Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.


As though

May 9th, 2010 12:26 pm | By

A more central part of Harris’s argument:

…it also seems quite rational for us to collectively act as though all human lives were equally valuable. Hence, most of our laws and social institutions generally ignore differences between people.

Ah but they don’t. One big social institution doesn’t, at least not necessarily: the family. Some parents believe in equality, but some don’t; sometimes it’s a matter of what the male head of household believes, because that determines the rules for everyone else.

This is why the claim that maximizing well-being for all can be scientifically shown to be moral or good does not (as far as I can see) get off the ground. It’s because some people’s well-being partly depends on the subordination of other people, and people like that do not consider the de-subordination of “their” subordinates a source of well-being for themselves. Over time that can change, but it doesn’t happen overnight. So the question arises, how would you show such people scientifically that they are mistaken? It can’t be done. You may be able to show them evidence that the subordinates will have more well-being, but that won’t trump their sense of the fitness of things. The issue isn’t factual (though facts can help, or hinder; it depends), it’s emotional.



Is there anyone who would?

May 9th, 2010 11:47 am | By

Sam Harris has a new article on a science of morality at the Huffington Post. There’s a lot there, but one observation in particular snagged my attention.

I wonder if there is anyone on earth who would be tempted to attack the philosophical underpinnings of medicine with questions like: “What about all the people who don’t share your goal of avoiding disease and early death? Who is to say that living a long life free of pain and debilitating illness is ‘healthy’?

Wonder no more! There is indeed. There is the anthropologist Frederique Apffel Marglin, who once wrote* that

In absolutely negativizing disease, suffering and death, in opposing these to health and life in a mutually exclusive manner, the scientific medical system of knowledge can separate in individuals and in populations what is absolutely bad, the enemy to be eradicated, from what is good, health and life. In the process it can and does objectify people with all the repressive political possibilities that objectification opens.

And she meant it. She wasn’t writing a parody of postmodernist science-skepticism, she was writing the thing itself. I observed in 2003

There is something a little breathtaking in a level of science-phobia that can see ‘negativizing’ disease, suffering and death, as harmful and repressive. One is reminded of Woody Allen’s retort to a character’s reproach, in ‘The Front’, that he really wanted success: ‘So what should I want, a disease?’ Does Marglin seriously think that disease, suffering and death (the death of other people, remember, as well as one’s own) would be a source of joy and pleasure if only it weren’t for the ’scientific medical system of knowledge’? Has the postmodern left become so tone deaf that it can hear no echo of the complacent droning of landowners and priests (and colonialists, surely) about the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate?

*F.A. Marglin, ‘Smallpox in two Systems of Knowledge’, in Dominating Knowledge: Development, Culture and Resistance, eds. F.A. Marglin and S.A. Marglin (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990).



Gloating for Britain

May 8th, 2010 5:10 pm | By

George Pitcher, Anglican vicar and Telegraph columnist, is just beside himself with glee that Evan Harris lost his seat in the election. Why is Pitcher so delighted? Because Harris is a secularist, and because he thinks terminally ill people should be able to choose when their suffering ends. That’s not exactly how Pitcher puts it though.

For a doctor, he supported the strange idea that terminally ill people should be helped to kill themselves…His political demise will be mourned only by those with a strange fascination for death, those euthanasia enthusiasts whose idea of care for the elderly and infirm is a one-way ticket to Switzerland.

Stupid, stupid man, and dishonest besides. (And he can’t even write. “For a doctor, he supported the strange idea” – sheesh!) Harris did not support the idea that “terminally ill people should be helped to kill themselves” nor was his idea of care for the elderly and infirm a one-way ticket to Switzerland (i.e. euthanasia). Stupid malicious man – as if he can’t tell the difference between having the option of euthanasia and having euthanasia imposed!

I wish I could gloat that George Pitcher had lost his seat on the Telegraph.



Underpinnings

May 8th, 2010 11:36 am | By

The Sydney Anglican diocese is pissed off because students who have the option are ditching classes in “scripture” to take ethics classes instead. The Sydney Anglican diocese seems to consider this some kind of violation of nature and of its property rights in the children of New South Wales.

The controversial trial of secular ethics classes has ”decimated” Protestant scripture classes in the 10 NSW schools where it has been introduced as an alternative for non-religious children, with the classes losing about 47 per cent of enrolled students.

