Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, or How Much Can the Media Distort Opinions

So what is Roman Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s opinion on the “Sharia Law” brouhaha around the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Who knows? Because from a look around the internet, it’s hard to tell…

(a) BBC News
(a1) Carey weighs into Sharia law row
Last Updated: Sunday, 10 February 2008, 08:11 GMT

Catholic leader Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said he was “saddened” by the way the archbishop’s comments had been misunderstood. “I think he did raise a point of considerable interest and concern at the moment, namely, the rights of a religious groups within secular state. “Everyone in Britain must obey the law and therefore the question of how one can be a loyal British citizen and a faithful member of a religious group is a very pertinent question,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme.

(a2) Sharia row persists for Williams
Last Updated: Sunday, 10 February 2008, 18:53 GMT

Catholic leader Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor is one of the many to come out in defence of Dr Williams. “I feel he may fear that people with a Christian conscience will be put to the sidelines and not allowed to say what they believe to be true for the common good,” he told the BBC.

(b) AFP
Anglican leader ‘horrified’ by Sharia law row: predecessor
6AM Sunday

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the leader of the 4.5 million Catholics in England and Wales, weighed into the debate, saying there were aspects of sharia that were not wanted in Britain. “I don’t believe in a multi-cultural society,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “When people come to this country, they have to obey the laws of the land,” said the son of Irish immigrants.

(c) The Independent (Ireland)
Sharia law comments leave bishop in hot water

In an interview, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said that government promotion of multiculturalism has destroyed the unity that used to hold British society together. Immigrants must “obey the laws of this country”, he said

(d) Sunday Telegraph
(d1) ENGLAND: Sharia law may result in ‘legal apartheid’
By Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Religious Affairs Correspondent
9/02/2008

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, said that the Government’s promotion of multiculturalism had destroyed the unity that used to hold society together. Immigrants must “obey the laws of this country“.

(d2) People here ‘must obey the laws of the land’
Last Updated: 1:16am GMT 10/02/2008

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, leader of the 4.5 million Catholics in England and Wales, begs to differ. He is adamant that such a move would only make segregation even more entrenched. “I don’t believe in a multicultural society,” he says firmly. “When people come into this country they have to obey the laws of the land.” He has a mellifluous voice and an affable manner, but the cardinal becomes steely when discussing the problems facing British society, and the issue of sharia law.

(e) Evening Standard
Two of the most powerful clergy in Britain launch stinging attack on Archbishop over sharia row
Last updated at 20:37pm on 10.02.08

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor added his criticisms and went on to urge Muslims to do more to integrate. “The extent to which multiculturalism has been encouraged recently has meant a lessening of the kind of unity that a country needs.
“There are common values which are part of the heritage of this country which should be embraced by everybody.
“I don’t believe in a multi-cultural society. When people come into this country they have to obey the laws of the land.”

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Notably (alas, I haven’t kept any evidence…) the BBC (a1) article mentioned the Cardinal’s criticisms at first this morning, then around 9AM switched to a more supportive note (Radio 4’s Sunday Programme was broadcast today between 7.10 and 7.55AM).

So what can we be sure of?

(1) Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor has expressed complex thoughts, and felt the need to clarify them

(2) Those thoughts were anyway too difficult to translate into a soundbite

(3) Every media source opted to pick-and-choose whatever pleased them

(4) Even after the Cardinal’s change of tones between the Telegraph’s interview and the Sunday Programme’s appearance, most if not all stuck to their first choice

(5) Only the BBC made any significant change, but more or less “under duress”: to avoid ridicule, that is

The end result is that whatever the Cardinal’s opinions, his words were and still are just fodder for the Media animals. And whatever is read via one source or another, is very very unlikely to communicate the nuances of the Cardinal’s actual opinions.

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The question then becomes, given the above, how should one relate to the British media to avoid continuous distortions of one’s thoughts?

The Best Reason to Avoid Becoming a Drug Addict

Forget dangers for your health, for your social life, for your job. Forget the risk of ending up prematurely aged and/or dead and/or in a dirty room and/or in jail.

The best reason to avoid becoming a drug addict (of any kind of “illegal” drug) is that State and society, including the Government, the vast majority of Parliamentarians, most Justices, a good many Police officers and an overwhelming number of fellow citizens will see you as a sub-human to mistreat and anyway deserving whatever comes your way.

Hence little practical help, zero understanding, zero tolerance, absurd jail terms, forced detox therapies, effective abandonement into the “careful” hands of drug dealers, and the risk of finding oneself without the necessary medicines and any chance to call one’s doctor, in case of arrest.

Perhaps that’s the unconscious goal of the War on Drugs that we have been losing for almost 40 years…the blackmail of being either a non-addicted good citizen, or treated as dung.

Marx and Nietzsche on Socialism and Envy

Follow-up to my earlier blog: “Research Shows Socialism Is About Envy“:

(many thanks to my friends M and E for this)

First a quote from Karl Marx himself. I found it in extended length at the blog called “The Sentinel“:

Marx, in his much neglected Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts warned against [...] what he termed “crude communism”. Crude communism “appears in a double form; the domination of material property looms so large that it aims to destroy everything which is incapable of being possessed by everyone as private property. It wishes to eliminate talent, etc., by force . . . The role of worker is not abolished but extended to all men. The relation of private property remains the relation of the community to the world of things . . . This communism, which negates the personality of man in every sphere is . . . Universal envy setting itself up as a power, is only camouflaged form of cupidity which re-establishes itself and satisfies itself in a different way. The thoughts of every individual private property are at least directed against any wealthier private property, in the form of envy and the desire to reduce everything to a common level; so that this envy and levelling in fact constitute the essence of competition. Crude communism is only the culmination of such envy and levelling-down on the basis of a preconceived minimum. How little this abolishing of private property represents a genuine appropriation is shown by the abstract negation of the whole world of culture and civilisation, and the regression to the unnatural simplicity of the poor and wantless individual who has not only not surpassed private property but has not even attained to it. The community is only a community of work and of equality of wages paid out by the communal capital, by the community as universal capitalists. The two sides of the relation are raised to a supposed universality; labour as a condition in which everyone is placed, and capital as the acknowledged universality and power of the community.

Marx was likely talking about Babeuf, but the idea of flattening everybody down to the lowest common poverty has come back into fashion (usually dressed up as “antiglobalization” or “environmentalism”).

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And now unto Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Anti-Christ (section #57):

Whom do I hate most among the rabble of today? The socialist rabble, the chandala apostles, who undermine the instinct, the pleasure, the worker’s sense of satisfaction with his small existence–who make him envious, who teach him revenge. The source of wrong is never unequal rights but the claim of “equal” rights.

Nietzsche was of course talking about Christians too, but that I’ll leave to another blog…

Research Shows Socialism Is About Envy

Michael Shermer on the Los Angeles Times

“Would you rather earn $50,000 a year while other people make $25,000, or would you rather earn $100,000 a year while other people get $250,000? Assume for the moment that prices of goods and services will stay the same.

Surprisingly — stunningly, in fact — research shows that the majority of people select the first option; they would rather make twice as much as others even if that meant earning half as much as they could otherwise have. How irrational is that?”

And so it is shown that Socialism (American Liberalism) as the belief that societies should be fair is basically about making sure nobody earn more than you do.

No wonder “socialist economies” were unable to make the people rich: everybody’s goal was to bring everybody else down

Climate Change, or The Medicalization of Our Society

Yesterday’s absurdist post linking anthropogenic global warming (AGW) to supernovae in the cosmos was in fact more than the usual criticism about correlation not showing evidence of causation.

The other, even more important point underlying my text concerned the all-too-apparent link between AGW/Climate Change and the ever-increasing efforts by all sorts of “experts” to convince our worrying global society that its future can be divined in this or that indicator.

There is a name for this: we are being “medicalized”.

Just like with the hapless villagers in Jules Romains’ 1923 play “Knock” (aka “Dr. Knock or The Triumph of Medicine“), all the “experts” have to do is stock up our fears, and abuse our credulity.

Just keep on measuring, and keep on suggesting, and an illness will be found. Next!

In the case of AGW, the indicator is the amount of human-induced greenhouse-gases emissions. But as the supernovae blog shows, it is all too easy to find an indicator for everything, linking whatever to anything else. Divination does not depend on the particular item used to predict the future: it is much more solid than that.

Knock’s story has in fact a distinctly sinister undertone. In the words of Iain Bamforth writing in the BMJ’s “Medical Humanities” (“Knock: a study in medical cynicism“, MH 2002;28:14-18):

Isn’t it that people ask to be deceived? All right, [Knock] will deceive them. Order requires domination, and domination requires a lie or two. So he gives their lives a medical meaning. That is: he extends the bounds of the biological, of whose oracles he is the interpreter, so as to make illness not just a bodily phenomenon but an organising principle for the effective administration of society itself. His argument is life, for that is what a doctor defends. His tools are ideals, seduction, fright, and, if necessary, the threat of violence. His power is his command of language [...] Knock is [...] a storyteller, raconteur, bluffer, salesman [...] Knock gives everyone the fever. He inoculates his patients with the one idea: self preservation, at all costs.

