(Selected Extracts to give a flavour or quick reminder of the content)
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(of Part 2)
Quick Links to the subsections within Part 2
(Throughout the book, passages underlined like this
represent items I will eventually link to but haven't yet. Sometimes
this is because I haven't yet found an appropriate source. Sometimes
its because I have too many sources and perhaps need to create a portal/content
page rather than simple link and just haven't yet got round to it! In
any case, if you find useful sources - or refutations, please let
me know. Note also that I have begun to incorporate local mirroring
of important sources as a way to deal with "linkrot". Hence
external links that I fear might not stay alive will usually have a
"local" link immediately following them which you can use
if the external link fails.)
Just another "fear monger"?
The Power of Nightmares
The Real Threat posed by Terrorism
Giant Petrol Bombs
Conventional Attacks on Mass Transit Hubs
Putting Ideas Into Their Heads...
Pick a Title...
Are they Lying, Stupid or Blind?
Is Gish Lying?
Update Feb 2011 - Wilful Blindness
Why does Evolution matter so much
to the Fundamentalists?
The Ten Commandments
Thou Shalt Not Kill
The Financial Costs
The Consequences of the War on Terror, Freedom and Privacy
The London Bombings
It is rarely this easy to prove that politicians
Muslims Deny that it has anything to do with
The Enemy Within
America - The Greatest Threat
Reasons to be Fearful - Part Two
Am I just another "fear monger"?
It might seem odd – given the climate of fear that is
all-pervading in the middle of 2005, especially after it's just received
another boost from the London Bombings – that I should take time
out to bolster an already successful paradigm. The reason I do so is
to set the remainder of my comments in context. In previous chapters
we have begun to look at examples of how to conduct the democratic debate
in terms consistent with the philosophical precepts we established in
the first few chapters. Here I wish to go one step further and see if
we can use Philosophy as a serious tool rather than mere academic exercise.
Broadly speaking, this chapter gets to the meat
of what Philosophy ought, in my view, to be about - the application
of rational analysis to real world problems. It is intended to illustrate
how Philosophy can be (and, in my view, has to be) applied to the intensely
practical problem of human conflict.
It's a classic SBO
but the whole point of attempts to answer the Third
Question is to resolve conflicts; specifically conflicts about the
"right way" to behave. One of my contentions is that a major
component of most human conflicts is that the majority of the people
attempting to answer the third question haven't grasped the meaning
or significance of first
two questions and the broad philosophical and scientific consensus
regarding their answers. We shall be examining the obvious example of
that failure - the psychology of fundamentalist belief (usually but
by no means limited to religious believers) - in some detail later in
Let me emphasise the caveat in the previous sentence. It should come
as no surprise to anyone who has read previous chapters that I am hostile
to the religious world view in general and religious fundamentalists
in particular. But there is a sense in which they are less guilty than
what we might call the "secular fundamentalists" like the
psuedo communist dictatorships of North Korea and China. The religious
fundamentalist gives what I consider to be naive answers to the Third
Question because - as we will examine in detail later - they are apparently
genuinely unable to understand the logic and evidence which underpins
the scientific consensus on the answers to questions one and two. They
may have the excuse of ignorance. The secular fundamentalists
have no such excuse. They understand the scientific method but consciously
cherry-pick the results and conclusions which suit their prejudices
and suppress all discussion of or reference to those results which contradict
them. (That may also be true in the case of SOME religious fundamentalists
but I am prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to most of them.
They usually just don't grok
My main targets in this section are, however,
the religious rather than secular fundamentalists and that is for the
simple reason that the dangers I am about to discuss are almost exclusively
concerned with the so called "War on Terror" which, if it
isn't already, is in danger of becoming a battle between Christian and
Islamic fundamentalists - with the rest of us as the meat in the sandwich.
I could have attempted to remain outside the perpetual human power
struggle and try to restrict myself to objective comments which can
be applied to any conflict situation. But they don't come any more intractable
or potentially lethal than the conflict we're in right now - that largely
religious battle between fundamentalists. I wasn't joking when I referred
– in part 1 of this chapter - to this being “the final war”.
I am confident that it will be final for one of two reasons. Either
we will destroy ourselves and the human race will end, with no winners;
or we will grow up and learn to deal with conflict resolution intelligently.
Thus it makes sense to take this opportunity to focus my attempt at
conflict resolution on what has always been the world's greatest ever
conflict – the one that underpins all the others. I'm not, therefore,
about to suggest that the War on Terror is even more of a threat than
the potential Nuclear Armageddon which chilled our souls for 40 years
after the last world war. I'm talking, instead,
about the War that has been going on for at least five thousand years,
more probably fifty thousand. The war between controllers and autonomists;
between master and slave, lord and serf, priest and penitent, king and
subject, bourgeoisie and proletariat, commissar and comrade; Parliament
Yes of course Parliament is better than Kings.
But it is not better than the People. It just acts that way.
Elected dictators are generally to be preferred to dynastic ones or
those who sieze power militarily. But elective dictatorship is only
a step along the way to democracy and it's time we took the next step
or two. (Democracy itself is only a step along the way to Consensus
but the human race is only just capable of taking one step at a time.
Lets not rush things - that way lies the totalitarianism of the secular
fundamentalists like the aforementioned communist regimes)
Given this angle on the nature of human conflict,
you may begin to understand why I see Neocons, the Religious Right and
Militant Islam as being on the same side - along with the Russian and
Chinese plutocracies and, most other governments. Along, too, with all
other authorities which seek, under a variety of constitutional arrangements,
to set the rules under which society will be controlled and to police
the obeisance to those rules. They're all essentially fighting amongst
themselves on how to justify and implement their chosen method of controlling
you and me. That makes them all our enemies. Indeed,
it is only because "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" that
we tolerate any of them. To be sure, any government which tries to limit
our actions other than straighforward prevention of harm to third parties
is hostile to our interests and we to its. But if it protects us from
other enemies who seek to abuse us in even more threatening ways, we
will reluctantly tolerate it - providing the price it demands for such
protection is not too high. When the world is
full of bullies looking for opportunities to target you, it pays to
ally yourself with the biggest bully in the playground, and governments,
generally, are the biggest bullies in the playground.
This view is entirely consistent with the views of the farsighted authors
of the American Constitution and underpins such constitutional freedoms
as their right to bear arms. This was always primarily intended to prevent
the totalitarian results of having a Standing Army. The logic was that,
at the time, even the most powerful weapons (rifles and cannons) were
within the financial grasp of individuals or at least small bands of
like-minded free militia. Thus a national Standing Army would be a)
unnecessary and b) not inherently able to outgun its citizens.
"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security
of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall
not be infringed." (2nd Amendment to the US Constitution)
"What, sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the
establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty" (Con
Gerry: The Congressional Register, 17 August 1789 - one of many similar
contributions to the debate at the time)
The United States abandoned its traditional hostility to Standing Armies
and Conscription when it decided to join the First World War. Military
technology, since the late 18th century, has raced ahead to the extent
that today's most powerful weapons are so expensive that only the wealthiest
of government's can afford them. Not even the richest local militias
could finance a fleet of modern jet fighters and none could dream of
owning their own nuclear weapons.
The implications of these developments for aspects of liberty like
the right to bear arms are profound but will have to wait for another
Meanwhile, since the death of deference, which we can loosely regard
as the main achievement of the social revolution we now refer to as
"the Sixties", growing numbers of increasingly well informed
citizens are awakening to the enlightened realisation that there
is no fundamental reason why - other than to prevent harm to a 3rd party
- any human being should control or restrict the behaviour of any other
human being; not - at least - without their full, free, informed and
reviewable consent. A growing number of people are beginning to understand
that no country on the planet is yet run democratically. They're also
beginning to understand how dangerously incompetent those in authority
generally are; how exceptionally good they are at preserving their own
interests and how exceptionally bad they are when it comes to protecting
the wider interests of Humanity.
These newly awakened politically aware individuals
have yet to coalesce around a political consensus on what to do about
the mess we're in and haven't yet got the confidence to believe that
they could run things any better, but they're beginning to understand
that it would be quite difficult to do any worse.
In this context, you won't be too surprised when you read, below,
some pungent criticism of the attempts being made to "deal with"
the current conflict by the existing players. This
will obviously place me firmly in the growing camp of critics of the
American hegemony and, don't get me wrong, I don't object to being there.
But I also have major criticisms of the other critics. In short, I don't
believe that they have fully grasped the scale of the problem.
At its most basic, there are four major components of the present global
conflict. First is the existence of "conditions of conflict".
At this point it does not matter what those are. The pertinent point,
which no-one would challenge, is that conditions exist which cause conflict
between parties. Part of the conflict is centred on whether those conditions
should be changed and, if so, how. The second component is the absence
of agreement on how to address or resolve such issues; no consensus
on a dispute resolution procedure. The third part of the problem is
that, in the absence of agreed conflict resolution mechanisms, both
parties feel free to make up their own rules to justify their behaviour.
Thus one party to the conflict has adopted a strategy based on "total
terrorism" which is akin to the concept of "total
war". And the final part of the problem is that the other
party to the conflict, in response to "total terrorism", feels
justified in implementing draconian policies which exacerbate all the
other components of the overall problem, essentially escalating it.
The net result in this particular instance
is that - although it would a somewhat slower process than nuclear armageddon
- the human race is probably at greater risk of self-destruction over,
say, the next 50 years, than it has ever been; even during the peaks
of the so called "cold war" - such as the Cuban missile crisis.
All the relevant issues fall clearly under the general heading of
the Third Question - "How Should We Behave?" so they offer
an obvious real world opportunity to apply philosophy rather than merely
talk about it.
My problem with some of the well known critics of the Bush administration
is that they only appear to recognise the fourth component of the global
conflict and belittle or ignore the importance of the other three. Adam
of Nightmares will serve as the first - and major - example of this
Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11 the second and lesser. The
essence of both is that the American response to 9-11 is motivated by
considerations other than the attack itself; that the response has been
massively disproportionate and that the politicians are taking the opportunity
to promote a climate of exaggerated fear in order to provide justification
for a sinister totalitarian agenda. None of which, broadly speaking,
I disagree with. How can anyone argue? The Americans lost 3,000 lives
on 9-11. They caused at
least as many deaths during their retaliatory invasion of Afghanistan,
while in Iraq they've so far caused somewhere between 23,000
100,000 deaths and aren't showing any signs of reigning in their
warhorses. Meanwhile, every day back home they increasingly confirm
their status as a fully fledged Police
The problem is that while being justifiably
critical of what has been done since 9-11, neither address the issue
of what should have been done and what still needs to be done
in order to address the very real issues which arose from that attack
and the events since. Adam Curtis in particular appears to argue that
there is really nothing to worry about!
The Power of Nightmares
Curtis produced three episodes in his series. The first two
are selective - but useful - summaries of how we got into the conflict
situation at the beginning of the 21st century of the Christian calendar.
The third episode completely missed the target and, effectively, let
the American administration off the hook. His central thesis is that
the very real events of 9-11 and 3-11 have led the Americans to imagine
that they are up against a global enemy that probably never really existed
and, if it did, then since the bombing of Afghanistan, doesn't anymore.
They have used this imaginary danger to justify their assumption of
the authority which the elite had lost through failing to deliver the
I have no problem agreeing with the analysis that they have used the
War to increase or regain their authority and to justify the imposition
of many of the trappings of a Police
State. But the notion that the dangers are imaginary is, frankly,
bizarre. The point I was expecting to see Curtis hammer home was that
what started out as a real but limited and manageable danger has now
been massaged into a real global menace precisely by the Americans response
to 9-11 (which obviously includes the invasion of Iraq).
Let's examine his presentation in some detail: The central message
is carried in the introduction shared by all three with minor variations
for each episode. Below is the introduction to the last episode:
In the past, politicians promised to create a better world.
They had different ways of achieving this, but their power and authority
came from optimistic visions they offered their people.
I would like to take issue, one day, with that somewhat rosy vision
of the past basis of political authority but for now I will just point
out that this is a somewhat eccentric view of it. Anyway...
Those dreams failed and today, people have lost faith in ideologies.
Increasingly politicians are seen simply as managers of public life.
But now, they have discovered a new role that restores their power
and authority. Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise
to protect us from nightmares. They say that they will rescue us from
dreadful dangers that we cannot see and do not understand. And the
greatest danger of all is international terrorism, the powerful and
sinister network with sleeper cells in countries across the world.
A threat that needs to be fought by a war on terror. But much of this
threat is a fantasy which has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians.
Its a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned to governments around
the world, the security services and the international media.
This is a series of films about how and why that fantasy was
created and who it benefits. At the heart of the story are two groups,
the American Neoconservatives and the Radical Islamists. Last weeks
episode ended in the late 90s with both groups marginalised and out
But with the attacks of September 11, the fates of both dramatically
changed. The Islamists, after their moment of triumph, were virtually
destroyed within months, while the neoconservatives took power in
Washington. But then the neocons began to reconstruct the Islamists.
They created a phantom enemy. And, as this nightmare fantasy began
to spread, politicians realised the new power it gave them in a deeply
disillusioned age. Those with the darkest nightmares became the most
Curtis tries to portray Al Qaeda as an entirely manufactured - or
at least "reconstructed" - myth created by the Americans.
While partly true, it avoids the wider and later truth. Where the focus
didn't initially exist in reality, the Islamists realised – as
Curtis seems to recognise in part – after 9-11, that the Americans
had given them a “brand” and they were intelligent enough
to adopt it for their own purposes. It remains true that Al Qaeda is
not the pinnacle of a terrorist network, but it is also true that their
ultra violent paradigm has become dominant in MIFT.
Curtis then produces expert testimony to confirm that there is no
coherent network or hierarchy with sleeper cells around the world ready
and waiting for the command to attack. He then demonstrates how the
American administration inflated the brand and used it to justify their
global reaction to the threat. All of which is easily verifiable. But
the mere fact that the Americans didn't properly understand or label
the threat did not mean, as he implies, that the threat was trivial
or non existent. He has missed the point that the American response
to their imaginary network is in fact responsible for producing precisely
the coherence that did not exist at the time. Not yet (2005) a network,
perhaps, but at least a growing coherent vision.
Curtis is partially correct when he says:
They (the Americans) took a failing movement that had
lost mass support and began to reconstruct it into a powerful network
of evil controlled from the centre in his lair in Afghanistan by Bin
They certainly inflated its importance among radical islamists and
built its brand so well that it became a dominant player. But neither
it nor MIFT in general, ever had mass support. They still haven't.
But - as the London Bombers have now illustrated
- they only need a tiny percentage of support among the Islamic community
to keep them going.
He then argues that, taking a leaf from their anti-soviet propaganda
days, the Americans heaped global domination ambitions onto their inflated
target in order to justify the extent of the military operation they
were about to launch against them. This is actually unfair to both their
Soviet analysis and their Islamic analysis. There is no doubt whatsoever
that the early dreams of both Leninist/Stalinist Russia and Maoist China
was that they would be the focus of the global movement in which the
workers of the world would unite against their capitalist masters and
institute the utopia of international socialism. It was the whole point
of their revolutions.
Yes, it was obviously true that, by the mid 70s, the Soviets had become
unable to deliver that global revolution. But it wasn't entirely unreasonable
for a bunch of paranoid conservatives to hypothesise that they still
harboured such ambitions. After all, the enemy still "talked the
talk" and had not formally renounced their global aims.
The neocons unforgiveable error, however, having raised a legitimate
question and having reviewed the evidence and having learned that there
was, in fact, no basis whatsoever for their fears; was simply to use
all the methods at their disposal to lead the American public into believing
that there was indeed tangible evidence of both a current pursuit of
those hostile ambitions and a capability to deliver them. (See the Team
B references in part 1).
Similarly, it is the case that elements of both radical and militant
Islam do indeed hold global ambitions (see the MIFT
link for details if you haven't already). It is equally clear that they
do not have the capability to deliver those ambitions, nor the support,
even within the Islamic community, to achieve the global Caliphate of
which some dream.
It is also the case that the stronger motivation for their struggle
is not global ambition, but restitution. They want justice for Palestine
- and in this alone they are in sympathy with democratic support throughout
not just most of the Muslim world, but the world in general. This is
important because it's the one thing we might be able to do something
about which would dramatically reduce their support among other Muslims.
When it comes to their ambition for an Islamic Caliphate (i.e. Islamic
control over the Islamic part of the world), they are merely a radical
fringe. That ambition does not reflect a widespread demand or desire
in Global Islam. This is also important because it justifies our continued
support for their opponents and our intervention - when invited - against
them within their own communities.
Which is why what they want most of all is that the West – for
which read, mostly, America – stop intefering in their communities:
by which they mean that America should not intervene to prevent them
removing existing corrupt regimes and implementing Taliban style control
in all Islamic nations.
These ambitions may not be properly described or understood by America
or the Media in general, but they are verifiable and they are driving
a growing – not reducing – wave of MIFT. Curtis seems to
think that because it may not be true that MIFT want all our
women to wear the veil, then there is no real problem. He points out
that majority of foreign fighters in Afghanistan had nothing to do with
Bin Laden but were only “radical nationalists who wanted to
create Islamic societies within their own countries”
He delivers this information as though its a major revelation and we're
all supposed to recoil in horror at how we've been misled because they
had such moderate and reasonable ambitions. Bollocks. What on earth
does he think they were doing in Afghanistan? They were fighting a war
against people who didn't want the Taliban dictatorship. Why? Because
they wanted to sustain the one regime that was going “in the right
direction” and to learn the techniques they would need to practice
in their own countries if they were ever to impose similar dictatorships
there. The warlords they were fighting against were a pretty unsavoury
bunch themselves, who weren't exactly fighting for democratic or western
liberal values we might support, but we have no excuse to be under any
illusions about what the Taliban
and how they wanted to control their populations. We've seen and documented
As I argued in part 1, I see no distinction
whatsoever between our own fight to avoid tyranny imposed on us and
our practical support for the majority Muslim community which, itself,
clearly rejects such totalitarianism. This is the core of Curtis' error.
His argument essentially boils down to the – probably correct
– contention that the real MIFT ambition is restricted to controlling
their own societies, not ours, and that, therefore, there is no real
basis for us to be at war against them. I reject this utterly.
The same argument was used by some to suggest that Britain should not
have gone to war against the Nazis even after their invasion of neighbouring
countries. After all, they had no intention of invading Britain. Indeed,
they tried hard to get the British on board as Allies. It is,
alas, not possible to argue that Britain went to war against Germany
in response to the Holocaust. But it is certainly possible to argue
that whenever they became aware of it, then, if they hadn't already
been at war, that alone would have been a sufficient justification for
going to war.
Thanks to the Taliban regime, (we should have
noticed it in the Saudi Wahhabi model first, but we allowed governments
and media to distract our attention and didn't pay enough attention
to the likes of Chomsky. Sorry Noam) we are now aware of precisely how
militant Islam wants to control society and we are equally aware of
how little support exists for this vision among normal Muslims.
Thus, the question of our involvement is
no more than a global scale instance of the same argument we discussed
earlier in respect of Female
Circumcision. If the community under attack by MIFT wants our help
then we are as entitled to give it as if we were coming to the assistance
of a rape victim. We should, in other words, have
been fighting the Taliban well before 9-11 (there were plenty
of cries for such intervention which were studiously ignored
until it suited the world to use them as excuses after the fact).
Obviously, the same logic dictates that we should have intervened in
South Africa, Rwanda, The Congo, Darfur, China, Korea, Israel/Palestine
and so on. Opponents of intervention seem to argue that because we usually
fail to intervene, we should never intervene; a council of despair if
ever there was one.
The fact that American motives are impure, confused,
self serving and imperialist does nothing to undermine the validity
of opposing, by all means possible, Islamic Totalitarianism. The fact
that Americans either invented or erroneously believed they were chasing
an organised network and have imposed many features of a Police State
on their own people in the conduct of this war is, ultimately, good
reason to oppose American Totalitarianism AS WELL. It is not a reason
for ignoring the first offenders.
Opposing the Police
State of America obviously poses enormous problems of its own which
we will deal with later (in Part 3). But recognition
of American stupidity or duplicity (either of which is appropriately
named “counterintelligence”) does nothing to counter the
reality of the MIFT threat. As William Swor (defence lawyer in the Detroit
sleeper cell trial) says (in Curtis' final episode):
The government had a legitimate concern but they took that concern
and made it a panic. They had reasonable questions and took them and
made a complete fantasy out of them. They started out with a conclusion
and then filled in all the blanks to the questions. So this was totally
driven by the need or desire to have terrorists... If you build assumptions
on assumptions, you can go anywhere. Its a fantasy that it was politically
expedient to sell.
