes Bushman "one might expect to see increased brutality."


Psychological Science is ranked among the top 10 general psychology journals for impact by the Institute for Scientific Information. For a copy of the article "When God Sanctions Killing: Effect of Scriptural Violence on Aggression" and access to other Psychological Science research findings please contact Catherine West at (202) 783-2077 or cwest@psychologicalscience.org.

anticant comments: Interesting - but yet another example of research "scientists" setting up an elaborate rigmarole to "prove" the bleeding obvious!

Monday, 26 February 2007


The broadsheets, as always nowadays, are dripping with articles about religion. In today’s Times that crusty old Catholic William Rees-Mogg predictably argues that we need more religion, not less, and that orthodox Christian doctrine has always been opposed to slavery and the champion of liberty and equality. If he believes that, he’ll believe anything. In the Telegraph Boris Johnson, who I would have expected to have more sense, argues that allowing Turkey into the European Union will improve the chances of Islam and the West settling down together as one big happy family.

The most mind-boggling piece of obfuscation, though, is to be found – as one would wearily expect, in that erstwhile bastion of liberal good sense, The Guardian. The writer, Stuart Jeffries, has been trotting around various religious and non-religious informants and has made the astonishing discovery – surprise, surprise! – that the root of the trouble is not religion itself, or disbelief, but the increasingly popular and vociferous fundamentalist varieties of each.

According to the Anglican Dean of Southwark, Colin Slee, there is not just a two-sided divide, but a three-cornered one – religious fundamentalists in one corner [boo], fundamentalist secularists in another [boo], and “intelligent, thinking liberals of Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Baptism, Methodism, other faiths” [interestingly enough, Islam isn’t mentioned in this category] “and, indeed, thinking atheists, in the other corner." In Slee’s book non-thinking atheists include those such as Richard Dawkins and A.C. Grayling who, he fatuously maintains, “are just as fundamentalist as the people setting off bombs on the tube, the hardline settlers on the West Bank and the anti-gay bigots of the Church of England”. [Again, he doesn’t mention Islam].

This is news to me: I hadn’t noticed Dawkins or Grayling igniting any bombs anywhere, except verbal ones which are obviously making their religious targets wriggle. I wonder how many of Dawkins’ critics have actually read The God Delusion? Far from being an intemperate rant, as they like to pretend, it is in fact a closely argued and generally good tempered polemic which requires reasoned refutation [if that is possible] and not mere mindless abuse.

A Muslim witness, Azzim Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought, says the problem with secular fundamentalists is that they believe they have the absolute truth. “That means you have no room to talk to others so you end up having a physical fight. They want to close the door and ignore religion, but this will provoke a violent religiosity. If someone seeks to deny my existence” – which he curiously seems to equate with his religion – “I will fight to assert it.” It does not seem to occur to this gentleman that this is exactly how non-Muslims – and not just non-religious ones – feel about the incessant clamour being mounted by his co-religionists to impose more and more of their beliefs and practices on the rest of us, with the ultimate object of denying our right to make our own life-choices and coercing us to submit to Islam.

The liberal Jewish rabbi, Julia Neuberger, also follows the same fallacious line about sceptics. “What I find really distasteful is not just the tone of their rhetoric, but their lack of doubt”, she says. “No scientific method says that there is no doubt. If you don’t accept there’s doubt in all things, you’re being intellectually dishonest.” Tell that to Islam! To an outsider always on the lookout for those mysteriously silent “Moderate Muslims”, this religion is characterised by a total lack of contingent doubt and a totalitarian cast of mind. And Dr Neuberger surely doesn’t believe that most rational people doubt that the sun rose this morning in the East, and not in the West. Or does she live in a perpetual haze of uncertainty about the obvious?

The nub of this ongoing row, of course, is that those who live their lives by faith in a supernatural being regard these notions as “sacred” and wish to ring-fence them from rational discussion. Sceptics – atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists – by contrast, consider all opinions and beliefs should be open to debate and susceptible of scientific proof. Disbelief is NOT a dogma, but a suspension of belief in the absence of convincing evidence that the “supernatural” exists. Despite thousands of years of high-flown religious claims, the existence of a god, or gods, has not been convincingly demonstrated to anyone who doesn’t already have faith in the concept. To a non-believer, the notion of a god such as Jews, Christians and Muslims contemplate is incredible and self-contradictory: if any god does exist, he, she or it is most certainly not both all-powerful and all-benevolent.

What is ultimately at stake is the survival of pluralist, tolerant democracy. This will only be safeguarded if the presently growing influence of religion in public affairs is diminished and denied any privileged position in policymaking and above all in education. It should be the responsibility of the state to ensure that education is rational and non-sectarian, and no longer the plaything of religious factions whether Christian, Islamic, or any other.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Americans observed

Ever since they emerged on to the world stage after the Revolution, The United States of America and the unique features of their society have been the object of much comment both from their own citizens and from external observers. Probably the most famous of these were de Tocqueville and Charles Dickens, but there have been others whose writings, now largely forgotten, throw illuminating shafts of light upon both USA past and USA present.


Mrs Frances Trollope was the mother of the more famous Victorian novelist, Anthony Trollope. She herself was an accomplished and voluminous writer, whose pen kept the family from economic disaster for prolonged periods. Her husband was an unsuccessful barrister and farmer, and they had several children, one of whom, Henry, had left school early without career prospects.

An acquaintance of the Trollopes was a rich, charismatic young lady, Miss Frances Wright, who was a convinced social reformer in the Owenite mould and had purchased a tract of land in the backwoods of Tennessee where she proposed to establish a utopian community dedicated to the education of slaves in preparation for their emancipation. With her husband incapable of making ends meet, Fanny Trollope decided to take all her surviving children except Anthony, who was still at school, to join in this quixotic venture, naïvely believing that, once there, she would be “very happy and very free from care”. Needless to say, it did not turn out like that.

The party sailed up the Mississippi in a steamboat, arriving at Miss Wright’s American “paradise”, Nashoba, in January 1828. What greeted them was three roofless log cabins in a malaria-ridden swamp, with only a handful of ragged, bewildered slaves. So the Trollopes continued up river to Cincinnati, then the fastest-growing city in America, where they settled for the next three years, becoming notorious in the process.