In other words: from 85 years ago, echoes of what is being sold to us as “a universal threat, a generational challenge“. And preservation of the world’s climate, at all cost.

And so it was Jules Romains the one really capable to describe what the future would look like. As noted by French actor Louis Jouvet in 1949, but still we could be written today:

a penetrating act of inspiration, Knock revealed the direction a new mentality was going to take… . This mentality was Information and its strategies, astounding advances and violent dramatisings; abrupt and terrifying revelations; the invention of new needs, new ways of breakdown; the exalting of fresh anxieties that humankind would feed upon. Jules Romains announced, though we didn’t yet know it, the mad-cap mechanisms that were going to rule the world, suggestion and self-suggestion. In Knock, like a prophet at the gates, Jules Romains suddenly shone a light on power, the upsurge of parodigms (idées-forces) and collective theories. Humankind is a machine to make gods and every leader of men a creator of myths. Jules Romains, philosopher, moralist and dramatist, provided an admirable advance warning of the modern and all-encompassing mechanism of cohesion and conviction [...]

Is this what “progress” and “modernity” were meant to be, in the case of Medicine, Climatology or anything else?

Genetics, IQ and Racism

Why do many potentially intelligent people decide to look and sound silly for generations to come? Or “given enough bales you’ll find a few straws in all the colors of the rainbow”…

Some bloggers (and likely, some scientists) whose names and URLs I won’t spend a minute linking to, have started using the latest discoveries in biology to suggest “genetics differences between races” and a linking between high IQ and “several snippets of DNA“.

In other words, there are people out there hell-bent in demonstrating that blacks are inferior to whites.

They are wrong. And it’s not a case of being “politically incorrect“…rather, it’s an example of how to be “idiotically incorrect“.

In fact, haven’t we seen this whole circus before (just read Stephen Jay Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man“)? A circus where invariably:

(1) The most recent scientific findings get used to provide a rational basis to existing prejudices

(2) People jump to “certain conclusions” even before any scientific article is published

(3) Legitimacy is given to the incoherent notion that skin color can be used to classify people into racial groups, but only up to a point: so a Sicilian becomes a White like a Swede, and a Wolof from Senegal becomes a Black like an Oromo from Ethiopia

(I myself am semi-officially White during winter time, then after two weeks in the sun demonstrably a tad more black than an Ethiopian)

(4) It always boils down to black inferiority and white superiority. In fact, never ever in the History of Biology there has been any hint of consensus about the notion that blacks are superior to whites, or far-east asians superior to whites.

(5) We are told that even if it may be difficult to accept, still we have to accept that Blacks be inferior to Whites, because Science is said to say so

(6) People opposing such views are labeled as left-leaning “defenders of social justice” (i.e., “communists”)

(7) The discourse moves then to show Men, White Men that is, as superior to Women. Next, to show that White Men with Ancestors from Northern European Countries are superior to everybody else.

(8) After making a big mess, such a stale soup of fallacies is shown false but then only goes into some kind of “sleep mode” ready to come back to make many potentially intelligent people look and sound silly for generations to come.

This happens every few decases. Truly we never learn anything from history.

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On my side, the issue is not about defending social justice or imposing equality to all in the face of contrary evidence.

The issue is that if something has been shown wrong in the past, again and again, then it cannot be accepted as “true” unless there is some extraordinary evidence supporting it.

And at every round, the notch for “extraordinary” gets a little bit higher. I am afraid that the discovery of a few “snippets” among the thousands and thousands available appears way too ordinary, and at best the result of bad statistical analysis applied to extremely large sample sizes (in other words: given enough bales you’ll find a few straws in all the colors of the rainbow)

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All in all, I am starting to believe that the one difference between races, is in the genes that predispose to developing an Inferiority Complex.

Those genes are obviously very powerfully expressed among Racist White Men. In fact, for what other reason would they feel the need to try again, and again, and again, to find a scientific basis for their most stupid thoughts?

Affluence’s Curse

When everything is due, anything that goes missing causes a tragedy

Why is it that the most affluent societies are the ones where the fear of the future becomes some kind of collective Phobia of the Novelty, mixed up with a morbid fascination for dreaming up their own, however improbable, catastrophes?

Conversely, what makes quite poor people keep their hopes high for the future? If we could restrict ourselves purely to risk analysis, the opposite would be true.

Being rich means having a multitude of metaphorical cushions protecting one’s fall, for example being able to buy actual insurances.

For many instead, being poor means finding oneself wondering if there will be anything to eat for dinner.

And yet it’s in the Affluent West, plus Japan that blatant absurdities like the Principle of Precaution are fashionable.

I won’t even mention how many people are hooked into believing in toto the interminable series of catastrophical environmental reports that nowadays grace newspapers almost as commonly as gossip columns.

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One way to understand such a paradox is via what can be called “the Curse of Affluence“.

Humans naturally being hoarding animals, they have no qualms in pretending that everything they can get their hands onto is actually due to them.

Therefore, the more they have, the higher their fear some, any of it may disappear.

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Imagine one earns $25,000/year. Having been particularly good at their job, he/she gets a promotion and a salary of $40,000.

The happiness that brings disappears quickly though, and the following year the new level will be considered a given, not an achievement.

One will soon start to yearn for a higher salary still. Not only that: the new income will have surely brought a few more luxuries in one’s life. Losing those would feel like an abysmal failure: anxiety for the future will therefore kick in.

If left unchecked, that anxiety will increase more and more with increasingly higher salaries.

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If we apply the same line of thought to a society of people, then we can understand why they would all live in fear of losing their affluence rather than trying to enjoy it while they have it.

If everything is due, then anything that goes missing is in itself a tragedy (it works the other way around: if nothing is due, than anything that is obtained is a cause for celebration).

At the end then, a whole nation of rich people may as well stop functioning, with each one of them paralyzed by the fear of losing any of their innumerable luxuries, life included.

With the trap of a pessimistic Decadence bubble growing larger and larger, progress is then passed on to those that are not yet rich enough. And so on.

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To free affluent societies from their fears, first of all risk management should be made part of the school curriculum, like literature or maths. Also, people must be reminded for example via museums of the terrible aspects of non-affluent life.

In general, anything that would expose them to the practicalities of being dirt poor will definitely help. Just as (of course!) the spreading of a simple concept: that the neverending accumulation of stuff can only kill all hopes.

Step Zero in Freeing Up Half of the Human Race

“There can be no safe future without safe motherhood”
Women Deliver global conference (London, 18-20 October)

The very, very first step we need to do to provide at least the possibility of freedom for the whole of humanity, and not just men, is actually made up of two actions:

Step 0.1: diminish the chances of death during pregnancy
Step 0.2: increase the survival rate for children 0-5

In fact, as long as would-be mothers die at the enormous rates of 1 in 6 in places like Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, no wonder the relative value of each of those human beings is not considered that much.

Cynically one would ask why would anybody emotionally attach himself to a person that is quite as likely to die within a year (obviously, in reality things do not work out so simplistic, but still…).

Furthermore, if children die in large numbers (especially in their most vulnerable years, from birth to 5), the only way to nurture some possibility of leaving descendants in this world, is to conceive as many babies as possible.

Having women wait out their entire reproductive lives doing only house chores, with no time for business or political activities whilst going from one pregnancy to the next, becomes then a perfectly logical, if horrendous choice.

Given the fact that death-during-pregnancy and the need of a large number of children just to hope for one’s family not to die have both accompanied humanity for much of its existence, no wonder women have been set aside as virtual slaves for millennia.

And so there is simply no opportunity for “emancipation” if we don’t get mortality rates lower for mother and for young children.

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Luckily but tragically, the solution is not that difficult.

It’s all very feasible stuff and so it is a real tragedy that we have not achieved yet that for all: just as abject poverty and “under-development” are still very widespread.

In truth, there is a precise correlation between those concepts, and the health of women and children is one of the best indicators of how truly “rich” a country is.

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And so: let’s provide education to all the girls, and provide them with all the drugs and all the resources needed to mantain their health and the health of their children.

Otherwise, all efforts may as well go to nothing.

Free the Women

Former U.N. envoy Stephen Lewis, at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Canada, 2006, recently quoted by Jane Roberts in “Five years later, girls around the world need help more than ever:

I challenge you to enter the fray against gender inequality. There is no more honorable or productive calling. There is nothing of greater import in this world. All roads lead from women to social change.

I agree wholeheartedly. But arguably the contemporary relative freedom of Western women has been an accident of history, borne out of the men-hungry tragedies of both World Wars. Is there any hope and any means to make that happen elsewhere, the empowerment of women that is but without forcing their societies to live quite a long time without much of the male workforce?

Not to mention the futility of trying to inculcate freedom for half of humanity, from the outside.

Every Day, a Christmas Carol for the Soul

In Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is an aging man, money-tight and with a soul drier than the harshest desert, finding happiness and moral redemption only after meeting the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future.

Most of us will not receive any visit by eerie presences: still, we all risk to see our lives wither away in a hailstorm of irritability and sulking.

