Orwell considered the capacity to recognise and accept unpleasant facts a power. If he was right, and he certainly is, Francisco Goya’s work stands as testament to a man who elevated it to the level of a superpower. One doesn’t seek out Goya’s paintings or etchings looking for consolation. Here one finds the brutalities of war, the sadomasochism on which class and feudal relations depend, and the many ways Man can embody impotence.
Goya became an expert in the last of those when, at a relatively young age, he was struck by an illness that left him both blind and deaf. The former was temporary, the latter proved lifelong. This had the effect of turning the artist inward and further away from an idealised view of his country. Out went the beautiful scenes of picnics and salons, and in came the bull fighting, highwaymen and lunatic asylums in all their gory authenticity. See The Death of the Picador:
Ordinarily such scenes would depict a moment of triumph: man demonstrating his superiority over beast. A predictable assemble, with the tacit message, “this is the natural order of things”. But here is the bull, outnumbered and defiant, impaling the performer in a – although can it ever be contrary? – particularly undignified way. His horse is crushed beneath. In doing this, Goya shows Spaniards what they really wanted to see. (And if the tabloids are to be taken at face value, what they still do.) An articulate observer of this “sport” will tell you that, besides cherished tradition, it is the grace and pageantry that keep them coming back. But Goya knew that pueblo wanted gore, and lots of it.
There’s a question over whether anyone wanted to see inside a madhouse, however. This is where Spain dumped the mentally disturbed and its non-aristocratic eccentrics, and where the mantra “out of sight, out of mind” was cruelly followed. No one received care worthy of the name, and, with a architectural design George Carlin would be proud of, these prisons were open, chaotic. The resulting paintings by Goya convey a terrible atmosphere. If one were to take a peek into the cave of Michaelangelo’s The Last Judgement, I imagine one would see something like this:
It’s debatable whether or not he was a secret republican (many have taken his royal portraits as quite enough evidence, ignoring the fact he made the very best out of some very ugly sitters), but this scene would certainly suggest a sympathy. There is a man with a crown fashioned from feathers holding his hand out to adoring “courtiers”. Another wears a headdress made from cards, and a third sports a DIY mitre. This is the royal court depicted in one of the few ways possible. It takes skill and bravery to dupe most contemporaries, while leaving a clear subversive message for posterity. He saw behind the enchanted glass propped up to simultaneously dazzle and terrify, and found asses instead of lions.
He was a man of the Enlightenment, but unlike many of that tendency he never romantised “the people”. It is a failing of some liberals (and even more socialists) to assume that, if only the shackles were to be undone, most of population would rationally, and dutifully, get behind them. No, to Goya the reactionary inclinations of the hoi polloi were only too clear. It was they who, when the horrid Fernando VII consolidated his power – by employing secret police that hunted liberals like hogs – went to the streets chanting, “long live our chains, long live oppression; long live King Fernando, death to the Nation!”
(And it was the great mass that had urged along the monarch’s crushing of the 1812 Constitution, along with its liberating potential. This document was drawn up by the exiled Spanish government in Cádiz in response to Napoleon’s invasion. It promised the people a country worth fighting for: one with a free press, universal male suffrage, land reform, and checks on the monarchy. At one time – as the Peninsula War raged – it looked as if Spain would end up with either this indigenous liberalism born from war, or an enlightened absolutism imposed by France. Tragically, but in keeping with this troubled land, it got Fernando.)
There is a sense of disbelief, if not disgust, toward his victims of social inequity. In this image from the Caprichos, two proletarians lumber almost prostrate under the weight of asses, representative of the aristocracy. Their looks are one of complacency.
Here is Goya facing the unpleasant fact of power: in order for one to oppress, the other must choose to submit. Granted, this is the perspective of the artist: distant, if not disinterested. One with more sympathy – for either side of the dynamic – will be eager to point to Marxist or Humean theories of indoctrination, and the threats of violence contained, either latently or explicitly, within the dictates of tyrants. It’s not that Goya is unaware of these factors, but he isn’t so willing to absolve those who bend the knee. What bothered him, a man so use to questioning his surroundings, was the self-enforced ignorance of “the many,” that in fact makes a despot’s life so easy. The majority, by simply refusing to ask why, are more than complicit in their structural misery. Minds untutored in political philosophy are better placed to see this than their opposite. This is what Blake called “mind-forged manacles”.
This insight may seem blunted by the fact it comes from a painter of the court, though it shouldn’t. Goya maintained a fierce independence that got him in trouble with both the Inquisition and Fernando. And, besides, we can’t be certain that self-loathing wasn’t part of the impetus behind The Caprichos.
Another print, a favourite of Christopher Hitchens, shows a peasant groaning beneath the bulk of an overweight friar. The caption reads, “Will you never learn what you are carrying on your back?” This is, in part, one of Goya’s many shots at the clergy. A class of men he considered parasitic, stupid and dangerous.
Ever since the Moors were forced out, a particularly reactionary strain of Catholism was enforced on the Iberian peninsula. The climate of fear that began with the targeting of Muslims and Jews and their descendants, came to infect every corner of society: speak a foreign tongue? Suspect. In love a non-Catholic? Dangerous. A woman with aspirations above the convents or child rearing? Abhorrent. Known to read the latest treaties out of France? Traitor. And all knew the rack and burning poles awaited transgressors.
Though the Inquisition’s most tyrannical years had passed by Goya’s day, it maintained an ominous and persistent presence. For example, he was made to answer for The Naked Maja – the first Western painting to include female genital hair, according to biographer Robert Hughes – as well as The Caprichos.
During his early career he found himself at the whims of men of the cloth – a rare group with the capital to commission such works, and the bane of hundreds of artists before Goya and since. In a letter to a friend, he refers to his difficulties with them,
If you don’t watch out and even if you do, [these insects] will tear away your flesh and your hair out as well; not only do they scratch you and look for pretexts for quarrelling, but they bite, spit, stick you, and run you through; they often become food for other and worse ones…
As is classic of one who has made a deadly foe, Goya can’t even bring himself to consider his adversaries human. This colourful language prefigures later depictions of the clergy.
