The sympathies of The Edmund Burke Institute about the British general election are not difficult to fathom! But we are an educational charity with tax exempt status and for these reasons we cannot become too closely involved in an election in another country. However we are not absolutely prevented from commenting, and we may do so especially if Irish affairs become prominent in the campaign.
We have just added both the Brexit Central web site and A.C.Grayling’s site to our links. The former because it is a well informed “Leave” site. The latter because it seems only fair to give our guests the opportunity to see what a highly intelligent but extreme “Remainer” has to say- especially as we have criticized some of Professor Grayling’s remarks here.
For the Christian the death of an unbelieving friend can hardly fail to be troubling. What are we to make of the language that the Church has always used about the necessity of belief as a precondition for salvation?
Here goes from the Athanasian creed for anyone who has forgotten it:
“Whosoever will be saved; before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith. Which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly…This is the Catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved.”
The creed quoted in not is everyday use, but this is strong and worrying stuff. How are we to understand it? I think that the clue is to be found in the beliefs of the early church about the Resurrection. According to W.J. Sparrow Simpson ( 1959-1952 ), in his time a leading Anglican authority on the subject, there are two strands of teaching on the subject in the New Testament., one “lays all the stress on the solidity and tangibility of the Lord’s Risen Body…the other lays all the stress on the…ethereality and unearthliness of the spiritual body, and may be said to concentrate itself on the phrase “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.””
At the very core of Christianity is the belief in human freedom. If men and women are not free to make moral and intellectual choices then the whole project collapses. Belief cannot be coerced; which is of course why the Inquisition got it so hopelessly wrong. But coercion comes in many forms. Why, it is sometimes asked, did not Christ show himself publicly in the Temple after his resurrection ? Surely this would have established the truth of his claims beyond all doubt?
Well yes, but then- if one thinks it through- Christianity would then have become some species of totalitarianism. Christians would have become not the children of God but his slaves. It was exactly the temptation to create such a system that Christ- we are told- rejected at the very start of his ministry.
And the early Christians seemed to have sensed that their belief in the Resurrection was not just a factual statement but, as Sparrow Simpson put it elsewhere (p. 445), “a venture in faith”. In a neglected passage in The Acts of the Apostles St.Peter briefly summarizes Christ’s ministry …“we can bear witness to all that he did in the Jewish country-side,” and then continues “He was put to death…but God raised him to life on the third day, and allowed him to appear, NOT TO THE WHOLE PEOPLE, [ emphasis supplied] but to witnesses whom God had chosen in advance- to us, who ate a drank with him after he rose from the dead.”( Acts:X, 39-41 NEB)
In one sentence we seem to see here both the strands that Sparrow Simpson referred to. There is on the one hand emphasis on the physical-the aspect of the gospel accurately reflected, in the creeds of the church. But this does not seem to be the whole story. There seems to be something else going on here too. Perhaps the anonymous eighteenth century deist who lampooned Christianity as “not” being “founded on argument” was on to something despite his subversive intentions.
It seems that there is in Christianity another more puzzling and ambivalent reality beyond the reach of the apologetic writers who flocked to refute the deist in question. We need to ask why St Peter draw attention to the fact that not everyone was given immediate access to the reality of the Resurrection? The point seems to be that in some complicated way that the evidence for faith is to some extent only granted to those who already believe. After all the apostles themselves failed to recognise the risen Christ on several occasions, and yet still knew themselves able to confirm that what they experienced was no illusion.
In the same way then that in the Christian faith, justice is modified by mercy, so the Christian demand for faith must be balanced by the nature of the evidence in question. The cumulative case for the Resurrection may be strong, and I for one think that it is, but it is not coercive. We are all on a pilgrimage. But we have not all reached the exit for Damascus. For some of us, even the very best of us, faith can come slowly; perhaps so slowly that it cannot come to fruition even in the course of a single life. Here the great Eastern religions turn to reincarnation for comfort. But this intellectual manoeuvre finds no support in the Christian scheme. Perhaps though we could say, without doing too much damage to the creeds, that the subtle nature of the evidence for the Resurrection -on which, of course the truth of Christianity depends-allows us to suggest that those who cannot believe in this life, will nevertheless be granted further opportunities to believe in the good news of Easter in ways that we (and they) cannot now imagine.
Note: “Christianity not founded on Argument,” which was published in1742, is usually attributed to Henry Dodwell junior. But while this is likely it is not certain. The pamphlet gave rise to a huge controversial literature- see below.
A.C. Grayling is an important figure in British intellectual life. He is a highly rated philosopher and has become a media figure who comments on all kinds of issues, mostly through progressive outlets. When the late Christopher Hitchens died it was seriously suggested that Professor Grayling should now be accounted the new fourth horseman of militant atheism in the English speaking world, alongside Richard Dawkins and the rest.
