The Old Razzle Dazzle

In reaction to the result of the 1975 EC referendum, Mr Enoch Powell described the ‘yes’ victory as a ‘provisional result’ which would require ‘the continuing assent of parliament’. He said of those who had voted in favour: ‘the people do not mean it,’ ‘they are mistaken,’ and ‘they have still not been able to credit the implications of being in the Common Market.’  Those who try to dismiss the result of the ‘brexit’ referendum – by saying the same things of those who voted ‘leave’ – should feel a strong sympathy with Mr Enoch Powell. This might be a sympathy they were unaware of. It might take a disaster such as an earthquake to draw from a person their heroic qualities; of course, not everyone has a hero hiding under the surface. The person who told me about Enoch Powell’s comments said

‘If you agree with Mr Powell’s comments and many on the Leave side regard him as a hero, you cannot object to Remain supporting MPs using those arguments in reverse. Why can’t they try and frustrate Brexit in parliament and also question the wisdom of the people?’

I voted ‘leave’ and I told him Powell’s comments were a disgrace. The question is one of principle. Do you believe in the basic democratic principle that something gets ‘put to the vote’ and the side with the most votes wins? This is a yes or no question. Enoch Powell would have to answer ‘no’ to that; those who are trying to ignore the ‘leave’ result would have to answer ‘no’ to that; many ‘celebrities’ and business ‘leaders’ and academics would have to answer ‘no’ to that. Facebook allowed billions of persons to show each other daily they have boring and empty lives, devoid of physical or intellectual adventure, and the EU referendum has allowed many humans to reveal of themselves they have a creepy disregard for basic democratic principles. These consequences were possibly unintended.

A singer, Damon Albarn, (pick any ‘celebrity’, there’s plenty to choose from) stood on a stage and told a crowd that those who voted ‘leave’ were ill-informed. How could he know that? Persons in their millions voted for ‘brexit’. It is unlikely Albarn could read one mind: the likelihood he could read millions is less likely still.  A man in my office told me exactly the same thing the day after the vote. He said of the ‘leave’ voters ‘I don’t think they really understood what they were doing.’ This attitude, one which implies the holder of it does understand the implications of leaving the EU, and is therefore better educated and in position of a more refined mind, is in equal measure snobbish and sinister and infantile. (One thinks of a foot-stamping, lispy school boy, marching off to throw stones at birds in frustration at not getting his way.)

When someone claims to know something they don’t know, that is one thing; but when someone claims to know something they cannot know, well, that is quite a different thing. Claiming those who voted a different way to you are mentally deficient is the sign of an extraordinarily unpleasant individual. The question I think interesting is how much more unpleasant, anti-democratic impulses lie under the surface of those who would happily re-run the referendum – or ignore the result outright – and refuse to implement a genuine ‘brexit’? If they were given the political circumstances which allowed them to express themselves fully, what kind of political figure would they most resemble? Ghandi doesn’t come to mind.

Men such as Stalin were not ‘monsters’ but ordinary humans who, if their circumstances had been different, would have been working in offices and factories and would not have done the things which made them famous. This view is unpopular with some, for reasons which are understandable. Many of us dislike the truth about our lowly origins and have no wish to know we are mammals: animals about which the universe cares not. Not everything is a matter of opinion.

The person who used Powell’s comments to justify the behaviour of the ‘remain’ crowd revealed more than his simple opinion about post-result conduct; in addition, he made a very sickly and servile appeal to ‘authority’:

‘We people do not always get it right. MPs are surely slightly better educated than the average man or woman in the street.’

I wished he’d had the wit to say we ‘the’ people, but never mind. The best one could say about the way he reveals his class-based inferiority complex is that he does it by making an unsafe assumption. I am going to assume this person can read minds with the same skill as Damon Albarn. What constitutes the ‘average’ man or woman?

Here is where language reveals more about the person than they might wish to reveal. He chose to use ‘surely’ rather than, say, ‘perhaps’ – which would have admitted a little doubt. Why is he sure MPs are ‘better educated’ than…well, we’re back to defining ‘average’ again. A person could say that, look, it was a ‘throwaway comment’ and therefore one shouldn’t ‘read into’ it more than is there. I say bet the other way. If you wish to know what a person really thinks, consider what their language presupposes – what do they already assume is true? One can find a person’s presuppositions very often in their ‘asides’ or their ‘throwaway comments.’

The journalist, Peter Hitchens, has suggested here and there that Philip Larkin might not have been quite as atheistic as some (presumably even Larkin himself) thought. One doesn’t need to read minds to make this claim, for there is textual evidence to suggest Hitchens might have a point. For my own little contribution to this idea, consider the second stanza from Aubade:

 

 

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse

—The good not done, the love not given, time

Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because

An only life can take so long to climb

Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;

But at the total emptiness for ever,

The sure extinction that we travel to

And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,

Not to be anywhere,

And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

The three words ‘be lost in’ seem to presuppose our continued existence after death. Larkin cannot hide the pea of hope under those mattresses of misery. Unless we exist, we cannot, in any sense ‘be’. Perhaps what we presupposes finds expression unconsciously, and we don’t see it to edit it out because we deny what we truly believe, thereby rendering these subtle clues to our unconscious invisible to ourselves? If this ‘sounds a bit Freudian’ then why not have some Freud? Consider this splendid paragraph from ‘The Future of an Illusion’. Here, Freud reasons that, if a person feels it certain that God exists, these internal feelings don’t necessarily impress someone who doesn’t feel them; therefore these feelings are not the basis on which to build a society. He says that

‘There is no authority higher than reason. If the truth of religious teachings depends upon an inward experience attesting that truth, what about the many people who do not have so rare an experience? Everyone can be required to use the gift of reason that they possess, but an obligation to all cannot be based on a motive that exists only for very few. If an individual has drawn from a deeply personal state of ecstasy the unshakeable conviction that the teachings of religion represent the real truth, what is that to the next man?’

There’s nothing wrong with his reasoning, but one wonders why, hiding in plain sight in the middle of the paragraph is the word ‘gift’. A gift from whom? Maybe the translator had a sense of humour?

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Gay Cakes and the Whiff of Something Else…

That the ‘gay cake’ business found its way into a courtroom to begin with is an outrage to reason: one showing how rotted our national mind has become thanks to the thought-cancer of political correctness.

Alright, Mr Lee might be a total hoodwinker, but are the bakers any better?

I don’t think Mr Lee was asking the bakers to agree. That the bakers disagreed with the message is irrelevant. Their disagreement with the message did not prevent them from making the cake.

How do I know this to be true?

They could have made the cake without agreeing. Publishers publish things all the time without necessarily agreeing with their contributors.

Their refusal to make the cake might be more revealing than they realise. Indeed, their refusal to make the cake suggests they don’t really believe in God.

One assumes the bakers consider God to be an actual agent – a thinking being – who feels a great deal of love and is capable of forgiveness and so on.

One also assumes they believe God has the powers many have attributed to Him over time: the power to see-all and know-all, etc.. These are fair and reasonable assumptions. Indeed, this should be the least of it.

So why did they choose not to make the cake?

Surely to goodness, given what they claim to believe about the universe, they could have chosen to believe God would understand why they made the cake, would know they disagreed with it and that their principles remained unshaken, and been duly understanding and forgiving.

Is it possible the bakers were motivated by something else, and were using their “conscience” as cover for it?

This question is fair and reasonable.

In his Mail on Sunday column, Peter Hitchens takes a certain position on this case. His column is here.

Mr Hitchens also mentions Israel in this column.

Look at the colour of Mr Hitchens’s position in reply to those who criticise Israel with more enthusiasm than they criticise other countries for similar violence.

Mr Hitchens says these Israel critics are / might be, motivated by a dislike of Jews.

Apply that logic here.

(I mean, for heaven’s sake, a Christian who secretly doesn’t believe isn’t that weird an idea. I can read no minds, but consider Andrew Sullivan, no doubt a fine gentleman and an interesting person. Does he give anyone else the impression he is significantly unafraid of God?)

Had the bakers used the brains they were at least born with (or actually believed what they claimed to believe) they could have disarmed Mr Lee without a shot being fired. Their all-knowing God might not have understood this, but Sun Tzu would have.

These Christian bakers, thanks to their paw-licking, posing and preening, have done more than make themselves look like idiots: their tactical incompetence has resulted in yet more ground being won by the enemy.

They might not have meant to do that, but they did.

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Thomas Becket had it Coming

It is said that Henry II probably didn’t intend for Thomas Becket – Archbishop of Canterbury and the one who ended the bromance with the king – to be killed when he uttered his famous words, but I like to think he did intend it. Make no mistake: Thomas Becket had it coming.

