“An assault on journalism, democracy, and basic human rationality”

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Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists who helped give us the full picture – well, a fuller picture anyway – on Edward Snowden (firstly on American PBS’ FRONTLINE and then on the documentary, Citizen Four, now issues these somewhat somber warnings about the machinations of the CIA and its manipulation of the US media.

The serious dangers posed by a Trump presidency are numerous and manifest. There is a wide array of legitimate and effective tactics for combating those threats: from bipartisan congressional coalitions and constitutional legal challenges to citizen uprisings and sustained and aggressive civil disobedience. All of those strategies have periodically proven themselves effective in times of political crisis or authoritarian overreach.

But cheering for the CIA and its shadowy allies to unilaterally subvert the U.S. election and impose its own policy dictates on the elected president is both warped and self-destructive. Empowering the very entities that have produced the most shameful atrocities and systemic deceit over the last six decades is desperation of the worst kind. Demanding that evidence-free, anonymous assertions be instantly venerated as Truth — despite emanating from the very precincts designed to propagandize and lie — is an assault on journalism, democracy, and basic human rationality. And casually branding domestic adversaries who refuse to go along as traitors and disloyal foreign operatives is morally bankrupt and certain to backfire on those doing it.

Beyond all that, there is no bigger favor that Trump opponents can do for him than attacking him with such lowly, shabby, obvious shams, recruiting large media outlets to lead the way. When it comes time to expose actual Trump corruption and criminality, who is going to believe the people and institutions who have demonstrated they are willing to endorse any assertions no matter how factually baseless, who deploy any journalistic tactic no matter how unreliable and removed from basic means of ensuring accuracy?

Read the full article here.

Groupthink in a nutshell

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Peter Thiel, in his interview with Maureen Dowd in the New York Times, seems to put the group-think bubble in a nutshell – if that’s not mixing my metaphors too much.

Thiel became the pariah of Silicon Valley – and further afield – when he opted for Donald Trump in the US election. Dowd conducted a long interview with him and in it sets the apparent craziness of American politics over the past year in a context which makes it all seem quite sensible, even if full of risk. That is perhaps the best context for a healthy politics in any country.

He recalls that he went through a lot of “meta” debates about Mr. Trump in Silicon Valley. “One of my good friends said, ‘Peter, do you realize how crazy this is, how everybody thinks this is crazy?’ I was like: ‘Well, why am I wrong? What’s substantively wrong with this?’ And it all got referred back to ‘Everybody thinks Trump’s really crazy.’ So it’s like there’s a shortcut, which is: ‘I don’t need to explain it. It’s good enough that everybody thinks something. If everybody thinks this is crazy, I don’t even have to explain to you why it’s crazy. You should just change your mind.’”

Thiel is undoubtedly one of those influencers in the culture which, If they didn’t exist, we would have had to invent them. But thank heavens he does exist – because no one on the planet could ever have invented this one.

The frightening thing about conventional wisdom is how stupid it can be. Thiel is one of those who defy conventional wisdom and who is a force which will hopefully expose the fallacies of the illiberal-left dictatorship of our time and bring the sheep who have been duped by it back to some semblance of rational humanity.

The first crack in the whole illiberal-left monolith has already appeared in the very environment from which Thiel himself comes. He thinks the bigger tech companies all want to get a little bit off the ledge that they had gotten on, he said when asked how he had managed to get so many of them to turn up to a meeting with the President-elect in Trump Tower.

“Normally, if you’re a C.E.O. of a big company, you tend to be somewhat apolitical or politically pretty bland. But this year, it was this competition for who could be more anti-Trump. ‘If Trump wins, I will eat my sock.’ ‘I will eat my shoe.’ ‘I will eat my shoe, and then I will walk barefoot to Mexico to emigrate and leave the country.’

“Somehow, I think Silicon Valley got even more spun up than Manhattan. There were hedge fund people I spoke to about a week after the election. They hadn’t supported Trump. But all of a sudden, they sort of changed their minds. The stock market went up, and they were like, ‘Yes, actually, I don’t understand why I was against him all year long.’”

We might wonder when the Hillary fan club of  ‘famous actors’ from Hollywood might take the same message on board. Despite the satirical drubbing they got in the Save The Day parodies, they will probably remain as vain and opinionated as their trivial pursuits and the toxic star-system condition them to be. The only cure for that condition might be a dent in their box-office receipts. That might bring them to their senses.

Read Dowd’s full interview here.

Food for thought – about millennials

This has been around for a few months but it is well worth checking out in case you have not seen it. It is a calm but very astute summing up on the time bomb which the world may be sitting on.

There is no question but that the generation we call ‘millennials’ has within its ranks some very creative minds with strong characters to go with them. But the overall assessment of this generation is for many a cause for concern.

Our only complaint about this particular assessment might be that, in true millennial spirit, the blame is not laid at their door – but at the door of their parents.

Matchless Shakespeare

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A long essay in the current issue of National Affairs is devoted to a truth which is known in every corner of the world. But it is also a truth which we need, lest we forget, to keep being reminded of. It is the truth of the extraordinary wisdom and beauty of the inheritance of William Shakespeare.

The focus of the essay is the place of Shakespeare in the cultural life of America, where even in this age he continues to be the most performed playwright in the United States. We talk about film franchises and marvel at the success of Bond and Bourne and others. No franchise matches the volume of Shakespeare’s on celluloid.

