Tuesday 31 December 2013

Favourite newly-read book of 2013


Terryl & Fiona Givens. The God who weeps: How Mormonism makes sense of life. Shadow Mountain Publishing: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, 2012



Yes but, no but - the futility of argument


The reason I prefer blogging over writing books and articles is that argument is futile.

All arguments take so much for granted, make so many assumptions, that they can always be rejected by anybody - according to what that anybody pre-wants

If the argument is short and clear, then it can be rejected because it didn't mention abcxyz.

But if the argument is long and mentions abcxyz it will not be read, or if it is read it will not be followed, or if it is followed it will not be understood. And anyway it still misses-out alpha, beta and gamma.

All that can be hoped-for is to provide the missing piece that completes somebody-else's jig-saw.


God as Judge or Father?


I generally find it sorts out most problems to think of God as a Father rather than a Judge.

A Father judges in the context of Love, and He is always judging his beloved children - but a Judge (qua Judge) just applies laws in a proper societal context, objectively, and consistently.

This explains my immoveable rejection of 'legalistic' Protestant explanations - for example of Christ's Atonement; which assume that God is primarily a Judge, rather than a Father.

(I mean explanations along the lines that God - as judge - had to punish somebody for the sins of Man, and Christ took the punishment that Man deserved. This explanation does not resemble the behaviour of a loving Father in relation to his children - therefore it is wrong.)

However, Christian theology (Atonement, Salvation and Damnation etc.) is explained, and there is not fully adequate explicit explanation, the explanation must be based fundamentally in Love, not justice; in God as Father, not judge.


Monday 30 December 2013

Which is the dominant sin in a person - Pride or Despair? (the external-objective versus internal-subjective view)


Pride is the primary and worst of Christian sins, therefore we tend to guard against Pride but also tend to be ready to diagnose it in others.

Indeed, it is much easier to perceive Pride in others than in oneself - and this is often a major blind-spot.

(Hence Jesus's parable of the mote and the beam in the eye, in the New Testament).


But Despair (i.e. hope-less-ness - therefore denial of the Truth of the Christian Good News) is also a 'major sin' - and it may be that Despair is the most characteristic modern sin.

Certainly, modern society looks most like a society in which people are frantically trying to stave-off Despair by sensation-seeking, powerful stimuli such as sex, distraction, intoxication...

But, unlike Pride, and in this respect the opposite of Pride, it is easier to discern Despair in onself than in other people.


So the basic situation is that we tend to over-diagnose Pride and under diagnose Despair in other people.

Yet for me personally, I know that the fight against Despair has been a very big thing in my life; and I also know that this has been the case for several of the people whose biographies I have read most deeply: for example the Inkling Charles Williams.


Another example would be the philosopher Wittgenstein.


My point is that what primarily motivates a person, and perhaps leads to their obvious sinfulness, their errors - may be Despair and the fight against Despair - rather than Pride-full-ness.

And when this is the truth of the situation, it is likely that there will be a profound misunderstanding.


A person prone to Despair may be in a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment struggle to keep-going, keep-motivated; and may seek stimulus and distraction like a drug addict seeks a fix - and this will lead him into all manner of sins and wickedness - and then to compound the sin by defending and justifying his actions.


Yet, seeing the sins and wickedness, another person might well ascribe them to Pride - indeed is more likely to ascribe them to Pride; but they would be wrong.

And the Despairing man may conceal the root of his behaviour, since Despair is a feeble and weak thing - and anyway, if he does admit to his Despair, he will very likely be ignored or disbelieved; or else Despair will not be given the primary role which in fact it has in his Life.

Because those who are not so prone to Despair simply cannot understand or believe its primary and shaping role in some lives.


I recognize marriage and family as the only potentially effective antidote to Despair - yet utterly precarious in this mortal world; and I believe that that this fact has not merely personal but cosmic significance. Charles Williams knew that only his wife, his marriage, could shield him from Despair - Wittgenstein (as a mostly-celibate homosexual) tragically never experienced this. 


Sunday 29 December 2013

What is the status of non-denominational/ unaffiliated Christians?


Although I have a church I support to a significant extent and attend sometimes but not regularly; I would not be able to say I was a member of any specific church nor would I regard myself as a member of any specific denomination.

I am thus essentially an unaffiliated Christian. 


I have been a baptised and confirmed member of the Church of England, or an Anglican - but have come to regard the CoE as gone over to the Dark Side so far and so fully that it would be counterproductive to maintain my erstwhile loyalty to the institution.

In a sense I remain loyal to the best of the CoE and to the historical church - but that best is now so small and feeble a thing - compared with the size and dominance of the evil element - that in practice it means little. And the Anglican affiliation beyond the specifically English church, is mostly a matter of church order, important but not really my business.

Other people I know very well continue to find some people and parts of the actually-existing CoE - and its exceptionally rich textual, liturgical and historical resources - to be a basis for their own spiritual progress. But for me, personally, as a matter of subjective fact; these wonders and delights are in practice overwhelmed by the intensely-dismaying and despair-inducing modern daily realities of CoE policy and practice. 


What is a specific church or denomination for, in the scheme of things? I am sure that no church holds the keys of salvation and never has - we are saved or damned by our own choice. So what then?

A church or a denomination might help or hinder this choice in any particular time, place and person; but does not determine it. Many self-identified 'Christian' churches nowadays - in my firm view - work zealously and effectively against the salvation of their members.

Probably, all churches do this to some extent, inadvertently, but the process now seems purposive and systematic in many or most situations.


So, good, useful, genuine churches and denominations are about theosis, sanctification, spiritual progress - they are about building-upon salvation.

I think we can only know whether or not this is actually happening by looking within ourselves, by prayer, by using love to develop a sensitivity to a growth - or shrinkage - of love in ourselves.

A good church will en-courage us (give us courage), and will work primarily by love - but maybe there are no good churches accessible, and maybe the accessible good churches are too exclusive for us personally in our current circumstance? Then we are unaffiliated.


To be unaffiliated is a seriously-sub-optimal state to be in - it is not something you would wish upon yourself or anybody else; and always there is the hope of finding a good church and a good church which we feel impelling to commit to.

But this ought not to be considered a matter of urgency, rather I believe the virtue of patience is necessary.

I think the unaffiliated need to be patient to hope for, work for, and await change in circumstances, and change in themselves. 


This hesitant state of the unaffiliated is frustrating, even annoying, for the sincere affiliated Christians, who have found a niche in a church or denomination, who are experiencing theosis, and who are naturally keen for the unaffiliated to commit and join the good and necessary work.

The unaffiliated should be candid to admit and repent that they are parasites on the actual churches and denominations (especially those of the past).

But while it is seriously suboptimal, it is not unreasonable for any specific person at any particular time to be an unaffiliated Christian - and although the unaffiliated cannot progress far or fast in theosis; I would hope that they may be as bold, and devout, and as mission-orientated, and as loving a Christian as all but the best of those within the (minority of) real Christian churches and denominations.  


Saturday 28 December 2013

A Notion Club Papers FanFiction



Is the near-ubiquity of bleached and/or dyed hair significant?


