Killing me softly, with his hymn

The reactionary trend in Anglicanism showcases an unbelievable ignorance, even by the standards of our fellow primates; its number will not be pleased at the latest pronouncement that the Church is to apologise, at last, to Charles Darwin:

The Church of England will concede in a statement that it was over-defensive and over-emotional in dismissing Darwin’s ideas. It will call “anti-evolutionary fervour” an “indictment” on the Church”.

The bold move is certain to dismay sections of the Church that believe in creationism and regard Darwin’s views as directly opposed to traditional Christian teaching.

The apology, which has been written by the Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, the Church’s director of mission and public affairs, says that Christians, in their response to Darwin’s theory of natural selection, repeated the mistakes they made in doubting Galileo’s astronomy in the 17th century.

“The statement will read: Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practise the old virtues of ‘faith seeking understanding’ and hope that makes some amends.”

Opposition to evolutionary theories is still “a litmus test of faithfulness” for some Christian movements, the Church will admit. It will say that such attitudes owe much to a fear of perceived threats to Christianity.

But wait.

Ever since the Enlightenment exposed the Church’s intellectual poverty, English Christians have drifted from the mainstream, and piety has slunk indoors and tumbled down the generations in a total daze. Many then and today have doubtless been tormented by their uncertainties which Bishops and Archbishops spent decades simply ignoring. People believed, but they had no idea what; and their prayers went unanswered and no vicar could say why (in 1904 The Telegraph ran a poll, entitled “Do we believe?”, eliciting this very ambivalence). Scientific progress, and the Church’s oscillating leaps between hysterical expulsion and embrace of it, was a powerful element of this.

And now, at last, a minor magnate has proffered an apology – to a single dead man. One who, it seems, was more than strong enough to stand up to the religious bullying thrust upon him. Nothing to see here, folks!

But it does, at the very least, shed perspective on why the Church has never apologised for the banner it raised over the millions murdered in the name of God, King, country and empire nearly a century ago. The ivory tower must be very lovely indeed.

Advertisements

“At least facetiousness is funny.”

So says Russell Brand:

Brand condemns some rather old problems, among them inequality and “political disillusion”: only then, with the same swiftness, to dismiss some relatively useful questions about how on earth they might be addressed. Which is rather to miss both the point and the long intellectual history to have spent time struggling with it.

Socialism makes the modest suggestion that welfare should not depend upon the charitable donations of the rich and religious to the deserving poor, a view that holds petty paternalism and charity as insults to human dignity – what Marx called the soothing of the heart-burned aristocrat. It’s why charges of hypocrisy are so ludicrous: “champagne socialism” is an attempt to vomit egalitarians out of public discourse with a pithy remark, alluding, apparently, to the miso soups and lattes over which they denounce the bourgeoisie. (I can only afford cava myself but we’ll let that pass.)

Is this really “hypocrisy”? Compare socialism with the sickly utopianism of so-called “compassionate capitalism”: a view – usually of the wealthy and often of the masochists whom they exploit – in which the accumulation of money by private individuals can only and inevitably operate to the benefit of wider society. It’s why the liberals who befriend this fatuous verdict are usually such chillingly dull specimens.

Now: whatever questions might be raised about the viability of economic rationalisation under socialism (usually envisaged as being without a monetary system), or the popular tyranny that any “revolution” would risk stirring, there’s at least a sense of commitment to this ideology. On the practical level, you might say, there’s the nationalisation of production; and more romantically there are distant visions of equality and internationalism. Neither scientific nor humanistic impulses can be separated from socialism.

Brand, on the other hand, has nothing to say on this tradition: he’s an anarchist of the most vacuous sort. It’s the political activism of weed and hedonism: he was arrested for public nudity in 2001 as though ventral modesty and complicity in child labour were inextricable allies. As a rule, anarchism doesn’t impress me; it’s a commitment to distaste rather than principle, the populism of idiocy and intellectual dishonesty plagued by the frivolous hypocrisy of which socialists have the right to be dismissive. In 1968, thousands marched through London demanding Harold Wilson take a moral lead in his foreign policy; while the Occupy Movement, four decades later, would say nothing beyond vaguely austere denunciations of capitalism and Wall Street suits somewhat overly overly-sharp for the primate species that we are.

If we don’t confront social crises, they’ll defeat us: it is not enough to complain about flooding in winter and then to stay silent when people march against building the flood gates in spring. And that is why Lenin and Brand should never be mentioned in the same sentence.

Goodness. How on earth did I become this left-wing?


Whisky in Greeneland

Our Man in Havana Chess

Logic through spirits. The only way to play the game.

In his introduction to Our Man in Havana, Christopher Hitchens draws a distinction between Graham Greene’s whisky and non-whisky novels. He quotes the verse from the 1963 poem, ‘On the Circuit’, in which W. A. Auden is tempted by the novelist’s sweet healing drug:

Is this a milieu where I must
How grahamgreeneish! How infra dig!
Snatch from the bottle in my bag
An analeptic swig?