With seemingly boundless energy and determination, Mrs Trollope set the hapless Henry to giving Latin lessons to local gentlemen. When these did not materialise, Henry became the main attraction at the Western Museum in the role of the “Invisible Girl” – an oracle who spouted several garbled languages which evidently impressed the Cincinnatians. Not content with this, the Trollopes launched “The Infernal Regions”, based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, which continued to pull in crowds long after they had departed. Much more ambitiously, Fanny persuaded her husband – who had come out to visit them – to support her financially in establishing an arcade, or bazaar, in central Cincinnati with exhibition, lecture and reading rooms, a theatre, rotunda, coffee house, and a variety of shop stalls – a prototype shopping mall, in fact.

An exotic building, partly modelled on the Brighton Pavilion, was commenced on a central site and Mr Trollope [who had returned to England] sent out “$4000 worth of probably the most trumpery goods ever shipped to America”. With an unfinished building, unsaleable stock, and the bills piling up “Trollope’s Folly” earned the contempt of Cincinnati, which regarded its proprietress as dowdy and tactless, which she probably was. After two years struggling to make the bazaar pay, Fanny decided to move on and set out for the Alleghenies, the East Coast, Washington, Niagara Falls and, eventually, home after a four-year transatlantic sojourn.

Throughout her time in America she had been making copious notes of her impressions and experiences, and on her return home she wreaked her revenge for what she regarded as inconsiderate treatment by writing what became a best-seller on both sides of the Atlantic - Domestic Manners of the Americans, published in 1832. It was an immediate scandalous talking-point, drawing mostly howls of outrage in the US and some quiet amusement in the UK. It was only half a century since the former colonies had declared their independence, and their emotional ties – both positive and negative – to their erstwhile mother country were still strong.

Fanny had crossed the Atlantic with strongly democratic sympathies, but these moderated as she encountered ceaseless American self-praise and often ignorant observations about England. And, while praising the beauty of the country and the enterprise and independent spirit of the inhabitants, she found some of their habits repugnant – especially the universal male habit of spitting tobacco-juice anywhere and everywhere. On the Mississippi steamboat she was confronted with “the total want of all the usual courtesies of the table, the voracious rapidity with which the viands were seized and devoured….the loathsome spitting, from the contamination of which it was absolutely impossible to protect our dresses; the frightful manner of feeding with their knives, till the whole blade seemed to enter into the mouth; and the still more frightful manner of cleaning the teeth afterwards with a pocket knife.”

These uncouth table manners contrasted comically with the Americans’ extremely prudish attitude towards literature and the subordinate place occupied by American women. A well-to-do American housewife, Fanny said, spent a day of almost unrelieved tedium until her husband’s return for dinner, when “he comes, shakes hands with her, spits, and dines. The conversation is not much, and ten minutes suffices for dinner. The husband then goes off to his club for the rest of the evening. And so ends her day.”

Religion made matters worse, with itinerant preachers of many denominations who sound positively creepy [not much change there, then!] insinuating themselves into the good graces of their female congregations with sometimes untoward results. Fanny went to both a revival meeting in Cincinnati and a “camp meeting” in the wilds of Indiana. At the former, after a fire-and-brimstone sermon, a number of young girls “came tottering out, their hands clasped, their heads hanging on their bosoms, and every limb trembling…Young creatures, their features pale and distorted, fell on their knees on the pavement, and soon sunk forward on their faces; the most violent cries and shrieks followed, while from time to time a voice was heard in convulsive accents, exclaiming, ‘Oh Lord!’ ‘Oh Lord Jesus!’ ‘Help me, Jesus!’ and the like. “ The preachers walked among these girls, offering them “ whispered comfortings, and from time to time a mystic caress. More than once I saw a young neck encircled by a reverend arm.”

It didn’t always stop with encircling arms, though. Mrs Trollope relates, in suitably shocked fashion, the tale of a young Philadelphian lady whose feelings for one of these preachers was “a curious mixture of spiritual awe and earthly affection”. Luckily her father noticed what was going on in time to forbid the preacher the house before irreparable damage was done; he left the city, but a few months afterwards “no less than seven unfortunate girls produced living proofs” of the father’s wisdom. Not surprisingly, Mrs Trollope is scathing, and also highly amusing, about the abundance of religious hypocrisy she encountered.

She is also very critical of the Americans’ strange mixture of crudeness and prudery, and their civic hypocrisy. Ceaselessly proclaiming that they enjoyed the best constitution and government in the world, and their devotion to democracy and equality, they nevertheless for the most part enthusiastically endorsed the “peculiar institution” of slavery, and Fanny was shocked to discover that negroes were being bred in the “free” northern states for export to the south, where they were sold as slaves. “You will see them with one hand hoisting the cap of liberty, and with the other flogging their slaves”, she remarked. American treatment of the native Indians she characterised as “treacherous and false almost beyond belief”.

Attitudes to the British were patronisingly contemptuous, and often invincibly ignorant. “One lady asked me very gravely, if we had left home in order to get rid of the vermin with which the English of all ranks were afflicted.” She had been told, on “unquestionable authority”, that it was quite impossible to walk though the streets of London without having the head filled [with lice]. When Fanny demurred, the lady retorted “there is nothing so easy as to laugh, but truth is truth, laughed at or not”. Another enquired how the Trollopes could bear to return to a country where they knew they would be considered as no better than the dirt in the streets. When asked to explain, she said “the fact is, we Americans know rather more than you think for, and certainly if I was in England I should not think of associating with anything but lords. I have always been among the first here, and if I travelled I should like to do the same”. Fanny drily comments that in all the many conversations she held with Americans about England, “it was made clear that I knew much less about it than those I conversed with”.

Mrs Trollope had gone to America something of a liberal; she returned in a much more Tory frame of mind. “Strong, indeed, must be the love of equality in an English breast if it can survive a tour through the Union.“ Her final verdict was uncompromising: “I do not like them. I do not like their principles, I do not like their manners, I do not like their opinions…. If the citizens of the United States were indeed the devoted patriots they call themselves, they would surely not thus encrust themselves in the hard, dry, stubborn persuasion, that they are the first and best of the human race, and that nothing is to be learnt, but what they are able to teach, and that nothing is worth having, which they do not possess.” “All the enthusiasm of America is concentrated to the one point of her own emancipation and independence; on this point nothing can exceed the warmth of her feelings.”

