Politics and infallibility.

The earth is constantly hurtling through space and time, never in the same position twice as it moves through the universe, in my basic understanding of science, from a Brian Cox documentary about space. This could be wrong. A new piece of information may be discovered in years to come that says differently. Science and truth are often works in progress. I heard Jordan Peterson say recently that it is better not to look at our perception of the truth as an absolute and look at it as a tool with which we try to understand the world as best we can in the here and now.

This coincides with the idea of infallibility in politics, espoused by many across the political spectrum. Currently, based on all the information I have assimilated into my brain and evaluated I would say my political compass lies somewhere slightly right of centre and significantly on the side of liberty as opposed to authoritarianism. I acknowledge that there are probably billions of scenarios and pieces of information that I haven’t come across that could either render my arguments redundant or strengthen them, but based on my understanding of the world and the current economic and political climate, freer market economics and the strengthening of individual liberties over state power, appeals to me more than opposing arguments.

Therefore, I welcome free speech and debate. There are people who have led entirely different lives to me, who look at information in different ways or hold knowledge on topics that I have yet to come across. By debating and swapping ideas and arguments people can test their beliefs and see if they stand up to scrutiny. What I see a lot of however, is partisan tribalism. Which is understandable, I know in the past I have often had trouble when I have held passionately to a belief and been challenged strongly. It would make me angry and I would struggle with coming to terms with the idea that my experiences and knowledge might not be a representation of the wider truth.

This tribalism tends to manifest itself along party lines and we see people who assess some information, make up their mind on what feels right to them politically and then plant their feet in the sand and stay there until their dying day. I personally, if we have an interest in honesty and progress, don’t see that this is helpful if the wider goal of society is the truth and in politics, if the wider goal is the improvement of the situations of as many people as possible at the smallest cost. Which I acknowledge it probably isn’t for a fair few politicians.

Returning to my original scenario of the earth and its movements. If the Earth is never in the same place twice, the earth is never the same twice. It is in a perpetual state of change, much like the societies we have built on earth. There is not a single civilisation on the planet that has remained the same. People are born, die, progress and regress. Individuals make an infinite number of choices that on a collective level influences how a society transforms. Civilisations grow and die, based on an almost incomprehensible, multitude of converging individual action on top of environmental and other factors I haven’t considered or thought of.

Then along comes politics and economics and a resolute, unflinching mindset. Economic opinion usually fractures along two lines, those that favour freedom of the markets and those that favour state regulation or outright control. There are of course many people who favour a mixture of the two, but there are also those that are adamant that in all political situations, heightened government regulation or investment in the economy at a state level will always be the correct path. The opposite is also present, there are people who believe in all situations there should be total freedom of choice for individuals in the market place. The questions I pose are as follows: How, given that every waking day brings a unique societal challenge to the door of the government, can anyone claim to have absolutist answers to the economic and political problems that we face? How can anyone who has experienced a tiny fraction of all the experiences of the collective species make the claim to informed decision making? How is someone like Richard Dawkins so sure that something as complex as Brexit can be reduced to the simple statement that the remain side are correct and everyone who voted differently is ill informed. Considering that he cannot predict millions of events and actions on an individual level that will organically contribute to whether Brexit is a success or a failure?

Surely the only way forward is to be flexible as a politician and act upon all the information available about a situation at the current time to decide policy, rather than hold resolutely to ideology and try and enforce that ideology onto circumstances. And surely the way forward is not to be so resolute in your thinking that you cannot ask yourself if there is a possibility you may not be infallible.dawkins_2142765b

Thoughts on the NHS march

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So today I attended my first ever political protest. Oddly enough it was in aid of a topic that I admit I am woefully uneducated on. The national health service in the UK. You might think that admission to be somewhat odd, given that the NHS is probably only behind immigration, in the list of things that the British public are most passionate about in the political arena. For whatever reason, healthcare has always fallen by the wayside when it comes to my reading and research. I don’t want to give off the impression that I am so in the dark that I don’t have a broad understanding of the system in place in the UK as compared to somewhere such as the US. It’s just always been one of those topics that I have wanted to delve deeper into and never have.

Nonetheless a friend of mine deeply passionate about the state of our healthcare system, which many consider to be under incredible strain, invited me along and so I joined him. Given recent protests around the globe of a left-wing persuasion, I admit to being slightly apprehensive about the atmosphere and the political motivations of those attending. I had images of the Trump protests in which, what we think were anarchists, rampaged around putting bins through Starbucks’ windows. Perhaps in reflection to consider that a possibility was a bit knee jerk. The entire event was conducted in an orderly, peaceful fashion. There were evidently some very passionate people present, entirely focused on the issue at hand. My impression was of health care workers from around the country frustrated and embittered by the cuts to their departments, wanting to utilise their right to peaceful protest to voice their concerns.