I would say yes.

Yes, on the whole, on average - and perhaps even yes in the large majority of instances...

It seems to correlate with a lot of bad, somewhat bad, or at least suboptimal, things.


There is rebellious dyed hair - in non-natural colours and designs - which is rebellious; and there is pretending-to-be younger dyed hair - which is dishonest.

I did have rebellious dyed hair for a while in my twenties, and once rebellious bleached, and it did correlate with bad beliefs, attitude and lifestyle.


As for pretend young hair: just because something is nearly ubiquitous and accepted without comment doesn't stop it being bad, doesn't make it Good...

I suppose everybody is guilty of dishonesties, but even if all-but everybody does it, lies are still wrong; and when almost everybody is lying, then that makes it worse - not better. 

A culture of lies...


I am a Christian simply because Christianity is true. But why does that strike modern people as an absurd claim?


I became a Christian because Christianity is true.

Its truth is not overwhelming. However there are certainly sufficient grounds for belief in the truth of Christianity - and certainly no compelling reason to reject Christianity on the basis of logic and evidence.

(Christian belief is a choice, needs faith.)

Nor is absolutely everything about Christianity true, not every small detail - and maybe not even the mass of Christian claims - but fundamentally and in its essence Christianity is just True, True, True...


I became a Christian when I realized that - in this respect - Christianity was exactly the same as Science - which I had believed-in since a small child.

Take the above passage and substitute 'Science', 'Scientist' or 'Scientific' for Christianity and Christian.

That is what I recognized, and what I have since believed: Christianity it true; just as Science is true, in the same kind of way.


And just as with Science, if you are doing Science (rather than merely expressing opinions about it) you must choose a theory; if you reject a particular Scientific theory then you can only do on on the basis of believing another different theory - or else you cannot do Science.

(If you are doing science you are believing a theory, many theories, whether you know it or not. A real scientist knows his theory.) 

Well, you can chose not to do Science and thereby avoid choosing a theory to believe; but if you choose to live then you must choose a religion to live by; and if you are living, then you are believing a religion, perhaps many religions, whether you know it or not.


Of course Christianity is above Science, more than Science, and in a sense necessary to the development and continuation of Science as a social activity. What I mean here is that the structure of what it is to mean that something is True is analogous between Christianity and Science.  


If you choose to believe Science as true (real Science, the best Science) - or believe a particular scientific theory; then you can legitimately choose to believe Christianity in the same kind of way, on the same grounds, just as rigorously.

That is what I discovered.


Stimulated by re-watching:


See especially 5.50 - 10.15 minutes. 

But watch the whole thing - it contains some marvellous stuff.


Friday 27 December 2013

Peter Mullen - A glimmer of legitimate optimism?


Excerpted from his Church of England Newspaper piece, filed 27th December 2013. By the Rev Dr Peter Mullen (not available online)
Even the drowsiest people recuperating from Christmas and New Year revels must have been jolted into wakefulness by the loud crash. Have you heard it yet? It’s the sound of the penny dropping – at last. 
I’m talking about the persecution of Christians throughout the world. Even Labour shadow ministers have mentioned it. Prince Charles – would be “defender of faiths” – has written about it. Most surprising of all – and welcome – the BBC has joined in, albeit very belatedly. Over Christmas there was an excellent and shocking report by File On Four which for once told a straight tale about the murderous persecution of Christians in half a dozen African states, from Somalia to Sudan, from Mali to Nigeria and from Libya to Egypt where Copts are in danger of being wiped out.
Moreover, the BBC report did not mince words when it came to placing the blame squarely where it belongs. ... 
The atrocities taking place are religious persecution. This is a rare phenomenon for usually where there is sectarian strife – as there was in Bosnia in the 1990s and in Northern Ireland for forty years and continuing – the religious element masks the true causes of grievance which tend to be about land, resources and political freedom. But in much of Africa, in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, Christians are being slaughtered and dispossessed, their homes and churches burnt to the ground, merely because they are Christians.
It is a relief finally to see that the political correctness which has for so long obsessed the western media and caused them to play down the persecution of Christians has abated somewhat, allowing a clear picture of the horrors taking place to emerge at last. 
...In his book Without Roots, the philosopher and former President of the Italian Senate says:
“Christianity is so consubstantial with the West that any surrender on its part would have devastating consequences.” 
And he proceeds to ask the crucial question:
“Will the Church, the clergy and the faithful be able to and want to be purified of the relativism that has almost erased their identity and weakened their message and witness?”
Many times in the past – thank God – Christians rose up to defend the faith against its enemies...
We must pray and so nerve ourselves that such courage will not be found wanting in us to repel the threats we are facing today. But there is another feature, insidious and most worrying. This is best illustrated by citing historical precedent.
When the barbarians were bent on sacking Rome, the emperor called into his private chambers his philosopher Sidonius and told him: “I know what I will do, Sidonius. I will close and fasten the gates of the City.” To which Sidonius replied, “Too late, Sir. There are too many of these enemies inside the gates already.” We must draw the moral from that precedent and not lapse back into our suicidal political correctness.
There is a terrible sense in which this persecution of Christians is beside the point. We can resist any number of external enemies, but once we lose our confidence in our own civilisation and way of life, then nothing on earth can save us from destruction. Former Archbishop Carey and Bishop Michael Nazir Ali have spoken fearlessly about this greater danger. But these courageous men are scorned by our liberal prelates, the Synod’s progressive bureaucrats and the cultured despisers of our religion. 
No one puts this more starkly than Pastor Wale Babatunde in his new book Great Men and Women who made Great Britain Great. He speaks prophetically about our national apostasy and the secular terrorism which seeks to obliterate Christian culture from our national life. This, he says, has been largely achieved by a ten points strategy:
1: Remove God and prayer from state education
2: Reduce parental authority over their children
3: Destroy the Judeo-Christian family structure
4: Make sex free and abortion universally available
5: Make divorce easy
6: Make homosexuality an alternative lifestyle
7: Use the mass media to enforce this new secular mindset
8: Create an interfaith movement
9: Debase art
10: Get governments to make all these laws and the churches to endorse the changes.

This was largely the agenda of the Frankfurt School of Marxist intellectuals who sought to “…undermine national institutions from within and so extinguish the spirit of Christianity in western man.”
Job done, I would say – and shamefully largely owing to the weakness and cowardice of the “liberal” hierarchy which rules throughout the church. 

The Bohemian impulse


The Bohemian impulse, which is also Romanticism, has a perennial appeal - perhaps especially to young men (and young men have great power in society).

And the appeal is real and has great Good in it - and that good is the experience of liberation from corruptly oppressive social structures and practices and the opening-out of the mind into intellectual adventure and endeavor.

Albeit in practice the Bohemian is extremely prone to corruption, indeed perhaps intrinsically and necessarily prone to corruption; and especially via sexual revolution, but also by drugs (intoxication with alcohol and other substances) - and in general break down into selfish short-termist mutual exploitation, or mere idleness, then squalid inertia.

Indeed, so swiftly and so surely is the Bohemian life corrupted, that it can be hard to distinguish that first pure and delightsome phase of creative 'opening-out' from its inevitable corruption. Yet it is real and good and accounts for the perennial nature of the Bohemian life - under certain facilitating conditions.

