Have you got a conscience?

{Forgive me for my information mail carrying emails which should have been encrypted. This is a computer fault which I am investigating.}

While we have looked at this subject before, it is so important that I think it worthwhile to look at it again.

Back in the Thirties, Harold Larwood was well known in the cricket world for his bodyline bowling. He pitched the ball so that it would shoot up directly at the batsman’s head. And he did so at about 100 mph. You can imagine the controversy – particularly from the Australians who were the usual enemy.

One might expect that the batsman would see the ball coming and to take defensive action but unfortunately the speed of conscious thought is slower than the speed of the ball. He has to rely on the existing pattern which is already hidden in his brain. This spots the direction and the speed of the ball, and the effect of its bounce, and puts into action the best defensive movement.

Most of us are unaware of the degree that our brains affect our decisions. Much of this is built in by evolution – were it not so we wouldn’t have evolved as human beings. And much of it comes from our experiences from early childhood. The brain ranges from the recognition of colour to our fundamental attitudes. A lady I know had a very unhappy early childhood. Now, at 60, she still carries a concern that she is really not a worthwhile person. Rationally, she knows that this is nonsense, but her brain, and so her emotions, still retain it
.
Society, in these days, regards racial prejudice as a regrettable and dangerous vice. Unfortunately, no one told our brains. The brain sees that strangers are dangerous – and should be avoided. We are much safer in our own group – who are naturally our defenders. At our rational level we accept that this is unjust, but our brains may still leave us with suspicions. I go into Town – sometimes in a three-piece suit and sometimes in casual clothes. I am treated quite differently by my fellow passengers. In the first case I am treated as a gent – and often given a seat, in the second I am a nothing. The tendency to act like this entered our ancestors long before homo sapiens existed. We will not lose it for a little while yet.

We walk into a room for the first time. We notice features and their colours immediately. But if our brains lacked their program for colour we would see only light and dark. The colours are not on the walls, they are in our brains. When we walk into a shop or see an advertisement on the computer a quick inspection tells us how well the merchant understood the human brain. Funnily enough, the item is always on a special reduction, provided the purchase is made quickly. Our brains are afraid of missing an opportunity. The danger of loss is more powerful than the possibility of gain.

Our judgment of the people we meet is interesting. Many studies have shown that senior executives tend to be taller than average. Poor for me. On the other hand, wearing spectacles is worth around twelve extra IQ points. Good for me. Our brain is saying that height is powerful and that spectacles say knowledge.
In this light, we might want to think more carefully about the concept of conscience. We see it as a rational process through which we make good decisions. In this context, the good always means love: love of ourselves and love for our neighbour. But if it is true that many of our decisions are influenced by a brain which responds in ways which we can never fully know, how can we ever show that our decisions are rational?

Of course, we have Scripture and the teaching of the Church to help us. But neither are the last word. The last word is the decision of conscience. You will recall how bishops explaining Humanae Vitae reminded us of the finality of personal conscience. When Pope Francis refused to make a judgment about a homosexual, he was not saying that homosexuality was no longer a sin per se, but that he did not know the conscience of the individual. I must even allow for the champions of legalised abortion: some of them sincerely believe that this is the loving thing to do. That, of course, does not prevent us from arguing the issue itself. Indeed, our assumption of their good faith may persuade them to be more ready to listen to what we have to say.

How can we improve our conscience decisions? One approach is to know our inbred tendencies. Then we are more likely to allow for them in making decisions. And, like the golfer practising his stroke, we can train the brain to some extent. But the most valuable for me is to pray to the Holy Spirit beforehand. Annoyingly, that wards off the temptation to favour a result simply because it pleases me.

About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Advocatus Diaboli, Moral judgment, Quentin queries. Bookmark the permalink.

99 Responses to Have you got a conscience?

  1. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes:

    // Most of us are unaware of the degree that our brains affect our decisions. //

    This essay sounds awfully fatalistic, Quentin.

  2. Alasdair says:

    I’m frightened when I see mob rule playing out on TV in my own country. But perhaps we should excuse the destruction of the statue of slave trader Edward Colton in Bristol. Surely it’s prominent display in a modern multiracial city was an affront to large parts of the population and a barrier to the urgent need for the removal of unacceptable inequalities in society. I like the idea that when removed from the harbour, it should be displayed in a museum in its damaged condition as a reminder of appalling, insensitive bad taste.

  3. John Nolan says:

    Alasdair

    As an Irishman I could be affronted by the statue of Oliver Cromwell in Parliament Square, but that does not give me the right to tear it down. In London the mob defaced the statue of Winston Churchill, presumably because of his support for the British Empire. The fact that he stood up to the greatest racist tyranny the world has ever seen, and played a large part in defeating it, presumably did not occur to these morons.

    One of the definitions of racism given in Chambers is ‘hatred, rivalry or bad feeling between races’. By constantly playing the race card, groups like BLM are exacerbating this by directing their so-called anger at the white majority – one of their slogans is ‘white silence is violence’. Like everyone else I was shocked by footage of the police brutality which resulted in the death of George Floyd. I was also shocked by the video which came out last year showing the bloody aftermath of a gang fight in London, with a policewoman trying in vain to save the life of a young black man who had been disembowelled with a machete.

    Black lives matter because all lives matter.

    • John Candido says:

      John Nolan wrote,

      ‘In London the mob defaced the statue of Winston Churchill, presumably because of his support for the British Empire. The fact that he stood up to the greatest racist tyranny the world has ever seen, and played a large part in defeating it…’

      Correct.

      A commission of historians should determine which statues should be removed and placed in public museums where they can inform the public about the racist and sordid reasons they were erected in the first place.

      ‘By constantly playing the race card’

      Their protests are the outcome of constant racism foisted on them by white privilege.

      ‘… groups like BLM are exacerbating this by directing their so-called anger at the white majority‘

      ‘So-called anger’?

      It’s not ‘so-called anger’, it’s real anger responding to a historical systemic racism against blacks, who have the unbridled audacity to ‘threaten’ whites by deliberately being born black.

      ‘– one of their slogans is ‘white silence is violence’.‘

      Points to silence about the predicament of black people with silence being used by white people to distort their complicity in structural or personal discrimination.

      ‘Black lives matter because all lives matter.‘

      Poppycock!

      You are dodging the issue of the disproportionate number of black people killed by the police, compared with the proportion of white people being killed by the police, relative to the population of whites.

  4. Quentin says:

    “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
    ― Edmund Burke
    The statues of historical rogues (perhaps with a plaque showing a brief history) are important reminders of what we once once were.

    • FZM says:

      The statues of historical rogues (perhaps with a plaque showing a brief history) are important reminders of what we once once were.

      I think the very rapid shift in attitudes to ethnocentrism in countries like Britain is interesting. By contemporary standards Churchill was definitely a strong racist, my grandmother is a racist, both of my grandfathers were definitely strong racists despite both fighting in the Second World War, one of them as a volunteer because he was Irish.

      By the same standards my wife is a racist and my in-laws are all racists, despite having relatives who were enslaved and their people being subject to genocide by the Nazis within living memory.

      I’ve been wondering what to think about this for a while.

    • Alasdair says:

      Statues of historical figures are prominently displayed in public spaces in order to make strong statements, not in order to educate. If you make a strong statement then you are inviting a strong counter statement.

      • FZM says:

        Statues of historical figures are prominently displayed in public spaces in order to make strong statements, not in order to educate. If you make a strong statement then you are inviting a strong counter statement.

        Many of these statues were erected decades, or more than a century ago. They may have made a strong statement of some kind then, but this seems less clear generations after. I never thought the statue of Havelock of Lucknow that used to stand in the park of my home town was making a strong statement of contemporary local support for the British Raj in India, nor does a statue of one of Stalin’s politburo at the end of the road where I live mean that everyone around endorses Stalinism.

        Pulling down historic monuments, especially if it is done systematically, often suggests some strong change in political order, also a reaction against foreign rule.

  5. FZM says:

    In the Republic of Ireland it seems some young Irishmen have been attacked and in one case stabbed by black youths, apparently on account of their guilt for slavery. Protests have been seen in Finland led by Somalians (who were involved as a group in carrying on the Arab slave trade) on the basis that Finns are somehow guilty of slavery and colonialism towards black Africans. Similar things can also be seen in other European countries that were either occupied by larger neighbours and/or had little to no involvement in African slavery or colonialism. It seems to be the case that US cultural power is leading to the direct export of US racial issues to any majority white country which contains a non-white minority.

