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  • The “Islamophobia” of Richard Dawkins; Have We Reached Peak Insanity Yet?

    Posted on July 24th, 2017 Helian No comments

    KPFA radio in Berkeley recently invited Richard Dawkins to discuss his latest book, Science in the Soul:  Collected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist.”  Now, however, he has been disinvited.  The reason given by the sponsors, along with an abject apology that is now a familiar feature of such self-humiliation rituals, was as follows:

    We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science, when we didn’t know he had offended and hurt in his tweets and other comments on Islam, so many people. KPFA does not endorse hurtful speech. While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologize for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins views much earlier. We also apologize to all those inconvenienced by this cancellation.

    Really?  KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech?  Right!  The kind of free speech a Communist apparatchik in eastern Europe would have joyfully embraced in the 1950’s.  Whether you like Richard Dawkins or not, there is no denying that the author of books such as The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion is one of foremost scientific writers and thinkers of our time.  Denial of a public forum to someone like him is a particularly egregious form of censorship, and the very opposite of “support for serious free speech.”  The idea that KPFA has a problem with hurtful and offensive speech is beyond ludicrous.  As I write this, the lead story on their website includes the following:

    Trump is Appallingly Ignorant on Healthcare; Puts Greed Above Human Lives; David Cay Johnston: GOP Budget Redistributes Money to the Rich; Helps Make U.S. a Police State; Rights Advocates: Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity Set Up as a Pretext for Voter Suppression; Trump and the Russian Money Trail: Trump’s Ties to Oligarchs Go Back Decades; Married to the Mob: Investigative Journalist Craig Unger on What Trump Owes the Russian Mafia.

    Nothing Dawkins has ever written about Islam even comes close to being as “hurtful” and “offensive” as the above.  Obviously KPFA has no problem whatsoever with hurtful and offensive language per se.  They do have a problem with any criticism, no matter how mild, and how truthful, of any of the identity groups that are deemed “good,” and are therefore protected by the regressive Left ingroup.

    If the whole “Islamophobia” charade hasn’t reached peak insanity, it must be approaching it very quickly.  Recently a flash mob of Moslems rioted and sexually assaulted several women at a fair in the German City of Schorndorf.  I could find not a single headline or byline in the German legacy media the day after the event that identified the attackers as other than “youth.”  The US media were similarly coy about identifying the Minnesota policeman who shot and killed an Australian woman who was unarmed, dressed in pajamas, and merely trying to report a sexual assault, as a Somali Moslem.  One could cite countless other examples of the legacy media “protecting” the rest of us from the truth in this way.  Any criticism of Islam, no matter how mild, is deemed “Islamophobia.”

    The weird nexus between the regressive Left and Islam is remarkable in its own right.  Many of the former tend to be fascinated by radical mass movements that peddle promises of a paradise to come.  Communism was a natural fit, but its formerly powerful appeal has been drowned in oceans of blood.  Now, at least for the time being, the only game in town for those whose tastes run to rabid fanaticism on behalf of messianic worldviews is radical Islam.  Hence this odd couple’s incongruous love affair.

    Is there really even such a thing as completely irrational and unjustified “Islamophobia,” or is there really some reasonable basis for being wary of Moslems and their ongoing penetration of western societies?  After all, freedom of religion is considered a fundamental principle in most western democracies.  One of the best known statements thereof is the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which was drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1777 and became state law in 1786.  The text included the following:

    Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.

    However, according to another clause in the law,

    That it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order.

    Well, principles have broken out into overt acts against peace and good order on numerous occasions, most notably on September 11, 2001.  The usual rationalization of this fact is that Islam is a “religion of peace,” and the persons committing these acts simply don’t understand their own religion.  This is a dubious assertion in view of the fact that the “persons committing these acts” have often been schooled in Islamic madrassas, and have been steeped in the religion their whole lives, whereas the peddlers of the “religion of peace” nostrum have seldom even read the Quran.

    The idea that Islam is a “religion of peace” is absurd on the face of it.  The populations of Egypt and the rest of North Africa as well as much of the Middle East, including Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel were formerly predominantly Christian, Jewish, and/or Zoroastrian.  They did not become Moslem by peaceful penetration, but by the most extensive and successful campaign of military aggression and colonialism the world has ever seen.  At one time Spain and much of southeastern Europe as well as Sicily, Crete, Cyprus and many other large and small Mediterranean islands also fell victim to Moslem aggression, but managed to expel their conquerors, sometimes with and sometimes without outside help.

    As for the Quran itself, it hardly supports the notion that Islam is a “religion of peace.”  One can certainly cherry pick verses that seem to suggest that Moslems and infidels can live at peace with one another.  However, these periods of peace are, at best, only breathing spells in a campaign of violence that must continue until the whole world is Moslem.  Peace is certainly not an option if Moslems have the upper hand.  For example, from verse 38 of Sura 57,

    Be not fainthearted then; and invite not the infidels to peace when ye have the upper hand:  for God is with you, and will not defraud you of the recompense of your works.

    and verse 4 of the same Sura,

    When ye encounter the infidels, strike off their heads till ye have made a great slaughter among them, and of the rest make fast the fetters.

    From Sura 9, verse 124,

    Believers!  wage war against such of the infidels as are your neighbors, and let them find you rigorous:  and know that God is with those who fear him.

    and finally, from Sura 8, verse 40,

    Fight against them till strife be at an end, and the religion be all of it God’s.

    Homosexuals are condemned to hellfire in several places.  See, for example, Sura 27, Verses 55-60.  The Quran condones slavery, and particularly the sexual slavery of women.  See for example, Sura 23, Verse 6, which praises those,

    who restrain their appetites, save with their wives, or the slaves whom their right hands possess.

    and, from Sura 4, Verse 28,

    Forbidden to you also are married women, except those who are in your hands as slaves; This is the law of God for you.

    Western feminists are strangely silent about the plight of their sisters in Moslem countries in spite of such passages such as the following from Sura 4 (Women), Verse 38,

    Men are superior to women on account of the qualities with which God hath gifted the one above the other.

    And, according to Sura 4, Verse 12,

    God commandeth you to give the male the portion of two females.

    Christians, or at any rate those who associate the word “begotten” with Christ and those who believe in the Trinity are considered so evil that they will burn in hell forever.  For example, from Sura 10, verses 69-71,

    They say, “God hath begotten children.”  No! by His glory!  He is the self-sufficient.  All that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth is His!  Have ye warranty for that assertion?  What! speak ye of God that which ye know not?  Say:  “Verily, they who devise this lie concerning God shall fare ill.”  A portion have they in this world!  Then to Us they return!  Then make We them to taste the vehement torment, for they were unbelievers.

    As for the Trinity, from Sura 9, Verse 6,

    Attack those who join gods with God in all, as they attack you in all:  and know that God is with those who fear Him.

    and from Sura 5, Verse 77,

    They surely are infidels who say, “God is the third of three:”  for there is no God but one God:  and if they refrain not from what they say, a grievous chastisement shall light on such of them as are infidels.

    Moslems are explicitly forbidden from taking Jews or Christians as friends, hardly a promising recommendation for a thriving, multicultural society.  For example, from Sura 5, Verse 56,

    O believers!  take not the Jews or Christians as friends.  They are but one another’s friends.  If any one of you taketh them for his friends, he surely is one of them!  God will not guide the evil doers.

    and, from Sura 4, Verse 91,

    They desire that ye should be infidels as they are infidels, and that ye should be alike.  Take therefore none of them for friends.