Among the debates into which he has entered has been that about Brexit. Like Richard Dawkins, Grayling is a strong advocate of Britain’s membership of the European Union. He has addressed this issue on several occasions recently on his own web site. His thinking on the subject can usefully be broken down into two halves, which are linked together by his underlying conviction that despite the result of the referendum that Britain should nevertheless remain a member of the E.U.
Grayling essentially claims that in the referendum campaign the Leave campaigners behaved dishonestly, that those who voted for Leave were only just over a third of the electorate, and that anyway the majority for Leave was too small to justify so radical and damaging a change in Britain’s constitutional arrangements. These views are clearly controversial, but he is certainly not alone in holding them, and any discussion of them would have to be very extended. They might be worth tackling in some future contribution about the whole Brexit debate.
At this juncture I want to focus attention on what seems to be Professor Grayling’s distinctive and “specific” contribution to the debate, if only because if shows just how far some Remain intellectuals are prepared to go to justify their last-ditch opposition to Brexit . The gist of Professor Grayling’s reasoning is that the referendum held in June 2015 was really only a glorified opinion poll; that did not provide the government with any mandate to trigger Brexit by invoking article fifty of the Lisbon Treaty. On the face of it there are many obvious objections to this view. For example if the referendum was really only advisory why did David Cameron resign when he lost it? And why did he hire
Jim Messina ( President Obama’s big data expert ) if it was really open to him to ignore the result if the wrong side won? Above all if the referendum was really just a consultation which provided no mandate why did rich men on both sides spend huge sums trying to influence the result? Would they really have wasted their money on a consultative exercise of the kind envisaged by Professor Grayling?
These considerations though do not seem to have occurred to Professor Grayling who has developed his own rather different chain of reasoning. Perhaps we had better explore it. Professor Grayling has summarised his case in this way: “Recall,” he says, “that the referendum was specifically intended to be advisory and consultative only. Briefing paper 07212 issued to members of both Houses of Parliament on June 3rd 2015 in advance of the debate on the Referendum Bill says in section 5 that the referendum is non-binding, advisory, consultative; and section 6 points out that if there were to be any suggestion otherwise, there would need to be a supermajority requirement. In the House of Commons in the debate on the E.U. referendum Bill the Minister for Europe, Mr. David Lidington, told the House that “the legislation is about holding a vote; it makes no provision for what follows. The referendum is advisory.” ( Hansard for 16 June 2015 )
Professor Grayling then goes on to employ some very choice language in which the word “thieves” appears to describe the way in which “the Brexit cabal have treated the outcome as binding and mandating, in defiance of the explicit nature of the Referendum Act itself.”
There are then two parts to Professor Grayling’s argument, the first derived from the briefing paper prepared by the House of Commons Library, and the second from the statement made by Mr David Lidington, who was, of course, the minister responsible for introducing the legislation which authorised the referendum.
The passage in the briefing paper which Professor Grayling refers to (p.25) reads as follows:
“It [ the Bill ] does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor to set a time limit by which a vote to leave the E.U. would be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as a pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion WHICH INFLUENCES THE GOVERNMENT IN ITS POLICY DECISIONS.” [ The words in capital letters- which I have supplied- appear in the original but not in Professor Grayling’s version.]
Since Professor Grayling quotation was strangely truncated it is no surprise that he did not find it necessary to ask- as I think we must- how a government could properly be said to have been influenced by the result of a referendum if it did not abide by it ? Professor Grayling would surely have been outraged had the Remain triumphed in the referendum, and if then the prime minister had announced that he was leaving the E.U!
Next we come the remarks made by Mr.David Lidington when he introduced the legislation in question. Professor Grayling quotes Mr. Lidington as saying that: “the legislation is about holding a vote; it makes no provision for what follows. The referendum is advisory.” So far as it goes this is an accurate quotation. But, once again, Professor Grayling has not read far enough. The words which immediately follow the end of his quotation from Mr. Lidington are as follows: “…as was the case for both the 1975 referendum on Europe and the Scottish independence vote last year.” Is Professor Grayling really asserting that the UK government could have overturned the result of September 2014 referendum in Scotland? I so, I can only observe that in so doing he would have embarked on a voyage across the dark ocean from which there can be no return.
Even this does not exhaust the difficulties of Professor Grayling’s interpretation of Mr. Lidington’s remarks. Towards the end of his contribution to the debate Mr. Lidington noted- in words that seem to have eluded Professor Grayling’s observation-that “the referendum is taking place as a result of clear manifesto commitment to negotiate the terms of the U.K.’s relationship with the European Union and to put them to the people in a referendum.”