The Bohemian life in this good aspect is indeed an indicator of the corruptions of organized and dominant Religious life, its over-reach and crudeness of application - it tendency to assume that one size fits all and to crush the individual spirit into the predetermined shape. Its tendency to embrace death: in such a situation the pure Bohemian impulse is a upwelling of sheer life.

This group-versus-individual conflict may be deformed into being purely a matter of sexual constraint, and that is what it rapidly becomes; but in its origin in some people the conflict is not about sex but about the creative spirit.

There are indeed many religions and denominations which make zero provision for the creative spirit, and since the creative spirit is rare this lack is sustainable - yet the creative spirits have a power to burst from such constraint and by their example and arguments (including both valid arguments and dishonest rationalizations) may indirectly cause all manner of problems to the constraining religion over the medium to long term.

Thus any religion must either crush the creative spirit ruthlessly; or have the flexibility to treat the individual Bohemian whose motivation is truly creative and intellectual, as a different case from the individual whose underlying real Bohemian drive is for sexual liberty and escape from moral truth.

Such individual sensitivity and flexibility combined with firm religious principle is a product of individual human judgement, and that alone - it cannot be legislated nor captured in rules and procedures which will either be to oppressive or too weak.

And the proper balance, the ideal balance, can only be achieved in religions and denominations which on the one hand are strong and centred such as to hold their course despite changes; and on the other hand genuinely value creative freedom and possibility.

A religion which sees Goodness only in obedience cannot achieve this balance and must ruthlessly oppress or else soon be subverted by its intellectuals, while a religion which fails to distinguish the free creative spirit from the covert libertine, psychopath or parasite is doomed to disintegration.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Jimmy Shepherd, cornet virtuoso


I am not knowledgeable about the English Brass Band tradition, but I like it when I come across it - especially pieces featuring the cornet or euphonium - instruments which do not occur in the modern symphony orchestra (although cornets were apparently used in Victorian English symphony orchestras instead of trumpets).

To focus on the cornet - it is like a trumpet in appearance, length, and basic pitch; but has a deeper mouthpiece and a conical bore (widening from the mouthpiece to the bell) which gives it greater sweetness of tone, and flexibility than a trumpet - at the cost of less sheer ringing brightness.


Early jazzmen such as Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong initially played the cornet but later switched to trumpet - which I personally regard as a step down into a more showily virtuoso style of soloing, characterized by extreme loud high notes (which the trumpet does better than the cornet).   

The euphonium is the cello equivalent in a brass band and is like a smaller tuba - it has similar mellowness to the cello, but also a remarkable agility.


Both cornet and cello are capable of extreme virtuosity, as well as delicious sweetness, as displayed by James Shepherd who came from Newbiggin by the Sea (where my Father was born and where I spent nearly all my childhood holidays):


I would regard that as not just good but great musicianship. Even at its most extreme of high notes and fast playing, lyricism is always there - everything is phrased (and the cornet is particularly well suited to that, since the deeper shape of mouthpiece allows for greater control than with a trumpet).


And, for completeness, here is a euphonium being put through its paces:



Incidentally, the Black Dyke Mills Band (featured in the above links) were regarded as the London Symphony Orchestra of the Brass Band world. My Granny's cousin (also from Newbiggin) was invited to join, but could not take up the offer for family reasons.

(Black Dyke Mills was literally that - a Yorkshire mill for weaving wool - and the owners provided a paying job/ sinecure for its band members.)


Monday 23 December 2013

Christianity is not tolerated


This year the ?premier living US Science fiction writer - Orson Scott Card  -  was subjected to a hostile (and lying) international campaign for expressing plain Christian teachings (Card is a Mormon - demonized for expressing standard Christian doctrine).

Now Duck Dynasty, apparently the highest-rated non-fiction cable TV show ever, has been ended because its main protagonist expressed traditional Christian ideas (despite that the show is about the fact that the participants are devout Christians).

(There are other examples of the same thing from the USA, UK and Western Europe - but these two are the most famous.)


Two observations.

First, both OSC and Phil Robertson were treated as if the expressed views were 'their' views'; but they are simply expressing the official views of devout adherents of their religion.

Therefore it is the religion - Christianity - which is being persecuted; not the specific people.

This means that Christianity is not tolerated anymore. Christian persons or groups are not allowed to practice, defend or proselytize their religion. And this rule is only enforced against Christianity; but not enforced against other world religions.

It is therefore a fact that the USA, UK and Western Europe are now, not merely secular societies, but specifically anti-Christian societies.


Secondly, although the plainly-stated, explicit, un-exaggerated 'officially validated' views of OSC and PR are in and of themselves offensive to the Politically Correct Thought Police - in actual fact the views attributed to OSC in the Mas media were vile lies and inventions.

This shows that the Leftists of the Mass Media are gratuitously evil - they lie without even the excuse of need, they revel in hatred and in generating hatred.

We are dealing here, in the phenomenon of current Political Correctness, with a very advanced form of evil - a point when the corruption of the individual people of the Mass Media has led them to abandon their rationale and wallow in their own ability to get away with their own wilful wickedness without regard for consequences.

The situation has, in other words, become very unstable and dangerous; since the behaviour of the Western ruling elites is getting ever-more destructive and less prudent.


Our world has become dominated by Leftist politics to such an extent that nothing else matters.

No matter how much profit you make for your bosses, no matter how famous and well-liked you may be, if you are a Christian then you are a marked man and living under a sword of Damocles.

At any moment, almost anyone in the Mass Media can expose your Christian views if for any reason they wish to; and generate a wild hate campaign against you - fuelled by whatever lies they choose to make-up-and-tell.

And the population at large is by now so depraved by their media addiction that they cannot or will not take one minute to check whether the hateful lies of journalists and pressure group hacks are true: the masses want to believe hateful anti-Christian lies, and they make darned sure they are not going to be made to reject them by mere facts.


So, unfortunately, the depiction of society in my book Thought Prison


proves to be accurate, and is continuing to unroll exactly as expected.

Let us hope and pray I will turn-out to be wrong about what happens next.


Sunday 22 December 2013

Secular Reaction equals Fascism... but minus (Nationalism & Militarism)


The positive doctrines of modern secular Reaction are:

1. Dictatorship (ie. anti-democracy)

2. Strict formal hierarchy (i.e. anti-egalitarian)

3. Male domination of the public arena (i.e. anti-feminism)


Why is this different from 1920s/30s fascism?

It isn't - except that fascism was powerfully motivated by Nationalism and had a power base in the Military.

By contrast, modern Reaction is operating in world where Nationalism is extremely weak and the movement has no apparent support from the Military.


Therefore, modern secular Reaction is just weak fascism; or fascism minus the ability to take power.


Note: I use fascism here in a descriptive way. I don't regard fascism as the worst of all possible political systems - because that would be communism. However, I do regard fascism as a bad political system - mostly because it as fundamentally secular in nature; hence ultimately Leftist. 

