The Ogre Has Gone

Yes! Gone. Not gone into hiding for a while: just gone, not to reappear until sometime in the future, when politics invents a completely new, ridiculous, trauma for us. If it ever does. Millions of words are being wasted on fears of his own elderly self’s reappearance, or as a hologram or even in the guise of one of his children or enablers. No! Did I not tell you already that both he and his movement are already fading history?

The reasons for such an uncompromising opinion are really quite simple. In truth he, and his magic, are irreplaceable and if he tries his own comeback, the party will stymie him. They have already suffered one term of his pretend Republicanism and know that they will not survive another. To know what the majority of them really think of him all we have to do is look at what the individuals involved said about him before he won the 2016 nomination. They still pay homage, but only in the wishful thought of keeping his base on their side. But without his power, without his pulpit and without his bullying presence, most of them are capable of walking the fine line needed to betray him whilst imitating diehard loyalists.

There are some residual concerns but most of them are not serious:

  1. His base will remain active. A goodly part of it consists of a zany collection of opposing insanities: anti-Semites versus Netanyahu supporters, rank conspiracy theorists versus greedy business people, anti-immigrant supporters versus anti-immigrant immigrants, Christians versus tolerance, vitriolic day dreams versus reality. Trump’s formula for holding such a disparate group together was simple but effective: two contradictory lies every five minutes, knowing that disciples would only hear the one they wanted to hear. That was his genius. Can you think of anyone else who would have the bloated, boastful persona to carry off such twisted theatre and cement such a contradictory base together?
  2. He will stay around and regain power in 2024 and maybe even start his own television channel. My hat! He doesn’t have the necessary energy for the first and, if we forget his legal and financial problems, a television scheme would cost money and dedication. And where would he get philosophising liars of sufficient stature to anchor it for him? The only possible ones are already in safe, overpaid work and unlikely to risk that to take a job with a loser, not exactly well known for his business acumen, or his loyalty. Anyway, he will be too busy working on his presidential library!

The vexed question of whether the Biden Administration will, for the sake of healing divisions, grant a pardon to ex-President Trump is, for the moment, unanswerable. There is, however, one bone of certainty to gnaw on; that it would be wholly improper and destructive to grant a pardon to a politician who intended to have a continued participation, of any form, in politics.

The why of Trumpism raises some truly serious questions. Yes, we can blame part of it on the usual suspects: racism, super nationalism, genderism and the rest, but we are perhaps missing the one difficulty that is most likely to cause this chaos to reappear in the future: an unwillingness on everybody’s part to accept unvarnished truth — that the dignity of work is being purloined by commercial interests and no one is planning the absolutely necessary replacement.

The world laughed while he was busy getting elected. Why then did he succeed? Perhaps because the opposition, all of them, forgot that it is people who elect Presidents, not money. You have to wonder how many people belonging to the blue-collar section of society voted for him because they knew, yes knew, that the entire system had failed them. The hope being that he would destroy that failed system. He only managed half the destruction necessary. He really needed another four years. We didn’t, but he did.

The failure of the system is due to the inability of almost everybody, including politicians and economists, to recognise that we are right in the midst of the greatest upheaval in our history since the advent of democracy, and that today, change happens at lightning speed. We are losing the need for mundane, commercial labor and no pious words from leaders will bring it back, irrespective of tax cuts. Yes, the big plants may come back but filled with robotics, not people. Self-drive trucks and app responsive driverless automobiles will fill our highways and the ever more visible, existential threat of climate change will purge our need for grossly silly consumption. We are like blind sheep wandering into an abattoir but we cannot see what is going on.

We cannot keep pretending that the gig economy, zero-hour contracts, or having tens of millions of ordinary people involved in low paid, insecure labour – such as in fast food joints, supermarkets, or soul destroying, machine like drudgery, found in the warehouses of corporations like Amazon – can restore the necessary dignity. At best, all of this is a temporary leaf covering for a tree that produces sour fruit. The educated middle class have been brought into the twenty-first century, but unless we begin to explain to the wider population how we intend to include them in the benefits resulting from the earth-shattering changes taking place, they will continue, rightly, to challenge the system. Perhaps the solutions are not being mentioned because they seem too radical but there is no moderate option. The times, they are a-changing, and the wealthy have shown no inhibitions about using radical solutions to increase their own wealth.

The common fear at the moment, among liberal journalists anyway, is that the Democratic Party is divided. At odds with itself. Does that mean that the monolithic Republican Party is the ideal? Where all criticism of the leadership, however daft, is verboten. Such leader worship belongs in tyrannies, not democracies. The other assumption being made, perhaps true, is that Joe Biden, when he becomes President, will work as hard as President Obama did at cross aisle cooperation. But the Republican Party today, is not the one he was used to in his own senatorial days. Less than a handful are brave enough to openly accept reason, whatever they might think personally.

The Republican Party itself has far more serious problems. Since the Reagan years they have steadily become more mean spirited. Reagan, then Nixon, then Chaney and the neoconservatives followed by the Disneyland climax of King Trump (climax is perhaps the wrong word to use with regard to this particular President). Despite their open contempt for democracy shown by indecent shenanigans with gerrymandering, voter and vote suppression, their interference with the U.S. Mail, and the Electoral College advantages in their favour, they were unable to get a sitting President re-elected. Then they doubled down with a childish refusal to accept the result. They too are finished. Ordinary, decent conservatives will have to find another way to push their own beliefs. We should all hope that this will be possible.

We, the middle class, were responsible for all the chaos of the last four years. With our educational advantages we were able to adjust to the mind-bending changes taking place but did not pay attention to the obvious, to the dangers, to the ordinary Jack and Jill whom we pushed down the hill, into the rapacious jaws of financiers, tech moguls and libertarians. Our leaders, our regulators, even our economists, seem oblivious to the obvious; that for the last twenty years we have not just been tweaking the edges of twentieth century life. It is time to catch up and start to explain the hopes that can be realized in this new world. We need the pain eased and the light of the future to be more visible to all.

