August 1, 2008
1. The aim of this resolution is not to question or to fight a belief – the right to freedom of belief does not permit that. The aim is to warn against certain tendencies to pass off a belief as science. It is necessary to separate belief from science. It is not a matter of antagonism. Science and belief must be able to coexist. It is not a matter of opposing belief and science, but it is necessary to prevent belief from opposing science.
2. For some people the Creation, as a matter of religious belief, gives a meaning to life. Nevertheless, the Parliamentary Assembly is worried about the possible ill-effects of the spread of creationist ideas within our education systems and about the consequences for our democracies. If we are not careful, creationism could become a threat to human rights, which are a key concern of the Council of Europe.
3. Creationism, born of the denial of the evolution of species through natural selection, was for a long time an almost exclusively American phenomenon. Today creationist ideas are tending to find their way into Europe and their spread is affecting quite a few Council of Europe member states.
4. The prime target of present-day creationists, most of whom are of the Christian or Muslim faith, is education. Creationists are bent on ensuring that their ideas are included in the school science syllabuses. Creationism cannot, however, lay claim to being a scientific discipline.
5. Creationists question the scientific character of certain areas of knowledge and argue that the theory of evolution is only one interpretation among others. They accuse scientists of not providing enough evidence to establish the theory of evolution as scientifically valid. On the contrary, creationists defend their own statements as scientific. None of this stands up to objective analysis.
6. We are witnessing a growth of modes of thought which challenge established knowledge about nature, evolution, our origins and our place in the universe.
7. There is a real risk of serious confusion being introduced into our children’s minds between what has to do with convictions, beliefs, ideals of all sorts and what has to do with science. An “all things are equal” attitude may seem appealing and tolerant, but is in fact dangerous.
8. Creationism has many contradictory aspects. The “intelligent design” idea, which is the latest, more refined version of creationism, does not deny a certain degree of evolution. However, intelligent design, presented in a more subtle way, seeks to portray its approach as scientific, and therein lies the danger.
9. The Assembly has constantly insisted that science is of fundamental importance. Science has made possible considerable improvements in living and working conditions and is a rather significant factor in economic, technological and social development. The theory of evolution has nothing to do with divine revelation but is built on facts.
10. Creationism claims to be based on scientific rigour. In reality the methods employed by creationists are of three types: purely dogmatic assertions; distorted use of scientific quotations, sometimes illustrated with magnificent photographs; and backing from more or less well-known scientists, most of whom are not specialists in these matters. By these means creationists seek to appeal to non-specialists and spread doubt and confusion in their minds.
11. Evolution is not simply a matter of the evolution of humans and of populations. Denying it could have serious consequences for the development of our societies. Advances in medical research, aiming at combating infectious diseases such as Aids, are impossible if every principle of evolution is denied. One cannot be fully aware of the risks involved in the significant decline in biodiversity and climate change if the mechanisms of evolution are not understood.
12. Our modern world is based on a long history, of which the development of science and technology forms an important part. However, the scientific approach is still not well understood and this is liable to encourage the development of all manner of fundamentalism and extremism. The total rejection of science is definitely one of the most serious threats to human and civic rights.
13. The war on the theory of evolution and on its proponents most often originates in forms of religious extremism closely linked to extreme right-wing political movements. The creationist movements possess real political power. The fact of the matter, and this has been exposed on several occasions, is that some advocates of strict creationism are out to replace democracy by theocracy.
14. All leading representatives of the main monotheistic religions have adopted a much more moderate attitude. Pope Benedict XVI, for example, as his predecessor Pope John-Paul II, today praises the role of science in the evolution of humanity and recognises that the theory of evolution is “more than a hypothesis”.
15. The teaching of all phenomena concerning evolution as a fundamental scientific theory is therefore crucial to the future of our societies and our democracies. For that reason it must occupy a central position in the curriculums, and especially in the science syllabuses, as long as, like any other theory, it is able to stand up to thorough scientific scrutiny. Evolution is present everywhere, from medical overprescription of antibiotics that encourages the emergence of resistant bacteria to agricultural overuse of pesticides that causes insect mutations on which pesticides no longer have any effect.
16. The Council of Europe has highlighted the importance of teaching about culture and religion. In the name of freedom of expression and individual belief, creationist ideas, as any other theological position, could possibly be presented as an addition to cultural and religious education, but they cannot claim scientific respectability.
17. Science provides irreplaceable training in intellectual rigour. It seeks not to explain “why things are” but to understand how they work.
18. Investigation of the creationists’ growing influence shows that the arguments between creationism and evolution go well beyond intellectual debate. If we are not careful, the values that are the very essence of the Council of Europe will be under direct threat from creationist fundamentalists. It is part of the role of the Council of Europe’s parliamentarians to react before it is too late.