So, no change there then.
It really was no great surprise. This is how people who don't understand
the first and second questions think. It is how many of them are able
to believe in a god, regardless of the complete absence of evidence.
"The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"
is their favourite mantra in this context. It justifies almost any conceivable
belief structure when abused by those who don't fully understand it.
Do a google for that
phrase and read some of what you come up with. Very revealing. The
first two sites I looked up were apologists for Rumsfeld's pitiful excuses
about not finding any WMD. The third
was an unrelated site devoted to matters archaeological. It obviously
belonged to someone who does understand the first two questions. It
contained this nugget:
Third, the interpreter must use strict rules of logic while dealing
with evidence. For instance an important principle to remember is
that the "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."
Just because something has not been found, that is not to say that
it will not be found. The absence of evidence is obviously a problem,
particularly in archaeology. But it is only crucial when it can be
proven that one has no hope of ever finding what one is lacking. On
the other hand, beware of arguments that are intentionally
based on a lack of evidence. That is, some people
claim that the fact that there is no evidence proves something.
This is called an argument from silence. It must be rejected for lack
of evidence. (my emphasis)
but my favourite has got to be this extract from one of the "Intelligent
Design" bunch we'll be discussing later. These are the Christian
Fundamentalists who are doing their best to subvert the current scientific
paradigm (Darwinian Evolution) from "the inside". In a site
with the impressively technical (not to mention hyperbolic) title: Abiogenic
Origin of Life: A Theory in Crisis (cached),
we found this beauty:
Numerous authors support the absence of the "hot dilute
soup." A. G. Cairns-Smith (1982), W. Day (1984), H. D. Pflug
(1984), C. R. Woese (1979), Hulett (1969), Shapiro (1986), M. Delbruck
(1986), most of whom probably subscribe to some sort of prebiological
origin of life, all conclude there is no evidence of the process having
occurred. In spite of this, an equal number of authors regard the
origin of life scenario as so well established that it needs no justification!
Sagan and M. J. Newman have even gone so far as to declare, "The
absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." For those of
us who believe that life could not have originated from a non-existent
"hot dilute chicken soup," such religious statements
of irrationality by the likes of Sagan added strength to our conviction
that he is just wrong!( pardon my emphasis!)
I wonder what the author would have to say to Donald Rumsfeld about
his use of the phrase.
The irony is that this religious believer could not have made that observation
if he does not understand at least the second question. Which means
he fully understands the logic of empiricism. His problem is that he
can't seem to apply the same logic to his own creationist "intelligent
design" hypotheses. In general, however, those who continue to
blather on using that cliche to defend all kinds of indefensible logic
obviously haven't the same grasp of empiricism. This is not news. It
is, as we saw in Part 1, the basis of the Neocons' standard MO. That's
how Iraq's WMD became so prominent an issue and so on. In March 2005,
the comprehensively titled "Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities
of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction" reported
One of the most painful errors, however, concerned Iraq's biological
weapons programs. Virtually all of the Intelligence Community's information
on Iraq's alleged mobile biological weapons facilities was supplied
by a source, codenamed "Curveball," who was a fabricator.
We discuss at length how Curveball came to play so prominent a role
in the Intelligence Community's biological weapons assessments. It
is, at bottom, a story of Defense Department collectors who abdicated
their responsibility to vet a critical source; of Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) analysts who placed undue emphasis on the source's reporting
because the tales he told were consistent with what they already believed;
and, ultimately, of Intelligence Community leaders who failed to tell
policymakers about Curveball's flaws in the weeks before war.
Curveball was not the only bad source the Intelligence Community
used. Even more indefensibly, information from a source who was already
known to be a fabricator found its way into finished pre-war intelligence
products, including the October 2002 NIE. This intelligence was also
allowed into Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech to the United
Nations Security Council, despite the source having been officially
discredited almost a year earlier. This communications breakdown could
have been avoided if the Intelligence Community had a uniform requirement
to reissue or recall reporting from a source whose information turns
out to be fabricated, so that analysts do not continue to rely on
an unreliable report. In the absence of such a system, however, the
Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which disseminated the report in
the first place, had a responsibility to make sure that its bad source
did not continue to pollute policy judgments; DIA did not fulfill
That's about as egregious as any political act in history. And that's
just in the overview. In the detail
it goes on to clarify that "Curveball" was regarded as a self
deluded alcoholic who was primarily interested in the Green Card he
eventually got (after which the reports somewhat diminished). How
on earth was this assessment hidden from the decision makers? That was
the purpose of the Office
of Special Plans. To filter out the opposition, the caveats and
the caution. True, Cheyney and Rumsfeld didn't personally withhold that
assessment from the President, they just chose a team they could rely
on to do the job for them. (Update
Feb 2007 - "Acting Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble told
the Senate Armed Services Committee that the office headed by former
Pentagon policy chief Douglas J. Feith [i.e. the Office of Special
Plans] took "inappropriate" actions in advancing conclusions
on al-Qaida connections not backed up by the nation's intelligence agencies."(cached))
(Update Mar 2008. The BBC finally got around to covering the Curveball
story. This video
reveals his real identity. They missed the Office of Special Plans angle
however and ended up interviewing one of the victims of the hoax - Col
Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell's representative on Earth - instead of
one of the Perpetrators.)(cached)
It is not surprising, therefore, that Curtis also establishes that
there is no network of sleeper cells around the world including America
and Britain. He demonstrates clearly that western so called “Intelligence”
is pitifully misnamed. He demonstrates that the media have been woefully
negligent in challenging the propaganda. All of which I accept. But
he uses this string of exaggeration and inept failure to argue that
because their portrayal of the threat is so obviously wide of the mark,
the threat itself doesn't exist. That is dangerously naïve.
I agree, however, with the comments of one of his witnesses - Bill
Durodie (Director - International Centre for Security Analysis, Kings
I'm not saying that an atrocity might not happen on the British
mainland, but what I am saying is that we have an exaggerated perception
of the possibility of terrorism that is quite disabling
Curtis concedes that there are groups who want to foment terror:
What the British and American governments have done is both distort
and exaggerate the real nature of the threat. There are dangerous
and fanatical groups around the world who have been inspired by the
extreme Islamist theories and they are prepared to use the techniques
of mass terror on civilians. The bombings in Madrid show this only
too clearly. But this is not a new phenomenon.
Really? Where are the precedents for Nairobi, 9-11, Bali, 3-11 (Madrid)
and Beslan? You could argue that the only difference between these attacks
and prior terrorist attacks is scale, not principle. But that's like
arguing that Scale is the only difference between the killing of Stephen
Lawrence by a bunch of racist thugs and the organised racist killings
of the Ku Klux Klan
I have no argument with Curtis' next observation:
What is new is the way American and other governments have transformed
this complex and disparate threat into a simplistic fantasy of an
organised web of uniquely powerful terrorists who may strike anywhere
and at any moment. But no one questioned this fantasy because, increasingly,
it was serving the interests of so many people... “
The Islamists too began to realise that by feeding this media
fantasy they could become a powerful organisation again – if
only in peoples' imaginations.
The Americans always deal with the world through simplistic
It's a product of their media; the Fox News approach to reality. If
you can't summarise the issue with a sound bite, they calculate that
its probably too complex for the audience to understand. But, again,
just because they describe the threat in fantasy terms does not mean
that there is no threat. Just because they couch their responses in
a format designed to favour their own interests does not mean that they
shouldn't be responding at all. Obviously (I hope) I disagree quite
profoundly with how the Americans are dealing with the problem. They
have made it a thousand times worse than it needed to be. But that is
quite different from charging, as Curtis does:
...the War on Terror allowed politicians like Blair to portray
a new grand vision of the future. But this vision is a dark one of
imagined threats and a new force began to drive politics:
the fear of an imagined future.
What Blair argued was that, faced by the new threat of a Global
Terror Network,the politicians role was now to look into the future
and imagine the worst that might happen and then
act ahead of time to prevent it. (my emphasis)
Curtis' main charge is, clearly, that the threat is imaginary. How
he can sustain that after the attacks we've already witnessed I'm not
at all clear. Is he saying that it is unlikely that further similar
attacks will take place? Or that the attacks will be so rare that we
shouldn't be that concerned about them? Or that so few people - relative
to other causes of death - will be affected that we're getting the whole
thing out of proportion? These are issues he doesn't confront.
What people like Curtis do not seem to have grasped is that –
as Kant puts it (see part 1) - “some confidence in the character
of the enemy must remain even in the midst of war, as otherwise no peace
could be concluded and the hostilities would degenerate into a war of
This “confidence” is based on a fuzzy notion that, in
a conflict situation, we all obey some basic rules of combat, so that
when a battle is won, survivors on both sides can resume some kind of
normal relationship. It's what the Geneva Convention is all about. What
MIFT tactics illustrate is that they do not share this paradigm. Like
the Hutus in Rwanda, or the Nazis in respect of the Jews (and other
human flotsam they disapproved of) they are happy with the concept of
a “war of extermination”.
Presumably, in their particular Islamic mindset,
they can't lose. Either they achieve the Caliphate or they die trying.
Either way, they will be rewarded by Allah for their efforts. They recognise
no endpoint short of total victory for their side of the argument. THAT
is what makes them dangerous, NOT the prospect of a hierarchical well
organised network. Hence Curtis' accurate demolition of the myth of
the network gives no reason whatsoever to reduce our estimate of the
scale of the problem.
Indeed, we can make a strong case that the absence
of an organisation actually makes the problem WORSE! If it were a coherent
organisation it would be easier to attack. We could eliminate or subvert
key players and massively reduce the effectiveness of their activities.
We might even be able to negotiate with the organisation. Instead, they
are probably still largely an unconnected “rabble” of pious,
extremely angry Muslims who are deeply attracted to the role models
and strategies revealed by the headline attacks we have all witnessed
in the past few years. Before the American response
to 9-11, we probably had cause to be concerned about the activities
of a few hundred seriously committed Islamic terrorists. We now have
the problem of keeping track of ten or twenty thousand individual potential
suicide terrorists widely dispersed around the planet. This is a security
problem beyond the scale of any we have tackled to date.
In addition, they now have a heaven-sent training and proving ground
in Iraq which is serving precisely the same radicalisation and organisational
role as did the war against the Russians in Afghanistan. This isn't
just training them in the arts of modern street warfare, it is allowing
them to build very real alliances and networks of precisely the type
the Americans prematurely described. Iraq, in other
words, is transforming the Neocon fantasy into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
(Update: while this section was still in draft, Porter Goss, this week's
boss of the CIA, made the first
public acknowledgment (cached)
of precisely this point:
Those jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in and
focused on acts of urban terrorism
- although, of course, he didn't go as far as pointing out the American
culpability for the "blowback".
A couple of weeks later and we are regularly hearing reports of the
the insurgents. They are certainly making good use of their training
Curtis' analysis might have been more accurate and more appropriate
in the first few months after 9-11 (which, to be fair, is probably when
he conceived and created the first drafts of his series). What he has
failed to account for is that the Americans' disastrous (others say
"deliberate") mismanagement of their response to that attack
has now created a problem on the scale of what they claimed to be afraid
of at the time.
At one point he says: “Islamism as an organised movement
for changing the Muslim world was obliterated in Afghanistan”
Can he seriously believe that to be true today?
I might, one day, be persuaded that the Americans
have deliberately engineered the escalation to prop up the military
industrial complex and the global financial hierarchy. But right now
it really doesn't matter how the threat came
about. We still have to confront it.
It should be no surprise, therefore, that I cannot agree with Curtis'
attack on the “Precautionary Principle”.
in essence the Precautionary Principle says: that not having
the evidence that something might be a problem is not a reason for
not taking action as if it were a problem. ... a famous triple negative
that effectively says that action without evidence is justified. It
requires imagining what the worst might be and then applying that
imagination upon the worst evidence that currently exists...
...but once you start imagining what could happen, then there's
no limit. “what if they had access to it, what if they could
effectively deploy it, what if we weren't prepared.” What it
is, is a shift from the scientific “what is” evidence
based decision making to this speculative imaginary “what if”
based worst case scenario.
The evidence, however, is legion. This list,
for example, is of suspected Al Qaeda attacks to date. It reveals 6
attacks in the 8 years prior to 9-11 and twice as many attacks in the
3 years following. It doesn't even include Beslan (because, though MIFT,
it wasn't Al Qaeda). Unsurprisingly, in the majority of cases the targets
are either Americans or their Allies. Just because the Americans are
clearly paranoid does not mean that no one is out to get them!
What is potentially disastrous, though, is that his misplaced focus
on the reality or otherwise of the "imagined" threat reduces
the credibility of his attacks on what I regard as a problem of at least
equal and probably greater magnitude than the terrorist threat - the
growth of the Police State we've already mentioned.
...individuals were detained not for any crimes they had committed
but because the politicians believed or imagined that they might commit
an atrocity in the future even though there was no evidence they intended
to do this.
David Cole, commenting on (then US Attorney General) John Ashcroft's
Under the preventative paradigm, instead of holding people accountable
for what you can prove they've done in the past, you lock them up
based on what you think or speculate they might do in the future.
And how can a person who's locked up for what you think they might
do in the future disprove your speculation? It's impossible so what
ends up happening is the government short circuits all the processes
that are designed to distinguish the innocent from the guilty because
they simply don't fit this mode of locking people up for what they
might do in the future.
This is the nub of the real problem. Locking
people up just because they're dark skinned, Islamic and know how to
spell jihad, reveals the chimpanzee-level imagination of the Neocons
and their hangers on. But Curtis, once again, cannot resist overegging
The supporters of the precautionary principle argue that this
loss of rights is the price that society has to pay when faced by
the unique and terrifying threat of the AQ network, but as this series
has shown, the idea of a hidden organised web of terror is largely
...they imagine the worst about an organisation that doesn't
... no one questions this because the very basis of the PP is
to imagine the worst without supporting evidence. And instead, those
with the darkest imaginations become the most influential.
The hidden danger in Curtis analysis is
that he implies that the authoritarian response is wrong only
because there is no real threat. Hence, - if we could
ever convince him that there was a real threat (as I try to argue) -
he would, presumably, have to concede that the repressive measures were
justified. But there are much deeper objections to those measures than
merely determining whether or not the threat they are supposed to counter
is real or imaginary. We'll be coming to those later as well. Meanwhile...
...“...no one questions this...”
It is true that there isn't as much questioning as we might expect
in the mainstream media, particularly the American mainstream. But hasn't
he browsed the web? Here you can find literally millions of people questioning
this behaviour in microscopic detail. Most of them are Americans. Indeed,
I would argue that we can already see the possible roots of a new Civil
War in the States between those who welcome the new authoritarianism
and those who will not accept it under any circumstances. The opposition
even includes some right wing Republicans who can also see that the
State has grossly overstepped its boundaries.
What you won't find much support for is Curtis' notion that the threat
is itself a fantasy. You'll find people arguing that the threat has
been manufactured and that Al Qaeda is a convenient front but that the
real planners of 9-11 were the international Zionist conspiracy, the
Carlyle group or whatever. You'll find arguments that Dick Cheney is
the mastermind and either engineered 9-11 or allowed it to happen in
order to justify precisely the steps they've taken since then. But you
won't find many arguing that there is no real threat.
And the problem we need to address – and
this is the core of my contribution – the problem we need to address
is the same WHATEVER THE SOURCE OF THE THREAT.
It doesn't matter to me whether the responsibility for 9-11 lies in
the hands of bin Laden or Dick Cheney. I'm interested of course, but
our response should not be shaped by our conclusions as to the source
of the danger. Our response needs to be generic. How do we protect ourselves
against such threats? Period. Not “how do we protect ourselves
against Islamic Terrorists?” or “how do we protect ourselves
against a global Jewish conspiracy?” How do we protect ourselves
against violent attacks from any direction?
Traditionally, the answer is to have an army or at least militia. But
armies are only effective on the battlefield, where they can confront
an enemy within a fixed geographical area. Today's battlefield is Planet
Earth. The main targets for the enemy are not based on where they are,
but who they are. Traditional wars are fought over territory on the
ground. Try to locate the territory this enemy is fighting for and the
nearest location is the human mind. This is a War between Believers
and they're fighting about their Beliefs.
Which is why Durodie is so way off beam with:
..what we are seeing now is a society that believes in nothing.
And a society that believes in nothing is particularly frightened
by people who believe in anything and therefore we label those people
as fundamentalists or fanatics
I can only assume that he is talking exclusively about the UK, or possibly
Europe – in which case the comments are irrelevant. He
cannot possibly be describing America as a “society that believes
in nothing”. A major part of the problem is precisely how much
America does “believe”, how many of its people are also
"fundamentalists or fanatics" with beliefs just as deeply
felt and irrational as the beliefs held by their enemies; and how many
of those are in positions of authority or influence. (American Artist
Joel Pelletier has created a wonderful
based on this issue. When you've had a good look at the painting, click
to read his take on the problem.)
Curtis ends on what might be taken as an optimistic note:
But the fear will not last. And just as the dreams that politicians
once promised turned out to be illusions, so too will the nightmares
and then our politicians will have to face the fact that they have
no visions, either good or bad to offer us any longer.
I wish we had grounds for believing that summary. It suggests that
the problems are just going to melt away and we'll wake up in ten years
time wondering what all the fuss was about. The politicians will be
discredited and presumably replaced by a more realistic bunch. The
truth is much more likely to be that, by 2010, we'll have suffered at
least one or two more attacks on the scale of 9-11 or greater and that
the sub-bestial behaviour of Beslan will have become the norm. A major
part of the reason for the continuation of the very real threats is
the complete mismanagement of the problem by the Americans – with
the naïve help of the British (who thought they could hold the
Tiger by its tail).
I turn to Michael Moore with considerable regret. My wife and
I are big fans. In 2002, everyone on our Christmas card list received
a copy of “Stupid
White Men” (cached).
We made everyone go and see “Bowling
for Columbine” and we were among
the first to get tickets for “Fahrenheit
911”. If anyone could get the message across, surely it would
be Michael Moore. It took me weeks to admit my disappointment. It is
such fun to see all the pompous assholes ridiculed by an expert. But
it so desperately missed the target that I find it painful to watch
again. I'm not going to dissect it in the same detail as I've just done
with Adam Curtis' effort. I'll restrict myself largely to the first
and worst mistake.
Moore dwells on the scene in the schoolroom
where Bush has been informed about the attacks and continues to listen
to the kids reading out stories about "My Little Goat". He
implies that this is some kind of failure on the part of the President.
“Seven minutes passed, with nobody doing anything”
I cringed as soon as I heard that line. I knew we were in trouble.
Much as one may or may not despise the Bush regime, that was such a
patently ludicrous line, it could not possibly be defended. If you don't
know what was being done and want to know, read Richard Clarke's “Against
. In short, everything that could sensibly be done was being done. There
are some interesting questions about strangely coincidental exercises
that were being carried out at the same time, allegations that the air
defences were deliberately "stood down" and some very real
concerns about the lack of available interceptors, but though we might
fairly blame the administration collectively for such failures, and
even harbour conspiracy theories around them, none of that can be laid
directly at the feet of George W Bush and neither was there anything
he could have or should have done at that time.
It was highly likely that his entourage were gathering the facts and
that, until they knew precisely what was happening, and, more importantly,
until they required a presidential decision, there was no point in pulling
the president out of the photo opportunity and disappointing the kids.
True, given the luxury of advance planning on how to react to such
news, it might have looked more "statesmanlike" to the potential
audience and to posterity if the President had stood up, apologised
and excused himself because he had just been given grave news which
required his urgent attention. But that would only have been necessary
or desirable for the sake of appearances, not for operational purposes.
And nobody had the luxury of advance planning on how to deal with this
unprecedented set of circumstances.
Mere weeks after Moore's film was released, even Bin Laden took up
the Moore theme – in his election
to the American people - by suggesting that the second attack on the
World Trade Centre was only made possible by the few minutes of inactivity
by the President. That was even more ludicrous and I suspect Michael
will one day admit the embarrassment that blowback must have caused
American incompetence and complacency were shown up in detail that
day (unless you're a conspiracy theorist; in which case it all went
pretty well as planned!). They had a massive defence infrastructure,
the biggest and best in the world and they completely fluffed it. But
does anyone seriously imagine that their performance would have been
enhanced by having George W Bush in the driving seat?