    Last year I read Prof. Eric Kaufmann’s book ‘White Shift’, about demographic trends in North America and Western Europe. By mid-century in Britain, France or Sweden more than 50% of the population is predicted to be what in the UK would be called BAME, towards the end of the century the prediction is more than 80%. These will not be good countries to live in if BLM and similar organisations continue to be influential in defining how racial issues are understood.

    • pnyikos says:

      You reminded me of an account by my father, back around 1960, before what I call “white mea culpaism” became fashionable, of when he spoke at a meeting of mostly black Africans.

      The first words he spoke were, “I apologize for being a European.” He knew of the deep resentment of colonialism among these people, who responded with loud applause and some cheers.

      But then he immediately added that he was from a European country that had never had any colonial interests anywhere. It was Hungary, which moreover had suffered much at the hands of the main colonial powers — France and Britain and Italy, with the acquiescence of the USA — after World War I. This was at the highly unjust Treaty of Trianon, when over two thirds of Hungary was taken away from her, including over a million ethnic Hungarians living in areas contiguous with what was left of Hungary.

      Just the other day, I saw an eye-opening essay on Mercatornet, on the hundredth anniversary of this abominable treaty, about the various injustices of the treaty which I had known since childhood. But what was completely new to me was the racism which caused Hungary to be singled out for far worse treatment than the main enemy country, Germany.
      https://mercatornet.com/a-bitter-centenary-for-the-hungarian-people/63551/

      The ancestral Magyars had occupied the Carpathian basin in the 9th century. They became associated with the Huns (hence words like “Hungarian” were attached to the Magyars by foreigners) and lumped together with the Mongols as an Asiatic people, hence racially inferior: `barbarian Mongoloid Magyars’.was a term widely used at the Trianon conference. This despite the fact that, starting in the 11th century, Hungary was just as civilized as any European country, and its culture was as good as any the high middle ages and the Renaissance.

      • FZM says:

        But then he immediately added that he was from a European country that had never had any colonial interests anywhere. It was Hungary, which moreover had suffered much at the hands of the main colonial powers — France and Britain and Italy, with the acquiescence of the USA — after World War I. This was at the highly unjust Treaty of Trianon, when over two thirds of Hungary was taken away from her, including over a million ethnic Hungarians living in areas contiguous with what was left of Hungary.

        Italy was not a main colonial power. What about the role of Serbia and Romania in the treaty? These were both powers on the victorious allied side and influenced the content of this treaty.

        I can read a bit of Romanian and remember that the Romanian narrative on Transylvania is not the same as the Hungarian one.

      • pnyikos says:

        FZM, good point. I guess having colonies in Libya and Somalia and (for a short time) Ethiopia made Italy only an ordinary colonial power. On the other hand, it did have ambitions of regaining the glory of ancient Rome by annexing Albania and (very unsuccessfully) invading France and Greece and Egypt in WWII. Anyway, this is not relevant to my father’s point.

        The Romanian narrative and Hungarian narrative are utterly different and fundamentally irreconcilable. Basically, the Romanians claim descent from Romans who settled in Transylvania, and from the Dacians whom they conquered and (supposedly) intermarried with.

        When the Roman legions left Transylvania in the 3rd century, the (supposed) line vanished from recorded history for 10 centuries before re-emerging historically in Transylvania. They called themselves Vlachs at this time and for over five centuries thereafter before adopting the name “Romanian” for themselves.

        The Hungarian narrative has it that they are descended from Illyrians in the neighborhood of Albania who never lost the Latin roots of their language, although they borrowed a lot of words from Albanian and from Slavic languages. Then as the Ottoman empire got a bigger and bigger foothold in the Balkans, they moved towards Transylvania and the rest of what is now Romania.

        I’ve seen many points of argument from the Hungarian side, but will refrain from giving more than the ones I have given here, because I haven’t heard from the Romanian side.

      • David Smith says:

        pnyikos writes:

        // https://mercatornet.com/a-bitter-centenary-for-the-hungarian-people/63551/ //

        Thank you for that. It was a sobering read.

  6. John Nolan says:

    The Macpherson report (1999) defined a racist incident (not crime) as one that the victim (sic) or any other person perceives to be racist. In other words you can be labelled a racist on the subjective opinion of just one person from the minority or the majority.

    Anyway, turning to a far more serious subject, although Harold Larwood could bowl short when he wanted to, the essence of ‘leg theory’ was to bowl on or just outside the leg stump, forcing the batsman to play a defensive shot which would be deflected to a ‘trap’ of leg-side fielders.

    If you want an example of real intimidatory bowling, watch Dennis Lillee bowl four bouncers in a row to Viv Richards at the WACA in 1976. No helmets then, either. After being warned by the umpire, Lillee pitched the ball up and was rewarded with Richards’s wicket on the last ball of the over.

    Incidentally, what made Larwood all the more dangerous was the ‘back foot’ law regarding a no-ball. If you look at the newsreels this gave him an advantage of up to a yard.

    Sorry, David Smith, this must sound gobbledegook to an American.

    • David Smith says:

      John Nolan writes:

      // Incidentally, what made Larwood all the more dangerous was the ‘back foot’ law regarding a no-ball. If you look at the newsreels this gave him an advantage of up to a yard.

      Sorry, David Smith, this must sound gobbledegook to an American. //

      Yes, it’s a mystery to me. But reading it is both educational and humbling :o)

    • pnyikos says:

      It sounds a bit like what is called “the beanball” in American baseball, where the pitcher aims the ball directly at the batter’s head. It was quite common at times, during the last hundred years or so. I remember reading about one incident involving Walter Johnson, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He was also known for his high level of sportsmanship and gentle ways.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Johnson

      One day, however, his team was playing a particularly rowdy team, which used the beanball frequently, and they even taunted him for being “holier than thou” or something to that effect.

      Finally, he decided on a drastic course of action: he would aim the ball to within an inch of the next batter’s head. But as he threw the pitch, he realized that he didn’t have total control over it, and that it would actually hit the batter’s head. He shouted out a warning, and the batter evaded the ball just in time. After that, the opposing team was much better behaved.

    • John Candido says:

      I was looking forward to a serious discussion about the report only to see it being diverted to cricket.

      By turning from your concerns about the Macpherson report to cricket, is telling.

  7. galerimo says:

    The conscience is a living, active and vital dimension of our lives. Its growth is organic just like our entire person, it lives and grows and continues to form and reform.

    And it all happens from the foundation of our love and as an expression of our response to God’s love in the details of daily living.

    When we love God, we grow in love of God and we grow in our knowledge of God. Our consciences draw from this knowledge in the exercise of our choices.

    One of the early Church Fathers, St. Cyril of Alexandria, teaches us something very significant here. It is about Jesus’ own knowledge. Like ours too, it had to be formed and to grow.

    “We have admired His goodness in that for love of us He has not refused to descend to such a low position as to bear all that belongs to our nature, included in which is ignorance.”

    A great part of conscience involves knowing what is right so as to do what is right. And in this there can be no better model for us than Jesus himself.

    In Mark 2:23-28 Jesus seems to be supporting a situation ethics when he defends his disciples who appear to be breaking the law when gleaning on the Sabbath. Clearly he is showing how the ‘spirit’ of law also informs decisions.

    When the rich young man (Lk 18:22) seeks his advice on finding fulfillment, Jesus teaches compliance with the law certainly but more. Again we learn from Him how willingness to apply the spirit of law involves more than sticking to the letter.

    And even more striking is the time (Matt 5:27) when Jesus seeks to motivate others to inform their conscience so as to do the right thing according to the law, he does not simply leave it at the command, “Do not commit adultery” – he knows the human heart too well for that.

    He points to the perversions and lust in the mind, the hidden and secret desires that violate God’s expectation of those who claim to love Him. He is not deceived by appearances.

    You answer your own question very well. How can we improve our conscience decisions? Making good decisions made in love and for love, while seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit in prayer. I agree.

    In addition, the model of Jesus as he lives and grows in his love for the Father, meeting the different requests and situations of his life, is a great support to us who live the same life.

    His modelling of openness and generosity listening and responding to God’s law also improves the decisions we make and how we make them.

    For those who love Him there is little chance of doing the wrong thing. He is leading us to enriching and supporting happy lives.

  8. John Nolan says:

    Galerimo, you disappoint. As you are an Aussie I would have expected you to have something to say about cricket. Perhaps John Candido can step up to the plate (oops, that’s a baseball metaphor; I should have said stride to the crease).

