Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.
E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)
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Jane's Blogosphere: blogtrack for Natalie Solent.
( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)
The Old Comrades:
November 2001 December 2001 January 2002 February 2002 March 2002 April 2002 May 2002 June 2002 July 2002 August 2002 September 2002 October 2002 November 2002 December 2002 January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 August 2007 October 2007 February 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 March 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 October 2009 January 2010 March 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 April 2011 June 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 November 2011 January 2012 February 2012 March 2012 April 2012 May 2012 June 2012 July 2012 August 2012 September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 December 2012 January 2013 February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 June 2013 July 2013 August 2013 September 2013 October 2013 November 2013
Monday, January 30, 2006
What did he want to be, God? Nah, this isn't what you think. The BYF, in a quip I wish I'd made, spots an oddity in an account of the Deputy Prime Minister's lingering sense of injustice over failing to get into grammar school.
The kindness of strangers. I was intrigued by this story from the Times. Riffat Pasha alleges that she was virtually imprisoned by her husband's family, and that she only escaped by leaving the equivalent of the castaway's message in a bottle.
The court was told that in July 2004 Mrs Pasha left the note in the women’s lavatory at Atkinsons department store in Sheffield. She wrote on the envelope, begging whoever found it to deliver it to the police or to a doctor who treated her for tuberculosis in hospital.The trial is not over yet, so no speculation from me as to whether her account or that of the defence is the true one. But given that such imprisonments do happen, I am glad that whoever found the note (a woman, presumably) did not dismiss it as a joke or the work of a fantasist. I am also glad that the police are willing to investigate cases like this.
I went a-Googling for more about the note which I seem to remember Sun Yat-Sen threw from a grille, having been kidnapped and imprisoned at the Chinese Legation in London, but haven't found much so far.
Industrial Revolution and Slavery Part II and On with the game! Two more letters from JEM. (This post originally just had the one, so scroll down if you haven't read the second yet.) In the first letter, JEM revisits his earlier one on the causes of the end of slavery. He writes:
"It has been put to me this evening that far from causing the end of slavery, the industrial revolution was financed at least in part by slavery, and that far from ending slavery it led directly to an actual increase in the numbers enslaved. A Google search shows this perspective to be quite popular.
"Well it may sound odd but I agree with these two points, so far as they go; however they don't go very far.
"Firstly it cannot be denied that the wealth of 18th century Great Britain was to a considerable extent built upon the triangular trade with its notorious middle passage of slaves from west Africa to the Americas, together with the slave-powered sugar and cotton economies of the West Indies and what I'll call 'Dixie' for short.
"So yes it was that great wealth and surplus capital, all greatly enhanced by the proceeds of slavery, that made the industrial revolution feasible. Yet this is beside the point although highly ironic, and a classic example of the law of unintended consequences.
"Secondly, it is indeed true that the great new water and steam powered cotton mills of England led to a vast growth in the demand for cotton from Dixie, and hence a huge increase in the number of slaves working on the plantations.
"Yet this does not alter the fact that in the longer term the industrial revolution made slavery outmoded and ultimately extinct, even when it came to picking cotton. It just did not happen overnight. I never claimed it did. And on the way to it happening, there were times when things got worse again before they got better.
"So I stand by my central thesis: the industrial revolution destroyed slavery."
Teasing out the multiple causes of an historical event is fascinating. Which was it that did for slavery, the industrial revolution pushing us to what the Albion's Seedlings team have called "the Exit", the point when production started to pay better than predation - or was it the religiously-inspired political and military campaign cited by me and ARC? I expect everyone here would answer, "both." But there's plenty of arguing to be done about the proportions, and even more about the line of cause and effect. That may well be less a line and more a ping-pong game. - NS
In the second letter, JEM responds to Reader B:
"As Reader B puts it, "The game of comparing good and bad historical achievements of Christianity is deeply suspect..." but then so is the game of comparing good and bad historical achievements of science, or Freemasonry, or Socialism, or macrame, or anything else you case to mention. However, unlike most alternatives candidates for this treatment playing this game with religion is as you say, kind of fun.
"So on with the game!
"But first, science:
"I have observed earlier that it is mistaken to look upon science as a moral process. The only moral thing about science is the search for truth. All other moral questions are beyond its competence, so I believe that should be the end of Graylings's case, holed below the waterline by a fundamental logical flaw.
"So now, religion:
"Reader B reminds us of Lewis's observation that history is everything that ever happened. Indeed. And as my physics tutor once pointed out, time is nature's way of preventing everything from happening at once. Also indeed. These remarks may be technically correct, but get us nowhere.