And I'm afraid, once you've sat through that ridiculous part of the
movie, its very difficult to take the rest at all seriously. Which is
a shame because Moore then proceeds to raise many much more interesting
and legitimate questions and draws attention to some very interesting
facts which deserve full exposure and analysis. My advice is to see
the movie but skip the first 15 minutes.
Sorry Michael, I know you received unprecedented awards and made more
money from this film than any other documentary in history, but, for
me and millions of others begging for inspirational attacks on the Neocon
mindset, you blew it. You attacked the people, their questionable relationships
and some of their motives. You should have spent more time looking at
their medieval and imperialistic ideas.
One of the oddest failures was that you didn't
even mention the “Project for the New American Century”;
the Neocon manifesto that essentially spelt out – at least as
far back as 1996 – exactly what their aims and ambitions were.
Iraq was in their sights well before 9-11 and it would have been useful
to have that avenue given your special treatment.
The nearest the film came to revealing awareness
that some of the American strategy had been pre-planned, was this snippet
from Congressman Jim McDermott who commented:
Trent Lott said – the
day the bill (USA PATRIOT Act – we'll be dealing with that
later) was introduced - “maybe now we can do
things we've been wanting to do for the last ten years”...
... they had all this
on the shelf somewhere, ideas of things they would like to do and they
got 911 and they said “its our chance, go for it”
which leaves me wondering if even McDermott was
aware of the PNAC...
As we've previously said, critics, in general, of
the American response make 3 broad charges.
- The underlying Motivation is Oil, Empire and
Social Control. Terrorism is merely a convenient excuse.
- The Response has been massively
- The Threat is being exaggerated - possibly even
manufactured - in order to justify Authoritarian measures
All of which form the basis for a zillion
conspiracy theories, none of which has yet persuaded me. All I will say about conspiracy
theories in this context is that if any of them are true then they
certainly don't provide grounds for downgrading the threat. If, for
example, the real culprits responsible for 9-11 are not MIFT but either
Zionists or Neocons, then this is not any kind of reassuring conclusion!
The threat posed by either of those groups is considerably greater than
anything MIFT could throw at us.
I do not, therefore, accept that the threat is
overstated. If the conspiracy theories were true, and the real enemy is
some variant on "the New World Order", then, of course, the threat is
considerably understated. Assuming that MIFT is not a Neocon construct
however, the threat is that they will continue to seek opportunities to
launch attacks on any scale they can manage. It will be rare that they can
achieve strikes equivalent to 9-11, not so rare for attacks on the scale
of Madrid and small scale single suicide bombers are likely to become as
commonplace across the world as they now are in Iraq.
should be under any illusion, however, that, should the opportunity arise
to launch a vastly more devastating attack than any we've so far seen -
such as the use of a tactical nuclear device if they ever get their hands
on one - MIFT will not hesitate to attempt the attack. Whether they
succeed is likely - at this stage - to be governed more by luck than
I do accept, however, that the reaction to the
threat has been disproportionate, misplaced, largely ineffective and has
increased rather than reduced the scale of the problem. Bruce Schneier has
coined the term "Security Theatre" to describe what is going on,
particularly in the United States. Read "Beyond Fear" for details. We'll be coming back to
this later as well.
The motivation argument is more persuasive but
essentially amounts to a dilute version of the conspiracy theories. If the
MIFT threat - real or imagined - is being used as an excuse to impose
intrusive security measures designed to achieve higher levels of social
control, then that threat is still at least as bad as - I would argue
worse than - anything MIFT can do to us.
as I said above, whatever the source, the threat is much more real than
the critics seem able to concede; which leaves us with perhaps not one but
two very real problems: The first is - how do we deal with the prospect of
one or more sufficiently motivated individuals or groups deciding to
launch a lethal attack against civil targets? The second - how do we deal
with the even greater threat to civil liberties represented by the
Neocon/Religious Right answer to that first problem? Let's take a closer
look at both threats, MIFT first.
The Real Threat posed by Terrorism
Once you have a a significant number of human
beings prepared to die while launching any scale of attack against any
target, the global security situation is fundamentally changed and
challenged. Most security prior to 9-11 was predicated on the assumption
that the attackers would not want to die themselves. That is why it was
unthinkable - despite the capture of early plans to do just that - that
any attacker would use an airplane itself as a weapon while they were on
board. Indeed, although on board bomb threats had been used many times by
earlier terrorists, their threat could only work if the defender had every
reason to believe both that the terrorist was prepared and willing to die
for their cause AND that, should the defender accede to their demands,
they would avoid both suicide and homicide and release hostages unharmed.
Unless the defender had reason to believe both of
those propositions, there was no point in negotiating. Clearly that would
have been illustrated on 9-11, had the authorities ever actually made
contact with the hijackers after they had successfully taken over the
aircraft. No amount of negotiating would have prevented the attacks.
of the achievements of the 9-11 hijackers is to make it much less likely,
in future, that non suicidal hijackers will take the risk of hijacking a
plane. Defenders now have to treat any future similar attacks as though
they were attempts to duplicate 9-11. At least if they're American they
will. And you can bet they're itching for you to try it!
You may have noticed that "trivial" hijacks have
almost disappeared. There were a couple of suicide hijackings in Russia in
2004 and I'm sure I've heard of at least one "normal" skyjacking outside
Russia since 9-11, but I'm unable to find a link to it. Certainly none of
them are taking place en route to, from or within America. Indeed as this research (cached)
reveals, large scale hostage taking incidents around the world have
dramatically declined - in favour, unfortunately, of direct bombings. Can
you imagine, today, some wino demanding "Take this plane to Cuba" and
pointing a hand grenade at the crew?
Can you imagine the American response? My money is
on a "Sky Marshall" putting a neat low velocity dum dum shell into his
head after about 3 minutes.
If he blows it, or isn't on board that flight, the
pilot should still be reasonably safe inside the locked cockpit and will
take a contingency course which steers the plane away from high population
areas. If the plane, without authority, comes within 20 miles of a
sensitive target it will be shot down...
And some people will cheer...
of thinking we're protecting ourselves just by making sure that all
luggage was accompanied by its owner are gone. The suicide attacker is a
far more dangerous enemy than one who wishes to survive the attack. The
latter will, for example, seek to leave themselves an avenue of escape.
Security plans which ensure that, once an attack has been launched, no
escape avenue exists, can thus expect to deter such attackers.
That defence has no effect whatsoever on the
suicide attacker - other than to make them work hard to ensure that they
have whatever means it takes to get close to the target. And, while they
clearly do not have the sheer physical power or technical resources of the
“Terminators”, they are just as determined to get through to their target
and, crucially, almost as intelligent. A self guided missile that can select its own
target and time of detonation is, potentially, one of the most dangerous
weapons we have invented.
not a new weapon. The word "Assassin" comes from the Arab name for an elite sect (cached)
of hand picked soldiers whose job it was to infiltrate an enemy stronghold
and target specific individuals - typically the leaders. While they were
entitled to try to survive after delivering the attack, the assumption and
usual result was that they did not. They surfaced in 1094.
It's a long and esteemed tradition.
suicide attacker has raised the stakes considerably. Those original
assassins were almost always targeting a single individual. Today's
suicide bomber is aiming to take with him or her as many victims as they
possibly can. The more victims, the greater the value of the martyrdom. It
is the decision to waive all distinction between combatant and non
combatant which has changed the scale of the threat. We've had nightmares
in previous generations about the threat, for example, of a terrorist
group getting hold of a nuclear weapon and threatening to blow up London,
New York or Paris unless "our demands are met".
Nobody even expects MIFT to make such threats or issue such demands -
not, that is, until after the event. We can be almost certain that MIFT
would strike first and make their demands or explanation later.
It is because it is so obviously reasonable to
believe that they would use it to maximum effect if they had it, that the
chief public concern, after 9-11, is about whether MIFT can get their
hands on a tactical nuclear device, for example, the so called "suitcase bombs" that the Soviets are alleged to
have developed in the early 80s. In fact, even if attackers obtain such
weapons, they will still have quite a difficult task ahead of them. It is
unlikely that the thieves who manage to obtain and sell the bomb will also
have the arming codes. There will also be the problem of transporting it
to the desired target without detection - difficult given its inherent
radioactivity. Best bet - buried in the cargo of a large tanker able to
sail right into the heart of Manhattan.
Both the arming code and delivery to target are
major obstacles. In the absence of the correct code, for example, the
terrorists would have to engineer their own means of detonating the device
– a problem not far short of creating the device from scratch. We cannot
rely on these obstacles to prevent all attacks but they should at least
Not that I want you to take any comfort from that
Even with almost no advanced technology MIFT have
already proved just how lethal they can be. Consider other low tech
attacks which we can - or perhaps ought to – expect in the coming months
and years. Here are a few of the examples I'm...
hmmm... I don't want to say "anticipating". I'm
not quite that pessimistic. Let's just say - like I was with 9-11 - I'll
be shocked but not surprised if any of the attacks below take place.
The point of these is to illustrate the scale of
the real security threats. This is so you
can look at the so called security measures (like the PATRIOT Act) and ask
the question: what do such laws do to reduce the risk from such threats?
The obvious answer is "nothing". (The obvious next question ought to be:
What is the real reason such laws exist?)
In selecting potential targets, we are spoilt for
choice. I haven't, for example, even mentioned "poisoning the water
supply". Lets start with Low Tech/No Tech attacks which require even less
skill than flying planes into tall buildings...
Giant Petrol Bombs
How many fuel tankers are on the road at any
time? How many of them have an armed police or military escort? In the
absence of such escorts, how difficult would it be for an armed terrorist
gang to hijack a tanker, place suitable explosive charges around it and
crash their way into a densely crowded space; ideally, for example, a
packed sports stadium but, if that's too difficult, even a busy shopping
mall would do. Detonation and the resulting conflagration should be good
for at least several hundred deaths, but if they get really lucky it could
even be several thousand.
Closing the stable door after that particular
horse has bolted will force us to escort all such dangerous loads and
probably force them to travel in convoys. Someone else can calculate the
cost of such protection, but I'd be surprised if they thought they could
do the job – in the US alone – with less than 50,000 additional armed
police or private armed guards.
We worry about the terrorists getting hold
of bio-weapons and reassure ourselves that, like nuclear suitcase bombs,
you need a highly competent operator to handle them. However, it doesn't
take any skill whatsoever to allow yourself to become infected with flu.
The nightmare scenario (cached)
for International Health bodies is that someone already infected with an
existing human strain of the influenza virus will also become infected
with one of the bird flu strains; that a hybrid strain will arise with the
infectivity of the human strain and the lethality of the bird flu to which
we have not evolved any immunities. This is believed to be the mechanism
behind the 20th century's major flu pandemics and, in all instances to
date, the hybrid has arisen accidentally. But what if MIFT decide to do it deliberately?
If enough terrorists become infected with human
flu then expose themselves to bird flu carriers, there is a reasonable
chance that a few of them would develop the lethal hybrid capable of
infecting other humans. Once that exists, infecting people deliberately is
a much easier task than, for example, subsequently identifying and
quarantining the infected victims fast enough to prevent widespread
infection. If the carriers can get themselves to half a dozen major
airports and sneeze their disease as widely as possible, they can probably
each infect a few dozen innocents travelling to their different
destinations around the world who will all infect a few dozen more and so
organised deliberate attempt to infect the population this way would be
extremely difficult either to identify or prevent before it was too late.
Within weeks, upwards of a hundred million humans will have been infected
and between 10 and 25% of them will die – on a par with the infamous post
WWI flu pandemic which killed more people than died during the hostilities
of that war. (Update: New Scientist's "Comment" for the week ending 2 Feb
2005 paints the picture with a much higher rate of infection and up to 75%
mortality resulting in 1.5 BILLION deaths but I reject that as far too
pessimistic even in this context!)
Pedants will object that analysing whether the
hybrid has indeed been created in any given volunteer is not a trivial
task. It requires considerable expertise in the relevant scientific
fields. Where would MIFT find such talent? How's about a disaffected ex
employee of the former Iraqi regime bioweapons development teams? One or
two of those might just be on the market about now. Not to mention those
with Chechyen sympathies.
Conventional Attacks on Mass Transit
I took my wife to Heathrow in
December 2004. She got to spend Christmas in Seattle, while a broken ankle
aborted my trip. (I was going mainly for the ski-ing and hiking. In my
experience, you need a full set of working ankles for both)
Frankly, I felt dangerously exposed. The security
increases as you get closer to the plane. There is zero visible security
as you approach the terminals. You are probably passing several
surveillance cameras, but unless you're driving a Sherman Tank or waving a
Kalashnikov, they're not going to spot anything untoward. There is
virtually zero security even when you walk into the crowded terminal.
There were probably a few armed police wandering around but I didn't see
any and there are, typically, a few thousand people jostling their way
into the check-in queues and no serious attention is paid to anyone until
they get to the front of the queue.
have walked into the terminal building wheeling a few hundredweight of
high explosives wrapped in ball bearings and made to look like standard
baggage. We could have joined any queue of our choice in the most crowded
zone and picked our time to detonate.
We could have been one of a co-ordinated group of
suicide bombers planting ourselves strategically throughout all the main
terminals. As well as killing a few hundred passengers each, we probably
would have destroyed much of the terminal buildings and put Heathrow out
of business for a few months.
Such an attack would also force airlines around
the world to institute security checks at a perimeter some way before the
terminals or the car parks. Average entry time to an airport would at
least double from its current two hours to four or five. The psychological
effect would be similar to 9-11. The global disruption to air-travel would
Frankly I'm surprised they haven't already carried
out such an attack. Its an obvious weak point and much easier to plan and
execute than their alleged attempt to smuggle in and use a Stinger missile
against a single aircraft.
These are just three credible examples of low tech
attacks, with a very high mortality, which can be implemented for not much
more than the price of the explosives. (You don't even need an airline
ticket to be able to enter the terminals.)
Putting Ideas Into Their Heads...
Some readers may be thinking that it is extremely
irresponsible for me to publish such examples. After all, if such attacks
take place within a year or so of appearing on this web page, it could be
argued that I may be responsible for putting the idea into MIFT heads.
My first counter-argument is that the probability
of potential MIFT attackers reading this material, unprompted, is
approximately zero. Only if the page comes to public attention, for
reasons connected with these outline attacks, would it appear on their
radar. (Update Aug 14 2005 - The US authorities have apparently warned the UK (cached)
that MIFT are "plotting to drive hijacked fuel tankers into petrol
stations in an effort to cause mass casualties in London and US cities in
the next few weeks." If they got that idea from me that's pretty damn
quick response - the first version of this page wasn't on the web till
My second argument is that, if the authorities are
not already aware of these vulnerabilities they damn well ought to be and
if my description is what brings them to their attention then I'm
performing a public service.
My third argument is that if the authorities are
indeed already aware of these possibilities (and, presumably, many others)
then either we can assume that - despite appearances - there are
contingency plans in place to try to interdict such attacks, in which
case, good luck guys; or, they are burying their heads in the sand and
relying on the classic “security through obscurity”
protocol. This depends on the attacker not being bright enough to figure
out the attack for themselves. Such security strategies are dangerously
naïve and need to be exposed at the earliest opportunities.
And my fourth argument is that I will, in Part 3,
make equally credible suggestions about how to deal with the above threats
and many others. The authorities are free to adopt my suggestions or to
implement something better. The distinctive feature of my proposals is
that they start from the point that the most important thing we are trying
to protect is our liberty. Security measures which reduce liberty are an
immediate victory for the enemy.
The correct response to a perceived risk is to
take steps to reduce the risk at the earliest opportunity - not merely to
ignore it in the hope that it won't happen. That's why we put lightning
conductors on tall buildings, despite the fact that most won't ever be
struck by lightning. And when we've spilt oil on the floor in a public
place we, first, bring it to public attention by clearly marking the spill
and, second, we clean it up. We don't just hope that no one else discovers
the spill by falling on it.
So, there are plenty of low tech
vulnerabilities the attackers could exploit without going to the expense,
technical difficulty and risk of attempting a nuclear strike; and, as
we'll see in Part 3, some reasonable, available and only moderately
technical solutions to most of them.
However, add forthcoming technology to the picture
and even the above attacks looks relatively tame.
Genetic engineering of routine flu viruses
has begun: Already, in fact, we have almost succeeded in recreating the 1918 virus (cached)
and there is much talk about genetically engineering the
virus. This is, understandably, already causing considerable
consternation. We are also very close (cached)
to producing entirely unique synthetic man made viruses that have never
existed before. But on the future menu, we can look forward to “designer
viruses” capable of killing targets who have a particularly genetic configuration (cached);
and, in case you think that this prospect is just the product of fevered
imaginations like mine or the author behind that link, here is (cached)
the US Army War College discussing related concepts (do a search on the
page for "Selective agents"). Alternatively we might find some lunatic –
as in Frank Herbert's “White Plague” –
targeting an entire gender.
well as targeting millions or billions, at the other end of the scale,
genetic weapons could become the perfect individual assassination tools.
Ultimately, if you can obtain the genetic data on your target, there is a
good chance you will one day be able to design a virus which might infect anyone, but will only kill him or her. All you then have to do is
infect someone within a couple of links to the target and wait for the
virus to find the victim...
the chemical field, the nightmare prospect is the development of
psychotropic agents that could achieve anything from compromising the
target's immune system to modifying their intellect and behaviour. These
possibilities and how to address them are already under serious consideration (cached)
by the US military, who, as we know, have spent many years trying to
develop mind control (cached)
weapons of their own - so far (despite the hysterical claims) without any
Then we have the possibilities created by artificial
intelligence. "Software Soldiers" (cached)
and bombs that can programmed to locate a target and attack it just like a
human suicide bomber or assassin does. Such technology will, of course,
initially be enormously expensive, so MIFT won't be funding such developments. The
Americans will do that for them, primarily so they can send such weapons
after the terrorists themselves. But once the technology has been
developed, it will be close to impossible to prevent the other side
getting hold of it. But, whereas the Americans might use it to target bin
Laden in a cave or a house somewhere and aim at destroying just him, MIFT
will use it to attack, for example, a chemical or fuel tanker in a densely
The most lethal option likely to become available
within the next few decades is a deliberately engineered variant on the
“grey goo” option which is already much hyped by
opponents of nanotechnology. I haven't even found anyone else discussing
this particular danger. The argument has, so far, been on the basis of
whether it is possible to control self-assembling nanobots, or whether
they could get out of control, run amuk and liquefy most of the organic
matter on planet earth. It is almost certainly possible to design
protocols and failsafes into the system which would render such an
word there is "accident". The real threat, however, is not from a runaway
accident, but from someone motivated to bypass all such controls and
develop a version of the nanobots which are deliberately designed to
create just such havoc, perhaps against a narrowly defined target,
perhaps, if they've decided Armageddon is overdue, globally.
The defences against these attacks don't exist
today, any more than the attacks do. The key to defending ourselves
against such attacks is to build the defences into the technology from day
one - before the attacks are even possible. Whether that becomes a routine
policy depends on people like you and me making a loud enough noise to
ensure that the message gets across. Certainly it would a literally fatal
error - as I'll be endeavouring to explain at greater length later - to
try to avoid the problem attacks by eschewing the problem technology.
will say on that subject now is that - as well as posing the greatest
potential threat - nanotechnology also offers the greatest potential
protections and other rewards. It will, if developed competently,
eventually be capable of protecting us, internally and externally, from
all possible sources of harm, whether biological, chemical, human, or even
astronomical. In fact, I conjecture that the survival of the human species
will depend on whether we perfect nanoshield technology before the
opponents of human evolution perfect nanopoison technology.
as it may, the long and short of it is this. Today MIFT can kill dozens or hundreds with their low
tech attacks. Occasionally they can launch a 9-11 scale attack and kill a
few thousand. In 20 years time, for approximately the same level of
commitment and resources, they - or their successors - will be able to
As they have made it more than usually clear that
they would have no compunction about doing so, the human race has no
option but to take their threat seriously. More importantly, it isn't just
their threat. In principle, Frank Herbert's scenario is even more
plausible in 20 years time. A single sufficiently pissed off individual,
with access to the wrong technology and expertise, could potentially wreak
the kind of havoc that White Plague describes. And the importance of that
observation is that it undercuts the argument that we can solve this
problem politically - by reducing the causes of such hostility in the
world. There is no realistically conceivable set
of circumstances arising in the next couple of decades which could produce
a world in which not one single individual would have the motivation to
sense, therefore, MIFT have done us all a big favour. By unleashing their
fanaticism at this point in our history, they have woken us up and given
us precious time. Time to develop the defences we need, not so much
against a specific bunch of terrorists, but against anyone similarly
inclined to try to destroy their fellow humans. Even if MIFT didn't exist,
it would be prudent to assume that from time to time, one or more
individuals may well be motivated to carry out various levels of homicide
up to and including genocide and that they, too, will have MIFT level
committment and access to the same forthcoming techniques and technology.
to begin to prepare those defences today. In this respect, and this
respect only, I agree with the fear mongers and disagree with those who
argue that the fear is being overblown or that the reasons for fear are
considerably less than stated. If anything, the reasons for fear are
generally being understated because most people do not understand (or dare
to discuss so openly) the potential of the technical developments already
in the pipeline.
