A thought on heresy

I’ve noticed a pattern.

A way of thinking.

A way of believing.

That has scorched the earth we share.

And made it almost impossible to discuss anything.

There are many iterations of this pattern, but they all share one thing. A willingness to retreat into absolutes. Lines drawn. Hilltops claimed. It’s the dynamic of binaries. Us and them. Insiders and outsiders. Believers and heretics.

Heresy is written in dictionaries alongside words like dissension and dissidence, blasphemy and idolatry, scepticism and atheism, but it has two main definitions.

The most widely understood relates to religion. Heresy is “a belief or an opinion that is against the principles of a particular religion; the fact of holding such beliefs”.

A broader definition describes what I call the secular understanding. Heresy is “a belief or an opinion that disagrees strongly with what most people believe”.

More recently heresy has taken on what I call the cult definition. It combines aspects of both the religious and secular interpretations but has a more sinister, authoritarian, tendency. In this version, it’s heresy “to disagree with, or question, any prescribed doctrine or articles of faith”.

The cult variant has its roots in, and more than a passing resemblance to, propaganda. It’s biased, often misleading, and “used to promote a political cause or point of view”.

It works by describing a set of values or principles, moral facts or correct thinking. These “articles of faith” are accepted and absorbed as ineffable truths. The faithful define who they are as people by committing, or more accurately submitting, wholeheartedly to these articles.

This creates a really simplistic binary. You either accept the orthodoxies, follow the path to acceptance and support, or you’re the enemy, a belligerent that can just “fuck-off-and-die”. Put another way, you’re either with us or against us. Think what we think or you will be destroyed.

It’s a seductive way of thinking. It offers security. Certainty. Your allies are easily identified. Your enemies clearly defined. What it doesn’t do, is allow for questions.

Anyone with a sceptical disposition, a natural curiosity, or even a question to ask, is treated as an unenlightened outsider. This makes enemies of even the most sympathetic minds. Condemning, dismissing, vilifying, shunning, threatening, or attacking, anyone who has divergent experience, a differing point of view, or a genuine concern.

Another thing I’ve noticed. This way of engaging with society doesn’t adhere to the traditions of the political compass, dissolving the distinctions between left and right. These positions still exist but only as insults. When the right-wing faithful condemn a heretic they’re “woke liberals”. When the left condemn what’s heretical, they’re “fascists”.

My conclusion, the binaries of faith and heresy have created a divide. You either believe or you don’t. Those that don’t are disappeared, erased from the conversation, vaporised like so many of George Orwell’s characters in “Nineteen Eighty-Four”.

Disappearing people doesn’t make the questions go away. The concerns don’t just evaporate. The condemnations only entrench positions. From the heretic’s point of view, it’s the intellectual equivalent of the faithful jamming fingers in their ears, and chanting la, la, la, la, la, at the top of their lungs.

I wonder if the faithful realise their dogmatism is heresy to me? I don’t know. I’m not sure they care. They’re safe in the absolutes of their understanding. For me that’s a problem. It shuts down discussion, stifles debate, and hobbles intellectual development. Not just for the faithful but for us all.

What the faithful should realise, what we all need to understand, is that we’re all someone’s heretic.

A thought on dragons

Brexit has pissed napalm on the economy of the United Kingdom. The only creatures that will thrive on what’s left are dragons.

Reign of Fire (2002) is a high concept science fiction film staring Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic Britain ravaged by fire spitting dragons. What does that have to do with Brexit? Apart from the obvious metaphors about fire and destruction, the dragons in Reign of Fire are unique. They’re not the dragons from Game of Thrones (2011–2019). Giant reptiles wreaking havoc on the enemies of Daenerys Targaryen. They’re not the slothful Smaug from The Hobbit (2013). Greedily guarding his cavernous lair of treasure. The dragons in Reign of Fire eat ash. They burn everything so they can feed. These dragons emerge from their ancient slumber, burning indiscriminately and feeding ravenously on the world. And they’re no different to the dragons feeding on the British economy.

On March 12 Reuters reported the Office for National Statistics announcement that “British goods exports to the EU… slumped by 40.7% in January compared to December”.

Another March 12 headline on the Politics Home website led with a claim “Fish Exports To The EU Collapsed By 83% In January According To “Grim” Post-Brexit Figures”.

This, and similar figures across the economy, are what Umair Haque, in his article How Britain is Destroying Itself, calls a sudden stop. “It’d be better to call it a “heart attack,” because it means an economy seizes up and suddenly stops functioning.”

