Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Dare we ditch our demons?

Reflecting on the inflamed state of global antagonisms, it’s obvious that humanity is passing through a long dark tunnel of inflamed hatred, and that all over the world what Jung called the ‘Dark Shadow’ is uppermost in peoples’ consciousness in the current phase of history.

Every single person in the world knows that he or she is good, and does their best according to their lights [which of course are very varied according to race, religion, culture, family traditions, education, and many other social influences]. We all do whatever we do “for the best” as we perceive it. We also know that there are less satisfactory sides to our character, and that we are capable of, and frequently commit, dishonest, unkind, wicked, and sometimes cruel deeds.

The internal conflict which these different aspects of our inner selves sets up needs to be resolved, and there are various ways of doing this. The most beneficent and constructive is to confront our contradictory impulses and seek to harmonise them as far as we can by reducing the influence we allow the bad side of us to exert upon our conduct. This can be done by increasing self-awareness and self-scrutiny through introspection, therapy, or religion. But for many if not most, that is too austere a path to follow; and so they practise the age-old psychological trick of ‘splitting’ and ‘projection’, internalising the good not merely as “the best of me” but as “ALL of me”, and projecting their bad or discomfiting components outward onto an external Other who becomes ‘the enemy’ and has to be fought.

This is a fatally easy way of escaping from personal responsibility; and it is mass irresponsibility from which the world is suffering so much today. Hardly anyone takes responsibility for their thinking or behaviour any more – whatever goes wrong is someone else’s fault, for which ‘they’ deserve to be punished. And so the escalating cycle of hatred and violence spins on.

Even worse, our habit of perceiving groups, nations, societies, and faiths as monolithic entities, as if they were single giant individuals instead of a composite and complex mixture of a myriad different individuals, allows us to shrug off responsibility and impute blame indiscriminately. ’They’ – the hated other – are ALL guilty, and so we need not worry if we decide to get rid of them, even literally by nuking them. Dehumanising those whom we perceive as our foes permits us to treat them as objects – things – which is the ultimate wickedness.

By demonising our fancied enemies we invite them to do the same to us, and precipitate the holocaust which everyone says they wish to avoid. But do they? There is a destructive urge in some paranoid people which makes them secretly – and increasingly publicly – exult in the prospect of approaching mayhem and disaster. These people are a public menace, and too many of them occupy positions of power and influence.

In the 1980s, when many people were dismayed at the prospect of nuclear war, the psychologist Dorothy Rowe wrote a book called Living with the Bomb. Can we live without enemies? In it, she described the widespread depression and mental ill-health engendered by the precarious state of world peace, and answered her question with the sage observation that unless we exorcise our demons, and learn to live alongside those whom we now regard as enemies, we shall all cease to exist quite soon. In today’s even more precarious state of affairs, her thoughts are even more urgently relevant.

Unless we can stop demonising those with whom we disagree, or fear, we are on the fast track to Doomsday. We must give up ‘magic’ thinking, and press on with building bridges. Instead of seeing only the worst in those we are opposed to, we have to look for the answering spark of innate goodness that exists in everyone. Although I sometimes despair of human nature, that is what keeps me on blogging in the Arena.

Years ago, Lord Wolfenden, who was renowned in his day as the best committee chairman in England, said to me that he had spent his life building bridges, and that those who build bridges must expect to be trampled on. Those of us who seek to be bridge-builders today are indeed going to get trampled on. But there is no other way. Amidst all the raucous voices clamouring for war, conflict resolution is the noblest cause of our time.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007


If there was no oil in the Middle East, the USA and Europe would have no vital strategic, military, or economic interests in the region and would be indifferent to the outcome of the Arab/Israeli dispute and other local conflicts.


Monday, 29 October 2007

A comment too far

I've reluctantly asked Michael not to post in the Arena any more, and to remove my registration from his site. This is because while I don't mind being called stupid, ignorant, mistaken, or anything else of that sort, I am NOT prepared to be dubbed 'dishonest'.

If Michael, or anyone else, believes that because I disagree with their views I am dishonest, that is their problem. I can only envy someone who is so cocksure of their own world-view that they feel free to deal with disagreement in that way.

Anticant's Arena is, and will remain, an 'open' site on which anyone is welcome to post comments - as long as they are sincerely held opinions and do not launch personal attacks on me or anyone else posting here.

I may be old-fashioned, but I continue to believe, as I always have done, that to call your opponent dishonest, unless you have tangible proof, is a blow below the belt and breaches the Queensberry Rules of debate.

