Most Influential Moment of the 18th Century

Throughout history there are moments of great importance. Events which shake the world and change it forever. This is were we come in. Each of us will choose one event per century, starting with the 18th, and explore their significance. Why the 18th? Cause Paddy doesn’t know shit about what happened prior to the French Revolution, nor is he interested.

But in all seriousness, the 18th century is the golden age of Enlightenment – a wonderful and turbulent time – and there’s plenty to talk about.

There is a rule to the discussion we are about to undertake: We will chose singular events. So bids like the “French Revolution” or the “First World War” do not count, since they are more a series of events. Any event within them is fair play, though.
So, without further ado.

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The 18th century

 

Pole – The invention of the steam engine

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Okay, this is where I cheat a little. It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment for the invention of a steam engine. A task made even more difficult when we take into consideration the invention of a primitive steam turbine by Hero of Alexandria in the 1st century A.D. However, it is accepted that the first stream powered machine was used to pump water out of mines in 1698. But the first proper steam engine was designed by 1705. This new tool truly kicked off an age of rapid industrialization and urbanization. Shaking up the social and political order like no other invention before it. This moment marks the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Even though it has its roots in the 17th century.

Paddy – The American Declaration of Independence

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The American Declaration of Independence had the immediate, simultaneous effect of damning one continent and freeing another. That is not to say it was, as one might expect, the New World getting one over on the Old, quite the reverse. The invention of those United States, born more from ink than blood, meant the death of America.

The British authorities, for all their faults, prevented European colonists from encroaching too far into the plethora of Native American nations that were splashed across Turtle Island. But it is a result of great “American” heroes like Washington that we talk of upper New York state rather than the Iroquois Nation (although, technically, the British still recognise such a nation’s existence), and because of Jackson we have South Carolina instead of Cherokeeland and Mississippi rather than Choctawia (just imagine all the bother we could’ve saved if such states remained copper-skinned?). And it is only with the disappearance of such places – and people – that the USA stands as our single world power.

All that said, it wasn’t all bad. As I alluded to and will expand upon, the US liberated a people in 1776, and that’s nothing to sniff at. The the destitute of Europe in their bedraggled and diseased millions at that point had a new hope, a new home.

Pole – Yes, the formation of the US is a big one, but I think there is a more important document associated with it: the Constitution. Also, back then the US did not have the same impact on the rest of  the world as it had following the Second World War.

The steam engine however, did not just change the system – it lead to the formation of a new one. The newly powered factories and railways caused the emergence of a new elite. An elite whose position was not based on aristocratic titles and chronicled bloodlines proving that one’s great, great, great, great grandmother was fucked by royalty. They gained their position because of capital.Image result for bourgeoisie

The middle class rose, giving birth to the class system we are familiar with today. This trend crossed national borders: it was not confined to England, where the first steam engine was built. It offered us an unprecedented step away from feudalism, into the industrial society of today. It wasn’t the only one by any means, but there were none of such importance preceding it.

Paddy: You credit the steam engine with a lot. Not only did it crush the gentry, it apparently uplifted that squatty and industrious class – the bourgeoisie – to take its place.

The steam engine had a negligible impact on the 18th century. It could be argued that it was only after that epoch had had its day and when the engine had been transplanted to the New World that it received the conditions – and scope – it required to bring about some of what you credit it with.

Yes, in the great expanse of the Great Plains and in America’s deserts and mountain regions, the steam engine did indeed usher in its own kind of revolution, in land acquisition, transportation and communication. But that was a different time. And of course, it was dependent entirely on the nation we call the United States – a joining of words Thomas Paine, that moral and popular force behind the Declaration, gave us.

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The tempered radicalism of the American Revolution opened the way for a system where Law is sovereign – a considerable change to the old British modus operandi where a king (or queen) stood atop and somewhat apart, dictating to all. It is in such a society based on law that science and commerce thrives, while moribund despotisms fester. Recall how it is the congenial air of America that Europe’s greatest innovators have found, and find still, liberation (and those all important government grants). From Paine himself, with his modest bridge building, to Joseph Priestley (chased out Tory mobs) and Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, as well as a good number of thosr scientists which gave physics its relativist and quantum transformations.

(There’s also the other side to all this: without the “removal”/genocide of the American Indians, and the subsequent slave system that was installed, the Industrial Revolution would’ve lacked the enormous quantity of cotton on which it depended. While doing this it also functioned as the world’s most pluralistic society, and one of its most literate. The States are, as you have said, the land of contradiction.)

The Industrial Revolution didn’t have a single cause as you seem to suggest. There were a variety of “sparks”, and many of those, I hope you can see, occurred because the United States existed. Without the Declaration we wouldn’t have had which, and, to your first point, nor the Constitution.

 

Pole: “U.S.A.! U.S.A! U.S.A.!” is what I’m getting from your argument. Yes yes, America is great. However, you yourself admitted that it was thanks to the steam engine that Washington’s folk were able to built up their economy and expand westward. Without the rail system and steam powered modes of transportation the Wild West would be just that: Wild. So it was not the engine that became great because of the States.

Also, you’re talking about the 19th century America, which over that era has become a major player on the international and global arena. 18th century States were still a toddler as far as nations go. The reason the revolution succeeded and the States were able hold on to its independence afterwards is because the European powers had bigger problems than an upstart nation. The glory days of the Spanish Empire were gone. The French were having their own crisis with the bourgeoisie (not to mention that without aid from them the colonists were likely to loose). And the British were far more interested in India and China at the time.

I believe thinking that the Industrial Revolution wouldn’t have happened if the United States didn’t exist is wrong.  The Revolution had its start in Europe, Britain and the Netherlands to be more specific. Those countries were becoming less reliant on the peasant economy based on agriculture which was the foundation of the feudal system. The rising of their textile industry is where the industrialisation begun. I admit that the US played a major role in the later development, when the Industrial revolution was in full swing. But most of the innovations done there had their roots in Europe. Electricity was discovered by good old Benny Franklin, but it was the work of Micheal Faraday (an Englishman) that led us to the creation of the electric motor, light bulb and so on. Henry Ford borrowed the assembly line from the Brits and adopted it for his car manufacturing. Which would also be impossible without the steam engine. As far cotton production goes, do you really believe that the existence of the States would have had such a great impact? The difference would be that the ships transporting the cotton and other materials from the New to the Old world would be flying the Union Jack instead of stars and stripes.

Lastly, I believe that if the United States did not exist, all those inventions, discoveries and developments you mentioned would have happened regardless. It would just be at different places and by different people. Or perhaps at the same place and same people, they would just say biscuit instead of cookie.

 

Paddy: I did not say the Industrial Revolution wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the US. All I did was highlight its importance as a producer of material wealth and its role as a harbor for greatness.

You, again, remind us of how comparatively insignificant (geopolitically) the States has been for most of its life. This ignores what was the point of these discussions: we are to pick a single event that “shake[s] the world and change[s] it forever”. What meets that definition if not the germinal moment of superpowerdom?

The US is enormously important today, has been for decades, and from its earliest days played a constructive role in world affairs – the Industrial Revolution included. Where, if you’ll allow me, is steam today?

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I haven’t even explored how the signing of the Declaration meant the death notice of hundreds of nations – Native American nations whose names are immortalized in the names of everything from attack helicopters to golf courses. That was a monumental moment – the rejection of the European acceptance of Indian dominance in the Americas – and is not paid anywhere near the attention it deserves.

 

Pole: Yes the steam has gone away. But I think you cannot deny that the greatness of the United States was dependant on it. It was the industry powered by steam that allowed the States to grow into what it is today (as well as its relative isolation from other powers, and two world wars which eliminated its competition).

 

Conclusion.

We probably could on. But I fell like we would just be repeating ourselves, and this thing is already too long.

