Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Environmental correctness - a new religion?

I would call myself a secularist, who is quite happy to tolerate the existence of all the other various religious denominations – even the relatively new, secular religion - environmentalism.

Is it fair to label environmentalism as a ‘new’ religion?

Emile Durkheim, in his famous sociological text The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, defined religion as ‘a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden – beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all of those who adhere to them’. What strikes me about Durkheim’s definition is the lack of reference to God, or gods, nor does he mention spirituality, or other worlds. For Durkheim, religion is essentially the social construction of the sacred: this unites its apologists and adherents into a ‘single moral community’. The contemporary environmentalist movement has much in common with Durkheim’s definition of a ‘single moral community’.

A few weeks ago, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband MP, flanked by senior Bishops announced their campaign for a ‘carbon fast’ during the next forty days of Lent. Yes, it’s a cheap eco-friendly publicity stunt, done in order to endow everyday environmental behaviour with a sense of religious authority. Such stunts highlight the fact that apologists of environmentalist causes care less about the actual management of nature, than they do about launching moral crusades – not to alter the earth mind you, but to micro-manage human behaviour like never before.

‘Carbon emission’ is fast becoming the new original sin of our age, for which us humans must seek redemption. According to the Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams, for Lent we need to ‘live more simply and cherish more deeply the creation of which we are only a part’. Carbon fasting has now become a way to absolve yourself of all your 'carbon sins' - sinful rituals like driving to work, or using the dishwasher or washing machine are viewed as immoral acts to be reigned in.

William Swatos, the editor of the International Journal of Research on Religion argues that environmentalism, as an ideology, has the potential to ‘serve as an implicit religion’. Ian Plimer, a professor of Geology argued recently that environmentalism is on par with ‘Creationism’.

Peter Beyer, the author of Religion and Globalization makes the point that what we are currently witnessing is the steady rise, and rise, and ‘upsurge’, of what he describes as ‘contemporary religious environmentalism’. According to Beyer, there are at least three different styles of ‘eco-religiosity’, that he claims were born during the hazy, hippy days of Woodstock.

The author, Michael Crichton goes further, he argues that environmentalism is ‘one of the most powerful religions in the Western World’. Crichton makes a rather good point when he reminds his readers of past environmental predictions that have had serious factual flaws – like, for example the banning of DDT. Crichton aptly describes the banning as one of the ‘most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century’ – and I agree. The ban has directly caused the death of millions of African people, mainly children – all in the name of environmentalism. Environmentalism must be a religion – indeed, why else would environmentalists be in such denial over the millions of deaths they caused due to the ban?

Dr David Orrell, a Canadian based mathematician, argues that when it comes to making future predictions based on models the ‘track record of any kind of long-distant prediction is really bad’. Orrell added that ‘scientists cannot even write the equation of a cloud, let alone make a workable model of the climate’.

Instead of putting forward proposals for more investment in research and innovation, environmentalists and Church leaders appear happier to moralise about our varied lifestyles and habits – and of course, none of this desperate search for moral coherence will actually help to improve the environment.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

UK thought police almost running amok

I always think its preferable that people should say exactly what they are thinking, even if it is prejudiced – indeed, it is far better to just come out with it, than keeping it in, so to speak.

However, it appears, we in Britain, are living in very thin-skinned and over-sensitive times. This year alone, a week hasn’t gone by without some high profile celebrity being sacked from their job, or told to apologies for their words, or investigated by the police, or worse still, arrested all because of what they said.

Freedom of speech in Britain is getting hammered like never before. Even the British National Party, who in the not-so-distant past boasted of being the staunchest defenders of free speech on Earth – couldn’t call the police quick enough to have Jo Brands joke about the BNP ‘investigated’.

Don’t get me wrong here, I have no intention whatsoever of endorsing racist language – nevertheless, what we appear to be witnessing is a new imposition of a snobbish etiquette. It is an etiquette that cannot be argued against, and has no interest in free and open debate. Similar to the police who surrounded and imprisoned some 3000 May Day protestors on Oxford Street back in 2001, the new snobby etiquette police are trying to reign in the limits of free speech. Today, it seems there are some words that cannot be used, even in private.

The most disturbing aspect of all this was pretty much summed up by Jay Hunt, a BBC controller who arrogantly argued on radio that it really didn’t matter that Carol Thatcher had used the word ‘gollywog’ at the BBC green room – even if Thatcher had used the word in her bedroom, Hunt added ‘I don’t think it’s fine that she [Thatcher] says this at home’. Here, the distinction between what is said in public and private has all but disappeared.

