08 Sep

IPSO is a Facto

Sir Alan Moses starts work this morning as chairman of the new Independent Press Standards Organisation IPSO and promises that it will not be “a sham.” Indeed it is not a sham: it is a political quango set up in response to campaigns by Hacked Off and Guardian journalists to abolish our free press. This must not be allowed to happen. The health of the nation depends upon the freedom of the press. Even that old Puritan John Milton understood this and argued vigorously in its defence in his 1644 speech, later printed as Areopagitica. Muzzling the press is the first act of all tyrannies. Just reflect on states such as the USSR under Stalin, Germany under Hitler and China ruled by Mao and his successors. Look at any dictatorship you fancy and ask yourself whether you would prefer to live there or here in Britain, with all its faults.

Newspapers are a pretty untidy business and actually their methods of news-gathering are often despicable. But not as despicable as the methods of all governments which control the mass media. These governments are thereby enabled to hide their own misdeeds and criminalise public scrutiny. The freedom of the press is what guarantees our liberty – or at least some measure of freedom. The free press can hold governments to account and this is ever more necessary given our current debased and corrupt political class.

There should be absolutely no regulation of the press. This does not mean that the papers and the broadcasters can do as they like. They must be subject to the law of the land as everyone else is so subject. If I break into your house, or even if by my words and writings slander you or libel you, then I have committed an offence and for which I can be arraigned. The same goes for journalists, newspapers and television companies.

There are enough laws and we don’t need further regulation. Control always works in favour of authority. Yes, and the basis of all authority is freedom.

20 Jul

Truth by head-count

The BBC are advertising a new series in which they will ask one of those nebulous questions they delight in. This time it’s “Is Britain still a Christian country?” The blurb adds another question, presumably dependent on how you answer the first: “Should Christianity still play a role in public life?” This is predicated on the statement that there are fewer people calling themselves Christians in this country than there used to be. In other words, the truth value of Christianity is not to be measured by attention to scripture, to historical investigations or theological and philosophical reasoning, but by counting heads.  It’s that shibboleth “democracy” again, the prevailing fantasy of our age.

They will not ask the one question that matters: Is it true? because to the modern mind there is no such thing as truth, only opinion. And every opinion is adjudged to be as good as every other, no matter how idiotic, incoherent and uneducated. In these conditions the only recourse left is to count heads and frame your policies on what the larger part of the mob…I was going to say “thinks,” but the blundering mob doesn’t think: it only feels, emotes and reacts.

As a matter of fact there are coherent philosophical and theological arguments for the truth of Christianity. The new programme will not even mention these. There is strong historical evidence for the reliability of the gospels. This will not be gone into. They will only ask petulantly what “right” have Christians got to a say in the public realm in this wonderfully progressed and superbly diverse society of ours.

Furthermore, the truth of Christianity is not a theoretical truth, but an existential, moral and eschatological truth. Specifically, we are all going to die and after death comes the judgement. It is vital that we prepare for this properly. Whosoever will be saved, it is necessary above all things that he hold the catholic faith. And the catholic faith is this: that God is Trinity in Unity; men are fallen, sinners, Christ died to save us; he rose again and ascended into heaven where he is even now preparing a place for us.

Tell you what though: the BBC would never dream of trying to establish the truth-value of the theory of evolution by counting heads. Just a thought.

09 May

Murder? It’s Killing Innit?

Perhaps to demonstrate that it’s not so dumbed down after all, the BBC is making one of its periodic incursions into the realm of intelligence. There is to be a programme in which it is asked whether there should be a connection between the law and morality. The presenter previewed this item by giving the example of Holland where, he said, there is no connection between law and morality – because the Dutch judiciary takes a liberal line on incidences of illegal drug use and prostitution.

The BBC discussion is to be presented by “experts.” Don’t need ‘em mate. Any first year philosophy undergraduate who couldn’t spot the flaw in that argument should be chucked off his course and advised to try something else: media studies, perhaps.

For the plain truth is that any attitude towards illegal drug use is bound to be a moral attitude. The particular moral attitude which the Dutch take just happens to be a liberal, permissive attitude. It is a moral attitude nonetheless. As strict enforcement of the law against prostitution and illegal drug use would also be a moral attitude. What is it like, this BBC expert’s argument and to what shall I liken it? It’s as if I should say, “Because this wren is not a sparrow, it’s not a bird.” But that’s to put the matter in plain language, such as we speak in the street. Let me translate it into academese, so that the philosophers on Radio Four might better understand it: there is the set called morality; and then there are the subsets called permissive morality, strict morality, utilitarian morality, deontological morality and so on; and all the subsets are parts of the whole set.  