    There are several other similar passages in the Quran.  Moslems, who are quick to claim freedom of religion for themselves, deny it to others, and particularly to those who may have been born to Moslem parents but reject Moslem teachings.  For example, from Sura 3, Verses 84-85,

    As for those who become infidels, after having believed, and then increase their infidelity – their repentance shall never be accepted.  These! they are the erring ones.  As for those who are infidels, and die infidels, from no one of them shall as much gold as the earth could contain be accepted, though he should offer it in ransom.  These! a grievous punishment awaiteth them; and they shall have none to help them.

    Early Moslem visitors to western countries were often nonplussed by the existence of parliaments and other secular legislative bodies.  After all, the law had been handed down by Muhammed in the form of Sharia.  Surveys consistently show that large percentages of Moslems still believe that Sharia should be the basis of all law.  In other words, Islam is not just another religion.  Its dogmas apply as much in the realm of politics as they do in theology.  As Milo Yiannopoulos wrote in his book, Dangerous,

    Islam is not like other religions.  It’s more inherently prescriptive and it’s much more political.

    He also notes the disconnect between the principles the Left is supposed to stand for and its support for Islam:

    There is nothing else which better exposes the modern Left’s rank hypocrisy, their disregard for the facts, and their hatred for the West and all it stands for than their attitude to Islam.  Every noble principle the Left claims to uphold, from rights for women to gay liberation, even diversity itself, dies on the altar of its sycophantic defense of Islam.

    I doubt that any sincere Moslem, at least to the extent that he is honest, could claim that any of the above is “hurtful,” or “offensive,” unless they are “hurt” and “offended” by facts.  It is simply a truthful accounting of relevant historical events and a summary of some of the things the Quran actually teaches.  The Left can dream as much as it wants about a future border-free paradise of perfect equality and human brotherhood.  That dream will be shattered by a much grimmer reality in any country where Moslems get the upper hand.

    Leftist are masters at manipulating moral emotions to get what they want.  They claim that the rest of us are “immoral” for resisting the “paradise” they have in store for us.  That’s why, when it comes to morality, its always a good idea to go back to basics.  Always consider why the moral emotions exist to begin with.  They exist because they happened to enhance the odds that the genes responsible for their existence would survive and reproduce.  Those genes are the root cause for the existence of all human moralities, in all their gaudy variations.

    Does tolerating the unlimited immigration of culturally and/or genetically alien hordes enhance or diminish the odds that those same genes will survive and reproduce in the existing population?  The answer is the latter – it will diminish the odds.  It will lead to all the social disorder potentially ending in civil war that history has taught us to expect when ingroups are brought in close proximity to their outgroups.  Beyond that, it will greatly increase the environmental damage the Left claims to be so concerned about, exacerbating it by further increasing what are clearly already excessive populations in terms of the health of the planet we all depend on for survival.  In fact, if one takes the facts of human nature into account, enabling such unlimited immigration is nothing short of suicidal.

    Of course, there is nothing inherently “evil” about the Left’s version of morality.  In the end, it amounts to manipulating moral emotions to accomplish ends that are the exact opposite of the reasons those emotions exist to begin with.  I personally prefer to pursue goals that are in harmony with those reasons, if only for the sake of consistency.  Objectively speaking, that doesn’t make me morally better or morally worse than the most Islamophilic Leftist you can imagine.  However, it strikes me that any life form that pursues its own destruction is dysfunctional, and I find it unaesthetic to consider myself dysfunctional.  In short, I haven’t adopted the Left’s version of morality for the same reason that I don’t try to walk on my hands instead of my feet, or smell with my ears instead of my nose.

    As for Dawkins, he’s said some “hurtful” and “offensive” things about all religions, not just Islam.  However, regardless of who they happen to “hurt,” or “offend,” those things may just happen to be true.  Whether in reading his books or listening to his talks, it would be useful to at least consider that possibility.

  • On Losing Our “Moral Compass” in Syria

    Posted on February 13th, 2016 Helian 2 comments

    It’s important to understand morality.  For example, once we finally grasp the fact that it exists solely as an artifact of evolution, it may finally occur to us that attempting to solve international conflicts in a world full of nuclear weapons by consulting moral emotions is probably a bad idea.  Syria is a case in point.  Consider, for example, an article by Nic Robertson entitled, From Sarajevo to Syria: Where is the world’s moral compass?, that recently turned up on the website of CNN.  The author suggests that we “solve” the Syrian civil war by consulting our “moral compass.”  In his opinion that is what we did in the Balkans to end the massacres in Bosnia and Kosovo.  Apparently we are to believe that the situation in Syria is so similar that all we have to do is check the needle of the “moral compass” to solve that problem as well.  I’m not so sure about that.

    In the first place, the outcomes of following a “moral compass” haven’t always been as benign as they were in Bosnia and Kosovo.  Czar Nicholas was following his “moral compass” when he rushed to the aid of Serbia in 1914, precipitating World War I.  Hitler was following his “moral compass” when he attacked Poland in 1939, bringing on World War II.  Apparently it’s very important to follow the right “moral compass,” but the author never gets around to specifying which one of the many available we are to choose.  We must assume he is referring to his own, personal “moral compass.”  He leaves us in doubt regarding its exact nature, but no doubt it has much in common with the “moral compass” of the other journalists who work for CNN.  Unlike earlier versions, we must hope that this one is proof against precipitating another world war.

    If we examine this particular “moral compass” closely, we find that it possesses some interesting idiosyncrasies.  It points to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with using military force to depose a government recognized as legitimate by the United Nations.  According to earlier, now apparently obsolete versions of the “moral compass,” this sort of thing was referred to as naked aggression, and was considered “morally bad.”  Apparently all that has changed.  Coming to the aid of a government so threatened, as Russia is now doing in Syria, used to be considered “good.”  Under the new dispensation, it has become “bad.”  It used to be assumed that governments recognized by the international community as legitimate had the right to control their own airspaces.  Now the compass needle points to the conclusion that control over airspaces is a matter that should be decided by the journalists at CNN.  We must, perforce, assume that they have concocted a “moral compass” superior to anything ever heard of by Plato and Socrates, or any of the other philosophers who plied the trade after them.

    I suggest that, before blindly following this particular needle, we consider rationally what the potential outcomes might be.  Robertson never lays his cards on the table and tells us exactly what he has in mind.  However, we can get a pretty good idea by consulting the article.  In his words,

    Horror and outrage made the world stand up to Bosnia’s bullies after that imagination and fear had ballooned to almost insurmountable proportion.

    Today it is Russia’s President Vladimir Putin whose military stands alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army. Together they’ve become a force no nation alone dares challenge. Their power is seemingly set in stone.

    It would seem, then, based on the analogies of Bosnia and Kosovo, where we did “good,” that Robertson is suggesting we replace the internationally recognized government of Syria by force and confront Russia, whose actions within Syria’s borders are in response to a request for aid by that government.  In the process it would be necessary for us to defeat and humiliate Russia.  It was out of fear of humiliation that Russia came to Serbia’s aid in 1914.  Are we really positive that Russia will not risk nuclear war to avoid a similar humiliation today?  It might be better to avoid pushing our luck to find out.