Henry II had introduced the ‘Constitutions of Clarendon’: his attempt to restrict the power and authority of the clergy in England. Henry didn’t want this restriction to help the likes of peasants like me. It was a cynical move, but one worth having even so. Decreasing the power of the clergy would be to increase his own power, yet who would argue the ‘authority’ of Rome was worth having unclipped? The power of Rome was an occupation of a kind, a psychic occupation of the mind, and if that wasn’t benefit enough for them, the religious granted themselves the ‘benefits of clergy’ and would try religious wrongdoers in their own ecclesiastical courts where the sentences were conspicuously lenient.

Thomas Becket opposed these reforms and wanted the religious to retain their privileged status, exempt from the laws which covered the rest of the population. Allowing for the times, he should have been whacked on the spot.

Henry behaved like he was contrite. He walked barefoot to Canterbury and spent a night being flogged by monks to show how he terribly sorry he was that his former buddy got significantly more than scalped.

One can’t help but ask if all of the famous pious persons from history really were genuine believers. Did religion have a grip on people’s minds in the way political correctness does now, with many making public declarations of piety so as to ward-off accusations of heresy? It’s hardly a ridiculous idea, because being publicly against the politically correct orthodoxy might result in career damage for the person nowadays, and that’s enough to make many compliant, but taking a similar anti-God position in Becket’s day – and for centuries afterwards – would have meant a slow, agonizing death. It’s no surprise to me that many professed faith in God, and publicly made the right noises and shapes.

The Knights who topped Becket – if they were genuine believers – committed an extraordinarily brave act. They killed God’s man in England , and did it in God’s house, and all the while believing that an eternity of fire might await them for their doings. And these chaps were spurred into this soul-threatening action by a few vague sayings from their King. Why didn’t the fear of God stop them?

Whatever the reason, Becket needed to go. If ten of him had to be killed to land a blow against the Pope’s authority then it would have been worth it. Henry’s act, no more than chipping at the religious pillar, was an important precedent.

In 1215 King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede and promptly wrote to the Pope to try to get the whole thing annulled as soon as the barons had turned their backs. The barons weren’t motivated by a desire for the peasant to be protected; they – like Henry before them – were motivated to look after their own interests. Even if the benefit comes from a cynical motivation, it’s worth having.

In the two events briefly mentioned, power is moved slightly. In the first it’s moved slightly toward the individual country: a barely perceptible shift toward greater independence; in the second, slightly toward the ordinary person. These events didn’t change anything immediately, but that they happened is important for freedom.

(Would Henry VIII have been ready to break from Rome without the Becket incident as a precedent? If a King can have God’s man topped in his house and keep his job and his life, then why should a King worry about a simple break in relations?)

Although he was a religious lunatic and mass murdering maniac, Oliver Cromwell was on the right side of the argument. Charles I was a weak-kneed, chinless Catholic fancier, with a strange fascination with the Duke of Buckingham, and, like Becket before him, was rightly got rid of after Cromwell’s Roundhead’s won the Civil War. What was a genuine opportunity to rid the national mind of superstition, and the profoundly un-scientific idea of ‘the divine right of kings,’ (the Stuarts were fond of the idea of divine right) turned first into a tyranny under Cromwell, then collapsed back into monarchy with the Restoration: a failure of imagination which was a national disgrace.

Consider all the political doings in England’s history. There’s more to discuss than the few incidents mentioned here. The problem is that – or rather it’s a problem for some – it is likely ‘we’ are going to vote to remain part of an unelected political empire, the EU. It’s a Soviet model, and (as Peter Hitchens once pointed out) the EU even has its own rouble.

The Scottish voted to stay when I thought they’d vote to leave, and I think the British will vote to stay because we’re British. Do we want all that upheaval, old-boy? If I can still take The Times and knock back a drop of the hard-stuff while checking the cricket-scores, am I going to vote for any boat-rocking?

If more people knew more history they’d be able to see the EU for what it is, and would perhaps vote to leave this corrupt, disgusting experiment for good.

Scooby Dooby Don’t

There will always be some humans who say they have ‘the right’ to take drugs. Perhaps they do. Perhaps they don’t. Which is it? One thing is certain, when a person claims ‘It’s my body, I can do what I like with it,’ there is a flaw in their reasoning.

Does the argument change when a person believes that they do not ‘have’ a body, rather they ‘are’ a body? Listening to some, it is clear the belief in the illusive ‘I’ is alive and well, and why not? The foregoing, when considered at length, can bring a chilly realisation…

One can see, straightaway, there will be (or should be) several other persons involved in our lives who would wish it that we take care of the body we have or are. My aunt is rapidly dying from lung-cancer and I would prefer that not to be the case.

If drug-taking is wrong, what makes it wrong? This is easier to answer if the drugs taken are illegal. One could find sanctuary within the walls of the law. But that’s far too easy, and dangerous. Who wants to be left holding the logic which states if something is legal it is morally right? Not me, thank you. Then again, who wants to argue drinking caffeine is morally wrong?

I am happy to be corrected here, though I remember reading that, on a chemical level, nicotine breaks down caffeine and a person recently free from cigarettes should also cut their coffee intake because without nicotine, the caffeine has a greater affect on their brains.

The affect might be greater irritability, insomnia or restless sleep – the affects of caffeine are well known, yet their affects are not considered a moral problem. Why not? Caffeine, the common name for trimethylxanthine, is a drug, a chemical a person freely ingests which has affects upon their brains they might not experience if they didn’t take it, yet it gets a free pass from any moral questioning.

That free pass could be because of the affects themselves. Ingest enough C8H10N4O2 and you might be less calm, but unlikely to be up for a spot of the old ultra-violence because of the mixture of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen you just ingested. We all consume chemicals which are unnecessary for survival, so if taking illegal drugs is wrong, I doubt it’s wrong because they’re illegal; taking them is wrong because of their affects and it’s the affects which make them illegal. It’s a small point, but it’s one which filters coffee and cola out of an argument they should not be in to begin with.

The moral questions come about, Peter Hitchens writes, when the affects of the drugs taken stupefy the taker into incoherence or dangerous behaviour they would not otherwise indulge in. This argument tends to bring up the question of alcohol. If booze is legal and is the cause of sickness, murder and other kinds of death – then why should certain drugs, especially cannabis, remain illegal?

Hitchens devotes chapter seven to this question, ‘What about alcohol and tobacco, then?’  He points out that this question is one of the key parts of the debate and states (with dry humour)

‘Once a substance is legalised, it is extremely difficult to declare that it is illegal. That is why we should be so careful about legalising cannabis and other currently illegal drugs. If this turns out to be a mistake, it will not be easily put right.’

Who says Hitchens has no sense of humour? He obviously does. Next he’ll be telling us that ‘alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, has been known to produce all the effects of drunkenness.’

It is to his credit that he uses humour this way. It might be a sign his arguments are so obviously sound that he can afford to inject a little humour here and there. A person could be forgiven for expecting a sermon or a bossy lecture from the chap. No doubt Hitchens is capable of that, but he doesn’t do it in this book.

There are other examples of his dry humour. On the question that a person has the right to do what they want to the body they either have or are, because doing so is a fundamental freedom, closely allied with freedom of speech and freedom of thought, he states

‘I realise that in our secular society, an appeal to the authority of Mount Sinai or the Holy Trinity is not likely to be decisive.’

Superb. He continues from humour to seriousness

‘It is perhaps hard to see how anyone who valued either speech or thought should wish to spread the use of a drug that fuddles thought and makes speech halting and incoherent, but it is so.’

That is a fair example of the book’s tone or style. You get simple, logical arguments, offered using plain English as their delivery system. Splendid.

Another example, after quoting several cases of cannabis users committing violent or mindless crimes – and to refute the idea that the drug ‘chills out’ (my phrase) its users, he says

‘I am making no claim here beyond these modest points: if cannabis is a peace-promoting drug then its effects are not always evident in its users.’

Well, quite. My eldest son has been far too fond of cannabis for some years and his behaviour when smoking the stuff is upsetting. He can be obnoxious, paranoid, needlessly argumentative, downright abusive and sometimes violent. During the periods he doesn’t smoke the garbage his behaviour is significantly different. Nothing else he ingests seems to have this effect on him. Without the example of my eldest son I might well shrug my shoulders and fall-in with the crowd who make the ‘what about alcohol?’ point, but I cannot. And I know my son’s mother has, many times, been anxious that he stop smoking it. My interest is declared.

I have never been fond of this country’s political class, at any level, from Westminster to ‘my’ local councillors. It is my belief they are – all of them – entitled to no privacy whatsoever and every aspect of their lives is a legitimate target for public scrutiny and press intrusion.