Friday 20 December 2013

Five steps to become a Christian


1. Recognize that you can become a Christian if you want to become a Christian - there is no conclusive evidence against Christianity, it cannot be disproved: therefore Christianity is a perfectly valid option. Becoming a Christian is up to you and nobody else, an active process; and only you can decide to become a Christian.

2. Recognize that there is significant evidence in favour of Christianity - the evidence is not conclusive, for sure; but there is plenty of positive evidence, and of many types.

3. Recognize that being a Christian is not trivial - but a meaningful, significant thing: it has major implications for how you feel, what are your aims, motivations and behaviours. It makes a difference to be a Christian.

4. Then, to be a Christian is first a simple choice, a statement - to yourself and others that you are now a Christian. This is faith.

5. To have faith is an essential first step but is only a first step: you will want to have knowledge that your faith is valid; you will want certainty that Christianity is True.

And this step requires work from you.


For faith to become knowledge, you need to know what it would be like - how this happens.

And the answer is that certainty comes to you personally and only to you personally by divine confirmation, confirmation by revelation - direct communication from God to you.

(Only to you personally, because each person must chose and learn this for himself - each person must go through the process.)


A revelation and confirmation of knowledge could happen during prayer, by a personal miracle, fulfilled prophecy, sure guidance and other signs intended to convince you (not other people).

In other words, step five - the getting of certain knowledge - is something that happens by you, personally, experiencing some divine communication and confirmation. It is not a matter of teaching, scholarship and study; but instead an inner, subjective knowledge and certainty.

But always the whole process at every level, and afterwards, is underpinned by and sustained by choice - free choice to accept or to reject.

Again I emphasize: The matter is personal. Do not expect to be overwhelmed or coerced by force of argument or power external; but rather convinced by the kind of gratitude, love, hope and delight that you glimpse from the best of human relationships.


In sum:

Choice, Faith, Revelation.

Statement, Work, Knowledge.


Thursday 19 December 2013

How do we stop the infinite regress? The uncaused cause: one or many? Monism or pluralism?


As I have said before, I am by nature a pluralist - which is why I have gravitated to Mormon theology (my take on Mormon theology is that it is Christian pluralism).


One way of thinking about this is the infinite regress problem, which children often discover for themselves.

What causes this? Answer given: this is caused by that. Yes but what causes that, and then what causes that... and so on, and on... forever?

An infinite regress? 

Well then no, not forever.


The only thing that can stop the regress is an uncaused cause - something which makes other things happen but not in response to other things happening.

Something which is an origin of action.

(This is also something with free will. Free will is an uncaused cause.)


So... everything that happens can be traced back to an uncaused cause.

But how many uncaused causes? - One, or more than one; one or many? Monism or pluralism?

To answer the question one uncaused cause, versus many uncaused causes, is apparently a matter of intuition, a metaphysical assumption; undecidable on the basis of evidence.

And undecidable on the basis of Christian revelation.


Most Christians are monists and trace all causes back to one God.

This leads to a problem when considering Jesus and the Holy Trinity in general. Is Jesus an uncaused cause, or not? If so, then God is two; if not then Jesus is just an aspect of God: inessential. This problem has not been solved by monism (only obscured by sleight of language).

Monism also leads to the problem that humans have no free will, since all causes are traced back to God. Insofar that Jesus is essential to our salvation, and insofar as free will is essential to Christianity, then monism is deficient.


Pluralists like me believe there are more-than-one/ many uncaused causes; so Jesus and the Trinity is not a problem - Father, sona and Holy ghost are all uncaused causes; and free will is not a problem (since each humans is an uncaused cause).

But it is messy! To a monist it is unacceptably messy - it just can't be true!

But a pluralist feels this is intuitively right; that reality is many not one, that there are many uncaused causes interacting, will be forever, and always have been...


What is the difference between the Old Left and the New Left? - Sex, again...


The Old Left were intellectual revolutionaries and traditionalists about sexual morality.

The New Left are intellectual revolutionaries and sexual revolutionaries.


(Well, that was how it started-out; but the Old Left became the New Left - and the New Left have dumped intellectual revolution whenever it comes into conflict with sex.)


The Old Left were quite often Christians - in England, especially, they were often strict and ascetic, often Nonconformist Protestants (e.g. Methodists and Quakers) - who eschewed luxurious living, were often teetotal and/ or non-smokers, worked hard, were strongly against gambling, were honest, and were altruistically public spirited.

This was the tradition of Christian Socialism and Ethical Socialism - people such as Fabians Sidney and Beatrice Webb (dishonest, however, when it came to the USSR), economist RH Tawney, Prime Minister Clement Attlee or social scientists such as my old friend Norman Dennis.

(Ex-Mormon) Philosopher Sterling McMurrin was of this type - a Liberal who served in the Kennedy Administration and supported the usual fashionable Lefty causes; his personal sexual life was apparently very traditional and maintained along strict Mormon lines.

An Old Leftist would preach and live intellectual revolution - he was a professional heretic; but would support laws and practices of traditional sexual and social morality - plain living, self-improvement, being useful.

But this kind of Old Leftist is now very rare, almost extinct - and has been replaced by the New Leftist.


The New Left (some of whom were around a long time ago) can be distinguished by their 'Bohemian'/ scoundrellish lives of sexual license - 'open' marriages with extra marital relationships, lovers and mistresses; multiple marriages; non-married partnerships; exploratory and non-heterosexual sex, and so on - including the likes of Bertrand Russell, Fabians such as HG Wells, Hubert Bland (mega-unfaithful husband of writer Edith Nesbit), Margaret Mead, Sartre, Foucault and pretty much all of the nineteen sixties and post-sixties counter culture leaders.

Such people preached sexual revolution, and they lived sexual revolution; and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that they preached sexual revolution mostly because they personally wanted to live that way.

And they often strikingly dishonest, deceitful and exploitative in their personal lives - as inevitably seems to happen with people who focus their lives around quantities of extra-marital sex. They may get a pseudo-honest reputation for confessing their sexual adventures - but only because they are putting them forward as revolutionary virtues. 


In general, therefore, it is sex that distinguishes the Old and New Left.

If in doubt - look at the sexual behaviour, and you will see what kind of Leftist you are probably dealing-with.

In terms of motivation, it looks as if the Old Left were sincere in their intellectual revolution lived by it, put that first; and that is what they really wanted more than anything.

In terms of the New Left, it is apparently sex they are most sincere about; and for the New Left, politics is a vast rationalization of sex, and the revolutionary intellect is something which must be bound and muzzled whenever it threatens to constrain their sexual appetites and preferences.


Despicable as are the New Left compared with the Old, the Old Left as a whole did not emerge well from the sexual revolution. The Old Left simply became the New; and - while there were some who withstood sexual temptations - there were very few of the Old Left who remained anchored by their 'puritanical' principles when the tide of the sexual revolution began to rise about them.

Most of them pretty rapidly cut their chains and began to join in the carnivale of sexual subversion, boundary-transgression and inversion of morality as best they could - and to demonize anyone who raised any objections to the abolition of traditional morality.

When it came down to freedom of sexual expression versus freedom of intellectual expression on the Left - sex won; and with barely a struggle.