But his dominance on the American continent an the film world has really nothing to do with America. His dominance comes from within the universal relevance of his work, it’s wisdom, it’s humanity an it’s beauty. His appeal, the author, Algis Valiunas, points out, has a global extension, and it has long been so.

Sublimity has ever called to sublimity. The great modern nations boast great writers who depict and define the national life and character: Victor Hugo for the French, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe for the Germans, Leo Tolstoy the Russians, Herman Melville and Mark Twain the Americans, and Shakespeare the English. Of course their greatness is hardly confined to their parochial impact: They are masters for all time and every place. And even among these titans an order of rank is observed, as a true aristocracy requires, and it is Shakespeare who ranks supreme


With the exception of Tolstoy, who ripped into Shakespeare with unhinged vehemence as a windbag and nihilist moral trifler, all these masters recognized Shakespeare’s superiority. Hugo composed a 400-page eulogy to Shakespeare as the proto-Romantic, which is to say a worthy precursor to the arch-Romantic Hugo himself. Shakespeare’s work, he pronounced, is “absolute, sovereign, imperious, eminently solitary, unneighborly, sublime in radiance, absurd in reflection, and must remain without a copy.” Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, besotted with the idea of a life in the theater, would talk about Shakespeare for days, and, in the role of Hamlet with a fly-by-night dramatic troupe, he believed the elder Hamlet’s ghost to be his own father back from the dead. Goethe told his chronicler of after-dinner conversation, Johann Peter Eckermann, that if he had been born an Englishman the incomparable majesty of Shakespeare looming over his every youthful thought would have left him unable to write a word. And whenever some know-nothing cast aspersions on Shakespeare’s characters, Goethe let him have it with both barrels: “But I cry: Nature! Nature! Nothing is so like Nature as Shakespeare’s figures.”

The full text of this very interesting essay is here.

A tale of David and Goliath?

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It is not just Apple which is testing the loyalty and commitment of the Irish to the European project. Ireland is now, along with Apple, challenging the European Union’s demand that this Corporation pay a double-digit billion tax bill to Ireland. Strange as it may seem – although it is not at all strange – Ireland sees much more value in the employment Apple and multiple other giant investors bring to its economy than it does in a once-off windfall. Add to that the dilemma which Brexit has confronted Ireland with and the unthinkable is beginning to become more and more thinkable. Where ultimately does Ireland’s interest as a thriving economy and as an independent nation lie – inside or outside of the European Union?

Yesterday, in the Dublin paper, the Sunday Business Post (see here), an Irish diplomat and former Irish ambassador to Canada, Mr. Ray Basset, wrote of his worries about the path of least resistance which the Irish administration seems to be taking on the question of the terms of Britain’s exit from the Union.

Irish economist and journalist, David McWilliams, comments at length on the implications of what Basset is saying, implying as he does that the Irish government has decided that there is no special relationship with Britain, and that our attitude to Britain and Brexit will be subservient to the EU’s attitude.

“The idea that there is no special relationship”, McWilliams says, “is not only patently false (I’m writing this from Belfast, for God’s sake!), such a cavalier attitude to our nearest neighbour is extremely dangerous economically, verging on the financially treacherous.”

“Insane” is his description of the view that Ireland’s position with respect to Brexit is in any way similar to that of France or Germany or, worse still, to the likes of Hungary. Why? There are multiple reasons: “There are 500,000 Irish citizens living in England. We have a land border with Britain and a bilateral international treaty, the Good Friday Agreement, with London.

“We are umbilically attached to Britain in our two most labour-intensive industries, agriculture and tourism, where the British are by far our biggest clients. One-third of our imports come from Britain. The Dublin/London air corridor is the busiest route in Europe and one of the busiest in the world. In fact, the Irish airline Ryanair is the biggest airline in Britain, carrying far more British people every year than British Airways.”

McWilliams’ very perceptive comment lays out some of the details of the folly he perceives in what appears to be the Irish States’ status quo on negotiations. For him it is tantamount to a  government acting against the interest of its own economy. Apart altogether from the social and economic rupture between Ireland and Britain which the hard line which European negotiators are currently taking on Brexit would cause, there is the risk of a potential trade war with Britain where Ireland can only be damaged immeasurably.

McWilliam’s analysis and fears make a great deal of sense – up to the point where he goes on to protest that he is not himself a eurosceptic – or anything like it. Admittedly he is worried about Europe’s federalist agenda and its implications. Michel Barnier, the EU’s negotiator on Brexit, is a committed federalist.

“Under his federalist vision, the Irish consulate in Spain would be scrapped – so that if an Irish lad got a battering from the Guardia Civil, for example, there would be no Irish consulate to listen to his case and help him out. He also advocated in this report to close down all (Irish and other) consulates in non-EU countries and replace these with one EU consulate.”

McWilliam’s argument, however, is that we should stay in the EU, but draw the line at the present EU. “We shouldn’t embrace any further integrationist stuff nor sign up to any further federalist projects. This means doing precisely the opposite of the Brits. Rather than following the British out of the EU, we should vow never to leave it. The EU can’t kick us out. There is no mechanism. We should simply opt out of Mr Barnier’s plans. This means we have full access to the EU, but we don’t need nor want to go any further – not because of some cultural aversion, but because it’s not in our interest.”

