Choking on a Smile

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, was asked to clarify his views on homosexuality. Mr Farron, who says he’s a Christian, was asked if he thought homosexuality was a sin. He chose not to answer immediately, then did answer. This is how Christopher Hope put it:

‘Tim Farron has finally clarified his view on gay sex after admitted that it had come a distracting “issue” for his general election campaign. The Liberal Democrat leader said in a BBC interview that gay sex is not a sin, after five days of pressure to clarify his stance on the issue. Mr Farron had faced criticism for days for failing to answer questions about his position on homosexuality. Mr Farron refused to say four times in an interview with Channel 4 News last week whether he believed being gay was a sin.’

The most interesting story is missed.

Consider the debate between writers Andrew Sullivan and Douglas Wilson on the question of same-sex marriage. Douglas Wilson is significantly Christian. Andrew Sullivan claims to be a Catholic while being significantly homosexual.

In their debate it was asked of Wilson what his position would be if, for instance, his son told him he was gay. Sullivan – after Wilson offered the slippery ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ line, asked an odd question. (The question was odd because if Sullivan is a Christian, one wonders why he didn’t already know the answer to a question which relates directly to his own sexuality.)

He asked Wilson:

‘What if he said “I’m gay and I’ve never had any sex with any other man”? What sin did he commit?’

Wilson replied:

‘I don’t believe that homosexual orientation is a sin.’

This reasoning should be obvious as sitting under the ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ line. Wilson’s reasoning seems to come straight from the Bible, specifically Leviticus (20:13) which states:

 “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.”

It is plain that homosexual acts are the problem. This formulation gives the Christian (if they know their Bible) the ‘get out’ clause which allows them to state, no, they do not think ‘being gay’ is a sin.

This is why the fuss made about Tim Farron is missing the point.

Why didn’t Farron immediately state that ‘being gay’ isn’t a sin? Why refuse, four times in an interview, to answer this question using the get-out clause above? It would have ended things right there.

Days later, he says that ‘being gay’ isn’t a sin – something the significantly Christian Douglas Wilson knew straight away.

Why didn’t Farron close the entire line of questioning down immediately by saying the same thing? It was Farron’s refusal to answer which got the press excited. By the time he popped up saying ‘being gay’ isn’t a sin, the hounds have worked out that isn’t the same thing as homosexual acts being sins, which is why the hounds sharpened their question to ask about ‘gay sex’.

And now Farron has been forced to state that he doesn’t think ‘gay sex’ is a sin, when the Christian book states it is. What of Farron’s position now?

Is he lying about his views to avoid being battered by the press as a homophobe? Would a professional politician do that? If he would, what does that say about his Christian convictions?

And the answer to that might be why Farron didn’t immediately play the sin/sinner card to begin with.

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The Strangest of the Strange

What does it actually mean when a person says that so and so was ‘born into the wrong body’? I’ve heard the expression several times and, strangely, always on the topic of sex-change surgery, never any other topic.

I’ve never heard a fat person say they were ‘born into the wrong body’, or the parents of a child racked with cancer.

Is it possible to be ‘born into the wrong body’?

I think it is impossible.

The expression presupposes that consciousness can exist independent of the brain. There is no reason to think this is true, though there are many reasons to hope it is true.

The topic of sex-change surgery is not a religious or spiritual topic, yet the idea a person could be born into the wrong body probably reveals more about the person who says it than it does about the person who wants the surgery.

Society is where the problem is. Every person who has ever been born, whether transgender, or disabled – or anything else – was born exactly as they were ‘meant’ to be born; which is to say they are a product of their genes, their DNA, and not everyone born will fit into a little societal box, ready for labelling.

A teenage boy who says he’d be happier being a girl might well be right. He could easily be much happier after all the surgery and the rest, and I would hope he was. But a simple point needs to be made. That the boy would be happier as a girl doesn’t mean he is biologically faulty. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with him; the reason he might feel different is that society creates boxes for people and somebody who doesn’t fit is said to be ‘different’ but this is really a euphemism for ‘faulty’. The only thing ‘faulty’ in this context is the logic behind the idea.

Children should not be given this surgery. Let them wait until they are adults. Some men don’t realise they are gay until their thirties, for example. All through their teens and twenties they think they’re heterosexual, then realise they were wrong about that.

