I have stood at the very spot where Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were shot by Gavrilo Princip 100 years ago. And the impossible “What If” question occurred to me even then. So when I noticed that eminent historian Ned Lebow had published an examination of the issue, I leapt at it. The assassination was such a fluke, so preventable, so absurd that the yearning for a different outcome of that moment is great. As he says at the start (having summarised some of the counterfactual options),
None of these what-ifs strains our understanding of the world because most royal processions do not stray from their intended routes, and most security details would have rushed the archduke and his wife to safety at the first signs of violence. In this instance, the so-called factual, not the counterfactual, is what strikes us as unrealistic and incredible. (p16) Read more
Well, to all my American friends and family, Happy 4th July. I wish you a great day of celebration and fun. That is always a little strange coming from a Brit. After all, you did rebel against us. But I think we’ve kinda gotten over it now (as you might put it). But it’s well-meant. America is a country I’ve grown to love (or at least certainly the bits I’ve visited). And as Bono has said more than once (perhaps explaining why he’s never forsaken his Irish roots despite his love for the US): Ireland’s a great country, but America is a great idea. And that’s what the 4th is all about at its best. A great idea. Read more
I guess this book will initially appeal only to politics junkies and West Wing devotees (which is probably why I read it). But I suspect many others may well enjoy it despite that – it’s pacey, readable and insightful. And actually, surprisingly relevant to all kinds of other walks of life.
A politics professor and former Democrat party campaign consultant (from McGovern through to Gore), Samuel Popkin has sought to expose the arcane and often dark arts of US presidential campaigning in The Candidate. The results are fascinating. Here are just a few windows into this bizarre parallel world. Read more
One of power’s cruel ironies is that after craving it for years, its attainment brings a deeply bitter (if addictive) taste. At the heart of the problem is that deep sense of isolation that comes of sitting at the top of the tree. No one can truly understand what it feels like… apart from one’s predecessors. This is the subject of a gripping new take on the US Presidency, Gibbs and Duffy’s The Presidents Club (surely there needs to be an apostrophe in there somewhere!?). There is an irritating proliferation of books about all 44 White House inhabitants, but this is a genuinely interesting addition. Read more
It is a truism to say that the media is influential in politics. But there is no doubting that its power to mesmerize and acclimatize contributed to Obama’s election. Having focused yesterday on the way in which Obama both innately and deliberately sought to build bridges across community divides and with historical landmarks (as described in David Remnick’s remarkable book The Bridge), I want to pick up on how he was able to surf the media’s wave all the way into Pennsylvania Avenue. Read more
If there is a point to Barack Obama becoming US President – and let’s face it, how can we ever reduce anyone’s life to having ‘a point’ – it is not his politics but his race. Race is what made his election seem so unthinkable, and yet, conversely, once he was the Democrat candidate, such a difficult opponent to beat in the 2008 election. And it is what will give him his enduring legacy (politics and 2nd term aside). Read more
If you had to sum up postmodernism in one word, I think a strong (but by no means only) contender would be the word SUSPICION. Suspicion of power, suspicion of motives, suspicion of truth claims – in short, suspicion of absolutely everything and everyone. And of course what is one insidious but pervasive manifestation of suspicion? The Conspiracy Theory.
The twentieth century seems to have bred such theorists – they’re everywhere. And they have their audience over a barrel – if you question or disagree with them, you’re just a patsy, gullible putty in the oppressors’ hands. Then if you present a substantial case against them, well, you can hear the lines already:
- ‘aah, but there’s no smoke without fire…’ (that cowardly retort of the gossip);
- ‘hey, I’m just asking questions’ (when of course, they’re doing no such thing);
- ‘but what about Watergate?’ Well yes, that was a conspiracy, and yes, politicians are often corrupt. But think about it. Watergate was such a grubby and unambitious conspiracy (i.e. covering up the business of eavesdropping on political opponents) compared to the more extreme theories people tenaciously hold to.