But surely there is a great weakness in that argument, a weakness which the history of Ireland’s relationship with the Union screams out to us. There is no stopping the European juggernaut. When Britain tried to modify it, to bring it to a more common sense position and one which would show more respect for the sovereignty of the nations which make it up, it was in effect sent packing.

Consider the  negotiations of David Cameron when he tried to head off Brexit. Like a famous predecessor he proclaimed that he had plucked a flower from a bed of nettles – but what he got turned into the nightmare which destroyed his political career.

Ireland’s history of two referendums on European treaties where it said “no” to the path Europe was taking speaks for itself. It was soft-soaped, sent back to think again and came up with the “yes” which the juggernaut needed to go forward.

There are many who think that the juggernaut has already gone down the path of self-destruction. It may be so – and this may be the only way that a little country like Ireland will be able to find it own way and exercise the self-determination it needs to make its way in the wider world – which is where its future must surely lie.

Which is what Nigel Farage is essentially saying here.

 

“Silence” – the novel

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Indeed “there’s a divinity that shapes our ends”. Could it be that there is something providential behind the movement out of the literary shadows of Shusaku Endo’s novel, Silence, which is now being effected by its translation into the medium of film by Martin Scorsese? The film was released in the US last week and is being released in Europe today (Friday 30 December).

This novel is extraordinarily relevant to our time and to the story of faith and religion in the modern world. It is a novel about persecution, about compromise of principles, about apostasy and mercy, about heroism and cowardice. All of these are central to the harrowing tale at the centre of Endo’s Silence, considered to be his masterpiece by many.

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Endo was a Catholic. In his life he mirrored the eternal conflict of the believer with the world, the world which does not know God. This is the conflict which Romano Guardini refers to when he writes of the “true light” of Christ “showering radiance on everyone who comes near him.”  But, the great German theologian says, “if that person is ‘seeing’ in the worldly sense, something in him is willed to seek the world and himself rather than the Messiah. His eye is fixed on world and self and remains so.”

In Endo’s life this conflict was very much set in the context of his native Japan – a country and a culture which had for centuries determinedly set its face against Christ and God, opting instead for the world as seen through the vision of the Buddha. But the context of his Japan is now the context of every Christian in the Western world – a world which has set out either to reject God and persecute believers, or which seeks to redefine God in its own image. The “Silence” of the title of Endo’s novel is the apparent failure of God to speak and act in the face of human suffering, injustice and  persecution. But this silence is really the test of faith, a test which ultimately separates those who see the “true light”, or “hear” the true voice of God, from those who do not – with glorious consequences for some and tragic consequences for others.

In his introduction to the novel Endo wrote of its genesis:

For a long time I was attracted to a meaningless nihilism and when I finally came to realize the fearfulness of such a void I was struck once again with the grandeur of the Catholic Faith. (Silence xx) But this brought him to another problem, that of “the reconciliation of my Catholicism with my Japanese blood”.

The great question for him, one that is at the heart of the brutal persecutions depicted in the novel, is how to resolve the conflict which the Western trappings of the universal truth of Christ’s teaching presented to the guardians of Japanese culture and tradition.

The novel reveals the murderous bewilderment of the Japanese cultural elite when confronted with the success of the Christian missionaries in the sixteenth century. There was, on their part, a terrible and utterly flawed identification of the universal message of Christ with the cultural values of the agents who brought that message.

What makes the novel so relevant to the world today is that the universal truth of the message is again in conflict with the cultural elites – this time with the modernist and post-modernist and post-truth values increasingly dominating our consciousness and our culture.

On the one hand there is rejection and, where power makes it possible, persecution of Christians. On the other hand there is the tendency to modify the teaching to suit the new self-image of mankind which is now being absorbed and disseminated by contemporary cultural elites. This is the equivalent of the “swamp” which Endo saw in Japan, absorbing and distorting the essential truth brought by the missionaries. He described it as a swamp that “sucks up all sorts of ideologies, transforming them into itself and distorting them in the process” (Silence, xix). This, of course, is the perennial tightrope which truth always has to walk in any and every process of inculturation.

This is the issue at the heart of the novel on one level.

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On another parallel level Endo tells the sad story of the personal faith of individuals. Two of the three priests central to the story apostasize. The one who keeps protesting about God’s silence eventually hears a voice which he takes to be the voice of Christ. The voice tells him to trample on the image, the public sign his persecutors demand. “You may trample. You may trample. I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. You may trample. It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”

But the denouement of the novel, from the hell on earth in which his soul, if not his body, has to go on living for thirty more years, shows us that it is his own, or another voice which he hears, not the voice of God. The suffering Japanese Christians, whom he fooled himself into thinking that he was acting out of mercy towards, went on suffering – and he even acquiesced in that suffering. His efforts at self-justification have all the hall-marks of torturous self-delusion.

The Silence of the novel is not the silence of men, it is the silence of God; it persists. Like the history of Christian martyrdom teaches – no matter how hard this is to understand – the ways of God are not the ways of man. The mercy of God is not the mercy of man. The heroes of this novel, Fr. Garrpe, Monica and the other Japanese martyrs depicted knew this; the anti-heroes of this novel, Ferreira and Rodrigues, did not know this. Martyrs down through history know this; the world does not know this.