Imagine the teenage boy who thinks he shoud be a girl, has the surgery in his teens, then realises in his thirties he was wrong about that, and realises nature had things right all along.

The idea of being ‘born’ into the correct body is garbage; the idea of the ‘wrong’ body assumes more than the God-created soul-making machinery in the soul-packing factory exists, it assumes that equipment is malfunctioning.

Think about it.

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NOTE: ‘The right to be ourselves’ means something other than what it says. Being ourselves isn’t a right. We have no choice but to be ourselves, because we cannot ‘be’ anyone else. I wonder what Theroux really means? We all have the ‘right’ to demand surgery to make us happier? I can’t read his mind, alas.

Two Wrong Wings

It was interesting listening to Peter Hitchens and Ken Livingstone discuss Fidel Castro. Their brief discussion strongly suggested that people will see clearly what they are looking for. Mr Livingstone’s and Mr Hitchens’s views might be the rehearsed, stock responses demanded by their political religions, but which of the gentleman is the more deceived?

Dictators get a ‘bad press’ because the public live in a condition of mass denial.

Hitler, Stalin, Castro – pick any one you want: none of these human beings could have had their way without the help of their own civil services and tens of thousands of humans helping them. Why do we make a fetish out of the pyramid’s top stone?

Having your genitals punctured doesn’t sound like fun, and the person that actually *did it* is no doubt less than a gentleman, but was that person Castro himself?

If the local council force you to knock down your garage because it lurched an inch too far to the left, do you blame the Theresa May ‘regime’? Do you think Mrs May even knows you exist?

It’s easy to imagine a person being tortured in prison while the dictator is told by his courtiers and flatterers that nothing of the kind is going on.

Here’s a fact many persons dislike for some reason: bureaucracy brings out a person’s inner sadist. The mask of anonymity allows may people to be themselves.

Dictators get blamed for everything that happens, yet they can’t possibly be responsible for everything which happens, and that means many others are in possession of the wickedness attributed to the leader. It is humans generally which are naturally bloodthirsty and cruel, not only the recognisable figureheads we’ve all learned to hate.

It’s easy for us to look at humans like Castro and Stalin and the rest and point our fingers and say ‘monster’. This is the denial in action.

There’s no such thing as ‘monsters’. It’s more comfortable for us to pretend we are not imperfectly evolved, savage animals, because to accept this fact means we might be more like Stalin and Castro than is comfortable to know. Most of us will never have the circumstances to draw the characteristics out of us.

If we want to be honest we should begin by being honest with ourselves. Which is more likely, that Castro was ‘inhuman’ and a ‘monster’, or that he did what people do when they have absolute power, or something close to it?

I’m always amused when the next human is described as a monster, be that human a famous dictator or a killer on trial. There are so many monsters one hears about: Brady and Hindley; Huntley; Hitler; Stalin; Mao; loads of tanned, sweaty blokes wearing sunglasses and medals running rape-factories down in Latin and South America; all those IRA torturers and the other lot from the other side who ripped each others’ teeth out with pliars: apparently these people were ‘psychopaths’ or something else.

So long as they’re never described as ‘human beings’ we’ll all be okay and can maintain our delusion that these dictators and killers are exceptional. They are not.

The paradox the religious talk themselves into is darkly amusing on this. They demand we are created, yet argue that without God, belief and so on, humans would suddenly drop their morals and behave like savage animals. They do this while rejecting the theory which shows humans are barely civilised animals. Evolution via natural selection.

It is not a world of men, Machine.

Some of us really – and I mean really – dislike the idea that we exist due to the laws of physics, chemistry and biology and a few hundred million years of imperfect evolution. Religion has lied to us, and we pass that lie down the generations by continuing to think we are created, not evolved, that we are seperate from nature, that we are not actually *animals*. On the materialist world view (that’ll be the one that’s almost certainly true) there are no ‘monsters’ – there are only human animals, naked apes. Most of us have our natures under control.

Who will state that, given the freedom of behaviour that comes with dictatorship and absolute power, they wouldn’t knock-off at least one opponent by easy-memo or give the nod to the bloke in the corner?

Or would nobody knock-off an enemy behind the chemical sheds because they’d be too busy being ‘shocked’ when they heard swear words to find the time?

Most people are preening, posing, paw-licking prats who refuse to see themselves for what they are.

