A word on Missing the Point

Peter Hitchens has written a lengthy piece in response to the latest islamist attack. It is a predictably thoughtful and eloquent article. It’s the most intelligent response I’ve seen. There is much in it to agree with. It is a shame our so-called ‘leaders’ can’t offer responses of this standard. Instead they call the terrorists ‘cowards’ and ‘losers’ when the killers haven’t lost anything and cowardice stifles action. It is our so-called ‘leaders’ who are the cowards.

Mr Hitchens asks on the question of the killers’ enthusiasm when stabbing:

‘I was struck by a particular report in ‘the Guardian’ on Tuesday, in which a London surgeon, sadly used to dealing with stab wounds, remarked on the unusual force of the wounds inflicted by these merciless human horrors on Saturday night. This seemed to me to suggest a level of cruelty and ruthlessness way beyond the ability of a normal person, even a normal criminal. What is the source of this? Some people will say ‘fanaticism’, and I will agree with them that it is a necessary condition in this kind of killing. But is it a sufficient one?  Well, how capable are you, or how capable do you think you would be, of real, homicidal violence, even in a cause to which you were committed? I am a former fanatic. I espoused a set of beliefs with homicidal implications. I am not a pacifist, and am ready to defend myself with force. But I was as incapable then, as I am now, of driving a steel blade into a human being.’

This passage is interesting because it is an example of Mr Hitchens abandoning reason just at the moment he was about to arrive at truth. His speculation begins promisingly, but the conclusion is drawn from a data-set of one. Himself. This is not how reason works. Does he miss the point because he doesn’t want to see it? Mr Hitchens is in good company in missing the point.

Orwell missed a similar point when trying to attack Auden for the phrase ‘necessary murder’ in his poem ‘Spain’. The stanza in question:

To-day the deliberate increase in the chances of death,
The consious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder;
To-day the expending of powers
On the flat ephemeral pamphlet and the boring meeting.

In the essay ‘Inside the Whale’ Orwell states:

‘…notice the phrase “necessary murder”. It could only be written by a person to whom murder is at most a word. Personally I would not speak so lightly of murder. [..] To me, murder is something to be avoided. So it is to any ordinary person.’

Auden had it right. That little phrase demonstrates the breezy ease with which those infected with absolutist ideologies murder their enemies. And that’s if they’re just in the way. If your ideology also tells you to hate them and their way of life then what’s so mysterious about enthusiastically stabbing some infidel scum?

(Read Maajid Nawaz’s evidence to the US Senate’s security committee on the Bolshevik-like political absolutism of ISIS ideology.)

Of course, Orwell was writing pre-Nuremburg, pre-Milgram, pre-Zimbardo and so on, but Mr Hitchens isn’t. The ‘sufficient condition’ is being an adult human, all else is refinement to the madness and savagery.

Is there a block in Mr Hitchens’s thinking? Could it be that he can’t (or won’t) see the true nature of the human because to do so will lead to the conclusion that humans were not created, but evolved?

Milgram’s famous switches are the least of it: he had people pushing arms down onto what they thought was an electrified plate. There is no excuse for not knowing that so long as the person thinks he has permission from his ‘authority’ he’s off to the races, and with terrifying and depressing ease do persons become ‘hands on’.

All it takes to get someone to fry another human with electricity is a white coat. What would they do if they thought they had God on their side?

There is no mystery.

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A Toasted Mind

Peter Hitchens thinks cannabis is a dangerous drug which could make those who use it violent. He might be right about that. There should be an enquiry. Who wouldn’t want one?

The desire to die seems to me to be one of the most interesting things about many of these attacks. Why don’t we focus more on this desire? Do we consider the doer’s death incidental?

The IRA didn’t have this tendency. IRA murderers wanted to remain alive to organise more death and plant more bombs. Were many or most or some of the IRA mass-killers on drugs?

If they were not, then it is clear acts of mass violence and murder are possible *without* the killer being made unhinged by chemicals, thus posing the question how relevant is the drug-use in some of the latest lunatics’ behaviour? Maybe it’s very relevant. Maybe it’s not.

If many of the IRA were on drugs, then those IRA persons are strong evidence that one can be a deranged lunatic who is happy to murder and torture without wanting to die themselves.

Suicide is a serious business. To want to die is to want something which runs counter to hundreds of millions of years of evolution and natural selection. What could make a person happy to die?

A person might be happy to die because they think that, after their death, they will continue to be alive. On a religious worldview, killing yourself is no more than jumping a stream.