"Then in his [actually her, although JEM had no way of knowing this - NS] Paragraph (2) and indeed again in his Paragraph (3) he contends that the principals of Christianity are more important than their practical application. This is like saying that a scientific theory is perfect but the experimental results don't agree with it, therefore the experiment is wrong. This part of his argument is worse than the first. It does not just get us nowhere, it leads us deeper into the quagmire."
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Professor Grayling writes,
"Dear NS - what about doing a book of some of the blogs and responses? It would make great reading. Am in Davos doing my bit at the World Econ Forum & when back will be v. caught up with a new book coming out, so will leave the deabte now (for a time) if that's ok - have enjoyed it greatly and much applaud your forensic style of argumnet. Very good wishes - Anthony."
In fact he does make a couple of quick interjections later - but as I warn in the new, updated reference post, I, too, was feeling that I was coming up to my final lap in this debate, at least for the time being. My excuses were much less cool than having to take part in the World Economic Forum, though.
Besides, the WEF does not sound my cup of tea (which is why I did not pursue the invitation that was obviously lost in the post). All that wrangling in a claustrophobic, yet intensely public atmosphere, and then there's the risk of George Galloway licking milk out of your hand.
No easy fixes. Moira Breen writes:
"Regarding your discussion with Mr. Grayling, his (to my mind) whimsical rejoinder arguing for religion, again, as the real root of atrocious human behavior made me wonder if the argument at bottom isn't really a disagreement about human nature. (Your correspondent ARC covers related territory in his invocation of Burke.) Grayling apparently believes that we can "fix" a great deal of human nastiness by purging religion from civilization. If only there were no monasteries, there could be no Stalins! I, on the other hand - though an atheist who dislikes and distrusts many manifestations of the religious impulse - shudder at the obscene naivete implicit in that account. I feel a lot safer, thank you very much, in a society where hosts of strong institutions - public/private, secular/religious, etc. - exist to protect their (overlapping) membership from the pretensions of every other institution.
"On another point, I fear that either Mr. Grayling is misleading your Martian readers, or I am misinformed on certain finer points of history.
"If the Martians were encountering Earth history for the first time in his recent response to you, they might reasonably conclude from his phrasing that the malignant United States - after all chock-a-block with religious enthusiasm and Southern Baptist types from the get-go - stood in opposition to the triumphant "secular, democratic and humanist offspring of Enlightenment [that] refused to accept either fascism or communism, and defeated the former in seventeen years and the latter in seventy". Maybe the persistence of American religiosity is just a product of sheer testy resentment at having been on the wrong side of history in the last century?
"(Well, actually I think that here Grayling is arguing - enthymematically, of course - for a certain credulous view, common among members of certain classes, that America c. 2000 "got religion" in some historically anomalous fashion - thus the perplexity disappears.)
"And, of course, glad to see you back."
"Is the failure of religion to control evil the root cause?" Randy writes:
"I congratulate you on your bravery to even engage in the science-religion-atheism debate. Often to me it seems futile to even engage.
"My main comment is that I question the validity of the science vs religion debate, and the religion vs war debate. I have lately come to the conclusion that fundamentally religion is not the root of war, but evil. I think you were on the mark that one of religions attributes (at least most religions) is the teaching of benevolence and the fight against evil.
"You commented: Since Prof. Grayling is an atheist he naturally holds that religion is false and counts this as one more tick on the bad side of its scoresheet. I am not saying that this is an illegitimate form of argument. But it doesn't quite belong with the Sistine chapel, or antibiotics. Too tired to tease out exactly why not right now
"As to why not right now ........ the question for me is:
"I offer up for your consideration the following. While atheists like to trot out religious wars as evidence, I can't help but notice their avoidance of the results of atheistic cultures. The biggest genocides in history (to my imperfect recollection) have all been carried out by atheistic cultures. Most particularly by Stalin and Mao ...... no religion there ........ and then there was Cambodia, Rwanda. Even Hitler wasn't religious, the first people sent to the camps were the pastors and opposition politicians as I was surprised to learn at Dachau.
"The facts of history would seem to argue that the lack of religion has lead to the greatest atrocities. And borrowing from your thoughts Stalin and Mao cultures did not produce any Sistine chapels.
"One last note, as my friend taught me many years ago, it's not science vs. religion. Religion birthed science. Most of the "enlightenment" scientists were deeply religious and wanted to understand God better."
Stand by me.
Over at Albion's Seedlings, Verity asks why so few have spoken up to defend Denmark's stand in favour of freedom of speech.
