Maybe it’s something about the way we interact

When I was young, it was the Cold War. If we were going to be annihilated, it would be by the press of a button by an anonymous authority figure in Moscow, or London, or Washington or Beijing. It was a structured kind of terror. We watched the media, controlled by governments and big business, and were told, on a day-by-day basis, what our chances of survival were. We grew up with it. We were used to it. We knew our voice counted for nothing – it would be decided by powers way beyond our individual control.

Then the Berlin Wall came down, and for a lovely decade, it seemed like the world had become a safer place (unless you lived in the Balkans or Sierra Leone). The internet was born. People could suddently communicate around the world, without the need for governmental power and infrastructure. Universal peace became a near certainty.

Today, we know a different kind of world. Everyone can communicate with everyone. Online, people tear strips off others whom they have never, physically, met, using powerful, terrible threats and insults. Unlike the world of the 1980s, people can now engage in their own, transcontinental conflict.

This is the situation which can be exploited by anyone who wishes to use global (and anonymous) interconnectivity to escalate and promote conflict. We see it in the astonishingly successful internet campaigns of Muslim extremists. Young people do not know much about the long-term cost of conflict, and are therefore easily swayed to join in any fight for “justice” that appeals to their desire for integrity. For religious people, this can manifest itself in a zeal which can be exploited by cynical elders to recruit the energies of young into the cause of their own bids for power. The easy equation: integrity = commitment = absolutism is not just the preserve of Islam: it’s the case for any religion or cause which feeds on an appeal to some transcendent power, be it divine or nationalistic.

I am now in my 50s. I have been a Christian since birth and, since my teens, have been committed to the Christian faith. I know (and remember) the power of the youthful desire for integrity and purity of cause. I remember my desire for God which could eclipse lesser caution, instilled from my elders. The young are easy targets for any form of extremism: religious, nationalist or whatever. When we are young, we want some sense of purity, of integrity, or absolute direction.

I have known the appeal of the purity of the absolute; I have known the desire to be wholly committed, irrespective of the cost. But as you age, other things come into play. Bringing up children makes you realise a unifying identity as a human being. You start to empathise with other parents, irrespective of differences of culture, or creed, or philosophy. As your own children become adults, you watch other parents and children as they struggle to bring forth a new generation: you empathise, you recognise, you remember your own experiences, and … with time … you realise a unity within all human experience.

The internet has brought the possibility of the dissemination of hate, under the guise of purity. It allows those who wish to, to exploit youthful desire under the guise of religion, nationality or “justice”. Young people are looking for something to give their lives to, to commit to, to place their energies behind. It’s a romantic vision and it’s enormously powerful. But this youthful energy can be the undoing of the human race, when it is not united with a sense of our own frailty, fallibility and sheer value. When a Palestinian child is killed by the sophisticated weaponry of the Israeli army, it’s easy for a young Palestinian to convert this enormity into a reaction which delights in the taking of other, equal and young human Israeli life. But an older perspective realises that both actions are defeats, on the wider, human scale.

The immediacy of the internet allows quick reactions and judgements to be made, public stances to be paraded and easy alliances forged. It’s the best breeding ground for heating up any kind of conflict. The internet, rather than fostering an age of peace and growing tolerance, as we had hoped in the 1990s, is being exploited by its users as an incubator for the worst forms of human intolerance, revenge, posturing and recruitment towards violence that has been seen since the crusades. The internet demonstrates, in clear terms, the nature of the human condition. “All of life is there …”

As I grow older, I become all too aware of the weaknesses, as well as the strengths of committing oneself to a particular faith. But I remain in this faith. The reason I do this, is that it has taught me to recognise – to not to be in denial – about my own frailties. The longer I have been a Christian, the more I have had to reckon with my own weaknesses, my own propensity for failure and my tendency or potential to hurt others. I certainly do not feel (if I ever felt) a superiority of my own faith position over that of others (be they of another faith or of no faith). All I feel is a sense of human solidarity with all people who are around on this planet at the moment, and a strong sense of unworthiness that I should share in the privilege and wonder of living the gift that is life. So it is from this, somewhat humbled postion, that I believe, with all my heart, in the need for human beings to reckon, humbly, with their own limitations, and to reckon, kindly and sympathetically, with the limitations of their enemies. In short, this means loving both our friends and our enemies. This love, when we discover it, is nothing short of a revelation and transforms us as human beings. We become more compassionate. We cry easily. We love wildly. We run the risk of peace, even if it makes us look like fools.