I looked a bit further into this unhappy relationship between the BBC and philosophy – did a bit of research, as they say – and found that the Corporation offers full coverage of philosophical ethics. But things don’t get any better. For example, there is an introduction to subjectivist ethics. Here the subjective view is said to entail the opinion that there are no objective moral values. So far, so good. That is an accurate description of the subjectivist view. But the example the BBC gives us is: “So a subjectivist could never say that murder is wrong.”

Oh yes he could. In fact he must. Because “murder” means “wrongful killing.” Murder is thus distinguished (by its wrongness) from other forms of killing – in warfare, for instance – which might not be considered wrong. This has nothing to do with whether you take a subjectivist ethical stance or some other. “Murder is wrong” remains true in virtue of the meaning of the words themselves.

To relapse into the academese again: “Murder is wrong” is a tautology. And tautologies are always true (for everyone) “on pain of contradiction,” as they say

In future, better stick to the Tellytubbies

07 May

Job application

To whom it may concern…

I should like to apply for the post of Chairman of the BBC following the retirement of Lord Patten. You will want to know why I think I am the right man – sorry, “person”! – for the job. I must confess that I am motivated partly by fear – the fear that the BBC’s character and  reputation – described by Chris Patten as “precious and wonderful” – might be lost. Particularly, I fear that right wing politicians will use this time of crisis, precipitated by the vacancy at the top, fundamentally to alter the historic and humane socialist ethos of the Corporation. The BBC has a long and proud record of vigorous opposition to Conservative governments and leaders: who can forget the brilliant hatchet job editors and presenters performed on Margaret Thatcher, especially the coverage of her death and funeral? Let us not forget that it was the BBC alone that transformed the image of Tony Benn from loony commissar to national treasure. I fear that this great tradition in political broadcasting might be lost. And of course the BBC is the last remaining champion of the NHS – “envy of the world” – and state education

The BBC is the most reliable and respected news service in the world. For decades It has relentlessly told the truth about Israel: that it is a pariah state operating a system of apartheid against hard-working and peace-loving Palestinians whose only “crime” is daily to fire Kyatusha rockets into Israeli towns and villages. This accurate picture could change overnight if the forces of the right were to use the present interregnum to influence the BBC’s highly ethical foreign policy. And Israel is not the only example of where such a catastrophe could occur. For example, BBC coverage of events in South Africa since the glorious liberation under St Nelson Mandela in 1994 has always offered to the world a true picture of that admirable rainbow nation, with its new-found equality among all races and classes, increasing economic prosperity and remarkable reductions in crime, violence and political corruption. And one of my greatest fears is that, without the BBC’s unbiased “telling it as it is” portrayal of Muslims in Britain, there would be a rapid rise in incidents of Islamophobia. Also the BBC has a noble record of “doing what it takes to stop UKIP.” This must not now be compromised by political interference from the right.

But my concerns are not confined to politics. Art and culture are what define a nation and its people. Again, the BBC has long represented truly democratic and popular taste and resisted a growing trend towards a savage, out-dated and exclusivist elitism. The welcome introduction of pop music into the Promenade Concerts is particularly praiseworthy – though I admit this has not proceeded as quickly as many would like. Nevertheless, there is thankfully never a half hour on Radio Four which does not include its cheerful blast of pop music; and presenters are to be commended for their ingenuity in managing to do this regardless of the subject matter of the news story. The greatest cultural achievement of the BBC over long years of struggle against the reactionary tide of opinion has been the way it has transformed the cultural language itself. For example, in all BBC programming, the word “music” now means “pop music.” And “art” chiefly features the outstanding work of pioneers such as Damien Hirst and Lord Saatchi’s generous sponsorship of the best in modern art. “Poetry” too has been democratised and, although there are still occasional and regrettable mentions of elitist snobs such as T.S. Eliot, poems on the BBC are now almost exclusively and properly used to promote and support a humane socialism. Terrific strides have been made – if not quite, or not yet – in the actual provision of bread and circuses, then at least the Corporation can hold its head high for that it continues to commit vast amounts of effort and money into coverage of such cultural gems as Red Nose Day, The Eurovision Song Contest, the Oscars, the BAFTAS and of course the Glastonbury Festival.