I think it would be fair to say that the problem with arguing about those events is that they are so closely intertwined and co-dependent. The industrialisation of society and economy as well as the current capitalist system had their root in the steam engine. However they would have looked much different if the States were not there, or was not independent. Let us know what you think.

 

The 21st Century: Cosmopolitan or Tribal

Are Brexit and Trumpism a Sign of Things to Come?

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Earth’s tribes

Paddy: Whenever he found found himself at a loss of words, Marx once told Engels, he would say of the topic at hand, “vell, y’shee, it’sh dialectical”. It was if this contribution would be enough to elicit enough thoughtful nods that no one would notice as he shambled back up to the bar, and away from the arduous task of drunken philosophizing. (And it is, I’ve tried.)

It’s worth being honest: the issue of contemporary cosmopolitanism and tribalism is tricky, with pitfalls and contradiction peppering the path to insight. And yeah, it is dialectical. There is a trend that Whigs, Marxists, liberals, neoconservatives and reactionaries have all recognised (although not universally celebrated): the passage of time brings with it a gradual liberalising of society and a disintegration of its borders.

The diameter of Peter Singer’s moral circle began life a titchy thing but each successive epoch has made it fatter (just like the Westerner’s waist line). As material realities advanced, producing new technologies and broader outlooks, ethical considerations were dragged from the local to universal. So the story goes: the biological “rule of thumb” that ensures we care for our kin (see Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene), was made to apply to one’s province by markets and fetes, to one’s nation by the printing press and through a postal service, and to – we hope – one’s species with the advent of global communication.

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Singer’s Moral Circle

And so, dialectically, our institutions came to reflect this moral progression. National inclusiveness gave us the welfare state, continental inclusiveness the European Union, species awareness the United Nations (and, less gloriously, racial inclusiveness produced projects like the “Anglosphere”, the African Union and Arab League).

But, even with all this, there has been a reaction which looks, well, primal. Those who rather do without Them of a different god, flag or melanin count, thank you very much. We see this in the anti-establishment movements currently consuming North American and European politics – Le Pen, Trump, Putin, UKIP, the Golden Dawn – fueled by the racialist and religious. Those people for whom every inclusive and internationalist evolution has been a misstep, and not the inevitable consequence of material gain.

And, if you’ve been paying attention, you’d be forgiven for agreeing. Our future, all of ours, looks to be rather more in their control.

 

Pole: Just for those who might not exactly understand what tribalism is:

…a tendency to sustain divisions and identities of a pre-national, tribal and ethnic groups that are based on the phenomenon of the ‘genetic’ loyalty, which facilitates ‘tribal survival’

(Potulski, J. 2009)

It is undeniable that tribalism is still a feature of life, Homo Sapiens evolved from pack animals and our emotions follow. We instinctively turn to our family and closest neighbours – our “shrewdness” – for support (a group of apes is called a shrewdness, Google it). And it is this primal impulse which causes us to act sympathetically and altruistically back: to be, in a word, social. When seeking friends, it attracts us to the familiar and away from the different, the Other. So tuned is this, that the smallest similarity can be enough to create a connection, while the smallest difference may antagonise.

[Paddy: there has been research that suggests out-groups can actually elicit disgust in people, in much the same way an invasive pathogen might. See Harris and Fiske (2011)]

So surely, if such behaviour is “natural”, why don’t we all behave like chimpanzees in a troop? Because our species has one thing that no other Earthly creature has: Reason. Thanks to this capacity, we no longer live in perpetually warring tribes. We can put our differences to one side and apply our energies elsewhere… well, in a way.

Tribes may have just transmuted into what we call nations, races, social classes and political parties. Just look at the recent events in the US and the UK. Trump, an obvious idiot, was still able to get the Republican hierarchy behind him. Even Ted Cruz, who was booed during the convention for not openly pledging fealty to the new tribal leader, eventually toed the line. Their gut told them that it is better to follow “one of us”, even if he’s heading off the cliff’s edge.

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Following the Brexit vote to “take our country back”, there were a number of xenophobic attacks. In Essex, a man was pummelled to death by a group of teenagers for speaking Polish. Two others were beaten less than 12 hours later, following a vigil for murdered man. In another attack that same day, a father and son were beaten unconscious by strangers in London. These victims were guilty being the wrong ethnicity.

To be more precise: we no longer live in isolated, self-sufficient groups. We have created a global society, interconnected socially, economically and politically. The results of presidential elections in the US affect the world. The collapse of Greek economy causes powerful ripples in the grand pool of the EU. Somewhere in England a Pole and an Irishman can form a friendship. Again, all possible because of Reason. But our tribal inheritance is ever present.

 

Paddy: Another dialectic: reason and passion.

Reason allows – no, demands – one thing and our instinct is to rebel right back, grasping for the familiar and insular. (As Hume knew – and endorsed due to his Toryism – reason is the slave of the passions.)

It’s trite, but rational action in a internationalist context is our species’ only hope: an effectual United Nations the only prevention to species suicide. (If you know a way in which a single nation can solve the issues of global warming and nuclear catastrophe, please let me know in the comments.) But Freud’s narcissism of small differences, as you explained, precludes just that. Shrewdness, for reasons separate from reason, has attached itself to the nation-state in the 21st century. Perhaps George Bernard Shaw’s observations made in the 20th can help:

A healthy nation is as unconscious of its nationality as a healthy man of his bones. But if you break a nation’s nationality, it will think of nothing else but having it set [again]. A healthy nation is as unconscious of its nationality as a healthy man is of his bones.

He was speaking in particular of Eire, where the threat to national unit was clear and present: it had a flag, a uniform, armed men in the streets. The reaction to British rule is easy to understand: home and away literally had their own team colours. International capital can be just as destructive and ubiquitous – imposing a division of labour that turns man into beast and debtor into slave – but, like so much economic hocus pocus, the guiding hand remains hidden. Fraud and cheap tricks are given a sense of levity by the Veil, and a newspeak diverts. Too big to fail, misselling, economic recovery, balancing the books, reducing the deficit… It’s almost enough to make you forget that we’re living through an era of unprecedented class war.

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US wealth distribution

But, as far-right figureheads know, race and nation are easier to discern than market forces.

Remember that fleeting sub-vocalisation you had upon seeing Mr Patel in his brand new BMW? Do you recall the momentary shame you felt as you went to stow it away? Well, so say Le Pen and Farage, there’s no need for that. Trust your instincts – that niggly little voice was right all along – the shiftless immigrant is to blame for all your inadequacies. So too, you were right to hate that public sector worker for thinking she was entitled to a decent pension and maternity pay, and to fear Johnny-Bloody-Foreigner’s funny foreign ways.

The nation has become a safe haven from those chaotic global forces which rather carry on acting upon unseen. From Nairn,

Nationalism can in [a] sense be pictured as like the old Roman god, Janus, who stood above gateways with one face looking forward and one backwards. Thus does nationalism stand over the passage to modernity, for human society. As human kind is forced through its strait doorway, it must look desperately back into the past, to gather strength wherever it can be found for the ordeal of ‘development’

And it is no coincidence that, as well as honouring the flag (be it Southern Cross or Union), Trump’s supporters also harbour authoritarian fantasies. Dictators, for all their faults, offer consistency; and willing subjects, for all their charms, refuse to see what the sacrifice of the self means for self-preservation.

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Berlin, 1945

European history teaches us that subjugation campaigns against minorities are seldom a contained affair. They’re often dress rehearsals for something far bolder: Spain’s crusaders banished the Jews after it had cleared out the Moors, and then the Inquisition was born; Russian tsars would have their generals “pacify” the steppe before bringing them home to quell urban dissenters; and as the last Reich folded, Hitler damned his “undeserving” German brothers and sisters. Time after time, once the machinery of state had been adapted to cannibalization, and all of Them had been spent, the mob found that all they called for came calling on them.