I hope I've made the case well enough for you to
feel at least a touch more concerned about MIFT and related threats today
and in the foreseeable future. Now lets discuss what really frightens me!
The Threat posed by
the Response to Terrorism
The New American
concerned you may be about terrorism - either as a result of my efforts or
through general awareness of the situation - part of my mission is to make
sure you don't leave this chapter without being even more frightened by
the actions and motives of those who have taken upon themselves the
responsibility for directing the response to terrorism on our behalf.
The brief version: They are dangerously incompetent, hypocritical,
narrow minded lying control freaks whose behaviour is a much more serious
threat to the survival of our species than any other, including well
financed fanatical fundamentalist terrorism.
I will attempt, in the following paragraphs, to
justify that outburst. Given what I've already said about other critics of
the American response it is important to say two things before I too begin
to rip into them.
First, "Americans" is a form of shorthand. My
comments are not aimed at all Americans by any stretch. If anyone is
inclined to think I hate America, you should first be aware that I'm
married to an American who, incidentally, like many of her compatriots, is
often much more vitriolic about what is going on in her country than I am.
By far the most effective
critics of the American administration are themselves American. Chomsky,
Gore and (the late) Arthur Miller are obvious examples - not to mention
Michael Moore who, despite badly missing the target with F911, clearly has
his heart in the right place as far as I am concerned.
So although I try to use "Neocons", "Religious
Right" or "Bush Administration" where appropriate, there are too many
occasions on which the criticism is justifiably aimed at all of the above
and, sometimes the wider "less thoughtful" American public. My assessment,
for what its worth, is that American society is split roughly 3 ways. 25%
support the "rabid religious right". 25% support the "loony liberal left"
and 50% are apathetic, indifferent, or even actively hostile to the entire
political process and its participants.
Clearly my opposition is mostly targeted at the
deeply conservative reactionary tendency but, as my comments above makes
clear, I do not have qualms about criticising the left wing or liberals
either. Nevertheless, whenever I just refer to "the Americans", I
generally mean the American policy makers; the State and its major
shareholders. (Media, Military, Money, etc) And although my attack is
largely focussed on today's administration, which, in turn, largely means
the Neocons and their warped philosophy, the pattern of American naked
pursuit of self interest, to the detriment of the rest of the world, goes
back to at least the end of the second World War when they formally took
up the reins dropped by the no less selfish but somewhat more benign
Furthermore I want to make it crystal clear that I
do not criticise the Americans for responding to the attacks on them or
for trying to prevent further similar attacks. I accept that they were
more than justified to respond to the attacks. I also agree with their
prioritisation of the problem. We do indeed need to take these issues
criticism is essentially that their response has been unintelligent and,
as a result, has made the problem much worse than it already was. Their
behaviour is entirely consistent with the analysis of the conspiracy
theorists who argue that they have deliberately engineered the escalation
of the threat. They always assume that if Rumsfeld's lips are moving he
must be lying.
My question is:
Are they Lying, Stupid or Blind?
It's the only part
of the "outburst" above that I have trouble with. I really can't decide if
they are evil enough to simply be "lying".
As we and many others have already demonstrated
here and elsewhere, it is not at all difficult to demonstrate that many of
the statements these people make are selective, overstated, based on
misinterpretations or just plain wrong. They contain legal, logical,
empirical and even "moral" errors. But it is genuinely difficult to
determine, in many cases, whether they are lying, badly misinformed or
simply unable or unwilling to process or comprehend the relevant
My judgement is further complicated by the reams
of evidence that their state of misinformation is itself often a
deliberate conscious choice. As
we've seen, they routinely replace, bypass and ignore experts who present
conclusions they don't want to hear. Is actively running from the truth
any less culpable than misrepresenting it?
Modern western governments (not just the
Americans) frequently begin with a prejudice or ill informed opinion they
wish to act upon. They would love to have the powers of an absolute
monarch and simply issue an edict. But they recognise that the small
fragment of democracy which has been introduced into the political system
now curtails such behaviour. Today, because their actions will be reported
on and discussed in the "free" media, they cannot act on that prejudice
without what looks like a valid attempt to discover the "facts" and
justify the proposed edict.
have to pay lip service to the scientific method. So they commission
research. If they don't like the results, they simply ignore or bury them
and commission new research from people they trust to provide conclusions
which support their initial prejudice.
We've already discussed Rumsfeld's track record in
this regard with respect to Soviet anti-submarine technology in the 1970s
and WMD/Al Qaeda in Iraq following 9-11. But there are literally hundreds
of similar cases on the public record. The Bush (GW) administration is
acquiring the reputation as one of the most egregious practitioners of
this art. It is, for example, accused of wholescale distortion of many
scientific debates, to such an extent that the majority of senior
scientists in the United States are involved in an unprecedented campaign
against their own government called "Restoring Scientific Integrity" (cached).
However, while Bush may be the worst, he is certainly not the first
western leader to try to twist the facts to suit his prejudices. We'll be
discussing earlier examples in the next chapter.
The problem, though, is that when you watch
someone like Richard Perle or Dick Cheney being interviewed about, for
example, the links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, they appear to be
confidently sincere. I would be keen to study expert Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) analysis of their body
language, eye movements and other "tells", together with, perhaps, Layered Voice Analysis (cached)
of their interviews, but, in the absence of such analysis, they certainly
look convinced, if not convincing, to my untrained eye. Despite being
often demonstrably wrong, there is little doubt that they appear to
believe what they are saying. How can we account for this dissonance
between belief and evidence?
It is nothing new, of course. Nor is it mere
coincidence that this mindset and approach to evidence is common among the
leading intellectuals in the Neocons' "constituency" - the Religious
Right. We see precisely the
same inability to fully understand the evidence and its implications when
we listen to so called "Creation Scientists" trying to attack Evolutionary
theory or modern Cosmology and validate their own bible based hypotheses.
They have, of course, become a great deal more
sophisticated since their first court battle in the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial" (cached)
in 1925. Today's leading proponents of "Intelligent Design" know their onions - and their
biochemistry. In the Scopes trial we just saw - in defence of their attack
on Evolution - rather pathetic assertions like "the Christian bible has
always been good enough for me". Today you'll find passages like "Before bumping into activated rhodopsin, transducin
had tightly bound a small molecule called GDP. But when transducin
interacts with activated rhodopsin, the GDP falls off and a molecule
called GTP binds to transducin." in support of Michael Behe's argument (cached)
that irreducible complexity is a
fundamental problem with the theory of evolution.
Most people's eyes will glaze over when confronted
with that apparent level of expertise. In fact his overall conclusions,
despite a detailed understanding of the mechanism of vision which he is
describing, are scientifically naive. The problem is that it often takes a
similarly qualified scientist to explain Behe's errors in sufficient
detail to satisfy the curious inquirer. An excellent collection of such
refutations has been published under the title "Why Intelligent Design Fails: A
scientific critique of New Creationism" and, online, you can go to
the "Index of Creationist Claims (with
fact, however, that orthodox scientists have been forced to spend so much
time and effort fending off the creationist arguments from Behe, Dembski
et al, is, in itself, a massive propaganda victory for the creationists.
First, they have given the appearance of being able to argue with orthodox
scientists on their own terms and in their own language. To the non
scientific community, this immediately gives the impression that the
debate between creationists and evolutionists is one of substance on a par
with other lively debates between scientists, like, perhaps, the different
flavours of String theory which may finally meld General Relativity with
Quantum Mechanics, or the battle in the late 80s between Cladists and
Punctuationists over which mutation/selection mechanism was likely to play
the major part in Evolutionary theory.
These are battles between equals who, regardless
of their disagreements, all at least agree on the rules which will
determine which argument is most valid. (The rules of empiricism we've
discussed previously) Until the empirical data is available, both sides
start out with roughly equal scientific merit. Such arguments between
scientists obviously deserve equal representation in the media, schools
and elsewhere. The fact that
creationist arguments do not even attempt to conform to the rules of
empiricism (by, for example, proposing ways in which their hypotheses
could be either verified or falsified) and thus have little or no
scientific merit, is invisible or incomprehensible to the watching public.
So when the creationists continue to lose their
struggle to have Intelligent Design given equal treatment in schools, they
begin to look like underdogs being oppressed by the system for no
apparently good reason. In fact, it doesn't take a rocket scientist (or
biologist) to puncture many of their arguments.
Dave Gorman is a
He'll probably be as surprised as you were to
learn that he's just appeared, without warning, on this page but there are
two good reasons. The first is that I want you to go and buy the dvd of
his one man show the "Googlewhack Adventure". It was our
default Xmas present in 2004 and everyone we bought it for made a point of
calling us up - sometimes very late at night - as soon as they'd finished
watching it to tell us how brilliant it was. We haven't seen a reaction
like that to any previous gift! It is certainly the funniest thing I've
seen so far this century and, amongst other things, its a wonderful escape
from the depressing realities of the modern world. It has absolutely
nothing to do with politics, pollution, population or global warming. Just
sit back and laugh. I'm sure, if you don't like it, Dave will give you
your money back!
The second reason is that, on his travels, he met
Dr Duane Gish. He didn't even know - at the time - who Duane Gish was.
(Still is in fact. Last time I checked:- May 2005)
Gish was the one person Dave admits to meeting -
on his extensive travels in pursuit of the elusive tenth googlewhack -
whom he did not like. And the reason he didn't like him is directly
relevant to what we're talking about here. Let Dave tell you in his own
words (he's written a book about it as well. Clever chap, Dave. This is
from the book, not the dvd.)
The Second Law of
closed system, all things tend toward
Now that I've started
this alarming scientific digression, I feel myself haunted by the sound
of books closing. Don't worry reader, I'll be quick. We can take
'entropy' to mean 'disorder'
(er... actually I don't think we can Dave. They're
closely related but two different things. Like music and song. Similar but
not the same. Entropy can create order from disorder - eg the sorting of
pebbles on the beach, snowflakes, human beings and stuff - but we still
love you anyway)
so essentially the law
says that all things tend to become more disordered and chaotic... in a
closed system. The 'closed system' bit is important.
To quote the law
without that bit means nothing. It would be like saying 'It is illegal
to buy alcohol in Britain' when the law actually states that 'It is
illegal to buy alcohol in Britain if you are under 18'. Unless you quote
every clause of the law, you run the risk of looking stupid.
So... what does the
'closed system' bit mean? Well, if you put an apple in a dustbin and
leave it there, it will eventually rot. In other words it becomes more
disordered and chaotic. The apple is in a closed system. It gets eaten
by bacteria and eventually the bacteria die and decay themselves,
leaving the dustbin with nothing more than goo.
However, if, instead,
you put the apple in the ground - and the conditions are right -
something new will emerge. It will grow. It will thrive. It will bear
fruit. It will become more ordered and less chaotic, grabbing atoms from
the atmosphere and the soil to construct a complicated ordered structure
otherwise known as an apple tree. This happens because the apple isn't
in a closed system, because the sun shines, the rain falls and the earth
I mention this because,
even with my basic high school understanding of this fundamental
physical law, I was aware that the highly qualified scientist sitting in
front of me didn't seem to have a grasp of it at all.
There I was, biting my
knuckle, when he suddenly threw in the following curve ball: 'Evolution [...] is an absolute violation of the
Second Law of Thermodynamics [...] if you have simplicity it cannot
transform itself upwards in the system we have today.'
Whether or not you've
followed my amateurish explanation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics
you should know this. What Dr Gish said about it was not true. He had
either chosen to ignore the 'closed system' bit or perhaps he had chosen
to define the world wrongly as a 'closed system' in which case he was
ignoring the presence of the vast universe that surrounds us. As it
goes, the universe as a whole is obeying the Law perfectly well thank
you very much in that it is expanding and cooling down. What happens on
our speck of a planet is, in the grand scheme of things, irrelevant.
Either Dr Gish had
spent his entire scientific career failing to understand the Second Law
of Thermodynamics or he had chosen to misrepresent it to lay people like
myself in an attempt to back up an argument he must have known was
flawed. I was convinced in that moment that he was deliberately telling
This was the first
moment in which I was aware of thoroughly disliking any of the
googlewhacks I'd met. Until that moment Gish may have seemed like a
vainglorious, faintly ridiculous old man, but he had still been a
cuddly, old-fashioned, well-mannered, cartoonishly physiqued old man
with a passionate belief in something and I'd found him endearing for
all of that.
Now I really believed
he was a liar.
Is Gish Lying?
Perhaps I'm more charitable than Dave. I
genuinely cannot decide whether Gish is lying or stupid. I'm even
uncomfortable with "stupid". "Ignorant" is less derogatory. You see, if
you believe he was lying, then you have to believe that he knows that what
he was saying wasn't true (kinda goes with the territory of "lying"). Yet
he believes that he can persuade us that it is true. So you also have to assume that he
think's we're stupid.
Now, when one of the Neocons tells us something
which is clearly false, I can easily factor their potential belief in our
stupidity into the equation. They've got bundles of straightforward
materialistic ulterior motives and Leo Strauss' philosophy encouraging
them to behave this way. I still have my doubts, but I can accept their
belief in our stupidity as a possible explanation for their attempted
It is much more difficult to discern the ulterior
motives with a creationist. All they apparently stand to gain is the
spread or continuation of a belief in the biblical creation myth as fact.
And if they don't really believe in Creation, I can't see why they'd lie
to us about the fundamental logic that underpins it. So they're unlikely
to be lying about their creationist beliefs.
If Gish fully understands the Second Law of
Thermodynamics and is deliberately misrepresenting it, he would understand
that and be aware of how badly it deflates his argument. Like the Neocon
interviews, I would like to subject his public utterances on this and
related issues to expert psychoanalysis, but for the time being I am
persuaded that he shows no signs of that awareness. His confidence appears
to remain unshaken and I am thus forced to conclude that this highly
educated well qualified Doctor of Biochemistry (Ph.D., University of
California, Berkeley 1953) genuinely hasn't grasped what Dave Gorman
grokked in high school.
Given that many many opponents have pointed out
this weakness in his armour, in both public and private debates, his
continued failure to grasp the fairly simple distinction between open and
closed systems that Dave has so ably described can only indicate a
fundamental intellectual weakness. A conclusion perhaps supported by this
Gish Revises Physics - Nobel Prize Winner
Ilya Prigogine won the
Nobel prize in 1977 for his work on the thermodynamics of nonequilibrium
systems. He wrote a related article in 1972 explaining how
nonequilibrium thermodynamics solves the puzzle of how life can
originate and increase its state of order in spite of entropy and the
Second Law of Thermodynamics (Prigogine 1972). Simply put, the Second
Law states that in a closed system, "useful" energy that can do work
becomes gradually converted over time to energy that is unavailable for
use---entropy, or an increase of disorder. (oops. sorry Dave!) Creationists interpret this to mean that complex
living systems could not have evolved from simpler forms because
overall, things run down rather than build up. However, living things
are open systems and as Prigogine emphasized, are far from a state of
equilibrium. They acquire energy from the sun and can locally decrease
entropy and even increase their order and complexity without a violation
of the Second Law.
(which is what I was referring to here.)
In a debate with George
Bakken (see Debates-Bakken 1987), Gish pretended ignorance of
Prigogine's basic thesis and instead claimed that Prigogine said the
origin of life was virtually impossible because of the Second Law of
Thermodynamics (Bakken 1991). Prigogine's words were taken from the
beginning of his article (1972) where he summarized the position that he
was about to spend the next several pages refuting. Perhaps Gish only
read the first page. However, he definitely knew before that debate what
Prigogine really said. In a 1982 debate, Gish was told about Prigogine's
article by his opponent, C. Loring Brace, who described it as "an
unassailable refutation of Gish's claims" (see Debates-Brace
In Gish's book
"Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics" (1993), he changes tactics by
strongly implying that Prigogine is not competent to theorize on the
origin of life. After casting aspersions on Prigogine's scientific
method by claiming that he "hasn't spent any time in the laboratory in
years," Gish says:
theoretical ideas are buttressed with a large amount of complicated
mathematics which few biochemists and molecular biologists can
understand, but it all does look deliciously scientific. Since
Prigogine's speculations lend comfort to his fellow evolutionists
among the biochemists and molecular biologists, they are only too
eager to bow to the authority of this Nobel Prize winner." (pp.
A logical inference
from this statement is that Gish, a biochemist who has not spent any
time in the laboratory in years, likely does not understand Prigogine's
mathematics himself. Unwilling to admit this, he imputes his lack of
understanding to other scientists and concludes that they are paying
blind obeisance to a Nobel prize winner.
For which we can thank Creationism: Bad Science or
Immoral Pseudoscience? (an expose of
creationist Dr. Duane Gish) by Joyce Arthur (cached)
reason, Gish, and presumably those who think like him, despite having the
intellect required to obtain a PhD in a scientific discipline, are
apparently genuinely unable to grasp the significance of the "closed
system" in the Second Law of Thermodynamics. You'll note, he doesn't try
to challenge that law, or its interpretation. He just tries to pretend
that his own interpretation of its significance with regard to the origin
of life remains intellectually valid; a position only possible in the mind
of someone who genuinely doesn't understand the Law.
come across this problem in many many theists. There are certain concepts
that they seem quite unable to grasp. Probability, the predictable
consequences of pure randomness and the sheer scale of the Cosmos are
right in the centre of their blind spot. Even eminent former atheist philosophers (cached)
have fallen prey to it. It is the root of their constant naive statistical
challenges. The chances of a protein self
assembling are one in a googolplex, so their
goes (I paraphrase), so, even if we accept your
ludicrously old universe of 13.7 billion years, there hasn't been enough
time for even a single protein to evolve, let alone Duane Gish. To
which the most concise answer can be found here (cached).
My own, somewhat simpler attempt begins thus:
"How does a balloon
keep its shape?"
I don't know.
"The random motion of
the molecules inside it"
But they can't be
random, or else the balloon wouldn't keep its shape.
...is a conversation I've had a thousand times. I
have told more than one theist that, once they understand how the balloon
keeps its shape, they'll begin to grasp how the sheer reliability of true
randomness, occurring across the scale of our universe, and coupled with
the known laws of physics and chemistry, can be responsible for creating
all the building blocks required to permit and sustain the development of
all the more complex structures in our universe, including life itself.
I've never yet managed to succeed in making one of them cross that mental
chasm. It seems to be a bridge too far. In particular they seem constitutionally unable
to grasp the significance of tiny steps in the right direction. They don't
understand how the laws of physics make the interactions between particles
both possible and inevitable; how the scale and random distribution of
those particles in turn make chemistry both possible and inevitable and
how large scale chemistry makes biological precursors possible and
inevitable and so on. They seem to think that the only relevant engine is
selection may possibly have had on random processes in later biological
reproduction, it is clear beyond any rational argument that chance
processes could never have produced even the simplest forms of life in
the first place. (Henry Morris from their
argument link above)
I'll rehearse my attempt at a fuller explanation
here and readers are invited to improve upon
it at will.
point is, I have to conclude that Duane Gish and other Creationists are
indeed only guilty of "bad science" not "immoral pseudoscience". They're
not evil. They're ignorant. Dammit. I'm not even happy with ignorant. Gish
is fully aware of every argument against his position. He obviously
doesn't understand all the arguments but he is certainly not ignorant of them. I refuse to concede that he is
"stupid". If he is stupid, then so too is about 99% of humanity. And while
I know that some will concur with that elitist sentiment, for me "stupid"
is a relative rather than absolute term.