There are all too many perfectly sincere people whose views I consider lunatic, and criticise here and elsewhere. But the fact that they are barmy doesn't make them dishonest. Things might be simpler if they were!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Evangelical crackup

In-depth New York Times analysis of the heartsearchings preoccupying the US 'Religious Right' in the run-up to the 2008 election.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Philosophical arguments for God

There's a lot of them, but here are my favorites:

(1) Some famous scientists believed in God.
(2) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Quantum physics uses an uncertainty principle.
(2) There is room for God.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) "When I look into the sky and see all the pretty stars, all those galaxies..."
(2) Wow.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Dembski, Behe and Plantinga are ignored by mainstream intellectuals.
(2) Only a fear of the truth could explain this.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Mainstream intellectuals are paying some attention to Dembski, Behe and Plantinga.
(2) Only a growing recognition of the truth could explain this.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

ARGUMENT FROM ECSTASY (used by a number of saints)
(1) I woke up last night with a feeling of indescribable pleasure and joy.
(2) It couldn't have been sexual; I'm holy and never have thoughts like those.
(3) So the ecstasy must have come from God.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

(1) The Bible says the Bible is true.
(2) Therefore the Bible is true.
(3) The Bible says God exists.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

(1) There are some things in logic that you can't logically demonstrate.
(2) Therefore you have to take them on faith.
(3) Your faith in logic is the same as my faith in God.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

(1) « Mais pourceque j'avois déjà connu en moi très clairement que la nature intelligente est distincte de la corporelle; considérant que toute composition témoigne de la dépendance, et que la dépendance est manifestement un défaut, je jugeois de là que ce ne pouvoit être une perfection en Dieu d'être composé de ces deux natures, et que par conséquent il ne l'étoit pas; mais que s'il y avoit quelques corps dans le monde, ou bien quelques intelligences ou autres natures qui ne fussent point toutes parfaites, leur être devoit dépendre de sa puissance, en telle sorte quelles ne pouvoient subsister sans lui un seul moment. -- René Descartes, Discours de la Méthode
(2) How could you possibly refute that?
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Bananas have many characteristics that make them attractive as primate food.
(2) They're so good that they must have been designed.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) [Theist creates message board account and logs in.]
(3) [Theist logs off and never returns.]
(4) Therefore, God exists.

(1) John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" is dedicated to God.
(2) John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" is full of passion.
(3) Atheists cannot explain Coltrane's passion in "A Love Supreme."
(4) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Atheists think that the difference in religions disproves God's existence.
(2) Eh, To-may-to, to-mah-to.
(3) Everyone knows that you must accept Jesus Christ in order to be saved.
(4) Well, everyone who matters, anyway.
(5) Therefore, God exists.

(1) There is abundant logical and empirical evidence that God does not exist.
(2) There is no evidence that God does exist.
(3) But God plays by completely different rules.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Person X died an Atheist.
(2) He now realizes his mistake.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Barbie dolls were created.
(2) If Barbie dolls were created, then so were trees.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Eric Clapton is God.
(2) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Look, there's really no point in me trying to explain the whole thing to you stupid Atheists -- it's too complicated for you to understand. God exists whether you like it or not.
(2) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Okay, I don't pretend to be as intelligent as you guys -- you're obviously very well read. But I read the Bible, and nothing you say can convince me that God does not exist. I feel him in my heart, and you can feel him too, if you'll just ask him into your life. "For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son into the world, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish from the earth." John 3:16.
(2) Therefore, God exists.

1. Do you agree with the utterly trivial proposition X?
2. Atheist: of course.
3. How about the slightly modified proposition X'?
4. Atheist: Um, no, not really.
5. Good. Since we agree, how about Y? Is that true?
6. Atheist: No! And I didn't agree with X'!
7. With the truths of these clearly established, surely you agree that Z is true as well?
8. Atheist: No. So far I have only agreed with X! Where is this going, anyway?
9. I'm glad we all agree.....
37. So now we have used propositions X, X', Y, Y', Z, Z', P, P', Q and Q' to arrive at the obviously valid point R. Agreed?
38. Atheist: Like I said, so far I've only agreed with X. Where is this going?
81. So we now conclude from this that propositions L'', L''' and J'' are true. Agreed?
177. ...and it follows that proposition HRV, SHQ'' and BTU' are all obviously valid. Agreed?
178. [Atheist either faints from overwork or leaves in disgust.]
179. Therefore, God exists.

What's really funny is that I have read all of this at one time or another, and more, in my life. But the entirety of the page summarizes into this:

(1) God exists.
(2) Therefore, God exists.

Which is why I, personally, prefer to stay away from purely philosophical arguments on this subject. Which is usually why when I do talk about this subject, more often than not, it involves science as well.

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Friday, 26 October 2007

Unbounded folly

I have been reading a book by an American academic, John G. Stoessinger, Why Nations Go to War [5th edition, 1990]. He wrote it, he says, because he became increasingly convinced that the usual explanations [or excuses] for wars – nationalism, militarism, alliance systems, economic factors – were all bloodless abstractions which left out of account the human element: the personalities who unleash wars. “Who are these people that are dragging us to the abyss? What can we do to stop them? If we cannot stop them, can we limit the damage they are able to inflict?” Because war is not, as is commonly asserted, an ineradicable part of human nature, but a sickness that can be cured.