The figure was calculated by the Sydney Anglican diocese, which is so concerned about the trial that it has created a fund-raising website to ”protect SRE” (special religious education). The website says the values underpinning ”Australia’s moral framework” are under threat…

”If we lose religious education, we risk losing true, fundamental ‘ethics’ that have underpinned Australia’s moral framework for hundreds of years,” the website says.

Well, no; more likely, you “risk” losing false, misleading, often bad underpinnings and replacing them with better thinking. Australia’s moral framework for hundreds of years, by the way, has been as limited and often ruthless as anyone else’s; it stands shoulder to shoulder with the US in its not altogether praiseworthy treatment of its indigenous population. The Anglican church didn’t prevent that, after all, so why should anyone believe it has some pipeline to better “underpinnings”?



Your petrodollars at work

May 7th, 2010 3:52 pm | By

A group of lawyers in Egypt who call themselves (with horrible sarcasm) “the Association of Lawyers Without Restrictions” have sued a bunch of people for publishing or just somehow vaguely having something or maybe nothing to do with publishing The Thousand and One Nights,

claiming that the book “offends public decency.” Hisba cases allow citizens to prosecute individuals who they deem to have insulted Islam…

They are demanding those responsible for the publication be brought to trial under Article 178 of the Penal Code, which if convicted is punishable by imprisonment for a term of two years and a fine for everyone that publishes any prints or pictures that “offends the public decency.”

I heard an Egyptian guy talking to the World Service about this a couple of days ago, disgustedly saying that this is just Wahhabism and nothing to do with Egypt or the way Islam is understood there.

Wahhabism sucks.



It’s national prayerbook day

May 6th, 2010 3:13 pm | By

So you’ve spent the day praying, right? Well not all of you of course, but those of you who are loyal citizens of the United States…and hey, why not, also those of you who want to show solidarity with devout Americans. No doubt there are some of you bending the knee or head-butting the floor in Swansea and Cracow, Lagos and Kinshasa, Bombay and Karachi, Lima and Santiago, Kyoto and Shanghai, just for the sake of showing that state-sponsored prayer must be supported by the united peoples of the world. Yes?

Okay, I’ll stop now. I’ll just offer a thought from Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

It’s obvious that Americans don’t need a government-sponsored day to pray. But this day has never really even been about prayer or the freedom to pray or not.

Instead, the NDP has served as another opportunity for the Religious Right to exert its influence on our government and laws and send a not-so-subtle message that those who don’t agree with the Religious Right on theology are second-class citizens.

Go, sing a song, read a poem, watch a hummingbird, or just scratch your bum and eat a chocolate bar.



Beware the rising tide of

May 5th, 2010 12:07 pm | By

Shaista Gohir is very generous.

Legitimate criticism of Muslims who spew extremist rhetoric and commit criminal acts is acceptable.

Oh. Thanks. We’re allowed to criticize people who commit criminal acts. That’s awfully nice of you.

In France, where the headscarf has already been banned and a face veil ban likely to follow, only a couple of thousand women wear it out of 5 million Muslims.

The headscarf has not been banned in France, of course; it’s been banned in public schools and other government buildings.

Currently Muhammad is the second most popular boy’s name in Britain – if it tops the list of baby names, how long before there are calls to ban Muslims from naming their sons after their beloved prophet?

Gee, I don’t know. Should we start stockpiling baked beans right now, just to be safe?



Urgent re-education

May 4th, 2010 4:52 pm | By

And another thing. Where I come from, diversity training means something along the lines of learning not to express stupid dislike of people for absurd reasons such as race sex class sexual orientation foreignness and the like. But at the Foreign Office it apparently means more than that.

All the staff involved in producing the memo are to be sent on “urgent diversity training”…”Although [the memo] was intended only for internal use, it was ill-judged, naive and disrespectful of some key tenets of the Catholic faith.”

Clearly this urgent diversity training will be for the purpose of teaching staff to respect all key tenets of the Catholic faith – so “diversity” now means not just different kinds of people but different kinds of beliefs and “tenets,” and the underlying assumption is that they all have to be respected.

But – but – but some ideas are just stupid and wrong. Some of the tenets of the Catholic church are just fictitious and wrong but others of them are harmful and wicked. People shouldn’t be trained to respect them. I can see the FO wanting narrowly vocational training in when to say what and to whom, although I’m not sure I can see extending that to internal memos – but I know I can’t see extending it to what to think, which is what this kind of “diversity training” amounts to.



What’s up in there?

May 4th, 2010 2:58 pm | By
What’s up in there?

My friend Claire went to Denver and she saw something very nice there.