I was relieved to discover that I'm not the only
one wrestling with the issue of their psychological state. Most people
seem to be on Dave's side and just assume that because the Creationists
are so egregiously wrong, they must be lying. But as Flint C argues in
this short essay: (cached)
imply that creationists hijack the language, but this may also be
misleading, because it implies that they know better but are doing so as
a tactic in part of a larger battle. I submit that this isn't so. They
are describing the world according to their own model. What Dawkins and
others don't seem (at least to me) to quite realize is that believers
Believe. Their minds are stuffed with crystalline certainties based on
no evidence or experience they can share effectively with nonbelievers,
and which do not seem capable of being altered through evidence or
experience. The creationist strives to find some way, ANY way, to make
external reality fit and support those certainties.
I couldn't put it better. This is why I propose
"blind" - meaning "Concept blind". They appear to be literally unable to
see the logical and usually obvious validity of a number of core concepts.
There's probably a PhD in
psychology for anyone who can explain how otherwise intelligent educated
people can fail to grasp fundamental and relatively simple concepts like
the difference between open and closed systems.
And when I watch the Wolfovitz, Perle, Rumsfeld
brigade in action, I still find it possible to concede exactly the same
"charity" to them. Ignorance or blindness rather than evil.. They may
genuinely believe what they are saying. The ulterior motives and self
serving megalomania implicit in the myriad conspiracy theories may also be
present, but, at least internally, they appear to believe that they are
"doing the right thing" in all senses of that phrase. The major difficulty
with that charitable view is that they are all obviously reasonably
intelligent, even "bright" individuals. I would put their IQs between 130
Part of me just finds it very difficult to
understand how someone so apparently intelligent can reach such profoundly
wrong conclusions when faced with the evidence. The only thing that
squares the circle is blind/ignorant prejudice.
If, for example, you've accepted the last 80 years
of conditioning with respect to the "evil" of recreational drug use, no
amount of scientific evidence or logic is going to persuade you to accept
the overwhelming moral, intellectual, economic and global security
arguments for the decriminalisation of such behaviour. A blend of amazing
psychological distortions and straightforwardly childish tantrums are
routinely employed by the ruling layer of society across the planet to
avoid their ever having to think such thoughts.
wasn't stupid. But when the Presidential Commission he set up specifically
to examine Marijuana (and which he packed with hand picked opponents of
drug use) recommended decriminalisation (cached - 517k
zip) he went apeshit and refused even to read the report. Instead his
anti-semitic and homophobic prejudices (cached)
kicked off the current round of the intensified "War on Drugs". Today's
rulers are no more rational than that. About Climate Change, about Fair
Trade, about providing access to cheap medicine for the 3rd World, about
going to War on a pretext when Oil is involved, about not going to War to
prevent genocide anywhere Oil isn't involved; about ANYTHING.
It may seem that I desperately WANT to believe
that they are sincere. After all the alternative is horrific. First it
implies exactly what the conspiracy theorists are constantly shouting from
the rooftops: that we're being deliberately and consciously lied to -
about issues that are currently costing tens of thousands of human lives,
and have, in the past, cost millions. If true, that would offer a more
than adequate explanation for the United States continued refusal to recognise (cached)
the International Criminal Court. They would have good cause to fear
prosecution by it.
Second, it implies that they think we're either
too stupid to see through their lies or too powerless to do anything about
it even if we can. If they believe that we're too stupid, then, given the
plentiful evidence that we're not, that would only serve to confirm their
own stupidity, in which case, we could reasonably revert to assuming that
they are indeed stupid enough to believe what they are telling us!
believe we're too powerless, they can only sustain that belief because
they have sufficient control over society, particularly through their
connections with the Military, Media and Money, to be confident that they
can stifle dissent or at least control the extent to which it spreads.
This, I surmise, is the Chomsky view of the world.
He sees the ruling elite in conscious control of the levers of power in
this scheming Machiavellian and, above all, tactically intelligent - smart - sense. Unfortunately, I just can't bring
myself to see the authors of something like the USA PATRIOT Act, the
planners of the "Liberation of Iraq" or the leakers of the "Case Closed" (cached)
papers as smart.
playing chess with someone who can be consistently beaten with a 4 move
checkmate. They're clearly more advanced than chimpanzees. But, in some
respects at least, not by much. They clearly believed their own
propaganda. They clearly still do. They appear unable, like Gish, to
perceive the fundamental weaknesses in their own arguments. That's the
biggest failure of their Intelligence - not the disputed tales of CIA and
FBI bungling. Trouble is, they own and control the chess board and get to
make their own rules.
This is a fundamental problem for both philosophy
and psychology. Philosophically it goes back to our definition of "Rational". It is rational
to accept (and thus "believe") an hypothesis when and while it continues
to pass appropriate empirical tests capable of either verifying or
Update Feb 2011 - Wilful
Just over two years ago, I thought I'd found
part of the answer to the "Lying, Stupid or Blind" question when I came
across Bob Altemayer's online book "The Authoritarians". I blogged my response to it in January 2009.
However, it was only part of the answer. It described,
in considerable detail, the predictability of the authoritarian
response to various stimuli (by both authoritarian leaders and
authoritarian followers) but didn't reveal much about WHY they
behave the way they do. I've just discovered a book that looks like it may
fill that gap in our understanding. I'm only halfway through reading
"Wilful Blindness" by
Margaret Heffernan and, already, on the plus side, it
provides considerable relief to find that someone has, at last, taken the
issue as seriously as it deserves. Unfortunately, it has to be said that
her book and the conclusions that emerge from it do not provide any
comfort or grounds for optimism. Indeed it left me struggling to find
rational grounds on which I should even bother to continue my own timid
The case study of Libby, Montana illustrates the
problem. Initially, you think you're learning about yet another Corporate
crime featuring deliberate negligence and suppression of
evidence. It comes as no surprise that government and business
interests combine to resist all mention of the dangers. It's not even a
surprise to learn that the corrupt American legal system once again
allowed those with money to buy the result they wanted. But it
comes as a shock to find that the victims of this crime are almost as
hostile to those who revealed it as was the perpetrator. Even while they
were visiting their friends in oxygen masks (a widespread
consequence of the crime - the suppression of evidence regarding the
damage caused by asbestos to those who mined it and, potentially, to
anyone who came in contact with them) they were ostracising and
sending hate mail to the "whistleblower" who exposed the crime
as well as resisting the government funded efforts to clean up their
environment to make it safe for them and their children to continue to
live there. Why? Because allowing the government to treat the problem
involved the admission that there WAS a problem.
This depressing behaviour struck me as bizarre
as learning of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust protesting
against the Nuremberg Trials. But Heffernan's studies dovetail
somewhat painfully with Altemayer's and, between them, they
strongly suggest that this isn't the aberrant behaviour we might hope
it is. It is the rule rather than the exception.
That being so, what already seemed like a
gargantuan task - that of exposing the flaws and corruption in governments
and virtually all authoritarian hierarchies; together with promoting the
mechanisms we need to eliminate (or at least manage) the threat -
just became astronomical. Now it seems that the victims of all but the
worst form of authoritarian crime (torture, arbitrary killing of citizens
etc) are complicit in their own oppression - preferring to live under (and
defend) the devil they know rather than take the risk entailed by throwing
off their chains in favour of the unknown.
Had it not been for the wave of uprisings
simultaneously sweeping the Arab world, I might well have concluded that
the whole project was pointless. Don't get me wrong. I am not starry eyed
about the so called "revolutions" taking place across the Middle East.
They are, in my view, naive kneejerks which - if they're lucky
- may result in marginally more liberal forms of
dictatorship, up to - perhaps - the level "enjoyed" in the
West. But the mere fact that so many oppressed citizens who could be
excused for fearing the retribution of militaristic authoritarian regimes
were, nevertheless, prepared to fill the streets and face down the guns is
hugely inspiring. If citizens who have lived under military
dictatorship for several decades can finally get off their knees and
refuse to surrender until they get what they think they need, what
right have I to give up?
In any case, Heffernan's book reinforces the
grounds for the psychological speculation I launch into below.
Psychologically, people who form firm
beliefs - in the absence of the validated evidence we've discussed -
are, essentially both irrational and gullible. (I wonder, in passing,
whether they make the best hypnotic subjects.) If they continue to hold
such beliefs when the relevant hypotheses have been falsified, then, I
would argue, they are showing the early signs of psychosis. When groups of like
minded people share the challenged beliefs, it becomes a social psychosis in which members turn to each
other for mutual validation of their shared and increasingly distorted
world view. The cognitive dissonance (cached)
they experience as more and more public evidence surfaces which both
falsifies their own beliefs and verifies alternative hypotheses causes the
psychosis to deepen.
As the psychosis deepens, two behaviours emerge.
It becomes increasingly difficult even to raise, with them, the evidence
which threatens their beliefs and they become increasingly defensive and,
eventually, violent in defence of those beliefs. This is the pattern we
have seen throughout human history, particularly in the Christian church
whenever science has begun to challenge its world model. Much the same violent
reaction and repression is true of all totalitarian societies, when their
social experiments fail, science reveals an error in their analysis or the
real world simply refuses to conform to the party line.
my conviction that this is, far and away, humanity's biggest problem. This
shared delusional state I am calling "Social Psychosis" is the biggest
obstacle to intelligent management of all our other problems.
Most people - and I do mean Most people; those humans capable of genuinely
consistent rational thought, unhampered by prejudice, are, as yet, a small
minority - Most people exist in a shallow
form of psychosis, holding firm beliefs - which may be shared with many
others - despite the absence of supporting evidence and, in some cases,
even the widely acknowledged falsification of their core hypotheses and
the verification of far reaching alternatives.
I don't exclude myself. I persist in believing
that Mankind is more inclined to what I would define as good, positive,
mutually life-enhancing and life-extending behaviour than the opposite.
The evidence is clearly against me. Though individual humans often tend to
conform to my expectations, large groups of humans tend to behave much
less rationally than the individuals within them. (There's another thesis
in that observation.)( Tell me it's been done)
Meanwhile I have to face the fact that my belief is, therefore, an
irrational, religious-like belief and I should agree to re-label it as a
"hope" or dream.
Most political leaders among us (whether at gang
or national level), however, reach their positions because they are driven
by a deeper form of the psychosis, which seeks to act on their beliefs and
which is reinforced by their success in achieving positions of leadership.
This is the basis on which "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts
absolutely". Achieving power validates the aspirant's belief structures
even more strongly than mere membership of the group and the longer they
retain power, the more justified they feel in eliminating any remaining
doubts they may have held.
All of which is consistent with their being
ignorant (or concept blind) rather than evil.
The only thing that pulls me back towards
conceding that Chomsky's assessment - in respect of the ruling elite -
cannot be dismissed is Leo Strauss. Deliberate conscious deception is one
of his recommended stratagems - and Neocon philosophy is based on his.
Ironically, the problem is that, despite
appearances, I would prefer Chomsky to be right rather than me. His
analysis leads, in my view, to a more optimistic prognosis than my own.
Lying might be more evil, but it is less dangerous than Stupid. If they
were "only" lying, the threat would be reduced. The lies can be exposed.
It would imply an intellectually competent adversary who might be open to
Ignorant Believers, conversely, pose a much more
serious problem. Intellectual argument is completely wasted on them, (as
you will see if you visit creationist or southern baptist web sites). This
is true whether the ignorant believers you are trying to negotiate with
are American Conservative Christians and Neocons or Islamic
Fundamentalists. As Robert Anton Wilson says (in Prometheus Rising): "Failures in communication generally derive from
sending a message to the wrong address." and intellectual arguments
are definitely going to the wrong address when put to ignorant believers!
Isn't this an elitist analysis? Aren't I basically
saying that there are a few of us - and obviously I include myself in the
few - who are sufficiently intelligent and self aware to truly comprehend
what is going on, while the rest are a flock of mindless sheep led by a
bunch of mad mullahs?
No. First, they're not mindless and second,
they're not mad (I have to keep telling myself).
Nor are they "bad" - we've already spent 9
chapters rejecting such moral absolutes; we're hardly likely to
reintroduce them now just because we fundamentally disagree with and
disapprove of their behaviour. I've been wrestling with how to describe my
perception of their condition and position. It is very difficult to
approach such a problem objectively rather than emotionally.
Emotion is bound to be involved because, above
all, watching how they are fucking up our planet really makes me very very
angry. Certainly angry enough to have considerable insight into the minds
of Donald Rumsfeld, Pat Robertson or Usama Bin Laden. I too can feel my
own version of the blind rage that obviously powers their thought
processes. But I hope I am learning to control it and prevent it colouring
They clearly feel deeply threatened by me and "my
type". Not me personally, of course. They wouldn't know me from Adam.
Rather, they fear what I represent: the godless atheist trying to
undermine their religions in favour of a universe where human beings are
free to decide morality for themselves. For reasons they cannot fathom, I
and millions like me have obviously rejected their world view and decided
to think for ourselves - rejecting thousands of years of their acquired
We not only reject any attempt by them (or anyone
else) to tell us how to behave, We reject their right to tell other people
what to believe or how to behave - other than in the context of democratic
debate where we all have an equal right to present arguments and try to
win a consensus. We are clearly arrogant enough to believe that our own
powers of reason are equal or even superior to the divinity from whom they
believe they receive their instructions.
They, conversely, have been taught that such self
confidence is literally sinful (see point 5 of the "Statement of Faith"
below). Human beings are born deeply flawed and incapable of the deep
insights required to make such judgements. They have to be - like children
- under constant direction and supervision. You wouldn't allow the
children in a school to decide, democratically, who should be "headmaster"
and how the school should be run. It would be chaos and would impede the
purpose of the school; to impart an education.
Fundamentalist Christians, like their Islamic counterparts, believe that
all behavioural questions can be dealt with entirely by reference to their
dogma (see point 4 of the same statement) but don't dare argue that
strongly for the control of society itself, at least not in public; but
any objective examination of their declarations, behaviour and attitudes
clearly reveals that this is their wider agenda. The Islamic
Fundamentalists are more honest in this respect than their Christian
counterparts. They openly oppose democracy and advocate religious rule for
precisely these reasons. The masses need to be taught how to behave and
led by wiser leaders in full accord with the divine word. They cannot be
permitted the freedom to decide for themselves.
Given the existing constraints of what passes for
western democracy, what then, can Christian Fundamentalists do to wrestle
control back from the masses? Well, "if you can't beat them, join them"
seems to be their current strategy. It seems to have its roots in the "Manifesto of the Christian Church"
drafted by the "Coalition on Revival" in 1986 (and to which our friend Dr
Duane Gish was a prominent signatory). This lays out the theological
strategy which dovetails rather neatly with the Neocon strategy we
described in Part 1. It is well worth reading as a classic example of
social psychosis and mutual reinforcement. But the key passage in this
context comes at the foot of page 7.
After asking for our (yes OUR - as in those of us
who have not yet bent our knee to Jesus) forgiveness for a number of their
failures (like being such poor examples of Christ's love that we have
rejected both Him and them) they ask us to:
"Forgive us for failing
to occupy our proper position as servants in the affairs of law,
government, economics, business, education, media, the arts, medicine,
and Science as the Creator's salt and light to the world, so that these
spheres of life might offer you more help, justice, hope, peace and
Looking around at what they've achieved in the
past 10 years, it looks like they're doing their level best to atone for
that particular failure. For a start, they've moved into the sciences.
Hence the "Intelligent Design" movement and their naive attempts at
subverting science, particularly "Evolutionism" and modern Cosmology. They
have also put significant resources into a long term attempt to infiltrate
the political and legal processes as we'll see below, but before we get
there, it is worth pausing to ask the question:
Why does Evolution matter so much to the
To begin with, as many mainstream monotheists have
been content to note, the Theory of Evolution does nothing to rule out the
existence of their God. Such theists simply argue that Evolution is the
mechanism He employed. Not so with fundamentalists. Their resistance
suggests that even if an indisputable god showed up and appeared,
personally, to every person on the planet in whatever form they could cope
with; announced his godliness, perhaps apologised for any confusion he may
have been responsible for and promptly declared the implementation of
personalised paradise and omortality (that's "optional mortality" - you
can live as long as you still think its a good idea) for all...
...then, unless he performed precisely as the
fundamentalists prescribe, I am sure that at least half of them would
promptly denounce him (and it had better be a "him" or else) as a
blasphemer and charlatan. If, for example, he revealed that, "yes, well
done mankind, you figured out quite cleverly (for a primate) how I shaped
the universe with the laws of physics and evolution" the fundamentalists
would go ballistic - even if this was indisputably coming directly from
the deity himself.
Why? Given that they'd have concrete proof of god,
why would they still want to oppose evolution?
Because, I suggest, unless that god confirms,
without exception, that the description of how he created the universe as
laid down in the bible is accurate, then though they'd win on the
existence of god, they'd lose on the validity of the bible; and the
validity of the bible has become a far more important issue to them than
the exact nature of any prospective deity. This from the "Manifesto":
A. The Church Must
Learn What is Reality
1. Inerrancy of the Bible
We affirm that the
original manuscripts ol the Old and New Testaments of the Bible were so
inspired by God, that the human authors wrote the exact words and
sentences God inspired them to write without misrepresenting God,
history or the created world in any way. What the Bible says, God says.
Why so insistent on such doctrinaire nonsense?
Because what they are primarily concerned with is
controlling social behaviour in strict accordance with their biblically
derived prejudices. Undermine the authority of that source, by showing
that its description of creation and evolution is, at best, a naive
attempt by a prescientific society to explain mysteries beyond their
comprehension - but no longer beyond ours - and you remove all basis for
taking seriously many of the behavioural guides contained therein. And with that goes all basis for religious control of
society. That is what is at stake. That is why they fight so hard to
challenge science with their own naive attempts at subversion.
And it's not good enough - for them anyway - for
us to point out that we'd still be happy to sign up to - oh I dunno, say -
70%? of the Bible's rules; because they are often common sense or deeply
humane ways to behave and would easily attract an appropriate consensus.
We particularly like many of the recommendations made by the Nazarene. We
don't, for example, have a problem with "Love thine enemy/neighbour" or
"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone". And we quite like the
subversive ambiguity of "Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's". It
As we discuss in more detail below, "Thou Shalt
Not Kill" is a damn fine aspiration and we should all strive to get as
close to it as we can, and as early as we can. Every death we cause is a
defeat for that goal.
Not good enough!
For them, it must, by their definition, be all or
nothing. Glory or Death.
Given the obvious irrationality of that position,
it is not easy to see on what basis we can negotiate or reason with the
people who share this mindset. This is the fundamental basis of the global
problem we are now in the midst of. We're dealing with seriously psychotic
people. Not stupid though...
In line with the "Manifesto", as we presaged
above, their modern and more sophisticated approach seems to be based on
Trotsky style Entryism. What some claim as their
more recent master plan appears to be outlined by the so called "Wedge Strategy" (local)
apparently "leaked" (or at least publicised) to the web in 1999. These are
its declared goals:
(Wedge Strategy) Governing Goals
* To defeat scientific
materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political
* To replace materialistic
explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan
beings are created by God.
* To see intelligent
design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific
research being done from the perspective of design theory.
* To see the beginning of the influence of design
theory in spheres other than natural science.
To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal and personal
responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda.
* To see intelligent
design theory as the dominant perspective in science.
* To see design theory application in specific
fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics
and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics,
theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its innuence in the
* To see design theory permeate our
religious, cultural, moral and political life.
They've already got a few scientists beavering
away on the "Intelligent Design" project, most recently highlighted by the
cover story (subscription required) of New
Scientist 9 July 2005. But they also need to try to subvert the political
process. How? By training a cadre of potential leadership candidates who
can join the ranks of the support teams and eventual leadership candidates
in the hub of Western power, the streets of Washington DC. For precisely
this purpose, in an example of the effects of the fundamentalist revival
sweeping the United States - also exemplified by the election of a "born
again" President - they have recently (late 90s) established an elite
"conservative college", not far from Washington, where one of the
conditions of joining is that students sign a statement that they fully
accept the creationist (and "Manifesto") starting point - a literal belief
in the teachings of the bible.
Bob Jones University was founded in 1927 to
shelter good Christian folk (or their children) from the dangers of
secular education. But its principle aim (cached)
is to train students for a "lifetime of service to Christ" and most of
them enter "Christian Ministries". In contrast "Patrick Henry College" is
America's first university established for this overtly "entryist"
purpose, again, mainly to service home schooled evangelical Christians -
the ones removed from the pernicious public school system by their parents
because the public system exposed their children to far too much secular
nonsense! They're completely up front about their mission, vision and Statement of
Faith: (and it doesn't disagree by a jot or tittle with the aims of
The Mission of Patrick
Henry College is to prepare Christian men and women who will lead our
nation and shape our culture with timeless biblical values and fidelity
to the spirit of the American founding...