Needless to say, Domestic Manners was a scandalous hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The British were highly amused by it; Americans were furious, their invective bearing out Fanny’s remark that “other nations have been called thin-skinned, but the citizens of the Union have, apparently, no skins at all”. Charles Dickens, who followed in her footsteps a decade later to write American Notes, was also disillusioned of his idealistic vision of the Republic, and told a friend that he believed “the heaviest blow ever dealt at Liberty’s Head, will be dealt by this nation in the ultimate failure of its example to the Earth”. Much later in the 19th century, Mark Twain admitted that Mrs Trollope “was merely telling the truth, and this indignant nation knew it. She was painting a state of things which did not disappear at once. It lasted to well along in my youth, and I remember it.”

FANNY TROLLOPE: Domestic Manners of the Americans, with introduction and notes by Pamela Neville-Sington. Penguin Classics.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Onward and upward

Blogging habits evolve, and there is self-questioning among some members of the Awkward Squad about where we go from here? Some of the AS are content the way things are, some would like to consolidate, others to expand.

I am of the latter opinion, because I see blogging as a wonderful way of enlarging our contacts worldwide and sharing news and views with lots more interested and interesting people. Through following up other peoples’ blogroles and preferences, I’ve discovered some very congenial sites and people, some of whom I’ve added to my own list of ‘friendly places’ and visit regularly.

It seems to me that networking in this fashion, both as individuals and interlinking rings, is the most fruitful way of broadening our internet horizons. While the Awkward Squadders will, I’m sure, happily pursue our established wayward way, some of us who want more ongoing, themed, discussion with longer threads and wider networking could form another ring. Toby has suggested “Renaissance” as a name “reflect[ing] our desire to be universal men/women with a refusal to turn a blind eye to any topic no matter how obscure and also indicating a glimmer of hope that perhaps society could experience a rebirth carved out by the new voices in the internet age.

Sounds good to me, and I would be willing to set up a “Renaissance” ring if others want me to. The idea would be that each of the participants hosts and writes about a particular theme or themes on his of her own site, and also invites others to provide posts on those topics. Thus, if Toby’s “Reason’s Sword” was the theme-place concentrating on philosophy and ethics, I and others, as well as Toby, could [with his approval] put up posts there so that everyone knew where to go for those threads. Of course, that wouldn’t preclude the site’s host from posting on other topics as well when they wished to.

As founder-members I would suggest the following sites and themes:

1LONERANGER: the environment; the arts

ANTICANT’S ARENA: historical perspectives; social psychology; democratic deficit

JOSE’S SITE: global economic and political trends; 21st century scenarios

TOBY’S SITE: philosophy; ethics; education

TYGER: British politics

These are just very early thoughts, with gaps to be filled in both membership and topics, so let’s have a full discussion here before proceeding further. The idea of even only a handful of us starting to take more positive steps towards a renewal of reasonable, enlightened, and optimistic discourse in this gloomy decade of conflict, bigotry and pessimism is a heartening one. Thanks for the inspiration, Toby!

Saturday, 17 February 2007

On a hiding to nowhere?


- LORD PALMERSTON, 19th century Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary.

What has become of the much-vaunted Anglo-American “Special Relationship”? This largely mythical beast, which has been an axiom of British, if not American, foreign policy ever since the Second World War partnership forged between Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, still mesmerises British policymakers.

Yet it is obvious to practically everyone else that the “Special Relationship”, if it still functions meaningfully at all, is a much more one-sided affair than its British propagandists like to think. In fact, it always has been, even in the heady wartime days of the Churchill-Roosevelt love-in. As is clear from Churchill’s war memoirs, he was unable to prevail over the Americans on many aspects of operational strategy in the conduct of military operations in Europe, and even less successful in preventing Roosevelt – already a dying man – from being bamboozled by Stalin at Yalta into agreeing on a post-war division of Europe into ‘spheres of influence’ which resulted in the Iron Curtain and the subsequent years of Cold War. The extent to which Churchill himself modified the original drafts of his memoirs to avoid annoying the Americans, and to keep his US publisher-paymasters sweet, has only recently been revealed by David Reynolds in his fascinating book In Command of History.

As Secretary of State Dean Acheson remarked after the war, “Britain has lost an empire and not yet found a role”. The loss of empire was not unwelcome to US politicians, who had been educated in the post-revolutionary tradition of seeing Britain as malignly imperialist and far more macchiavellian than she in fact was.

The Suez debacle, when the Americans effectively pulled the plug on the British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt, was the opportunity for the United States to assume the dominant Western role in Middle Eastern policy, the increasingly bitter fruits of which are still being harvested.

Prime Minister Blair and President Bush are both fond of proclaiming themselves disciples of Churchill, though one doubts whether he would have relished the compliment. The spectacle of “Yo-Yo Blair” trotting fawningly along behind the most right-wing US administration in living memory is humiliating. He increasingly resembles the tiger-riding young lady of Riga in the limerick: “they returned from the ride with the lady inside, and a smile on the face of the tiger”.

How long this state of affairs, which belies the sage wisdom of Lord Palmerston, will continue is anybody’s guess, but there does not seem much prospect of ending it soon. Even if it is no longer seen as a national asset by some British politicians and diplomats, they keep very quiet about it. But some Americans are more candid, and the following observations by Kendall Myers, a senior US State Department official, at a public lecture in Washington DC last November [as reported by Toby Harnden] are significant – although needless to say they were promptly disowned by both US and UK government sources:

"There never really has been a special relationship, or at least not one we've noticed.

"As a State Department employee, now I will say something even worse: it has been from the very beginning very one-sided.

"The State Department and the American Embassy in London, by God they'll be pushing the special relationship till the end of time.

"The last prime minister to resist American pressure was Neville Chamberlain who was a much more brilliant figure in British diplomacy [than Winston Churchill].

"We typically ignore them and take no notice. We say, ‘There are the Brits coming to tell us how to run our empire. Let's park them'. It is a sad business and I don't think it does them justice.

"It's hard for me to believe that any British leader who follows Tony Blair will maintain the kind of relationship he has. There'll be much more of a distant relationship and certainly no more wars of choice in the future.

"Harold Wilson was a great deal more clever in my opinion than Tony Blair. He managed to fool us all on Vietnam.