GetAttachment



The FO simply adores the pope

May 4th, 2010 10:29 am | By

Ruth Gledhill in The Times tells us that

The civil servant in charge of the Pope’s visit to Britain has been suspended and is to be investigated for misconduct after a memo lampooning the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church was leaked to the press.

All the staff involved in producing the memo are to be sent on “urgent diversity training”

Urgent diversity training? Meaning what? They’ll be trained not to have contempt for contemptible beliefs? How will that be accomplished, exactly? Heavy drugging? Waterboarding?

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “As we have made clear publicly, it was a foolish document that did not in any way reflect FCO views. Although it was intended only for internal use, it was ill-judged, naive and disrespectful of some key tenets of the Catholic faith. It has caused great offence…

Why do key tenets of the Catholic faith have to be respected? They are false after all – and the ones that were mocked in the memo are also harmful – so respect should not be mandated. I do realize it’s not the Foreign Office’s job to make the Catholic church a better institution, but it also shouldn’t be its job to lick Ratzinger’s boots.

The FCO very much regrets this incident and is deeply sorry for the offence which it has caused. We strongly value the close and productive relationship between the UK Government and the Holy See and look forward to deepening this further with the visit of Pope Benedict to the UK later this year.

Does it? Why? Why does the Foreign Office strongly value the close and productive relationship between the UK Government and the Holy See? What is there to value in that? The “Holy See” is a horrible secretive coercive all-male obscurantist organization that shields fugitives from justice (Cardinal Bernard Law) and conceals decade upon decade of child rape until the last rag has been stripped away. The “Holy See” tells Africans not to use condoms during an Aids epidemic, it tells everyone everywhere not to use any birth control at all, it works tirelessly to prevent women from getting abortions and thus to deprive all women of childbearing age of a secure sense that they own their own lives. The “Holy See” stinks – it is repulsive to see the Foreign Office crawling to it in this slavish way.



Three girls is three too many

May 3rd, 2010 3:35 pm | By

A pretty story.

Three sisters have suffered serious facial burns after two unidentified men on a motorbike threw acid at them in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. The sisters, aged between 14 and 20 years old, were attacked as they walked from Kalat city to Pandarani village…The police named the girls as Fatima Bibi, 20, Saima Bibi, 16 and Sakina Bibi, 14…Two weeks ago, an unknown group – the Baloch Ghairatmand Group (the Honourable Baloch Group) – claimed responsibility for a similar attack on two women in a market in Dalbandin city. The group had warned women to wear the hijab, the traditional Muslim headscarf, and not to visit markets unaccompanied by men from their families.

So in other words these three girls had acid thrown in their faces because they existed, because they were girls, because they went outside, because they went somewhere, because they were visible, because they walked and talked and breathed, because there were three of them. They had acid thrown in their faces because nothing. They had acid thrown in their faces because two thugs felt like throwing acid on some women, and the Bibi sisters were there. “Honourable” indeed – give me a fucking break.



Seriously?

May 1st, 2010 11:41 am | By

Some more thoughts on tits and cleavage and the Cuddy Effect and reservations. First of all, to clarify again, I’m not criticizing Jen or her joke; I am expressing reservations about some of the reactions to some of the reservations about the joke.

The overall yay-cleavage line is that women should be free to display cleavage (yes, of course, and are any of the critics really saying otherwise?), and that therefore displaying cleavage is an unqualified good. The second claim doesn’t follow. Displaying cleavage could be mixed, or it could be an unqualified bad. The fact that it shouldn’t be forbidden or illegal doesn’t mean it’s terrific. There are more than two stark possibilities.

Okay so what’s my problem? Why am I such a grouch? What’s not to like?

One thing not to like is the slavishness of it. Don’t shout; give me a minute. It’s the underdog’s move. It’s wheedling, it’s passive, it’s manipulative. It’s asking to be liked.

Look at something Greta Christina said in her criticism of the critics of boobquake:

I’ve written before about how we need to find a way for thoughtful, feminist men (specifically straight men) to express their sexual desires without automatically being treated as sexist, entitled louts and yahoos. This is the flip side of that issue. We need to find a way for thoughtful, feminist women to express our sexual desirability without automatically being treated as dumb, exploited bimbos who don’t understand what men really think of us.

See? We need to find a way for thoughtful, feminist men to express their sexual desires, and we need to find a way for thoughtful, feminist women to express our sexual desirability. Those are two different things. Those are two different kinds of thing.

The first is active, the second is passive. The first is what a subject does, the second is what an object does.