In other words Mr. Lidington was stressing that the government was morally bound by the pledge contained in the manifesto on which it had been elected to power, only a month earlier. And what was this commitment? The Conservative manifesto for the May 2015 could not have been clearer (p.72) . It was as follows: “Only the Conservatives can and will deliver an in-out referendum.” “We will legislate in the first session of the new Parliament [ i.e. the one in which Mr. Lidington was speaking ] for an in-out referendum to be held on Britain’s membership of the E.U. before the end of 2017. We will negotiate a new settlement for Britain in the E.U. And then we will ask the British people whether they want to stay in on that basis, or leave. We will honour the result of the referendum, whatever the outcome.”
This pledge, I am afraid, make a terrible hash of Professor Grayling’s suggestion that the referendum provided no mandate for Brexit. No one reading the Conservative manifesto would have thought this. I was not privy to the drafting which must have preceded the publication of the manifesto, but it is at least possible that the slightly unwieldy term “in-out referendum” was designed precisely to exclude the sort of reasoning that our philosopher has engaged in.
Professor Grayling owes his readers an apology- otherwise he might start giving his profession, a bad name.
Despite my efforts this post is complicated enough so I’m relegating three points to this appendix.
1] For those who want to get a feel for the referendum campaign the best book I’ve seen so far is Tim Shipman’s “All Out War, the full story of how Brexit sank Britain’s political class” ( London, 2016 ) During the campaign Shipman was the political editor of The Sunday Times which supported Remain. Perhaps his greatest coup is to publish the text of the speech which David Cameron would have given had Remain won the referendum ( p. 619-622) Also writing from the Remain perspective is Ian Dunn’s “ Brexit, what the hell happens now?” ( London, 2016). For one, ( but by no means the only) Leave “take” on the Referendum, see Arron Banks, “The Bad Boys of Brexit, Tales of Mischief, Mayhem, and Guerrilla warfare in the E.U. Referendum Campaign” ( London, 2016). One of the most notable facts about the Leave campaign, insufficiently emphasised by Professor Grayling were the deep divisions within it. It was no tightly knit cabal.
2] In the course of his discussion of the House of Common’s Library paper about the referendum, Professor Grayling refers to the section (p. 26-27) which deals with the super majority thresholds that are sometimes required in referenda about constitutional matters. The paper points out that “discussion of the need for some form of threshold usually arises in the context of ensuing the legitimacy and acceptance of the outcome of a referendum.” But since the paper does not suggest that such “super-majority” or turn out thresholds are necessary conditions for a valid constitutional referendum, I fail to see the relevance of the passage in question to Professor Grayling’s argument, more especially since no such requirement was included in the 1975 referendum which copperbottomed Britain’s membership of the E.U. in the first place. In this business sauce for the goose really must surely be sauce for the gander! Nor, it should be remembered, did the absence of such thresholds prevent the setting up of the Welsh Assembly, the proposal for which only passed by a very small majority. It might, I suppose have been better had some such threshold been built into the legislation, but this would have undermined the democratic credentials of the whole exercise. Professor Grayling’s suggestion that the result of the referendum should be put aside because it lacked such thresholds therefore lacks credibility. Indeed I am prompted to ask if he would really have been arguing in this way if Remain had won?
3] While in this instance I disagree with Professor Grayling I do not think that his discussion of thresholds is altogether misplaced. What would have happened had the majority either way been very small? As Professor Grayling points out this was a possibility which was raised during the campaign by Nigel Farage- who was expecting a narrow win for Remain.
Just how credible would the result ( in either direction ) have been had there only been ( say ) eight hundred votes in it after several recounts? It seems to me that this is an issue which should be addressed by British legislators the next time that they vote to hold a referendum. Similarly there should probably be an amendment to the Irish Constitution which addresses this hitherto neglected issue. ( There is also the related issue which showed up in our second divorce referendum of extreme weather conditions suppressing turnout in one part of the country…)
By Philip Vander Elst.
‘Social liberalism’ has become the universally accepted label applied to all those in the western democracies who support the Left’s political and cultural agenda of ‘sexual revolution’. The very use of such terms as ‘gay liberation’ ‘transgender rights’ ‘pro-choice’ and ‘sexual equality’, implies, like the word ‘liberalism’, that this increasingly victorious cultural agenda represents a genuine movement of human emancipation. But is this really true? Does the overthrow of traditional Judeo-Christian morality and the advance of moral relativism and sexual permissiveness represent an extension of personal liberty or a threat to its long-term survival? Growing evidence suggests the latter is the case, including four powerful and exhaustively documented books described below.