The near future is going to be storm ravaged; in reality and in politics. In politics anyway, the tempest heralds a brighter future. One that will help us greatly in our delayed battle against the real, existential tempests. We have made a good start. The ogre has gone. Yes! Gone!  Did I mention that before?

The American Constitution for Laypeople

Why should a layperson write about a legal document? Because it is an important one, and while nearly all opinions that concern the law are penned by people with legal training, the American Constitution concerns all of us. It sets the rules by which all the laws that constrain the daily lives of Americans are deemed to be valid or not and, in so doing, it influences the legal philosophy of the rest of the world. It is important that ordinary citizens understand its most egregious flaws. Lawyers will find all the minor ones.

In any library of civilisation, the American Constitution and Bill of Rights will perforce have an honoured place. It changed the world in the same year (1789) as that other life changing event, The French Revolution, was beginning. With beautiful serendipity it brought together, as its authors, an extraordinary group of political and intellectual giants. As it, slowly, permeated the world’s consciousness, legions of idealists must have been electrified, even by the first three words of its preamble: “We the People”. It spoke to the very hearts and souls of humans of a newly imagined free existence. Getting the thirteen States, then involved, to ratify the final version would have required almost superhuman political skill and diplomacy. Through the centuries, its voice, the Supreme Court, has provided us with many titans of legal thought and expression. In general, it has served its nation, and other nations, well.

But! But! Regretfully there are a lot of Buts! The first being that it was written more than two hundred and forty years ago in a world that is now almost unimaginable. A world that was generally ruled by the caprice of Kings, Queens and Emperors. Slavery was perceived to be a normal part of life along with anti-Semitism, wars and ubiquitous life-threatening diseases. In reality, it was the life that Hobbes described as nasty, brutish and short. Although the Constitution exploded as the first open attempt to put the people in control of their own society and was deemed extraordinarily radical for its time, it was, and is, a captive of its own period’s norms. Married women and children were but chattels, trapped within the total power of their husbands, with no vote, no protection, no property and no means of appeal. Slavery was accepted and the slaves who escaped to a non-slave State had to be returned to their so-called owners. The original owners of the land (referred to in the document itself as ‘Indians’) were just an aside, and men who did not own property had no hand in the electoral process. Some of its period related flaws still ensnare us today with misguided attempts to ensure a wealthy, white Christian control of everything.

It’s antiquity alone leads to some undesirable results. Even the fact that the abolishment of slavery, the rights of women and children, and the rights of people of any colour other than White were added as an afterthought creates a disturbing suspicion of the order and validity of the moral values within it.

Some of its more contentious clauses deserve our scrutiny.

The First Amendment includes in its text that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…or of abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…’ (emphasis added). This prohibition is one of the most important, and most prized, provisions in the entire document. But free speech can become criminal when, for example, it is used to incite hatred or Revolution or it is slanderous. Prohibiting laws toward an establishment of religion does not mean freedom to set up a religion that requires for example, human sacrifice. This is covered by the criminal laws. In the same way, the right to freedom of speech should not protect the freedom of anonymous speech which is capable of causing grievous damage to the rights of other individuals: their right to privacy, to dignity, to their good name, to their very safety. If such damage is caused by anonymous free speech, there is no recourse for the victim. Such anonymous free speech is, at best, an act of abject cowardliness.

The Second Amendment, in particular, is somewhat obtuse because of age and poor drafting. It states that ‘A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed’. Modern rulings on this right seem to wilfully ignore the Militia section of this amendment, although it is the stated purpose of the right to bear arms. The meaning and rules of such a Militia are clearly laid out in Section 8 of the Constitution itself. This Section empowers Congress to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions. It reserved to the States the authority of appointing the officers and the training of the Militia ‘according to the discipline prescribed by Congress’ (emphasis added). This Militia bears no resemblance whatsoever to present day individual louts wandering the streets carrying assault rifles as a macho extension of their supposed sexual prowess. There is no invasion threatened today that can be dealt with by citizens with private guns and, as gun owners are the only ones currently threatening and leading insurrections, perhaps they exist to put themselves down? Leaving aside the arcane language of the Amendment, it is glaringly obvious that the private ownership of guns in the twenty-first century has no relationship to the concept of liberty.

Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment ends with the words… ‘Nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws (emphasis added). How then is it not criminal to forcibly separate refugee children from their parents without even a pretence of due process?

There is no longer a belief, nor a wisp of embarrassment, that the most gifted and learned judges should be appointed to the Supreme Court to interpret the law as best and as honestly as they can. Now they are blatantly chosen on their previous record on issues that favour one side, or the other, of the partisan divide. Some of them then spend their time developing the most convoluted reasoning to come to their desired result. Others pore over the words of the Founders, even to the extent of checking the meaning of relevant words in the eighteenth century (an attitude which elevates the Founders to the level of Prophets writing a Gospel to be valid for eternity). Missing entirely is any understanding of the intensely political nature of the entire constitutional venture. The initial draft may have been written idealistically but, to achieve its essential purpose of creating the Union, the paramount need was to persuade all thirteen states then existing to ratify the document. To achieve this all delegates, including the drafters, were obliged to swallow some bitter pills (including the Electoral College and two Senators per State). To justify this, they would have needed local benefits for their own states, political pork if you like, to assuage their own constituents. The initial Bill of Rights probably included much of this need.

For a democracy like America to be at peace with itself, respect for law is an essential ingredient. In effect, this means that, even when a decision is arrived at that some do not agree with, it can be reluctantly accepted if the decision is made on a good faith determination of the law and not on any extraneous dogma. That respect is faltering because of vile partisan squabbling for control through law. The modern Court has shown a cavalier attitude to the spirit of the Constitution itself. In striking down part of the Voting Rights Act they were fully aware that the rogue states involved would wield their new found freedom to disenfranchise many of their own black voters. In the famous case about a baker’s refusal to make a cake celebrating gay marriage, they did not take the opportunity to rule on anti-discrimination protections under the Constitution but sent a message that the Court was in favour of religious bigotry. In the Citizens United case, they released a veritable torrent of money into the political system (where it does not belong) on the spurious grounds that Corporations have the same rights as individuals. There are too many such rulings for honest people to feel at ease.