It’s at times like these that free speech needs to be defended more than ever. My belief in the right to free speech is unconditional. It means there is no such thing as full free speech for me, but partial free speech for Carol Thatcher, Prince Harry or Jo Brand. You cannot divide free speech – we either have it, or we don’t. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should go softly on the obvious rubbish espoused by Thatcher, Prince Harry, Brand, or even Tottenham supporters. I do not adhere to the notion that we should take their pathetic views seriously. Free speech isn’t about ‘them’, it’s about our ability to judge for ourselves.

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Failing banks? Why not let them fail?

The best joke I’ve heard recently is ‘what’s the difference between the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and bankers? Some people still have a bit of sympathy for the IRA’.

British capitalism is currently in a very sorry state, meanwhile, thousands of people in the UK, and Ireland are feeling the pain of this crisis.

The policy of bailing out financial institutions with state funds does not appear to be working - indeed, it seems to be making matters far worse. On the surface, it also looks as if we are witnessing the rise of ‘state capitalism’, with unprecedented levels of state intervention in the economy. There must be a better way to run the economic affairs of a nation? The Nobel prize economist, Joseph Stiglizt admitted to The Daily Telegraph that there was a solid argument for letting bad banks go to the wall - and why not? The billions we would save in ‘bailouts’ could be used, as Stiglizt argued, to rebuild the ‘skeletons of the old banks to build a healthier structure’.

Stiglizt is not alone in thinking that governments would be much better placed to deal with the problem of a failed bank - if only the authorities would declare these banks insolvent. The respected American economist James Galbraith, bemoans the fact that some $9.7 trillion of state funds is being thrown at banking institutions who's assets and 'securities contain, on the face of it, misrepresentation or fraud in the files'. Indeed, I agree with Galbraith's sentiments - why should the public hand over trillions of dollars, or billions of pounds, for assets, as Galbraith argues,'which nobody, no outside investor doing due diligence on behalf of a client for whom they have some responsibility, would touch'?

That money could be used instead in investments in the real economy - as opposed to propping up discredited and bankrupted banks and financial institutions. It's a real shame that the current debate on the economic crisis is being led by a political elite who are failing to take any responsibilities. The authorities new mantra seems to be 'we have no desire to takeover banks' - if that really is the case, why bother to bail them out when they go bust then?

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Brazilian cinema - Tropa de Elite

The most talked about Brazilian film since Fernando Meirelles’ Oscar nominated masterpiece City of Gods. The director of Tropa de Elite, Jose Padilha, has already scoped the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival with this extremely violent and moving work based on semi-fictional accounts of Rio de Janeiro’s strategic para-military police force back in 1997, just before the visit of the Pope to Brazil. The film is an in depth exploration of want it takes to become a member of BOPE, or Rio’s Special Police Operation Battalion. It is also an exposé of systemic corruption within Rio’s police forces.

Few people will remember the Brazilian police authorities flying into Britain back in 2005, to humiliate the Metropolitan police about the folly of ‘shoot-to-kill’ policies following the tragic accidental shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. Even then, I thought ‘hello, who are the Brazilian Police to lecture the MET about the fallacy of shooting first and asking questions later’? If anything, Tropa de Elite is cinematic proof that the police forces in Rio are real experts in lethal violence - and arbitrary torture.

Tropa de Elite graphically depicts what many of us in the West had already thought about the Brazilian authorities attitude towards policing in the slums of Rio – they train, arm to the teeth, and unleash death squads into Rio’s poor and lawless favelas. The central character, Capitan Nascimento (Wagner Moura) who narrates throughout the film coldly explains how BOPE, the ‘men in black enter the favela to kill – never to die’. Capitan Nascimento is Rio’s Beowulf, he is the good-looking archetypal heroic militarist, however, he’s also a hideous monster, and he knows it – that is one reason why he must leave this elite police squad. Moura’s delivers an impressive performance as the tough but flawed Capitan, which is truly first-rate. Tropa de Elite is no ordinary cops and robbers’ film - it is to all intents and purposes a civil war film. It’s a must see movie especially for the fans of City of Gods, or anyone who has any real serious interest in all things Brazilian.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Climate change: who's afraid of geo-engineering?