Each chapter is a case study of a 20th century war: World War I, Hitler’s attack on Russia, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the wars between India and Pakistan, the Israeli-Arab wars, and the Iraq-Iran war. Each of these wars started because of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and miscalculations by those who had the power to unleash or restrain the conflict. Unlike the 19th century, when the post-Napoleonic European wars had mostly been won by the aggressors, none of these 20th century wars were won by their initiators, who experienced defeat or, at best, stalemate. This, however, was a lesson which has still not been learned in the new wars of the 21st century.

What is glaringly obvious from these pages is the incredible degree of ignorance about adversaries, and the blithe conviction of ultimate victory, which impelled so many disastrous decisions. In the case of the Korean war, the Americans were completely disinformed about the real nature and strength of Communist China, and clung to their illusions that the longstanding friendship which they believed had existed between the American and Chinese peoples would prevent hostilities between the two countries. This ignored the basically paternalistic and patronising nature of American ‘friendship’ for Asian peoples, who have never been the willing recipients of American economic and cultural imperialism. The hubris of the iconic General MacArthur in driving on to the Chinese border at the Yalu River stemmed from his total ignorance of Chinese intentions and their real strength, and ended disastrously for the Americans.

Likewise, America’s deepening entanglement in the unwinnable quagmire of Vietnam was the outcome of the complete unawareness of successive American presidents of the real nature of the enemy, and of the terrain in which they had to fight. There was also a stubborn belief that Communism – that obsessive American bugaboo of the 1950s and beyond – was still, after Stalin’s death, a monolithic world conspiracy masterminded from Moscow rather than – as was in fact the case – an increasingly disparate localised phenomenon. Consequently, all conflicts in which America became engaged were wrongly perceived as limbs of the Cold War which America was nobly fighting on behalf of the ‘free world’. But the actual facts, says the author, were strikingly different from Truman’s, Eisenhower’s and Dulles’ perceptions. Lyndon Johnson, “totally ignorant of Asia in general and of Vietnam in particular”, precipitated disaster by upping the ante and pouring more troops and air power into an already unwinnable scenario – just as G.W. Bush is doing today in Iraq. And – also like Bush – Johnson, confronted by the power of the weak, was ultimately at a loss what to do except to escalate when he should have cut his losses. As Nietzsche said, “If you look too deeply into the abyss, the abyss will look into you”.

In his concluding chapter, Dr Stoessinger draws these conclusions:

No nation that began a major war in the 20th century emerged a winner.

In our time, unless the vanquished is destroyed completely, a victor’s peace is seldom lasting.

The personalities of leaders are crucially important in the outbreak of wars.

The most important single precipitating factor in the outbreak of war is misperception. Such distortion may manifest itself in four different ways: in a leader’s image of himself; a leader’s view of his adversary’s character; a leader’s view of his adversary’s intentions towards himself; and finally, a leader’s view of his adversary’s capabilities and power.

There is a remarkable consistency in the self-images of most national leaders on the brink of war. Each confidently expects victory after a brief and triumphant campaign. Doubt about the outcome is the voice of the enemy and therefore inconceivable.

The common belief in a short, decisive war is usually the overflow from a reservoir of self-delusions held by the leadership about both itself and the nation.

A leader’s misperception of his adversary’s power is perhaps the quintessential cause of war.

Wise words which we would do well to heed as the Washington hawks drum up support for yet another Middle Eastern adventure while they still have an unfinished mess there on their hands.

The decay of free speech

An excellent article here on "Spiked" !

They can't ALL be right

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said "Stop! Don't do it!"

"Why shouldn't I?" he said. "Well, there's so much to live for!" "Like what?" "Well... are you religious?"

He said yes. I said, "Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?" "Christian." "Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant ? "Protestant." "Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?" "Baptist" "Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?" "Baptist Church of God!" "Me too! Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you reformed Baptist Church of God?" "Reformed Baptist Church of God!" "Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?"

He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!"

I said, "Die, heretic scum", and pushed him off.

[Credit: National Secular Society 'Newsline'.]

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Burma bulletin

What Avaaz members have done so far:

789,479 petition signatures, hand-delivered to UK Prime Minister and UN Security Council member Gordon Brown. (Video here.)

$315,000 raised for the Burmese democracy movement.

33,403 emails to EU leaders urging targeted sanctions.

1,952 messages sent to Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo.

100+ protests in cities worldwide against the Burmese regime.

1 global ad campaign, including a full-page ad in the Financial Times pushing China to act.