I look forward to discussing these and many similar matters with you at interview. I will close for now by saying that Lord Patten himself is “precious and wonderful” and by re-echoing his characterisation of the BBC as the same.

PS Above all we must ensure there is strong resistance to all moves to abolish the BBC’s income from the universal tax…I mean of course the “licence fee.”       

17 Apr

Dumber still and dumber: the infantilisation of Britain

What is a “quality” newspaper? The Times long since gave up any pretence to that virtue and in recent years it has been followed by the Daily Telegraph. The six pages after the leader page are invariably the most monstrous drivel, a cavalcade of ignorance and illiteracy. This is where philosophical disquisitions are entered into on subjects such as face paint and the school run by journalists who, it seems, have to share the same five brain cells and who have never strayed within a Sabbath day’s journey of the English language. “Trivia” is too holy a word to describe what appears there.

This morning – under the heading “Arts,” what else? – there is a whole page given over to a silly photograph of some phantasmagorially-dressed young people with the question; ARE THESE THE WORST DRESSED POP SINGERS EVER?

Certainly it is the most pressing question of the day.

We know why the paper goes in for such blatant trash: because they know that it’s what “the punters” – as they offensively refer to their readership – want. Yes, well, it was Lord Reith in the 1930s who said, regarding the BBC, “We mustn’t give the people what they want; or they will start to want what they’re being given.” But there are already more than sufficient outlets for rubbish in the tabloids and the myriad gaudy, TV channels. And it seems there is no longer so much as a niche for quality. If you say this, you will be accused of “elitism.” But what’s the alternative? I’d rather be an elitist than a mediocratist. And “mediocre” is putting it more than a bit on the high side. They say it’s “only a bit of fun.” But who could possibly raise a laugh at this dreary, repetitious stuff?

Unfortunately, the sorts of things that one finds interesting defines who and what one is. O brave new Britain that hath such people in it – people who can gorge themselves on fatuity

I shouldn’t pick on the Daily Telegraph for it’s not the only place where there has been a massive falling off. But I do pick on it, more in sorrow than in anger – because I used to admire and enjoy the DT. Now it makes me retch.

The best bits of writing in the DT  are the obituaries. The paper might as well write its own.

Where else might we look for quality? Fifty years ago, at its founding, we were told we would find it in BBC2. Subsequently, even the BBC admitted that BBC2 had become so dumbed down that they would remedy the lack of seriousness by giving us BBC4, which they described as “a place to think.” But think about what? Now it’s full of rock music. Thursday evenings are hours on end of old editions of Top of the Pops. The Arts Channel Number 1 is all noise and froth and the sort of entertainments we ought to have grown out of by the age of twelve.

Thus we stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age 

25 Mar

A lefty Love-in

Are you in the mood for love first thing in the morning? Evan Davis and Harriet Harman were on the Today Programme at 7.45 today. My, what a torrid affair it was too! Forget Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Abelard and Heloise, the love affair between the BBC and the Labour Party is truly enduring. Sometimes lovers require a pretext for their trysts and today the ostensible occasion was the question of whether non-payment of the TV licence fee should be decriminalised. That was only the foreplay. Hands on knees. The bumps-a-daisy soon followed. Harriet explained tenderly that the licence fee “guarantees the BBC’s independence from government.” As an engaged lover, Evan was too kind to ask the obvious question, “Well, then, darling, who or what guarantees the independence of ITV, SKY or any other of the myriad commercial channels which regularly manage to criticise governments while lacking the financial cushion of what amounts to a tax?”

As this rude question went all unasked, it had to go all unanswered. Evan merely moved the cushion, so to speak,

He asked Harriet why Labour was under a cloud following its recent set-back in the polls. When dealing with Harriet (or any of her sisters – and brothers in the Labour Party) Evan is never anything other than gentle. His soft imploring gave Harriet the perfect opportunity to say that Labour was not at all under a cloud and that indeed, given the stirring leadership of Ed Miliband, all was working for the best in the best of all possible parties.

This was the climax of their love scene and it subsequently faded. But never fear, it will be revived again…and again…and again, The passion of our two lefty lovers is insatiable – and of course all their trysts are paid for out of our taxes

11 Mar

Hurrah for Thought for the Day!

