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Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Where has the radical freshness of christianity gone? How come the symbol of a martyr who was tortured so much he was resucitated three times before, literally, losing his head for his faith become the flag for a national football team…

Perhaps we in the West, and especially in England of whom the symbol is the national flag just wanted to know George was a soldier and a saint and lets not talk about how he peacefully made his protest of faith and was then tortured and killed for it – Let’s talk about dragons instead… And whilst we are here – here’s a question: Would we return George to his state so they could kill him? Nowadays we do send, or propose to send, folk back to countries which kill folk for their views on the grounds that we get a ‘guarantee’ from the state in question re looking after the asylum seeker – we have courts defending their rights not to be packaged out to be killed as there are protests in the press about the money they cost us… Is this the behaviour of a country St. George would want to be symbolic of?

Would he rather his flag would be waved around for a sporting event where, if not caught, a cheat is seen as herioc – the dives, the ‘ruff and tumble’, the penalties gained.. the list of the behaviour goes on… but if the team wins then the sins are washed clean and the flag can be waved in glory…

Victory was never George’s aim in his conduct and that’s a problem for the church and for society – he went and did what? St. George’s story is not boring so why do we not tell it?

Here’s quote from Vivian Stanshaw from 1983 –

Aparthied and prejudice,come before a fall,

but patronage is even worse, you’re walking towards that wall…

from his rare work of genius ‘Sir Henry at Ndidi’s Kraal’

I’ve had this thought for a while and have tried to figure out exactly how it works but I think going to history may help…

A while ago I managed to trundle through this work Constantine’s Bible which debunks the idea of the selection of the books of the New Testament as forced by the Emperor Constantine except by the power of patronage… True, there is the Council of Nicea and all that but what we do not talk about and thus do not see is the habitus of power that Constantine gave to the church… Thus clergy when given a nice big house, virtually, all said ‘Thankyou’ and with all those comments about trusting power from St Paul – hands were shaken and the church went to bat for the state – a boring conclusion.

Well it is now but way back Then when it seemed that the levers of power were influenced by the church – and indeed when the church managed some tight manouvring to have actual physical, legal and state granted [no matter how grudgingly]  power the the church was exciting but not for the reasons it should have been and as we make progress of the church moving away from the state’s machina for governance [note the sermons of the First World War and those before that for fighting for ‘King and Country’ – just like St. George?] we are left with the stain of granted patronage – we had the patronage of lords or the great and the good [whoever they are] and then the priests could trickle down the patronage of sanctity from God… I’m sure the fines for not going to church managed to keep some bums on the pews, right up into the 1900’s… and now when we see patronage for the skeletal effect it is when not given freely or only on demand the story of christians looks boring because we’ve lived the wrong story for far too long… and have been unable to come to grips with the fact that the history of christianity shows how we remember and honour those who stand against the powers that be whilst we find ways of twisting the story so that we no longer need to feel guilt for our normality…

no wonder we’ve grown dull.

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I’ve found on the good old UTube a video of an old song by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band

No Matter Who You Vote For the Government Always Gets In!

This is not the only version but it does have a good way of getting modern pictures and clips for this song… including clips of the would be leaders…

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yes it’s that book by George Orwell

My rather plush copy came with a forward by Robert Harris although that had nothing to with my purchase – I simply mention it here because he claims in the forward that George originally thought that he had produced a gem of a book but by the time he had typed it up he despised it, not that Harris offers any explanation of that change himself…

I think it is simple – originally he wanted to call it 1948 and in changing the title to 1984 it was robbed of the intended impact Orwell intended it to have.

Awhile ago I read George’s book of Essays and found them such a profound read I blogged about them [please note that there are more essays in this collection than the recently released Shooting an Elephant with an introduction by Jeremy Paxman who does have a grand mind so if you want a smaller slice of Orwell and a word from Paxman this volume might be more to your liking – as a note just to be clear, every story in ‘Shooting…’ is in the collection of Essays…] and to make my case that 1984 is 1948 I’ll have to go back to those essays…

Part of the book has comments that Orwell made as observations in his essays. The prolonged rationing of the post war years gives credence to the idea of perpetual war and the ‘why’ of it. There were still identity cards…

Alright the extensive camera and listening devices were not around in 1948 – but all else in the book would have been possible then.  Indeed the ideas of doublethink and thoughtcrime were lifted from his pointed criticism of the intellectual left.  The idea of having a political class always in power subject to various tests – ability and hunger for power could well be the critique of someone who has seen anarchy and collectivism work – this is what has become quite clear in the british model of democracy, indeed this has grown and become even clearer since Thatcher and Blair… And when was the last president of the USA to be elected with a smaller campaigning budget than the other guy?

