Of Rats and Greater Manchester

Eric Adams, Mayor of the Big Apple, is seeking someone “somewhat bloodthirsty” to be the city’s “rat czar” (in popular parlance) according to Sky News:

The vermin have survived a multimillion-dollar effort under former mayor Bill de Blasio which introduced more rubbish pickups and better housing inspections in targeted neighbourhoods. The city also used dry ice to suffocate rats in their hiding spots. Mayor Adams, when he was borough president of Brooklyn, once demonstrated a trap which used a bucket filled with a toxic soup to drown rats lured by the scent of food.

Samuel Osborne, Friday 2 December 2022 21:36, UK

Typical resort to toxins. When Big Pharma (specialising in addictive drugs and poisons since long before WW1) runs the world, anything that pushes their profits is the default. As well as “data collection” and “trash management” the person specs include “highly motivated”, “determined to look at all solutions from various angles”, “improving operational efficiency”, “technology innovation”, and “wholesale slaughter” (all ibid).

So the Mayor wants someone who’ll really get their claws into the situation. Hmmm… 🧐

The State (not the city) of New York has 48 cat shelters, according to this website and if my arithmetic is correct they currently have 1,112 cats waiting for adoption…or death.

It seems NYC has two problems and one solution: any household or business plagued with rats should adopt a cat, ASAP!

Start spreading the news, it’s up to you New York, New York!

This side of the pond, results from the parliamentary by-election in the beautiful English city of Chester (currently suffering from raw sewage being dumped into the River Dee) show a similar lack of imagination. Seemingly unwilling to learn from decades of British bumbling—(slightly) Right, (slightly) Left, privatise, nationalise, repeat ad nauseam)—Cestrians have voted Labour, or rather, have voted against the Tories.

Each of these two parties appear principally interested in opposing the other, a project the Lib Dems enthusiastically usually join in with—seemingly having no fixed policies of their own. Yet, as well as the woker-than-thou Greens and their Scottish and Welsh supposedly separatist allies, and the various small wannabe career politician parties, there is an alternative.

Parties such as Freedom Alliance, ADF and the Libertarians don’t want to simply oppose (or become) government—they want an entirely different form of governance. Largely ignored for business as usual in Chester last Thursday, there’s another opportunity on 15th December in the Stretford and Urmston parliamentary constituency in Greater Manchester.

On both sides of the pond the question is: are you capable of thinking outside the box? If so, reject the usual poisonous approach and choose a real and wholesome alternative.

Layered images of rats in greyscale

Thanks to Linnaea Mallette for releasing her image Rats into the Public Domain.

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The Real Greens

The trouble with the terms “greenwashing” and “pinkwashing” is that those using them may (perhaps) inadvertently do what they accuse others of doing: painting over structural issues that need to be addressed.

Pinkwashing is often used to denigrate the success of the LGBT community in Israel and there have been several aspects to this accusation:

  • Denying the issues faced by LGBT people in majority Muslim countries in general and in Palestine in particular.
  • Denying the freedoms won by the LGBT community in Israel.
  • Denying the possibility of a people under oppression to simultaneously oppress a community of their own.

Countering the first denial, Mark Segal of NY Daily News is quoted as stating:

If you have a need to prove your “wokeness” by assimilating with those who support the rape and death of LGBT people, you don’t know the meaning of LGBT liberation.

Countering the third denial, Al-Qaws, a group dedicated to gender and sexual diversity in Palestinian society, has a more nuanced statement:

Singling out incidents of homophobia in Palestinian society ignores the complexities of Israel’s colonisation and military occupation being a contributing factor to Palestinian LGBTQ oppression

My point is not to reduce the socio-political complexities to which the latter quote alludes to some kind of catchy soundbite but rather to emphasise that key word. Some issues aren’t simple—but that doesn’t mean they should be painted over in pink.

Or green. Cory Morningstar, on the blog Wrong Kind of Green, has written a detailed take-down of current media environmentalism entitled The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg. (For those who prefer listening to reading, there’s a beautifully-read podcast version.)

The reaction to greenwashing can also be rather simplistic and, similarly, has various aspects:

  • Denying the ecological issues of the planet
  • Denying the benevolent motivations of environmental protestors
  • Ignoring the possibility of both of the above co-existing with invented (or exaggerated) issues and with malevolent motivations

To stop communicating in double negatives, let me state clearly what I mean. While climatologists are divided on the question of there being a planetary temperature crisis caused by human (or animal) agency, no-one sane denies the obvious issues of air, land and water pollution by pesticides and other poisons and by plastics. Electromagnetic (high or low) frequency pollution is another source of concern.

Related issues are those of the cost-effectiveness of supposedly environmental alternative sources of energy and fuel—as well as the social impact of the market for conflict minerals (used in phones, laptops, solar panels and electric cars).

About all these issues my point is simple:

  • Unless supposedly progressive groups are prepared to grapple with the complexities of real intersectional oppression and liberation, they aren’t really progressive.

It’s not enough to pay attention to the wake-up calls of green celebrities; we also need to see beyond—to the marketisation of Africa and other repressive goals of the Great Reset.

It’s not enough to acknowledge the latter and ignore the very real problems of pollution.