Blog, and buy Lurpak.
"History is everything that ever happened." Reader B writes:
"The game of comparing good and bad historical achievements of Christianity is deeply suspect [But, I can't resist adding, still kind of fun - NS], even accepting some of the dubious cases that tend to be suggested.
"1. As Lewis points out somewhere or other, history is everything that ever happened, anywhere, to anyone; and includes Joe Blogg's bad temper a week last Tuesday, and Fred Gummock's astonishing patience with his crabby and senile mother on Wednesday. If we were really trying to keep a tally of the achievements or otherwise of religion, these should also be included - which is naturally impossible. My hypothetical examples are of course trivial, (particularly if like Grayling, you assume the non-existence of God, the soul, etc.); however, we can be pretty sure there are plenty of history-worthy episodes which have not made it to 'History'. Naturally, we cannot know which side of the argument would gain from the inclusion of such cases - though I suspect we could both make a guess. My point is simply that the game, given the nature of our knowlege, is not really worth playing, though the very fact that Grayling is driven to use the Holocaust as an argument _against _religion tells us plenty about who wins even in present circumstances!
"2. If you accept every one of the bad results of Christianity which Grayling and his fellow 'dawks' (I do think that expression is gorgeous) like to dwell on, there is an obvious point to be made, not unrelated to the above. They are all bad results of the church, in one or other of its manifestations. As Christians, we have no difficulty in understanding why no human institution can ever be anything but flawed; but even the opposition would presumably agree that such evils have nothing whatever to do with a set of principles which can be summed up in the single sentence: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' I'm sure we agree that a thoroughly effective defence can be mounted on the side of the overall contribution of the church to history; but it is even easier to defend Christianity itself!
"3. Finally, and most obviously: if Christianity is true, all this 'effects' debate becomes pretty silly. The Christian religion does not stand or fall by the political behaviour of some of its better known adherents. Either it is true, or it is not. If true, then of course it is good. If false, while it could still be defended against Grayling's arguments, it is of no more inherent value than any other mythological world view."
Friday, January 27, 2006
The perogative of the harlot. Patrick Crozier writes:
Oh Natalie!There has been a cultural change, a decline of deference on the part of a profession marginalised and scorned by society. The courtesans have become less respectful, too. I blame that Mandy Rice-Davies.
Don't get hung up. One of Damian Penny's commenters prompted me to take a look at this Guardian piece by Jonathan Steele on Hamas's recent election victory. Steele writes:
Instead, it was further proof that civil society in Palestine is more vibrant than anywhere else in the regionSorry to keep going on about the Nazis, but I couldn't help being struck by the contrast between Steele's "vibrant civil society" and the fact that the public announced policy of Hamas is more extreme in its anti-Semitism than the public announced policy of the Nazis.
Above all, Europe should not get hung up on the wrong issues, like armed resistance and the "war on terror".What would be the right issues for Europe to get hung up on, I wonder? Whether Hamas has a constitution that is sufficiently open to transgendered persons? No, perhaps not that one. There must be something somewhere illiberal enough to disturb Jonathan Steele's cool but mankind has not yet discovered what it is.
Jonathan Steele was also the man who gave us this. Not sure if Mr Steele still wishes to praise Palestinian society for being "far-sighted, civic-minded, and secular" now that they have started kidnapping foreign aid workers. I doubt if it'll make much difference to him; and given the far worse acts that he had already decided did not militate against a society being described as civic-minded there is no reason why it should.
"Technology can be the unintentional father of moral events." I had two emails from JEM.
In the first, he says:
"It's great to see you back. I was getting worried...
"It's not quite so great to return to the Science v Religion Debate, "Which Does The Most Harm Or Good?" Section, but still it's great enough to find I'm unable to resist doing a spot of water-muddying.
"Because I think both Professor Grayling and yourself are wrong. The basis of the argument is false.
"Science does neither good nor harm. Science is morally neutral. It tells us how nature works, not why it works or what should be done with it.
"Why nature works the way it does is not the province of science, but religion or philosophy. What to do with scientific knowledge is also not the province of science, but once again the responsibility of religion or, this time, moral philosophy.
"Yet science is the basis upon which technology happens, and technology can be the unintentional father of moral events.
"For instance, I would contend that the true reason for the demise of slavery over the last two hundred years is not because of a renewed or revived religious or moral sense, but the industrial revolution. Steam power and the machinery it drove made slavery economically anachronistic, so it died out through a process economists call creative destruction. All the moral posturing and wars and so forth over this was ultimately moral grandstanding. Slavery was condemned to death by James Watt and his separate condenser, but I bet he never thought that his invention had anything to do with slavery.