The Republican Party, particularly during the Trump era, has set out, openly, to pack all courts with conservative judges, seeing this as a way to control society when the Presidency is no longer in their hands. Given the makeup of American society this is a very high-risk strategy, not so much for them as for the very rule of law. However, the idea of having a very conservative Court ruling a moderately liberal society is but a pipe dream. The combined power of the Presidency, Congress and the People, would be far too great. It is most unlikely that any Court would even make the attempt.

The Constitution, despite the reverence we all hold it in, is out of date. Perhaps the pithiest explanation of this was Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, pointing out that as a gay, black woman, she was not even a person in the original document. Tradition and admiration are no substitute for decent, clear law. So, write a new one. It would be worthwhile, even if extremely challenging but enormously cathartic. Is it beyond its time? – yes. Is it possible – yes, but only if America is still a can-do society? A large part, including the most revered sections on freedom of speech, religion and universal suffrage, can be retained. The remaining issues would be the most contentious but, arguing them openly in Citizens’ conventions would enable a far better focus on the future and, counter intuitively, allow the Republican Party to reset their decent conservative values after the nightmare of the past few years. Increased clarity about the spirit of and intentions behind the new provisions would also challenge members of the judiciary who have been blatantly using their interpretative powers to progress their own ideological positions. A new American Constitution could be as electrifying for the world as the old one was in its heyday.

 

The World Today as Viewed Through a Lens in 2120

Dateline: November 2120

Note: The authors, Sienna Mboya and Amélie Paralogos are both great grandchildren of Frank and Rosemarie Kennan, the originators of this blog based on their Library of Civilisation.

An enormous amount of history has been written about the decade starting in 2020 but, in our opinion, not nearly enough attention has been given to that single momentous year and those immediately preceding it. This post is an attempt to redress that gap in the study of the origins of our own Brave New World.

2020 did not start as a year that was going to be any different to the three preceding years. For those years, the world was already in chaos. It was known universally that we faced two existential threats: human induced climate change and loss of biodiversity. Despite the understanding that there was very little time left for the hope of redressing these twin catastrophes, many of those who could take action denied the very existence of both. In the years immediately preceding 2020 the world was also immersed in two, unrecognised, seemingly alternate universes. The first of these was an intense fixation on an economic society: this was a condition that had been building since the Industrial Revolution. This caused a slow, but accelerating, drift away from a society that tried to alleviate the difficulties faced by everyday members, into one that more or less adored mammon. The apparent purpose of humanity was to produce and consume. Anything that interfered with that ideal, such as unions, believers in social justice, and climate realists, were seen as disloyal to progress. The media, conservative and liberal, gave immense amounts of space over to business and the stock market. The whole dystopian reality was probably best summed up by Margaret Thatcher from her perch as Prime Minister of Great Britain when she happily proclaimed that “greed is good”. At times, it seemed that society consisted entirely of Chambers of Commerce.

The second imagined alternate universe related to the more modern development of social media. It was one of the world’s greatest achievements but, in its early years, those who were its masters seemed totally unaware of the destructive forces that it made available to the most unscrupulous of humans. Dialectics and algorithms allowed such gangsters to access, and crudely analyse, the vast troves of personal information available about each individual on a plethora of social media. They then bent the stories that chosen targets were receiving, to exaggerate whatever particular hatred or superstition they suffered from. It seems almost inconceivable from our vantage point a hundred years later that people, including experts, thought that the information on their social media accounts was secure from prying eyes and misuse. Nor does it seem to have crossed anyone’s mind that the democratic ideal of free speech did not include the abomination of anonymous free speech. What happened was that the practitioners of dialectics were able to identify the various extreme constituencies within their own democracies and drown their ability to think by swamping them with persuasive lies, conspiracy theories and biased beliefs that matched each individual’s faulty knowledge or logic. Using such doubtful strategies they could create a winning election strategy. This reversed the aged pattern of democracy so that instead of electing leaders, we gave power to people without any leadership skills who then had to spend all of their time kowtowing to some element of their astonishingly disparate followers. In effect this led to mob rule: an evil that was firmly believed to belong to the distant past. Chaos ensued. In order to maintain the electoral cohesion of such a ragtag group, vis, Alt- Right, racists, misogynists, sexists, fundamental Christians, Ayn Rand disciples, QAnon unfortunates and a thousand other zany creeds, logic had to be abandoned and a whole series of two word, non-answers had to be invented, such as “Fake News”, “Deep State” and “Liberal Lies”. Entire political systems became farcical pantomimes with assorted Queens of Hearts in the lead roles.

The clowns seemed to be varied in their approach to power but they all held the underlying idea, on almost every level, that the past was superior to the present. Trump in America was blunt with his slogan to make America Great Again, without of course, specifying when that Great America existed exactly. Both Russia and Britain hankered after their times of empire. Modi and Erdogan and some Mideastern leaders pined for a true religious Theocracy, while Netanyahu wanted to possess a Biblical geographic state but with no votes for the indigenous population. Bolsonaro and others just wanted to imitate Trump. Europe had its own clowns but they were hampered in their ambitions because the very people who had voted them into office were totally opposed to leaving the European Union with its insistence on rule of law. It was in the midst of this cacophony of unreason that the 2020 pandemic landed and brought with it an unimaginable collection of fears, both real and fanciful. The fear of death or illness, of economic ruin, of social anarchy and of God’s wrath. For nearly two years it did bring carnage, both in bereavement and in mental health. The curtailment of ordinary life, and the sadness this brought with it, were so all encompassing that it was many years before those who had suffered through it could recognise that it had also brought with it an extraordinary, and timely, acceleration in human civilisation. The first pillar of these aforementioned alternate universes to collapse was signalled by the dethronement of Trump – we chose the word carefully. As the scandals hidden by his power and his collection of lackeys began to surface, Congress had to provide extra car parks for whistleblowers trying, belatedly, to rescue their reputations. Only William Barr was unrepentant as he had the surety of knowing that he had been doing God’s will. Whilst America was convulsed with the knowledge that so many of them had been taken as gullible innocents, other related events were playing out across the globe. Nobody had truly understood the influence that tin pot dictators could wield on the simple basis of being a friend of, and having access to, the American President. With his fall, the world breathed a sigh of relief and everything changed. Putin fell within two years as he became anathema to everyday Americans (although there is a valid argument that his collapse was as much to do with the loss of oil and gas revenues as renewables became the norm). In Britain the leader Cummings, a virus like creature, was finished when the technology corporations took a look at our new world and decided that the damage done by operating a major part of their business in a low regulated, off-shore, money laundering island, would have far too great a negative impact on their reputations. With the collapse of that mirage, Cummings had to go
(for the pedants, we are aware that the constitutional leader was Johnson, but this was in name only. In reality he was more an incompetent court jester).