 

 

(Edit: Is it ironical or just farcical that the first significant movement that proclaimed universal virtue and all men brothers – the French Revolution – also gave birth to the modern nation state?)

 

 

Just How Fucked Are We? Brexit Referendum

Paddy: OK, Project Fear may have gotten to me but I actually dread the prospect of a British exit from the European Union. There’s plenty of reasons, some ideological, others humanitarian, some selfish (more southern European women per favore!).

What a shame they’re all bloody married

I’m not sure how interesting you’d find the whole procession, so, for now, I’ll limit myself to the line I’ve been subjecting every acquaintance who mistakenly asked me “so, how are you voting?” recently. For short, this response is suitably labelled “The End is Nigh!

What you must bear in mind, for this to make any sense, is that the Remain/Leave is at its core an ideological battle. One between pragmatic internationalism and conservationism in its many forms.

So, it’s Friday and the vote’s in: (gulp) Leave has won.

In the City the pound plunges, in the estates the right-wing insurgency is boosted. All those Tommy Mair “lone wolves” get the unpleasant truth confirmed: they are, in fact, a dispersed pack. Their fellow travelers in the mainstream – the “I’m only saying what everyone’s thinking” lot – lose the residue of shame they have left, and join in. Pushing the post-Cameron Tory party further and further into the recesses.

More broadly and more importantly however: the continent. The loss of the UK will initiate the self-destruction of the EU. Not long before we see all those Eastern European and Baltic states we forgot existed drop out – leaving, among other things, the human rights standards Brussels guarantees. I assure you, it won’t be long before we’re witnessing pogroms of those “swarms” out of Africa and Arabia. Leaving us agitated and questioning, “should we do anything?” (A step backwards from that conundrum that has long rattled the Right, “what should we do?”)

Yanis: he’s like Che, only bald… and less shooty

The xenophobes and fascists will also excel in Greece’s elections (much to the fault of the EU and Europe’s biggest banks – see Yanis Varoufakis, a keen Remain campaigner), setting off dominoes snaking toward the North Sea. Putin and Ergoren will quietly celebrate and, quieter still, put Europe’s implosion to good use, cleansing their borders of Chechens and Kurds respectively (in the very strictest sense of the word).

Without the liberal, progressive force that is European unity, prepare yourself for the Savage Continent we mistakenly thought buried for good.

Battle of Grunwald by Jan Matejko

Pole: We’re due for a good and proper World War, don’t you think? It’s high time the Brits got their beating stick out and gave those no good Frenchies a good spanking. Also who doesn’t like to kick a German or two in their sausage loving arses.

Usually I’d say that you’re being a bit too paranoid and fearful of fascism and authoritarianism/totalitarianism re-establishing itself in Europe. However, this time I might actually join in that. Britain leaving the EU would set a dangerous precedence. It would indeed show those right wing extremists that they have some power and that is a frightful thought.

Not sure about the fascist regimes popping up like mushrooms after a heavy rain. (Fuck, is that an analogy for nuclear war?) Can’t speak for others, but I have faith in my countrymen. We might have a right wing party and prez in power, but they’re characterized more by their Catholic fundamentalism than authoritarian tendencies (though they have those). We have a constitution, and as the recent crisis regarding the Constitutional Tribunal (Polish equivalent of the Supreme Court) has proven, we are willing to fight in its defense. Not with guns and violence, but with demonstrations and protests. You might laugh at the futility of such an devour in face of a threat of totalitarianism. But remember, the Poles actually convinced the Commies and the Soviets to fuck off with just that.

Even if Brexit doesn’t mean the resurgence of fascism in Europe, it almost certainly spells doom for the British economy. If you paid attention or read one of Paddy’s previous posts, then you know we’re in recession, again. Breaking away from the EU would mean cutting some crucial funding. For example that for the British farmers, who rely on the EU to stay afloat. On the eve of the referendum 170 students’ unions wrote an open letter to the voters pleading to vote Remain. One of their argument was that the EU provides 15% of funding for the British universities. Without, you can certain there will be further tuition fee increases and marketisation.

If none of that speaks to you, then consider this. Leaving the EU could put Game of Thrones in jeopardy. Filming the show is incredibly expensive, and it relies greatly on funding from the EU. Without that support, the show could be forced to find a different venue. You can imagine the loss of continuation. Not to mention all the jobs lost in the Northern Ireland, which the show provides. Also, don’t expect another large scale scene like those in the most recent episode: The Battle of the Bastards. Seems that winter might take a little longer to get here.

Game of Thrones: can you live without it?

 

Paddy: Empire is never far away is it? The Poles achieved their 1989 liberation due to the decline of a crumbling empire, while British Leave campaigners are turning, for confidence, to quaint false memories of theirs’.

It is a truism in everywhere where blue moods and blue-bloods do not reign, but the decline of the British Empire was long overdue. But the Leavers are resolute: their path leads to the lions of old(e), glory and institutionalized sadism. That last one the Brits will certainly get, but they might not be so keen when they see it inverted rather than directed outside – to the wogs. (What do these working class voters think will happen to their rights when the right of the Tories take power?)

And that, rather neatly, brings us to the very worst of all: a Leave victory will be followed by Boris entering Number 10. See below a hint of just how our Dear Leader will be treated by the multitude.

A multitude the Old Etonian despises but, for this fleeting moment, finds useful.

Why is it that the Leave campaigners always seem to look so… unattractive?

Ugh, well, I’m sorry subject you to that. As a remedy, please let Rome remind you of the importance of European solidarity:

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

Paddy: Somewhere, somehow, my mind was furnished with this interesting anecdote from someone who had once participated in the great Soviet experiment: during the cold, grey decades of the mid-20th century, they, and everyone they knew, would get their fill of current events and politics in the comedy club, and for laughs they would tune into the news.

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Not because the world’s ills brought mirth, but because the majority of the state-sanctioned output was so obviously… not true (that’s even worse than untrue somehow). This is an interesting account relayed be many defectors and liberated peoples: they knew all along that the state’s apparatus were kept in place by large piles of bullshit. See the weeping and frenzied North Koreans on the day of the dwarf king’s Dear Leader’s death, and know, in the one place that remains free, they’re laughing. Well, perhaps not laughing, they still have the troops on street corners, the gulags and bloated stomachs. But they’re aware of the absurdity, and internally fight it – a surprisingly optimistic find.

It’s easy for we, legion of the free as we are, to see the stupidity and freakishness of the totalitarian at a glance. It’s harder though, to recognise the convergence of ends.

You see, in the West, the only group that matters – the young – learn about their world from today’s designated funny men. John Olivier, John Stewart, Jimmy Dore and the late Bill Hicks and George Carlin dole/d out far more kicks of reality than Brian Williams, Evan Davis and Davin Esler ever have. (I mean, who the fuck are these clowns anyway?)

The comparison with the USSR is not perfectly aligned – after-all who watches the news in this country? But we’ve reached the point, as a civilization, where the youth go to the practitioners of comedy in order to fulfill their civil duties.

 

Pole: I can confirm that. I’ve made several attempts to start watching the news regularly, and each time I gave up after about three days in. Not only is it depressing, it’s just repetitive. Quite often I just got angry, and not just the political coverage, but the rest of it: the BREAKING NEWS by-line, the 3D charts, and the lofty tone. So for me, comedians have provided a much-needed alternative. (And, if I wanted to know more there’s always the internet.)

The role of comedians has always been to criticize – to hold up a mirror to us all, to society, and tell us just how fucked up things are. John Oliver is a perfect example. He was able to make news segments on death penalty and abortion laws entertaining without devaluing the important points.

 

Paddy: Not quite a disagreement, but we seem to have a difference in focus. It’s minor but worth exploring.