"Another example: Zyklon B was developed by the German chemical industry as a rat poison. It just happened to turn out to be rather effective at killing people in gas chambers, but I doubt that idea ever crossed the minds of the scientists who discovered the chemistry that made it possible or the technologists who set out to make a better rat poison. They were not responsible for the wicked use made of their invention by evil men.
"There are numerous others cases like these, but my point is I hope clear by now. There are three powerful forces at work through human history. One is that certain large trends are beyond our control; then, no matter how benevolent our intent the result may be perverted by others; and if we think we can forecast what will happen we are deluding ourselves.
"So questions of good and evil are nothing to do with science, but are for religion and moral philosophy alone. Indeed come to think of it, I'm not sure even religion in the broadest sense qualifies, as many religions are totally uninterested in questions of right and wrong -- Christianity, Judaism and Islam are rather unusual in so far as they are concerned with such matters.
"Is that all muddier now?"
In the second email, JEM replies to ARC. I'll give it a title in bold because titles help keep track of all these emails:
It was the industrial revolution that ended slavery.
An example of the kind of historical achievement of Christianity that I would defend in an argument of this kind is the campaign against slavery in the nineteenth century. An institution that had existed in every culture from time immemorial had a war waged on it. The campaign was led by evangelical Christians who stressed their Christian motivation, and the idea that slavery was wrong all over the world was only able to be propounded because it had already been abolished at home by a long historical process within a Christian culture. Several parts of the campaign - the undeclared war against Brazil in the 1850s for example, or the Royal Navy's countless cutting-out expeditions against slavers off the west African coast - were wholly without ulterior motives; were indeed obviously counter to the purely selfish interests of Great Britain...
... is incorrect. As I said:
"...I would contend that the true reason for the demise of slavery over the last two hundred years is not because of a renewed or revived religious or moral sense, but the industrial revolution. Steam power and the machinery it drove made slavery economically anachronistic, so it died out through the process of creative destruction. All the moral posturing and wars and so forth over this was ultimately moral grandstanding. Slavery was condemned to death by James Watt and his separate condenser, but I bet he never thought that his invention had anything to do with slavery."
"Indeed, when ARC goes on to say:
> After becoming rare as a result of this campaign, mass slavery was reintroduced to the world in the twentieth century by militant atheists - the communists had millions enslaved by the middle thirties; the national socialists started later but soon caught up.
He does not concern himself with two rather clear points. One is that Communism and National Socialism are more in the nature of religions than science, so in so far as that is so it was religion and not science that revived slavery. The second is that in a modern economy, slavery is economically illiterate. In both cases, it is self-evident that slavery was a large part of the reason behind the ultimate economic, social, moral and military failure and final collapse of both 'religions'.
Question-begging on the wrongness of religion as one of its evils? "Reader A" writes:
"In the reply you posted on 23 Jan., you said:
"Since Prof. Grayling is an atheist he naturally holds that religion is false and counts this as one more tick on the bad side of its scoresheet. I am not saying that this is an illegitimate form of argument. But it doesn't quite belong with the Sistine chapel, or antibiotics. Too tired to tease out exactly why not right now."
I will say it for you. He makes the claim that religion is wrong because it is bad (that is, that religion, on balance, does evil). He then makes the claim that religion is bad (evil) because it is wrong.
"This is nearly pure question begging; a basic logical fallacy.
"I should perhaps note that I don't find religion interesting enough (compelling enough?) to be worth the trouble of engaging. It's not that I believe it to be incorrect (atheism), nor that I don't know what to believe (agnosticism), but that I don't respect its arguments enough to dispute them.
"On the face, this would seem to make me a natural ally of Prof. Grayling, and I might actually hold many views he agrees with. Too bad he can't make or respond to an actual argument; also too bad this isn't a surprising performance by an academic.
"That I don't find value in religion, however, does not mean that there is no value in it for anyone. Nor does it mean that I consider religion a net negative. (I do consider science a strong net positive.) I suspect my point of view would be anathema (so to say) for the professor, though. Tolerance isn't well thought of in the academy."
[I feel I ought to defend Prof. Grayling on that last point. The fact that this exchange is taking place is testament to his willingness to engage in debate - NS.]
That's enough cutting and pasting for tonight. While Blogger was down I went over to The Daily Ablution and opined that Galloway would bounce back. I want to get this prediction recorded in as many places as possible so that when it comes true I can have a feeling of gloomy satisfaction for at least three minutes.