If they haven't yet, ask friends to
sign the petition
Burma's streets are quiet--no mass demonstrations, no riot police. But the calm is an illusion. Change is coming to Burma, and we are all a part of it.

Here's where we stand: The regime has massacred, tortured, and intimidated its critics at home, and continues its night arrests and brutal interrogations. But while it has momentarily silenced the domestic opposition, its attacks on the revered Buddhist monks ignited an anger amongst the Burmese people that cannot be extinguished. Contacts inside Burma tell us that the demonstrators are steadily regrouping, even in the face of the deadly crackdown.

And around the world, the roar has grown deafening--so powerful that governments are scrambling for ways to bring new pressure to bear on the junta. Government leaders and the media have publicly credited the outcry of global civil society. Look at the statistics in the box on the right to see how, working alongside allies around the world, Avaaz members have begun to make a difference.

Many Burmese members of Avaaz have written in. Here's a note from one of them--Trisa, now living abroad:

I am one of the 8888 uprising generation. Since the September uprising in Burma, I can't get good night sleep. I can't contact my remaining families and friends if they are ok... The voice of the world is very powerful. I have heartfelt thank you for all the supporters. Your voice can change our lives!

And here's a note from an Avaaz member, Lynn in London, who joined a group of Burmese monks to hand-deliver the Avaaz petition--contained in a big red box--to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, on the steps of 10 Downing Street last week:

When I put my hand on the red box, which held the 753,000 signatures from around the world collected by Avaaz, I imagined the outrage of the many people from every country in the world, every culture, every race, and every religion, contained within this box which was about to be presented to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. I thought about what it might mean for these Burmese monks whose religious brothers far away had been hurt and mistreated by the crackdown, to know that in every country in the world, people were supporting them.

And here's what May Ng, a Burmese writer, editorialized on the news site Mizzima after seeing our petition:

As their voices have been heard and their faces have been seen, Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma will no longer be alone., whose mission is to ensure that the views and values of the world's people shape global decisions, will make sure that Burmese people will have a voice over their own fate from now on.

Avaaz will share the struggle of the Burmese people until the struggle is won. Our goals are constant: transition, dialogue, reconciliation, and democracy. We will also continue to take action together on many urgent issues, from climate change to peace in the Middle East to human rights--but we will not turn from the cause of the Burmese people. We believe that every human life has equal value, whether in Berlin, Beijing or Rangoon.

As Aung San Suu Kyi once urged, we will use our freedom to promote theirs.

With hope,

Ben, Ricken, Paul, Galit, Graziela, Iain, Sarah, Pascal, and Milena--the Avaaz team

PS: 52 years ago today, the UN charter enshrined "the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples." Twelve years ago today, Aung San Suu Kyi was imprisoned. And today, in key cities around the world, protesters held a new wave of protests; the first shipment of supplies, paid for by Avaaz members, left for Burma--and the junta agreed to re-admit Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N. envoy who is working to build a dialogue between the regime and the opposition, earlier than previously announced. It's been a long struggle, but the most important ones always are.

PPS: If your friends haven't yet signed the petition, urge them to sign at:

PPPS: Some further reading:

Voices from within Burma:

Avaaz's Paul Hilder "People Power can win":


ABOUT AVAAZ is an independent, not-for-profit global campaigning organization that works to ensure that the views and values of the world's people inform global decision-making. (Avaaz means "voice" in many languages.) Avaaz receives no money from governments or corporations, and is staffed by a global team based in London, New York, Paris, Washington DC, Geneva, and Rio de Janeiro.

To contact Avaaz, write to You can also send postal mail to our New York office: 260 Fifth Avenue, 9th floor, New York, NY 10001 U.S.A.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Europe and the USA - another view

Time to end the European Union’s shameful appeasement of the USA and the Apartheid State.

The European Union has refused to endorse a proposal by Egypt for a “nuclear free” zone in the Middle East. Although no reason has been given by the EU for this ridiculous decision, it’s clear that the illogical view prevails and that is it’s alright for Israel to have both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons but for Iran have nuclear energy.

The USA may feel that Israel is a special case in view of the fact that it has kept the Middle East continuously in a state of turmoil over the last 60 years and supports American attempts at world domination, but why Europeans should subscribe to this view is beyond comprehension.

It really is time that the European Union distanced itself as far away as possible from the USA both politically and economically and looked for new alliances with Russia, China and the Middle East in general. Yes I know that China isn’t exactly a model of an ideal society, but on the other hand they haven’t caused the deaths of at least 2.7 million Muslims in Iraq, 1.5 million caused by the UN Sanctions the USA refused to release despite being aware of the genocide it caused and a further 1.2 million as a direct result of the illegal invasion in 2003.