Fortunately, there is a way to recover youth and enthusiasm the way of Scrooge: by looking at our inner “ghosts”, the pieces torn from our inner selves one by one by Time itself.

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As the years go by, in fact, the constituents of one’s soul lose “sync” with one another. Some parts of the inner being survive as throwbacks to the past, becoming the Past Inner Ghost, “Ego Praeteritus”. Other elements live in the here-and-now, making up the Present Inner Ghost, “Ego Presens”. Others still have their basis in what is yet to come, belonging to the Future Inner Ghost, “Ego Posterus“.

For example, women and cars, fast or slow as they be, provide the best evidence that an important element of our souls does indeed live in the present. In fact, an obvious component of the Ego Presens is the sense of fashion: contemporary in the extreme and constantly a-changing, with wardrobes getting refreshed not just of worn-out items and impossible-to-find (as new) the same stuff of a few years earlier.

Female beauty itself means changing body shapes every decade or so, even if the owners of the proverbially beauty-beholding eyes don’t all die off that often

That is exactly what happens with cars. Look back at the vehicles in the market 20 or 30 years ago, and apart from true “classics”, you will see primitive, ugly boxes of metal, not the sleek lines, inviting quality, and superior engines of today’s automobiles (alas! themselves destined to turn into ugly boxes of metal… by 2027!).

Politics is itself not immune from the “spirit of the times”, the zeitgeist. Big worldwide debates appear to be coming and going, monopolizing it all for a while, then becoming either boring and outdated or boring and obvious (another definition for “being fashionable”?).

In the past century, colonialism, imperialism, protectionism, fascism, communism, democracy and universal suffrage, worries about nuclear war, civil liberties, poverty, the environment: nowadays, “global warming”.

Are we then “Citizens of the Zeitgeist”? Or “Prisoners of Our Times”, with our Ego Presens socially and commercially pressured into “freely” thinking with the consensus and “voluntarily” getting the most up-to-date gadgets?

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Not completely.

It’s an altogether different story for musical tastes. For some reason, most people get their melodic preferences cast in stone between the ages of 16 and 25. So if you’re 50 you may have to accept that your preferred music was recorded at least 25 years ago, and is unlikely ever to re-appear in the charts but for a very short time.

That’s an example of what constitutes the Ego Praeteritus, the inner Ghost of the Past. Other instances include lifelong friendships, usually forged by the end of the “teens” years, as anybody that has ever left hometown can attest; and most personal fears including fully-fledged phobias, rooted perhaps in the first 3 or 4 years of one’s life (just like family ties: are all those related, one wonders?).

And of course, we are bound to keep accumulating memories, those images and feelings condensed (and filtered) in an increasingly-heavier baggage capable of influencing all our thoughts and actions.

Worse still: parts of the Ego Praeteritus appear to become lethargic, if not dead altogether, around 16 years of age (as famously quipped by Benjamin Franklin). For instance, the ability to change and embrace innovation; the sense of academic excellence, invariably coinciding with one’s own year of graduation; morality, inevitably going down the drain since the days of one’s own youth; youths themselves, not showing any longer the respect of old to parents and adults in general.

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It’s in the Ego Futurus that one can find life instead, in the very dreams that keep us alive.

Those may be the hope of getting to see another day, or of seeing one’s children live long and prosper, or of being able to buy whatever one desires. Whatever their kind, still those are hopes, the last bits of us to die, and without which life would be absolutely pointless.

Hopes and expectations are not only rooted in the future: they belong to it. Fulfillment of one’s desires may be what we think we aspire to, but more often than not, when that happens it strikes as anticlimactic.

No need to be an Apollo astronaut back on Earth or a retiring World Leader to ask oneself that most open-ended, unsettling, and desperate of questions: “now what?”. A question that we will all have to face.

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As times goes on, and dreams come to materialize (or fail to), one’s Ego Posterus can only fade. In the meanwhile, the Ego Praeteritus grows bigger. More and more of one’s inner self gets anchored to the past, resulting in a progressive larger detachment from the “real world”, and from one’s slowly disappearing Ego Presens.

This may be the strongest sign of having an elderly mind: when the soul is left with almost no connection with the present, or the future.

Sadly, that’s a well-traveled path, with one slowly but steadily growing “grumpy”, stagnatingly aged in spirit instead of just old in body.

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How can one avoid such an end?

Perhaps some good memory erasure would help. There would be plenty of space to learn new musical tastes and how to become a different person.

A more practical way may be to become instead aware that parts of the soul do not live in the same epoch as the rest of them, or the World out there.

Accepting all internal differences on a temporal level too, we can then confront our Egos of the past, present and future, day-in, day-out, in an unrelentingly rejuvenating “time travel of the soul”.

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In fact, it’s the Christmas Ghosts that bring back grumpy extraordinaire Ebenezer Scrooge to a happier life, better connected to the world out there and at peace with what went before, what is happening now and what is yet to come.

Acknowledging a mistake…

…there is no “if”, there is no “but”. There is no excuse, there is no defense.

If one really wants to acknowledge a mistake, maybe even learn from it, it’s much better to shut up, listen wholeheartedly, avoid being defensive, stop rationalizing.

Say, even if one doesn’t really believe it, pretend that the people pointing out the mistake are right. Get on their side.

Otherwise it’s going to be as useful as running in circles. Worse: it may reveal one as not actually having acknowledged a thing. Bye bye reputation!!

Letter to a British Schoolboy (3 of 3)

(three-part father-to-son explanation on the perils of being young in contemporary Britain)

Part I: Letter to a British Schoolboy: Infancy

Part II: Letter to a British Schoolboy: The School Years

Part III: Letter to a British Schoolboy: The War Against Youth

(Part III: The War Against Youth)

English authorities fight against all citizens between the ages of 10 and 18, whenever they try to do the undoable and think the unthinkable, like breaking some rule by smoking tobacco or cannabis, drinking alcohol, forgoing school and writing graffiti on anonymous train carriages.

Of course it would make no sense to encourage certain behaviors, But there is no wisdom in “zero tolerance” either. Take for example School Expulsions, with students threatened for far less than a headbutt on live TV. All one needs is to be a bit less pliable than usual, and the risk is to be literally thrown onto the street, destined to “special schools” where corralled rebels don’t normally help each other achieve the best results, neither at school nor in future life.

The abuse of a school’s right to expel pupils transforms it in a latter-day Pilate, cleaning its hands off the issue of how to educate a child. The impression really is that quite a few places are only geared to instill discipline, not knowledge or crafts in the students’ minds.

Once again, the problem is not the existence of sanctions: what is abnormal, indicating a climate of open war, is the inclusion of sanctions that effectively abandon the “guilty” student and their family to a lifetime of failure even for relatively minor offences.

The war continues outside school premises. It’s fashionable for teenagers to wear hoods on their heads: this makes them look a lot like each other, a common feature in pre-adult fashion the world over. But as soon as rumors have spread of young criminals using the hood not to be recognizable on security cameras, there they went, the whole media circus and a large part of the population labeling a “criminal” anybody wearing hoods indoors. As a result, some teens have been prevented even entering some hood-free shopping malls.

In such an exaggerated climate, isn’t it natural for a lot of young people to embrace a petty criminal lifestyle? British society in all its conformism hasn’t realized yet the charm the forbidden has for not-yet-adult people: as demonstrated by the decrease in cannabis consumption after it has been decriminalized.

The Government, instead, is wasting no time in establishing more and harsher rules against whomever breaks them: for example with the ASBOs (anti-social behaviour orders) allowing cold-hearted judges to force away from society no-gooders, I mean youngsters perhaps with larger problems than they cause  individui. Some towns have gone as far as declaring curfews, relegating minors in their homes (why then not forbid young men to drive until the age of 30?)

Is there any third way out of this: something else than sheepy conformism and senseless rebellion?

What can I suggest? We’re foreigners nevertheless. It’s their society and when and if they’ll want to change they better do themselves. Please try not to get too much conformism under your skin: accept the letter, not the spirit of the uniforms. And most important of all, channel your youth energies of upheaval in something worth of a future, instead than bothering a bus driver.

Let’s talk again in 2013 though…when you’ll be 11!

(the end)

Letter to a British Schoolboy (2 of 3)

(three-part father-to-son explanation on the perils of being young in contemporary Britain)

Part I: Letter to a British Schoolboy: Infancy

Part II: Letter to a British Schoolboy: The School Years

Part III: Letter to a British Schoolboy: The War Against Youth

 (Part II: The School Years)

In Italy a millennium ago, until the age of 11 your Dad had to wear at nursery and school the grembiule, a neck-to-knee vest, mostly to avoid getting soiled clothes. In English schools instead, uniforms are more and more strictly imposed as age progresses: and so, just as personalities mature, they are subtly pushed towards a physical and metaphorical conformism.

In fact, school uniforms where required are rigidly so, and the more so in private tuition. Behind them there is a huge business, and parents throw their money at jackets, shirts, fake ties etc etc, that might have been fashionable in the 1950’s.

Hundreds of identically-dressed children are then marshaled every morning to salute the Headteacher, the School Organization and the Respect for Authority. Who knows, perhaps if we hadn’t had the excesses of Benito M. it would have been the same in Italy too (What? Oh, sure. I’ll tell you about Benito M. in a decade.)