The Vision of Patrick
Henry College is to aid in the transformation of American society by
training Christian students to serve God and mankind with a passion for
righteousness, justice and mercy, through careers of public service and
Statement of Faith
The College is, and
shall always remain, a Christian institution dedicated to bringing honor
and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ in all of its activities. Each
Trustee, officer, faculty member and student of the College, as well as
such other employees and agents of the College as may be specified by
resolution of the Board of Trustees, shall fully and enthusiastically
subscribe to the following Statement of Faith:
1. There is one God,
eternally existent in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy
2. God is Spirit, and
those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.
3. Jesus Christ, born
of a virgin, is God come in the flesh.
4. The Bible in its
entirety (all 66 books of the Old and New Testaments) is the inspired
word of God, inerrant in its original autographs, and the only
infallible and sufficient authority for faith and Christian
5. Man is by nature
sinful and is inherently in need of salvation, which is exclusively
found by faith alone in Jesus Christ and His shed blood.
6. Christ's death
provides substitutionary atonement for our sins.
7. Personal salvation
comes to mankind by grace through faith.
8. Jesus Christ
literally rose bodily from the dead.
9. Jesus Christ
literally will come to earth again in the Second Advent.
10. Satan exists as a
personal, malevolent being who acts as tempter and accuser, for whom
Hell, the place of eternal punishment, was prepared, where all who die
outside of Christ shall be confined in conscious torment for
Not much room for doubt there! (in any sense)
They're happily training themselves to come to our rescue. Just what we
all need. More religion.
course, religious fundamentalists aren't the only ones who regard Society
as being in desperate need of their supervision, protection and guidance.
It is a common feature of secular tyrannies too. The only advantage of
dealing with a secular control freak is that, ultimately, they are
slightly more amenable to reason. They will, of course, try to manipulate
the facts and control media presentation of them, but it becomes
impossible, eventually, to tell - for example - 350 million Eastern Bloc
citizens that they are materially better off and more secure than their
The grinding incompetence of their system
inevitably resulted in economic and political collapse. They still haven't
quite figured out what to put in its place, but at least they've come to
terms with the fact that they were living a lie for the best part of 60
bigots, on the other hand, have literally had millennia rather than mere
decades of conditioning and meme reinforcement. As a result they are
peculiarly immune to logic and evidence which challenges or refutes their
beliefs. What takes the secular psychotic 60 years to face up to, requires
centuries for the religious mindset to adapt to. The catholic church
eventually admitted they'd mistreated Galileo, for example, more than 300
years after they persecuted him for daring to support Copernicus with
Which illustrates the point that we're not just
talking about their approach to religious belief. If it were only their
religious beliefs at issue, they would be a harmless bunch of well meaning
cranks and the world would not be in the perilous state it is. The problem
is that they bring the same irrational psychological process to dealing
with real world issues that they use to justify their core religious
beliefs. After all, if it works for God, it must be good enough for
Whatever the source of their imagined authority,
the religious or secular controller has to address the question of who
gets to perform the necessary tasks of direction and supervision of those
of us clearly in need of their "help". They have to justify taking
control. On what basis are they better qualified to make the critical
ethical judgements on which the conduct of Society is based?
Here we used to have castes conditioned from birth
to believe they were born to govern. If they'd had the language they would
have argued that they were genetically superior to the common herd and
thus entitled, nay, obliged to govern. We've made some progress. There are
still a few people who think like that. But they rarely say it out loud
controllers come in two main flavours. Those who tolerate public dissent
and those who do not. We used to use a "Free Press" as a measure but that
is outdated. To qualify, in the 21st century, as a "dissent tolerator" the
relevant controllers must a) permit the levels of free expression which
allow unlimited criticism of themselves, their performance and their
philosophy to appear on the web where anyone with free access to the web
can read the criticism and b) permit the required free access to the web.
significance of that distinction is that we can't even begin to address
the populations controlled by those who don't tolerate dissent - their
controllers block access to our ideas. Obviously that means we can't do
much to influence the Chinese, for example, because - with Yahoo's help
(please see: Why you should
Boycott Yahoo) and the support of Microsoft (cached)
(and other ethically indifferent Western corporations) - the Chinese
people are barred from seeing most of what is on the web. About half the
human race are still lorded over by such self appointed or dynastically
derived Totalitarians. For whatever reason, they know best what is
required to maintain their internal social cohesion and this excludes
dissent and free debate.
Those who do still tolerate dissent (and are
thus, perhaps, amenable to our persuasion, or at least debate) are further
split between those who argue that they are qualified to control us by
virtue of being elected to govern - which
must, we presume, somehow improves their cognitive skills to the point
that they become capable of this great feat of practical and moral
judgement which remains forever beyond us mere unelected mortals: or, then
again, perhaps we elect them on the basis of their obvious intellectual gifts (sorry - couldn't
...and those who accept that they are, in fact, no
more qualified than anyone else to make judgements about my own life, but argue that they are acting on/with the authority of a supreme being
who is solely capable of making such judgements.
The principle flaw among the "elected to govern"
brigade is a stunted concept of democracy as we've discussed at various
points throughout this book and I don't intend to rehearse those arguments
here. Here I am concerned with straightforward "morality" issues, the more
direct "divine" attempts to answer the Third Question which are, it is
claimed, "revealed truths" derived directly from the Word of God. Let's
have a look at some of the behavioural guidance provided for us by the
Supreme Being. You'd expect it to be considerably more advanced than
anything we can come up with. Let's see if it stacks up...
The Ten Commandments
are the obvious focal point. They are the core of the Judaic Bible and
thus the core of the monotheist religions. It's really what the whole
thing is all about. They are the monotheist god's answer to the 3rd
question. And, for the most part, they're not an altogether bad answer. I
can defend 6 of the 10 as being in line
with Survival Based Ethics.
SBE, as you may have noticed, doesn't do
"commandments"; and it only has two "suggestions" (rather than "rules" -
since they're both entirely optional for any given individual). They are:
as widely and unselfishly as possible or reasonable in the
Promote and Pursue Pleasure and
2 Avoid or Minimise Pain.
In that link above we've measured the 10
Commandments against those two guidelines.
We're not discounting the later Christian
modifications to the rules of behaviour as documented in the new
Testament. We've already indicated that we don't have much difficulty
signing up to most of those. Indeed, I can't immediately think of one of Jesus' major
"rules" which I would take serious issue with. (There's bound to be
something. I'll have to take a look)
His promise of heavenly reward for those who
followed his guidance is a trifle optimistic and his conviction that he
was the direct descendant of the supreme being was a little more psychotic
than most of us seem to be, but it never caused him to harm others, so we
needn't be too concerned about it. What matters, surely, is what he had to
say about the 3rd Question. And, regardless of who he was, and whether or
not he performed any verifiable "miracles", and whether or not he was
resurrected 3 days after being ritually murdered by the State, what he has
to say about how to behave is pretty reasonable.
Fundamentalists seem to have a problem with the
acceptability of his message if it isn't backed up by divinity; as though
they would no longer agree that "turning the other cheek" or "Loving thy
neighbour" was such a good idea if it hadn't been said by a representative
of the supreme being. Why? How does the source of a proposition affect its
validity? The answer, of course, is as above, it comes back to the "All or
Nothing" approach. They can't defend their total social behaviour package
unless the authority of the bible is beyond doubt and that means that
nothing within it can be open to question.
In any case, our focus on the 10 Commandments is
because it is common to all three monotheistic religions.
The essence of SBE based examination of anyone
else's 3rd Question "morality" recommendations is to measure them against
how well they promote the pursuit of pleasure and/or how well they help to
avoid or minimise pain. It proves to be a very productive way of analysing
behavioural propositions. First, they should all boil down to propositions
promoting pleasure and/or escaping from pain. If we can't even manage
that, then we're probably not even dealing with a behavioural proposition.
(For example the very First Commandment - see the link above)
Assuming we have managed to recast the proposition
into SBE form, we can now test the validity of the proposition usually
with simple empirical or logical processes. And when analysed like that,
it becomes remarkably easy to identify the rather naive reasoning that
underpins much religious moralising. We went through all the Commandments
in that side link above. Let's just concentrate, for a moment on number 6.
Shalt Not Kill" is an easy edict to defend. Pain avoidance to the max. Its
SBE form would be something like:
1 Killing is the extreme end of the pain
2 Killing is thus a breach of the second
directive (Avoid or Minimise Pain)
Hence, "Thou Shalt Not Kill" fully conforms to SBE
and we would anticipate a complete consensus in its favour.
Surprisingly (or perhaps not), biblical
literalists seem not to have noticed that it's a bit sweeping. The
injunction is not limited. It doesn't, for example, say simply "don't kill
each other" or "don't kill other human beings". Unless, that is, its been
badly translated from the original hebrew which, to be fair, is claimed by some. This might be a fair point when
discussing the issue with those who are capable of reading the bible in
the original hebrew.
For the rest of us, however, on what basis are we
supposed to accept the validity of either the translation we read in the
standard non-hebrew bible or any alternative thrown up when we question
the validity of the translated version? It would mean we couldn't debate
any passage in the bible until we've had a peer reviewed assessment of the
various possible translations.
Meanwhile, our common experience is that the
average Christian Fundamentalist doesn't think twice about lashing out in
moral outrage whilst quoting, without any such peer review, the
translation they favour. And, in the translations most Christrians favour,
the injunction is crystal clear, unequivocal and absolute. "Thou Shalt Not
Kill". Which clearly means we are instructed not to kill anything at all.
Which would make life itself rather difficult. Even vegans kill most of
what they eat.
Only when we challenge its comprehensiveness are
we going to get anyone defending it through the "bad translation"
argument. Not only does this then expose all other edicts to possible
translation flaws but it skates over a much more important point. Why
shouldn't the injunction be absolute? SBE certainly doesn't have a problem
with it, as we illustrated above. If you need to make exceptions for
practical reasons then each such exception constitutes a behavioural
proposition in its own right. Recast them as SBE propositions and see how
they stack up.
For example, we feel obliged to exclude the
killing of plant life because it is the basis of the food chain and we
need to eat to live. The SBE propositions?
Without food, we'll die. (Maximum pain, breach
of second directive)
Killing plants to feed us will prevent our pain
at the expense of theirs
Plants pain is less severe than our own
Thus killing plants to sustain us results in an
overall reduction in pain.
The only contentious proposition is the third one.
1 is obviously true and there is already a large body of empirical data to
support it. 2 is uncontentious. We can live on plants. That would minimise
our pain. But it still leaves the plant pain. Number 3, however, is an
animal prejudice (which I share). We have no idea whether the plants we
kill to eat are suffering even more than we do when we starve to death. We
have some evidence that maltreatment of plants cause suffering of a sort -
not least because they too can die. But we have no means of ascertaining
the extent or quality of that suffering. We can and do make a number of
assumptions which may or may not be reasonable. For example, we can see
that although plants are capable of transmitting some information from one
part to another they have nothing approaching the complexity of an animal
nervous system. It seems reasonable to me (definitely not expert in the
field) that the less complex plant "nerve" system is inevitably less able
to transmit all potential pain/damage indicators than an animal system. It
seems reasonable to extend that to the conclusion that its overall ability
to experience pain and suffering is similarly reduced in comparison to the
animal model. As far as I know, though, no serious empirical analysis has
"proved" such a conclusion to be valid. Logically, therefore, we probably
ought to confirm that conclusion with appropriate experimentation. It is
unlikely to be made any kind of priority, however, as the assumption is
probably universally held and nobody would want to allocate resource to
the necessary research. So, pragmatically, we'll note the absence of
empirical data and equally note the consensus already exists as to the
likely outcome of empirical tests. Obviously, if the assumption is true,
then all four propositions are also true and we've justified the exception
of Plant Life from the "Thou Shalt Not Kill" rule
Doesn't get us completely off the hook though. OK,
for a given human population, we can justify the humane slaughter of a
certain volume of plant life. We still have to concede that even if
minimal, compared to animal suffering, plant death must involve some
suffering. We are still, therefore, obliged, by SBE, to do what we can to
minimise it. And one obvious way to minimise it is to minimise the human
population that causes the suffering. Now, obviously, that doesn't mean
killing humans to save plants. We've just agreed that human suffering
outweighs plant suffering. But it does imply that we shouldn't add to the
burden we already represent. Unless, that is, you wish to consider another
set of SBE propositions:
Human lives are much richer and more rewarding
than plant lives.
So much so that the net increase in pleasure
represented by human lives outweighs the pain and suffering caused by
the death of the plant life required to sustain those lives.
This justifies actively raising and killing
plant life in optimal circumstances just to promote widespread human
We call it Agriculture. And again, there is
already a very obvious near universal consensus that this proposition set
is also true. Thus we cannot and, generally, do not make an argument that
human population should be limited for the benefit of plants.
The priest protests. We are getting into far too
much detail. There is no real debate about whether we should eat plants to
"He didn't mean it that literally"
Well why did he bloody well say it like that then
- or why did humans translate it like that? The "Manifesto" forcefully
reminds us that they were his exact
the human authors wrote
the exact words and sentences God inspired them to write without
It doesn't mention bad translations. So, couldn't
he spare the extra handful of syllables that would let us off the hook and
allow us to kill enemies, sinners, animals, vegetables etc? No, there is
simply no reason to ignore the obvious. The monotheist god is infallible,
by their own definition, and thus was obviously sympathetic to the
Bhuddist line and meant exactly what he said. "Thou Shalt Not Kill".
(Presumably even the Bhuddha must have felt guilty as he murdered his
daily hemp seed.)
Only a human (uninspired by god) would have been
fallible enough to make the assumption, when issuing such an edict, that
his audience would understand that the injunction applied only to the
killing of other people (except enemies, adulterers, blasphemers,
murderers, rapists etc). So either it means what it says, or it was
written (or later translated) by a fallible and uninspired human. Guess
which I believe. (For a wider investigation of the consequences of belief
in the literal truth of the bible, start here)(cached)
More importantly though, and despite its obvious
human rather than divine authorship, I have no quarrel with the absolute
injunction. In other words, even if the original instruction, properly
translated only means "Do Not Murder Other Human Beings", I still prefer
the more ethically absolute "Cause No Death". Granted, at the moment, some
death is necessary to sustain our own lives, so it's not 100% achievable,
for the time being, any more than perfection in any other field. Granted
also that causing death might, in some situations, be the most humane and
moral action - because it avoids prolonged pain. Nevertheless, as a moral
target it is fully in line with my SBE aspirations.
Until we become a digital species we will probably
remain dependant on organic food sources which entails some degree of
regrettable killing. But "Cause No Death" is a perfectly reasonable
ethical aspiration and it is not inconsistent to apply it as a standard in
public and private life. The degree to which we meet the aspiration is
obviously inversely proportional to the amount of killing we are
responsible for. One of my favourite cliches applies: "Don't let the
perfect be the enemy of the good." Minimising death is always better than
failing to curtail it altogether. And it doesn't require tortured logic to
justify the occasionally killing which remains necessary to feed us.
in fact only one lifestyle fully compatible with "Thou Shalt Not Kill" (in
the absolute "Cause No Death" sense). It is not vegan or vegetarianism
(vegetables are alive too - before we eat them - as this
site is dedicated to reminding us.). It is to become a pure carrion
eater and only to eat that which has, regrettably, already been killed by
other agencies before we get to it. So rotting meat, fruit and veg are
clearly what the deity had in mind for us when he issued that edict.
Fortunately for modern society - in which most of us ARE carrion eaters
(when did you last kill your own meat or harvest your own fruit and veg?)
- refrigeration spares us the odors and infections that would otherwise
accompany that lifestyle. And, of course, buying dead meat from a
supermarket doesn't really absolve you from "Thou Shalt Not Kill" - we're
just paying someone else to perform the sin on our behalf.
From there on, however, it becomes more
problematic. Can we justify killing animals just to provide clothing, for
example? Not really. We have perfectly adequate synthetics which perform
all the necessary functions required to provide more than adequate
clothing, so we don't even "need" to sacrifice the cotton plant.
other animals for food is much more difficult to justify. Speaking as an
occasional carnivore and full time carrion eater (carnivores and carrion
eaters are both meat eaters, but only the carnivore does the actual
killing) I find it impossible to justify my own behaviour ethically. I can
explain it but that in no way justifies it. I've tried being a vegetarian,
even vegan, for three years and it was the most boring dietary period of
someone who loves cooking and eating, food is one of my greatest sensual
pleasures. Ultimately I have reverted to meat for pleasure. I do it fully
conscious of the pain and suffering that entails. I have hunted, killed,
dressed and eaten my own meat. I have attended abbatoirs and watched the
cattle and sheep having their throats slit after being stunned and hung
upside down. I have watched their hides being expertly stripped from them
before the last twitches of their lives have ended. I have watched and
listened to the pigs screaming in terror because, unlike the sheep and
cattle, they are intelligent enough to figure out what is about to happen
not one of those who thinks that ribeye steaks and lamb chops come
painlessly and neatly wrapped from supermarkets. I regret eating meat. I
regret the fact that there are still no really acceptable alternatives. As
soon as someone can give me a non animal based steak which I can't tell
from the real thing and which does no nutritional harm (and it might well
be on its way) (cached),
I'll switch. Until then I'll remain a hypocritical meat eater.
Killing animals for clothing is even less
defensible. I can accept leather if it is the byproduct of slaughter for
meat. If we've already killed the animal to eat it, we might as well use
its hide as well. But fur farming? That's obscene! The idea of breeding
and killing animals which we can't even eat just because they have
attractive fur might have been justifiable when we lived in caves but not
in the age of polymers.
of the most difficult ethical issues of all is the question of killing
animals in pursuit of medical research designed to benefit human beings.
Why? In what way is killing for medical research any different, in
principle, from killing for food? There are two answers to that - for me
personally. Whether they can be justified as ethical principles is for you
to judge. My first reservation is the degree of suffering.
When animals are killed for food, the death is
usually quick and relatively painless. In contrast, many research animals
are deliberately exposed to treatment or pathogens which give them a
lingering death in captivity. It doesn't matter whether that lingering
death takes minutes or months, it is different, in degree, from the
efficient despatch carried out by an abbatoir. It fails the "minimise
My second reservation concerns the kind of animals
we are prepared to kill in the research context. Having once developed a
relationship with the kids' pet rat (sadly now deceased) I am well aware
that even this relatively lowly mammal has an active intelligence. It was
certainly capable of recognising me (as distinct from strangers) and
showing that it was pleased to see me. It would seek me out to play with
it. It would laugh when I teased it. When it was tired, it would climb up
on to my lap for a nap. It had a very distinct personality. In contrast to
a number of hamsters we also went through - which, with the best will in
the world, cannot be described as demonstrating any remotely similar level
Ever since that experience, I have been disturbed
by the ubiquity of the laboratory rat. These animals are very definitely
capable of feeling both pleasure and pain and we routinely subject them to
death and suffering by the thousand and often for somewhat dubious
purposes, such as the testing of cosmetics.
hardly surprising, given my feelings for the humble rat, that, for me, the
idea of experiments leading to death or suffering of animals even higher
up the intellectual ladder is truly horrific. In my experience, most
pet-owners would react like me. If I found someone causing deliberate harm
to one of my own dogs or cats, I would do whatever it took to stop them,
up to and including killing them. Granted, I wouldn't be prepared to go
quite that far if it was someone else's pet, but I'd certainly be prepared
to use violence to some extent if that's what it took to prevent the harm.
therefore, should I be at all tolerant of labs routinely performing
experiments on thousands of cats or dogs? And given that attitude, why am
I not campaigning alongside the ALF and petrol bombing research labs?
Well partly it's because, right now, there are
approximately 10 million human beings undergoing similarly unjustified
suffering at the hands of their fellow humans and I can't do much about
them either - other than what I am doing right now; get this damn book
written and do my bit to try to change the memes. I'm not about to let
myself get distracted into a single issue campaign. In the scheme of
things, stopping MIFT and preventing the growth and
spread of the Police
State are far more important issues than preventing unnecessary
cruelty to cats and dogs, regrettable though that is.
Partly also, it's because there is already a
pretty active and effective "Animal Rights Movement" who are doing well
enough without my humble assistance.
Partly it is because I disapprove of tactics which
cause harm to 3rd parties except in a genuine war to the death where it is
"kill or be killed". We are certainly not in that situation in regard to
abuse of animals.