The most mentioned departments are called [and no spoilers here, thank you] Ministry of Peace, Love, and Truth – at one point the War Department became the Ministry of Defense… The judicial arm of the government is called the ‘Home Office’ where we can all feel a warm glow of being looked after… Ministry of Truth is harder but if you read Orwell’s Essays you find that he thought that the owners of the press, part of what was [and is] called ‘The Establishment’ and because they wish to continue the status quo ie staying in an influential place where there situation is protected – it is in the media’s interest to sell the story that they think will create the right reaction from within us… Either things don’t get reported and therefore never ‘happen’ in any way we would know or they are told in ways that will provoke the right reaction – note how folk accept each paper has an ‘editorial view’…

The other piece in this jigsaw is the civil service who can be vetted and made sure that their views and work comply to their orders and of course the higher up the ladder they climb and the fewer they become the more closely they can be watched.

And this is were the Thought Police come in… with the job of maintaining the work so ordered by the political class in the Post War Consensus… And the rest of us are left to sink in a way that blurred the lines between the middle and lower classes – partly by raising some up and making it possible only for so many to rise higher… Leaving the grand rump of society to a different set of rules that seek to govern their behaviour and to hide the insidious truth of the thoughtpolice and the hopeless plight they were in under the political rulers .

The question to some extent runs about why Orwell wrote this book. I think he wanted to have a much wider audience for his political observations than his essays received and in so changing the dates to coincide with the publishers demand that it not be ‘1948’ he felt it was robbed of it’s power and force – which would answer the question of why he thought it a terrible copy once he had typed it up…

Ironically one can see the sense that in the publisher being part of the establishment makes the case, in a small way, for the de facto Ministry of Truth…

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Let me unpack what I mean here. Happiness is standing in for Utilitarianism [as you can see ‘Happiness’ is comparatively user friendly] – Bentham the great grandaddy of this school defined it as the greatest total sum of happiness which has been rather cheaply reduced to the phrase ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’ [see Note 2 on Chapter 8: The Greatest Happiness: Is that the goal? in the slim volume Happiness: Lessons from a new science] on the other hand ‘a good life’ is standing in for an even older way of looking at the world – the ancient greeks and romans used to ask themselves just what made a good life…

Socrates championed being true to yourself and your values. If you think that’s an argument for Happiness he took the poisoned cup prescribed for him as not to do so would have broken his own values – hardly something that made him, his followers or even his detractors happy. Socrates thought that a good life was about living to standards – ethics and the one work we see this sort of thing [Plato’s Republic] at work – those who cannot live a good life need to be controlled…

Orwell, in one of his essays, attacked the supposed utopia of Swift’s Houyhnhnms as totalitarian of a very dark shade – that those peacefull beasts had to impose constrictions on their very thoughts and speech. Given that utilitarianism had not risen above communism and was still [I believe] a defence of liberty when he wrote his essay he would not have criticized it per se. Now we are leaving utilitarianism behind as a defence for liberty – let folk seek their own happiness as long as it does not harm others to a more pro-active ‘happy’ agenda… where we can discover what would make us happy and then legislate towards that end…

I prefer the idea that we should construct what is a good life built on principles – sometimes the decisions we make which make us grieviously unhappy are the ones we ‘know’ are right. How does that sit with the ‘happy’ agenda? How could you so formulate a world where there are no unhappy choices or to ask another question- how meaningless would that world be?

Just recently on the run up to the Euro and the local elections we’ve had clergy telling us to go out and vote… but what if we don’t like the political reality enough to more than hesitate over the voting slip – and what if we know that before we even get up in the morning… Now I’m sure that Lord Layard [that guru of New Labour] would want us to be happy to vote as much as the clergy.

But to take this as the nutshell to crack the the arguments about with…

I doubt the clergy would expect you to change your internal reality for the sake of the electoral process whereas Layard’s view is much more to do with our internal motivators – in short he would want us to have an internal reality that gave us a kick for expressing our views on the ballot paper…

Now I doubt either of these schools of thought would appreciate my deliberate spoiling of the ballot papers I was given yesterday [Yes – I did vote ‘Liberty!’ even though I had to write that myself… you’ll be gald to know, Dear Reader.] the questions I’m trying to get to are who would be the most displeased with my disposition? why? and what does that mean about how we should live?