I suppose there must, somewhere, be an example of a prominent New Left political activist who has retained the traditional morality of the Old Left - A New Leftist who was or is, lived or lives, and publicly defends and advocates traditional marriage and family sexuality...

I just can't think of anyone offhand.


Wednesday 18 December 2013

Attitude to extra-marital sex: a single Litmus Test to distinguish the Religious-Right, the Left and Neo-Reactionaries


1. The Religious Right believe that sex should be confined to marriage.

2. The Left believe that sex should not be confined to marriage.

3. Neo-Reactionaries believe that sex should be confined to marriage for women; but not for men.


Tuesday 17 December 2013

Plug for Orson Scott Card's reviews on Hatrack River


A characteristically delightful and insightful column this month:




I have on my desk before me three early-reader books by Mo Willems: I'm a Frog! (which the cover clearly shows is being said by a pig), A Big Guy Took My Ball!, and Should I Share My Ice Cream?

Because I have never felt or declared myself to be a frog, I didn't instantly identify with that title; the other two seem ripped from my autobiography.

Yes, there were times in my childhood when I willingly held a ball, and on more than one occasion, a bigger (or meaner) human took that ball away from me.

I did not cry or tattle. I just grew up to be a writer and gave their names to characters who were such pathetic losers that nobody feared or cared about them.

(I did not really do that. Why would I immortalize bullies by placing their names in my magna opera?)

(Plus, I don't remember any of their names.)

Children's books are as serious for children as adult books are for adults.

A Big Guy Took My Ball is, in its small way, rather like the movie My Bodyguard, in which a picked-on smaller person (Piggie) enlists the help of a much larger friend (Adam Baldwin). But in this book, the "bully" -- who turns out to be nothing of the kind -- is even bigger and more intimidating.

Unfortunately, the lesson that bullies are just misunderstood lonely people who want friends can lead to some unfortunate consequences in the real world.

There really are bad people who simply enjoy making other people unhappy. They aren't misunderstood and lonely. They're mean and bored and stupid, and your attempt to reason with them will merely provoke even more cruelty.

These bad people don't become bad at age eighteen. They already take pleasure in the suffering of others when they're young, and their victims need protection, not lectures about being kind to mean people.


Let's take the simple mailing tube. The idea is that you are shipping a rolled-up poster or canvas. The cardboard tube is hard-sided and has a firm structure, so that the object inside will not be bent or punctured or torn during transit.

But then, at the other end, the recipient needs to be able to get the poster or painting or whatever it is out of the tube without harming it -- or himself.

Mailing tubes are usually designed with an easy pop-out plastic cap, so that the recipient can easily get the tube open and slide out the fragile rolled-up item inside.

Why, then, do packagers cover this plastic cap with a complete seal of plastic tape?

Do they expect part of the voyage to be made under water, so the tube has to be watertight? Or do they think live mice are being transported through deep space, so oxygen must be retained inside?

A single strip of tape across each end of the tube should do the job of holding the cap in place. Then the recipient could easily clip the tape and pull out the plastic end cap.

Instead, with the end completely sealed in tape, the recipient has to use a knife to slice into the tape along the outer edge of the plastic cap. This is a curved surface and the knife is going to slip many times in the process.

Meanwhile, you have to hold the tube somewhere. Chance of cutting yourself: too high.

That thick seal of tape protects against nothing but makes extraction of the item dangerous and difficult.


Other absurdities: Shipping books in padded envelopes.

Books are not porcelain. You don't have to protect them from bumps. The real danger to books in transit is that something will bend or dent the edges of the cover, or, in the case of a paperback, bend the whole book.

Padded envelopes do not protect against these dangers. That's why Amazon and other sane booksellers ship books, not in padded envelopes, but in cardboard boxes that provide a structure that extends far beyond the edges of the book.

Structure, not padding. That's a huge difference.


Poll: What is your favourite legendary English (or British) folk hero



1. Robin Hood

2. King Arthur

3. Merlin

Some other?

Justify your choice in one sentence (this sentence must not contain the word 'awesome'). 


Note: My vote goes to Merlin.

What if the sensible, balanced middle ground is impossible (as it seems to be)


Sophisticated modern thinkers like to come up with a balanced, sensible, middle ground between two problematic extremes - but what if there is no stable middle ground?

What if the middle ground is merely a temporary transitional state between the extremes? What if the real choice is between those extremes - warts and all?

Since humans are (in part) animals, hence biological beings; our natures are (partly) biological - which means we have an inbuilt tendency to reproduce, to expand, to fill-up niches, to explore, to colonize, and to dominate.

This is not the whole story - but it is part of it.


So - when we turn away from all of this - for bad reasons but also for good reasons - when humans suppress their own reproduction, when they do not expand, nor explore, nor colonize, not to dominate - but to tread lightly on the planet... well, what actually happens can be seen all around us in the disappearance of Christendom and the West.


In striving to avoid the horrors unleashed by our biological nature we have instead created the culture that embraces death: delayed reproduction, voluntary sterility, falling and ageing populations, mass immigration and population replacement, euthanasia and mercy killing - and we have given-up on exploring and settling the Arctic, the Antarctic, the oceans and their depths; and of course outer space.


Yes, yes - I know all about environmental damage, exploitation and slavery, genocide, extinctions, the spread of deadly disease, minority authoritarian rule... and all the rest of it.  

But so far there is zero evidence of a viable alternative.

It seems that it is either expansion or contraction - in biology there is no other alternative to one-of-the-above - and what superficially looks like stability is actually an unstable dynamic equilibrium.


So, what is the Christian answer to all this?

Somehow Christianity must sanctify biology with love, as best as maybe.

Because anti-biology is not an answer; anti-biology is actually worse then domination and expansion; since a life and culture of despair, contraction, submission and self-willed suicide are demonic, not Christian.


Indeed, far from Christianity being intrinsically about anti-biological contraction and death; as we have seen, Christianity has been one of the earliest casualties of anti-biology.

So, if anti-biology is of Satan, not of God; we must embrace positive (not negative) theology, the way of affirmation (not negation), the path of the patriarch (not the celibate); Christians must (on the whole, on average) reproduce, explore, colonize and (yes) dominate - or... we will first despair, and then die without fruit.  


H/T to an exchange with Adam Greenwood from http://www.jrganymede.com

Against professional performers


We live in a world of professional performers - singers, musicians, actors, dancers; and it seems natural to us that these be mostly professionals, dominated by professionals who do these things for a living.

But - with a very important exception - I am against this, on the whole. The arts professions are full of dull, mediocre professionals, mostly supported by subsidies coercively extracted from the public at large - a public who seldom bother to attend even when performances are subsidized or free of charge.

I think it would be better, and the arts would be better, if done mostly/ almost entirely by amateurs - that is, by people who don't make their living from the performing arts.


Take dancing. When it became 'Dance' it became dominated by professionals; and we have gone from a world that was full of people dancing, to a world where people watch dancing - and the few who themselves do much dancing are wannabe professionals and their teachers.