And partly I accept that it is not an unmitigated
evil because there is no serious doubt that many human lives are being
saved as a direct result of some of the research going on, and I can't
entirely ignore that benefit. Dogs and cats, though, are about as far as
I'm prepared to concede.
comes to primates, therefore, particularly the higher primates, I find it
very difficult to argue against the militant action of the Animal
Liberation Front. The evidence strongly suggests that chimp and orang
intelligence is approximately at the level of a 3-4 year old human. Would
we permit experimentation on 3-4 year old children? I think not.
We are dragged into relativism by this issue.
There are those who regard human beings as so vastly more important than
any and every other animal that they would be prepared, for example, to
sacrifice every remaining Orang Utan if it meant saving a single human. I
certainly do not share that view. In most situations, given a choice
between saving a single Orang and a single human, I'll choose the human.
But there are some humans I would certainly not choose in place of the
Orang. I'm sure you can think of a few yourself.
And what if the choice is between 2 orangs and a
single human? I'd probably still go for the human. But what if its 20
orangs, or 200, or 2000 (which is probably all that remain in the world)?
I'd have little difficulty choosing between the Orang species and a single
human - particularly if I didn't know the human. I'd save the species. The
difficult area - for me - lies between 1 orang and the entire species. I
acknowledge, though, that for some people no such grey area exists, they
would be prepared to eliminate the species for the sake of a single human.
I probably ought to be attempting a calculus which
determines how many cats or rats are equivalent to a single Orang but I
feel a difference in principle between the lower order mammals and those
who are nearer our intelligence. I'm not sure I can even justify it.
Emotionally I find the idea of holding captive any
animal capable of self awareness, (to, say, mirror recognition standard)
other than for its own protection, to be abhorrent. Where I merely regret
eating meat, I draw the line at causing sustained suffering (which even
friendly captivity must cause to a sapient being) to animals capable of
introspection. These obviously include the great apes and almost certainly
several species of cetaceans. And, of course, humans.
Keeping an Orca or Dolphin in large swimming pool
is roughly equivalent to keeping a man in an 8 by 6 prison cell. The
plentiful supply of fresh fish is not much of a compensation.
concern is roughly proportional to the intelligence of the species. I have
no philosophical basis for this, merely the queasiness of knowing that the
higher the mental abilities, the more likely it is that the captive animal
will suffer in the same way I would in their situation. As we approach
that point, and the animals intelligence gets closer to my own, I feel
increasingly constrained by the "golden rule" (reciprocity - "do as you
would be done by")
I perceive Life as spread out across a spectrum of
intelligence and their ethical or moral value being, like my concern,
roughly proportional to their intelligence. For others, particularly the
religiously inclined for whom mankind is inherently a species of unique
value of a different kind, no such spectrum exists. Even one human is of
greater moral import than any number of the "lower animals".
"Relativism" is clearly an important topic in its
own right but I don't want to spend too much time on that issue here. I'll
deal with it as a side issue here. And a "game" here.
the above digression illustrates anything more than my tendency to ramble
it is this: one of the fundamental misconceptions the theist holds in
regard to atheism is that we atheists are somehow not capable of moral
judgement because we don't believe in a deity. I suspect that those few
theists who read the comments above, regarding the potential sanctity of
life of "lesser" species will have to concede, even if they disagree with
my conclusions, that my "morality" is actually more stringent, at least on
the issues surrounding the 6th commandment, than their own.
contrast, it requires a deeply tortured logic - fully consistent with
clinical psychosis - to reconcile "Thou Shalt Not Kill" with flying loaded
passenger planes into heavily occupied tall buildings. And no less
tortured is the logic which has been deployed since to justify the
military carnage euphemistally minimised as "collateral damage" but which
has efficiently killed somewhere between 10 and 40 times as many innocent
non combatants as were killed by the airplane hijackers.
Remember the question I asked above? (Are They Lying
Stupid or Blind?) After all this discussion, my tentative conclusion
is that they're not lying. Neither are they stupid. They are blind or
"philosophically challenged". They lack the understanding of epistemology
and empiricism which would guide them to intelligent analysis. The
cognitive dissonance between the real world and the world they aspire to
results in the psychosis I've already described
They're not balmy, they're bigots, they're not
peccant, they're prejudiced. Big difference. Some very intelligent people
are deeply prejudiced.
Incidentally, I'm not claiming that my
self-assessed higher level of objectivity is itself either objectively
true, or, even if true, that it justifies some special rights or
treatment. It is more about recognising the scale of the task we're up
against. Simplistically (i.e. in media terms) there are three sides to the
"War on Terror" - The Neocons with their religious and political poodles;
MIFT and their support base; and the rest of us who wish "a plague on both
your houses". Most people will line up behind one of those flags. Strange
as it may seem, I oppose all of them (even the last which I'm obviously a
member of!), to some extent and sympathise with all of them to some
One of my self appointed tasks, for example, is to
explain to my own group (the "plague on both houses" group) that there are
some demands or policies followed by the psychotics on both the other
sides which can actually be defended. For instance, I will - in Part 3 -
(to some extent) defend, in principle, given the circumstances following
9-11, the need for something like Guantanamo. I will also be heavily
critical of the Americans' brutal and bullying conduct but the principle
itself is defensible. It's how we normally treat Prisoners of War. If the
Americans had stuck to those rules they would have avoided one of their
many self inflicted wounds.
That might place me in a very small minority. I
don't feel that this minority is, in any way, an elite. If anything, I
feel "exposed". The only comfort I can take is that my target audience is
somewhat more likely to give me a fair hearing than the fundamentalists
Incidentally, one might ask, if arguing with
prejudiced ignorant believers is a waste of time, does that imply that
those sites and scientists which go to extraordinary lengths to counter
the creationists naive nonsense are also wasting their time? Absolutely
not. It may be a waste of time trying to educate someone like Duane Gish,
but there are millions - potentially billions - of newly forming minds who
are confused by the evolutionary debate and it is desperately important
that they have access to authoritative peer reviewed intelligent rebuttals
of the masses of "bad science" out there.
Similarly, is it a waste of time trying to make
intellectual arguments about how to address Neocon behaviour? If they
can't or won't understand what we have to say, what's the point? Partly
it's the same answer. For the sake of the uncommitted who are trying to
make sense of what the hell is going on with the world. They are
desperately seeking signs of sanity. Hopefully we can provide some oases
in the desert. Most important, perhaps, between us, we can offer some hope
that there is a way out of this mess. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
That's what Part 3 is all about.
Right now I simply want to emphasise just how
serious the implications of their egregious errors are. I assume I no
longer have to rehearse what those errors are. If you've come this far,
you'll be fully prepared to accept that the Neocons and Religious Right
have made one or two errors. The
point I've been labouring is that those obvious errors present us with
only two basic choices: they are either lying or ignorant/blind believers
(or possibly, as my wife points out, a mixture). Whichever is true,
the conclusion that the leadership of the world's remaining superpower
consists of either liars and/or ignorant believers presents a dramatically
more dangerous problem than anything MIFT represents. (Update 18
Nov 2005: See my Blog)
And I've already made it clear, I hope, just how
potentially dangerous MIFT still are. In fact, however, one could argue
that the most dangerous aspect of MIFT is the effect it is already having
on the leadership of that remaining superpower. It is fuelling an already
dangerous psychosis. Jeez, these people have access to the largest
stockpile of "nukuler" weapons on the planet. The last thing we need to do
is persuade them to "flip"!
So how - short of nuclear conflagration - do the
dangers manifest themselves?
The US has a deeply ingrained tendency to over-react
to all its perceived threats. It also has a remarkably low ability to
learn from its own history and mistakes. It's response to the attacks of
9-11 has clearly demonstrated these weaknesses. It might be emotionally
satisfying if we could just pin this behaviour on the Neocons, but it's a
consistent feature of American political judgements throughout most of the
20th century. The history of prohibition of both Alcohol and Drugs is the
most unremitting example. McCarthyism, Vietnam, Kent State University and
the continued blockade of Cuba, even after the end of the Cold War are
just as psychotic. The Clinton/Lewinski episode, the OJ Simpson trial, and
the row over Janet Jackson's nipple demonstrated to the world at large
just how psychologically unbalanced the "superpower" is. The Neocons are
not the cause, they are a symptom.
Part of the problem is - ironically - the American
Constitution. It was designed to clip the wings of potential tyrants and,
if applied as intended, it would do that far too efficiently for those who
believe that firm control is more important than the will of the people.
So what the elite have been doing over the past century or so is gradually
introducing laws, institutions, judges, media ownership and - "some say" -
a permanent state of threat and fear; in which the anti-authoritarian
provisions of the constitution can be made to look like weaknesses and
thus legitimately suspended or bypassed by the caring concerned
leadership. That is obviously a crude summary. For the detail, read
Chomsky et al. The important point is that the Neocons are the product of
this engineering. As is the remarkably low political IQ of the American
public. The media have successfully prevented the vast majority of their
population from thinking seriously about what is really going on in their
It is a tribute to that "weak" constitution, that
people like Chomsky are still able to a) uncover the truths he reveals b)
disseminate them and c) stay alive. There are no other countries with the
authoritarian streak rampant in the American psyche who also tolerate free
spirits like Chomsky in their midst. But let no one be under any illusion.
Although America is still in the camp of the "Dissent Tolerators", this is
only because their controllers haven't yet figured out how to sell the
blocking of dissent as being consistent with the "First Amendment" to that
weak constitution. It also helps, in Chomsky's case, that he achieved an
international reputation (for his politically neutral work on linguistics)
well before he gained a similar reputation for his attacks on the
corruption inherent in the American system. He was also fortunate that he
came to prominence relatively shortly after the demise of McCarthyism.
Short of assassination it left the authorities no real way to gag him
without bringing international opprobrium and major loss of face.
McCarthyism, of course is a classic
example of their tendency to disproportionate responses and was not
dissimilar to the Soviet and Maoist treatment of their internal
dissidents, though, to be fair, somewhat less lethal.
The current and ongoing attack on Liberty and
Privacy, triggered by 9-11, has probably finally justified the description
of America as a Police State. As you may have already noticed, I have
created a separate
page dealing with that issue, which in turn links to several dozen of
the most coherent arguments I can find, mostly supporting the proposition
(that the USA is already a Police State), some opposing it (or arguing
that the authoritarian measures are necessary) and some arguing that it
hasn't yet arrived but is clearly moving in that direction.
What is particularly disappointing about America
(given its revolutionary origins) is that the authoritarian tendency is
not limited to the corridors of power. Like we see in other repressive
regimes, the abuse of power is visible all the way down the greasy pole.
Consider some of the insanity we've seen practised, since 1999, by petty
tyrants in the school system: under the heading "Zero
Tolerance". Like terrorism, there is no denying that there is a real
problem (school based violence) to deal with, and, like their policy on
terrorism, their schools policy has produced far more problems than they
started with - and cannot be conclusively shown to have resolved any along
Prohibition of Alcohol in the 20s was the first
large scale example of their fundamentalist lunacy. The "War on Drugs" -
which has mirrored, with stunning precision, all the mistakes, lies,
corruption, exacerbation and complete failure of Alcohol prohibition -
remains far and away the major example of intransigence, combined with
intolerance and zero intelligence, but we deal with that in detail in the
American body politic and many of its supporters, to put it mildly, lack
subtlety! The common thread to these policies is the complete absence of
"common sense". What is alarming is the extent to which the perpetrators
of the outlandish decisions based on these policies will, in even the most
egregious breaches of civil behaviour, insist on defending them. They will
- for decades if necessary - simply deny the reams of evidence describing
the inhumanity and utter failure of their policies. When, occasionally,
they are forced to confront such failures, their inevitable response is
not that the policy needs revision but that it needs reinforcement. Theirs
is the opposite of the engineer's mantra: "If it aint broke, don't fix
it". They prefer: "If it aint working, we must need more of the same".
Failure is never acknowledged and thus, of course, no-one is ever
accountable for the policies or their inevitable ultimate failures.
They're all "just following orders".
I acknowledge that the use of terms like "group
insanity" or "social sychosis" are emotive - but if that kind of
consistent behaviour cannot be described in those terms, then we clearly
need some new terms to describe it!
The Financial Costs
Before we turn, finally, to the consequences of this
gross mismanagement, lets take a fleeting look at what is being spent to
promote the current world war. To begin with, let's just pause and
consider how many deaths have been caused by terrorism since 1990 and then
look at how many deaths have been caused by our response to terrorism.
First, take a guess. Given the turmoil caused by global terrorism, how
many victims do you think have died as a result of terrorist attacks
since, say, 1990? Millions? Hundreds of Thousands? Tens of Thousands?
Thousands? Hundreds? Well no one is going to guess "hundreds" given that
we can all remember 9-11 which, we all know, killed thousands on its own.
My own guess was about 12,000. The best answer I
can find is by adding up all the figures you'll find here (cached)
and in its related links. I adopted some simple rules. I didn't count
attacks on military targets. I tried to exclude the deaths of the
terrorist attackers. The totals I arrived at were 1273 for the 1990s and
6,539 from 2000 to 2004, a total of 7812 in 15 years. Al Qaeda are
attributed almost exactly half of that total (3,913) and nearly 3000 of
those died in the single attack we refer to as 9-11.
These 7,812 are the total deaths caused by
terrorism during that 15 year period around the world. A little over 500 a
lets put that into perspective. That 15 year
total of 7,812 is about as many people as were killed by Aspirin type drugs (NSAIDs) in the
United States in the year 2000. It's roughly two thirds of the number of
Americans killed by other Americans using
guns in the year 2002. It's about as many people as are killed in road
traffic accidents, in the United States, every 10 or 11 weeks. (same
Why are those comparisons relevant?
how much money, time and effort are put into reducing deaths by those
various causes. In fact I challenge the reader to find ANY national budget
dedicated to reducing death by Aspirin, firearms or road traffic. Against
that, the so called War on Terror has so far (June 2005) consumed a budget
in excess of $300 Billion dollars. (cached)
Presumably the official bottom line justification
for this spending is to reduce the death toll. So the first question is
what justifies the difference in concern over deaths caused by firearms
within the United States and those caused by other lethal weapons around
the world? What makes the US government willing to increase military
spending to approximately $25 million dollars
per death caused by terrorism while maintaining or reducing
budgets aimed at reducing deaths from other causes? Or, to put it another
way, assuming that their motivation is indeed to reduce deaths from all
causes, how many more deaths could they prevent, each year, if, as we've
already mentioned here, they
put just 20% of that funding towards tackling the malnutrition crisis in
the third world? (and what would be the knock on effects on reduced
recruitment for the terrorist cause? etc etc)
That's not my main point. It's obviously true but
in this context, the premature death by starvation of a few hundred
million 3rd world peasants is almost a side issue. The rest of the
civilised world could cough up the $40 billion required for that purpose
if they really gave a damn, which they obviously don't.
point I'm making here is that, amongst other things, the War on Terrorism
is just another American over-reaction. The grandmother and grandfather of
all panic measures. And, like most over-reactions, it has - as I've argued
extensively above - exacerbated rather than ameliorated the problem.
Again, it doesn't matter whether that was conspiracy or cockup. The
consequences for the world are the same.
When you are confronted with an unwanted fire,
it's generally not a good strategy to hose it down with petrol.
The Consequences of the War on Terror, Freedom
The consequences of their
gross over-reaction are what we are already living with today. These begin
with a massive amplification of the Risks. What began as a few hundred
initial Islamic Militants are now numbered in thousands. This in turn has
necessitated increased security throughout the world, particularly in the
main target areas - the United States and England (I say England rather
than Britain or UK because terrorists, whether Irish or Islamic, tend to
recognise that the source of the decisions they resent is very English
based. No Scottish or Welsh location has ever been targeted by
international terrorists. Yet)
The London Bombings
In the UK, as of July 7 2005, we now have to confront
the reality of home grown suicide bombers. (subject - at the time of
writing - to the possibility that they were duped into believing they were
delivering bombs that would explode later and didn't know that the timers
or other control signal would be activated when they were.) Although the
death toll was mercifully trivial by comparison with either 9-11 or 3-11,
the implications are profound.
It is amazing - one week after the bombing - to
witness how deep the state of denial is. The politicians are denying that
the attack had any connection with their policy on Iraq, Afghanistan or
what's going on in the Middle East. I listened to The Moral Maze on 13
July and endured Melanie Phillips (the nearest thing we have to an Ann
Coulter) ranting that the only reason for the attack was that the young
men were all religious fanatics. Meanwhile the Imams are denying that it
has anything at all to do with their religion - despite Irshad Manji's sterling attempts to get them to
open their eyes. Everybody is shocked and surprised.
My personal reaction was a mixture of resigned
disgust and mild relief that the death toll was below 3 figures. I've been
anticipating some form of attack since we invaded Iraq and I expected
something considerably worse than what we have, so far, suffered. I was
certainly not surprised. I didn't even shed a tear. It didn't hit me
emotionally until I watched the BBC Ten Oclock News footage covering the 2
minute silence held one week later. The dignified scenes of people all
over the country visibly "standing up to be counted" - with absolutely no
commentary was one of the most moving collages I've ever seen. And
allowing the Bus Driver - George Psaradakis (cached)
- to represent the Voice of Britain was sheer editorial genius. This was
TV News doing its job properly. (From both his name and accent, I would
guess that George is a first generation Greek immigrant. Not feeling it
necessary to comment on that was all part of what made it such a fitting
media choice for our multicultural society)
Back at Ground Zero; the political and religious
links are obvious. The sense of injustice felt by many Muslims is even
shared by non Muslims. Me for one. I can fully understand why some Muslims
would feel angry enough to attack the UK for its support of the USA in
what they perceive as a War against Islam. The motivation for the attack
is no mystery at all. The mystery, if any, is why so many people are
trying so hard to resist such an obvious conclusion. Its another classic
SBO. The self-delusion emphasises
the importance of the provocative question I asked above (Are They Lying,
Stupid or Blind?). It is just as relevant to those in denial this side of
It is rarely this easy to prove that politicians
We can thank the New York Times
for the clincher. (cached)
Someone leaked a confidential report to them in which the Joint Terrorist
Analysis Center (the peak of the UK's security pyramid) gave the
background to the historically unimportant decision to lower the UK threat
level about a month before the bombings. It was unimportant because no
credible case can be made that this decision increased risk or reduced the
probability of interdicting the bombers. What is important, however, is
that the report contains a glaring admission which flatly contradicts the
frenzied denials being made regarding any link to Iraq:
"Events in Iraq are
continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist
related activity in the U.K.," said the report, a copy of which was made
available by a foreign intelligence service and was not disputed by four
senior British officials who were asked about it.
I suppose the politicians could deny that they had
the faintest idea that their security experts were of this opinion but
that would involve such an admission of gross government incompetence that
we can reasonably exclude the possibility. Note, incidentally, the use of
the word "continuing" which implies that this is not a new notion.
I'm guessing that the reason for this pathetic
attempt to steer the public away from the obvious truth is that any cost
directly attributable to the war in Iraq provides further ammunition to
those who opposed the war in the first place.
But does it? I opposed the invasion but I can't
say that this particular consequence offers any new grounds for
opposition. It goes without saying that if you attack someone, there is a
risk that they will fight back. It is both indisputable and no surprise
whatsoever that a number of Muslims around the world saw the occupation of
Iraq as an extension of the "Zionist-Crusader" war against Islam. It
should have been no great surprise to anyone with an IQ in double figures
that some UK Muslims would be amongst the wider Muslim group who held such
views, and that they should consider it entirely valid that they should
assist their side by attacking the Capital city of one of the main players
in the "Zionist-Crusader" alliance.
Surely, we would be entitled to be much more
critical if the politicians who claim they are trying to protect us were
to admit that the possibility of a home grown attack had not occurred to
them! I would much rather they admit what I understand to be the truth -
that they have been constantly on the lookout for signs of just such an
attack ever since 9-11 and even more so since the invasion of Iraq.
So, we know they're lying. But what does it tell
us about their collective mental condition that they believe they can
sustain the lie? Like the possibility that Duane Gish is lying
about what he believes in regard to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, if
the Government is consciously lying about the Iraq link, they must believe
that we're stupid enough to believe their denials - or that they have
sufficient control of Society to suppress any conceivable dissent that
might arise as a result of the exposure of that lie. In fact, other than
George Galloway, who took the golden opportunity to hoot "I told you so" (metaphorically, of course) (cached),
nobody else has made much fuss about the link because everybody else has
been taking it for granted.