    What of the bright idea of replacing the current Syrian government?  It seems to me that similar “solutions” really didn’t work out too well in either Iraq or Libya.  Some would have us believe that “moderates” are available in abundance to spring forth and fill the power vacuum.  So far, I have seen no convincing evidence of the existence of these “moderates.”  Supposing they exist, I suspect the chances that they would be able to control a country brimming over with religious fanatics of all stripes without a massive U.S. military presence are vanishingly small.  In other words, I doubt the existence of a benign alternative to Bashar al-Assad.  Under the circumstances, is it really out of the question that the best way to minimize civilian casualties is not by creating a power vacuum, or by allowing the current stalemate to drag on, but by ending the civil war in exactly the way Russia is now attempting to do it; by defeating the rebels?  Is it really worth risking a nuclear war just so we can try the rather dubious alternatives?

    Other pundits (see, for example, here, here, and here) inform us that Turkey “cannot stand idly by” while Syria and her Russian ally regain control over Aleppo, a city within her own borders.  Great shades of the Crimean War!  What on earth could lead anyone to believe that Turkey is our “ally” in any way, shape or form other than within the chains of NATO?  Turkey is a de facto Islamist state.  She actively supports the Palestinians against another of our purported allies, Israel.  Remember the Palestinians?  Those were the people who danced in the streets when they saw the twin towers falling.  She reluctantly granted access to Turkish bases for U.S. airstrikes against ISIS only so she would have a free hand attacking the Kurds, one of the most consistently pro-U.S. factions in the Middle East.  She was foolhardy enough to shoot down a Russian plane in Syrian territory, killing its pilot, for the “crime” of violating her airspace for a grand total of 17 seconds.  She cynically exploits the flow of refugees to Europe as a form of “politics by other means.”  Could there possibly be any more convincing reasons for us to stop playing with fire and get out of NATO?  NATO is a ready-made fast track to World War III on behalf of “allies” like Turkey.

    But I digress.  The point is that the practice of consulting something as imaginary as a “moral compass” to formulate foreign policy is unlikely to end well.  It assumes that, after all these centuries, we have finally found the “correct” moral compass, and the equally chimerical notion that “moral truths” exist, floating about as disembodied spirits, quite independent of the subjective imaginations of the employees of CNN.  Forget about the “moral compass.”  Let us identify exactly what it is we want to accomplish, and the emotional motivation for those desires.  Then, assuming we can achieve some kind of agreement on the matter, let us apply the limited intelligence we possess to realize those desires.

    Morality exists because the behavioral predispositions responsible for it evolved, and they evolved because they happened to promote the survival of genes in times radically different than the present.  It exists for that reason alone.  It follows that, if there really were such things as “moral truths,” then nothing could possibly be more immoral than failing to survive.  We would do well to keep that consideration in mind in determining the nature of our future relationship with Russia.

  • On the “Evil” of Colonialism

    Posted on November 29th, 2015 Helian No comments

    There are few better demonstrations of the fact that the term Homo sapiens is an oxymoron then the results of our species’ attempts to “interpret” the innate emotional responses that are the source of all the gaudy manifestations of human morality.  Moral emotions exist.  Evolution by natural selection is the reason for their existence.  If they did not exist, there would be no morality as we know it.  In other words, the only reason for the illusion that Good and Evil are objects, things-in-themselves that don’t depend on any mind, human or otherwise, for their existence, is the fact that, over some period of time, that illusion made it more likely that the genes responsible for spawning it would survive and reproduce.  Recently it has been amply demonstrated that, over a different period of time, under different conditions, the very same emotions spawned by the very same genes can accomplish precisely the opposite.  In other words, they can promote their own destruction.  Mother Nature, it would seem, has a fondness for playing practical jokes.

    The elevation of colonialism in some circles to the status of Mother of all Evils is a case in point.  It has long been the “root cause” of choice for all sorts of ills.  Prominent among them lately has been Islamic terrorism, as may be seen here, here, here and here.  Even prominent politicians have jumped on the bandwagon, and we find them engaged in the ludicrous pursuit of explaining to Islamic terrorists, who have been educated in madrassas and know the Quran by heart, that they are not “real Moslems.”  It must actually be quite frustrating for the terrorists, who have insisted all along that they are acting on behalf of and according to the dictates of their religion.  It also begs the question of how, if Islam is a “religion of peace,” all of north Africa, much of the Middle East outside of Arabia, Turkey, significant parts of Europe, Iran, etc., formerly parts of the Christian Roman Empire or the Zoroastrian Persian Empire, ever became Moslem.  Of course, it was accomplished by military force, and the ensuing colonization of these countries resulted in the destruction of the “indigenous” cultures and traditions that were overrun.  Interestingly, we seldom find this Moslem version of colonialism treated as a form of immorality.  Apparently we are to assume that there is a statute of limitations on the application of the relevant moral principles.

    Be that as it may, in bygone days colonialism was often also invoked as the “root cause” for the promiscuous massacres of the Communists, and is the “root cause” of choice for the ills, real or imagined, of all sorts of minorities as well.  I have long maintained that Good and Evil have no objective existence.  However, whether one agrees with that assertion or not, it seems only reasonable that the terms at least be defined in a way that is consistent with their evolutionary roots.  In that case, the notion that colonialism was evil becomes absurd.  It is yet another example of a morality inversion, characterized by the whimsical tendency of human moral emotions to stand on their heads in response to sufficiently drastic changes to the external environment.

    What were the actual results of colonialism?  We will limit our examination to white colonialism, as colonialism by other ethnic groups, although of frequent occurrence in the past, is not generally held to be such an “evil.”  Rather, colonialism as practiced by other than whites is deemed a mere expression of “culture.”  It would therefore be “racist” to consider it evil.  In the first place, then, white colonialism has led to a vast expansion in the area of the planet inhabited primarily by whites.  They are now the dominant ethnic groups on whole continents that they never knew existed little over half a century ago.  This must certainly be considered good if we are to define the Good consistently with the “root causes” of morality itself.  Interestingly, colonialism was also good in this way for other ethnic groups.  Sub-Saharan blacks, for example, now have a prominent presence over wide territories that they never would have seen in the absence of the white practice of carrying slaves to their colonies.  It is unlikely that, if faced with the choice, blacks would trade a world that never experienced white colonialism with the more “evil” world we actually inhabit.

    Even if one chooses to divorce morality entirely from its evolutionary roots, and assume that Good and Evil are independent entities floating about in the luminiferous aether with no biological strings attached whatsoever, it is not entirely obvious that white colonialism was an unmitigated evil.  Indeed, if we are to accept the modern secular humanist take on objective morality, as outlined, for example, in Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape, it would seem that the opposite is the case.  According to this version of morality, “human flourishing” is the summum bonum.  I would maintain that a vastly greater number of humans are flourishing today because of white colonialism than would otherwise be the case.  Thanks to white colonialism, the continents on which its impact was greatest now support much larger populations of healthier people who live for longer times on average, and are less likely to die violent deaths than if it had not occurred.  This, of course, is not necessarily true of every race involved.  The aborigines of Tasmania, for example, were entirely wiped out, and there has probably been a significant decline in the population of the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North America.  However, the opposite has been the case in Africa and India.  In any case, if we are to believe the ideological shibboleths that often emanate from the same ideological precincts that gave rise to the latest versions of morality based on “human flourishing,” all these distinctions by race don’t matter, because race is a mere social construct.