I should like to know what they do, where they do it and with whom, and how much of my money they spend doing it. (I have a good friend, a psychiatric nurse based in Cardiff, who told me he and his colleagues had been out on the town, more than once, on ward funds. Another friend, a finance officer in a school told me that, many times, school funds had been used to throw leaving parties for teachers and to buy presents for them and so on. Hardly is this Watergate, but it is significantly irritating.) Yet those politicians who are (possibly) not corrupt in that sense – don’t feather their own nests – but ‘tinker’ with the laws and carry out their social experiments on the rest of us, are perhaps worse than the politician who rakes off a few quid. Some of the characters within Hitchens’s pages – and not all of them politicians – are guilty of poisoning society in a sense. They might not have meant to do it, yet that says nothing about what they actually did do. You’ll have to read the book yourself.

The next time (if there is a next time because he seems to have sorted his life out at the moment) my eldest son punches holes in a bedroom door while his younger brother and sister are watching, I might invoice Paul Mcartney for the repair.

Legitimate Political Violence

Imagine the six counties, Devon, Cornwall , Dorset, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire were not part of England, but were occupied by France, governed by Paris, and policed by M. Gendarme.

I’m confident many Englishmen would find that arrangement disagreeable, and not all of them would be skinheads, blackshirts or Sun readers.

Further imagine that, when the natives got a bit miffed at the behaviour of the frog fuzz, the Foreign Legion were despatched to kick in a few doors and crack a few heads. You get the idea.

Would you support a group of Englishmen organising themselves into a secret resistance, the task of which was to carry out specific, targeted assassination of French police, soldiers and politicians in an attempt to try to force the French withdrawal from those six counties?

You might or you might not support that, but if you didn’t agree that such an organisation’s methods and aim were at least legitimate then I’d worry about your mind.

(I mean to say, you’d have to argue the French Resistance was an illegitimate organisation and the Nazis were legitimate in their occupation. Or that Boudicea should have ‘assimilated’ into Roman culture. If you have no ‘line in the sand’ then you wish to be a slave.)

I would support such an organisation, and am forced to accept that political violence can be legitimate. Legitimacy depends on what is done why. In the above scenario, the aim and the method are legitimate, hard as that is to accept, but both could easily not be.

If such an English resistance took to blowing up French civilians then it would lose its legitimacy because killing the innocent, the non-combatant – actually targeting civilians – strips all the moral force from the action. Such persons are outside the chain of command which supports the occupation. Even though the aim would remain a legitimate one, the method would not be. Only the fanatic, or the lunatic, thinks the ‘end justifies the means’.

Many persons will say they won’t be told what to think, yet many will accept being told what to think when the topic is patriotism, the armed forces, or questions about a person’s ‘loyalties’. The orthodoxy tells you what to think, takes it for granted you will obey, and public opinion quickly snarls and snaps at those who don’t follow the groupthink line. (My ‘line in the sand’ is actually drawn on the inside of my forehead; this makes me sound very accepting of state power, almost a friend of it who will put up with rather a lot, while refusing it entry to the piece of territory it wants more than any other, thereby making me its enemy.) To claim the right and freedom to decide 100% of your own opinions, even when the question is about patriotism or loyalty to ‘your country,’ can leave the claimant in an exposed position. It is a price worth paying for the only (genuine) freedom a person will ever get.

The state can force itself on you in many ways. It’s quite true that an Englishman’s home is his castle until the state takes it from him via compulsory purchase. It’s quite possible for a person to change their citizenship (or the state’s ownership papers) for a replacement citizenship, but there is no way a person can renounce their citizenship, or even gently hand it back. The citizen is the property of the state, and if one is to talk about ‘freedom’ then the question ‘freedom to do what?’ presents itself.

All The Things I could Do

How far in the past does something need to be for it to not matter anymore?

For example, there are some who think that the descendants of slaves should be given money because of what happened to their forebears.

Okay, then.

I am descended from slaves.

‘My people’ were enslaved under the Roman occupation of Britain, and were so again post-1066 under the Normans.

During the years 1600 to 1800 ‘my people’ were kidnapped by Muslim pirates and sold into slavery across the Middle East and North Africa. This was such a huge problem that Thomas Jefferson had to invent the US Marines to deal with the caliphate.

(We don’t get taught about this particular slave trade in British schools for some reason.)

That’s three examples from history where ‘my people’ were enslaved and do you know what – I feel pretty damn upset about it.

I feel like I need somebody to give me some money right now so I can use it to repair my hurt feelings.

Who do I sue?

Does anyone know a lawyer who would take on my case? I’m going to sue the Italian government for the Roman invasion, the French government for the Norman invasion, and the Turkish government for the Muslim pirates.

(I might yet have a pop at the Danish for the Vikings I’ll see what the lawyer thinks first.)

To repeat the question:

How far in the past does something need to be for it to not matter anymore?

subway footlong 11 inches

Oh, poor you!

That’s an expression which makes me shiver when I hear it. On the surface it sounds like mild sarcasm, a bit of fake sympathy offered to somebody who might be thought of as complaining too much. It’s actually more than that.

A person needs to have a little interest in language and psychology and literature to see (or hear) what else could be going on with that expression, but if ‘art imitates life’ as the cliché goes, then it seems there is more to that expression than mild sarcasm aimed at a moaner.

One possible interpretation is the usage from HBO’s The Sopranos. It’s not an expression used often, but it’s the characters which use it and the context which makes it interesting and gives it the power.

The Sopranos, if it is the best show made – and many argue it is – must be the best show for the writing because so many other shows are superbly filmed and acted and so on. It’s the writing, specifically the way a character’s character is exposed using language, that gives the show its standing, and some of the exposes are subtle.

Here’s a for instance. Consider Tony Soprano telling his mother and anyone else who brought it up, that Green Grove – the expensive facility he sends her to in the first series – is not a nursing home, ‘It’s a retirement community!’. There are several instances like this throughout the six seasons.

The character had to correct his mother and everyone else about the kind of facility he sent her to because he was trying to convince himself his decision to move her was a kinder decision than his conscience felt it was. That might sound simple, but it’s more complicated.

Tony Soprano’s entire character – everything he does and the way he does it, his success in the ‘business’ – is predicated on the denial of the fact his mother didn’t love him. He knows she didn’t, but won’t accept it, and the conflicts, the panic attacks, the ‘displaced rage’ all stem from this refusal accept what he knows is true.

It takes the character almost the entire six series to accept this: his constant correction of people who talk about about what kind of place he sends his mother to is a linguistic clue to a deeper psychological problem which hasn’t been solved or resolved. He can’t make his mother love him, but he can accept she didn’t, and this acceptance does eventually happen. The linguistic clues then change to show that, under the psychological surface, there’s a been a huge change.

What happens is simple. When a colleague mentions the wonderful retirement community Tony had his mother in, he shouts back ‘It’s a nursing home!’

So what of the expression, ‘oh, poor you’?

The writers use the expression in a similar way as mentioned in that it’s used as the linguistic clue to a deeper problem. ‘Oh, poor you’ isn’t mild sarcasm thrown at a person who’s moaning too much, it’s the mask dropping and the monster revealing its real face and real nature, but only for a moment.

And that real nature could be described as unpleasant.

It’s an expression which means ‘I don’t care how you feel!’ And this isn’t because the person cares only for themselves, but because the person can’t care about others and their feelings. It’s the three words which reveal the speaker is really bereft of positivity and all their smiling and laughing is faked.

It reveals something to us, the audience, while the speaker and the person to whom it is addressed do not recognise it for what it is, thus making it a narrow, yet extraordinarily deep example of dramatic irony.

These Barbarous Wretches

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2362695/PETER-HITCHENS-Would-surprised-learn-I-fund-Labour-Well-I–you.html

Peter Hitchens and the Death Penalty

 

…satisfy your blood lust, and tell yourself you were good to the victim because blood atonement remitted the sin. You gave the fellow a chance to get to the hereafter, after all. This business of living for eternity certainly contributed to capital punishment, brutality and war.

 

  • Norman Mailer

 

 

I am persuaded that this is a righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches, who have imbued their hands in so much innocent blood and that it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are satisfactory grounds for such actions, which otherwise cannot but work remorse and regret.

 

  • Oliver Cromwell

 

 

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Get the Gush Gone

A good title should have a sense of humour. I got into (yet another) discussion on the death penalty with a couple of persons on Peter Hitchens’s blogsite recently. It can be frustrating trying to have a discussion there. Mr Hitchens has said the arguments against the death penalty are an insult to the intelligence. I’m not sure if even he believes this, but who knows. I am opposed to the religious human sacrifice which some refer to as ‘the death penalty,’ though I think it is a fascinating topic to discuss, and significantly more complicated than many persons think it is.

One reason I’m so interested in the discussion is that the ‘death penalty’ is the first topic on which I wrote myself to a change of mind. I used to be all for it. I’m not a professional or trained writer, and had no idea that the process of writing – the actual physical process – could act like a sort of ‘hypnosis,’ and if done enough, a person might find his subconscious telling him things he didn’t know he knew and giving him thoughts he didn’t know were there. It’s a wonderful experience to be writing away, tapping the keys and transcribing the thoughts flowing up from below, and to realise that you are actually changing your own mind on something. (It’s odd to think of myself as a card-carrying member of the ‘hang ‘em high’ club, when all the time I actually thought the opposite to what I thought I thought.)