The stormy ending of crude populism in much of the world allowed the smooth advance of the more important social change. The pandemic had allowed, even forced, a great number of the world’s population to examine their societies and their own place in them. The great majority realised that a civilisation that exalted the profit motive above all other ambitions, wishes, moralities and futures, was not taking care of ordinary citizens. This led to what we now call the enlightened Enlightenment. Amongst other achievements this saved our planet, increased our love of science, culture, justice, education and empathy. When the pandemic struck, the first thing that these ordinary people realised was that populist leaders were so totally bereft of ideas for combating the virus that they imitated King Canute in telling the tide to stop coming in or, as an alternative, trying to foist the blame onto some enemy or other. Interspersed were miracle cures and statistics that scientists had never heard of. It was a time of sadness and madness but, nonetheless, it led ineluctably to the most momentous change in human society since the invention of agriculture.

Suffering in lockdown, people had time to consider the return to a normal life that they were expected to ardently wish for. The inferior healthcare, housing, and education that their poverty made inevitable, the stress from long commutes and substandard child care and all of this combined with the ubiquitous and truly farcical disparity in wealth. Even more importantly, from our point of view in their future, they had time to look at the overall system of society with opened eyes. What they saw was that it was not designed to improve the general good but was specifically designed to help those already riding some pig’s back. Dreaming of their children’s future, and experiencing the early wrath of climate change, they began to understand the glutinous appetites of the commercial community. Most of the entities involved are now forgotten, but with a few exceptions: the brutal hypocrisy of the extractive industries, feeding vulture like on an already wounded earth; the great engineering companies, Boeing and Volkswagen, who eschewed their skills for the sake of a few more dollars; and the enormous pharmaceutical conglomerate of The Sacklers for whom a great fortune doing good was not enough, so they became drug dealers. At the
same time, too many farmers were stealing the rhythm of their land and their stock for no motive other than economic gain.

It was fifty years into the last century before those who had lived through that fateful year of 2020 grasped that, despite their suffering, they were honoured to have experienced one of the most fateful years of human history. Without that year we would probably not be here to write this essay. More importantly, without the events of that cataclysmic year, we would not now be optimistic about our ongoing battle against climate degradation. 2020 will always be remembered as the year of birth of our new Renaissance and of our new Enlightenment.

Christianity

Don’t shy away because this blog is about religion, and specifically about Christianity. If you are a Christian be assured that it will not be an attack on your spirituality. I have enough curiosity left to become agitated when good scientists, even some great ones, discard some of their valuable time trying to prove or disprove the unprovable, to wit, the existence of God. Presumably it is religious dogma that drives them to such windmill chasing but a belief in God is a valid and reasonable position. Very few Christians believe that our solar system is earth centric or that the earth is six or seven thousand years old.

So, imagining ourselves to be devout Christians, we believe certain truths to be the basis of our faith: that Christ was the Son of God; that he became human and died a dreadful death to redeem us; that he resurrected on the third day after death; and that while he was alive he preached a message telling us how to live a decent life so that we could be assured of being saved.

Assuming all of this to be true, such events are beyond any phenomena that we know of, leaving even Big Bang and Quantum Mechanics as minor puzzles. By its very nature such an event cannot have a human history. But that supposed history is one of the reasons that we Christians are told to study, learn and obey the Old Testament. Yet, when Jesus came to redeem us, at such a terrible cost to himself, we already had the teachings of the Bible and by themselves they were patently not enough to save us.

The second reason justifying the study of the Old Testament is because of the royal descent of Jesus. Mary, His mother, is identified as a direct descendant of King David, the great Jewish King of Israel. However, Mary arrived some two thousand years after David (80 plus generations) and, as you know, your direct ancestors double each generation i.e. two parents, four grandparents and so on. This means that everybody in the Middle East, in Mary’s time, was a direct descendant of David many times over. The most extraordinary example of this misunderstanding of simple arithmetic came from the Bishop of Paris when, during the internment of Napoleon on Elba, he managed to include in his sermon to the aristocratic congregation in Notre Dame the immortal sentence that ‘Not only was Jesus Christ the Son of God but, equally, He came from an excellent family’.

The third, highly suspect, reason offered for such studies of the Old Testament is the use of the oxymoron of Judeo — Christian Civilisation, which manages to suggest that both histories are somewhat superior and joined at the hip. This has the advantage of allowing us to support the current irascible government in Israel whilst conveniently forgetting our extraordinarily horrendous treatment of Jews during the entire Christian Era.

As there does not seem to be a valid reason why we as Christians should be paying so much attention to the Old Testament, the suspicion must be that it is for the purpose of control. As a testament it is as exciting as a violent thriller. Blood and gore in abundance, a chosen people, famine, plague and fire heaped upon nations, concubines, lions, people turned into pillars of salt, and overseeing it all, a wrathful God shouting from the heavens. Much more colorful than the gentle stories and admonitions of the Saviour of the New Testament. There is even evidence that the suspicion of control is valid. When William Tyndall, in Henry VIII’s time, was rash enough to translate the New Testament into English he was hung and burnt for having the gall to make Christ’s message available to those who had no Latin. Reducing control of His message was, indubitably, a Capital crime!

