Breathing Fire, Missing Scale

I’ve never watched an entire episode of Dragons’ Den. To me, when I eventually saw some footage, it smacked of the new, voyeuristic TV programmes like Big Brother, The Weakest Link or Britain’s Got Talent, that used the excuse of aspiration (a combination of Machiavellian strategy, a lust for fame, and greed) to showcase the grief and pain of failure. I found it cruel and the presenters callous, the suffering they caused the majority of the participants not incidental but rather the dirty little secret of these shows: Schadenfreude, as our Germanic cousins call it. Pleasure in the suffering of others.

The names of the presenters meant nothing to me until one of them started making waves in my small, close-knit, and (until then) generally friendly political party. I looked up this person and, coming from a long line of nurses, I immediately identified what my elderly Mum calls “a typical thyroid case”: nervous excitability; forceful, non-stop talking; mood swings; bulging eyes. It can especially hit menopausal women badly but a younger friend had it, was diagnosed with cancer—and the regime of drugs and surgery altered her body chemistry and she lost a baby. “No-one ever mentioned thyroid imbalance” her husband said to me, afterwards. I felt so guilty for not speaking up. My embarrassment about being accused of ‘mansplaining’ a female condition wasn’t an excuse. Especially when I was simply sharing the observations of wise women and my advice was no more controversial than: “maybe you should get this checked out”.

So I did, and was smacked down by the dragon lady for my trouble. My conscience is clear. I tried. I’m not a medical doctor and I don’t have proof that her psychological inability to listen to opposing points of view is at root physiological. Maybe it’s not. Perhaps she’s simply the type of rich middle aged woman from the English ‘Home Counties’ that can’t abide contrary opinions. A sort of Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, without the humour.

From the body to the body politic: my party will survive. She’s calling us all shills for throwing her out when we’d all had enough of her abusive publicity. What concerns me more, having informed myself now, is what she may do next. I’m a keen conservationist and, unfortunately, her sights are set on ‘developing’ one of the most beautiful areas of woodland and meadow in England.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for grow-your-own and organic vegetables. I don’t mind meditation, chanting doesn’t bother me at all and I can even put up with a certain amount of circle dancing. I’m not keen on drugs, I must say, and my objections to aged hippies congregating on unspoiled land in order to consume quantities of magic mushrooms is not only medical (just because I’m unqualified doesn’t mean I don’t care, and they can cause severe heart palpitations, apparently) but also because such gatherings are often marked by ecological irresponsibility. Take Glastonbury, post-festival, as an example.

A member of my party told me that, when this fire-breathing businesswomen (whose own company went into arbitration, it seems) stood for us last year, concerned villagers made the trip from the Peak District to warn us to have nothing to do with her, as they feared the destruction she was planning to wreak on their beloved acres of Merrie England. He confessed that he’d declined their invitation to visit their beautiful village, set in Cressbrook Dale, out of loyalty to our candidate. Surely, he may have considered, these people were exaggerating.

Unfortunately, it appears that they’re not. Human waste, stone chips strewn in a forest glade by people clearly more accustomed to facilitating access to a suburban double garage than contemplating and reverencing the intricacies of ecological networks (and only taking action in order to better support them), plastic tents pitched and looking abandoned over winter, publicised plans to uproot the highest category of protected land in a national park…in order to grow massive amounts of vegetables. While everyone’s on drugs? And their (non-hierarchical) muse is off round the country, or perhaps the planet, leading, somehow by the aid of a perfectly flat structure, the movement against…well, anything that stands in her way really. The wheel must be broken, and all that sort of thing.

The New Age often attracts the precise middle of the English class system. The “chattering classes”. Middle managers, chartered accountants, those who’ve clawed their way up HR, board members of quangos. Places like Findhorn are full of them. The superwomen of the 90s are among them. You can have it all, they were told. To give them their due, they really tried to. The yuppie revolution. Thatcher’s children. Keeping the faith in monetarism—until the emptiness set in. They may have tried creative writing, or pottery. Some women, desperate, even went to the extreme of bringing up their own kids. At least when they were back from boarding school.

Tragically, I think that’s why these people can’t listen. They share that characteristic with the Woke. To admit doubt is to allow the possibility of meaninglessness. To look in the mirror and see youthful charm (if ever possessed) fade. New seekers age. “Dreams have lost their grandeur, coming true.” That’s if there were any, in the first place. Very few people, JK Rowling perhaps an exception, can find magic in suburbia.

