Saturday, November 24, 2012

Without Words

A friend died last week. He had had cancer which had metastasized. He had been ill for some time and the last thing I did for him was help him write a letter in English to a subscription account in the UK cancelling his newspapers. I was unable to go to his funeral, since I was away in Morocco at a wedding but hundreds of others did to mourn his passing and recall a life well lived. I was reminded of the timeless circles of our small lives which run inexorably, much as we might otherwise wish. And yet, so many others have suffered even worse. We imagine that war, death and destruction happens somewhere else and its bestial excesses sometimes leave us as detached observers, disbelievingly watching and hardly able to imagine that such things still happen in serene, well-ordered societies such as those we inhabit. Our women do not suffer rape and brutality as the survivors did when the Red Army entered Berlin in 1944,  we do not have to queue for water because infrastructures have been destroyed, our children do not have to learn how to protect themselves during an air-raid warning. Romans 8:28 is sometimes hard to hold on to especially in the light of unspeakable cruelty and pain which assails us all from time to time, either directly or, mercifully, only in the media. A bus full of kindergarten children was hit by a train in southern Egypt and nearly fifty  promising young lives were lost. Over 150 people were killed on both sides in the latest clash on the Gaza border, including six men who were accused of being 'Israeli spies', according to the UK’s ‘Daily Mail’. They were dragged through the streets of Gaza City and executed in front of a chanting mob. Witnesses said the six were taken to an intersection in the north of the city where they were summarily shot for providing intelligence that helped Israel pinpoint key figures in Hamas and Islamic Jihad who were subsequently targeted by their warplanes and eliminated. Gunmen chained the body of one of the alleged collaborators to a motorcycle and dragged it throughout the main streets of Gaza City as a warning to others. It is as if we have learned nothing since the fall of Troy when Hector's body was dragged behind Achilles' chariot. More than a little resonance of Blackshirt nastiness here; my sense of outrage is almost without words.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bishops and Books

Where we come from, it would seem, is as significant as where we’re going. The Bishop of Durham, Rt Rev Justin Welby, after only a year as a bishop, is to fill the ponderous sandals of Rowan Williams whom history will record as being the most theologically learned after Anselm.  I for one would have lost the bet, along with many others, the dark horse slipped past the post almost without anybody noticing. Much has been made of his past as an oil executive, but also the fact that he, like the PM and Mayor of London, is a ‘posh boy’, an Old Etonian. It’s all too British for words; the fact that he once worshipped at HTB – as did I – is one of the few things we do have in common and  despite the fact that I went to one of the Very Best, obsessing about school backgrounds is outmoded, a little bit trivial and as far as the Press is concerned, contagious. He’s awfully, awfully senior in the pecking order, being ranked first above all non-Royals, called ‘your Grace’, and given a palace to live in. He’s OK about women bishops – as am I, why not – he is not a supporter of gay marriage; neither am I and, worse, feel the need to justify my opinion. If we go down some kind of sacramental memory lane, the word has great significance insofar as one presents oneself before God and his representatives, the congregation, makes vows based upon a homiletic liturgy about children and so forth and thereby binds two people of the opposite sex to a contract made in heaven. There's just not enough historical leverage to widen the goalposts. Two men or women are unable to bring their own children into the relationship, so some other word needs to be found when they wish to publicly and quite legitimately conjoin themselves, which I support and if the C of E must needs write a special set of words and phrases, then, so be it, but let full civil rights be enough without using the M word. Interestingly, the Catholics don't have 'binding teaching', just a 'preference' - try asking Father O'Brien to marry you if you happen to share the same gender. Welby, who lost his firstborn child in a car accident, might be seen as a dinosaur in this respect alone, everywhere else he may well be (sorry) the man for the iPad generation, where rules change, as in business,  with remarkable fluidity.
Damian Thompson, the Catholic journalist whom the Church Times once described as a ‘blood-crazed ferret’ is someone whose writing I have begun to enjoy, much against my earlier prejudice. His new book is certainly worth a look – he argues that human desire is in the process of being reshaped. Shunning the concept of addiction as disease, he shows how manufacturers are producing substances like iPads, muffins and computer games that we learn to like too much and supplement traditional addictions to alcohol, drugs and gambling. He argues that addictive behaviour is becoming a substitute for family and work bonds that are being swept away by globalisation and urbanization, with which I tend to agree. We part company a little when he argues that the battle to control addiction will soon overshadow familiar ideological debates about how to run the economy, and as whole societies set about “fixing” themselves, the architecture of human relations will come under strain as never before. Let my psych friends take note – if he’s right, it looks like the client pool is going to increase exponentially as decadence and social cohesion decline. I think it’s undeniable that we are experiencing a social paradigm shift of huge proportions and are just dimly beginning to realise that revolutions such as the one sparked by computers-for-all and the World Wide Web is changing us and will change us irrevocably as a species; furthermore our understanding of these changes necessarily lags behind the changes themselves. Which brings me back to where we come from, and, coincidentally, sex.
It has been argued in a firecracker best seller “Sex at Dawn” that human beings evolved in primal hordes of hunter-gatherer groups in which sexual interaction was a shared resource, consequently shared paternity. The authors further argue that the genetic imprint left by such behaviour is manifested today in the seemingly worldwide phenomenon of male infidelity. Men, they argue, are naturally polygamous, sometimes serially, sometimes not, and women, who have a limited number of eggs as genetic currency, tend to want to spend them more wisely. If we are to believe that our species is metamorphosing into primal urban hordes, without the responsibilities of maintaining social cohesion, a return to more primal sexual behaviour is not inconceivable, but, obviously for different reasons, even desirable. The book further asserts that sexual promiscuity in the absence of territorial disputes over land and possessions tends to lead to peaceful coexistence rather that the aggressive masculine behaviour necessary to maintain and subjugate a territory which is ‘owned’. If so, war may become nothing more than a rumour.
All this may be rather more than His Grace is willing to consider at the present time. Perhaps he might start with something less ambitious, like designing a mitre that makes him look a little less like this. Sorry, everyone.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