    I often wonder what makes modern secular Puritans imagine that they will be judged any differently by future generations than they are in the habit of judging the generations of the past.  After all, the vast majority of the inhabitants of Great Britain, France, and the other major colonialist countries did not imagine that they were being deliberately immoral during the heyday of colonialism.  On what basis is it justified to judge others out of the context of their time?  No one has ever come up with a rational answer to that question, for the very good reason that no such basis is possible.

    The proponents of colonialism left behind a great many books on the subject.  Typically, they perceived colonialism as a benign pursuit that benefited the colonial peoples as much as the colonizers.  There is an interesting chapter on the subject in Volume XII (The Latest Age) of the Cambridge Modern History (Chapter XX, The European Colonies), first published in 1910.  In reading it, one finds no hint of evidence that the author of the chapter, a university professor who no doubt considered himself enlightened according to the standards of the time, perceived colonialism as other than a benign force, and an expression of the energy and economic growth of the colonizing countries.  Some typical passages include,

    The few years under present consideration form a brief period in this long process (of European colonization since the 15th century).  Yet they have seen an awakened interest in colonization and an extension of the field of enterprise which give them a unique significance.  The comparative tranquility of domestic and foreign affairs in most countries of Europe has favoured a great outburst of colonizing energy, for which the growth of population and industry has provided the principal motive.  The growth of population has swollen the stream of emigration; the expansion of industry has increased the desire to control sources of supply for raw materials and markets for finished products.  A rapid improvement in means of communication and transport has facilitated intercourse between distant parts of the world.  A vast store of accumulated wealth in old countries has been available for investment in the new.

    In other words, colonization was considered a manifestation of social progress.  The rights of indigenous peoples were not simply ignored as is so often claimed today.  It was commonly believed, and not without reason, that they, too, benefited from colonization.  Epidemic diseases were controlled, pervasive intertribal warfare and the slave trade were ended, and the brutal mistreatment of women was discouraged.  On the other hand, the abuse of native populations was also recognized.  Quoting again from a section of the book dealing with the Belgian Congo, the author writes,

    Its history would be a fine tale of European energy applied to the development of a tropical country, had not the work been marred by a cruel spirit of exploitation gaining the upper hand.  The first ten years of its existence were a period of great activity, during which a marvelous change came over the land.  Splendid pioneering work was done.  Experienced missionaries and travelers explored the great streams.  The drink traffic, the slave trade, and cannibalism, were much diminished.  The ancient Arab dominion in Central Africa was overthrown after a hard and costly struggle (1890-3).  Routes of communication were opened, and railway building commenced…

    But it was by its treatment of the native peoples that the Congo State attained that evil eminence which accumulating proof shows it to have well deserved.  The system of administration lent itself to abuses.  Large powers were devolved upon men not always adequately paid or capable of bearing their responsibilities.  The supervision of their activities in the interior was impossible from places so distant as Boma and Brussels.  The native was wronged by the disregard of his system of land ownership and of the tribal rights to hunt and gather produce in certain areas, as well as by a system of compulsory labor in the collection of produce on behalf of the State, enforced by barbarous punishments and responsible for continual and devastating warfare… Finally, the Belgian Parliament taking up the question, the Congo State was in 1908 transferred to Belgium, and its rulers have thus become responsible to the public opinion of a nation.

    Except, perhaps, during the most active periods of European competition for colonies during the last half of the 19th century, eventual independence was recognized not merely as an ideal but as practically inevitable.  In the last paragraph of the chapter the author writes,

    (Great Britain’s) colonial policy has been inspired by an understanding and a wise recognition of facts.  Settlers in new countries form societies; such societies, as their strength grows, desire the control of their own life; common interests draw contiguous societies together, and union creates and fosters the sense of nationality.  Perceiving the course of this development, the mother country has continually readjusted the ties that bound her to her colonies, so that they might be appropriate to the stage of growth which each colony had reached.  Wherever possible, she has conceded to them the full control of their own affairs; and she has encouraged contiguous colonies to unite, so that in dimensions, resources, population, and economic strength, the indispensable material foundations of a self-governing state could be formed.

    The author closes with sentiments that are likely to shock modern university professors out of their wits:

    Slowly the British empire is shaping itself into a league of Anglo-Saxon peoples, holding under its sway vast tropical dependencies as well as many small communities of mixed race.  Strong bonds of common loyalty, race, and history, as well as the need of cooperation for defense, unite the white peoples.  But the course of progress has carried the empire to an unfamiliar point in political development.  Loose and elastic in its structure, it may well take a new shape under the influence of external pressure, political and economic.

    In other words, the author did not share the modern penchant among the “Anglo-Saxons” for committing ethnic suicide.  In our own day, of course, while it is still perfectly acceptable for every other ethnic group on the planet to speak in a similar fashion, it has become a great sin for whites to do so.  Far be it for me to challenge this development on moral grounds, for the simple reason that there are no moral grounds one way or the other.  Similarly, this post is in no way intended to morally condone or serve as a form of moral apologetics for colonialism.  There exists no objective basis for morally judging colonialism, or anything else, for that matter.  I merely point out that the moral standards relating to colonialism have evolved over time.  Beyond that, one might add that colonialism accomplished ends in harmony with the reasons that led to the evolution of moral emotions to begin with, whereas the manipulation of those emotions to condemn colonialism on illusory moral grounds accomplishes precisely the opposite.  That is not at all the same thing as claiming that colonialism was Good, and anti-colonialism is evil.  It is merely stating a fact.

    One can certainly choose to oppose, and even actively fight against, colonialism, or anything else to which one happens to have an aversion.  I merely suggest that, before one does so, one have a reasonably accurate understanding of the emotions that are the cause of the aversion, and why they exist.  Moral emotions seem to point to objective things, Good and Evil, that are perceived as real, but aren’t.  I don’t wish to imply that no one should ever act.  I merely suggest that, before they do, they should understand the illusion.

  • The New Atheists as Imperialist Warmongers; Leftist Islamophilia in the Afterglow of Communism

    Posted on December 3rd, 2014 Helian No comments

    The human types afflicted with the messianic itch have never been too choosy about the ideology they pick to scratch it.  For example, the Nazis turned up some of their most delirious converts among the ranks of former Communists, and vice versa.  The “true believer” can usually make do with whatever is available.  The main thing is that whatever “ism” he chooses enables him to maintain the illusion that he is saving the world and clearing the path to some heavenly or terrestrial paradise, and at the same time supplies him with an ingroup of like-minded zealots.  In the 20th century both Communism and Nazism/fascism, which had served admirably in their time, collapsed, leaving an ideological vacuum behind.  As we all know, nature abhors a vacuum, and something had to fill it.  Paradoxically, that “something” turned out to be radical Islam.  For the true believers, it is now pretty much the only game in town.  The result of this ideological sea change has been quite spectacular.  The “human types” one would normally have expected to find in the ranks of the atheist Communists 50 or 75 years ago are now powerfully attracted to the latest manifestation of industrial strength religious fanaticism.