So I can’t blame these bland people for wanting more. England is famous, worldwide, for having lost its culture. Abstract the Celtic Twilight, cut off the Moorish dancing learned from the Crusades, omit everything that actually belongs to someone else and what’s left? Only one element remains, the liminal location of Shakespearean dreamland: the Greenwood.

This is why nothing else will do for the breaker of chains and her merry band. If they were truly ecological, they’d buy up brownfield sites and reclaim them. Now that would be magical. Instead, cut off from rural wisdom for generations, these self-indulgent townies, unable to limit the gratification of their desires, must have this virgin soil in order to despoil it in search of their souls.

The capacity of self-reflection of such people may be so limited that, once they’ve made a Glastonbury out of the Greenwood, with only themselves to blame, their final act—before being thrown off the ravaged land by court order—is likely to be an internal witch-hunt to identify the source of the karmic forces acting against them.

In the hell of their own creation, a hall of mirrors where fame reflects ever more monstrously the distorted features of their inability to contemplate the impact of their unchecked desires, they may forget the basic tenant of even the watered-down version of Buddhism which they claim to practice: responsibility.

Colourful Carnival Dragon Head

Thanks to Linnaea Mallette for releasing her image Dragon Carnival Head into the Public Domain.


Love & Strife: Structural Renovation of the UK Freedom Alliance Party

A striking image in Graeco-Roman myth caught my attention when writing my thesis on (Dr Robert) Pirsig, Pedagogy and the Metaphysics of Quality. It comes from the story of the arranged diplomatic marriage of the crippled patron of the forge to the voluptuous patron of love who has an affair with the patron of war. Hephaestus/ Vulcan suspects that his wife Aphrodite/ Venus of being unfaithful and constructs a net so fine to be invisible yet so strong to be unbreakable and catches her coupling with Ares/ Mars. Summoning the other denizens of Olympus, his expectation of their censure is disappointed; they laugh at the spectacle.

The net of Hephaestus and the laughter of the gods compose an ancient cosmological scenario: love and strife hopelessly entangled in public view with the powers-that-be unsurprised and amused. “As above, so below” is a famous metaphysical maxim and so this scenario may also be seen in politics. Indeed, in a recent Time for Reflection on St Cecilia’s Day, Mgr. John A. Hughes asked the Scottish Parliament to reflect on harmony and discord—and to prefer the former.

It has been my experience, joining, standing for and working with Freedom Alliance, that the vast majority of leaders, members and supporters of our own and other parties with similar aims agree with Mgr. Hughes: harmony is to be preferred over discord. However, for various motives, there are always one or two who seek to cause division and use it to augment their celebrity status.

People are human and humans are vulnerable. Having been the victim of institutional abuse for years, I can testify to how exhausting it is to continually strive to do the right thing while others are gleefully attacking you. In that intolerable situation, some may be forced out and others leave because they can take no more.

On that note, several extremely hardworking members of the executive of Freedom Alliance have just resigned from the party. Under similar pressure, I had resigned from the executive and my time away from the strife has enabled me, with others, to carry on. Although there is, perhaps, a degree of malevolence in some of the personal attacks, and certainly a touch of egotism, I believe that most of the discussion comes from a genuine concern about how best to reach the non-voting majority of the freedom movement.

The timing of this strife, with a public announcement going out on the eve of the Chester parliamentary by-election, and now these resignations a week before that in Stretford & Urmston, is challenging. Nevertheless a remnant remains and is steadfast. We are working now to put differences aside and to learn lessons—and all people of goodwill and common sense are most welcome to help us in that endeavour.

I ask all friends of freedom to desist from fanning the flames of conflict and to recall the consistent warnings of the party about the steel trap closing around us—as our children are dying of iatrogenic harms and our local authorities seek to corral us in “15 minute cities” for easier control.

As I said at the count for East Dunbartonshire in May, Freedom Alliance is a pop-up party—and we’ll be popping up again!

Freedom Alliance leaflet

Who’s Who and What’s What?

It’s fashionable in the freedom movement to criticise Critical Theory but various reports over the last few days have made me think about the importance of one of its commonplaces:

Identity is multiple, contested and transitory

Me, paraphrasing everyone else

For those sensible people who stay far, far away from pretentious artsy varsity courses, Critical Theory is basically what happens when you subversively say “it ain’t necessarily so!” but get really arsey about it – and publish expensive books and well-cited papers that repeat the same point from various angles, like very dull sermons, using a lingo that’s so complex it’s indecipherable even to the author (this is known as “dense”).

