Notes and Comment Blog

We’ll Run Out of Straw, at This Rate

Apr 5th, 2005 8:44 pm | By

A little wisdom from Foucault. ‘Truth and Power.’

Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it includes regular effects of power…’Truth’ is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements. ‘Truth’ is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it.

That’s a pretty glaring bit of rhetorical sleight of hand. It’s fairly obvious that he’s talking about truth-claims, not truth itself. There’s a big (and important) difference! Obviously truth-claims can be (and often are) power-moves. The same is not in the least obvious in the case of truth itself; in fact it’s not, not to put too fine a point on it, true. Obviously Foucault, not being a fool, must have been well aware of that…but, who knows, maybe he was more intent on persuasion than on scrupulous argument. In fact maybe he was simply acting out his own point – his own truth-claim. An ‘argument’ or rhetorical claim that relies on a brazen equivocation like that is certainly one form of constraint – and a particularly obnoxious one because not explicit, not obvious, not avowed, not out in the open where it can be resisted or at least noted. It takes one to know one, as the saying goes.

Richard Wolin quotes from ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’ on page 42 of his The Seduction of Unreason:

The historical analysis of this rancorous will to knowledge reveals that all knowledge rests upon injustice; that there is no right, not even in the act of knowing, to truth or a foundation for truth; and that the instinct for knowledge is malicious (something murderous, opposed to the happiness of mankind.)

That is, as Wolin points out, an astonishing thing to say.

And then there’s Philip Blond. I’ve transcribed a little of the Night Waves discussion, so I’ll quote you a bit. I’ve also googled Philip Blond (and been slightly staggered to find my own mention of him here as the fourth item – now I suppose this mention will be in there too, which makes me feel dizzy). I found this bizarre-looking book on ‘post-secular’ philosophy, listing the most predictable possible trendy names – you can say them in your sleep: Kierkegaard Nietzsche Heidegger Levinas Marion Wittgenstein Derrida Freud Lacan Kristeva Irigary Baudrillard, along with three wrinkly non-trendies. All those dragooned into Blond’s ridiculous project.

I say ridiculous because the things he says on Night Waves are truly ridiculous – the strawest of straw men. Get this:

Philip Dodd: Maybe it’s time to call science’s bluff…[to Blond] Do you think science is overly revered at present?

Philip Blond: I think almost undoubtedly yes. I mean of course in some limited or partial sense science is true, but it by no means is the exclusive or sole model of what truth is. Indeed I would argue that something other than science has to be true if science itself is to be true. Science is wrong in our culture or has become unhinged it seems to me in two ways. First of all in contemporary culture science has converted its harmonic with truth into an absolutism, into a kind of quasi-fundamentalism. Such that it claims to be the sole exhaustive universal model of truth. Secondly, in doing so, it has drained all other accounts, all broader or richer accounts of truth of any value. The absolutization of science has resulted in the relativisation of morality, ethics, aesthetics, anything else you’d care to name.

See what I mean? As if scientists said they were the exclusive or sole model of what truth is, or the sole exhaustive universal model of truth! Sheer silly strawmanism, that’s all that is. And yet Mr Strawman got to do most of the talking, and got to interrupt everyone all the time (I think because he was the first one asked to speak he got the idea that he was sort of in charge of the discussion, so felt entitled and perhaps even expected to control and dominate it. Or maybe he just has an inflated idea of his own importance).

A peculiar confluence, isn’t it, a theologian and Nietzsche and Foucault. But that’s postmodernism for you. Playful.

Gertrude, Gertrude, What is the Answer?

Apr 3rd, 2005 7:44 pm | By

A bit more on this ‘science can’t answer the why questions’ trope. Because it’s a surprisingly enduring and frequently-heard one, and yet it’s completely worthless. If it’s so worthless, why is it so enduring and so often repeated? Because not enough people say often enough how worthless it is? That must be it. Okay so let’s all start saying that more often, and maybe with our combined weight we can beat it to death.

What the silly phrase means is that science doesn’t permit itself to make up answers to why questions, whereas religion and ‘theology’ do. The idea that that makes religion and theology superior rather than grossly inferior is ludicrous.

You could play that game in all sorts of ways (which means: behold, a reductio ad absurdum approaches). Ask a friend: ‘How many grains of sand are on this beach?’ ‘Don’t know.’ Shake head sadly – assert random number. ‘I can answer and you can’t.’ Repeat procedure. ‘How many leaves on that tree? What was the name of Shakespeare’s pet iguana? What did Napoleon eat for lunch on March 20 1784? What is the meaning of life?’ Rational people say they don’t know; you invent an answer; which party has a problem? Which party ‘can’ ‘answer’ the question?

And then, the answer that religion and ‘theology’ give is not an answer anyway, because the question is just as askable as it ever was. ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ ‘Because God.’ ‘Why is there God?’ ‘____’

Night Waves

Apr 2nd, 2005 5:16 am | By

Well it’s a good thing I listen to Night Waves occasionally, or I never would have known about this – which makes me think I really ought to shout at I mean remonstrate with Julian for not telling me, because I can hardly imagine anything more directly up B&W’s street. Well I ask you – two of the four panelists have contributed to B&W, and one of those two contributes on a regular basis, often, every two weeks, or thereabouts. So listen to it – it’s as interesting as it sounds.