None of the Above

I’m not a voter – if I were and there had been a square for ‘none of the above’, I might well have placed my electronic finger on it. I am, I have to say, slightly more relieved than not that after endless marathons on television, fundraisers, advertisements, propaganda and economies of truth, America has let the same guy through the front door of 1600 again, postponing the arrival of the inevitably lavish decoration bill that Mrs Romney would almost certainly have insisted upon. For two billion dollars of advertising revenue, quite a lot can be achieved, or, in this case, absolutely nothing. Same old, same old. But, perhaps, not quite. Washington is a fickle mistress, prone to deceit and revolving door loyalties and much as I would like to believe it, I’m unconvinced that things are going to turn out all right in the end.
The president will almost certainly use his final four years to concentrate more on foreign policy. Mr Netanyahu, despite a phone call of congratulation to Mr Obama, may not even be accorded the civility of further interview – instead, he may find himself being sidelined to the bread and soup line - the expensive menu being offered to Abbas, or members of the Muslim Brotherhood. I rather wonder if the President’s last thoughts before turning out his bedside light might be to swear a private oath to himself that he is going to achieve what Carter, Clinton and the Bushes failed to do – find a solution in the Middle East. After all, it’s only politics. Negotiation and even-handedness ought to be able to solve everything since all the players have been dealt hands from the same pack of cards… Not so. Israel has unique status in the world – the Judaeo-Christian heritage which underpins the entire rule of law and freedom of speech enjoyed by the West began with inscriptions on stones brought down from the mountain.
The greatest satisfaction over the re-election of Obama is not being felt in the Democratic Party, deliriously happy as they must surely be. It is not being felt among the media, whose howling and gibbering no longer qualifies them the status of objective observers since they have shown themselves to be a corrupt, partisan mob, peddling the demonising propaganda that was a hallmark of the campaign. It is not being felt among the smug decadents of the western Left who now scent the blood of all who defy their secular inquisition, remorselessly bullying Mitt Romney who didn’t quite have the stones to stand up to them. No, the greatest satisfaction is surely being felt in Iran.
With four more years of delicate and skilful procrastination afforded them by the American voter, Iran must have breathed a collective sigh of relief since it can be sure that it will be able to complete whatever construction is underway in the bunkers of Tehran and Qom, possibly with the covert help of Iranian-born Valerie Jarrett whose roots lie deep in the Chicago Democratic machine. I'm not going to leave this without stating the case for what might happen if the appeasers prevail. The British writer Douglas Murray is at his compelling best at the Cambridge Union, here.
In addition, who could have possibly predicted that the Arab Spring would have spawned so much Islamism in Egypt and Libya – all quite benign, of course. Had the West been paying attention they might have foreseen what looked almost inevitable since well-organised regimes are much better placed to fill the void generated by a power vacuum.  If power is to be placed in the hands of the people, the people - especially the poor and most easily manipulated - will vote for whomever they perceive is looking after them best, in this case, the Muslim Brotherhood and similar who  along with healthcare and roads will systematically impose their own Shari’a motivated dictatorships on those who have elected them, to which the people submit willingly because the imam told them to and this is how they have been taught that democracy works.
The US, faute de mieux,  is apparently backing al Qaeda affiliates in Syria; refused to come to the aid of Americans being attacked by al Qaeda in Benghazi as a result of which four American officials were murdered; and has repeatedly hung Israel out to dry against Hamas’ genocidal Palestinian attackers and a cacophony of Judeophobic slander. 
Europeans love Barack Obama because in  a surge of schadenfreude, they watch the neutering of US exceptionalism. What they don’t realise is that they too, spavined and  lobotomised by consumer ‘rights’, state dependency, victim culture, sentimentality, postmodern-religion, post-nationalism, post-Holocaust and Empire guilt, are themselves on a slippery slope towards a neutralisation whose irrational and bigoted hooves are already being heard thundering over the ideological landscape.