Hughes has suggested that even with this animus, Goya remained some sort of believer in the supernatural. But his pessimism runs so deep, and his contempt for religion’s representatives so great, that it’s hard to see him as anything but an atheist.
At his most pointed, he thought religion stupified the mind. The sleep of Reason brings forth monsters. Other times – as with the lore surrounding witches – he had an almost anthropological interest in the fantasies on which people build lives around. But this interest remained at a safe distance. See Plate 69 of Disasters of War, his second major series of etchings: A corpse faces away from the viewer holding a pen which, in rigamortise, hovers over a sheet of paper. It reads: Nada. Like that other great atheist David Hume, the everyday dreads of old age weren’t enough to bring about a late conversion. Goya remained steadfast, and kept the God-botherers from his bedside.
As well as that, not only does Christian imagery become absent early in his private work, but the motifs associated with such images end up being employed for notably secular purposes. Justice and reason, those cornerstones of the Enlightenment, look almost holy in Goya’s pen (see Lux et tenebris and Sol de justicia). While that symbol of revolution, and Spain’s wartime adversary, Lady Liberty, strikes a saintly pose in Allegory of the Constitution of 1812. (Old man Time has less hassle bringing her forth on canvas than “he” had in actual fact.)
This is a rare moment of optimism in Goya’s collection, which makes the knowledge that the 1812 Constitution was scrapped – and by a Spanish administration – so crushing. It’s hard not to think that, however courageous the resistance was – and Goya honored the everyday heroes of the struggle – a French victory would’ve been preferable to the outcome Spain was dealt. (The conflict has an odd parallel with the 2003 Iraq War: both began with foreigners citing enlightened progress as their casus belli, and both, in their own way, brought awful reaction.)
Although he clearly had a “side” during the war, he is surprisingly evenhanded in his coverage (a journalistic term that seems apt). The French are shown committing terrible acts of mutilation and savagery, but so are Spanish patriots. They are shocking.
At another time Goya said that he had hoped to document universal human failings. Looking at these prints today one’s mind is taken immediately to Syria in 2017, which is a strange compliment to the “most Spanish of artists”. One hopes there is enough left of that country in the near future so that a worthy heir might emerge.
It has been argued by rationalists that the age of religion has a definite lifespan. Comte (1830) outlined threestages of intellectual development, it progressed from: the theological, the early religious stage; towards the metaphysical, where philosophical thought reins supreme; and finally the “positive” age. As better explanations for the Universe’s phenomena become known, ideas from the old paradigm are, Comte argued, discarded. Our final stage – the positive age – is defined by a respect for scientific inquiry, questioning and rigorously-tested theories. Religious belief, the antithesis of this (being its ignorant ancient relative) could not surely hope to compete for minds in a period where a logical framework of understanding has been provided by the likes of Newton, Galileo and Darwin. It sounds reasonable, but how would this deterministic thinker reconcile this theory with the recent rise of religious fundamentalism globally? An ideology opposed to secularism and described by Nagata as: “a set of irreducible beliefs or a theology that forestalls further questions” (2001: 481).
With an emphasis on Pentecostal Christian movements, I will assess to what extent religion, a supposed relic of a by-gone age, still maintains a grip on all of us – namely, through politics. I will use ethnographic examples from Brazil, Africa and the United States to argue we can not ignore religion’s continuing ability to shape the political landscape. It is also important to not dismiss Pentecostalism as a shadow from the past, but rather a political movement with modern origins.
Going Back to Basics – The Modern Day Rejection of Secularism
In fact, it is in planet Earth’s beacon of Enlightenment-thinking that our conception of Pentecostalism – “the mother of all fundamentalisms” (p. 482) – was developed. Nagata has charted the rise of the “post-millennials” – from its origins as an exclusive fringe group in the 1870s to the major political force it is today. Opposing Van Vuchy Tijssen (1995: 16) who has argued that Pentecostal Christianity simply emerged to fill an “ideological gap” in mid-nineteenth century America – and, in the process suggesting people just need something, anything, to believe in – she has focused the “revivalist” nature of the movement. Distrustful of increasingly liberalisation and feeling alienated by the changing ethnic make-up of the country, large numbers of white Protestants were encouraged to reminisce about an imagined Golden Age, when the Bible was taken literally and morals were absolute. When everybody knew their place.
Brazil has also seen a rejection of cultural liberalism. Birman (2006) has noted how, like much of South America, Brazil has had an unconventional relationship with Christianity. Catholicism, as practised by the 16th Portuguese, was by-and-large incompatible with polytheistic indigenous belief.When the new white elite settled however, they did not work to exterminate the natives like in North America, they instead set about to convert them. A great deal of the Jesuits which took up thistask did something unexpected: they tailored the word of God to make it more palatable (Lippy et al1992). Texts were arduously translated into native tongues and religious scenes were illustrated in native styles (Bakewell: 259). The black population was also brought into the Catholic fold, its formwas again “adapted” by those with long-standing traditions – in this case those brought from Africa in slave ships (The Invention of Brazil 2014). This was done with the hope that all would come to accept the religious and political order imported from Europe.
Birman has argued that the Catholic Church during this early period frequently “turned a blind eye” to doctrinally unacceptable practices in order to not threaten hegemony they had built. Because of such concessions, if you would call them that, Brazil’s strain of Catholicism relied on an atmosphere
of shared identity. Regardless of how one practised it, all Brazilians could proudly declare “we are aCatholic nation”. And, as was the clergymen’s hope, people accepted the Catholic Church’s authority on the major political quandaries: have tolerance for your countrymen but do not question the social hierarchy (p. 55).
Paying the Way to Christ – Capital and New Ideas
This inclusive albeit hegemonic Catholicism seemed to be under attack with the emergence of the United Church of the Kingdom of God. A populist movement similar to the post-millennials, UCKG gathered a swift following among the politically disillusioned (UCKG – Who We Are). From the start it denounced the climate of tolerance, liberalism and the “idolatry” of Brazil’s Roman Catholicism. (It went so far as declaring a sickly-sounding “holy war” on Afro-Brazilian cults (Birman: 55).) It instead asked the poor to give “prosperity theology” a chance. In stark contrast to the socialistic liberation theology, that other famous radical religious movement with modern “Latin” American origins, prosperity theology puts emphasis on the individual and the need to better oneself materially. It put the emphasis on “you”, not society and certainly not the Church of old (Cuadros 2013).