I don’t want to play gotcha; that’s not my point. Greta’s cool. My point is that the resonances of these things just do differ, and we can’t wish that away by the power of thought, or even by the power of blogging. Maybe someday that will change, but it hasn’t yet. Desiring is not the same thing as being desirable.
Hotty clothes signal a desire for sexual attention and admiration. In some situations that’s just the ticket! But is it just the ticket in all situations? No – not if you want to be taken seriously – not if you want to be seen as a judge or a doctor or a secretary of state.

The idea is that we can do both (for a few years, that is, which is another can of worms); we can be both a judge and a hotty. Well that’s a male fantasy, that’s what that is. It pervades popular culture, and a lot of women seem to have bought into it, but it’s a fantasy. A judge who makes a point of displaying her tits is not doing both, she’s doing one at the expense of the other.

This kind of thing is why some feminists have reservations about the “Oh be joyful, let a thousand tits bloom” line. No it’s not the same thing as the Taliban. The Taliban doesn’t want women to have more real power and authority and credibility as opposed to the bogus kind attached to sexual display. We do.



Judges speak

Apr 30th, 2010 5:14 pm | By

Lord Justice Laws said

The precepts of any one religion – any belief system – cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other.

If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens, and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic.

The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments.

Beautiful. Compare the ruling in FREEDOM FROM RELIGION FOUNDATION v OBAMA:

However, religious expression by the government that is inspirational and comforting to a believer may seem exclusionary or even threatening to someone who does not share those beliefs. This is not simply a matter of being “too sensitive” or wanting to suppress the religious expression of others. Rather, as explained in a recent book by the Provost of Princeton University and the Dean of the University of Texas School of Law, it is a
consequence of the unique danger that religious conduct by the government poses for creating “in” groups and “out” groups:

Then quoting:

Religious affiliation typically implicates an expansive web-of-belief and conduct, and individuals often feel and are seen as “in” or “out” of such webs. In a variety of ways the perceived and actual stakes of being within or without these webs of belief and membership can be very high: being fulfilled and redeemed or eternally damned; being welcomed as a member of the community or shunned. Moreover, it is in the nature of religion that persons outside a given faith will on occasion fail to understand or appreciate matters internal to that faith, and so will be inappropriately indifferent, suspicious, or even repelled and hostile to beliefs and practices central to that faith. These are matters of sociological fact, and they justify distinct constitutional concern that governmental conduct will valorize some beliefs at the cost of disparaging others, and further, that in the course of such conduct, government will valorize some citizens at the cost of disparaging others.

Christopher L. Eisgruber and Lawrence G. Sager, Religious Freedom and the Constitution, 61-62.

The Supremes will throw it out, of course, but it’s a great ruling all the same.



Let me count the ways

Apr 30th, 2010 4:58 pm | By

I love the new place. (Take a bow, Josh and Cam.) I love the search engine. I was looking for something a few minutes ago, something to do with the Motoons and reactions in Denmark; I searched with “Motoons,” which produced a lot of items but not the right one, so I tried “Denmark” which brought it right up – along with a surprising array of other stuff just on the first page. I wouldn’t have guessed I mention Denmark that often! But I do – not always because of the Motoons. It just gave a nice sense of a rich resource…It’s a beautiful search engine.



Multitasking

Apr 30th, 2010 11:49 am | By

I didn’t say anything about “boobquake” because although I thought it was quite funny and a good riposte to ridiculous clerical misogyny, I also have reservations about women joining in with laddism – plus I hate the word “boobs.” They’re tits, dammit! Like the birds.

But Miranda Hale said anything and Jerry Coyne said anything, and then they got some rather strong reactions, so I thought I would say anything.

A commenter at Why Evolution is True made the point succinctly:

There’s a big difference between paying attention to what women are saying and paying attention to their breasts. If women want attention to be paid to what they have to say, they should stop trying to get it with their cleavage.

Exactly; not least because the cleavage distracts attention from the saying. Does this really have to be said? Doesn’t everybody know this? Isn’t that in fact the point?

I think of it as The Cuddy Effect. What do you think of when you see Cuddy? She’s so brilliant, she’s such a great doctor-administrator? I don’t think so. I don’t think you’re supposed to, and I don’t think you do.

In a perfect world we could have both – we could revel in everything all at the same time and nothing would distract from anything else. But we don’t live in that world. We can’t drive and text at the same time, and we can’t not be distracted by sexual signaling.

This fact disadvantages women a lot more than it does men. Women are always already seen (by men, and men do still set the rules – for how tv shows like House get made, for instance) as primarily for and about sex, whether yes or no (yes she’s a hotty, no she’s repulsive). We have to fight to be seen as for and about anything else. The more we play up tits and ass, the more we lose that fight.