And they are often extreme and extraordinarily ambitious. If true, many of these would need not just scores but hundreds and even thousands of accomplices (unwitting or otherwise) – who ALL keep quiet (by force or voluntarily). Just glancing down the list of conspiracies tackled by the journalist David Aaronovitch in his recent book, Voodoo Histories, makes clear how ambitious some of these are:
- Protocols of the Elders of Zion – a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world (now clearly proven to be a fraud – and yet scarily, still touted in Islamist circles as a justification of their opposition to Israel’s existence)
- Stalin’s purge of Trotskyites incl Pyatakov in 1937
- President Roosevelt knew (and even wanted) Pearl Harbor – even people like Gore Vidal subscribe to this view
- Senator McCarthy’s suspicions of communists in government
- The ‘mysterious?’ deaths of popular ‘deities’: JFK, RFK, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana
- Doubting whether or not the moon landings ever took place
- The ‘mysterious?’ death of Hilda Murrell & nuclear conspiracies in the 1980s (a conspiracy championed by the otherwise redoubtable Tam Dalyell MP)
- Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln’s thesis about the descendents of Jesus in Holy Blood and Holy Grail, as picked up by Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code
- Erich Von Daniken’s theories and books Chariots of the Gods? Was God an Astronaut?
- 9/11 & 7/7 conspiracies – from the “let it happen on purpose” (LIHOP) types to the “made-it-happen-on-purpose” (MIHOP) types.
- David Kelly’s suicide after his Commons Select committee testimony about Iraqi weapons evidence
- The ‘birthers’ who doubted Obama’s birth certificate & rumours of the Clinton “body count”.
It’s an extraordinary, comprehensive list – and these are just some of the most prominent ones (go online and you’ll find a conspiracy theory to suit every conceivable taste and obsession). This book is a fascinating but chilling read. Some theories are very popular – and even regarded as de rigeur if you don’t want to look a fool (e.g. JFK was shot by two shooters at least. Wasn’t he?).
Aaronovitch is clearly a sceptic. But his research methods and approach seem impeccable, logical and at times exhaustive. He presents a convincing case at many points. He produces clear evidence to prove their idiocy, even if it has appeared long after their fashions has waned. There is so much common sense here – that it is a book worth lending to any with conspiracist inclinations.
Bizarrely enough, one of his most compelling chapters (I’d not anticipated this at all as I’d not even noticed its inclusion when I picked the book up), was his merciless dismantling of the ludicrous theories behind Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Many Christian apologists have done a great job at approaching the evidence from an ancient historical perspective. What was so compelling here was his observations of the evolution of this particular narrative: a nineteenth century catholic parish priest who mysteriously becomes rich. So of course, that clearly means that was paid off by Rome to keep schtum about what he’d uncovered – i.e. the genealogical line of Jesus & Mary Magdalene. Well Aaronovitch shows that this whole business bears many of the hallmarks of other conspiracy theories.
What is not often appreciated (I certainly hadn’t realised this) is that practically ALL the main perpetrators in France of the Merovingian mythology have since admitted that the whole thing is a hoax. Here’s a flavour of Aaronovitch’s style (himself from a Jewish Marxist background with certainly no axe to grind in favour of Christianity):
The playful Henry Lincoln [one of the co-authors of Holy Blood & Holy Grail] has also been fond of using the partiality and contradictory nature of New Testament interpretations to sanction his own liberties. Is it more likely, he asks, that a man should have been born of a virgin, been able to walk on water and rise from the dead than that he should have been born as other men are born, married, and raise a family? It’s a good line, but the trouble is that while the Gospels do create some evidence for a man called Jesus who led a religious movement in the early years of the Roman empire, there is no evidence whatsoever from any source at all for that man being married or having children. None. (pp199-200)
This is how he sums up the chapter – the main protagonist, Pierre Plantard, being the centre of the story’s attention as the one claimed to be a descendent of Jesus Christ himself.
It was all a hoax, every bit of it. It began with a story, which then developed into a massive fantasy, support for which was manufactured by forging documents. Many of these were lists of names copied from other genealogists and registers, and then tinkered with; others were invented travelogues. The motives of the participants are varied. De Cherisey was interested in surrealism and in the 1960s was involved in an organisation called the Workshop for Potential Literature (Oulipo), in which the members played around with puzzles, ciphers and codes. Plantard, as we have seen, had been trying most of his life to give himself some significance through shadowy or secret organisations, joining the many people through the centuries who have been attracted to the idea of membership of a clandestine society with elite, and sometimes occult, powers to organise the world. Finally, there were those motivated simply by money. (p204)
There are some great lines. In a previous section, referring to Princess Diana’s death in a Parisian tunnel, he refers to the theories put by some ex-MI5 agents, and draws in a magnificent line from Umberto Eco’s breathtaking Foucault’s Pendulum.