Of course, there were groups present who seemed to be hogging onto the issue to showcase their wider political points. Groups bearing communist flags, but they were in a minority. Some of the speeches dished out on stage at the initial meeting point of Tavistock Square, did try to mould different political issues together, but none of it was done in an aggressive manner. The groups that protested did so, in my experience, peacefully. That is a healthy thing for our democracy. It is a reminder that the people have at their disposal, methods that they can employ to push issues into the forefront and make the politicians of Westminster take notice. In a time when the gap between politicians and people is seemingly quite wide, it is necessary for the people to give reminders to the nations’ decision makers who it is that allows them their power.

Finally, today was a reminder for me of the old quote credited to Pericles.

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

In Britain there exists an aura of apathy with some individuals when it comes to the topic of politics. Given the times we are living in, which are seeing momentous changes around the globe, I think it is of the greatest necessity for the governed to take an active interest in politics to protect the freedoms and rights we have. Rights that were hard fought for in the face of tyranny.  I loathe the idea of our freedoms being slowly and insidiously eroded by authoritarian political parties whilst the people are too apathetic to give a damn, because before we know it, it will be too late.

 

 

 

 

 

Media Dishonesty

I’m surprised it has taken me so long to see the egregious nature with which some main stream media outlets currently operate.  I think my first inklings came when I started to listen heavily to Sam Harris’ waking up podcast. He often expressed opinions on Islam that I knew to be controversial, but nonetheless I believed them to be worthy of discussion and not intimated from a position of hatred or bigotry. In Comparison to some commentators on the topic he is quite grounded and yet this has not stopped him being smeared with the charge of racism, islamophobia and bigotry.

In steps Trump, his entire campaign for office and his subsequent first few months as President of the United States. It has been a constant barrage of negativity, not just from the more unhinged and radical elements of society, but from prominent media outlets. If there is anyone who purports to have a critical mind reading this and disagrees that the media have savaged Trump, sometimes legitimately, but often over petty, inconsequential things please comment and let me hear what you have to say. I feel as though it has been a deluge from the moment he was sworn in of anything that they can possibly get their hands on to try and undermine his presidency, however miniscule. One of the examples that comes to mind is the inauguration pictures of his crowd being smaller than Obama’s comparatively.

And I wouldn’t even identify as a Trump supporter. I’m not even American. There are some things I think he will do that will benefit the US and some things that I disagree with. His curbs to banking regulations for instance. But I cannot help but feel frustrated by what I see as patently dishonest reporting. I want reporting to be balanced and of quality standard, not half hearted, shallow and clearly spun articles that promote a particular narrative. I want journalists to have integrity and to put partisan feelings aside to give the public a view that isn’t a myopic snapshot of any given issue.

I do not and will never advocate the curbing of press freedoms. That is a slippery slope that leads to tyranny and I hope Trump does not attempt to limit liberty. What I do advocate is that we, the people, speak out and use our speech freedoms to highlight the injustices and deficiencies of the press. Take the Pewdiepie saga, anyone who takes the time to look into that story will likely come to the conclusion that context was entirely ignored. It is concerning that a reputable news organisation, like the Wall Street Journal, would sink to the depths of construing the words a person uses, in such a way as to paint them as racist. it is nothing short of character assassination in my opinion. Sargon of Akkad’s video on this was particularly thorough.

Up next was Milo Yiannopolous, a controversial figure, seemingly on the doorstep of superstardom after bagging a book deal from Simon & Schuster and then making an appearance on Bill Maher’s show. Conveniently video footage surfaces, that has been on the internet for quite some time, of him appearing to be at the very least flippant with, if not dismissive of his own sexual abuse experiences. Subsequently, Milo loses his job with Breitbart, his book deal and his next public appearance as a speaker, despite his statement, that sought to clarify his previous comments.

Whatever your opinion on Milo’s comments, it strikes as convenient to me that as he is on the brink of an even wider audience, footage of comments, that passed seemingly without reproach at the time, surfaces and serves to sink his successes. It makes me wonder if those behind it truly care about the topic of child sexual abuse, or whether they sat on it for the opportune moment with which to use it for political gain. This is something I think is the medias’ duty to analyse, but yet again, I feel like the full picture has not been portrayed and we’ve been served up a twisted snapshot of the truth.