"The deal was not one cent, not one Bobby, not one Johnny, nobody, not one participant in the Vietnam war. Wilson succeeded by sounding good but doing nothing… Blair got it the other way round and in the end joined in this Iraq adventure.

"One of the most brilliant prime ministerships of modern times was brought a cropper by the Iraq war. He'll never recover in my opinion. It's been ruined for all time. That is tragic.

"The key fact was the British perception of the special relationship that when the Americans decide a major issue of national importance the British will not oppose. The way that Iraq developed it would have been extremely difficult for Tony Blair to have done a Harold Wilson.

"Tony Blair's a modern Gladstone. He really believes it. He may not have believed WMD – I don't know anybody knew that – he essentially believed this was in the West's interest to remove this evil dictator.

"Unfortunately, Tony Blair's background was as an actor and not an historian. If only he'd read a book on the 1920s he might have hesitated.

"I think it was probably a done deal from the beginning. It was a one-sided relationship and that one-sided relationship was entered into I think with open eyes. Tony Blair perhaps hoped that he could bring George Bush along, that he could convince him but of course George Bush has many other dimensions politically and intellectually. I can't think of anything [Blair] got on the asset side of the ledger.

"The more serious issue that confronts Britain is not the strength of the special relationship but the strength of ties to Europe.

"Tony Blair could sound European on a good day, could occasionally pronounce French well and he wears blue jeans with the best Americans. I just think the role of Britain as a bridge between Europe and the United States is vanishing before our eyes.

"What I fear is, and what I think is, that the British will draw back from the US without moving closer to Europe. In that sense, London's bridge is falling down."

Friday, 16 February 2007

All are Victims

"Each of the Iraqi children killed by the United States was our child. Each of the prisoners tortured in Abu Ghraib was our comrade. Each of their screams was ours. When they were humiliated, we were humiliated. The U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq - mostly volunteers in a poverty draft from small towns and poor urban neighborhoods - are victims just as much as the Iraqis of the same horrendous process, which asks them to die for a victory that will never be theirs."


[Arundhati Roy, "Tide? Or Ivory Snow? Public Power in the Age of Empire," 8/24/04 http://www.democracynow.org/static/Arundhati_Trans.shtml]

From the excellent Information Clearing House daily newsletter.

Thursday, 15 February 2007


“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”


“Patriotism …is nothing else but a means of obtaining for the rulers their ambitions and covetous desires, and for the ruled the abdication of human dignity, reason, conscience, and a slavish enthralment to those in power”


Reading 1loneranger’s fascinating account of his childhood on a US Army base leads me to reflect, yet again, on the nature of patriotism. The Oxford Concise defines a patriot as “one who defends or is zealous for his country’s freedom or rights”. While it surely cannot be bad to defend one’s own country’s freedom, as in the two World Wars, over-zealousness in patriotic fervour all too easily leads to the violation of the rights of others. The history of the West is studded with examples of this.

The United States of America, in particular, has a fervent patriotic tradition which originated in the circumstances leading up to the Revolution against the British, in which the activities of self-styled “patriots” played a significant part. Whatever historical hindsight may tell us, the issues in that conflict were by no means clear cut, as the American historian Theodore Draper sets out in fascinating detail in A Struggle for Power. But history is written by the victors, and the American Myth that is the precursor of the American Dream assures us that it was all about blameless downtrodden pioneer colonists being tyrannised by a wicked monarch and a greedy grasping motherland. This myth lingered into the twentieth century, and is hardly fertile soil for the even-handed “Special Relationship” which so many British politicians have naïvely flattered themselves exists between the erstwhile motherland and her wayward overgrown daughter.

Even Kipling, that enthusiastic chronicler of Empire, mocked “jelly-bellied flag-waggers” in his schoolboy novel, Stalky & Co. In the earlier part of the twentieth century it was distastefully fashionable for loud-mouthed sedentary elderly gentlemen who never went nearer a front line than their West End clubs to exhort the valorous young to fight and die gloriously for their country in the Flanders mud. This type of hypocrisy, compounded by the election of a post-war parliament which, according a future prime minister, Stanley Baldwin [Kipling’s cousin, incidentally] largely consisted of “a lot of hard-faced men who look as if they had done very well out of the war”, led to a revulsion in the 1920s and ‘30s against the senseless patriotism of the killing fields, and was largely responsible for the appeasement mentality which at the time was not nearly so dishonourable as it may seem in retrospect.

Sadly, we are immersed in an equally senseless wave of misguided patriotism by the purblind responses to the Twin Towers atrocity of September 2001. Americans, never folk to swallow such a brazen insult, have embarked upon a “war on terror” which is as ill-directed as it is unwise. The spectacle of the world’s only [for the time being] super-power stumbling around the world like an infuriated elephant which has been attacked by a swarm of hornets and blundered into a quagmire is dismaying to all would-be friends not only of the USA but of freedom and democratic values. The ancient saying that the Gods first make mad those whom they wish to destroy is never far from one’s mind.

As Nurse Edith Cavell said before her execution by the Germans in World War I, “Patriotism is not enough”. And she added: “I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone”. True patriotism requires not only the strength of lions, but the wisdom of serpents and the peaceful heart of doves.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

The lemming factor

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Totalitarianism and Obedience

by Sarah Meyer
Index Research

My thoughts to publish this writing by Vasily Grossman followed the story, UPDATE: ‘Wash’ Post joins ‘NYTimes’ in Trumpeting “Anonymous Claims on Iranian Weapons, published by Editor and Publisher on 12 February 2007. Juan Cole is on the case in New York Times Falls for Bogus Iran Weapons Charges.

Grossman's superb analysis of totalitarian government expresses my horror at the vast number of politicians, press and people in both the U.S. and UK who, like stoats, DO nothing in the glare of present Iraq and forthcoming Iran disasters.




“The first half of the twentieth century may be seen as a time of great scientific discoveries, revolutions, immense social transformations and two World Wars …

One of the most astonishing human traits that came to light at this time was obedience. There were cases of huge queues being formed by people awaiting execution – and it was the victims themselves who regulated the movement of these queues. There were hot summer days when people had ot wait from early morning until late at night; some mothers prudently provided themselves with bread and bottles of water for their children. Millions of innocent people, knowing that they would soon be arrested, said goodbye to their nearest and dearest in advance and prepared little bundles containing spare underwear and a towel. Millions of people lived in vast camps that had not only been built by prisoners but were even guarded by them.