Professor Grayling himself sent a second email in reply to my earlier post. Here it is:
"Thank you very much for your email, and for the very interesting response posted on your website. I compliment you on your formidable skills as a debating partner, and I_m glad therefore that you acknowledge that in the constraints of polemical newspaper articles (and as you say, in blogs too), enthymeme is often called for: for yes, my argument was enthymematic on the question of the outweighing balance of harm attributable to religion in history, though not (as you suggest) as regards the arguments in support of points unfavourable to my case, but as regards the arguments against the points themselves _ which I take to be, after all, well enough known.
"Straight away, though, I must comment on what you say at the very end of your remarks: _Since Prof. Grayling is an atheist he naturally holds that religion is false and counts this as one more tick on the bad side of its scoresheet._ The massive and systematic falsity of views to the effect that supernatural agencies operate in the universe with express reference to the lives of human beings on this planet, given in addition that they are so often and widely invoked to direct, dominate and often distort those lives, is scarcely describable in so offhand a way as _one more tick on the bad side of the scoresheet._ In fact, this is the very core of the matter between us. Consider the contrast. Science labours towards an understanding of things, testing itself vigorously and on the way (_directly and indirectly_ to re-employ my phrase - this latter via technologies) affecting the lives of billions every day. I confidently asserted before, and do so again, that the good versus harm balance lies hugely in its favour in this, as witness the commonplace example of its effects - say, electricity: the electricity that pumps water to your house, lights and heats it, cooks your food, puts you in touch with your family and friends, brings you news and entertainment - all and every day. When last did it guide a missile your way, or communicate itself to you via a torturer_s cattle prod? These things tragically happen, and they are indeed applications - misapplications - of science: but though you rightly say that the numbers game is crude, it is relevant. For the dozens of mutually blaspheming and non-rationally-based religions, each claiming final and uncontestable truth on the basis of supposed revelations communicated two or more thousand years ago, live off their falsehood continuously, invoke it and rely upon it daily, and use it to motivate antipathies and conflicts as well as to encourage benignities: though even as regards this latter one would surely wish to see people encouraged to kindness and concern by feelings of humanity rather than by fairy stories (or rewards in heaven: seventy-two virgins &c).
"This acknowledges your point that religion - these false views of the universe - can give comfort and inspiration, and prompt an _uncountable number of acts of benevolence_. I should wish comfort and inspiration to everyone, and applaud any act of benevolence with all my heart: but still prefer that their motivation not be falsely based. And of course, uncountable acts of benevolence are performed by non-believers too, perhaps more admirably still, since humanity alone (if it is truly benevolence in the case) is the impulse.
"It is in the light of this contrast between science and religion that my original piece was written. Hence the complete confidence that if one throws the net wide (your _whoa_ point about the Holocaust), what it catches in the respective cases is very different indeed in overall character. The argument that _Communism, an ideology officially dedicated to scientific atheism, has killed more people than all the holy wars and holy tortures ever made_ is a canard that itself deserves the full Natalie Solent treatment of forensic deconstruction. Was it the _scientific atheism_ aspect that prompted the massacre of Kulaks or the starvation of Chinese peasants in the Great Leap Forward, or might it have been the ideology of class war, theories about collectivisation, and the like? Where did Communism learn its lessons about prophets and holy books, orthodoxy and conformity, the putting to death of heretics, and the like again? On what did it model is eschatological picture of human history, its call for suffering now in the interests of a utopian future, its preparedness to kill and die for the faith? Those less reflective about the nuances of history blame communism (and fascism) on the Enlightenment, failing to see that the secular, democratic and humanist offspring of Enlightenment refused to accept either fascism or communism, and defeated the former in seventeen years and the latter in seventy. For both are in fact counter-Enlightenment movements, sharing more in common with the forms of religion from which they borrowed their lineaments - the oppression of a monolithic world-view premised on a fairy tale about origins, destiny, and the right morality required for salvation - than with the pluralist, open, educated, liberal society based on rights and opportunities envisioned by the eighteenth century_s philosophes (and yes: which is yet to come, if ever it will; but look at the forces opposing it even as we write: Southern Baptists, radical Islam).