On this level I doubt very much if the film is going to achieve much clarity. Martin Scorsese talks of it in terms of his personal journey – a journey which took him form a Catholic Italian upbringing in New York, through The Last Temptation of Christ, to this and beyond. For Liam Neeson it may be similar, this time from an Ulster Catholic upbringing to, who knows what? We shall have to leave that to another judgement.

In a recent interview Neeson is quoted as saying that the movie’s exploration into faith and its theme of standing up for what you believe in made him examine where doubt fits into religion.

“The other component of faith that [director] Martin Scorsese explores in the film is doubt. They’re both [together],” he says. “And I think it is a God-given component. If we have this free will to question and if one believes in God, I think you celebrate that.” Really? The freedom we have to doubt is God-give. The doubt is our contribution.

Neeson added that one doesn’t have to be religious to appreciate the film’s message. “We all (have) faith in something whether it’s faith in a marriage or relationship or faith in your work,” he explains. “It can be applied to anything.” That all sounds a little too much like an echo from the “swamp” which pained Endo so much.

But Neeson is not reading the novel. He may be reading Scorsese’s script. On a personal level it is about faith and fear, rather than faith and doubt. The nemesis of the apostates is not that they doubted, or apostatized because of doubt. The key to their tragedy was the weakness of their faith in the face of a demand to deny divinity. In the end the heroism of their activity in spreading the faith was insufficient when that faith was put to the ultimate test, that of accepting God in his silence. The focus of the novel  – in the case of three of the characters, Rodrigues, Ferreira and the Japanese peasant, Kichijiro, – is on the destructive power of this weakness which brought them to their doom, their living hell.

Endo has been rightly compared to Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor in his preoccupations and the paradoxes he uses to explore them. He is also that very unique thing, a Catholic writer from an Asian culture. As such his work must stand, in spite of its complexity, its paradoxical character and its consequent risk of misinterpretation, as an essential link in the long and troubled history of the evangelization of the Far East, and Japan in particular.

Epiphany in Trafalgar Square – beyond ‘Beyond Caravaggio’

An image has been haunting me for months. It was captured – or, I should say, it captured me – one September evening in Trafalgar Square. It evoked a strange sensation of timelessness, as though 2000 years had been transcended in a moment. Somehow, that historic moment of betrayal in a garden in Jerusalem in 33 AD, was present again in that iconic London meeting place in 2016 – and nobody seemed to care too much. Everyone seemed to be looking the other way. An emblem of our age?

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A few days before the scene depicted by Caravaggio, the subject of the painting prophesied the terrible fate which was going to befall his city within a generation. And it did happen. The Temple was razed to the ground and the streets ran with blood.

Perhaps I should have blessed myself and prayed that this city I was now strolling through, this pivot of the modern world, would be spared a similar fate. I didn’t – even though the stones of Palmyra had recently been strewn around the Mesopotamian desert and the women of Aleppo were weeping – and continue to weep – for themselves and for their children. This morning’s paper tells us that the battle for this city is over but  fears are mounting because of reports that Syrian troops or allied Iraqi militiamen were shooting people in apartments and on the streets.

The forces of militant Islam, I thought to myself, have already proven themselves no less interested in inflicting death and destruction on this city. The same great evil which was at the root of that act of betrayal, in that distant garden, is also the source of today’s horrors, is at the heart of every war.

That face, looking across Trafalgar Square, is a penetrating representation of the face of the one Person who really knows what this evil is, that its origin is a creature of enormous power and that the this creature is the irreconcilable enemy of both God and man.

That look of pity, mixed with dismay – “do you betray me with a kiss” – stopped me in my tracks. I sensed – and know – that this look is eternal. Caravaggio’s spellbinding capture of that look reminds us that each one of those figures strolling before the image is the object of the infinite love behind that gaze. A few moments before, some of them were singing and dancing on this very spot in one of those spontaneous pieces of street theatre you stumble across in this very special place.

Behind that look is the knowledge that, as Romano Guardini observed, “there is more than the mere possibility of evil as the price of human freedom; more than the inclination to evil, fruit of individual or collective (inherited) sin. Jesus recognizes a personal power that fundamentally wills evil: evil per se. It is not satisfied by the achievement of positive values through wicked means; does not simply accept the evil along with the good. Here is something or someone who positively defies divinity and attempts to tear the world from God’s hands—even to dethrone God. God being who he is, this is possible only by leading the world into apostasy and self-destruction.”

Given the look in those eyes one could not but long and long that these wayfarers might know more than they seemed to know; that they might only connect the prophetic words of that betrayed God-man with our world and its sometimes terrible predicaments. We know that human kind cannot bear very much reality and we know that singing and dancing are good for the soul – as does he, – but even just a little recognition of the divine inter-connectedness of all things would surely help?

This momentary musing on a London pavement was occasioned by the National Gallery’s use of a protective hoarding at the Gallery to advertise the ‘Beyond Caravaggio’ exhibition currently being held there to great acclaim. This is the first major exhibition in these islands to explore the influence of Caravaggio on the art of his contemporaries and followers.