The various reports that have made me reconsider the value of this pretentious commonplace (one of the ways to get points in CT is to know the “archaeology” and “genealogy” of words and this one can have me expounding for hours about mnemonic systems and topoi – but it just means something that everyone always says) were on the Tory leadership contest and Unionist bonfires in Northern Ireland.

It struck me, rather unkindly, that people of ethnic minorities tend to be British when it suits them. Then I reflected, more fairly, that that’s exactly what the British establishment has done to ethnic minorities. So tit for tat! In the bad old days when Britannia ruled the waves, the people overseas were told that the Empress Victoria, out of an over-abundance of condescending kindness, had decided to mother ’em all and that henceforth they were to consider England (shieldboss of the universe and shorthand for the UK) their one, true and only Home.

So kind of Queen Vic! That, of course, was all very well as long as all these grateful subjects stayed away. When they decided to come Home, the British establishment quickly decided that that’s not really what they’d meant at all. At least not for most of them. Robert Winder (in his annoyingly Anglo-centric but entertaining book) sums it up:

Immigration is one of the most important stories of modern British life, yet it has been happening since Caesar first landed in 53 BC. Ever since the first Roman, Saxon, Jute and Dane leaped off a boat we have been a mongrel nation. Our roots are a tangled web. From Huguenot weavers fleeing French Catholic persecution in the 18th century to South African dentists to Indian shopkeepers; from Jews in York in the 12th century (who had to wear a yellow star to distinguish them and who were shamefully expelled by Edward I in 1272) to the Jamaican who came on board the Windrush in 1947. The first Indian MP was elected in 1892, Walter Tull, the first black football player played (for Spurs and Northampton) before WW1 (and died heroically fighting for the allies in the last months of the war); in 1768 there were 20,000 black people in London (out of a population of 600,000 – a similar percentage to today). The 19th century brought huge numbers of Italians, Irish, Jews (from Russia and Poland mainly), Germans and Poles.

This book draws all their stories together in a compelling narrative.

Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain

As a Roman Catholic, Scots-Irish, English, German (possibly Lutheran but probably Jewish), French, Pictish, Viking, I’m clearly connected to events over the water – which in Glasgow means the Irish Sea – especially around the 12th of July, anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne when the Pope played chess with most of Europe and his most powerful piece against the Catholic King James VII & II of the recently United Kingdom was the Protestant pretender William of Orange. Confusingly, although apparently a Te Deum (this glorious version from Tosca starts about 2:50) was sung in Rome to celebrate the victory, the commemorations since then have been markedly anti-Catholic. There are other incongruities with the popular version of this history, as James Connolly (who uses the more accurate term Episcopalian for Anglican) points out – among them the embarrassing fact that the oppressors of the Presbyterian “planters” (English and Scots immigrants to Ireland) were not the Roman Catholics.

Before I studied Critical Theory, I was a student of Church History. As Umberto Eco reminds us, all this supposedly modern stuff about who’s who and what’s what was already being debated (because they weren’t stupid enough to deny that there’s a debate, that it’s worth having and that it’s complex) in Mediaeval times. (If you’re interested, it really starts in section 2 HERE.)

If you’re already bamboozled and wondering if I’ll ever get to the point, I already have done. Identity is multiple, contested and transitory. We’re each not just one thing, we can’t force anyone to recognise us as anything (not without a struggle at least) and things change – and so do we.

I’d like to end this cleverly by showing that all the identities I favour are actually rock solid and all the ones I oppose are shaky but I’m afraid it works both ways. My only conclusion (and it’s not very clever at all) is that thinking of Us and Them just doesn’t work – because either there was, or there is, or there will be, so much of Them in Us and vice versa.

Identity politics, or standpoint epistemology if you want to get fancy, has a certain value. Much as my experience of being a paid carer for various client groups and an unpaid carer for both my parents at different times overlaps with some of the skills of motherhood, being male, I never have been and I never will be a mother. But I might be able to use my experience to understand theirs, to some extent, without presuming to know all about it. Or to be one of them. Or to make the mistake that this part of their identity, itself shifting in time and place, sums them up completely. Venturing now into the murky world of politics, from the comparative safety of academic (I mean they’re only trying to sack me for defending the law, what’s to be afraid of?) that’s something to keep in mind. People and demographics groups are not the same thing.