In the end various members of clergy would have different views on how I behaved… so I’ll try to stick to the mentality that declared I should get out and Vote! and I’m sure they’d be dissapointed but understanding that I decided my own path despite the diferent values meant a diferent course of action to the one proposed. Perhaps Layard would be happy to know I was happy enough to vote against the entire status quo of the political situation. Perhaps not as it says that positively voting is meaningless in a world that should be seen as meaningful – boxes are to be ticked or crossed.

Layard does argue for electoral change in a world of diminishing turn out – so let’s stop being gentle and take the ideas he promulgates full on. My protest vote would be wrong. I was not happy, for whatever reason, to vote for anybody. In Layard’s world we should either change the choice until I am happy to vote or we should change me until I am happy to vote. Perhaps a mixture of both. What freedom then?

We return to the Houyhnhnms – do we want a society where we cannot express things which disturb the minds of others around us? In this sense I prefer the idea that we should be able to decide what pursuits make us happy but that we should seek to live a good life… We may not be happy but we can be right – not only in our own minds but that we can be acknowledged as having the right to decide what we think that is.

Call me hopelessly romantic [and I’ll reply with a very hard nosed reply made from a mixture of anthropology and game theory to defend my view] but I think if we were developped as individuals with a sense of our own responsibility we would not seek to harm those around us.  As opposed to the current state of affairs where we are taught there have to be losers and they are to be trampled by the system until they reach a certain low point in which case the government will look after them – so we don’t need to worry our little heads about them…

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I am currently training to become a professional… No really but this post isn’t about that. You see at the moment the profession is not regulated. It has bodies that can be appealed to if the practitioner in question is one of their members – of course not everybody is a member and that’s why they got suckered so badly…

At the beginning of the course we were informed how great regulation would be for us – the biggest professional body was going to fight for the right regulations and protect it’s current members’ practice… of course this was not because they could see a way of swelling their ranks and gaining even more authority within the profession and to be able to crush all other competitors out of existance… sorry – that should read: gaining more members who joined because they saw how affectively that particular professional body stood up for them and their profession… and thus migrate from the other professional bodies to show their gratitude.

So, it’s about a year later and the government still wants to legislate the profession but it’s decided that it’s taken enough advice and can now carry on with it’s policies without any more help… and the professional body now argues against the proposed legislation – which is now bad and draconian… I’m afraid my tutor seemed to be a mouthpiece for that body and as Orwell said about faithful communists  – as the body the tutor owed their allegiance to changed it’s mind, so did the tutor…

And the moral of the story?

Well, governments and groups are drawn to power [to exercise it only for the Greater Good, you understand] and then jealously guard it from others. The government was never going to wave a magic wand for one particular professional body when there are at least three other bodies large enough for me to think of off the top of my head… Never…

What happened was similar to what happened to the hospitality industry – pubs/hotels/etc. they got into talks thinking they could influence government and then when the government said it would proceed [re the smoking ban] irrespective of their actions or advice the hospitality industry kind of threw it’s hands in the air… and so it is repeated…

If you think you can change the system by using the system first and foremost think about how much leverage you have in comparison because most folk when they are at the top of a union or professional body think ‘We’ve got x amount of members to represent therefore they cannot ignore us…’ The trouble with is that the government thinks that they represent those folk in the first place and that they represent everybody else as well. [Even if they don’t like it.]

And so the government sticks to its ideas – whatever they might be and carries on regardless, but thanks for coming round for the chat – it’s been interesting hearing your point of view…

A genuine and real threat of complete non-compliance from the outset could have done a better job of representing the profession and before you say that can’t be true – well, it couldn’t have made things worse… Government has always relied on compliance – non-compliance means having to exert effort – deploying police and lawyers, even court rooms and judges… whereas we’ve been conditioned – individually and as a society – to comply from the first day we set foot in school or nursery and so want to.