And it wasn’t merely tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, but hundreds of millions of people who were the obedient witnesses of this slaughter of the innocent, Nor were they merely obedient witnesses: when ordered to, they gave their support to this slaughter, voting in favour of it amid a hubbub of voices. There was something unexpected in the degree of their obedience.

There was, of course, resistance; there were acts of courage and determination on the part of those who had been condemned; there were uprisings; there were men who risked their own lives and the lives of their families in order to save the life of a stranger. But the obedience of the vast mass of people is undeniable.

What does this tell us? That a new trait has suddenly appeared in human nature? No, this obedience bears witness to a new force acting on human beings. The extreme violence of totalitarian social systems proved able to paralyse the human spirit throughout whole continents.

A man who has placed his soul in the service of Fascism declares an evil and dangerous slavery to be the only true good. Rather than overtly renouncing human feelings, he declares the crimes committed by Fascism to be the highest form of humanitarianism; he agrees to divide people up into the pure and worthy and the impure and unworthy.

The instinct for self-preservation is supported by the hypnotic power of world ideologies. These call people to carry out any sacrifice, to accept any means, in order to achieve the highest of ends: the future greatness of the motherland, world progress, the future happiness of mankind, of a nation, of a class.

One more force co-operated with the life-instinct and the power of great ideologies terror at the limitless violence of a powerful State, terror at the way murder had become the basis of everyday life.

The violence of a totalitarian State is so great as to be no longer a means to an end; it becomes an object of mystical worship and adoration. How else can one explain the way certain intelligent, thinking Jews declared the slaughter of the Jews to be necessary for the happiness of mankind? That in view of this they were ready to take their own children to be executed – ready to carry out the sacrifice once demanded of Abraham? How else can one explain the case of a gifted, intelligent poet, himself a peasant by birth, who with sincere conviction wrote a long poem celebrating the terrible years of suffering undergone by the peasantry, years that had swallowed up his own father, an honest and simple-hearted labourer?

Another fact that allowed Fascism to gain power over men was their blindness. A man cannot believe that he is about to be destroyed. The optimism of people standing on the edge of the grave is astounding. The soil of hope – a hope that was senseless and sometimes dishonest and despicable – gave birth to a pathetic obedience that was often equally despicable.

The Warsaw Rising, the uprisings at Treblinka and Sobibor, the various mutinies of brenners, were all born of hopelessness. But the utter hopelessness engenders not only resistance and uprisings but also a yearning to be executed as quickly as possible.

People argued over their place in the queue beside the blood-filled ditch while a mad, almost exultant voice shouted out, ‘Don’t be afraid, Jews. It’s nothing terrible. Five minutes and it will all be over.’

Everything gave rise to obedience – both hope and hopelessness.

It is important to realise what a man must have suffered and endured in order to feel glad at the thought of his impending execution. It is especially important to consider this if one is inclined to moralize, to reproach the victims for their lack of resistance to conditions of which one has little conception.

Having established man’s readiness to obey when confronted with limitless violence, we must go on to draw one further conclusion that is of importance for an understanding of man and his future.

Does human nature undergo a true change in the cauldron of totalitarian violence? Does man lose his innate yearning for freedom? The fate of both man and the totalitarian State depends on the answer to this question. If human nature does change, then the eternal and world-wide triumph of the dictatorial State is assured; if his yearning for freedom remains constant, then the totalitarian state is doomed.

The great Rising in the Warsaw ghetto, the uprisings in Treblinka and Sobibor; the vast partisan movement that flared up in dozens of countries enslaved by Hitler; the uprisings in Berlin in 1953, in Hungary in 1956, and in the labour-caps of Siberia and the Far East after Stalin’s death; the riots at this time in Poland, the number of factories that went on strike and the student protests that broke out in many cites against the suppression of freedom of thought; all these bear witness to the indestructibility of man’s yearning for freedom. This yearning was suppressed but it continued to exist. Man’s fate may make him a slave, but his nature remains unchanged.

Man’s innate yearning for freedom can be suppressed but never destroyed. Totalitarianism cannot renounce violence. If it does, it perishes. Eternal, ceaseless violence, overt or covert, is the basis of totalitarianism. Man does not renounce freedom voluntarily. This conclusion holds out hope for our time, hope for the future.”


"I do not really understand what those Americans are doing because now they are just like an elephant in a china shop, and everything they do is terribly wrong as if they are committing suicide," Talib Ahmad, a lawyer and human rights activist in Najaf told IPS. Quoted in IRAQ: Iran 'Fooling' U.S. Militaryby Dahr Jamail and Ali al –Fadhily.


Reprinted with permission from Random House (Harvill Press), London, pp. 214 – 216, Man and Fate, by Vasily Grossman, 1985.
SEE ***** reviews here.


Tuesday, 13 February 2007

All values are relative, but some are more relative than others

I remember, when I was a first-year undergraduate, one of those intense after-dinner discussions where an earnest young lady fervently proclaimed: “Nothing is absolute! Everything is relative.” This [even if illogical] is probably true. But it didn’t occur to me then that it would ever be used by self-styled ‘intellectuals’ to maintain that “and therefore, nothing is better or worse than anything else”. This is obvious nonsense, if only because if something is relative it has to be relative to some standard of value.

Ancient and mentally out-dated I may be, but I would never have foreseen that anyone educated in the Western liberal tradition of free enquiry and open debate could seriously aver that closed thought systems of a totalitarian cast, whether religious, philosophical, or political, are entitled to equal respect and toleration – one-sided, of course – with democratic pluralism.

But such is the case nowadays. Incredibly, many of the trendy pundits of the Left are tumbling over themselves to assure us that Islam is deserving in Britain and other European countries of equal status for those who adhere to it with the values of our open secular society and the rule of law which have evolved over centuries of hard-fought struggle against tyranny. Are they seriously proposing that a primitive system of medieval law such as Shari’a, which by Western standards is in many respects cruel and even barbaric, should be given houseroom here?

If this is true of Islam, why not of Roman Catholicism, fascism, communism, and other mind-controlling doctrines? All of these, whether religious or political or both, seek to dominate and control not only their own willing followers, but everybody else. Whatever route they follow, their destination and ambition are always identical: their domination and others’ submission – ultimately obtained, if necessary, by violence.