How about learning? Huger and huger crowds of children are happily certified knowledgeable and smart with every passing year: a sign of a decay in examination standards, or perhaps, says The Economist, of the mysterious coincidence between academic excellence and the commentator’s learning years.

Not that it matters a lot to Government more interested in appeasing the tabloids, incredibly popular low-brow newspapers; with a control-freakery that sees the yearly publishing of School League Tables according to children’s results.

Low-performance schools risk closure, or being sold to sponsors with large liquidity and dubious ideologies such as Creationism. Headteachers will do their utmost then to nurture an environment of learning, or alternatively, they will figure out ways to climb the Tables with tricks and a cunning usually expected in far less law-abiding places.

Families will work hard then to find schools not managed by propaganda or cunning plans. And so every year millions wait in increasing anguish to know if they have been given their dream place of learning.

A place at universities such as Oxford and Cambridge will provide more chances of a bright career, perhaps as a banker with a history degree (the topic doesn’t count much). Attending a prestigious high school will give larger chances to be selected at Oxford and Cambridge. And the child that enters the best elementary school will be more likely rewarded with a place at a prominent high school.

Your enterprising parents had then to trot inside four primary schools, a few months ago, following enthusiastic Headteachers. Then, considered also local gossip and reputation, they decided for a school for your future (not so simple: three have been chosen in order of preference; but you have been allowed into the one we preferred).

Go on then, there is no reason to worry, it’s a good institute with lots of facilities. Enjoy it while you can, because the Stories of the post-Elementary School Years tell of the War between British Society and its Youth.

(continues)

Letter to a British Schoolboy (1 of 3)

(three-part father-to-son explanation on the perils of being young in contemporary Britain)

Part I: Letter to a British Schoolboy: Infancy

Part II: Letter to a British Schoolboy: The School Years

Part III: Letter to a British Schoolboy: The War Against Youth

(Part I: Infancy)

Dear Master of the House and British Schoolboy

At the ripe old age of 4 and a half years you have just started attending one of Her Majesty’s schools. Your life will slowly turn from a continuous play to a struggle with books, notebooks and computers hopefully in the company of less than three dozen boys and girls.

Let me then explain what is the background of almost all your schoolmates, what kind of experiences are waiting all of you and most of all what can we already understand from the whispers of the Ghost of School-year Futures.

As soon as born in 2001-2002, your little friends found themselves in the care of infant routine-fixated mothers. Whole libraries must be out there demonstrating that the best way to deal with a hungry newborn’s night calls is to convince it to follow a strict schedule sketched out by the Divinity, pardon, by the Parent.

Mother will believe everything is under control when days keep rolling identical one to the next and so on. Worse: the propaganda says the routine is a “must” to get a child to grow healthy, strong (and ready to answer commands).
 
Now, the screaming (child) bag of bones and fat that disturbs the living (parents) in their sleep is no good listener. How then can one establish the routine? The solution is simple, written no doubt by some renowned pedagogue in Germany at the end of the 1930’s (Why? Oh well…let’s wait a dozen years and I’ll explain). It is to persuasion-via-abandonment.

I am not suggesting that little babies are left in the open as a matter of course, until they stop crying and start preparing breakfast instead. Simply, the infant is only taken good care of when the routine says so. If for example it gets hungry half an hour before food time, let it cry its soul out.

If somebody said sleep time is at 6.30pm, that’s when the tiny human is parked in the cradle and left until it gets tired, perhaps because of the crying; even when the sun sets much later, in the summer.

You will wonder: but if you, Daddy, get home between 7 and 8pm, how will all those children play with their dads if they go to sleep so early? In truth, dads more often than not get home when their boys and girls are already asleep. Think though, how relaxing! It’s Adult Time, in a silent and peaceful house (That’s called sarcasm, explanations in 2010).

Dads and children will catch up during the weekend, going to the movies or a restaurant together for once. If they are let in, that is: apart from a few exceptions, restaurants do cater in England for adults only, wholly unprepared if “smaller clients” show up.

An amazed BBC reporter in Italy with his infant daughter recently described:

“we could hardly go from one street to the next in the Italian city without children running up to see the bambolotto (dolly).  Once what looked like three generations of a large family flocked out of a dark alleyway to alight around the buggy, whooping and shouting with delight.”

That tradition is not just Italian. Take a chubby, smiling child near the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and legions of Japanese girls will awe: “Sugoi!” (“Cute!”).

Nothing comparable to that in Great Britain. And this blindness and deafness to anybody below voting age doesn’t stop there. Every schoolchild is tasked to learn social conformism.

(continues to Part II: Letter to a British Schoolboy: The School Years)

Global Warming: Science, Politics and Deimocracy

Contemporary apocalyptic fashionable undertones in the area of Climate Change are pointing us away from Democracy, the power of The People, and towards Deimocracy, the power of Fear.

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(1) Disaster Talking

We are showered with news of doom: AIDS and SARS epidemics, Terrorisms and Wars on Terror, Overpopulation, Immigrants in hordes, Global Warming: calamities ultimately “explained” as of our own making

It will be news, a day without news of species candidate for extinction, the planet destined to burn up, and our lifestyles destroyed by al-Qaeda or a virus, because we are not enough green, and/or not energy savers, and/or virtuous

That’s the zeitgeist, the Spirit of (Our) Time for Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”, forecasting floods, droughts, hurricanes, cold and heath-waves, hunger and misery (locusts included) to governments and individuals, whose culpable inertia is apparently enriching Big Bad Oil Corporations while sullying the Earth

It is a “language of disaster” that belongs also to:

  • Jim Hansen, the NASA climatologist reporting only the scariest predictions
  • Tim Flannery, the Australian of the Year 2007, a scientist who believes that coal-burning will bring humanity to an end
  • Jared Diamond, the former-skeptic now converted to Paul Ehrlich’s unflinching pessimism to accuse the enslaved, decimated inhabitants of Easter Island of consumerism and ecocide; and to many more

Is it really necessary to force people to “duck” under ever more monstrous Terrors to protect the environment from technological growth, ourselves from terrorism, our species from overpopulation?

Since when has Fear become the only instrument of persuasion?

Is this because a “stupid electorate” is easily manipulated by the titillation of tragedy and disaster, or perhaps even by the millenarian attitude that permeated as expected the end of the last Millennium (Nostradamus prophecies, Y2K, etc.)?

But then, Democracy itself would be alien or absurd

Or is this because reaction can be elicited by hitting us hard before problems do?

That means considering our species to be “Homo Insanus”, not “Homo Sapiens”, “wise man”. Given the choice, it sounds definitely better to entrust us then to the “Politics of the Day After”, chasing the front pages of newspapers (standard practice for more than one politician…)

(2) Deimocracy

Actually, the suspicion is that this “Empowerment of Fear Itself” otherwise called Deimocracy (from the Greek: deimos “terror, dread”) is a way to propel new forms of social engineering by inoculating us with the idea that in such dire straits, our only hope to survive cataclysmic planetary changes is to accept exceptional, anti-freedom measures

Al Gore’s solution is for “leaders” to corral unwilling voters, whatever their opinion, into accepting coercive measures.

Sir Nicholas Stern in the meanwhile came up with yet another gloomy report, telling in no uncertain terms to spend some 20 billions today not to have to spend 200 billions or more in 100 or 150 years’ time (never mind the dubiously low discount rate and the continuous need to “explain” and “clarify” that he wasn’t talking about our lifetimes)

In a society where “science” and now “economics” foretell our future, we are told to follow their recommendations… or else!

The UK’s Royal Society recently reprimanded evil Exxon, guilty of financing “anti-environmentalist lobbies” belittling the risks of Climate Change (actually: some associations publicly saying that Climate Change will not happen, or will not be catastrophic)

The fallacy of judging anybody not following the Global Warming line as “anti-environmentalist” shows the Royal Society as less eager of defending Science against manipulation, than of taking Climate Change as an article of faith

(3) Global Warming as a new Religion

Millenarian Global Warming is indeed assuming the character of a cult, as repeatedly pointed out by Michael Crichton.

British newspaper The Guardian’s editorialist George Monbiot writes that (on Climate Change), “He (Monbiot) Is Watching Us”. Margo Kingston remarks on the Australian Daily Briefing that those Global Warming “deniers” are guilty of a Crime against Humanity. Others have suggested a Nuremberg-style trial.

If we do not stop to produce carbon dioxide within ten years, the world will be gone, some say. Others tell sinners that without repentance, they will not be among the 144 thousand saved in the Apocalypse. Spot the difference.

And in a Market of the Indulgences Al Gore pays to plant trees to compensate for the jet-setting he undertakes to instruct us… to fly less! (Is it time for SUV owners to grow trees on the bonnet?)