This, in Christian terms, is called “the Kingdom of God”, which is an idea which lies at the heart of the Christian vision. It’s a place where people learn to forgive the failings of others, as they discover their own failings to have been forgiven. Where love is greater than anything else. Where God is not “owned” by any faith, but is allowed to be God as God truly is. Where people are set free from the tyranny of “being right” into being loved and being loving instead.

At a time when the news seems to be so negative, I want to affirm that I believe in this vision of the universe, and – in love – I want to celebrate it with others, irrespective of their faith, their belief or their politics.

I hope that this vision comes to pass. Because, although the old superpowers are now a history lesson, the power to destruction that they represented is still there, and much sought-after. I pray that this love, this forgiveness, this generosity would break out across our globally-connected humanity, if only for our own survival. For the alternative is as bad, if not more tragic, than the horror that faced us in the 1980s.

Trying to support dairy farmers

Like many people in the UK, I have great sympathy for the plight of dairy farmers, who have struggled for years with the fall in the effective cost of milk. The move by supermarkets to start another price war means that dairy farmers are making a loss on every pint of milk they produce, and after years of falling prices, there aren’t any savings left to make. I’ve tried to do my bit to support the cause by posting info from the Farmer’s Weekly on Facebook. But the only direct action I can take concerns where we buy our milk. This is the information I have gathered so far, but as far as I know it’s only valid today, and even then to the best of my knowledge, so I would be interested in comments as to what others think…

  • Morrisons and Asda seem to be the worst in forcing down milk prices.
  • Co-operative supermarkets have recently said they will not activate planned price reductions.
  • Milk processors Robert Wiseman and Arla are being blockaded by farmers as I write. According to their website ‘Robert Wiseman Dairies processes and delivers over 30% of the fresh milk consumed in Britain, every day.’ I know they bottle milk under their own brand, but I guess they also do the same for supermarket chains. (But which ones?) Arla bottle milk under the Cravendale brand.

In the end, the milk consumer in Britain should support the plight of our dairy farmers, not just because they are our neighbours. If we allow supermarket price wars to destroy the milk production infrastructure of our country, we will soon find ourselves drinking imported milk, the shipping costs will be added to the price and it will do further damage to the UK balance of payments. It’s not like we can’t afford milk, which is far cheaper than the bottled water which so many of us consume by the gallon.

In the wake of recent debates on assisted suicide…

This is a must-read. HT to Doug Chaplin.

Coming to a Church of England church near you this weekend: communion in one kind

Readers in the Church of England may be surprised to learn that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have written to all clergy recommending the withdrawal of the common cup (ie. the chalice) at Holy Communion, commencing this Sunday.  You can get the official word on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s website. This is potentially controversial, as one of the hallmarks of the Reformation was the restoration of communion in both kinds (bread and wine) to all participants. In this, the Archbishops seem to be following government advice.

Simon Taylor, that wise (and brilliantly-trained) parish priest, has some very informative and intelligent comment on his blog.

As I’m not a parish priest anymore, with the responsibility of implementing this policy, I feel somewhat free to give my opinion. That opinion is from someone who has no medical training whatsoever, so take it on that basis…

The last significant ‘flu pandemic was in 1968 – so-called Hong Kong ‘Flu. During that time, weekly consultation rates rose to a peak of over 1200 per 100,000 (ie. over 1 in 100 visited the doctor each week with symptoms).  At the moment (25 July 2009), with Swine ‘Flu, weekly consultation rates are at just under 200 per 100,000. Quite how many people currently have swine ‘flu is probably impossible to know.

However, the point is this: in 1968, the common cup was not withdrawn in Holy Communion. So what’s changed? After all, this is a bad ‘flu, not bubonic plague or cholera.

Simon thinks the difference in the response is to do with there being a potential breakdown in confidence in taking Holy Communion in church – which, given our media-saturated age, may be true. A big factor, for me, is that people (and therefore governments) seem to be far more risk-averse than they were in 1968, a year which I somehow managed to survive (along with the vast majority of the Church of England).