It’s not enough to be aware of the dangers of Frankenfood and the sinister appropriation of the means of global food production by a very small group of plutocrats; we also need to acknowledge the unnatural and inhumane treatment of farmed animals—if not for their own sake then at least for the effect that their confinement, torture, forced assimilation of toxins and barbaric slaughter has on our own bodies and on our souls.

The so-called Green parties are allied with inhuman forces indifferent to the fate of most of the planet and its population—apart from some ecological pleasure parks strictly set aside for the elite. Let’s not pretend that meanwhile these plutocrats are all ethical vegans: they’re all guzzling meat pizza, fatty hamburgers and high sugar Coca-Cola.

In contrast, the resistance to global tyranny is full of people who eat healthily, exercise daily, participate voluntarily in various community projects and grow our own food.

We’re the real greens.

Cress growing out of soil held in a White male hand in front of the mesh cover of a plastic greenhouse.

Wrong Turning: Lab-Grown Meat

I tend to say “yes” to requests from handsome men. (It’s a character flaw, I know, and it often leads me into trouble.) So when animal activist Jon Hochschartner asked me for my thoughts on the moral problem of theodicy with reference to wild animal suffering, I published a reply and I liked what he did with it. Two days after Boxing Day isn’t the season for blogging about possible religious objections to lab-grown meat but I’m still no better than I should be, so here I am.

Ethical complexity was central to my doctoral work and whenever I get a gut reaction that I can’t immediately intellectually justify, I’m intrigued. I’ve been vegetarian for decades and vegan for years. I can’t even eat meat substitutes that taste too meaty. I hate the very idea of lab-grown meat. It appals me. Yet Jon argues otherwise and calls for massive state investment in R&D:

…cultivated meat is grown from animal cells, without slaughter. When this new protein is cheaper to produce and superior in taste to slaughtered meat, we will have achieved the conditions under which animal liberation starts to become possible.

CounterPunch 19th Nov. 2021

Put like that, bearing in mind the huge reduction in animal suffering from factory farming and slaughter, it seems like a no-brainer. So why am I instinctively against it? On reflection, I’ve identified seven reasons:

  1. Pragmatic: veganism is booming and there are already acceptable meat substitutes for those that crave them. It seems like the time to invest in changing the culture away from meat rather than towards a more ethical version.
  2. Nutritional: I’ve been lectured at, for decades, by fat people with bad skin and no stamina who frequent burger bars and wouldn’t know B12 from beetroot – and yes there are new vegans who do not eat a balanced diet – but nowadays few nutritionists would attempt to argue that a human diet heavy in animal products is healthier than one based on plants.
  3. Ideological: The push for lab-grown (and insect) meat has a global political context that even to mention this time last year earned an automatic penalty on social media – either jeers of “conspiracy theorist” or some form of shadowbanning. The Great Reset, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, leverages climate anxiety and White guilt in order to greenwash economic disruption – disproportionately impacting the most marginalised – and focusing on exploiting the bedrock of the 4th Industrial Revolution: the conflict minerals of Africa.
  4. Financial: Bill Gates (who finances: the media, government public health advisors, “fact-checkers”, the pharmaceutical industry, the World Health Organisation and both sides of the aisle in American politics, directly or indirectly) is now the biggest private owner of farmland in the USA. I say all this because his PR is so successful that any critique is immediately met, in the USA especially, with “oh you must be a [insert ideological other]”. His push for synthetic meat clearly doesn’t come from any concern for farmers – who went out of business during the lockdown his funded advisors imposed and sold their land to him (cheaply?) – or for animals – who were slaughtered early, often under even more barbaric conditions than usual.
  5. Sociological: with citizen journalism available to anyone with internet access, the mainstream media version of events falls in hegemonic power. As reports of vaccine injuries rise, along with those of the pharmaceutical industry’s attempts to cover them up, Gates may well become a toxic brand and any products he pushes unlikely to meet with consumer approval from his conservative opponents. Across the aisle, liberals are more likely to be open to veganism – so why try to sell them something less?
  6. Compassionate: Gates (while publicly expressing angst over eating cheeseburgers) does occasionally match donations for an animal sanctuary but with his money he could have bought all the animals as well as all the farmland and saved them from the gas chamber, drowning, shooting and electrocution – and hardly noticed. Why didn’t he? Because to Gates and his ilk, life on earth is the problem, not the solution.
  7. Religious: lab-grown meat does not solve any moral problems unsolved by veganism. Even for ritual purposes, there are acceptable vegan substitutes.

Done well, a religious process of pondering a moral problem is holistic, taking into account all the patterns of values concerned. While developing technology may be seen as participating in the creative energy of God, what is important is its impact: all its relations. The lines connecting lab-grown meat and human and animal life in all its fruitfulness form a spiderweb with a morally ambiguous opportunistic businessman, passing as a philanthropist, at the centre.

There was a moment, after the Second World War, when the conditions that had led to the wartime unbalanced monoculture production of carbohydrates (potatoes, wheat) that could be shipped and stored were no longer in existence. This followed centuries of disenfranchisement of the rural poor as they migrated to the cities, losing their connection to the land and their culinary, herbal and nutritional knowledge as they boarded in shacks with no kitchen and fed, almost solely, on wheat pies of meat and potatoes. As shell-shocked men returned home and deprived women of the jobs they had been doing capably for years, there could have been a reversal of the mechanisation of agriculture. Employment on labour-intensive small-holdings would have raised morale as well as levels of nutrition and avoided the turn towards factory farming that inevitably followed.