(4) Skepticism: the Root of Science

Mystical visions of doom are obviously not on par level with forecasts by obviously bright intellects such Hansen’s and Flannery’s. And yet, one can be just as seriously skeptical of their conclusions, in the ways of Carl Sagan: extraordinary claims of catastrophes must be backed by extraordinary evidence

Science is indeed a collection of “theories”, models of reality as objective and as complete as possible. The task of the scientist is to (boringly) expand on such models or to (Nobel-prize-winningly) refute them and put forward new, more precise models.

Truly there is no such a thing as “democratic science”, weighing the number of papers going in different directions. It is instead like a boiling ocean where competing models fight to reach the surface through the grinding by mechanisms such as “peer review” by experts (usually without authors’ names to avoid “subjective” interference, e.g. of “bad blood”)

Nonetheless, the infrastructure of Science feeds on reputation. No editor of scientific publication, no manager of research fund will want to look gullible: it is then obviously more difficult to publish anything against the “current consensus”, and easier to receive funds to repeat established experiments

With Science pushed and pulled in incompatible directions, the scientific debate cannot be closed: otherwise, it is not scientific. And its infinite detail will never be fully shown in scientific publications or accompanying press releases

(5) From Science to Politics

In politics the situation is radically different. Politics can not simply abandon one model for another, to “try out” something else. Social effects are not negligible, and it will be difficult to carry along the electorate at every turn: impressions, however subjective they may be, do count.

Translating Science into Politics therefore creates four problems: Technicism; Manipulation; Inaction and Causal Monomania

Technicism is the misinterpretation of scientific research as the “end word” on a topic: like eugenics, fashionable and admired cause of several million human deaths

In Manipulation, politicians pick and choose the most convenient scientific results: as in the 1920 US’s immigration policies discriminating against Southern Europeans for scientific, unassailable reasons (alleged inferior IQs)

Inaction is when Governments do nothing against clear forecasts by scientists and engineers. Just as predicted by many experts, New Orleans’ badly-financed and badly-constructed levees, built to withstand the direct hit of a category-3 hurricane, failed even if category-3 Katrina actually missed the city

Finally, in Causal Monomania an issue is fogged by explaining everything with a single reason: Global Warming, of course, where catastrophist propaganda couples with alarmist Deimocracy to deny political space to all opponents: whilst in the scientific arena, almost every work is bound to “rediscover” the same thing: how bad we are, and how bad Climate Change is going to be

In Al Gore’s movie, glaciers retreat, floods devastate, the natural world dies: all of that, because of Global Warming.

There is no “smoking gun” available, no hurricane called “Climate Change”: yet, this fact is not important because, in the subculture of Global Warming, every atmospheric phenomenon is obviously caused by our misbehavior

Read this recent quote from “Cultural responses to aridity in the Middle Holocene and increased social complexity” (Nick Brooks, Quaternary International 151 (2006) 29-49):

In today’s globalizing world, traditional livelihoods are under pressure from economic liberalization, monetization of local economies and development programmes based largely on western models.

Words of truth perhaps but… they can relate to social complexity and aridity in the Middle Holocene only for people that consider contemporary Climate Change induced by human activity as an all-encompassing Monster, the root of every trouble, to be stopped also by means of disseminating irrelevant, yet negative and unrelenting mentions of it

Compare that effort to the lukewarm attitude towards preventing the one disaster that will occur with absolute certainty: our planet being hit by a small asteroid or comet

(6) Climate Change and Propaganda

Climate Change monomania details upcoming destructions to restrict individuals’ freedoms. Moreover, it is a propaganda device for politicians to hide their shortcomings

If every problem derives from Climate Change, and all effective solutions are global, what can we ever pretend from a single Nation?

Take Australia, experiencing its n-th consecutive year of “drought” (presented of course as a sign of Climate Change): and yet, during Sydney’s rainy September ‘06, local newspapers debated the absence of adequate facilities to collect rainwater. Never mind the subsidies received by farmers despite the obvious unsuitability of their farms.

And never mind the fact that Dorothea Mackellar could remember Australia as the “sunburnt country [...] of droughts and flooding rains“…in 1904!

What is the real issue: “Climate Change” or “Incompetence”? Shall we really revolutionize our lifestyles and spend billions to stop emitting CO2, in order to save the Australian Government (or any other) from their own ineptitude?

(7) The End of Environmentalism?

A bigger danger exists. What if the foretold disasters fail to happen? Politicians will not be able to justify themselves by “passing the buck” to the scientists.

If the political debate could be encapsulated by the scientific discourse, we would just accept a Technocracy (again, renouncing Democracy): an untenable solution as the idea that professionals, experts, scientists do make mistakes is part of popular mythology

Large communication problems exist between Science and the non-scientific public. Actually, by putting themselves in-between scientists and the general population, catastrophists are risking to prevent the public from properly perceiving the real threats and risks

When too many a prediction will fail, people will wrongly but understandably start to think that rhinos are not in extinction danger; that there are many Siberian tigers around; and that pollution running amok is no problem.

Fear-mongering Environmentalism may indeed be sanctioning the End of Environmentalism (a point recently made by no less a commentator than Nicholas D Kristof of the New York Times)

(8) Defending the Environment – Take Two

A serious environmentalist debate must rise above simplistic policies and propaganda. Many are the priorities to handle, and difficult to manage: there is no solution in monomaniac pseudo-scientific Deimocratic shortcuts

Meaningful environment conservation is something less sexy and un-titillating, pivoted around analyses and counter-analyses of our ideals, objectives and priorities, in a system where scientific research is analyzed within its context, before being applied in the political field.

It is based on defining objectives as solution to problems, not just as desperate resorts against the End of the World

Are houses cleaned because it is the right thing to do, or just since otherwise people could be at risk of SARS or the Black Plague?

Are Human Rights to be protected for their intrinsic value, or only if and when the alternative is Genocide?

Shouldn’t oil be better employed to build plastics than burned for heating and transportation with accompanying toxic fumes?

Of course: and not just to avoid droughts, fires and a one-way trip to the Gehenna

(9) Rejecting Deimocracy

Gore, Hansen and the others may even be right on the subject of Global Warming: however, their methods of propaganda and political action must be rejected in principle.

The real risk is to accept the worst of all possible worlds, where Science is contaminated by ideology and Politics stifles debate, with little freedom and scarce if any analysis of priorities.

Will one day somebody coin the slogan “Breath less, Emanate less carbon dioxide”?

Let’s be free instead: Long Live Democracy!

And let’s firmly distance ourselves from the “Politics of Fright”. Down with Deimocracy!

Napoleon Was (not) Here

What if a member country’s relationship with the European Union depended on the achievements of the most famous Corsican in History?

Take…the United Kingdom (please! I mean, as an example)

What about the UK? Don’t we all know that the Emperor of France was unable to cross the Channel? Those 25 miles of sea had seen the advance of Julius Cesar, Claudius Augustus and William the Conqueror, but were impenetrable to the Victor of Austerlitz, either by sea (with his fleet destroyed at Trafalgar by Admiral Nelson), or by a risky tunnel from the Calais area.

But that is the point: having endured no French invasion, the English (and Welshmen, and Scots) did not experience some important changes, “details” that are now native to cultures and societies of the European Countries, that around the year 1800 were under the hegemony of Paris

From this point of view, many of the clashes and misunderstandings between the British nations and the rest of Europe are consequences… of the Fall of the Bastille (a reminder to Chinese President Mao’s 1950s answer about the impact of the French Revolution of 1789: “Too early to tell” )

Some differences between Great Britain and the Continent are self-evident: for example, Napoleon deliberated for cemeteries to be transferred outside cities, whilst most London Churches sport quite more recent tombstones nearby

But the real break with past after the violent end of King Louis XVI of France, was something more meaningful than simple administrative decisions concerning public hygiene

In fact, the French (people and elites) moved on to export the Principles of the Revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Those were extraordinarily new concepts and revolutionary indeed for an Europe rigidly divided then (as now) in sovereign States keen to defend their own (ruling classes’) interests

Amid all the chaos of war, French armies propagated those Principles in the popular consciences in Germany, Spain, Italy and beyond. The administrations that followed had the stated goal of freeing their “brothers”, that is all nearby nations, reorganizing them around the idea that all the Citizens have the same rights, and are equal in front of the Law

The very notion of a European Union proceeds from the idea of a Militant Fraternity between Peoples (curiously, an attitude currently disliked as “American”). More: in its fit of destruction against the Ancien Regime France allowed a person like Napoleon Bonaparte, born far away from the old Bourbon elites, to become first a General, then a Head of State, and finally an Emperor

Of Italian origins, with little links to the Upper Strata of society, and without a large inheritance to sustain himself, Napoleon came from Corsica, a restive island itself far away from the command centres of the Kingdom and then the Republic

The conquering French Emperor and his armies, powerful and invincible masters and liberators of Europe (apart from the British islands and little more), showed thus to all the people of the continent that lineage, commercial interests, money were not needed (not even a good accent) to soar to power

In the United Kingdom instead, there is no historical trace of a popular revolution capable to change the nation and subvert the Establishment, nor of a non-Establishment person (no matter how exceptional), to take control of the State

Popular uprisings, of course, did happen in centuries past, but they all failed. The most serious, in 1381, saw thousands of peasants march only to see a young king renege on his promises (and execute their ringmasters)

The one Revolution that succeeded brought to power nobleman Oliver Cromwell in 1646: but he refused to let himself proclaimed Head of State (in stark contrast, Napoleon crowned himself in Paris in front of a reluctant Pope)

Europhile Ireland, also untouched by Napoleon, managed instead a popular revolution to free itself from United Kingdom at the beginning of XX the century, reinforcing the feeling that British ambivalence towards the European Union is linked to a its (un-) revolutionary history

The consequences are not difficult to imagine. The British population has become allergic to any thought of an uprising, and has maintained a strong sense of Authority. In what other modern state could one find the citizens officially defined as “subjects” of the Queen?