My explanation for this shift toward the supposed irreverent has more to do with the uselessness of the mainstream media than the magnetism of comedians. Most journalists are simply not doing their job. They’ve always – the media corporations that is – been servile to power, but now it’s blatant with the likes of the Clinton News Network.

Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news—things which on their own merits would get the big headlines—being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.

George Orwell, Preface to Animal Farm which, ironically, was censored in the 1940s to keep the Soviet Embassy content

But, following 2008 and the so-called crisis of capitalism (“oh, a crash in a system built on contradiction. What a surprise!”), this fact has become glaringly obvious.

Rarely before have the hacks been seen as the institutionalized sycophants as they do now, when they’re exerting so much in clinging to the collapsing behemoth. They’ll fail in their mission – maintaining the status quo – even if don’t realise it. History has marked the date of capitalism’s demise, and no amount of fear-mongering or disparaging of progressive forces can deter Hegel’s Owl in its acceleration toward the present.

Even though they may have succeeded in terrorizing decent folk away from the embrace of a President Sanders (and, in doing so, giving American fascism – in the form of Trump – the keys to the Union), it’ll soon dawn on the Red Tops just how meaningless they are when the grey tops are dead.

Well, that turned into a bit of a tangent, didn’t it? You better save this thing – tell a joke!

 

Pole: How do you recognize an Irishman at a cock fighting ring?

He comes with a duck.

I think this is one of the reasons why we’re such good friends. We don’t really disagree, we just look at the same thing from different angles. In other words, we complete each other (insert gay joke).

We both highlighted different aspects of the shift. I think both play an important part here. Yes, the news media has, as you said, failed us. But it is because the comedy shows are able to be both critical and entertaining, that they were able take their place at the forefront of new media.

 

Un-Categorised

Pole: Many disagreements between me and Paddy eventually come down to fundamental differences in our ways of thinking. They can be simply described in black & white vs. shades of grey. The main difference is that Paddy thinks in terms of very rigid absolutist categories. Something is either black or it’s white, it’s either 1 or 0. There is no in-between. He is also quite quick in making his judgement. His decisiveness is one of the things I actually respect. No matter how fucking annoying it sometimes gets. I find this approach a little bit narrow minded. It lacks flexibility. It’s too confining, restrictive and quite honestly, arrogant. There is black and there is white, and between them there are shades of grey. Fuck, and that sounds like a line from a Twilight fan fiction.

Paddy: Yeah, there’s nuance and there is complexity but let’s not pretend that’s it. If you give in to the post-modernists and declare that it’s nothing but a multi-tonal blur out there, you’ve ceased thinking. In the human sphere (a concept I may have to expand on) there are absolutes, which we can, for laziness more than anything, label black and white. Grey exists because white and black allow it. So by definition, it is only with these confines that we can make sense of what’s in between.

And so, now that that truism has been voiced, let’s get to the main event. You take exception at my “absolutist” ways only when I apply them to politics and morality. Confining you say, arrogant you add for good measure. But there is totalitarianism and there is liberty,  there is good and there is evil, just as there is positive and negative. These concepts both transcend and shape language. I am wary of applying the term fascist but there are people about today for which that term was made. And for applying it where necessary – to the Islamic fundamentalists, and to Trump and Modi – isn’t oversimplification, it’s identification. Sure, you can bite back with “think of their childhood”, “spare a thought for their cultural norms”, but, as liberals very seldom do, you’re not saying anything. People who think like me, on the radical fringe of left and right, can detach ourselves from the buzz and say, “ah-ha, I see where this fits in”. (Okay, yeah, that may sound arrogant.)

For survival as well as loftiness we need these confines, recognising them and how they manifest is – and you’ll have to forgive me here – only right.

Pole: Absolutist classifications have their use, that much is true. We have those short, simple terms to help us identify people and things quickly. There terms, like stereotypes speed up the processing of information. Again, while useful it might over-simplify the issues leading us to false conclusions. If you quickly identify someone as fascist or communist that may prolong your existence, but we have to remember that there are sub-categories and divisions within many classifications. Lenin’s idea of communism was quite different from that of his successor, and theirs together was not exactly in line with what grandpa Karl taught us.

Furthermore, in political terms, the lines between the right and the left have been blurring. Parties have been shifting their political alignment according to the political situation. We can no longer speak of just left wing and right wing. There are multiple stages or levels of ones leftism or rightism. The Republican Party is conservative and right wing, but not as much as the Tea Party. Now you’re gonna say: “those are still absolutist classifications, there are only more of them”. True, but like I said before, the borders blur and shift, new categories arise, sometimes replacing the old.

Sometimes we need to take a step back and consider all the available options. Otherwise we might end up oversimplifying the problem and our intellectual process, whatever it might be, will grind to a halt.

Paddy: You misunderstand. Groups and people, of course, shift between and can occupy two or more categories. Another truism. You’re ignoring my fundamental point, which is these categories themselves sit within a spectrum in which absolutes give meaning.

Regardless of what the self-declared “rightist” party is doing, there are rightist ideals which exist in reality (or, in the case of contemporary party politics, within the realm of imagination). Whether or not some sorry band is personifying the ramblings of Hobbes, Friedman or Nietzsche, there’s a political right to which they can be set against and compared.

This is all getting rather wordy and overly-convoluted, so let’s strip it down to its simplest constituents. Say, for the sake of argument, Labour, Britain’s party of the left, claims to still be of the left all the while promoting the causes of privatization, crony capitalism and jingoism. In this instance, they do in fact cease to be the party of the left whatever they may say for themselves. They’re a stingy, yuppie, royalist, UKIPper-baiting shamble of American Presidential-dittos (remember, thought experiment!). Simply because people lie and attempt to deceive, we needn’t abandon the entire theoretical framework we all implicit rely on. That’s stupid. Categorically.

Pole: Well, my previous point has become the most useless, irrelevant piece of horse-shit I written recently. So feel free to disregard it completely. I feel we’re getting away from what this discussion was supposed to be about. Partially (if not mostly) due to my fault.

Let me come back to what you said in your first paragraph. Yes, there is good and there is evil. But to call them absolutes is, well, I just can’t agree to that fully. Yes there are things that are intrinsically evil and good. However, a lot depends on your definition of good and evil and on the separate circumstances of the situation. Is evil the absence of good, or is it a category of its own? War is evil, but war against tyranny, fascism or a defensive war is, to quote St. Aquinas, a “Just War”.  The same with good. There was a time when killing someone of a different faith was not only good, but encouraged.

Implicitly relying on a theoretical framework is absolute in only one place. The domain of mathematics. Two plus two will always equal four (I won’t bring the possibility of other dimensions’ existence into this). Most other intellectual disciplines are not so rigid. In practical terms, relying on such a framework can be useful, but we cannot rely on it too much. We must be willing to break away from it, must be willing to accept that we might be wrong. True progress and innovation doesn’t happen at the core but at the fringes.

Paddy: So there’s a revolutionary zeal in the old boy after-all? Break-away? Recreate? Being of the fringe? Perhaps your surname is Trotsky after-all, not… what ever it is.

What you’re referring to is paradigm shifts, which is all well and good and, yah, difficult for my side to dismiss. This is where which spheres – zones of interest – we’re talking about come to the fore.

There are frameworks which remain rigid, one of which you correctly identified as mathematics. Others, such as what’s considered useful or enjoyable, which belong to a less eternal spectrum. This is where, I believe, the real disagreement is: which frameworks are we willing to claim are, indeed, absolute, and which are dependent on the dictations of space and time.

Morality. That’s the clincher, isn’t it? That’s what you really want to talk about: are judgments of good and evil a good idea?

 

Gun a Nun – Pole’s response

I don’t know if calling Paddy a bit of a hypocrite would be accurate, but that’s what I think after reading Gun a Nun. You have criticised Hitch (your personal hero) for being a religious zealot of a sort. Yet, here you are doing the same thing you despise: brutally attack a religious group, demonize its members (quite literally) and, of course, you had to include “god doesn’t exist” in all this. Does that not sound like a form of indoctrination.