  9. FZM says:

    The Macpherson report (1999) defined a racist incident (not crime) as one that the victim (sic) or any other person perceives to be racist. In other words you can be labelled a racist on the subjective opinion of just one person from the minority or the majority.

    This might be influenced by Critical Race Theory, which is very subjectivist. All the ideas like White Supremacy, White Privilege and the new definition of racism as power+privilege meant I started preferring the concept of ‘ethnocentrism’ to ‘racism’.

    • John Candido says:

      I looked up Kaufman’s book in Amazon and copied the following description of the book.

      ‘… political scientist Eric Kaufmann examines the evidence to explore ethnic change in Western Europe and North America. Tracing four ways of dealing with this transformation – fight, repress, flight and join – he charts different scenarios and calls for us to move beyond empty talk about national identity. If we want to avoid more radical political divisions, he argues, we have to open up debate about the future of white majorities.‘

      ‘Fight, repress, flight and join’ were his options.

      Controlling whatever fears lurking at the bottom of one’s psych, and joining the eventual majority makes perfect sense.

      • FZM says:

        ‘Fight, repress, flight and join’ were his options.

        Controlling whatever fears lurking at the bottom of one’s psych, and joining the eventual majority makes perfect sense.

        First he argues that debate has to be opened up. Debate is not being opened up on this issue. The opposite has been happening in countries in Western Europe. Prof. Kaufmann himself has had issues with academic colleagues over the publication of his research.

        This is not a phenomena that is happening without a cause and independent of specific policy choices and political/social/religious attitudes.

        Using control of the media, censorship and policing, debate around the subject can be supressed while policies are implemented that ensure that ‘White Shift’ becomes a de facto reality.

        Whether the stark demographic, cultural and religious changes that follow from the predictions outlined in the book are the future that the populations of North-Western Europe desire for themselves should be open to real discussion.

  10. Alasdair says:

    Statues of historical figures are prominently displayed in public spaces in order to make strong statements, not in order to educate. If you make a strong statement then you are inviting a strong counter statement.

    • pnyikos says:

      A strong counter statement is fine, but when authorities start caving in to the demands of people who are “offended” to do away with statues to this or that person, I object. The authorities may have understandable reasons independent of such pressures; for instance, I could understand a desire to have a statue of Cecil Rhodes being retired to a museum. On the other hand, Winston Churchill certainly was enough of a statesman for a statue to him to be exempted from such treatment.

      This kind of madness has taken hold in the USA: the state of Virginia has removed a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general who was the most admired of all by the South and the North because of his exemplary behavior and character. The only reason he fought for the South was that his love of his native state of Virginia exceeded his commitment to preserving the Union.

      A reasonable compromise would be for there to be plaques giving a balanced account of a person’s life displayed in close proximity to a statue. In some cases the bad will be in the majority, in others the good.

      • John Candido says:

        The romance of traitors like Lee, has to end.

        He owned humans.

        The Confederacy was set up to defend chattel slavery.

        Period!

        Having lost the Civil War, Confederate sympathisers attempted an audacious reconfiguration of why they prosecuted the war.

        Duplicitously asserting that the basis of the Civil War was about a ‘Lost Cause’ or ‘states rights’, when it was principally about protecting the profitability of chattel slavery.

        The statues of traitors belong in public museums where their memory will not be celebrated as men of dignity and honour, but men with greed for fat profits, and a convenient racism against black people uppermost in their puny minds.

  11. Alasdair says:

    My first impressions of people I meet nearly always prove to be wrong. This is a strength, not a weakness. It means that I’m aware that I have to listen to what that person has to say and find out about them.

    • David Smith says:

      Alasdair writes:

      // My first impressions of people I meet nearly always prove to be wrong. This is a strength, not a weakness. It means that I’m aware that I have to listen to what that person has to say and find out about them. //

      Are second impressions always right?

      I suspect that as my experience with someone increases and my understanding of him develops, the initial impressions remain as a sort of foundation. And the person I am when I met him changes over time. As I change, my understanding of things changes, too. A core “me” remains – we seem to know that intuitively – but it would, I suspect, be both futile and wrong-headed to try to define it closely.

      We live in an age and a culture that seem to me too much given to over-simplifying just about everything. We’re analog creatures who think ourselves binary.

      • ignatius says:

        //We’re analog creatures who think ourselves binary.//
        Very pithy but just a tad too compressed. Could you pad this sentence out a bit for me please?

      • David Smith says:

        ignatius writes:

        // //We’re analog creatures who think ourselves binary.//
        Very pithy but just a tad too compressed. Could you pad this sentence out a bit for me please? //

        I’d love to, but it just occurred to me, and I’ve not thought it through. And it’s getting late. And I’ve been writing here too much today. Later?

      • pnyikos says:

        Not too sure what you had in mind, David, but the term “false dichotomy” popped into my mind.

        I’m also reminded of a huge problem with digital cameras: they are set to average out neighboring pixels, and this works to the detriment of detail at least as much, it seems, as to its advantage.

        A most disappointing experience came when I photographed a picturesque craggy volcano in Sicily, utterly unlike any mountain I have seen before or since. I could kick myself for not viewing the picture until after I was gone from there: the volcano was totally missing from the picture, because there was so much blue haze between it and myself that its border with the sky had been completely obliterated.

    • John Candido says:

      An important flexibility of mind, Alasdair.

      The reverse is true, as pointed out by David Smith.

      Personal interrelationships are a tricky matter, initial or revised impressions to one side.

  12. ignatius says:

    Some strange ideas here.
    1) Criminal damage is criminal damage, if we start to fiddle around with this then we are in trouble. Those who pulled down the statue should be fined. If the State in its wisdom decides not to press charges in order to contain a situation, then the State may do so.
    2) Brains do not make complex level decisions, human beings do.
    3) There are such things as visceral responses over which we have little conscious control. However we, overall, judge men and women to be rational actors in that they are deemed able to control reflex visceral responses such as fear, aggression. etc. Mitigation may be applied but basically ‘rationality’ implies the ability to control ones emotional state.
    4) The presumption on this blog must be that man has a spirit which is divine in nature and does not take its orders from what ‘the flesh’. Quentin is using the term ‘brain’ here as ‘flesh’.

    So, for me, this means I must contain and control my instinctive mistrust of certain racial groups, a distrust which I partly inherited from my background then learned in practice from violent drug gang based encounters in my teens. The whole man decides either to be a man or to settle for less.

    • Alasdair says:

      Let the people who tore down the statue be fined. And while you’re at it make sure that full reparations are paid for all the damage done by Edward Colston.

      • ignatius says:

        On that line of thinking it is Adam who must pay for all our misdemeanors…quick , lets crucify him while we have the chance….

      • David Smith says:

        ignatius writes:

        // On that line of thinking it is Adam who must pay for all our misdemeanors…quick , lets crucify him while we have the chance…. //

        Bi-directional blame. Time and history as an an ever-accumulating pile of matter? You know, come to think of it, somewhere in all this racial-guilt stuff playing itself out now there is a big element of ancestor worship. Atavism? Superstition? Quasi-religion based on pride and hatred? Strange stuff.

      • Alasdair says:

        Ignatius “On that line of thinking it is Adam who must pay for all our misdemeanors…quick , lets crucify him while we have the chance….” Brilliant, well said – the “new Adam” was indeed crucified, bringing about our salvation.

      • Alasdair says:

        This article appeared in the Guardian 9 months ago.
        “Glasgow University to pay £20m in slave trade reparations
        Institution believed to be first British university to set up restorative justice scheme”
        I’d encourage you to “search” that headline and read further.
        I attended a dinner where the Principal Sir Anton Muscatelli explained the thinking behind the project, and how all parties would benefit. Glasgow University’s reputation and global status has been considerably enhanced.

      • David Smith says:

        ignatius writes:

        // the State in its wisdom //

        The democratic state has wisdom? That grates on me. I think you’re conflating the machine and the people whose job it is to run it. I seems to me that to the degree that the running of the state is constrained by its laws and regulations, the people who run it are less like managers and more like caretakers. What wisdom a caretaker might have would, except in unusual circumstances, best not be applied to his work.

        A more apt analogy may be to the pilot of an aircraft, or to an aircraft mechanic. No, I think not. The mechanic is strictly confined in his work to keeping the machine capable of doing what it was designed to do, and the pilot is strictly confined to moving it safely from one place to another. Both pilot and mechanic are constrained by the conditions of their employment to following orders. As is a politician in a democracy.