19. The Parliamentary Assembly therefore urges the member states, and especially their education authorities to:
19.1. defend and promote scientific knowledge;
19.2. strengthen the teaching of the foundations of science, its history, its epistemology and its methods alongside the teaching of objective scientific knowledge;
19.3. make science more comprehensible, more attractive and closer to the realities of the contemporary world;
19.4. firmly oppose the teaching of creationism as a scientific discipline on an equal footing with the theory of evolution and in general the presentation of creationist ideas in any discipline other than religion;
19.5. promote the teaching of evolution as a fundamental scientific theory in the school curriculums.
20. The Assembly welcomes the fact that 27 academies of science of Council of Europe member states signed, in June 2006, a declaration on the teaching of evolution and calls on academies of science that have not yet done so to sign the declaration.
August 1, 2008
It is a change that has not escaped John McCain’s notice. Unconcerned by charges that he is turning too nasty too soon, he has been ripping into Obama for being arrogant and out of touch. I, though, am talking about physical appearance. Maybe it is the summer suits and shirt-sleeves, but Obama has surely lost weight. Hence the head that seems larger. Is it the narcotic of approaching power that is stopping him eating? Or is it fear of losing?
Since he declared himself the winner of the primaries marathon two months ago; since he stood before a crowd of 200,000 in Berlin, Barack Obama has changed. Indeed, in this university gymnasium in Missouri his head does actually seem bigger.
It is a change that has not escaped John McCain’s notice. Unconcerned by charges that he is turning too nasty too soon, he has been ripping into Obama for being arrogant and out of touch. I, though, am talking about physical appearance. Maybe it is the summer suits and shirt-sleeves, but Obama has surely lost weight. Hence the head that seems larger. Is it the narcotic of approaching power that is stopping him eating? Or is it fear of losing?
These are delicate days for the senator from Illinois. He admitted on his way home from Europe there was the risk of “flying too close to the sun”. So call this his “Back to Earth Tour”, in rural Missouri and in Iowa. The crowds are not huge, though still adoring. This week, he is not preaching from mountain tops. He is holding babies in the rain and serving burgers in a pigeon-pooped park shelter.
Yet, Obama is not, as he would like, quite in charge of his own narrative or image. The missiles from Camp McCain are flying thick now, almost as if it were late October, not the start of August. There was the arrogance pitch and then the TV ads about celebrity, likening him to, of all people, Paris Hilton. Thereafter came the toxic suggestion that Obama (not McCain) was inserting race into the campaign mix.
Even at close proximity, it is hard to divine Obama’s real state of mind amid these assaults. Unlike McCain, he doesn’t feel much need for personal interaction with the journalists who travel with him. A special correspondent from Newsweek on his plane has asked for a little “face-time” with the candidate. She has been told to expect 30 seconds at most. Is that a symptom of cockiness?
There is a general demeanour of confidence about him. He is unfailingly deferential with people older than him. With contemporaries he is tactile – hands on shoulder – while with youngsters he can joke around. “There’s a lot of carbs there,” he quips, handing a burger to a teenage girl at the park barbecue in Union, Missouri. (Union and Rolla are heavily Republican, another reason Obama is back to earth.) Few see it, but as Obama steps from behind curtains into the cacophony of cheers in the gym in Rolla, he does a skip and a jump as if a featherweight prize fighter coming into the ring, sure of victory.
On policy, there are signs of sureness too. On Thursday, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Obama is trying to make energy policy the theme of the day, excoriating McCain’s call for more offshore drilling for oil. He says new oil finds will not lower petrol prices for 10 years at least and that the big oil companies have 68 million acres of government-granted leases they are not using. But many of the faces before him look a bit blank. How much easier to say as McCain does: let’s go get more of our own oil.
It surely helps that Obama is met everywhere by such love. And it’s not just young, college-educated love. Tony Viessman, 74, a retired police officer, holds a banner outside the Rolla event proclaiming “Rednecks for Obama”. “He is brilliant,” he says. “And he is not an elitist, though he has the education to be.” Helping clear up after the Union barbecue is Barbara Selter, 72. “It’s the proudest moment I have had for a very long time, something that happens once in a lifetime,” she says. “I feel that John Kennedy is right here.”
But if Obama likes to pretend he is above the day-to-day fray, he is not. At times, he might even be getting ratty. “Is that the best you can come up with?” Obama tartly asks in Cedar Rapids, responding to McCain’s Paris Hilton TV spot. And we go nowhere without Obama making this appeal: don’t let the other side scare you about me. The Republicans, he warns, are talking about his “funny name” and how he “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills”. It is a cute line that gets laughter. But it also draws the admonition from McCain that Obama is introducing the race card.
More and more, this campaign looks like a referendum on Obama and much less about McCain. Are voters ready for him? Do they trust him? Does it matter that he is black? Whether he wins or loses may depend on who has control of the Obama story – him or McCain. And who the voters are listening to.
