onsdag 18 juli 2012

Being open about abortion

This is my abortion is a project by American "feminists" to be frank about their abortions. Be warned, it is very unpleasant. As unpleasant as the material put around by anti-abortion campaigners. A few minutes previously the bright red muck in the jam jar was a very small child attached to its mother by its umbilical cord. It was not a blob of jelly.

This campaign could have the opposite effect to that intended.

måndag 16 juli 2012

Neo-libs, Georgists and the bigger picture

The neo-libertarian narrative is not one that was being peddled in the 1970s but is widespread today. One has only to look on the newspaper websites and read the comments. It is mainstream in the politics of the right. It has soaked widely into popular consciousness. It has important elements of truth, which are easy to recognise. The left has no answers. One is obliged to take the yes-but view. Our task is not to convert the "right" except to the extent that we alone within the world of political economy can expose the underlying fallacy, as we alone are aware of the nature of property rights. The bigger task is to move the left, as they are stuck in old discredited paradigms which have been proved to fail. The left is pretty much defenceless against the neo-libs, anarcho-caps and other political economies at that end of the spectrum.

The neo-lib analysis is well supported in the background by the extremely wealthy and powerful, who will be the main, probably sole, beneficiaries of the policies that are being argued for. The weakness of the left means defeat for them. They might win elections, as in France, but they have no effective policies or even a narrative that is remotely realistic. Neither has the mainstream right. There is a pressure to prevent civil unrest and efforts have to be made to contain it. I don't think that anyone anywhere on the mainstream political spectrum has solutions.

In the face of the ongoing and intractable problems with finance and the economy, the widening gap between super-rich and the rest, the banking scandals, family breakdown, drug abuse and Islamic extremism, we are in for a difficult century. The political economy we are proposing could help in the realm of economics, and we need to sharpen our game. However, these movements exist under the higher dispensation of a civilisation, and it is at that level that a breakdown is occurring as well.

This is worth a further look. Christianity is now coming to the end of its second millenium, having suffered a grave challenge with the rise of Islam, a damaging split with the schism, a catastrophic one at the reformation. Each of these events falls, rather too tidily, at 500 year intervals.

At the same time there was Gnosticism. Christianity is itself Gnostic but in a different sense. Common to Gnosticisms is the notion that one can reach perfection and do it by one's own efforts through following some kind of path, in which each step is revealed once the individual has reached a certain point on the path, and not before.

The revival of Gnosticism seems to have coincided with the Renaissance and gathered force with the Enlightenment. Important fruits were modern science (nothing wrong with it until it becomes a religion in its own right), empiricism, the French Revolution, Marxism, Socialism, Fascism and its relative, Nazi-ism, Freemasonry, and, in part, Calvinism.

The protestant churches have run their course and have nothing to offer. The bible-believing protestants persist because they have a lot of money behind them and are now being used to promote the neo-lib message. For the rest, protestantism has descended into vagueness to the point that it is impossible to establish what the protestant churches are actually teaching.

The only body that has stood, and stands, reasonably consistently (though not consistently enough) against all of this has been the orthodox group of Christian churches ie Catholic/Eastern Orthodox. These too have been going through their own traumas during the past 100 years, what with outright corruption in high places, scandals all over and liturgical reforms which have obscured the fundamental teachings. In my view the only real hope is with the renewal movement that is currently taking place within the Catholic church.

From a bigger perspective it offers a solid critique of neo-liberalism, objectivism, Marxism, socialism and all the other false -isms that have dominated western thinking for the past three centuries.

torsdag 12 juli 2012

"I am an Objectivist"

Only joking. But why would anyone become an anything-ist when the -ism in question was invented just a few decades ago by an embittered person who had suffered from horrible experiences early in life and never come to terms with them?

Isms invariably have antecedents. Most of the atheist -isms come out of the Enlightenment and a thread can be traced from there back to the re-discovery of ancient Gnostic texts that came to Italy with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and their subsequent translation into Latin and then into modern languages. Objectivism seems also to have a Calvinist strand, whence comes its particularly repellent individualism. It is not, then, so very new. And why would anyone so close themselves off to further thinking by defining themselves in such a way?

The question raises further ones about -isms in general. When analysed, most of them can be shown to be heresies of orthodox ie Catholic Christianity. Now the defining feature of a heresy is either that it takes one or more component of Catholicism and elevates it above all the others, or that it strongly denies one of those components. Thus all Protestants deny the supremacy of the Pope. Members of the Orthodox churches also question the supremacy of the Pope but that does not make them Protestants, since their formal status is of being schismatic.