When I was a young Catholic, and an altar boy to boot, we had religious instruction six days a week and then Mass on Sundays with further lessons. Added to this were Rosaries, Novenas, Benedictions, parades and Holy Days. It seemed as though the world was fueled by religion. Our Christian Doctrine classes were heavily weighted in favor of the Old Testament, particularly the Ten Commandments and even the study of these was hopelessly biased in favor of the Fifth, ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ and the Sixth, ‘Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery’.

The Fifth was not much trouble, although we were taught which minor variations of it, such as intentionally causing injury, were a sin. Most of our studies relating to it were Jesuitical excuses for just wars. This was despite the fact that most wars were driven by imperialism, brute nationalism, racism or just greed. They never did explain how, despite the clarity of the Commandment, legal executions were acceptable. In my (innocent) childhood neither abortion, prostitutes nor child abuse were believed to exist in Ireland, and so were not included in any discussion.

The Sixth however was the bane of our lives. Entire libraries could have been filled with the innumerable ways it could be broken: improper thoughts, lecherous behavior, unapproved company of the opposite sex, masturbation and on and on and on. Anything could be included under the heading of an ‘Occasion of Sin’.

In those teenage years of living with tyrannical hormones, confession was difficult. I used to confess my love for Doris Day. That seemed to meet the requirements of each confessor although that particular love was as pure as a mountain spring. Mostly though, it avoided the need to list the occasions of sin that dogged every minute of life; from the girl three doors down, to the salacious curves of some highly improper trees!

I once had the privilege of listening to a well known actor describing her experience of confession as an Irish schoolgirl. Her most chillingly funny story went something like this:
“Bless me father for I have sinned”.
“What do you want to confess, my child?”
“I was courting father”
Any damage done”.
“Yes father “.
“Above or below the waist”.
“Ooh, above only father”
He gave her penance and absolution but then instead of closing the privacy flap, he leaned forward to the grill and whispered to her, “tell your father I’ll be over for bridge later”.

The New Testament does not really worry about such childish issues, so it is easy to see why the Old Testament was needed for control. Jesus himself reduced all rules to just two Great Commandments, the essence of which can be expressed as: Love the Lord thy God and love thy neighbour. It remains difficult to believe that they were actual commandments, they seem much more like advice.

The first of these commandments is somewhat difficult but it can be interpreted as Jesus simply advising us that a God exists. He did not specify a Jewish, Christian or any other particular God; He just said thy God. That can be read in many different, positive ways. For a nonbeliever it is perfectly rational to accept it as advice to put your soul, your love and honesty into your passion, whether that passion is science or the humanities, from your love of your own garden to the global environment or the entire cosmos itself.

The second can be recognised as the perfect guide to the path of our civilisation. He did not say love thy white, black, female, male, Samaritan or Jewish, rich or poor neighbour. You cannot love your neighbour by treating them unfairly, killing them for a little more power or land or failing to recognise their individual gender or sexual orientation. Nor can you deny them the medical attention they need nor the quality of education they ought to have just because they have no money. Your neighbour is the entirety of humankind, good or bad. Love in this context is not to be taken as our current understanding of human romance, but instead as a lack of hatred and at least an attempt to understand your neighbour’s history and difficulties. Finally, your best effort to forgive. Seemingly simple, it is excruciatingly difficult to follow such advice, yet the right thing to do. It means that as a conservative Christian you may detest the act of abortion but must empathise with the person who performs it. Alternatively, if you are a liberal, you may loathe the deeds of a Trump or a Johnson and even those who, despite knowing exactly what both of them are, continue to enable them for their own nefarious purpose, but you must still empathise with all of them. Ah well! He never said it would be easy.

The Christian faith is similar to all other creeds in that it is divided into thousands of different sects, each one insisting that their particular view of it all is the one true faith. Too often the separations are driven by the Old Testament. But for Christians, it is completely illogical to rely on pre-Christian texts to support that faith, however interesting and wise those texts are. Instead Christians should concentrate on the gentle and loving message of the New Testament. Put energy and truth into your passion and love thy neighbour! Give it socks while you’re at it!

Malign Influence

I am not normally tempted to write about current politics; they are too immediate, too transient and I am too passionate about them. But the two life threatening crises facing us at the moment, Covid 19 and climate change, qualify, especially when combined as civilisational events and should not be neglected. There is a third crisis - the widespread abandonment of truth and expertise - which exacerbates the difficulties in the search for solutions to the first two. This blog is in reality an aide memoire for grandchildren to see how some of us were thinking whilst living through them.

The world is changing before our very eyes and no matter how much we hope and pretend otherwise it will never again be the one that we imagined as normal, just a few short months ago. This change does not mean that we will lose the joys that are the essence of our humanity: our kissing and hugging of loved ones, our love of company, our celebrations, and young people gathering in large numbers for whatever reason to express their very joie de vivre. We are clever enough and passionate enough to find a response that will allow all of that to return. Because of the growing acceptance that climate change and pollution are existential threats we are, with the necessary will, capable of reversing even those threats. What will collapse however is the overconfident path that our elites have laid out for the twenty first century, namely eternal economic growth, reduced taxes, obscene consumption and wealth disparity. In our present dire circumstances the fault lines in such self serving plans are wholly destructive. With the pandemic itself, those who want to return to the status quo ante come replete with incredibly comprehensive plans to achieve their ambitions but forget, as always, that the devil is in the detail. How do we deal with those politicians and their enablers who failed us when they were most needed? How do we put the ever more obvious and odious genie of inequality back in its bottle and what will we dream up to assuage the millions who have had the time to realise that their lives before lockdown were a puny substitute for their real hopes? How many will be shocked when it becomes obvious that they are being exploited as pack animals and that those who exploit them have no intention of voluntarily sharing even a scrap of the world’s wealth with them?