As, like it or not, we are presented with a similar moment in our history – except this time all over the world – we have the opportunity to make the right choice. Greater artificiality, centralisation of food supplies and association with industrial giants whose lack of prudence is infamous – all these things are not what is needed now. As we face the prospect of another industrial revolution, we need to turn from our former errors and not repeat them.

Thanks to Dawn Hudson for releasing her image Red Germ into the Public Domain.

Bloody Nature and the Goodness of God

Reading my SARX articles on St Francis and on the modern animal liberation movement, the journalist and history of animal rights author Jon Hochschartner asked me a question:

How do you reconcile the existence of God with animal suffering, specifically wild animal suffering not caused by humans?

This is my response:

Firstly, I must say that it’s a question that has never bothered me. I don’t think that’s because I’m callous to the suffering of wild animals that is not caused by human beings but rather that, because it’s part and parcel of Nature, it doesn’t seem to me to be a moral problem. I also don’t see either human suffering or animal suffering caused by humans to be a theological problem. Suffering caused by humans is certainly a moral problem but the first and fundamental gift to humanity, after existence itself, is free will. Therefore, the alternative to suffering is lack of autonomy. God, the Architect of the Universe, could of course have decided to create us as puppets without any free will but that wasn’t the plan.

Although it may not be originally a Christian idea, the Neoplatonic notion of the Pleroma, that I first encountered in Arthur O. Lovejoy’s The Great Chain of Being, tackles this problem head-on. Lovejoy’s answer is that, in Plotinus’ account of creation through the Demiurge, it is an expression of the Divine, according to the Divine Will, and must necessarily express all possibilities – otherwise creation would be lacking. This is because, in the ancient Greek sensibility, fullness is better than lack: it is more perfect for something to be actualised than not to be actualised. So then everything has to be. Aristotle sometimes uses this sensibility to argue for something necessarily in being rather than simply in potential – and it is this binary of being and potential, of fullness and lack, that is the basis for his theory of Forms.

The concept of pleroma does occur in the New Testament, especially in the letters of Saint Paul, who of course was a Greek scholar, as his learned discourse to the Athenians (which is often criticised by fundamentalist Christians) shows. Saint Paul doesn’t apply this concept to creation directly but he does apply it to both Christ and the Church, including to believers:

(I quote from the Jerusalem Bible)

COLOSSIANS

1:15 “He is the image of the unseen God and the first-born of all creation,

1:16 for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible, Thrones, Dominations, Sovereignties, Powers – all things were created through him and for him.

1:17 Before anything was created, he existed, and he holds all things in unity. Now the Church is his body, he is its head.

1:18 As he is the Beginning, he was first to be born from the dead, so that he should be first in every way;

1:19 because God wanted all perfection to be found in him

1:20 and all things to be reconciled through him and for him, everything in heaven and everything on earth, when he made peace by his death on the cross.”

1 CORINTHIANS 10:26 “for the earth and everything that is in it belong to the Lord.”

EPHESIANS

3:16 “Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong,

3:17 so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love,

3:18 you will with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth;

3:19 until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.”

I think also that we have to remember how artificial our ideas of animals are; how artificial our ideas of Nature are. We live in countries where “wilderness” is mostly created and often has been created by erasing the dwellings and habitats of former inhabitants, human or animal, or both. This has been extensively theorised by J. Baird Callicott, whose critique of wilderness is now less controversial than his proposed alternatives – some of which seem perilously close to UN elite neo-colonialism (see below). I do recommend the work of Lee Hall whose ideas about animal domestication I find very challenging, especially because I have a dog. Lee highlights how artificial animal domestication is, and as a vegan of years who spent decades as a vegetarian, I find this very challenging indeed because it opens my eyes to the fact that, when I go walks with my dog, he immediately wants to be with other dogs. And what he really wants to do is to form a pack and then go hunting and to mate and therefore to ensure the survival of the pack.

My brother-in-law is a dog trainer and I have benefited greatly from his advice, the core of which is that dogs think differently from human beings, and that they have a reason for their behaviour. It’s interesting to me the derision that canine behaviourists have for this idea, as basically they see dog training not as forming a bond with another rational animal but rather as “teaching your dog good manners”, as one put it to me in conversation.

Lee’s work challenges me to accept that the relationship I have, and that my family and my friends have, with my extremely cute tan terrier, Ben, is highly artificial and is, to a great extent, abusive. Ben was taken from his family, at least from his mother and siblings, at an early age. His tail was inexpertly docked in his first year, in his second he was castrated and by the time he got to me he could not live with other dogs because of his aggressive behaviour. Now, with my brother-in-law’s advice, he’s a calm and happy dog aged 11. He gets on well with other dogs and loves people. But his life is not natural and it’s full of frustrated impulses. Just this morning I stopped him from heading into a foxhole. He obviously found this confusing. It’s bad dog logic. Dogs and foxes have a mutual enmity, who am I to interfere? But the land all around, the habitat of this fox, has been devastated by recent tree felling and burning as well as house building some decades ago. There is also an almost continual presence of at least one dog and accompanying human. So to further tip the balance by letting Ben dig out and kill Reynard would be immoral. Ben is like a model prisoner who gets on extremely well with his gaolers and even likes them. Sometimes, when I’m so extremely busy, because I’m an unpaid carer with three part time jobs, he only gets out to the back garden and otherwise out for a short 15 minute walk. He accepts this. He has no choice.