Studying the competing claims of various secret sources, one can see that to believe one is to disbelieve the others. Whether the authors who used these sources were complicit in what must, at the very least have been a series of hoaxes is impossible to say. But if one were to ask the old conspiracist question Cui bono? (Who benefits?), the answer seems obvious. I say ‘seems’ because in this world every debunkable theory could in fact be disinformation put out by the Establishment/security services to throw investigators and the public off the scent. Such a hypothesis was put forward by former MI5 officer Annie Machon on Channel 4’s Richard and Judy in 2005. It was the very stupidity of some of the theories surrounding Diana’s death, she told her interviewers, that first convinced her that the accident was in fact murder. She had been alerted to the conspiracy by the classic MI6 disinformation technique of suggesting conspiracies. Or, as Umberto Eco put it, “The Rosicrucians were everywhere, aided by the fact that they didn’t exist.” (p150)
Or take this, about the death in the 1980s (subsequently proven to be the result of a break-in gone horribly wrong) of Hilda Murrill a known anti-nuclear activist. This was taken up as a cause by the famous Labour Old Etonian MP, Tam Dalyell.
While the notion of members of the British security services going around bumping off little old ladies in English market towns (more or less the exact opposite of their official role) may have amazed most MPs, it simply angered Mr Dalyell. (p175)
And I like this idea of an ‘equal-opportunity conspiracist‘, in his analysis of Gore Vidal’s various political theories!
Vidal, like Philip J Berg, was an equal-opportunity conspiracist, and was comfortable whether accusing FDR, Harry Truman, LBJ, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, of complex and dastardly secret acts for various nefarious purposes – usually as pretexts for war or domestic crackdowns. (p303)
So what do these theories have in common? Well, in drawing various threads together, 4 features particularly struck me (from the perspective of a Christian worldview)
The mace (left) is the symbol of the Sovereign’s power – and in Parliament, it represents her delegated authority. When the Commons is in session, it sits on the table just in front of the Government and Opposition despatch boxes. Without its presence, parliamentary activity is invalid and even illegal. For any Government in this country will always only be (while the monarchy remains) His or Her Majesty’s Government.
But these are of course just constitutional niceties. As everyone knows, power (real and moral) lies in the hands of elected representatives. The presence of the mace could therefore symbolise the power delegated by voters in a way, which means that the government of the day has a mandate legislate and govern. And I do actually believe that politicians can make a difference for good or ill, and that they are not universally on the make or entirely self-serving (despite what has happened in the last, so-called ‘Rotten Parliament‘).
Yet we mustn’t be naïve or unrealistic. Who knows exactly what the situation will be come Friday. Hung Parliament most likely – though there are still so many undecideds in the marginals that there could possibly be a slim Tory majority. Who knows? Whatever happens, the situation will be different from how it has been for the last 5 years.
But it has been depressing to see how vitriolic and vindictive many have been, whether about a Tory return to power or about the record of Labour’s last 13 years… and I’m actually talking about Christians here (in their tweets, blogs and conversations). I certainly have my views on that, and they are reasonably strong. But I just wonder what the sense of desperation by some on all sides says about us.
It reminded me of some of the things Tim Keller wrote in his superb Counterfeit Gods about the idolatry of political power – and it is worth quoting at length (bearing in mind that he is obviously talking about the US situation).
One of the signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life. When we center our lives on the idol, we become dependent on it. If our counterfeit god is threatened in any way, our response is complete panic. We do not say, “What a shame, how difficult,” but rather “This is the end! There’s no hope!”
This may be a reason why so many people now respond to U.S. political trends in such an extreme way. When either party wins an election, a certain percentage of the losing side talks openly about leaving the country. They become agitated and fearful for the future. They have put the kind of hope in their political leaders and policies that once was reserved for God and the work of the gospel. When their political leaders are out of power they experience a death. They believe that if their policies and people are not in power, everything will fall apart. They refuse to admin how much agreement they actually have with the other party, and instead focus on the points of disagreement. The points of contention overshadow everything else, and a poisonous environment is created.