    So far the ideological gap between the secular left that supplied the Communists of yesteryear and the jihadis of today has been a bit too wide for most western “progressives” to hop across.  Instead, they’ve been forced to settle for casting longing gazes at the antics of the less inhibited zealots on the other side of the chasm.  They can’t quite manage the ideological double back flip between the culture they come from and obscurantist Islam.  Instead, they seize on surrogates, defending the “oppressed” Palestinians against the “apartheid” Israelis, meanwhile furiously denouncing anyone who dares to criticize the new inamorata they are forced to love from afar as “islamophobic.”

    An interesting manifestation of this phenomenon recently turned up on the website of The Jacobin Magazine,  which styles itself, “The leading voice of the American left.”  In an article entitled “Old Atheism, New Empire,” one Luke Savage, described as “a student of political theory and formerly the editor of Canada’s largest student newspaper,” demonstrates that the New Atheists are not really the paladins of Enlightenment they claim to be, but are actually conducting a clever underground campaign to defend imperialism and provide a “smokescreen for the injustice of global capitalism!”  Similar attacks on such New Atheist stalwarts as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens are becoming increasingly common as the Left’s love affair with radical Islam continues to blossom.  The New Atheists, in turn, are finding that the firm ground on the left of the ideological spectrum they thought they were standing on has turned to quicksand.

    It isn’t hard to detect the Islamist pheromones in the article in question.  We notice, for example, that Savage isn’t particularly concerned about New Atheist attacks on religion in general.  He hardly mentions Christianity.  When it comes to Islam, however, it’s a different story.  As Savage puts it,

    It is against the backdrop of the war on terror, with its violent and destructive adventurism, that the notion of a monolithic evil called “Islam” has found a sizable constituency in the circles of liberal respectability.

    As one might expect, this is followed by the de rigueur charge of racism:

    The excessive focus on Islam as something at once monolithic and exceptionally bad, whose backwards followers need to have their rights in democratic societies suppressed and their home countries subjected to a Western-led civilizing process, cannot be called anything other than racist.

    Moslem zealots, we find, aren’t really the enemy of, but actually belong in the pantheon of, officially endorsed and certified victim groups:

    Criticisms of the violence carried out by fundamentalists of any kind – honor killings, suicide bombings, systemic persecution of women or gay people, or otherwise – are neither coherent nor even likely to be effective when they falsely attribute such phenomena to some monolithic orthodoxy.

    The cognoscenti will have immediately noticed some amusing similarities between this rhetoric and that used to defend Communism in a bygone era.  Notice, for example, the repeated insistence that Islam is not “monolithic.”  Back in the day, one of the most hackneyed defenses of Communism was also that it was not “monolithic.”  No doubt it was a great comfort to the millions slowly starving to death in the Gulag, or on their way to get a bullet in the back of the neck, that they at least weren’t the victims of a “monolithic” assassin.  In case that’s too subtle for you, Savage spells it out, quoting from a book by Richard Seymour:

    The function of [Hitchens’] antitheism was structurally analogous to what Irving Howe characterized as Stalinophobia…the Bogey-Scapegoat of Stalinism justified a new alliance with the right, obliviousness towards the permanent injustices of capitalist society, and a tolerance for repressive practices conducted in the name of the “Free World.”  In roughly isomorphic fashion Hitchens’ preoccupation with religion…authorized not just a blind eye to the injustices of capitalism and empire but a vigorous advocacy of the same.

    One would think that defending “the opiate of the masses” would be a bitter pill for any dedicated fighter against “capitalism and empire” to swallow, but Savage manages it with aplomb.  Channeling the likes of Karen Armstrong, David Bentley Hart, and the rest of the “sophisticated Christians,” he writes,

    Whether directed at Catholicism, Paganism, or Islam, the methodology employed to expose the inherent “irrationality” of all religions betrays a fundamental misunderstanding (or perhaps misrepresentation) of the nature of religious discourses, beliefs, and practices.

    If that’s not quite rarified enough for you, how about this:

    Moreover, the core assertion that forms the discursive nucleus of books like The God Delusion, God is Not Great, and The End of Faith – namely, that religious texts can be read as literal documents containing static ideas, and that the ensuing practices are uniform – is born out by neither real, existing religion or by its historical reality as a socially and ideologically heterogeneous phenomenon.

    and this:

    This is particularly significant in relation to the New Atheists’ denunciations of what they call “the doctrine of Islam” because it renders bare their false ontology of religion – one which more or less assumes that fundamentalism is the product of bad ideas rather than particular social and material conditions.

    So Stalin wasn’t a bad boy.  He just had a bad environment.  See how that works?  At this point Marx must be spinning in his grave, so we’ll leave these eloquent defenses of religion at that, and let the old man get some rest.  In point of fact Marxism was itself a religion for all practical purposes.  It just happened to be a secular one, with an earthly rather than a heavenly paradise.  In its heyday, Communism had to damn the older, spiritual versions because messianic religions are never tolerant.  Now that it’s defunct as an effective vehicle for militant zealotry, it’s pointless to continue trying to defend it from its spiritual competition.

    In any case, the “progressive” flirtation with medieval obscurantism continues unabated.  Will it ever become a full-fledged embrace?  I suppose it’s not completely out of the question, but a lot of ideological baggage will have to be ditched along the way to that consummation.  As for the New Atheists, one might say that they’ve just had a religious experience in spite of themselves.  They’ve all been excommunicated.

    happyjar

     

    Thanks to Tom at Happyjar.com for the cartoon.  Check out his store!

     

     

  • …and our “Allies” Grieved

    Posted on May 10th, 2011 Helian No comments

    The European media don’t flaunt their anti-Americanism the way they did in times past.  I follow the German media, and the level of spite and hatred directed at the United States by the Internet media there a decade ago was amazing.  Der Spiegel was always at the head of the pack of baying hounds.  It was often difficult to find any news about Germany on their website in the maze of quasi-racist anti-American rants.  People on this side of the pond began to notice, and eventually the “respectable” media began to refrain from wearing their hatred on their sleeves.  Apparently some rudimentary sense of shame still existed among them.  However, the phenomenon of anti-Americanism is still alive and well.  Inevitably, it reappears on the occasion of any significant American victory.  The squaring of accounts with bin Laden is a case in point.  Here’s a sample of the headlines that have appeared on the Spiegel website since that happy event:

    Merkel’s Joy Outrages Critics  (The usual cheap shots from the pathologically pious against the German Chancellor for daring to approve of the raid.)

    How a Judge wants to Bring Merkel to her Senses (A terminally self-righteous Hamburg judge wants to sue Merkel for “approving of an illegal act.”)

    Bin Laden, the Victor (Psychobabble deploring the fighting of “evil with evil.” Hand-wringing over an action described as, “an assault by 79 elite soldiers, who shot an unarmed old man, surrounded by women and children.)

    Poll – Germans are not Happy about bin Laden’s Death  (no kidding?)

    American Justice  (Oh my!  It seems there are some questions about whether the operation was justified under international law.)

    Schadenfreude over bin Laden’s Death is Unworthy  (A particularly nauseating display of ostentatious self-righteousness by a “theology professor.”)

    …and so on, and so on.  All this isn’t a purely German phenomenon, of course.  Other bloggers have noted the pervasive grief in the rest of Europe over bin Laden’s demise.  Seen from a purely psychological perspective, it’s encouraging.  Apparently the Europeans still perceive us as “King of the Hill.”  After all, they would hardly have worked themselves into such a lather if Gautemala had succeeded in bumping off its public enemy number one.  It may be that China’s turn is coming, but they’re not there yet.