The reporters who travel with Obama – and who drive most of what makes the evening news about him – can’t help here because they are never allowed out of his bubble. They don’t know what voters here in Missouri or in Cedar Rapids are thinking. Has McCain hit his stride or has he gone too far with the race-card charge and the Paris Hilton stunt? They can’t talk, for instance, to Chuck Pederson, 53, a government worker in Rolla who wears a “NoBama” T-shirt, has “Drill Now, Drill Here!” daubed on his truck and who flatly states that Obama has refused to debate McCain except for one time, on Labour Day, a national holiday. Which isn’t true. Nor can they find Chuck Mayes, 28, a Missouri construction worker. He would never back Obama. “The first reason is his name; the second is he wasn’t born here,” he says. First lesson: the falsehoods about Obama are still out there and those who don’t like him won’t hear any different. (Obama was born in Hawaii, which may not be “here” but surely is America.)
Yet, as the Obama plane climbs out of Cedar Rapids, a possibly surprising consensus emerges at the bar at the Knights of Columbus – a Catholic charitable club that still only accepts men as members – on the edge of town. At one end, Rich Steepleton reckons these latest McCain attacks about Obama being big-headed are “all talk”. He is minded to pay no attention at all. At the other, Tom Fagan wants a foreign reporter to know that, compared “to a few short years ago”, America has “opened up” on issues like race, and the blackness of Obama won’t matter in November. This is no college canteen, yet – every man’s hand on a cold beer at lunchtime – they are agreed: it will be close in November, but Obama will win.
August 1, 2008
The jury in the trial of three men accused of helping the 7 July London bombers has failed to reach a verdict.
The Kingston Crown Court jury had spent three weeks considering a charge of conspiracy to cause an explosion.
Waheed Ali, 25, Sadeer Saleem, 28, and Mohammed Shakil, 32, all from Leeds, admit having known the 7/7 bombers but denied having helped them find targets.
The prosecution is expected to seek a retrial and the men were remanded in custody until a hearing in September.
On Friday, the jurors told Mr Justice Gross they had not reached a verdict on any of the three defendants and he said the time had come to discharge them.
The BBC’s Liz Shaw, who was in court, said Mr Ali smiled broadly from the dock as the position became clear.
However, the trio were remanded in custody and will return to court for a hearing in late September.
Prosecutor Paul Taylor said the Crown Prosecution Service would take “a little time” to consider if it would seek a retrial of the men.
Mr Justice Gross said: “I will work from the assumption that there might be a retrial and I will assume that it is likely to be in the new year.”
Four suicide bombings on Tube trains and a bus killed 52 people and injured nearly 800 on 7 July 2005.
The trial had focused on a trip to London by the three men, which also included two of the eventual suicide bombers.
Prosecutors said the men had effectively carried out a dry run for the July 2005 attacks by assessing the capital’s security during their visit in December 2004.
They alleged the visit had been organised by 7/7 plot ringleader Mohammad Sidique Khan, who had contacted the men from Pakistan.
Neil Flewitt QC, prosecuting, had told the court that the three were not directly responsible for the explosions that killed 52 and maimed hundreds more.
But he said evidence showed they shared the same objectives as the bombers and knew that some kind of attack was being planned.
The men vehemently denied this, saying that their trip to London had been to allow one of them to see family and to take in a little tourism.
In tense courtroom scenes, each of the men in turn denounced the prosecution as politically motivated and stressed the bombers’ actions had been completely un-Islamic.
The three-month trial heard that the three men had grown up in Beeston, the same tight-knit community of Leeds as three of the bombers.
The men said they shared many of their concerns about the plight of Muslims around the world.
Each of the men had spent time in training camps in Pakistan because they wanted to support Muslim fighters seeking to liberate Islamic lands.
But the jury could not decide whether or not their beliefs stretched to supporting suicide bombings or attacks of any kind against civilians or other targets in the UK.
The trial heard that in December 2004, Mr Ali, Mr Saleem and Mr Shakil had travelled to London.
Prosecutors said their movements bore a “striking similarity” to those of the 7 July bombers, who attacked three Underground stations and a bus near Kings Cross.
The men on the 2004 trip also visited the London Eye, the Natural History Museum and London Aquarium.
But the men denied having entered the London Underground, saying they had driven around the city, and said the entire case rested on partial records of where their mobile phones had connected to the network.
They accused the police and media of creating a climate of fear in the Beeston area of Leeds and said the police had been trying to make them guilty by association.
The men were arrested in 2007 amid the largest ever criminal investigation in the UK, which continues today.
Tens of thousands of police hours have been spent on the three-year-old investigation – and detectives say there are still people in the Leeds area who know more.
The trial led to the disclosure of previously unseen footage of Mohammad Sidique Khan, the 7/7 ringleader, saying goodbye to his daughter. Families and survivors of the bombings watched the videos – this is what they thought.