After the unveiling of Caravaggio’s first public commission in 1600, artists from across Europe flocked to Rome to see his work. Seduced by the pictorial and narrative power of his paintings, many went on to imitate their naturalism and dramatic lighting effects.

Bringing together exceptional works by Caravaggio’s and the Italian, French, Flemish, Dutch, and Spanish artists he inspired, ‘Beyond Caravaggio’ examines the international artistic phenomenon known as Caravaggism.

This exhibition is a collaboration between the National Gallery, London, the National Gallery of Ireland, and the National Galleries of Scotland. The exhibition continues in London until 15 January. It then moves to Dublin where it opens on 11 February and continues until 14 May – after which it then goes to Scotland.

The image on display in the square is a detail from Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ, 1602. This painting is on indefinite loan to the National Gallery of Ireland from the Jesuit Community, Leeson St., Dublin, who acknowledge the kind generosity of the late Dr Marie Lea-Wilson who gave them this masterpiece as a gift.

No Phantom Menace – the real thing

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It is difficult to pick up any left-leaning newspaper, magazine or journal in the weeks since Donald Trump stunned the world, without finding another wounded progressivist warrior licking his or her wounds. For some – without stretching the analogy too far – the scene is reminiscent of that in Book I of Paradise Lost where Lucifer is trying to pull his forces together to devise a strategy for a new war on the victorious Enemy.

For the American Democratic Party and its faithful it is imperative that they now do this. But prior to taking such action an exercise of self-examination is called for. What must we now do, they ask each other, to get their long revolution back on track. Some are still at the scapegoat stage – who among ourselves has done this? Why? Others are calling for an assessment of the tactics of the enemy. How did the Right win this battle? What nefarious trickery did they use to vanquish us in such a humiliating way?

A writer in The Guardian last week goes down this road, setting the whole thing in a wider context of what she sees and the Right’s general chicanery. Moira Weigel’s long article, Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy, purports to take us through the history of this monster and show us that no such phenomenon really exists.

The line of argument really misses the point. It may be true that, as she says, “most Americans had never heard the phrase ‘politically correct’ before 1990, when a wave of stories began to appear in newspapers and magazines.” She traces the progress of what then became an explosion of awareness. As far as she is concerned it all began in that year with New York Times reporter Richard Bernstein’s article, “The Rising Hegemony of the Politically Correct.”

Following the publication of that article, in the remainder of that year, the term is used more than 700 times across media. The next year it makes 2500 appearances and 2800 in 1992.

So what? Phrases that catch the imagination are nothing new. Just because they hit the media jackpot does not mean that they are phantoms – that they do not represent something inimical to a culture. A phrase is just a phrase. The deep and all-pervasive cultural reality behind this little phrase is what matters. This reality is something that has been in the cultural mix of America and the West for more than a century.

As a phrase, the earliest use of the term came in 1936, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. POLITICALLY CORRECT:  conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.

But forget the label. Cut to the chase. Political correctness is just one weapon in the armoury of a broader movement which launched itself on the world in a new incarnation at the beginning of the 20th century. Political correctness as we now know it embodies nothing more or less that then the Ten Commandments of the New Morality, manifested in the libertarian antics of 1920s in America. It also represents the cultural Marxist’s approach to ethics in the earlier decades of the 20th century. The influence of Freud was also a powerful factor in the evolution of this new code of behaviour for the human race, a subversion of existing Judaeo-Christian moral standards.

What started then is still going on in those strands, libertarian and Marxist, interlocking more than ever after the fall of the Soviet bloc.

Throughout most of the 20th century the progress of the New Morality was marked by consolidation and subversion. Then, in the 21st century, the offensive against the rival morality began in earnest. Conservatives responded to this offensive and in doing so identified many of the fundamental tenets of the movement with those already labelled as ‘politically correct’.

But in the end who cares what they are called? The substance of the morality is what matters – on both sides. Both sides offer radically different visions of the good life, the purpose of life and the nature of the society which will best serve it.

Weigel dates the conservative kickback to the late 1980s, when, she maintains, a well-funded conservative movement entered the mainstream with a series of improbable bestsellers that took aim at American higher education. The first, by the University of Chicago philosophy professor Allan Bloom, came out in 1987. “For hundreds of pages, The Closing of the American Mind argued that colleges were embracing a shallow ‘cultural relativism’ and abandoning long-established disciplines and standards in an attempt to appear liberal and to pander to their students. It sold more than 500,000 copies and inspired numerous imitations.”

Were they really fighting a phantom menace? Hardly, if you give any credence at all to the Marxist, neo-Marxists of the New Left, and the libertarian warriors of the early and mid-tweentieth century.

Professor Robert George of Princeton, in a recent post, recalled the words of the Italian communist and cultural Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, in 1915:

Socialism is precisely the religion that must overwhelm Christianity. … In the new order, Socialism will triumph by first capturing the culture via infiltration of schools, universities, churches and the media by transforming the consciousness of society.

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Antonio Gramsci

Who can say he was wrong, Professor George asks? What are kids being taught (formally and informally) in schools and universities about sexuality, marriage, the taking of life in the womb? What messages on these and other social issues do the mainstream media send in a thousand subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—ways? In which direction have the mainline churches gone? Is there any doubt that a ‘transformation of consciousness’ has occurred? Whose moral doctrines are preached by liberal religious organizations, those of traditional Christianity and Judaism? Or those of secular liberalism or socialism, now dressed up in the garb of religion?