The only thing that
is making anyone at all interested in this angle is the warmongers'
eyepoppingly brazen attempts at pretending the link doesn't exist! In
"And I don't dispute
that one of the rationalisations for terrorism is the presence in Iraq
just as the reconquest of Andelusia in 1492 is one of the
rationalisations. That doesn't mean that its
That from Walter Slocombe (former director of
National Security and Defense in the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority)
on BBC2's Newsnight 14 July 2005
If our own politicians merely regrettfully
acknowledged the link in similar fashion, the media would have made it
headlines for a few days but it would not have swelled the ranks of the
opposition by more than a handful of pillocks for whom such a prospective
link was a new concept!
Instead, we now know that they were lying. And
that's a much more serious issue than what they were lying about. That's
what cost the then Spanish Government the election after 3-11.
Tony Blair is the lead liar (cached)
(further evidence of prior warning
of the link; leaked letter from Permanent Secretary Foreign Office
published 29 Aug 2005)(cached)
on this issue, with some of the weakest arguments I've ever seen him
If it is Iraq that
motivates them, why is the same ideology killing Iraqis by terror in
defiance of an elected Iraqi government?
...is such a naive question that it beggars belief
that he meant it seriously. But he compounds it with:
"If it is the plight of
the Palestinians that drives them, why, every time it looks as if Israel
and Palestine are making progress, does the same ideology perpetrate an
outrage that turns hope back into despair?"
If it is Afghanistan
that motivates them, why blow up innocent Afghans on their way to their
"What was 11 September
2001 the reprisal for?"
He supplies his own answer:
Such violence was not
in response to any particular policy or founded in any injustice, but in
a "fanaticism" that had to be confronted
Why, we must ask, would a politician of Blair's
standing prefer to appear confused and ill-informed to the point of
looking and sounding like an imbecile - rather than the intelligent but
wounded Statesman reluctantly accepting the attack an inevitable part of
the "price we must pay for trying to do the right thing?"
And how could we hope to tackle the problem if the
political leaders really didn't even begin to understand it? Does he
really think that posture of "surprised ignorance" is more reassuring than
resigned competence? What on earth are they thinking??
Here, in brief, are the well known answers to his
Why is the same ideology
killing Iraqis? To begin with, I can find no independent observers
anywhere in the world - let alone the population of Iraq - who regard the
"elected Iraqi Government" as either legitimate or particularly
representative. The attacks, however, are coming from three separate
sources which may or may not be collaborating. The first source is
internal and consists of Iraqi Sunni ex Fedayeen, Saddam supporters and
sympathisers who refuse to accept the transition to Shia dominated Iraq
and are fighting a a very straightforward power struggle which looks like
it will inevitably lead either to partition or civil war.
The second source, also internal, consists of a
number of non-sectarian Iraqis who simply oppose the occupation and get
mileage from killing other Iraqis (particular those they see as
collaborating with the occupation) by demonstrating that the occupiers are
incapable of maintaining control. The third source is largely based on
foreign fighters although they are bound to have recruited some local
support. They are MIFT "Jihadi" insurgents who oppose
the very concept of democracy and also recognise that this is their best
opportunity to inflict on the USA a military defeat similar to the
humiliating defeat they inflicted on the Russians in Afghanistan - with,
at the time, massive support from the Americans. As discussed on the MIFT
page, their object is to ensure that the West stop meddling in Islamic
affairs so that they can institute a Wahhabi/Taliban style totalitarian
Islamic Caliphate across the Islamic World. A small minority might also
have ambitions to extend that Caliphate globally.
It is now almost certain that the London bombers
were MIFT and thus shared their long term goals. Making life difficult in
the UK is clearly designed to put pressure on the UK government both to
reconsider its involment in Iraq and its participation in the wider "War
question is simpler. In short, the reason Hamas, Hizbollah or Islamic
Jihad frequently derail Peace attempts whenever they look like they might
be getting anywhere is because they are never involved in the peace
negotiations and they simply refuse to permit the Palestinian leadership
to concede what they consider to be a sellout. You don't even have to
understand WHY they consider it a sellout, or whether they're right or
wrong to hold that opinion; just that they do.
The Afghan Taliban
attacks are, of course, based on the MIFT objection to democracy
we've mentioned previously.
9-11 was a reprisal
against the USA and its collaborators for their long term support for
Israel; the first invasion of Iraq - or rather, the permanent stationing
of US troops on Saudi soil following that invasion - and the US long term
support for corrupt Islamic dictators. MIFT also charges the
"Zionist-Crusader" alliance with responsiblity for "Massacres in
Tajakestan, Burma, Cashmere, Assam, Philippine, Fatani, Ogadin, Somalia,
Erithria, Chechnia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina". It was the continuation of
a war, declared quite openly (but ignored) by bin Laden in 1996 (cached)
and again by the "World Islamic Front" (cached)
in February 1998. Six months after which they struck the first "official"
blow. Remember the 1998 attacks (cached)
on the US embassies in Africa? There were "unofficial" blows well before
that with the 1993 attempt on the World Trade Centre; And more recent
attacks like the seaborne suicide attack on the USS Cole in 2000.
None of the above are news. None are controversial
analyses. How and why would serious politicians pretend to be unaware of
them and their connections with the present conflict? Even more mysterious
- why would a member of the main political opposition party support the
lie? Here is a golden opportunity for them to put the boot in and,
instead, they're collaborating!!
Oliver Letwin - a Tory shadow cabinet member
speaking on the panel of "Any Questions" (BBC Radio 4 July 15 2005) gave
full support to the Government "no link" lie and, at one point, added:
"I'm a Jew and I
witness Jews in Israel being bombed and murdered by Muslims in Israel
from time to time. Does that mean I'm entitled to go and kill other
Muslims?" (approximate quote, I didn't record the show, but that
was the gist)
What a strange question and what an interesting
insight into the disturbed mind of the average politician. It may even
explain the "official" attitude...
The question implies that understanding someone's
grievance means a) accepting the basis of the grievance and b) condoning
their reaction to it.
Who drew that connection?
For the sake of the philosophically challenged,
let me make it plain. You do not need to agree with an opponent's list of
grievances in order to understand them. You do not have to argue that -
even if you did agree with them, you would not, in their position, act as
they have done. Some - like both Letwin and Blair it would seem - want to
use the argument that - because "rational" people wouldn't react like the
bombers to that particular set of grievances - that those grievances could
not have been the motives for the attack
Who said they're rational Oliver? Tony?
We know that "normal" people wouldn't behave like
the bombers did. But like the creationists we've been talking about above,
these are not normal people! They have
become sociopaths. But it doesn't help one iota to talk - as Blair does in
the piece linked above - about an "Evil Ideology". They are no more "evil"
than the creationists. They're obviously just as misguided and, in
pursuing such violent policies, they are clearly much more immediately
But those politicians or community leaders who
refuse even to understand - or worse, as in this case, pretend not to understand - the enemy's
published motives are behaving just as irrationally as the bombers or
creationists and are just as unlikely to come to terms with real world
Their final puerile argument is that to accept the
link implies that pro-linkers believe that were we to get out of Iraq
tomorrow, the attacks would cease. Or, put another way, we probably would
still have been attacked even if we hadn't joined the "coalition of the
willing." That may or may not be true, though I don't recall hearing even
George attempting to argue otherwise. The general common sense consensus,
shared by the Chatham House report (cached)
and, as we now know, the government's own experts, is that UK involvement
in the Iraq War merely increased the risk of such an attack. I've come
across no serious attempts to argue that ending our involvement in Iraq
would eliminate that risk altogether. There are multiple causes. Iraq is
Muslims Deny that it has anything to do with
I've even heard Muslims
trying to argue, despite the emerging evidence, that it might not be an
attack carried out by Muslims! Yet another bizarre reaction! Do they think
the world would be any safer if that were true? Are they really so
concerned about the PR problems of their Faith that they would prefer the
attacks to have come from another source of insanity? Isn't it bad enough
to have one bunch of complete nutters on the loose? How is it preferable
to have a new one springing up out of the blue? Attacking Londoners for
what? The imposition of the Congestion Charge?? Or perhaps they were
French suicide bombers retaliating against London's victory over Paris
(the day before the bombings) in winning the contract for the 2012
Ferchrissake! I've written over 33,000 words in
this section trying carefully to explore and explain the nature of the
threats we are facing and now you're trying to tell me there's another -
non Islamic - group with similar suicidal tendencies, lethal disregard for
non-combatants and coincidental hatred of Londoners - of whom no-one
anywhere in the world has any hint or knowledge prior to July 7th??!! That
hypothesis, sir, fails Occams Razor test! Amongst other things, the MIFT hypothesis (that the bombers were MIFT and
operating, almost certainly, in partnership with other MIFT) passes the
first empirical test - Verifiability. Many of us PREDICTED the attack. Now
we have to try to falsify the hypothesis. My money is on it consistently
passing that test too.
And why should normal Muslims feel so defensive?
We KNOW that normal Muslims don't do this sort of thing. We are pointedly
NOT tarring them with the same brush. Read the introduction to my MIFT
page, for instance, if you haven't already. The relevance - to you Muslims
- of their Islamic origins is simply that you're the logical first choice
to sort them out. You might be tempted to argue that the Christian
community wasn't charged with the responsibility for sorting out the
Nazis, or KKK, or the IRA or whatever. But then, to be fair, that was
largely because such groups never promoted their actions "in the name of
Furthermore, the issues that provoked the bombers
are very real injustices which they were perfectly entitled to get very
very very angry about. WE SHOULD ALL BE THAT ANGRY ABOUT WHAT IS GOING ON "IN
OUR NAME" dammit!
No criticism is aimed at their anger and
disillusion, only at their means of expressing it. I can't claim to be AS
angry as they are, but I can certainly empathise.
My atheist morals, however, wouldn't permit me,
any more than Letwin's Jewish morality would let him - were I or he in
their position - to attack innocent 3rd parties nor to countenance a naive
distortion of the democratic paradigm to support the contention that the
citizens of a country are responsible for the actions of its government
and, therefore, legitimate targets (see part 1). The question for the
Muslim Umma is whether or not Islamic morals - as MIFT
argues - DO permit such violence. Only the Muslim community can answer
that question loudly and widely enough for it to have any prospect of
undermining religious support for MIFT. Only Muslims can issue the
The whole point of this book is to find ways of
dealing with injustices and imbalances of power - even of this magnitude -
in ways which achieve both consensus and closure - for all concerned.
Believe me, I know how tall that order is. The last part of this "chapter"
will go into this in some detail.
Meanwhile, this is a war. Bin Laden declared it in
1996. Bush declared it in 2001. He must, therefore, accept that he - and
his political supporters and allies - have made themselves legitimate
targets. As has bin Laden and his cohorts. If anyone in either of those
groups are attacked and killed, neither they nor we will be entitled to
complain on any moral basis. Such attacks would certainly not constitute
terrorism - unless they deliberately target non-combatants as well.
Lets make that absolutely crystal clear. Bush and
Blair are NOT non combatants, any more than bin Laden. They ARE legitimate
targets. If they go down, many of us will regret it. No doubt some won't.
The question arises, obviously, as to what moral
basis exists for the definition of ordinary Londoners as legitimate
targets. This, of course, is no different to the question of what made 24 children (cached)
legitimate targets in Baghdad on 13 July 2005 - a story which, though
mentioned in passing among the headlines, received almost no further
discussion or coverage at all (here in the UK) other than a few belated
mentions in the context of this depressing news (cached);
so routine have such atrocities become in Iraq. It is no different to the
question of what made the children of Beslan legitimate targets, or the
occupants of the Twin Towers.
The answer, of course, is the twisted philosophy
based on a distorted analysis of the teachings of the Koran as we've spelt
out on the MIFT page. Religion, however, is
certainly not the cause of these attacks. The causes are all political.
Religion merely provides the moral underpinning for the attackers. In
exactly the same way as it has always done for our own warriors whether
launching their Crusades, or fighting the Third Reich, or dropping Atom
Bombs on Japan, or Daisycutters on Afghanistan. I haven't looked, yet, but
I bet you will even find some Christian commentators prepared to provide
religious backing for the obscenities in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib.The religious connection is not unique to Islam.
It may not be obvious to those with the
fundamentalist mindset that I would not be happy to see attacks even
against those I accept as legitimate targets. Their simplistic analysis
will be that because I can nominate legitimate targets, I must want to see
them attacked. Well, its partly true - but only in the sense that if
ANYONE is going to be attacked, it ought to be the decision makers ON BOTH
SIDES. And, yes, I would quite like to be able to transport all the
decision makers on both sides to a neutral planet somewhere and let them
fight it out among themselves, while the rest of us get on with our lives
in peace. (Pink Floyd's 1983 "Fletcher Memorial Home" (cached)
comes to mind)
Short of that, I don't want to see any further
attacks by either side. I want to see the application of intelligence and
compassion to the problem, rather than the religiously inspired blind rage
which currently fills the vaccuum abandoned by diplomacy and common
Whilst I would agree that attacks against Bush or
Blair would be wholly deserved or justified, the consequences would be
horrendous for society at large. The escalation towards total war would
increase. Our liberties and privacy would be further decreased.
Conservatively, we could also expect another 100,000 Muslims to die,
somewhere, in the knee-jerk paroxysm that followed. And bin Laden would be
laughing all the way to whatever passes for his hideout nowadays.
The deeper implications
arise from what we know, so far about the London bombers. In short, they
did not stand out (cached)
from their community in any obvious way. This is emphasised by the shock
evinced by those who thought they knew them.
"A suicide attacker
could be anyone," said Daniel Benjamin, a former Clinton administration
official and terrorism expert who is the author of "The Next Attack,"
due to be published this fall. "He doesn't have to be trained, just
indoctrinated. There's no profile; that's what makes it so hard to
defend against." (NY Times 13 July 2005)
How then can we expect the Intelligence services
to identify future potential bombers? At the moment the only obvious
profiling characteristics are that they were young male, British and
Muslim and a couple of them spent a few months being taught in Pakistani
Madrassas. Are we now going to institute
intrusive surveillance on all young male British Muslims? Or just those
who spend any time out of the country? Or even forbid them to visit their
And, when that fails, because, for example, it has
provoked females to join in, or worse, white non Muslims who are appalled
at the imposition of Big Brother against a British minority, do we then
extend the intrusive surveillance to the entire population? And when that
fails, because a sizable proportion of the population is now alienated
against its own government, how will we avoid the Civil War that these
incoherent responses have produced - exactly as bin Laden has planned,
anticipated and prayed for?
The USA is, of course, much further down this path
than we are, as we can see from their Police
legitimate requirement for increased security, albeit generated by their
own possibly illegitimate action, has in turn provided the spurious basis
for the most intense and sophisticated attack on liberty and privacy seen
since the Stalinist purges in the 1950s or the Maoist "Cultural
Revolution" in the 60s.
To the world at large it is already obvious that
the response to terrorism has been far more dangerous than the terrorism
itself. The minimum cost in innocent human lives is at least 10 innocents
killed by the Americans (and their few allies) for every innocent death
caused by a terrorist attack. The maximum (and, for most people the most
probable) cost is around 30 innocents for each death caused by a
terrorist. Put that together with the unprecedented and democratically
illegitimate assault on liberty and privacy and finally note how
ineffective all these measures have been in either controlling Iraq or
global terrorism and that's a pretty serious failure of policy by any
analysis. As well as a wholly disproportionate response, many would argue
that it also illustrates the low regard or even contempt that Americans
have for the lives and welfare of citizens of other countries whom it has
so freely attacked, bombed and invaded.
America - The Greatest Threat
It is thus no surprise that a worldwide poll in May/June 2005 found that the
United States of America was rated the greatest threat to global security
alongside North Korea and Syria. And given what they're prepared to do to
their own citizens, it is hardly surprising that they're indifferent to
the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent bystanders in other countries.
But I'm not American. I don't live in America. Why should I give a damn?
Or, more precisely, why should I give more of a damn about the American
Police State than either the Russian or Chinese ones? After all, however
much I may criticise the US, the ex communist Russians and the still
communist Chinese are both still in a different league of totalitarianism
compared to the Americans.
The answer to that is simple. There is no chance
whatsoever of a European government trying to emulate either Russia or
China. But there is a considerable danger that many of them will think its
a good idea to emulate America.
The fear-mongering isn't as rabidly unintelligent
here as it is in the States, largely because the European media isn't
controlled - to the same extent - by right wing billionaires and still
largely exhibits a considerable degree of journalistic integrity and
genuine political diversity. This makes it impossible for the same kind of
stupidity to be given serious air time over here. A European watches
something like Bill O'Reilly or Ann Coulter (both Fox News) with stunned
disbelief; not so much because they can't imagine some people holding such
distorted world views - there are a few of those over here too - but
because they can't understand:
a) how a news channel can broadcast such drivel
in the guise of objective news rather than rabid right wing opinion (and
have slogans like "Fair and Balanced" or "We Report You Decide"
permanently displayed - over the American Flag - like an icon). and
b) how the domestic viewing public and pundits
could allow it to happen without laughing it off the air (and satirising
it to death) as it would be almost anywhere in Europe.
Nevertheless, Europe in general and the UK in
particular are already caving in to many of the American's totalitarian
demands for one way access to data, biometric passports, one way extradition arrangements and so on. The demands
for data retention, ID cards, border controls and so on have all been
provoked by the MIFT campaign against us and will
affect us all in the long run. So all Europeans ought to be seriously
concerned - for their own sakes - about what is going on in America -
where they lead, we appear to be blindly following. But I would also argue
- almost like I do when arguing for intervention to prevent female
circumcision - that we owe a moral duty to help our American cousins; or
at least those who want our help.
American regime is as close to clinical insanity as any regime in recent
history. As the sole surviving superpower, they wield vastly more
influence on what goes on around the world than any other nation. It is,
at bottom, in all our self interests to join the battle against them.
Hopefully, this is a battle we can fight with intelligent activism and the
few democratic levers available to us rather than suicide bombers and all
out warfare, but it is a real battle. If there are casualties, I would
expect them to be on our side rather than theirs. Taking on a psychotic
superpower is not a trivial enterprise, but someone's got to do it!
Unenlighted Americans, like their President for
example, or the bulk of the Fox News audience, will choose (if they ever
get to read it) to misinterpret my declaration of opposition to the
American regime as meaning (in line with Bush's "You're either with us or
with the terrorists" nonsense) that I and anyone who agrees with me are on
the same side as their other enemies - MIFT. I know it is unnecessary to
counter that argument for the benefit of those most likely to be reading
this passage, but for the sake of the philosophically challenged, let me
make it quite clear.
Many of us now perceive you - the American Regime
currently led by Neocons and supported by the Religious Right - as the
single greatest threat to global Security and Liberty on the planet. You
have demonstrably killed vastly more people around the world than your
MIFT enemies and you have imposed repressive and intrusive restrictions on
your own population and potential visitors which are probably fully in
line with what MIFT would like to achieve but way beyond their
capabilities. You have already succeeded in persuading other governments
around the world to begin following your perverse and dangerous lead. We
hate MIFT and what they represent too. But the threat they pose to us is
tiny compared to the threat you have become. That is why we now fear and
oppose you even more than we fear and oppose them.
I'm probably even more isolated now than I was a
few paragraphs ago! Certainly if you're still inclined to support this
line of reasoning, and to consider activities which may contribute to our
opposition to the biggest bully in the playground, then you now have my
permission (as if you needed it!) to be afraid. Very very afraid!
During the 2004 US Presidential election campaign,
Bill Clinton was stumping around the country in support of John Kerry's
bid. He said something which stuck with me:
"One of Clinton's laws of politics is this," he
said. "If one candidate is trying to scare you and the other trying to get
you to think; if one candidate is appealing to your fears and the other
one is appealing to your hopes — you better go for the person who wants
you to think and hope."
with Clinton's soundbite, my closing message for Part 2 is, that despite
the plentiful reasons to be fearful, which we have explored in some
detail, there are also tentative reasons for optimism. If we can use our
collective intelligence to reach a consensus, there are practical steps we
can take to avert this belated stampede into "1984". If we can indeed
"think" rationally, then there is definitely "hope". Part 3 explores our
or it will when I've finished writing it...
End of Part Two.
First Draft uploaded June 2005
revision 18 Aug 2005
Minor update 13 Feb
Minor update 26 March 2008 (BBC Coverage
Significant update 20 Feb
2011 (re Margaret Heffernan's book "Wilful Blindness")