The first two books, by American feminist and lesbian writer, Tammy Bruce, are revealingly entitled, The Death of Right and Wrong (2004) and The New Thought Police (2003). They show how the rise of left-wing McCarthyism, with its politically correct speech and thought codes, is eroding religious freedom and the civil rights of all those, especially Christians, who dissent from the current ‘liberal’ orthodoxy about sex and the family. The third American book, The Homosexual Agenda (2003), by Alan Sears and Craig Osten, tells the same story in equally compelling detail. In particular, it exposes, with abundant chapter and verse, the extent to which militant homosexual activists are determined to use the coercive power of the State to change public attitudes and enforce compliance with their practical demands. Finally, the fourth book on this list, The Global Sexual Revolution: destruction of freedom in the name of freedom (2015), is the work of a brave German female sociologist, Gabriele Kuby, and is a comprehensive and damning analysis of both the philosophical and historical roots (reaching back to the French Revolution), and the practical consequences, of the Left’s morally and socially destructive cultural agenda.
Those seeking a full and comprehensive understanding of this subject should obviously read these four books, but they may also be interested in reading a paper of mine, first published in 1981, examining the ideological connections between revolutionary socialism and ‘sexual politics’ as expressed more than a generation ago in the writings of various British Marxist and gay activist groups and publications. If they do so, and view its contents against the background of current events and the information provided in the above-mentioned books, they will see the degree to which my 1981 paper (see below) has proved to be prophetic in its analysis of the destructive impact of the gay/socialist alliance on the rights and liberties of the heterosexual majority.
Revolutionary Socialism and Sexual Politics ( July 1981 )
Two centuries ago Edmund Burke (1729-1797) wrote: “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites.” Lenin (1870-1924), on the other hand, declared in 1920: “We do not believe in an eternal morality, and we expose the falseness of all the fables about morality.” The opposition between these viewpoints reflects the fact that while Burke wanted to defend the traditional social order; Lenin’s mission was to overthrow it. This suggests that there is an intimate link between revolutionary politics and attempts to overturn, or deny, traditional moral values. What then is the nature of this connection?
The freedom and stability of our society are primarily sustained by two institutions: private property and the family. Private property guarantees personal independence and decentralizes power, while the family provides children with the secure and loving environment their development requires. The health and happiness of the family rests in turn upon the institution of marriage, which is based on the mutual loyalty, commitment and understanding of adult men and women. Without these qualities and the codes and institutions which nurture them, society fragments and breeds disharmony, resentment, and alienation. For that very reason revolutionaries are moral nihilists. They detest normality, contentment and stability. They wish to destroy the present social order and build a new one upon its ruins, and that cannot be done unless the restraints imposed by morality, property and the family are swept away.
However, the apostles of revolution also have positive as well as negative reasosn for their repudiation of these institutions.
Marxists oppose the family, for example, because it represents a focus of loyalty outside the collective and gives individuals an emotional and material base from which to resist communal pressures and demands. They dislike the way it encourages individualism and the accumulation and transmission of private property. The advocates of ‘sexual revolution’ or ‘sexual politics’, on the other hand, reach the same ideological position from the opposite end. They oppose private property because it strengthens the traditional family, and in doing so, reinforces the traditional belief that marital faithfulness and heterosexuality must be defended, and homosexuality and promiscuity condemned, or at least criticized.
Although revolutionary socialists and sexual revolutionaries are not entirely overlapping groups in Britain, many of their activists are revolutionaries in both senses and share a common desire to overthrow ‘capitalism’ and ‘sexism’. They are by the same token united in the ‘struggle for socialism’, though they may differ in their interpretation of what precisely constitutes ‘socialism’. Their pro-abortion militancy is also significant as an expression of their common hostility to the rights of unborn children and the responsibilities of motherhood. This again reflects their dislike of the family and their rejection of traditional morality.
The evidence from their own writings and publications
The identity of interest between political and sexual revolutionaries is stressed in many far left and radical publications, as the following examples demonstrate. In the 10th issue of Gay Left (June 1980), a homosexual socialist journal that has just completed five years of publication, there is a “collective statement” on the relationship between “democracy, socialism and sexual politics”. After remarking that: “The Women’s movement and the Gay movement have politicized and radicalized sections of the population untouched by traditional socialist organizations”, the collective statement adds: “Feminist and Gay politics provide a subversive challenge to conventional ideologies and aspirations, and socialism cannot grow without such challenges.” In another article in the same issue (“Workplace politics: Gay politics”), Nigel Young writes: “I feel that only by piecing together our gayness and our socialism and combining it with collective action can we defend and advance the gains of the gay and women’s movements.”