"Your remarkable comment about the United States as a religious but benign country I will leave to your second thoughts or other bloggers to respond to.Our disagreements in part flow from the very brevity of my original article. With proper diffidence, might I ask if you can get hold of a copy of my book What Is Good? which sets out my case at full length? (I'd be happy to send you a copy, but without wishing to foist it on you.) I should be pleased to see anything you have written at greater length too.Thank you for your points and views, which I much appreciate. Again my good wishes"
- Anthony Grayling
Blogger's working again! Quick, post the email from ARC. He writes:
"Perhaps the professor's argument is something along the lines of the historical context in which the Nazis could make the Jews the centre of their ideology being an inheritance of Christendom. This has been well argued against in its own terms (I would suggest Hannah Arendt's overview of antisemitic history in 'Origins of Totalitarianism' ) but I notice rather the more basic absurdity: all modern atheism has Christendom as its historical context and the professor could also alledge religion's culpability for Stalin's holocaust if the above were his argument.
"It may be, of course, that the above is not his argument. But as he has failed to offer an argument as to why an act of self-professing atheists is the fault of religion, I may justly observe that it is his fault I must guess what it would have been.
"Religion has its holocausts. Stalin and Hitler set a high standard of evil for it to match. Burke, writing of the French revolution's murders, points out that power is needed for these acts so the perpetrators must always be those with power - kings and bishops when kings and bishops had power, revolutionaries when revolutionaries have power - using the pretexts of the time - religion when religion can move masses to kill, socialism when it can move masses to kill. He mocks those who are 'wise historically, a fool in practice' and spend their time 'filleting the tomb while their house is full of robbers'. It is a shallow understanding that confuses the excuses with the evil, the ranks with the actors.
> Accordingly it would be a bold individual who sought to claim that just as the hundreds of millions saved by (say) antibiotics can be invoked as some compensation for the (say) millions whom advanced weaponry has killed (adamantly granting that ONE person thus killed is too many), so the (say) Sistine Chapel and Joe Smith's comfort at having his bible under his pillow make the historical excesses of (say) anti-Semitism OK, to say nothing of the wholesale enslavement of mankind to falsity which religion by its nature seeks to impose, and too often succeeds.
"Of course, art works would hardly figure on my list of justification for almost anything. I like art but it is a luxury. Nor would anything _false_ - but here his argument is somewhat circular. Were Christianity untrue, it's being comforting to someone would be no more an excuse for it than for than any other comforting lie; likewise for atheism. We agree that that which is untrue is harmful. We disagree on what is true. Would the professor allow me to argue the harmfulness of atheism's false belief as one its historical crimes? I think not.
"An example of the kind of historical achievement of Christianity that I would defend in an argument of this kind is the campaign against slavery in the nineteenth century. An institution that had existed in every culture from time immemorial had a war waged on it. The campain was led by evangelical Christians who stressed their Christian motivation, and the idea that slavery was wrong all over the world was only able to be propounded because itr had already been abolished at home by a long historical process within a Christian culture. Several parts of the campaign - the undeclared war against Brazil in the 1850s for example, or the Royal Navy's countless cutting-out expeditions against slavers off the west African coast - were wholly without ulterior motives; were indeed obviously counter to the purely selfish interests of Great Britain. After becoming rare as a result of this campaign, mass slavery was reintroduced to the world in the twentieth century by militant atheists - the communists had millions enslaved by the middle thirties; the national socialists started later but soon caught up.
"Fundamentally, I stand by Burke's remark that the truth or falsity of ideas, and the urgency or otherwise of alleged dangers today, are not proved or disproved solely by the fact that they were the once the pretexts by which men gained and misused power."
Thursday, January 26, 2006
I had a horrible bout of real life yesterday. Once again some pestilential people offered me money to do work for them. I really wish they wouldn't do this when I have important blogging to do. My husband, for some reason, wishes they would do it more.
Those emails of which I spoke really will come soon. And others of which I did not speak. And a bulletin about Sewing Stress, if you prove yourselves worthy.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Coming soon. Two erudite emails, one from my regular correspondent "A Regular Correspondent" and a second one from Professor Grayling. I have to do a really tedious thing with the formatting before I post them or they come out looking like modern poetry with all the line breaks in odd places.
Fear not, I will not fob you off with sex and politics gossip for long. Soon we will bring out the heavy ratings hitters of the God slot.
Sow your wild oaten while you may. Oh no, now I have to say something halfway relevant to give me an excuse for that title. I was going to have a go at Mr Oaten for describing his adultery as an "error of judgement." An error of judgement is when you have to assess a situation with incomplete information and get it wrong, with a slight implication that incomplete though your information was you could have called it right if you had been concentrating. It is an error of judgement when you take a corner too fast, or buy stock just before a crash, or stay too long at the office party even you sense the bloke from Accounts is getting silly because you didn't want to offend anyone. Deciding to commit adultery and doing so repeatedly over six months is not an error of judgement.