Is it any wonder that trust in the press has sank to new depths?

The West: Values and Confidence.

‘The multi-culturalists are, as Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. said, “very often ethnocentric separatists who see little in the Western heritage other than Western crimes. Their mood is one of divesting Americans of the sinful European inheritance and seeking redemptive infusions of non-Western cultures.’ – pg 305 The clash of Civilizations, Samuel P. Huntington.

Those that see the West only through the eyes of negativity and guilt invariably seek to undermine the values that they associate with its imperialist past. Free speech, individualism, democracy and human rights. Ideas that have uniquely found footing in Western civilization as products of its rich, deep history, are tainted in the eyes of those determined only to see the atrocities of Western civilization, as its representation and legacy, and apply them like a blanket over its entire mass.

The answer either knowingly, or subconsciously is to flood the region with people from a diverse range of cultures, to atone for the sins of the region. The problem with that, as so deftly expressed by Schlesinger, is that incoming cultures are then held up on an immutable pedestal of virtuousness. Western culture is openly denigrated in what should be acknowledged as the antithesis of diversity, rather than real diversity where every culture is appreciated for its positives and attacked for its negatives equally.

The danger posed by those that adhere to this vein of thought is that over time, Western values will be eroded until what made the West a unique place on Earth surrounded by other unique regions, will be lost, or altered so much that it cannot be reclaimed. The positive products of the region, intellectual, architectural and artistic will be cast in with the darkness and thrown into the garbage heap, because of a myopic, nihilistic outlook, that seeks to indiscriminately and ignorantly paint the West solely with the brush of guilt and tear it down as a failure. As opposed to acknowledging the positives that can be drawn from society and moving forward with them into a new age.

If the West is to preserve its unique identity as the balance of power shifts away from the region in the years to come, its peoples need to regain confidence in the ideals and values that make the region what it is and stop seeing it solely through the prism of imperialism. Jocko Willink once said in his podcast. “You need to understand the darkness to appreciate the light.” The former imperialist powers should take a long, hard look at the fruits of their greed, learn from it and then combine that learning with all of the positive things that spawned from the Western lands. That is progressive and that is the way forward.

Islam and the future of tolerance – A review.

‘Liberals imagine that jihadists and islamists are acting as anyone else would given a similar history of unhappy encounters with the West. And they totally discount the role that religious beliefs play in inspiring a group like the Islamic State – to the point where it would be impossible for a jihadist to prove he was doing anything for religious reasons. Apparently it’s not enough for an educated person with economic opportunities to devote himself to the most extreme and austere version of Islam, to articulate his religious reasons for doing so ad nauseam, and even to go as far as to confess his certainty about martyrdom on video before blowing himself up in a crowd. Such demonstrations of religious fanaticism are somehow considered rhetorically insufficient to prove that he really believed what he said he believed.’ – Sam Harris page 47-48

I think that one paragraph sums up my frustrations with the debate on Islamic terrorism. Imagine if you went back in time to see the Knights Templar not give an inch in battle, driven by their religiously inspired, fervent belief in martyrdom. The conclusion you draw from this is that this was at root a frustration garnered from hundreds of years of eastern foreign policy in the form of Jihad and the knights’ reaction has nothing to do with religion. Surely you’d have to be at least dishonest in that scenario to discount the role of religious conviction? And yet as Harris demonstrates, this has almost become a mainstream political opinion amongst so called liberals. Harris continues –

‘The belief that a life of eternal pleasure awaits martyrs after death explains why certain people can honestly chant “we love death more than the infidels love life.” They truly believe in martyrdom – as evidenced by the fact that they regularly sacrifice their lives, or watch their children do so, without a qualm. As we have been having this conversation there was an especially horrific attack on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, where members of the Taliban murdered 145 people, 132 of them children. Here’s an except from an online conversation with a Taliban supporter in the aftermath of the massacre – Human life only has value among you worldly materialist thinkers. Death is not the end of life. It is the beginning of existence in a world much more beautiful than this. Paradise is for those pure of hearts. All children have pure hearts. They have not sinned yet… They have not been corrupted by their kafir parents. We did not end their lives. We gave them new ones in paradise, where they will be loved more than you can imagine. They will be rewarded for their martyrdom.”

I think that speaks for itself. You would have to make the claim that the Taliban supporter is lying, in order to undermine the idea that extreme religious conviction plays some part in the terror debate and I personally think the weight of evidence rests against you if you do.