Epoch changes are, luckily, not that common, but they all have things in common. The French Revolution happened because of the relentless and blind arrogance of the nobility based on the risible idea of genetic superiority. Our own epochal change will be driven by a natural catastrophe highlighting the incredible arrogance of many of those with more money than most. A quarter of a century after the Revolution, with Napoleon defeated, the Ancient Regime imagined that things could revert immediately to the order in place before the Revolution. They did not realise, even then, that the system that had been replaced was one bereft of decency and, most definitely, not one that ordinary people would allow to be resuscitated. Despite the enormous trauma inflicted on humans by the current pandemic, our elites, including most of our politicians, expect a speedy return to the supposedly normal - a normal that was also bereft of decency.

The two changes of epoch that we are most familiar with are both World Wars. The first driven by rampant nationalism and feelings of superiority on all sides. Does that sound familiar? The principal effects, besides the appalling carnage, were a reduction in the belief of the wisdom of ruling classes and the refusal of women to placidly return to their male ordained ‘proper’ roles.

The second War has even more lessons for our present dilemma. It was again driven by nationalism, though this time with the added evil of rabid antisemitism. Most pertinent to our current situation is that the prime instigator was, in many ways, quite insane and to facilitate his complete grasp of power required a new outrageous level of propaganda: lies and falsehoods in simple language.

Roosevelt and Churchill led the Democratic World during the War and both were intelligent and relatively sane and effective. So, what sort of team do we have to lead us out of our own interesting times?. An extraordinary one by any standards. Even limiting it to the players who think of themselves as democrats we have: Putin, Bolsonaro, Modi, Obrador, Erdogan, Orban, Johnson and others, all led by their inimitable captain, Donald Trump (he is not chosen for his skill but because he has more money and power). Look closely at them and you will undoubtedly decide that the world is in good hands! Is it any wonder that in fiction clowns are often portrayed as fundamentally evil.

For Trump to create his own bananarama world he must have a united band of loyal supporters, usually referred to as his base. His particular base is a quite outlandish coalition of disparate and contradictory elements. The majority consists of ordinary decent people who know that they are left out of all the loops of a fast changing world and who, in general, think that Civilisation is moving backwards; that all decency is failing. They support Trump in the hope that he is so different that he may return the country to what they think it used to be, never comprehending that, except for their vote, he has no interest whatsoever in them or their problems. His promise to them of clearing the swamp is not helping when his method is to transform it into a fetid cesspit. The rest of his band are a peculiarly zany coalition consisting of racists, chauvinists, jingoistic nationalists, gun cowards, anti-vaxers, extreme libertarians, the greedy and, perhaps most surprisingly, fundamentalist Christians who have distilled the entire message of Christ into the stopping of all abortion.

Holding such a coalition together is a Herculean task and brings us the third, mostly unrecognised pandemic: the scourge of lies and untruth. A democratic society cannot function if the level of this mind bending disease is permitted at its current levels. It grants equality between untruth, gossip, rumor, superstition and slander to truth, facts, evidence, informed opinion and even Science. That grant of equality renders every opinion more or less meaningless. There is an unscrupulous malign influence deeply involved in this purposeful evil. In America it is Fox News. The rest of the right wing echo chamber are not nearly so damaging. They do what they do, quite properly, because of their openly stated beliefs, but Fox disseminates untruth and falsehoods while claiming to be an unbiased news station. It labels itself with logos such as ‘We Report You Decide’, - ‘Most Watched Most Trusted’,. ‘- Fair And Balanced’, - and their most recent ‘Real News Real Honest Opinion’. With that one they encapsulate their method of taking their own most egregious fault, false witness, and, with bladder bursting gall, foist it on all of the normal media: Fake News. Goebbels would have been proud of them. The effect is to ensure that nothing can get through to Trump loyalists — however despicable or incompetent his acts or however much evidence there is of his dishonor, — it can be dismissed as Fake News. It is extraordinary that the public face of the corporation - the television anchors — can, night after night, preen themselves with deep sincerity but never realise that pimping for untruth is even more unsavory than regular pimping.

If you think that exaggerates the power of the Murdock empire then take a look at English politics where, because he dislikes the E-U’s interference in his corporate ambitions, he has set out to destroy the entire European concept. To achieve this he employs his overarching control of the print media in England and has, for decades, used that power to drip feed poisonous nationalism, racism, xenophobia and lies about immigrants, refugees and Europe itself into the English political consciousness. The end result has been to get a perfectly sane race (albeit somewhat arrogant because of a supposedly glorious history) to vote to secede from the European Union. He has bravely led this bold, flag waving charge, forward to the past. Brexit, as it is called, has no known advantage for Britain, neither social, cultural, economic nor scientific. It is telling that the two parts of the British Union, where Murdock’s writ does not run so overwhelmingly, voted decisively against Brexit. Ironically, this was not the outcome he or those who currently pass as conservatives in England wanted. Both assumed that when an entity as large and influential as Britain left others would follow suit. The opposite has happened; Europe’s union has actually become stronger whilst the British one has weakened.

Covid 19 and climate change are world changing events which we need to solve very quickly, but which also present an opportunity for positive and transformative changes to society. However, this is only possible if we address the third crisis: the abandonment of truth and expertise in the protection of powerful interests.

Democracy cannot function properly if reality is constantly ripped asunder by falsehoods, superstition and propaganda. Untruth is anathema to any successful Democracy. In three of our major democracies, America, England and Australia, the Murdoch empire, News Corp - including Fox - is the leading protagonist of making truth malleable. We must weaken its power to mislead and perhaps the only way to do this is to publicise relentlessly the names of their advertisers. This would allow the general public to decide what they, as individuals, can do to help.

Even though there is general consensus about what we are trying to do to overcome Covid 19, the barriers raised to our success come from the usual sources; those who ignore all expertise and insist that it is nothing more than a minor issue or, alternatively, that it is already over. Nor should we forget those who are more brutal, but perhaps more honest, who would persuade us that lives sacrificed are unimportant compared to reopening the economy! When the pandemic is controlled we will have moved to a very different societal normal. Because of the exigencies of the current crisis too much of the nature of our existing order is being highlighted to those who are neglected by that order. They will not accept the old norms whoever tells them that they must. If you cannot yet sense the coming storm, adjust your antenna. We know what despots do in such circumstances, but in a democracy, to avoid chaos or even violence, we need truth more than anything else. It is time to stop accepting anything less.