When such moments happen, a person has a choice: he can reject what his own psyche is telling him – perhaps because he ‘identifies’ with his position on whatever the topic is, or he can take a deep breath and keep going into unknown psychological territory. I say ‘take a deep breath’ because we do tend to like our beliefs and dislike it when somebody challenges them, so when it is us doing the challenging, it actually takes a small amount of bravery to continue tapping the keys.

Peter Hitchens supports this ‘penalty of death,’ and hardly is he on his own. The death penalty is something wanted by the public, and something which would be restored if put to the public in a vote. On the death penalty question I’d wager we have a situation where the State is refusing to give the public what it wants. (The relationship between public opinion and demand, and the State and what it does in response to that demand, is a fascinating question, yet could be reduced to a ‘who blinks first’ dynamic because the State is, at bottom, a collection of humans with their own interests, just like the public.) Why the State won’t allow religious human sacrifice, when such a move would (almost certainly)be a popular one, is another interesting question, especially considering the state likes power over the citizen.

I’m going to mention some arguments in favour of the death penalty used by Peter Hitchens, and why the practice, regardless of what those in favour say of it, is an obscenity. Peter Hitchens is a prominent journalist and has the ability to influence opinion, so he’s a fair target. Also he has put some interesting arguments in favour of religious human sacrifice. I doubt he is enthusiastic for the practice, though I accept he could be. He once stated ‘I would prefer not to have to defend the dark rituals of execution, especially since I have witnessed them at first hand. However, those who wish to say anything serious about government and law must be ready to argue for difficult things.’1

This is interesting in itself as arguing for the death penalty is absurdly easy. The topic is a demagogue’s dream, so simple is it to think up emotive examples of crimes (usually murders of children) to get the crowd or the reader quickly on your side. It’s the ease with which a person can support this practice that is an interesting thing to consider when thinking about Peter Hitchens’s arguments in favour of it. He is on the record as being suspicious of public opinion and conventional wisdom, yet seems not bothered by popularity of the thing he’s arguing for, here. I would expect him to be suspicious of something public opinion supported, and look harder for the argument against – and whoever reads his stuff can say he usually does this – so I wonder if Peter Hitchens agrees with the public sentiment on this, or thinks the public are right by accident, so supports this practice for reasons which are different to those reasons the public animal wants Capital Punishment returned?

I suspect Peter Hitchens’s support for Capital Punishment rests on his religion, and the public’s desire for it rests on their blood-thirsty, emotion-riddled knee-jerkism. If this is true, it’s perhaps understandable why Peter Hitchens finds the death penalty difficult to argue for, or a difficult thing to argue for, and the public finds it easy to support. Peter Hitchens is no demagogue, and public opinion is of no worth whatsoever.

I know I’m talking as if it’s a given that the public would restore capital punishment overnight, and I think it’s a safe position to take given the polls which have been taken. In 2015, a Gallup poll showed that 61% of the public were in favour of the death penalty for murder,2 so that’s a clear, unambiguous majority, and that Peter Hitchens finds himself in the majority is unusual in itself.

One point to note is this: never trust anyone who says killing people saves lives. Killing people costs lives – the lives of those killed. We’ve all heard this curious form of words used before. The argument that killing saves lives, the ‘argument’ used to justify the atomic bombs dropped by the US over Japan, which is similar to the argument which says ‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,’ is an ‘argument’ which is loved by the hand-waiver who states: ‘It’s as simple as that.’ In other words, it’s a line taken by a mind which has a poor conscience, hasn’t thought about it, or has thought about it, but doesn’t care about it. Whichever it is, the person delivering this sort of ‘black is white’ or ‘war is peace’ line should be questioned further. Never accept this sort of thing without investigation.

I haven’t chosen Peter Hitchens’s position or arguments on the death penalty because I have some sort of ‘problem’ with him. I’m not one of those who attack him on Twitter, or post comments to his newspaper blogsite using fake names and with unbalanced criticisms – or attack him anywhere else. I happen to have admiration for Peter Hitchens and wish there were more journalists like him. I could make the case, quite easily, that even his enemies owe him a certain debt of gratitude. Anybody who can’t see, straight away, that writers like Peter Hitchens keep the rest of us a little bit safer will probably never be able to see it.

I ask you this: in a world of politically correct witch-hunts, where man denounces man for imagined ‘heresies’ against the orthodoxy – and does so for no other reason than to claim his own purity and ensure the witch-hunters move to the next cottage – what value shall we put on a fellow who can make politicians nervous?

Quite a high value, I’d say.

 

2

A Sword in the Hand

That’s the gush out the way. It is easy to make arguments from emotion, that should be remembered; but to begin, a person should decide which side they are on, and this is the question they should answer to decide their side. Do you think it is better to have societal norms, rules and laws based on reason, logic and utility, with all three anchored to the assumption that excessive power over the citizen by the state is axiomatically bad, or do you think what a just society needs to function, and function at its best, are laws and practices which are based on the human animal’s base nature, and which in turn, therefore, allow the state to have the ultimate power over the citizen?

Or, to put the same point another way: do you prefer liberty or security?

To condense the two positions on capital punishment down to a choice between two words is not to attempt a simplification of the topic; it’s just to state that such a reduction can be done. When an argument is followed right to its bedrock, there’s usually not much more than a word or short phrase at the bottom. The entire Christian position can be reduced to Idealist, for instance, and that is what is waiting for the supporter of Capital Punishment; or, to describe it correctly: religious human sacrifice.

Liberty and Security are like the two ends of the playground see-saw, when one is up, the other is always down. The more you have of one, the less you have of the other. To say your preference is for equal weights of both is to reveal you don’t care much, or know much, about human nature – or the nature of the human.

There are examples from history and literature which suggest that humans, when in possession of power, position and authority over other humans, sometimes use it in a way which doesn’t always benefit the majority. There are many examples from history and literature of the State making and passing laws which benefit and protect it, not the citizen. (That the State is made up of humans makes this a fascinating thing to consider. Why would a single person, or a small group of persons, make decisions which benefit the whole state, even while they know that under certain circumstances, they could suffer under the very rules or legislation they are proposing? Perhaps these drops of lubricant in the machine are truly selfless, or perhaps bureaucracy has a way of bringing out the inner sadist from a person?)

So my first contention is this:

 

The supporter of capital punishment is the enemy of liberty.

 

Peter Hitchens claims to be a lover of liberty, but is he really a lover of liberty? There is a preening, chin-stroking attitude which many people who support the death penalty have. Many have convinced themselves their position is a refined position because they support the practice for murder only. Consider this for a moment. Such a position presupposes they’ve ruled out other crimes and therefore have ‘thought deeply’ about their view. This might not be the case. It is possible such a person has camouflaged their desire for religious revenge under an intellectual veneer. Indeed, some supporters of the death penalty have their opinions so deeply ‘dug-in’ that they manage to support the practice while carrying the politician’s ‘heavy-heart’. To support a practice, but ‘with regret’, is a smart move: it presupposes not only how deeply the question has been thought about, but also that the supporter has taken a selfless, sacrificial position, in that they are prepared to suffer for their belief because what they believe is ultimately good for society. It’s a curious type of ego-mania and understated narcissism. Can a supporter of capital punishment ever be a lover of liberty?

Peter Hitchens knows as well as anyone what the State can do to a person. The State is the enemy of the individual, and the enemy of the family unit, and very well Peter Hitchens knows it. He wrote in The Abolition of Britain that the State dislikes the family because it fashions bonds which are stronger than patriotism. The State can lock you up, take your children, take your house from you via compulsory purchase – it can impose many things upon the individual. How can a person be a lover of liberty if they want the State to have the power to do what it can already do, yet also the power to reach into a citizen’s body and stop their heart from beating? To support the death penalty, even if you support it for murder only, is to want the State to have absolute power

This is liberty with qualifications, which means it’s not liberty.

For instance he supports ‘freedom of speech’ so long as something called ‘incitement to violence’ is not part of it. (He’s not the only person who postures in this way.) This is the ‘yes but no’ attitude which happens when somebody wants to claim to be a certain type of person, but doesn’t genuinely want the thing they claim to want that would make them that type of person. Most of us will have had the following experience. We did something naughty when we were small and were caught, perhaps by a teacher. The teacher demanded to know why we did such and such, and we say – because we were little and didn’t ‘get it’ at such a young age – that so and so ‘told me to do it.’ The teacher will then have then offered us a particular ‘look’ and said something like ‘Well, if so and so told you to jump of a bridge would you do it?’ We know we wouldn’t have done that, so we then realise we are to blame for what we actually do, and can’t blame others for ‘making’ us do it. The illogical nonsense about ‘incitement’ is the teacher saying ‘Right! Let’s go and round-up so and so, too! And we’ll see who gave him the idea, and then we’ll get them in room 101 as well!’ Before you could say ‘witch-hunt’ you’d have all the toddlers in the playschool on trial ‘by-teacher’ for their part in a non-existent conspiracy of influence. A Stalinist madness.