Whenever I’ve asked a person whether they aspire to be a good human being who lives in a virtuous manner, their answer is “yes, of course I do, I’m a good person. I always want to do the right thing.” When I point out to them that their actions contradict their beliefs, an individual will invariably stop dead in their tracks and pause to think. The benefit of this kind of thinking immediately suggests new ways to handle personal and painful issues and conflicts that hurt, upset, and anger others. It helps people assume responsibility for their own behavior and changing focus from MY needs to what their immediate community needs…
These days when people come to my office, I’m not interested solely in rooting out their painful personal and familial issues. Building on their strengths, positives, achievements moral, ethical, and spiritual beliefs, is much more helpful, I’ve found, in overcoming psychological and interpersonal problems.
Vaclav Havel, playwright, dramatist, statesman, humanist and former President of the Czech Republic, beautifully and boldly encapsulates the lessons we should have learned from the ignominious twentieth century: Without a sober and conscionable approach to human events, affluence and technology has bred world wars, genocide, greed, and despair. This is especially tragic in an era that could have used innovation, expertise and prosperity to create a renaissance of the human spirit.
“Whenever I reflect on the problems of today’s world, whether they concern the economy, society, culture, security, ecology or civilization in general, I always end up confronting the moral question: what action is responsible or acceptable? The moral order, our conscience and human rights – these are the most important issues at the beginning of the third millennium.”
Twentieth century psychology paralleled the prevailing societal ethos with a focus on psychopathology, internal and intrapersonal psychological wars, and individual wants, needs, impulses, and feelings. Rather than developing as an inspirational art and providing guidance based on strength, optimism, hope, and wisdom, therapists were taught to be scientific practitioners of a skill taught to help people indict their parents and partners in the hopes of attaining symptom relief. While indictments are often merited, unless initiated after a moral inventory of personal responsibility and accountability, indictment simply justifies psychopathological behavior.
Many psychotherapy orientations still use the prevailing twentieth century focus on psychopathology. Psychological education often ignores questions of wrong and right, faith and fidelity. Hope and optimism are pejoratively labeled reassurance and deemed to thwart patients’ autonomy. In psychological circles, wisdom is circumvented with a prohibition against giving advice.
The hopeful news is that the twenty first century has ushered in Positive Psychology, a treatment that focuses on positives, strengths, and moral character. Virtue, spirit and character are emerging as crucial elements of professional guidance. Blame and negativity are being replaced with a positive attitude and a quest for correct behavior in an imperfect world.
The challenge for all of us is to bring our behaviors in line with our convictions. Whenever I’ve asked a person whether they aspire to be a good human being who lives in a virtuous manner, their answer is “yes, of course I do, I’m a good person. I always want to do the right thing.” When I point out to them that their actions contradict their beliefs, an individual will invariably stop dead in their tracks and pause to think. The benefit of this kind of thinking immediately suggests new ways to handle personal and painful issues and conflicts that hurt, upset, and anger others. It helps people assume responsibility for their own behavior and changing focus from MY needs to what their immediate community needs. It stops accusation and blame and gives direction to a higher purpose of positive and happy human relationships. The willingness of people to bring their behaviors in line with their beliefs, their desired perception of themselves, will always put a person where they really want to be, on the high road to more hopeful, optimistic and positive living.
August 1, 2008
Yesterday, we wrote Obama And The Middle Class He Pretends To Care About, in which we examined the ethereal realities that define the MIddle Class.
For some, Middle Class is defined as the college educated manager/teacher/engineer types. Most doctors, lawyers and accountants see themselves as ‘Middle Class.’ Others see the ‘real’ Middle Class as the small business people who employed others in small offices, factories or retail shops. Still others see the Middle Class populated with skilled tradespeople or unionized factory workers, Still others see the real Middle Class as the highly motivated group of people with pickup trucks who place classified ads stating they will do anything, anytime, anywhere and have enough skills to get the job done. Others clean 2 houses a day, 5 days a week for $150 a day, cash ($1500 a week, tax free- not too shabby)…
What do these Middle Class groups have in common? Absolutely nothing. They don’t mingle socially, culturally or even politically. This begs a question: To whom is Barack Obama (and others) talking? The answer is simple and unadorned. Obama, et al, are talking to the Middle Class consumers in all of us. What unites the disparate Middle Class is consumerism. We want the same fashions and the same cookware and the same replacement windows. We buy the same greeting cards and we root for the same team and mascot and listen to and buy the same music.
To be sure, determined and frenzied consumerism is a disease, brought on by a virus that attacks a community with little or no common culture or values. Despite the decades of efforts of well meaning social engineering projects that dwarf the Hoover and Aswan dams, what divides the Middle Class is as deeply entrenched as ever…
All too often and by design, the great democracies distinguish class by economic standing, as if that were the only measure of class status, when in truth. In fact, economic standing plays only a part (and a small one at that) in determining class. Western democracies and progressives in particular insist that class disparity can be narrowed by the redistribution of wealth, i.e., the redistribution of consumer spending.