Economically the USA is on a slippery slope with an increasing gradient and confusion is taking hold. A weak dollar is good, so is a strong dollar, conflicting views from two 'experts'. The bottom line is that it's very much out of the control of the US Treasury, they have very little foreign currency or gold reserves and the fact they've been backing the US$ by oil in the last few decades is coming to an end. The very fact that the US$ is falling against all major currencies reduces confidence and results in further falls.

The USA has been so busy funding theirs wars of aggression that they've taken their eye off the ball and it's too late to correct. Huge trade deficits, huge Treasury deficits and printing money like crazy to try and buy off the inevitable.

Clearly the Chinese and others have decided enough is enough and instead of re-investing the surplus dollars back to the USA they have started looking elsewhere for a safe investment, or indeed investing their surplus in China itself. The pending failure of the US$ is the basic reason for the illegal invasion of Iraq and indeed Afghanistan, the current belligerent attitude towards Iran and the antagonism shown towards Russia, Venezuela and China.

What Europe needs to do is to look aside from the quislings in our midst, people like the midget Sarkosy of France or Blair of Britain. Just last week Blair was expressing shock at the desolation in the West Bank caused by the Apartheid State and he didn’t even go to Gaza, where Palestinians are being killed on a daily basis and the population being starved to death, not only food wise but economically.

But by yesterday Blair had recovered enough from his shock and was in New York speaking at a charity dinner where to great applause he likened Iran to Nazi Germany, presumably on account of Iran’s refusal to get rid of their non-existent nuclear weapons.

Frankly what I associate with Nazi Germany was invading countries on false pretences, concentration camps, torture, an attempt to dominate the world especially in regards to natural resources. But of course it all adds to the average American’s belief that the world is threatened by Islamofascists and I’m sure Blair will be rewarded by his masters in Washington for such a wonderful speech.

Blair also claimed, in exactly the same way he lied about Iraq, that Iran was involved in terrorism, despite the fact that both the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan have denied Iranian involvement. Of course he doesn’t have the slightest evidence to back up his accusations, but when has that ever worried Blair?

Indeed being the most popular European in the USA, saying exactly what America wants to hear guarantees massive fees when he takes time off from being a war mongering “peace envoy” and goes on a speaking tour. I wonder how many Americans realise that the majority of Britons despise Blair over his ability to lie to order for reasons of personal gain?

Today the media reported that Sarkosy of France, the poison dwarf, has recommended Blair to be the first President of the EU in 2009 but I’m afraid he’s overlooked that the International Criminal Court is based in Brussels.

The time has come for the European Union to voice its own policies in world affairs and not to be influenced either by the USA or the Apartheid State.

We already have the largest single market and the most powerful economy in the world; what’s more it’s backed with a strong currency backed by a stable economy and not just printing presses. Close American bases down, disband NATO, which is simply an agent for American imperialism, and distance ourselves as far as possible from the real Nazis in this world.

Michael Lee
Oxford UK

October 21st 2007

Reproduced with permission from MWC News blog.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

A farrago of prejudice

The Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, has written a book – The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society – which, to judge from the extracts printed in today’s Times, is calculated to raise the hackles of a good many people.

Dr Sacks’s targets are many, and he adopts the scattergun approach. Multiculturalism, he tells us, is a dead duck; it was a fine, even noble idea, but has led to segregation rather than the hoped-for integration. Whose fault this is, Dr Sacks doesn’t pause to inquire – there is scarcely a reference to Islam in the article.

Liberal democracy, says Dr Sacks, is in danger. “Britain is becoming a place where free speech is at risk, non-political institutions are becoming politicised, and a combination of political correctness and ethnic-religious separatism is eroding the graciousness of civil society…..The politics of freedom risks descending into the politics of fear.”

Again, Dr Sacks doesn’t point a finger at the obvious culprit – strident religious bigotry – but discerns a quite different and, for him, a much more convenient target – that tired old whipping-horse of reactionary right-wingers, “the permissive society”. All our social ills, he moans, stem from the wicked 1960s, when traditional Christian morality “conceived as the moral bond linking individuals in the shared project of society” was jettisoned overboard. The first crack came when suicide ceased to be a crime in 1961. This was “the beginning of the end of England as a Christian country, that is, one in which Christian ethics was reflected in law.” It was swiftly followed in 1967 by the legalisation of abortion and of homosexuality.

“Collectively these changes represented a decisive move away from the idea that society had, or was entitled to have, a moral code at its base….Society was no longer conceived of in terms of a moral consensus. The law would intervene only to prevent individuals from harming one another.” The notion that this latter principle is itself a moral code more suited to modern times than inhumane antique biblical injunctions doesn’t seem to have occurred to Dr Sacks.