This theme is underlined in an even more explicit and uncompromising way by Don Milligan, in his pamphlet, The Politics of Homosexuality, first published by Pluto Press in 1973 and reprinted in August 1978 by the Edinburgh Gay Activists Alliance. As he puts it: “The movement for women’s liberation and gay liberation are important because they make us aware of the ways in which we are drenched in myths and prejudices that support the way things are – enabling capitalism to continue.” “Homosexual liberation is not possible under capitalism”, he continues [erroneously, as it has proved!] though “it is not guaranteed under socialism.” Since “Socialism is not simply about economics” and “workers’ control of industry…would create only the possibility of gay liberation”, “gay liberation groups must also aim to spread our ideas throughout the labour and socialist movement.” This, Milligan appears to have achieved according to the review of his pamphlet in Gay News (No.148), by Jeffrey Weeks: “…the SWP [Socialist Workers Party], along with most of the other far left groupings, now have advanced positions on gay liberation to which this pamphlet’s arguments probably contributed.”
The link between feminist and revolutionary politics is emphasized by the Trotskyist International Marxist Group (IMG), in a pamphlet published in 1979, on Abortion, Liberation and Revolution. It argues: “Transformation of society can only be achieved through a united onslaught on the power and privileges of capitalist society. All the movements of the oppressed, women, racial minorities, youth, must join with the organized working class.” In particular, “…all those fighting to change society will have to participate in the struggle against women’s role in the family.” This is necessary because: “If women had complete freedom – the freedom not to reproduce or the freedom to reproduce with any man they desire – then there would be no way in which the male of the ruling class could be sure that his property would be passed to his children.” The IMG pamphlet further alleges that restrictions on abortion represent an attempt “to force women out of the labour market and back into the home”, consequently it demands that there should be “no governmental restrictions on abortion, contraception and sterilization, for all women – including minors.”
Like the other far left groups, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) is also aware of the need for co-operation between political and sexual revolutionaries. In the 5th edition of the Party’s programme, The British Road to Socialism, it is emphasized that “capitalism not only exploits people at work, it impinges on every aspect of their lives…Hence the broad democratic alliance needs to be not only an expression of class forces, but of other important forces in society which emerge out of areas of oppression not always directly connected with the relations of production.” That is why it insists that “the fight for women’s liberation is an integral part of the struggle for socialism, and needs to be taken up by the whole labour movement.” In that cause it advocates: “Women’s control over their own bodies, with freely available abortion.” In addition to proclaiming its support for “the overcoming of sexism”, the CPGB welcomes “the development of the gay movement, which aims to end prejudice and discrimination against homosexual men and women.”
The explicitly subversive nature of ‘sexual politics’ is most clearly revealed in the hatred expressed for traditional values and the family, especially on the homosexual left. Don Milligan denounces the family as the origin of sexual repression: “The family denies the sexuality of children, represses that of adolescents and reduces fidelity to an expression of property rights.” Parents are attacked because they “ ‘bring up’ their children in their own image” and so “fulfill a basic function for capitalist society – that of soaking each new generation in the values of bourgeois society and male supremacy.” Milligan further complains that “If homosexuality were fully accepted, many more people would have gay relationships.” To that end he concludes his pamphlet with eight demands, three of which call for: “An end to exclusively heterosexual sex education in schools. Abolition of all restrictions which prevent gay people from caring for their own children or adopting children. Abolition of all laws relating to the age of consent for boys and girls.”
Campaign group demands legitimization of sex with children
This last appalling demand finds an echo in Gay Left, in which there is an advertisement on behalf of the Campaign Against Public Morals (CAPM), established after the arrest, in July 1979, of several members of the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), an organization devoted to the legitimization of sex between adults and children. Not only does this advertisement demand “that the laws against PIE be dropped.” It also goes on to deplore the way in which the trial of PIE members “could be used to cut back the ideological space in which ‘dangerous’ subjects like child sexuality could be discussed, as well as the havoc that it will produce in the lives of self-professed paedophiles and of other perceivedly ‘deviant’ adults.”