It has been argued that the Roman Catholic Church needs the poor to stay poor because without them it would have no following (Hitchens 2003). Taking this into consideration, we may welcome a change of direction which sees Christianity put an emphasis on social mobility through Pentecostalism, particularly in the “Global South”. The problem comes with how UCKG pastors recommend people should become prosperous. In order to dole out spiritual favours and success – “instant wealth and health” as Kramer has called it (2005: 95) – the church requires monetary donations from its congregation. These donations have helped launch political careers, all with a very specific right-wing agenda and an overtly religious message. A leading figure of the church Edir Macedo – who has been calculated at being worth $1.2 billion by Bloomberg and involves himself in politics – has drawn a direct link between the pursuit of money and Christian faith claiming that the USA’s success as a country comes from the “In God We Trust” motto on all of their dollar bills. A frequent reminder that all one owns has been granted by supernatural forces. Macedo has preached that it is the job of Brazilians to emulate this (Cuadros).
UCKG is able to prey on the most vulnerable by claiming to have a celestial open hand and the deep pockets of Heaven on their side. The Brazilian government has taken issue with many of the church’s practises, successfully charging members with embezzlement (Phillips 2011). However, UCKG seems to thrive regardless – or perhaps because – of being at odds with the establishment.
Jesus He Knows Me – God, TV Personality
Media – in the form of television, radio and stadium events – is a vital tool: maintaining public opinion and forwarding the political ambitions of UCKG’s leadership. It is important to stress how UCKG’s message is not limited to the pulpit, anyone with a radio or television can potentially hear their message. In a society where stories of violence, kidnappings and a general sense of crisis pervade the news, there is fertile ground for a Pentecostal church broadcasting 24 hours a day to portray itself as a safe haven in a terrible, uncertain world. The traditional Catholic Church, not nearly as media-savvy, has seen its flock disperse to become “share holders” (Birman: 56) in the Pentecostal movement. The United Church of the Kingdom of God shows itself to be an effective mouth-piece of consumer capitalism, especially among the economically down-trodden.
Meyer (2004) has documented a similar trend of celebrity preachers-turned-political voices in Africa. He has argued that the old ideas of of modest African prophets – with a cross in hand, simple dress and weary feet – are out-dated. Today’s preachers behave like super stars and have cult
followings. Mercedes Benz’, private jets, mega-churches – and most importantly – dedicated television channels are just some of the armaments in the modern holy man’s arsenal (p. 448). Meyer has suggested that globalisation has facilitated the growth of these churches and their message. Often tapping into the individualistic jargon surrounding political and economic liberalisation of countries like Cameron (p. 453), Pentecostalism – also with an emphasis on wealth,extroversion and showiness – has been able to grow and grow. Another similarity with Brazil can befound in the way the media networks of the “Pentecostal-Charismatic Churches” of Africa implore all, but particularly the youth, to “break away” from the current status-quo and help forge a new Christian order. This explicit rejection of pluralism puts it at direct odds with the region’s other religions – particularly Islam – not just secularism (p. 465).
The Pentecostal adoption of television began in the USA. The way the mainstream media works, with its frequent witch-hunts, couples it nicely with Pentecostal Christianity (Nagata: 483). Both systems crave easy explanations, heroes and demons, and are at their best when focusing on the negative. The common enemy of recent times is Islam (p. 486). And, even if there is an constitutional separation of Church and State, we have, at times, found them agreeing on a surprising number of issues: abortion, stem cell research, and promotion of Christian doctrine in schools. Pat Robinson, an worringly popular evangelist talk show host, has promoted presidential candidates employing Biblical language:
“God’s blessing is on him [George W. Bush]. It’s the blessing of heaven on the emperor.” (in Marina.)
As we can see, the intellectual evolutionist perspective put forward by Comte is flawed. As demonstrated by Birman, Nagata and Meyer, contemporary secular politics are not immune to becoming tainted by religious discourse. This can not be explained as a post-modern absence of ideology: in the USA and to a degree in Brazil there has long existed a mainstream ideology – a secular and increasingly tolerant one – and modern converts to Pentecostalism have openly rejected it. We have similar trends throughout the world: parts of the world dominated by Islam have seen secular social democratic governments fall and be replaced by nightmarish, absolutist theocratic regimes (compare Iran of the 1950s with today).
Their sophisticated media apparatus has garnered the fundamentalists millions of followers, and our political institutions will be forced to consider, and possibly to cater to, them. That’s unless the forces of liberalism and secularism are able to coalesce and fight back. There are certain things these progressives hold dear (if not quite sacred) – freedom of speech, pluralism and rationalism – and they must make clear that they won’t be infringed without a fight.
When it comes to matters of Church and State, there’s required a continuous and confident chorus, it should go: Build up that wall! Build up that wall!
Expect more and more media which will have some higher intelligence – either robotic or alien – saving humanity from itself. Science fiction on that theme will replace, I suspect, the zombie apocalypse as the indicator of where the popular imagination is at. (The Great Recession made many feel so hopeless that they began looking forward to the complete break-down of society. Terror aside, the odds would at least be balanced. So too: an out-group one can unashamedly bash.)
It’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on Earth than a much more modest change in capitalism
I made this prediction after watching 2016’s Arrival. The plot – and spoilers ahead – has extra-terrestrials gifting humanity a universal tongue and a common purpose that brought to mind one of Reagan’s comments to Gorbachev. In one of the few times his handlers allowed him off-script, Ronnie opined that the only way of attaining pan-human fraternity was by way of an alien threat to the species. (After which point he returned to finger painting.) In other words, all-out interplanetary war is the only way of badgering us into behaving like we would if we were, as economists pretend, rational actors. But, it is true isn’t it, that every utopia – going back to Thomas Moore’s – looks more like a dystopia at its periphery? Our minds only allow in-group solidarity if there exists, simultaneously, a set of people to exclude and possibly bash in.