Another sign of idolatry in our politics is that opponents are not considered to be simply mistaken, but to be evil. After the last presidential election [i.e. 2008 election which Obama won], my eighty-four-year-old mother observed, “It used to be that whoever was elected as your president, even if he wasn’t the one you voted for, he was still your president. That doesn’t seem to be the case any longer.” After each election, there is now a significant number of people who see the incoming president lacking moral legitimacy. The increasing political polarization and bitterness we see in U.S. politics today is a sign that we have made political activism into a form of religion. How does idolatry produce fear and demonization?
Dutch-Canadian philosopher Al Wolters taught that in the biblical view of things, the main problem in life is sin, and the only solution is God and his grace. The alternative to this view is to identify something besides sin as the main problem with the world and something besides God as the main remedy. That demonizaes something that is not completely bad, and makes an idol out of soemthing that cannot be the ultimate good. Wolters writes:
The great danger is to single out some aspect or phenomenon of God’s good creation and identify it, rather than the alien intrusion of sin, as the villain in the drama of human life… This “something” has been variously identified as … the body and its passions (Plato and much of Greek philosophy), culture in distinction from nature (Rousseau and Romanticism), institutional authority, especially in the state and the family (much of depth psychology), technology and management techniques (Heidegger and Ellul)… The Bible is unique in its uncompromising rejection of all attempts … to identify part of creation as either the villain or the savior.
This accounts for the constant political cycles of overblown hopes and disillusionment, for the increasingly poisonous political discourse, and for the disproportionate fear and despair when one’s political party loses power. But why do we deify and demonize political causes and ideas? Reinhold Niebuhr answered that, in political idolatry, we make a god out of having power.
(Counterfeit Gods, pp98-101)
Now I’m by no means qualified to assess whether or not the philosophical precis given in the quotation from Wolters are valid – but the key point surely still stands up. And we would all do well to remember this on Friday morning…
Last week’s Time magazine had a poignant article about the loneliness of the Presidency as part of its coverage of the first year of Obama’s inauguration. Obama and the Loneliest Job It’s worth a read and is not particularly partisan or political. Who’d ever want the job, when all is said and done?
But the thing that struck me most about it was this picture. To accompany the articles, Time commissioned Dylan Roscover to come up with an image to tell the story. The man is a design genius. And I hope that this will become every bit as famous as Shepard Fairey’s famous campain poster.
It’s simply entitled BURDENED, but that’s superfluous, really. The image speaks for itself.
It is an utterly convincing, beautiful and bewitching work of art.
Check out his Steve Jobs from some time back:
- J C Ryle is one of my heroes. So it’s a joy to see that one Erik Kowalker has set up a ‘fan-site’ – with a daily quote from the great man.
- Some atheists can’t hack it when Christians are given important jobs in science. Notice Sam Harris’ reaction to Obama’s appointment of former Genome Project boss, Francis Collins, to be the boss of the National Institute of Health.
“few things make thinking like a scientist more difficult than religion”
- A man who prayed for his daughter to be healed rather than take her to hospital has been found guilty of murder (and faces up to 25 years in jail).
- An ingenious charity advert designed to provoke westerners into considering the equivalent costs in Africa of their daily luxuries. It’s too big to reproduce here unfortunately.
- Check out this revealing diagram depicting the main sponsors and donors at the last US Presidential (from Good)
- Now this IS very clever: a gate made out of water – think about it…
- An idle moment is WELL SPENT browsing through National Geographic’s awesome photographic archives. They never cease to thrill, provoke and astound… Great for spicing up your desktop backgrounds.
- And on that note, check out these amazing pics of Rice padi-field art…
- Here is a nice piece of 70s nostalgia (no idea where it originates so apologies for not giving credit where it’s due). No prizes for working out why they’re all together…
1 trillion is a big number. And it’s making big news in G20 circles. Of course, we’re all very pleased and happy as it’s going to save the world, thanks to Messrs Brown and Obama. Hurrah for them. Trillions really are the new billions, it seems.