        Perhaps judges are employed to exercise wisdom. Theoretically, I think, that’s not the case. At least in America, the job of judges is to decide on the proper application of a law when differences of opinion arise among other government employees. The definition of “proper” does give the judge some flexibility, but, theoretically, that flexibility must not extend to abolishing a law on a personal whim. Nevertheless, it doubtless does so from time to time. But that is a danger of having judges. Whether the personal whim is good or bad or harmless depends on how popular or unpopular it is among other members of the government and the populace at large. For example, say a judge declares that a law permitting a government executive to declare a quarantine for an entire population is valid and proper, and it’s the consensus of the populace at large that the decision is a good one, the quarantine is likely to proceed. But if the populace are strongly resistant to the judge’s decision, it’s likely that something will be done to nullify it, either in fact or in effect.

        This is getting too long. Better stop.

      • David Smith says:

        Alasdair writes:

        // Glasgow University’s reputation and global status has been considerably enhanced. //

        Among those who approve of it, of course. If “the University” – meaning those charged for the moment with making and executing decisions for it – had decided to sell all assets of the school and distribute them to the poor, the same people might well have been pleased by that, too.

        It’s all about a willingness to push one’s power to the furthest limits. There is a thin wall between democracy and popular dictatorship. Liberals are likely to keep pushing their power until they find that wall in their way, and then to keep pushing.

  13. David Smith says:

    Alasdair writes:

    // Let the people who tore down the statue be fined. And while you’re at it make sure that full reparations are paid for all the damage done by Edward Colston. //

    Apples and oranges, no?

  14. ignatius says:

    David Smith writes:
    //Bi-directional blame. Time and history as an an ever-accumulating pile of matter? You know, come to think of it, somewhere in all this racial-guilt stuff playing itself out now there is a big element of ancestor worship. Atavism? Superstition? Quasi-religion based on pride and hatred? Strange stuff.//

    In many ways we come back to the question of conscience. Atavistic desire is one pole of human existence. It is only when we accept this that we are able to peel back the layers. I’m not sure about the ancestor worship bit but definitely it is the case that racial/cultural/familial/stereotypes stalk the hallways of our lives. What will we do with them?

    • David Smith says:

      ignatius writes:

      // stalk the hallways of our lives //

      Nice.

    • John Candido says:

      ‘… definitely it is the case that racial/cultural/familial/stereotypes stalk the hallways of our lives. What will we do with them?

      I admire your honesty, Ignatious.

      In a long ago post, I wrote that we are all afflicted by prejudice to some degree, but I was aptly corrected by another regular poster who’s name I have forgotten (the specialist neurologist).

      He mentioned that not all people have prejudices but most prefer the company of their own kind, which is not a prejudice but a liking for comfortableness.

      Who doesn’t want to be comfortable?

      What do we do with our prejudices?

      I am certain that you answered this question in another post, where you mentioned having to work on them.

      I remember leaving my brother’s place around 10 or 11 at night, and walking to my car to drive home when I saw a black man 40 metres away walking directly towards me.

      I had never seen him before and being alone at night I became a little concerned.

      I changed the direction of walking to my car slightly and noticed that he had changed his direction to head directly towards me again.

      I became frightened and asked him what he wanted.

      We both met at the footpath next to my parked car several metres apart.

      He said that he was lost and was looking for the direction to a local street.

      He produced his mobile phone saying that its battery had gone flat.

      Light was emanating from his phone suggesting to me that he was lying.

      I got a little frightened and moved to my car’s front door, but told him to stay on the footpath where he was.

      He complied, while I looked for the street on my phone.

      After finding the street he was after, I walked back to the footpath where he was and gave him directions to his street.

      I was aware that my behaviour could have been interpreted as prejudicial by him, and this also made me uncomfortable with this question.

      He thanked me for my directions and he went on his way.

      I replayed this situation in my mind several times to see if I could determine if I acted on the basis of his skin colour, or was this a case of being approached by another person whom I had never met before late at night, and I got a little frightened of being a potential victim of a crime.

      I am fairly certain that I was just frightened but was not entirely certain at the time.

  15. FZM says:

    Bi-directional blame. Time and history as an an ever-accumulating pile of matter? You know, come to think of it, somewhere in all this racial-guilt stuff playing itself out now there is a big element of ancestor worship. Atavism? Superstition? Quasi-religion based on pride and hatred? Strange stuff.

    It seems to me like a very crude collectivism, you can see it in various brands of Marxist politics. In the past it used to be based on class and have more economic content relating to the economic structure of society, now it seems like it has switched to ethnicity. I always thought this is a regression in relation to older ‘classical’ Marxism, which, even if it can be criticised as a false theory is at least relatively more coherent and rational and superior to the idea that all that matters in the moral and political world is race and power.

    Thinking about Edward Colston, he is dead and the people he profited from enslaving are also dead. No one can pay reparations to them, and no one in the present is guilty of enslaving them. Slavery was abolished as immoral in the British Empire nearly 200 years ago. You could make arguments for transferring money to countries whose population is descended from slaves in the name of socialism or some kind of principle of redistribution based on the harms caused by earlier forms of capitalism, but reparations and acknowledgement of things like hereditary racial guilt is obviously wrong, and when this extends indiscriminately to all white European people in virtue of them being white, it is even worse.

  16. ignatius says:

    ..”It seems to me like a very crude collectivism, you can see it in various brands of Marxist politics. In the past it used to be based on class and have more economic content relating to the economic structure of society, now it seems like it has switched to ethnicity. I always thought this is a regression in relation to older ‘classical’ Marxism, which, even if it can be criticised as a false theory is at least relatively more coherent and rational and superior to the idea that all that matters in the moral and political world is race and power”
    ‘Classical Marxism’ … Oh oh… who will be the Kulaks now?

    • FZM says:

      ‘Classical Marxism’ … Oh oh… who will be the Kulaks now?

      Not all Marxists were Stalinists…

      • ignatius says:

        Hi FMZ, I know. In fact since my first degree was Politics Economics and Philosophy I once studied the whole thing in all its bizarre and murderous outworking. I’ve even been to Highgate cemetery to see the man himself…

  17. galerimo says:

    It is very appropriate that a discussion on conscience should focus on the tearing down of monuments such as the Colston statue in Bristol.

    There is a collective conscience, and like the individual it seeks to become better informed before it takes action. We all have an obligation to seek out the truth of our history.

    But such action could never be without disagreement and again in the case of the individual there will be those who will feel obliged to dissent.

    But there can be no doubt, Jesus provides a model of conscience where racism is conerned.

    Racism is the inbreeding of cultural taboos.

    And Samaritans and Jews were taboo to each other. Jesus shows how feelings may well arise but they should never be acted out when they manifest our anti-life tendencies, as racism does.

    It was well after His death and Resurrection that the Church came to understand how there can never be any basis for division among us.

    Jesus own teaching of the Good Samaritan with its dimensions of social divisions, was clear. No doubt shockingly clear at the time.

    You have to wonder when you look at our own statuary just how unbiased in racial justice were those we honour.

    Given the vast numbers of indigenous peoples who were brought to the Catholic church, in the age of Imperialism I wonder how representative they were among our nuns and clergy, and among our leadership.

    Even today – knowing the size of Black populations in the Catholic Church is the proportion of non-whites among clergy and leaders a fair one?

    In his response to the murder of George Floyd, Pope Francis clearly wants to send a very definite message about Racism when he says ‘Listen, this is just as much of an issue as abortion is,’”

    50% of Catholics voted Trump last time. I wonder about this time, in light their leader’s response to the same racist murder.

  18. ignatius says:

    “..There is a collective conscience, and like the individual it seeks to become better informed before it takes action. We all have an obligation to seek out the truth of our history….”

    Er…er..wot? I fear we are wandering into the forests and hills of magic realism here. I had no Idea I owed a debt to the truthfulness or otherwise of ancient Druid philosophy…clearly I have been an idle thinker and should go forthwith to Stonehenge and ask forgiveness of their strange descendants?…

  19. John Nolan says:

    Let’s have a historical reality check.

    1. Were it not for the complicity of the Africans themselves, not a single black slave would have crossed the Atlantic.

    2. The success of the abolitionist movement was a rare example of a moral issue prevailing over economic self-interest, and in a very short time-scale.

    3. Following on that, it was the British Empire and the Royal Navy which was instrumental in defeating the slave trade and indeed slavery itself. It’s probably the greatest achievement of the Pax Britannica.