(There is nothing unusual about politicians or other people using weasel words to whitewash their own actions. Oddly, however, Mr Oaten seems to like the "error of judgement" phrase so much that he even used it himself to whitewash a mean trick played against him by a Tory rival who snatched his domain name.)
Then I thought again. It isn't the adultery that makes Mr Oaten unfit for office. Although there is the issue of honour to consider, in politics many adulterers have done well, and some have done good. It is indeed the error of judgement that rules him out. Here was a man whose assessment of the likely consequences of his actions was so inaccurate that he thought employing the services of a male prostitute and putting himself forward for leadership of Britain's third party were compatible activities.
"It's a minority, but we'll take it." After consideration, Damian Penny has decided not to return the Canadian election result to the store after all. But he may be writing to the new management. He'll certainly be writing about them.
Monday, January 23, 2006
That's the trouble with the internet. When one writes a blog post it feels like one is having a therapeutic coffee-time grouse to one's mates about what's in the paper - and then the subject of the grouse turns up at the door two years later with a printout of one's remarks under his arm and the glint of battle in his eye. Of course the trouble with the internet is also one of its glories.
In February 2004 I criticised a piece in the Times by Professor Anthony Grayling. (The Times has relaxed its rules about letting you see old articles, so my warning that Professor Grayling's piece would soon disappear is inoperative.)
Professor Grayling has written back.
Dear Natalie SolentProfessor Grayling has put me out of countenance by being much nicer to me than I was to him. I hereby resolve to be a nicer blogger so that I won't be embarrassed again.
Speaking of his original article, Professor Grayling said it had (1) an "express implication", which I shall summarise as "religion bad in many ways, science much more good than bad", and (2) an "enthymematic point" that even if the good things of religion are factored in, the harm religion does massively dwarfs the good. Accordingly, he concludes, it would be a bold individual (by which he clearly means too bold) who said that "just as those benefited by science can be credited against those harmed, so those benefited by religion can be credited against those harmed."
Some rather bitty responses follow.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Friday, January 13, 2006
Monday, January 09, 2006
Thursday, January 05, 2006
There's blame to go round on this one. Yesterday's Education Guardian reports that
Council chiefs admitted today they were considering dropping a controversial policy of not blaming bullies in schools for their actions - following a scathing attack by the prime minister.It's a poor lookout for the country when the national leader sticks his nose into the doings of city councils, and a worse one when they change their policies for fear of him. Nonetheless if one can think of it as Anthony Blair Esq. making the argument rather than the Prime Minister, Anthony Blair Esq. is quite right.
The city council revealed today that it was "reviewing" its no blame bullying policy after it was dropped from Department for Education and Skills' guidelines in December.Ah, a "no blame" approach to one's own screwups.
The "no blame" approach, which was widely adopted in schools in the late 1990s, originated in Bristol as an alternative to directly punishing bullies.As an alternative to teachers doing the job they are paid for, more like. Understandably few people enjoy the task of sorting out an alleged case of bullying. Where accounts conflict it can be difficult to know if bullying has truly taken place, or to know if just one or both sides are to blame - or even to ascertain (rather than assume) that it was all a misunderstanding and no one is to blame. It can even be frightening. Tough. That's what the "professional responsibility" teachers are always saying they should be admired and renumerated for entails.
Instead it encouraged the bully to discuss with their classmates the root cause of their behaviour and to find a way forward with the help of a teacher.Good for Dan Morris. What I always wonder about teachers and education bureaucrats who advocate a "no blame" approach to those who bully children is whether they also advocate it in cases of workplace bullying of teachers and cvil servants by their superiors. If so, I hope they have told their union reps.
The MP for Wansdyke described it as "dangerous" and "reckless" and said it did nothing to get the bullies to change their behaviour.How, exactly, can you have "no blame" as one of several approaches? Were the bullies blamed and not blamed on alternate days?
"Wide range of advice" is open to the same objection as above. I guess that on Fridays the council tells 'em to kill the bullies, just for variety.
"We have always been led by central government's anti-bullying guidelines, which, until very recently, contained references to the "no blame" approach.A fair point. But I think that Bristol city council should not blame the government, but rather strive to identify the root causes of their behaviour.
"The schools minister has now announced a review of the DfES guidelines to clarify that the government does not think councils should recommend this approach to headteachers and we continue to follow their advice."Translation: please don't bully us, Mr Politician.
She said the council would now begin consulting with parents, teachers and pupils over its anti-bullying policy.And the bullies. You forgot the bullies.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Hard Times in Brazil. Via The Sharpener I found this article about Latin American politics: "The time of the underdog: rage and race in Latin America." Now I don't know anything much about Latin American politics - shut up at the back there - but one word struck me in much the same way the words "perpetual motion" strike a patent examiner.