The position Peter Hitchens takes on ‘freedom of speech’ is contradictory because he doesn’t want speech to be ‘free’ in any way at all, he wants it to be limited. When you advertise your ‘free beer’ but actually charge 1p for it, it isn’t free. One you’ve added your qualification, you have dissolved your principle.

This qualification serves the same purpose as the ‘for murder only’ qualification serves: it presupposes deep thought and implies the person is a ‘serious’ person who is exquisitely discriminatory. But how can a person be serious when they argue for ‘free speech’ in this way? I think it’s unlikely that Peter Hitchens cannot see the ‘freedom of speech’ contradiction, because he’s obviously an intelligent person, and words are his business. This leaves me thinking that he can see it, and is happy with it, because it accurately expresses the truth of the matter, and is happy for others not to notice. What other option is there?

There’s a scene I want you to create in your mind and it will be mentioned later. I want you to imagine you are walking back to your car, and you take a shortcut through an alley. In that alley you find the body of a child. The child has met a violent end: the head is bashed and smashed; there are bits of blood, skull and brain splattered on the walls. Lying next to the body is a hammer with bloody fingerprints on the handle, and you see bloody footprints leading away from the scene.

Let’s say the child is a ten year old girl.

Do you think any wrong has been done to the little girl? You think yes? I’d guess most people would. Now here’s the thing: anyone who thinks that the little girl has had wrong done to her should not support capital punishment.

Now I know that might sound odd. It seems obvious that the person who bashed her head in deserves to swing, but I’m afraid things are not as simple as they seem, and the arguments for and against capital punishment are not as simple as the simple feel they are.

Leave that scenario in the back of your mind while we flash-forward in hypothetical time and create another scenario.

You’re watching the evening news and the story comes on about the person convicted of killing the child from the alley. The cameras have captured the following: the convicted is making his way to court for sentencing, and a crowd has gathered, waiting just for this moment. They cannot put hands the guilty, and lucky for him, because he is locked safely in the armoured police-van which drives slowly through that crowd. The persons gathered shout and scream at the van, some throw things, some spit at it and some rock it sideways in an attempt to tip it over, before the officers pull the mob from the vehicle and it drives through.

Then we cut to a shot from on high, where the handcuffed child-killer is lead from the rear of the van into the building. Next we’ll be shown an artist’s colour-pencil sketch of the beast in the dock, and we’ll be told he spoke only to confirm his name, and some other details, and we’ll be told what the judge had to say as he passed sentence. Usually at this point we cut to the reporter whose voice has been heard over the pictures: she will be standing outside the court, microphone in hand, having a chat with the news presenter in the studio.

Whatever is said the by reporter or the presenter, the behaviour of the crowd won’t be condemned. If it’s mentioned at all it will be to offer the banal observation that feelings were ‘running high.’ I wonder what number of us, watching such a thing in our homes, secretly wishes the mob could gain access to the vehicle, and get at the killer? And I wonder what might happen if such a thing occurred?

Perhaps one of the mob would drive the vehicle to waste ground, where the guilty could be taken to task, and some collective need in the mob could be satisfied while helicopter cameras captured the celebration in high definition?

What is that need or urge which drives the mob to picket the court, waiting for the guilty? What motivates the van rocking mob? What do they want?

Their behaviour could be described as odd, possibly stupid, because they know their missiles – their eggs, rocks and coke-cans – won’t penetrate the armoured vehicle, they will never get at the man inside. One can’t help but wonder why they bother.

The explanation needs to be that the spitting and throwing things, and trying to tip the van over, are not considered actions but a spontaneous expression of rage. That would make some sense. But consider the behaviour of the crowd before the police van shows up. The crowd is still a crowd at this point, not yet a mob, and can we believe they turned feral at the site of a vehicle they could never gain access to? What next, try to tip the building over because the guilty is in there?

No, the mob’s behaviour upon the arrival of the police van is a considered action, certainly not ‘spontaneous’ and the reporter is right in a sense, feelings are running high. Years ago, there might be some point in forming a mob and going after a suspect, flaming torches in one hand, bible in the other, while others in the mob ran with dogs straining at the lead. That made some sense because there was a chance they could catch the suspect and lynch him. The mob around the police van can’t do that – they know they can’t, therefore their behaviour is posturing and an expression of vanity.

The mob believe that they are safe to show this side of human nature, not only to each other but to the cameras, because the crime, the murder of the child, is vile enough that the normal standards of conduct don’t apply, and they have numbers on their side if you disagree. The options with such a running mob are to join in or step aside; trying to reason with them is a waste of time, trying to stop them is dangerous.

That humans can be violent when emotional is not interesting, but it is interesting to consider the lynch-mob mentality, and to conclude that it takes not so much to bring that part of the character of the human animal to the surface.

The argument about Capital Punishment usually begins with the supporter arguing for deterrence and the opposer claiming execution of the innocent is the unanswerable position. Both are (very often) the first arguments either side deploys. When my side of the house – the side which believes in liberty over security – mentions the innocent it’s common for the supporter to play the ‘accident’ card.

‘Yes,’ they say, ‘an innocent person executed is a terrible thing, but terrible things happen all the time, should we reject or abolish everything which causes accidental deaths? We’d have to abolish cars and planes and all sorts of things.’

But of course such a person is being slippery. They are suggesting an accidental death is equivalent to a deliberate death, which it isn’t and they’re missing the point into the bargain.

No person sacrificed by the State via the death penalty is killed by accident. No prisoner ever walked along their landing, tripped, fell into a noose and got hanged.

Every execution is a deliberate act, so the ‘accident’ card relies on a false parallel. Not a good start for the supporter of human sacrifice.

The argument about an innocent person executed is airtight; it cannot be met by anything from the other side. In addition there is no answer to the charge that, by executing the innocent, you have by default freed the guilty – so it’s a double outrage.

But arguments from ‘body-count’ miss the point, too. The enlightened side of the house reject the idea of capital punishment; reject the idea that the state can have this power over the citizen; and contend that, when the death penalty option is retained, the state has too much power over the citizen by definition, and the relationship between the two is ultimately totalitarian in practice and religious in theory (which just means totalitarian in theory, too.)

A word on ‘deterrence’.

 Often the supporter will cling to the idea of deterrence and not be swayed by logic. In a debate, formal discussion or even just a conversation, there are some things a person should not do. They should not claim something is true when they don’t know it is, and they should not claim something is true if they can’t know. Consider the words of the author and scientist, Sam Harris:

Exactly how many birds are in flight over the surface of the earth at this instant? What is their combined weight in grams? We cannot possibly answer such questions, but they have simple, numerical answers. Does our inability to gather the relevant data oblige us to respect all opinions equally? For instance, how seriously should we take the claim that there are exactly 23,000 birds in flight at this moment, and, as they are all hummingbirds weighing exactly 2 grams, their total weight is 46,000 grams? It should be obvious that this is a ridiculous assertion. We can, therefore, decisively reject answers to questions that we cannot possibly answer in practice. This is a perfectly reasonable, scientific, and often necessary thing to do.3

This is a problem with the ‘deterrence’ argument. The only thing which can be known is that capital punishment is not 100% effective as a deterrent. There’s no way to calculate what number of persons have been deterred from doing something. You can’t count-up acts which haven’t happened. It is not known if capital punishment is a deterrent: its supporters just claim it is because they think it’s a safe claim. But how can a claim for something be safe when those supporters can’t know if it’s true? It’s impossible to know if the death penalty is a deterrent, and I think arguments from deterrence should be disqualified immediately.

Even the academic ‘studies’ can’t answer it, and the impossibility of ever getting an answer leads to some hilarious examples of chin-stroking ‘seriousness’.

Read these and try not to laugh:

The view that the death penalty deters is still the product of belief, not evidence. The reason for this is simple: over the past half century the U.S. has not experimented enough with capital punishment policy to permit strong conclusions. Even complex econometrics cannot sidestep this basic fact. The data are simply too noisy, and the conclusions from any study are too fragile. On balance, the evidence suggests that the death penalty may increase the murder rate although it remains possible that the death penalty may decrease it.4

On balance, that final sentence cracks me up every time I read it. And that’s from John J. Donohue, a professor at Yale Law School and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and Justin Wolfers, a professor at the Wharton School of Business and a Research Affiliate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Or consider this from the brief of yet another report into ‘deterrence’:

The studies use incomplete or implausible models of potential murderers’ perceptions of and response to the use of capital punishment. Much of the research assumes that potential murderers respond to the objective risk of execution.