The only trouble is, Nighwaves makes the usual tedious stupid mistake and has a theologian join in, and he does way too much of the talking, and says fatuous things (as theologians do). Really, it is irritating. He says a lot of things that aren’t true, for one thing – the usual guff about science thinking it knows everything and scientists thinking they should run everythng blah blah blah. It’s all crap; scientists don’t think that. Straw man stuff, and a waste of time, when they could have had more of the interesting stuff from Norman Levitt and Julian and A S Byatt. (Julian got a dig in, when he said ethics panels are not run by scientists but by other people, philosophers, a lot of them – and also theologians, for no particularly good reason. Yeah, thought I.) They are such a waste of time and attention, and yet they keep being asked. It is annoying. He did the ‘why’ thing, too, of course – you know – ‘science can’t answer the why questions.’ Oh right and you can?! How do you answer them, you blathering git? By making it up, that’s how! Why does that count?! Your answer is completely worthless, it’s just what you want to believe, and we’re supposed to think that makes theology better able to answer than science is because science just says it doesn’t know and the question is probably not answerable? Making up a weak silly wish-fulfilling answer is not better than saying ‘Dunno’! It’s not! God I hate theologians.

But apart from Philip Blond it’s very good indeed. Check it out.

More From the R-Man

Apr 1st, 2005 9:02 pm | By

A little more Rorty, for your amusement, and for the irritation of people who are irritated by my take on Rorty.

Pragmatism, by contrast, does not erect Science as an idol to fill the place once held by God. It views science as one genre of literature – or, put the other way around, literature and the arts as inquiries, on the same footing as scientific inquiries…Some of these inquiries come up with propositions, some with narratives, some with paintings. The question of what propositions to assert, which pictures to look at, what narratives to listen to…are all questions about what will help us get what we want (or about what we should want.

That’s from Consequences of Pragmatism page xliii. Now a comment from Thomas Nagel, Other Minds page 9.

lately some purveyors of philosophy-made-easy have become world famous…Analytic philosophy has escaped almost completely the facile relativism that seems to be so influential elsewhere in the humanities, originally stirred up by Derrida and now defended by references to Richard Rorty, Paul Feyerabend, and Thomas Kuhn. Philosophy seems to export its worst products…When debased philosophy is very influential elsewhere, the only way to combat it actively is to enter the arena and compete for popular conviction…While I admire those, like Dworkin and Searle, who have the stomach and the talent for this sort of polemic, I have lost what appetite I ever had for it, and hope instead that the current wayve of confusion will subside if we just ignore it.

No doubt Nagel is ignorant of his rudiments of intellectual history, or he wouldn’t be so harsh…[That’s a joke! No, wait, I mean that’s irony. No, sarcasm – no, zany madcap humour – no – ]

Tell Them, Gov

Apr 1st, 2005 7:52 pm | By

Well done, governor of Illinois. Step up, other 49 governors.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich filed an emergency rule Friday requiring pharmacies that sell contraceptives to fill prescriptions for birth control quickly, following recent incidents in which a Chicago pharmacist refused to fill orders for contraceptives because of moral opposition. “Our regulation says that if a woman goes to a pharmacy with a prescription for birth control, the pharmacy is not allowed to discriminate who they sell it to and who they don’t,” Blagojevich said in a news release. “The pharmacy will be expected to accept that prescription and fill it … No delays. No hassles. No lecture. Just fill the prescription.”

Well said. A little bluntness is welcome and necessary in this nonsensical situation. A situation in which people say things like this:

Supporters of pharmacists’ rights see the trend as a welcome expression of personal belief.

Pharmacists’ rights? Pharmacists’ ‘rights’ to refuse to do the job of a pharmacist? What ‘right’ is that? They have the right to quit, obviously, but they don’t have a ‘right’ to refuse to do their job – not and keep the job they don’t. You might as well say a restaurant chef has a right to refuse to cook pasta because it looks like worms, or a plumber has a right to refuse to insert the male pipe into the female pipe because it looks like fornication, or a bus driver has a right to refuse to let passengers get on the bus because they will only be wanting to get off again.

Pharmacists often risk dismissal to stand up for their beliefs, while shaken teenage girls and women desperately call their doctors, frequently late at night, after being turned away by pharmacists. “There are pharmacists who will only give birth control pills to a woman if she’s married. There are pharmacists who mistakenly believe contraception is a form of abortion and refuse to prescribe it to anyone,” said Adam Sonfield, of the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York, which tracks reproductive issues…Supporters of pharmacists’ rights see the trend as a welcome expression of personal belief. Women’s groups see it as a major threat to reproductive rights and one of the latest manifestations of the religious right’s growing political reach – this time into the neighbourhood pharmacy.
“This is another indication of the current political atmosphere and climate,” said Rachel Laser of the National Women’s Law Centre. “It’s outrageous. It’s sex discrimination. It prevents access to a basic form of health care for women.”