Three cheers for Thought for the Day! You never thought you’d hear me say that, did you? Naturally, I’m not extending to the programme a universal enconium, but today’s talk, given by the former Chief Rabbit Jonathan Sachs was a model of what such things should be and a flash of light in the encircling gloom. Dr Sachs reported new findings to the effect that male birds do not, as Darwin preached, sing only as part of a show of sexual advertisement – in the attempt to find a lady bird and get their genes passed on – but to announce their presence and tell anyone listening they’re glad to be alive. And the lady birds do the singing too.

This is so refreshing for it pulls the rug from under the satanic hypothesis of genetic determinism, that reductionist notion that our whole sense of beauty, truth, value and love is nothing but the accidental and meaningless spin-off from ineluctable evolutionary theory.

While we’re at it, we should apply Dr Sachs’ antidote to those other two deterministic, reductionist monsters Freud and Marx. For Freud, we are little more than our unconscious motivation which we are powerless to influence – short of turning up on his couch for seven years’ worth of narcissistic blather and, of course, paying the psychoanalyst’s fees. For Marx, the motivations for all our human and political relationships are mere economics. The fact that Darwin, Marx and Freud have been for so long worshipped as our true – and perhaps only – teachers and prophets is the supreme intellectual tragedy of our time.

Satanic indeed. There is no better word to describe the dirt that these deterministic ideologists have done on human beings. For we are not entirely in the grip of unconscious motives, economic laws or selfish genes. There are first-order experiences of which we are all acutely and continuously conscious, and which are real: self-sacrifice, wit, humour, self-mockery, the power of music, poetry, fine painting. Beauty, Truth and Love – these three. And the greatest of these is love

Darwin, Freud, Marx?  Aw shucks, they’re just for the birds…

07 Mar

Thoughtless Every Day

I never imagined I would one day disagree with Bishop Michael Nazir Ali, the best (the only?) bishop we have. But he has just said that Dawn French – the Vicar of Dibley – should not be allowed to present Thought for the Day on 29th March, Red Nose Day, because “this would detract from the programme’s seriousness.” At times like this, I’m tempted to echo John McEnroe’s admonishing of the referee: “You cain’t be serious, Michael!” TFTD serious? Don’t make me laugh.

The genial Today presenter Evan Davis says he would like to hear “serious and spiritually-minded secularists” on Thought for the Day. But, with one or two distinguished exceptions, these are the only sort of speakers we ever hear in that slot. There is nothing authentically religious about TFTD. It is an anodyne, multi-faith political pep-talk from the soft Left and so bum-clenchingly politically-correct as to be beyond satire. It is the social gospel – only without the gospel.

The presenters always trendily try to link their “thought” to an item in the day’s news:

“Jesus didn’t go in for binge-drinking but, after a long day chastising the money-changers and the greedy City bankers, there was nothing he liked better than to chill out over a few beers with his disciples – though he was careful not to exceed the recommended daily alcohol units…”

“Guru Nanak did not stigmatise obese people but showed his love for them by distributing low calorie curry dinners…”

“In one of his many speeches about global warming, the Buddha…”

The array of TFTD presenters is like Grand Guignol. There is Anne Atkins, formerly the terrifically scary bible-basher, now mutated into a terrifically scary agony aunt and post-modern novelist. And the faux-proletarian Dr Giles Fraser, fully paid-up member of the Church Militant Tendency.

Lord Harries, the retired Bishop of Oxford, comes on every few weeks to support embryo research and always justifies the killing of embryos by saying that many of them die anyway – a vivid demonstration of TFTD’s non-sequiturial style: like arguing that because some people fall under buses, it’s OK to push them.

There is a tremendously progressive Muslim with a name and an intonation that sounds like Moaner Cyd Eekie. They still nostalgically wheel out Rabbi Lionel Blue now and again to tell us that he’s not very well, Gay and trying his best to exorcise his Woody Allenish obsession with the Grim Reaper. I haven’t heard Bishop “Tom” Butler for a while. It was always nice to hear him reminisce about how, returning soberly from a reception at the Irish Embassy, he was discovered lying down in the back seat of someone else’s car, throwing toys out of the window: “I’m a bishop. It’s what I do!”

Hardly any of the contributors to TFTD are what you might call religious. Rather they translate traditional biblical stories into secular metaphors. For example, the feeding of the 5000 was no miracle but only a lesson in “sharing.” No more than a socialist picnic. Jesus did not rise physically from the tomb: it was just a case of the disciples’ subjective experience of “new life” – though how they gained this experience if Jesus remained dead they don’t explain.