No fine words will reduce the status of the climate change crisis as an existential threat for life on earth. Yet those who continue to dismiss that threat as minor are truly a malignant influence, driven by blind greed to ignore and lie about the horrible danger to the world, even to the lives of their own children and grandchildren.

The challenges facing us are enormous and immediate. How we respond will be admired, or roundly damned, by our immediate successors.

The Irish Examiner, May 9 2020

Letters to the Editor: What is stopping us removing the insecurity of those living in rented homes?

It would appear that the only group that must be protected from all financial pain during this emergency are domestic landlords. Admittedly the government has decreed that there will be no evictions or rent increases on a temporary basis. Really! How radical a solution is that?

The government then adds enormously to the social welfare bill, not to help people survive, but solely to enable them to pay their rents. Nor is there any mention of increasing the tax rate on such income for the duration of the crisis.

Lack of meaningful action seems to be predicated on the constitutional right to private property, but that Article 43 right is not untrammeled. The final two clauses of that Article 43 make it absolutely clear that the right is subservient to the needs of social justice and the exigencies of the common good.

The 1982 Supreme Court decision, (very narrow one in scope) was supposedly rectified by a series of Acts that would appear to have been written by a landlords’ lobby group.

These Acts have created a situation whereby the tenants of a family home can be evicted for all of the usual valid reasons, plus the following reasons: If the property is needed to house one of the landlords immediate family - adding privilege to privilege - to reclaim the house for refurbishment or development, and most insidiously of all, if the market price of the freehold property is 20% above its value with sitting tenants.

This would infer that our society no longer believes in the sanctity of the family home if it is rented rather than mortgaged. Add short term leases and a shortage of supply to create the perfect storm of insecurity. Rental homes are no longer homes: just another form of business assets.

Most landlords are as decent as the rest of us try to be but we know from our history the incalculable damage that a few self-obsessed and greedy ones can cause. Do we really believe that evicted tenants should catch the boat to America or England?

Whatever great plans our new government might have for housing, they could make a flying start by ridding us of the gross insecurity of those living in rented homes; or is there a problem, other than political will, that prevents such action?

Frank Kennan, Roundwood House.

An Essay on Civilisation

Behind the fun of creating such a library there is an underlying and important purpose: to help develop an understanding that our overall history is, over any extended period of time, a continuous, improving, upward progression, and that the word Civilisation, used properly, is the word that defines this phenomenon.

FREEDOM FROM GENETIC EVOLUTION

When Homo Sapiens first arrived we were already the only species on the planet that was free from a complete reliance on genetic evolution; that is to say we did not need to go through a lengthy process of change to adapt to any new environment we found ourselves in. Life, in general, evolves to better match the environmental niche on which it is dependent but human intelligence renders this imperative mostly redundant and frees humans from lengthy evolutionary time spans. For example, when humans move to a colder climate the evolution of warmer skins is unnecessary: just more clothes, more fires and better shelters. The development of tools, including weapons, meant that almost any environment could provide sustenance and the ability to control fire and cook made a range of foods available beyond the dreams of any other life forms. A few elements of Darwinian evolution were retained in our early days, as in the colour of skin to match the intensity of sunlight where humans lived. Now we use sun cream or vitamin D tablets. Other than in fictional storytelling it is impossible to forecast human advance in the next five hundred years, a time span that is but seconds in the broad sweep of genetic evolutionary development.

WHAT CIVILISATION REALLY MEANS

Free of most of the constraints of genetic evolution we needed our own unique form of evolution; not just to help ourselves and properly match human time frames, but to protect ourselves and all other life forms from the astonishing power, originally hidden, within our intelligence. It was not until very recently that we ourselves realised that intelligence itself would grant the power to unleash nuclear holocaust or catastrophic climate change.The progress of this new form of evolution, the cognitive evolution of human society, is itself the definition of civilisation.

WHAT HIDES THE MEANING FROM US?

We miss the true meaning of civilisation because of our lack of an overarching view of the phenomenon. We insist on breaking it into smaller and smaller pieces to suit our own prejudices and by defining it as Greek, Chinese, Western or Christian civilisation when all we can accurately consider is their individual contributions to the overall advance. We grant it mortality even though the ideas and understanding added to it do not die when the societies and individuals that spawned them fade into the past. Some argue that the core is to be found in Art, Architecture and beauty; others champion Literature or Philosophy and yet others Science. We add religion when we express such ideas such as Judeo-Christian Civilisation. Many misunderstand it to the extent of believing that it depends on well-educated scholars for all contributions, forgetting that its essential roots (common decency, empathy, kindness and all of our other developed virtues) are mostly passed on by everyday people who are not and never will be recognised. Civilisation is a growing, universal, human phenomenon, not the temporary, competitive plaything of any tribe or class or time.

SEPARATION

There are other fallacious ideas that obfuscate it’s meaning — principle amongst them are the never ending attempts to divide us into different species: by race, sex, nationality, religion, tribe, social status and even intelligence. Unfortunately, even some scientists, primarily psychologists and geneticists, are willing to bolster the idea that some of us i.e. women, black people, the poor and various others are ever so slightly less intelligent than our own supposedly superior version: all argued with regret that this is so, such a pity! Idiots! This attempt to resurrect eugenics by subterfuge is a miserable blot on the name of both science and politics.

ACCELERATION

For an evolutionary system, civilisation has a very surprising attribute that we ignore all too often: it is constantly accelerating. Just a few examples make this very clear. To progress from our primeval needs — fire, cooking, language — we required tens of millennia to achieve agriculture and another ten to invent writing; a skill that itself required two and a half thousand years to travel from Mesopotamia to Britain. If someone dreams up an equally powerful idea today, the entire globe can be made aware of it this evening. In our own time, the twentieth century, it is not remotely hyperbolic to suggest that we have advanced more, despite two debilitating world wars, than in the entirety of our previous existence; not only in science and technology but in all aspects underpinning our common humanity. This includes the worldwide reduction in violence, our serious engagement with human rights and our long overdue assault on the pitiful obscenities of misogyny, chauvinism and racism. It is the difficulty of dealing with this tear-away acceleration that underpins most of our current political turmoil.