This shows a level of cynicism that even I, a fully paid-up member of the lefty liberal London bubble, find uncomfortable. At its core it’s a surrender: “no, I have no faith whatsoever in humanity and its capacity to overcome squalling infancy”. We need to import reason and intelligence from elsewhere in the Milky Way, or invent machines that will build the robots that may save us fleshy men-children.
(For an even more pessimistic message, Westworld builds on similar foundations but has technology saving evolution from the dead-end humanity had crafted around itself. It was one of those rare shows that had audiences cheering on their own extinction.)
This idea that salvation lies outside Man, and not the latent drive found in all us fumbling half-apes, verges on Christian thinking. And, if I were to be even more discerning, the very worst sort of that type of “thought”: the Catholic.
The trouble with a tale where anything can happen is that somehow nothing happens
Man as an objective, sensuous being is therefore a suffering being – and because he feels that he suffers, a passionate being
There are some things you must learn to be a self-respected liberal intellectual today. Do not criticise another’s culture. Do not celebrate the so-called achievements of the West. Do not, under any circumstances, take seriously that confining concept “human nature”. Instead, we are to believe homo sapien has no limits, no boundaries, and is usefully malleable in the hands of better-read angels. Tosh, in other words.
Much of the suspicion surrounding “human nature” stems from the belief that these ideas are the natural ally of conservatism. Back in his day, Marx, with a squinting eye, noted the popularity of Darwin’s writings among some of the less savoury defenders of the political status-quo. The Herbert Spencers and Thomas H. Huxleys of the world were only too eager declare that their political philosophy had the solid underpinning of Biology. For a man who spent his gin-soaked days writing of the inevitably of scientific socialism this was too much.
Lesser known than the writings of Marx and his ideological foes, is the revolutionary ethological work of a certain Russian aristocrat. Just as “survival of the fittest” – read by all right-thinking people as survival of the selfish, the mean and cynical – was sinking happily into the Victorian consciousness, Kropotkin was trudging around Siberia uncovering an evolutionary foundation for its antithesis.
It is true, Kropotkin acknowledged, that individuals of all species will aggressively compete if required to, but he went on to emphasise something Darwin would only allude to. The most successful species will achieve success in its most lasting form – not with tooth and claw – in accordance with others. He coined this strategy, which was adopted by apes, us, mere-cats, penguins and termites braving the Eurasian tundra, “mutual aid”. Social solidarity, as the political-minded may prefer, is just as compatible with Darwinism.
In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense — not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. The animal species, in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay.
Those who read past the front cover of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene were offered a similar, more evidence-based take on this argument. Our genes’ intentions may be selfish, stubborn and blind in their pursuit of replication, but their (mostly) unwitting carriers function differently. Particularly in the case of higher-order mammals such as ourselves. We recognise, for the most part (there’s always going to be Maggies and Ayns), that reciprocity and cooperation are the only means of constructing civilisation. Hobbes may have understood well enough the “psychology” of the Alpha and Omega virus that binds us, but he told us very little about us.
The one group most wedded to the idea of the unmitigated human selfishness is the one group most dependent on just the opposite. The political Right, historically, have relied again and again upon a united front. The sickly Spanish Civil War Syndrome has been difficult to shake off but here, it’s a case in point. Francoists, the Catholic Church, the aristocracy, the conservative bourgeoisie, with their benefactors in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, were only able to crush and break the Republic cooperatively, all the while comforting their protruding brows with Übermensch nonsense.
(Behind closed doors, today’s ruling class is more honest, willing to admit that its foundation myth is balls. Telling Professor Aeorn Davis that “market-knows-best” may be a nice story to tell the kids and proles, but in actual fact it’s unworkable.)
In these less intense and depressing times we see that same truth. Not through dominating others and fighting a never-ending Hobbesian struggle are we able to pinch Higgs Boson from the vacuum at CERN (something physicists tell me is an extraordinary achievement and well-worth the massive R&D funds it diverted away from hospitals and climate scientists). Rather, it’s because professionals from computing, engineering and academia pooled their expertise and share their gains, all the while being subsided by tax-payers. So too, international bankers, in their realm, achieve their not-so-lofty goal of screwing us royally in conjunction with a great legal team, cooperative politicians and a nod and wink from Murdoch’s press.
The History of Man is brimming with tales with missteps and teary heads, but still, take a look behind the veil “realists” like Steven Pinker and Thomas Sowell never could, and you’ll see there is something innate worth praising. Something in we hairless apes that needs to be nurtured, not imposed nor denied. And, remember, it is the work of these shady realists who is being consumed so rigorously on campuses. When the opposition consists of scientific-illiterate, professional diary scribblers, what do you expect?
The first step, we’re told tirelessly on other matters, is acceptance. And only through acceptance of evolutionary theory and human nature can the Left make any progress in academia. The postmodern derailment need not be permanent, need not debase the social sciences further. Disciplines which are being greedily munched upon at one end by opportunistic Tory biologists, and held back, to the point of tear, by liberals who fear the 21st century.
The Left has nothing to fear from Darwin and, in fact, the revolution he vanguarded has much to offer. So why not exploit it?
Prepare to cringe…
Paddy: In the early 21st century the new Prophets graced us with their presence. Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennett (for we are always in Their debt) led a ferocious charge against the Forces of God and gave all non-believers a bad name in the process.
For a teenager with a religious background the “Four Horsemen” were a marvel, brilliantly dismantling – in the case of Hitchens totally eviscerating – Christian dogma at a time I was just about capable of flirting with agnosticism. They not only clinically diagnosed the problem – the exact inconsistencies and hypocrisies of religion – but provided its young emigres with an alternative: science and capital r Reason.
Little did I know that Reason was a euphemism for something just as dogmatic.