This is what Barack Obama believes, that social disparities are mostly rooted in an inherently flawed economic dynamic. What Mr Obama and others (including Hillary Clinton, albeit less sos) refuse to acknowledge is that social disparities exist because our economic dynamic is nothing more than a mirror that reflects the current social realities- not the least of which is that we are not all the same.
Very often, the working class and lower class are lumped together as a single demographic. Academics and politicians can be counted on to lump the working class and lower class together. More often than not, that kind of treatment only serves to alienate people from the political process and they certainly regard academia as far removed from their realities.
The reason is simple. Members of the working class want to work and will do just about any kind of work to remain employed and as independent as possible. Members of the lower class simply don’t want to work (the outrage at President Clinton’s welfare reform programs made that painfully evident). Members of the working class see their entry into the Middle Class a job or an opportunity away. Members of the lower class see themselves entitled to the spoils of Middle Class success by way of income redistribution. Barack Obama shares the views of the lower classes.
Not surprisingly, Barack Obama also sees himself as privileged. There is a direct correlation between the lower classes and the upper classes. Members of those classes see themselves as ‘entitled’- the upper class by way of pedigree or station in life and the lower classes by reason of entitlement. These groups validate themselves by virtue of identity only. Obama reminds voters of his identity as a black candidate, in either direct or indirect terms at every opportunity, as if he wants to remind voters his ’special’ class and therefore entitlement. He not have a single good idea or plan- his identity is central to his campaign. While HIllary Clinton points that it is ‘time that a woman’ had an opportunity for the White House, she was not running on her identity. She is running on her record, achievements and experience (whatever that might be).
Conversely, the working class and entrepreneurial class see themselves very differently. They want to be recognized for the status they have earned.
The only time class distinctions between the Middle, Working and Lower classes were blurred was during war and the post war eras. In America and in Europe, the great conflicts and common effort to fight tyranny united those nations in their shared values and common goals, irrespective of class. In the postwar era, the political divides represented the ‘how to do it’ and not the ‘what to do.’ After witnessing first hand the cost of tyranny, class distinctions began to narrow and in some cases, even dissipate. In the postwar era, education was meant to provide equal opportunities for every citizen. The great push for outstanding public education for all was never meant to provide for equal outcomes for all.
With a bit of clarity, we can see that progressives today have more in common with the societies and cultures that deprive people of opportunity than the cultures and societies that provide people the opportunity to succeed- and thus redefine their class and status for themselves. It is only when people are able to redefine class structure for themselves that cultures and societies really succeed. In the post war era, the working class may have been poor but the notion of the ‘dignity of work’ also came into our conscienceless. The working class were no longer invisible and their hopes dreams and aspirations were to fuel an economic, technological and social boom that was to change society forever.
It is that change that progressives want to reverse, because a successful culture and society that offers equal economic opportunity for all, will always self correct the excesses to benefit society as a whole. Barack Obama represents the kind of thinking that is uncomfortable with providing everyone real equal opprtunity.
Don’t forget, Obama belonged for 20 years to a church that explicitly rejected “middle classness” in favor of racial solidarity. He is dangerously empty of everything except conventional leftist ideology.
A BINGO! observation. For Obama and other progressives, identity- be it racial, economic or victim status entitles one to equal social or economic status. The higher social status is reserved for a special few- those who deny anyone the right to excel, exceed and determine their own destiny. Taken to it’s logical conclusion, progressives want a few to work, take their earnings and cut everyone a check in equal amounts.
What Obama also refuses to acknowledge is the truth that despite ‘progressive’ notions of moral relatavism and silly dreams of a classless society, we really are all very different.
The upper classes see their identity in terms of dynasty. Portraits of ancestors on the wall as as important to their sense of identity as the apostles are to Christians or the Prophets are to Jews.
The solidly Middle Class take comfort in their pensions, savings and the estate they will leave behind to make the lives of their children and grandchildren easier and to take advantage of every opportunity available.
The working class struggle. They will not leave much for their children, other than the lessons and examples of their lives. They have helped their children as best they could and dream that the efforts of their children will bring them easier and more comfortable lives. The working class mark occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries and Christmas with gifts bought with savings accumulated over the year. The working class very often define their success and wealth with close knit family ties.
The lower class is interested only in the here and now and instant gratification. The arrival of the monthly support checks is often met with the joy and greed of Christmas morning.
No matter where on the environmental tree you might have come from, a healthy society allows you to climb higher. An unhealthy society (read:progressive) wants you to stay where you are- they will come to you and address your every need and desire- even if that means bringing down others (an idea that pleases many in the lower classes).
What is ignored or decried by the progressive community that Barack Obama belongs is that when all is said and done, we are all determine our own class by virtue of what we choose to accomplish and work for. It is our character and not our environment that has the greatest effect on our place in society.
Tomorrow, we will discuss how we can all share the same values and be proudly individual.
Portions of this post have been previously published.