But spare a thought for ordinary Zimbabweans. Where a trillion really isn’t what it once was. Nor for that matter, is 100 trillion Zim dollars…
The exchange rate currently (but probably meaninglessly) stands at £1 = Z$55 million. So this not is in itself worth £1.8 million. But they’ve presumably printed them because they expect it to be enough to buy a loaf of bread next month.
Check out these ingenious adverts for The Zimbabwean newspaper (strapline: a voice for the voiceless) – they’re printed on actual Zim dollars – to show how worthless they have become. It’s cheaper to do that than buy printing paper. See other examples at their Flickr page. It is a courageous, but necessary stand – the injustices of the situation reinforced by the fact that Mugabe recently celebrated with another lavish birthday party.
- Carson on the New Perspective(s) on Paul – have been listening to these 3 from RTS on iTunesU. REALLY helpful. If you’ve not discovered RTS’ stuff there’s a lot of treasure to sift through.
- Some naughty sacred treasure (if that’s possible) – the most anti-essential Christian books. (HT – The Simple Pastor)
- In case you missed it, here is Ally Gordon’s compelling picture for the The Factory, in Wimbledon.
- Is Food the New Sex? – interesting article from Washington Post (HT – Paul Carter)
- We’ve forgotten how to face death – brilliant piece by Johann Hari in the Independent (HT – Nancy Heeb)
- Obama’s prayer partners/pastors – interesting article in New York Times. (HT – Ben Witherington) Interesting to read there that George W Bush never joined a Washington church in the 8 years of his presidency.
- Now this is a GREAT idea – every mayor should be weighed at the start and end of his/her reign (see right). Weight gain is deemed to be the result of tax-payer’s expense! (HT Futility Closet)
- Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch bears a secret message inscribed by his watch repairer!
- Welsh toast cutter – for Welsh people who like toast… and Wales.
- Why Facebook is for Old Fogies! Intriguing Time article! (HT Raquel Medina Megolla)
- Wiki has a wonderful compilation of modern misconceptions. As you look down the list, I bet you fell into a few traps.
- Lethologica is the inability to remember a word – can you remember these? Answers here.
And finally, there’s this:
- Telecoms in the 90s; Check out this retro (if rather slow-moving) joy – esp. note the narrator’s rather crazed gaze into the camera, and the completely wooden acting. Roll on the 90s…! (HT John Naughton)
Great article by Michael Kinsley in this week’s Time magazine about the voice of God (“VOG”). He used to have a British accent – but no longer. He has an African American accent, apparently. And is usually either James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman. And that’s one of the things that helped Obama win in 2009. Read and enjoy.
Here is an excerpt:
Brits and pseudo-Brits, in sum, have lost [the VOG] franchise. If you’re a casting director looking for a voice whose very timbre communicates authority, dignity, power, you might even go to Queen Latifah before you resort to Jeremy Irons. The reasons aren’t hard to speculate about. The roots of this development go back at least to the 1930s and Paul Robeson’s singing “Ol’ Man River” inShowboat. The therapeutic notion that suffering confers dignity and authority has spread just as the suffering of African Americans over generations has become universally acknowledged. Above all, black American ministers have replaced British politicians, at least in perception, as the world’s most eloquent public users of the English language. Our homegrown Martin Luther King Jr. has knocked Winston Churchill off his perch as the ideal.
(photos c/o BBC)
Apart from what was obviously an extraordinarily symbolic day – and one that is a right cause for rejoicing and history-making – I was moved by much of what happened. Here are some thoughts from yesterday’s momentous events:
- Obama is a great loss to preaching – he is clearly a brilliant and persuasive communicator. He even quoted the Bible (of course, his use of 1 Cor 13:11 was not exactly preserving the context, but we’ll let that rest because I think its wider context does have acute relevance to what he was saying).
- What was interesting (to me at any rate) was that this speech was different from many we’ve heard from Obama. For yesterday, he wasn’t campaigning. He doesn’t need to for the moment – he’s already entered the history books for all kinds of reasons. Nor was this like the King’s or Queen’s speech at the start of a new British Parliament. It wasn’t a manifesto as such. No – it was an appeal… an exhortation… a sermon.