Pole: It’s ironic for a sworn atheist to use religious symbolism like that but it is a good analogy: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, bringing an end to a world of religious ignorance and usher in one of Reason. Angry atheists which keep trying to tear religion to pieces and prove that its adherents are delusional idiots holding humanity back:
They’re treating atheism as an ideological agenda rather than an idea, inflating their egos in the process. In fact, this ‘new atheism’ bears some similarity to a new religious movement. It’s based on a belief in the non-existence of god; its members claim to have a monopoly on truth; and they are trying to conver-… I mean enlighten others to their way of thinking. Not long before we see them going house to house, clutching a copy of The God Delusion, telling those impatient few who open their door about life, morality and how to cleanse themselves of superstition.
Paddy: Although I agree in principle, you’re setting your sights far too low. As the Spanish militia leader ordering lead to be fired down upon spineless, fascist clergymen may have said, “aim for the head, Jose!” The head of this movement, of course, consists largely of pseudo-intellectuals who have long exhausted their use to the academy.
Admittedly, I still have a grudging admiration for at least two of the original quartet but, still, they make it difficult. Dawkins, a brilliant popular science writer, has resorted to Grade B Twitter trolling while Dennett saw to naming his insufferable followers “brights”, and the Hitch crudely conflated politics, anthropology and religious studies to carry out a dangerously convincing crusade against Islam.
None of the above, however, is as slimy and smug as the Ben Stiller look-alike. No one else encapsulates the unsettling ideological overlap between American liberals and the traditional far-right quite like Harris. (Wasn’t it he who claimed Europe’s fascists were the most clear-headed about immigration policy?) His talking point is this: religion is thought crime of the highest order.
Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them
Despite this he somehow manages to maintain a love affair with Buddhism. It may be imperfect but its principles and teachings, Harris drones, correlate strongly with the objective innate moral system he both claims to have uncovered and adhere to (details of which can be found in The Moral Landscape, available at fine book stores across Seculardom). This unusual admiration aligns with his abandonment of logic in claiming that mind and body are non-dependant entities (this view is something neuroscientists, among others, have thoroughly discredited, so surely he knows this?). And perhaps plays a role in his excursion into realms normally associated with New Age yah-yah types, when he argues that a metaphorical society whose only reading material is Buddhist texts – as opposed to the actual ones clogging up the Himalayas – would be a peaceful, enlightened one. A stranded group granted nothing other than Islamic texts however, would degenerate into a savage death cult within the same time it would take Sam’s buds to occupy Rousseau’s dreamscape.
This hogwash is on the same level as the stupid Sapir-Whorf hypothesis – Harris, that’s simply not how the mind works! Any first year Psychology undergrad could tell you that you’re tacitly – if not overtly – rejecting basic truisms about the human mind. Spelled out: single source of potential inspiration is not capable of changing a group’s entire nature, you tit. I hesitate to call this pseudo-science, in the words of Wolfgang Pauli, it’s not even wrong.
Harris claims religious texts are man-made except when he spots an opportunity to support American interests – then, and only then, it’s the other way round. It’s the Qu’ran that maketh the man.
With this cognitive leap, the rest of the New Atheist agenda becomes easy to embrace. And so we see the flock regurgitate lines about the inherent incompatibility the Muslim psyche has with Progress. So too, we are bombarded with excuses for the need to maintain a boot firmly atop that burnished head of theirs – for their good as well as ours. Ignorance (or perhaps I should pay them the compliment of saying deception) lead them to omit that it was Our enlightened side which, not so long ago, helped to quash that region’s secular left – going as far as to bankroll Saddam’s cull of inconvenient free thinkers within his borders and overthrowing Iran’s reformers – no doubt postponing that Islamic Reformation Harrisbots rant tirelessly for. But back then, of course, Harris’ intellectual forebears were arguing that godless socialism was the great enemy of civilization…
Boy, I guess geo-politics is complicated huh?
Harris’ contribution to philosophy is about as sophisticated, although not nearly as entertaining, as this seven minute bit by Charlie Brooker
Returning to an earlier point: you’d have to be a special sort of sheltered to have missed just how unreasonable Buddhist reading groups can be. There’s people around today for whom the swastika is still a terrifying sight. Unfortunately for them, because Harris and his followers do not seem to care, they’re Muslims.
“I HAVE COME TO THE PARADOXICAL CONCLUSION THAT TECHNOLOGY MUST BE PROTECTED FROM MAN”
Leading engineer of the Chernobyl project, Valeri Legasov
Those who wouldn’t be bent to his will were burned, crushed and torn asunder by Cormac McCarthy’s Judge, and this, apparently, is exactly what we’re looking for in a leader. At the height of the nuclear weapon debate, former PM David Cameron graced our television screens just long enough to tell us what a cold, murderous bastard he would be given half the chance. How weak and simpering, he went on, was the alternative, that Jeremy Corbyn. He possesses no intention of committing, and in turn inviting, genocide through Trident.
The press provided the echo, asking readers if they knew what possible mental defect had consumed the peace-mongering leader of the Opposition. Regurgitating with approval the Conservative reassurance that, yeah, they were still fully committed to lending the Rapture a helping hand, “want to make something of it?” (Omitting, in doing so, that they could only do so should the Americans demand it, treaties stating so going back to Attlee. Highlighting a curious master-slave relationship that the anti-EU crowd never raise objections to.)
The living embodiment of War may be too grandiose a comparison but Cameron and Co. certainly share something with the McCarthy plagiarism: sadism.
If you think this analogy strained reflect on this: Dave has imagined circumstances in which he would be willing to conscript every British man, woman and child into an international game of Russian Roulette. Although, the excitement would sort of dissipate when all cylinders are loaded… Regardless, these are scenarios which must have occupied the dreams – for the giddiness of their delivery suggests they aren’t experiencing terrors in the night – of many a democratically-elected leader since 1945. (At what point up the pecking order does the prospect of holocaust go from unthinkable horror to viable, even good, “deterrence”?)
And yet how eager we find the silo fodder. The Tory press, eager to remind all of their tradition’s familiarity with both edges of the sado-masochist dialectic, pledged their allegiance to mutinous military men against the man who wishes to bring them back in from the front-line.
“And the fact Jeremy Corbyn is currently taking a hammer to them represents a much greater threat to British parliamentary democracy than any off-the-record military braggadocio. It is not the generals who are currently mounting a coup against the British constitution, it is Jeremy Corbyn mounting a coup against the British constitution.”