It’s actually shocking. This is a confession, made so straight-faced you’re not meant to notice. Read it again, slowly; then contrast with this:

..there is good reason to believe that potential murderers’ perceived risk deviates from the objective risk.5

And that means there’s good reason to believe that murderers think they won’t get caught. It says the opposite to the first example, and both quotes are from the same brief. Where would we be without this sort of clarity of thinking making everything simpler? Why don’t these ‘academics’ just say ‘we don’t know because we can’t count-up acts which haven’t happened’?

There are other example of academics making strange statements . Consider this from Peter Hitchens:

The Home Office pathologist Professor Bernard Knight said recently that the British homicide rate was artificially low. Advances in medical treatment, he explained, now save hundreds of people who would have died from their wounds 40 years ago. The actual amount of lethal violence has risen to heights our fathers would have thought impossible.6

How can the homicide rate be artificially low? This point is meretricious. The homicide rate is whatever it happens to be. Just count the bodies. Are we to believe the death-in-childbirth-rate is artificially low thanks to medical advances? I don’t think so. The point is claiming an increase in violence, and Hitchens’s position is that lethal violence has increased since there’s been no death penalty. Is that actually true? Consider the words of Leon Britain from July 1983:

Those who argue for restoring the death penalty rightly point to the sharp rise in homicides since 1960. Between the end of the war and 1960 the number of homicides had shown a generally downward trend. In 1960, the offences initially recorded as homicide in England and Wales totalled 282. In 1965, the year capital punishment was abolished, the total was 325, in 1970 it was 396, in 1980 it was 621, and in 1982 it was 619. There are those who argue that the upward trend starting in 1960 is of no significance as that trend started before abolition. Against that, it can be said that the number of executions actually carried out in the last few years of capital punishment was very small and the deterrent effect might, therefore, if it existed, have been somewhat reduced.7

Note the rise in violence beginning before the abolition, and the important acknowledgement the deterrent effect might not exist to begin with. And it’s on his final point that Leon Britain touches on an important question about public executions.

Albert Camus, in his essay ‘Reflections on the Guillotine,’ makes the strong case that if the death penalty does have any deterrent effect, keeping the executions private, behind the prison walls, won’t allow the practice to work its dark magic on the minds of the peasantry:

We must either kill publicly, or admit we do not feel authorized to kill. If society justifies the death penalty as a necessary example, then it must justify itself by providing the publicity necessary to make an example. Society must display the executioner’s hands on each occasion, and require the most squeamish citizens to look at them, as well as those who, directly or remotely, have supported the work of those hands from the first.8

It’s a pretty strong point. Why bother with an example which nobody gets to see? And that’s assuming – and assuming against the logic – that there’s a deterrent effect to begin with.

If capital punishment was a genuine deterrent there wouldn’t be murders within jurisdictions which had human sacrifice as the punishment for a qualifying crime. But there are plenty of murders within jurisdictions such as these and always have been. This suggests human sacrifice is not a deterrent, and it’s probably not because most murders are not done by ice-man assassins. The majority of murders are emotional acts driven by money and sex and jealousy and other base drivers.

A word on the other ‘arguments’ and an argument against.

There are many positions taken by those who support religious human sacrifice. They talk about justice for the victim without considering that the victim can’t receive justice because the victim is dead and can’t receive anything. They then change their minds and claim and they want justice for the family of the victim. Bereavement requires justice, but not when the killer’s family are bereaved. For some reason they don’t count.

They argue that the cost of keeping murderers locked up is too high and executing them saves the tax-payer money. This argument is one of my favourites. It is simultaneously the stupidest and most dishonest argument: imagine two cells next to each other. In one is a murderer, serving twenty years, in the other is a non-murderer serving twenty years. Now consider the argument is supposed to be about the saving the tax payer money. Do I need to explain further?

Another silly argument is the argument from mercy. Peter Hitchens says:

The death penalty is far more humane than a long prison sentence. That is one of the best reasons for bringing it back. I’m sorry to say that the Court of Human Rights is correct in condemning our policy of locking up heinous murderers without hope of release and for so long they forget what they have done. It’s incredibly cruel.9

This argument claims that because decades in prison are a cruel, sadistic and barbaric punishment, the death penalty is justified because it is kinder to the murderer. This is an absurd argument just on the surface of it. It leaves the supporter of human sacrifice arguing for both punishment and mercy at the same time. But things get worse. There is a way to check if the person who makes this ‘argument’ actually means it. They should be asked if they would extend this ‘mercy’ to the terminally ill. Many Christians and Conservatives reject the idea of ‘mercy killing.’

Death is either a mercy or a punishment to be inflicted: if the former, then why don’t the terminally ill qualify? If the latter, then how can it be merciful to begin with? If the supporter claims that, yes, the terminally ill do qualify, are they not punishing the terminally ill if death is a punishment?

This nonsense argument is taken by supporters of human sacrifice because they are attempting to hide their real views under the veneer of intellectual compassion. They make themselves look extraordinarily stupid when they do this. This is what happens when paw-licking vanity and self-denial is valued more than intellectual honesty.

For most, the real motivation for their support of human sacrifice is no more than an emotional jerk of the knee. They imagine how they would feel if a person killed a member of their family. Then, feeling these unpleasant feelings, argue that human sacrifice is acceptable.

There are some, however, who support religious human sacrifice and who actually understand what they are talking about. I’ll mention these persons later.

For the moment I’ll just put my basic argument against the death penalty which seems to me to be quite hard to refute. (If this argument turns out to be rubbish, then the fault is mine.)

The argument goes like this:

Capital punishment is always wrong because we can never know if the victim lost anything of sufficient value to justify executing the killer.

It cannot be denied that value judgements underpin the crime / punishment question. If a person is convicted of stealing a packet of biscuits from a shop they would not be given the death penalty for this. That punishment wouldn’t ‘fit’ the crime. The value judgements we make about fitting punishments are mysterious in their origin, but we certainly make them. We tend only to hear arguments for religious human sacrifice for the crime of murder. I’ve never heard even the most reactionary, the most crusty and dusty conservative, argue for religious human sacrifice for anything other than murder. And, curiously, that creates a problem for their argument. When a person argues the death penalty should be imposed only for the crime of murder, they instantly grant that human life has a unique value or worth. Human life, on their account, has a special status and the only way justice ‘can be done’ is to take from the killer what they took from their victim. (The meme ‘a life for a life’ is popular, but the memes, ‘a rape for a rape,’ and ‘a punch in the face for a punch in the face’ haven’t caught on quite as well.)

Smarter supporters of human sacrifice will try to claim that value judgements have nothing to do with the calibration between crime and punishment or how we decide that x deserves y or doesn’t. I understand why the smarter supporters will try to avoid the concession that value judgements are what we use, because immediately they know that value judgements are subjective: there’s no over-arching objective standard we can all agree on. And it’s that fact which underpins my argument: how do we know the victim lost anything of sufficient worth to justify executing their killer?

Who says?

This is where the dead girl in the alley comes in.

If you think value judgements have nothing to do with deciding what punishment fits what crime, you are left with the conclusion that nothing ‘wrong’ has been done to the little girl in the alley. Until a trial has happened and evidence has been heard; until a jury has reached a verdict and ‘justice has been done,’ the girl in the alley, to you, is no more than rearranged organic material.

So value judgments can’t be denied (or avoided) and it’s that underpinning subjectivity which makes human sacrifice wrong because – and allow me to repeat it – who says the killer lost anything of sufficient worth to justify executing their killer? Who says?

There’s more to the opposition to religious human sacrifice than the inescapable impossibility of justifying it. Which supporter of human sacrifice doesn’t want to punish murderers? Those who argue in favour of capital punishment want murderers to be punished (except the ‘mercy merchants,’ that is.) It is odd, then, that they argue for the thing which makes punishment impossible: death.

A dead person cannot receive punishment for the same reason a dead person cannot receive justice. They are dead. They cannot receive anything.

The supporter is arguing for the incarcerated murderer’s punishment to come to an end. Why they do this I don’t know.

There is no escape for the supporter of human sacrifice by saying that, they know the dead person can’t receive punishment, that’s not the point, (and who ever said it was?) they want the murderer to feel the fear and stress as their execution date approaches, and then the fear and stress on the day itself and so on.

This makes some sense – but not much. If that’s the case then the murderer need only be subjected to mock-execution, but would the supporter of capital punishment want that?

I think not.

Once this point has been made then the supporter should see what they really are arguing for is a form of torture where the victim suffers not the ‘death penalty’ but the ‘punishment penalty’ and is punished to death.

You can make a person dead by punishing them, but you cannot punish them after making them dead.