- So his sermon to the nation (and indeed to the world) contained some of the key elements of an evangelistic address – a searing analysis of the seriousness of the problems facing America and the world; an impassioned plea (for a unity of purpose); a profoundly challenging ‘altar call’ (urging his ‘fellow citizens’ – he could so easily have begun ‘My brothers and sisters’ – to bear the full weight of responsibility to make change).
- What’s more, that call to service (which he described pithily as the ‘price and promise of citizenship’) is one he explicitly made in the context of God’s purpose and plans (although of course American unlike British politics needs lip-service paid to divinity however defined)
- He certainly didn’t pull his punches – there were no easy platitudes about how things were all going to be ok now. I was impressed with how hard-hitting it was – although of course there are political reasons for doing this (it simply magnifies the gulf that lies between the legacy of 43 and the challenge faced by 44).
- His rhetoric even occasionally resembled the civil rights preachers of the 60s – was I the only one to discern the echoed strains of MLK Jr?
It was an amazing spectacle all in all. Glad to have watched it – and it spurred my prayers for the new administration.
- Here for the full text of Obama’s Inaugural speech
- Britannica has some fun but otherwise useless Inauguration trivia
- Rick Warren did a magnificent job with his prayer (Mark Driscoll has the text). And Joseph Lowery’s prayed sermon was cool!
- 9 Facts about the Bible & US Presidents and 10 Bible Verses used by Presidents (c/o Faith Central)
Also check out this from the BBC about how CHINA CENSORED THE SPEECH
- For some reason, long-lasting celebrities get referred to as national treasures; well Dale Ralph Davis is a kingdom treasure – not because he is a celebrity in any grim sense of the word, but because he brilliantly communicates the Old Testament in his preaching. Here is the transcript of a fantastic recent lecture, which answers the question ‘Why is the Old Testament shut out of the church?‘ (HT Paul Carter).
- This lecture seems to be the first in an annual series held at RTS, called The John Reed Miller Lectures. Previous series are on iTunes U and can be subscribed to by clicking the link (previous speakers include Mark Dever and Sinclair Ferguson). So hopefully Ralph Davis’ will be there soon.
- Jonathan Dodson on ReSurgence validly observes that too many Christian songs are worse than soppy love songs not worthy of God’s love.
- 10 reasons why one pastor doesn’t like most Christians. The tone’s a bit harsh, but there’s something in much of it.
- Amazing new resource: ALL of Jonathan Edwards writings searchable online.
- Romeo Dallaire commanded the UN peacekeepers in Rwanda in 1994 – his is a truly chilling story. (HT to David Kim)
- I’ve really got into the design site Visual Culture – it consistently has fascinating stuff on it. Check out these provocative ads from a French NGO called Stop the Cycle of Pain. Compelling and powerful.
- Bankers are bonkers – official. Here is the evidence. A care worker wanted to increase her £200 overdraft by £50 to give her some spending money for Christmas, and ended up with an overdraft of £84,480,090, while being charged only £5 a month! No wonder there’s a credit crunch.
- Old news now, but in case you missed it, see the British Prime Minister claim to have saved the world.
- This is a work of genius – it shows that BOTH candidates for the US presidency were nothing if not consistent during the debates:
- Tag Gallery is a very cool way of searching for images and photos.
- The Godfather Photo Album – here are a few excerpts. The 1st looks gruseome until you see how they did it in the 2nd!
- It is human nature that we are never satisfied:
He never thought he’d see the day – but politics and policy aside (whether of Jesse Jackson or Obama), this picture of Jackson last night says it all. And McCain caught the mood in his more than gracious concession speech (eg references to Roosevelt and Booker Washington).
(Photo HT: Christian Scharen)
It’s an emotive word. After all, who would ever be happy to be called a misogynist? And so at one level, it is a clever, albeit rather desperate, strategy. Because this week, Elton John did a big fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in Manhattan (apparently bagging her as much as $2.5 million in the process!!). Having said that there was no one more qualified to lead America, he went on to say:
I never cease to be amazed at the misogynistic attitude of some people in this country. And I say to hell with them.
The reason I’m here tonight is to play music, but more importantly as someone who comes from abroad, and is in America quite a lot of the time (and) is extremely interested in the political process because it effects the whole world.