But anyway that’s not even the debate that people should be having, the debate should be how do you deal with the tide of Islamist and jihadi groups around the globe? Maajid Nawaz argues that Islamism, the political belief of fundamentalism and the spreading of Islamic law and customs across all nations, must be defeated at grass roots levels within the Muslim community. They estimate that Islamist groups make up between 15 and 25% of the world’s 1.6 billion strong Muslim population. He sees The Obama administrations refusal to name Islamism as being at the root of groups like IS as a failure. He believes that naming the problem instead of avoiding it, gives Muslims a choice to either ‘reclaim our religion and its narrative, or allow thugs and demagogues to speak in its name and impose it on others. Calling it extremism is too relative and vague and sidesteps the responsibility to counter its scriptural justification.’ He means scriptural justification here in the sense that one may interpret many things from the Qu’ran and ahadith and one of those readings is the skewed beliefs of Islamic State. He also mentions however that another essential thing that needs to happen is for there to be an acknowledgement that there are many different interpretations possible, each to the person who reads the scripture. Essentially if the Muslim community can get to the stage where the interpretations are personal to the person and there is no right answer, this is the first step on the way to pluralism and secularism.

I’ve done rather a hatchet job here of what is a short, at 128 pages, yet valuable conversation in which the intricacies and problems of the debate are analysed in such greater depth. Despite its small length, it is definitely a worthy addition to the field and a good discussion between two respectful men, one a liberal Muslim, the other a liberal atheist. The more this is talked about and the less it is approached with apprehension and shame the better for our society.

A Regressive Society?

The land of the free, the land of the West. Famed for being the home of democracy and tolerance. A place where people of opposing views can discuss ideas openly without fear. No matter how repugnant those views might be to the masses, it’s ok because that’s what free speech is designed for, to protect minority voices from the tyranny of the majority. What happens if a neo-nazi wants to walk around preaching hate? He can do and what society will do in response is debate him and take his ideas down with logic and facts. We do this because we have confidence in our ideas, our values and our ability to articulate them.

Except we’re in 2017, where white supremacist Richard Spencer was punched by someone for the crime of holding repugnant views… and many people celebrated it. What does it say about our society when that is the reaction? It tells me that our society doesn’t trust its population to be able to think critically about the ideas on display and reject them. it tells me the education system hasn’t produced enough people who understand and respect our regions’morals and values. It tells me the person who punched him has no self confidence in his own ideas and his ability to project them and it tells me that society in general is moving further away from liberty and into the arms of authoritarianism.

But because it’s a left wing variant of authoritarianism as opposed to a right wing one, that’s ok right? No it is not, because any move towards authoritarianism leads to a uniformity of ideas and in turn societal regression. To expand the mind you must take on a plethora of ideas and be able to understand them, weigh them up and reject/accept them. What we are saying by banning certain forms of speech, as stated previously in this piece, is that society doesn’t trust people to hear views that are potentially dangerous and reject them. This surely then lends credence to these ideas. Essentially you’re admitting that the states answer to these ideas isn’t strong enough to defeat it in open discourse. By banning or pushing certain forms of speech underground, you give them power in a way that runs contrary to your aims.

Further to this, the times in recent history when the extreme variant of left wing politics got a foothold in Russia, China and Cambodia we saw death tolls and a disregard for human life that should shock anyone with a moral compass. Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were just as bad, if not worse, than Hitler for sheer numbers of deaths caused and yet strangely the far left is almost romanticised in the West in 2017.  We should be doing everything we can if we truly hold up the ideals of diversity, the rights of the individual and freedom, to ensure that neither left or right wing variants of authoritarianism take hold within our society and lead it back down the path to oppression. The centre ground needs to find itself, its identity and its confidence and find the arguments and solutions that will defeat the SJWs and the alt-right in open discourse. Until then, we’ll continue along a polarised political path of increasing extremes.

We need to put faith in free speech as the core value of our culture, because it is a natural bulwark against a regressive society and a beacon of true progression.

 

 

Review – White Heat: A history of Britain in the swinging sixties by Dominic Sandbrook

‘The stock exchange will be pulled down, the horse plough will give way to the tractor, the country houses will be turned into children’s holiday camps, the Eton and Harrow match will be forgotten, but England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of all recognition and yet remain the same.’

This history ends with the above quote from George Orwell, after 794 pages of fantastically written social and political history. The main premise of Sandbrook’s volume is that despite the 1960s being billed as an age of social and cultural revolution, much of British society, its values and behaviours remained consistent with previous decades. He argues that the counter culture of the late 60s was a small milieu of upper-middle class youths that, for the most part, were able to rebel because they had a financial safety net to fall back on and a path back into regular society. The introduction of the birth control pill that, it has been claimed, brought on the sexual revolution and the age of free love is often highly overstated. Sandbrook argues that British sexual practices remained largely conservative and the majority sought monogamy.