For Raymond Williams, doyen of the New Left in the 1960s – with his scholarly and beguiling books, Culture and Society and The Long Revolution – culture was the whole gamut of ways in which people thought, felt and acted. In terms of the Marxist’s ambition, culture was what had to be transformed and its transformation would bring about the transformation – or as they would see it – the freeing of man from the multiple slaveries to which he had been subjected, the slaveries articulated by feminists like Kate Millet in that decade.

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Millet’s younger sister, Mallory, in her later years recalled: During my junior year in high school, the nuns asked about our plans for after we graduated. When I said I was going to attend State University, I noticed their disappointment.  I asked my favorite nun, “Why?” She answered, “That means you’ll leave four years later a communist and an atheist!”

What a giggle we girls had over that. “How ridiculously unsophisticated these nuns are,” we thought. Then I went to the university and four years later walked out a communist and an atheist, just as my sister Katie had six years before me.

A chastened Mallory Millet wrote of this two years ago in an article entitled, Marxist Feminism’s Ruined Lives in which she recounts the horror she witnessed inside the women’s “liberation” movement. In 1969 she was invited by her sister to a “consciousness-raising-group” – in the language of the opposing morality this would doubtless be a “conscience-forming group. Present were 12 university educated women. The chair opened the meeting with a back-and-forth recitation of the Catechism of this new religion:

“Why are we here today?” she asked. “To make revolution,” they answered.

“What kind of revolution?” “The Cultural Revolution,” they chanted.

“And how do we make Cultural Revolution?” “By destroying the American family!”

“How do we destroy the family?” “By destroying the American Patriarch,” they cried exuberantly.

“And how do we destroy the American Patriarch?” “By taking away his power!”

“How do we do that?” “By destroying monogamy!” they shouted.

“How can we destroy monogamy?” “By promoting promiscuity, eroticism, prostitution and homosexuality!” came the plain, unvarnished and shocking answer.

Western society was to be deconstructed and to do that, they argued, they needed to invade every American institution.  All must be permeated with ‘The Revolution’.

That included the media, the educational system, universities, high schools, school boards, etc.; then, the judiciary, the legislatures, the executive branches and even the library system. The Gramsci programme was well and truly under way.

Millett’s books captivated academia and soon ‘Women’s Studies’ courses were installed in colleges across the nation.  Some phantom!

Weigel protests that the growing opposition, “these crusaders against political correctness” are every bit as political as their opponents. She quotes Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money: the Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, published earlier this year, which asserts that Bloom and others were funded by networks of conservative donors – particularly the Koch, Olin and Scaife families – who had spent the 1980s building programmes that they hoped would create a new “counter-intelligentsia”.

How dare they, is the implication. It is just not fair. But surely every revolution deserves its counter-revolution?

Weigel accuses the conservatives of committing the fallacy of cherry-picking anecdotes and caricaturing the subjects of their criticism.  They complained that other people were creating and enforcing speech codes, while at the same time attempting to enforce their own speech codes. Their writers designated themselves the arbiters of what conversations or political demands deserved to be taken seriously, and which did not. They contradicted themselves in the same way: their authors continually complained, in highly visible publications, that they were being silenced.

Clearly they were not being silenced, but that was not, is not, for want of the Left’s efforts – and these efforts continue unabated. Robert George has just had to come to the defence of Professor Anthony Esolen, a colleague in another university.

I have always thought highly of Providence College, he writes. But the College has recently brought shame on itself by its shocking mistreatment of one of its most accomplished scholars and finest teachers: Professor Anthony Esolen.

Professor Esolen’s crime? Sharply criticizing identity politics and the “diversity” ideology it has generated at Providence and at colleges and universities across the country. The administration, faculty, and students should be thoughtfully considering and engaging Professor Esolen’s criticisms. If, upon reflection, they do not find them to be sound, they should respond in the currency of academic discourse—reasons, evidence, arguments—not by attempting to isolate, stigmatize, and marginalize him for stating dissenting opinions.

What we have here is a clash of cultures within Western civilization which is ultimately far more important than the clash being fought out in the Middle East. Are lives being lost in this clash? Yes they are; millions of them in the persons of the unborn being deliberately killed in the wombs of their mothers. Millions more are being wounded in the persons of the victims of the war on marriage and the destruction of the family.

This is no phantom; this is hard and bitter reality. Two moralities are locked in deadly combat and if those on the side of Judaeo-Christian civilization may ultimately see themselves at one with the Magi as imagined by T. S. Eliot, while they live in this dispensation they have no option but to engage in combat with the menace confronting them.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

 

The scramble for Africa – 21st century style

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Nearly two hundred years ago, in the aftermath of what came to be known as the Peterloo massacre, Britain’s close shave with murderous revolution and mayhem, these lines of poetry were penned by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

I met Murder on the way –

He had a mask like Castlereagh –

Very smooth he looked, yet grim;

Seven blood-hounds followed him.

On the 16th of August 1819 the huge open area around what’s now St. Peter’s Square, Manchester, played host to an outrage against over 60,000 peaceful pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters. An estimated 18 people, including a woman and a child, died from saber cuts and trampling. Over 700 men, women and children received extremely serious injuries.