Singing? Most of the best singers - in the sense of 'singers you would want to listen to' are amateurs. Professional singers offer many technical advantages such as quick-learning and breath control and reliability... but most of them just aren't very pleasant to listen-to and lack musicality. Beauty of voice and the ability to phrase are gifts: they cannot be manufactured.


Acting is a similar thing. Most professional actors are rubbish at acting - they succeed either because they are good looking or have a nice voice and because there are far more jobs for professions than talented professionals. (The same applies to directors.) Yet if you go to a school play, or amateur dramatics, you will usually find one or two absolutely stunning natural actors - who do things far beyond the professional.


Classical musical instruments generally require years of practice, yet most cities have amateur orchestras able to play nearly all of the repertoire to a good standard - and in concerts more enjoyable than those produced by the general run of cynical, jaded and under-rehearsed professional musicians. And in a wider musical perspective, folk music around the world is full of stunningly gifted part timers - virtuosi even.


What about the exception? The arts always have a place for the outstanding genius; and these are the people - they are the only people - who should be full-time professional performers.

Singers like Joan Sutherland or Pavarotti really were the best in the world - and by a margin, and pretty much everybody can hear the difference. People of that class (and the class just below that level) should be the professional performers, and they should be the only professionals.


Something similar applies to other performing artists - the few dancers, actors, instrumentalists who are really great are the ones who can make a living at it, and who the community is happy to support with fees - and the rest should be amateur.

The model even potentially applies to literature and painting.

John Martin (1789-1854), was an artist who specialized in epic Old Testament paintings - and he made a living by touring his vast canvases, and charging people to come and look at them.

The  professional performing arts should be rare and stunning experiences; done by a tiny minority of great performers.

It is, in practice, almost impossible to prevent such people becoming professionals, and indeed becoming wealthy; because lots of people will willingly travel long distances, and pay large sums of their own money, to see 'the greats' perform.

But people will voluntarily do this only to experience greatness in performance; and not the mass of performers who merely competent, certified, salaried and 'professional'...


Monday 16 December 2013

Married to a psycho hose beast: is this the missing clue to Charles Williams life and personality?


A review of To Michal from Serge, the wartime letters from Charles Williams to his wife Florence.



Aysmmetrical arguments - the rhetoric of evil and modernity (and the example of free will)


A false assertion of symmetry is a characteristic rhetorical device of secular modernity; it works by pretending that two sides of any argument or debate are 'symmetrical' alternatives - either implying one thing or another alternative thing.

Symmetry may be a reality in some discussions, such as when comparing Judaism and Christianity, or the Big Bang and Steady State theories from Physics.

But very often a disagreement is between a positive statement and its negation: and this situation is not symmetrical.


So, to consider Good and evil.

Evil is not an alternative positive program to that of Good, evil is (merely) the destruction of Good - evil is anti-Good. The two sides are not symmetrical. 


The political Left versus Right is not symmetrical; because the Left is not a political blueprint - in the West it is (merely) opposition to Christianity and traditional society.

(Of course the Left used to have various blueprints, however we now see that they were just tactical assault weapons, and were discarded before they came anywhere near any danger of being implemented. The Old Left defined itself as being in favour of the dictatorship of the Proletariat; but the modern Left ignores, loathes, and tries to destroy the people it used to call the Proletariat and claimed to love - we now see that the Left was lying. We now see the Left is and always truly was a moving target, a fluid and evolving spirit of opposition and destruction.) 

(Note: The Western political Left is here defined as including all the mainstream self-styled 'right-wing' political parties and groupings including conservative and libertarian. The only true political Right is the Religious Right (but not necessarily or usually Christian) - who are of course a very small and un-influential group in the West.)


And rejection of free will is is simply that: a rejection of free will - a negative doctrine.

A denial of free will cannot be refuted, because there is nothing to refute; the argument against free will is simply a set of challenges to the reality of free will - a set of various assertions that if X, or Y, or Z is a true and sufficient (complete) explanation of reality... then (logically) free will cannot exist.

The rejection of free will provides no alternative proposal of what IS reality, merely consisting of a set of attacks on free will.

And the potential number of attacks on free will is unbounded, and so the process of attacking free will need never end.


(Just as the number of criticisms of Christianity, or of existing society, is unbounded - so the Left can never - in this sense - be refuted: it has no fixed positive program that could be refuted: the Left is simply the process of subversion, destruction, inversion - of whatever is, using an unbounded range of 'justifications' - injustice, inequality, inefficiency, retribution, compassion, imperfection...)


There will always be grounds for criticizing anything - and due to limits of human understanding and expression intelligence and attention, this applies to Truth as much as to error- since any actually-existing expression of Truth will be deficient or insecure if placed under a microscope.

Free will is (obviously) True; but any actually expression of it is deficient and criticizable - if it is a short description it will be partial and hard to contextualize, but if the description is long, it will contain insecure logical links and be prone to human inattention and defective memory.

Always, descriptions are constrained (on both sides) by human limitations.


But the fact that something - anything - can be criticized for incompleteness, ambiguity, imprecision, possibly wrong assumptions and the rest of it, is trivial. 

Such criticism is trivial (or worse) in science (where it is indeed a typical strategy of anti-science - micro-methodological rigour pretending at truth-seeking but unilaterally applied to reject something you don't want to believe).

And micro-criticism of defective statements is also trivial - it is fake profundity, dishonest rhetoric: it is dangerously unserious - in theology, metaphysics and philosophy.


After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus." 

- from James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson was expressing impatience, and indeed anger, at the dangerous, seductive unseriousness of this kind of conversation. 

Johnson's was a proper response to arguments against the reality of free will. 


Sunday 15 December 2013

Eastern versus Western Medievalism; versus post-Medieval Christianity


The interesting thing is that we are accustomed to forget about Eastern Medievalism - not to think of Constantinople/ Byzantium as part of the Medieval era; and I suppose the reason is not just its being geographically cut-off from the West, but more fundamentally that the Eastern Empire actually was not 'medieval'; that is, it was not a 'Middle Age' but was a continuation of the ancient world - because the East had not experienced an intervening Dark Age to separate it from the Christian Roman Empire.


So the proper comparison is not 'Medieval', but between a continuation of Classical Civilization in the East, and a new-born, new-built Christian civilization in the West - the East being focused on the great city of Constantinople, and the West probably best exemplified by France, and especially Paris and its University with figures such as Peter Abelard then Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus etc.

Despite natural patriotism, my heart warms to the East, because the distinct focus of life in the West (according to CS Lewis) was scholastic philosophy - about which I am ambivalent at best; the Crusades - only the first of which was sincere; the cult of courtly love - which I loathe; and the great Cathedrals, which I love unreservedly - but which I suppose were at least matched by the mostly-lost beauties of the Eastern Empire.


What did the Eastern Empire have? The Emperor, as Vice-Gerent of God; and from him the ideal of life as a seamless Christian whole - such that Christianity permeated society in the most complete way ever achieved on a large scale and sustained over centuries.

Of course there was much to dislike too. I feel that the ascetic ideal became perverse in its extremes; there were stupid heresy hunts, silly pseudo-schisms, and vile suppressions; and ultimately - for all its intoxicating qualities, and its great strength to endure and inspire resistance - I sense there was something profoundly demotivating and despairing at the heart of the Eastern Empire.