Many would agree with that last point – the world is waiting with bated breath for the result of November’s presidential – it can’t come soon enough. But misogyny? It’s an easy slur and hard to refute. But it is in fact futile and ultimately an insult of despair. For while misogynists abound in all walks of life, is it really the case that it is the main reason many people won’t vote for Hillary? Could it possibly have something to do with her policies, or her track record, or even her agendas (whatever they might be)? You see, this goes far beyond the American election. It illustrates an aspect of what is going on all around us.
The Hermeneutic of Suspicion
And that is what some rather pompously term the hermeneutic of suspicion – but while the description sounds rather esoteric, the phenomenon is far from it. It is happening all the time and all around us., from street level to academia. Hermeneutics is the business of interpretation (whether of texts, statements or reality) – but it is a contemporary obsession to be suspicious of every such statement. As such, it implies the absence (or perhaps merely the unattainability) of truth because it suggests the impossibility or irrelevance of a convincing argument. Instead, every claim to truth is merely a claim to power. The flip side of this is the assumption that any rejection of someone else’s view is motivated by some deep-seated prejudice or even ‘hatred’. Hence the hermeneutic of suspicion.
The Flaws and Dangers
This is all very serious – but the flaws in this approach abound and it is vital to expose them. To fail to do so is to have .
- For one thing, it is pretty arrogant because it subtly lays claim to an almost divine insight into others’ minds and hearts – as if Sir Elton had a unique mass telepathic ability.
- Furthermore, it tries to have its cake and eat it – you defend the people you support by attacking opponents as misogynists; and accuse them of just seeking after power. But at the same time, make claims of competence, integrity and sound policies as if their own motivations were whiter than snow. Hence Hillary is the best person to lead the country…
- And most scarily, the knock-on effect of all this is a total disintegration of tolerance (see previous post). What people say has become irrelevant – and free speech no longer needs protection. Rather, we need protection from the spouters of such speech; we need protection from the ‘hateful’ and the prejudiced. We no longer need to tolerate these people – in fact, we should not tolerate these people – not because of their intolerable views but because of their intolerable prejudices. Lock ‘em up – they are a danger to society!
But this is, of course, ultimately self-defeating. Think of where this ends up. For the US Election:
- Anyone who fails to vote for Barack Obama is racist.
- Anyone who fails to vote for John McCain is ageist.
For the up and coming London Mayoral elections next month:
- Anyone who fails to vote for Ken Livingstone is a snob
- Anyone who fails to vote for Boris Johnson is an inverted snob
- Anyone who fails to vote for Brian Paddick is homophobic
And so it goes on. It gets you nowhere. Surely we should avoid such language altogether – and start considering the usual – and important – things like ability, policies, integrity etc.
The problem is that this trend invades all walks of life – including the church. When you are told that you hold or reject a particular theological position because of your Myers-Briggs score… or education… or upbringing… surely this is pretty much the same thing? Isn’t it? It is an easy and convenient put-down – and buys you some time perhaps. But in the end it merely buries you deeper into the pit of nebulous truth claims and counter claims.
C S Lewis & Bulverism
C S Lewis spotted this years ago – and he even gave it a name: Bulverism. This is what he wrote in an essay by that name, published in his essay collection, God in the Dock.
You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly.
In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it “Bulverism”. Some day I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father — who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than a third — “Oh you say that because you are a man.” “At that moment”, E. Bulver assures us, “there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.” That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.
I find the fruits of his discovery almost everywhere. Thus I see my religion dismissed on the grounds that “the comfortable parson had every reason for assuring the nineteenth century worker that poverty would be rewarded in another world.” Well, no doubt he had. On the assumption that Christianity is an error, I can see clearly enough that some people would still have a motive for inculcating it. I see it so easily that I can, of course, play the game the other way round, by saying that “the modern man has every reason for trying to convince himself that there are no eternal sanctions behind the morality he is rejecting.” For Bulverism is a truly democratic game in the sense that all can play it all day long, and that it give no unfair advantage to the small and offensive minority who reason. But of course it gets us not one inch nearer to deciding whether, as a matter of fact, the Christian religion is true or false. That question remains to be discussed on quite different grounds – a matter of philosophical and historical argument. However it were decided, the improper motives of some people, both for believing it and for disbelieving it, would remain just as they are.