So my point in this long ramble is that the problem of the suffering of wild animals is not a theological problem because the alternative is immoral. We svelte, urbanised, soft, humans have a twisted idea of morality, especially when it comes to animals, because we are so good at hiding from ourselves the abuse that we practise on animals in the name of a “kindness” which is actually selfishness. Nowhere is this more evident than in the services which are dedicated to animal welfare. I remember watching a video on social media of a dedicated (obsessive) animal shelter officer who managed to trap a female dog and her puppies who were living in a junkyard I think, feral, and bring them into the Pound. That, of course, was the end of the story. And it may have been for the female dog. The puppies, if they were lucky, would have been separated. If not, they would have been killed along with their mother. For “their own good”. That somewhat natural family could have been living, still, in the urban wilderness. Suffering no doubt but together and alive. However, the kind human being couldn’t stand seeing that and so she “rescued” them and probably killed at least some of them. It’s this same deadly kindness (allied with economy) that causes us to reject any possibility of the kind of palliative care we extend to our human kin, when one of our beloved domesticated animals is gravely ill. Instead we employ a euphemism for lethal injection, get weepy and expect sympathy. For our kindness.

We have to take responsibility for how sanitised our concept of Nature is. How we have artificially created wilderness by displacing indigenous people and the rural poor in order to make the wilderness a playground for the urban elite. How we have caused devastating ecological change in order to make the world into this playground. So we can’t be surprised about the “wrong kind of Green” that is happening right now under the marketing strategy “The Great Reset”, as detailed by journalist and activist Cory Morningstar, because the monetization of Nature is an old concept and we have all signed up to it already.

Most human interaction with Nature and with animals is now destructive and abusive. It is the height of moral hubris for us to then imagine that how animals interact with each other is morally wrong and constitutes a theological problem about the goodness of their Creator. We simply cannot imagine what Nature is because we see Nature, and animals living in Nature, through so many artificial lenses of our own construction. The best thing we can do for animals is to leave them alone. The second best thing we can do for them is to try to remedy in some way the destruction to their lives and their habitats which we have already wreaked on them. In both endeavours, we can look to God, because we are told (Matthew 5:23-24) that we cannot be in good relation with God when we are at odds with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, we cannot be in communion with God while we are at odds with our fellow creatures.

Rather than judge their Creator for the destruction and the pain that wild animals would cause each other, if they were living in a state of Nature, we should accept responsibility and seek remedy for the destruction and pain we have already caused them, because they are not.

Blue black head of a raven looking watchful against a black background

Thanks to George Hodan for releasing his image Raven into the Public Domain.

How to save piglets

It’s the feast of St Francis and you may know that about 150,000 UK pigs are under threat of being slaughtered, without the excuse of eating them, due to shortage of staff at abattoirs, due to Brexit. Of these, some are just piglets who face being shot in the head and thrown into a skip like rubbish. Agricultural doublespeak refers to this destruction of the barely-lived lives of the 5th most intelligent animal on our planet (humans, supposedly, being the first) as “animal welfare”.

Here’s how to save them.

1) Network by phone and social media until you have a local group of vegan and vegetarian households willing to either be Piglet Rescuers, Piglet Foster Families or Piglet Food & Finance Friends.

2) Piglet Rescuers need a vehicle (preferably a van) with plastic sheeting and straw or grass cuttings and/ or willing arms to hold scared or excited piglets with their backside/ back legs in plastic/ bin bags/ incontinence sheet nappies.

Bag of Boots 60cm x 60cm disposable bed pads.

They’ll need wellies (farms can be muddy) raincoats (so can piglets) and the pragmatic mindset that they can only take piglets, only as many as can be homed, and saving some is better than saving none. They also need to be polite to the farmer (who may think they’re fools) as well as the firm assurance that the number of piglets they pick up is the number that will be homed, as arranged.

2) Piglet Foster Families need a County Parish Holding (CPH) number, a fenced back garden with 6 square metres per pig, a cleared shed, heated in winter, with straw (a few rescued hens will help deal with troublesome insects but keep their nests out of reach of the growing pigs). Pigs like to root around (it’s comforting for them to do this and distressing when they can’t) and may root up the whole back garden but they can also be walked, especially to woodland, which they love, like dogs. This needs an Animal Plant & Health Agency herd mark but APHA need to be notified of pigkeeping, even as pets, within 30 days of arrival, in any case. Keeping two pigs of the same sex means they won’t be lonely or multiplying! Dogs and pigs don’t usually get along well but there’s mutual appreciation with cats.

3) Piglet Food & Finance Friends are essential to keep the pigs’ food in supply and help with vet bills. Although government websites tend to have dire warnings about domestic food waste, especially containing vegetable oils, they of course are hand in glove with agricultural food suppliers and, although there are somethings that must be avoided, pig sanctuaries do feed their animal friends with veggies and show this clearly on social media. They also know about bills and how to keep them down (because they have to) and need to work very hard to do that—so social media might be a good start to contact them for advice as you’re also advertising them and attracting donations. Whereas everyone can advertise, local piglet rescue networks could perhaps have one person who contacts the nearest sanctuary and passes on advice, to avoid inundating them with your anxieties about your piggy friends when they’ve got animals of their own.

