A language Virus

What a man takes for granted, what he offers almost as an aside, is where you’ll find the things he thinks but doesn’t state openly. Then again, perhaps I’m reading too closely?

In his most recent Sunday column, Peter Hitchens writes that:

It is, beyond doubt, the case that our treatment of the mentally ill is a terrible mess. It is also beyond doubt that much mental illness appears to be linked to legal or illegal mind-altering drugs, now far more common than they were 30 years ago. This long predates the era of Islamic terror. One of the first cases was in 1992 when Jonathan Zito was stabbed to death by Christopher Clunis, a total stranger (and longstanding drug-abuser) who was severely mentally ill. This horror, oddly enough, took place at Finsbury Park.

How does a 1992 case of violence pre date ‘the era of Islamic terror’?

What ‘era’ is that?

On August 3 1989 Mustafa Mahmoud Mazeh blew himself up in a hotel in Paddington, becoming the first ‘martyr’ in the plot to murder Salman Rushdie and anyone else involved in the hideous crime of publishing a novel.

In 1983 a truck stuffed with TNT was used by a group – called, oddly enough, ‘Islamic Jihad’ – to murder 241 US Marines in Beirut. Continue reading

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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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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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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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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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?

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.

These Barbarous Wretches


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




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.



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




























































The Voldermort Effect

I have just looked at Facebook for the first time today. There are dozens of persons I know changing their profile pictures by adding a filter in the colours of the French flag. I wonder about some people.

Changing your profile picture, and spouting all this ‘je suis’ nonsense doesn’t make the slightest fucking difference to anything. Why do they do it? Does it make them feel better?

Watch what follows the Paris horror. If it is confirmed that ISIS is behind the attacks, or that some other group of Islamic fanatics, then there will be an army of commentators, journalists, pundits and assorted ‘experts’ rushing to tell the rest of us how the religious beliefs of the killers had nothing to do with their behaviour. Some will just say it, repeating the ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ line to pretend they are knowledgeable on the subject, the BBC will probably be more subtle.

(Many presenters on BBC news programs refer to Islamic State as the ‘so-called’ Islamic State. It’s a subtle way of suggesting Islamic State is not Islamic, which is a bit weird given that Islamic State is the name it gave itself. The first thing to believe about ISIS is that they know what they believe.)

This denial will happen because political correctness has decided criticising Islam – the doctrines, ideas and so on – is the same thing as criticising muslims. It isn’t.

ISIS probably laugh themselves to sleep each night at the effort the politically correct media establishment go to to avoid stating the bloody obvious.

Many people have seen Ben Affleck make this mistake (and an idiot of himself) on the Bill Maher show.

Sam Harris is one of the bravest voices on this topic.

In May 2014 he wrote this:

“Most liberals think that religion is never the true source of a person’s bad behavior. Even when jihadists explicitly state their religious motivations—they believe that they have an obligation to kill apostates and blasphemers, and they want to get into Paradise—liberal academics, journalists, and politicians insist on looking for deeper reasons for their actions. However, when people give economic, political, or psychological reasons for doing whatever it is they do, everyone accepts those reasons at face value. If a man murders his neighbor because he wants to steal his property and doesn’t want to leave a witness, everyone accepts the killer’s account of his actions. But when he says, as every jihadist does, that he was driven by a sense of religious obligation and a yearning for Paradise, liberals insist that the search for an underlying motive must continue. So the game is rigged. If you’re always going to look beneath a person’s religious convictions for something else, of course you’ll never see that religion is an important driver of human behavior.”


That describes the situation perfectly. After Charlie Hebdo I lost count of the number of journalists who went into full-on denial mode. Max Hastings suggested boredom, and a desire for adventure, might play a part in this kind of murderous behaviour.

Piers Morgan was woeful after Hebdo. He typed this:

“This is war. Let’s not pussy-foot around the terminology here when it comes to analyzing the sickening events in Paris over the last 48 hours.But it’s not a religious war, as the cowardly, murderous thugs carrying out these atrocities would have us believe.These terrorists are not ‘real’ Muslims. In fact, they slaughter Muslims as much if not more than they slaughter everyone else.One of their two police officer victims in the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices was a Muslim.The events in Paris over the last few days, after a few extremists thugs carried out atrocious attacks, have been sickening to watch. On the same day, Al Qaeda car-bombed a police college in Yemen – killing over 40 people, all believed to be Muslims, many of them students.And lest we forget, several dozen innocent Muslims died in the twin towers on 9/11 including a pregnant woman. So forget all the garbage about these lunatics representing Muslims. They don’t.”