I get a sense of living always under the shadow of impending doom, rather like the theory of courage of the Northern Pagans with Ragnarok.


Both civilizations shared the typically medieval bipolarity of ascetic, virgin celibacy on the one hand and as the highest ideal; and a sumptuous 'dripping with luxury' aestheticism on the other hand ...ascetic-aesthetic'; light-dark; spartan-excess; fasting and feasting...

This was the Way of Negation: Christianity by means of denial and then lapses, and recreations from that strenuousness.

Psychologically, this is a young man's concept of the world, the unattached and solitary consciousness; a perspective which lacks any serious interest in in the mature man's natural and proper focus on marriage and family - rejecting the Way of Affirmation as Charles Williams dubbed it - rejecting marriage and family as second rate and a compromise: what moderns call a 'sell-out'.


In a nutshell, Medieval life, both East and West, lacked sweetness.

And it lacked sweetness, because sweetness is about (derives-from) faithful and loving monogamous marriage and even more so from Life (specifically Christian Life) conceptualized primarily, or ideally, or in its highest and best form, as family life with children.

As briefly as possible: the essence and ideal of sweetness comes from loved and loving children. 


In this sense the post-medieval world has - in some times and places - out-matched all the ancient times; has a higher, better, more wholesome ideal of Life and in particular of Christian Life. 

And from this perspective, Medieval and Classical life seems - and indeed really was; for all its splendour, courage, intensity - shallow, incomplete, and terribly sad.


Saturday 14 December 2013

Two cheery chaps having a whale of a time (singing a countertenor duet)



The chap on the right is James Bowman, who was the first countertenor I heard on a recording (Esurientes, from Bach's Magnificat), and the first I heard in real life (he was in an - obscure, forgettable - opera and, amazingly, had the biggest voice on show!).

Bowman long remained one of my favourite singers, and I attended about three small hall recitals by him in my university - which he consented to perform because he spent his childhood living near where I live, and was on his annual family visit.

He has - as can be seen in this short excerpt - a pleasant and jovial stage persona; one of the few opera stars to evoke from me belly laughs by his 'drolleries'.


Friday 13 December 2013

Review of the new Hobbit movie...




Combating the incredibility of Christianity to modern skeptics - an apologetic strategy


Modern elites are among the least rational in history. They lack both the patience and the ability to follow even a short line of reasoning - and even if they do follow it through, they do not trust their own conclusions when these contradict prevailing notions.

But modern people are well schooled in the tools of reflex skepticism - modern elites can dis-believe anything they want to disbelieve, anything which short term expediency makes it convenient to disbelieve: thus they can effortlessly disbelieve their own experience including the evidence of their own eyes.

How can such people be brought seriously to consider Christianity?


Assuming that there are a lot of people who are pre-immunized against the strategies of the past - such as the 'completion of paganism' approach, the logical 'proofs' of God, the common sense rationality of CS Lewis, or Lewis's other 'completion of Romanticism'/ Surprised by Joy idea... and so on.

What remains?


One idea is to eschew any attempt to present Christianity as obviously true to anybody but an idiot, or even overwhelmingly probable on the basis of evidence; not to point to the greatness of Christian culture, or exemplary persons such as Saints; nor even to argue that society works better if people are Christians...

These ideas are unlikely to work; and may be counter-productive in a culture of political correctness - with its multiple moral inversions; which paint good as evil, ugly as art, lies as blunt honesty - and vice versa.  


How about simply presenting the central tenets of Christianity in a way which emphasizes that there is reason on both sides - against, yet also for, the truth and reality of Christianity?

And - whatever the precise balance of probability is judged to be - in this sense, belief and disbelief both have support: both belief and disbelief are reasonable conclusions.


Or, to put it another way, it can reasonably be argued that it is not impossible that Christianity is false; but also, it is not impossible that Christianity is true.


If this is accepted, as many will allow; if there is indeed some 'balance of evidence', something to be said pro and contra; then each person can make a choice; indeed each person must make a choice; indeed, each person must make a choice for themselves - and upon this choice a great deal hinges.


And leave it at that: no pressure.


Thursday 12 December 2013

What is the Mass Media, and what is/are its function/s?

[What follows is first draft of a section from my forthcoming book.]
The mass media, as an autonomous social system, is a relatively new thing; and (although already in existence) was only recognized as an entity in its own right (The Media) from about the nineteen fifties by Marshal McLuhan.

The mass media are defined by communications which go from one to many persons (or from a small group to a much larger one).
In sum, a mass medium is a system of amplification for communications: such as a printed book or newspaper, a radio or TV program, an internet blog or the 'social' media such as (written in 2013) Facebook and Twitter.
Before the Mass Media, there were several mass media – and some of these reached quite a massive scale of amplification such as the lecture, the play or gladiatorial and sport spectacles such as chariot racing – which in Roman times had reached an amplification rate of one to many thousands – thanks to the technology of the amphitheatre.
Writing is potentially a system of amplification since it allows for copying, but the most famous mass medium is the printed page – credited to Gutenburg's invention of moveable type.
But in these early times the mass media was simply a range of technologies for amplifying communications – and the communications originated from other social systems that has the usual social functions; systems such as government, the military, the legal system, the various arts, and scholarship (such as theology, philosophy and science). 