The rejection of traditional ideas about heterosexuality, marriage and the family is also explicit in a pamphlet by the Coventry Women’s Education Group, a self-proclaimed body of “socialist feminists.” Entitled, Please Yourself: Sex for Girls, the aim of the booklet “is to provide a feminist approach to sex, for girls of about 13+.” Its object, moreover, is not simply to provide information about pregnancy, contraception and abortion, “But most importantly it is about female sexual pleasure and how to obtain it.” In short, the pursuit of sexual pleasure is urged as an end in itself that overrides all other considerations. This is implied in some casual statements regarding lesbianism and abortion: “sexual relationships may be with boys or with other girls. If you have a sexual relationship with another girl, it will usually be based on mutual masturbation.” This clearly suggests that indulgence in either a heterosexual or lesbian relationship is merely a matter of personal taste, even when minors are involved. The authors take a similarly cavalier attitude to the ethics of abortion: “Abortion carried out in the early weeks is simple and safe. It does not stop you from getting pregnant again when you want to.” Even the possibility that abortion raises a moral dilemma is ignored. Convenience and the pursuit of pleasure is all that counts. It is hardly surprising, in the light of these remarks, that this pamphlet shows no special regard for marriage: “Some people may be happier to live as a married couple but people shouldn’t feel that they have to in order to be happy.”
The relationship between revolutionary socialism and ‘sexual politics’ is finally most instructive in what it teaches us about the link between totalitarianism and permissive morality, or more accurately, amorality.
Permissive philosophies say or imply that people can do what they like with sex. Totalitarian ones say or imply that people can do what they like with power. Both are therefore different sides of the same coin in that both are rooted in a rejection of the notion that some things are objectively right and others are objectively wrong. This follows from the fact that if there is no such thing as an eternal or universal Moral Law, the abuse of power by a dictator is as much beyond criticism as the sale of child pornography. In other words, if there are no moral rules governing human behaviour, there is no evil or perversion in which men and women cannot indulge with a clear conscience. All things then become permissible to those who claim the right to remake the world according to their desires. There is thus a logical connection between totalitarianism and permissiveness, whether or not sexual and political revolutionaries overlap in any particular case.
Lenin’s ruthless embrace of moral relativism and totalitarianism
It was no accident that Lenin despised the idea of everlasting morality and at the same time formulated, in 1920, one of the most ruthless definitions of revolutionary government that has ever been written: “The scientific concept, dictatorship,” he declared, “ means neither more nor less than unlimited power, resting directly on force, not limited by anything, not restricted by any laws or any absolute rules. Nothing else but that.”
Could there be any clearer proof that the defence of traditional values is tied up with the defence of the free society?
Note: Mr Vander Elst is to be identified as the author of both parts of this contribution.
I tell thee, the Word slayeth- that is, the text alone, read with unskilled eyes and unhallowed lips, is like those strong medicines which sick men take by the advice of the learned. Such patients recover and thrive, while those dealing in their own hand shall perish by the own deed.
Taken from The Monastery, in which novel the words are those of a priest.
The recent revelations about the bodies that have been found in the burial site attached to the former Mother and Baby “home” in Tuam are deeply troubling. They are not though unexpected. But we don’t yet know the full facts. The investigation must be carried on, not just at Tuam, but in all the other relevant places, both in this state and in Northern Ireland. There must be no further cover ups. There have been quite enough already.
So far the state here has paid for the investigations in Tuam. This is only right. But should it not also be joined by the religious organizations concerned- Catholic and Protestant alike who ran the homes? It could also be that the British government has a role to play in this respect; as we on this site have published evidence which suggests that the shocking mal administration of these institutions pre dated our current political arrangements. (See our post, “A Critical Error,” published in September 2016 – which we have reposted below.)
From Hansard, May 7th 1888.
Mr. P.J. O’ BRIEN ( Tipperary North ) asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland [ A.J. Balfour ] , Whether he has yet received the Report in answer to the full enquiry which he promised into the circumstances of the case of the Cranna Orphanage in County Tipperary; whether it is accordance with the facts as reported at the coroner’s inquest on the body of the boy Madden; whether the remaining children in that Institution are still on the dietary [ regime?], the nature of which was then disclosed; and whether he will take steps to have this and similar Institutions visited at intervals by authorized Government Inspectors, so as to afford some protection to the orphan children therein confined, and to prevent the recurrence of such inhuman treatment as has been proved in the case of the Cranna orphans?
THE CHIEF SECRETARY ( MR. A. J. BALFOUR ) (Manchester, E.) The local Constabulary authorities [ the police ] have furnished a copy of the verdict at the inquest on the body of the boy Madden, from which it appears that he died from weakness or syncope; but neither the jury nor the Coroner appears to have attached blame to any individual. The jury, however, in their verdict pointed out certain defects which, in their opinion, existed in the Institution as regards clothing, dietary, and attendance [ of a doctor?]. A letter has been received from the Bishop of Killaloe stating what steps have been taken to carry out the recommendations put forward by the Coroner’s Jury in order to remedy the existing defects.
MR. P.J. BRIEN The right hon. Gentlman did not answer the last part of the question. I understand that the Bishop of Killaloe very rarely visits the Institution.
MR A. J. BALFOUR I do not think a Government Inspector would be at all an improvement.