If the British economy were an eighteen wheel tanker of petrol driving along the M1, Brexit is the driver having a heart attack doing sixty miles per hour. He clutches his chest, passes out, and ploughs full speed into a vat of concentrated orange juice. Fire sticks to everything and burns intensely.

When the fires are out the speculators, hedgefunds, pirates, and sovereign individual start feeding like dragons on the ash of the British economy.

One day we might get lucky and meet a heroic fighter willing to sacrifice everything to defeat these monsters. A young Turk that can vanquish the vicious dinosaurs of British imperialism. A brawler with the gumption it takes to slaughter the dragons feeding on our destruction.

A thought on little England

The landscape of a post-Brexit United Kingdom is looking increasingly fractured. If we’re not carful Boris Johnson will turn the United Kingdom into little England.

Scotland is pushing hard for another independence referendum. If it goes ahead, it’s likely Scotland will leave the United Kingdom to pursue a future within the European Union.

If Scotland goes, Wales is sure to want the same kind of autonomy.

Then we have the Byzantine complexities of a post-Brexit Northern Ireland to consider. Who knows how that will all play out? At the moment Loyalists are angry about the backstop sea border. The backstop is a problem because it makes Northern Ireland different to the rest of the United Kingdom. To a community that has built its identity around loyalty to the crown, that difference is heresy. It opens up the possibility that Northern Ireland is separate from the rest of the United Kingdom. That difference is a lever Republicans could use to unite Ireland.

Peace in the region, for the last thirty years, has relied on the Good Friday Agreement. Post-Brexit that agreement is unworkable. To be clear, the agreement only works if there is free movement between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The kind of free movement only possible by being part of the European Union. A land border is unacceptable to Republicans. The sea border is unacceptable to Loyalists. The Good Friday Agreement allowed both Republicans and Loyalists to function while maintaining their separate identities. Without it old conflicts reappear.

The way out of this is more complicated than anyone in Johnson’s government has the intellectual or political power for. One possibility is that Johnson abandons Loyalists and Northern Ireland altogether. Unsupported by the English, Northern Ireland will inevitably unite with Ireland. This move will allow Johnson to make the probable Loyalist uprising a problem for Irish and not English governments. Another possibility has Northern Ireland follow Scotland’s example, pursue independence, joining the European Union as a sovereign nation. It’s possible a newly independent Northern Ireland could negotiate a version of the Good Friday Agreement to forge peace. I don’t think this will happen. Loyalist are as wedded to the crown, as Republicans are to a united Ireland. Speculation aside one thing is for certain, this issue is not going away.

Into the historic divisions that are tearing at the United Kingdom, England is now facing its own set of fractures.

The Northern Independence Party is a new political entity demanding independence for the North of England. Campaigning under the banner “We’re not English, we are Northumbrian” they want to reinstate ancient borders that stretch north from the Humber river, up to Scotland. Who knows if they’ll make gains politically, but the idea is there. The north south divide has been given a border, and that feeling, the one that thinks the south has left the north to rot, has been given a voice.

If this sentiment gets traction, and an independent North becomes a possibility, it won’t be long before Cornish nationalism is seeking to escape from English rule.

Then where will England be, let alone the United Kingdom? One thing is for certain, Johnson and the Conservatives will use these cries for independence as a crisis. One that lets them calve up England as if they were the ancient Kings of Wessex or Mercia. England will be transformed into a series of charter cities. Regions that will claim to be hubs of enterprise and entrepreneurship. When in fact they will be islands of tax avoidance, shell companies, and post office boxes that hide wealth. For the ninety-nine point nine per cent this will mean a bad, much poorer, little England.

A thought on voting

Vote as if you have a gun pointed at someone’s head.

I was recently made aware of the reasons some people voted Tory in the 2019 general election. They voted tactically to send a message to Labour; they weren’t happy with the “radicle” agenda of Jeremy Corbyn. I’ve never voted tactically and I never will. I vote my conscience. Voting tactically in 2019 has backfired in the most vicious way possible. We now have 126 thousand deaths from COVID. A no deal “deal” exiting the European Union that’s tanking the economy, and abandoning the Good Friday Agreement; it’s trashed thirty years of peace in Northern Ireland. We have a government intent on making protesting illegal, while at the same time handing lucrative PPE contracts to friends and donors to the Conservative Party. At best they’re hypocritical, at worst corrupt. My approach to voting is simple. Vote as if you have a gun pointed at someone’s head. Are you willing to pull that policy trigger? Tory policies kill. Ten years of austerity have proven that. The only message anyone sends by voting Tory is you agree with Tory policies. And voting Tory tells me “I’m happy to kill”.