Perhaps somewhere there are lawyers breathing the phrase “duty of care” into some ecclesiastical ears. But I can’t help feeling that this is massive overreaction. The people most at risk from this ‘flu are already ill – and they already know that they will need to take extra precautions to avoid infection. But I doubt whether withdrawing the cup from the Church of England communion services is going to make any significant difference to the spread of the disease, and hence the risk to those who are already immuno-suppressed or who have chronic illness.

Other changes apparently coming in are:

  • Communion wafers will be placed in the hands, not (as in some churches) directly in the mouth or on the tongue
  • In some places, Holy Water stoups are being drained
  • Priests and distributors of the Communion are being urged to avoid touching people’s hands while giving them the bread/wafers
  • Communion by intincting bread/wafers in the wine is being stopped – apparently, it’s more likely to spread disease than drinking directly from the cup, since we have nastier and higher-numbers of bugs on our fingers than in our mouths

Then of course, there’s shaking hands (or in some places, hugging and kissing) at the Peace…  Maybe that’s why the Church of England managed to survive the 1968 ‘flu outbreak. It was before the arrival of Holy Communion – Series 3 and ‘The Peace’. People kept in their pews and didn’t try to snog each other.

Do you want to live in an unpoliced world?

My previous post of today leads, inevitably, to another area of discussion; that is: the ‘policing’ of the internet. I flagged up the possibilities which ‘geolocation’ software and web services offer to governments and big-business. The internet, especially in its early stages, was strongly shaped by (mainly American) libertarianism. Early internet occupants relished the freedom to communicate, without barriers, which it offered. When hard-line communists attempted, in August 1991 to stage a coup d’Etat by kidnapping Gorbachev and holing Boris Yeltsin up in the Moscow White House, it was the primitive internet links to the White House which allowed Yeltsin and his allies access to the wider world. The plotters weren’t up to speed with the new technology. That would now not be possible.

But these days, especially given the very unsavoury use sometimes made of the internet, we should ask the question, ‘do we want the internet to be entirely un-policed?’ In the most recent discussion, is it right that civil authorities should have a way of tracing the immediate whereabouts of all users of the net? And if the net is an extension of the wider world (which I believe it truly to be) then do we want to live in an un-policed world? Or even part of the world? And what is the implication of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to that question?

This is one of those posts which is an attempt to provoke some kind of discussion (and, in the process, try to work out who, if anyone, reads this blog!)

Church water bills

There has been quite a furore about a change in water-drainage charging which affects churches, other faith communities, community halls and the like in the UK. In some areas, churches and community-halls have faced increases in charges amounting to 1300%. The recent General Synod of the Church of England also debated the issue, passing the following motion unanimously (which I think is a first in my experience):

‘That this Synod, concerned about the effect on many parishes of sudden,massive rises in water charges for churches, request HM Government to remind OFWAT of its obligations to ensure that the water companies adhere to the clear guidance given by the Secretary of State for the Environment in 2000, which states that “there are many non-household users who are not businesses … including places of worship … and it would be inappropriate to charge all non-household customers as if they were businesses”.’

I signed the e-petition on the 10 Downing Street website some time ago. Today we received the government’s response to the issue which is moderately encouraging, indicating something of a stop-gap position and some pressure being exerted on those water companies who are acting in a fairly merciless manner. They (and Ofwat) are taking a dim view of the proceedings.  You can read the government’s response here.

MC Paxo vs Dizzee Rascal

The most sublimely funny part of the coverage of the Obama victory yesterday was in the extended edition of Newnight when things got to the point where we saw bro Jeremy gettin down wiv da kids. Check it out, yo’ll be crippled, innit. I think they should give “Mr Rascal” a guest slot fronting the next edition.

Obama and the religious factor in American politics

It would be entirely wrong to assume that Barak Obama’s victory in the American presidential race indicated a decline in the religious factor in American politics. The Democratic party have had to learn, again and again, that to ignore the strongly religious component in their country’s culture is to court electoral defeat. The practical problem they face, however, is that the religious Right have managed to capture their political constituency by a simple message of “pro-life or not”. Whilst this is an easy enough message to understand, my conversations with many American evangelicals suggest that for many of them, this is the win-or-lose question into which the whole of their understanding of politics has been poured. As a result, the resurgent evangelicalism among the Baby Boomers has served to boost the fortunes of the Republican Right – all a candidate needs to do is be reassuring on the Big Question, and the evangelical vote can almost certainly be counted upon. This was exemplified by the interview which Rick Warren, pastor of the megachurch Saddleback in Lake Forest CA, conducted with the two candidates back in the summer.  You can see the responses to the question “at what point does an unborn baby get human rights in your view” by both Barak Obama and John McCain here. Barak Obama starts out by saying that answering the question from “a theological or a scientific point of view” is “above my pay grade”. He then clearly says that his is “pro-choice” but also would like to see both a limiting of late-term abortions (if the health of the mother is not under threat) and also at ways in which the number of abortions could be reduced. John McCain comes straight back with “at the moment of conception” without any hesitation. The church congregation cheer. The right answer has been given to the Big Question.