    4. According to the United Nations slavery is still endemic in those parts of west Africa where it originated.

    5. Movement of peoples has characterized all of human history. The movement of Africans to the West Indies and the American colonies had unique aspects, but the population of the West Indies are arguably better off than those who have the misfortune to live in sub-Saharan Africa.

    When did Upper Volta last defeat England at Lord’s? I rest my case.

    • Alasdair says:

      The Historical Reality Checks are always good when they apply
      1) Blame is not absolved by pointing out the failings of others – that’s like a child’s cry of “it’s not fair, he did it as well”. Not a defence.
      2) True. Would we not include also Britain’s involvement in WW2? The establishment of the NHS?
      3) Well done Britain. Of course there are things of which we can be proud. Let’s add to the list.
      4) Yes, as we’re constantly being told. So lets get our house in order then attack from the moral high ground.
      5) There was a theory that the Afro-Caribbean’s are fitter and healthier on average than their African cousins because they have only the DNA of those who were fit and healthy enough to survive the transportation and enslavement. A sort of accidental eugenics involving killing off huge numbers of the weak..

      • John Nolan says:

        Alasdair

        Britain’s involvement in WW2 was not a moral crusade against Nazi ideology. It was in the tradition of British foreign policy which had always seen that the domination of Europe by one Power was inimical to the national interest. Louis XIV, Napoleon, Kaiser Bill and Hitler are simply the latest in a long line. The EU could also be added to the list.

        I have posted on the NHS before. It owed more to big-state socialist ideology than to any moral high ground. In the 1930s the British healthcare system was already probably the best in the world.

        We’re not constantly being told about African complicity in the slave trade. In fact, it is usually presented as greedy racist European traders violating the pristine purity of African society. What examples of slavery exist in 21st century Britain do not fit the left-wing racial stereotype and are conveniently overlooked.

    • John Candido says:

      John Nolan wrote,

      ‘ 1. Were it not for the complicity of the Africans themselves, not a single black slave would have crossed the Atlantic.‘

      The complicity of a small number of Africans profiting through the forced sale of human beings, would not have the agreement of the overwhelming majority of Africans opposed to this inhuman, criminal, and greedy trade in human beings.

      ‘ 2. The success of the abolitionist movement was a rare example of a moral issue prevailing over economic self-interest, and in a very short time-scale.’

      Fair enough.

      ‘ 3. Following on that, it was the British Empire and the Royal Navy which was instrumental in defeating the slave trade and indeed slavery itself. It’s probably the greatest achievement of the Pax Britannica.’

      Agreed.

      ‘4. According to the United Nations slavery is still endemic in those parts of west Africa where it originated.’

      Agreed.

      ‘5. Movement of peoples has characterized all of human history. The movement of Africans to the West Indies and the American colonies had unique aspects, but the population of the West Indies are arguably better off than those who have the misfortune to live in sub-Saharan Africa.‘

      No contest.

  20. FZM says:

    You have to wonder when you look at our own statuary just how unbiased in racial justice were those we honour.

    The historic statues in the United Kingdom do manifest the way people used to think and the way society used to be and modifying them by removing what past generations erected and including more non-white figures from the history of the British Empire could be quite challenging. Will it involve a repudiation of this era by depicting figures in British towns and cities who fought against British colonial rule and rejected the British liberal Imperial system? Or people who allied with the British and defended Imperial rule? This era in history seems closely tied up with Britain’s current prosperity which attracts people from other countries to settle here, and for many past imperial connections are another part of the explanation for their arrival here.

    • galerimo says:

      Yes, I agree, it is challenging indeed.

      The problem I have with describing these old statues as representing the way society used to think is knowing how true that statement is.

      A section, and a very small section of society, the rich and powerful would be a more accurate description of those who placed them.

      “The Force of Nature” by Lorenzo Quinn in Berkeley Square or the “Angel of the North” at Gateshead by Antony Gormley are magnificent totems.

      Among others, they show the breathtaking inspiration as well as connecting with history that the Poms are capable of raising in their public spaces.

      So too is the social justice project at the University of Glasgow , about which Alastair reminds us (thank you Alastair).

      Though it’s not a sculpted representation it is now part of the public records. All too small a place in such vast and often bloody records.

      Any religious person, will rejoice in this energy around symbolism.

      I see in it more and more aliveness around charging with our own meanings and deeper awareness the action we take and the beliefs we hold.

      This is the essence of sacramental living.

      What good feelings arose in me, that really appeased my conscience, Quentin, when the statue of your Harold Larwood was no longer left to stand alone.

      In 2015 he was brought into a group to include our own Donald Bradman.

      See. That’s the sort of contemporary sensibility we are witnessing in action in places like Bristol.

      • Alasdair says:

        The “statue issue” highlighted by recent events in Bristol could and should have been dealt with decades ago. Quentin says that statues have value in reminding us of our history. But they don’t if they just stand there with no historical context attached. So either attach appropriate signage in-situ or remove them to a local museum.
        Even some of our most enlightened cities have only just made it into the 21st century. to quote the BBC the other day:
        “The City of Edinburgh is proposing to dedicate a controversial 1827 Henry Dundas monument to those enslaved because of his actions.
        New signage will explain that Dundas was “instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade”. Council leader Adam McVey said it was important to highlight “the good and the bad” of Edinburgh’s story”.
        Never to be outdone by Edinburgh, Glasgow will certainly be brainstorming a new name for their Dundas St.

  21. Geordie says:

    Well said John Nolan. You always seem to choose a balanced approach to discussions.

    On the question of Harold Larwood,; I believe he was only doing what his captain told him to do but he was the one who suffered the adverse comments while the rest of the team kept their heads down.

    With regard to the racial questions, the most important action, is not pulling statues down; it is the re-writing of the school curriculum. I was taught that the vast majority of the people in the British occupied countries were delight to be under British rule. I believed this for years. Those against us were terrorists and criminals.
    Now I can understand the motives of the Mau Mau, Eoka and the IRA, even though I condemn their methods. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

  22. Alasdair says:

    Further to the idea of affixing historical information to statues. A simple URL and/or QR code directing smartphone users to the WikiPedia entry for the historical figure and the sculptor would be an inexpensive first step.

  23. G.D says:

    ‘Racism’ only exists because a group of people come to conclude they are above or better than others. It is an excuse perpetuated the exercise of power over others.
    …. The foundational issue that should be addressed is ‘elitist’ attitudes. ……
    Which are in all races, religions, and classes. And aimed at all others that don’t comply with ‘my group’ or ‘my personal preferences’. Be they members of a different race class & religion or of the same race class & religion.

    We spend so much time & energy looking at the symptoms (racism & the kick back from it) and ignore those few in all factions – that consider themselves better than and above others – & seek to perpetuate the myth of ‘racism’ to gain support via hatred, and retain power over the ‘lesser mortals’ by any way possible. ….. Racism (and the troubles it causes) only exists because of elitism. And elitism doesn’t discriminate between race class or religion a person comes from. Only ‘my way’ of having power over others matters.

    (Politics, as in : activities within an organisation that are aimed at improving someone’s status or position and are typically considered to be devious or divisive.
    the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve POWER.)

  24. ignatius says:

    “‘Racism’ only exists because a group of people come to conclude they are above or better than others. It is an excuse perpetuated the exercise of power over others.
    …. The foundational issue that should be addressed is ‘elitist’ attitudes. ……”

    hmm, Not too sure about this. The roots of my own racially prejudiced attitudes were, I’m pretty sure, a mixture of parental influence during the Windrush years and then fairly naked fear added on a bit later by threats of violence.. Certainly I did not just choose prejudice just for fun. There is something innate which desires power over what is strange and perceived to be a threat, but I am not sure that all racist behaviour comes from the will to power. I don’t like the word ‘racism’ very much to be honest it is so multi layered as to be a highly politicised and devious term which is, itself, used as a power gambit. I much prefer the term ‘prejudice’ which is much more straightforward. If you tell me I’m racially ‘prejudiced’ then I’m quite likely to nod my head in agreement and look for a discussion around how we moderate our impulses to aggression and choose a different way. If you tell me I’m racist I will simply assume you are after a fight!!!

  25. David Smith says:

    // The statues of historical rogues (perhaps with a plaque showing a brief history) are important reminders of what we once once were. //

    Memorials make no sense to the woke, because the past for them is both bad and dead. The universe started anew with them. They are infuriated to find any non-woke creatures incumbering their lives. Like pigeons, they have only one use for a statue.

    It’s occurred to me that the importance so many of us give to what’s displayed for us as “news” in these times is misplaced. The news in our time is primarily gossip written by the woke for the consumption of the woke. It really is not we whom they are talking about, ever. One of the healthiest things the non-woke can do is simply to unplug from the news.