Therefore the government has the whip hand in any dealings except with rebels willing to be problematic but that’s not enticing – it is the vision of hard living and protest and possibility of jail and fines… being invited into tea at Downing Street, well now, that’s comfort and appreciation – but only for as long as the government’s whim lasts.

and it’s more problematic than a walk in a dark, bear infested forest…

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I was listenning to Hearts and Minds, on Radio4, the second episode about Isaiah Berlin is the one I think has more going for it…. and was struck by one of the quotes of Isaiah about dictators and happinness that reminded me of one of the prominent thinkers of New Labour.

Lord Richard Layard,that economist come cheap hack, in his book ‘Happinness: Lessons from a new science‘ says that we can find out what will make us happy and thus the government should then ‘provide’ that – either by limiting behaviour in certain respects or by forcing us to have these things…

Berlin states in the second episode that Hitler, amongst other dictators, knew what would make folk happy and that once the regime was in place then the governed would appreciate the new regime…

Setting aside the seat belt regulations which declare we must have fasten our seat belts front and back in the privacy of our own vehicles for safety reasons this government has banned hunting and smoking in public whilst gearing up for alcohol amongst a host of  restrictions in other areas of our lives… We have had a shift towards a totalitarian view – ID cards and the like. And here I’ll add the proviso that at the moment the current government has decided that it can’t get enough support for the ID card not that they  would not want it…

A symptom of this is that we have, quite recently, the Archbishop Rowan Williams swat away at selfishness with the phrase ‘excessive individualism’ here and in other articles, despite the fact that not only is the phrase down right misleading and erroneous [somebody excessively individualistic would also be excessively responsible, if that’s possible] it also attacks the basis of defending individuals’ rights…

In a time when CCTV cameras are sprouting up everywhere and ever more details of our lives are being catalogued and liberties curtailed – is it right that someone dropping litter should have a photo of them in the local paper with the words [in effect] saying ‘Wanted‘? Becuase that’s what happens in a town in the north of the UK where the CCTV operators not only watch but can tell people to ‘behave‘… as documented in the first episode of Who’s Watching You?

Perhaps it’s time to shake the political tree and try to get the political class to rethink the value of Liberty…

Because, in the end, even if Layard can find out what would make us, generally, happy other studies show that once you repress folks’ ability to be responsible – that, Dear Reader, that makes us all unhappy… and we are on the path here in the UK with the biggest prison population of any comparable society by a large margin…

So, I ask you to join my cry and Vote ‘Liberty! in the coming elections and try to give a shock to all those jockeys who think they know best…

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And if you want a go at touching on all points re Sarah Palin – then you are more than welcome…

I’m actually not a big Sarah Palin or John McCain fan ; however , I do dislike the other pairing. It is in that setting I find myself sometimes offering opinion on the former and here I go again.

Palin has had many many things said about her in relation to her faith. Anyone that has even the worse stereotypical opinion of us Yanks know that this is an action that can backfire rather easily. Americans tend to get their “Christian” on under the weirdest circumstances and do things with it that leaves many scratching their heads.

There are stories that Palin as mayor of Wasilla Alaska banned books that were contrary to the teachings of her church. This is demonstrably untrue but that doesn’t stop certain elements from screaming it as gospel.

There are claims that Palin wants Creationism taught in the public schools. The truth is that she is a supporter of the topic not being kept from the discussion . She’s not proposed any curriculum changes and the science skills of Alaskans are the the status quo. Again those that oppose her and hers still shout it from the roof tops.

Need I weigh in on the abortion issue ? Some of the stories and comments in that arena are downright disgusting. Let’s just go with the daughter angle. Many opponents of her, and let’s face it the faithful ,state she is a failure for preaching abstinence since she has a pregnant teen daughter. Truth be told Christians I know are usually understanding of failure.

Currently there is buzz about her once receiving a prayer of protection from an African priest. The story for that one focuses on such classy stuff as witchcraft. Is it ironic that people that on one hand are against religion are stereotyped as being all about multiculturalism and understanding ?

I am one of those that have come around to wondering where is the line ,yet being convinced one definitely exists, between opposing McCain / Palin and being against religion, especially Christianity ? To think a faithful Christian or follower of any of the world’s religions is somehow a lesser human being seems rather off to me. The vigor with which her critics attack though seems explainable by that premise very well.

So will religion be an issue in the closing days of the election ? I don’t know but I think it is safe to say that Palins arrival on the scene allowed for some light to be shined in certain corners. The Evagelical Right base has been energized and the anti religion crowd showed their hand for sure. So who shows up to the polls ? Our elections are on Tuesdays so I’m thinking the church folk will show.

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