DISCLAIMER—I love pigs but I have no experience or qualifications in caring for them. I’m passing on what I’ve been able to find out about government regulations and advice but I may have misunderstood or be missing a lot. Therefore this post is simply a call to action and the first step is to get informed. There are many great social media sites (such as the American Odd Man Inn on Facebook and Instagram and Pigs in the Wood in England on Facebook) but do be aware that regulations are different from state to state and country to country—including around the UK.

This is a naive attempt to rescue little lives that are currently under threat. I’m prioritising them because they’ve barely lived at all and because by the time they grow their Foster Families should be more experienced in looking after them and better prepared to care for big pigs. When I first turned vegetarian at the age of eight, I stuck a big poster of a pig on my bedroom wall. It said “To Know Me Is To Love Me!”

I still believe that. Let’s rescue piglets!

Cute pink piglet in a pen with straw bedding looking anxiously up at the camera.

Thanks to Petr Kratochvil for releasing his photo Piglet on Farm into the Public Domain.

How to succeed in fairytales

As the end of Lockdown approaches our perspective may change (if we’re at all wise) from fighting a fictitious plague in our immediate vicinity to resisting a very real transnational – and transhumanist – adversary. One whose plan is to take over the world and subject all us common folk to perpetual surveillance, harvesting our biodata to better the algorithms that run the robots. You think this sounds like bad Science Fiction, don’t you? Yet it’s already happening in China. And, are they resisting? In China? Puleeze!

Don’t be so smug – after all, you’re not resisting either, are you? You don’t even want to admit what’s really going on. If you did, you’d then have to wonder what you could do about it. The problem with that is, at the moment, no-one seems to have much old-fashioned gumption. (That’s a mostly Scottish word for initiative, enterprise, lively intelligence, know-how and opportunism.) Thinking about what to do about this global techno-fascist takeover would involve thinking about what to do about other things that need sorted out – and that means the dishes and the laundry basket and the back garden and the TV aerial and that squeaky board on the landing upstairs. As well as your family, friends, romantic relationship and bank balance.

So, instead, we tend to just make more coffee, break out the biscuits and watch another episode of some TV series with the same plot as all the others (mildly marginalised ambitious young pretty White woman beats the boys and the Blonde Complete Bitch with the help of her friends: fat/ disabled, geeky/ gay and African-American with European features). Because it’s easier to imagine an upbeat ideal life of conquering adversity than to deal with the depressing downbeat reality of our own.

Well that’s not how they succeed in fairytales. (And it’s not how to get ahead on Netflix either, but that’s for another blogpost.) To succeed in fairytales, there are rules you must follow – and the first one is to ACCEPT THE REALITY OF YOUR SITUATION. Sounds trite and unhelpful, and yes Cinders did sing Someday My Prince Will Come but she also swept the floor, and it was because she was hardworking and could follow instructions that the Fairy Godmother bothered to turn up at all.

Which leads us to the next one: USE WHATEVER ADVANTAGES YOU’VE GOT. Fairytale heroines tend to be beautiful, it’s true, and the heroes tend to be at least agile and often strong (Jack was a farm labourer, and the Woodcutter cut wood, which means they both had muscles, Aladdin was a street urchin nifty on the rooftops to evade capture, which means he was skilled in parkour). However there are more natural advantages than being muscular, lithe and beautiful. ABILITY TO TAKE ADVICE is essential – especially when the advice is unconventional, even counter-intuitive (which means it sounds daft). USING YOUR SKILLS is key. And false modesty here is only cute the first time, then you have to get on with it. “Oh but I’m only a cow herd” is fine but if that’s what the plot calls upon you to do, get herding!

You do get extra points for having a skill that everyone else thinks is useless. Because, in a time of crisis, sure as Fate it’ll turn out to be just the thing! A Prayer for Owen Meany is a lovely modern American fairytale illustrating that very point.

Furthermore (as my students will write) it’s good to have ambition, as that may be rewarded – as long as it doesn’t shade into hubris, which leads straight to disaster – but the important personality trait is OPPORTUNISM. Now, you have to be careful with this because some do succeed by jumping off the back of a bigger animal at the last minute and so winning the race (I’m looking at you, Lunar Year Rat!) but that’s risky because another winning quality is KINDNESS. Especially to the old, the young, the marginalised and, of course, animals. People have entertained angels unwittingly. Be kind. You just never know who you’re dealing with. Yes, it’s its own reward – but if anyone has the secret recipe, or that old rusty key, or the map to the buried treasure, it’ll be that minor character you helped back in Act 1. Be kind. It’s worth repeating.

WORK HARD. What? You thought this was going to be easy? You try climbing a skyscraper beanstalk or walking right through Wilderland, including the Barrowdowns, Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains, from west to east. PERSEVERE. You’ve switched on the kettle and the TV, haven’t you? Next rule: DON’T KEEP MOANING! The audience will go right off you, Tinkerbell will flutter by and the woodland creatures will turn up their pretty noses and just scamper off. Complaint is so unattractive. There are worse off than you. Just stop it!

