Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Religion can be a problem, but it's not the only one

Some of my friends are preoccupied with religion, and it bores me. It's one of the reasons that I'm less interested in atheist stuff on the Internet too; the constant criticism of religion. One of the latest articles promoting atheism is in Salon - "Religion's sinister fairy tale". The author, Jeffrey Tayler, writes,
We understand the real purpose behind religion whenever it exceeds the bounds of conscience, as it has done throughout history, and seeps into politics.  More than two centuries ago, the English and American revolutionary Thomas Paine penned words that still ring true: “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”
The real purpose? It's not that simple, is it? Religions aren't all the same, nor are the religious one homogeneous mass, equally devout, equally duped. I wonder how much the most vociferous critics of religion really know about religion, its complexities and history?

But I've blogged about this before, and about the male bias in atheism too.

I think nationalism and tribalism are also threats to peace and harmony, as the world becomes increasingly over-populated. Yes, of course religion plays a part in all this. Patriarchal religion has been used as a justification for all manner of human rights abuses for millennia, especially the subjugation of women, but it's not the only reason. Misogyny proliferates in a vicious circle, where culturally defined social structures prevent children from learning how men and women can live together on an equal basis. I commented on a New Humanist post about terrorism recently:
The problem isn't just religious extremism, it's also male domination in Islamic societies and the deeply ingrained misogyny that prevails. How can extremism be challenged when hardly any of those involved know what it is to have healthy relationships with those who share their lives? Religion is used to justify the subjugation of women, but it has been regarded as normal for so long that it's like a collective psychosis, almost impossible to change. Without the civilising influence of women, the societies where extremism proliferates can't be fixed. British, European and American politicians may fret about terrorism but the threat to us is insignificant compared with the daily terrors suffered by thousands of women and girls.

One of the consequences of patriarchal attitudes is a resistance to population control, so these societies will continue to grow as the resources to feed, house and employ them decrease. It's estimated that 222 million women worldwide have an unmet need for modern contraception. As David Nicholson-Lord, Optimum Population Trust research associate, said: “Talking about threats to national security without highlighting the growth in human numbers is a bit like staging Hamlet without the prince. Population growth is one of the major forces behind global environmental insecurity, whether it’s the direct effect on issues such as climate change and food, water and energy shortages, or the creation of large cohorts of discontented young people in developing countries, which provide fertile breeding grounds for terrorism."
Not long after I wrote that, I found this article - The Hidden Link Between Women and War. Leith Greenslade writes,
The UN’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence run until December 10, Human Rights Day, and as we reflect on 2014, there is no denying it has been a particularly vicious year for violence against women. The images are forever seared in our minds: the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls, the trafficked Yazidi women, the assassination attempts on Afghan women leaders, the sexual assaults on Egyptian women in Tahrir Square, the horrific gang rapes of girls in India and the brutal honor killings in Pakistan.

These atrocities are all by-products of the resurgence of a particularly ancient kind of war—extremely violent, religiously or ethnically motivated civil conflicts that now rage across parts of Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. All of the conflicts involve large groups of young men, undereducated, overarmed and delirious with power; caught in a labyrinth of shifting relationships and competing interests; united in their efforts to control and oppress women and girls.

Why is violence against women central to so many of the conflicts that plague the planet today? What is driving young groups of men to mobilize against women? And what can we do to prevent it?
You could blame religion for all of this, but it isn't that simple, really it isn't, and if you're only interested in attacking religion and not in feminism or population control, your blinkers will continue to get in the way of understanding.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


The BBC's news channel has been offering reviews of the year, including the weather. Their year's a bit different to mine.

Aneurin Bevan (aka Nye Bevan),
Having turned 70, I accumulated a few more ailments, including increasing deafness and a couple of small skin cancers. I continue to be grateful that I don't live America, and thank Bevan daily for the NHS. Maybe if they did something about keeping drunks out of A & E and making them pay for wasting time and money, it would help to pay the staff.

News stories and TV programmes about extreme weather only seemed to mention climate change as an afterthought. I predict that the floods on the Somerset levels will happen again, despite the river dredging, and the east coast will be eroded even more. In fact, extreme weather will affect all of us, everywhere, while governments drag their heels and ignore scientific and mathematical facts. Climate change may have had a few mentions, but the elephant in the room, population, has been totally ignored.

I gave up my Motability car in July 2013 and haven't missed it. It was harder to see where I was going at night, due to macular disease, and even in daylight my eyes didn't work well enough. The lovely guys at Hadleigh Private Hire Cars and other taxi firms have looked after me well, including hauling my lightweight mobility scooter in and out of their cars, in pieces, and helping me to take it apart and put it back together again. It's worked out cheaper to use taxis than run a car that was spending an increasing amount of time in the garage anyway and conversations as a front seat passenger have been enjoyable. Thank you, Mike, Trevor, Nick, Keith, John and all.