NOTE: Among the causes of Syncope mentioned by Wikepedia are, fasting, too few fluids, emotional distress and lack of sleep.
When I mentioned the substance of this post to a friend ( a recently retired teacher ) he at once came up with the right diagnosis: “NEGLECT”
By Robert C.B. Miller
Is life rare or is it common? The search for life on Mars, elsewhere in the solar system and in the Milky Way continues apace. Planets on nearby and quite distant stars have been discovered and investigated to determine whether they are in the habitable zone where life is possible – not too far from their star so that they are not too cold and not too close so that they are not too hot. Hope is expressed that life may be found in the water beneath the ice shells of Europa, Enceladus and Titan the moons respectively of Jupiter and Saturn.
Searchers, some funded by internet billionaires, are checking the electro-magnetic spectrum for radio signals which are artefacts and the product of intelligent life. Leading public intellectuals, such as Stephen Hawking, have opined on the risk that alien intelligent life might discover us and do us harm. So far no convincing evidence of life has been found.
But there is a puzzle about life. Biologists have difficulty in explaining how abiogenesis, the emergence of living from non-living material, is possible. It is now often forgotten that one of the great triumphs of modern science was the discovery that life could only come from life. No longer could it be believed that life could just emerged from non-living material as Aristotle thought. But in turn this discovery created a problem. If life did not emerge from the non-living, how is it that the world is full of living things? One apparently obvious solution to this puzzle is that it was the result of evolution. But this cannot be the case, evolution presupposes the existence of life on which the Darwinian machinery of mutation and adaptation can work.
Much energy has been used by biologists to discover how life originated and it was expected that this would be a relatively simple matter. Life, it was thought, could be shown to be the result of a chemical process that converted bare chemistry into biochemistry. But after much effort and theorising, none of the putative accounts developed have been accepted and all remain controversial. The origin of life remains an unsolved problem for chemists and biologists. In any case any the all must remain what cautious biologists call ‘Just So Stories’. The reason is that there is very clear evidence that abiogenesis occurred in the extremely distant past and consequently that almost all evidence of the process must have long disappeared.
But two related facts are clear, however life originated. First all life uses the same DNA building blocks and second all life descended from a single common ancestor. This means that the ‘tree of life’ with species branching from a common origin in a hierarchy pruned by extinction and expanded by well-known evolutionary processes is a well-established conclusion of biology.
The Two Strange Two Facts about Life
This leads us to two remarkable facts about life on earth which deserve much more attention for the extraordinary facts that they are.
First, that the appearance of life on earth took place a very long time ago – give or take a few hundred million years – between 3.8 and 4.1 billion years ago. This great age is significant as it seems that life appeared on earth very shortly about 600 million years after the planet formed 4.54 billion years ago and an even shorter period, perhaps a few hundred million years, after the earth became habitable. This distant date should be put in the perspective of the age of the universe which is estimated at about 13.8 billion years. This means that life appeared at about 70% of the age of the universe on a planet which had only just become habitable for life.
Second, there is very strong evidence that life appeared on earth only once. This is guaranteed by the ‘tree of life’ and the common DNA building blocks of all life. There is evidence on earth of only one kind of life and no evidence of any others.
In one sense there is of course nothing extraordinary about these facts. If life was to appear there seems no reason for it to appear at any one time rather than another provided conditions were right. Thus if life appeared as the result of a highly unlikely series of events and conditions then it would appear reasonably for it to appear 70% through the existence of the universe rather that at the beginning. The more unlikely are life producing events and conditions then it is more likely to appear latter rather than sooner. Thus if I have six fair dice then I am more likely to have roiled six sixes by the 100,000 roll than I am at the first roll. But while this argument may appear reasonable in the perspective of the life of the universe, it seems extraordinary in the context of life of the earth. It looks as if someone rolled six sixes on the very first roll of the dice.
But now the argument gets strange. As we have seen there is strong evidence that life emerged on earth only once. Given that life emerged on earth almost as soon as it became possible, it seems that it was the ideal environment for the appearance of life. But if life emerged rapidly in an ideal environment it is deeply puzzling why it has not emerged again in the 3.8 billion years since it first appeared. If it has emerged once, then why not twice or indeed many times? If life appeared so soon after it became possible then it suggests that the odds were not as long as was thought and that it might only be necessary to roll a single six rather than six sixes for life to appear. But if that is the case and the die was kept rolling then one would expect a regular supply of sixes after the first die roll. But as we have seen this appears not to have been the case. Why indeed are there not multiple forms of life? Why is there not a strand of life on earth based on silicon rather than carbon, or even boron? Why are there not a number of different types of carbon based life? There are none and no evidence that that any ever existed.