The Massacre occurred during a period of immense political tension and mass protests. Fewer than 2% of the population had the vote, and hunger was rife with the disastrous corn laws making bread unaffordable. The elites of the time had their own views of how the world should be and ordinary people could and should have no say in the matter.

Move on another 150 years or so and another elite forces its will on a people.

On Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States, by a 7-2 majority, discovered a sweeping constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy and struck down abortion laws across the country. Within five years, the number of abortions in America annually climbed above a million, where it would remain for 20 years.

To be pro-life, to regard abortion as obviously a form of murder and all those millions of dead unborn as its nameless victims, is to believe that the Roe v. Wade decision was a moment of deep moral rupture in the history of the republic.

These are the words of New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat, written in another context but in any context a valid description and judgement on what America has done to itself.

We are a long way from 1819 now, but we hope that our response to murder is no less one of outrage than it was for Shelley.

Now, not satisfied with perpetrating a “deep moral rupture in the history of the republic”, the forces of “progressive individualism” in America and its Western Allies – predominantly Great Britain and the European Union, with their captive bureaucracy at the United Nations, want to spread this contagion into the Third World. Their first big target is the continent of Africa. A modern Shelley might now write;

I met Murder on the way –

He had a mask like UNFPA –

Very smooth he looked, yet grim;

Seven blood-hounds followed him.

A few years ago a conference took place in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.  This one conference attracted 11 very wealthy, and mostly western sponsors —  the UK Department for International Development, United States Agency for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund, among them.

Any one of them could have single-handedly sponsored a conference in any part of the world. Why did 11 of these giants gather for one little conference in Nigeria. This conference was not convened out of great necessity and it was not conceived in Nigeria. Rather it was convened at the behest of what many now see as the forces of cultural imperialism. It was conceived in the hearts of powerful western social engineers who are the same people who are promoting abortion around the world.

Alongside these sponsors were also about 25 powerful organizations listed as the “corporate partners/planning committee” of the conference. These included major organizations well known in Europe and America for their single-minded radical pro-abortion and anti-life stance. These included International Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International and Ipas – an international non-profit organization with a “mission to reduce maternal deaths and injuries due to unsafe abortion and to increase women’s ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights.”

Yes, all of them gathered in Abuja to nudge and prod Nigeria toward “family planning.”

American billionaire, Melinda Gates, and other Western philanthropists are now pouring astronomical amounts of money into projects that, at their roots, will drastically reduce the fertility in Africa.   Abortion legislative proposals have been introduced throughout Africa, and stringent population control measures are being strongly proposed around the continent under the influence of these powerful Western agencies.

In response to all this, when the Gates Foundation moved from its initial mission of targeting malaria, Nigerian-born Obianuju Ekeocha wrote an open letter to Melinda Gates opposing this initiative.  Her argument was that the underlying attitude towards human sexuality and life inherent in these programmes will “undoubtedly start to erode and poison the moral sexual ethics that have been woven into our societal DNA by our faith”.

Obianuju Ekeocha is a 32-year-old Nigerian woman who for the past six years has been living and working as a biomedical scientist in Canterbury, England. Most of her family and many friends still live in Nigeria.

Ekeocha has set up an organization, Culture of Life Africa, which is now one of the front-line defences for the continent in the face of this new colonisation, this 21st century version of the old 19th century imperialist “scramble for Africa”.

Speaking at a conference in Dublin, Ireland, earlier this week, she said she was inspired to write an open letter to Melinda Gates after learning of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s move to inject $4.6 billion worth of contraceptive drugs and devices into her homeland.

The moment these huge amounts of contraceptive drugs and devices are injected into the roots of our society, she said, they will undoubtedly start to erode and poison the moral sexual ethics that have been woven into our societal DNA by our faith. Even at a glance, anyone can see that the unlimited and easy availability of contraceptives in Africa will surely increase infidelity and sexual promiscuity as sex is presented by this multi-billion dollar project as a casual pleasure sport that can indeed come with no strings – or babies – attached. Think of the exponential spread of HIV and other STDs as men and women with abundant access to contraceptives take up multiple, concurrent sex partners.

And of course there are bound to be inconsistencies and failures in the use of these drugs and devices, so health complications could result; one of which is unintended abortion. Add also other health risks such as cancer, blood clots, etc. Where Europe and America have their well-oiled health care system, Ekeocha points out, “a woman in Africa with a contraception-induced blood clot does not have access to emergency response, an ambulance or a paramedic. No, she dies.”

“I see this $4.6 billion buying us misery. I see it buying us unfaithful husbands. I see it buying us streets devoid of the innocent chatter of children. I see it buying us disease and untimely death. I see it buying us a retirement without the tender loving care of our children.”

What Africa does need, she continued in her letter, suggesting that The Gates Foundation could provide for these, are:

– Good healthcare systems (especially prenatal, neonatal and paediatric care).

– Food programs for young children.

– Good higher education opportunities

– Chastity programs

– Support for micro-business opportunities for women

– Fortify already established NGOs that are aimed at protecting women from sex-trafficking, prostitution, forced marriage, child labour, domestic violence, sex crimes, etc.

Addressing Melinda she says, $4.6 billion dollars can indeed be your legacy to Africa and other poor parts of the world. But let it be a legacy that leads life, love and laughter into the world in need.