There are indeed many and deep flaws in the practice of Western democracy in these grievous opening years of the 21st century. Remedying these is surely task enough for anyone who cares about the health and future of our society, without embarking upon quixotic championship of Trojan horses in our midst.

By all means let us be relativist – but not mindlessly relativist in the fashion of Gilbert’s “idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone, all centuries but this, and every country but his own”.

Monday, 12 February 2007

The creeping tide

"What no one seemed to notice was the ever widening gap between the government and the people. And it became always wider.....the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting, it provided an excuse not to think....for people who did not want to think anyway gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about.....and kept us so busy with continuous changes and 'crises' and so fascinated.....by the machinations of the 'national enemies,' without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.....

"Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, 'regretted,' that unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these 'little measures'.....must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing.....Each act is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next.

"You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act, or even talk, alone.....you don't want to 'go out of your way to make trouble.' But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes.

"That's the difficulty. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves, when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed.

"You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things your father.....could never have imagined."

Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free, The Germans, 1938-45 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955)

- from the excellent Information Clearing House daily bulletin.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Cuckoo Corner

What a load of snowbollox!

POLICE fined a Cambridge student £80 - for making a 4ft phallus in yesterday (Thursday, 08 February)'s snow.

John Knowles built a snow penis in his lunch-break on Parker's Piece yesterday (Thursday, 08 February) and was pleased when crowds gathered to admire his handiwork and passing motorists beeped their horns in appreciation.

But, despite good humoured onlookers laughing at the cheeky sculpture, a police officer pulled up in a patrol car and asked the student to accompany him to the nearby Parkside station.

He then booked the 18-year old for a public order offence, warning him his statue could have offended members of the public, and handed him an £80 fine which he must pay within two weeks.

John was also ordered to knock the statue down.

The hard-up student, who is reading history at Anglia Ruskin University, said: "My mates and I built a 4ft phallic symbol in the snow, just to make people laugh.

"Quite a few people were stopping and having a laugh, then this police officer came over and told me I would have to pay him £80.

"He said I had to be fined because I could have offended someone, but in all honesty I did not see anyone who was offended - they were all having a laugh."

The wording on the fine cites Mr Knowles for "making a 4ft phallic symbol out of snow" and says the penalty was issued under section five of the Public Order Act, which bans the display of any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting.

The 18-year-old, who lives at the YMCA, added: "I don't have a job and to me £80 is a lot of money, so although the officer may have just been doing his job, I'm not particularly happy about it."

A police spokesman said:

"The police officer was driving past Parker's Piece when he noticed the snow sculpture, which was very intricately made and attracting attention from passers-by, many of whom were children.

"He stopped and spoke to the sculptor about his creation and he agreed that it could cause offence in such a prominent position.

"The officer was not trying to spoil anyone's enjoyment of the snow, but was concerned people in the area could be offended by the structure."

[From Cambridge Evening News, 9th February 2007]

Cuckoo Corner

There are many excellent blogsites which diligently record the idiocies of 21st century political and social life in Britain. Among the best are Nanny Knows Best and Peter Porcupine, which I visit daily. Some of their tit-bits are worth purloining for the arena, which I shall shamelessly do for this new occasional feature CUCKOO CORNER, besides adding items culled from elsewhere. So, for a start, let's take a look at current educational fashions:

1. Teacher sacked over religion row

According to BBC News on 2nd February, Andrew McCluskey, a supply teacher, was sacked from Bayliss Court Secondary School in Slough after completing only a few days of an eight-week contract because he “upset” predominantly Muslim pupils in a religious education lesson by allegedly saying that most suicide bombers were Muslims. When pupils complained, the deputy head teacher, Ray Hinds, told Mr McCluskey to leave and not come back, saying that pupils’ welfare was the school’s first priority. When asked whether he thought Mr McCluskey might have had a point, Mr Hinds said “I don’t think it's important what I think. It’s what the children think that were in the classroom at the time.”

What a wonderful new doctrine! Pupils Rule OK! Why bother to go to school at all if you know it all, and the teachers’ opinions are irrelevant? Instead of being dismissed, as he deserves to be if he was accurately reported, Mr Hinds may well be awarded a peerage by Tony Blair for his services to “Educashun, Educashun, Educashun”.

Mr McCluskey, on the other hand, who feels he has been treated very unjustly and ejected from his job without any opportunity to defend himself, will doubtless be frowned upon by the Politically Correct NuLab élite as a tactless boat-rocker. In the old days, the teachers’ unions would have been manning the picket lines on his behalf. But not any more, in this brave NuLab world.

2. CHILDHOOD ABOLISHED!!! [pinched from Peter Porcupine]

Children need to play. Lets just run through that startling revelation again shall we. Children need to play. Now we've got that haven't we. Anybody disagree? No, I thought not. Well, Ms Susan Tuck, the head of St John's Primary School in Lincoln does actually. This idiotic fool has banned all playground games which involve bodily contact. She is quoted as saying they are 'rough and inappropriate'. According to one concerned parent this includes 'pat-a-cake' or even putting a hand on a friend's shoulder. Offenders are humiliated, or given playtime detention as punishment. Susan Tuck reckons apparently that playtime games should be organised, peaceful and structured.

A parent reports that the rules were introduced without reference to governors or parents. With fascist tendencies such as this Ms Tuck is an obvious candidate for greater responsibility. John Reid is always on the look-out for suitable Gestapo agents. Go to it Tuck, your black leather overcoat and Walther P-38 await!

3. The fingerprints of fascism [also from PP]

The BBC is carrying a report about the fingerprinting of children in order to automate further computerised registers and library loan records. So far so bad. The government is apparently going to 'encourage' schools to seek parental permission before doing this. Translated this means that the government will be encouraging schools to intensify and promote further the universal grip on citizens' lives our totalitarian minded leaders seek.

One school has already decided that fingerprinting can be used to control what pupils eat. Brumby Engineering College - no it isn't really, it's just a comprehensive under another name - in Scunthorpe is going to use fingerprinting in order to monitor exactly what children are buying to eat in the school canteen. Computer print-outs will then be used to identify who is buying junk food. The head apparently is of the opinion that the system will stop pupils' money being spent on junk food.