That’s what it looks like to me. The religious right is a classic case of taking a mile after the donation of an inch. The more they are offered nervous apologetic anxious soothing ‘respect’ for their ‘beliefs,’ the more respect they demand, and the more they throw their horrible mindless coercive weight around. It’s imperative to say No. No, no, no. Your beliefs are not worthy of respect; people were pretending all this time, in order not to hurt your feelings, but the fact it it’s all nonsense, and no basis on which to tell other people what to do. Go away, shut up, have some humility. Keep your god to yourself.

Theocracy in America

Apr 1st, 2005 3:22 am | By

It’s all quite alarming, as Paul Krugman points out.

Democratic societies have a hard time dealing with extremists in their midst. The desire to show respect for other people’s beliefs all too easily turns into denial: nobody wants to talk about the threat posed by those whose beliefs include contempt for democracy itself.

Doesn’t it just. Which is one reason I keep nagging so relentlessly at this ‘desire to show respect for other people’s beliefs’ – asking why we have it for some kinds of beliefs and not others, and why we have it at all, and the like. I mean, seriously – one reason I don’t have desire to show respect for other people’s beliefs is because people who make a fetish of their beliefs are far more coercive and intolerant and intrusive than people who have the humility and vestige of rationality to realize that mere beliefs are just that, and don’t entitle them to shove them onto other people, or try to tell other people what to do because of them. I think it’s way past time we started telling people ‘if you want to believe in supernatural entities, okay, but you have to recognize that that’s your choice and that you can’t expect anyone else to agree with you – because that’s how it is with supernatural entities: you have no way of giving us any evidence that they exist. So keep your beliefs to yourself.’

One thing that’s going on is a climate of fear for those who try to enforce laws that religious extremists oppose. Randall Terry, a spokesman for Terri Schiavo’s parents, hasn’t killed anyone, but one of his former close associates in the anti-abortion movement is serving time for murdering a doctor. George Greer, the judge in the Schiavo case, needs armed bodyguards. Another thing that’s going on is the rise of politicians willing to violate the spirit of the law, if not yet the letter, to cater to the religious right. Everyone knows about the attempt to circumvent the courts through “Terri’s law.” But there has been little national exposure for a Miami Herald report that Jeb Bush sent state law enforcement agents to seize Terri Schiavo from the hospice – a plan called off when local police said they would enforce the judge’s order that she remain there.

Jeb Bush used his office to try to break the law. (Gee, why does that have a familiar ring to it…)

Yesterday The Washington Post reported on the growing number of pharmacists who, on religious grounds, refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or morning-after pills. These pharmacists talk of personal belief; but the effect is to undermine laws that make these drugs available.

Welcome to God’s country. Really – it’s way, way past time to stop respecting people’s beliefs and start pushing back.

This Again

Apr 1st, 2005 3:15 am | By

Just in case you’re interested. Yet another argument about the French hijab ban at Crooked Timber, in which CT frames the issue as if all Muslims and people from majority-Muslim countries were opposed to the ban and only honky imperialists and totalitarian secularists were in favour of it. I shouldn’t be rude; the intentions are good; but there always is so much left out of this discussion, it gets up my nose. Never so much as a mention of Ni Putes ni Soumises, or the fact that a majority of Muslim women polled in France favour the ban – which you would think would be relevant to a discussion that’s premised on the idea that the ban is humiliating because it singles out a religion or ethnic group.

As always, though, there are some French commenters chiming in and setting CT straight, or at least trying to. Yabonn, who has tried before, and François. There was a memorable version of this discussion about a year ago when Rana, who unlike any of the anti-ban commenters had actually been made to wear the damn hijab as a child, told people what a joy that was. But did they listen to her? Not that I noticed. They just…don’t. One-eared.

Strange but True Excuse Me I Mean ‘True’

Apr 1st, 2005 2:57 am | By

I mentioned Rorty. Well I’ve been reading him lately. I knew he had a habit of saying strange things – but he says even stranger things than I realized he had a habit of saying. That is, he says some things that are so strange I find myself surprised that he says them. Taken aback, disconcerted, astonished, amazed. Maybe that’s why he says them – so that people will have such reactions. That is one reward of saying things, of course. I know people who tell absurd lies for that very purpose – the fun of causing their interlocutors to splutter and wheeze and argue. Maybe that’s what Rorty is doing. He only does it to annoy, because he knows it teases.

Probably not though. At least not entirely. But then – oh well, you have a look.

Pragmatists would like to replace the desire for objectivity – the desire to be in touch with a reality which is more than some community with which we identify ourselves – with the desire for solidarity with that community.

No…I don’t think he is joking. I think he’s a disaster.

My rejection of traditional notions of rationality can be summed up by saying that the only sense in which science is exemplary is that it is a model of human solidarity.

Both of those from Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, page 39.

The tradition in Western culture which centers around the notion of the search for Truth…is the clearest example of the attempt to find a sense in one’s existence by turning away from solidarity to objectivity. The idea of Truth as something to be pursued for its own sake, not because it will be good for oneself, or for one’s real or imaginary community, is the central theme of this tradition.

Ibid, page 21. The first two from ‘Science as Solidarity,’ the third from ‘Solidarity or objectivity?’ In the third, it’s clear in context that that tradition is a bad one that we gotta get rid of.

Susan Haack points out (Manifesto of Passionate Moderate p. 67 n. 29) ‘that Rorty doesn’t always sound this radical; just very often.’