Early media took their functions from the social systems they served. There was no single Mass Media, and the functions were as diverse as informing and entertaining – for example when mass media amplified government – perhaps in writing by pamphlets or through newspapers, they might provide information, or provide a conduit for propaganda – intended to shape behaviour, or perhaps provide some kind of ethical inspiration or guidance.
When a mass medium amplified science it was perhaps educating via a textbook, informing via a scientific paper, or may be popular science in a newspaper or radio broadcast. When a medium amplified the arts (e.g. by printing a novel or poem, or broadcasting a play on television) it could be proving entertainment, or an aesthetic experience.
At this point, therefore, the various mass media had no unified function – they were merely mechanisms for amplifying the communications of functional social systems – so it could be said that they served to do something along the lines of conveying information, aesthetic experience, entertainment and propaganda.
However, once the various mass media reached a certain size and began to cross-communicate, then the system of mass media communication began to communicate with each other; that is to refer to, and to react to, each other.
At this point the Mass Media could be considered a separate system. It was no longer just a mechanism for amplifying the communications from other systems, but the various media reacted to stimuli from each other – and the output from these was... more reactions. The Mass Media was a system, and the system was (potentially) autonomous.
So, a newspaper runs a story – and this story could originate from almost anywhere – discovered by the mass media's own 'reporters', from a press release, from a rumour – it does not matter; but this story is repeated in the broadcast media and across the internet and evokes reactions from all these sources – leading to stories about the story; and any or several of these stories about stories may lead to further reactions – and so on.
Thus while the old mass media were merely amplifiers; the modern Mass Media is substantially independent of the other social systems. Whereas the old mass media would inform – because it was simply telling more people what other social systems had generated; the modern Mass Media select, re-shape and just plain invent outputs which are 'designed' (intended) merely to evoke reactions from itself.
Therefore while the old mass media had not intrinsic function, because it was not a system; but merely a set of amplifiers; the modern Mass Media has no intrinsic function because it simply generates outputs to evoke reactions from itself.
But his is not, of course, purely technological: humans are necessarily involved. The constraint upon this is that people must be induced to participate cognitively in this process of reacting – the system of the modern Mass Media must therefore include human minds, as well as technologies. Somebody must read some of the newspapers and react in some way – whether by buying, or gossiping, or voting, or rioting – and thus provide feedback stimuli thereby to close the loop and re-fuel the Mass Media
The point is that it may at one time have been reasonable to summarize the mass medias functions as (say) informing and entertaining – since the mass media took information perhaps from science and amplified it; now the Mass Media generates stories which it references to science, but these stories do not have to be true – certainly the stories do not need to be true according to scientific criteria. Media science stories are simply references to science, and may variously be true or selected, distorted or invented as seems most likely to provoke Mass Media responses some of which will lead on to further Mass Media responses – of a type that engages sufficient people in such a way as to fuel further communications (buying more newspapers, generating advertising revenue or subscriptions or buying more equipment or whatever). But there is no reason why a science story should be true.
Similarly with entertainment. For traditional mass media to amplify entertainments they generally had to be enjoyable – to sell a lot of novels, people had to enjoy the novel; to get a lot of people to watch something on TV is needed to make people happy, or excited or make them laugh or something... But in the modern Mass Media, entertainment does not need to entertain; so long as it compels some kind of attention this works just as well as entertainment; and since it is difficult to entertain people en masse and for long periods, there is not much entertaining going-on.
So although there remains an element of entertainment the modern Mass Media attract attention by any and every means: by evoking disgust, horror, fear, lust, repulsion, self-satisfaction, pity for others, self-pity, hero-worship, scapegoating... and then reacting to these responses, and reacting to the reactions.
The most typical modern Mass Media event is therefore some kind of staged pseudo-'reality' show, consisting of people who evoke strong reactions, engineered into situations designed to evoke responses – which may then be displayed to elicit further responses. These shows neither entertain nor inform; but are calculated simply to attract and engage attention by whatever means, and evoke opinions and behavioural feedback which may be harvested and channelled into an iterative process which serves nothing beyond its own growth in communications.
(The above is a response to WmJas's suggestion in a comment that the Mass Media did have a function: namely to inform and entertain.)

Magical Thinking versus Malthus was Correct (except for a blip)


One of the most important books I have ever read was Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms: a brief economic history of the world; because he makes clear that Malthus was essentially correct, and more people does mean less food per capita - over the long term.

Malthus is the normal, what we have had since about 1800 is a blip.


The blip is that since 1800 there has been an era in which productivity has outrun population growth - so far for about eight generations. The population of the world has gone from 1 billion to 7 billion - and another billion will come in about 14 year and another about 18 years after that...

The blip has an explanation - the blip is not something to be taken for granted.

In a nutshell, the blip boils down to food production - the planet used to yield enough food for 1 billion people, but now yields enough for 7 billion people.

So the blip was caused, or enabled, by an era when technological breakthroughs in food production (and the implementation of those breakthroughs) came so thick and fast that massive population growth was sustainable, and the average amount of food per person also increased.


But this outrunning will only continue if relevant technological breakthrough/ implementing also continues.

This is not due to a magic cause, it is not in the nature of things - there were specific historical reasons, operating in actual places, and among individual human beings - which led to technological breakthroughs. 

So the root of modernity is... whatever enabled technological breakthroughs from about 1800. And the sustaining of modernity depends on the sustaining of... whatever enabled technological breakthroughs from about 1800.

All the evidence I have seen shows that the rate of relevant breakthroughs has been declining for some considerable time, probably the past couple of generations (since the mid twentieth century).

This would not be at all surprising, it would indeed be what we would expect - so long as we do not succumb to magical thinking. 


What was the cause of the take-off in productivity which became visible from about 1800 hundred and enabled a great increase in food production? Whatever it was, it has to be something new, which wasn't possible before - something contingent, and not in the nature of human society.

Greg Clark's book makes clear that the only coherent explanation for the 'industrial revolution' and the (contingent) escape from the Malthusian norm, was a change in human capability - a change in the abilities and motivations of human beings which (in the case of England) can be observed and measured to be building-up from early Medieval times.

It should not be surprising that human capability is collapsing - and modern societies are in practice unable to do things which used to be done easily. It should not be surprising that the dense concentration of relevant technological breakthroughs - and the capacity to implement them - has gone.


Things have causes, modernity is not magic; food production requires the production of food - the production of more food to feed billions of extra people requires breakthroughs.

The usual situation in human history is that when extra people are born, they die of starvation - because there is no food for them. We now have an extra six billion mouths to feed above the norm, and plenty more coming.

Most people seem to act like feeding six billion extra people is something that just happens, by magic, like there is some invisible hand that inevitably produces what ever is needed.

But no. It is not magic. Technological breakthroughs were made by specific people in specific places and under specific circumstances - when these change, then the normal state resumes: very few breakthroughs or none at all; and the extra productivity no longer sustainable, technology forgotten or not usable.


Modernity was an achievement - a wicked achievement in many ways; but by achievement I mean that it happened for particular reasons; and if or when those particular reasons disappear or cease to operate then we have six million people too many - and more on the way.

Reality is a Red Queen situation - population and food production (and the rest of it) are so far out of equilibrium that we have to keep running hard to stay in the same place. Mess-up the capability or implementation; and food production soon collapses.

(Food is the bottom line, but of course the same arguments apply to other necessities).


That is realism. But what we have is magical thinking.

Magical thinking on the politically-correct, 'Liberal' Left and also magical thinking on on the mainstream conservative/ libertarian 'Right'.

The magical thinking of socialists who see productivity increase as 'normal' (the graph rises) and the main problem as spreading it around, sharing-out the food which magically appears; and the magical thinking of libertarians and capitalists who think that - however big the population - enough food will always be forthcoming so long as the incentives and institutions are correct - the invisible hand fed an extra six billion since 1800, and can feed another two, four or six billion if necessary.

Both are fantasies. The reality is that society is entropic, and keeping the extra six billion alive needs not just sustaining past capabilities but continually developing more.


We need relevant breakthroughs and they need to be applied or billions of people will start dying off.

Nature cannot hear our rhetoric, nature will not be fooled - either we are doing this or we are not doing it.

Everything in modernity depends on those breakthroughs! Where did they come from? WHO did they come from? Do those situations and people still exist, do they still generate breakthroughs - are they even trying to generate breakthroughs?


This is not a threat. In fact I believe that we cannot generate enough breakthroughs to sustain the blip,  because we are not clever enough - but if we understood the realities and were actually trying to do something useful about them, then the end of the blip would not be so bad as otherwise. 


Modernity was a blip, made possible by the ability to feed billions more people.

But the blip had causes, and if or when those causes are removed or have already been removed - or if population outstrips relevant capacity - the blip will stop blipping, and the world will return to normal Malthusian equilibrium

And there are currently maybe six billion people in excess of that equilibrium...