Your intentions might be noble, arguments sound and information confirmed. But I think you don’t realize that you come off as an angry hatemonger, rather than the rational intellectual I know you to be.

When Contrarians Become the Rear-Guard – Why New Atheism is (still) Terrible

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.

Goya’s Sleep of Reason

 

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.

The Disasters of War, and a shameless attempt to shoe-in more Goya

 

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.

 

Oh Hitch…

Is Utopia Worth It?

 

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of Utopia is an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. (Paddy: for the sake of this particular discussion I’ll amend the above, removing “imagined” due to the obvious repercussions for my side.)

 

Paddy: A state in which everything is the best it can possibly be, what William Morris called an “earthly paradise”. For me, that is worth striving for with upmost vim. Equality, liberty and an absence of pervasive social ills strikes me as goals worthy of what others might see as heavy costs. A dangerous compromiser (or “liberal”) such as yourself might count yourself among their apprehensive ranks.

Pole: I see you go straight to name calling and labelling. Don’t know why I hoped we could have a civil discussion, but as you wish. I accept your challenge sir, the gloves are officially off.

I feel inclined to agree with you about liberty and all that good stuff. However, I wouldn’t be so quick to pay that heavy price – because it might lead to some additional and unforeseen costs and consequences. As a super-radical, you might be blind to them, or choose to outright ignore them, because the ideal is more important than people.

Paddy: It might be helpful to be more specific about these “costs”. Chiefly, I’m referring to the damaging effects (or should that be side-effects?) of Revolution.

Revolutions, whether its detractors admit it or not – because, let’s not forget, conservatives have been served by them too – have always been a means of achieving the ideal society by the most direct route possible. Tear down the old and, upon the smoking ruins, build anew.

Even with our species’ numerous attempts at acquiring Utopia this way, it has never quite worked out. The reason for this, of course, was a betrayal: the adoption of leadership techniques the idealistic upstarts originally sought to destroy. Robespierre and Bonaparte made themselves absolutist rulers, while Stalin made himself a poor imitation of Bonaparte. “History repeats first as tragedy and then as farce.”

This does not mean Revolution as a political strategy is forever condemned. Every left-wing revolution, even the French and Russian, has unleashed dangerous and liberating ideas which are not so easily “disappeared”. Equality, freedom and fraternity, although not achieved in their absolute forms; in     striving for them we have witnessed the general betterment of humankind. Whatever the costs.

Pole: These are the exact costs I have in mind. You agree that revolutions are destructive in their very nature, which is not a necessarily bad thing if it means tearing down an oppressive regime. But, as Marx pointed out every revolution needs to establish its own oppressive regime after its success, during the transition from the old to the new system. Unfortunately that involves removing anyone who can pose a threat to the new order. In case of the French Revolution that meant guillotining a great many members of the ancien regime, in case of the Russians it meant executing the royal family (which I know you’re all for), filling gulags and more. These are the costs you are happy to ignore: thousands or millions of deaths, secret police forces, suppression of freedom of speech, etc.

To say that revolutions spread the ideals of liberty and equality is a bit of a stretch as well. They did remove the corrupt bourgeois governments and opened the path for advancement to the masses, that much is true. But they were quick to place their own governments, led by elites, who were more than happy to yet exploit the masses and block their advancement. The difference is, they called themselves different names and used different arguments to justify the new order. Instead of a Tsar, there was General Secretary of the Central Committee, instead of the landowning nobility there were party members.

I could go on about the sins of revolution. It is a failed concept if it takes another revolution to correct the wrongs of the previous one. Thus locking us in an endless struggle. Revolutions might just be too destructive.

Paddy: You admit that there has been a general progressive improvement of the political and moral landscapes, accelerated in large part by revolutionary utopian thinkers, yet you also argue that revolutions are a failed concept.

There is a fundamental contradiction in your position unless, of course, you are not a progress-inching liberal at all, but a conservative.

Pole: Again with the name calling. What I am suggesting is that revolutions might cause too much destruction and suffering, while at the same time take a very long time to deliver what they promised, which sometimes requires another revolution. Also they don’t seem to give us the finished product only a work in progress. It’s like spending £50 on a new game, waiting for months for its release, withstand multiple delays, only to be given a half finished, broken product, which requires a shitload of patches and updates. Only by then it is too late to realise that you’ve fallen victim to hype and false promises. Made by people who wanted to do good, but had no idea of how to do it.

In the end I would be in favour of seeking less destructive ways of achieving the same level of slow, gradual progress, because the end result given to us by revolutions doesn’t seem to repay for the atrocities committed by the revolutionaries in name of progress.

Paddy:  It’s not name-calling, I simply like to identify what I am up against. In many ways a principled conservative is trickier to debate against than a liberal. Glad to see you’ve set up your stall in the latter camp.

You say that you favour gradual progress while ignoring the fact that revolutions have not just been desirable, but inevitable, throughout history.

Take the American Revolution – or the Declaration of Independence for us stuffy lot this side of the Atlantic. The principles and ideals which gave this event its popular support (genocide of the indigenous population aside) were the exact sentiments which the absolutist Monarchs of Europe censored so harshly.

With the debates about the divine right of kings and social leveling shut down, gradual progress, brought about through debate and increment, was simply impossible. The great Thomas Paine, who called for such dangerous legislation as universal education, suffrage and an end to slavery, would have lost that handsome head of his – and very nearly did following the publication of The Rights of Man – when he brought into question the divinity of the State’s head. It took the relative isolation and the well-armed populace of North America for common sentiments to gain meaningful articulation. Through that, the colonists threw off the domination of that incestuous Crown, under whose territory progress of any kind remained stunted for a generation.

It is tyrants, not idealists, that make violent Revolution inevitable.

Pole: This discussion is not about the inevitability of revolutions, but whether utopia is worth it. You cannot say that liberty, equality and free speech cannot be implemented without revolutions. As much as you hate the British royalty, England is no longer an absolutist monarchy. The Magna Carta, which limited the authority of kings and laid groundwork for the eventual establishment of a democratic parliament came about without revolution.  The Scandinavian countries are no longer absolutist monarchies, but are some of the most liberal countries in the world, yet no revolutions. The Polish noble democracy, where every noble, no matter their fortune or name, was equal under law and an eventual Polish constitution (1st in Europe, 2nd in the world) happened without a revolution.

To summarise, I am not absolutely hell bent on avoiding revolutions at all costs. Unfortunately, sometimes the situation forces us to take up arms and rise against a tyrant. However, I would simply see it as a last resort, used only after all other options have been exhausted. Never the less, a revolution is not good – it’s a necessary evil at best.

At this point I think we should stop talking about revolutions as I fear we are getting further away from the core subject of the discussion.

Paddy: The English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution reduced the power of the Monarch, on whose whims we would still be subject to if it weren’t for gun powder and steel. Don’t forget that.

Stalin V Churchill. Who was Worse?

Source: www.loc.gov

Paddy: Winston Churchill, widely regarded as one of the greatest and most powerful patriarchs of the 20th century, is also drawn upon to symbolise the noble underdog – the outgunned warrior defending his patch against the hoard.

But for a great many others the British Bulldog conjures up a less settling image: a racist reactionary responsible for unforgivable crimes, not least among them helping initiate a series of events which nearly destroyed our planet.

Churchill’s projection looms large long after his death and, although the cult which still surrounds him is loath to admit it, casts a dark shadow.

Pole: Another member of the 20th century triumvirate, Joseph Stalin. A man, who in his person represented the iron will of the Soviet Union and who led the Russian people through the turmoil of World War 2, until the final fall of Nazi Germany, to which he contributed greatly.