The decline in pubs is to do with three things: the smoking ban, a fraying in the old notion of community, and as a result of Happy Hours and drinks promotions, which have transformed the average British pub from a haven of smoked glass, polished brass and mahogany into blaring dumps filled from one end to the other with quiz machines, karaoke stages, and drunken teenagers shouting at each other over lurid drinks…
The word “community” is very popular with politicians of every party, but it has become a vague concept in Britain, one that a new generation finds it quite hard to get a handle on. Young people commune with one another online or via media enthusiasms – they make a cult of their leisure pursuits and call it interaction – but do they ever buy their neighbour a drink and talk about the weather?
Not according to the statistics. British pubs are in crisis – they sold seven million fewer pints of beer last year than they did in 1979. Some of you might cheer if that figure represented a decline in alcoholic consumption, but it does not: more people are drinking to excess (and starting at a younger age) than ever before.
The decline in pubs is to do with three things: the smoking ban, a fraying in the old notion of community, and as a result of Happy Hours and drinks promotions, which have transformed the average British pub from a haven of smoked glass, polished brass and mahogany into blaring dumps filled from one end to the other with quiz machines, karaoke stages, and drunken teenagers shouting at each other over lurid drinks.
George Orwell once described a warm beer and a country pub as being among the essential flavours of England. Nobody would claim that now: perhaps a blood red pair of Mad Dog 20/20s (two for the price of one) would more accurately summon the present atmosphere.
I’ve gone from being someone who stopped in at a pub several times a week when I was younger – and practically living there when I was a student – to hating pubs.
Many of the establishments are so pressed for custom that they will do anything to fill their bar – mainly selling toxic drinks in devastating quantities to kids who consider a good night out to be one that ends in copious vomiting.
I grew up knowing very well the dangers of excessive drinking, but most of that was done in private, at home or in the street, while social drinking was a matter for the pub. On Coronation Street, the Rovers Return seemed a perfectly typical hub of community life, where – believe it or not – conversations took place and business was done and views were exchanged.
Young and old used to meet in the pub, as did the differently educated (in Corrie, Ken Barlow would be at one end of the bar reading the London Review of Books while his rival, Mike Baldwin, would be at the other end chatting up the barmaid).
These days, it’s considered more typical for the social element to be bypassed, and for people to drag home a case of cheap booze from Tesco’s and demolish it in front of America’s Got Talent.
It would be hard to convince anyone that the pub was once the premiere venue for literary and journalistic life in this country, for intelligent argument and amorous adventure, for meeting with the unknown.
Not one person under 40 that I know met their partner in a pub, or got their present job via a pub assignation. Though quite a number of them could say that the last time they were exposed to violence was in a pub during “happy hour”.
Not all of this is to do with fragmented community and personal choice: a heavy burden of responsibility for this mess must lie with the licensing trade, which has ripped up those agreements it signed up to, guidance drawn up by the British Beer & Pub Association.
This body agreed – and many publicans said they agreed too – that it was a bad idea to offer promotions that depended on patrons scoffing drinks within a limited period of time or based on entry fees that included the reward of allowing people unlimited alcohol.
By flouting their own rules, these licensees throughout the country have fouled their own nests and are busy destroying the very pub culture upon which their livelihoods depend.
And I’m afraid to say the situation is one of circular decline, where desperate publicans are, as we speak, slashing the prices of drinks in an attempt to beat the lack of business. In this way, skippers scuttle their own ships.
The European-style café culture that New Labour fantasises about will never be possible while British publicans demonstrate such utter contempt for responsible drinking and the social rudiments of drinking pleasure.
Decent licensees in France would never sell alcopops – never mind sell them at minimum prices – because they know it would destroy their custom, their self-respect, and ultimately their business.
The smoking ban was not a mistake in restaurants and most public places, but it was a mistake in bars. Publicans should have been free to make the choice, just as we do in our own houses, and patrons could have chosen whether to visit smoking or non-smoking places. The policy was coarse and undemocratic, and is quickening the death of the pub.
But the larger problem lies beyond smoking: ultimately, it relates to our diminishing sense of common interests and common public spaces, leaving people who aren’t in the first flush of alcoholic youth to recede into our own domains of privacy.
Whatever that’s called, it isn’t a community. If you want your European café culture, you don’t just get it by throwing up a few neon signs saying Open All Hours.
You do it by addressing what is best and most social in the country and marrying it to a business model in which licensees are obliged, in their own interests, to behave responsibly.
In European café culture such agreements are never entirely voluntary. In Britain they are, which means that no publican is held to any high standard – and no patron, either – of what it means to be part of a healthy and valuable pub culture.
For all its flaws and fecklessness, America remains in the eyes of its people an attempt to order a nation according to divine law rather than human custom, such that all who wish to live under divine law may abandon their ethnicity and make themselves Americans. The rights of Americans are held to be inalienable precisely because they are a grant from God, not the consensus of the sociologists or the shifting custom of a particular historical period.