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Virtus Maximus

That Fidel and his comrades overthrew Batista was a beautiful thing. Who would not think so? I’m not talking about the ‘regime’ which came after. Fidel might have been Cuban by birth, but he was Roman by nature.

Castro had himself a tyranny. It is justified, certainly, to say that, although it’s probably a good thing for all of us not to gaze into the abyss for too long. On tyranny, one thinks of a passage from ‘An Open Letter to Fidel Castro’ by Norman Mailer:

“We live in a country very different from Cuba. We have had a tyranny here, but it did not have the features of Batista; it was a tyranny one breathed but could not define; it was felt as no more than a slow deadening of the best of our possibilities, a tension we could not name which was the sum of our frustrations. [..] By law we had a free press; almost no one spoke his thoughts. By custom we had a free ballot; was there ever a choice? [..] In silence we gave you our support. You were aiding us, you were giving us psychic ammunition, you were aiding us in that desperate silent struggle we have been fighting with sick dead hearts against the cold insidious cancer of the power that governs us, you were giving us new blood to fight our mass communications, our police, our secret police, our corporations, our empty politicians, our clergymen, our editors, our cold frightened bewildered bullies who govern a machine made out of people they no longer understand, you were giving us hope they would not always win. That is why America persecuted you.”

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The Conversion Con

The word ‘conversion’, when it refers to switching religion, is absurd and pretentious. It is absurd because the word connotes the changing of one thing into another via a complicated and technical process – and that is what makes it pretentious. Nothing complicated or technical happens.

I mean to say, take a second to consider the self-importance of this ‘process.’

A person has faith that the universe was created be an all-powerful and benevolent supernatural power: an actual being which exists independent of their mind. This could be a faith they have held for many years and have, perhaps, told other humans they ‘knew in their heart’ that God was real and speaking to them. Their internal, physiological sensations were considered ‘evidence’ of and for this ‘truth.’ Perhaps for many years they attended a particular place of worship and were an active member of their congregation – perhaps working in the community on behalf of their church or mosque.

Then – and the reasons for this choice are irrelevant – they decided to ‘convert’ to another religion. What actually happens? What does the convert actually do?

Well, they need to take ‘instruction’ in their new belief. For example, if an Anglican decides to ‘convert’ to Catholicism he might need to know about the transubstantiation and consubstantiation, for example. There will be differing points of theology to study, maybe, and – generally speaking – there will be certain ‘this is how we do things here’ lessons to learn. In short – the whole process is a piece of outward showmanship and internal self-delusion.

It matters not one jot how much ‘instruction’ the convert accepts, they cannot escape one simple, devastating fact. They have to stop believing in something they previously believed. Quite why this doesn’t seem to bother them I don’t know.

It might be because the absurdity of what they have done is masked by the technical implications in the word ‘conversion.’ They don’t say they have stopped believing in one religion and started believing in another, or that one belief has been dropped and another been taken up. That would suggest the dropping of their original belief was easy to do, that it had not much substance to begin with.

To know how ridiculous the notion of religious ‘conversion’ is, do what most thinking people do when testing an idea. Apply the idea to another situation and see if it looks stupid.

A Newcastle United fan is, for whatever reason, disenchanted by his club. He wishes to ‘convert’ from Newcastle United to Sunderland FC.

Perhaps he might need to visit Sunderland’s sacred ground, learn of the club’s history and its most famous players; the club’s victories and defeats and so on. Perhaps, after showing interest in these things, he is allowed to join the Sunderland supporters club and then is finally accepted into the Sunderland congregation. He has converted – all praise the beautiful game!

Has he ‘converted’? Would he describe himself as a ‘convert’? Would his former comrades in black and white call him a ‘convert’ do you think? He would be called a traitor to his faith, his religion, the cause – or whatever football fans call the emotional, loyalty-based trickery which the corporate clubs use to take their money.

(What I find hilarious is that there is no chance that a NUFC would ever go over to Sunderland. But a Newcastle FC loving Anglican could easily become a Catholic without fuss. Football or God – which is the stronger faith?)

Religious ‘conversion’ – that it happens and is called what it is – is all one needs to know about the tissue-thin ‘faith’ a person purports to have. That they can drop it, that they can take up a different version of it – or swap religions altogether – is absolute proof that many faith-holders are simply deluding themselves about what they believe and about how important it is in their lives. More importantly, that other faiths allow converts to come over means the faiths themselves are doing no more than fighting for market-share.