Unlike Churchill, he is mostly known for his reign of terror, fuelled by paranoia and a quest for absolute power. Surely it cannot be denied that Stalin was the worst human being of the previous century. And that’s saying a lot. After all we are talking about the period of history which included people like Hitler, Chairman Mao and a plethora of other ruthless dictators.

Paddy: Ever since Churchill grew out of that stage of human development where everyone looks like a miniature Winston, he was attempting with all of his might to be the biggest bigot in the vicinity. In Tory England that took quite a bit of doing.

Source: flickr.com

He violently despised every one not of his class and colour. To him, the Irish, brazen enough to demand independence, were barbarians; the indolent Indians, unfortunately sharing the same defect of the paddies, deserved the very worst English grenadiers could lob at them; anyone suspected of being to the left of Mussolini (that great wartime ally of his, Franklin D. Roosevelt, included) were suspect and should, if at all possible, be covertly undermined or overtly thrown to the wolves. The miners who asked for better work conditions and received volleys of rifle fire in return, knew this better than most.

Source: bbc.co.uk

Striking miners in Tonypandy, 1910

No doubt more crimes of this saggy aristocratic alcoholic will come to light as we continue but, for now, it’s important I clarify what I wrote before: Churchill, ever giddy on dispensing of blood and tears of others, did more than any other person to bring about the Cold War.

At Fulton, having just reluctantly handed over the reins of Empire to our American cousins, implanted in their leaders’ minds the idea of a War To End All Wars – but for real this time. What later became misleadingly called the Cold War, at several points, almost caused a nuclear holocaust (something Stalin took steps to avert, whatever else one may say of him – see his plan of a unified Germany).

The ladies of High Society in Britain couldn’t excite this old curmudgeon but the thought of thousands of charred corpses (preferably brown) did. The most one could say of this douchebag, as one could not say of most notorious mass murderers, is he did it with some panache.

Pole: You forgot to mention all of the gulags, forced famines, show trials, political purges, executions carried out by secret police and arrests in the middle of the night Churchill was responsible for. Oh, wait, that wasn’t Churchill at all, it was Stalin. As bad as Churchill might’ve been, he can’t really be compared to Mr. Awesome Moustache.

Did Churchill eliminate his political rivals by having them executed by the NKVD or assassinated from the other side of the globe? Did he name streets, plazas and entire cities after himself and commission massive statues of his chubby self in order to create a cult in his honour? Did he do horrific things to maintain an absolute, despotic power? Did he have a special room where people could clean themselves after meeting with him? No. Again, that was Stalin.

Source: wikipedia.com

Saying that Churchill was worse than Stalin is like saying that getting kicked in the balls is worse than passing a kidney stone.

Paddy: Urine tracts aside, I am not surprised that Churchill didn’t employ the services of the NKVD considering they were operating on the other side of his Iron Curtain. And besides he had MI5 to do his dirty work. Under Churchill’s watchful eye, MI5 perfected the Five Techniques torture regime, sought by brutal governments everywhere. During WWII, a system a “Gestapo-like” torture was carried out on POWs (I refer you to Ian Cobain’s Cruel Britannia). Innocent the Bulldog was not.

This should be unsurprising to anyone who knows their history, the English conceived most of the instruments of repression employed by totalitarian Germany and Russia, the concentration camp included.

And that’s what Churchill personified in spades – Western Imperialism at its very worst.

Source: wikipedia.com

The Right Honourable Sir Winston Churchill KG OM CH TD DL et al.

It is important in this discussion to not simply talk of individuals, we must look at what they represent. Absolutely, on a personal level, Churchill would have provided better companionship than the Great Bear (if you were white). If only because a degree of civility had been established among Britain’s elite that was yet to emerge in the Soviet leadership.

In India and Africa and East Asia, Churchill and his fellow ideologues behaved like Nazis. George Orwell’s hatred for fascism and racism developed during his service in the down-trodden British possession of Burma, where hangings and sadistic abuse of the locals was frequent. Yet again, the Brits were the originals.

Look, as with many atheists say in relation to god, I would like to believe in Churchill. It’s those facts that just keep getting in the way. He was a bridge between two disgraceful worlds – that of European colonialism and that of American global hegemony. To use a capitalist analogy he would no doubt resent, Stalin(ism) is Mickey Mouse in comparison.

Pole: For how many deaths has Churchill been responsible for? I don’t think anyone can claim more than papa Joseph (except Mao, although that’s mostly due to bad economic decisions not deliberate actions). There is still some debate about the exact number, but most seem to agree it was approx. 20 million. The lucky ones were shot in the back of the head and then buried in a ditch. Others either starved, froze or were worked to death.

MI5 may have conducted torture, like every other intelligence agency in the history of mankind, but they did so to extract actual information, sometimes crucial to the war effort. The NKVD did so to force people to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, so they then could be sentenced during show trials. I don’t remember any time when a MI5 agent stripped a woman, covered her private parts in honey and tied her to a tree or a post near an anthill. You can imagine what happened to her. All because she was a prisoner in a gulag and refused to have sex with the NKVD officers in charge.

Concentration camps and mass shootings of protesting miners are horrific, but where is the British equivalent of Katyn? Did Churchill order the murder of about 22 thousand POWs, priests and members of the intelligentsia, who were then buried in a mass grave, some of them still alive? As much as death toll is concerned, I don’t think Churchill comes even close to Stalin.

Paddy: I see you have ignored my suggestion to also consider the related ideologies of both men. If you insist on a score chart of death tolls, however distasteful, I will surely have to submit.

The MI5 – which, I see, you’re only too happy to act as apologist on behalf of – wasn’t the only group of sadists Churchill had to hand. The Black and Tans, brainchild of the infamous drunk, certainly give Stalin’s goons a run for their money. Ex-soldiers, ex-convicts and psychopaths – lesser breeds without the law if ever there was – were unleashed on the Irish citizenry during his time as Minister of War. Rape, murder and robbery were all-too-common in an effort to pacify the natives. I could recite individual cases for maximum emotional impact, but it seems cheap.

There was also plenty of politically-motivated espionage, with those Brits who were suspiciously too anti-Nazi (because, for the Tories, fascism was always preferable to democracy abroad – appeasement would better be called acceptance) finding themselves subject to all sorts of monitoring and intimidation. Victims included the intellectual greats Claud Cockburn, EP Thompson and John Steinbeck.

Source: wikipedia.com

Everyone in the West knows of Mao and Stalin’s famines, but the one Churchill presided over in the Crown Jewel of the Empire? There were three million deaths all told, and to the very end Churchill was ordering “fakir” produced food onto ships, to become exports. (As was done in Eire when spuds caught the plague.) Worse still, he denied relief from the “responsible white men” of Canada and the States. All this was done despite protests from the Indian Secretary of State, who regarded the PM’s policies as “Hitler-like”. If the famine were so bad, Winston asked, why hadn’t Gandhi starved?

 

Ukraine isn’t the only victim of Machiavellian agriculture policies. Nor genocide,

I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.

(Again, remind you of anyone?)

Source: wikipedia.com

Perhaps we ought to be thankful the British Empire declined when it did because, given the track record and rhetoric, if they had the power Stalin had amassed, Churchill and his cabal would have had no qualms about enacting genocide on all those coolies, niggers and Arab barbarians getting dangerous ideas of liberty post-1945.

Pole: You claim that if Churchill had the sort of power Stalin had he would be more than happy to cause some genocide. But he fucking didn’t! Using the “if” argument is nonsensical.

You want to bring famine into that? In this case it’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight. While it is true that Churchill didn’t do fuck-all about it, and in fact made it worse, Stalin’s policies caused famine in Ukraine. He exported most of grain in the foreign markets to pay for his massive industrialization scheme which itself caused deaths and had devastating effects to the environment. The famine wasn’t a result of bad governance, rather it was a conscious plan to stamp down any talk of Ukrainian independence. Starving people don’t make good freedom fighters. There may have been about 3 million deaths in India but there were 7 million deaths in Ukraine… numbers don’t lie.