I, for one, took Greene’s impenitent reliance on the drinks driving his narrative – no scene ever far from a daiquiri or Wormold’s miniature whisky collection – to be a rather satisfying combination. The Cold War comes to be defined by an alcoholic anachronism, as though hungover before the drinking has started. In the climax of the novel, it would be a game of chess – with all the pieces replaced for miniature whisky bottles – that would finally free Wormold from the rather awkward implications of espionage and provide him with the courage to commit the killing.

The very same substance that would guard him from the terrors of his Catholic-come-narcissist of a daughter, Milly, and his material poverty for which she is mostly responsible would, in a beautiful irony, also liberate him from the mightiest cliff-hanger of all – that of a pre-nuclear conflict.

I have a feeling that Our Man in Havana is likely to stick with me.


The Politics of Fear

I’m always suspicious of puritans. There was something stuffy about the air in which Owen Jones argued that “the Tories aren’t actually evil”, just “cruel” and “unforgivable”. It masquerades as a concession while remaining firmly wedded to the presumption that those with different political outlooks ought to be “defeated”.

All the same, conservatism doesn’t mingle well with populism. The Home Office’s twitter account is an outright disgrace:

And in case you didn’t know what a true British arrest looks like – because you’re a disgusting illegal – they even include a photo to remind you:

They even blur your face – so you know that you are as meaningless and devoid of character as any other capped transgressor of immigration law.

Nasty, sick, and brutish. Selective figure-thumping designed to win votes from the far-right – irrespective of the fear and social antagonisms it merrily brews.

The same awful rabble-rousing politics has also been found, can you believe it, in what the government had hoped would become a new billboard scheme, currently being piloted in a number of London boroughs:

Thankfully, it’s unlikely that the campaign will continue. But that does nothing to hide the fact that the British electorate are finally giving in their most base and selfish instincts, and that party political officials can only jump to capitalise upon them.

Update: I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me, but @JackofKent suggests that the Twitter campaign could be challenged on the grounds of contempt of court:


Murderer Fears Cyber-bullying

We’ve seen children crying with joy before the presence of Kim Jong-Un; we’ve seen “ex-gay converts” profess, with equal joy, to have abolished their sinful desires; we’ve seen children playing in the wreckage of a tsunami. Sometimes we are inspired, and in other times we have no choice but to face-palm until it hurts.

But I don’t think we’ve evolved an emotion for President Assad joining instagram:

Picture3

In fairness to the poor bloke, young rapscallions do keep tearing down his posters. As of yet commentators are unsure why he has become the target of so much harassment.

Sanity is for the mad.


Sorry, Alan. We’ll let you off this one.

The British government will not, it is revealed, oppose a law pardoning Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing:

The Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing is set to be posthumously pardoned, after the Government said it would not stand in the way of legislation in parliament that would quash his conviction for being a homosexual.

Ministers had previously argued that they would not be able to go any further than the apology given by Gordon Brown in 2009, because “gross indecency”, which Turing was found guilty of in 1952, was at the time a criminal offence.

But yesterday Government Whip Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said the coalition would not stand in the way of a Bill brought by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey, which offers Turing a full posthumous parliamentary pardon.

John Sharkey cheers from the Lords:

“It is not too late for the Government to pardon Alan Turing. It is not too late for the Government to grant a disregard for all those gay men convicted under the dreadful (legislation). I hope the Government is thinking very hard about doing both of those things.

“But while they are thinking, Parliament can act.”

Those are two very different matters to be proposed. Ignoring, firstly, the inconsistencies of pardoning the victims of only one law – when Blair himself offered only a puzzled apology on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade – we reach even deeper and inevitably darker territory of pardoning one named victim.

Down there be monsters. Firstly, the pardon – if unintentionally – implies that human rights are to be earned; that had Turing not shortened the war, his sentence would have been definitively deserved. Second, compare with the 1995 South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Perpetrators of apartheid were offered redemption if they accepted fully the principles upon which the new state was founded. But in the case of Turing, a moral quandary jumps from the past only to be ruled upon with a halfhearted sigh. To observers, it is lazy; to victims, and to their descendants, it is selfishly shallow.

Don’t discriminate between the crimes for which you apologise. Better either to accept you aren’t to blame – or, to repair as many of those damages that history will allow.


Perspective

I recommend you turn your eyes to the 24 Most Pretentious Things Ever.

As you can see, not all chairs are simply for sitting on:

It reminds me of the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art – one of the only such museums I’ve ever visited. After an hour of sauntering through rooms of dark glass tapestry yodel footage for the disabled poor in Calcutta, you are left bewildered by your own bewilderment. Is it because I lack the mental capacity to understand these exhibitions?

Or should we be culling young artists?