No doubt many faith-holders would bleat that the process is ‘painful’ or they ‘grappled with their conscience’ – or something similar because they wish to give the impression of an emotional or psychological struggle. Don’t believe a word of it. This sort of language is to give weight to what is no more than a ‘drop one, pick up another’ move. At its root, that is all that happens.

The religious know they are deluding themselves, they know how irrational what they believe is. The ceremonial song and dance routine, wrapped up in technical language like ‘conversion’ and prettified with peacock-feathers and fake struggle – is the way that the rest of us can see their ‘religious conviction’ for what it is.

 

 

A Man of Wealth and Taste

 

I’m now going to indulge in a spot of crazy speculation. I’m going to imagine there was in this country a national vote on the question of whether or not the Tories were a bunch of land-downing toffs who liked to snort cocaine through the hollowed-out finger-bones of their servants’ dead babies.

I think this question should be put to the country.

It would be interesting to look at the results. I’m going to be a snob and assume that a ‘yes’ vote might be concentrated in the North-East of the country. It’s not a shock that certain categories of person think the same way. There’s even a cliché to describe this: “birds of a feather flock together.”

Don’t they just.

The results of the EU vote show the cliché is probably true. Many of the Westminster/Media/Celebrity class wanted to remain in the EU. There was a clear ‘remain’ London bubble.

Who could forget Gary Lineker’s clever Tweet where he said ‘U Kip for a few hours….’?

Or poor Richard Bacon’s reaction-tweet: pouring his heart out that he feels so sad now, and the vote to leave was (not only) ‘small’ but ungrateful to eastern European immigrants. Perhaps it’s immigrants who deliver his cocaine? I have no idea.

That this category of person voted to Remain makes sense, and so does their reaction to losing the vote. The elitist always thinks he knows better than everyone else.

Consider the reaction of another Celebrity/Media/London (etc.) bubble-head: Damon Albarn. He told a massed gathering of proles that democracy had failed us because it was ill-informed. Ill informed?

Irony isn’t Albarn’s strong point.

What he means is he dislikes the result, and wishes it had gone the other way. But why not just say that, then? It’s the answer to that which is where the most interesting aspect to this vote is to be found.

In describing democracy as ill-informed, Albarn is hiding his real meaning. He means the 17 million humans who voted to leave the EU were ill-informed, but how can he possibly know this?

He can’t, and that’s the point. Who’s truly “ill informed” here?

(Perhaps Albarn was taught to read minds by Derren Brown?)

His attitude is stupendously arrogant: he has simply decided to believe the majority didn’t understand the complicated arguments. (Even Richard Bacon called the result ‘economically illiterate’. How would he know? He’s just repeating phrases he’s heard others use.)

We can all be snobs about this or that, and I’m no different in principle. However, I’m confident that, even at my most conceited, I wouldn’t be deluded enough to publicly write-off 17 million voters as idiots for voting the wrong way.

But what Damon Albarn and Richard Bacon Gary Lineker think is not shocking. Their conformist bubble-views are to be expected.

The celebrity who shocked me was Derren Brown.

He Tweeted support for a second referendum, here.

This is actually shocking because Derren Brown is so obviously intelligent and educated. In addition, he’s a (somewhat) outspoken atheist who has written about the importance of science as compared to superstition, and the importance of thinking rationally and using evidence. Yet here we have Mr Brown openly declaring his desire for a second referendum.

What is going on inside Derren Brown’s head?

Why is this rationalist failing to appreciate the basic principle of democracy?

Does he not see that counted and verified votes are significant empirical evidence for something?

The death of Diana revealed that millions of us are bleating-sheep under the human veneer; Facebook allowed millions of us to reveal that we’re over-grown children with “issues” who should never have been allowed to reproduce; and this EU vote has revealed that many “celebrities” are extraordinarily arrogant, and have their own inner-Stalin to deal with.

I would have expected these elitists to have kept this horrid side to their characters hidden, yet they seem happy for the world to know what they’re like under the rubber-skin.

I knew Derren Brown was creepy, but I always thought it was part of the act.

Picture: Derren Brown after debating a ‘Leaver’ on the EU question.

 

There’s Something Creepy

That Jo Cox was murdered is a tragedy for her family and friends, and perhaps some of her constituents, but it’s not a tragedy for those who didn’t know her, nor is it a tragedy ‘for politics’ or in any way for the country. There is a tendency, in grief – especially when that grief is largely fake – to evict reason from the mind very quickly.