SOCIETY TODAY

To many it seems that all has gone awry—chaos abounds. In reality this is just the runaway acceleration of our own evolution. Although the word Globalisation is purloined by economists, it is not an economic word but a Civilisational one. We are melding the world together— through commerce, yes, but also through literature, art, film, migration, travel, even pandemics — the list is endless. In addition, the overwhelming connections enabled by the internet and the deluge of information and misinformation that is now flowing around the planet are forcing us all to think about cultures that, heretofore, we barely knew existed and to empathise with those whose social and political difficulties were unknown to us just a few decades ago. Overall what we are learning is that our comfortable status quo cannot hold — that the existential threats we now face are too severe to allow our egregious inequality and consumption to continue. On a more cheerful note, we can see that the political and environmental turmoil we are all currently experiencing is driven, for the most part, by those who imagine they will benefit most from an unjust present. Despite their advantages of wealth and their manipulation of the human fear of change, their voices are becoming more uncontrolled. This is because the only real hope for their ambitions lies in the destruction of Democracy and this, despite their stunning successes to date, is an ambition too far. Democracy is now so deeply embedded in our psyche that the progress of Civilisation itself will not allow its demise. When this ephemeral nightmare ends, as such terrors always do, we will at last have to recognise the true reality that confronts us: a lack of time. If Greta Thunberg lives to be elderly and cannot at that stage find a history book that describes our ruthless deconstruction of insatiable greed and its soul mate, corruption, we will have lost. Muddling through is no longer an option. The future is no longer the present with a few adjustments. We face a tumultuous decade or two. There is nothing good to be said about Covid 19 but it may give us pause to reflect on our current societal trajectory.

FINAL WORD

Civilisation is the upward, cognitive driven evolution of human society. It is constantly striving to accelerate because of our ever increasing knowledge and understanding. Our current apparent hiatus is caused by the difficulties of adjusting to a globalised society and to find faster solutions to the problems of a fast changing world in danger. If, and this is a big if, we survive our all consuming need for excess, the phenomenon will bring us to where all evolution pauses: as near to a perfect global society as our species is capable of. When, as a worldwide community in search of truth and understanding, we can produce the beauty that even a third rate orchestra can, despite its disparate instruments, members and talents, then the cosmos awaits our attention: perhaps just intellectually… but the physical reality also beckons!

THE ROLE OF THE LIBRARY

The very act of attempting to create a graspable sized library (about twelve hundred volumes) covering everything that we as humans have achieved — good and bad — is of necessity doomed to failure because of over ambition. But, however crude and judgmental the reality is, it still allows us to glimpse a shadow of the phenomenon that is cognitive evolution and shines a very bright light indeed on the acceleration that is integral within that same phenomenon: Civilisation.

The Library – a Brief Overview

“A History of the Evolution of Civilisation” -

There is, in the midlands of Ireland, a library of the evolution of civilisation. It sounds like a rather grandiose idea but it comes from the simple notion that society is evolutionary and, like all evolutionary systems, it is upward moving. With the passing of time we become more civilised. We are going somewhere, but where? Of course there are reverses, some of them truly dreadful, but nonetheless, overall we keep moving forward. This library is intended to follow the path of that improvement and to celebrate those individuals who successfully climbed onto the shoulders of millions to give us something new and beautiful; a poem, a philosophy, a scientific theory, a painting, a symphony, a new kind of politics or technology. The intention is to do this within the overall picture of our history from the beginning, with our darkest periods included.

The library is situated in the grounds of Roundwood House at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains and is of limited size (approximately two thousand volumes) to facilitate a general understanding of the development of civilisation. The gallery is given over to related books.

Irish Independent, January 12 2014

One of Ireland’s most unusual libraries is set to open this week – with the world being asked to decide what should be in its collection.

The Library of the History of Civilisation is the brainchild of Frank Kennan, who lives in Roundwood House, a remarkable Palladian villa nestled in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom mountains in Co Laois.

After a year long odyssey trying to step outside the maelstrom of everyday news to discover where the human race was headed, he has come up with around 700 books he believes sums up our journey so far.

The collection was helped by a “shocking number of opinions” from guests who come to stay at the house – saved from ruin by the Irish Georgian Society and taken over by Frank and his wife Rosemary in the 1980s.

“There was no one came into the drawing room and said they were a philosopher, but there were an enormous number of philosophers,” he said.

But now he wants to take it beyond the drawing room, and is asking the wider world to help determine the permanent collection.

Finishing touches are being put on a purpose-built library in one of the old grain stores at the rear of the historic house which will house the books.

The library attempts to map out what French philosopher Voltaire described as the steps by which men passed from barbarism to civilisation, according to Frank.

But he says years of reading and thinking about civilisation and what it meant led him to less than obvious choices for the project.

“It’s easy to say Newton, Einstein, Dante, Shakespeare, these are books we would all agree on, and the Bible and the Koran,” he said.

“But I think in looking in books, I had a sudden realisation that actually everything is involved in civilisation.

“So books on spices show us spices affected our history, and so did salt and pepper – in terms of trade routes, and taxes, and revolutions.”

Frank said there would be little serious argument about the first 300 or 400 books in the collection, but the remainder will constantly change as civilisation itself changes.

Some will become less important and others will become more so.

“The library doesn’t match most people’s ideas of a library. Books don’t usually get thrown out of a library,” he said.

The quest has left him optimistic about civilisation, he says, despite the chance the human race could “wreck it” with the bomb or climate change.

“I’ve become more optimistic the more I read, the more I think about it,” he said.

“An awful lot of people spend their time thinking the world is getting worse, or we’re facing incredible dangers or we’re going in all sorts of directions and none of them mean much.

“But if you know we are on an upward path, it would stop us worrying, stop journalists writing about the terribleness of the world and talking utter rubbish about the good old days.”

The library is to open this week, and the public is being invited to visit or get in touch to offer their opinion on what should be in – and out – of the collection.

They should expect to be challenged.