BELIEVE. I know I’m going to get into trouble for saying this but it doesn’t really matter in what, as long as it’s better than this. However, be canny, don’t be misled, DISCERN WELL. How do you know who to trust? BE OBSERVANT and FOLLOW YOUR HEART.

RISK. Yes. Maybe not everything and certainly not all at once. But take a chance on life. The tales of Sinbad the Sailor are all about the ups and downs of Fortune. Now you can get religious about this and start talking about the Will of God and all that. And maybe that’s the point of the 1,001 Nights of Scheherazade, the epic and inventive storyteller who wove tales to save her own life. And succeeded. But whether or not there’s a Divine Will controlling all events, what’s plain as the nose on your face is that (despite all those tedious New Age teachings to the contrary) it’s not you and it’s not anyone else.

That means that your road is open for you to follow and no-one stands in your way. The Universe may not be conspiring for you but it’s not conspiring against either. So get out there and get on with it! FOLLOW YOUR DREAM.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings)

Gloomy forest around a mysterious lake

Thanks to Larisa Koshkina for releasing her image Gloomy Forest Background into the public domain.

5 Ways to Disagree

This is a more structured version of my podcast of the same title which reflects on how we can discuss and even argue with people who hold opinions opposed to ours, irrespective of logic or empirical evidence, and so passionately, that we may be justified in calling them beliefs – and they may be justified in doing the same.

Although many of us moderns (especially White, slick urbanites) like to think of ourselves as all about science and having nothing to do with belief, there are some convictions on issues which are clearly not evidence-based and about which we are immune to rational persuasion.

Rather than identifying particular positions as irrational, I prefer to present examples of opposing beliefs, and some middle ground, without (too much) judgement. After doing so, I suggest 5 ways we can dialogue with each other, even when we disagree. The table below is not a nuanced account of any of these positions but serves to show their conflict. The middle position is not necessarily the one I consider most rational in all cases.

Issue/ Belief  Established Middle ground Dissenting
Abortion Amoral medical procedure, sometimes necessary/ human right. Cornerstone of female autonomy & modern feminism. Unborn baby is basically a bloodclot. Tragic conflict of rights in a misogynist society which still does not support female socio-economic autonomy, pregnancy, childbirth or childcare. Lucrative immoral practice of eugenics, often racist, sexist & ableist, by selfish women, authoritarian governments & doctors breaking Hippocratic Oath. Zygote is basically a baby.
AIDS HIV is the necessary & sufficient cause of AIDS (Gallo)  HIV is co-factor of AIDS but good nutrition/ clean water will flush it out (Montagnier) HIV is at least a co-factor of AIDS, oxidation may be another, but epidemiological data is so flawed & positions over e.g. poppers (alkyl nitrate) & Kaposi’s Sarcoma so entrenched, it is difficult to say anything for certain. HIV is a harmless passenger virus unconnected to AIDS – an  incoherent set of diseases caused by malnutrition & drugs including HIV meds (Duesberg)

HIV has never been proved to exist

(Perth Group)

Animal Farming Natural: humans are omnivores and animals hunt eat other for food. Factory farming & fishing bycatch/ plastic pollution unnecessary is cruel but animal welfare can be improved by a return to traditional farming/ fishing. Immoral. We are not just wild animals and traditional ecological communities of hunters & fishers do not subject animals to a (short) lifetime of cruelty.
Black Lives Matter Black people are causing racist division in our now totally equal societies. The cause of BLM is good but it is funded/ infiltrated by corporate interests with a different agenda.* It’s the 21st C. and Black people are still not safe anywhere. Defund the police!
Environment There is no environmental problem. Big business as usual! There may or may not be a relationship between emissions and global warming but plastic & air pollution is real. The Green movement is funded/ infiltrated by corporate interests with a different agenda.* The Earth is in crisis and only an immediate halt to CO2 & other toxic emissions will save humanity.  
5G/ Cashless Economy/ Cryptocurrency/ Blockchain 5G is useful, empowering, safe & efficient. It’s unconnected to the others which are just a more efficient & sanitory method of finance. We should be cautious about possible harm from any new technology, especially one using microwaves. The industry promoting it is unlikely to be impartial. The others are useful but problematic in terms of money laundering/ the Dark Web. All this is part of *The Great Reset: unelected oligarchic global governance based on citizen surveillance using biodata.
Transgender Human right if born in the wrong body. Access all areas! Confusing conflation of transsexual and transvestite people who have very different rights and present very different dangers to women and children. Attack on female safe space and sovereignty. Unnatural & especially harmful to kids who end up irreversibly mutilated, scarred & sterile for life & unable to enjoy sex.
Vaccines Totally safe. Good in general but their proliferation is worrying as is lack of legal accountability for past & future harms by pharmaceutical industry. Totally unsafe. Cause of autism etc.
Viruses: Covid-19/ H1N1 (Swine Flu) Real threat to life. Masks, social distancing, citizen surveillance, vaccines are our only hope against certain destruction of the human race. Bad (incommensurable) data; bad (incoherent) results. Censorship of dissenting experts not helping understanding of threat & solution. Scam/ social engineering with real or fake virus. Key part of another agenda operating since the 9/11 scam.*

Some of these issues line up with bipartisan politics – especially in the USA – and so some have described this as conflict of cultures. If we accept ideologies as similar to cultures, then one solution to continual argument is an approach similar to multiculturalism – which is a social strategy that has never been tried seriously in the UK (despite the political rhetoric) because, throughout our history, no culture apart from the dominant one has ever felt sufficiently safe.