He’s painful to read. I’ve probably had three or four transient ischemic attacks just today.

Flying North

Mar 30th, 2005 8:35 pm | By

It’s one of those peculiarly gorgeous days here, when it’s difficult to stay at the desk tap-tapping. You know the kind of thing. After several days of rain, an interval, of scrubbed translucent dazzling blue sky and white clouds. So I gave up the struggle and went out for a walk along The Wall overlooking the water, islands, mountains, all that. And got a bonus. I was half-aware (my mind was elsewhere – probably musing on Richard Rorty) of hearing bird calls overhead, but I paid no heed – but then I noticed a couple of people ahead of me gazing upwards, so I looked, in plenty of time to see two large Vs of snow geese flying north. The two Vs scattered, regrouped, reformed into one V while I watched, and off they all went – maybe a hundred or so – towards the Skagit for a rest stop, then towards Canada and the Arctic. Man, it was beautiful.

Panda’s Thumb Round-up

Mar 29th, 2005 12:00 am | By

[Mopping streaming eyes] This is very amusing. Over at Panda’s Thumb.

Prof. Steve Steve holds the B. Amboo Chair in Creatoinformatics at the University of Ediacara. He has been nominated five times (only twice by himself) for the Nobel Prize and has received six Barnes and Noble gift certificates.

Read the whole thing. Admire Steve’s picture, too. And there’s the one on Scientific American’s surrender to the creationists. About time – elitist bastards!

Oh just read the whole site – there’s one good item after another. What do they think, that I’ve got all day to read their posts?!

And there is the NY Times article on the Imax theatres rejecting evolooshun movies.

People who follow trends at commercial and institutional Imax theaters say that in recent years, religious controversy has adversely affected the distribution of a number of films, including “Cosmic Voyage,” which depicts the universe in dimensions running from the scale of subatomic particles to clusters of galaxies; “Galápagos,” about the islands where Darwin theorized about evolution; and “Volcanoes of the Deep Sea,” an underwater epic about the bizarre creatures that flourish in the hot, sulfurous emanations from vents in the ocean floor…Hyman Field, who as a science foundation official had a role in the financing of “Volcanoes,” said he understood that theaters must be responsive to their audiences. But Dr. Field he said he was “furious” that a science museum would decide not to show a scientifically accurate documentary like “Volcanoes” because it mentioned evolution.

The Times article apparently prompted other articles, which prompted protests, which prompted the Dallas/Ft Worth science museum to reverse its decision – so that was a useful Times article. Good. The Times irritates me often, for instance by patting itself on the back all the time, but that was useful. Props, and all that.

Sham Inquiry

Mar 28th, 2005 8:37 pm | By

A bit from an essay of Susan Haack’s in Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate, page 8.

And to inquire is to try to discover the truth of some question. But pseudo-inquiry is a phenomenon no less common than pseudo-belief…Peirce identifies one kind of pseudo-inquiry when he writes of ‘sham reasoning’ [Collected Papers, I. 57-58]: making a case for the truth of some proposition your commitment to which is already evidence- and argument-proof.

Yes. A neat summing-up. Also a neat expression of the basic, the as it were foundational principle of B&W – which could be called identification of and opposition to sham inquiry.

Also a neat, succint description of how Margaret Mead went wrong. I’ve just been re-reading Derek Freeman’s book on the subject, as well as a brilliant long article on Franz Boas in The New Yorker last year (not online, unfortunately) by Claudia Roth Pierpont. It’s an interesting and somewhat conflict-inducing subject – because Boas was so right, from a moral and political view; he was so admirable, and often so isolated. And yet. From an epistemic point of view, he did get things backward. And yet – what else can one do in a situation like that? When racist ‘eugenic’ ideas are sweeping the intellectual landscape and you’re convinced they’re both harmful and false, what can you do but look for evidence to back up your conviction? And yet – if you do that, you are getting things the wrong way around, and you are very likely – you may indeed be consciously determined – to ignore any evidence you don’t want. Politically, it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do (and I’m sure I do it all the time); in terms of inquiry, it’s just not the way to go.

Haack goes on,

He has in mind philosophers who devise elaborate metaphysical underpinnings for theological propositions which no evidence or argument would induce them to give up. I think of Philip Gosse’s tortured efforts to reconcile the evidence Darwin adduced in favour of the theory of evolution with the literal truth of the book of Geneisis – and of the advocacy ‘research’ and politically motivated ‘scholarship’ of our own times. The characteristic feature of sham inquiry is the ‘inquirer’s’ prior and unbudgeable commitment to the proposition for which he tries to make a case.

Something to watch out for.

My Ancestor Was Not an Underwater Vent!

Mar 28th, 2005 3:49 am | By

It’s good to have idiots deciding what people get to see at the science museum, isn’t it. Well, that’s the market for you.

Some IMAX theaters are refusing to carry movies that promote evolution, citing concerns that doing so offends their audience and creates controversy – a move that has some proponents of Darwinism alarmed over the influence of “fundamentalists.”…A dozen science centers rejected the 2003 release, “Volcanoes,” because of it speculation that life on Earth may have originated in undersea vents, says Dr. Richard Lusk, an oceanographer and chief scientist for the project. Because a only small number of IMAX theaters show science films, a boycott by a few can reduce the potential audience to the point that producers question whether projects are financially worthwhile…

And that’s that. Whereas it probably doesn’t work the other way. A few intellectually curious people who want to see more movies with speculations about the origins of life on earth probably don’t inspire producers to make such movies. So the easily offended get to decide.