    • John Candido says:

      ‘Memorials make no sense to the woke, because the past for them is both bad and dead. The universe started anew with them. They are infuriated to find any non-woke creatures incumbering their lives. Like pigeons, they have only one use for a statue.‘

      Abject nonsense!

      ‘The news in our time is primarily gossip written by the woke for the consumption of the woke.‘

      And.

      ‘One of the healthiest things the non-woke can do is simply to unplug from the news.’

      You are unplugging from reality.

      How else are people going to remain informed about current events.

      Look up the meaning of ‘responsible and ethical journalism‘.

      • David Smith says:

        John Candido writes:

        // ‘One of the healthiest things the non-woke can do is simply to unplug from the news.’

        You are unplugging from reality.

        How else are people going to remain informed about current events. //

        John, it’s sometimes tempting to think that you’re amusing yourself here by baiting most of the rest of us.

        Your reality is not mine. And the mainstream news media – at least in America but also, I’d guess, in much of the rest of the West – have adopted your reality.

        Western culture has somehow got itself in the dismal situation of being widely divided between your people, on one side, and, on the other, people generally much more like me, Your people are true believers, and most of mine are far from that.

        The “news” in America has for the most part become saturated with your propaganda. You think that’s good; I think it’s bad.

        Peace.

      • FZM says:

        Your reality is not mine. And the mainstream news media – at least in America but also, I’d guess, in much of the rest of the West – have adopted your reality.

        Western culture has somehow got itself in the dismal situation of being widely divided between your people, on one side, and, on the other, people generally much more like me, Your people are true believers, and most of mine are far from that.

        Interestingly, thanks to social media and the sheer number of people with smart phones and quality cameras, it is now often possible to see how a media narrative is constructed by viewing footage that has not been included in a way that would not have been possible in the past.

        Listening to the BBC radio last week I was surprised by what seemed to be sustained promotion of specific messages. Living in a country where the MSM is heavily censored and controlled, I started to recognise a certain level of similarity in the feel of the output.

        You seem to be right that Western culture is becoming more divided, it is still at quite a low level but conservatives are gradually increasing their power levels, if the younger ones are anything to go by.

  26. FZM says:

    Memorials make no sense to the woke, because the past for them is both bad and dead. The universe started anew with them. They are infuriated to find any non-woke creatures incumbering their lives. Like pigeons, they have only one use for a statue.

    I had a feeling that holy icons and veneration of icons is inherently anti-woke for some reason, perhaps because they are such a tangible reminder that the past was neither inherently bad nor is it dead. This is also something I think that applies to praying for the souls of the departed.

    • ignatius says:

      Yes I think you are on to something. I was at university in the 70’s when Marxism was the language of the ‘woke’ tribe. I was a paid up member then and the only thing that matter ed, thank you very much, was ‘our’ version of history. Any other narrative was a disguised hegemony of ideas inherently corrupted by capitalism…

      • David Smith says:

        ignatius writes:

        // I was at university in the 70’s when Marxism was the language of the ‘woke’ tribe. I was a paid up member then and the only thing that matter ed, thank you very much, was ‘our’ version of history. //

        It’s a pity youth don’t go to university with a far better grounding in history and careful thinking than, I suppose, almost all do. It seems to me that the twelve or so years of elementary education we impose on children are largely wasted.

  27. John Nolan says:

    Chambers, 13th edition:

    racism (n) hatred, rivalry or bad feeling between races; belief in the inherent superiority of some races over others, usu. with the implication of a right to be dominant; discriminative treatment based on such belief.

    It is clear, therefore, that the Israelites were racist. From what we know of the Philistines they were an Aegean people with a settled rural and urban culture. But in the eyes of the ‘chosen people’ they were heathens, and crucially they were in the way.

    Whatever the motives of the BLM crowd, their actions and slogans have had the effect of increasing bad feeling between races. Therefore they are by definition racist themselves.

    I would not criticize independent India for removing statues of General Havelock or even Queen Victoria. And if post-apartheid South Africa doesn’t want to be permanently reminded of Cecil Rhodes, that’s fair enough. Yet Nelson Mandela praised Rhodes’s legacy which enabled students from different parts of the world parts of the world to study at Oxford, and Pandit Nehru praised the arch-imperialist Lord Curzon for what he did to preserve and restore monuments of Indian culture, including the Taj Mahal.

    Yet to consider removing WE Glastone’s statue in Liverpool on the flimsy grounds that he spoke in support of the South at the beginning of the American Civil War is ludicrous and shows either a complete ignorance of history or a sinister motive to rewrite it.

    Most statues in Britain were not paid for by the State or by the rich and powerful. Like the statue of Ghandi in Parliament Square they were financed by public subscription.

    • John Candido says:

      John Nolan wrote,

      ‘Whatever the motives of the BLM crowd, their actions and slogans have had the effect of increasing bad feeling between races. Therefore they are by definition racist themselves.’

      ‘Whatever’ isn’t appropriate, given their stated aim is to reduce the proportion of black people being killed by the police in proportionally higher number than the proportion of white people killed by the police relative to the population of whites.

      ‘ … their actions and slogans have had the effect of increasing bad feeling between races.‘

      There has been a sea-change in attitudes to racism in America and around the world, and its wonderful to see the cosmopolitan, multiracial composition of demonstrators globally protesting against personal and structural racism.

      In regards to statue removals.

      All statues that were erected to promote the racist sentiments of immature Confederate supporters, should only be removed by a historical commission set up by state governments in America, or governmental authorities elsewhere.

      Once removed they should be preserved in museums.

      They are to remain on display in public museums to teach the public about their sordid origin, which is to intimidate the local black population that they are subservient to whites.

      Confederate supporters are America’s Neanderthals who still believe in the superiority of the white race, and the maintenance of white privilege.

    • John Candido says:

      John Nolan wrote,

      ‘Whatever the motives of the BLM crowd, their actions and slogans have had the effect of increasing bad feeling between races. Therefore they are by definition racist themselves.’

      ‘Whatever’ isn’t appropriate, given their stated aim is to reduce the proportion of black people being killed by the police in proportionally higher number than the proportion of white people killed by the police relative to the population of whites.

      ‘ … their actions and slogans have had the effect of increasing bad feeling between races.‘

      There has been a sea-change in attitudes to racism in America and around the world, and its wonderful to see the cosmopolitan, multiracial composition of demonstrators globally protesting against personal and structural racism.

      All statues that were erected to promote the racist sentiments of immature Confederate supporters, should only be removed by a historical commission set up by state governments in America, or governmental authorities elsewhere.

      Once removed they should be preserved in museums.

      They are to remain on display in public museums to teach the public about their sordid origin, which is to intimidate the local black population that they are subservient to whites and subhuman ‘apes’.

      Confederate supporters are America’s Neanderthals who still believe in the superiority of the white race, and the maintenance of white privilege.

  28. FZM says:

    I would not criticize independent India for removing statues of General Havelock or even Queen Victoria. And if post-apartheid South Africa doesn’t want to be permanently reminded of Cecil Rhodes, that’s fair enough. Yet Nelson Mandela praised Rhodes’s legacy which enabled students from different parts of the world parts of the world to study at Oxford, and Pandit Nehru praised the arch-imperialist Lord Curzon for what he did to preserve and restore monuments of Indian culture, including the Taj Mahal.

    The removal of statues following the achievement of national independence often seems to happen. In the past 10 years in Ukraine pretty much all of the statues placed during Soviet rule have been removed, sometimes violently by mobs, because they are associated with de facto Russian domination and oppression of Ukrainians and Ukrainian culture. Some older people who lived in Soviet times have ambiguous feelings about this, and also some of those Ukrainians who have Russian as their mother tongue. Similar things have happened in a number of different post-Soviet states, the Baltic countries, some countries in Central Asia.

    So far though the Ukrainians who are living and working in Russian territory, partly as a consequence of the existence of the USSR, haven’t started to attack Russian historical statues and demand that they be taken down and replaced by Ukrainian ones.

    • Alasdair says:

      Several years ago I bought a classic Russian hat with a Soviet badge at a market stall in Poland. .I remember the stallholder demonstrating how easily the badge could be removed. I wondered why he had taken the time to do that as I was intending to leave it on. Shortly afterwards I was wearing it at home in cold weather, One day I went into a petrol station shop to pay for fuel wearing the hat. The cashier was Bulgarian. He said “Sir, if you knew history you could not wear that hat”. It’s a beautiful hat, but I’ve never worn it again in public. I had learned something about the hurt that symbols can cause.