So, you were wondering what ID cards could be used for? The slippery slope gets ever steeper.

4. Nanny Bans Mums [from 'Nanny Knows Best']

Nanny Bans MumsNanny knows no bounds when imposing her "zero tolerance" approach on her charges.

Ever conscious that we are not all the same, Nanny seeks to ensure that those who are in her view the most "disadvantaged" have the rules bent in their favour.

Instead of seeking to help people strive to improve themselves, or face reality, Nanny seeks to wrap everyone in cotton wool.

This of course does them immense harm in the long run, as people become dependent on the state and incapable of facing life's shitty realities.

One recent example of this absurd approach to life comes in the form of Nanny's ban on Mother's Day cards.

Helen Starkey, headmistress of Primary School in Carmarthen West Wales, has banned the making of Mother's Day cards because she doesn't want to upset children without a mother.


"More than five per cent of children here are separated from their birth mother and have either no contact or no regular contact with their mother.

This decision was not taken because of any philosophical attitude towards the celebration of Mothering Sunday, but to protect a significant number of children in our school.

In all our dealings with these children we have to exercise great sensitivity. I am not against Mother's Day but no time will be devoted to making cards in lessons

What about the 95% of children who do have mothers?

Why can't the 5% without mothers make a card for the person who is acting as mother?

A ridiculous move, guaranteed to make the 5% feel more self conscious and less able to face life's harsh realities.

Isn't that child abuse of sorts?

Friday, 9 February 2007

Unspoken fears

Sometimes it is necessary to say the unspeakable. This is one of those times. Almost everyone is haunted by their own private, and often quite large collective, nightmare scenarios. While some of these may be rational, no doubt others are paranoid. But as long as we allow them to lurk, unscrutinised and festering, in our inner psyches, they will continue to wreak havoc with our willpower and sap our strength for effective action to ensure they never materialise. So here is my list of some the catastrophic things I am afraid could possibly happen in the fairly near future unless the world’s most powerful people make a conscious and concerted effort to change course:

MORE WIDESPREAD WAR - especially nuclear war.

NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROLIFERATION. Not just by more countries, but also the obtaining of nuclear weapons or material by non-state terrorist groups.

INVASION OR INTERNAL INSURRECTION in the UK and Europe by elements hostile to our open society who wish to impose their version of ‘truth’ upon the rest of us.


POWER CUTS which would disable communications and transport, disrupt food supplies, and rapidly cause near-total civic chaos, suffering, disease, and death.




A common factor of all the above is that their avoidance depends upon a far wider and more urgent recognition of humanity’s global interdependence, and an active commitment by world leaders to safeguard the extended survival of our species by concerting and implementing measures to reduce the levels of violence now occurring and to promote peace.

I realise that this begs many issues – not least that posed by Sam Harris in his book Letter to a Christian Nation: “It seems profoundly unlikely that we will heal the divisions in our world through inter-faith dialogue. Devout Muslims are as convinced as you are that their religion is perfect and that any deviation leads directly to hell. It is easy, of course, for the representatives of the major religions to occasionally meet and agree that there should be peace on earth, or that compassion is the common thread that unites all the world’s faiths. But there is no escaping the fact that a person’s religious beliefs uniquely determine what he thinks peace is good for, as well as what he means by a term like “compassion”. There are millions – maybe hundreds of millions – of Muslims who would be willing to die before they would allow your version of compassion to gain a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula. How can interfaith dialogue, even at the highest level, reconcile world-views that are fundamentally incompatible and, in principle, immune to revision? The truth is, it really matters what billions of human beings believe and why they believe it.”

Empowering ourselves

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”


First Inaugural Address, 1933

Having mentioned the dread word fear, the best thing to do is to grasp the nettle and exorcise the spectral foe. Because, quite apart from our own personal private fears, this opening decade of the 21st century is a time of deep and widespread public fear, with the prospect of even greater fears ahead. It is these fears which are muddling our thinking, paralyzing our action, and making us vulnerable to our enemies. [By “we” I mean the West and what is left of its Enlightenment heritage.]

Before 11th September 2001 we may have been living in a fools’ paradise of complacency, but since then we have lived in a nightmare of exaggerated apprehension. The fears of our leaders have led them into blind alleys of self-destructive, misguided action and they have stoked up our fears to bolster their own and to impose hitherto unthought-of curbs upon our civil liberties under the pretext of preserving our “free way of life”. Their mental confusion has been compounded by their moral bankruptcy. Consequently we, the people, are increasingly resentful and bewildered as policies which many of us predicted would only make matters worse have done exactly that and the perpetrators remain largely in a state of self-denial while the rest of the politically aware classes shift uncomfortably and too dumbly in their seats.

Where is the latter day Cromwell to tell our clapped-out promoters of the asinine ‘war on terror’ “you have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” Where are the politically passionate pens of a George Orwell or a Victor Gollancz to protest at the incompetence and – even worse – the immorality being committed in our name? Where is the latter-day Winston Churchill whose rallying cry we desperately need to spell out the true perils we face, as opposed to the bogus ones touted by the purblind pygmies in office, and to lead an effective onslaught against them?

It is the absence of common sense that is so depressing, and indeed frightening. Who would have thought that in this day and age, reams of newsprint and screen space would be devoted to solemnly debating the finer points of Islamic theology and agonising over how best to defer to the sensibilities of religious believers of various stripes who increasingly blatantly seek to bend the rest of us to their will? Having survived long drawn out bombing campaigns by Irish terrorists without any significant infringements of our civil liberties being imposed or even proposed, all of a sudden we find that after a few nasty incidents involving a handful of fanatical young men, centuries-old freedoms we have always taken for granted are tampered with or entirely removed. It is no wonder that we are increasingly afraid.

In my recollection of being a teenager during Britain’s darkest hour – 1940 – the British people were apprehensive, but not afraid. We knew that we had our backs against the wall and, for a time at least, anticipated a German invasion as highly likely. We endured more than a year of heavy ‘blitz’ bombings which killed many thousands of civilians. But never do I recall anyone being ‘afraid’ in a cowardly or defeatist sense. On the contrary, the nation was mobilised into unified defiance and well-targetted action by a determined and realistic leadership – something that is sadly lacking now.