And with all the wars and revolutions of the XIX and XX century, where else is power firmly in the hands of the (old) ruling classes, the so-called “The Great and the Good”, a mixture of nobility and hereditary merchant classes uninterruptedly in control, at least from the age of Wilhelm of Orange (King since 1688 having been “invited over” by a group of English parliamentarians)?

Obviously not all the UK political leaders of last three centuries were of high lineage or coming from powerful, rich families: but all of them effectively belonged to, or became part of the Establishment. Margaret Thatcher, potentially an outsider woman in a world of men, worked instead to re-establish the most cliched idea of what the British society ought to be (centred, not by chance, around her person as a sort of Queen-in-all-but-name)

The British tradition of Authority is continuously renewed also in the apparently more democratic aspects. For example, governmental planning, a process theoretically opened to the opinions of all citizens, is so mysterious and forcefully dedicated to reach a consensus, that is almost impossible for plans not to be watered down, let alone be able to change the status quo

The British citizen is educated never to complain in an effective manner. The tradition of the “stiff upper lip” is waning but not disappearing: think of a person that does not reveal feelings nor emotions, and whose mouth never betrays joy nor anxiety: whose passions, and whose angers therefore, remain hidden, to leave Society undisturbed. People may complain about the quality of the trains, but they will do nothing more, stoically enduring antiquated pre-modern services reminding of 1980’s continental Europe.

True, the National Health System (NHS) is now at the forefront of contemporary provision: at the wrong forefront, one might say, as it is showing the rest of Europe that nurses can cheaply (but how effectively?) “diagnose” illnesses simply by following rigid criteria based on the patient’s own reporting of symptoms, rather than with a careful analysis and an experienced doctor

The dutiful “customers” accept the situation as a necessity, unaware of the fact that today’s awful service will become tomorrow’s standard. Healthcare managers of course are very happy with the savings, and further encouraged to find out how to spend less, without consideration to the actual health benefits to the patients

Particularly rigid and unmovable, cold and impersonal, the British bureaucracy is clearly geared to satisfy superiors rather than citizens. The year 2006 opened with the case of an old couple separated by social workers: he, a veteran of the Second World war; she, blind. The husband’s GP ordered him to enter a clinic specialised in the treatment of the elderly. Alas, the wife could not follow, as her situation did not fulfil obscure criteria established by the local Council

Last I checked on this piece of news, paradoxes were piling up, all related to an excessive importance given to the “Authority”. The husband is unwillingly parked in the clinic, but does not return home as he is following doctor’s orders. The wife is home just as lonely with the family taking care of her now. Some letter-based protest had been lodged by their children, but they did not move their father back nor considered using a private healthcare provider

The social workers, instead of improving the citizens lives, became responsible of a serious and self-evident injustice that ruined the life of two old innocents. Why couldn’t they do differently? Because there is no alternative

Any “personal interpretation” of the rules (the shock! The horror!) would be considered an act of insubordination and the career of the “guilty” probably finished to the moment. And of course there is no official channel where to ask exceptions to the regulations in exceptional circumstances.

In a centre-driven, hard, harsh, pyramidal and frozen structure, even the social worker, as any other representative of the State or any organization, is just a messenger

There is also a European aspect that is directly affected by this attitude. The EU is famous for its “directives”: technically, “a legislative act of the European Union which requires member states to achieve a particular result without dictating the means of achieving that result

Peculiarly, those directives do not have the same consequences in the UK as elsewhere. For example recently hundreds of local British abattoirs have been closed due to some EU directive, whilst nothing of the sort has happened in the rest of the European Union.

Some fundamental cultural misunderstanding must be at work: so whereas most countries consider a “directive” as a “strong suggestion”, a rule indicating the direction of things to come, in the UK it is interpreted as a mandatory law that must be followed to the letter: exactly the difference between guidelines expressed by popular representatives, and the imperative commands of a King/Ruling Prime Minister.

Even in 1968, to the rioters in France, Italy and Germany the English youth answered with pointless rebellions as seen in movies like Quadrophenia. And today, instead of blocking crowded trains like in Turin or Milan, London commuters find refuge in witticisms about the state of the railroads

It’s not by chance that British humour is famous worldwide, well developed (and widely tolerated). It’s one of the three main discharge valves for life-stressed citizens. Another valve is the creation and destruction of myths (like Tony Blair). And the third is the ambiguous celebration of alcohol and alcoholism, but these topics deserve their own articles.

And so consider Bonaparte’s disasters at Trafalgar and Waterloo, when trying to understand British idiosyncrasies about “Europe”. For now let’s just heave a sigh whilst lamenting: Napoleon, why didn’t you come here?

Six Billion Eichmanns

Not long ago I blogged about the gathering clouds of a holocaust of Muslims, especially in Europe: “A future Holocaust of Muslims? Letter to BBC’s ‘Any Questions’”  (11-Feb-06 1:56pm):

The Western reaction to the brouhaha about those idiotic Danish cartoons has been […] [about[ flaunting the “superiority” of Western culture […] making no distinction between millions and millions of peaceful Muslims and a handful of violent protesters

[…] “superior Western Culture” (especially European) cannot deal with the concept of properly respecting, or even letting exist an “alien” minority in their midst. Look at what happened to indigenous Americans in the North and the South, to the Aborigines in Australia. Think what happened to the Jews. […]

With the security services busily imprisoning people for the crime of “wrong religion” (or “wrong beard”, or even “wrong hydrogen peroxide”), the forecast remains uncertainly pessimistic.

This sounds preposterous: I have been told that Western civilisation has come a long way from the 1930s, that Law is definitely the Rule now, that human rights are enshrined in too many bills and constitutions.

Maybe. Would our forefathers have believed that they were going to become genocidal? Who could have thought about Auschwitz in the Germany of Bertold Brecht and Karl Valentin? Who was expecting the Sarajevo of the 1984 Winter Olympics become a territory of war and massacres barely 8 (eight) years later?

Of course, we are better than out ancestors. Of course we can learn from their experience. Too bad that’s exactly what they would have said of themselves.

Of course we are better than Germans in the 1930s-1940s, or Jugoslavians in 1992, or Rwandans in 1994. Too bad the very act of pretending that we are better than anybody else, is fundamentally anti-Christian, hence a betrayal of whatever good has been produced by “Western Civilisation”

=================

In truth, we have been killing our own citizens too many a century to seriously believe things are different this time around. What then can help us prevent any reversion to our old thirst for killing friends and foes?

(1) Acknowledging that things are not well: and that they are not well, with us as individuals.

No need to believe my words: here is what David Cesarani writes about the ordinary nature of evil (“Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life, Crimes, and Trial of a ‘Desk Murderer’”, Capo Press; reviewed by Barry Gewen on the New York Times, May 12, 2006 in “A portrait of Eichmann as an ordinary man”)

Under the right circumstances, normal people will commit mass murder, [Cesarani] says, and the circumstances of our age – with its racism, ethnic cleansing, suicide bombers and genocidal killings – are ominous. “Eichmann appears more and more like a man of our time,” are his concluding words. “Everyman as génocidaire.”

It is important to note that Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi war criminal tried and hanged in Israel in 1961, was no rabid anti-semite

In Austria, Eichmann had Jewish friends, was employed by Jews […], had Jewish relatives by marriage. […] it wasn’t anti- Semitism that led Eichmann into the party. […] The turning point came after 1941, when forced emigration gave way to genocide. Under the pressure of his new duties, Eichmann changed.

(2) Keeping in mind that idealistic political goals are the more likely to ruin us, the more wonderful they look on paper (and in mind)

A poignant example is provided by French philosopher BHL (from an interview by Jan Tunku Varadarajan of the Wall Street Journal, Jan 23, 2006):

When the Hegel of modern times will write this history, he will say that the real crucial event was Cambodia…Because till Cambodia all the revolutionaries in the world believed that revolution had failed because it didn’t go far enough, because it wasn’t radical enough…The first revolution in history to be really radical…And what we discover, all of us? Instead of paradise, revolution gives absolute hell.