Source: wikipedia.com

Churchill was in favour of white male supremacy, Stalin was into Russian supremacy. The latter implemented the policy of russification: Russian language and customs were forced upon non-Russian inhabitants of the Soviet Union, often at the price of sacrificing their own culture. Lenin and his Bolsheviks took land from the aristocracy and gave it to the peasants who had been working their fields for generations, ending the medieval feudalism in Russia. Stalin’s collectivisation has reversed that, effectively turning those peasants back into serfs. Factory workers didn’t have it any better either. Poor and dangerous work conditions were present everywhere. Anyone who even thought of complaining was sent to a gulag. Those policies have spread to the other socialist republics like Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia – not to the same extent as in the Soviet Union, but still.

Churchill was a racist, anti-Semitic bigot, fair enough. That’s horrible. The only reason why you can’t say that about Stalin is because he didn’t single out any particular ethnic or religious group as targets of his murderous tendencies. He was just as likely to kill a member of the Communist Party (including the Supreme Commander of the Red Army) as a peasant living in the middle of nowhere.

Source: wikipedia.com

If you really want to talk about ideologies, let’s talk about ideologies. Churchill’s European colonialism involved the white man’s dominance, exploitation and to some extent extermination of indigenous people. Stalinism involved the expansion of Soviet rule over the world, using terror to maintain order and power, russification of local populace, and spreading the cult of Stalin.

Under Churchill’s imperialist rule, the British people could enjoy such things as the freedom of speech and religion while not having to fear having a bag pulled over their head and being dragged away, never to be seen again. Trials of the so called “enemies of the state” in Soviet republics were closer to those carried out by the Inquisition than those in any modern justice system.

Stalin wasn’t such a good and inspirational speaker as Churchill so finding extensive quotes is difficult. I’d like to use just one however: “Death solves all problems, no man – no problem”, said by a man for whom any anonymous accusation or an imaginary threat caused by paranoia was enough to send people to unmarked graves, lost forever.

Paddy: I suppose I should be heartened that you did not conflate Stalinism with the proud tradition of socialism, as so many do. You are right to draw attention to the strongly nationalist strain running through his ideological system. So you can see this as something of a concession if you like: yes, when it comes to brutal dictatorship few can come close to Stalin’s standard.

But there are many ways to act rotten and in that department the British Establishment possessed – and still maintain with considerable vigour, as we learn to our dismay with every new child abuse scandal – a special prowess. For every Soviet crime you throw my way I can lob back a dozen more which Churchill either advocated or initiated. And, in some notable cases, his decisions carried greater weight and the potential for greater destruction.

It is no exaggeration to say that if, contrary to Churchill’s wishes, Britain and France intervened to aid the fledgling Spanish Republic in 1936 the world might have been spared the worst excesses of Nazism. The world war might have been adverted. On the Iberian Peninsula Hitler, Mussolini and Franco perfected *their* reigns of terror – bombing of civilians, mass internment, indoctrination.

Source: flickr.com

Churchill was in a position to do something to stop Hitler when the task would’ve been far easier than it later turned out to be, but he didn’t, because deep down in every Tory sits the same masochistic sickness that also drove the goose-steppers of the Third Reich. He was certainly no great lover of the democratic system it’s wrongly assumed he saved.

And I know I’m playing another “if only things were different” game but my point stands – Churchill’s intentions were just as savage, and if not worst at times, than Stalin’s. Besides, it’s unfair to deny a leftist his “what if” scenarios, it’s about the only thing that keeps us sane (considering that history stubbornly keeps choosing the wrong path).

We could play tit-for-tat all day (I haven’t even got to Churchill’s fantasies of gassing Kurds, or his entirely unnecessary mass-bombing of German cities) but that will get us no-where. I am still more interested in what the men personified.

Source: wikipedia.com

Churchill was the moral author of the nuclear stand-off which, by sheer luck and a Russian called Stanislav Petrov, hasn’t turned us all to cinder. Although Churchill had a soft spot for ol’ Joe, he utterly despised the Communism he was supposed to stand for. Before WWII had even come to a close he had Operation Unthinkable drawn up, a plan to sneak-attack the USSR.

Nothing rattled Churchill’s cage more than the thought of socialised health and – one dreads to think – equality. Old habits die hard and aristocracy even harder. To maintain the shell of the old landed gentry system Churchill was prepared to see the world burn.

Unable to hold on to his sun and blood-soaked empire following the war, Churchill came to embrace at least one former group of colonial possessions: the Yanks. These “responsible white men” could carry the torch for Blighty (reimagined romantically as the wise old Greeks in this new special relationship). Eventually they learnt to do it with gusto, gaining some of the greatest prizes on Earth: the Middle East, East Asia and a monopoly over the Western Hemisphere, all with minimal effort.

The Vietnamese, Cambodians, Congolese, South Africans, Cubans, Chileans, Indonesians, Iranians, Angolans, Nicaraguans, Bolivians, Haitians, Deigo Garcians, Iraqis and Palestinians never quite recovered from the shockwaves this transition of imperial rule brought, nurtured by the Bulldog himself.

So there you have it, Churchill’s legacy. A New Rome and impending doom.

    Source: wikipedia.com

The first time the White House burned

Pole: If the US is the New Rome, than the USSR is the Vandalic or Hunnic horde, coming from the East to take new lands and establish new order, while looting and pillaging everything in its path. The new order wouldn’t be the sweet, sweet socialism you are so fond of. It would be a mutated, perverse version of it, born in a mind ravaged by paranoia and a hunger for absolute power.

Source: wikipedia.com

Vandals sacking Rome

Churchill’s plan to attack the Soviet Union didn’t come from his hatred towards communism, not entirely at least. He didn’t trust Stalin, with good reason. After all, he has broken the word he’s given at Yalta. After liberating the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, Stalin promised only to help them re-establish their own governments. They were supposed to be in the Soviet zone of influence with new borders, but remain pretty much independent. Instead, NKVD followed the Red Army, installing communist regimes, wherever it passed. Countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Hungary became little more than puppet states of Mother Russia. If Stalin was allowed to progress further West, George VI and his entire family would have likely been executed, United Kingdom would’ve been transformed into People’s Republic of Great Britain, and secret police officers would drag people out of their beds in the middle of the night.

Stalin also had his own plan of invading the West. Former soviet intelligence officer, Vladimir Rezun under a pen name Viktor Suvorov, wrote in a few books about his theory about Stalin’s plans. The only difference is, Stalin planned to do that a lot earlier, but Hitler’s invasion in 1941 has stopped him. I have no doubt that if “Operation Barbarossa” didn’t happen, the Red Army would have invaded German occupied territories and continued westward, until it reached the Atlantic.

It is easy to criticise people for making decisions with unforeseeable and unintentional consequences. Hindsight is 20/20 after all. In 1936, France and Britain, probably just wanted to avoid another global war. I’m sure if they knew that Nazis will be building death camps, they would have intervened a lot sooner and Dunkirk disaster would have been avoided.

Source: southpark.cc.com

Captain Hindsight to the rescue!

Yet again, you use the “what if” argument, and yet again I am forced to point out its lack of sense.

Let us finish this discussion here. Otherwise we could go for far longer than I care to keep repeating: 20 million deaths.

Paddy: It seems a wall still exists between East and West, however immaterial. Although to see the ideological trading its ghostly state has brought about is entertaining. So, if you truly believe humanitarian concerns were ever a driving force in British and French foreign policy considerations in the 1930-40s or otherwise, we’re going to need a bigger ladder.