When the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History played the movie for a test audience, the responses were sufficiently negative for the museum to drop it from its offerings. Responses like “I really hate it when the theory of evolution is presented as fact,” or “I don’t agree with their presentation of human existence” doomed the film’s chances. “Some people said it was blasphemous,” says Carol Murray, the museum’s director of marketing.

And if some people say it was blasphemous, well, away with it then.

The film’s distributor says other science museum officials turned him down “for religious reasons” and because “Volcanoes” had “evolutionary overtones” – a claim that makes Hyman Field, a former National Science Foundation official who played a role in its financing, “furious. It’s very alarming,” he says, “all of this pressure being put on a lot of the public institutions by the fundamentalists.”



Mar 25th, 2005 7:46 pm | By

Wow. Cool. Look – Huxley.

Let us understand, once for all, that the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it. It may seem an audacious proposal thus to pit the microcosm against the macrocosm and to set man to subdue nature to his higher ends; but I venture to think that the great intellectual difference between the ancient times with which we have been occupied and our day, lies in the solid foundation we have acquired for the hope that such an enterprise may meet with a certain measure of success.

The things one can find on the Internet. (Is it, or is it not, God’s will? If it is, why didn’t he give Voltaire and Hazlitt and Seneca and Protagoras the pleasure? Witholding bastard.)


Mar 25th, 2005 4:56 pm | By

Excellent. Hazlitt again. Say what you will about the Guardian – they do have a good books section, and they do keep having articles on Hazlitt. More than you can say for the New York Times!

I’ve said it before so why not say it again (especially since the article is saying much the same thing). Hazlitt is the most inexplicable case of undeserved literary obscurity that I know of in the case of an Anglophone author. Absolutely the top one. To be sure, there are Elizabethans and 17th century people who are well worth reading, who don’t get read all that much any more – Sidney, Nashe, Browne, Burton. But the barriers to reading them are easily understandable. But Hazlitt? Hazlitt?? Hazlitt is so readable it’s absurd, and the genre he writes in, unlike the genres that Nashe, Browne and Burton wrote in, is still very much current. He wrote essays and reviews. Big leap, huh? Nobody reads essays and reviews any more!

So why is Hazlitt so damn gone? Why was I made to read Lamb essays in school while I never so much as heard of Hazlitt? Why, why, why? I have no idea. I mean I really don’t – I don’t have a lurking suspicion of something or other; I have no clue; it makes no sense.

Because here’s the thing. He’s a brilliant stylist. Brilliant. Not just pretty good, not just very good; brilliant. One of the very, very best. He makes Orwell look lame. And nobody reads him. It’s tragic! And in case being a brilliant stylist is not enough, he’s no slouch as a thinker. And he’s politically interesting, and he’s good on literature, and he has an interesting mind and personality and take on things. There’s just no downside to reading Hazlitt. But no one does.

A reasonably well-educated friend noticed this book peeping out of my pocket one morning and remarked that it was rather heavy reading for such a time of day, or indeed for any time. I do wish people would stop doing this. Because Hazlitt died 170-odd years ago and is not as famous as Wordsworth or Coleridge, they assume that he cannot be an easy read, or even less of an easy read than W&C, or that to read him is more of a duty than a pleasure.
If you want a depressing lesson in contemporary cultural memory, go to any average-sized branch of a chain bookstore and ask for anything by Hazlitt. You will notice that it will take the person at the counter four or five goes to get the spelling right…

Terrible. Hazlitt rules. Down with archbishops and up with Hazlitt. Happy Easter.

The Archies

Mar 25th, 2005 4:23 pm | By

Right. Let’s get down to it. With some help from Polly Toynbee.

But here the usefulness of faith ends, for it is mainly the power of the religious lobby that forces people to die in pain and indignity due to beliefs on the nature of life and death shared by very few. For 20 years now, every poll on the subject shows that 80% of people want the right to be helped to die at a time and in a way of their own choosing. But that kind of “choice” is not on the agenda.

And furthermore, even if the beliefs were shared by very many, even if they were indeed universal, they would still be both wrong (in the sense of inaccurate) and disgusting. (Which is the same problem that always comes up in discussions of for instance ‘honour’ killing and the like. I heard an example on the BBC World Service the other day, talking about the murder of Hatin Surucu in Berlin recently: the reporter said that clerics are telling the people in their mosques that ‘honour’ killing is not in the Koran. Well, clearly that’s one useful precaution under the circumstances, but the fact remains that even if it were in the Koran it would still be disgusting, contemptible, reprehensible. That the question to ask about a social practice that does obvious, radical, extreme harm to some people is not ‘Is it condoned or recommended or mandated in the Holy Book?’ but ‘Is it a good or acceptable or justifiable practice? Is it a cruel savage domineering controlling practice with no shred of justification?’) They would no doubt be much, much harder to get rid of; indeed they would probably be impossible to get rid of, if they were universal; but they would still be bad and wrong.