The coherence of traditional society imposes a structure on life, a structure so rigid that such societies cannot adapt to change and must crumble before encroaching empire. In return for the sanctity of individual rights, Americans are freed from the constraints of traditional society and made responsible for their own actions. For an American presidential candidate to refer to traditional society as the model for the solution to American problems has no precedent. It is one thing to denounce American errors while upholding American principles. Never before has America considered electing a president who prefers the alternative, and that might just be the most dangerous thing to happen to the United States since its Civil War.
Spengler, in the Asia Times:
To ascribe a special grace to America is outrageous, as outrageous as the idea of special grace itself. Why shouldn’t everyone be saved? Why aren’t all individuals, nations, peoples and cultures equally deserving? History seems awfully unfair: half or more of the world’s 7,000 or so languages will be lost by 2100, linguists warn, and at present fertility rates Italian, German, Ukrainian, Hungarian and a dozen other major languages will die a century or so later. The agony of dying nations rises in reproach to America’s unheeding prosperity.
An old joke divides the world into two kinds of people: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t. America is one of the things that sorts the world into polar opposites. To much of the world, America is the Great Satan, the source of the plague of globalization, the bane of the environment, the Grim Reaper of indigenous cultures, the carrier of soulless industrialism, and the perpetrator of imperial adventures. To hundreds of millions of others it is an object of special grace. Whether one subscribes to the concept or not, America’s grace defines one of the world’s great dividing lines, perhaps its most important.
Violent antipathy to America measures the triumph of the American principle, and the ascendance of America’s influence in the world. America’s enemies make more noise than her friends, but her friends are increasing faster than her enemies. America’s influence in the world leapt as result of her victory in three world wars, including the fall of communism in 1989. Arguably, America is ascending even faster today, despite the reverses in its economic position and the strains on its military resources.
There are nearly a billion more Christians in the world today than in 1970, including a hundred million Chinese, most of whom adhere to the House Church movement on the American evangelical model. Denominations of American origin, notably Pentecostals, led the evangelization of a quarter of a billion Africans in the past generation. There are nearly 100 million additional Latin American Christians, of whom perhaps 40 million belong to Pentecostal or other Protestant denominations centered in the United States. Philip Jenkins has chronicled the spiritual transformation of the Global South, I reviewed his most recent book (A new Jerusalem in sub-Saharan Africa Asia Times Online, Dec 12, 2006.)
It may be outrageous, but it is not far-fetched, to speak of a special grace for America, because hundreds of millions of people around the world look toward such a special grace, in the precise sense of the word.
No one is more keenly aware that all will not be saved than the fragile peoples of the Global South. Christianity, it might be argued, is garnering in a greater proportion of the world’s population than at any time since late antiquity precisely because conditions in so many parts of the world resemble late antiquity. China alone is subject to the greatest migrations in human history, adding to its cities 10 or 15 million people each year. The Great Extinction of the peoples makes short work of the hope that all shall be saved, for those who cling to blood, soil, ethnicity and hearth-gods will perish.
“Special grace is the grace by which God redeems, sanctifies, and glorifies his people,” in the Wikipedia definition. The fate of individuals cannot be abstracted from the fate of nations. We derive our notion of salvation from the concept of Israel’s special grace, God’s eruption into human history to redeem his people from Egyptian bondage. From the Jewish idea of national redemption comes the Judeo-Christian hope of resurrection, as Kevin Madigan and Jon Levenson explained in their recent book (Life and death in the Bible Asia Times Online, May 28, 2008). Individual salvation means to participate in the salvation of the People of God, as Benedict XVI emphasized in his last encyclical, Spe Salvi.
What is this special grace for America that, if it is not the Desire of the Nations of which Isaiah wrote, nonetheless has become the desire of so many nations?
Abraham Lincoln, the next best thing to an American prophet, called his countrymen “this almost chosen people”. Most Americans still would agree with him. Americans may not love their country more than other peoples, but they love it in a different way. This love is visible at any small-town celebration of Independence Day, in the tearful eyes of older people. They have not forgotten the humiliations that drove their antecedents out of their countries of origin European states always have been the instruments of an elite; Americans believe their government, is there to defend them against the predation of the powerful.
For all its flaws and fecklessness, America remains in the eyes of its people an attempt to order a nation according to divine law rather than human custom, such that all who wish to live under divine law may abandon their ethnicity and make themselves Americans. The rights of Americans are held to be inalienable precisely because they are a grant from God, not the consensus of the sociologists or the shifting custom of a particular historical period. Ridiculous as this appears to the secular world, it is embraced by Americans as fervently as it was during the Founding. Even worse for the secularists, it has raised a following in the hundreds of millions in the Global South among people who also would rather be ruled by the divine law that holds their dignity to be sacred, than by the inherited tyranny of traditional society.