That same piece shares the sobering figure that 79% of Telegraph readers “could push the button”. Apparently they don’t need a reason.
All this may be baffling but it shouldn’t be surprising. Nuclear weapons have provided insignificant men with an opportunity to project a macho image from their very inception. When wiser men were calling for caution (including those whose brilliant intellect had brought about the Atomic Age, Einstein and Oppenheimer), the stupid Harry S. Truman was preparing to launch B-52s at Hiroshima, gifting the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside with a blinding light show and their children with birth defects, and their children ad nauseum.
In what George Carlin diagnosed as the Bigger Dick Foreign Policy problem, Truman committed the heinous act of disintegrating two Japanese cities – and for what? A show of force to Stalin, who was committed to a much-dreaded (on both sides of the Pacific) invasion of the island nation. Thus mutating the end of history’s most destructive war, which should have been a time of reflection and quiet celebration, into the Half-Century Dick-waving Contest (known to the politically-correct as the “Cold War”).
The most likely “exchange” – a euphemism which manages to be clean, capitalist, child-friendly – Britain will be involved in is with the Russia born from that engagement. Ukraine, Syria, the Middle East as a whole, it is these proxy wars between NATO and Putin which has Geiger counters everywhere wincing.
The Most Dangerous Moment
Thanks in large part to two Slavs, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov and Khrushchev, we haven’t achieved mutual incineration already. The second of that pair was willing to risk Soviet face rather than the planet during the Cuban Missile Crisis. A comparative slight which proved that bit too much for John F. Kennedy. Contrary to what many choose to believe, the Boy Wonder, adored by liberals everywhere, almost destroyed the planet in 1962. Letting his personal vendetta against Castro reach the obscene level of state terrorism – not to mention attempted invasion – he was then willing to apply pressure to the small island’s patron, causing a stand-off which he was warned by his own had a 1 in 3 chance of culminating in all-out war.
I’m reminded of that Christopher Hitchens’ quip, “Like everyone else of my generation, I can remember exactly where I was standing and what I was doing on the day that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy nearly killed me”. It was your and my very existence he was gambling with in between fucking the mistresses of mobsters, maids and Marilyn Monroe. And for some reason most people will still be more outraged, if at all, by the second half of that.
(His crony McNamara has assured us since in Foreign Policy that he regretted enabling that drug-fuelled megalomaniac, and took the opportunity to marvel at making it to the 21st century.)
I recommend Seymour Hersh’s excellent book for those who are interested in the dingier side of the US’s 35th president. And Putin, remember, is no Khrushchev. He pines for that Great Bear the other sent into hibernation.
As absurd as Kennedy’s nuclear policy was, it did make sense politically. As Noam Chomsky and others have pointed out, in a time when domestic and foreign policies weren’t so easily disentangled, the nuclear build-up enhanced the state’s power to such an extent that, by the time Kissinger entered that frat house on Pennsylvania Avenue, a lone sadist had to power to begin and end wars. Although the “doctor’s” speciality was always the former.
Orwell, with characteristic prescience, and with an eye on the political, saw that an intolerable extension of the State lay just behind Ernest Rutherford’s discovery,
“Ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance.”
Picture the Ancien Régime with Gatling guns rather than the common musket, and you’ll get the drift. By extension, imperial presidencies today can only be maintained with the specter of Nuclear Holocaust looming above this and that directive out of D.C. And the threat isn’t without force. Nixon, an excellent Inner Party representative, threatened to unleash nukes at Indochinese peasants after-all, completely subverting established arms race rules.
And still the Nuclear Question has the power to shape the debate. Dormant as it may be in the majority of geopolitical discourse, it remains a steady and apparently reliable gauge of character in the sickly theatre of personality politics. What better way of allaying fears of potential sissyness (and original thinking) than by declaring openly, “I love The Bomb”? This laid-back approach to species suicide is meant to convey just how tough and hard-headed our prospective Commander-in-Chief is. How bloody his grip, how steely his will. The fatherly figure who never tires of reminding us how we’re kept from death because he allows it.
Soon enough, the small hand hovering over “the button” will be that of a head-strong, air-headed game show star.
“I am not—I am not taking cards off the table”.
Trump on whether he would employ nuclear weapons in Europe and the Middle East
Perfectly fine candidates running for high office have seen their bids go the way of Fat Man – kaput! – when trepidation was shown. Alexander Cockburn wrote of the left-Democrat Harold Hughes, who lost all legitimacy by answering, “would you use nuclear weapons?” with the negative. He went on to add that should he be informed the Soviets had launched their warheads, he would not retaliate in kind. There was no point in confounding a genocide.
All Filth is Local
Toryism needs Trident. We, in Britain, may not have an imperial presidency to uphold, but there’s always that seat on the Security Council. Without which we would never have been able to stifle action against the Monroe Doctrine’s worst excesses, enable Suharto’s campaign of mass-murder, enforce Iraqi sanctions, or, more recently, elect Saudi Arabia to the UN’s human rights council. (Just what would the world do without us?)
Also, we are now burdened with a generation of MPs who simply cannot envisage life outside the special relationship – the junior role in which WMDs are seen to make up for a loss of BOTs (British Overseas Territories). An Army representative cut to the chase, warning of a coup should the public ever dare to elect the Jez, the Great Confiscator.
“The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.
“There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny.”
Anonymous Army General
Every now and then a line is uttered that you’re sure will feature prominently in future history textbooks (if England doesn’t, in fact, deteriorate into Airstrip One). The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. Just where was the counter-punch? Where were the unions and fiery journos and the denunciations from Parliament? Where, for that matter, was the fucking Left?
Those who think the anti-fascism cause is an unnecessary one in the 21st century need to take a hard look at General Sir Nicholas Houghton and his ilk. The mere whiff of democratic socialism – the prospect is, remember, four years away – and, Heaven forbid, seizure of their apocalyptic dildos and they’re morphing into Pinochet.