When it comes to the debate about possible solutions to climate change, environmentalists are forever banging on and on about the fact that it is they who are 'armed' with nothing but the latest peer reviewed science. As well as that, how many more times have I got to hear that climate change is the most pressing crisis facing the whole of mankind - now war, poverty and disease have been relegated to second place? What is worse is the fact that when a solution (other than micro-managing humanity back to the Dark-ages, or worse, the caves) is put forward as a possible solution, it is green activists who are normally the first to poo-poo such solutions - and normally, in just one sentence.

This does make you wonder if environmentalists really do want to bring this climate change 'crisis' under control? Indeed, if humanity were to come up with a viable, reliable and peer reviewed scientific tool that could halt climate change, green activists would be put right out of business, they would affectively have their green rug snatched from right underneath them. Such is the emerging challenge that environmentalists appear to be facing from scientists involved in 'geo-engineering' plans and solutions. It seems that the greens would rather see the planet, and humans burn than support geo-engineering solutions.

For all the green talk about tampering with nature, human hubris, or how one environmental organisation based in Canada put it 'Gambling with Gaia', geo-engineering may very well offer some serious global solutions to climate change. Of course, it almost goes without saying, don't take my word for it, even the inventor of the hydrogen bomb, Edward Teller thinks the same, Teller argued that geo-engineering actually 'appears to be a promising approach'.

Ultimately, it is not the potential that geo-engineering has to halt climate change that is sneered at by most environmentalist, as far as most greens are concerned, geo-engineering does not address the core problem of climate change - for the greens, the core problem relating to climate change is in the domain of morality. The truth is, environmentalists do not really want to halt climate change, what they appear to want to stop, and attack, are all forms of overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation. What the greens would really prefer is humanity to suffer first - and stop people believing in the idea that humans might one day conquer the threat of climate change. The greens dare not imagine such a thing as putting an end to climate change, that would just rob them of their raison d'etre - would it not?


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Zimbabwe: a state the West loves to hate

It has become highly fashionable in the Western media to draw far fetched parallels between the architect of the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler, and Zimbabwe's current incumbent, Robert Mugabe. Of course, such comparisons are complete fantasise which says far more about those who use such terminology to describe Mugabe, than it does about the current situation on the ground in Zimbabwe.

In the rush to demonise Mugabe, many have forgotten that it was in fact the white supremacist and former Rhodesian leader Ian Smith who first coined the phrase 'Black Hitler' to describe Mugabe and his national liberation movement - and many in the West have also ignored how the Great Western powers, their governments and fiscal institutions have played the most important role in bringing the Zimbabwean economy to its knees. Indeed, it has been the outside interference in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe that have twisted and distorted the countries economy.

It is difficult to imagine how back in 2001, The New York Times gave Zimbabwe the title of the 'worst government on earth' - yeah, right, as if - what, worse than China? Such statements actually betray the narrow and highly selective nature of criticism directed against Zimbabwe by its opponents in the West. Some Western observers (former colonials) seem to lose all sense of proportion when talking about Zimbabwe, for one writer of the The Times (London), what appears to be unfolding in Zimbabwe is nothing less than a 'silent genocide'. Even the organisation Genocide Watch rightfully argue that such claims can appear 'ridiculous' given the fact that there have been relatively few deaths due to conflict in Zimbabwe.

Much of what I see and read about Zimbabwe is no more than unsubstantiated junk propaganda. As the astute political journalist Brendan O'Neill kindly reminds us, there are a few honourable exceptions, like the US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who had the temerity to question received Western wisdom on Zimbabwe. McKinney rightfully argued that Zimbabwe is 'Africa's second-longest stable democracy', it is a country that has 'multi-party' elections, the opposition has 'over 50 seats in the parliament. It has an opposition press which vigorously criticises the government and governing party. It has an independent judiciary which issues decisions contrary to the wishes of the governing party'. That's more than can be said about Egypt, Rwanda, or the Congo. Yet all three of these countries are allies of the West who receive serious amounts of funding from the United States.

Zimbabwe, viewed from the perspective of Western colonial, 'Eton-educated' bi-focals appears more like a horrific symbol of African arrogance and cockiness. It is a point of view that cannot comprehend how 'our last white man in Rhodesia' Ian Smith was humiliated and forcefully jettisoned out of office, by a ‘Black Hitler’ to boot.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Artistic freedoms under attack in Britain

Britain is not exactly a 'police state' as some on the left of politics would like to suggest - indeed, I would argue that such propositions say far more about the people who espouse it than it does about the state of freedom in contemporary Britain. However, when it comes to evaluating the extent of artistic freedom in Britain today, the charge of 'police state' is not entirely that wide of the mark.