Tellingly, it took years for the Cambodian crimes to be fully recognised by leftist parties, just as the enormous numbers of dead Chinese peasants during the Great Leap Forward at the end of the 1950s did not impede cultured “progressive” intellectuals from supporting Chairman Mao to his death and beyond

(3) Refusing and repudiating any talk of us-vs-them, and all forms of political propaganda capitalizing on division and even the slightest hint of hate

Here again BHL in the same interview:

We are engaged in a war against terrorism, but the war is a political one, not a religious one, not a civilization one…It is suicide to say that this is a civilization war, because if it is such, it is an endless war, bloc against bloc. If you say “political” you make a bet on the outcome

(4) Keeping in check the societies and cultures each one of us belongs to, instead pontificating on what is wrong in other societies and other cultures

If, say, you believe it is your duty to “defend Western Civilization” then it is your duty to understand and put into practice the old saying about motes and beams. Otherwise, you are betraying the deep root of your very cause

============

Gewen ends his commentary in hopeful despair, talking about Hanna Arendt, who wrote several reports for The New Yorker at the time of Eichmann’s trial, and a book, “Eichmann in Jerusalem

Arendt’s approach was unyieldingly universalistic. Her analysis of Eichmann was a demand for individual responsibility, an insistence on the need constantly to exercise personal choice, whatever society might dictate. This is a cold ethic, as severe as Kant’s, so difficult it has a quality of the inhuman about it. For who among us can maintain the unceasing moral awareness she calls for?

And yet, we ought to strive at least for that goal.

So please do keep vigilant.

It took just half a decade to get a failed minority party into an organization of thousands getting trained for mass murderers. In the age of the Internet it may take far shorter a time than that

Think the Unthinkable: Make Bombing a War Crime

Lives of enemy civilians have already little importance but in hypocritical declarations for the media.  

The progressive increase in the ratio between civilian and military casualties has been a sad trend during the history of war. Together with the overall rise in our weapons’ killing efficiency, it will only mean that in a few decades if not years, wars will be fought with zero dead among the warriors, and millions among the rest of humanity

Actually, the fact that wars mainly kill and maim people with no weapon, no intention to use weapons and posing absolutely no danger whatsoever to the enemy, is considered sound and sensible. It is accepted. 

But it really makes no sense

———-

I was surprised actually this week at my relief when finally Israel soldiers marched into Lebanon, instead of just the usual rounds of military airplanes trying to “surgically” act and killing hundreds of bystanders in the process (not to mention the distorted lives of countless children living in terror of the sound of bombers flying nearby)

Finally, I thought, there will be real people fighting each other directly, not through bombs far away

And so there will be the hope that a soldier won’t kill groups of children, like an airplane pilot does: perhaps, by the mere fact that the soldier will have to look at whom he’s killing, whilst the pilot gives his soul away to a robotic murderer.

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Can bombardment be anything but a war crime?

In fact, say you are a Hizbullah fighter shooting rockets towards Israel. Are you aiming them at anything in particular? If not, anything and everything is your “target”. But then what are military advantages gained in killing mothers and children, something that is bound to happen? And if there aren’t what are you doing shooting those rockets but an indiscriminate killing, a crime then against the rules of war?

Say you are instead an Israeli pilot releasing a smart bomb to destroy a building where you’ve been told Hizbullah wdfd shooting rockets from. Imagine now the bomb actually hits that building, and not one nearby. Say, tens of children are killed. Even if somebody would be able to demonstrate the military advantages gained in doing that, who is going to do that? What independent tribunal will check your behavior? And still, if you were sorry about those children, what will make you less liable than a just-as-sorry person guilty of manslaughter?

This is not limited to Israel and Lebanon. The US and other forces have periodically justified the bombings of villages in Iraq and Afghanistan, as a justified way of targeting al-Qaeda terrorists.

Just as in Vietnam, we terminate lives in order to free them

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The above does not even cover the use of cluster bombs, merrily floating towards the ground while luring little children to get near them toy-like killers

What do we do with killers and people committing manslaughter in “normal” life? Why would that have to be any different in war, apart than when all the people involved in the war are consciously doing so?

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What kind of civilization are we talking about: one that has learn its ways out of the Nazi’s destruction of
Guernica in Spain during the local Civil War?

Are we willingly equating ourselves to the supposedly despised Nazis? Has any other Nazi policy or strategy been accepted in any other part of life?

And yet for some reason we all espouse the idea of “total war”, where every pram and every hospital bed in the enemy’s hands is to be bombed like an aircraft carrier or a dirty-bomb production facility

Instead, for the sake of safeguarding our lives, we give the Governments we have freely elected the power of taking out somebody else’s, however innocent, however young or old. How nice to sleep soundly with our consciences bloodily clean

Truly the Pearly Gates will open only for a few elected people!

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What should a State do then, to fight another State or militia? Use a “novel” approach: send infantry with the precise aim of finding, routing, destroying the enemy soldiers.

You’re going to lose plenty of soldiers (if you can’t stomach that, surrender at once): but you will concentrate your fire power onto getting rid of the enemy’s ability to harm you and your country.

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How can anything else be taken as reasonable?

What would you think of a racing driver wasting fuel in knocking down the mechanics of the other teams and their families, instead of focusing on winning the race with the minimal effort?

A more complete analogy would be: what would you think of a racing driver intent at (1) knocking out down the mechanics of the other teams and their families, (2) making the other drivers’ racing easier, and (3) lining up his own mechanics for the others to eliminate?

Because bombings have always elicited a stronger fighting mood in the enemy. And any civilian that dies as “collateral damage” is an argument in favor of exploding terrorist bombs among innocent bystanders

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And so the Geneva Conventions must be expanded to prohibit all kinds of remote warfare, starting with bombing, but in the most exceptional circumstances (such as the targeting of military compounds)

We must protect civilians for our own sake. Because the idea that children and the elderly can be considered legitimate targets or even acceptable collateral damage surely is repugnant to anybody but mass murderers. Because it’s our lives that are becoming more and more cheap and expendable.

We must go back to the old ways of military confrontation between military forces. Anybody touching any person not actually fighting should be considered a war criminal and treated as such

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Is this feasible? We know we could win wars by slaughtering each and every one in our enemy’s population. That’s what happened for thousands of years, and yet, we have managed to outlaw such a crime against humanity.

Many nations could have access to chemical arms of untold horror and killing potential. Many have used them, in World War I and up to the Second World War. And yet, we have managed to outlaw such a crime against humanity too

Ditto for nuclear weapons

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The only thing preventing us from seeing bombings and all other kinds of “remote warfare” for the crimes they are, is the same thing that prevented our forebears to understand that wars need have rules too: and so until the Red Cross was founded, wounded enemy soldiers were left to die, and bayonets were badly-shaped for un-necessary harm

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Think the Unthinkable: Make bombing a war crime

Natural Sleep, anybody?

Some may already know that I hardly need more than 4 hours of sleep every night, apart from peculiar circumstances.

Sometimes I think with appropriate training I could be able to shorten that time to 2 hours: and if I could switch to power-napping (15 minutes every 3 hours or so), I’d do it without much of a thought (but sadly, without much of a family around me either…)

Having had to deal with countless criticism about this supposedly harmful behaviour, I can only be pleased in reading this comment on one Op-Ed’s by Alex Beam on the International Herald Tribune:

In his 2005 book "At Day's Close: Night in Times Past," historian A. Roger Ekirch [...] argued that the transition from old-fashioned "segmented sleep" to today's continuous sleep pattern hasn't helped mankind. "There is every reason to believe that segmented sleep, such as many wild animals exhibit, had long been the natural pattern of our slumber before the modern age, with a provenance as old as humankind," Ekirch wrote. Up until the invention of artificial lighting, he noted, men and women went to bed earlier and woke up in the middle of the night to smoke a pipe, make love, or analyze their dreams.

Segmented sleep, that’s what’s healthy and “natural”: not 8 or 10 hours in a row

Do services degenerate faster in an informal economy?

In conventional thinking, there are many advantages in living in a formal economy, where entrepreneurs and laborers work together according to established rules agreed by everybody through the involvement of the State.

This is supposed to guarantee fairness and more recently, a widespread care system centered around protecting the poorest, most vulnerable and the most elderly members of the society

On the other hand, a more or less completely informal economy is the day-to-day experience of hundreds of millions if not billions of fellow humans, especially (but by no means only) in so-called emerging and developing Countries.

In an informal economy, certain types of income and the means of their generation are “unregulated by the institutions of society, in a legal and social environment in which similar activities are regulated.”

It is usually a sign that the State is locally very weak. So income (including salaries) is received without paying taxes; work arrangements do or do not follow lawful standards, there is no apparent provision for old-age pension

And more often than not, one has to have cash at hand to guarantee speedy treatment of one’s issue for example in a state court: in what we call corruption

However scandalous to the average well-disposed thinker, this is a system that a) is very widespread and b) appears to be working more or less smoothly. In fact, there is an element of trust: however small or big the bribery, it would not get paid if the service would then not be provided

This obviously applies to specific cases. You can call it “salary informalisation”, where things get done quickly only when the “customer” pays directly into the pocket of the employee on the other side of the counter, rather than through the State for example via taxes.