The murders these maniacs do is one thing, but that they all seem to be happy to die is possibly more important because there’s no mystery to humans being violent.

Why should a person, whose mind is affected by drugs (or ideology or both) become violent and want to hurt others?

Why is violence what surfaces, instead of a desire to go brass-rubbing or flower-arranging?

Could it be that the drugs don’t make a person violent? Might the drugs allow the latent violence to surface? (This is not a distinction without a difference.)

Human beings are animals: evolved creatures like any other. We are naturally savage and violent. It is civilisation which is unnatural. Good manners and central-heating don’t grow under rocks.

Stanley Milgram showed just how easy it is to get us to hurt others. It takes almost no effort to get humans to press other humans’ arms down on electrified plates, or flick switches to administer electric shocks.

(I challenge any ‘believer’ to read Milgram’s famous work on obedience to authority. It explains how the Nuremberg defence is, er, a genuine defence…The book will ruin the life of whoever reads it by completely destroying their romanticism about ‘evil’. And once ‘evil’ goes then its opposite follows…)

Violence is natural in humans.  Milgram showed we become torturers with shocking ease.

Willingness to die is the interesting thing about these attacks.

Why did the IRA have no suicide policy?

Stop Bloody Whining

There I was standing in front of a vine
I took some grapes and I crushed them to wine
I gave some to Pharaoh who drank from my cup
I tried to interpret but I had to give up

 – Joseph and the Amazing Techicolour Dreamcoat

 

I am an admirer of Sam Harris. I am now and admirer of Maajid Nawaz. One of Harris’s regular complaints is that his critics misrepresent his views on many topics, and misrepresent him on the Islam question very often. It was actually pleasant to have Naawaz – someone who can be called an ‘expert’ on the topic of Islam and Islamism – actually explaining certain Koranic doctrines.

Harris for instance argues that the Koran actually tells people to do certain things, and some of those things are not ambiguous. He gives an excellent example to Hasan when he says that, nobody reading the Koran is going to close the book and believe they can now eat bacon and drink alcohol. Some things are directives.

Nawaz responds on alcohol:

[..] everyone assumes that all alcohol is absolutely prohibited for all Muslims. In Arabic the word assumed to mean alcohol is khamr. There’s a long-standing historical discussion about what khamr means and whether or not it’s prohibited. An extremely early tafsir (exegesis) of the Qur’an was by Imam Abu Bakr al-Jasas, who hailed from the Hanafi school of jurisprudence within the Sunni denomination of Islam. The Hanafi school is known to be the first school of interpretation and therefore the closest in proximity to the time of the Prophet. In his interpretation of the Qur’an, al-Jasas discusses the linguistic meaning of khamr at length and elaborates on why for Hanafis a literal interpretation of the word covers only a prohibition on wine from grapes. This means that for the jurists of this first school, it was permitted—and still is for those who follow the early Hanafis—to consume any form of alcohol other than wine.

Suddenly, a reading of the Koran can allow alcohol so long as it’s not wine from grapes. This was an eyebrow-raiser for me.

Nawaz’s basic position is that Islam is not a religious of peace, nor is it a religion of war. It’s just a religion which can be ‘interpreted’ to mean this or that.

‘Interpretation’ is an interesting word in respect to textual analysis.

Persons misuse language all the time. Persons will use one word to disguise another because the one they use suggests they are smarter, or kinder, or something else. For example many parents and teachers will demand ‘respect’ from the younger person, and might shout this. They don’t realise that ‘respect’ cannot be demanded because it’s is a matter of how the other person feels about you. When the parent or teacher demands respect they are probably demanding obedience. This is a different thing, and it makes sense why the parent or teacher would perform a sort of doublethink on themselves by masking the word. Such a person might genuinely believe they are asking for respect.

It’s a similar thing with ‘interpretation.’ When a person declares that they ‘interpreted it to mean..’ they probably mean that they ‘imagined it to mean..’

(Imagination in this context is connected to desire.)

Using ‘interpret’ sounds more technical, it sounds like you’ve being doing some hard mental work; ‘interpret’ is only a step away from ‘decoded’ which really would require some hard work. So it’s obviously better to claim this than to claim you’ve ‘imagined’ the meaning of the words, because ‘imagined’ just means you’ve ‘made it up’ – so who would need to take you seriously?

I wonder if those in the head-removal community find Koranic warrant for their bloody fun by choosing to ‘interpret’ the text to mean what they want it to mean.