  • 1848 in the Middle East

    Posted on February 18th, 2011 Helian 2 comments

    Ever since the fall of Louis Philippe’s July Monarchy set off a round of sympathetic insurrections in Europe, revolutions have tended to appear in waves.  The recent uprisings in the Middle East are no exception.  The reaction to them among liberals and conservatives will be familiar to anyone who experienced the cold war.  In those days, conservatives tended to support “anti-Communist” dictators against popular uprisings, and liberals tended to support the “democratic movements” against these “corrupt dictators,” even if their leaders happened to be Pol Pot or Ho chi Minh.  Now, thanks to the Internet and other modern means of spreading the word, the related narratives on the left and right are similar, but more uniform, pervasive, and predictable than ever. 

    In the case of Egypt, for example, conservatives seldom write anything concerning recent events there without raising the specter of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Liberals, on the other hand, are cheering on the insurgency, scoffing at the suggestion that it could ever be hijacked by Islamist radicals.  For the most part, the proponents of the two narratives possess little or no reliable information on the balance of political forces in Egypt, and certainly not enough to support the level of certainty with which they represent their points of view.  As with earlier revolutions, the notion that even the best informed human beings are sufficiently intelligent to reliably predict the eventual outcome is merely another one of our pleasant delusions. 

    In fact, the belief of the vast majority of those on either side of the issue that the point of view they support with such zeal was arrived at independently via the exercise of their own intellectual powers is also a delusion.  The utter sameness of these “independent opinions,” as like to each other as so many peas in a pod, and their almost inevitable association with an assortment of other “independent opinions” of like nature, demonstrate their real character as ideological shibboleths that define the current intellectual territory of the in-groups of the left and the right. 

    What, then, of Egypt?  Who can say?  The political history of the Middle East, the rarity and evanescence of democratic governments in the region, the traditional role of the military as a quasi-political party holding all the trump cards, and the lack of experience in or ideological attachment to popular government do not encourage optimism that a modern democratic government will emerge from the current chaos.  Still, as noted above, none of us has the intellectual horsepower to predict with certainty what will happen, although of all the guesses being made, some of them will surely be lucky.  One can only suggest to the Egyptian people that, given the outcome of some of the other “popular movements” that were greeted with similar euphoria during the past century, it would behoove them to be very careful whom they allow to lead them.

  • About that Right-wing Islamophobe…

    Posted on August 26th, 2010 Helian No comments

    It turns out that the truth is somewhat more nuanced than the media narrative about a dastardly attack on a Moslem by an evil, right-wing opponent of the Ground Zero Mosque and, therefore, “freedom of religion.” Quoting from Don Surber;

    The attacker apparently supports building the mosque 560 feet away from Ground Zero.

    The blood is on the hands of a lefty.

    From Ben Smith at Politico: “But as often at the intersection of politics and violent crime, the story doesn’t appear to fit any easy stereotype: The alleged assailant, Michael Enright, is — according to his Facebook profile and the website of the left-leaning media organization Intersections International — a student at the School of Visual Arts and a volunteer for Intersections, which recently produced a statement of support for the Park51 project and is funded by the mainstream, liberal Collegiate Church of New York.”

    Even after that, Little Green Footballs made excuses: “At Politico, Ben Smith notes that Enright’s films were apparently sponsored by a left-leaning group called Intersections: Alleged anti-Muslim attacker works at pro-Park51 group. Smith’s headline is a bit misleading, however, because Intersections is involved in many different projects, not just in supporting Park51. Enright was a volunteer filmmaker for Intersections, and there’s no reason to believe he was involved with or sympathetic to their support for Park51.”

    Other than the group just supported the Victory Mosque.

    Sheesh.

    It was a vicious crime by a 21-year-old coward.

    It is attempted murder. I don’t care about this coward’s politics. But connecting this inexplicable act of violence on peaceful protesters is ignorant.

    And so far, despite all the wishes of the left, the violence comes and hot rhetoric comes from the left. Need I remind readers of the beating of Kenneth Gladney?

    No matter, CNN is still running with the same old narrative. Their headline: “Slashed cab driver to call for end to anti-Muslim rhetoric.” Of course, the editors there have long given up the “objectivity” charade, and realize they’re preaching to the choir. As Stalin said when one of his associates suggested that a piece of propaganda was so absurd that even his fellow traveler dupes in the West might gag on it, “Don’t worry, they’ll swallow it.”

  • The WaPo and the Mosque at Ground Zero

    Posted on August 10th, 2010 Helian No comments

    H. L. Mencken, himself on of America’s greatest editorial writers, had meager respect for most of the species. As he once put it, “Give me a good editorial cartoonist, and I can fire half the editorial staff.” He wouldn’t have been surprised by a piece entitled “A Vote for Religious Freedom,” that recently appeared on the editorial page of the Washington Post. It was marked by the self-induced imbecility about “freedom of religion” that has been the bane of serious debate about the role of Islam in today’s world.

    The piece addresses the issue of the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, noting with approval the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission’s vote to deny historic status to the existing building on the site. In the words of the editorial,

    The agency’s correct call is a victory for cooler heads in city government, and for a fundamental American ideal – freedom of religion.

    In fact, as far as the current debate about Islam is concerned, freedom of religion is a red herring. I suspect that, among all those who have expressed opposition to the mosque, the number of those who really care whether their neighbors believe in Jehovah, Allah, or the Great Green Grasshopper God is vanishingly small, as long as their opinions are between themselves and their God, and don’t imply any requirement to intervene in or control the lives of others. I have not yet read a single article on the subject that takes issue with the right of Moslems or anyone else to think and believe as they please. Many of them, however, take issue with the claims of Islam to political control and social coercion. The question, then, is whether these arguments are justified, or are merely smokescreens for an assault on freedom of religion.

    The answer is obvious. Is it credible to argue that the Islamic theocracy in Iran has not practiced religious discrimination against those of other faiths, or that its justification for that discrimination has not been based on Moslem religious doctrine? Is it credible to argue that Islam does not explicitly reject freedom of religion, prescribing severe punishment for those who would leave Islam for some other faith, and institutional discrimination, including special taxes and denial of freedom of speech in matters relating to religion, directed against those of other faiths? Is it credible to argue that Islam poses no challenge to separation of church and state, or that it has never favored substitution of religious for secular law? Is it credible to argue that much of the terrorist violence that has plagued the world in recent years has not been justified in the name of Islam? Is it credible to argue that severe limitations on the equal treatment of women, in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Islamic world, are not justified in the name of Islam? No, in all of these cases, it is not credible.

    The proposed mosque is to be part of a complex known as the Cordoba House, and the Wapo editorial tries to gull its readers with the revisionist version of history according to which Islamic Cordoba was a “medieval Spanish city where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in peace for 800 years.” It boggles the mind to consider the possibility that Wapo’s editorialists are really stupid enough to believe that. Do they not have access to Google? Can they not confirm for themselves that Jews were subjected to pogroms in Moslem Spain, including one in Cordoba itself in the year 1011? Did not Ibn Abdun, one of the foremost Spanish Islamic jurists in this “golden age” write,

    No…Jew or Christian may be allowed to wear the dress of an aristocrat, nor of a jurist, nor of a wealthy individual; on the contrary they must be detested and avoided. It is forbidden to [greet] them with the [expression], ‘Peace be upon you’. In effect, ‘Satan has gained possession of them, and caused them to forget God’s warning. They are the confederates of Satan’s party; Satan’s confederates will surely be the losers!’ A distinctive sign must be imposed upon them in order that they may be recognized and this will be for them a form of disgrace.