A thought on protesting

No one who has ever confronted the police at a demonstration will ever look at them with respect again. You will never be able to shake the experience of their thuggish brutality. Inevitably blame for violence is laid at the the feet of protestors. As if the police are a neutral entity. They’re not. They assert the will of the state. The state, when it meets protestors on the street, does not represent the interests of the people.

Did Boris Johnson embrace herd immunity because he wrote a book about Winston Churchill?

In a recent Twitter post from PoliticsJOE Peter Jukes, the founder of the Byline Times, talks about a speech Boris Johnson gave in February 2020. Jukes calls The Greenwich Speech the “smoking gun” of herd immunity. The disastrous idea touted by Johnson in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnson has since distanced himself from the theory, but for a time he believed we should take COVID-19 on the chin. Let the virus spread through the country unchecked. Protect the economy by getting it over and done in one shot.

The Greenwich Speech is up on the government website for everyone to read. It’s a long and rambling thing. Full of bombast and big metaphors, but empty of concrete detail. The following chunk is the “smoking gun” that Jukes mentions. The bit that absolutely connects Johnson to herd immunity.

Trade used to grow at roughly double global GDP – from 1987 to 2007.

Now it barely keeps pace and global growth is itself anaemic and the decline in global poverty is beginning to slow.

And in that context, we are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other.

And here in Greenwich in the first week of February 2020, I can tell you in all humility that the UK is ready for that role.

PM speech in Greenwich: 3 February 2020

In the interest of my own pathological need for completeness, I offer the full Politics Joe interview with Peter Jukes, as seen on Youtube. It’s an interesting twenty minutes on the background and underlying thinking of the Johnson government. The relevant observations about herd immunity starts at 12 minutes, 45 seconds.

Peter Jukes | PoliticsJOE

To be clear, when Johnson makes the argument for ignoring COVID-19, to give the country an economic advantage, he’s making an argument for killing huge numbers of people. There’s a soulless lack of humanity in his words. He just doesn’t realise, or worse doesn’t care, about the human cost of letting the virus rip though the country.

Jukes sums up the morality of Johnson’s choice by asking a simple question. “Would you take a 25% cut in your salary or loose a parent?” The instant response, from the overwhelming majority, is take the pay cut. From the available evidence I don’t think Johnson would. He is constitutionally incapable of accepting the loss.

So how does someone rationalise such a vicious choice?

We might find answers in the language he uses. If you look beyond the disaster that is herd immunity, and listen to what Johnson says, I think you can understand something of his mindset. Reading his words you quickly realise Johnson isn’t a person of science. His approach isn’t systematic, or logical. It’s entirely romantic. He thinks of himself as a hero. A man battling enemies and vanquishing foes. It’s as if he’s some kind of mythic hero, a modern day Achilles at the gates of Troy.

Achilles

You can see this in the excerpt from The Greenwich Speech. When Johnson compares the country to Clark Kent, he paints his government as the heroic Superman, battling for “freedom of exchange”. He revels in the image of Clark Kent removing his spectacles, leaping into the phone booth, emerging with his “cloak flowing as the supercharged champion of the right of the population of Earth to buy and sell freely among each other”. Make no mistake, when Johnson portrays his government as the Superman of free trade, he sees himself as someone making the tough choices, the heroic champion of the market, a man capable of vanquishing others irrational panic, to save the economy.

While turning this thought over in my mind, I remembered an appearance Johnson made on The Jonathan Ross Show some time in July 2019. He was on there promoting The Churchill Factor, his book about Winston Churchill. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, you can speed through the following clip. They start talking about the book at about 9 minutes, 40 seconds in.

Boris Johnson | The Jonathan Ross Show

Johnson explains he wrote the book because he thought we are in danger of “imperfectly remembering” Churchill and his achievements. Personally I’d say the myth of Churchill needs some work. His actions need to be reassessed. Looked at critically. Seen realistically. Not lionised the way Johnson does, but that’s the subject of another post.

As the interview progresses Johnson lists some of the things people have forgotten about Churchill. He helped to start the welfare state in the early part of the twentieth century. Was as instrumental in forming modern Ireland. Helped create the state of Israel. Wrote the map of the middle east. Had a hand in inventing the tank. Helped win the first world war.