We may have lost on Trident, but the Nuclear Consensus has become the Nuclear Question with introduction of Corbyn to the Shadow Cabinet. For too long it had been sheltered by bipartisanship and Tommies with a clear disdain of those of us on the civilian side of the constitutional divide. When coming to judging who best lead us in 2020 and – I suggest this optimistically – beyond, the British voter should perhaps think about the Judge’s sort and how, in the end, they’ll bugger you into the dirt.
When I first met Paddy as a teenager we both didn’t have too much to talk about. At one point Paddy asked me what kind of video games I play. I told him I have recently bought Fallout 3, his face lit up and at that moment a friendship was born out of our common love for gaming. One of our favourite games was Mass Effect. It goes without saying how excited we are about the recent announcement for Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Among the many things we love about that franchise are the companions. We both adore them, the conversations, the relationships, the banter etc. But, we have slightly different preferences when it comes to our favourites. In this article/post thingy (I don’t know how to define what we’re doing #imsodum) we’ll outline our favourite three companions from Mass Effect franchise each.
SPOILER ALERT! Even though these games have been out for years. This article may contain spoilers.
Paddy’s #3 – Thane
A honourable space-ninja seeking redemption in a race against time. I suspect this is what the developers excitedly scrawled on the whiteboard when conceptualising Thane for the very first time. With Thane Bioware introduced a new species to their universe – the Drell, an amphibious species originating inexplicably from a desert planet. Bizarrely, given the far-in-the-future time setting he was devoutly religious too (imagine Hinduism with added talking jelly fish). That aside, he was one of the most interesting characters in the series, unfortunately given too little screen time. Our short time with him was epic. RIP fish man.
Pole’s third place – Jacqueline Nought, a.k.a. Subject Zero, a.k.a. Jack
A foul mouthed, impulsive, powerful biotic with social issues. Taken away as a newborn and put in a top secret research facility. Made a subject of horrible experiments, which purpose was to create the most powerful biotic in the galaxy. That made her untrusting, violent, and prone to anger. Despite all that, you sympathise with her, without feeling sorry for her. She hates Cerberus for what they’ve done to her, but she’s not apologetic or self-loathing for the way she is. She owns her powers, her character; she prefers to isolate herself, but doesn’t hide her true self. She does what she likes and doesn’t give a damn what others think. The traits of a true space badass.
Paddy’s #2 – Mordin
I very nearly put the model scientist salarian in my first place position. Mordin – erratic, brilliant, morally-complex – is a truly great character. When he’s not mastering Gilbert and Suvillian, he’s bringing hope to slum dwellers, blasting mercenaries to smithereens and committing genocide. Oh, yeah, there was that whole “Genophage” thing (the intentional near extinction of a sentient species). But he even did that with style, wit and eloquence. Plus, give him the chance (you’d be a monster not to), and he will redeem himself with a send-off worthy of Roy Batty. RIP frog man.
Pole’s Second place – Mordin Solus
That one we agree upon. Mordin is the one person who convinces you the genophage was necessary. He did that because of his sense of morality and to minimalize any side effects (other than the whole extinction thing). On top of that, he’s not too stubborn or proud to admit when he’s wrong and accept that circumstances have changed and Krogan deserve another chance.
In the franchise so full of emotional moments (especially in Mass Effect 3) and so great at pulling at your heart strings. Mordin’s death was the one that hit me the most. Watching him going up the lift, after saying his motto for the last time, casually singing among the explosions, which would make Micheal Bay proud; brought a tear to my eye. It had to be Mordin, who brought me so many feels, someone else might’ve gotten it wrong.
Paddy’s #1 – Liara
Perhaps it’s the result of an asari mind trick but my Shep’s one true love takes my number one slot. The asari – the Milky Way’s walking, talking fruit traps – effortlessly attract all genders of all bipedal species. Liara, like the rest of her species, has much to offer a lowly member of homo sapiens: flowing curves (and head tentacles), intellectual brilliance and Mrs Thatcher-levels of power. We see her develop over the course of the three games – from being a naïve and somewhat sheltered young woman with an obsession in ancient civilisations to becoming the bane of the corrupt and powerful the galaxy over, under the guise of the Shadow Broker. When it comes to romance we may have the strong, independent Ashley and the geeky Tali, but no-one comes close to Miss T’soni. Long live the she-smurf!
Pole’s First place – Garrus Vakarian, a.k.a. The Archangel
Was there ever any doubt? Liara is great, but how can she possibly hold a candle to the great Garrus. A C-Sec officer with principles, which often leads into conflict with his superiors, because he is willing to do the necessary thing. To hell with the political repercussions. As a vigilante, he terrorised some of the most ruthless mercenaries on Omega. Even betrayed, outnumbered and pushed into a corner, he still kicked ass. Who else, but a supreme space badass, could survive a rocket blast to the face.
But the real reason, why his my favourite is because he is Shepard’s best friend. The guy you want by your side in a fight and in a pub. Romance comes and goes, but bros always come before hoes.
Anyway, whom would you like to be a subject of their own stand-alone game? Liara? Spending all day in a lab, reading history books and examining artefacts? I think not. Garrus is the answer. Starting of as a C-Sec officer investigating crimes on Citadel, only to eventually tell you superiors to go fuck themselves and start your own vigilante group. Delivering justice to the scum of the galaxy, through the barrel of your sniper rifle. Tell me, do you feel lucky, punk?
Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you. Michael Bay is not so bad.
Before you go on an angry rant, screaming how Transformers movies suck, let me tell you what I mean by that. He might not be a director, but he is a brilliant businessman. After all, his movies might lack story or quality acting and contain many, boring action movie clichés, but they do continue to make money.
Transformers Age of Extinction made over $1 billion worldwide, putting it at number one spot in 2014. It didn’t do as well in the U.S.A., but it still beat such films like Interstellar, Gone Girl or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In my humble opinion, all of them are far superior films and they received better reviews from both the critics and the fans.
If his films are really that bad, why do they earn so much in the box office? Logic would dictate that bad movie equals less ticket sales, less ticket sales equals less money. The thing is, people do watch those movies in large numbers. But what sort of Jedi mind trick has Bay employed to lure them into cinemas. Simple, he made those movies for one of the dumbest part of any population, in any country. Teenagers. More specifically, teenage boys.