Now Sandbrook it would seem, is a conservative and the argument has been made that he went into this work with a preconceived notion of what he wanted to find about the 60s and wrote his book around that. I’m not sure how much truth there is to that, nevertheless I felt that for the most part he was fair with, for example, the Labour party and Harold Wilson’s government. He was sympathetic to the economic position the previous Conservative government had left behind and the challenges that Wilson’s government then faced. Perhaps the case can be made that the over riding conclusions were ones that promoted a particular political narrative, but if they did I’m not so sure in this case it’s a false one.

I could tell after around a hundred and fifty pages that the author is passionate about modern British history, his writing was engaged, witty and in depth. There are a lot of gems. One of the things I took away that I hadn’t known, was that the Labour party managed to get the bill outlawing the death penalty passed against the tide of popular opinion. In 1964 popular support for abolishing hanging sat at just 23 percent, yet the abolition passed through parliament at votes of 343 to 185. The 60s was also the decade that abortion, homosexuality and suicide were decriminalised and in that sense it represented tangible, progressive change in law in the UK. Sandbrook argues that this was a culmination of decades of campaigning rather than a sudden break in traditions coming from youth culture and I suspect here he is correct.

The political commentary was broken up with chapters on the formation and success of acts like The Beatles. I’ll admit, perhaps controversially, that I’m not particularly a fan of The Beatles. Despite this I thoroughly enjoyed Sandbrook’s version of their story. He seemed to wish to exonerate McCartney, who in his view, is often billed as the less talented song writer when put up against Lennon. One draw back of the sections on the band is that Sandbrook often portrays the darker sides of Lennon’s character and again, this may be in part down to politics and the idea that Lennon is often seen as the one who was most in tune with the counter cultural excesses of the late 60s. However this in my opinion doesn’t take away from highly informative, interesting chapters.

A riveting history of Britain in the 60s, an accomplished body of work and one that I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in history.

Vozhd! A review of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Montefiore’s history of Jerusalem happened to be the first book I reviewed on Booklikes and I was happy to revisit the author with another one of his works. It seems that every time I pick up a history book in a book shop it is endorsed by Montefiore, he’s clearly very passionate in his pursuit of historical knowledge.

This book centres around Stalin and his changing inner circle. It’s an odd blend of details of dinner functions, Stalin’s character in calm times and the chronicles of the terror and his political brutality. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the sycophantic fervour he fostered amongst his magnates and the cunning, horrific nature of his paranoid mind. I’ve given it five stars, because probably fittingly, after Kershaw’s Hitler this is simply the best biography of a historical leader that I have read.

Anyone who harbours any romanticism or flirts with the hard left I advise to read this and recognise the dangers of unswerving idealism, the dangers of being an illiberal bent on realising a utopia for humanity in the future at any cost to the people of this life. I had always thought that Stalin wasn’t overly ideologically motivated, yet this book seeks to dispel that notion comparing Stalin’s belief in Marxism to that of radical Islamists.

Something touched upon in the book and spoken about in debates by Christopher Hitchens is the idea that the Tsar in Romanov times was the voice of God himself, understand that and you may be able to understand the cult of personality that Stalin was able to engineer and take advantage of. The idea of a strong, powerful leader was ingrained into Russian society and it is an interesting feature of the revolution, that despite its attempts to turn society on its head with the ultimate goal of Communism, the aura of leadership remained steadfast.

It fascinated me that the sons and daughters of some of those murdered and tortured beyond repair on Stalin’s orders still regarded him as a great leader. It is unfathomable to me that it is possible to inspire such unswerving loyalty amongst people. This is ultimately what draws me to these immensely flawed and yet ridiculously charismatic characters. There seems to be men and women who pop up from time to time under varying banners of ideology, be it religious/political who manage to cultivate vast followings and impact the course of human history through their actions.

And so I came to the end of the book having lived within the court of the red tsar through the eyes of his vicious inner circle and I was struck again by the surreal nature of it all. How terrifying is it? If you place enough power into the hands of the wrong person you can end up with a society in which an innocuous comment could result in years of torture and imprisonment or a painful death. How is it that a man so well read and intelligent as Stalin, uses that intelligence to create a cut throat, savage society in which even those closest to him are not safe from assassination?

 

I guess my curiosity will never be sated.