Brazil’s Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, as he himself admitted, did not eat a solid meal until the age of 7.Admitted? Given that this man is a politician, are you sure you don't mean "trumpeted at every possible occasion"?
...Mr. Bounderby delivered some observations to Mrs. Gradgrind on the circumstance of its being his birthday. He stood before the fire, partly because it was a cool spring afternoon, though the sun shone; partly because the shade of Stone Lodge was always haunted by the ghost of damp mortar; partly because he thus took up a commanding position, from which to subdue Mrs. Gradgrind.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Wish I'd been there. Saw a few minutes of Guardian stalwart Polly Toynbee and a bloke from Civitas arguing on the telly about this Civitas report saying that political correctness is a bad thing. BfC said, among other things, that people were afraid of criticising Islam for fear of being labelled an Islamaphobe. If I'd been there I could have added, "as you know from personal experience, Ms Toynbee."
C S Lewis must be doing 1,000 r.p.m. Not at the movie. The movie is good. At the - ulp - books of the movie. Glenn Reynolds links to a post from Stuart Buck who asks, "If you make a movie out of a classic and beloved children's book that has sold millions of copies, why on earth would you want to have someone write a book based on the movie?"
For a while both Reynolds and Buck were reassured that the "novelization" was but a harmless picture book with stills from the movie. Buck appears to have been disabused of this false hope; Reynolds not yet. For false hope it is – I know from personal experience that there are at least two novelizations-with-words out there because we got one of the things ("Peter’s Destiny") with our Shreddies and another ("Edmund’s Struggle") with our Honey Nut Cheerios. The Emperor over the Sea only knows what horrors the unopened packet of Non Honey Nut Normal Cheerios has hiding in it; probably "The White Witch's Trauma."
Something must be done. Breakfast has become a time of fear. I opened one of these books and read the last line and someone’s eyes were twinkling.
First we have to find the authors. This is difficult. They appear to have been written by Disney. Just "Disney". Who is this person or persons? The name seems familiar. Whoever they are they must be tracked down and burnt at the stake. What is the point of having a Bush-Blair theocratic axis ruling the world if we never get any fun?
I'll catch up with the email in the next few days. But this one from John Costello was at the top of the pile.
I work for a store which sells various forms of furniture, most of which we put together, as well as the actual packs that people can take home. Since most of our customers have trucks or SUVs or have relatives with said, there's little problem bringing pre-assembled furnishings home (Remember me? Hessians. Am writing from the US.)Hessians, yes, and the unforgettable Ronco Vegematic.
Let's welcome in 2006 with a return to medieval Jew-baiting. This up-to-the-minute idea comes from His Excellency Presidente de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, Hugo Chávez Frías:
"...the descendants of those who crucified Christ (...) have taken ownership of the riches of the world, a minority has taken ownership of the gold of the world, the silver, the minerals, water, the good lands, petrol, well, the riches, and they have concentrated the riches in a small number of hands"Here is the Spanish text - see page 18 for the bit about "los descendientes de los mismos que crucificaron a Christo".
Normblog bends over backwards to be fair. In his second update he implies that, given the words about Bolivar that follow in Chavez's speech, the phrase "the descendants of those who crucified Christ" might be refer metaphorically to all capitalists, rich people or bad people. One of Tim Blair's commenters, "bobpence", makes a similar point and also cites a phrase of Chavez's about 10% of the people owning most of the wealth. Not even Chavez can believe that Jews make up 10% of the world's population, and a Google search of the words "Bolivar" and "Jews" turned up this reference to the fact that "Mordechai Ricardo assisted Venezuelan freedom fighter Simon Bolivar and his two sisters when they escaped to Curaçao" - along with much I didn't know about the Jewish history of the island of Curacao, where the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere can be found.
Spanish-speakers can find out more about Chavez by reading Caudillo, Ejercito, Pueblo: La Venezuela del Comandante Chávez, by Norberto Ceresole (Estudios Hispano-Árabes, 2000). John Lee Anderson, writing in the New Yorker, described this book as follows:
This is a curious little how-to-be-a-dictator manual, written with Chávez in mind, by his erstwhile Argentine adviser. The author is an intriguing but odious-seeming fellow: In addition to being a Holocaust denier, he claims to have been a former Montonero guerrilla, a friend and adviser to Perón and other Latin military leaders, and a past member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences.Erstwhile adviser. Let's be nice here and remember that "erstwhile". Chavez only used to hang out with Holocaust deniers.