It's 6½ years since Wizzy died. I'd have liked another dog, never having been so long without one, but although I used to exercise ours with my scooter, I have too many PJ days now. We still had cats, but the last of them, Audrey, died this spring. At the beginning of June I adopted two more cats, Chewie and Maisie, from Cat Protection. Various research projects have shown the health benefits of pet ownership, but I just enjoy having them around. Meanwhile, Mia, a Burmese who used to belong to a relative who died and was adopted by a friend, has been a regular visitor to the patients in a local hospice.

It's been an uneventful year for me. The drama has all been elsewhere. There's a lot to be said for living a quiet life but I have plans for next year. Watch this space.

Wishing you a safe, happy and healthy New Year!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The reject pile

Next year's voting intentions, so far.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Farage the scrounger

There's a BBC TV programme called Saints and Scroungers, presented by the excellent Matt Allwright, that features stories about criminals who've swindled local authorities out of £1000s with false benefits claims. In many of these cases, the swindlers aren't just sent to prison, their assets are seized to repay what they've stolen.

Another BBC TV programme, Panorama, has just dealt with that walking gargoyle, Nigel Farage, who's claimed a huge amount of public money as an MEP, yet hasn't actually done the job he's being paid for. Five years ago, Farage boasted that he'd taken £2 million in expenses as an MEP, in addition to his salary of £64,000. How much more has he pocketed since then? In June this year he admitted claiming £205,000 for office space that's actually provided free of charge by a party supporter. At the beginning of this year, The Mirror reported,
UKIP leader Nigel Farage and his Euro MPs claimed nearly £800,000 in expenses and allowances from the EU in one year while campaigning for Britain to leave.

The party’s grasping MEPs billed taxpayers £370,000 for office costs and got nearly £420,000 subsistence allowances for meals and hotels.
It's well known that UKIP MEPs have the worst attendance record in the the European Parliament and, when Farage does attend, it's only to be rude to other members. Guy Verhofstadt MEP pointed out the hypocrisy of Farage's constant accusations about the "waste of money" in the EU, saying that his salary was the biggest waste of money as he's never there!

Farage doesn't represent British interests, as he's failed to vote on important issues, such as fishing quotas.

So, how is it that those who take money they're not entitled to from the public purse are imprisoned and required to repay it, yet Farage can carry on scrounging?

Monday, July 28, 2014

On hatred

“Angry people are not always wise.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Reading some of the rubbish that's written online about different groups of people - Jews about Palestinians, atheists about religionists, religionists about atheists, anti-feminists about feminists, employed people about benefits claimants - it strikes me that there's a lot of very angry prejudiced people out there. Hardly any of them actually know what they're talking about and can't even have a reasonable argument, but resort to name-calling when challenged, and not just the trolls. Hatred like that rots the brain, and most of them didn't use theirs to begin with.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

If Israel was an island

My last post, on UKIP and migration, led to a short discussion on Facebook. Friend Delia commented,
You are absolutely right about over-population but its not going to be solved by allowing this tiny island to become even more over-populated. We are surely not being unreasonable in wanting to pass on to future generations as much as we can of our countryside and way of life. Economic immigrants need to do what our ancestors did in America and colonise the under-populated areas of the world.
This made me think about Israel. It wasn't until I watched Click on the BBC's News Channel yesterday that I knew that Israel leads the way with high-tech innovation. Successive waves of immigration in Israel, attracting clever Jews from America, Europe and around the world, have resulted in a pool of technologists and entrepreneurs who lead the world in research and development. The BBC quotes entrepreneur Yossi Vardi:
If you look at how this country was created, it was really a start-up on the large scale. A bunch of crazy people came here, trying to pursue a dream of 2,000 years.
This is all very well, but at what cost? These are economic migrants in reverse, taking their money and their skills to an already over-crowded country where land and water are being grabbed for the growing Israeli population, denying the indigenous Arabs, the Palestinians, the necessities of existence.

The 2.6 million immigrants who have arrived since 1948 have made Israel the only country whose population has multiplied by nine in the space of 50 years. 
It can't continue. The determination of some Jews to carry on building settlements on the disputed West bank, the extraction of water that's damaging wildlife and people's livelihoods, and the destruction of the environment, is a consequence of this mass immigration.

What if Israel was an island, like Great Britain? What if there was no room to expand sideways? What if Israel were to retreat to its 1967 borders, and accept that that is more than enough? Of course it's a fantasy, but just as the UK is limited by being an island, maybe Israel ought to think of itself in just the same way.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

On UKIP's version of reality, and mine

Since giving up my car last year I've been using taxis to get about - buses are no use to me because of mobility problems. Consequently, I have a lot of conversations with tax drivers, almost all male. Yesterday's were interesting.