We’re so much more interesting than a single identity.

Fractal branching black and white circular image of a flower

Thanks to Piotr Siedlecki for releasing his image Kaleidoscope Flower into the Public Domain.

The List

In one of the final scenes from The Devil Wears Prada, Miranda, the cold and brilliant editor of a top fashion magazine confesses being touched by the efforts of her PA, Andy, to warn her of a plot to oust her but says that no-one can do what she does, “especially because of the List” … of those key players in the business loyal to her.

In Act IV Scene 1 of Julius Caesar, the triumvirate of conspirators also refer to a list but, conversely, of the disloyal (to the Senate and the People of Rome, by supporting the despotic Emperor) and Octavius, having gained the assent of Lepidus to include his own brother, tells Antony to “prick him down”.

Whether utilised to record bosom friends or backstabbers in industry, politics or any other sphere of human activity, lists are useful mnemonic aids as they can detail people and events now to be referred to later.

A growing number of us are awake to the long-planned global attempt at tyranny and, thankfully, this number tends to be undiminished by the deadly effects of the means of this technocratic takeover. Indeed those who either survive or witness such adverse reactions, while the social pariah “plague-spreaders” continue in good health, can only conclude that they’ve been lied to—and that someone should be held accountable.

Prick them down. Start The List. Each of us should carry a little notebook (it needn’t be black) with a little pencil to go with it. The pencil, as Dr Robert M. Pirsig puts it (Lila, Ch.17), is mightier than the pen precisely because it’s provisional: its mark can be erased.

The provision (of not being added to The List) is simple, it’s a negative answer to the key question:

Do you take responsibility for what you have just said? If so, I’ll need your full name.

These words, accompanied by the action of pencil poised over notebook may have a magical effect on whoever next attempts to bar you from accessing any goods, services or space which you are legally entitled to buy, sell, maintain, administer or enter.

Having the simultaneous power of record and erasure provides you with the possibility of negotiation.

Said human obstacles to the legal exercise of your will need not be threatened (with Nuremberg 2 or the wrath of the mob) but simply reminded that, if they will not take responsibility for such impediment, then their name will be not be recorded as doing so.

Therefore, as impediments for which no-one takes specific responsibility cannot be imposed, you are free to go about your business undeterred.

Try it—and tell me all about it on Twitter or Telegram @gumptionology.

Pencil and lined notebook

Thanks to Marina Shemesh who has released her image Pencil and Notebook 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)


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.”


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.

Black & White; Left & Right

I’ve previously praised Dear White People but now I want to address the contentious issue of Critical Race Theory which seems to underlie the film and series. The present inspiration is twofold: bitter words about bodily words with a friend for whom I have deep affection, and the 2020 Equality & Diversity lecture by Prof. Kendall Thomas for the Oxford University Faculty of Law.

The past and continuing inspiration is, as usual with me and ethical controversy, the late Dr Robert M. Pirsig, about whose work I wrote my doctoral thesis. CRT has become a huge ideological issue in the USA and, of course, the opposing positions tend to follow party political lines. What’s interesting for me is that, listening to opposing speakers, both sets seem utterly convinced of being right and (apart from some glaring misrepresentation of socio-political reality) both can be quite convincing. Having now alienated most readers, let me explain why.

Firstly, arguments that are intractable are often so because:

1) people are arguing about different things

2) people are arguing about the same thing but in different contexts

An example of 1) is abortion. The main reason why this is intractable is that each side of the argument is consistent with an opposing view on pregnancy: baby or blood clot, basically. A huge step forward is therefore to say: “I don’t agree with your understanding of biological reality but I can see how your stance seems reasonable to you, with that understanding”.

An example of both 1) and 2) is transgender. Because not only is one person thinking about a post-op (top & bottom) m-f transsexual and the other a male serial rapist and occasional crossdresser but the one is imagining the first popping on a blouse in M&S and the other imagining the second naked, erect and threatening in a women’s locker room, shelter or prison.

Both confounders can come into play in any argument over race. “White people” can variously refer to the young metrosexual hipster whose only experience of an all-White space is his immediate family when no visitors are round, or to Mrs Old Money who keeps a gun handy and can’t decide which ethnic group upsets her the most when they come treading the White sands of her favourite New Englander island. Similarly, “Black people” can refer to anyone from President to a prisoner on Death Row.