 

An Atheist and an Agnostic walk into a pub…

Paddy and I have been friends for years. After sixth form we both moved to different cities (in my case to another side of Europe) for studies. We were able to maintain contact because we have more or less similar interests and tend to agree about most things.

There are some things, however, that we have never been able to agree on. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of those things is religion. Although both of us come from Catholic families, neither of us are actually believers. When we were younger, Paddy was an aggressive atheist. I myself believed in the existence of god, souls and a afterlife, but wasn’t religious per se. I didn’t pray, I didn’t go the church and had a different vision of god to the traditional Judeo-Christian one. As such, we had some strong discussions. It never ended in a fistfight, Paddy never called me an idiot for believing in bronze age fairy tales, nor did I call him a heathen.

Since then our religious orientation and beliefs have changed slightly. We, I guess, have matured. Paddy is still an atheist, but he is definitely less hateful towards religion, and I have become an agnostic.

Now we would like to share our views on faith and belief. It will not be a discussion about the existence and nature of god, we will not judge the merit of different religions and beliefs. We will talk why we chose those orientations and what we perceive to be ‘true’ atheism and ‘true’ believers.

Pole: Let me start by explaining what it actually means to be an agnostic. I neither believe nor disbelieve in the existence of god. The basis of agnosticism is a belief or acceptance of the fact, that it is impossible to know anything about god; his nature, his existence, his stance on social, political and moral issues. Hence, I don’t seek answers to the big questions about god or the meaning of life. I also don’t associate or identify myself with any religious group, be that atheists or Christians or anything else.

Paddy: Switzerland would be proud. On possibly the biggest philosophical question of history you’ve decided to sit on the fence. Although there is something admirable in modesty of this kind, to maintain consistency you would also have to declare to be uncertain about the existence of leprechauns, unicorns and Henry Kissinger’s conscience (all of which, you would no doubt agree, are complete fantasy). This is where I derive my atheism. I am not making a claim based on faith, I am considering the merits of other peoples’ claims, and, when it comes to the supernatural, I have found none.

Pole: What do you mean leprechauns aren’t real? Their existence hasn’t been disproved or proved. Just because we haven’t seen one, doesn’t mean they don’t exist and simply believing they exist doesn’t mean they do. But you can’t really compare an almighty being, which created the world to a little man, dressed in green and running around the Irish countryside. You cannot forget that at the basis of each myth there is a grain of truth.

My point is, what we imagine leprechauns to be, might be completely wrong. It doesn’t mean they’re not real. The thing about them though, is that they are still beings of this world, so theoretically, their existence can be proven or disproven. That doesn’t apply to transcendental beings, such as god. (Btw, it appears you have simply fallen victim to very effective leprechaun propaganda. They want you to believe they don’t exist, so you don’t go after that pot of gold. #illuminati)

powerlisting.wikia.com

“Everything is going according to the plan, laddy.”

Paddy: According to your world view anything could conceivably exist, and by extension, nothing can be conclusively proven. Objective truth becomes a redundant concept, the study of history futile. I disagree. The world does have external meaning, we agree on points of reference all of the time. (Sky is up, things fall down, the beauty of Beyonce…)

We shouldn’t be opposed to declaring what we know. We know flowers produce energy through photosynthesis, we know how the force of gravity affects the physical world. Equally we know the religious claims about god defy the known laws of physics. In other words, we know A; claim B contradicts A so can’t we assert confidently B is invalid? Neutrality just seems pointless here.

Pole: Yes. We know A and if B contradicts A, then we can assert B is invalid UNLESS new evidence arises, proving B to be true and falsifying A. The theory of relativity states that nothing can move faster than light and that statement has been the undisputed bedrock of modern physics for decades.  Yet, now scientists are searching for neutrinos, which may in fact be capable of faster than light travel.

Paddy: The discipline of physics may experience paradigm shifts but it’s produced nothing to suggest a god figure – a being that is unaffected by space and time, the laws gravity or solidity – exists. The more we learn about our world the more such a being is shown to be ludicrous.

Archaeologists have disproved the stories of the holy texts, psychology and biology have discarded the soul. Our understanding of the Universe’s workings makes talk re: a guiding hand – being directed by an intelligence interested in some half-apes cruising passed Sol – sound solipsistic (and silly). What else do our religious brethren have? What else do we have to produce to guide them from their misguided paths? And what can be done to show you agnostics that no doubt is necessarily on your part, that you can be certain in (and somewhat proud of) your unbelief?

Pole: Yet again you miss the point. Yes, there is no scientific evidence of god’s existence. I am not disputing that YET the scientific principle dictates: never accept anything as a certainty. The whole point behind all those experiments is assuming that the other guy was wrong, or at least didn’t discover everything there is to know.

No evidence will ever be sufficient to prove or disprove god’s existence. As you said earlier, we should not be afraid to state what we know, but we should also not be ashamed to admit what we don’t know and will never know.

I agree that the existence of god is improbable, but it is not impossible. As dear old Bertrand  Russell would say, there are degrees of probability. Total scepticism serves no purpose. It is asserting that there is no more to know about that subject, thus stopping any advance.

Paddy: We have our evidence that god doesn’t exist. We can explain why the world works the way it does without a supreme omnipotent leader. The discoveries in evolution, gravity, thermodynamics and neuroscience all make short work of any Biblical explanation. No doubt you subscribe to the school that, well, a god could still conceivably have had a hand in all this – even if our scientific explanations do not require him.

I could as easily say that a giant purple teddy bear is responsible for all this – for “guiding” evolution and such – do you welcome this claim with equal merit and respect? If you do, you’re either a fool or lying.

Let me explain: if the former’s the case you claiming you treat every single claim made (regardless of how patently absurd it sounds) with respect, willing to accept, unwilling to deny. However, I do not think you truly thing that way – or any agnostic for that matter – it would mean you’re skeptical 24/7: treating conspiracy theories, maths answers and your sibling’s teasing with equal validity.

Russell was correct to say total skepticism serves no purpose. Agnosticism – the doctrine of the perpetual skeptic – serves no purpose.

Image result for purple teddy bear

Praise our new lord and saviour.

Pole: There could be a giant purple teddy bear responsible for it all. If someone would start the Church of the Great Purple Teddy Bear, I would ridicule them for it. I would say that it sounds ridiculous, but I could not claim with an absolute certainty that it is not true. There is always a possibility; no matter how small, even if it is only 0.00001%; that any claim is true.

Coming back to my previous argument, I’ve made quite a big mistake there (and you didn’t fail to get on that like a hawk on a helpless wittle wabbit). I have failed to add the word absolute to scepticism. Yes, agnosticism is a doctrine of scepticism, but not a complete one. I agree that biblical claims are probably wrong, and god probably doesn’t exist PROBABLY is the key word here.

The point is. Some things are more probable than others. I can say that it is the movement of tectonic plates that causes earthquakes, because we have evidence for it. But I cannot say with absolute certainty that it isn’t Poseidon, god of the sea, thrusting his trident into the earth and shaking it, even though the former is far more probable.

I cannot stretch or emphasise my point any more: I CANNOT BE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN, THERE IS ALWAYS DOUBT.

Paddy: As I’ve wrote, modesty is commendable and all that. Doesn’t change the fact, that on this one, I’m right.

Pole: Well. Let’s leave it at that lovely note. We both completely missed the point we set in the introduction. Paddy didn’t waste a second and went on the offensive from the start, a kind of philosophical blitzkrieg. I adopted a more defensive but still wanted to prove him wrong as much as he tried to do that to me. So we’re both to blame.

In any case, we both could go on, but we’ll be walking in circles. The argument continues in When Contrarians Become the Rear-Guard – Why New Atheism is (still) Terrible: http://www.poleandpaddy.com/when-contrarians-become-the-rear-guard-why-new-atheism-is-still-terrible/