“The worst part is that no one in Africa (meaning the average African woman or man) knows that Melinda is about to bequeath us her ‘legacy’ which can and most probably will stifle love and life in our continent,” she said.

With reference to that aforementioned Abuja conference Ekeocha says “Family Planning” is a term that is (or should be) self-explanatory. It should mean the planning of one’s family. ”It should be a term that by default points to married couples who have a family to plan. It should be family-centred and it should connote self-mastery and self-discipline (for every good plan should undergirded by discipline).

“Family planning should be a good, healthy, pure and beautiful concept. Couples, guided by the spirit of openness to love and life, can plan their family together while understanding that any life conceived by their union is a gift of enormous value. Family planning should be natural and healthy for both husband and wife. It should not be destructive or detrimental to the health of mind and body, as many if not most of the artificial contraception available is.”

She warns that if Nigeria and other African nations do not wake up now, “we will surely fall off a cultural cliff and suffer the destruction of marriage and family life.

“We may be poor but we have our dignity.  So let us not fail or fall for what the 21st century cultural imperialists have surreptitiously labelled “family planning” or falsely imagined to be the most ‘unmet need’ of Africa.

 

Ekeocha speaking to the United Nations and appealing for respect for Africa’s nations and their people.

Morality, media ethics and the algorithm

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At a media conference in Dublin last weekend (@cleraunmedia) there was a great deal of talk about digital and data journalism, how to use it, – with the odd nod to how to abuse it – and how it was in some ways helping refine the whole process of keeping the world better informed.

This week the Columbia Journalism Review gives us another look at the process and raises complex ethical questions about where we are being led by this development. In all this, moral issues may arise as to what might happen if we surrender ourselves too blithely to the law of algorithms. Indeed the shadow of HAL 9000 might be already hovering over us and taking control of our far from simple world.

In those two great cinematic epics from the late sixties ad early seventies, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris, the whole question of man and his machines, man as a moral being versus man as a scientific and technological being were raised. These two masterpieces, by Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky respectively, may only now be beginning to become critically relevant to our brave new world. You may remember that HAL derived its acronym from “Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer”.

The CJR raised these questions in the context of a BuzzFeed News probe earlier this year into suspicions about players fixing tennis matches. They called it “The Tennis Racket.” The piece featured an innovative use of statistical analysis to identify professional players who may have thrown matches. By analyzing win-loss records and betting odds at both the beginning and ending of a match, BuzzFeed identified cases where there was an unusually large swing (e.g. greater than 10 percent difference). If there were enough of these matches, it cast suspicion on the player.

They anonymized the data and didn’t publish the names of suspicious players. But a group of undergraduate students from Stanford University were able to infer and make public the names of players BuzzFeed had kept hidden.

The Review author, Nicholas Diakopoulos, feels the incident raises interesting questions about where to draw the line in enabling reproducibility of journalistic investigation, especially those that generate statistical indictments of individuals. “As newsrooms adapt to statistical and algorithmic techniques, new questions of media accountability and ethics are emerging.”

He notes how the news industry is rapidly adopting algorithmic approaches to production: automatically monitoring, alerting, curating, disseminating, predicting, and even writing news. This year alone The Washington Post began experimenting with automation and artificial intelligence in producing its Olympics and elections coverage, The New York Times published an anxiety-provoking real-time prediction of the 2016 presidential election results, the Associated Press is designing machine learning that can translate print-stories for broadcast, researchers in Sweden demonstrated that statistical techniques can be harnessed to draw journalists’ attention to potentially newsworthy patterns in data, and Reuters is developing techniques to automatically identify event witnesses from social media.

“While such technologies enable an ostensibly objective and factual approach to editorial decision-making, they also harbor biases that shape how they include, exclude, highlight, or make salient information to users.”

In “The Tennis Racket,” BuzzFeed decided to provide varying levels of transparency that would appeal to different levels of reader expertise. Each level of disclosure added additional nuance, so different stakeholders could access the “granularity” of information most relevant to their interests.

He then explains: “But the flip side of transparency is that, in the case of BuzzFeed, providing the source code and a detailed-enough methodology allowed students to de-anonymize the results relatively quickly and easily. The students re-scraped the data from the online source (though there was some uncertainty in identifying the exact sample used in the original story) with identities preserved, and then cross-referenced with the anonymized BuzzFeed data based on the other data fields available. This allowed them to associate a name with each of the 15 players identified in the original analysis.”

Transparency is now very high on the scale of values of the democratic world – not always adhered to without a degree of hypocrisy. The algorithm industry is well harnessed to provide tools for that. But, as this case shows, its instruments can be blunt and have a potential to perpetrate what might be injustice.

Diakopoulos points out that several prominent ethics codes employed by media organisations now emphasize transparency as a guiding norm. But transparency, he warns, is not a silver bullet for media ethics. It’s complicated.  “With so much machinery now being used in the journalistic sausage making, transparency is a pragmatic approach that facilitates the evaluation of the interpretations (algorithmic or otherwise) that underlie newswork.”

For many in the industry building computational products, Diakopoulos says, there are still concerns over algorithmic media production. We need a more accountable media system in which what he calls “these black boxes” are rendered more explainable and trustworthy.

Nicholas Diakopoulos is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland and a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.