This isn’t fair, obviously, but it’s true.



A deeply unedifying collision

Apr 30th, 2010 10:17 am | By

Carey turns purple in the face and insists that yes religious believers do too so have a right to treat people badly just because their religion says to.

The former archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey today accused judges of moving towards a new “secular state” that would downgrade the rights of religious believers. Attacking a “deeply worrying” court ruling, Carey claimed the judiciary was now tipping the legal balance against believers in “a deeply unedifying collision of human rights”.

The new secular state would downgrade the rights of religious believers to say no ew ick I won’t serve/marry/advise/cut the hair of gay people because I don’t want to because I think they’re gross and god thinks so too. Those rights. Those time-honored rights to hate certain kinds of people for random meaningless ick-based reasons, and in addition to hating them, treat them as a thing apart, and when times get tough, go the rest of the way and kill them.

Those are the rights that Carey is demanding that the state make extra-special room for. If he lived in another country, it would be child witches, or Tutsis, or Bosnians, or untouchables, or Armenians. It’s strange and terrible that he doesn’t have the brains to figure that out.

Carey reacted angrily to a judge who sharply criticised him for previously appealing for a court of hand-picked judges to determine religious rights cases. Carey had also warned of civil unrest over decisions he claimed could lead to Christians being barred from jobs.

Carey wants a theocracy, and he can’t have one. Tough.



“I consider God’s law and that of his prophet above any other law”

Apr 29th, 2010 11:41 am | By

Nigeria’s Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima assures us that he has done nothing wrong. What a relief.

Ahmad Sani Yerima, 49, told the BBC that his fourth wife was not 13, but would not say how old she was.

He denied breaking the law but said he would not respect any law that contradicted his religious beliefs.

Ah good; how noble, how pious, how devout, how holy. If any pesky law contradicts his “religious belief” that he is allowed to fuck a girl who is too young to give her life away and too small through the pelvis to bear a child safely, why then he will bravely and nobly ignore that law in favour of the “religious belief” that lets men of 49 fuck girls of 13.

The Nigerian senate ordered an investigation after complaints from women’s groups but the senator said he did not care what the groups thought.

Mr Sani was the governor of Zamfara state, where he oversaw the introduction of Sharia law – for the first time in a northern state – in 1999.

Well, that’s the kind of guy who doesn’t care what women’s groups think all right.

The senator said he had followed “standard rules for marriage in Islam”.

“I don’t care about the issue of age since I have not violated any rule as far as Islam is concerned,” he said.

“History tells us that Prophet Muhammad did marry a young girl as well. Therefore I have not contravened any law. Even if she is 13, as it is being falsely peddled around.

“If I state the age, they will still use it to smear Islam,” he said.

Thus revealing that the age is still much too low to be marrying a brutal callous goat of 49.

But, much more, also revealing that most of the point of all this “introduction of Sharia” crap is to strip women of rights and enable men to fuck more and younger women as well as getting rid of the older ones they don’t want to fuck any more. Also revealing that this selfish greedy moron thinks that the fact that Mohammed married a child makes it perfectly all right for him to marry a child and that his doing so is a way of standing up for Islam.

The women’s groups want Mr Sani to be taken to court, to face a fine and a jail sentence.

They say he has contravened the Child Rights Act of 2003 which, although not ratified by all Nigeria’s 36 states, is law in the capital where he lives and his marriage is believed to have taken place.

“As a Muslim, as I always say, I consider God’s law and that of his prophet above any other law,” Mr Sani said.

“I will not respect any law that contradicts that and whoever wants to sanction me for that is free to do that.”

That’s exactly why the very idea of “God’s law” is so dangerous.



Teasing the pope is much worse than raping children

Apr 29th, 2010 9:15 am | By

Omigod omigod omigod somebody insulted the Catholic church!! And even the pope!!! Omigod omigod.

The memorandum, apparently written by staff planning events for the four-day visit by Pope Benedict XVI, suggested he might like to start a helpline for abused children, sack “dodgy” bishops, open an abortion ward, launch his own brand of condoms, preside at a civil partnership, perform forward rolls with children, apologise for the Spanish armada and sing a song with the Queen.

But it’s all right, the somebody’s bosses apologized and apologized and apologized.

Jim Murphy, the cabinet minister overseeing the visit and a practising Catholic, failed to see the funny side of it, describing the memo as “absolutely despicable. It’s vile, it’s insulting, it’s an embarrassment”.