      • FZM says:

        The hammer and sickle is prominently displayed on many public buildings and more or less all of the war memorials where I am, you even see it woven into decoration and ornamentation at the theatre and in older shops. You find a similar thing in the Russian Federation. While displaying it in some countries is a crime, in others defacing it or attacking it still is.

  29. John Candido says:

    Anyone blithely stating that ‘All Lives Matter’ is being duplicitous about race or too dumb to see that they are minimising the more than reasonable concerns that ‘Black Lives Matter’ (BLM) raise in relation to black people shot & killed in disproportionate numbers.

    The disproportionate number of black people that are being killed by the police, is greater than the proportion of white people being killed by the police relative to their population.

    On another note.

    Saying that rioting and looting is wrong, depends on its context.

    When is rioting and looting an understandable response to injustice?

    When years of peaceful demonstrations fail to achieve lasting change in the way authorities think and act.

    Especially when black people are killed in disproportionate numbers, and police departments do not listen to legitimate criticism.

    To ignore justifiable criticisms that seeks to change the way that the police think and act, including how they train their cadets to become police officers, inevitably leads to more rioting and looting.

    There are many understandable articles and opinions expressed in both the media and social media, that violent demonstrations are wrong, and rioting and looting, is counterproductive and illegal.

    Of course they are wrong, unless there is an appreciation of the context that they are occurring.

    Just saying these actions are illegal and wrong is inadequate.

    Lives that are unjustifyingly killed or assaulted, are infinitely more important than damaged and stolen property.

    • milliganp says:

      I seem to remember being told at a very early age that two wrongs don’t make a right.

      I can understand frustration and a sense of hopelessness but stealing flat screen TV’s from electrical stores does nothing to balance racial injustice.

      • ignatius says:

        “I can understand frustration and a sense of hopelessness but stealing flat screen TV’s from electrical stores does nothing to balance racial injustice…”
        ha ha ha…at last, a bit of sense.

      • John Candido says:

        ‘Two wrongs do not make a right.’

        I never said it was right or legal.

        What I did say is that looting and property damage is wrong, but just saying it is wrong or illegal is inadequate, does not go far enough, and lacks depth.

      • Alasdair says:

        A lot of very just causes have been fatally damaged by opportunistic extreme elements and criminals that have piggy-backed themselves onto the cause. See how Trump has used this as an excuse to denigrate the entire BLM movement.
        The lesson for future organisers of such causes is to be ready to loudly and visibly condemn, and dissociate from these elements as soon as they appear.
        The problem is that todays popular movements do not have official leaders or spokespersons, They are all nebulously on the Social Media Cloud.

  30. FZM says:

    Saying that rioting and looting is wrong, depends on its context.

    When is rioting and looting an understandable response to injustice?

    When years of peaceful demonstrations fail to achieve lasting change in the way authorities think and act.

    Especially when black people are killed in disproportionate numbers, and police departments do not listen to legitimate criticism.

    To ignore justifiable criticisms that seeks to change the way that the police think and act, including how they train their cadets to become police officers, inevitably leads to more rioting and looting.

    From what I understand an aim of the demonstrators is to disband police forces across the US and many are also interested in replacing the liberal capitalist system with some form of anarcho-communism.

    • John Candido says:

      What BLM want is thorough police reform throughly the United States.

      Capitalism is inherently unstable and cannot of itself address unemployment, recessions that regularly appear every 5 to 7 years, and is incapable of reforming police forces across America.

      What can compliment capitalism are cooperatives.

    • pnyikos says:

      Candido is dead wrong, FZM, but your use of “demonstrators” for people whose aims play into the hands of vandals and looters is a poor choice of words.

      Peaceful demonstrations have been effective in the past, but the resentment over the coronavirus restrictions and the increased poverty have altered the timetable.

      The brutal murder in Minneapolis has elicited decisive action on all levels of government, and the peaceful demonstrations are helping the process along. So there is no call for violence. But the temptation to help oneself to goods that one thinks one can no longer do without, has resulted in a dichotomous response.

      In downtown Charleston, South Carolina, less that 200 km from where I live, there is a convent of Sisters who had a view of both worlds form their windows : the peaceful one by day, the lawless one by night. They were not the same people. The Sisters were no-nonsense types who took down the license plate numbers of people implicated in the looting, and reported them to the police. Hopefully, some justice will be done as a result, even if belatedly.

  31. ignatius says:

    Sorry John but your thoughts seem mainly to demonstrate that you have not attended many left wing gatherings nor understood the roots of their manifold hatreds. ‘BLM’ is not a ‘thing’ it has become a metaphor and a rubric. I spent a fair few hours during my university years braying through a loudspeaker while marching for a wide variety of ‘socialist’ causes, race among them. See for yourself John, go on a demo, join one that devolves into violence..its very educational..

    • FZM says:

      Sorry John but your thoughts seem mainly to demonstrate that you have not attended many left wing gatherings nor understood the roots of their manifold hatreds. ‘BLM’ is not a ‘thing’ it has become a metaphor and a rubric. I spent a fair few hours during my university years braying through a loudspeaker while marching for a wide variety of ‘socialist’ causes, race among them. See for yourself John, go on a demo, join one that devolves into violence..its very educational..

      As well, socialism is almost dying out in Europe. In the last socialist country in Europe it is certain that the president is going to be reelected again (he has been in power for 26 years already) but this time he has faced real opposition, especially among the young. Many young people are just leaving, fairly significant numbers even in the past 4 years because the average salary in the capital, where wages are highest, is $4500 a year. A university professor may earn $8000, a surgeon $10000, cost of food and clothes and things is, from what I hear, similar or higher than in the US. There is no unemployment though.

      There is no police force but a National Militia, the successor of the People’s Militia. The number of militia officers is kept secret by the Ministry of the Interior but is estimated to be proportionately at least 3 times larger than in the States. Unauthorised gatherings of more than 3 people in public places are illegal because this considered to be political subversion. The militia will arrive in force if people try this, and state security officials who will film the demonstrators if they are not arrested so indirect action can be taken later.

      Strangely, relatively low salaries/standard of living and strong collectivism seems to make people more racist, overt racism is relatively normal and unremarkable here and the country is basically a white ethno-state. The countries in Europe that are still like this are all ex-Communist countries and I started to realise that this is probably not due to a reaction to socialism, but has been caused by it.

    • Alasdair says:

      Our characterisation of the demonstrations as being predominantly about socialism, or predominantly criminal, does rather indicate that we aren’t getting the point. The point being that there are real issues being brought to light, that simply have to be addressed. Don’t focus on some detail which has been cut and pasted out of the larger picture and pretend that that is what it’s all been about.

      • ignatius says:

        Alisdair,
        //Don’t focus on some detail which has been cut and pasted out of the larger picture and pretend that that is what it’s all been about.//

        I suspect that your version of ‘what it is all about’ is, of course your own take on ‘what it is all about’ I think the point FMZ is making, from out of what is evidently a depth of personal experience is that socialism, in practice, is when it comes to the test, a weak tool. This is my view also. My view, gained simply through experience. No one is ignoring the cruel and basic injustice of a man murdered in broad daylight by police officers but this online discussion, here, now, has broadened out quite legitimately into the way the injustice has been hijacked. My own experience of these things tells me that this tendency of hijacking definite injustice into wider and more generic resentments which degenerate into anti establishment mayhem is typical of what is euphemistically termed ‘socialist action’.And you, Alisdair, what is your experience?

      • Alasdair says:

        Ignatius. My take on “what it’s all about” is based on extensive reading and viewing, most days using, and treating with scepticism, a wide variety of sources at least half of which are not UK.
        With the exception of this blog I haven’t seen current events being described much as being about socialism.

      • FZM says:

        Our characterisation of the demonstrations as being predominantly about socialism, or predominantly criminal, does rather indicate that we aren’t getting the point. The point being that there are real issues being brought to light, that simply have to be addressed. Don’t focus on some detail which has been cut and pasted out of the larger picture and pretend that that is what it’s all been about.

        Academic understanding of racial issues has been heavily influenced by the Marxist tradition, common understandings of the origin of the race concept itself are based on an analysis of European Imperialism and the emergence of capitalism.