But, thinking about both my new inspirations for writing, together, I realised that it’s 2) that’s the real problem – and I have to turn to Pirsig to explain why. (His explanation involves metaphysics or the nature of nature but you can just think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if you prefer.)

Pirsig says that there isn’t just one level of ethical conflict, there are are 4. Only 2 concern us here. These are:

B) Social vs Intellectual morality

A) Biological vs Social morality

I’ve written them as A) under B) because it is. These three levels of wellbeing/ reality (Pirsig calls them “static quality”) form a hierarchy like this:




So you can see that the two zones of overlap (with potential for harmony and clash) are also one above the other, with the lower both supporting and undermining the upper. The important point is that each upper level is moral, from its own perspective, but is transcended by the one above.

The skinny:

– perhaps the reason why White Republicans (and their Black allies) quoting Rev Dr MLK arguing for a colourblind America seem racist to Black Democrats (and their White allies) is that they appear to take no account of the lived reality of especially young Black men being harassed, to despair or death, by the police and other institutional forces.

– perhaps the reason why Black Democrats (and their White allies) quoting Rev Dr MLK arguing for a just America seem racist to White Republicans (and their Black allies) is that they appear to take no account of the fond wishes of especially wealthy old White people that everyone should just get along in the Home of the Brave and God Bless America!

I’m not being fair, I know. Putting it more philosophically, one ethical clash is all about rejecting biological values in favour of social values. If this is the struggle Black people see themselves as involved in then it’s about the control and appropriation of Black bodies by White people and the effort for them not to be seen and valued solely as bodies but as social personalities supporting justice.

The other, transcending but being undermined by that, is all about rejecting social values in favour of intellectual values. If this is the struggle White people see themselves as involved in then it’s about the control and appropriation of social groups by ideology and the effort for them not to be seen and valued solely as demographics but as intellectual beings supporting equality.

Now. Caveat! All of us are engaged in all of these clashes all of the time, directly or indirectly, consciously or not. If White people tend to be more concerned about control of their minds than their bodies it’s because they don’t experience the latter as intensely as Black people do. Even in something as basic as Stop and Search. I’m White and middle aged. This has never happened to me. For some young Black men, it’s a daily occurrence.

In this hierarchy of needs (which it also is) we tend to focus on our greatest need and when that is fulfilled we transcend it. So if Black people just want to be able to walk to the shops and back without being shot or arrested, it makes sense that they’ll tend to focus on institutional racism and defunding the police. Conversely, if White people just want to walk to the shops and back without finding it boarded up and the streets full of rioters, it makes sense that they’ll tend to focus on national unity and the rule of law.

So one side is also focussing on the way things should be, but they’re not, while the other focuses on the way things are, but shouldn’t be.

The answer is for both sides to stop automatically assuming that the other is racist/ reactionary/ Marxist revolutionaries and to attempt to acknowledge the coherence of their worldview with their lived experience.

Meanwhile, everyone would perhaps benefit from taking the trouble to educate themselves about the content of CRT (including those opposing and promoting it) and to realise that it is possible that answering YES or NO to the question “Is America racist?” could indicate a desire that:

little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.


That Old Hut

Something was always holding me back from clearing out that old hut. There was all that electrical equipment to go through, and the old paint tins, and what about the broken bikes and the broken sunlounger with the ripped mattress? Clearly, all this stuff couldn’t just be thrown out. No. So my patient brother put up with my procrastination, and for months we had ‘the old hut’ and ‘the new shed’ both in use in the back garden of the home we grew up in. At one point I’d had three old bikes (one in bits and one not working) then a friend gave me a shiny new (to me) one. Something had to give. The abandoned kid’s bike I’d rescued, that no-one I knew wanted, I fixed up and left outside a community centre (last year) with a note on it: “free to a good home”. It was gone in two days. Months later, I faced the fact that the best-looking bike was actually the worst (as it needed more ballbearings in the rear hub) and fixed up the old banger so it would go. And then, for weeks, I did nothing.

That old hut wasn’t just wood inside and junk inside, of course. It was our gang hut when we were wee. Me and my sisters used to play together, as my bro was too old to play with me, ‘the baby’. I remember rare Scottish sunny days with Cremola Foam drinks in lime green plastic tumblers, making up gang hut activities, like our perfume factory (the roses recovered and the compost heap was blessed) and our neighbourhood espionage (noting down the licence plates in the car park round the corner – why?). It was also where we kept our tennis racquets, for our yearly fortnight of summer enthusiasm during Wimbledon – until we fell out with each, other over who had to go get the ball, and gave up.