There is no need for a religious slot these days. The BBC relentlessly preaches its own syncretistic secular religion, ecumenically combining anti-Americanism, hatred of Israel, addiction to pop-music, multiculturalism, the adulation of tawdry celebs and left wing playwrights and an obsession with climate change. Amen.

Good morning, John, good morning Sarah and good morning Jim… On the other hand what really would be a turn up is if a traditional, full-believing Christian were ever allowed on the programme. No chance. He wouldn’t get closer than a Sabbath day’s journey.

05 Mar

Guidance in the maze

Is it Innocents’ Day every day now? Do we learn nothing from experience? Michael Buerk was on Radio Four this morning advertising this evening’s edition of The Moral Maze and he asked what had happened to the idea of morality in politics: do we no longer have a commitment to the spread of democracy and instead consider only our own national interest?

But the notion that politics and policies should be based on abstract principles and systems is one which was born in Enlightenment Whiggery and greatly strengthened by the secular dogmas of socialism and Marxism. Eliot famously criticised this view of how we should conduct ourselves when he mocked “men dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” For the truth is that not only should we avoid this intrusion of the notions of principle and abstract ideas into places where they don’t belong but, as matter of fact, such principles, ideas and theories never have guided the policies and politics of the nations. Nations and peoples tend to act in their interests – and a good thing too.

For there is a multitude of conflicting principles and these provoke conflicts which are avoidable and quite unnecessary. The idea of democracy has got too big for its boots and become our obsession, which is a wholly bad thing, not least because the word” democracy” is never clearly defined; and it is everywhere employed as a slogan, a shibboleth, as a secularised religious commandment. And the view of what constitutes democracy is excessively simplistic. In the realm of public discussion and media comment it always means nothing more than turning up at elections and meetings, counting heads and doing what the majority voted for. This is worse than simplistic: it is unjust. Even John Stuart Mill in his On Liberty understood that democracy concerns respect for the views of minorities. Suppose a controversial motion – say to ban hunting with hounds – is proposed and carried by a majority, what then becomes of respect for the views of those dissenting? In our system, they are ridden over, roughshod; they become, as it were, non-persons. This is not democracy, but tyranny. The issue becomes even more unjust in cases where the vote is a narrow one.

Democracy has thus become the dictatorship of superior numbers.

The organic, traditionally conservative view, the opposite of Whiggery and of this simplistic and unjust notion of democracy, is that our freedoms in society – what C.H. Sisson described as “a decent set of political liberties” – are preserved by a much more subtle interplay of forces. Public life is not formed and shaped by headcounts alone. We have national institutions: the law, the church, parliament, the university, the monarchy and we are what we are because we exist within them. The idea of the sovereign individual is not only divisive and malign: it is a delusion. For we are all shaped and formed by forces, events and conditions which are greater than the individual and beyond the individual’s control. Our parents. Our property. Our schooling. Our membership of all our voluntary institutions: the pub and the pie shop, the football match, the Lord’s Test, the Grand National, the Promenade Concerts. Before the comparatively recent demise of the Church of England, we should have mentioned the great Feasts and Fasts: Easter, Whitsunday, Ash Wednesday – and of course the correlative of the Church’s Year in the agricultural seasons, springtime and harvest. Now almost all we’re left with from the Church’s Year is the commercial Christmas and that, for good or ill, has become part of the democracy which shapes our lives. I am forgetting the revived pagan superstition of the vast – and expensive – communal celebration of the New Year. Among the lesser feasts and fasts, I’m afraid we now have to include such ersatz displays of public vulgarity as Valentine’s Day (the prefix “Saint” long since removed). Fathers’ Day and Halloween. It is worth pausing to note that our secularised society does not celebrate 1st November (All Saints) but 31st October (Halloween). Thus good is ignored and evil acknowledged. Other banalities float across from the USA and there is a growing observance of something called Groundhog Day – coincidentally 2nd February the ancient Feast of Candlemas.

It is not only a fact that politics and policies are about interests: it is right that they should be so. We are not abstractions, intellectual counters in a game whose rules are a sort of French Political Calculus. We are flesh and blood, bodies, parts and passions. We are embodied. The significant word is “incarnate.” We are creatures, and creatures have interests. A man eats when he’s hungry and a woman drinks when she’s dry. A nation goes to war either for the gains of conquest or for defence and self-preservation.

These are the tangible realities by the side of which modern notions of democracy are only so much hot air. 

All that we are as individuals and as a nation is summed up in one line: “God save the Queen!” He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.