The evidence leads to contradictory conclusions. Life appears to be the result of a natural process which operates rapidly (or even immediately) when conditions are right. But in that case it is puzzling that it has emerged only once on earth. But its single emergence seems to suggest that conditions and process that leads to the appearance of life are extraordinarily rare. In other words, life appeared once on earth almost as soon as it became habitable, suggesting that it a high probability event. But since it has not appeared since this implies it was a very low probability event.
What is (or was) going on?
Could the puzzle be resolved by the fact that life did not emerge on earth until about 70% of the age of the universe had elapsed. This might suggest that the odds of life appearing are very long, given both the size and the duration of the universe. It is some 92 billion light years in diameter and has perhaps 100 billion galaxies each with 100 billion stars.
But the early appearance of life in the history of earth, a few hundred years after it became possible suggests that life should emerge similarly rapidly implying that the galaxy and the universe should be teeming with life. Wherever it can be sustained life should appear rapidly. But here we run into a version of the Fermi paradox. There appears as yet to be no evidence of any kind to suggest that there is any other life outside the solar system. This may change with, for instance, the discovery of significant amounts of oxygen in an exoplanet. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that signs of life are discovered on a significant number of exoplanets within the Milky Way. Would it dissolve the paradox that the appearance of life on earth seems both probable and improbable at the same time?
Plainly it would not solve the puzzle and it would actually exacerbate it. The appearance of life on exoplanets would shorten the odds of life appearing on earth – and indeed on all habitable planets in this and other galaxies. What it would not do is to explain why life appeared only once on earth at the very beginning of earth’s habitable period. If the odds of life appearing are so short why has it only appeared once in the (evidently) ideal conditions of earth? The paradox remains, indeed it is more puzzling than it was before. Life appears highly probable – its emergence being evidently a short odds event. But if the odds are short, why has it only appeared once in the 3.9 billion period of earth’s habitability – a period which amounts to 30% of the lifetime of the universe? As we argued above one would expect that there would be a series of new appearances of life. The evidence is clear, there have been none.
The Paradox of Life
Where does the paradox of life leave us? One remote possibility is that new versions of life might be discovered on earth – suggesting that the appearance of life was really a short odds event. But this solution does not look promising. As we have seen all life has the same DNA structure and the tree of life with descent from a common ancestor appears a very robust conclusion of biology.
What then? One possibility is that the appearance of life may not be subject to the same probabilistic causal regime as other biological events. It may just be odd, but that is indeed an odd conclusion.
I had missed it, and I bet you had too! But in 2003 the European Parliament passed legislation for the collection of statistics about housing conditions in the E. U. Only they didn’t put quite like that. They put this way… “regulation ( E.C. ) No 11772003 established a common framework for the systematic production of European statistics on income and living conditions, in order to ensure that comparable and up- to- date cross-sectional and longitudinal data on income and on the level and composition of poverty and social exclusion are available at national and Union level.”
Apparently article 15 of this regulation laid down that measures were to be adopted every year “to specify the target secondary areas and variables to be included in the cross-sectional component of EU-SILC [ i.e. the regulation concerned ] that year.”
Consequently the time has now come- so I read on the EUR-Lex web site- for “the implementing measures specifying the target secondary variables and their identifiers for the 2018 module on material deprivation, well-being and housing difficulties [ to]… be adopted.”
The statistical variables involved are set out in an annex to implementing regulation in the form of the questions that a representative sample of the Union’s population are to be asked. The annex states that “the mode of collection is [a] personal interview with the household respondent.” (So be warned, your privacy may be about to be invaded!)
Some of the questions are merely designed to elicit the sort of information about living conditions that government statisticians have always loved collecting. Do you have a washing machine? Do you have a colour T.V? Do you have a telephone? The only oddity here being that there is apparently no reference to internet access which I should have thought was important. But no doubt it will be included next year!
The longer section of the proposed survey concerns well-being. Here the questions become broader, much broader…far too broad.
“…overall life satisfaction, from 0 (Not at all satisfied ) to 10 ( Completely satisfied )”
and goes in much the same vein…
“ Perceived social exclusion?”
“Satisfaction with financial situation?”
Satisfaction with amount of leisure time?
“Trust in others?”
“Feeling calm and peaceful?”
“Feeling downhearted or depressed?”
“Feeling down in the dumps?”
….and so forth, and so forth..
Me? I’m feeling down in the dumps about Europe. I’m feeling down in the dumps about a bureaucracy which can produce such nonsense with apparent equanimity and even pride. I am feeling depressed about a system which apparently has no understanding of the proper role of the state in a free society. And, above all, I am angry that the European Parliament is incapable of stopping this idiocy.