There is also a tendency for one person to want to ‘out do’ the other in their public demonstration of that grief, and we (sometimes) end up with a grotesque, public-blubbing freak-show: the sort that sniffed about in the gutter after Diana exited the society.

The situation shouldn’t be made more complicated than it is. A dedicated mother and wife was hideously murdered by a man who very likely will be found to have been motivated by madness not politics. He shot and stabbed this young woman to death in the street: sane people don’t do that.

(If people are to be killed, the sane and acceptable way is to kill them is using miltary hardware. This way, hundreds – if not thousands – can be killed in one go.)

There is a very creepy aspect to the public and political reaction to Jo Cox’s death: a death which even Hilary Clinton decided to comment on.

(I’m amazed Mrs Clinton didn’t claim to have known Jo Cox personally, and therefore felt her loss more sharply than most, and just as sharply as her husband must have felt it. The woman is an organic lie-machine.)

The creepy aspect is this. The coverage and reaction seem to be tied into a feedback-loop – where one informs the other, and suggests that politicians are a more important breed than the ordinary human.

Jo Cox has been described as ‘gifted’. I’m sorry, but I can take only so much. I’ve read that Gareth Bale is ‘gifted’ – and a if a word can mean different things when used across different examples, yet in the same context, then I doubt ‘gifted’  means anything at all.

‘Gifted’ presupposes the person was was given special abilities for a specific reason; it implies someone or something smiled on the gifted and bestowed these special abilities. To call Jo Cox ‘gifted’ is to deeply – very deeply – presuppose there was somewhat angelic and therefore ‘special’ about her which justifies the vigils, hastily arranged shrines, the candles and so on. This is not fancy on my part. The words we use reveal the thoughts we have. We do have unconscious minds with thoughts we are unaware of. (We know this is true because we all know we don’t hold everything we know consciously in our head at once.)

Politicians are never ‘gifted’ or ‘talented’. Most of them are disgusting opportunists who choose politics as a career path rather than a vocation. It seems as if Mrs Cox was motivated more by the issues than by career advancement, but this doesn’t make her more worthy of praise. That’s how politicians should be.

We’re so used to having gutter-sucking politicians in our public life, that when one isn’t, it’s news. We have things the wrong way about.

Shall we take bets on whether or not there will be flower-throwers rubber-necking the funeral?

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.

I Spy A Patriot

I cannot remember when I first heard of the Cambridge spies, though I am sure it was my mother who first mentioned them to me when I was (probably) a teenager. (She is a committed admirer of John Le Carre’s novels.) Because I cannot date this exactly the names Burgess, Blunt, Maclean and Philby became, like many others’ names, names  I had ‘heard of’ without knowing all that much about them or what they had done short of being spies and, more importantly, traitors.

There is an affect that that word, ‘traitor’, has on the person speaking it. It seems not to be possible to speak it without wrinkling the nose and the voice acknowledging at least a mild disgust. I have heard terms such as ‘murderer’, ‘rapist’ and ‘child-abuser’ uttered with complete indifference by the speaker to what they are describing, yet ‘traitor’ seems to pull out from the throat or the gut some emotional phlegm or bile to help the word along. Is it worse to be a traitor than a rapist? It seems to be.

One can murder and rape and all the rest; can lie to family and friends and cheat them and steal from them, and these crimes come with defences, not all of them satisfactory, but they exist. Betraying one’s country, it seems, cannot be justified and appears to be the highest act of wrong-doing, the one ‘crime’ of which all seem to despise. Well, perhaps not all but certainly a majority, and I would hazard a guess that many persons take the view that ‘my country, right or wrong’ is a perfectly good basis on which to decide their ultimate loyalties.

If you tell a person that they are made of different components: skin, blood, muscle, hair and all the rest and they told you that they were not those things, that they were a ‘person’, you could be forgiven for being a little irritated. It is unlikely that any person you said this to would reply in that way. (A well-known journalist pointed out recently – and for some reason, chillingly – that we do not ‘have’ bodies, we ‘are’ bodies.) Love for a person seems rational and sensible, yet love for a collection of cells and a few yards of skin seems less so.