As I said, there are persons who understand what they are arguing for: they understand that the arguments in favour of religious human sacrifice require a belief in the afterlife to make even the slightest sense – and they really require a belief in God. As someone once said, this business of living for eternity contributes to capital punishment. What’s odd is that, on atheism, a belief in God is required for the arguments in favour of religious human sacrifice to make sense, but that means, to make sense to an atheist.

Assuming a Christian worldview for the sake of argument: what happens to the soul of the murder victim? Where does it go?

Let’s say the victim is the little girl in the alley.

The little ten year old girl, on the Christian worldview, is going to spend eternity with God in heaven. Let’s put it another way: on that Christian worldview, by murdering her, the killer has delivered his victim to the greatest possible bliss imaginable.

And for this he should be punished?

There’s a dizzying, circular paradox at the heart of the human sacrifice question.

It’s too easy to support the death penalty. When something is so easy to support a person should become immediately suspicious and begin questioning their motives, and asking questions about the motivations of others. It’s only when we begin to question our beliefs, and the motivations we have for them, does the conversation become interesting.

 Capital Punishment: an actual obscenity.

 In his book, ‘The Abolition of Britain,’ Peter Hitchens begins chapter five with this simple claim.

Hell was abolished around the same time that abortion was legalized and the death penalty was done away with.10

It’s interesting to look at the idea of religious human sacrifice and the attitudes to it from the supporters of today as compared to the actual practice from history. Consider these words from Lord Gardiner, spoken in the House of Lords in December 1969:

In 1908 there was a big advance: we abolished capital punishment for children under 16. When my grandfather was 21 a boy of nine who had set fire to a house was hanged at Chelmsford. In a previous year a little way back, a boy of 7 and his sister of 11 were hanged at Lyme. In 1922 we abolished capital punishment for infanticide. In 1929 a Resolution in the House of Commons calling for the abolition of capital punishment resulted in the appointment of a Select Committee. In 1930 the Select Committee reported. In their Report they said: Our prolonged examination of the situation in foreign countries has increasingly confirmed us in the assurance that capital punishment may now be abolished in this country without endangering life or property, or impairing the security of society. And they recommended its abolition for five years. In 1931 capital punishment was abolished for expectant mothers. In 1932 the Children Act abolished capital punishment for those under 18.11

I like the one where we abolished the death penalty for expectant mothers. Since these internal abolitions have happened, have those freed from the prospect of being hanged become troublesome? Are children under sixteen, boys of nine and seven, girls of eleven and women with-child now an out-of-control menace to society? This sort of incremental abolition smacks of a State which wants to retain the practice, and isn’t willing to let go completely. Remember the State is simply a collection of humans with interests which conflict with those of the majority. Please think about this specific question: what sort of State would want to hang small children or women with-child?

It’s remarks like those from Lord Gardiner which put the death penalty into its correct context and allow it to be seen for what it is: one way in which the State could tyrannise the ordinary people. Contrast the ‘arguments’ from somebody who wants human sacrifice for murder only, against this brief summary from the National Archive:

In the years after 1660 the number of offences carrying the death penalty increased enormously, from about 50, to 160 by 1750 and to 288 by 1815. You could be hanged for stealing goods worth 5 shillings (25p), stealing from a shipwreck, pilfering from a Naval Dockyard, damaging Westminster Bridge, impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner or cutting down a young tree. This series of laws was called (later) “The Bloody Code.” Why was the Bloody Code passed? After the turmoil of the 17th century, the landowning class emerged as supreme rulers of Britain. They based their power on property-ownership, and saw the law’s main purpose as protecting property. They were ruling a country of 6.5 million, most of whom had no political rights whatsoever. The crime rate was not high, actually, but they feared that it was, as towns grew in size and the old village community crumbled. There was also no police force. The Bloody Code was therefore a threat: severe retribution would happen to those thinking of breaking the law by infringing property rights.12

When we think of capital punishment do we forget (did we even know?) that the State used to be able to kill us for minor offences such as cutting down a young tree? Perhaps not knowing the list of things we could be killed for by the State prevents us from seeing what the death penalty actually is: the missing list is the giver of context. Put it another way: imagine a person who opposed the enslavement of blacks, but also argued that blacks should be whipped for one particular crime only, and you might begin to see those who support the totalitarian, absolutist practice of human sacrifice for the Darth Vader Darksiders they are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/features/deathrows
2. http://www.gallup.com/poll/1606/death-penalty.aspx
3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/moral-confusion-in-the-na_b_517710.html
4. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/DonohueDeter.pdf
5. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/NatResCouncil-Deterr.pdf
6. http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2012/04/reflections-on-how-to-punish-mass-murderers.html
7. http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1983/jul/13/death-penalty
8. http://redlemona.de/albert-camus/reflections-on-the-guillotine/reflections-on-the-guillotine
9. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2362695/PETER-HITCHENS-Would-surprised-learn-I-fund-Labour-Well-I–you.html
10. Hitchens, Peter (1999) The Abolition of Britain, Quartet, London, p107.
11. http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1969/dec/17/murder-abolition-of-death-penalty-act
12. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/candp/punishment/g06/g06cs1.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time Marches On

The Church of England made a statement about George Bell, the former Bishop of Chichester. Somebody accused him of sexual abuse, saying the attacks happened in the late 1940s and 50s, and the person first made the allegations in 1995. When the allegations were made, Bell had been dead for almost forty years. There is no question that, if a person seeks justice, it is better to make the accusations while the person is alive if possible. If not, then the accusations should be made as soon as possible.

The statment is here:

https://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2015/10/statement-on-the-rt-revd-george-bell-%281883-1958%29.aspx

The statement is a disgrace. It assumes Bell was guilty of the accusations, something the Church cannot know, but it gets worse because it actually smears Bell.

Had it referred to the accuser as ‘the victim’ – and done so only once – it would have been a disgrace.

The word ‘victim’ begs the question of the accused’s guilt. How can a person be a victim if no wrong has been done to them? Begging the question in this way is unacceptable. Imagine if a barrister reffered to the defendent as ‘the murderer.’ The judge would immediately offer some sharp remainders about form. Yet the statement does not once refer to the accuser as the victim.

In only 716 words, it refers to the accuser as ‘the survivor’ eleven times.

If ‘victim’ presupposes guilt – and it certainly does – then what horror is being presupposed by ‘the survivor’?

I do not believe the Church’s statement was made in good faith.

A person might naturally, without malice, arrive at the word ‘victim.’ It comes to mind easily, and it takes a little more thought (but not much more) to see what it presupposes. But ‘the survivor’ is certainly not a natural way to describe a person making accusations which will never be proved. Somebody had to think their way to that formulation, and so must have known what they were doing.

(Another possible reason for that choice of description is that the statement was typed by some fruit-juice drinking, sandal-wearing vegetarian tree-hugging grievance merchant, who’d have you arrested for racism if you dared to say you disliked black coffee.)

That would explain the coinage, but the repetition – banging it into the minds of the reader – is pure malice in my opinion.

I think it’s possible that dark forces are at work, and somebody actually wanted to smear Bell. Who benefits from Bell’s post mortem disgrace?

I hope that somebody within the Church accepts a journalist’s coin and the whole lot gets exposed to the public. Including the identity of the accuser.

 

 

 

 

Peter Hitchens makes a Mistake. Loudly.

Peter Hitchens is quoted in bold italics, I quote myself in just italics.

This is what happened.

In December 2014 Peter Hitchens apologised to Christopher Jefferies. Jefferies was the man arrested in the Joanne Yeates murder case. The press ruined his character; had he been charged, a fair trial would have been unlikely. When I read Hitchens’s apology, I thought it was quite decent of him to do it, but nothing more than that.

He was apologising for writing nothing in defence of Christopher Jefferies while the man was having his name dirtied by the papers, even though he knew his trade was ignoring the principle of the presumption of innocence. This is the Hitchens apology from December 2014.

One of my great regrets is that I did not stand up for Christopher Jefferies, the eccentric teacher falsely accused of the murder of Joanna Yeates. I felt at the time that the treatment of this man was utterly wrong. I was amazed that members of my trade were breaking what I had been taught were absolute rules to uphold the presumption of innocence. But I never wrote a word. I waited for someone else to stop it. And nobody did. So – reminded of the whole ghastly thing by last week’s powerful ITV dramatisation – I offer my personal apologies to Mr Jefferies for failing to come to his aid when I had the power to do so.

 I thought nothing more of this until Peter Hitchens wrote a piece called George Bell and the Presumption of Innocence.

This is a paragraph from that short piece:

Long after his death, the Bishop has been accused of child abuse. I believe that he, like any accused person, is entitled to the presumption of innocence and has not been allowed it.

 Reading this made me remember what Hitchens wrote about Jefferies. The principle of the presumption of innocence is just that – a principle, it applies equally to Jefferies as to Bell, so why did Hitchens write for Bell but write nothing for Jefferies at the time?