All this is stale, tired old stuff which was put far more eloquently and persuasively by the late Lord Devlin in his 1959 Maccabean Lecture The Enforcement of Morals, where he equated immorality with treason and asserted that “society cannot ignore the morality of the individual any more than it can his loyalty; it flourishes on both and without either it dies.” This led to a vigorous academic and public debate, and in view of Lord Devlin’s vigorous views it is all the more surprising that he ultimately came round to the view that the Wolfenden proposals for the limited decriminalisation of male homosexual behaviour were in the public interest.

According to Dr Sacks, we are living in an age in which people no longer have roles and duties within a stable social structure, morality is becoming a mere façade, and the only way to defeat opponents is to ridicule them – a favourite tactic, incidentally, of religious zealots these days, who are quite unscrupulous in their misrepresentation of the actual views of non-believers of other faiths or none. If there is no agreed moral truth, Dr Sacks continues, “we cannot reason together….On this account, Western civilisation is not truth but the hegemony of the ruling elite.” Who prevails will depend not on reason but on power. Again, it doesn’t dawn on Dr Sacks that to enforce private morality through the criminal law is a tactic based on power - not reason.

I agree with Dr Sacks in deploring the intolerance of ‘political correctness’ which, “created to avoid stigmatising speech, becomes the supreme example of stigmatising speech”. And I agree also that it was wrong that a Catholic nominee for the EC justice commission felt obliged to resign after saying that his faith compelled him to believe that homosexuality was a sin, although he did not believe it should be a crime.

Identity politics is deeply and inexorably divisive, wails Dr Sacks. I find this a richly comic remark, emanating from the Chief Rabbi of a faith which tirelessly asserts its exclusivity and superiority to non-Jews. While many Jews [unlike Muslims] are ardent practitioners of integration, if not assimilation, by no means all are. I wonder whether Dr Sacks has taken a stroll round Stamford Hill lately? Dr Sacks rightly says that “a culture of victimhood sets group against group, each claiming that its pain, injury, oppression, humiliation, is greater than that of others” – but he fails to add that the Victim card is a favourite ploy of today’s increasingly intolerant religious minorities, each complaining that they are the innocent targets of imaginary legions of rabid atheists thirsting for their blood. All we non-believers are in fact asking for is that the religious should confine their observances and faith-based beliefs to their private lives, and not aspire to inflict them upon the rest of society as Dr Sacks is doing in this polemic.

And I find it especially odd that the Chief Rabbi should ‘come out’ as such an ardent defender of Christian values – which, when all is said and done, differ considerably from those of the Torah. It’s also comic that, like so many backward-looking social conservatives, Dr Sacks dislikes the internet and the “tendentiousness” of blogs intensely. He resorts to the futile old ploy of blaming the technology – not the message - when he questions whether the new culture of instant global communication will weaken the nation-state. I find this a pathetic argument. Myself, I strongly believe that humanity would be far more peaceful and less crime-ridden if the art of kindling fire had never been discovered and the wheel and never been invented. Then, we would all be far too busy keeping ourselves and each other warm with our body heat, and trudging slowly and painfully a few miles a day, to get up to all the immorality, crime, and other mayhem which so appals Godbotherers like Dr Sacks.

Friday, 19 October 2007

"We can win without destruction"

"We can win without destruction. I am an optimist, because I believe that I'm right. I'm at peace with myself." What Bush told Aznar in the run-up to the Iraq war. Read the full transcript here.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

US military interventions

A detailed checklist and commentary by an American academic here on US military interventionism during the 20th century. Although written six years ago [a month after 9/11], it’s still worth reading.

The author concludes that the presentation of many of these interventions to the American public has been at odds with the reality:

“First, they were explained to the U.S. public as defending the lives and rights of civilian populations. Yet the military tactics employed often left behind massive civilian ’collateral damage’….The U.S. public always believe that in the next war, new military technologies will avoid civilian casualties on the other side. Yet when the inevitable civilian deaths occur, they are always explained away as ‘accidental’ or ‘unavoidable’.

“Second, although nearly all the post-World War II interventions were carried out in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, nearly all of them in fact defended dictatorships controlled by pro-U.S. elites. Whether in Vietnam, Central America, or the Persian Gulf, the U.S. was not defending ‘freedom’ but an ideological agenda (such as defending capitalism) or an economic agenda (such as protecting oil company investments).

“Third, the U.S. always attacked violence by its opponents as ‘terrorism’, ‘atrocities against civilians’, or ‘ethnic cleansing’, but minimized or defended the same actions by the U.S. or its allies. If a country has the right to ‘end’ a state that trains or harbors terrorists, would Cuba or Nicaragua have had the right to launch defensive bombing raids on U.S. targets to take out exile terrorists? Washington's double standard maintains that an U.S. ally's action is by definition ‘defensive’, but that an enemy's retaliation is by definition ‘offensive’.