        Socialists and the far left has been campaigning about racial equality issues for decades, as Ignatius was pointing out in his post, and, at least and until a few weeks ago the US version of BLM was describing itself as an anti-capitalist organisation. It seems hard to explain the emergence of something like CHAZ (or CHOP maybe, its designation seems to change) or the presence of Antifa in these demonstrations without this political background. The violence is also more explicable if part of the protestors are influenced by revolutionary Marxist ideas of one kind or another, attacks on capitalist property being treated as natural consequences of an insurrection by the oppressed.

        As far as Europe goes the larger picture looks like something that has been cut out of US politics and the US context and pasted onto European polities and to be potentially an example of ‘astroturfing’.

      • milliganp says:

        Ignatius writes //My own experience of these things tells me that this tendency of hijacking definite injustice into wider and more generic resentments which degenerate into anti establishment mayhem is typical of what is euphemistically termed ‘socialist action’.And you, Alisdair, what is your experience?//
        I believe you are misusing the word socialism. There are plenty of socialist movements that do good. What we have is the remnant of communist sympathisers and apologists, new age and anarchist movements which have moved on from trade union extremism and “ban the bomb” to eco-warrior movements, GBLT+ and anything that has an anti-establishment and anti-history agenda.
        BUT, this does not invalidate some of the issues being addressed. British history does have skeletons in the closet and echos still present today in overt racism in our society and culture. Despite government assurances we still read on a regular basis of the destroyed lives of members of the Windrush generation and appalling treatment of migrants.
        Personally, I would rather we did identify and remove some of the more obvious remnants of slavery and colonialism.
        One of the charges made against liberal Catholics is that of moral relativism. If slavery is wrong then it was always wrong and we shouldn’t be defending those who profited from it by saying “it was just the norm at the time”.

  32. ignatius says:

    “The problem is that today’s popular movements do not have official leaders or spokespersons, They are all nebulously on the Social Media Cloud.”
    The problem is also the threat and presence of sheer naked violence, which paralyses and frightens the humble citizen thus calling down a militarised response which ramps up situations into chaos.

    • pnyikos says:

      So far, the militarised response hasn’t materialised in the USA nor, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, anywhere else. Instead we have the spectacle of a New York City police force hamstrung by post-Giulani restrictions on what police may do.

      Smashing a store window should elicit an immediate response from the police: the lessons of the past show that it is the boldest criminals who initiate this kind of behavior, and if the crowd sees them decisively dealt with, that strongly discourages any repetitions of these actions. Back in the days of the “long hot summers” of the late 60’s and early 70’s, the city of Canton, Ohio, put these principles into effect, and negligible loss resulted.

      It is when the opposite happens that a militarised response becomes appropriate. If Eisenhower could send airborne troops to Little Rock because the National Guard was controlled by a segregationist Arkansas governor, Trump should be able to do the same sort of thing without chaos ensuing.

      The opposite did happen in Los Angeles in the wake of the Rodney King verdict. The LAPD chief actually ordered the police out of the area where a big crowd was gathering, but had not yet resorted to looting, etc. And I believe that chief should have been charged as accessory to the titanic amount of looting and vandalism and violence that could have been prevented with a different policy.

    • Alasdair says:

      “The problem is also the threat and presence of sheer naked violence, which paralyses and frightens the humble citizen thus calling down a militarised response which ramps up situations into chaos”
      Yes true. But the shear naked violence, within the context of the size of the movement, is small in scale. That’s not to minimise the effect on those who were hurt or suffered damage, but the violent element number hundreds compared to the number of demonstrators and supporters who number millions. Of course, the UK media are only interested in a story, and an “angle”, so they will present the dramatic in a disproportionate way. They also know how to get right into the thick of the action and it would surprise me if there wasn’t a “sound-lights-action” clapperboard effect going on. In my city, like most, thousands demonstrated peacefully and socially-distanced and went almost completely unreported.
      Remember that movements in support of equality issues, including BLM, exist for the benefit and support of the most “frightened and humble citizens”.

  33. John Nolan says:

    ‘Remember that movements in support of equality issues, including BLM, exist for the benefit and support of the most “frightened and humble citizens” ‘.

    What astonishing naïveté. BLM has an agenda which is inimical to capitalism and Western values in general, including the family. Those white liberals who are taken in remind me of the CND supporters in the early 1980s. The Cold War was at its height and NATO had responded to the Soviet deployment of SS-20 with a ‘twin-track’ approach – pursue arms reduction while at the same time deploy P2 and GLCM to show we meant business.

    Bruce Kent and his cronies shamelessly peddled Soviet disinformation and the ‘useful idiots’ lapped it up. In the end, NATO was proved to be right.

    • Alasdair says:

      No I don’t go for that convoluted conspiracy theory stuff.
      Those that don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it – yes. But note the small “h” – as in a catalogued time line of events. But History (big H) is art as much as it is science, based more or less loosely on history, and has to be read and viewed through the lens of healthy scepticism and constantly revisited and reviewed. Big H history, like many human intellectual pursuits constantly seeks patterns, and attempts to mould contemporary events into a stylised and frequently false Historical mould – effectively writing the History before it has even happened.
      Step one should always be to look at the actual events (difficult, I know given the poor quality of the British press) then listen to what people are actually saying. Don’t fall into the “So what you’re saying is ——-“ habit beloved of weak BBC and Channel 4 interviewers.

  34. ignatius says:

    MilliganP
    //I believe you are misusing the word socialism. There are plenty of socialist movements that do good.//

    Alas kind sir I believe the error is your own, notice I tend to say socialism IN PRACTICE or else I use the phrase ‘so called’ or ‘socialist action’. Socialism, Christianity, fascism, etec etc only exist by virtue of their practice, in real terms, in real actions, in real time. Of course there are many small groups of basically decent individuals running good causes of all shapes and sizes under a socialist/humanist banner. But one you add into the brew a lust for political power then Socialism is found universally wanting, universally brutal and universally a failure, because it thinks that people are born with a tabula rasa..when, in fact, they are not.

  35. G.D says:

    ‘But on(c)e you add into the brew a lust for political power then Socialism is found universally wanting, universally brutal and universally a failure’ ….. As any ideologies become when fanatics take over. Or the ‘opposition’ convinces they are as such.

  36. FZM says:

    I believe you are misusing the word socialism. There are plenty of socialist movements that do good. What we have is the remnant of communist sympathisers and apologists, new age and anarchist movements which have moved on from trade union extremism and “ban the bomb” to eco-warrior movements, GBLT+ and anything that has an anti-establishment and anti-history agenda.

    Socialism has different meanings, colloquially, often in Britain it means something more like social democracy than collective ownership of the means of production and a society in which private property (as opposed to personal belongings) does not exist. Ignatius seemed to be using it in the more technical, radical sense. This is one reason why what we call Communist countries usually described themselves as socialist or engaged in building socialism, Communism was a later stage of development never attained.

    BUT, this does not invalidate some of the issues being addressed. British history does have skeletons in the closet and echos still present today in overt racism in our society and culture.

    It seems these issues need to be handled carefully, because there are potentially a lot of skeletons in the cupboard of British history, and perhaps significant implications about pushing some of them into the foreground. I remember a quote by a famous Indian historian of the British Empire period:

    ‘In post- independence India serious thinkers and historians who see anything good in the imperial record can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. Even the best known of these persistent admirers of the Raj, Nirad C. Chaudhauri, has described the British in India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the ‘Nazis of their time’.’

    This was in the 1990s and the situation hasn’t got better for the Raj. The related issue with slavery is that depending on which historians you read, it is possible it had very significant and wide ranging economic benefits for Britain and so is woven into the fabric of British society and British capitalism in general. In this kind of perspective Britain today is built up out of colonialism and exploitation and taking down some statues is only the first stage in the decolonisation and deconstruction process.
    In some ways the attacks on the Churchill statue and the Cenotaph were symbolic of this new approach.

    As far as I know there are few racists in modern Britain who still hold attitudes similar to those held in the heyday of racial imperialism, outside of actual white supremacists and neo-Nazis, who have usually had to consciously relearn this material and world view.

  37. ignatius says:

    // This is one reason why what we call Communist countries usually described themselves as socialist or engaged in building socialism, Communism was a later stage of development never attained.//
    China being the perfect example.
    I lived for 5 years in the late eighties.I spent quite a time in Gansu province, still under the death shadow of poverty and famine which came as a result of Mao’s crazed attempt at a ‘great leap forward’.It seems to me that strongly ideologically based political theory is pretty much bound to fall into tyranny, either of oligarchs or of local rivalries. The command economies so disfiguring of local entrepreneurial flair.I loved China but then, underneath the smiles, half hidden, lay a great sorrow.

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