Yet today we have a new President Obama who has been elected by a majority of about 2:1 of electoral college votes, and McCain failed to achieve nearly all of his electoral targets, whilst Obama did better than anyone would have believed back in August. What is going on? Well the economy and the quality of his campaign probably won the election for Obama, and a variety of factors lost it for McCain, including the economy, the quality of his campaign and the choice of Sarah Palin. Palin is another interesting factor in the basic religious question, since she was in the ticket to reassure the disappointed Right enough to get them out to vote for a non-Evangelical Republican candidate. The problem was that she clearly had neither the experience nor the intellect for the job, and this quickly became clear to most thinking Republicans and swing-voters. Her evangelical credentials were impeccable however, even if a little tarnished by Troopergate.

This returns us to the initial question of the religious component in this election. Which way, if any, did it go? Beliefnet seems to be pointing to a likely set of circumstances: namely, that Obama managed to forge a faith coalition of his own. This comprised the non-Evangelical mainstream denominations, who were worried about a wider range of ethical concerns than solely abortion – it is important, but not the Big Question; the fact that Obama, in ways more apparent than McCain, has a clear, active and thought-through Christian faith, founded on an Evangelical conversion with a strongly experiential component; and perhaps most significantly, what is called “The Rise of the Religious Left”. This includes elements within the broader-Church Evangelical constituency which we could identify as “Emerging”. Then lastly, of course, he could rely on votes from the Black Church constituency, which too often has been either divided or unregistered. There are echoes of a Martin Luther King effect here: mobilising black evangelical churches politically is quite an achievement, and perhaps it takes a black candidate or cause to do so.

Both from the perspective of politics and the religious landscape of America, it seems as though we have witnessed a change of historical era. Unlike the last Democratic presidential triumph (Clinton, 1992), here it seems as though permanent changes in American religion itself have participated in the process which allowed a non-white American citizen to enter the White House as President. Although this unique set of circumstances will probably never recur, the religious politics of America are on the change.

Thoughts at the end of a momentous day

Well, here we are at the end of Day 1 of rebirth of the planned socialist economy. One thought that’s been lurking at the back of my mind for the past week or so is this: since the banking crisis has forced world capitalism to accept its limitations and, in the last resort, to surrender itself into the protective arms of the governments of nation states, I guess that’s about it for an unregulated global world economy, and in many ways, for the dream of globalisation. What, today, does ‘globalisation’ mean? Certainly not what it was widely thought to mean until about a month ago. If so, then we need to do some philosophy – or at least some re-evaluation of some philosophies which, until this all happened, were taken almost as givens.

So what is the intellectual stock value of Francis Fukuyma and Jean Baudrillard tonight? Both, in different ways, argued for ‘the end of history’ as the global economy took over the reins of the world from the hands of state management.

Perhaps today we’ve witnessed a point when history just ‘restarted’.

Style in the New Economy

Good morning comrades!

Well today is the start of a new era, with the return to a state-managed economy and the final, petering-out swawk of Thatcherism. Now if this sounds a little like overstatement, just consider: by the end of today, it is likely that the banking system of Britain will be committed to becoming state-controlled and state-backed. Politically it isn’t possible to pour such unheard-of amounts of money into banks without ensuring that the Chief Investor (the State) has control over its investment. It appears that over the weekend, even those countries which appeared to balk at this step, have been forced to fall largely into line with the actions of Britain. Comrades Brown and Darling have their political stars in the ascendent, internationally and domestically. In terms of economic theory, as it pertains to Western democracies, Capitalism has bowed to inevitability of Socialism rather than face a total meltdown of the world financial system.