“Fourth, the U.S. often portrays itself as a neutral peacekeeper, with nothing but the purest humanitarian motives. After deploying forces in a country, however, it quickly divides the country or region into ‘friends’ and ‘foes’, and takes one side against another. This strategy tends to enflame rather than dampen a war or civil conflict, as shown in the cases of Somalia and Bosnia, and deepens resentment of the U.S. role.

“Fifth, U.S. military intervention is often counterproductive even if one accepts U.S. goals and rationales. Rather than solving the root political or economic roots of the conflict, it tends to polarize factions and further destabilize the country. The same countries tend to reappear again and again on the list of 20th century interventions.

“Sixth, U.S. demonization of an enemy leader, or military action against him, tends to strengthen rather than weaken his hold on power..…

“One of the most dangerous ideas of the 20th century was that ‘people like us’ could not commit atrocities against civilians.

· German and Japanese citizens believed it, but their militaries slaughtered millions of people.

· British and French citizens believed it, but their militaries fought brutal colonial wars in Africa and Asia.

· Russian citizens believed it, but their armies murdered civilians in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and elsewhere.

· Israeli citizens believed it, but their army mowed down Palestinians and Lebanese.

· Arabs believed it, but suicide bombers and hijackers targeted U.S. and Israeli civilians.

· U.S. citizens believed it, but their military killed hundreds of thousands in Vietnam, Iraq, and elsewhere.

"Every country, every ethnicity, every religion, contains within it the capability for extreme violence. Every group contains a faction that is intolerant of other groups, and actively seeks to exclude or even kill them. War fever tends to encourage the intolerant faction, but the faction only succeeds in its goals if the rest of the group acquiesces or remains silent. The attacks of September 11 were not only a test for U.S. citizens attitudes' toward minority ethnic/racial groups in their own country, but a test for our relationship with the rest of the world. We must begin not by lashing out at civilians in Muslim countries, but by taking responsibility for our own history and our own actions, and how they have fed the cycle of violence.”

What a pity that this last piece of advice wasn’t heeded!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

"Why don't they like us?"

Egged on by Yankee Doodle, I’m taking on the burdensome role of Candid Friend, and putting together some personal reflections on the vexed question of European-American relations. Here is my first spasm.

On my short holiday trips to the Continent [THE Continent being Europe – not America!] in recent years, I have met fewer American tourists then I used to and those I have spoken to seem dejected and sorely baffled by the change in attitude towards them on the part of their temporary hosts. Shortly before the invasion of Iraq, some friendly folk from Boston who were keen visitors to Europe asked me “Why are we so unpopular over here nowadays?” As I didn’t want to launch into a presumptuous discourse on their domestic politics, I replied “Well, for a start, you hardly ever listen to anybody else”. They took it in good part, and during the run–up to the war I rather mercilessly bombarded them with critical British newspaper comment.

This summer in Italy I met a charming young guy from Washington DC [hi, Chris!] who listened politely to what my companion and I had to say about the world situation, remarking from time to time “well, that’s an interesting point of view!” And I had to avert a near-brawl in a boat queue when a burly US gent announced loudly “Well, at least we’re safe under the American Flag!” I managed to deter my travelling companions from forcefully assuring him that they didn’t share his confidence.

The problem is, you see, that to many Europeans, including some of us who have been lifelong admirers and friends of America and Americans, our respective perceptions are now so far apart that most Americans seem to us to be living not merely on another continent, but on another planet.

I began blogging in the summer of 2007 after a long spell in hospital, because I felt so bothered about the direction the world was – and still is- heading. With vivid recollections of my 1930s childhood and WW2 teenage years, I find this first decade of the 21st century even more dark and menacing than the run up to that war. Because in those days, we knew who our prospective enemies were, and where they were, and we knew who our friends were. But now, it’s difficult to be sure about any of those categories. In particular, those whom we assumed to be the ‘good guys’, and who had merited, and received, near-universal global sympathy following the dastardly atrocity of 9/11, have since been following courses which make those of us dedicated to democracy and human rights deeply uneasy and ashamed.

In saying this, I realise that one cannot generalise about a nation of over 300 million people; and that Americans themselves are very divided over these issues. Nevertheless, for practical purposes it is the policies and actions of the incumbent Administration that counts; and this is not merely a domestic matter for Americans, since the actions of a global superpower which aspires to be world policeman affect everyone else in the world.

And this is where my self-imposed task becomes difficult – indeed, delicate. Because I sincerely want to promote dialogue, not a slanging-match, and in the present disgruntled mood on both sides of the Atlantic that is not easy.

I began my blogging by spending much time reading and posting on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ site. I have been a lifelong devotee of the Guardian, but this experience has made me less so, because the site did not live up to its name; posts were censored, and sometimes even deleted, apparently for ‘politically correct’ reasons, regardless of the site’s proud title. So – believing that all opinions, however extreme or obnoxious, are healthier heard than suppressed – I voluntarily withdrew and started writing my own blogs and visiting those of others, which is how I serendipitously found Yankee Doodle.