A muslim who murders a muslim is not a real muslim? Sunni versus Shia? Notice also that Morgan changes his mind. He starts off claiming the Paris killers were not ‘real’ muslims and concludes by saying these killers don’t “represent” muslims. The initial idea seems to have vanished.

Morgan then continued to suggest there is nothing bad in the Koran.

“As my former CNN colleague Fareed Zakaria pointed out today, draconian punishment for blasphemy, including in many cases death, has been created in law by Muslim nations intent on suppressing their people. So when these barbaric assassins scream that they are ‘avenging the Prophet’, they’re doing nothing of the sort. They’re just using him as an excuse to commit murder. It’s a sickening deceit.”

Look at the first two sentences and ask yourself how does the second follow from the first? Morgan’s argument is a sort of Chewbacca-defence non sequitur. One could ask a question or two, here. Why are ‘Muslim nations’ intent on ‘suppressing their people”? Where does the motivation for this come from? If the killers are not ‘avenging the Prophet’ as Morgan puts it, then what is their motivation?

Morgan kept going:

“All they care about is spewing their hateful rhetoric and violence as chaotically as possible, preying on the impressionable vulnerability of many disenfranchised young Muslims who live, for the main, in poverty and hopelessness.”

What disgusting thing to say. Could he be more insulting? Young Muslims, because they live mainly in poverty and hoplessness, are easily brought to killing because of economic or political conditions? I wonder who would be to blame for those conditions? This is a disguised version of the vile idea of blaming the victims and everything is the fault of the decadent west. Goodness me, he’s trying so hard not to say anything “offensive.” But yet – and how shall I put this? – could those conditions be connected to the intent to suppress he has cheerily already blamed ‘muslim countries’ for? He doesn’t say, but he’s conceded, without realising it, that ‘Muslim nations’ are intent on suppressing their own people. What motivates these nations? Might it be the same or similar motivation that motivates individual Islamic terrorists?

“My own faith’s leader, the Pope, was lampooned far more regularly and wickedly than the Prophet Mohammad ever was. Yet I didn’t see Roman Catholics storming to Paris to kill everyone involved in mocking him. Why should one religion be afforded special rights to being offended? In the end, it comes down to this: killing someone for drawing an offensive cartoon is infinitely more offensive than any cartoon could possibly be.”

Four sentences. Examine them. 1. The muslims are over-reacting. 2. The muslims are over-reacting. 3. Good question. Then 4. He suggests the Hebdo cartoons (for what other cartoons is he talking about if not the Hebdo ones) could be offensive, thus granting the reason claimed by muslims for murdering blashphemers, ‘offence,’ exists: therefore they have a reason for what they do. All he does is says his own crowd, the papists, didn’t kill anyone so why should the muslims be allowed to? Why didn’t he say, for instance, ‘killing someone for drawing an offensive cartoon is always unacceptable’? His position is actually creepy when you consider what a person would have to think before they could write what he wrote.

Even Peter Hitchens was feeble on the Hebdo killings.

Peter Hitchens suggested that the two Hebdo killers were lying when they shouted they had avenged the prophet and so on.

He said

Why should such people be assumed to be telling the truth about themselves, in the middle of a crime?

Should we assume they are lying? What Hitchens is doing is hiding a suggestion inside a question. He’s ‘planting the idea’ – Derren Brown style – that the killers were not really religious. It’s the same snide use of language the BBC use with their ‘so-called’ formulation.

So watch what happens now. While the proles and the rubes put filters on their profile pictures on Farcebook, the papers and news programs will tell us how peaceful a religion Islam is, and Sam Harris in the US and Douglas Murray in the UK, will be kept out of the mainstream broadcasts.

This is almost funny.

Islamic fanatics are a threat to civilisation, though a threat which can be faced and defeated. What political correctness does is prevents us from saying what the real problem is – the doctrines of Islam. If politicians and journalists are too scared to put this message out to the proles, and start to delete the psychological PC software, then we’re all screwed.

You can’t defeat an enemy you refuse to believe exists. Maajid Nawaz, who has just published a book about this with Sam Harris, calls this the ‘Voldermort effect.’

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.

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