The most telling admiration, and for me a damning insight into Johnson’s thinking in the early months of 2020, is prompted by comments from Jonathan Ross. “I didn’t realise how crucial he (Churchill) was to us actually carrying on the fight against Hitler.” Johnson gleefully interprets Churchill’s resolve, his heroic decision to fight on. “Within a year 30 thousand British men, women and children were dead.” That’s not the most revealing remembrance. Johnson finishes his soliloquies with a chilling postulation. “You cannot imagine any modern politician having the guts to do that.”

The things on Johnson’s list are interesting because they expose his particular biases. For example, Churchill’s involvement in the middle east. It could be argued his involvement in the region is the bedrock upon which current conflicts are built. The same could be said of Ireland. Johnson doesn’t mention Churchill’s involvement in the 1943 Bengal famine, or him advocating the use of chemical weapons against Kurds and Afghans in 1919. I think Churchill’s legacy is complicated. Not all of it is good, or noble, or heroic. But instead of recognising this, Johnson chooses to “imperfectly remember” Churchill as a saint.

I see this last statement as prophetic.

Johnson thinks of himself as a classical hero, battling enemies and vanquishing foes. He writes a book lionising Winston Churchill, admiring the most chilling and heartless aspects of his character and actions. A few months later he gives a speech arguing for herd immunity. Letting thousands of people die so this country can survive an economic disaster. His government, his supercharged champion, will admonish lessor nations for their caution, and make the case for freedom of exchange. In less than a year more than 60 thousand British men, women and children are dead.

“You can’t imagine any modern politician having the guts to do that.”

Just so no one misunderstands, I don’t think Johnson was or is heroic. His words are hyperbole. His actions hubris. His unchecked ego has killed thousand. He needs to be stopped.

Zuckerberg’s hoarding

A post from Mona Chalabi popped up on my Twitter timeline this morning.

As you can see it’s a beautifully cutting analysis of Mark Zuckerberg’s recent $25 million donation to help in the fight against coronavirus. She manages to show in the simplest way possible just how much Zuckerberg has sacrificed to the greater good. Twenty-five million dollars is few millilitres, a squirt from the vast glass of his $81 billion fortune.

In the old days, in the UK, a billion meant an million million, but since 1974 the UK Government has used the American definition of a billion when announcing figures. An American billion is just a thousand million, or a one followed by nine noughts; 1,000,000,000. Even using this lower scale, Zuckerberg’s $25 million donation accounts for only 0.03% of his current $81 billion fortune.

To give this some perspective. $81 billion is the equivalent to the gross domestic product to Cameroon. A country ranked 90th by the CIA in their World Factbook, that includes a listing of countries by GDP.

Basically Zuckerberg has more money at his disposal than bottom 53 countries of the World Factbook list combined. His personal fortune is the equivalent to the combined gross domestic product of Guam, Liberia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Cape Verde, Djibouti, The Gambia, Guernsey, Central African Republic, Andorra, Belize, Curaçao, Guinea-Bissau, Seychelles, Aruba, Cayman Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Greenland, San Marino, Gibraltar, Faroe Islands, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, ComorosSolomon Islands, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Western Sahara, Dominica, Vanuatu, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Sao Tome and Principe, Turks and Caicos Islands, Tonga, Saint Martin, British Virgin Islands, Sint Maarten, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Falkland Islands, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Marshall Islands, Anguilla, Nauru, Wallis and Futuna, Montserrat, Tuvalu, Saint Helena, Niue, and Tokelau.

Why’s that a problem? Twenty-five million dollars is a large sum of money. It’s a problem because the billions Zuckerberg has taken from the economy, and is now sitting on, might be the difference between people living or dying from COVID-19.

My reply to the text message from UK_Gov

I got a text message this morning from UK_Gov. Not sure how they got my number?!? That’s the subject for another time. But if they’re going to start texting me on my personal phone, I feel it’s my right to offer my two penneth.

Why isn’t John Sweeney’s whistle-blower letter to OfCom getting more attention?

Prompted by Boris Johnson’s refusal to release the “Russian Report”, John Sweeney has turned whistle-blower. He sent the following letter dated November 4 2019 to OfCom accusing BBC News and Current Affairs of being risk-averse, and or corrupt. Please share his letter. His accusations are the the latest in a long line of stories relating to Russian interference in British politics.

https://www.johnsweeney.co.uk/?blog=blogs/archive/2019/11/24/john.sweeneys.letter.to.ofcom.aspx

Here is the Twitter thread that prompted Mr. Sweeney to release his letter to OfCom.

https://twitter.com/johnsweeneyroar/status/1198648032130191360?s=20