But most of all it was Dad’s hut. All those mysterious manly objects, like spark plugs and the whetting stone. The heavy roller lawnmover and the electric hedge cutters, that I pleaded to use then almost cut my finger off with, were here and, later, the strimmer. Seed packets, bought and harvested, the riddle, spades and hoes and rakes and forks. Wellington boots and green twine. It was a world I was always impatient with. It wasn’t till my last year at my first university that I began to get a glimmer of understanding why. I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance then and hardly understood a word. But I got this bit:

They talk once in a while in as few pained words as possible about “it” or “it all” as in the sentence, “There is just no escape from it.” And if I asked, “From what?” the answer might be “The whole thing,” or “The whole organized bit,” or even “The system.” […] The “it” is a kind of force that gives rise to technology, something undefined, but inhuman, mechanical, lifeless, a blind monster, a death force. Something hideous they are running away from but now they can never escape.

Robert M. Pirsig (p.24 in the 1999 Vintage paperback edition)

It wasn’t till my last year of my Ph.D. studying Pirsig’s work that I felt his theories click into place – and saw how I could simplify them. The famous paraphrase of Einstein (by Roger Session of the New York Times) asserts that ‘everything should be as simple as possible – but no simpler’. So I cannot simply characterise my father as a technophobe. He was a tailor by profession, a competent car mechanic, gardener and helpful handyman. Yet he’d swear in Polish (which was worse than when he swore in German) when wallpapering and an old anger, of being pitted against the world, would return.

For years I felt inadequate in the man’s world. Young men often feel like this and the father-son relationship is often very difficult indeed. For years I felt I was secretly disappointing him so I told him openly how disappointing he was to me. We had years of pain. This is not unusual. I grew up and understood more deeply not just the war horrors that he and his generation had survived but also why almost everyone feels alienated from technology – even from organisation. And I strove to counter the basic illogic that constantly fucks things up in Britain, where it’s not polite to suggest rethinking something that’s always been a bloody mess; and I tried to do this in my family and largely failed. Because, of course, the root of it was in me.

All that junk in the old hut, and all my emotional baggage, life’s just simpler without it. But life isn’t life then. When I realised that my reluctance to clear out the old hut was my reluctance to (once again) face my unresolved conflicts with my late father, I did what I always had to do when I was leaving a country I’d been living in, or trying to hitchhike away from somewhere. I let go. Or rather I accepted that that’s where I was and stopped holding onto things that kept me stuck there. “Stuckness” is a very Pirsigian concern, he devotes a whole chapter (24) to it.

So I fixed up and gave away the old banger to a friend – with instructions about locating a shop to service it for free, under the Government 50 quid scheme. And this morning I sat down and went through all the electricals to see what could be reused. So only some things were taken to the dump by my sister (they recycle what they can there). And this afternoon my brother and I took down the old hut. Tomorrow we plan to build raised beds. I plan to keep you posted.

All photos (c) Alan McManus.

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.

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 Lockdown Lifehacks

There’s a time-lag technique for simultaneous interpreting I learned when I volunteered at grassroots Social Forums in several European cities some years ago: listening to the echo of the speaker’s words in your head and translating that. It works because the words have embedded in your brain and they already have meaning to you, so all you do is to say that (in the output language). It’s a great technique but it needs a lot of focus and it’s tiring.

Trying to get organised during lockdown feels a lot like that – constantly trying to catch up – but the difference is that, being at home, we can also be constantly distracted. So here are five lockdown lifehacks that I’ve adapted from my experience as a life coach.[1]

Step 1) Accept your feelings of guilt – and let them go!

Some of my clients describe waking up in the morning already feeling a failure. That list of 120 urgent items on last week’s To Do list still aren’t done! With the odds against most of us at the moment, that feeling is both widespread and understandable. But does it help to simply reassure each other that we can lower our standards?

I don’t think so.

Instead, treat feelings like little children. Acknowledge their ups and downs but don’t forget who’s in charge! You still have the will to choose your actions, however you are feeling. Your emotions will change as you change your situation: don’t put the cart before the horse! Now you’re ready for Step 2!