There were, however, some fascinating and informative discussions on CiF. But there were also far too many angry blasts of hot air, billowing noisily past their targets. Three major recurring themes were the USA, Islam, and religion vs. unbelief. The posts about America brought bitter diatribes from indignant US patriots who considered Europeans and Britishers the effete dregs of a clapped-out civilisation who didn’t deserve having been “rescued” by America during WW2 and were ripe for their impending dhimmitude – often predicted with a “serves you right” gleeful air.

All this struck me as rather a waste of time. I saw no point in returning the puerile insults, though many of course did, and pondered how to persuade these angry and obviously rattled Americans to take a more reflective, introspective look at themselves.

I still haven’t really worked out how to do this – hence the rather rambling nature of this post. However, for a start, let me say that I do not consider it as ‘anti-American’, or a betrayal of ‘our’ values, to reject the nonsensical concept of a blunderbuss “War on Terror” as distinct from a fine-tuned police operation against terrorists; to feel aghast and ashamed at the immoral and illegal practices of torture and ‘rendition’; or to be dismayed by the wanton destruction of traditional civil liberties in both the US and the UK in recent years. While I accept that national interests must be dictated by realpolitik. I do not agree that the end justifies the means, and consider that to the extent that we in the West have lost our moral compass and stooped to these measures, bin Laden has scored and we are the losers. It is the uneasy consciousness of this unpalatable fact that has caused the European slump in pro-Americanism.

Monday, 15 October 2007

UN = Useless Nations?

Angel [WomanHonorThyself] has posted the following comment on Yankee Doodle's blog:

"The Useless Nations...are a bunch of thugs who have long lost their value if ever they had one."

What do others think?

Is pre-emptive war ever justified?

Yankee Doodle asserts, in comments on previous Arena posts, that the US Constitution permits America the ‘right’ to wage pre-emptive war.

Article 6 of the Charter setting up the International Military Tribunal which conducted the post-1945 Nuremberg war crimes trials reads as follows:

The following acts, or any of them, are crimes coming within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal for which there shall be individual responsibility:

(a) CRIMES AGAINST PEACE: namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing;

(b) WAR CRIMES: namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labour or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity;

(c)CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY: namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.

Leaders, organizers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan.

It seems quite clear that any country waging pre-emptive war without the authority of the United Nations should be held accountable to the International Criminal Court.

Sunday, 14 October 2007


A generally sensible article by Simon Jenkins. But is he too complacent?

"I see the powerful without precedent. The American-European economic and political axis is unconquerable. For all its occasional and manifold lapses, capitalist democracy has been tested and not found wanting."

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Our values ARE better!

The demise of multiculturalist relativism is celebrated by DOUGLAS MURRAY in last week's Spectator.

It IS about oil, stoopid!

"In terms of realpolitik, the invasion of Iraq is not a fiasco; it is a resounding success", says JIM HOLT in the London Review of Books.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Declaration Against Violence

The following petition was drafted by a small number of us in several countries, and posted here earlier this year. So far, it has been signed by fewer than 50 people! Please help us to mobilise worldwide support for this very worthy endeavour.

To: Citizens of the World

We the undersigned call upon our fellow world citizens to join us in doing everything in our power to reduce the prevailing level of global violence, and to seek the resolution of all conflicts by peaceful means.

We do not believe that the promoters of hatred and the practitioners of violence [whether in the name of countries or causes] are supported by the great mass of humanity. Their behaviour, under whatever pretext, is immoral and intolerable. We abhor their activities, and deplore the amount of publicity given to them as well as the unhealthy depiction and glorification of fictional violence in so much ‘entertainment’.

We believe that the great majority of human beings, whatever their country or creed, are good-hearted peace-loving people like ourselves, who wish for an end to violence in personal, domestic, public, and international affairs.

We urge all those holding responsible positions in politics, government, and the media to pledge themselves to do their utmost to achieve a more peaceful world through discussion and negotiation, and to renounce violence as an instrument of policy.

We ask all those in agreement with this statement to sign it, and to pass it on to others requesting them to do so.

Note: This Declaration has been launched by private citizens of several countries, with the aim of gathering worldwide support from as many peace-loving non-violent people as are willing to sign it. The Declaration is not sponsored by any organisation, and your signature commits you to nothing except endorsement of the above text. No copyright is claimed. There is no limit to the number of signatures we seek. We ask you to publicise the Declaration in every legitimate way you can and to urge others to sign. Tell all your family, friends, and colleagues. Post the link on your website. Help to create a publicity snowball for humanity’s demand that violence must stop.