    Were the Jews of Cordoba not forced to wear such a sign, in the form of a yellow turban, reminiscent of the yellow Star of David they were forced to wear under a later European regime? Were Christians not martyred in the city for daring to criticize Moslem religious beliefs? Was not Maimonides himself, one of the greatest Jewish scholars of the Cordovan “golden age,” forced to flee the city to avoid religious persecution? I could go on and on, but I think I’ve made my point.

    In fact, there is no such thing as a “mere religion” among any of the major religions in the world today. All of them have, at one point or another, claimed the right to political control, attempted to elevate their religious tenets to secular law, and discriminated against and penalized those who thought differently. I am hardly a defender of Christianity, and it is no different from any of the other religions in this respect. However, devout Christians can, and have, as in the case of Roger Williams, convincingly argued for the separation of church and state based on religious doctrine. The enlightenment has further neutered its claims to state support and established status, to the point that, today, one can reasonably speak of freedom of religion in nominally Christian countries. Not so with Islam.

    The principle that the WaPo editorialists and others who make similar arguments are defending, then, when they evoke “freedom of religion” has nothing to do with private religious beliefs. Objectively, what they are saying, whether they are prepared to admit it themselves or not, is that, as long as the adherents of some system of belief can manage to convince the rest of society that they are a religion, no matter whether their “religious beliefs” include such things as a monopoly of state power, severe restrictions on freedom of speech on matters touching their beliefs, and a right to profound intervention in the lives of others, then they automatically become immune from criticism in the name of “freedom of religion.”

    One wonders what kind of a two by four it would be necessary to whack people like this up alongside the head with before they finally realized this debate isn’t about “freedom of religion.” Would they defend the murder of a Moslem friend for “apostasy” because he decided to convert to Christianity in the name of “freedom of religion?” Would they tolerate the nullification of democracy and the imposition of sharia law in the name of “freedom of religion?” Are they prepared to tolerate “honor killings” in the name of “freedom of religion?” Would they assist in the genital mutilation of their daughters if it were required in the name of “freedom of religion?” Would the editors of the Washington Post claim that these things are not required by the Moslem religion? A great many devout Moslems who have spent a great deal more time studying Islamic scriptures than they would claim that they are required. Who are the editors of the Washington Post to define what it means to be a Moslem?

    The debate about the mosque at Ground Zero does not and never has had anything to do with freedom of religion. There is a point beyond which it is no longer acceptable to sacrifice one’s own Liberty and tolerate intervention in one’s own life to accommodate the religious beliefs of others. The debate is about when that point is reached.

  • The Rubaiyat of Edward Fitzgerald as a Critique of Islam

    Posted on June 24th, 2010 Helian 1 comment

    According to Voltaire, “one merit of poetry few persons will deny: it says more and in fewer words that prose.” The Rubaiyat of Edward Fitzgerald is a case in point. It is a succinct refutation of the Judeo-Christian religions in general and Islam in particular.

    I say the Rubaiyat of Edward Fitzgerald rather than the more familiar Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam because the version most English speaking people are familiar with, while it may have been inspired by the Persian poet, is really attributable to Fitzgerald. A book review in the Guardian coined the very appropriate term “transcreation” for it. Anyone reading the modern translation by Peter Avery and Heath Stubbs will get the point. Many of Fitzgerald’s quatrains bear only a vague resemblance to the original Persian, and others were apparently invented entirely by the English author. Taken together, however, they are consistent and effective critique of Islam, and an expression of the author’s own world view.

    Fitzgerald was certainly an agnostic, and may have been an atheist. According to his bio-sketch at Wikipedia,

    As he grew older, FitzGerald grew more and more disenchanted with Christianity, and finally gave up attending church entirely. This drew the attention of the local pastor, who decided to pay a visit to the self-absenting FitzGerald. Reportedly, FitzGerald informed the pastor that his decision to absent himself from church services was the fruit of long and hard meditation. When the pastor protested, FitzGerald showed him to the door, and said, “Sir, you might have conceived that a man does not come to my years of life without thinking much of these things. I believe I may say that I have reflected [on] them fully as much as yourself. You need not repeat this visit.”

    If he did admit the possibility of God’s existence, and the inscription on his gravestone, “It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves,” implied that he did, he nevertheless denied that we should devote our lives to some divine purpose, or that we could expect any reward in heaven or punishment in hell for our earthly deeds:

    Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
    Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
    The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
    The leaves of Life keep falling one by one.

    and:

    Some for the Glories of This World; and some
    Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise to come;
    Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
    Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!

    He saw no reason to believe that any of the conflicting accounts in the different religions of life after death were factual:

    And those who husbanded the Golden Grain,
    And those who flung it to the Winds like rain,
    Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn’d
    As, buried once, Men want dug up again.

    Strange, is it not? That of the Myriads who
    Before us pass’d the door of Darkness through,
    Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
    Which to discover we must travel too.

    The familiar Moslem and Christian accounts of heaven and hell, were simply human fantasies taken to their extreme:

    I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
    Some Letter of that After-Life to spell:
    And by and by my Soul return’d to me,
    And answer’d “I Myself am Heav’n and
    Hell.”

    Heav’n but the Vision of fulfill’d Desire,
    And Hell the Shadow from a Soul on fire,
    Cast on the Darkness into which Ourselves,
    So late emerg’d from, shall so soon expire.

    The revelations of the prophets were so much imposture:

    Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss’d
    Of the Two Worlds so wisely – they are thrust
    Like foolish Prophets forth; their words to scorn
    Are scatter’d, and their Mouths are stopt with
    Dust.

    The Revelations of Devout and Learn’d
    Who rose before us, and as Prophets burn’d,
    Are all but Stories, which, awoke from Sleep
    They told their comrades, and to Sleep return’d.

    Having excluded the existence of a God, or at least a God who had any claim on our affections or actions, Fitzgerald concluded that there could be no legitimate “purpose of life.”

    Alike for those who for Today prepare,
    And those that after some Tomorrow stare,
    A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries
    “Fools! Your Reward is neither Here nor There!”

    That being the case, deep philosophical reasonings to uncover such a purpose and make sense of human existence were futile:

    Myself when young did eagerly frequent
    Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
    About it and about: but evermore
    Came out by the same Door where in I went.

    With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
    And with mine own Hand wrought to make
    it grow
    And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d –
    “I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”

    If any answers to the questions posed by philosophers really existed, they were beyond the grasp of human understanding:

    There was the Door to which I found no Key;
    There was the Veil through which I might not see:
    Some little Talk awhile of Me and Thee
    There was – and then no more of Thee and Me.

    Earth could not answer; nor the Seas that mourn
    In flowing Purple, of their Lord forlorn;
    Nor rolling heaven, with all his signs reveal’d
    And hidden by the Sleeve of Night and Morn.