In the USA it has never been tried at all, as the famous ‘Melting Pot’ is the antithesis of cultural respect. Expression of non-dominant cultural identity in the USA is only tolerated if it is folksy, touristy, commercially packaged, relegated to the past or heavily-constrained and bounded communities. When accessible, urban, vociferous and resistant to assimilation, it is severely repressed.

However convivencia was a key virtue of much of Al-Andalus (Moorish Spain) during the years when Christians and Jews lived securely under Muslim rule. Out of their dialogue came many literary, philosophical and scientific riches.

So what are my thoughts on a more convivial way of engaging with people of different persuasions? I suggest 5 ways to disagree:

  • Acknowledge the benevolence of people on the other side – they may truly believe what they do in good faith, with the information, cultural identity, emotional investment and relationships they have at this time.
  • Find shared values & goals: e.g. Pro-Life & Pro-Choice women can at least agree on supporting women who want to give birth and face social & economic obstacles, without giving up their opposition over the morality & legality of abortion.
  • Agree on a basis of evidence. This may be a legal or religious text that one or both parties holds as authoritative, a set of scientific studies, a certain database, etc.
  • Explore coherence – using logic, the value system each claims to uphold, and perhaps one of the above, this step may serve to demolish an opponent’s argument but may also enable it to be expressed more intelligibly, enabling better mutual understanding.
  • Agree to disagree. If you agree on nothing else, at least acknowledge the legal right to freedom of expression/ freedom of speech and resist attempts by others to censor this fundamental value of democracy.

argument-silhouette
Silhouette of older White man & younger Black man arguing

Thanks to Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan for releasing his image Argument Silhouette into the public domain.

 

5 Ways to Disagree (podcast)

Rather rambling reflections on possible strategies taken from interfaith dialogue between people committed to opposing secular ideologies they believe in and both claim to be rational and factual. Mention of: failed multiculturalism in UK and (especially) USA contrasted with success in Moorish Spain; opposing views on:

Abortion

AIDS

Animal Farming

Black Lives Matter

Environment

5G/ Cashless Economy/ Cryptocurrency/ Blockchain

Vaccines

Viruses: Covid-19/ H1N1 (Swine Flu)

(And I completely forgot about transgender ideology, which is another case in point)

https://www.podbean.com/eu/pb-zegba-e23cab

Bodies

Living both north and south of the Tropic of Capricorn in Brazil, I had to get used to walking slowly and smoothly­ – otherwise I’d arrive sticky with sweat (and Brazilians are extremely fastidious about hygiene). In my native Scotland, we walk at a brisk, jerky, pace because speed and friction keep us warm north of the latitude of Moscow. In the days before mobile phones, when I still had my Brazilian tan, I sat for an hour outside Holborn Tube Station waiting for a friend and watching the citizens of London walk by. Generally, the White people scurried along, head-first, frowning, shoulders tense, neck at 45o; mostly, the Black people had shoulders back and walked with head high, evenly and upright. Of course there were exceptions.

Taking an African dance class in California (I’m White and, yes, I was hopeless) I observed a White American classmate with a very Irish name skip across the floor and asked her when she’d learned Irish dancing, because I recognised the movement. She said “what is that?” and told me her family had emigrated from Ireland centuries ago. I replied, “your legs remember”.

Muscle memory’ was a hot topic in those days and it was something we were well aware of in our massage class, led by our gentle, feminine New-Agey teacher – she’d burp as she worked, feeling it released the blocked somatic energy she was picking up – who summed up her philosophy: “when you bring peace to the body, you bring peace to the world”.

Although I try to do that, nowadays, I’m sorry to say, I tend to poke my neck out and scurry with the rest of my peely-wally compatriots but occasionally I am reminded (by all our stooped White elderly folk) to straighten my spine. And, when it’s hot, I still drag the back of my flip-flops along, like a good Brazilian, rather than snap them to my heels.

What’s the point? Today for Catholics is the Feast of Corpus Christi, the body of Christ, and bodies are on all our minds right now. The Italian cultural theorist and moral philosopher Giorgio Agamben critiques the church for failing in a duty which was recognised as paramount even by the Ancient Greeks:

“The first point, perhaps the most serious, concerns the bodies of dead persons. How could we have accepted, solely in the name of a risk that it was not possible to specify, that persons who are dear to us and human beings in general should not only die alone, but — something that had never happened before in history, from Antigone to today — that their cadavers should be burned without a funeral?”

As the main carer for two family members, one human, one canine, and as a vegan, I am well aware of the importance of bodies, especially right now. She can get cramped from sitting too long, her accustomed exercise, a short bus trip to the local town for mass and a potter round cafes and charity shops, greeting friends, curtailed by the powers-that-be. He’s probably getting more walks than ever but other animals are not so fortunate. All across the United States, pigs are being herded into gas chambers to cut their sad lives even shorter.

Unlike many new converts to animal liberation, I don’t watch footage of cruelty to animals. I know about our inhumanity. Instead I share the work of animal sanctuaries – and I invite you to do the same.