You bet! It’s just beyond words terrible and appalling and evil that some young whippersnappers suggested that the pope should do some decent reasonable generous things.

The ludicrous nature of some of the memo’s suggestions did not prevent some within the Catholic church demanding apologies for a disrespectful slur rather more urgently than senior Vatican officials have offered apologies over children abused in church care.

Quite so.



Scientism on stilts

Apr 28th, 2010 3:58 pm | By

Carlin Romano goes after the annoying scientistic arrogant smug Galileo-wannabe whatsits that get on everyone’s nerves so much.

A brave champion of beleaguered science in the modern age of pseudoscience, this Ayn Rand protagonist sarcastically derides the benighted irrationalists and glows with a self-anointed superiority. Who wouldn’t want to feel that sense of power and rightness?

You hear the voice regularly—along with far more sensible stuff—in the latest of a now common genre of science patriotism, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science From Bunk (University of Chicago Press), by

By…one of the new atheists it must be? This should be good. By?

by Massimo Pigliucci, a philosophy professor at the City University of New York.

Yes! Massimo, the scourge of the scientistic scientists! Being scourged for being so god damn scientistic. It’s the funniest thing I’ve read in weeks.

…it mixes eminent common sense and frequent good reporting with a cocksure hubris utterly inappropriate to the practice it apotheosizes…Pigliucci offers more hero sandwiches spiced with derision and certainty…Tone matters. And sarcasm is not science.

Does that remind you of anyone? No, I won’t rub it in – it’s too cruel.

The problem with polemicists like Pigliucci is that a chasm has opened up between two groups that might loosely be distinguished as “philosophers of science” and “science warriors.” Philosophers of science, often operating under the aegis of Thomas Kuhn, recognize that science is a diverse, social enterprise that has changed over time, developed different methodologies in different subsciences, and often advanced by taking putative pseudoscience seriously, as in debunking cold fusion. The science warriors, by contrast, often write as if our science of the moment is isomorphic with knowledge of an objective world-in-itself

They don’t, do they?! That’s so unsophisticated! If only they were philosophers, they wouldn’t do such silly things. But isn’t M – now now, none of that.

Pigliucci similarly derides religious explanations on logical grounds when he should be content with rejecting such explanations as unproven.

Okay – that’s all. It’s too funny; I don’t want to do myself an injury.



Paul Sims on the Harry Taylor question

Apr 28th, 2010 2:56 pm | By

I don’t disagree with Paul Sims on all points, but I do on some.

If Taylor had been convicted for publishing the images in a magazine, or on a website, where members of the public have the choice not to buy or visit, I would strongly oppose his conviction. But this isn’t what Taylor did – he placed the images in a room provided for the religious to quietly practise their faith, away from public space.

But why is a room provided in an airport for the religious to quietly practise their faith? Rooms aren’t provided for the religious to quietly practise their faith in supermarkets and bookshops and bus terminals and parks, so why in airports? And if such rooms are provided in airports, do they thereby become the equivalents of churches and mosques? If they are, then, again, what are they doing in airports? Why is part of a public space provided for the religious to quietly practise their faith at all? Why is part of a public space turned into a mini-mosque or church?

Either the “prayer room” isn’t really a quasi-church or mosque, in which case Harry Taylor was just expressing his views in public, or it is, in which case Harry Taylor was making what seems to me to be a valid objection to religious encroachment on public space.

But given the confrontational nature of the material, isn’t it entirely plausible that his aim was in fact to “harass, alarm or distress” religious believers by making them feel uncomfortable using a room provided precisely to allow them to feel comfortable practising their faith in a busy public building?

But there again – why are rooms being provided to allow people to feel comfortable practising their faith in a busy public building? Why is this seen as desirable or necessary? Why can’t people just “practice their faith” internally until they get home or to a mosque or church?

And it follows that the Chaplain was right to inform the police once she discovered that someone who clearly had no business in the prayer room was leaving this material in public view with a deliberateness that certainly warranted investigation.

But there again, again – how can you have a room in a public facility where someone “has no business”? – apart from obvious exceptions like rest rooms and nursing rooms. And what are airports doing having “chaplains”? And if religious believers get to have chaplains, can we have the atheist or secular equivalent to speak for us and protect our delicate feelings and keep people out of our room?

Having said all that – I don’t entirely disagree that what Taylor did was obnoxious. On the other hand, I don’t think being obnoxious should be illegal, much less subject to the ferocious punishment he got.