When I hear a person say that they ‘love’ their country, I cannot prevent myself from feeling a small knot of annoyance in my gut, and it happens every time. After the knot loosens and its sensation fades, I then feel pity for the person in question. It’s a pity that one might have for a wretched and filthy starving person, or an educationally sub-normal child; by which I mean, the pity is mixed – in a 70/30 split – with disgust.

Whatever patriotism is, it is dammed effective. It would be, if it remained in the shallower parts of the psyche, quite harmless and would sit alongside sentimentality; yet this would leave states without the nose-ring to tug along their people when those states decide that they need the support of the majority. Governments need to force patriotism further down into minds to a place from which it can never be removed; so deeply inserted into the mind that even the blood pumping through the veins carries a patriotic hue. Patriotism, to be most effective, needs to be not a choice for the individual, but something which is assumed to exist automatically and considered normal and healthy: A loyalty which is presupposed.

There have been occasions when I have been involved in discussions with those who say that they are patriots because they ‘support’ their country or their country’s troops while those troops are involved in dangerous adventures abroad. I have noticed that patriotism is usually mentioned when ‘our boys’ are discussed. It seems to me to be perfectly correct to support the troops by calling for their return home, where they can spend time with their families and friends and enjoy their time on the earth, rather than becoming hideously maimed or killed for whichever disgusting politician sent them there.

Correct patriotism, at least to me, is a question about culture and lifestyle and the defence of them from another culture which seeks not only to sit side by side, as an equal, but seeks to rid the world of the other. The basics of western culture should be the thing which patriots show their devotion to. The English, French, Germans – all countries in Western Europe – have individual national differences, differences within their borders, yet the governing principle which overarches these countries remains the same. The persons in those countries can vote in elections, stage protests and call public meetings and so on. The food might be different but the freedom tastes the same.

When an Englishman looks about the place and decides he loves his country he might not be able to say precisely what he loves or why he loves it. A similar thing occurs when the armed forces are discussed. An Englishman knows that Britain has the ‘best’ armed forces in the world. But what exactly does that mean? The best at what? The best in what way? Does it mean the best Generals, tacticians and so on? Does it mean the best training? The bravest men? The best fighters? The best equipped? Are our soldiers better shots than soldiers from other countries? Does it mean best after checking the historic record? If Britain has the best armed forces in the world (and I am not saying Britain does not, I cannot know that) what makes it so?

I am, I think, making points which I have already accepted. It is my belief that Britain has excellent armed forces: well trained and motivated with a professional attitude to any task they are given, but the same could be said for most countries’ forces.

What interests me are those who are patriotic to the point where they have abandoned logic and reason, which brings me back to the Cambridge spies. The question I keep being drawn back to is this one: must a person show loyalty to the state which governs the bordered land-mass within or upon which they were born by accident? The first answer, from the point of view of government, is no. Why should a person show loyalty to a government they did not vote for and do not believe in? But the argument gets trickier after that. The questions then transcends government and it becomes a question of state, of nation and, ultimately, of national interests. The patriot might argue that a person is free to criticise the government, but they should never act against their own national interest. That is superficially attractive, and seems to make sense but remains a position which demands loyalty without question and assumes that one’s ultimate interests must be the same as the country they were born to. Why?

Take Kim Philby as an example. He was a communist. The Soviet Union was under communism, and, because he believed in it, he supported the Soviet Union; indeed, he worked for the Soviet Union for almost all of his adult life as an officer of their intelligence agency. He did not consider himself disloyal to ‘his’ country because he did not support the system of government which ‘his’ country was run by. He rejected the notion of automatic loyalty and decided to choose for himself. This seems admirable and the ultimate example of independence of mind. Many persons who have little interest in political philosophy and high ideals – might say he was a traitor, and no doubt they would say it with all the hate that that word can carry with it. It helps the hate if the person being discussed was upper-class: it makes hating the person more fun.

The point, of course, is not the evil nature of Stalin’s Soviet Union, but the question of loyalty, demanded without argument. I do not believe that ‘my’ country has any right to demand loyalty from me; rather, I have the right to offer my loyalty to it, as and when I choose, on whatever topic takes my fancy. To support the ‘national interest’ without question seems to me no different from keeping to the party-line or whatever policy is spewed out from the Central Committee. Ultimately, with patriotism, loyalty is more than demanded, it’s assumed to already exist. This is disagreeable if a person demands the right to choose 100% of his opinions.