Witness the treatment of Samina Malik at the hands of the British state - a second-rate Muslim poet (ok, I wouldn't like to massage Samina's ego), third-rate Muslim poet, who's only crime was to write terribly bad poems. Salmina, a 23 year old Londoner, aka the 'Lyrical Terrorist', wept openly when the jury at the Old Bailey found her guilty of 'possessing records likely to be used for terrorism', or in other words - her poems and a Mujahideen handbook.

It's true that Malik was a bit of an idiot with some far fetched nihilistic fantasies, but since when has it become a crime to be a wannabe nihilistic weirdy-beardy pin-up poster girl, with hateful thoughts and some seriously dodgy poems? To all intents and purposes, Malik was found guilty of harbouring some sick ideas, and some really bad poems. To lock someone up and waste the time of the Old Bailey just because we don't like someones poems is a far more dangerous trend than anything that Samina Malik could have thought of.

The attacks on artistic freedom in Britain goes much deeper than the case of Samina Malik and her 'dangerous' poems - over in petty authoritarian Brighton, the the powers that be are planning on banning any art exhibition, or revoking the licence of any music venue that exhibits or performs any work of art or piece of music that might provoke 'racist, homophobic or sectarian violence'. Failure to comply with the councils policy could lead to the closure of any art or music venue. Such draconian decrees are reminicent of the worst days of East Germany under Stalinist type dictators, it's the thin edge of a very ugly anti-freedom wedge.

In the name of protecting minorities, Brighton's licensing policy has become the cutting edge of the assault on artistic freedom. Brighton councils intentions may be good, but the consequences and long-term implications in interfering with the arts and artists are much more frightening. The council are effectively saying to artists that there are certain things you cannot express in your art, and if you want to exhibit or perform in Brighton you will need the councils nod of moral approval, or else.

I'm very much in agreement with the political journalist Brendan O’Neill, who rightfully argues that 'Brighton is doing so much more than simply messing about with its licensing laws: it is using its power to define what is socially responsible art, and to circumscribe the artistic imagination itself'. Indeed, some of the perverse consequences of the councils licensing laws are spreading further than Brighton's galleries, bars and clubs - now libraries, music shops and radio stations are coming under anti-freedom attacks.

The biggest lie we are constantly being told here is that there is apparently a very thin line between what artists say or think, and what other people might do as a consequence of being exposed to such thoughts or ideas. On the contrary, that line is very thick, and Brighton council, and the high courts of the Old Bailey have no right policing the publics taste of what is or what is not appropriate or acceptable art, music or poetry. I'll leave the last words to an artist and poet who really understood what freedom and art are all about, Victor Hugo, who argued that 'freedom in art, freedom in society this is the double goal towards which all consistent and logical minds must strive'.

Picture: Green Party Councillor Simon Williams displaying the music he wants outlawed in Brighton.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Environmentalism: bang goes thier nuclear arguments

There may actually be a coherent and decent argument against building a new generation of nuclear power stations in Britain - but the British environmentalist movement have not come up with one single one so far. Indeed, environmental arguments against nuclear power are devised solely from myths and ill-founded jurassic prejudice against new technology, which they appear to fear for no good reason.

For example, one of the fiercest critics of the governments plan to build new nuclear power stations is Caroline Lucas MEP for the Green Party. As far as Dr Lucas is concerned securing Britain's future energy supply with state-of-the-art nuclear power stations is simply 'dangerous, irresponsible and costly distraction from the real challenge of tackling climate change' - but none of this is true.

Indeed, Western nuclear power facilities are the safest and the most economically viable form of electricity production known to mankind. Don't take my word for it - just take a good look at the French nuclear industry who have been producing safe and cheap electricity from the atom for well over 30 years. Far from being 'dangerous, irresponsible and costly', French nuclear electricity production has been an undeniable success story.

If anything, it is the likes of Dr Lucas that have been irresponsible, costly, and ultimately dangerous. Indeed, it is Dr Lucas who uses and abuses the politics of fear when she raises the spectra of international terrorism as a reason why Britain should not dabble with nuclear technology. It has been 30 years of such backward, environmentalist propaganda that has held back the development of nuclear technology in the UK. I think it is high time we put the greens anti-progressive and rubbish ideas where they belong, in the recycling dustbin of history.

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