If America has been given a special grace, it is because its founders as well as every generation of its people have taken as the basis of America’s legitimacy the Judeo-Christian belief that God loves every individual, and most of all the humblest. Rights under law, from the American vantage point, are sacred, not utilitarian, convenient or consensual. America does not of course honor the sanctity of individual rights at all times and in all circumstances, but the belief that rights are sacred rather than customary or constructed never has been abandoned.
America’s founders did not anticipate that all would be saved. On the contrary: when the Pilgrim Fathers sailed from Delft in 1620, they fled a Europe already two years into a war that would last for thirty years and kill off nearly half the population of central Europe. America was at its first settlement and is today a refuge and a beacon for those who seek special grace, that is, to place God’s law above custom. America is not a new Promised Land and her inhabitants are not a Chosen People – “almost chosen”, perhaps, as Lincoln said.
To those who despise religion and worship science, the idea of special grace is an outrage, for science is neutral with respect to all peoples and all times. Since Immanuel Kant’s boast that he could devise a constitution for “a race of devils, if only they be rational”, the professors of political science and sociology have wanted the authority to order the world’s problems according to their image of man: economic man, political man, anything but man in the image of God.
From a secular viewpoint, moreover, the notion of special grace is doubly horrible, for if only those who obtain it will be saved, all those who do not will be lost. What of the soon-to-be-lost peoples of the world? Shouldn’t the application of scientific principles set them straight and make the world into a neat row of little imitations of Belgium? There is nothing in the cookbook to prevent the majority of the world’s peoples from wishing themselves out of existence. Political science stands mute before the disappearance of the desire to live of cultures that have crashed against the modern world.
It is an irony that globalization itself has provided the means to a handful of endangered ethnicities to assert themselves, sometimes in the most grotesque fashion. Forty million Latin Americans have joined Christian denominations of American origin. Perhaps a tenth that number adhere to indigenous movements seeking to revive the loyalties of the pre-Colombian past.
Bolivia, one of Latin America’s poorest nations, in 2005 elected as president an Aymara Indian named Evo Morales. National Geographic magazine portrays President Morales in its July 2008 issue, telling a crowd in a remote village, “We are Aymara, Quechua, Guarani – the legitimate proprietors of this noble Bolivian land!” Without the slightest sense of irony, the magazine adds that Morales came to politics via the coca growers’ association, that is, fighting the American war on drugs. The indigenous peoples led by Morales demand not the right to grow potatoes undisturbed in their native lands, but rather for the privilege of exporting illegal drugs to the United States.
There exists a struggle for indigenous rights, in short, precisely because the indigenous have found something specific to fight for, namely the drug trade. Indefensible as the mistreatment of the indigenous might have been by the Spanish conquerors and their successors, the indigenous movement in Latin America is an excrescence of globalization, rather than its enemy. We hardly need talk in this context of radical Islam, whose existence in the absence of the global oil market is unimaginable. Without America’s global success, the undead of traditional society could not give voice to their rancor – much less finance it.
To love America is to acknowledge its special grace, namely that a nation founded not on ethnicity, language, or culture but rather upon the sanctity of individual rights will prevail, while the remains of traditional society are borne away by the current. Those who love America and seek to emulate her, including hundreds of millions of new Christians in the Global South, well understand her uniqueness. To demand success of every leftover of traditional society must succeed is an expression of envy against America’s special grace.
That is what I meant by asserting last February that Barack Obama hates America (Obama’s women reveal his secret Asia Times Online, Feb 26, 2008) . Recently, blogger Steve Sailer called attention to a passage in Obama’s book Dreams of My Father that explains the source of this hatred:
… As we walked back to the car, we passed a small clothing store full of cheap dresses and brightly colored sweaters, two aging white mannequins now painted black in the window. The store was poorly lit, but toward the back I could make out the figure of a young Korean woman sewing by hand as a child slept beside her.
The scene took me back to my childhood, back to the markets of Indonesia: the hawkers, the leather workers, the old women chewing betel nut and swatting flies off their fruit with whisk brooms … I saw those Djakarta markets for what they were: fragile, precious things. The people who sold their goods there might have been poor, poorer even than folks out in Altgeld [the Chicago housing project where Obama engaged in community organizing]. They hauled fifty pounds of firewood on their backs every day, they ate little, they died young. And yet for all that poverty, there remained in their lives a discernible order, a tapestry of trading routes and middlemen, bribes to pay and customs to observe, the habits of a generation played out every day beneath the bargaining and the noise and the swirling dust. It was the absence of such coherence that made a place like Altgeld so desperate, I thought to myself.The coherence of traditional society imposes a structure on life, a structure so rigid that such societies cannot adapt to change and must crumble before encroaching empire. In return for the sanctity of individual rights, Americans are freed from the constraints of traditional society and made responsible for their own actions. For an American presidential candidate to refer to traditional society as the model for the solution to American problems has no precedent. It is one thing to denounce American errors while upholding American principles. Never before has America considered electing a president who prefers the alternative, and that might just be the most dangerous thing to happen to the United States since its Civil War.