When I read that the bodies of our elderly, frightened and sometimes starving to death, were being discovered, alone and decomposing, in homes in London, I felt we had reached an end point in utter selfishness in metropolitan society.

Agamben, rightly, criticises the church for embracing the Covid Cult rather than the sick:

“The Church above all, which, in making itself the handmaid of science, which has now become the true religion of our time, has radically repudiated its most essential principles. The Church, under a Pope who calls himself Francis, has forgotten that Francis embraced lepers. It has forgotten that one of the works of mercy is that of visiting the sick. It has forgotten that the martyrs teach that we must be prepared to sacrifice our life rather than our faith and that renouncing our neighbour means renouncing faith.” (ibid)

Pope Francis, in his defence, has a long history of embracing those whom society repudiates as repugnant. As well as his ad hoc embraces, his annual washing of the feet of prisoners and the poor was only seized upon by the press when he became pope but for him it is nothing new – and he has publically urged respect and compassion for people caught up in prostitution. Nevertheless, I fear that the Vatican may have been overly conscious of its geographical position in the heart of Italy, so hysterically caught up in the Covid Cult and so tragically beginning to become aware that so many of its elderly were simply killed by well-meaning medics in a lethal combination of multimorbidity and iatrogenesis.

Women who advocate for reproductive justice (which should be against forced abortion and sterilisation; against state, social or economic pressure on pregnant women not to give birth; against pathologising natural somatic processes; against pro-birthers who do not support single mothers; and against any discrimination based on sex, race or ability) use the slogan OUR BODIES OUR SELVES! (Naomi Wolf, bravely, nuances the argument with a reflection on Our Bodies Our Souls.)

For human beings of any unselfish faith or philosophy, our bodies are not just commodities at the disposal of the state or the corporate forces of the market.

As we wake up from this global hypnosis, and open our eyes to the long-held plans of the biotech industrial complex, let’s remember that.

faceless-mannequins
Unclothed grey sleek faceless mannequins in a shop window

Thanks to Peter Griffin for releasing his image Faceless Mannequins into the Public Domain.

 

How to live under Lockdown

As the panic about the “pandemic” worsens, I’m revisiting a previous post called 10 Tasks to Survive Brexit. (Remember then?) Because here in the UK we’re now not only being cut off from Europe but, together with many people in many countries, we are being cut off from each other. Community groups are folding, plays and play groups cancelled, team sports have stopped, schools are closing and varsity has retreated up its ivory tower and locked the door. Spurious miscellaneous items are disappearing from supermarket shelves, business for Big Pharma is booming and everyone is terrified of human contact and is binge-watching boxsets. And it’s our own panic that’s doing it.

Some would call this commonsense. I wouldn’t but I’m not now going to argue the case. Instead, I’d like to suggest how to live under Lockdown:

  1. Plant vegetables. Get out to the garden, plant herbs in hanging baskets and windowboxes or even sneak out to the allotment. On Good Friday it’s a Christian rural tradition to plant potatoes. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in Christ. Believe in the life cycle. Remember: this too shall pass.

  1. Plant flowers. Plant a tree too! Resist the high-handed madness of your local authority and their war against trees. We need them.
  2. Go vegan. Seriously. The NHS is overloaded, you really can only afford good nutrition. And if you live in a country without free healthcare, even moreso!
  3. Get a dog or two if you can and take them out for (long) walks three times a day. That vitamin D will perk you up and you’ll need the serotonin to stop obsessing about whatever is happening on TV, phone and computer screens. This is perennial advice. When humans go batshit crazy, animals suffer. Take care of them. They will more than repay you. Get a cat, while you’re about it.
  4. Make things. Learn to knit, crochet (buy wool in charity shops) weave, make macrame and ceramics and cook if you don’t know how – and branch out if you do. Home cooking can be therapeutic, social and far cheaper (and healthier) than over-packaged store-bought ready meals with way too much sugar and salt. This might not be an option if things get worse – it might be absolutely necessary. So get ahead of the curve!
  5. Repair things. Google: sewing, darning, changing a fuse, changing a washer on a leaky tap, learn bicycle/ motorcycle/ car maintenance – or even rebuild a boat – go online and learn! You think you can rely on tradespeople not being affected by this madness? Think again!
  6. Teach. You know things. Share those skills. Online, by conference call. Just do it.
  7. Reuse, recycle, upcycle and barter. There are lots of schemes, like Freecycle. Yup!
  8. Try to be happy – and help others to be. I’ve lived in countries where the economy is a joke. It’s difficult but people are resilient and you adapt. You don’t have to wait for the glorious socialist revolution in order to share planned or spontaneous moments of joy and people are all around you. That’s still true. Stop obsessing about yourself and wallowing in your own misery and anxiety. Get up and get organised. Look around you – who’s worse off than you/ How can you help? Stop waiting for some higher authority to tell you what to do. HELP PEOPLE!
  9. Read. No, not just (social) media posts – read them as little as possible. At times like these, they’re mostly poison to a healthy mind. Read books and magazines and long, thought-provoking articles. Get around to it. Improve your mind. Stop opining and get informed. Learn the joy of good education and to put all this into perspective.

Above all, STAY ALIVE!

Knitting doll

“Knitting Doll” Image (c)Alan McManus, wooden knitting doll from Ridley’s House of Novelties