    Fitzgerald rejected the Moslem belief, reiterated over and over in the Koran, that humans will suffer eternal fiery torture in hell for “sins” which are predestined, and therefore unavoidable. He points out the inconsistency of such a God, capable of calling beings into existence from nothingness in the full knowledge that he would later subject them to almost unimaginable tortures for the paltry sins he knew they would commit, with the moral sense that very God, if he existed at all, must have planted in our consciousness:

    Oh Thou, who didst with Pitfall and with Gin
    Beset the Road I was to wander in,
    Thou wilt not with Predestin’d Evil round
    Enmesh, and then impute my Fall to Sin!

    But helpless Pieces of the Game He Plays
    Upon his Chequer-board of Nights and Days;
    Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays,
    And one by one back in the Closet lays.

    Such a God would be more in need of forgiveness than the creatures he created:

    What! Out of senseless Nothing to provoke
    A conscious Something to resent the Yoke
    Of unpermitted Pleasure, under pain
    Of Everlasting Penalties, if broke!

    What! from His helpless Creature be repaid
    Pure Gold for what He lent him dross-allay’d:
    Sue for a Debt he never did contract,
    And cannot answer – Oh the sorry Trade!

    Oh Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
    And ev’n with Paradise devise the Snake:
    For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
    Is blacken’d, Man’s Forgiveness give –
    and take!

    The poet elaborates on this theme with the metaphor of a potter and his pots:

    And has not such a Story from of Old
    Down Man’s successive Generations roll’d
    Of such a Clod of saturated Earth
    Cast by the Maker into Human mould?

    The pots speculate about why they were made, their purpose, and their eventual fate. Once again, Fitzgerald returns to the theme of the Creator as tyrannical monster, a being capable of calling into life creatures far more inferior to Himself than amoeba are to human beings, and then torturing them for billions of years because they didn’t deliver what they “owed” him, even though he knew in advance that it would be impossible for them to do so:

    Then said a Second – “Ne’er a peevish Boy
    Would break the Bowl from which he drank in joy;
    And He that with His hand the Vessel made
    Will surely not in after Wrath destroy.”

    He elaborates on the absurdity of eternal punishment for sins that are predestined, and therefore not the fault of the created but of the creator:

    After a momentary Silence spake
    Some Vessel of a more ungainly Make;
    “They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
    What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?”

    One of the pots suggests that such an irrational “potter” can only exist as a concoction of the pots themselves:

    Whereat some one of the loquacious Lot –
    I think a Sufi Pipkin – waxing hot –
    “All this of Pot and Potter – Tell me then,
    Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?”

    Whereat another agrees and concludes that the real Potter isn’t really capable of such an extreme departure from the notion of moral righteousness with which he has imbued his Pots;

    “Why,” said another, “Some there are who tell
    Of one who threatens he will toss to Hell
    The luckless Pots he marr’d in making – Pish!
    He’s a Good Fellow, and ‘twill all be well.”

    It seems such thoughts must occur to anyone who has the courage to question the validity of received religious “truths.” In the Islamic world, of course, the amount of courage needed is somewhat greater, because the penalty for apostasy can be extreme. In Saudi Arabia, for example, it is death. When the penalty for thinking is that extreme, truth must inevitably be a casualty.

    Fitzgerald did think, and the world view he arrived at did not include a Master of an eternal torture chamber as God. It was, however, somewhat pessimistic. In fact, the poet accepted notions of predestination usually attributed to Islam:

    With Earth’s first Clay They did the Last Man knead,
    And there of the Last Harvest sow’d the Seed:
    And the first Morning of Creation wrote
    What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.

    It’s interesting to speculate on the effect the revelations of the probabilistic world of quantum mechanics may have had on such a deterministic world view. For that matter, it’s interesting to speculate on whether Fitzgerald’s apparent conclusions about the ultimate purposeless of life might have been moderated if he’d taken a closer look behind the veil that Darwin had lifted more than 20 years before his death. As it was, those conclusions were lugubrious enough:

    When You and I behind the Veil are past,
    Oh, but the long, long while the World shall last,
    Which of our Coming and Departure heeds
    As the sea’s self should heed a Pebble-cast.

    A Moment’s Halt – a momentary Taste
    Of Being from the Well amid the Waste –
    And Lo! – the phantom Caravan has reach’d
    The Nothing it set out from – Oh, make haste!

    There is some consolation in the fact that, if we must die, at least we’ve all been there before,

    And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
    End in what All begins and ends in – Yes;
    Think then you are Today what Yesterday
    You were – Tomorrow you shall not be less.

    Fitzgerald’s poem has touched more than a few readers over the years. In fact, more copies of it have been sold than any other English poem. I suspect many among those who can recite its lines by heart have come to conclusions similar to those above about what the author was trying to tell us. His quatrains have enabled them to repeat opinions they may have felt uncomfortable stating in so many words. As Thomas Hardy put it, “If Galileo had said in verse that the world moved, the inquisition might have let him alone.” Fortunately, the inquisition is no longer with us, but, until quite recently, there have been serious social sanctions against “free thinking” in matters of religion in the West. Of course, those sanctions not only still exist, but are becoming stronger in the Moslem world. There is some solace in the thought that that world provided the inspiration for one of the most devastating critiques of its own theocratic ideology.

    Edward Fitzgerald

  • Bush? No, I Don’t Miss Him Yet

    Posted on June 21st, 2010 Helian No comments

    Oh, I agree, Obama seems inept, weak, and lacking in any detectable skills as a leader. But was Bush really all that much better? He certainly didn’t stop the cancerous growth of big government. He launched a completely unnecessary war of aggression in Iraq, freeing the country of a bloody dictator in the process. For that, most Iraqis are probably more or less as grateful as the journalist who threw his shoes at W. The war cost us and continues to cost us blood and treasure that we can ill afford. He got us into another war in Afghanistan that was certainly more justifiable, but failed to take the perfectly sound advice of Donald Rumsfeld to pack up and leave quickly when it was over. Instead, we embarked on a neocon’s wet dream of “nation building,” with the predictable result that we are still bogged down there, with the left and right in cordial agreement that we face almost inevitable defeat.

    Other than that, as the recent “peace flotilla” stunt reminded us, he completely failed to understand the burgeoning threat of a resurgent and politicized Islam that has now become the main contender to fill the ideological vacuum left by the demise of Communism. The evidence is all still out there on the Internet. For example, he strongly backed Turkey’s entry into the EU, as can be seen in this story that appeared in the Washington Post back in October, 2006. Fortunately, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel had other ideas.  (Of course, the Turks, with one of the fastest growing economies in the world, are probably jumping for joy that they didn’t stumble into the EU’s economic black hole, but that’s another story.)  Read the article, and you’ll see how thoroughly Bush was bamboozled by Turkey’s Islamist prime minister Erdogan.  It was “in our interests” for the rapidly radicalizing Turks to become a part of Europe. The U.S. and its Turkish “strategic partner” were “focusing on ways to counter extremism.” Bush nodded sagely as Erdogan inveighed against the use of terms like “Islamic terrorism.”

    In a word, I wouldn’t exactly put nostalgia for Bush in the U.S. in the same category as nostalgia for Stalin in Russia, but it still doesn’t make a lot of sense. The choice between Bush and Obama is basically the choice between being internationally hated or internationally despised.  Take your pick.