What kills you in the end if you have cancer or other terminal diseases? Not often the cancer itself. Nor the morphine that people innocently imagine will one day waft them away on a cloudy pillow of dreams to some opium-fuelled nirvana. What people actually die of, like Terri Schiavo, is dehydration when they can no longer swallow enough water to live – and it takes time. Enough morphine to die quickly is very rarely administered these days. Instead, cautious doctors, extra wary after Harold Shipman, give just enough morphine to kill people by degrees. It is enough, in the very end, to render them unable to drink so they die, semi-conscious, of thirst. Hospices don’t put up drips to keep people alive, but they don’t give out death-dealing injections either. The legal compromise is death by dehydration or sometimes slowly and gasping for breath by morphine-induced chest infection – “old man’s friend”. That is the great unspoken truth.

There. That’s nice, isn’t it. Something to look forward to. Read it all. Read about morphine-induced constipation and hallucinations.

Good though palliative care can be – my mother had the NHS at its very best – its own practitioners admit they often watch people die in great mental and physical anguish. People clutch at doctors’ sleeves, begging for an injection: “Can’t you do something?” How easy it is to slip into death-like unconsciousness under an anaesthetic, gone into oblivion before you can count to five. That little death in the operating anteroom is a paradigm for how the good death could be for those who want it.

Let’s hope the law is changed in the UK. And here – though it obviously won’t be any time soon, with these unspeakable bastards imposing their ‘culture of life’ on the rest of us even though we don’t want it. Because of their sick pathetic delusional beliefs.

As the Pope rasps out his last breaths, his bishops are using his final suffering as a testament to the religious requirement to endure whatever quality of life God sends. Both C of E and Catholic archbishops here will fight any attempt to change the law. Politicians have taken their cue from the churches.

The religious requirement to endure whatever quality of life God sends – what complete raving nonsense! If there is a requirement to ‘endure’ then doctors and medicine are illegitimate, right? Or, if the requirement to ‘endure’ somehow means the requirement to endure both illness and what medicine and doctors are able to do about it, then why does it rule out medical decisions that it’s time to put out the light? Because religion is a diseased imposition on human life, that’s why. What requirement? What kind of God is this that wants people to suffer as much as possible at the end of their lives? What is the matter with archbishops that they believe this kind of crap and impose it on everyone else? Serial killers and torturers go to prison (and in the US are executed) for causing that kind of suffering, but archbishops are respected for it.

Do archbishops live outside? Do they shiver in the cold and get wet in the rain? Do they blunder about in the dark, bumping into things? Do they eat all their food raw? Do they abjure clothes, books, transportation, medicine? If they have a headache do they not take aspirin? If you prick them do they not apply a band-aid? What is this hypocritical incoherent inconsistent sadistic mindless drivel about ‘what God sends’?

Go, archbishops, and sin no more.


Mar 24th, 2005 4:09 am | By

Oh, Florida, Florida, Florida. What is your problem.

I mean for one thing there’s this winner.

Republicans on the House Choice and Innovation Committee voted along party lines Tuesday to pass a bill that aims to stamp out “leftist totalitarianism” by “dictator professors” in the classrooms of Florida’s universities…According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, the law would give students who think their beliefs are not being respected legal standing to sue professors and universities.
Students who believe their professor is singling them out for “public ridicule” – for instance, when professors use the Socratic method to force students to explain their theories in class – would also be given the right to sue.

Is that a clever idea? I mean…what if students believe ‘God’ made the earth a few years before their parents were born? What if they believe 11 plus 2 equals 957,853? What if they believe Napoleon invented the automobile and Hitler was a Notre Dame football star?

What do students go to university for at all, if it’s not to have their beliefs not respected? They go there to find out that some of the things they believe are wrong. Dang – they even go there to find out that beliefs aren’t about ‘respect’. Well, except in Florida, maybe. (And, if Horowitz has his way, in Ohio and a few other states and pretty soon all fifty and I have to go pack my trunk now.)

And then there’s the Jebster.

Mr Bush’s brother, Jeb, meanwhile, has suggested doctors might have misdiagnosed Mrs Schiavo’s condition, which he says might be one of minimal consciousness rather than vegetative.
According to the Associated Press news agency, the governor and the state’s social services agency say they have filed a petition with a Pinellas County trial court seeking to take custody of Mrs Schiavo.

Mr Bush’s brother suggested that based on what, exactly? His own medical knowledge and familiarity with the case and personal examination of the patient? Intuition? Something he saw on tv? A fairy whispering in his ear? Hmm. I wonder if I can do that. [closes eyes, thinks hard] Okay, let’s see. There’s a car in the shop in Wichita, Kansas, that the mechanics have said has transmission problems, but I, sitting at my desk here in Seattle, suggest that the mechanics might have misdiagnosed that car’s condition, and actually what it has is ugly upholstery. I mean, my opinion is as good as theirs, right? It’s disrespecting my beliefs to say it’s not. It’s hell’s own arrogant for those stupid doctors to think they know more about Terri Schiavo’s condition than Jeb Bush does, just because they’ve examined her and he hasn’t and they know how a brain works and he, to put it mildly, doesn’t.