They don’t need interesting dialogue, compelling story or good acting, to like a movie. All they need is explosions, tits and ass. A teenage boy will watch Transformers movie and see giant robots fighting, cool explosions and Megan Fox bent over a motorbike. All things he responds well to and wants to see more. But that is not necessarily wrong, can we really blame Michael Bay for making a sound business decision?
Yes. Because this decision had a result of hurting the real fans of the franchise. Men, who watched the original animated series in the 80’s, who are now in their 20s, 30s or even 40s. Those who remember the good old days, when even the animated shows for children had some meaning and were well written. They didn’t relay just on awesome effects and sex to attract their audience. So it’s not a surprise that they feel betrayed and hate Michael Bay for ruining some of their cherished childhood memories, just like George Lucas did with Star Wars.
However, the fault is not entirely Bay’s. The purpose of every film or TV show is to make money, either through ad revenue, merchandise or other. That hasn’t changed for decades and it remains to be the primary driving force behind every decision made in the industry. Sometimes it’s not the makers of the films, directors, actors etc., but the producers. The businessmen behind scenes, making sure that the whole venture actually turns a profit. So they do what they can to lure as many drooling zombies into theatres, using Megan Fox’s ass. That, unfortunately, means antagonising the true fans, with more refined taste. Fans, who will continue to buy tickets and watch Transformers, because they love that franchise. They want it to succeed so much, they are willing to risk disappointment.
The more ambitious projects, the ones directors and actors pour their hearts into, are the ones made for Oscars, Golden Globes and other awards. Unfortunately, they tend to not do as well at the box office as the dumb ones. I demonstrated that on examples from 2nd paragraph.
I guess my point is; as the ancient wisdom of some random dude, who’s name I didn’t bother to look up; hate the game, don’t hate the player. Okay, maybe hate the player a little bit.
The Polish language is beautiful and widely believed to be one of the hardest to learn. All those whistling sounds, and combinations of consonants in words, like: krzesło [chair] or pszczoła [bee], which are almost impossible to pronounce for a non-Polish person and prove difficult even to Poles themselves.
Also, did you know that Polish has several letters, which don’t exist in any other language, even though the primary alphabet is Latin like in most European languages. Obviously it was the Poles, who looked at the Latin alphabet and decided to make it more complicated for everyone by adding some stuff to it.
But this post is not about praising my native tongue. It is about AQA’s recent decision to discontinue Polish A-Level exams from 2018. This decision is somewhat ridiculous and I’m about to tell you why.
Officially this decision is motivated by low turnout and results, as well as an insufficient number of trained examiners. Here’s why those reasons make little sense.
Firstly, the results for Polish a-levels are exceptionally good. In 2011 73.8% of students attained grade B or higher. That number rose to 76.7% by 2014. Some of you might say “Hold on Pole, most of those who take these exams are native speakers, so it’s not surprising their results are this high”. Can’t argue with that.
However, why their results are so high is irrelevant. What matters is that the whole “the results are too low” thing is not true. Now, these figures don’t come out of nowhere, I didn’t just take from thin air. These are the official AQA statistics, which you can find on their website.
Unfortunately I was unable to find out how many students actually take Polish a-levels each year. However, as a volunteer worker and a former student of one of Polish supplementary schools, I can say that the number of students is growing each year. This is due to the fact that more and more Poles immigrate to UK and there are more Polish children born here.
Not all of those children go to Polish schools, that much is true, but the majority do. So saying that the turnout is too low comes as a bit of a surprise. Why is it that the turnout wasn’t too low in the past, when the number of students now is higher than ever?
The insufficient number of trained examiners is the only reason that I somewhat understand. Out of all of them it makes, relatively, the most sense. If the number of students and exam takers has been growing, there can really be a shortage of examiners. However, any such shortage would be AQA’s fault, wouldn’t it? Why should Polish students pay for someone else’s mistakes.
Put on your tin foil hats, because I’m about to do some conspiracy theory speculation. In my humble opinion there are two real reasons for AQA’a decision. I should now mention that what I’m about to write will be pure speculation, whether you believe it or not is up to you.
Reason number one, as with most things, is money. The government and other institutions are looking for savings wherever they can. To them, putting secondary language a-levels in a bin is simple, because it would mostly impact the immigrants, who make an easy target. At this point I will mention that Polish is not the only language getting the axe, Punjabi, Bengali and Modern Hebrew are also under threat.
The shortage of trained examiners is probably a direct result of this hunt for savings. If you’re one of those people who say: “Why should my hard earned taxes be spent on a bunch of immigrants?”, consider this. Immigrants also work hard, probably harder than most, and pay their taxes and bills as any British nationals. Not to mention that immigrant workers are probably the best thing that happened to the British economy in years, but that’s an argument for another day.
Reason number two is the absurd belief that Polish a-levels give Poles an unfair advantage. What advantage, you ask? Well, all those B and A results give them extra points for universities. Why is it unfair? Because they take Polish as a second language, much like English students take French or Spanish, even though it’s their native language. It is hard to get low results if the language being examined is the one you were speaking in since you said your first word. There are a few facts one can forget or choose to ignore.
Like the fact English, the language in which all lectures and future exams will be made, is a second language for most of Polish students. Even I, someone who has lived in UK for years, studied in a sixth form and other education institutes before that, have some problems with English. Also, there are Polish students, who were born or have been living from a young age in England. As a volunteer at a Polish Saturday School, who works with such students, I can say that they struggle with their native language. It’s because it is not the primary language they use in their every day lives. So it all balances out the whole “it’s their native language” nonsense.
Finally, Polish a levels are not mandatory, they are something Polish students do on top of their regular courses in British schools. They go to supplementary schools on Saturdays or in evenings. Saying that it gives them unfair advantage would be like blaming an English student for going to an evening class to study a subject not offered by their college or sixth form.
In all honesty, I hope that my speculation is wrong, but as this old saying goes: hope is the mother of naive and stupid. If you agree with anything I wrote here and also think that AQA made a mistake, there is a petition going to save the Polish a levels.