Step 2) Create space to think – you need it!

Chuck Zones are temporary storage areas that I recommend to all my clients. No matter how fastidious we are at tidying up, we can all get messy. Not all of our clothes go into the laundry basket at the end of the day, and we can’t always be bothered to hang them up or fold them away. The same happens when we come back home and empty our pockets or bag. A Chuck Zone can be a chair, a drawer, a bag or a box – just not on the floor or impairing the function of another item of furniture.

Designate one for clothes, one for papers and one for everything else.

Then you can make your space functional in seconds and, when you have the energy, you can relocate the items to a more permanent place.

Creating space also means ringfencing some time. Even if all you can do is hide in the only room in the house with a lock for 5 minutes, that’s still enough time to do Step 3.

Step 3) Plan tomorrow today – you’re already ahead!

The problem with suddenly adopting a completely different daily routine is that you may not be prepared for it.

Scenario: used to getting up at 10am and having three black coffees and sugary cereal before you sink into an armchair to watch kitten videos on Instagram till lunch, you drag yourself up at 5:30am, remember you forgot to buy the must-have ginseng tea before your hour’s yoga. And slink off back to bed.

The answer? Don’t try drastic changes. Small, incremental steps are more sustainable. Do whatever you need to today to prepare to do what you want tomorrow. Start with food shopping – which takes us to Step 4.

Step 4) Get the good food in first! And DON’T crash diet!

I wrote a slim booklet about FAT and fitness (it’s also an audiobook). But here’s the skinny: food is our fuel for life and body fat is necessary to store energy, warm us and to protect our vital organs. Calorie counting seems to largely benefit the dieting industry and I don’t recommend it. Your body may end up panicking and storing excess fat – and then you’re back to square one and sighing on the scales. Just get the good food in first (especially fruit and vegetables) and you won’t feel the need to fill up the corners with snacks. Now you’re ready for Step 5.

Step 5) Employ the Rule of Three – it works like magic!

You’re in the space you’ve cleared, during the time you’ve claimed, and all ready to plan tomorrow today. How do you do it? What about all those items on that impossible To Do list? Do you really have to just work your way through them, one at a time, one after another?

No. Not if you use the Rule of Three:

1 – urgent task

2 – important task

3 – reward

Tear up that To Do list. Just tear it up! You were never going to do all that stuff anyway and, if you use this 1-2-3, you won’t have to. Why? How does it work?

Worry is like a background computer programme. It can interfere with normal functioning. Doing an urgent task calms your mind and makes you feel responsible. Taking advantage of that lull, when the nagging voice in your head shuts up, by doing an important task, means that you’ve prevented another emergency and you begin to feel more organised.

Rewards can be anything from reading a magazine for five minutes to soaking in an aromatherapy bath for an hour. Rewarding yourself acknowledges the work you’ve done and your dignity as a human being. You’re not a cog in the machine. This is your life you’re living – paid and unpaid work included! It also switches your ‘at work’ beta brainwaves to the ‘at rest’ alpha variety – and that can slide into the more (day)dreamy theta state. Where you get your best ideas.

To Do lists are linear and atomised: one at a time, one after another. There’s no organic connection. Yes, you can get things done but problem-solving benefits from playfulness, creativity and fun.

Example: today I had a broken plastic pail at the back door, a round plastic food tray, a pile of woody hedge trimmings round the back of the hut, a bag of plastic bags in the kitchen cupboard, a wheelbarrow full of dried moss raked off the front lawn and a packet of coriander (cilantro) seeds and another of cress I wanted to plant. Seeing the first five as assets rather than rubbish to be removed, I combined them, also using some twine, to make a hanging basket and a flat mossy tray, and sowed the seeds.

Using these 5 lockdown lifehacks frees up not only your time and your space but the crucial quality we all need to get things done well. The Greeks call it Arête, the Germans call it Kraft, the French call it va va voom, the English call it get-up-and-go: here in Scotland, we call it gumption.

[1]  I’m Ph.D. not M.D. and if you want to know the metaphysical theory of alchemical life quality that I base my coaching on, it’s HERE.

Young lady in red, ankle-length, puff-sleeved frilled dress reclining on pink-fringed hammock between trees in leaf, languidly reading newspaper.

Thanks to Karen Arnold for releasing her image Woman Reading Vintage Drawing into the Public Domain.


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.

Unclothed grey sleek faceless mannequins in a shop window

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