I wanted to know, so I asked. I asked this on the comments thread of the George Bell and the Presumption of Innocence post:

1st attempt:

‘What I’d like to know is why Peter Hitchens hasn’t waited for someone else in his trade to defend Bell and the principle of the presumption of innocence. I shall be careful, here. There was no article by Mr Hitchens entitled: ‘Christopher Jefferies and the Presumption of Innocence.’ Why defend this principle using the example of a dead person when Jefferies was then (and I assume he still is) alive? With Mr Jefferies, Mr Hitchens could have defended the principle AND aided an innocent man. (Zola didn’t wait for someone else to write in defence of Dreyfus.) Why did Mr Hitchens choose to do nothing to help Mr Jefferies, yet he chooses to speak for Bell?’

Peter Hitchens responded to this:

A good point. I have recently, in published work, expressed my shame and regret that I did not do so. It is partly for this reason that I am so engaged in this case.

Is that an answer? Notice the word ‘partly.’ If it is partly because he said nothing for Jefferies that he wrote for Bell this is okay by me – but I wasn’t asking that. Nowhere in his first ‘answer’ does Mr Hitchens provide an answer to my question about why he chose to do nothing for Jefferies. There is no ‘why’ in his original apology from December 2014, either.

Peter Hitchens writes of his first answer (in his appraisal of our exchange, a post called A Question of Tone):

I assumed this would be the end of it. But No. The following day Mr Aspinall returned to the subject.

Yes, because he didn’t answer the question.

Peter Hitchens doesn’t have to answer my questions. He could say, for instance, ‘shove off, I’m not answering you. Who do you think you are questioning me?’ Or something similar and I wouldn’t complain at all.

But if he chooses to respond then I’m justified in repeating the question if it’s not answered.

So, because he didn’t answer the first time, I had another go. This is part of what I said on my second attempt:

2nd attempt

‘We know why he started writing for Bell – so what stopped him writing for Jefferies when the same principle applies? Was he instructed to write nothing by editors, because there was a clear Jefferies ‘line’ being taken? Was he worried Jefferies might have been guilty, and that his opponents would have smeared and misrepresented him as having been defending a killer instead of a principle? (Something they almost certainly would have done.)’

Mr Hitchens inserted a comment and clearly stated ‘NO’ on the question about a line being taken; of the second speculation, he said:

I don’t think it was as specific as that. I’d have had to have got a lot nearer doing something than I did to have had such a defined fear. It was just a general cowardice mixed with a consciousness that I was failing in my duty. Has Mr Aspinall never experienced any such thing? I really don’t see why we need to get so profound about this. I failed, through my own fault, and have admitted this in public, in the place where I failed. I can’t say it’s much fun to do this, but if the only response is to be accused of following non-existent orders, I might think twice before making such public confessions again. Unrepentant people seem to get an easier time from this contributor. [My emphasis]

That’s closer to an answer, but what exactly is ‘general cowardice?’ Cowardice caused by what?

Was Peter Hitchens experiencing cowardice ex nihilo?

Peter Hitchens continued, in his appraisal of our exchange, to state:

Mr Aspinall has not elected me to anything, nor appointed me to anything, and I owe him no special duty. He is certainly not my confessor. Never mind. The question had been asked, and I had answered it. But the questioning continued, with the clear implication that I was hiding something and not telling the full story. Why else continue to ask in this ill-mannered interrogative fashion?

This implication is not clear. The questioning continued because I hadn’t got a specific answer, and I had – take note here – decided a specific answer existed.

I decided a specific answer existed because people will say they kept their mouths shut because they didn’t want to “rock the boat” or “cause trouble” or they were scared of reprisals, or being fired, or being thrown into a dungeon, or exiled to Siberia, or banished from Christendom, or excommunicated – there’s usually a reason for cowardice to manifest itself, because persons tend to be scared of something.

So after two attempts all I’ve got is ‘general cowardice.’

After my second attempt, Mr Hitchens made things a little clearer in his in-comment reply:

The insinuation, that I feared some identifiable punishment or threat, is baseless. Fear, as those who have experienced it well know, does not need to be specific. Most fear, in my experience, is a vague presentiment that something unpleasant lies around a certain corner or beyond a certain door, and that it is best not to turn that corner or open that door. This is why people are so reluctant to take the first small steps which would otherwise lead to major changes in life, such as changing their minds. They don’t want their fears to take a specific shape, any more than the child which fears there is a monster under its bed wants to look to see if it is really there, in case it actually is. Instinct tends to guide this far more than reason.

After this I thought – okay, there clearly wasn’t a specific reason behind the fear which prevented him not writing for Jefferies. I was quite surprised at this, but accepted it.

‘On the Jefferies / Bell question, I’m happy to leave the discussion where it is. I was asking only because I thought it was interesting. I (wrongly, obviously) assumed there would have been a specific reason behind our host’s choice to say nothing on the presumption of innocence principle for Jefferies; if there was no specific reason, then there wasn’t – that’s that. I used two speculations about what this reason *might* have been: one was to ask if there was any editorial line being followed – quite a vague speculation because I didn’t offer any guess as to why such a line *might* have come down from the brass. The second was a specific question about how Mr Hitchens’s opponents might have smeared him as defending a killer and not a principle (which I think they would have done) had Mr Jefferies been found guilty. I offered these as being two ends of the ‘who knows?’ spectrum. They were not offered as disguised accusations.’

Then things got strange as one contributor decided to tell me my questions to Mr Hitchens were ‘unpleasant’ and Mr Hitchens himself decided to complain about the ‘tone’ of my questions / comments to him. This is where I lost my patience a little. I can’t stand it when people whine about the ‘tone’ of something: a piece of writing, especially. I said this to one of the Toneists:

‘This is what happens: a person reads some words and imagines them being spoken in a ‘tone of voice’ they find irritating. They then blame the writer of the words for the tone they have just imagined into existence.’

This comment, in the context of reading words, is perfectly reasonable. It is quite proper to get ‘tone of voice’ from ‘tone’ in this context. But the tone became the moan.

Once I had, I think robustly, rebutted a Toneist that the tone exists in the imagination, not the material reality, Mr Hitchens added an inserted comment.

I said:

‘The ‘tones’ which Peter Hitchens detected in my questions to him exist, or existed, only in his imagination, and the ‘unpleasantness’ detected by louiseyvette, exists or existed only in her imagination. Which was my point about ‘tone’ of voice to begin with. They imagined it.’

Then Mr Hitchens added:

Interesting that two people imagined it, whereas Mr Aspinall was unaware of it. I am reminded of Don Maclean’s immortal line ‘ I’d heard about people like me, but I’d never made the connection’. Could the problem in fact be one of self-knowledge?

This attempt at humour was not appreciated by me, nor was Mr Hitchens’s shockingly unscientific assertion that a data-set of two persons against one is some sort of noteworthy pattern.

I refuted his self-knowledge point immediately:

‘Self-knowledge isn’t the problem unless this mysterious ‘tone’ can be measured objectively. It can’t.’

That final comment from me was what prompted Mr Hitchens to compose the post, A Question of Tone, from which I have quoted.

In this post he tries to argue that the question

‘Was he instructed to write nothing by editors, because there was a clear Jefferies ‘line’ being taken?’

is a disguised accusation. Now – and just on grounds of logic, grammar and semantics – it most certainly is NO SUCH THING.

Mr Hitchens says of the sentence / question:

It is of course this ‘was he instructed…?’ sentence which is inquisitorial, suspicious and accusatory . Indeed, it contains, in the form of a question, a suggestion that I was acting under instructions which, made in any other way, would be definitely defamatory, especially as it is entirely baseless. It may actually be defamatory. As the late Sir John Junor once painfully discovered, his belief that it is never libellous to ask a question is not true in law.

Well, he might be right about that, but so what? That the law is definitely an ass doesn’t mean I hid an accusation within a question. I did not so this. That question was asked – and not really as a question, more of a speculative opener – a sort of starter for ten – in good faith. I had NO INTENTION of hiding an accusation. Had I wanted to accuse Mr Hitchens of anything I would have done so.

Peter Hitchens is attacked quite a lot, and no doubt is sensitive to attacks, and – weasel word alert! –‘perceived’ attacks. Could it be possible that he just saw an attack where one didn’t exist?

Okay, I’ve just written my way to a thought and possibly realised something.

Maybe he thought I was trying to be ‘clever’ and allude to J’accuse by mentioning Zola early on? I did mention Zola, but that wasn’t what I meant. I just meant to offer a comparison of someone writing for someone else who didn’t wait. I was suggesting a possible different future, a sort of ‘look at what you might have achieved had you acted’ type suggestion.

If Peter Hitchens did think this was what I was getting at, then I can’t blame him for being annoyed, and I understand his irritation, but he’s giving me too much credit if that’s what made him think I was trying to accuse him of something.

It actually pains me (mildly) to be accused of something I haven’t done. This is the reason for this post.

Image result for not guilty