Well, great. What the hell. Let’s let legislators decide what college teachers should teach, and let’s let governors decide when doctors have made boo-boos. Peachy. Three cheers for minimal government. Not only micromanaging hospital care and university teaching, but also claiming universal competence. Brilliant.

Whatever. Maybe when Jeb gets custody of Schiavo he’ll have his parents move in so they can babysit for her and give him some time off. That would be sweet. Family values kind of thing.

Winner Take All

Mar 23rd, 2005 11:29 pm | By

This is a dispiriting read. They win. Bullying wins, death threats win, force wins, violence wins, pushing people around and beating them up and killing them wins. Interesting situation, isn’t it. People who have some capacity for moral reflection and awareness make some effort not to oppress and dominate and bully other people; people who don’t, don’t; so the people with some capacity lose to the people who have none. Familiar paradox. People who don’t give a rat’s ass about the freedom and rights of anyone but themselves are, of course, at a similar sort of advantage over people who do. People who think, like Callicles in the Gorgias, that people who can win because they’re stronger should go right ahead and do just that, often get their way. (Would he have thought so if he’d been small and puny and weak and sickly? Probably not. Hence the use of the Veil of Ignorance. But of course the Callicleses of the world don’t mess around with any old veils of ignorance, because they’re not small and puny and weak and sickly, so why should they.)

The decision by Wilders and Hirsi Ali to reveal their secret lives, one in a jail cell, the other on a naval base, has raised a question that is troubling many Dutch: is it acceptable for legislators in a Western democracy to be forced to go into hiding, to live like fugitives on the run in their own land?
Abram de Swaan, a prominent sociologist, said: “Of course this is an outrage. It’s not bearable. The government must come up with better solutions, like putting them in protected homes. That’s the way it happens in other countries.” The NRC Handelsblad, a leading daily newspaper, ran an editorial recently headlined “Unacceptable”. A situation in which legislators are “hampered in carrying out their tasks puts democracy in question and makes terror successful…”

Is it acceptable? That’s an easy question to answer. No, it’s not.

It was Hirsi Ali, though, who first decided to go public with her own and Wilders’ hiding places, out of frustration at the government’s seeming foot-dragging over finding appropriate housing. Her own proposals were regularly rejected as unsafe, she said.
Her bodyguards, she said, have deposited her on many weeknights on a naval base in Amsterdam, or hustled her off to sleep in different hotels. “They are keeping me alive, but I cannot concentrate on my work,” she said. “I need a place where I have my desk, my books, my papers, a home where I can meet with people.”…Hirsi Ali concedes she is struggling with the question of how long she can continue in politics, denouncing what she regards as the excesses of Islam. In the past she has shown she is not easily cowed, but she said a deep fatigue was setting in. “I am willing to sacrifice a great deal, but I don’t know if I can live like this for a lot longer.” She put her inexorable quandary this way, “The real problem is, I cannot stop because that will only serve and stimulate the terrorists.”

I find that dispiriting because I can imagine it so well – I can imagine going stark raving mad being forced to live in hotel rooms or on a naval base all the time, away from my desk, books, papers, own living space. Hirsi Ali is tired of it. She doesn’t want to live that way. And why the hell should she? How could she? So they’ve already won – even if she does persist. They’ve won by spoiling her life and making her work impossible. The mindless sexist bullying thugs who can’t stand to see women who are not under the thumb of a man, get to win. It makes me crazy.

Feudal Care

Mar 23rd, 2005 3:04 am | By

And another thing.

By now most people who read liberal blogs are aware that George W. Bush signed a law in Texas that expressly gave hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient could not pay and there was no hope of revival, regardless of the patient’s family’s wishes. It is called the Texas Futile Care Law. Under this law, a baby was removed from life support against his mother’s wishes in Texas just this week. A 68 year old man was given a temporary reprieve by the Texas courts just yesterday.

I didn’t know that until I read it on a blog. It doesn’t surprise me – of course Bush would sign a law like that. What else would he do, support ‘socialized medicine’? That would take away the whole point of being rich, talentless, lazy, and well-connected. It doesn’t surprise me, but it does disgust me that little bit more. All that sanctimony – that crap about the presumption in favour of life. What did he do, whisper so softly that the mikes didn’t pick it up ‘if you have the money, that is‘? Mark Kleiman has more.

Consistency? Don’t Be Silly

Mar 22nd, 2005 8:47 pm | By

I know. Why’s she so quiet all of a sudden? you’ve been thinking. What’s the deal? Did something very heavy sit on her or what? Has she gone prancing off on a trip again? Is she at the mall shopping for new spring outfits? Getting her hair done? Training for a marathon? In prison? What?

Since it’s not as if I fall silent in the normal course of things, is it. No. No, it’s none of those, just a death struggle with my computer. So I finally shot it (I had to) and got a new one. Which means I have to go from three meals of cat food a day to two, for the rest of my life – either that or get an actual paying job, and we wouldn’t want me to do that, now would we.

So I’m not going to say a lot about it, because I gather the right-wing talking heads have pretty much talked themselves into puddles of exhausted steam doing so. But I do want to say just one thing. It’s this business of ‘only God can decide.’