Other circumstances are completely different: think of the police officer that threatens to impound the car unless offered money; the politician cutting 15% on a nation’s foreign contracts, “otherwise they won’t get signed”

These are two different kinds of corruption. The former is about asking additional money in order to provide a service. The latter is greedy intimidation into paying in order to avoid getting oneself into a dangerous position. This is far worse, as it sucks money away with very little to show in return

Corruption as parasitical intimidation is what stiff sentences and worldwide campaigns against corruption should concentrate on

What are the drawbacks then of the more benign kind of corruption, the “salary informalisation”? At first glance, it is quite tempting to accept it. If (and when) it works, it is much more efficient than having to deal with a far-away incorporeal entity called “the State”. Even fairness can be far superior than in the formal economy, as rules are ready to be renegotiated and can be bent to be just in every occasion, not only as described by the necessarily incomplete Law.

The problem is of course in those two words: IF and WHEN. An informal economy works well only as long as there is no excess of abuse on one side or the other: otherwise the requisite of fairness disappears, and we fall back in the “corruption as greed” trap.

And in fact, is not that what too easily happens when the Rules and the Laws are not enforced appropriately, exactly when the State is too weak to do so? Worse, the usual cures evolved the world over can be worse than the malady: as soon as “Groups of Mutual Help” arise to protect the members against unfair treatment, their intentions are hijacked turning them into Mafias, with further damage to the economy

This is not a necessity. But an informal economy is simply too fragile: its services may disappear at the whim of the providers, and organized crime can only thrive without a clear, enforced set of rules called the Law

An informal economy can never be considered a good, healthy economy

The Biggest Hypocrisies

How many pretenses do we really have to live with?

1. “Third World Development”? In truth it is just old-style Colonialism under a new guise. Proof is the fact that so few “Developing Countries” have been able to “emerge”: and no Emerging Country has been able to get its seat with the “Big Powers” (China is a special case due to sheer size). So the biggest result of decades of “development” may really be that things are more or less exactly the way they were
2. “Liberal Democracy”? Instead, it keeps evolving into the rule by a self-perpetuating oligarchy. See the creation of personality-based powerful parties in France and Italy; and the obscene number of sons and daughters of former Presidents and other politicians, kind of inheriting from their parents their supposedly elected positions
3. “The War On Drugs”? Only pea-brained idiots will not agree that such a “war” has been won, by drug cartels and mafias the world over. Completely but hopefully unwillingly forgetful of the Prohibition disaster in 1920s’ USA, we have spend money like there is no tomorrow, in what can only be described as an elaborate plot to finance the traffickers
4. “Public Service”? In reality, it is better described as “minimal-cost appeasement” as most of the time, it provides no service at all, as its efficiency is measured more on how much money has been saved, rather than the quality of assistance provided to people in need
5. “Reality TV”? It is nothing of the sort. Television may be portraying “real” happenings by using a Candid Camera, perhaps, but definitely no sane person in the world would “act naturally” and “realistically” with a light, camera and sound crew openly working in their immediate proximity. The only hope to see “reality” is if the characters forget the existence of all those cabled people around. But then, it is just Television, a sort of enhanced theatre where things happen because of their entertainment value
6. “The Ethical State”? And then it becomes Hell on Earth. How many times do we need to repeat the horrendous mistakes of early XX century, where otherwise good and intelligent people devised, approved, encouraged and enacted crimes in the name of eugenics, i.e. their hope into making the world a better place and the humans a better race? And so we should steer quite clear of any simplistic thinking on how to improve ourselves and the planet, especially when single-minded: just as, contrarily to what suggested by D.H. Lawrence, urban poverty cannot be seriously solved by gassing all poor in a building as big as the old Crystal Palace
7. “Christian Love”? And so why then it transforms itself so easily into unbounded cruelty, of the sort that tries to impede couples from loving each other even if of the same gender? And that has worked hard, eg in Italy, to make artificial insemination almost impossible to succeed, in the name of protecting the lives of the fetuses that now will never be born? And that pretends to solve the issue of abortion by prescribing what should not be done? And finally that happily leaves people suffer in unspeakable agony, only to defend a right to live in a way that transforms it into an obligation to be tortured by one’s own body?
8. “Islamic Fundamentalism”? If only! In the last two decades or so, all self-appointed defenders of Islam have been extremely successful…at killing fellow Muslims. Think of the all the dead locals after the bomb outside the US embassy in Tanzania. Think of the untold number of Algerians killed during the Civil War in the 1990s. Think of the vast majority of victims in almost all Egyptian terrorist act. Think of the Palestinian wedding mysteriously targeted for the 2005 bombs in Amman, Jordan. And think of the Muslim children killed during the attack against the foreigners’ compound in Saudi Arabia’s capital
9. “War on Terror”? What is coming up is instead the repositioning of governmental power in the USA, in the UK, in Europe and elsewhere. Governments of all colours and tastes appear all over the world to have tried to infiltrate the private lives of their citizens more than ever before. The only thing they haven’t justified with the “war on terror” appears to be open-ended proctology. For the rest, eavesdropping, hidden cameras, additional paperwork, complicated passports, not to mention the muzzling of dissent even in London’s Parliament Square. And who’s going to dare stopping them, for the fear of being labeled a terrorist, or worse, an appeaser of terrorists
10. “Logic-based Evaluation”? It would be ridiculous were it not so sad and pernicious. All kinds of company and governmental decisions and strategies appear on paper to be the result of a wide consultation with all interested parties. Too bad then they are usually so efficient in confirming the prejudices of whoever’s in charge. There is simply too much of what we do that ends in the hand of the finest speaker rather than the needy

And here even more hypocrisies are out there in the open:

a. They call “Exporting Democracy” another way of getting control of an area whilst blowing the potential “voters” to pieces
b. They call “Environmental Protection” the fixation of considering anything done by humans as “toxic”. In the meanwhile, carbon-emission-reduction schemes provide additional financing to…big oil companies
c. They say “Sport” is a physical competition where specific ethics make it a fun and fair environment. Too bad it’s just another giant entertainment biz, opiating large masses in submission, making them discharge their violent selves around a green field rather than on the grey tarmac of a city
d. They call it “The Israeli-Palestinian Peace process” what is obviously a mad rush before things get settled, a grab-and-bomb-while-you-can
e. They say they are developing “New Drugs”, when a great part of them is a bunch of pointless substitutions no one needed

Democracy and Religion

A quiz for all the aliens from the Andromeda Galaxy out there: which of the following organized belief systems ("religions") is more compatible with the minority-respecting political Rule of the majority of the people ("democracy")?

(a) A worldwide establishment centred on a powerful, "infallible" single person chosen for life by and among a few dozen cream-of-the-crop individuals

(b) A loose collection of groups professing very similar beliefs with a large regional variation, following charismatic people whose main claim to leadership is the ability to convince the followers of their closeness to God

Of course (a) is a simplified description of Roman Catholicism. And (b), of Islam

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You can guess the answer for yourself. What the above shows is that a load of uninformed garbage is currently served as "intellectual discussion" on the "unachievable co-existence" of Islam and Democracy.

Doesn't anybody remember the XIX century absurd grandstandings about the impossibility of reconciling Christianity (esp. Roman Catholicism) and Democracy?

Or those politicians musing in the 1920's about the alleged incompatibility of Southern and Eastern European societies with the concept of peaceful handover of power between political parties after lawful elections?

The problem is that it is very easy to extrapolate the news of the moment (e.g. the rise of Fascism in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Romania) into "universal laws" with no base in history…and so people will keep dying waiting for the simple truth to be accepted, that political systems do not depend on religion

Prospect Magazine, Durkheim, and the myth of useful Sociology

Two days ago I bought for the first time Prospect Magazine, self-styled "Politics/Essay/Argument – Britain's Intelligent Conversation"

I confess I must give it a second or even a third try before subscribing as the quality of some articles is very good, but other entries made my jaws drop so much they started sweeping Cannon Street Station's floor

Example of the latter is Paul Broks inanely describing his dreams of a tsunami the night before it happened, or precious printable space mysteriously reserved for poet-writer-critic Al Alvarez to tell us about his fear of spiders (is anybody trying to make reality TV look of a similar intellectual stature as Plato?)

I won't even waste my time to describe the vapourous contents of the "Is God to blame" debate (apologies to the term "debate")

And let's forget those disturbing cartoons (disturbing in the sense that it is disturbing to think anybody would laugh at any of them)

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Example of what could really be interesting about Prospect is its calendar of UK events and lectures

Another is the (free online) essay on Emile Durkheim, the French sociologist of almost a 100 years ago whose ideas ("meritocracy meets social justice") are so much behind the modern concept of Social Democracy, including much of what we know as "New Labour"

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I particularly agree with Durkheim's finding that an individual is very much the product of his or her society. I have lost count of the number of times I thought I was doing something out of my own personal free will, only to find out I was just following some kind of modern fashion What I don't agree on is the promotion of social cohesion by the reinvention of the Guilds; and in general, the whole concept of social engineering for a good cause For the former, think of Italian Fascism. For the latter, look at Marxism-Leninism.I really can't see much difference between heavy-handed state-santioned interventions to define what's socially acceptable and some clumsy environmental interventions that just made everything worse

Perhaps we simply don't know enough about society to be able to influence it positively.

A useful, practical Sociology, to paraphrase the Mahatma, would be a very good idea…

Oh, if only we had one…