They say that people get the governments and leaders they deserve. Maybe the Western democracies have become too soft and self-indulgent during the last quarter of the 20th century. But I really can’t think what we have done to deserve the dismally mediocre leaders we are saddled with today. It is their mediocrity which is more frightening even than their mendacity. Only by focussing our own understandable fears and anger much more closely onto achievable targets for change within our own societies will we begin to emerge from the gloomy tunnel of bewilderment and indecision that surrounds us. We must have the wisdom to know what is possible, and the courage to achieve change. It is time to empower ourselves, and to act. It is time for a new people’s politics.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

What is to be done?

No, anticant is not suddenly donning the mantle of Lenin, and has no ambitions towards democratic centralism. But I find myself constantly asking this question, in a world scenario where home and overseas politics are in a worse mess than I can recall since Dunkirk. Abroad, the huge-bodied pea-brained American elephant lumbers around the Middle East causing purposeless mayhem and threatening yet more. Here, politics is firmly in the doldrums while everyone waits for the no longer entertaining Archie Rice to take his long drawn out final bow or be dragged kicking and screaming from Downing Street by Inspector Plod. Nobody it seems, is willing to tell him to take a running jump.

As a consequence there are a lot of increasingly frustrated and angry people waiting for something – anything – to happen. It has become clear to me during six months’ blogwatching that there is a great deal of depression around cloaking feelings of helplessness and growing fear. It is not – as the government has suggested - therapy dished out by a mythical army of counsellors that the population needs, but a clean sweep of the augean political stable.

What can concerned individuals who are not actively involved in the political process do to influence the situation? First, I would suggest, distinguish between what is possible and what is - for the time being at any rate - unalterable. We each need to take responsibility for our own feelings and behaviour and to recognise that anger is only useful if it is directed towards achieving something more than filling the air and cyberspace with our moans and groans and blaming complaints against “them”. Saying it’s all Blair’s fault, or Bush’s fault, or the Jews’ fault, or the Arabs’ fault is a denial of our own tiny individual smidgeon of responsibility for the prevailing moral and political climate – just as driving a gas-guzzling 4 x 4 on journeys we could perform by public transport or on foot is a denial of our personal liability for what’s going wrong in the thinning ozone layer.

Let’s avoid conspiracy theories unless there is compelling evidence in their favour and no credible evidence to rebut them. I have been amazed with the plethora of conspiracy theories which slosh around the internet like mental sewage. I am not a conspiracy theorist, by and large. I am not even convinced that cock-up theory is a common explanation for what happens. Of course there are plots, and conspiracies, that are intentionally activated by powerful people. But far more often, the best laid schemes of mice and men go astray and things just happen in a totally unanticipated way. “Events, dear boy, events”, as Harold Macmillan said when he suddenly woke up to the fact that he was no longer Supermac.

To say it’s all the sinister work of a small clique of evil people, and that all would be well if they were eliminated, is mental laziness. Wilhelm Reich put this very well in The Mass Psychology of Fascism:

“The responsibility for wars falls solely upon the shoulders of these same masses of people, for they have all the necessary means to avert war in their own hands. In part by their apathy, in part by their passivity, and in part actively, these same masses of people make possible the catastrophes under which they themselves suffer more than anyone else. To stress this guilt on the part of the masses of people, to hold them solely responsible, means to take them seriously. On the other hand, to commiserate masses of people as victims, means to treat them as small, helpless children. The former is the attitude held by genuine freedom fighters; the latter that attitude held by power-thirsty politicians.”

That makes a lot of sense to me. We are the masses. Let us take ourselves seriously, and cease bleating that we are helpless victims. We can do better than that.

A Glaring Omission

Of all the preposterous assertions being advanced to justify the Roman Catholic Church’s refusal to sanction adoption by gay couples [though it illogically does not bar single gay people from adopting], the most preposterous of all is the claim that vulnerable children will thereby be saved from having to endure the bullying and playground taunts they would get from being placed with gay foster-parents. While a well-adjusted and articulate teenager might be able to handle such a situation, the Catholic apologists demurely aver, it would be cruel to expose less robust kids to it. Piously citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that "Homosexuals must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided", the priest-ridden propagandists protest that, in this instance, the discrimination they wish to make is not “unjust”.

Has it never occurred to them that playground anti-gay taunts and bullying are themselves unjust discrimination, and that the first duty of teachers – and parents too – should be to tackle this budding homophobia amongst their pupils and severely reprobate the use of hostile language about gayness or any other aspect of sexuality?

The nub here is the tribal instinct to dislike, mock at and, if allowed, persecute those who are, or are perceived as, different. Whether children mocked and bullied at school for being gay are in fact homosexual is a separate issue. Either way, the authorities should crack down on this verbal violence before it escalates into physical harm, and do some positive educating for a change.

The nub of the matter is that, despite their fine words, Roman Catholics, like Evangelical Protestants, do regard homosexual people as inferior human beings and by this very fact are discriminating against them. Surely the only relevant question is not whether an adopting couple are members of the same sex or of opposite sexes, but whether they have a mutually loving relationship [physically expressed or not] with the requisite qualities to give a secure and supportive home background to a child.

There are, of course, many teenagers and even younger children who have identified themselves as gay and have suffered rejection and discrimination because of it. They are among the most damaged and most vulnerable members of society about whom the Catholic Church professes to be so concerned. That Church is perfectly entitled to believe, as many others do, that a child will thrive better in a loving home with both a mother and a father than in a loving home with two adult men or two adult women. But if a child seeking adoption would prefer two same-sex foster parents, should it be denied that choice?

I have known several children brought up by same-sex “parents”. One was a little girl of about nine who lived with her natural father and his male partner, of whom she was very fond. She was a beautifully behaved and very practical child, When I asked her how she managed to explain her home situation to her schoolfellows she replied “oh, I don’t tell most of them. They are too stupid and ignorant to understand.” Like Roman Catholic bigots, presumably. Another lesbian friend had three sons by different fathers. She wanted the children, but not the men, preferring to share her life with another woman. Her teenage son was a charming and thoroughly heterosexual young man. His mother made certain that when he went on holiday with his Swedish girlfriend he had an ample supply of condoms. He is now a happily married father of a family.

Real-life stories like this make much more sense to me than the witterings of sex-obsessed prurient prudes who sadly make up so much of the vocal element of the Christian churches these days and whose moral compasses are so badly awry.