On the way into town, P commented that he was glad he didn't live in Ipswich any more. It wasn't the same as when he first lived there, he said. Too many immigrants, and groups of young men from Afghanistan and similar places, hanging around, he said. He didn't mind it if they came here to work and tried to fit in with our ways, but when they kept to themselves and expected us to respect their cultures, he couldn't be doing with that.

When you consider the violence in countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, I said, it isn't surprising that so many would want to escape it. Would he want to stay there? No, he supposed not. And maybe it wasn't fair to generalise, I said. I mentioned a Afghani taxi driver who'd driven me from the station one day, whose English was better than many native speakers, and who was very courteous. He told me he'd been here eleven years. I wouldn't be surprised if he hadn't had some sort of professional job, perhaps as an interpreter. Yes, said P, there are some like that. There will be more, I said, not just from countries where there's conflict, but because of global warming people from Africa are being driven north. The real problem, I said, is that the global population is increasing, there are too many people, and many women either don't have access to birth control or their husbands won't allow them to use it. P went quiet. I know he has children but I don't know how many. He changed the subject.

I was driven home by N, a Bangladeshi driver from a different firm, a friendly, helpful man. I know one of his colleagues well, and we chatted about him. He asked how long I'd lived in the village, and what I did before I retired, and we discovered that we both had connections with Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource, me as a Humanist and him as a Muslim. It turned out that we both knew some of the same people. He said his daughter was a nurse in the local hospital's Intensive Care Unit, one of the many minority ethnic staff who keep the NHS going. When I asked him to drive carefully because there are lots of ducks with ducklings around the village, he mentioned that his grandfather in Bangladesh has a huge pond on his land with a wide variety of water fowl. I asked if they'd been affected by flooding, and he said no, their land wasn't on the flood plain. I wondered how long that would last, since Bangladesh is a low-lying country, crammed between a delta of rivers in the Bay of Bengal.

I like both these drivers and expect them to drive me again. I didn't ask if they'd voted in the recent election, or who for. It's unlikely that they'd both vote for the same party, if they voted at all; the turnout was abysmally low.

Most of those who voted for UKIP did so without fully understanding all of its rubbish policies. Xenophobia played a part, as it did in the other European countries where right-wing parties gained seats. In the New York Review of Books, Professor Mary Beard warns of a general failure to challenge UKIP's ridiculous claims; politicians from the other parties, apart from the unfortunate Nick Clegg, seem to prefer appeasement. The comedian and social commentator Mark Steel takes the mickey, as usual, writing,
... if we end the movement of people across Europe, that would mean the 808,000 British who live in Spain would all have to come back, which would be the equivalent of a town the size of Brazil being dumped on our overstretched resources ...
According to the BBC,
There are about five million British expats living and working abroad, with the popular destinations being Australia, Spain and the US. Figures from 2011 suggest that about 3,000 British citizens every week move away from the UK on a long-term basis.
UKIP doesn't mention this, of course, or the other facts that they prefer to ignore. The Office of National Statistics reported in 2010 that there were 7,354,000 foreign-born people living in the UK. Some of them will have been here decades, married British-born people, raised British children, paid British taxes, staffed British hospitals, the railways, the buses, and all sorts of other services that we can't do without. Yes, some of the figures have been unreliable but not that much. We've always been a mongrel race, and subsequent waves of immigrants have diluted the mix even more.

I wonder how many of those who voted for UKIP had more than two children? Would it ever occur to them that the main reason for many of the problems we face, including nationalist, ethnic and religious conflicts, is that there are too many people on our small planet? Not just too many immigrants - too many people.
The mid-range global projection is that the planet’s population will increase from seven billion to nine billion by 2050. Broader estimates range from eight to 11 billion, depending on how effectively and quickly reproductive and development programmes are implemented in developing areas of the world to address the key drivers of population growth: the lack of reproductive health and contraception, lack of women’s rights and poverty.
Nasty as it is, there's something inevitable about UKIP. It's partly the result of a general feeling of disappointment and frustration. There's competition for jobs, but there'll never be enough jobs and too many jobs cost more in terms of waste than we can afford. There's competition for housing, as the bubble gets bigger (it must burst, leaving thousands with negative equity), city sites remain derelict and green fields disappear. Car adverts promise stress-free motoring on empty scenic routes, while the reality is cities coming to a standstill. Many feel entitled to enjoy prosperity and comfort, without having to face some harsh truths. Instead of telling them the truth, most politicians perpetuate the fantasy of economic growth, ignoring population growth. They're not brave enough to tell people that things will have to change. Wouldn't it be good to have some honest politicians, who'd say yes, we're in a mess, but we could make some positive changes? Most major social change has been in response to a crisis of one sort or another. Serfdom was ended by the black death, when there weren't enough peasants to till the land. The Thames got cleaned up when the stink became unbearable. Public health improved after disease had wiped out thousands. Nutrition improved after the military found their troops were so weedy they weren't fit for battle. And so on. Well, we're in a crisis, so let's do something about it. This planet's too small for xenophobia.