I see Bulverism at work in every political argument. The capitalists must be bad economists because we know why they want capitalism, and equally Communists must be bad economists because we know why they want Communism. Thus, the Bulverists on both sides. In reality, of course, either the doctrines of the capitalists are false, or the doctrines of the Communists, or both; but you can only find out the rights and wrongs by reasoning – never by being rude about your opponent’s psychology
Until Bulverism is crushed, reason can play no effective part in human affairs.
Lewis at his brilliant best. Let’s banish Bulver forever. His approach has no place in a truly tolerant and sane society!
So how about this?
Obama wins the Democratic nomination – and then chooses Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Totally ridiculous of course, especially as those who know about these things think it impossible. Not least because Lieberman is only just a member of the Democratic Party. But get this:
Obama is on the left of the Democratic Party; Lieberman is very much to the right. Together they could bring the whole party with them, as well as build a national consensus. Of course, their contradictory positions on Iraq could be the deal-breaker here though.
Obama is the new kid on the block – he’s the ‘Change we can believe in’ etc. But Lieberman would bring the years of experience he lacks. Quite a combination I’d say
But this is the most intriguing aspect of their potential pairing:
Obama is half white American Christian and half Kenyan Muslim, (ethnically if not religiously). Lieberman is Jewish. Just think of the statement that could make for the intractable problems in the Middle East. Could this not bring a brand new credibility to the process, which the current administration could only dream of, let alone that of ‘our man’ out there, Blair?
Thanks to Andrew Burkinshaw for this link. But it seems that the West Wing similarities observed before are not so accidental. Check out Jonathan Freedland’s article from yesterday’s Guardian. I mean, just check out this photo:
Barack Obama v Matt Santos
- Young, handsome and charismatic member of Congress, attempts to become America’s first non-white president.
- Began political career as a community organiser in a big city (Chicago) before winning first election at local level. Married, with two young children.
- Faced stiff opposition in Democratic primary against occupant of the White House during previous Democratic administration (first lady Hillary Clinton)
- Rivals attack him as inexperienced after just four years in Congress, but triumphs through grassroots support, inspiring speeches and message of change.
- Republican opponent is veteran moderate senator from a western state, unpopular with conservative base (John McCain of Arizona).
- Young, handsome and charismatic member of Congress, attempts to become America’s first non-white president.
- Began political career as a community organiser in a big city (Houston) before winning first election at local level. Married, with two young children.
- Faced stiff opposition in Democratic primary against occupant of the White House during previous Democratic administration (vice president Bob Russell).
- Rivals attack him as inexperienced after just six years in Congress, but triumphs through grassroots support, inspiring speeches and message of change.
- Republican opponent was veteran moderate senator from a western state, unpopular with conservative base (Arnie Vinick of California).
I hope I’m not breaching copyright rules, but it seemed to me that this is yet another example of Private Eye genius (from this week’s – issue 1203, 8th Feb edition). The photo (from the Guardian website) below is of official campaign badges – one can only assume that the team is desperately hoping that Bill won’t derail Hill.
But the Flintstones is not the only TV link in this year’s US election. For as Ross Hendry mentioned to me this week (and managed to put his finger on something that was only a vague thought in my mind), this election is getting more and more like West Wing by the minute. As such this is not an original thought and pundits this side of the Atlantic from the Daily Mail to the Guardian via BBC news online, are drawing obvious parallels.
But as Ross observed, the plot of the 2008 primaries seems to be careering towards that of TWW Season 7:
…the current race bears remarkable similarity to West wing season 7? old moderate conservative, slightly outspoken sweeps the republican party nomination, whilst the democrats have a close race that goes down to horse trading at the DNC. And we may end up with a young charismatic ethnic minority candidate! Let’s hope the televised debate is as good as the West Wing….
So in keeping with Quaerentia’s ground breaking tradition of punditry, how about this:
McCain = Vinick
Obama = Santos
Which just leaves Billary…?
So if we follow this logic, is it not fitting that Obama’s chief rival is in fact 2 people: Billary. Which also seems to fit rather nicely with TWW. Since in Season 6, Santos’ rivals in the contest for Democratic nominee were the 2 Vice-Presidents , ‘Bingo’ Bob Russell and John Hoynes. Which all means that Billary will lose.