Because Anglo-Catholics accept all Catholic doctrines except the supremacy of the Pope, they tended to view the Anglican church as the Catholic church in England - as some kind of English rite Catholic church. Recent events within the Anglican church has brought many Anglo-Catholics to the realisation that if authority is not vested in the Pope, the way is open to all sorts of aberrations such as the defining of doctrine by democratic decision.

Protestants generally take the view that scripture should be interpreted according to individual judgement, whilst, on the way taking scripture and editing it more or less heavily with large chunks being omitted altogether. One way another, hundreds of sects have been spawned in this way: Annabaptists, Mennonites, Seventh Day Adventists, Presbyterians of every hue, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Salvationists, Irvingites, Mormonites, Agapemonites, etc. Even quite respectable sects such as the Quakers have arisen from this movement away from orthodox Christianity.

Before the coming of Protestantism there were other heresies - a spate of them in the first five centuries of Christianity. Arians denied the divinity of Jesus Christ and Arianism eventually gave rise to Islam, which Belloc described as "the great and enduring heresy".

Most sects flare up for a few decades and then fade away, though a few have been more persistent, usually because they have had some wealthy adherents who have fed them with funds.

The ancient Eastern religions are of course not heresies. Whilst orthodox Christians would regard them as being in error in one way or other, and conversely, these are at least well-grounded positions. During the past hundred years, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, for instance, have attracted many followers from the west and have to be regarded as major spiritual paths.

Taking all of this into account, one has to ask, first, why anyone would follow a movement which has not stood the test of time - I mean a millenium or two - and second, why anyone would follow any movement at all without taking a good look at the handful which have demonstrated real staying power over a millennium or two?

onsdag 11 juli 2012

On usury and other dishonest profit

ON USURY AND OTHER DISHONEST PROFIT is the title of Vix Pervenit, an Encyclical of Pope Benedict XIV promulgated on November 1, 1745. It was in fact the first Papal Encyclical.

What would banking and finance look like if the principles set out in that document were held to? The question lies behind an article in the FT today, with the headline, The City must get rid of banks’ top brass.

The author of the article blames it on culture and values. That is a superficial analysis. It will not do to blame the top brass. These are the sort of people, whom, as class mates, one would not trust with one's pocket money to buy a bar of chocolate at the school tuck shop. If they are reaching the most exalted positions in the banking profession, there is something seriously amiss.

The problem is systemic and structural. It has nothing to do with culture and values, at least not within the banking profession alone. The structures that society creates, of course, are a product of culture and values. It is not possible to clear up little corners alone. The fact that it is possible to refer to a banking "industry" without an eyebrow being raised is an indication of how far things have fallen.

The entire contemporary economic system needs to be re-examined, not from a Marxist perspective but from that of orthodox morality. It must begin with a definition of terms. What is "Capital"? What is "Capitalism"? Both terms are used so loosely as to be almost meaningless.

Is money capital? Is credit capital? Is land capital? Or people? Or slaves? What do you call that which was capital in the original meaning of the term ie wealth used for the production of further wealth eg tools, machines, ships, etc? Conflation of all these terms under the heading "capital" is a recipe for confusion from the outset.

And that is only the start of the difficulty. What is yours? What is mine? How do property rights arise? What is the function of banking? What are the proper and improper uses of credit? What claims does the state have on private property? What IS private property?

These questions tend to be avoided. Problems like corruption of the banking system are bound to arise if they are never addressed.

tisdag 10 juli 2012

Objectivist illusionism

I have come across a few enthusiasts for Ayn Rand lately and got involved in discussions with them. They would be of no importance but for the fact that her ideas have taken a firm hold on the political right. Supporters of Rand's philosophy might be found amongst the young people at Conservative Central Office who are responsible for developing party policies.

Rand invented a philosophy she called "objectivism". It has a set of fallacies at the heart of it, the principal one being that there is an objective reality which the human mind can apprehend through reason. There is, it is true, an objective reality and objective truth, but the human mind is unable to apprehend it.

It is true also that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception. The senses can, however, play nasty tricks on us at times - optical illusions are a good example. The meanings that are given to the raw data that the senses present to the mind are dependent on the state of mind of the individual observer. It will be so coloured by moods, emotions, theories, opinions, beliefs, levels of attention and the physical condition of the observer as to be anything but objective. We know this from reflection on our own personal experience. Recent understandings in neuroscience support this view.

This fuzziness is unavoidable and we deceive ourselves if we imagine that we are, or can be, objective.

If human knowledge is anything but objective, what of value can come from objectivism?

The death of civilised debate

The Guardian has been steadily reducing the number of articles on which comments are allowed. On the newspaper’s web site, which used to ap...