Now I’m aware that there are a lot of people out there, not least those working in the City of London, who were born after the year 1979. (Historical note: this was when Margaret Thatcher‘s government was elected to power in Britain). The New Order which has emerged in the past week might leave many younger adults culturally and stylistically at something of a loss as to how to present themselves in the economic environment our New People’s Republics (of Britain, USA, etc…) So, some words from an Old Lag on these pages will, no doubt, help as people get up and dressed for their work this morning.

Your Dress Code

In the bin needs to go your natty suit, Italian-styled jacket, soft-leather booties or shoes, white shirt and silk tie. Embrace neo-Punk.  What need is the following (and today’s stock-traders may wish to take note of the companies who will be called upon to supply the new People’s Uniform):

  1. Trousers (US: Pants) — Black or dark blue drainpipe jeans with definite signs of wear, ideally turned up at the ankles to about mid-calf length
  2. Tee-shirt — Either Che Guevara, Anarchy in the UK, or something with a quote by Ginsberg or Marx, unwashed and definitely un-ironed, over the top of which you should wear…
  3. Woollen jumper — ideally knitted by your mum, gran, or aunt, with cigarette-burns, unravelling at the cuffs and elongated in length (to just below the crotch) through washing many times on unsympathetic wash-cycles **without fabric conditioner**: hard water is better than soft, giving that true Hammersmith Palais look. Should have the texture of cardboard.
  4. UnderwearY-fronts: the older the better, if you must wash it every day, don’t make a point of telling anyone
  5. ESSENTIAL — Doc Martin 1460 8-hole boots *in black only*
  6. ESSENTIAL — a Donkey Jacket, as worn by true comrades on picket lines in the golden years

With your donkey jacket on, you will look sufficiently a part of the New Lumpen Proletariat to do some hot deals in the trading rooms today.

Your Accessories

With the turn of history’s wheel, you will need to completely re-evaluate all the other items you may have got used to carrying about with you. There’s an immediate problem here with electronic items which were produced by the old capitalist economy. The New Socialism is emphatically not anti-technology, but some rethink on the effete stylistic elements which had grown up in the era of the fat cats…

Take, for example, your iPod™. If anything symbolized the era of unrestrained individualistic capitalism, it was this little box. So as of today, you should rebrand it a statePod. In addition, you need to get rid of those wussy white earplugs. This change may be more difficult to manage than most, as all options were designed to be either discreet or linked to the capitalist style economy.  But a careful look up on internet army-surplus sites should produce the right kind of replacement:



Of course, you will also have to do a major replacement of your listening tastes (partly because the sound isolation of the cans above is such that everyone will hear what you’re listening to). Delete all that Lounge, RnB, Ambient and NuJazz. In comes anything recorded in Britain between the years 1976 (the arrival of Punk) and 1981. Essential listening as you get out of the underground and walk to your dealing room is London’s Burning (The Clash), Ghost Town (The Specials), and, probably most appropriate of all: Babylon’s Burning (The Ruts).

Your Politics

Of course, the ability of political parties to weather economic changes and to completely re-invent themselves for new circumstances is nothing new. At the moment Gordon Brown is safer as Labour leader (and possibly as Prime Minister) than he’s ever been. So the Conservative Party needs to do some serious re-alignment for the new Socialist Order. This won’t be too difficult after turning into New Labour just a couple of years ago. This new change obviously means dumping David Cameron and making a truly inspired and innovative leadership appointment for the New Political Era.

Tory Leader: Yesterday’s man …

Tory Leader: an Inspired Choice for the New Era …

Your investments:

National Savings Certificates
Doctor Martens
Army Surplus Stores

Your Charitable Giving

Just because you’ve just lost 55% of the value of someone’s investment portfolio and will never see a personal bonus again in this life-time, that doesn’t mean that there’s any excuse to be ungenerous in this new economic era. There will inevitably be some time-lag before the State manages to take control of all aspects of social security, so consider, particularly those causes which may have fallen through the grid (or who had invested in Icelandic banks), especially those who are presently facing a greater-than-usual number of calls for their help at this difficult time; for example, the Fat Feline Protection League.


Well, that’s a start. Now you know how to roll up to work, (with a copy of the Financial Times cautiously wrapped-up inside a copy of the Socialist Worker ) without suffering stylistic death. But this is only a survival guide. There is now ample opportunity for other old geezers to offer further stylistic advice in the comments below to help our younger colleagues to survive stylistically in the New Keynesian era. Over to you …

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