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, on Monday condemned the withdrawal of the feeding tube, saying only God can decide whether a person should live or die. “Who can judge the dignity and sacredness of the life of a human being, made in the image and likeness of God? Who can decide to pull the plug as if we were talking about a broken or out-of-order household appliance?” the paper said in a commentary. A year ago, Pope John Paul II said that feeding and hydrating a patient in a persistive vegetative state was “morally obligatory” and called withdrawal of feeding tubes “euthanasia by omission.”

Thus illustrating yet again why one doesn’t turn to god-botherers for clarity of thought. I mean…if only ‘God’ can decide whether a person should live or die, then Terri Schiavo died fifteen years ago, remember? As did a great, great many of the rest of us and our parents and grandparents and so on. If only God can decide then we’re not supposed to do anything, right? Somebody has a fever, an infected cut, TB, cholera, tetanus, whatever – we’re supposed to just let God do what it will. Or else we’re not – but then the Vatican doesn’t get to pick arbitrary points where we’re obliged to let the deity do the deciding. Either humans intervene all along the way or they don’t.

This business about the appliance. The Vatican newspaper seems to think this God of theirs issued Schiavo with a feeding tube – a special feeding tube, apparently, that materialized only after she’d had the brain damage. But it must have looked to bystanders as if humans were involved with the appearance of the feeding tube. So why couldn’t it work the other way? This God of theirs dematerializes the feeding tube, and to bystanders it looks as if humans are involved in the process but in fact it’s the deity doing it all. That makes just as much sense as the other version, in which humans are perfectly entitled to perform medical interventions, they’re just not permitted to decide to end them when (actually, long after) it’s clear that the upper cortex has been destroyed.

And what is all this crap about compassion. (Oh look, I said I would only say one thing. But – oh well, two then.) Compassion. Is it. Is that why sane people are so filled with dread? Is that why we’re all imagining ourselves lying around like department store mannequins, bodies without minds, propped up like dolls, dead but still kept hanging around? Right to life my ass. It’s not right to life, it’s no right to death.

I try to be reasonable (sometimes) but this country looks like such a loony bin these days. It scares me.

Some Snickers and One Flinch

Mar 17th, 2005 8:26 pm | By

Okay, I know I’m being bad. But some nonsense is just so nonsensical it just cries out for it. ‘And if the children cry out for rebuke shall we walk on the other side?’ I bet you don’t know what part of the Bible that’s from. Neither do I.

Anyway. They’re schlepping around with their tongues hanging out, begging us to laugh at them. So let’s laugh at them. First let’s laugh at Jesus-sniffing.

You can find candles with just about every fragrance imaginable, from blueberry to ocean mist to hot apple pie. Now there’s a candle that lets you experience the scent of Jesus, and they’ve been selling out by the case…”You can’t see him and you can’t touch him,” says Bob Tosterud. “This is a situation where you may be able to sense him by smelling. And it provides a really new dimension to one’s experience with Jesus.”

Next let’s laugh at the hilarious idea of a Catholic cardinal worried that people will believe lies and fables and things that aren’t true not nohow.

Mr Arcolao confirmed that the cardinal told an Italian newspaper: “It astonishes and worries me that so many people believe these lies.”
The archbishop told Il Giornale: “The book is everywhere. There is a very real risk that many people who read it will believe that the fables it contains are true.”

The book is everywhere! The president of the US has a group to study it every day in the White House! The Gideons give it away free in motels so that everyone will have one! Oh, wait, that’s a different book with fables in it. Still, it’s good that the cardinal is so vigilant, isn’t it.

And then there’s all the risible (and rather disgusting) drivel from the French Jesus-sniffers. (What price laïcité eh.)

The display was ruled “a gratuitous and aggressive act of intrusion on people’s innermost beliefs”, by a judge…Italy’s advertising watchdog said the ad’s use of Christian symbols including a dove and a chalice recalled the foundations of the faith and would offend the sensitivity of part of the population…”When you trivialise the founding acts of a religion, when you touch on sacred things, you create an unbearable moral violence which is a danger to our children,” said lawyer Thierry Massis.

So they can’t even tease doves and chalices? The Church has a monopoly even on them? So…if I say rude unkind things to the pigeons in Trafalgar Square next time I’m mincing and plodding around central London, and some little tiny Catholic children on their way to the National Gallery under the protection of their teacher overhear me – what will happen to me? Will I be extradited to France for punishment? Yet another thing to worry about.

And finally there’s an item that isn’t actually funny, but quite…blood-chilling. Eugene Volokh, whom I never read but whom I’m always seeing linked to and quoted as a rare example of the reasonable, rational conservative. Saying some very strange things.

I particularly like the involvement of the victims’ relatives in the killing of the monster; I think that if he’d killed one of my relatives, I would have wanted to play a role in killing him. Also, though for many instances I would prefer less painful forms of execution, I am especially pleased that the killing — and, yes, I am happy to call it a killing, a perfectly proper term for a perfectly proper act — was a slow throttling, and was preceded by a flogging…I am being perfectly serious, by the way. I like civilization, but some forms of savagery deserve to be met not just with cold, bloodless justice but with the deliberate infliction of pain, with cruel vengeance rather than with supposed humaneness or squeamishness. I think it slights the burning injustice of the murders, and the pain of the families, to react in any other way.

That ‘but’ after ‘I like civilization’ is interesting. Sometimes a ‘but’ can say such a lot.